"Fu da sua gioventudine nutricato di latte di eloquenza; buono grammatico, megliore rettorico, autorista buono...Oh, come spesso diceva, 'Dove sono questi buoni Romani? Dov'e loro somma giustizia? Poterommi trovare in tempo che questi fioriscano?' Era bell 'omo...Accadde che uno suo frate fu ucciso, e non ne fu fatta vendetta di sua morte: non lo poteo aiutare; pensa lungo mano vendicare 'l sangue di suo frate; pensa lunga mano dirizzare la cittate di Roma male guidata." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi" Ed. 1828. Forli.
"From his youth he was nourished with the milk of eloquence; a good grammarian, a better rhetorician, well versed in the writings of authors...Oh, how often would he say, 'Where are those good Romans? Where is their supreme justice? Shall I ever behold such times as those in which they flourished?' He was a handsome man...It happened that a brother of his was slain, and no retribution was made for his death: he could not help him; long did he ponder how to avenge his brother's blood; long did he ponder how to direct the ill guided state of Rome." - "Life of Cola di Rienzi."
Chapter 1.I. The Brothers.
The celebrated name which forms the title to this work will sufficiently apprise the reader that it is in the earlier half of the fourteenth century that my story opens.
It was on a summer evening that two youths might be seen walking beside the banks of the Tiber, not far from that part of its winding course which sweeps by the base of Mount Aventine. The path they had selected was remote and tranquil. It was only at a distance that were seen the scattered and squalid houses that bordered the river, from amidst which rose, dark and frequent, the high roof and enormous towers which marked the fortified mansion of some Roman baron. On one side of the river, behind the cottages of the fishermen, soared Mount Janiculum, dark with massive foliage, from which gleamed at frequent intervals, the grey walls of many a castellated palace, and the spires and columns of a hundred churches; on the other side, the deserted Aventine rose abrupt and steep, covered with thick brushwood; while, on the height, from concealed but numerous convents, rolled, not unmusically, along the quiet landscape and the rippling waves, the sound of the holy bell.
Of the young men introduced in this scene, the elder, who might have somewhat passed his twentieth year, was of a tall and even commanding stature; and there was that in his presence remarkable and almost noble, despite the homeliness of his garb, which consisted of the long, loose gown and the plain tunic, both of dark-grey serge, which distinguished, at that time, the dress of the humbler scholars who frequented the monasteries for such rude knowledge as then yielded a scanty return for intense toil. His countenance was handsome, and would have been rather gay than thoughtful in its expression, but for that vague and abstracted dreaminess of eye which so usually denotes a propensity to revery and contemplation, and betrays that the past or the future is more congenial to the mind than the enjoyment and action of the present hour.
The younger, who was yet a boy, had nothing striking in his appearance or countenance, unless an expression of great sweetness and gentleness could be so called; and there was something almost feminine in the tender deference with which he appeared to listen to his companion. His dress was that usually worn by the humbler classes, though somewhat neater, perhaps, and newer; and the fond vanity of a mother might be detected in the care with which the long and silky ringlets had been smoothed and parted as they escaped from his cap and flowed midway down his shoulders.
As they thus sauntered on, beside the whispering reeds of the river, each with his arm round the form of his comrade, there was a grace in the bearing, in the youth, and in the evident affection of the brothers - for such their connexion - which elevated the lowliness of their apparent condition.
"Dear brother," said the elder, "I cannot express to thee how I enjoy these evening hours. To you alone I feel as if I were not a mere visionary and idler when I talk of the uncertain future, and build up my palaces of the air. Our parents listen to me as if I were uttering fine things out of a book; and my dear mother, Heaven bless her! wipes her eyes, and says, 'Hark, what a scholar he is!' As for the monks, if I ever dare look from my Livy, and cry 'Thus should Rome be again!' they stare, and gape, and frown, as though I had broached an heresy. But you, sweet brother, though you share not my studies, sympathize so kindly with all their results - you seem so to approve my wild schemes, and to encourage my ambitious hopes - that sometimes I forget our birth, our fortunes, and think and dare as if no blood save that of the Teuton Emperor flowed through our veins."
"Methinks, dear Cola," said the younger brother, "that Nature played us an unfair trick - to you she transmitted the royal soul, derived from our father's parentage; and to me only the quiet and lowly spirit of my mother's humble lineage."
"Nay," answered Cola, quickly, "you would then have the brighter share, - for I should have but the Barbarian origin, and you the Roman. Time was, when to be a simple Roman was to be nobler than a northern king. - Well, well, we may live to see great changes!"
"I shall live to see thee a great man, and that will content me," said the younger, smiling affectionately; "a great scholar all confess you to be already: our mother predicts your fortunes every time she hears of your welcome visits to the Colonna."
"The Colonna!" said Cola, with a bitter smile; "the Colonna - the pedants!
"All I hope, is, Cola, that you will not, in your zeal for your fellow- citizens, forget how dear you are to us. No greatness could ever reconcile me to the thought that it brought you danger."
"And I could laugh at all danger, if it led to greatness. But greatness - greatness! Vain dream! Let us keep it for our night sleep. Enough of my plans; now, dearest brother, of yours."
And, with the sanguine and cheerful elasticity which belonged to him, the young Cola, dismissing all wilder thoughts, bent his mind to listen, and to enter into, the humbler projects of his brother. The new boat and the holiday dress, and the cot removed to a quarter more secure from the oppression of the barons, and such distant pictures of love as a dark eye and a merry lip conjure up to the vague sentiments of a boy; - to schemes and aspirations of which such objects made the limit, did the scholar listen, with a relaxed brow and a tender smile; and often, in later life, did that conversation occur to him, when he shrank from asking his own heart which ambition was the wiser.
"And then," continued the younger brother, "by degrees I might save enough to purchase such a vessel as that which we now see, laden, doubtless, with corn and merchandise, bringing - oh, such a good return - that I could fill your room with books, and never hear you complain that you were not rich enough to purchase some crumbling old monkish manuscript. Ah, that would make me so happy!" Cola smiled as he pressed his brother closer to his breast.
"Dear boy," said he, "may it rather be mine to provide for your wishes! Yet methinks the masters of yon vessel have no enviable possession, see how anxiously the men look round, and behind, and before: peaceful traders though they be, they fear, it seems, even in this city (once the emporium of the civilised world), some pirate in pursuit; and ere the voyage be over, they may find that pirate in a Roman noble. Alas, to what are we reduced!"
The vessel thus referred to was speeding rapidly down the river, and some three or four armed men on deck were indeed intently surveying the quiet banks on either side, as if anticipating a foe. The bark soon, however, glided out of sight, and the brothers fell back upon those themes which require only the future for a text to become attractive to the young.
At length, as the evening darkened, they remembered that it was past the usual hour in which they returned home, and they began to retrace their steps.
"Stay," said Cola, abruptly, "how our talk has beguiled me! Father Uberto promised me a rare manuscript, which the good friar confesses hath puzzled the whole convent. I was to seek his cell for it this evening. Tarry here a few minutes, it is but half-way up the Aventine. I shall soon return."
"Can I not accompany you?"
"Nay," returned Cola, with considerate kindness, "you have borne toil all the day, and must be wearied; my labours of the body, at least, have been light enough. You are delicate, too, and seem fatigued already; the rest will refresh you. I shall not be long."
The boy acquiesced, though he rather wished to accompany his brother; but he was of a meek and yielding temper, and seldom resisted the lightest command of those he loved. He sat him down on a little bank by the river- side, and the firm step and towering form of his brother were soon hid from his gaze by the thick and melancholy foliage.
At first he sat very quietly, enjoying the cool air, and thinking over all the stories of ancient Rome that his brother had told him in their walk. At length he recollected that his little sister, Irene, had begged him to bring her home some flowers; and, gathering such as he could find at hand (and many a flower grew, wild and clustering, over that desolate spot), he again seated himself, and began weaving them into one of those garlands for which the southern peasantry still retain their ancient affection, and something of their classic skill.
While the boy was thus engaged, the tramp of horses and the loud shouting of men were heard at a distance. They came near, and nearer.
"Some baron's procession, perhaps, returning from a feast," thought the boy. "It will be a pretty sight - their white plumes and scarlet mantles! I love to see such sights, but I will just move out of their way."
So, still mechanically platting his garland, but with eyes turned towards the quarter of the expected procession, the young Roman moved yet nearer towards the river.
Presently the train came in view, - a gallant company, in truth; horsemen in front, riding two abreast, where the path permitted, their steeds caparisoned superbly, their plumes waving gaily, and the gleam of their corselets glittering through the shades of the dusky twilight. A large and miscellaneous crowd, all armed, some with pikes and mail, others with less warlike or worse fashioned weapons, followed the cavaliers; and high above plume and pike floated the blood-red banner of the Orsini, with the motto and device (in which was ostentatiously displayed the Guelfic badge of the keys of St. Peter) wrought in burnished gold. A momentary fear crossed the boy's mind, for at that time, and in that city, a nobleman begirt with his swordsmen was more dreaded than a wild beast by the plebeians; but it was already too late to fly - the train were upon him.
"Ho, boy! cried the leader of the horsemen, Martino di Porto, one of the great House of the Orsini; "hast thou seen a boat pass up the river? - But thou must have seen it - how long since?"
"I saw a large boat about half an hour ago," answered the boy, terrified by the rough voice and imperious bearing of the cavalier.
"Sailing right a-head, with a green flag at the stern?"
"The same, noble sir."
"On, then! we will stop her course ere the moon rise," said the baron. "On! - let the boy go with us, lest he prove traitor, and alarm the Colonna."
"An Orsini, an Orsini," shouted the multitude; "on, on!" and, despite the prayers and remonstrances of the boy, he was placed in the thickest of the crowd, and borne, or rather dragged along with the rest - frightened, breathless, almost weeping, with his poor little garland still hanging on his arm, while a sling was thrust into his unwilling hand. Still he felt, through all his alarm, a kind of childish curiosity to see the result of the pursuit.
By the loud and eager conversation of those about him, he learned that the vessel he had seen contained a supply of corn destined to a fortress up the river held by the Colonna, then at deadly feud with the Orsini; and it was the object of the expedition in which the boy had been thus lucklessly entrained to intercept the provision, and divert it to the garrison of Martino di Porto. This news somewhat increased his consternation, for the boy belonged to a family that claimed the patronage of the Colonna.
Anxiously and tearfully he looked with every moment up the steep ascent of the Aventine; but his guardian, his protector, still delayed his appearance.
They had now proceeded some way, when a winding in the road brought suddenly before them the object of their pursuit, as, seen by the light of the earliest stars, it scudded rapidly down the stream.
"Now, the Saints be blest!" quoth the chief; "she is ours!"
"Hold!" said a captain (a German) riding next to Martino, in a half whisper; "I hear sounds which I like not, by yonder trees - hark! The neigh of a horse! - by my faith, too, there is the gleam of a corselet."
"Push on, my masters," cried Martino; "the heron shall not balk the eagle - push on!"
With renewed shouts, those on foot pushed forward, till, as they had nearly gained the copse referred to by the German, a small compact body of horsemen, armed cap-a-pie, dashed from amidst the trees, and, with spears in their rests, charged into the ranks of the pursuers.
"A Colonna! a Colonna!" "An Orsini! an Orsini!" were shouts loudly and fiercely interchanged. Martino di Porto, a man of great bulk and ferocity, and his cavaliers, who were chiefly German Mercenaries, met the encounter unshaken. "Beware the bear's hug," cried the Orsini, as down went his antagonist, rider and steed, before his lance.
The contest was short and fierce; the complete armour of the horsemen protected them on either side from wounds, - not so unscathed fared the half-armed foot-followers of the Orsini, as they pressed, each pushed on by the other, against the Colonna. After a shower of stones and darts, which fell but as hailstones against the thick mail of the horsemen, they closed in, and, by their number, obstructed the movements of the steeds, while the spear, sword, and battle-axe of their opponents made ruthless havoc amongst their undisciplined ranks. And Martino, who cared little how many of his mere mob were butchered, seeing that his foes were for the moment embarrassed by the wild rush and gathering circle of his foot train (for the place of conflict, though wider than the previous road, was confined and narrow), made a sign to some of his horsemen, and was about to ride forward towards the boat, now nearly out of sight, when a bugle at some distance was answered by one of his enemy at hand; and the shout of "Colonna to the rescue!" was echoed afar off. A few moments brought in view a numerous train of horse at full speed, with the banners of the Colonna waving gallantly in the front.
"A plague on the wizards! who would have imagined they had divined us so craftily!" muttered Martino; "we must not abide these odds;" and the hand he had first raised for advance, now gave the signal of retreat.
Serried breast to breast and in complete order, the horsemen of Martino turned to fly; the foot rabble who had come for spoil remained but for slaughter. They endeavoured to imitate their leaders; but how could they all elude the rushing chargers and sharp lances of their antagonists, whose blood was heated by the affray, and who regarded the lives at their mercy as a boy regards the wasp's nest he destroys. The crowd dispersing in all directions, - some, indeed, escaped up the hills, where the footing was impracticable to the horses; some plunged into the river and swam across to the opposite bank - those less cool or experienced, who fled right onwards, served, by clogging the way of their enemy, to facilitate the flight of their leaders, but fell themselves, corpse upon corpse, butchered in the unrelenting and unresisted pursuit.
"No quarter to the ruffians - every Orsini slain is a robber the less - strike for God, the Emperor, and the Colonna!" such were the shouts which rung the knell of the dismayed and falling fugitives. Among those who fled onward, in the very path most accessible to the cavalry, was the young brother of Cola, so innocently mixed with the affray. Fast he fled, dizzy with terror - poor boy, scarce before ever parted from his parents' or his brother's side! - the trees glided past him - the banks receded: - on he sped, and fast behind came the tramp of the hoofs - the shouts - the curses
"Save me! save me, brother!" he shrieked aloud, and the shriek reached Cola's ear; - the snort of the fiery charger breathed hot upon him; - a moment more, and with one wild shrill cry of "Mercy, mercy" he fell to the ground - a corpse: the lance of the pursuer passing through and through him, from back to breast, and nailing him on the very sod where he had sate, full of young life and careless hope, not an hour ago.
The horseman plucked forth his spear, and passed on in pursuit of new victims; his comrades following. Cola had descended, - was on the spot, - kneeling by his murdered brother. Presently, to the sound of horn and trumpet, came by a nobler company than most of those hitherto engaged; who had been, indeed, but the advanced-guard of the Colonna. At their head rode a man in years, whose long white hair escaped from his plumed cap and mingled with his venerable beard. "How is this?" said the chief, reining in his steed, "young Rienzi!"
The youth looked up, as he heard that voice, and then flung himself before the steed of the old noble, and, clasping his hands, cried out in a scarce articulate tone: "It is my brother, noble Stephen, - a boy, a mere child!
"Who slew him? an Orsini, doubtless; you shall have justice."
"Thanks, thanks," murmured Rienzi, as he tottered once more to his brother's side, turned the boy's face from the grass, and strove wildly to feel the pulse of his heart; he drew back his hand hastily, for it was crimsoned with blood, and lifting that hand on high, shrieked out again, "Justice! justice!"
The group round the old Stephen Colonna, hardened as they were in such scenes, were affected by the sight. A handsome boy, whose tears ran fast down his cheeks, and who rode his palfrey close by the side of the Colonna, drew forth his sword. "My Lord," said he, half sobbing, "an Orsini only could have butchered a harmless lad like this; let us lose not a moment, - let us on after the ruffians."
"No, Adrian, no!" cried Stephen, laying his hand on the boy's shoulder; "your zeal is to be lauded, but we must beware an ambush. Our men have ventured too far - what, ho, there! - sound a return."
The bugles, in a few minutes, brought back the pursuers, - among them, the horseman whose spear had been so fatally misused. He was the leader of those engaged in the conflict with Martino di Porto; and the gold wrought into his armour, with the gorgeous trappings of his charger, betokened his rank.
"Thanks, my son, thanks," said the old Colonna to this cavalier, "you have done well and bravely. But tell me, knowest thou, for thou hast an eagle eye, which of the Orsini slew this poor boy? - a foul deed; his family, too, our clients!"
"Who? yon lad?" replied the horseman, lifting the helmet from his head, and wiping his heated brow; "say you so! how came he, then, with Martino's rascals? I fear me the mistake hath cost him dear. I could but suppose him of the Orsini rabble, and so - and so - "
"You slew him!" cried Rienzi, in a voice of thunder, starting from the ground. "Justice! then, my Lord Stephen, justice! you promised me justice, and I will have it!"
"My poor youth," said the old man, compassionately, "you should have had justice against the Orsini; but see you not this has been an error? I do not wonder you are too grieved to listen to reason now. We must make this up to you."
"And let this pay for masses for the boy's soul; I grieve me much for the accident," said the younger Colonna, flinging down a purse of gold. "Ay, see us at the palace next week, young Cola - next week. My father, we had best return towards the boat; its safeguard may require us yet."
"Right, Gianni; stay, some two of you, and see to the poor lad's corpse; - a grievous accident! how could it chance?"
The company passed back the way they came, two of the common soldiers alone remaining, except the boy Adrian, who lingered behind a few moments, striving to console Rienzi, who, as one bereft of sense, remained motionless, gazing on the proud array as it swept along, and muttering to himself, "Justice, justice! I will have it yet."
The loud voice of the elder Colonna summoned Adrian, reluctantly and weeping, away. "Let me be your brother," said the gallant boy, affectionately pressing the scholar's hand to his heart; "I want a brother like you."
Rienzi made no reply; he did not heed or hear him - dark and stern thoughts, thoughts in which were the germ of a mighty revolution, were at his heart. He woke from them with a start, as the soldiers were now arranging their bucklers so as to make a kind of bier for the corpse, and then burst into tears as he fiercely motioned them away, and clasped the clay to his breast till he was literally soaked with the oozing blood.
The poor child's garland had not dropped from his arm even when he fell, and, entangled by his dress, it still clung around him. It was a sight that recalled to Cola all the gentleness, the kind heart, and winning graces of his only brother - his only friend! It was a sight that seemed to make yet more inhuman the untimely and unmerited fate of that innocent boy. "My brother! my brother!" groaned the survivor; "how shall I meet our mother? - how shall I meet even night and solitude again? - so young, so harmless! See ye, sirs, he was but too gentle. And they will not give us justice, because his murderer was a noble and a Colonna. And this gold, too - gold for a brother's blood! Will they not" - and the young man's eyes glared like fire - "will they not give us justice? Time shall show!" so saying, he bent his head over the corpse; his lips muttered, as with some prayer or invocation; and then rising, his face was as pale as the dead beside him, - but it was no longer pale with grief!
From that bloody clay, and that inward prayer, Cola di Rienzi rose a new being. With his young brother died his own youth. But for that event, the future liberator of Rome might have been but a dreamer, a scholar, a poet; the peaceful rival of Petrarch; a man of thoughts, not deeds. But from that time, all his faculties, energies, fancies, genius, became concentrated into a single point; and patriotism, before a vision, leapt into the life and vigour of a passion, lastingly kindled, stubbornly hardened, and awfully consecrated, - by revenge!
Chapter 1.II. An Historical Survey - not to Be Passed Over, Except by Those Who Dislike to Understand What They Read.
Years had passed away, and the death of the Roman boy, amidst more noble and less excusable slaughter, was soon forgotten, - forgotten almost by the parents of the slain, in the growing fame and fortunes of their eldest son,
Despite the miscellaneous and mongrel tribes that had forced their settlements in the City of the Caesars, the Roman population retained an inordinate notion of their own supremacy over the rest of the world; and, degenerated from the iron virtues of the Republic, possessed all the insolent and unruly turbulence which characterised the Plebs of the ancient Forum. Amongst a ferocious, yet not a brave populace, the nobles supported themselves less as sagacious tyrants than as relentless banditti. The popes had struggled in vain against these stubborn and stern patricians. Their state derided, their command defied, their persons publicly outraged, the pontiff-sovereigns of the rest of Europe resided, at the Vatican, as prisoners under terror of execution. When, thirty-eight years before the date of the events we are about to witness, a Frenchman, under the name of Clement V., had ascended the chair of St. Peter, the new pope, with more prudence than valour, had deserted Rome for the tranquil retreat of Avignon; and the luxurious town of a foreign province became the court of the Roman pontiff, and the throne of the Christian Church.
Thus deprived of even the nominal check of the papal presence, the power of the nobles might be said to have no limits, save their own caprice, or their mutual jealousies and feuds. Though arrogating through fabulous genealogies their descent from the ancient Romans, they were, in reality, for the most part, the sons of the bolder barbarians of the North; and, contaminated by the craft of Italy, rather than imbued with its national affections, they retained the disdain of their foreign ancestors for a conquered soil and a degenerate people. While the rest of Italy, especially in Florence, in Venice, and in Milan, was fast and far advancing beyond the other states of Europe in civilisation and in art, the Romans appeared rather to recede than to improve; - unblest by laws, unvisited by art, strangers at once to the chivalry of a warlike, and the graces of a peaceful, people. But they still possessed the sense and desire of liberty, and, by ferocious paroxysms and desperate struggles, sought to vindicate for their city the title it still assumed of "the Metropolis of the World." For the last two centuries they had known various revolutions
Holding their palaces as the castles and fortresses of princes, each asserting his own independency of all authority and law, and planting fortifications, and claiming principalities in the patrimonial territories of the Church, the barons of Rome made their state still more secure, and still more odious, by the maintenance of troops of foreign (chiefly of German) mercenaries, at once braver in disposition, more disciplined in service, and more skilful in arms, than even the freest Italians of that time. Thus they united the judicial and the military force, not for the protection, but for the ruin of Rome. Of these barons, the most powerful were the Orsini and Colonna; their feuds were hereditary and incessant, and every day witnessed the fruits of their lawless warfare, in bloodshed, in rape, and in conflagration. The flattery or the friendship of Petrarch, too credulously believed by modern historians, has invested the Colonna, especially of the date now entered upon, with an elegance and a dignity not their own. Outrage, fraud, and assassination, a sordid avarice in securing lucrative offices to themselves, an insolent oppression of their citizens, and the most dastardly cringing to power superior to their own (with but few exceptions), mark the character of the first family of Rome. But, wealthier than the rest of the barons, they were, therefore, more luxurious, and, perhaps, more intellectual; and their pride was flattered in being patrons of those arts of which they could never have become the professors. From these multiplied oppressors the Roman citizens turned with fond and impatient regret to their ignorant and dark notions of departed liberty and greatness. They confounded the times of the Empire with those of the Republic; and often looked to the Teutonic king, who obtained his election from beyond the Alps, but his title of emperor from the Romans, as the deserter of his legitimate trust and proper home; vainly imagining that, if both the Emperor and the Pontiff fixed their residence in Rome, Liberty and Law would again seek their natural shelter beneath the resuscitated majesty of the Roman people.
The absence of the pope and the papal court served greatly to impoverish the citizens; and they had suffered yet more visibly by the depredations of hordes of robbers, numerous and unsparing, who infested Romagna, obstructing all the public ways, and were, sometimes secretly, sometimes, openly, protected by the barons, who often recruited their banditti garrisons by banditti soldiers.
But besides the lesser and ignobler robbers, there had risen in Italy a far more formidable description of freebooters. A German, who assumed the lofty title of the Duke Werner, had, a few years prior to the period we approach, enlisted and organised a considerable force, styled "The Great Company," with which he besieged cities and invaded states, without any object less shameless than that of pillage. His example was soon imitated: numerous "Companies," similarly constituted, devastated the distracted and divided land. They appeared, suddenly raised, as if by magic, before the walls of a city, and demanded immense sums as the purchase of peace. Neither tyrant nor common wealth maintained a force sufficient to resist them; and if other northern mercenaries were engaged to oppose them, it was only to recruit the standards of the freebooters with deserters. Mercenary fought not mercenary - nor German, German: and greater pay, and more unbridled rapine, made the tents of the "Companies" far more attractive than the regulated stipends of a city, or the dull fortress and impoverished coffers of a chief. Werner, the most implacable and ferocious of all these adventurers, and who had so openly gloried in his enormities as to wear upon his breast a silver plate, engraved with the words, "Enemy to God, to Pity, and to Mercy," had not long since ravaged Romagna with fire and sword. But, whether induced by money, or unable to control the fierce spirits he had raised, he afterwards led the bulk of his company back to Germany. Small detachments, however, remained, scattered throughout the land, waiting only an able leader once more to re-unite them: amongst those who appeared most fitted for that destiny was Walter de Montreal, a Knight of St. John, and gentleman of Provence, whose valour and military genius had already, though yet young, raised his name into dreaded celebrity; and whose ambition, experience, and sagacity, relieved by certain chivalric and noble qualities, were suited to enterprises far greater and more important than the violent depredations of the atrocious Werner. From these scourges, no state had suffered more grievously than Rome. The patrimonial territories of the pope, - in part wrested from him by petty tyrants, in part laid waste by these foreign robbers, - yielded but a scanty supply to the necessities of Clement VI., the most accomplished gentleman and the most graceful voluptuary of his time; and the good father had devised a plan, whereby to enrich at once the Romans and their pontiff.
Nearly fifty years before the time we enter upon, in order both to replenish the papal coffers and pacify the starving Romans, Boniface VIII. had instituted the Festival of the Jubilee, or Holy Year; in fact, a revival of a Pagan ceremonial. A plenary indulgence was promised to every Catholic who, in that year, and in the first year of every succeeding century, should visit the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. An immense concourse of pilgrims, from every part of Christendom, had attested the wisdom of the invention; "and two priests stood night and day, with rakes in their hands, to collect without counting the heaps of gold and silver that were poured on the altar of St. Paul." (Gibbon, vol. xii. c. 59.)
It is not to be wondered at that this most lucrative festival should, ere the next century was half expired, appear to a discreet pontiff to be too long postponed. And both pope and city agreed in thinking it might well bear a less distant renewal. Accordingly, Clement VI. had proclaimed, under the name of the Mosaic Jubilee, a second Holy Year for 1350 - viz., three years distant from that date at which, in the next chapter, my narrative will commence. This circumstance had a great effect in whetting the popular indignation against the barons, and preparing the events I shall relate; for the roads were, as I before said, infested by the banditti, the creatures and allies of the barons. And if the roads were not cleared, the pilgrims might not attend. It was the object of the pope's vicar, Raimond, bishop of Orvietto (bad politician and good canonist), to seek, by every means, to remove all impediment between the offerings of devotion and the treasury of St. Peter.
Such, in brief, was the state of Rome at the period we are about to examine. Her ancient mantle of renown still, in the eyes of Italy and of Europe, cloaked her ruins. In name, at least, she was still the queen of the earth; and from her hands came the crown of the emperor of the north, and the keys of the father of the church. Her situation was precisely that which presented a vase and glittering triumph to bold ambition, - an inspiring, if mournful, spectacle to determined patriotism, - and a fitting stage for that more august tragedy which seeks its incidents, selects its actors, and shapes its moral, amidst the vicissitudes and crimes of nations.
Chapter 1.III. The Brawl.
On an evening in April, 1347, and in one of those wide spaces in which Modern and Ancient Rome seemed blent together - equally desolate and equally in ruins - a miscellaneous and indignant populace were assembled. That morning the house of a Roman jeweller had been forcibly entered and pillaged by the soldiers of Martino di Porto, with a daring effrontery which surpassed even the ordinary licence of the barons. The sympathy and sensation throughout the city were deep and ominous.
"Never will I submit to this tyranny!"
"Nor by the bones of St. Peter, will I!"
"And what, my friends, is this tyranny to which you will not submit?" said a young nobleman, addressing himself to the crowd of citizens who, heated, angry, half-armed, and with the vehement gestures of Italian passion, were now sweeping down the long and narrow street that led to the gloomy quarter occupied by the Orsini.
"Ah, my lord!" cried two or three of the citizens in a breath, "you will right us - you will see justice done to us - you are a Colonna."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed scornfully one man of gigantic frame, and wielding on high a huge hammer, indicative of his trade. "Justice and Colonna! body of God! those names are not often found together."
"Down with him! down with him! he is an Orsinist - down with him!" cried at least ten of the throng: but no hand was raised against the giant.
"He speaks the truth," said a second voice, firmly.
"Ay, that doth he," said a third, knitting his brows, and unsheathing his knife, "and we will abide by it. The Orsini are tyrants - and the Colonnas are, at the best, as bad."
"Thou liest in thy teeth, ruffian!" cried the young noble, advancing into the press and confronting the last asperser of the Colonna.
Before the flashing eye and menacing gesture of the cavalier, the worthy brawler retreated some steps, so as to leave an open space between the towering form of the smith, and the small, slender, but vigorous frame of the young noble.
Taught from their birth to despise the courage of the plebeians, even while careless of much reputation as to their own, the patricians of Rome were not unaccustomed to the rude fellowship of these brawls; nor was it unoften that the mere presence of a noble sufficed to scatter whole crowds, that had the moment before been breathing vengeance against his order and his house.
Waving his hand, therefore, to the smith, and utterly unheeding either his brandished weapon or his vast stature, the young Adrian di Castello, a distant kinsman of the Colonna, haughtily bade him give way.
"To your homes, friends! and know," he added, with some dignity, "that ye wrong us much, if ye imagine we share the evil-doings of the Orsini, or are pandering solely to our own passions in the feud between their house and ours. May the Holy Mother so judge me," continued he, devoutly lifting up his eyes, "as I now with truth declare, that it is for your wrongs, and for the wrongs of Rome, that I have drawn this sword against the Orsini."
"So say all the tyrants," rejoined the smith, hardily, as he leant his hammer against a fragment of stone - some remnant of ancient Rome - "they never fight against each other, but it is for our good. One Colonna cuts me the throat of Orsini's baker - it is for our good! Another Colonna seizes on the daughter of Orsini's tailor - it is for our good! our good - yes, for the good of the people! the good of the bakers and tailors, eh?"
"Fellow," said the young nobleman, gravely, "if a Colonna did thus, he did wrong; but the holiest cause may have bad supporters."
"Yes, the holy Church itself is propped on very in different columns," answered the smith, in a rude witticism on the affection of the pope for the Colonna.
"He blasphemes! the smith blasphemes!" cried the partisans of that powerful house. "A Colonna, a Colonna!"
"An Orsini, an Orsini!" was no less promptly the counter cry.
"The People!" shouted the smith, waving his formidable weapon far above the heads of the group.
In an instant the whole throng, who had at first united against the aggression of one man, were divided by the hereditary wrath of faction. At the cry of Orsini, several new partisans hurried to the spot; the friends of the Colonna drew themselves on one side - the defenders of the Orsini on the other - and the few who agreed with the smith that both factions were equally odious, and the people was the sole legitimate cry in a popular commotion, would have withdrawn themselves from the approaching melee, if the smith himself, who was looked upon by them as an authority of great influence, had not - whether from resentment at the haughty bearing of the young Colonna, or from that appetite of contest not uncommon in men of a bulk and force which assure them in all personal affrays the lofty pleasure of superiority - if, I say, the smith himself had not, after a pause of indecision, retired among the Orsini, and entrained, by his example, the alliance of his friends with the favourers of that faction.
In popular commotions, each man is whirled along with the herd, often half against his own approbation or assent. The few words of peace by which Adrian di Castello commenced an address to his friends were drowned amidst their shouts. Proud to find in their ranks one of the most beloved, and one of the noblest of that name, the partisans of the Colonna placed him in their front, and charged impetuously on their foes. Adrian, however, who had acquired from circumstances something of that chivalrous code which he certainly could not have owed to his Roman birth, disdained at first to assault men among whom he recognised no equal, either in rank or the practice of arms. He contented himself with putting aside the few strokes that were aimed at him in the gathering confusion of the conflict - few; for those who recognised him, even amidst the bitterest partisans of the Orsini, were not willing to expose themselves to the danger and odium of spilling the blood of a man, who, in addition to his great birth and the terrible power of his connexions, was possessed of a personal popularity, which he owed rather to a comparison with the vices of his relatives than to any remarkable virtues hitherto displayed by himself. The smith alone, who had as yet taken no active part in the fray, seemed to gather himself up in determined opposition as the cavalier now advanced within a few steps of him.
"Did we not tell thee," quoth the giant, frowning, "that the Colonna were, not less than the Orsini, the foes of the people? Look at thy followers and clients: are they not cutting the throats of humble men by way of vengeance for the crime of a great one? But that is the way one patrician always scourges the insolence of another. He lays the rod on the backs of the people, and then cries, 'See how just I am!'"
"I do not answer thee now," answered Adrian; "but if thou regrettest with me this waste of blood, join with me in attempting to prevent it."
"I - not I! let the blood of the slaves flow today: the time is fast coming when it shall be washed away by the blood of the lords."
"Away, ruffian!" said Adrian, seeking no further parley, and touching the smith with the flat side of his sword. In an instant the hammer of the smith swung in the air, and, but for the active spring of the young noble, would infallibly have crushed him to the earth. Ere the smith could gain time for a second blow, Adrian's sword passed twice through his right arm, and the weapon fell heavily to the ground.
"Slay him, slay him!" cried several of the clients of the Colonna, now pressing, dastard-like, round the disarmed and disabled smith.
"Ay, slay him!" said, in tolerable Italian, but with a barbarous accent, one man, half-clad in armour, who had but just joined the group, and who was one of those wild German bandits whom the Colonna held in their pay; "he belongs to a horrible gang of miscreants sworn against all order and peace. He is one of Rienzi's followers, and, bless the Three Kings! raves about the People."
"Thou sayest right, barbarian," said the sturdy smith, in a loud voice, and tearing aside the vest from his breast with his left hand; "come all - Colonna and Orsini - dig to this heart with your sharp blades, and when you have reached the centre, you will find there the object of your common hatred - 'Rienzi and the People!'"
As he uttered these words, in language that would have seemed above his station (if a certain glow and exaggeration of phrase and sentiment were not common, when excited, to all the Romans), the loudness of his voice rose above the noise immediately round him, and stilled, for an instant, the general din; and when, at last, the words, "Rienzi and the People" rang forth, they penetrated midway through the increasing crowd, and were answered as by an echo, with a hundred voices - "Rienzi and the People!"
But whatever impression the words of the mechanic made on others, it was equally visible in the young Colonna. At the name of Rienzi the glow of excitement vanished from his cheek; he started back, muttered to himself, and for a moment seemed, even in the midst of that stirring commotion, to be lost in a moody and distant revery. He recovered, as the shout died away; and saying to the smith, in a low tone, "Friend, I am sorry for thy wound; but seek me on the morrow, and thou shalt find thou hast wronged me;" he beckoned to the German to follow him, and threaded his way through the crowd, which generally gave back as he advanced. For the bitterest hatred to the order of the nobles was at that time in Rome mingled with a servile respect for their persons, and a mysterious awe of their uncontrollable power.
As Adrian passed through that part of the crowd in which the fray had not yet commenced, the murmurs that followed him were not those which many of his race could have heard.
"A Colonna," said one.
"Yet no ravisher," said another, laughing wildly.
"Nor murtherer," muttered a third, pressing his hand to his breast. "'Tis not against him that my father's blood cries aloud."
"Bless him," said a fourth, "for as yet no man curses him!"
"Ah, God help us!" said an old man, with a long grey beard, leaning on his staff: "The serpent's young yet; the fangs will show by and by."
"For shame, father! he is a comely youth, and not proud in the least. What a smile he hath!" quoth a fair matron, who kept on the outskirt of the melee.
"Farewell to a man's honour when a noble smiles on his wife!" was the answer.
"Nay," said Luigi, a jolly butcher, with a roguish eye, "what a man can win fairly from maid or wife, that let him do, whether plebeian or noble - that's my morality; but when an ugly old patrician finds fair words will not win fair looks, and carries me off a dame on the back of a German boar, with a stab in the side for comfort to the spouse, - then, I say, he is a wicked man, and an adulterer."
While such were the comments and the murmurs that followed the noble, very different were the looks and words that attended the German soldier.
Equally, nay, with even greater promptitude, did the crowd make way at his armed and heavy tread; but not with looks of reverence: - the eye glared as he approached; but the cheek grew pale - the head bowed - the lip quivered; each man felt a shudder of hate and fear, as recognizing a dread and mortal foe. And well and wrathfully did the fierce mercenary note the signs of the general aversion. He pushed on rudely - half-smiling in contempt, half-frowning in revenge, as he looked from side to side; and his long, matted, light hair, tawny-coloured moustache, and brawny front, contrasted strongly with the dark eyes, raven locks, and slender frames of the Italians.
"May Lucifer double damn those German cut-throats!" muttered, between his grinded teeth, one of the citizens.
"Amen!" answered, heartily, another.
"Hush!" said a third, timorously looking round; "if one of them hear thee, thou art a lost man."
"Oh, Rome! Rome! to what art thou fallen!" said bitterly one citizen, clothed in black, and of a higher seeming than the rest; "when thou shudderest in thy streets at the tread of a hired barbarian!"
"Hark to one of our learned men, and rich citizens!" said the butcher, reverently.
"'Tis a friend of Rienzi's," quoth another of the group, lifting his cap.
With downcast eyes, and a face in which grief, shame, and wrath, were visibly expressed, Pandulfo di Guido, a citizen of birth and repute, swept slowly through the crowd, and disappeared.
Meanwhile, Adrian, having gained a street which, though in the neighbourhood of the crowd, was empty and desolate, turned to his fierce comrade. "Rodolf!" said he, "mark! - no violence to the citizens. Return to the crowd, collect the friends of our house, withdraw them from the scene; let not the Colonna be blamed for this day's violence; and assure our followers, in my name, that I swear, by the knighthood I received at the Emperor's hands, that by my sword shall Martino di Porto be punished for his outrage. Fain would I, in person, allay the tumult, but my presence only seems to sanction it. Go - thou hast weight with them all."
"Ay, Signor, the weight of blows!" answered the grim soldier. "But the command is hard; I would fain let their puddle-blood flow an hour or two longer. Yet, pardon me; in obeying thy orders, do I obey those of my master, thy kinsman? It is old Stephen Colonna - who seldom spares blood or treasure, God bless him - (save his own!) - whose money I hold, and to whose hests I am sworn."
"Diavolo!" muttered the cavalier, and the angry spot was on his cheek; but, with the habitual self-control of the Italian nobles, he smothered his rising choler, and said aloud, with calmness, but dignity -
"Do as I bid thee; check this tumult - make us the forbearing party. Let all be still within one hour hence, and call on me tomorrow for thy reward; be this purse an earnest of my future thanks. As for my kinsman, whom I command thee to name more reverently, 'tis in his name I speak. Hark! the din increases - the contest swells - go - lose not another moment."
Somewhat awed by the quiet firmness of the patrician, Rodolf nodded, without answer, slid the money into his bosom, and stalked away into the thickest of the throng. But, even ere he arrived, a sudden reaction had taken place.
The young cavalier, left alone in that spot, followed with his eyes the receding form of the mercenary, as the sun, now setting, shone slant upon his glittering casque, and said bitterly to himself - "Unfortunate city, fountain of all mighty memories - fallen queen of a thousand nations - how art thou decrowned and spoiled by thy recreant and apostate children! Thy nobles divided against themselves - thy people cursing thy nobles - thy priests, who should sow peace, planting discord - the father of thy church deserting thy stately walls, his home a refuge, his mitre a fief, his court a Gallic village - and we! we, of the haughtiest blood of Rome - we, the sons of Caesars, and of the lineage of demigods, guarding an insolent and abhorred state by the swords of hirelings, who mock our cowardice while they receive our pay - who keep our citizens slaves, and lord it over their very masters in return! Oh, that we, the hereditary chiefs of Rome, could but feel - oh, that we could but find, our only legitimate safeguard in the grateful hearts of our countrymen!"
So deeply did the young Adrian feel the galling truth of all he uttered, that the indignant tears rolled down his cheeks as he spoke. He felt no shame as he dashed them away; for that weakness which weeps for a fallen race, is the tenderness not of women but of angels.
As he turned slowly to quit the spot, his steps were suddenly arrested by a loud shout: "Rienzi! Rienzi!" smote the air. From the walls of the Capitol to the bed of the glittering Tiber, that name echoed far and wide; and, as the shout died away, it was swallowed up in a silence so profound, so universal, so breathless, that you might have imagined that death itself had fallen over the city. And now, at the extreme end of the crowd, and elevated above their level, on vast fragments of stone which had been dragged from the ruins of Rome in one of the late frequent tumults between contending factions, to serve as a barricade for citizens against citizens,
From the distance at which he stood from the scene, Adrian could only distinguish the dark outline of Rienzi's form; he could only hear the faint sound of his mighty voice; he could only perceive, in the subdued yet waving sea of human beings that spread around, their heads bared in the last rays of the sun, the unutterable effect which an eloquence, described by contemporaries almost as miraculous, - but in reality less so from the genius of the man than the sympathy of the audience, - created in all, who drank into their hearts and souls the stream of its burning thoughts.
It was but for a short time that that form was visible to the earnest eye, that that voice at intervals reached the straining ear, of Adrian di Castello; but that time sufficed to produce all the effect which Adrian himself had desired.
Another shout, more earnest, more prolonged than the first - a shout, in which spoke the release of swelling thoughts, of intense excitement - betokened the close of the harangue; and then you might see, after a minute's pause, the crowd breaking in all directions, and pouring down the avenues in various knots and groups, each testifying the strong and lasting impression made upon the multitude by that address. Every cheek was flushed - every tongue spoke: the animation of the orator had passed, like a living spirit, into the breasts of the audience. He had thundered against the disorders of the patricians, yet, by a word, he had disarmed the anger of the plebeians - he had preached freedom, yet he had opposed licence. He had calmed the present, by a promise of the future. He had chid their quarrels, yet had supported their cause. He had mastered the revenge of today, by a solemn assurance that there should come justice for the morrow. So great may be the power, so mighty the eloquence, so formidable the genius, of one man, - without arms, without rank, without sword or ermine, who addresses himself to a people that is oppressed!
Chapter 1.IV. An Adventure.
Avoiding the broken streams of the dispersed crowd, Adrian Colonna strode rapidly down one of the narrow streets leading to his palace, which was situated at no inconsiderable distance from the place in which the late contest had occurred. The education of his life made him feel a profound interest, not only in the divisions and disputes of his country, but also in the scene he had just witnessed, and the authority exercised by Rienzi.
An orphan of a younger, but opulent branch of the Colonna, Adrian had been brought up under the care and guardianship of his kinsman, that astute, yet valiant Stephen Colonna, who, of all the nobles of Rome, was the most powerful, alike from the favour of the pope, and the number of armed hirelings whom his wealth enabled him to maintain. Adrian had early manifested what in that age was considered an extraordinary disposition towards intellectual pursuits, and had acquired much of the little that was then known of the ancient language and the ancient history of his country.
Though Adrian was but a boy at the time in which, first presented to the reader, he witnessed the emotions of Rienzi at the death of his brother, his kind heart had been penetrated with sympathy for Cola's affliction, and shame for the apathy of his kinsmen at the result of their own feuds. He had earnestly sought the friendship of Rienzi, and, despite his years, had become aware of the power and energy of his character. But though Rienzi, after a short time, had appeared to think no more of his brother's death - though he again entered the halls of the Colonna, and shared their disdainful hospitalities, he maintained a certain distance and reserve of manner, which even Adrian could only partially overcome. He rejected every offer of service, favour, or promotion; and any unwonted proof of kindness from Adrian seemed, instead of making him more familiar, to offend him into colder distance. The easy humour and conversational vivacity which had first rendered him a welcome guest with those who passed their lives between fighting and feasting, had changed into a vein ironical, cynical, and severe. But the dull barons were equally amused at his wit, and Adrian was almost the only one who detected the serpent couched beneath the smile.
Often Rienzi sat at the feast, silent, but observant, as if watching every look, weighing every word, taking gauge and measurement of the intellect, policy, temperament, of every guest; and when he had seemed to satisfy himself, his spirits would rise, his words flow, and while his dazzling but bitter wit lit up the revel, none saw that the unmirthful flash was the token of the coming storm. But all the while, he neglected no occasion to mix with the humbler citizens, to stir up their minds, to inflame their imaginations, to kindle their emulation, with pictures of the present and with legends of the past. He grew in popularity and repute, and was yet more in power with the herd, because in favour with the nobles. Perhaps it was for that reason that he had continued the guest of the Colonna.
When, six years before the present date, the Capitol of the Caesars witnessed the triumph of Petrarch, the scholastic fame of the young Rienzi had attracted the friendship of the poet, - a friendship that continued, with slight interruption, to the last, through careers so widely different; and afterwards, one among the Roman Deputies to Avignon, he had been conjoined with Petrarch (According to the modern historians; but it seems more probable that Rienzi's mission to Avignon was posterior to that of Petrarch. However this be, it was at Avignon that Petrarch and Rienzi became most intimate, as Petrarch himself observes in one of his letters.) to supplicate Clement VI. to remove the Holy See from Avignon to Rome. It was in this mission that, for the first time, he evinced his extraordinary powers of eloquence and persuasion. The pontiff, indeed, more desirous of ease than glory, was not convinced by the arguments, but he was enchanted with the pleader; and Rienzi returned to Rome, loaded with honours, and clothed with the dignity of high and responsible office. No longer the inactive scholar, the gay companion, he rose at once to pre-eminence above all his fellow-citizens. Never before had authority been borne with so austere an integrity, so uncorrupt a zeal. He had sought to impregnate his colleagues with the same loftiness of principle - he had failed. Now secure in his footing, he had begun openly to appeal to the people; and already a new spirit seemed to animate the populace of Rome.
While these were the fortunes of Rienzi, Adrian had been long separated from him, and absent from Rome.
The Colonna were staunch supporters of the imperial party, and Adrian di Castello had received and obeyed an invitation to the Emperor's court. Under that monarch he had initiated himself in arms, and, among the knights of Germany, he had learned to temper the natural Italian shrewdness with the chivalry of northern valour.
In leaving Bavaria, he had sojourned a short time in the solitude of one of his estates by the fairest lake of northern Italy; and thence, with a mind improved alike by action and study, had visited many of the free Italian states, imbibed sentiments less prejudiced than those of his order, and acquired an early reputation for himself while inly marking the characters and deeds of others. In him, the best qualities of the Italian noble were united. Passionately addicted to the cultivation of letters, subtle and profound in policy, gentle and bland of manner, dignifying a love of pleasure with a certain elevation of taste, he yet possessed a gallantry of conduct, and purity of honour, and an aversion from cruelty, which were then very rarely found in the Italian temperament, and which even the Chivalry of the North, while maintaining among themselves, usually abandoned the moment they came into contact with the systematic craft and disdain of honesty, which made the character of the ferocious, yet wily, South. With these qualities he combined, indeed, the softer passions of his countrymen, - he adored Beauty, and he made a deity of Love.
He had but a few weeks returned to his native city, whither his reputation had already preceded him, and where his early affection for letters and gentleness of bearing were still remembered. He returned to find the position of Rienzi far more altered than his own. Adrian had not yet sought the scholar. He wished first to judge with his own eyes, and at a distance, of the motives and object of his conduct; for partly he caught the suspicions which his own order entertained of Rienzi, and partly he shared in the trustful enthusiasm of the people.
"Certainly," said he now to himself, as he walked musingly onward, "certainly, no man has it more in his power to reform our diseased state, to heal our divisions, to awaken our citizens to the recollections of ancestral virtue. But that very power, how dangerous is it! Have I not seen, in the free states of Italy, men, called into authority for the sake of preserving the people, honest themselves at first, and then, drunk with the sudden rank, betraying the very cause which had exalted them? True, those men were chiefs and nobles; but are plebeians less human? Howbeit I have heard and seen enough from afar, - I will now approach, and examine the man himself."
While thus soliloquizing, Adrian but little noted the various passengers, who, more and more rarely as the evening waned, hastened homeward. Among these were two females, who now alone shared with Adrian the long and gloomy street into which he had entered. The moon was already bright in the heavens, and, as the women passed the cavalier with a light and quick step, the younger one turned back and regarded him by the clear light with an eager, yet timid glance.
"Why dost thou tremble, my pretty one!" said her companion, who might have told some five-and-forty years, and whose garb and voice bespoke her of inferior rank to the younger female. "The streets seem quiet enough now, and, the Virgin be praised! we are not so far from home either."
"Oh, Benedetta, it is he! it is the young signor - it is Adrian!"
"That is fortunate," said the nurse, for such was her condition, "since they say he is as bold as a Northman: and as the Palazzo Colonna is not very far from hence, we shall be within reach of his aid should we want it: that is to say, sweet one, if you will walk a little slower than you have yet done."
The young lady slackened her pace, and sighed.
"He is certainly very handsome," quoth the nurse: "but thou must not think more of him; he is too far above thee for marriage, and for aught else, thou art too honest, and thy brother too proud - "
"And thou, Benedetta, art too quick with thy tongue. How canst thou talk thus, when thou knowest he hath never, since, at least, I was a mere child, even addressed me: nay, he scarce knows of my very existence. He, the Lord Adrian di Castello, dream of the poor Irene! The mere thought is madness!"
"Then why," said the nurse, briskly, "dost thou dream of him?"
Her companion sighed again more deeply than at first.
"Holy St. Catherine!" continued Benedetta, "if there were but one man in the world, I would die single ere I would think of him, until, at least, he had kissed my hand twice, and left it my own fault if it were not my lips instead."
The young lady still replied not.
"But how didst thou contrive to love him?" asked the nurse. "Thou canst not have seen him very often: it is but some four or five weeks since his return to Rome."
"Oh, how dull art thou?" answered the fair Irene. "Have I not told thee again and again, that I loved him six years ago?"
"When thou hadst told but thy tenth year, and a doll would have been thy most suitable lover! As I am a Christian, Signora, thou hast made good use of thy time.
"And during his absence," continued the girl, fondly, yet sadly, "did I not hear him spoken of, and was not the mere sound of his name like a love-gift that bade me remember? And when they praised him, have I not rejoiced? and when they blamed him, have I not resented? and when they said that his lance was victorious in the tourney, did I not weep with pride? and when they whispered that his vows were welcome in the bower, wept I not as fervently with grief? Have not the six years of his absence been a dream, and was not his return a waking into light - a morning of glory and the sun? and I see him now in the church when he wots not of me; and on his happy steed as he passes by my lattice: and is not that enough of happiness for love?"
"But if he loves not thee?"
"Fool! I ask not that; - nay, I know not if I wish it. Perhaps I would rather dream of him, such as I would have him, than know him for what he is. He might be unkind, or ungenerous, or love me but little; rather would I not be loved at all, than loved coldly, and eat away my heart by comparing it with his. I can love him now as something abstract, unreal, and divine: but what would be my shame, my grief, if I were to find him less than I have imagined! Then, indeed, my life would have been wasted; then, indeed, the beauty of the earth would be gone!"
The good nurse was not very capable of sympathizing with sentiments like these. Even had their characters been more alike, their disparity of age would have rendered such sympathy impossible. What but youth can echo back the soul of youth - all the music of its wild vanities and romantic follies? The good nurse did not sympathize with the sentiments of her young lady, but she sympathised with the deep earnestness with which they were expressed. She thought it wondrous silly, but wondrous moving; she wiped her eyes with the corner of her veil, and hoped in her secret heart that her young charge would soon get a real husband to put such unsubstantial fantasies out of her head. There was a short pause in their conversation, when, just where two streets crossed one another, there was heard a loud noise of laughing voices and trampling feet. Torches were seen on high affronting the pale light of the moon; and, at a very short distance from the two females, in the cross street, advanced a company of seven or eight men, bearing, as seen by the red light of the torches, the formidable badge of the Orsini.
Amidst the other disorders of the time, it was no unfrequent custom for the younger or more dissolute of the nobles, in small and armed companies, to parade the streets at night, seeking occasion for a licentious gallantry among the cowering citizens, or a skirmish at arms with some rival stragglers of their own order. Such a band had Irene and her companion now chanced to encounter.
"Holy mother!" cried Benedetta, turning pale, and half running, "what curse has befallen us? How could we have been so foolish as to tarry so late at the lady Nina's! Run, Signora, - run, or we shall fall into their hands!"
But the advice of Benedetta came too late, - the fluttering garments of the women had been already descried: in a moment more they were surrounded by the marauders. A rude hand tore aside Benedetta's veil, and at sight of features, which, if time had not spared, it could never very materially injure, the rough aggressor cast the poor nurse against the wall with a curse, which was echoed by a loud laugh from his comrades.
"Thou hast a fine fortune in faces Giuseppe!"
"Yes; it was but the other day that he seized on a girl of sixty."
"And then, by way of improving her beauty, cut her across the face with his dagger, because she was not sixteen!"
"Hush, fellows! whom have we here?" said the chief of the party, a man richly dressed, and who, though bordering upon middle age, had only the more accustomed himself to the excesses of youth; as he spoke, he snatched the trembling Irene from the grasp of his followers. "Ho, there! the torches! Oh che bella faccia! what blushes - what eyes! - nay, look not down, pretty one; thou needst not be ashamed to win the love of an Orsini - yes; know the triumph thou hast achieved - it is Martino di Porto who bids thee smile upon him!"
"For the blest Mother's sake release me! Nay, sir, this must not be - I am not unfriended - this insult shall not pass!"
"Hark to her silver chiding; it is better than my best hound's bay! This adventure is worth a month's watching. What! will you not come? - restive
But Irene's shrieks, Irene's struggles, had already brought succour to her side, and, as Adrian approached the spot, the nurse flung herself on her knees before him.
"Oh, sweet signor, for Christ's grace save us! Deliver my young mistress - her friends love you well! We are all for the Colonna, my lord; yes, indeed, all for the Colonna! Save the kin of your own clients, gracious signor!"
It is enough that she is a woman," answered Adrian, adding, between his teeth, "and that an Orsini is her assailant." He strode haughtily into the thickest of the group; the servitors laid hands on their swords, but gave way before him as they recognised his person; he reached the two men who had already seized Irene; in one moment he struck the foremost to the ground, in another, he had passed his left arm round the light and slender form of the maiden, and stood confronting the Orsini with his drawn blade, which, however, he pointed to the ground.
"For shame, my lord - for shame!" said he, indignantly. "Will you force Rome to rise, to a man, against our order? Vex not too far the lion, chained though he be; war against us if ye will! draw your blades upon men, though they be of your own race, and speak your own tongue: but if ye would sleep at nights, and not dread the avenger's gripe, - if ye would walk the market-place secure, - wrong not a Roman woman! Yes, the very walls around us preach to you the punishment of such a deed: for that offence fell the Tarquins, - for that offence were swept away the Decemvirs, - for that offence, if ye rush upon it, the blood of your whole house may flow like water. Cease, then, my lord, from this mad attempt, so unworthy your great name; cease, and thank even a Colonna that he has come between you and a moment's frenzy!"
So noble, so lofty were the air and gesture of Adrian, as he thus spoke, that even the rude servitors felt a thrill of approbation and remorse - not so Martino di Porto. He had been struck with the beauty of the prey thus suddenly snatched from him; he had been accustomed to long outrage and to long impunity; the very sight, the very voice of a Colonna, was a blight to his eye and a discord to his ear: what, then, when a Colonna interfered with his lusts, and rebuked his vices?
"Pedant!" he cried, with quivering lips, "prate not to me of thy vain legends and gossip's tales! think not to snatch from me my possession in another, when thine own life is in my hands. Unhand the maiden! throw down thy sword! return home without further parley, or, by my faith, and the blades of my followers - (look at them well!) - thou diest!"
"Signor," said Adrian, calmly, yet while he spoke he retreated gradually with his fair burthen towards the neighbouring wall, so as at least to leave only his front exposed to those fearful odds: "Thou will not so misuse the present chances, and wrong thyself in men's mouths, as to attack with eight swords even thy hereditary foe, thus cumbered, too, as he is. But - nay hold! - if thou art so proposed, bethink thee well, one cry of my voice would soon turn the odds against thee. Thou art now in the quarter of my tribe; thou art surrounded by the habitations of the Colonna: yon palace swarms with men who sleep not, save with harness on their backs; men whom my voice can reach even now, but from whom, if they once taste of blood, it could not save thee!"
"He speaks true, noble Lord," said one of the band: "we have wandered too far out of our beat; we are in their very den; the palace of old Stephen Colonna is within call; and, to my knowledge," added he, in a whisper, "eighteen fresh men-of-arms - ay, and Northmen too - marched through its gates this day."
"Were there eight hundred men at arm's length," answered Martino furiously, "I would not be thus bearded amidst mine own train! Away with yon woman! To the attack! to the attack!"
Thus saying, he made a desperate lunge at Adrian, who, having kept his eye cautiously on the movements of his enemy, was not unprepared for the assault. As he put aside the blade with his own, he shouted with a loud voice - "Colonna! to the rescue, Colonna!"
Nor had it been without an ulterior object that the acute and self- controlling mind of Adrian had hitherto sought to prolong the parley. Even as he first addressed Orsini, he had perceived, by the moonlight, the glitter of armour upon two men advancing from the far end of the street, and judged at once, by the neighbourhood, that they must be among the mercenaries of the Colonna.
Gently he suffered the form of Irene, which now, for she had swooned with the terror, pressed too heavily upon him, to slide from his left arm, and standing over her form, while sheltered from behind by the wall which he had so warily gained, he contented himself with parrying the blows hastily aimed at him, without attempting to retaliate. Few of the Romans, however accustomed to such desultory warfare, were then well and dexterously practised in the use of arms; and the science Adrian had acquired in the schools of the martial north, befriended him now, even against such odds. It is true, indeed, that the followers of Orsini did not share the fury of their lord; partly afraid of the consequence to themselves should the blood of so highborn a signor be spilt by their hands, partly embarrassed with the apprehension that they should see themselves suddenly beset with the ruthless hirelings so close within hearing, they struck but aimless and random blows, looking every moment behind and aside, and rather prepared for flight than slaughter. Echoing the cry of "Colonna," poor Benedetta fled at the first clash of swords. She ran down the dreary street still shrieking that cry, and passed the very portals of Stephen's palace (where some grim forms yet loitered) without arresting her steps there, so great were her confusion and terror.
Meanwhile, the two armed men, whom Adrian had descried, proceeded leisurely up the street. The one was of a rude and common mould, his arms and his complexion testified his calling and race; and by the great respect he paid to his companion, it was evident that that companion was no native of Italy. For the brigands of the north, while they served the vices of the southern, scarce affected to disguise their contempt for his cowardice.
The companion of the brigand was a man of a martial, yet easy air. He wore no helmet, but a cap of crimson velvet, set off with a white plume; on his mantle, or surcoat, which was of scarlet, was wrought a broad white cross, both at back and breast; and so brilliant was the polish of his corselet, that, as from time to time the mantle waved aside and exposed it to the moonbeams, it glittered like light itself.
"Nay, Rodolf," said he, "if thou hast so good a lot of it here with that hoary schemer, Heaven forbid that I should wish to draw thee back again to our merry band. But tell me - this Rienzi - thinkest thou he has any solid and formidable power?"
"Pshaw! noble chieftain, not a whit of it. He pleases the mob; but as for the nobles, they laugh at him; and, as for the soldiers, he has no money!"
"He pleases the mob, then!"
"Ay, that doth he; and when he speaks aloud to them, all the roar of Rome is hushed."
"Humph! - when nobles are hated, and soldiers are bought, a mob may, in any hour, become the master. An honest people and a weak mob, - a corrupt people and a strong mob," said the other, rather to himself than to his comrade, and scarce, perhaps, conscious of the eternal truth of his aphorism. "He is no mere brawler, this Rienzi, I suspect - I must see to it. Hark! what noise is that? By the Holy Sepulchre, it is the ring of our own metal!"
"And that cry - 'a Colonna!'" exclaimed Rodolf. "Pardon me, master, - I must away to the rescue!"
"Ay, it is the duty of thy hire; run; - yet stay, I will accompany thee, gratis for once, and from pure passion for mischief. By this hand, there is no music like clashing steel!"
Still Adrian continued gallantly and unwounded to defend himself, though his arm now grew tired, his breath well-nigh spent, and his eyes began to wink and reel beneath the glare of the tossing torches. Orsini himself, exhausted by his fury, had paused for an instant, fronting his foe with a heaving breast and savage looks, when, suddenly, his followers exclaimed, "Fly! fly! - the bandits approach - we are surrounded!" - and two of the servitors, without further parley, took fairly to their heels. The other five remained irresolute, and waiting but the command of their master, when he of the white plume, whom I have just described, thrust himself into the melee.
"What! gentles," said he, "have ye finished already? Nay, let us not mar the sport; begin again, I beseech you. What are the odds? Ho! six to one!
"Insolent!" cried the Orsini. "Knowest thou him whom thou addressest thus arrogantly? - I am Martino di Porto. Who art thou?"
"Walter de Montreal, gentleman of Provence, and Knight of St. John!" answered the other, carelessly.
At that redoubted name - the name of one of the boldest warriors, and of the most accomplished freebooter of his time - even Martino's cheek grew pale, and his followers uttered a cry of terror.
"And this, my comrade," continued the Knight, "for we may as well complete the introduction, is probably better known to you than I am, gentles of Rome; and you doubtless recognize in him Rodolf of Saxony, a brave man and a true, where he is properly paid for his services."
"Signor," said Adrian to his enemy, who, aghast and dumb, remained staring vacantly at the two new-comers, "you are now in my power. See, our own people, too, are approaching."
And, indeed, from the palace of Stephen Colonna, torches began to blaze, and armed men were seen rapidly advancing to the spot.
"Go home in peace, and if, tomorrow, or any day more suitable to thee, thou wilt meet me alone, and lance to lance, as is the wont of the knights of the empire; or with band to band, and man for man, as is rather the Roman custom; I will not fail thee - there is my gage."
"Nobly spoken," said Montreal; "and, if ye choose the latter, by your leave, I will be one of the party."
Martino answered not; he took up the glove, thrust it in his bosom, and strode hastily away; only, when he had got some paces down the street, he turned back, and, shaking his clenched hand at Adrian, exclaimed, in a voice trembling with impotent rage - "Faithful to death!"
The words made one of the mottoes of the Orsini; and, whatever its earlier signification, had long passed into a current proverb, to signify their hatred to the Colonna.
Adrian, now engaged in raising, and attempting to revive Irene, who was still insensible, disdainfully left it to Montreal to reply.
"I doubt not, Signor," said the latter, coolly, "that thou wilt be faithful
to Death: for Death, God wot, is the only contract which men, however
ingenious, are unable to break or evade."
"Pardon me, gentle Knight," said Adrian, looking up from his charge, "if I do not yet give myself wholly to gratitude. I have learned enough of knighthood to feel thou wilt acknowledge that my first duty is here - "
"Oh, a lady, then, was the cause of the quarrel! I need not ask who was in the right, when a man brings to the rivalry such odds as yon caitiff."
"Thou mistakest a little, Sir Knight, - it is but a lamb I have rescued from the wolf."
"For thy own table! Be it so!" returned the Knight, gaily.
Adrian smiled gravely, and shook his head in denial. In truth, he was somewhat embarrassed by his situation. Though habitually gallant, he was not willing to expose to misconstruction the disinterestedness of his late conduct, and (for it was his policy to conciliate popularity) to sully the credit which his bravery would give him among the citizens, by conveying Irene (whose beauty, too, as yet, he had scarcely noted) to his own dwelling; and yet, in her present situation, there was no alternative. She evinced no sign of life. He knew not her home, nor parentage. Benedetta had vanished. He could not leave her in the streets; he could not resign her to the care of another; and, as she lay now upon his breast, he felt her already endeared to him, by that sense of protection which is so grateful to the human heart. He briefly, therefore, explained to those now gathered round him, his present situation, and the cause of the past conflict; and bade the torch-bearers precede him to his home.
"You, Sir Knight," added he, turning to Montreal, "if not already more pleasantly lodged, will, I trust, deign to be my guest?"
"Thanks, Signor," answered Montreal, maliciously, "but I, also, perhaps, have my own affairs to watch over. Adieu! I shall seek you at the earliest occasion. Fair night, and gentle dreams!
'Robers Bertrams qui estoit tors
Mais a ceval estoit mult fors
Cil avoit o lui grans effors
Multi ot 'homes per lui mors.'"
("An ill-favoured man, but a stout horseman, was Robert Bertram. Great deeds were his, and many a man died by his hand.")
And, muttering this rugged chant from the old "Roman de Rou," the Provencal, followed by Rodolf, pursued his way.
The vast extent of Rome, and the thinness of its population, left many of the streets utterly deserted. The principal nobles were thus enabled to possess themselves of a wide range of buildings, which they fortified, partly against each other, partly against the people; their numerous relatives and clients lived around them, forming, as it were, petty courts and cities in themselves.
Almost opposite to the principal palace of the Colonna (occupied by his powerful kinsman, Stephen) was the mansion of Adrian. Heavily swung back the massive gates at his approach; he ascended the broad staircase, and bore his charge into an apartment which his tastes had decorated in a fashion not as yet common in that age. Ancient statues and busts were arranged around; the pictured arras of Lombardy decorated the walls, and covered the massive seats.
"What ho! Lights here, and wine!" cried the Seneschal.
"Leave us alone," said Adrian, gazing passionately on the pale cheek of Irene, as he now, by the clear light, beheld all its beauty; and a sweet yet burning hope crept into his heart.
Chapter 1.V. The Description of a Conspirator, and the Dawn of the Conspiracy.
Alone, by a table covered with various papers, sat a man in the prime of life. The chamber was low and long; many antique and disfigured bas- reliefs and torsos were placed around the wall, interspersed, here and there, with the short sword and close casque, time-worn relics of the prowess of ancient Rome. Right above the table at which he sate, the moonlight streamed through a high and narrow casement, deep sunk in the massy wall. In a niche to the right of this window, guarded by a sliding door, which was now partially drawn aside - but which, by its solid substance, and the sheet of iron with which it was plated, testified how valuable, in the eyes of the owner, was the treasure it protected - were ranged some thirty or forty volumes, then deemed no inconsiderable library; and being, for the most part, the laborious copies in manuscript by the hand of the owner, from immortal originals.
Leaning his cheek on his hand, his brow somewhat knit, his lip slightly compressed, that personage, indulged in meditations far other than the indolent dreams of scholars. As the high and still moonlight shone upon his countenance, it gave an additional and solemn dignity to features which were naturally of a grave and majestic cast. Thick and auburn hair, the colour of which, not common to the Romans, was ascribed to his descent from the Teuton emperor, clustered in large curls above a high and expansive forehead; and even the present thoughtful compression of the brow could not mar the aspect of latent power, which it derived from that great breadth between the eyes, in which the Grecian sculptors of old so admirably conveyed the expression of authority, and the silent energy of command. But his features were not cast in the Grecian, still less in the Teuton mould. The iron jaw, the aquiline nose, the somewhat sunken cheek, strikingly recalled the character of the hard Roman race, and might not inaptly have suggested to a painter a model for the younger Brutus.
The marked outline of the face, and the short, firm upper lip, were not concealed by the beard and mustachios usually then worn; and, in the faded portrait of the person now described, still extant at Rome, may be traced a certain resemblance to the popular pictures of Napoleon; not indeed in the features, which are more stern and prominent in the portrait of the Roman, but in that peculiar expression of concentrated and tranquil power which so nearly realizes the ideal of intellectual majesty. Though still young, the personal advantages most peculiar to youth, - the bloom and glow, the rounded cheek in which care has not yet ploughed its lines, the full unsunken eye, and the slender delicacy of frame, - these were not the characteristics of that solitary student. And, though considered by his contemporaries as eminently handsome, the judgment was probably formed less from the more vulgar claims to such distinction, than from the height of the stature, an advantage at that time more esteemed than at present, and that nobler order of beauty which cultivated genius and commanding character usually stamp upon even homely features; - the more rare in an age so rugged.
The character of Rienzi (for the youth presented to the reader in the first chapter of this history is now again before him in maturer years) had acquired greater hardness and energy with each stepping-stone to power. There was a circumstance attendant on his birth which had, probably, exercised great and early influence on his ambition. Though his parents were in humble circumstances, and of lowly calling, his father was the natural son of the Emperor, Henry VII.; (De Sade supposes that the mother of Rienzi was the daughter of an illegitimate son of Henry VII., supporting his opinion from a MS. in the Vatican. But, according to the contemporaneous biographer, Rienzi, in addressing Charles, king of Bohemia claims the relationship from his father "Di vostro legnaggio sono - figlio di bastardo d'Enrico imperatore," &c. A more recent writer, il Padre Gabrini, cites an inscription in support of this descent: "Nicolaus Tribunus...Laurentii Teutonici Filius," &c.) and it was the pride of the parents that probably gave to Rienzi the unwonted advantages of education. This pride transmitted to himself, - his descent from royalty dinned into his ear, infused into his thoughts, from his cradle, - made him, even in his earliest youth, deem himself the equal of the Roman signors, and half unconsciously aspire to be their superior. But, as the literature of Rome was unfolded to his eager eye and ambitious heart, he became imbued with that pride of country which is nobler than the pride of birth; and, save when stung by allusions to his origin, he unaffectedly valued himself more on being a Roman plebeian than the descendant of a Teuton king. His brother's death, and the vicissitudes he himself had already undergone, deepened the earnest and solemn qualities of his character; and, at length, all the faculties of a very uncommon intellect were concentrated into one object - which borrowed from a mind strongly and mystically religious, as well as patriotic, a sacred aspect, and grew at once a duty and a passion.
"Yes," said Rienzi, breaking suddenly from his revery, "yes, the day is at hand when Rome shall rise again from her ashes; Justice shall dethrone Oppression; men shall walk safe in their ancient Forum. We will rouse from his forgotten tomb the indomitable soul of Cato! There shall be a people once more in Rome! And I - I shall be the instrument of that triumph - the restorer of my race! mine shall be the first voice to swell the battle-cry of freedom - mine the first hand to rear her banner - yes, from the height of my own soul as from a mountain, I see already rising the liberties and the grandeur of the New Rome; and on the corner-stone of the mighty fabric posterity shall read my name."
Uttering these lofty boasts, the whole person of the speaker seemed instinct with his ambition. He strode the gloomy chamber with light and rapid steps, as if on air; his breast heaved, his eyes glowed. He felt that love itself can scarcely bestow a rapture equal to that which is felt, in his first virgin enthusiasm, by a patriot who knows himself sincere!
There was a slight knock at the door, and a servitor, in the rich liveries worn by the pope's officials, (Not the present hideous habiliments, which are said to have been the invention of Michael Angelo.) presented himself.
"Signor," said he, "my Lord, the Bishop of Orvietto, is without."
"Ha! that is fortunate. Lights there! - My Lord, this is an honour which I can estimate better than express."
"Tut, tut! my good friend," said the Bishop, entering, and seating himself familiarly, "no ceremonies between the servants of the Church; and never, I ween well, had she greater need of true friends than now. These unholy tumults, these licentious contentions, in the very shrines and city of St. Peter, are sufficient to scandalize all Christendom."
"And so will it be," said Rienzi, "until his Holiness himself shall be graciously persuaded to fix his residence in the seat of his predecessors, and curb with a strong arm the excesses of the nobles."
"Alas, man!" said the Bishop, "thou knowest that these words are but as wind; for were the Pope to fulfil thy wishes, and remove from Avignon to Rome, by the blood of St. Peter! he would not curb the nobles, but the nobles would curb him. Thou knowest well that until his blessed predecessor, of pious memory, conceived the wise design of escaping to Avignon, the Father of the Christian world was but like many other fathers in their old age, controlled and guarded by his rebellious children. Recollectest thou not how the noble Boniface himself, a man of great heart, and nerves of iron, was kept in thraldom by the ancestors of the Orsini - his entrances and exits made but at their will - so that, like a caged eagle, he beat himself against his bars and died? Verily, thou talkest of the memories of Rome - these are not the memories that are very attractive to popes."
"Well," said Rienzi, laughing gently, and drawing his seat nearer to the Bishop's, "my Lord has certainly the best of the argument at present; and I must own, that strong, licentious, and unhallowed as the order of nobility was then, it is yet more so now."
"Even I," rejoined Raimond, colouring as he spoke, "though Vicar of the Pope, and representative of his spiritual authority, was, but three days ago, subjected to a coarse affront from that very Stephen Colonna, who has ever received such favour and tenderness from the Holy See. His servitors jostled mine in the open streets, and I myself, - I, the delegate of the sire of kings - was forced to draw aside to the wall, and wait until the hoary insolent swept by. Nor were blaspheming words wanting to complete the insult. "'Pardon, Lord Bishop,' said he, as he passed me; 'but this world, thou knowest, must necessarily take precedence of the other.'"
"Dared he so high?" said Rienzi, shading his face with his hand, as a very peculiar smile - scarcely itself joyous, though it made others gay, and which completely changed the character of his face, naturally grave even to sternness - played round his lips. "Then it is time for thee, holy father, as for us, to - "
"To what?" interrupted the Bishop, quickly. "Can we effect aught! Dismiss thy enthusiastic dreamings - descend to the real earth - look soberly round us. Against men so powerful, what can we do?"
"My Lord," answered Rienzi, gravely, "it is the misfortune of signors of your rank never to know the people, or the accurate signs of the time. As those who pass over the heights of mountains see the clouds sweep below, veiling the plains and valleys from their gaze, while they, only a little above the level, survey the movements and the homes of men; even so from your lofty eminence ye behold but the indistinct and sullen vapours - while from my humbler station I see the preparations of the shepherds, to shelter themselves and herds from the storm which those clouds betoken. Despair not, my Lord; endurance goes but to a certain limit - to that limit it is already stretched; Rome waits but the occasion (it will soon come, but not suddenly) to rise simultaneously against her oppressors."
The great secret of eloquence is to be in earnest - the great secret of Rienzi's eloquence was in the mightiness of his enthusiasm. He never spoke as one who doubted of success. Perhaps, like most men who undertake high and great actions, he himself was never thoroughly aware of the obstacles in his way. He saw the end, bright and clear, and overleaped, in the vision of his soul, the crosses and the length of the path; thus the deep convictions of his own mind stamped themselves irresistibly upon others. He seemed less to promise than to prophesy.
The Bishop of Orvietto, not over wise, yet a man of cool temperament and much worldly experience, was forcibly impressed by the energy of his companion; perhaps, indeed, the more so, inasmuch as his own pride and his own passions were also enlisted against the arrogance and licence of the nobles. He paused ere he replied to Rienzi.
"But is it," he asked, at length, "only the plebeians who will rise? Thou knowest how they are caitiff and uncertain."
"My Lord," answered Rienzi, "judge, by one fact, how strongly I am surrounded by friends of no common class: thou knowest how loudly I speak against the nobles - I cite them by their name - I beard the Savelli, the Orsini, the Colonna, in their very hearing. Thinkest thou that they forgive me? thinkest thou that, were only the plebeians my safeguard and my favourers, they would not seize me by open force, - that I had not long ere this found a gag in their dungeons, or been swallowed up in the eternal dumbness of the grave? Observe," continued he, as, reading the Vicar's countenance, he perceived the impression he had made - "observe, that, throughout the whole world, a great revolution has begun. The barbaric darkness of centuries has been broken; the Knowledge which made men as demigods in the past time has been called from her urn; a Power, subtler than brute force, and mightier than armed men, is at work; we have begun once more to do homage to the Royalty of Mind. Yes, that same Power which, a few years ago, crowned Petrarch in the Capitol, when it witnessed, after the silence of twelve centuries, the glories of a Triumph, - which heaped upon a man of obscure birth, and unknown in arms, the same honours given of old to emperors and the vanquishers of kings, - which united in one act of homage even the rival houses of Colonna and Orsini, - which made the haughtiest patricians emulous to bear the train, to touch but the purple robe, of the son of the Florentine plebeian, - which still draws the eyes of Europe to the lowly cottage of Vaucluse, - which gives to the humble student the all-acknowledged licence to admonish tyrants, and approach, with haughty prayers, even the Father of the Church; - yes, that same Power, which, working silently throughout Italy, murmurs under the solid base of the Venetian oligarchy; (It was about eight years afterwards that the long-smothered hate of the Venetian people to that wisest and most vigilant of all oligarchies, the Sparta of Italy, broke out in the conspiracy under Marino Faliero.) which, beyond the Alps, has wakened into visible and sudden life in Spain, in Germany, in Flanders; and which, even in that barbarous Isle, conquered by the Norman sword, ruled by the bravest of living kings, (Edward III., in whose reign opinions far more popular than those of the following century began to work. The Civil Wars threw back the action into the blood. It was indeed an age throughout the world which put forth abundant blossoms, but crude and unripened fruit; - a singular leap, followed by as singular a pause.) has roused a spirit Norman cannot break - kings to rule over must rule by - yes, that same Power is everywhere abroad: it speaks, it conquers in the voice even of him who is before you; it unites in his cause all on whom but one glimmering of light has burst, all in whom one generous desire can be kindled! Know, Lord Vicar, that there is not a man in Rome, save our oppressors themselves - not a man who has learned one syllable of our ancient tongue - whose heart and sword are not with me. The peaceful cultivators of letters - the proud nobles of the second order - the rising race, wiser than their slothful sires; above all, my Lord, the humbler ministers of religion, priests and monks, whom luxury hath not blinded, pomp hath not deafened, to the monstrous outrage to Christianity daily and nightly perpetrated in the Christian Capital; these, - all these, - are linked with the merchant and the artisan in one indissoluble bond, waiting but the signal to fall or to conquer, to live freemen, or to die martyrs, with Rienzi and their country!"
"Sayest thou so in truth?" said the Bishop, startled, and half rising. "Prove but thy words, and thou shalt not find the ministers of God are less eager than their lay brethren for the happiness of men."
"What I say," rejoined Rienzi, in a cooler tone, "that can I show; but I may only prove it to those who will be with us."
"Fear me not," answered Raimond: "I know well the secret mind of his Holiness, whose delegate and representative I am; and could he see but the legitimate and natural limit set to the power of the patricians, who, in their arrogance, have set at nought the authority of the Church itself, be sure that he would smile on the hand that drew the line. Nay, so certain of this am I, that if ye succeed, I, his responsible but unworthy vicar, will myself sanction the success. But beware of crude attempts; the Church must not be weakened by linking itself to failure."
"Right, my Lord," answered Rienzi; "and in this, the policy of religion is that of freedom. Judge of my prudence by my long delay. He who can see all around him impatient - himself not less so - and yet suppress the signal, and bide the hour, is not likely to lose his cause by rashness."
"More, then, of this anon," said the Bishop, resettling himself in his seat. "As thy plans mature, fear not to communicate with me. Believe that Rome has no firmer friend then he who, ordained to preserve order, finds himself impotent against aggression. Meanwhile, to the object of my present visit, which links itself, in some measure, perhaps, with the topics on which we have conversed...Thou knowest that when his Holiness intrusted thee with thy present office, he bade thee also announce his beneficent intention of granting a general Jubilee at Rome for the year 1350 - a most admirable design for two reasons, sufficiently apparent to thyself: first, that every Christian soul that may undertake the pilgrimage to Rome on that occasion, may thus obtain a general remission of sins; and secondly, because, to speak carnally, the concourse of pilgrims so assembled, usually, by the donations and offerings their piety suggests, very materially add to the revenues of the Holy See: at this time, by the way, in no very flourishing condition. This thou knowest, dear Rienzi."
Rienzi bowed his head in assent, and the prelate continued -
"Well, it is with the greatest grief that his Holiness perceives that his pious intentions are likely to be frustrated: for so fierce and numerous are now the brigands in the public approaches to Rome, that, verily, the boldest pilgrim may tremble a little to undertake the journey; and those who do so venture will, probably, be composed of the poorest of the Christian community, - men who, bringing with them neither gold, nor silver, nor precious offerings, will have little to fear from the rapacity of the brigands. Hence arise two consequences: on the one hand, the rich
"Nothing can be more logically manifest, my Lord," said Rienzi.
The Vicar continued - "Now, in letters received five days since from his Holiness, he bade me expose these fearful consequences to Christianity to the various patricians who are legitimately fiefs of the Church, and command their resolute combination against the marauders of the road. With these have I conferred, and vainly."
"For by the aid, and from the troops, of those very brigands, these patricians have fortified their palaces against each other," added Rienzi.
"Exactly for that reason," rejoined the Bishop. "Nay, Stephen Colonna himself had the audacity to confess it. Utterly unmoved by the loss to so many precious souls, and, I may add, to the papal treasury, which ought to be little less dear to right-discerning men, they refuse to advance a step against the bandits. Now, then, hearken the second mandate of his Holiness: - 'Failing the nobles,' saith he, in his prophetic sagacity, 'confer with Cola di Rienzi. He is a bold man, and a pious, and, thou tellest me, of great weight with the people; and say to him, that if his wit can devise the method for extirpating these sons of Belial, and rendering a safe passage along the public ways, largely, indeed, will he merit at our hands, - lasting will be the gratitude we shall owe to him; and whatever succour thou, and the servants of our See, can render to him, let it not be stinted.'"
"Said his Holiness thus!" exclaimed Rienzi. "I ask no more - the gratitude is mine that he hath thought thus of his servant, and intrusted me with this charge; at once I accept it - at once I pledge myself to success. Let us, my Lord, let us, then, clearly understand the limits ordained to my discretion. To curb the brigands without the walls, I must have authority over those within. If I undertake, at peril of my life, to clear all the avenues to Rome of the robbers who now infest it, shall I have full licence for conduct bold, peremptory, and severe?"
"Such conduct the very nature of the charge demands," replied Raimond.
"Ay, - even though it be exercised against the arch offenders - against the supporters of the brigands - against the haughtiest of the nobles themselves?"
The Bishop paused, and looked hard in the face of the speaker. "I repeat," said he, at length, sinking his voice, and with a significant tone, "in these bold attempts, success is the sole sanction. Succeed, and we will excuse thee all - even to the - "
"Death of a Colonna or an Orsini, should justice demand it; and provided it be according to the law, and only incurred by the violation of the law!" added Rienzi, firmly.
The Bishop did not reply in words, but a slight motion of his head was sufficient answer to Rienzi.
"My Lord," said he, "from this time, then, all is well; I date the revolution - the restoration of order, of the state - from this hour, this very conference. Till now, knowing that justice must never wink upon great offenders, I had hesitated, through fear lest thou and his Holiness might deem it severity, and blame him who replaces the law, because he smites the violaters of law. Now I judge ye more rightly. Your hand, my Lord."
The Bishop extended his hand; Rienzi grasped it firmly, and then raised it respectfully to his lips. Both felt that the compact was sealed.
This conference, so long in recital, was short in the reality; but its object was already finished, and the Bishop rose to depart. The outer portal of the house was opened, the numerous servitors of the Bishop held on high their torches, and he had just termed from Rienzi, who had attended him to the gate, when a female passed hastily through the Prelate's train, and starting as she beheld Rienzi, flung herself at his feet.
"Oh, hasten, Sir! hasten, for the love of God, hasten! or the young Signora is lost for ever!"
"The Signora! - Heaven and earth, Benedetta, of whom do you speak? - of my sister - of Irene? is she not within?"
"Oh, Sir - the Orsini - the Orsini!"
"What of them? - speak, woman!"
Here, breathlessly, and with many a break, Benedetta recounted to Rienzi, in whom the reader has already recognised the brother of Irene, so far of the adventure with Martino di Porto as she had witnessed: of the termination and result of the contest she knew nought.
Rienzi listened in silence; but the deadly paleness of his countenance, and the writhing of the nether lip, testified the emotions to which he gave no audible vent.
"You hear, my Lord Bishop - you hear," said he, when Benedetta had concluded; and turning to the Bishop, whose departure the narrative had delayed - "you hear to what outrage the citizens of Rome are subjected. My hat and sword! instantly! My Lord, forgive my abruptness."
"Whither art thou bent, then?" asked Raimond.
"Whither - whither! - Ay, I forgot, my Lord, you have no sister. Perhaps too, you had no brother? - No, no; one victim at least I will live to save. Whither, you ask me? - to the palace of Martino di Porto."
"To an Orsini alone, and for justice?"
"Alone, and for justice! - No!" shouted Rienzi, in a loud voice, as he seized his sword, now brought to him by one of his servants, and rushed from the house; "but one man is sufficient for revenge!"
The Bishop paused for a moment's deliberation. "He must not be lost," muttered he, "as he well may be, if exposed thus solitary to the wolf's rage. What, ho!" he cried aloud; "advance the torches! - quick, quick! We ourself - we, the Vicar of the Pope - will see to this. Calm yourselves, good people; your young Signora shall be restored. On! to the palace of Martino di Porto!"
Chapter 1.VI. Irene in the Palace of Adrian di Castello.
As the Cyprian gazed on the image in which he had embodied a youth of dreams, what time the living hues flushed slowly beneath the marble, - so gazed the young and passionate Adrian upon the form reclined before him, re-awakening gradually to life. And, if the beauty of that face were not of the loftiest or the most dazzling order, if its soft and quiet character might be outshone by many, of loveliness less really perfect, yet never was there a countenance that, to some eyes, would have seemed more charming, and never one in which more eloquently was wrought that ineffable and virgin expression which Italian art seeks for in its models, - in which modesty is the outward, and tenderness the latent, expression; the bloom of youth, both of form and heart, ere the first frail and delicate freshness of either is brushed away: and when even love itself, the only unquiet visitant that should be known at such an age, is but a sentiment, and not a passion!
"Benedetta!" murmured Irene, at length opening her eyes, unconsciously, upon him who knelt beside her, - eyes of that uncertain, that most liquid hue, on which you might gaze for years and never learn the secret of the colour, so changed it with the dilating pupil, - darkening in the shade, and brightening into azure in the light:
"Benedetta," said Irene, "where art thou? Oh, Benedetta! I have had such a dream."
"And I, too, such a vision!" thought Adrian.
"Where am I?" cried Irene, rising from the couch. "This room - these hangings - Holy Virgin! do I dream still! - and you! Heavens! - it is the Lord Adrian di Castello!"
"Is that a name thou hast been taught to fear?" said Adrian; "if so, I will forswear it."
If Irene now blushed deeply, it was not in that wild delight with which her romantic heart motive foretold that she would listen to the first words of homage from Adrian di Castello. Bewildered and confused, - terrified at the strangeness of the place and shrinking even from the thought of finding herself alone with one who for years had been present to her fancies, - alarm and distress were the emotions she felt the most, and which most were impressed upon her speaking countenance; and as Adrian now drew nearer to her, despite the gentleness of his voice and the respect of his looks, her fears, not the less strong that they were vague, increased upon her: she retreated to the further end of the room, looked wildly round her, and then, covering her face with her hands, burst into a paroxysm of tears.
Moved himself by these tears, and divining her thoughts, Adrian forgot for moment all the more daring wishes he had formed.
"Fear not, sweet lady," said he, earnestly: "recollect thyself, I beseech thee; no peril, no evil can reach thee here; it was this hand that saved thee from the outrage of the Orsini - this roof is but the shelter of a friend! Tell me, then, fair wonder, thy name and residence, and I will summon my servitors, and guard thee to thy home at once."
Perhaps the relief of tears, even more than Adrian's words, restored Irene to herself, and enabled her to comprehend her novel situation; and as her senses, thus cleared, told her what she owed to him whom her dreams had so long imaged as the ideal of all excellence, she recovered her self- possession, and uttered her thanks with a grace not the less winning, if it still partook of embarrassment.
"Thank me not," answered Adrian, passionately. "I have touched thy hand - I am repaid. Repaid! nay, all gratitude - all homage is for me to render!"
Blushing again, but with far different emotions than before, Irene, after a momentary pause, replied, "Yet, my Lord, I must consider it a debt the more weighty that you speak of it so lightly. And now, complete the obligation. I do not see my companion - suffer her to accompany me home; it is but a short way hence."
"Blessed, then, is the air that I have breathed so unconsciously!" said Adrian. "But thy companion, dear lady, is not here. She fled, I imagine, in the confusion of the conflict; and not knowing thy name, nor being able, in thy then state, to learn it from thy lips, it was my happy necessity to convey thee hither; - but I will be thy companion. Nay, why that timid glance? my people, also, shall attend us."
"My thanks, noble Lord, are of little worth; my brother, who is not unknown to thee, will thank thee more fittingly. May I depart?" and Irene, as she spoke, was already at the door.
"Art thou so eager to leave me?" answered Adrian, sadly. "Alas! when thou hast departed from my eyes, it will seem as if the moon had left the night!
A slight smile parted Irene's lips, and Adrian's heart beat audibly to himself, as he drew from that smile, and those downcast eyes, no unfavourable omen.
Reluctantly and slowly he turned towards the door, and summoned his attendants. "But," said he, as they stood on the lofty staircase, "thou sayest, sweet lady, that thy brother's name is not unknown to me. Heaven grant that he be, indeed, a friend of the Colonna!"
"His boast," answered Irene, evasively; "the boast of Cola di Rienzi is, to be a friend to the friends of Rome."
"Holy Virgin of Ara Coeli! - is thy brother that extraordinary man?" exclaimed Adrian, as he foresaw, at the mention of that name, a barrier to his sudden passion. "Alas! in a Colonna, in a noble, he will see no merit; even though thy fortunate deliverer, sweet maiden, sought to be his early friend!"
Thou wrongest him much, my Lord," returned Irene, warmly; "he is a man above all others to sympathize with thy generous valour, even had it been exerted in defence of the humblest woman in Rome, - how much more, then, when in protection of his sister!"
"The times are, indeed, diseased," answered Adrian, thoughtfully, as they now found themselves in the open street, "when men who alike mourn for the woes of their country are yet suspicious of each other; when to be a patrician is to be regarded as an enemy to the people; when to be termed the friend of the people is to be considered a foe to the patricians: but come what may, oh! let me hope, dear lady, that no doubts, no divisions, shall banish from thy breast one gentle memory of me!"
"Ah! little, little do you know me!" began Irene, and stopped suddenly short.
"Speak! speak again! - of what music has this envious silence deprived my soul! Thou wilt not, then, forget me? And," continued Adrian, "we shall meet again? It is to Rienzi's house we are bound now; tomorrow I shall visit my old companion, - tomorrow I shall see thee. Will it not be so?"
In Irene's silence was her answer.
"And as thou hast told me thy brother's name, make it sweet to my ear, and add to it thine own."
"They call me Irene."
"Irene, Irene! - let me repeat it. It is a soft name, and dwells upon the lips as if loath to leave them - a fitting name for one like thee."
Thus making his welcome court to Irene, in that flowered and glowing language which, if more peculiar to that age and to the gallantry of the south, is also the language in which the poetry of youthful passion would, in all times and lands, utter its rich extravagance, could heart speak to heart, Adrian conveyed homeward his beautiful charge, taking, however, the most circuitous and lengthened route; an artifice which Irene either perceived not, or silently forgave. They were now within sight of the street in which Rienzi dwelt, when a party of men bearing torches, came unexpectedly upon them. It was the train of the Bishop of Orvietto, returning from the palace of Martino di Porto, and in their way (accompanied by Rienzi) to that of Adrian. They had learned at the former, without an interview with the Orsini, from the retainers in the court below, the fortune of the conflict, and the name of Irene's champion; and, despite Adrian's general reputation for gallantry, Rienzi knew enough of his character, and the nobleness of his temper, to feel assured that Irene was safe in his protection. Alas! in that very safety to the person is often the most danger to the heart. Woman never so dangerously loves, as when he who loves her, for her sake, subdues himself.
Clasped to her brother's breast, Irene bade him thank her deliverer; and Rienzi, with that fascinating frankness which sits so well on those usually reserved, and which all who would rule the hearts of their fellow-men must at times command, advanced to the young Colonna, and poured forth his gratitude and praise.
"We have been severed too long, - we must know each other again," replied Adrian. "I shall seek thee, ere long, be assured."
Turning to take his leave of Irene, he conveyed her hand to his lips, and pressing it, as it dropped from his clasp, was he deceived in thinking that those delicate fingers lightly, involuntarily, returned the pressure?
Chapter 1.VII. Upon Love and Lovers.
If, in adopting the legendary love tale of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare had changed the scene in which it is cast for a more northern clime, we may doubt whether the art of Shakespeare himself could have reconciled us at once to the suddenness and the strength of Juliet's passion. And, even as it is, perhaps there are few of our rational and sober-minded islanders who would not honestly confess, if fairly questioned, that they deem the romance and fervour of those ill-starred lovers of Verona exaggerated and over-drawn. Yet, in Italy, the picture of that affection born of a night - but "strong as death" - is one to which the veriest commonplaces of life would afford parallels without number. As in different ages, so in different climes, love varies wonderfully in the shapes it takes. And even at this day, beneath Italian skies, many a simple girl would feel as Juliet, and many a homely gallant would rival the extravagance of Romeo. Long suits in that sunny land, wherein, as whereof, I now write, are unknown. In no other land, perhaps, is there found so commonly the love at first sight, which in France is a jest, and in England a doubt; in no other land, too, is love, though so suddenly conceived, more faithfully preserved. That which is ripened in fancy comes at once to passion, yet is embalmed through all time by sentiment. And this must be my and their excuse, if the love of Adrian some too prematurely formed, and that of Irene too romantically conceived; - it is the excuse which they take from the air and sun, from the customs of their ancestors, from the soft contagion of example. But while they yielded to the dictates of their hearts, it was with a certain though secret sadness - a presentiment that had, perhaps, its charm, though it was of cross and evil. Born of so proud a race, Adrian could scarcely dream of marriage with the sister of a plebeian; and Irene, unconscious of the future glory of her brother, could hardly have cherished any hope, save that of being loved. Yet these adverse circumstances, which, in the harder, the more prudent, the more self-denying, perhaps the more virtuous minds, that are formed beneath the northern skies, would have been an inducement to wrestle against love so placed, only contributed to feed and to strengthen theirs by an opposition which has ever its attraction for romance. They found frequent, though short, opportunities of meeting - not quite alone, but only in the conniving presence of Benedetta: sometimes in the public gardens, sometimes amidst the vast and deserted ruins by which the house of Rienzi was surrounded. They surrendered themselves, without much question of the future, to the excitement - the elysium - of the hour: they lived but from day to day; their future was the next time they should meet; beyond that epoch, the very mists of their youthful love closed in obscurity and shadow which they sought not to penetrate: and as yet they had not arrived at that period of affection when there was danger of their fall, - their love had not passed the golden portal where Heaven ceases and Earth begins. Everything for them was the poetry, the vagueness, the refinement, - not the power, the concentration, the mortality, - of desire! The look - the whisper - the brief pressure of the hand, at most, the first kisses of love, rare and few, - these marked the human limits of that sentiment which filled them with a new life, which elevated them as with a new soul.
The roving tendencies of Adrian were at once fixed and centered; the dreams of his tender mistress had awakened to a life dreaming still, but "rounded with a truth." All that earnestness, and energy, and fervour of emotion, which, in her brother, broke forth in the schemes of patriotism and the aspirations of power, were, in Irene, softened down into one object of existence, one concentration of soul, - and that was love. Yet, in this range of thought and action, so apparently limited, there was, in reality, no less boundless a sphere than in the wide space of her brother's many- pathed ambition. Not the less had she the power and scope for all the loftiest capacities granted to our clay. Equal was her enthusiasm for her idol; equal, had she been equally tried, would have been her generosity, her devotion: - greater, be sure, her courage; more inalienable her worship; more unsullied by selfish purposes and sordid views. Time, change, misfortune, ingratitude, would have left her the same! What state could fall, what liberty decay, if the zeal of man's noisy patriotism were as pure as the silent loyalty of a woman's love?
In them everything was young! - the heart unchilled, unblighted, - that fulness and luxuriance of life's life which has in it something of divine. At that age, when it seems as if we could never die, how deathless, how flushed and mighty as with the youngness of a god, is all that our hearts create! Our own youth is like that of the earth itself, when it peopled the woods and waters with divinities; when life ran riot, and yet only gave birth to beauty; - all its shapes, of poetry, - all its airs, the melodies of Arcady and Olympus! The Golden Age never leaves the world: it exists still, and shall exist, till love, health, poetry, are no more; but only for the young!
If I now dwell, though but for a moment, on this interlude in a drama calling forth more masculine passions than that of love, it is because I foresee that the occasion will but rarely recur. If I linger on the description of Irene and her hidden affection, rather than wait for circumstances to portray them better than the author's words can, it is because I foresee that that loving and lovely image must continue to the last rather a shadow than a portrait, - thrown in the background, as is the real destiny of such natures, by bolder figures and more gorgeous colours; a something whose presence is rather felt than seen, and whose very harmony with the whole consists in its retiring and subdued repose.
Chapter 1.VIII. The Enthusiastic Man Judged by the Discreet Man.
"Thou wrongest me," said Rienzi, warmly, to Adrian, as they sat alone, towards the close of a long conference; "I do not play the part of a mere demagogue; I wish not to stir the great deeps in order that my lees of fortune may rise to the surface. So long have I brooded over the past, that it seems to me as if I had become a part of it - as if I had no separate existence. I have coined my whole soul into one master passion, - and its end is the restoration of Rome."
"But by what means?"
"My Lord! my Lord! there is but one way to restore the greatness of a people - it is an appeal to the people themselves. It is not in the power of princes and barons to make a state permanently glorious; they raise themselves, but they raise not the people with them. All great regenerations are the universal movement of the mass."
"Nay," answered Adrian, "then have we read history differently. To me, all great regenerations seem to have been the work of the few, and tacitly accepted by the multitude. But let us not dispute after the manner of the schools. Thou sayest loudly that a vast crisis is at hand; that the Good Estate (buono stato) shall be established. How? where are your arms? - your soldiers? Are the nobles less strong than heretofore? Is the mob more bold, more constant? Heaven knows that I speak not with the prejudices of my order - I weep for the debasement of my country! I am a Roman, and in that name I forget that I am a noble. But I tremble at the storm you would raise so hazardously. If your insurrection succeed, it will be violent: it will be purchased by blood - by the blood of all the loftiest names of Rome. You will aim at a second expulsion of the Tarquins; but it will be more like a second proscription of Sylla. Massacres and disorders never pave the way to peace. If, on the other hand, you fail, the chains of Rome are riveted for ever: an ineffectual struggle to escape is but an excuse for additional tortures to the slave."
"And what, then, would the Lord Adrian have us do?" said Rienzi, with that peculiar and sarcastic smile which has before been noted. "Shall we wait till the Colonna and Orsini quarrel no more? shall we ask the Colonna for liberty, and the Orsini for justice? My Lord, we cannot appeal to the nobles against the nobles. We must not ask them to moderate their power; we must restore to ourselves that power. There may be danger in the attempt - but we attempt it amongst the monuments of the Forum: and if we fall - we shall perish worthy of our sires! Ye have high descent, and sounding titles, and wide lands, and you talk of your ancestral honours! We, too, - we plebeians of Rome, - we have ours! Our fathers were freemen! where is our heritage? not sold - not given away: but stolen from us, now by fraud, now by force - filched from us in our sleep; or wrung from us with fierce hands, amidst our cries and struggles. My Lord, we but ask that lawful heritage to be restored to us: to us - nay, to you it is the same; your liberty, alike, is gone. Can you dwell in your father's house, without towers, and fortresses, and the bought swords of bravos? can you walk in the streets at dark without arms and followers? True, you, a noble, may retaliate; though we dare not. You, in your turn, may terrify and outrage others; but does licence compensate for liberty? They have given you pomp and power - but the safety of equal laws were a better gift. Oh, were I you - were I Stephen Colonna himself, I should pant, ay, thirstily as I do now, for that free air which comes not through bars and bulwarks against my fellow-citizens, but in the open space of Heaven - safe, because protected by the silent Providence of Law, and not by the lean fears and hollow-eyed suspicions which are the comrades of a hated power. The tyrant thinks he is free, because he commands slaves: the meanest peasant in a free state is more free than he is. Oh, my Lord, that you - the brave, the generous, the enlightened - you, almost alone amidst your order, in the knowledge that we had a country - oh, would that you who can sympathise with our sufferings, would strike with us for their redress!"
"Thou wilt war against Stephen Colonna, my kinsman; and though I have seen him but little, nor, truth to say, esteem him much, yet he is the boast of our house, - how can I join thee?"
"His life will be safe, his possessions safe, his rank safe. What do we war against? His power to do wrong to others."
"Should he discover that thou hast force beyond words, he would be less merciful to thee."
"And has he not discovered that? Do not the shouts of the people tell him that I am a man whom he should fear? Does he - the cautious, the wily, the profound - does he build fortresses, and erect towers, and not see from his battlements the mighty fabric that I, too, have erected?"
"You! where, Rienzi?"
"In the hearts of Rome! Does he not see?" continued Rienzi. "No, no; he - all, all his tribe, are blind. Is it not so?"
"Of a certainty, my kinsman has no belief in your power, else he would have crushed you long ere this. Nay, it was but three days ago that he said, gravely, he would rather you addressed the populace than the best priest in Christendom; for that other orators inflamed the crowd, and no man so stilled and dispersed them as you did."
"And I called him profound! Does not Heaven hush the air most when most it prepares the storm? Ay, my Lord, I understand. Stephen Colonna despises me. I have been" - (here, as he continued, a deep blush mantled over his cheek) - "you remember it - at his palace in my younger days, and pleased him with witty tales and light apophthegms. Nay - ha! ha! - he would call me, I think, sometimes, in gay compliment, his jester - his buffoon! I have brooked his insult; I have even bowed to his applause. I would
undergo the same penance, stoop to the same shame, for the same motive, and
in the same cause. What did I desire to effect? Can you tell me? No! I
will whisper it, then, to you: it was - the contempt of Stephen Colonna.
Under that contempt I was protected, till protection became no longer necessary. I desired not to be thought formidable by the patricians, in order that, quietly and unsuspected, I might make my way amongst the people. I have done so; I now throw aside the mask. Face to face with Stephen Colonna, I could tell him, this very hour, that I brave his anger; that I laugh at his dungeons and armed men. But if he think me the same Rienzi as of old, let him; I can wait my hour."
"Yet," said Adrian, waiving an answer to the haughty language of his companion, "tell me, what dost thou ask for the people, in order to avoid an appeal to their passions? - ignorant and capricious as they are, thou canst not appeal to their reason."
"I ask full justice and safety for all men. I will be contented with no less a compromise. I ask the nobles to dismantle their fortresses; to disband their armed retainers; to acknowledge no impunity for crime in high lineage; to claim no protection save in the courts of the common law."
"Vain desire!" said Adrian. "Ask what may yet be granted."
"Ha - ha!" replied Rienzi, laughing bitterly, "did I not tell you it was a vain dream to ask for law and justice at the hands of the great? Can you blame me, then, that I ask it elsewhere?" Then, suddenly changing his tone and manner, he added with great solemnity - "Waking life hath false and vain dreams; but sleep is sometimes a mighty prophet. By sleep it is that Heaven mysteriously communes with its creatures, and guides and sustains its earthly agents in the path to which its providence leads them on."
Adrian made no reply. This was not the first time he had noted that Rienzi's strong intellect was strangely conjoined with a deep and mystical superstition. And this yet more inclined the young noble, who, though sufficiently devout, yielded but little to the wilder credulities of the time, to doubt the success of the schemer's projects. In this he erred greatly, though his error was that of the worldly wise. For nothing ever so inspires human daring, as the fond belief that it is the agent of a Diviner Wisdom. Revenge and patriotism, united in one man of genius and ambition - such are the Archimedian levers that find, in FANATICISM, the spot out of the world by which to move the world. The prudent man may direct a state; but it is the enthusiast who regenerates it, - or ruins.
Chapter 1.IX. "When the People Saw this Picture, Every One Marvelled."
Before the market-place, and at the foot of the Capitol, an immense crowd was assembled. Each man sought to push before his neighbour; each struggled to gain access to one particular spot, round which the crowd was wedged think and dense.
"Corpo di Dio!" said a man of huge stature, pressing onward, like some bulky ship, casting the noisy waves right and left from its prow, "this is hot work; but for what, in the holy Mother's name, do ye crowd so? See you not, Sir Ribald, that my right arm is disabled, swathed, and bandaged, so that I cannot help myself better than a baby? And yet you push against me as if I were an old wall!"
"Ah, Cecco del Vecchio! - what, man! we must make way for you - you are too small and tender to bustle through a crowd! Come, I will protect you!" said a dwarf of some four feet high, glancing up at the giant.
"Faith," said the grim smith, looking round on the mob, who laughed loud at the dwarf's proffer, "we all do want protection, big and small. What do you laugh for, ye apes? - ay, you don't understand parables."
"And yet it is a parable we are come to gaze upon," said one of the mob, with a slight sneer.
"Pleasant day to you, Signor Baroncelli," answered Cecco del Vecchio; "you are a good man, and love the people; it makes one's heart smile to see you. What's all this pother for?"
"Why the Pope's Notary hath set up a great picture in the marketplace, and the gapers say it relates to Rome; so they are melting their brains out, this hot day, to guess at the riddle."
"Ho! ho!" said the smith, pushing on so vigorously that he left the speaker suddenly in the rear; "if Cola di Rienzi hath aught in the matter, I would break through stone rocks to get to it."
"Much good will a dead daub do us," said Baroncelli, sourly, and turning to his neighbours; but no man listened to him, and he, a would-be demagogue, gnawed his lip in envy.
Amidst half-awed groans and curses from the men whom he jostled aside, and open objurgations and shrill cries from the women, to whose robes and headgear he showed as little respect, the sturdy smith won his way to a space fenced round by chains, in the centre of which was placed a huge picture.
"How came it hither?" cried one; "I was first at the market."
"We found it here at daybreak," said a vender of fruit: "no one was by."
"But why do you fancy Rienzi had a hand in it?"
"Why, who else could?" answered twenty voices.
"True! Who else?" echoed the gaunt smith. "I dare be sworn the good man spent the whole night in painting it himself. Blood of St. Peter! but it is mighty fine! What is it about?"
"That's the riddle," said a meditative fish-woman; "if I could make it out, I should die happy."
"It is something about liberty and taxes, no doubt," said Luigi, the butcher, leaning over the chains. "Ah, if Rienzi were minded, every poor man would have his bit of meat in his pot."
"And as much bread as he could eat," added a pale baker.
"Chut! bread and meat - everybody has that now! - but what wine the poor folks drink! One has no encouragement to take pains with one's vineyard," said a vine-dresser.
"Ho, hollo! - long life to Pandulfo di Guido! Make way for master Pandulfo; he is a learned man; he is a friend of the great Notary's; he will tell us all about the picture; make way, there - make way!"
Slowly and modestly, Pandulfo di Guido, a quiet, wealthy, and honest man of letters, whom nought save the violence of the times could have roused from his tranquil home, or his studious closet, passed to the chains. He looked long and hard at the picture, which was bright with new, and yet moist colours, and exhibited somewhat of the reviving art, which, though hard and harsh in its features, was about that time visible, and, carried to a far higher degree, we yet gaze upon in the paintings of Perugino, who flourished during the succeeding generation. The people pressed round the learned man, with open mouths; now turning their eyes to the picture, now to Pandulfo.
"Know you not," at length said Pandulfo, "the easy and palpable meaning of this design? Behold how the painter has presented to you a vast and stormy sea - mark how its waves - "
"Speak louder - louder!" shouted the impatient crowd.
"Hush!" cried those in the immediate vicinity of Pandulfo, "the worthy Signor is perfectly audible!"
Meanwhile, some of the more witty, pushing towards a stall in the marketplace, bore from it a rough table, from which they besought Pandulfo to address the people. The pale citizen, with some pain and shame, for he was no practised spokesman, was obliged to assent; but when he cast his eyes over the vast and breathless crowd, his own deep sympathy with their cause inspired and emboldened him. A light broke from his eyes; his voice swelled into power; and his head, usually buried in his breast, became erect and commanding in its air.
"You see before you in the picture" (he began again) "a mighty and tempestuous sea: upon its waves you behold five ships; four of them are already wrecks, - their masts are broken, the waves are dashing through the rent planks, they are past all aid and hope: on each of these ships lies the corpse of a woman. See you not, in the wan face and livid limbs, how faithfully the limner hath painted the hues and loathsomeness of death? Below each of these ships is a word that applies the metaphor to truth. Yonder, you see the name of Carthage; the other three are Troy, Jerusalem, and Babylon. To these four is one common inscription. 'To exhaustion were we brought by injustice!' Turn now your eyes to the middle of the sea, - there you behold the fifth ship, tossed amidst the waves, her mast broken, her rudder gone, her sails shivered, but not yet a wreck like the rest, though she soon may be. On her deck kneels a female, clothed in mourning; mark the wo upon her countenance, - how cunningly the artist has conveyed its depth and desolation; she stretches out her arms in prayer, she implores your and Heaven's assistance. Mark now the superscription - 'This is Rome!' - Yes, it is your country that addresses you in this emblem!"
The crowd waved to and fro, and a deep murmur crept gathering over the silence which they had hitherto kept.
"Now," continued Pandulfo, "turn your gaze to the right of the picture, and you will behold the cause of the tempest, - you will see why the fifth vessel is thus perilled, and her sisters are thus wrecked. Mark, four different kinds of animals, who, from their horrid jaws, send forth the winds and storms which torture and rack the sea. The first are the lions, the wolves, the bears. These, the inscription tells you, are the lawless and savage signors of the state. The next are the dogs and swine, - these are the evil counsellors and parasites. Thirdly, you behold the dragons and the foxes, - and these are false judges and notaries, and they who sell justice. Fourthly, in the hares, the goats, the apes, that assist in creating the storm, you perceive, by the inscription, the emblems of the popular thieves and homicides, ravishers and spoliators. Are ye bewildered still, O Romans! or have ye mastered the riddle of the picture?"
Far in their massive palaces the Savelli and Orsini heard the echo of the shouts that answered the question of Pandulfo.
"Are ye, then, without hope!" resumed the scholar, as the shout ceased, and hushing, with the first sound of his voice, the ejaculations and speeches which each man had turned to utter to his neighbour. "Are ye without hope? Doth the picture, which shows your tribulation, promise you no redemption? Behold, above that angry sea, the heavens open, and the majesty of God descends gloriously, as to judgment: and, from the rays that surround the Spirit of God extend two flaming swords, and on those swords stand, in wrath, but in deliverance, the two patron saints - the two mighty guardians of your city! People of Rome, farewell! The parable is finished." (M. Sismondi attributes to Rienzi a fine oration at the showing of the picture, in which he thundered against the vices of the patricians. The contemporary biographer of Rienzi says nothing of this harangue. But, apparently (since history has its liberties as well as fiction), M. Sismondi has thought it convenient to confound two occasions very distinct in themselves.)
Chapter 1.X. A Rough Spirit Raised, Which May Hereafter Rend the Wizard.
While thus animated was the scene around the Capitol, within one of the apartments of the palace sat the agent and prime cause of that excitement. In the company of his quiet scribes, Rienzi appeared absorbed in the patient details of his avocation. While the murmur and the hum, the shout and the tramp, of multitudes, rolled to his chamber, he seemed not to heed them, nor to rouse himself a moment from his task. With the unbroken regularity of an automaton, he continued to enter in his large book, and with the clear and beautiful characters of the period, those damning figures which taught him, better than declamations, the frauds practised on the people, and armed him with that weapon of plain fact which it is so difficult for abuse to parry.
"Page 2, Vol. B.," said he, in the tranquil voice of business, to the clerks; "see there, the profits of the salt duty; department No.3 - very well. Page 9, Vol. D. - what is the account rendered by Vescobaldi, the collector? What! twelve thousand florins? - no more? - unconscionable rascal!" (Here was a loud shout without of 'Pandulfo! - long live Pandulfo!') "Pastrucci, my friend, your head wanders; you are listening to the noise without - please to amuse yourself with the calculation I entrusted to you. Santi, what is the entry given in by Antonio Tralli?"
A slight tap was heard at the door, and Pandulfo entered.
The clerks continued their labour, though they looked up hastily at the pale and respectable visitor, whose name, to their great astonishment, had thus become a popular cry.
"Ah, my friend," said Rienzi, calmly enough in voice, but his hands trembled with ill-suppressed emotion, "you would speak to me alone, eh? well, well - this way." Thus saying, he led the citizen into a small cabinet in the rear of the room of office, carefully shut the door, and then giving himself up to the natural impatience of his character, seized Pandulfo by the hand: "Speak!" cried he: "do they take the interpretation? - have you made it plain and palpable enough? - has it sunk deep into their souls?"
"Oh, by St. Peter! yes!" returned the citizen, whose spirits were elevated by his recent discovery that he, too, was an orator - a luxurious pleasure for a timid man. "They swallowed every word of the interpretation; they are moved to the marrow - you might lead them this very hour to battle, and find them heroes. As for the sturdy smith - "
"What! Cecco del Vecchio?" interrupted Rienzi; "ah, his heart is wrought in bronze - what did he?"
"Why, he caught me by the hem of my robe as I descended my rostrum, (oh! would you could have seen me! - per fede I had caught your mantle! - I was a second you!) and said, weeping like a child, 'Ah, Signor, I am but a poor man, and of little worth; but if every drop of blood in this body were a life, I would give it for my country!'"
"Brave soul," said Rienzi, with emotion; "would Rome had but fifty such! No man hath done us more good among his own class than Cecco del Vecchio."
"They feel a protection in his very size," said Pandulfo. "It is something to hear such big words from such a big fellow."
"Were there any voices lifted in disapprobation of the picture and its sentiment?"
"The time is nearly ripe, then - a few suns more, and the fruit must be gathered. The Aventine, - the Lateran, - and then the solitary trumpet!" Thus saying, Rienzi, with folded arms and downcast eyes, seemed sunk into a reverie.
"By the way," said Pandulfo, "I had almost forgot to tell thee, that the crowd would have poured themselves hither, so impatient were they to see thee; but I bade Cecco del Vecchio mount the rostrum, and tell them, in his blunt way, that it would be unseemly at the present time, when thou wert engaged in the Capitol on civil and holy affairs, to rush in so great a body into thy presence. Did I not right?"
"Most right, my Pandulfo."
"But Cecco del Vecchio says he must come and kiss thy hand: and thou mayst expect him here the moment he can escape unobserved from the crowd."
"He is welcome!" said Rienzi, half mechanically, for he was still absorbed in thought.
"And, lo! here he is," - as one of the scribes announced the visit of the smith.
"Let him be admitted!" said Rienzi, seating himself composedly.
When the huge smith found himself in the presence of Rienzi, it amused Pandulfo to perceive the wonderful influences of mind over matter. That fierce and sturdy giant, who, in all popular commotions, towered above his tribe, with thews of stone, and nerves of iron, the rallying point and bulwark of the rest, - stood now colouring and trembling before the intellect, which (so had the eloquent spirit of Rienzi waked and fanned the spark which, till then, had lain dormant in that rough bosom) might almost be said to have created his own. And he, indeed, who first arouses in the bondsman the sense and soul of freedom, comes as near as is permitted to man, nearer than the philosopher, nearer even than the poet, to the great creative attribute of God! - But, if the breast be uneducated, the gift may curse the giver; and he who passes at once from the slave to the freeman may pass as rapidly from the freeman to the ruffian.
"Approach, my friend," said Rienzi, after a moment's pause; "I know all that thou hast done, and wouldst do, for Rome! Thou art worthy of her best days, and thou art born to share in their return."
The smith dropped at the feet of Rienzi, who held out his hand to raise him, which Cecco del Vecchio seized, and reverentially kissed.
"This kiss does not betray," said Rienzi, smiling; "but rise, my friend, - this posture is only due to God and his saints!"
"He is a saint who helps us at need!" said the smith, bluntly, "and that no man has done as thou hast. But when," he added, sinking his voice, and fixing his eyes hard on Rienzi, as one may do who waits a signal to strike a blow, "when - when shall we make the great effort?"
Thou hast spoken to all the brave men in thy neighbourhood, - are they well prepared?"
"To live or die, as Rienzi bids them!"
"I must have the list - the number - names - houses and callings, this night."
"Each man must sign his name or mark with his own hand."
"It shall be done."
"Then, harkye! attend Pandulfo di Guido at his house this evening, at sunset. He shall instruct thee where to meet this night some brave hearts;
"By the holy Stairs! I will count every minute till then," said the smith, his swarthy face lighted with pride at the confidence shown him.
"Meanwhile, watch all your neighbours; let no man flag or grow faint- hearted, - none of thy friends must be branded as a traitor!"
"I will cut his throat, were he my own mother's son, if I find one pledged man flinch!" said the fierce smith.
"Ha, ha!" rejoined Rienzi, with that strange laugh which belonged to him; "a miracle! a miracle! The Picture speaks now!"
It was already nearly dusk when Rienzi left the Capitol. The broad space before its walls was empty and deserted, and wrapping his mantle closely round him, he walked musingly on.
"I have almost climbed the height," thought he, "and now the precipice yawns before me. If I fail, what a fall! The last hope of my country falls with me. Never will a noble rise against the nobles. Never will another plebeian have the opportunities and the power that I have! Rome is bound up with me - with a single life. The liberties of all time are fixed to a reed that a wind may uproot. But oh, Providence! hast thou not reserved and marked me for great deeds? How, step by step, have I been led on to this solemn enterprise! How has each hour prepared its successor! And yet what danger! If the inconstant people, made cowardly by long thraldom, do but waver in the crisis, I am swept away!"
As he spoke, he raised his eyes, and lo, before him, the first star of twilight shone calmly down upon the crumbling remnants of the Tarpeian Rock. It was no favouring omen, and Rienzi's heart beat quicker as that dark and ruined mass frowned thus suddenly on his gaze.
"Dread monument," thought he, "of what dark catastrophes, to what unknown schemes, hast thou been the witness! To how many enterprises, on which history is dumb, hast thou set the seal! How know we whether they were criminal or just? How know we whether he, thus doomed as a traitor, would not, if successful, have been immortalized as a deliverer? If I fall, who will write my chronicle? One of the people? alas! blinded and ignorant, they furnish forth no minds that can appeal to posterity. One of the patricians? in what colours then shall I be painted! No tomb will rise for me amidst the wrecks; no hand scatter flowers upon my grave!"
Thus meditating on the verge of that mighty enterprise to which he had devoted himself, Rienzi pursued his way. He gained the Tiber, and paused for a few moments beside its legendary stream, over which the purple and starlit heaven shone deeply down. He crossed the bridge which leads to the quarter of the Trastevere, whose haughty inhabitants yet boast themselves the sole true descendants of the ancient Romans. Here he step grew quicker and more light; brighter, if less solemn, thoughts crowded upon his breast; and ambition, lulled for a moment, left his strained and over-laboured mind to the reign of a softer passion.
Chapter 1.XI. Nina di Raselli.
"I tell you, Lucia, I do not love those stuffs; they do not become me. Saw you ever so poor a dye? - this purple, indeed! that crimson! Why did you let the man leave them? Let him take them elsewhere tomorrow. They may suit the signoras on the other side the Tiber, who imagine everything Venetian must be perfect; but I, Lucia, I see with my own eyes, and judge from my own mind."
"Ah, dear lady," said the serving-maid, "if you were, as you doubtless will be, some time or other, a grand signora, how worthily you would wear the honours! Santa Cecilia! No other dame in Rome would be looked at while the Lady Nina were by!"
"Would we not teach them what pomp was?" answered Nina. "Oh! what festivals would we hold! Saw you not from the gallery the revels given last week by the Lady Giulia Savelli?"
"Ay, signora; and when you walked up the hall in your silver and pearl tissue, there ran such a murmur through the gallery; every one cried, 'The Savelli have entertained an angel!'"
"Pish! Lucia; no flattery, girl."
"It is naked truth, lady. But that was a revel, was it not? There was grandeur! - fifty servitors in scarlet and gold! and the music playing all the while. The minstrels were sent for from Bergamo. Did not that festival please you? Ah, I warrant many were the fine speeches made to you that day!"
"Heigho! - no, there was one voice wanting, and all the music was marred. But, girl, were I the Lady Giulia, I would not have been contented with so poor a revel."
"How, poor! Why all the nobles say it outdid the proudest marriage-feast of the Colonna. Nay, a Neapolitan who sat next me, and who had served under the young Queen Joanna, at her marriage, says, that even Naples was outshone."
"That may be. I know nought of Naples; but I know what my court should have been, were I what - what I am not, and may never be! The banquet vessels should have been of gold; the cups jewelled to the brim; not an inch of the rude pavement should have been visible; all should have glowed with cloth of gold. The fountain in the court should have showered up the perfumes of the East; my pages should not have been rough youths, blushing at their own uncouthness, but fair boys, who had not told their twelfth year, culled from the daintiest palaces of Rome; and, as for the music, oh, Lucia! - each musician should have worn a chaplet, and deserved it; and he who played best should have had a reward, to inspire all the rest - a rose from me. Saw you, too, the Lady Giulia's robe? What colours! they might have put out the sun at noonday! - yellow, and blue, and orange, and scarlet! Oh, sweet Saints! - but my eyes ached all the next day!"
"Doubtless, the Lady Giulia lacks your skill in the mixture of colours," said the complaisant waiting-woman.
"And then, too, what a mien! - no royalty in it! She moved along the hall, so that her train well nigh tripped her every moment; and then she said, with a foolish laugh, 'These holyday robes are but troublesome luxuries.' Troth, for the great there should be no holyday robes; 'tis for myself, not for others, that I would attire! Every day should have its new robe, more gorgeous than the last; - every day should be a holyday!"
"Methought," said Lucia, "that the Lord Giovanni Orsini seemed very devoted to my Lady."
"He! the bear!"
"Bear, he may be! but he has a costly skin. His riches are untold."
"And the fool knows not how to spend them."
"Was not that the young Lord Adrian who spoke to you just by the columns, where the music played?"
"It might be, - I forget."
"Yet, I hear that few ladies forget when Lord Adrian di Castello woos them."
"There was but one man whose company seemed to me worth the recollection," answered Nina, unheeding the insinuation of the artful handmaid.
"And who was he?" asked Lucia.
"The old scholar from Avignon!"
"What! he with the gray beard? Oh, Signora!"
"Yes," said Nina, with a grave and sad voice; "when he spoke, the whole scene vanished from my eyes, - for he spoke to me of HIM!"
As she said this, the Signora sighed deeply, and the tears gathered to her eyes.
The waiting-woman raised her lips in disdain, and her looks in wonder; but she did not dare to venture a reply.
"Open the lattice," said Nina, after a pause, "and give me yon paper. Not that, girl - but the verses sent me yesterday. What! art thou Italian, and dost thou not know, by instinct, that I spoke of the rhyme of Petrarch?"
Seated by the open casement, through which the moonlight stole soft and sheen, with one lamp beside her, from which she seemed to shade her eyes, though in reality she sought to hide her countenance from Lucia, the young Signora appeared absorbed in one of those tender sonnets which then turned the brains and inflamed the hearts of Italy. (Although it is true that the love sonnets of Petrarch were not then, as now, the most esteemed of his works, yet it has been a great, though a common error, to represent them as little known and coldly admired. Their effect was, in reality, prodigious and universal. Every ballad-singer sung them in the streets, and (says Filippo Villani), "Gravissimi nesciebant abstinere" - "Even the gravest could not abstain from them.")
Born of an impoverished house, which, though boasting its descent from a consular race of Rome, scarcely at that day maintained a rank amongst the inferior order of nobility, Nina di Raselli was the spoiled child - the idol and the tyrant - of her parents. The energetic and self-willed character of her mind made her rule where she should have obeyed; and as in all ages dispositions can conquer custom, she had, though in a clime and land where the young and unmarried of her sex are usually chained and fettered, assumed, and by assuming won, the prerogative of independence. She possessed, it is true, more learning and more genius than generally fell to the share of women in that day; and enough of both to be deemed a miracle by her parents; - she had, also, what they valued more, a surpassing beauty; and, what they feared more, an indomitable haughtiness;
But it was not those ingenious and elaborate conceits in which Petrarch, great Poet though he be, has so often mistaken pedantry for passion, that absorbed at that moment the attention of the beautiful Nina. Her eyes rested not on the page, but on the garden that stretched below the casement. Over the old fruit-trees and hanging vines fell the moonshine; and in the centre of the green, but half-neglected sward, the waters of a small and circular fountain, whose perfect proportions spoke of days long past, played and sparkled in the starlight. The scene was still and beautiful; but neither of its stillness nor its beauty thought Nina: towards one, the gloomiest and most rugged, spot in the whole garden, turned her gaze; there, the trees stood densely massed together, and shut from view the low but heavy wall which encircled the mansion of Raselli. The boughs on those trees stirred gently, but Nina saw them wave; and now from the copse emerged, slowly and cautiously, a solitary figure, whose shadow threw itself, long and dark, over the sward. It approached the window, and a low voice breathed Nina's name.
"Quick, Lucia!" cried she, breathlessly, turning to her handmaid: "quick! the rope-ladder! it is he! he is come! How slow you are! haste, girl, - he may be discovered! There, - O joy, - O joy! - My lover! my hero! my Rienzi!"
"It is you!" said Rienzi, as, now entering the chamber, he wound his arms around her half-averted form, "and what is night to others is day to me!"
The first sweet moments of welcome were over; and Rienzi was seated at the feet of his mistress: his head rested on her knees - his face looking up to hers - their hands clasped each in each.
"And for me thou bravest these dangers!" said the lover; "the shame of discovery, the wrath of thy parents!"
"But what are my perils to thine? Oh, Heaven! if my father found thee here thou wouldst die!"
"He would think it then so great a humiliation, that thou, beautiful Nina, who mightst match with the haughtiest names of Rome, shouldst waste thy love on a plebeian - even though the grandson of an emperor!"
The proud heart of Nina could sympathize well with the wounded pride of her lover: she detected the soreness which lurked beneath his answer, carelessly as it was uttered.
"Hast thou not told me," she said, "of that great Marius, who was no noble, but from whom the loftiest Colonna would rejoice to claim his descent? and do I not know in thee one who shall yet eclipse the power of Marius, unsullied by his vices?"
"Delicious flattery! sweet prophet!" said Rienzi, with a melancholy smile; "never were thy supporting promises of the future more welcome to me than now; for to thee I will say what I would utter to none else - my soul half sinks beneath the mighty burthen I have heaped upon it. I want new courage as the dread hour approaches; and from thy words and looks I drink it."
"Oh!" answered Nina, blushing as she spoke, "glorious is indeed the lot which I have bought by my love for thee: glorious to share thy schemes, to cheer thee in doubt, to whisper hope to thee in danger."
"And give grace to me in triumph!" added Rienzi, passionately. "Ah! should the future ever place upon these brows the laurel-wreath due to one who has saved his country, what joy, what recompence, to lay it at thy feet! Perhaps, in those long and solitary hours of languor and exhaustion which fill up the interstices of time, - the dull space for sober thought between the epochs of exciting action, - perhaps I should have failed and flagged, and renounced even my dreams for Rome, had they not been linked also with my dreams for thee! - had I not pictured to myself the hour when my fate should elevate me beyond my birth; when thy sire would deem it no disgrace to give thee to my arms; when thou, too, shouldst stand amidst the dames of Rome, more honoured, as more beautiful, than all; and when I should see that pomp, which my own soul disdains, ("Quem semper abhorrui sicut cenum" is the expression used by Rienzi, in his letter to his friend at Avignon, and which was probably sincere. Men rarely act according to the bias of their own tastes.) made dear and grateful to me because associated with thee! Yes, it is these thoughts that have inspired me, when sterner ones have shrunk back appalled from the spectres that surround their goal. And oh! my Nina, sacred, strong, enduring must be, indeed, the love which lives in the same pure and elevated air as that which sustains my hopes of liberty and fame!"
This was the language which, more even than the vows of fidelity and the dear adulation which springs from the heart's exuberance, had bound the proud and vain soul of Nina to the chains that it so willingly wore. Perhaps, indeed, in the absence of Rienzi, her weaker nature pictured to herself the triumph of humbling the highborn signoras, and eclipsing the barbarous magnificence of the chiefs of Rome; but in his presence, and listening to his more elevated and generous ambition, as yet all unsullied by one private feeling save the hope of her, her higher sympathies were enlisted with his schemes, her mind aspired to raise itself to the height of his, and she thought less of her own rise than of his glory. It was sweet to her pride to be the sole confidante of his most secret thoughts, as of his most hardy undertakings; to see bared before her that intricate and plotting spirit; to be admitted even to the knowledge of its doubts and weakness, as of its heroism and power.
Nothing could be more contrasted than the loves of Rienzi and Nina, and those of Adrian and Irene: in the latter, all were the dreams, the phantasies, the extravagance, of youth; they never talked of the future; they mingled no other aspirations with those of love. Ambition, glory, the world's high objects, were nothing to them when together; their love had swallowed up the world, and left nothing visible beneath the sun, save itself. But the passion of Nina and her lover was that of more complicated natures and more mature years: it was made up of a thousand feelings, each naturally severed from each, but compelled into one focus by the mighty concentration of love; their talk was of the world; it was from the world that they drew the aliment which sustained it; it was of the future they spoke and thought; of its dreams and imagined glories they made themselves a home and altar; their love had in it more of the Intellectual than that of Adrian and Irene; it was more fitted for this hard earth; it had in it, also, more of the leaven of the later and iron days, and less of poetry and the first golden age.
"And must thou leave me now?" said Nina, her cheek no more averted from his lips, nor her form from his parting embrace. "The moon is high yet; it is but a little hour thou hast given me."
"An hour! Alas!" said Rienzi, "it is near upon midnight - our friends await me."
"Go, then, my soul's best half! Go; Nina shall not detain thee one moment from those higher objects which make thee so dear to Nina. When - when shall we meet again!"
"Not," said Rienzi, proudly, and with all his soul upon his brow, "not thus, by stealth! no! nor as I thus have met thee, the obscure and contemned bondsman! When next thou seest me, it shall be at the head of the sons of Rome! her champion! her restorer! or - " said he, sinking his voice -
"There is no or!" interrupted Nina, weaving her arms round him, and catching his enthusiasm; "thou hast uttered thine own destiny!"
"One kiss more! - farewell! - the tenth day from the morrow shines upon the restoration of Rome!"
Chapter 1.XII. The Strange Adventures that Befel Walter de Montreal.
It was upon that same evening, and while the earlier stars yet shone over the city, that Walter de Montreal, returning, alone, to the convent then associated with the church of Santa Maria del Priorata (both of which belonged to the Knights of the Hospital, and in the first of which Montreal had taken his lodgment), paused amidst the ruins and desolation which lay around his path. Thou little skilled in the classic memories and associations of the spot, he could not but be impressed with the surrounding witnesses of departed empire; the vast skeleton, as it were, of the dead giantess.
"Now," thought he, as he gazed around upon the roofless columns and shattered walls, everywhere visible, over which the starlight shone, ghastly and transparent, backed by the frowning and embattled fortresses of the Frangipani, half hid by the dark foliage that sprung up amidst the very fanes and palaces of old - Nature exulting over the frailer Art; "now," thought he, "bookmen would be inspired, by this scene, with fantastic and dreaming visions of the past. But to me these monuments of high ambition and royal splendour create only images of the future. Rome may yet be, with her seven-hilled diadem, as Rome has been before, the prize of the strongest hand and the boldest warrior, - revived, not by her own degenerate sons, but the infused blood of a new race. William the Bastard could scarce have found the hardy Englishers so easy a conquest as Walter the Well-born may find these eunuch Romans. And which conquest were the more glorious, - the barbarous Isle, or the Metropolis of the World? Short step from the general to the podesta - shorter step from the podesta to the king!"
While thus revolving his wild, yet not altogether chimerical ambition, a quick light step was heard amidst the long herbage, and, looking up, Montreal perceived the figure of a tall female descending from that part of the hill then covered by many convents, towards the base of the Aventine. She supported her steps with a long staff, and moved with such elasticity and erectness, that now, as her face became visible by the starlight, it was surprising to perceive that it was the face of one advanced in years, - a harsh, proud countenance, withered, and deeply wrinkled, but not without a certain regularity of outline.
"Merciful Virgin!" cried Montreal, starting back as that face gleamed upon him: "is it possible? It is she: - it is - "
He sprung forward, and stood right before the old woman, who seemed equally surprised, though more dismayed, at the sight of Montreal.
"I have sought thee for years," said the Knight, first breaking the silence; "years, long years, - thy conscience can tell thee why."
"Mine, man of blood!" cried the female, trembling with rage or fear; "darest thou talk of conscience? Thou, the dishonourer - the robber - the professed homicide! Thou, disgrace to knighthood and to birth! Thou, with the cross of chastity and of peace upon thy breast! Thou talk of conscience, hypocrite! - thou?"
"Lady - lady!" said Montreal, deprecatingly, and almost quailing beneath the fiery passion of that feeble woman, "I have sinned against thee and thine. But remember all my excuses! - early love - fatal obstacles - rash vow - irresistible temptation! Perhaps," he added, in a more haughty tone, "perhaps, yet, I may have the power to atone my error, and wring, with mailed hand, from the successor of St Peter, who hath power to loose as to bind - "
"Perjured and abandoned!" interrupted the female; "dost thou dream that violence can purchase absolution, or that thou canst ever atone the past? - a noble name disgraced, a father's broken heart and dying curse! Yes, that curse, I hear it now! it rings upon me thrillingly, as when I watched the expiring clay! it cleaves to thee - it pursues thee - it shall pierce thee through thy corselet - it shall smite thee in the meridian of thy power! Genius wasted - ambition blasted - penitence deferred - a life of brawls, and a death of shame - thy destruction the offspring of thy crime! - To this, to this, an old man's curse hath doomed thee! - AND THOU ART DOOMED!"
These words were rather shrieked than spoken: and the flashing eye, the lifted hand, the dilated form of the speaker - the hour - the solitude of the ruins around - all conspired to give to the fearful execration the character of prophecy. The warrior, against whose undaunted breast a hundred spears had shivered in vain, fell appalled and humbled to the ground. He seized the hem of his fierce denouncer's robe, and cried, in a choked and hollow voice, "Spare me! spare me!"
"Spare thee!" said the unrelenting crone; "hast thou ever spared man in thy hatred, or woman in thy lust? Ah, grovel in the dust! - crouch - crouch! - wild beast as thou art! whose sleek skin and beautiful hues have taught the unwary to be blind to the talons that rend, and the grinders that devour; - crouch, that the foot of the old and impotent may spurn thee!"
"Hag!" cried Montreal, in the reaction of sudden fury and maddened pride, springing up to the full height of his stature. "Hag! thou hast passed the limits to which, remembering who thou art, my forbearance gave thee licence. I had well-nigh forgot that thou hadst assumed my part - I am the Accuser! Woman! - the boy! - shrink not! equivocate not! lie not! - thou wert the thief!"
"I was. Thou taughtest me the lesson how to steal a - "
"Render - restore him!" interrupted Montreal, stamping on the ground with such force that the splinters of the marble fragments on which he stood shivered under his armed heel.
The woman little heeded a violence at which the fiercest warrior of Italy might have trembled; but she did not make an immediate answer. The character of her countenance altered from passion into an expression of grave, intent, and melancholy thought. At length she replied to Montreal; whose hand had wandered to his dagger-hilt, with the instinct of long habit, whenever enraged or thwarted, rather than from any design of blood; which, stern and vindictive as he was, he would have been incapable of forming against any woman, - much less against the one then before him.
"Walter de Montreal," said she, in a voice so calm that it almost sounded like that of compassion, "the boy, I think, has never known brother or sister: the only child of a once haughty and lordly race, on both sides, though now on both dishonoured - nay, why so impatient? thou wilt soon learn the worst - the boy is dead!"
"Dead!" repeated Montreal, recoiling and growing pale; "dead! - no, no - say not that! He has a mother, - you know he has! - a fond, meekhearted, anxious, hoping mother! - no! - no, he is not dead!"
"Thou canst feel, then, for a mother?" said the old woman, seemingly touched by the tone of the Provencal. "Yet, bethink thee; is it not better that the grave should save him from a life of riot, of bloodshed, and of crime? Better to sleep with God than to wake with the fiends!"
"Dead!" echoed Montreal; "dead! - the pretty one! - so young! - those eyes
"Hast thou aught else to say? Thy sight scares my very womanhood from my soul! - let me be gone."
"Dead! - may I believe thee? or dost thou mock me? Thou hast uttered thy curse, hearken to my warning: - If thou hast lied in this, thy last hour shall dismay thee, and thy death-bed shall be the death-bed of despair!"
"Thy lips," replied the female, with a scornful smile, "are better adapted for lewd vows to unhappy maidens, than for the denunciations which sound solemn only when coming from the good. Farewell!"
"Stay! inexorable woman! stay! - where sleeps he? Masses shall be sung! priests shall pray! - the sins of the father shall not be visited on that young head!"
"At Florence!" returned the woman, hastily. "But no stone records the departed one! - The dead boy had no name!"
Waiting for no further questionings, the woman now passed on, - pursued her way; - and the long herbage, and the winding descent, soon snatched her ill-omened apparition from the desolate landscape.
Montreal, thus alone, sunk with a deep and heavy sigh upon the ground, covered his face with his hands, and burst into an agony of grief; his chest heaved, his whole frame trembled, and he wept and sobbed aloud, with all the fearful vehemence of a man whose passions are strong and fierce, but to whom the violence of grief alone is novel and unfamiliar.
He remained thus, prostrate and unmanned, for a considerable time, growing slowly and gradually more calm as tears relieved his emotion; and, at length, rather indulging a gloomy reverie than a passionate grief. The moon was high and the hour late when he arose, and then few traces of the past excitement remained upon his countenance; for Walter de Montreal was not of that mould in which woe can force a settlement, or to which any affliction can bring the continued and habitual melancholy that darkens those who feel more enduringly, though with emotions less stormy. His were the elements of the true Franc character, though carried to excess: his sternest and his deepest qualities were mingled with fickleness and caprice; his profound sagacity often frustrated by a whim; his towering ambition deserted for some frivolous temptation; and his elastic, sanguine, and high-spirited nature, faithful only to the desire of military glory, to the poetry of a daring and stormy life, and to the susceptibilities of that tender passion without whose colourings no portrait of chivalry is complete, and in which he was capable of a sentiment, a tenderness, and a loyal devotion, which could hardly have been supposed compatible with his reckless levity and his undisciplined career.
"Well," said he, as he rose slowly, folded his mantle round him, and resumed his way, "it was not for myself I grieved thus. But the pang is past, and the worst is known. Now, then, back to those things that never die - restless projects and daring schemes. That hag's curse keeps my blood cold still, and this solitude has something in it weird and awful. Ha! - what sudden light is that?"
The light which caught Montreal's eye broke forth almost like a star, scarcely larger, indeed, but more red and intense in its ray. Of itself it was nothing uncommon, and might have shone either from convent or cottage. But it streamed from a part of the Aventine which contained no habitations of the living, but only the empty ruins and shattered porticoes, of which even the names and memories of the ancient inhabitants were dead. Aware of this, Montreal felt a slight awe (as the beam threw its steady light over the dreary landscape); for he was not without the knightly superstitions of the age, and it was now the witching hour consecrated to ghost and spirit. But fear, whether of this world or the next, could not long daunt the mind of the hardy freebooter; and, after a short hesitation, he resolved to make a digression from his way, and ascertain the cause of the phenomenon. Unconsciously, the martial tread of the barbarian passed over the site of the famed, or infamous, Temple of Isis, which had once witnessed those wildest orgies commemorated by Juvenal; and came at last to a thick and dark copse, from an opening in the centre of which gleamed the mysterious light. Penetrating the gloomy foliage, the Knight now found himself before a large ruin, grey and roofless, from within which came, indistinct and muffled, the sound of voices. Through a rent in the wall, forming a kind of casement, and about ten feet from the ground, the light now broke over the matted and rank soil, embedded, as it were, in vast masses of shade, and streaming through a mouldering portico hard at hand. The Provencal stood, though he knew it not, on the very place once consecrated by the Temple: the Portico and the Library of Liberty (the first public library instituted in Rome). The wall of the ruin was covered with innumerable creepers and wild brushwood, and it required but little agility on the part of Montreal, by the help of these, to raise himself to the height of the aperture, and, concealed by the luxuriant foliage, to gaze within. He saw a table, lighted with tapers, in the centre of which was a crucifix; a dagger, unsheathed; an open scroll, which the event proved to be of sacred character; and a brazen bowl. About a hundred men, in cloaks, and with black vizards, stood motionless around; and one, taller than the rest, without disguise or mask - whose pale brow and stern features seemed by that light yet paler and yet more stern - appeared to be concluding some address to his companions.
"Yes," said he, "in the church of the Lateran I will make the last appeal to the people. Supported by the Vicar of the Pope, myself an officer of the Pontiff, it will be seen that Religion and Liberty - the heroes and the martyrs - are united in one cause. After that time, words are idle; action must begin. By this crucifix I pledge my faith, on this blade I devote my life, to the regeneration of Rome! And you (then no need for mask or mantle!), when the solitary trump is heard, when the solitary horseman is seen, - you, swear to rally round the standard of the Republic, and resist
"We swear - we swear!" exclaimed every voice: and, crowding toward cross and weapon, the tapers were obscured by the intervening throng, and Montreal could not perceive the ceremony, nor hear the muttered formula of the oath: but he could guess that the rite then common to conspiracies - and which required each conspirator to shed some drops of his own blood, in token that life itself was devoted to the enterprise - had not been omitted, when, the group again receding, the same figure as before had addressed the meeting, holding on high the bowl with both hands, - while from the left arm, which was bared, the blood weltered slowly, and trickled, drop by drop, upon the ground, - said, in a solemn voice and upturned eyes:
"Amidst the ruins of thy temple, O Liberty! we, Romans, dedicate to thee this libation! We, befriended and inspired by no unreal and fabled idols, but by the Lord of Hosts, and Him who, descending to earth, appealed not to emperors and to princes, but to the fisherman and the peasant, - giving to the lowly and the poor the mission of Revelation." Then, turning suddenly to his companions, as his features, singularly varying in their character and expression, brightened, from solemn awe, into a martial and kindling enthusiasm, he cried aloud, "Death to the Tyranny! Life to the Republic!" The effect of the transition was startling. Each man, as by an involuntary and irresistible impulse, laid his hand upon his sword, as he echoed the sentiment; some, indeed, drew forth their blades, as if for instant action.
"I have seen enow: they will break up anon," said Montreal to himself: "and I would rather face an army of thousands, than even half-a-dozen enthusiasts, so inflamed, - and I thus detected." And, with this thought, he dropped on the ground, and glided away, as, once again, through the still midnight air, broke upon his ear the muffled shout - "DEATH TO THE TYRANNY! - LIFE TO THE REPUBLIC!"
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