Part 6 out of 10
The Tribune paused a moment, evidently striving to suppress his emotion, as
he observed the terror he had excited - his eye fell upon Nina, who,
forgetting her previous vexation, regarded him with anxious amazement.
"Yes," said he to her, "you alone, perhaps, of this fair assemblage, know
not that the nobles whom I lately released from the headsman's gripe are a
second time forsworn. They have left home in the dead of the night, and
already the Heralds proclaim them traitors and rebels. Rienzi forgives no
"Tribune," exclaimed the Signora Frangipani, who had more bold blood in her
veins than her whole house, "were I of thine own sex, I would cast the
words, Traitor and Rebel, given to my Lord, in thine own teeth! - Proud
man, the Pontiff soon will fulfil that office!"
"Your Lord is blest with a dove, fair one," said the Tribune, scornfully.
"Ladies, fear not, while Rienzi lives, the wife even of his worst foe is
safe and honoured. The crowd will be here anon; our guards shall attend ye
home in safety, or this palace may be your shelter - for, I warn ye, that
your Lords have rushed into a great peril. And ere many days be past, the
streets of Rome may be as rivers of blood."
"We accept your offer, Tribune," said the Signora Frangipani, who was
touched, and, in spite of herself, awed by the Tribune's manner. And as
she spoke, she dropped on one knee, picked up the kerchief, and, presenting
it respectfully to Nina, said, "Madam, forgive me. I alone of these
present respect you more in danger than in pride."
"And I," returned Nina, as she leaned in graceful confidence on Rienzi's
arm, "I reply, that if there be danger, the more need of pride."
All that day and all that night rang the great bell of the Capitol. But on
the following daybreak, the assemblage was thin and scattered; there was a
great fear stricken into the hearts of the people, by the flight of the
Barons, and they bitterly and loudly upbraided Rienzi for sparing them to
this opportunity of mischief. That day the rumours continued; the
murmurers for the most part remained within their houses, or assembled in
listless and discontented troops. The next day dawned; the same lethargy
prevailed. The Tribune summoned his Council, (which was a Representative
"Shall we go forth as we are," said he, "with such few as will follow the
"No," replied Pandulfo, who, by nature timid, was yet well acquainted with
the disposition of the people, and therefore a sagacious counsellor. "Let
us hold back; let us wait till the rebels commit themselves by some odious
outrage, and then hatred will unite the waverers, and resentment lead
This counsel prevailed; the event proved its wisdom. To give excuse and
dignity to the delay, messengers were sent to Marino, whither the chief
part of the Barons had fled, and which was strongly fortified, demanding
their immediate return.
On the day on which the haughty refusal of the insurgents was brought to
Rienzi, came fugitives from all parts of the Campagna. Houses burned -
convents and vineyards pillaged - cattle and horses seized - attested the
warfare practised by the Barons, and animated the drooping Romans, by
showing the mercies they might expect for themselves. That evening, of
their own accord, the Romans rushed into the place of the Capitol: -
Rinaldo Orsini had seized a fortress in the immediate neighbourhood of
Rome, and had set fire to a tower, the flames of which were visible to the
city. The tenant of the tower, a noble lady, old and widowed, was burnt
alive. Then rose the wild clamour - the mighty wrath - the headlong fury.
The hour for action had arrived. ("Ardea terre, arse la Castelluzza e
case, e uomini. Non si schifo di ardere una nobile donna Vedova, veterana,
in una torre. Per tale crudeltade li Romani furo piu irati," &c. - "Vita
di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 20.)
Chapter 5.III. The Battle.
"I have dreamed a dream," cried Rienzi, leaping from his bed. "The lion-
hearted Boniface, foe and victim of the Colonna, hath appeared to me, and
promised victory. ("In questa notte mi e apparito Santo Bonifacio Papa,"
&c. - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi" cap. 32.) Nina, prepare the laurel-wreath:
this day victory shall be ours!"
"O, Rienzi! today?"
"Yes! hearken to the bell - hearken to the trumpet. Nay, I hear even now
the impatient hoofs of my white warsteed! One kiss, Nina, ere I arm for
victory, - stay - comfort poor Irene; let me not see her - she weeps that
my foes are akin to her betrothed; I cannot brook her tears; I watched her
in her cradle. Today, I must have no weakness on my soul! Knaves, twice
perjured! - wolves, never to be tamed! - shall I meet ye at last sword to
sword? Away, sweet Nina, to Irene, quick! Adrian is at Naples, and were
he in Rome, her lover is sacred, though fifty times a Colonna."
With that, the Tribune passed into his wardrobe, where his pages and
gentlemen attended with his armour. "I hear, by our spies," said he, "that
they will be at our gates ere noon - four thousand foot, seven hundred
horsemen. We will give them a hearty welcome, my masters. How, Angelo
Villani, my pretty page, what do you out of your lady's service?"
"I would fain see a warrior arm for Rome," said the boy, with a boy's
"Bless thee, my child; there spoke one of Rome's true sons!"
"And the Signora has promised me that I shall go with her guard to the
gates, to hear the news - "
"And report the victory? - thou shalt. But they must not let thee come
within shaft-shot. What! my Pandulfo, thou in mail?"
"Rome requires every man," said the citizen, whose weak nerves were strung
by the contagion of the general enthusiasm.
"She doth - and once more I am proud to be a Roman. Now, gentles, the
Dalmaticum: (A robe or mantle of white, borne by Rienzi; at one time
belonging to the sacerdotal office, afterwards an emblem of empire.) I
would that every foe should know Rienzi; and, by the Lord of Hosts,
fighting at the head of the imperial people, I have a right to the imperial
robe. Are the friars prepared? Our march to the gates shall be preceded
by a solemn hymn - so fought our sires."
"Tribune, John di Vico is arrived with a hundred horse to support the Good
"He hath! - The Lord has delivered us then of a foe, and given our dungeons
a traitor! - Bring hither yon casket, Angelo. - So - Hark thee! Pandulfo,
read this letter."
The citizens read, with surprise and consternation, the answer of the wily
Prefect to the Colonna's epistle.
"He promises the Baron to desert to him in the battle, with the Prefect's
banner," said Pandulfo. "What is to be done?"
"What! - take my signet - here - see him lodged forthwith in the prison of
the Capitol. Bid his train leave Rome, and if found acting with the
Barons, warn them that their Lord dies. Go - see to it without a moment's
delay. Meanwhile, to the chapel - we will hear mass."
Within an hour the Roman army - vast, miscellaneous - old men and boys,
mingled with the vigour of life, were on their march to the Gate of San
Lorenzo; of their number, which amounted to twenty thousand foot, not one-
sixth could be deemed men-at-arms; but the cavalry were well equipped, and
consisted of the lesser Barons and the more opulent citizens. At the head
of these rode the Tribune in complete armour, and wearing on his casque a
wreath of oak and olive leaves, wrought in silver. Before him waved the
great gonfalon of Rome, while in front of this multitudinous array marched
a procession of monks, of the order of St. Francis, (for the ecclesiastical
body of Rome went chiefly with the popular spirit, and its enthusiastic
leader,) - slowly chanting the following hymn, which was made inexpressibly
startling and imposing at the close of each stanza, by the clash of arms,
the blast of trumpets, and the deep roll of the drum; which formed, as it
were, a martial chorus to the song: -
March, march for your hearths and your altars!
Cursed to all time be the dastard that falters,
Never on earth may his sins be forgiven
Death on his soul, shut the portals of heaven!
A curse on his heart, and a curse on his brain! -
Who strikes not for Rome, shall to Rome be her Cain!
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears,
Spirito Santo, Cavaliers! (Rienzi's word of battle was "Spirito Santo
Cavaliere", i.e. Cavalier in the singular number. The plural number has
been employed in the text, as somewhat more animated, and therefore better
adapted to the kind of poetry into the service of which the watchword has
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Gaily to glory we come;
Like a king in his pomp,
To the blast of the tromp,
And the roar of the mighty drum!
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears,
Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
March, march for your Freedom and Laws!
Earth is your witness - all Earth's is your cause!
Seraph and saint from their glory shall heed ye,
The angel that smote the Assyrian shall lead ye;
To the Christ of the Cross man is never so holy
As in braving the proud in defence of the lowly!
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears,
Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Gaily to glory we come;
Like a king in his pomp,
To the blast of the tromp,
And the roar of the mighty drum!
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears,
Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
March, march! ye are sons of the Roman,
The sound of whose step was as fate to the foeman!
Whose realm, save the air and the wave, had no wall,
As he strode through the world like a lord in his hall;
Though your fame hath sunk down to the night of the grave,
It shall rise from the field like the sun from the wave.
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears,
Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Gaily to glory we come;
Like a king in his pomp,
To the blast of the tromp,
And the roar of the mighty drum!
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears,
Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
In this order they reached the wide waste that ruin and devastation left
within the gates, and, marshalled in long lines on either side, extending
far down the vistaed streets, and leaving a broad space in the centre,
awaited the order of their leader.
"Throw open the gates, and admit the foe!" cried Rienzi, with a loud voice;
as the trumpets of the Barons, announced their approach.
Meanwhile the insurgent Patricians, who had marched that morning from a
place called the Monument, four miles distant, came gallantly and boldly
With old Stephen, whose great height, gaunt frame, and lordly air, shewed
well in his gorgeous mail, rode his sons, - the Frangipani and the Savelli,
and Giordano Orsini, brother to Rinaldo.
"Today the tyrant shall perish!" said the proud Baron; "and the flag of the
Colonna shall wave from the Capitol."
"The flag of the Bear," said Giordano Orsini, angrily. - "The victory will
not be yours alone, my Lord!"
"Our house ever took precedence in Rome," replied the Colonna, haughtily.
"Never, while one stone of the palaces of the Orsini stands upon another."
"Hush!" said Luca di Savelli; "are ye dividing the skin while the lion
lives? We shall have fierce work today."
"Not so," said the old Colonna; "John di Vico will turn, with his Romans,
at the first onset, and some of the malcontents within have promised to
open the gates. - How, knave?" as a scout rode up breathless to the Baron.
"The gates are opened - not a spear gleams from the walls!"
"Did I not tell ye, Lords?" said the Colonna, turning round triumphantly.
"Methinks we shall win Rome without a single blow. - Grandson, where now
are thy silly forebodings?" This was said to Pietro, one of his grandsons
- the first-born of Gianni - a comely youth, not two weeks wedded, who made
no reply. "My little Pietro here," continued the Baron, speaking to his
comrades, "is so new a bridegroom, that last night he dreamed of his bride;
and deems it, poor lad, a portent."
"She was in deep mourning, and glided from my arms, uttering, 'Woe, woe, to
the Colonna!" said the young man, solemnly.
"I have lived nearly ninety years," replied the old man, "and I may have
dreamed, therefore, some forty thousand dreams; of which, two came true,
and the rest were false. Judge, then, what chances are in favour of the
Thus conversing, they approached within bow-shot of the gates, which were
still open. All was silent as death. The army, which was composed chiefly
of foreign mercenaries, halted in deliberation - when, lo! - a torch was
suddenly cast on high over the walls; it gleamed a moment - and then hissed
in the miry pool below.
"It is the signal of our friends within, as agreed on," cried old Colonna.
"Pietro, advance with your company!" The young nobleman closed his visor,
put himself at the head of the band under his command; and, with his lance
in his rest, rode in a half gallop to the gates. The morning had been
clouded and overcast, and the sun, appearing only at intervals, now broke
out in a bright stream of light - as it glittered on the waving plume and
shining mail of the young horseman, disappearing under the gloomy arch,
several paces in advance of his troop. On swept his followers - forward
went the cavalry headed by Gianni Colonna, Pietro's father. - there was a
minute's silence, broken only by the clatter of the arms, and tramp of
hoofs, - when from within the walls rose the abrupt cry - "Rome, the
Tribune, and the People! Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!" The main body halted
aghast. Suddenly Gianni Colonna was seen flying backward from the gate at
"My son, my son!" he cried, "they have murdered him;" - he halted abrupt
and irresolute, then adding, "But I will avenge!" wheeled round, and
spurred again through the arch, - when a huge machine of iron, shaped as a
portcullis, suddenly descended upon the unhappy father, and crushed man and
horse to the ground - one blent, mangled, bloody mass.
The old Colonna saw, and scarce believed his eyes; and ere his troop
recovered its stupor, the machine rose, and over the corpse dashed the
Popular Armament. Thousands upon thousands, they came on; a wild,
clamorous, roaring stream. They poured on all sides upon their enemies,
who drawn up in steady discipline, and clad in complete mail, received and
broke their charge.
"Revenge, and the Colonna!" - "The Bear and the Orsini!" - "Charity and the
Frangipani!" (Who had taken their motto from some fabled ancestor who had
broke bread with a beggar in a time of famine.) "Strike for the Snake (The
Lion was, however, the animal usually arrogated by the heraldic vanity of
the Savelli.) and the Savelli!" were then heard on high, mingled with the
German and hoarse shout, "Full purses, and the Three Kings of Cologne."
The Romans, rather ferocious than disciplined, fell butchered in crowds
round the ranks of the mercenaries: but as one fell, another succeeded;
and still burst with undiminished fervour the countercry of "Rome, the
Tribune, and the People! - Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!" Exposed to every
shaft and every sword by his emblematic diadem and his imperial robe, the
fierce Rienzi led on each assault, wielding an enormous battle-axe, for the
use of which the Italians were celebrated, and which he regarded as a
national weapon. Inspired by every darker and sterner instinct of his
nature, his blood heated, his passions aroused, fighting as a citizen for
liberty, as a monarch for his crown, his daring seemed to the astonished
foe as that of one frantic; his preservation that of one inspired: now
here, now there; wherever flagged his own, or failed the opposing, force,
glittered his white robe, and rose his bloody battle-axe; but his fury
seemed rather directed against the chiefs than the herd; and still where
his charger wheeled was heard his voice, "Where is a Colonna?" - "Defiance
to the Orsini!" - "Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!" Three times was the sally
led from the gate; three times were the Romans beaten back; and on the
third, the gonfalon, borne before the Tribune, was cloven to the ground.
Then, for the first time, he seemed amazed and alarmed, and, raising his
eyes to heaven, he exclaimed, "O Lord, hast thou then forsaken me?" With
that, taking heart, once more he waved his arm, and again led forward his
At eve the battle ceased. Of the Barons who had been the main object of
the Tribune's assault, the pride and boast was broken. Of the princely
line of the Colonna, three lay dead. Giordano Orsini was mortally wounded;
the fierce Rinaldo had not shared the conflict. Of the Frangipani, the
haughtiest signors were no more; and Luca, the dastard head of the Savelli,
had long since saved himself by flight. On the other hand, the slaughter
of the citizens had been prodigious; - the ground was swamped with blood -
and over heaps of slain, (steeds and riders,) the twilight star beheld
Rienzi and the Romans returning victors from the pursuit. Shouts of
rejoicing followed the Tribune's panting steed through the arch; and just
as he entered the space within, crowds of those whose infirmities, sex, or
years, had not allowed them to share the conflict, - women, and children,
and drivelling age, mingled with the bare feet and dark robes of monks and
friars, apprised of the victory, were prepared to hail his triumph.
Rienzi reined his steed by the corpse of the boy Colonna, which lay half
immersed in a pool of water, and close by it, removed from the arch where
he had fallen, lay that of Gianni Colonna, - (that Gianni Colonna whose
spear had dismissed his brother's gentle spirit.) He glanced over the
slain, as the melancholy Hesperus played upon the bloody pool and the gory
corselet, with a breast heaved with many emotions; and turning, he saw the
young Angelo, who, with some of Nina's guard, had repaired to the spot, and
had now approached the Tribune.
"Child," said Rienzi, pointing to the dead, "blessed art thou who hast no
blood of kindred to avenge! - to him who hath, sooner or later comes the
hour; and an awful hour it is!"
The words sank deep into Angelo's heart, and in after life became words of
fate to the speaker and the listener.
Ere Rienzi had well recovered himself, and as were heard around him the
shrieks of the widows and mothers of the slain - the groans of the dying -
the exhortations of the friars - mingled with sounds of joy and triumph - a
cry was raised by the women and stragglers on the battle-field without, of
"The foe! - the foe!"
"To your swords," cried the Tribune; "fall back in order; - yet they cannot
be so bold!"
The tramp of horses, the blast of a trumpet, were heard; and presently, at
full speed, some thirty horsemen dashed through the gate.
"Your bows," exclaimed the Tribune, advancing; - "yet hold - the leader is
unarmed - it is our own banner. By our Lady, it is our ambassador of
Naples, the Lord Adrian di Castello!"
Panting - breathless - covered with dust - Adrian halted at the pool red
with the blood of his kindred - and their pale faces, set in death, glared
"Too late - alas! alas! - dread fate! - unhappy Rome!"
"They fell into the pit they themselves had digged," said the Tribune, in a
firm but hollow voice. - "Noble Adrian, would thy counsels had prevented
"Away, proud man - away!" said Adrian, impatiently waving his hand, - "thou
shouldst protect the lives of Romans, and - oh, Gianni! - Pietro! - could
not birth, renown, and thy green years, poor boy - could not these save
"Pardon him, my friends," said the Tribune to the crowd, - "his grief is
natural, and he knows not all their guilt. - Back, I pray ye - leave him to
It might have fared ill for Adrian, but for the Tribune's brief speech.
And as the young Lord, dismounting, now bent over his kinsmen - the Tribune
also surrendering his charger to his squires, approached, and, despite
Adrian's reluctance and aversion, drew him aside, -
"Young friend," said he, mournfully, "my heart bleeds for you; yet bethink
thee, the wrath of the crowd is fresh upon them: be prudent."
"Hush - by my honour, these men were not worthy of your name. Twice
perjured - once assassins - twice rebels - listen to me!"
"Tribune, I ask no other construing of what I see - they might have died
justly, or been butchered foully. But there is no peace between the
executioner of my race and me."
"Will you, too, be forsworn? Thine oath! - Come, come, I hear not these
words. Be composed - retire - and if, three days hence, you impute any
other blame to me than that of unwise lenity, I absolve you from your oath,
and you are free to be my foe. The crowd gape and gaze upon us - a minute
more, and I may not avail to save you."
The feelings of the young patrician were such as utterly baffle
description. He had never been much amongst his house, nor ever received
more than common courtesy at their hands. But lineage is lineage still!
And there, in the fatal hazard of war, lay the tree and sapling, the prime
and hope of his race. He felt there was no answer to the Tribune, the very
place of their death proved they had fallen in an assault upon their
countrymen. He sympathised not with their cause, but their fate. And
rage, revenge alike forbidden - his heart was the more softened to the
shock and paralysis of grief. He did not therefore speak, but continued to
gaze upon the dead, while large and unheeded tears flowed down his cheeks,
and his attitude of dejection and sorrow was so moving, that the crowd, at
first indignant, now felt for his affliction. At length his mind seemed
made up. He turned to Rienzi, and said, falteringly, "Tribune, I blame you
not, nor accuse. If you have been rash in this, God will have blood for
blood. I wage no war with you - you say right, my oath prevents me; and if
you govern well, I can still remember that I am Roman. But - but - look to
that bleeding clay - we meet no more! - your sister - God be with her! -
between her and me flows a dark gulf!" The young noble paused some
moments, choked by his emotions, and then continued, "These papers
discharge me of my mission. Standard-bearers, lay down the banner of the
Republic. Tribune, speak not - I would be calm - calm. And so farewell to
Rome." With a hurried glance towards the dead, he sprung upon his steed,
and, followed by his train, vanished through the arch.
The Tribune had not attempted to detain him - had not interrupted him. He
felt that the young noble had thought - acted as became him best. He
followed him with his eyes.
"And thus," said he gloomily, "Fate plucks from me my noblest friend and my
justest counsellor - better man Rome never lost!"
Such is the eternal doom of disordered states. The mediator between rank
and rank, - the kindly noble - the dispassionate patriot - the first to act
- the most hailed in action - darkly vanishes from the scene. Fiercer and
more unscrupulous spirits alone stalk the field; and no neutral and
harmonizing link remains between hate and hate, - until exhaustion, sick
with horrors, succeeds to frenzy, and despotism is welcomed as repose!
Chapter 5.IV. The Hollowness of the Base.
The rapid and busy march of state events has led us long away from the
sister of the Tribune and the betrothed of Adrian. And the sweet thoughts
and gentle day-dreams of that fair and enamoured girl, however full to her
of an interest beyond all the storms and perils of ambition, are not so
readily adapted to narration: - their soft monotony a few words can paint.
They knew but one image, they tended to but one prospect. Shrinking from
the glare of her brother's court, and eclipsed, when she forced herself to
appear, by the more matured and dazzling beauty, and all-commanding
presence, of Nina, - to her the pomp and crowd seemed an unreal pageant,
from which she retired to the truth of life, - the hopes and musings of her
own heart. Poor girl! with all the soft and tender nature of her dead
brother, and none of the stern genius and the prodigal ambition, - the eye-
fatiguing ostentation and fervour of the living - she was but ill-fitted
for the unquiet but splendid region to which she was thus suddenly
With all her affection for Rienzi, she could not conquer a certain fear
which, conjoined with the difference of sex and age, forbade her to be
communicative with him upon the subject most upon her heart.
As the absence of Adrian at the Neapolitan Court passed the anticipated
date, (for at no Court then, with a throne fiercely disputed, did the
Tribune require a nobler or more intelligent representative, - and
intrigues and counter-intrigues delayed his departure from week to week),
she grew uneasy and alarmed. Like many, themselves unseen, inactive, the
spectators of the scene, she saw involuntarily further into the time than
the deeper intellect either of the Tribune or Nina; and the dangerous
discontent of the nobles was visible and audible to her in looks and
whispers, which reached not acuter or more suspected ears and eyes.
Anxiously, restlessly, did she long for the return of Adrian, not from
selfish motives alone, but from well-founded apprehensions for her brother.
With Adrian di Castello, alike a noble and a patriot, each party had found
a mediator, and his presence grew daily more needed, till at length the
conspiracy of the Barons had broken out. From that hour she scarcely dared
to hope; her calm sense, unblinded by the high-wrought genius which, as too
often happens, made the Tribune see harsh realities through a false and
brilliant light, perceived that the Rubicon was passed; and through all the
events that followed she could behold but two images - danger to her
brother, separation from her betrothed.
With Nina alone could her full heart confer; for Nina, with all the
differences of character, was a woman who loved. And this united them. In
the earlier power of Rienzi, many of their happiest hours had been passed
together, remote from the gaudy crowd, alone and unrestrained, in the
summer nights, on the moonlit balconies, in that interchange of thought,
sympathy, and consolation, which to two impassioned and guileless women
makes the most interesting occupation and the most effectual solace. But
of late, this intercourse had been much marred. From the morning in which
the Barons had received their pardon, to that on which they had marched on
Rome, had been one succession of fierce excitements. Every face Irene saw
was clouded and overcast - all gaiety was suspended - bustling and anxious
councillors, or armed soldiers, had for days been the only visitors of the
palace. Rienzi had been seen but for short moments: his brow wrapt in
care. Nina had been more fond, more caressing than ever, but in those
caresses there seemed a mournful and ominous compassion. The attempts at
comfort and hope were succeeded by a sickly smile and broken words; and
Irene was prepared, by the presentiments of her own heart, for the stroke
that fell - victory was to her brother - his foe was crushed - Rome was
free - but the lofty house of the Colonnas had lost its stateliest props,
and Adrian was gone for ever! - She did not blame him; she could not blame
her brother; each had acted as became his several station. She was the
poor sacrifice of events and fate - the Iphigenia to the Winds which were
to bear the bark of Rome to the haven, or, it might be, to whelm it in the
abyss. She was stunned by the blow; she did not even weep or complain; she
bowed to the storm that swept over her, and it passed. For two days she
neither took food nor rest; she shut herself up; she asked only the boon of
solitude: but on the third morning she recovered as by a miracle, for on
the third morning, the following letter was left at the palace: -
"Irene, - Ere this you have learned my deep cause of grief; you feel that
to a Colonna Rome can no longer be a home, nor Rome's Tribune be a brother.
While I write these words honour but feebly supports me: all the hopes I
had formed, all the prospects I had pictured, all the love I bore and bear
thee, rush upon my heart, and I can only feel that I am wretched. Irene,
Irene, your sweet face rises before me, and in those beloved eyes I read
that I am forgiven, - I am understood; and dearly as I know thou lovest me,
thou wouldst rather I were lost to thee, rather I were in the grave with my
kinsmen, than know I lived the reproach of my order, the recreant of my
name. Ah! why was I a Colonna? why did Fortune make me noble, and nature
and circumstance attach me to the people? I am barred alike from love and
from revenge; all my revenge falls upon thee and me. Adored! we are
perhaps separated for ever; but, by all the happiness I have known by thy
side - by all the rapture of which I dreamed - by that delicious hour which
first gave thee to my gaze, when I watched the soft soul returning to thine
eyes and lip - by thy first blushing confession of love - by our first kiss
- by our last farewell - I swear to be faithful to thee to the last. None
other shall ever chase thine image from my heart. And now, when Hope seems
over, Faith becomes doubly sacred; and thou, my beautiful, wilt thou not
remember me? wilt thou not feel as if we were the betrothed of Heaven? In
the legends of the North we are told of the knight who, returning from the
Holy Land, found his mistress (believing his death) the bride of Heaven,
and he built a hermitage by the convent where she dwelt; and, though they
never saw each other more, their souls were faithful unto death. Even so,
Irene, be we to each other - dead to all else - betrothed in memory - to be
wedded above! And yet, yet ere I close, one hope dawns upon me. Thy
brother's career, bright and lofty, may be but as a falling star; should
darkness swallow it, should his power cease, should his throne be broken,
and Rome know no more her Tribune; shouldst thou no longer have a brother
in the judge and destroyer of my house; shouldst thou be stricken from pomp
and state; shouldst thou be friendless, kindredless, alone - then, without
a stain on mine honour, without the shame and odium of receiving power and
happiness from hands yet red with the blood of my race, I may claim thee as
my own. Honour ceases to command when thou ceasest to be great. I dare
not too fondly indulge this dream, perchance it is a sin in both. But it
must be whispered, that thou mayest know all thy Adrian, all his weakness
and his strength. My own loved, my ever loved, loved more fondly now when
loved despairingly, farewell! May angels heal thy sorrow, and guard me
from sin, that hereafter at least we may meet again!"
"He loves me - he loves me still!" said the maiden, weeping at last; "and I
am blest once more!"
With that letter pressed to her heart she recovered outwardly from the
depth of her affliction; she met her brother with a smile, and Nina with
embraces; and if still she pined and sorrowed, it was in that "concealment"
which is the "worm i' the bud."
Meanwhile, after the first flush of victory, lamentation succeeded to joy
in Rome; so great had been the slaughter that the private grief was large
enough to swallow up all public triumph; and many of the mourners blamed
even their defender for the swords of the assailant, "Roma fu terribilmente
vedovata." ("Rome was terribly widowed.") The numerous funerals deeply
affected the Tribune; and, in proportion to his sympathy with his people,
grew his stern indignation against the Barons. Like all men whose religion
is intense, passionate, and zealous, the Tribune had little toleration for
those crimes which went to the root of religion. Perjury was to him the
most base and inexpiable of offences, and the slain Barons had been twice
perjured: in the bitterness of his wrath he forbade their families for
some days to lament over their remains; and it was only in private and in
secret that he permitted them to be interred in their ancestral vaults: an
excess of vengeance which sullied his laurels, but which was scarcely
inconsistent with the stern patriotism of his character. Impatient to
finish what he had begun, anxious to march at once to Marino, where the
insurgents collected their shattered force, he summoned his Council, and
represented the certainty of victory, and its result in the complete
restoration of peace. But pay was due to the soldiery; they already
murmured; the treasury was emptied, it was necessary to fill it by raising
a new tax.
Among the councillors were some whose families had suffered grievously in
the battle - they lent a lukewarm attention to propositions of continued
strife. Others, among whom was Pandulfo, timid but well-meaning, aware
that grief and terror even of their own triumph had produced reaction
amongst the people, declared that they would not venture to propose a new
tax. A third party, headed by Baroncelli - a demagogue whose ambition was
without principle - but who, by pandering to the worst passions of the
populace, by a sturdy coarseness of nature with which they sympathised -
and by that affectation of advancing what we now term the "movement," which
often gives to the fiercest fool an advantage over the most prudent
statesman, had quietly acquired a great influence with the lower ranks -
offered a more bold opposition. They dared even to blame the proud Tribune
for the gorgeous extravagance they had themselves been the first to
recommend - and half insinuated sinister and treacherous motives in his
acquittal of the Barons from the accusation of Rodolf. In the very
Parliament which the Tribune had revived and remodelled for the support of
freedom - freedom was abandoned. His fiery eloquence met with a gloomy
silence, and finally, the votes were against his propositions for the new
tax and the march to Marino. Rienzi broke up the Council in haste and
disorder. As he left the hall, a letter was put into his hands; he read
it, and remained for some moments as one thunderstruck. He then summoned
the Captain of his Guards, and ordered a band of fifty horsemen to be
prepared for his commands; he repaired to Nina's apartment, he found her
alone, and stood for some moments gazing upon her so intently that she was
awed and chilled from all attempt at speech. At length he said, abruptly -
"We must part."
"Yes, Nina - your guard is preparing; you have relations, I have friends,
at Florence. Florence must be your home."
"Cola, - "
"Look not on me thus. - in power, in state, in safety - you were my
ornament and counsellor. Now you but embarrass me. And -"
"Oh, Cola, speak not thus! What hath chanced? Be not so cold - frown not
- turn not away! Am I not something more to thee, than the partner of
joyous hours - the minion of love? Am I not thy wife, Cola - not thy
"Too dear - too dear to me," muttered the Tribune; "with thee by my side I
shall be but half a Roman. Nina, the base slaves whom I myself made free
desert me. - Now, in the very hour in which I might sweep away for ever all
obstacles to the regeneration of Rome - now, when one conquest points the
path to complete success - now when the land is visible, my fortune
suddenly leaves me in the midst of the seas! There is greater danger now
than in the rage of the Barons - the Barons are fled; it is the People who
are becoming traitors to Rome and to me."
"And wouldst thou have me traitor also! No, Cola; in death itself Nina
shall be beside thee. Life and honour are reflected but from thee, and the
stroke that slays the substance, shall destroy the humble shadow. I will
not part from thee."
"Nina," said the Tribune, contending with strong and convulsive emotion -
"it may be literally of death that you speak. - Go! leave one who can no
longer protect you or Rome!"
"Never - Never."
"You are resolved?"
"Be it so," said the Tribune, with deep sadness in his tone. "Arm thyself
for the worst."
"There is no worst with thee, Cola!"
"Come to my arms, brave woman; thy words rebuke my weakness. But my
sister! - if I fall, you, Nina, will not survive - your beauty a prey to
the most lustful heart and the strongest hand. We will have the same tomb
on the wrecks of Roman liberty. But Irene is of weaker mould; poor child,
I have robbed her of a lover, and now - "
"You are right; let Irene go. And in truth we may well disguise from her
the real cause of her departure. Change of scene were best for her grief;
and under all circumstances would seem decorum to the curious. I will see
and prepare her."
"Do so, sweetheart. I would gladly be a moment alone with thought. But
remember, she must part today - our sands run low."
As the door closed on Nina, the Tribune took out the letter and again read
it deliberately. "So the Pope's Legate left Sienna: - prayed that Republic
to withdraw its auxiliary troops from Rome - proclaimed me a rebel and a
heretic; - thence repaired to Marino; - now in council with the Barons.
Why, have my dreams belied me, then - false as the waking things that
flatter and betray by day? In such peril will the people forsake me and
themselves? Army of saints and martyrs, shades of heroes and patriots,
have ye abandoned for ever your ancient home? No, no, I was not raised to
perish thus; I will defeat them yet - and leave my name a legacy to Rome; a
warning to the oppressor - an example to the free!"
Chapter 5.V. The Rottenness of the Edifice.
The kindly skill of Nina induced Irene to believe that it was but the
tender consideration of her brother to change a scene embittered by her own
thoughts, and in which the notoriety of her engagement with Adrian exposed
her to all that could mortify and embarrass, that led to the proposition of
her visit to Florence. Its suddenness was ascribed to the occasion of an
unexpected mission to Florence, (for a loan of arms and money,) which thus
gave her a safe and honoured escort. - Passively she submitted to what she
herself deemed a relief; and it was agreed that she should for a while be
the guest of a relation of Nina's, who was the abbess of one of the
wealthiest of the Florentine convents: the idea of monastic seclusion was
welcome to the bruised heart and wearied spirit.
But though not apprised of the immediate peril of Rienzi, it was with deep
sadness and gloomy forebodings that she returned his embrace and parting
blessing; and when at length alone in her litter, and beyond the gates of
Rome, she repented a departure to which the chance of danger gave the
appearance of desertion.
Meanwhile, as the declining day closed around the litter and its troop,
more turbulent actors in the drama demand our audience. The traders and
artisans of Rome at that time, and especially during the popular government
of Rienzi, held weekly meetings in each of the thirteen quarters of the
city. And in the most democratic of these, Cecco del Vecchio was an oracle
and leader. It was at that assembly, over which the smith presided, that
the murmurs that preceded the earthquake were heard.
"So," cried one of the company - Luigi, the goodly butcher, - "they say he
wanted to put a new tax on us; and that is the reason he broke up the
Council today, because, good men, they were honest, and had bowels for the
people: it is a shame and a sin that the treasury should be empty."
"I told him," said the smith, "to beware how he taxed the people. Poor men
won't be taxed. But as he does not follow my advice, he must take the
consequence - the horse runs from one hand, the halter remains in the
"Take your advice, Cecco! I warrant me his stomach is too high for that
now. Why he is grown as proud as a pope."
"For all that, he is a great man," said one of the party. "He gave us laws
- he rid the Campagna of robbers - filled the streets with merchants, and
the shops with wares - defeated the boldest lords and fiercest soldiery of
Italy - "
"And now wants to tax the people! - that's all the thanks we get for
helping him," said the grumbling Cecco. "What would he have been without
us? - we that make, can unmake."
"But," continued the advocate, seeing that he had his supporters - "but
then he taxes us for our own liberties."
"Who strikes at them now?" asked the butcher.
"Why the Barons are daily mustering new strength at Marino."
"Marino is not Rome," said Luigi, the butcher. "Let's wait till they come
to our gates again - we know how to receive them. Though, for the matter
of that, I think we have had enough fighting - my two poor brothers had
each a stab too much for them. Why won't the Tribune, if he be a great
man, let us have peace? All we want now is quiet."
"Ah!" said a seller of horse-harness. "Let him make it up with the Barons.
They were good customers after all."
"For my part," said a merry-looking fellow, who had been a gravedigger in
bad times, and had now opened a stall of wares for the living, "I could
forgive him all, but bathing in the holy vase of porphyry."
"Ah, that was a bad job," said several, shaking their heads.
"And the knighthood was but a silly show, an' it were not for the wine from
the horse's nostrils - that had some sense in it."
"My masters," said Cecco, "the folly was in not beheading the Barons when
he had them all in the net; and so Messere Baroncelli says. (Ah,
Baroncelli is an honest man, and follows no half measures!") It was a sort
of treason to the people not to do so. Why, but for that, we should never
have lost so many tall fellows by the gate of San Lorenzo."
"True, true, it was a shame; some say the Barons bought him."
"And then," said another, "those poor Lords Colonna - boy and man - they
were the best of the family, save the Castello. I vow I pitied them."
"But to the point," said one of the crowd, the richest of the set; "the tax
is the thing. - The ingratitude to tax us. - Let him dare to do it!"
"Oh, he will not dare, for I hear that the Pope's bristles are up at last;
so he will only have us to depend upon!"
The door was thrown open - a man rushed in open-mouthed -
"Masters, masters, the Pope's legate has arrived at Rome, and sent for the
Tribune, who has just left his presence."
Ere his auditors had recovered their surprise, the sound of trumpets made
them rush forth; they saw Rienzi sweep by with his usual cavalcade, and in
his proud array. The twilight was advancing, and torch-bearers preceded
his way. Upon his countenance was deep calm but it was not the calm of
contentment. He passed on, and the street was again desolate. Meanwhile
Rienzi reached the Capitol in silence, and mounted to the apartments of the
palace, where Nina, pale and breathless, awaited his return.
"Well, well, thou smilest! No - it is that dread smile, worse than frowns.
Speak, beloved, speak! What said the Cardinal?"
"Little thou wilt love to hear. He spoke at first high and solemnly, about
the crime of declaring the Romans free; next about the treason of asserting
that the election of the King of Rome was in the hands of the Romans."
"Well - thy answer."
"That which became Rome's Tribune: I re-asserted each right, and proved
it. The Cardinal passed to other charges."
"The blood of the Barons by San Lorenzo - blood only shed in our own
defence against perjured assailants; this is in reality the main crime.
The Colonna have the Pope's ear. Furthermore, the sacrilege - yes, the
sacrilege (come laugh, Nina, laugh!) of bathing in a vase of porphyry used
by Constantine while yet a heathen."
"Can it be! What saidst thou?"
"I laughed. 'Cardinal,' quoth I, 'what was not too good for a heathen is
not too good for a Christian Catholic!' And verily the sour Frenchman
looked as if I had smote him on the hip. When he had done, I asked him, in
my turn, 'Is it alleged against me that I have wronged one man in my
judgment-court?" - Silence. 'Is it said that I have broken one law of the
state?' - Silence. 'Is it even whispered that trade does not flourish -
that life is not safe - that abroad or at home the Roman name is not
honoured, to that point which no former rule can parallel?' - Silence.
'Then,' said I, 'Lord Cardinal, I demand thy thanks, not thy censure.' The
Frenchman looked, and looked, and trembled, and shrunk, and then out he
spake. 'I have but one mission to fulfil, on the part of the Pontiff -
resign at once thy Tribuneship, or the Church inflicts upon thee its solemn
"How - how?" said Nina, turning very pale; "what is it that awaits thee?"
This awful sentence, by which the spiritual arm had so often stricken down
the fiercest foe, came to Nina's ear as a knell. She covered her face with
her hands. Rienzi paced the room with rapid strides. "The curse!" he
muttered; "the Church's curse - for me - for ME!"
"Oh, Cola! didst thou not seek to pacify this stern - "
"Pacify! Death and dishonour! Pacify! 'Cardinal,' I said, and I felt his
soul shrivel at my gaze, 'my power I received from the people - to the
people alone I render it. For my soul, man's word cannot scathe it. Thou,
haughty priest, thou thyself art the accursed, if, puppet and tool of low
cabals and exiled tyrants, thou breathest but a breath in the name of the
Lord of Justice, for the cause of the oppressor, and against the rights of
the oppressed.' With that I left him, and now - "
"Ay, now - now what will happen? Excommunication! In the metropolis of
the Church, too - the superstition of the people! Oh, Cola!"
"If," muttered Rienzi, "my conscience condemned me of one crime - if I had
stained my hands in one just man's blood - if I had broken one law I myself
had framed - if I had taken bribes, or wronged the poor, or scorned the
orphan, or shut my heart to the widow - then, then - but no! Lord, thou
wilt not desert me!"
"But man may!" thought Nina mournfully, as she perceived that one of
Rienzi's dark fits of fanatical and mystical revery was growing over him -
fits which he suffered no living eye, not even Nina's, to witness when they
gathered to their height. And now, indeed, after a short interval of
muttered soliloquy, in which his face worked so that the veins on his
temples swelled like cords, he abruptly left the room, and sought the
private oratory connected with his closet. Over the emotions there
indulged let us draw the veil. Who shall describe those awful and
mysterious moments, when man, with all his fiery passions, turbulent
thoughts, wild hopes, and despondent fears, demands the solitary audience
of his Maker?
It was long after this conference with Nina, and the midnight bell had long
tolled, when Rienzi stood alone, upon one of the balconies of the palace,
to cool, in the starry air, the fever that yet lingered on his exhausted
frame. The night was exceedingly calm, the air clear, but chill, for it
was now December. He gazed intently upon those solemn orbs to which our
wild credulity has referred the prophecies of our doom.
"Vain science!" thought the Tribune, "and gloomy fantasy, that man's fate
is pre-ordained - irrevocable - unchangeable, from the moment of his birth!
Yet, were the dream not baseless, fain would I know which of yon stately
lights is my natal star, - which images - which reflects - my career in
life, and the memory I shall leave in death." As this thought crossed him,
and his gaze was still fixed above, he saw, as if made suddenly more
distinct than the stars around it, that rapid and fiery comet which in the
winter of 1347 dismayed the superstitions of those who recognised in the
stranger of the heavens the omen of disaster and of woe. He recoiled as it
met his eye, and muttered to himself, "Is such indeed my type! or, if the
legendary lore speak true, and these strange fires portend nations ruined
and rulers overthrown, does it foretell my fate? I will think no more."
(Alas! if by the Romans associated with the fall of Rienzi, that comet was
by the rest of Europe connected with the more dire calamity of the Great
Plague that so soon afterwards ensued.) As his eyes fell, they rested upon
the colossal Lion of Basalt in the place below, the starlight investing its
grey and towering form with a more ghostly whiteness; and then it was, that
he perceived two figures in black robes lingering by the pedestal which
supported the statue, and apparently engaged in some occupation which he
could not guess. A fear shot through his veins, for he had never been able
to divest himself of the vague idea that there was some solemn and
appointed connexion between his fate and that old Lion of Basalt. Somewhat
relieved, he heard his sentry challenge the intruders; and as they came
forward to the light, he perceived that they wore the garments of monks.
"Molest us not, son," said one of them to the sentry. "By order of the
Legate of the Holy Father we affix to this public monument of justice and
of wrath, the bull of excommunication against a heretic and rebel. WOE TO
THE ACCURSED OF THE CHURCH!"
Chapter 5.VI. The Fall of the Temple.
It was as a thunderbolt in a serene day - the reverse of the Tribune in the
zenith of his power, in the abasement of his foe; when, with but a handful
of brave Romans, determined to be free, he might have crushed for ever the
antagonist power to the Roman liberties - have secured the rights of his
country, and filled up the measure of his own renown. Such a reverse was
the very mockery of Fate, who bore him through disaster, to abandon him in
the sunniest noon of his prosperity.
The next morning not a soul was to be seen in the streets; the shops were
shut - the churches closed; the city was as under an interdict. The awful
curse of the papal excommunication upon the chief magistrate of the
Pontifical City, seemed to freeze up all the arteries of life. The Legate
himself, affecting fear of his life, had fled to Monte Fiascone, where he
was joined by the Barons immediately after the publication of the edict.
The curse worked best in the absence of the execrator.
Towards evening a few persons might be seen traversing the broad space of
the Capitol, crossing themselves, as the bull, placarded on the Lion, met
their eyes, and disappearing within the doors of the great palace. By and
by, a few anxious groups collected in the streets, but they soon dispersed.
It was a paralysis of all intercourse and commune. That spiritual and
unarmed authority, which, like the invisible hand of God, desolated the
market-place, and humbled the crowned head, no physical force could rally
against or resist. Yet, through the universal awe, one conviction touched
the multitude - it was for them that their Tribune was thus blasted in the
midst of his glories! The words of the Brand recorded against him on wall
and column detailed his offences: - rebellion in asserting the liberties of
Rome - heresy in purifying ecclesiastical abuses; - and, to serve for a
miserable covert to the rest, it was sacrilege for bathing in the porphyry
vase of Constantine! They felt the conviction; they sighed - they
shuddered - and, in his vast palace, save a few attached and devoted
hearts, the Tribune was alone!
The staunchest of his Tuscan soldiery were gone with Irene. The rest of
his force, save a few remaining guards, was the paid Roman militia,
composed of citizens; who, long discontented by the delay of their
stipends, now seized on the excuse of the excommunication to remain
passive, but grumbling, in their homes.
On the third day, a new incident broke upon the death-like lethargy of the
city; a hundred and fifty mercenaries, with Pepin of Minorbino, a
Neapolitan, half noble, half bandit, (a creature of Montreal's) at their
head, entered the city, seized upon the fortresses of the Colonna, and sent
a herald through the city, proclaiming in the name of the Cardinal Legate,
the reward of ten thousand florins for the head of Cola di Rienzi.
Then, swelled on high, shrill but not inspiring as of old, the great bell
of the Capitol - the people, listless, disheartened, awed by the spiritual
fear of the papal authority, (yet greater, in such events, since the
removal of the see,) came unarmed to the Capitol; and there, by the Place
of the Lion, stood the Tribune. His squires, below the step, held his war-
horse, his helm, and the same battle-axe which had blazed in the van of
Beside him were a few of his guard, his attendants, and two or three of the
He stood bareheaded and erect, gazing upon the abashed and unarmed crowd
with a look of bitter scorn, mingled with deep compassion; and, as the bell
ceased its toll, and the throng remained hushed and listening, he thus
"Ye come, then, once again! Come ye as slaves or freemen? A handful of
armed men are in your walls: will ye who chased from your gates the
haughtiest knights - the most practised battle-men of Rome, succumb now to
one hundred and fifty hirelings and strangers? Will ye arm for your
Tribune? You are silent! - be it so. Will you arm for your own liberties
- your own Rome? Silent still! By the saints that reign on the thrones of
the heathen gods! are ye thus fallen from your birthright? Have you no
arms for your own defence? Romans, hear me! Have I wronged you? - if so,
by your hands let me die: and then, with knives yet reeking with my blood,
go forward against the robber who is but the herald of your slavery; and I
die honoured, grateful, and avenged. You weep! Great God! you weep! Ay,
and I could weep, too - that I should live to speak of liberty in vain to
Romans - Weep! is this an hour for tears? Weep now, and your tears shall
ripen harvests of crime, and licence, and despotism, to come! Romans, arm!
follow me at once to the Place of the Colonna: expel this ruffian - expel
your enemy (no matter what afterwards you do to me):" he paused; no ardour
was kindled by his words - "or," he continued, "I abandon you to your
fate." There was a long, low, general murmur; at length it became shaped
into speech, and many voices cried simultaneously: "The Pope's bull! -
Thou art a man accursed!"
"What!" cried the Tribune; "and is it ye who forsake me, ye for whose cause
alone man dares to hurl against me the thunders of his God? Is it not for
you that I am declared heretic and rebel! What are my imputed crimes?
That I have made Rome and asserted Italy to be free; that I have subdued
the proud Magnates, who were the scourge both of Pope and People. And you
- you upbraid me with what I have dared and done for you! Men, with you I
would have fought, for you I would have perished. You forsake yourselves
in forsaking me, and since I no longer rule over brave men, I resign my
power to the tyrant you prefer. Seven months I have ruled over you,
prosperous in commerce, stainless in justice - victorious in the field: - I
have shown you what Rome could be; and, since I abdicate the government ye
gave me, when I am gone, strike for your own freedom! It matters nothing
who is the chief of a brave and great people. Prove that Rome hath many a
Rienzi, but of brighter fortunes."
"I would he had not sought to tax us," said Cecco del Vecchio, who was the
very personification of the vulgar feeling: "and that he had beheaded the
"Ay!" cried the ex-gravedigger; "but that blessed porphyry vase!"
"And why should we get our throats cut," said Luigi, the butcher, "like my
two brothers? - Heaven rest them!"
On the face of the general multitude there was a common expression of
irresolution and shame, many wept and groaned, none (save the aforesaid
grumblers) accused; none upbraided, but none seemed disposed to arm. It
was one of those listless panics, those strange fits of indifference and
lethargy which often seize upon a people who make liberty a matter of
impulse and caprice, to whom it has become a catchword, who have not long
enjoyed all its rational, and sound, and practical, and blessed results;
who have been affrayed by the storms that herald its dawn; - a people such
as is common to the south: such as even the north has known; such as, had
Cromwell lived a year longer, even England might have seen; and, indeed, in
some measure, such a reaction from popular enthusiasm to popular
indifference England did see, when her children madly surrendered the
fruits of a bloody war, without reserve, without foresight, to the lewd
pensioner of Louis, and the royal murderer of Sydney. To such prostration
of soul, such blindness of intellect, even the noblest people will be
subjected, when liberty, which should be the growth of ages, spreading its
roots through the strata of a thousand customs, is raised, the exotic of an
hour, and (like the Tree and Dryad of ancient fable) flourishes and withers
with the single spirit that protects it.
"Oh, Heaven, that I were a man!" exclaimed Angelo, who stood behind Rienzi.
"Hear him, hear the boy," cried the Tribune; "out of the mouths of babes
speaketh wisdom! He wishes that he were a man, as ye are men, that he
might do as ye should do. Mark me, - I ride with these faithful few
through the quarter of the Colonna, before the fortress of your foe. Three
times before that fortress shall my trumpets sound; if at the third blast
ye come not, armed as befits ye - I say not all, but three, but two, but
one hundred of ye - I break up my wand of office, and the world shall say
one hundred and fifty robbers quelled the soul of Rome, and crushed her
magistrate and her laws!"
With those words he descended the stairs, and mounted his charger; the
populace gave way in silence, and their Tribune and his slender train
passed slowly on, and gradually vanished from the view of the increasing
The Romans remained on the place, and after a pause, the demagogue
Baroncelli, who saw an opening to his ambition, addressed them. Though not
an eloquent nor gifted man, he had the art of uttering the most popular
commonplaces. And he knew the weak side of his audience, in their vanity,
indolence, and arrogant pride.
"Look you, my masters," said he, leaping up to the Place of the Lion; "the
Tribune talks bravely - he always did - but the monkey used the cat for his
chestnuts; he wants to thrust your paws into the fire; you will not be so
silly as to let him. The saints bless us! but the Tribune, good man, gets
a palace and has banquets, and bathes in a porphyry vase; the more shame on
him! - in which San Sylvester christened the Emperor Constantine: all this
is worth fighting for; but you, my masters, what do you get except hard
blows, and a stare at a holyday spectacle? Why, if you beat these fellows,
you will have another tax on the wine: that will be your reward!"
"Hark!" cried Cecco, "there sounds the trumpet, - a pity he wanted to tax
"True," cried Baroncelli, "there sounds the trumpet; a silver trumpet, by
the Lord! Next week, if you help him out of the scrape, he'll have a
golden one. But go - why don't you move, my friends? - 'tis but one
hundred and fifty mercenaries. True, they are devils to fight, clad in
armour from top to toe; but what then? - if they do cut some four or five
hundred throats you'll beat them at last, and the Tribune will sup the
"There sounds the second blast," said the butcher. "If my old mother had
not lost two of us already, 'tis odds, but I'd strike a blow for the bold
"You had better put more quicksilver in you," continued Baroncelli, "or you
will be too late. And what a pity that will be! - If you believe the
Tribune, he is the only man that can save Rome. What, you, the finest
people in the world - you, not able to save yourselves! - you, bound up
with one man - you, not able to dictate to the Colonna and Orsini! Why,
who beat the Barons at San Lorenzo? Was it not you? Ah! you got the
buffets, and the Tribune the moneta! Tush, my friends, let the man go; I
warrant there are plenty as good as he to be bought a cheaper bargain.
And, hark! there is the third blast; it is too late now!"
As the trumpet from the distance sent forth its long and melancholy note,
it was as the last warning of the parting genius of the place; and when
silence swallowed up the sound, a gloom fell over the whole assembly. They
began to regret, to repent, when regret and repentance availed no more.
The buffoonery of Baroncelli became suddenly displeasing; and the orator
had the mortification of seeing his audience disperse in all directions,
just as he was about to inform them what great things he himself could do
in their behalf.
Meanwhile the Tribune, passing unscathed through the dangerous quarter of
the enemy, who, dismayed at his approach, shrunk within their fortress,
proceeded to the Castle of St. Angelo, whither Nina had already preceded
him; and which he entered to find that proud lady with a smile for his
safety, - without a tear for his reverse.
Chapter 5.VII. The Successors of an Unsuccessful Revolution - Who is to
Blame - the Forsaken one or the Forsakers?
Cheerfully broke the winter sun over the streets of Rome, as the army of
the Barons swept along them. The Cardinal Legate at the head; the old
Colonna (no longer haughty and erect, but bowed, and broken-hearted at the
loss of his sons) at his right hand; - the sleek smile of Luca Savelli -
the black frown of Rinaldo Orsini, were seen close behind. A long but
barbarous array it was; made up chiefly of foreign hirelings; nor did the
procession resemble the return of exiled citizens, but the march of
"My Lord Colonna," said the Cardinal Legate, a small withered man, by birth
a Frenchman, and full of the bitterest prejudices against the Romans, who
had in a former mission very ill received him, as was their wont with
foreign ecclesiastics; "this Pepin, whom Montreal has deputed at your
orders, hath done us indeed good service."
The old Lord bowed, but made no answer. His strong intellect was already
broken, and there was dotage in his glassy eye. The Cardinal muttered, "He
hears me not; sorrow hath brought him to second childhood!" and looking
back, motioned to Luca Savelli to approach.
"Luca," said the Legate, "it was fortunate that the Hungarian's black
banner detained the Provencal at Aversa. Had he entered Rome, we might
have found Rienzi's successor worse than the Tribune himself. Montreal,"
he added, with a slight emphasis and a curled lip, "is a gentleman, and a
Frenchman. This Pepin, who is his delegate, we must bribe, or menace to
"Assuredly," answered Savelli, "it is not a difficult task: for Montreal
calculated on a more stubborn contest, which he himself would have found
leisure to close - "
"As Podesta, or Prince of Rome! the modest man! We Frenchmen have a due
sense of our own merits; but this sudden victory surprises him as it doth
us, Luca; and we shall wrest the prey from Pepin, ere Montreal can come to
his help! But Rienzi must die. He is still, I hear, shut up in St.
Angelo. The Orsini shall storm him there ere the day be much older. Today
we possess the Capitol - annul all the rebel's laws - break up his
ridiculous parliament, and put all the government of the city under three
senators - Rinaldo Orsini, Colonna, and myself; you, my Lord, I trust, we
shall fitly provide for."
"Oh! I am rewarded enough by returning to my palace; and a descent on the
Jewellers' quarter will soon build up its fortifications. Luca Savelli is
not an ambitious man. He wants but to live in peace."
The Cardinal smiled sourly, and took the turn towards the Capitol.
In the front space the usual gapers were assembled. "Make way! make way!
knaves!" cried the guards, trampling on either side the crowd, who,
accustomed to the sedate and courteous order of Rienzi's guard, fell back
too slowly for many of them to escape severe injury from the pikes of the
soldiers and the hoofs of the horses. Our friend, Luigi, the butcher, was
one of these, and the surliness of the Roman blood was past boiling heat
when he received in his ample stomach the blunt end of a German's pike.
"There, Roman," said the rude mercenary, in his barbarous attempt at
Italian, "make way for your betters; you have had enough crowds and shows
of late, in all conscience."
"Betters!" gulped out the poor butcher; "a Roman has no betters; and if I
had not lost two brothers by San Lorenzo, I would - "
"The dog is mutinous," said one of the followers of the Orsini, succeeding
the German who had passed on, "and talks of San Lorenzo!"
"Oh!" said another Orsinist, who rode abreast, "I remember him of old. He
was one of Rienzi's gang."
"Was he?" said the other, sternly; "then we cannot begin salutary examples
too soon;" and, offended at something swaggering and insolent in the
butcher's look, the Orsinist coolly thrust him through the heart with his
pike, and rode on over his body.
"Shame! Shame!" "Murder! Murder!" cried the crowd: and they began to
press, in the passion of the moment, round the fierce guards.
The Legate heard the cry, and saw the rush: he turned pale. "The rascals
rebel again!" he faltered.
"No, your Eminence - no," said Luca; "but it may be as well to infuse a
wholesome terror; they are all unarmed; let me bid the guards disperse
them. A word will do it."
The Cardinal assented; the word was given; and, in a few minutes, the
soldiery, who still smarted under the vindictive memory of defeat from an
undisciplined multitude, scattered the crowd down the streets without
scruple or mercy - riding over some, spearing others - filling the air with
shrieks and yells, and strewing the ground with almost as many men as a few
days before would have sufficed to have guarded Rome, and preserved the
constitution! Through this wild, tumultuous scene, and over the bodies of
its victims, rode the Legate and his train, to receive in the Hall of the
Capitol the allegiance of the citizens, and to proclaim the return of the
As they dismounted at the stairs, a placard in large letters struck the eye
of the Legate. It was placed upon the pedestal of the Lion of Basalt,
covering the very place that had been occupied by the bull of
excommunication. The words were few, and ran thus:
"TREMBLE! RIENZI SHALL RETURN!"
"How! what means this mummery!" cried the Legate, trembling already, and
looking round to the nobles.
"Please your Eminence," said one of the councillors, who had come from the
Capitol to meet the Legate, "we saw it at daybreak, the ink yet moist, as
we entered the Hall. We deemed it best to leave it for your Eminence to
"You deemed! Who are you, then?"
"One of the members of the Council, your Eminence, and a stanch opponent of
the Tribune, as is well known, when he wanted the new tax - "
"Council - trash! No more councils now! Order is restored at last. The
Orsini and the Colonna will look to you in future. Resist a tax, did you?
Well, that was right when proposed by a tyrant; but I warn you, friend, to
take care how you resist the tax we shall impose. Happy if your city can
buy its peace with the Church on any terms: - and his Holiness is short of
The discomfited councillor shrank back.
"Tear off yon insolent placard. Nay, hold! fix over it our proclamation of
ten thousand florins for the heretic's head! Ten thousand? methinks that
is too much now - we will alter the cipher. Meanwhile Rinaldo Orsini, Lord
Senator, march thy soldiers to St. Angelo; let us see if the heretic can
stand a siege."
"It needs not, your Eminence," said the councillor, again officiously
bustling up; "St. Angelo is surrendered. The Tribune, his wife, and one
page, escaped last night, it is said, in disguise."
"Ha!" said the old Colonna, whose dulled sense had at length arrived at the
conclusion that something extraordinary arrested the progress of his
friends. "What is the matter? What is that placard? Will no one tell me
the words? My old eyes are dim."
As he uttered the questions, in the shrill and piercing treble of age, a
voice replied in a loud and deep tone - none knew whence it came; the crowd
was reduced to a few stragglers, chiefly friars in cowl and serge, whose
curiosity nought could daunt, and whose garb ensured them safety - the
soldiers closed the rear: a voice, I say, came, startling the colour from
many a cheek - in answer to the Colonna, saying:
"TREMBLE! RIENZI SHALL RETURN!"
BOOK VI. THE PLAGUE.
"Erano gli anni della fruttifera Incarnazione del Figliuolo di Dio al
numero pervenuti di mille trecento quarant'otto, quando nell' egregia citta
di Fiorenza oltre ad ogni altra Italica bellissima, pervenna la mortifera
pestilenza." - Boccaccio, "Introduzione al Decamerone".
"The years of the fructiferous incarnation of the Son of God had reached
the number of one thousand three hundred and forty-eight, when into the
illustrious city of Florence, beautiful beyond every other in Italy,
entered the death-fraught pestilence." - "Introduction to the Decameron".
Chapter 6.1. The Retreat of the Lover.
By the borders of one of the fairest lakes of Northern Italy stood the
favourite mansion of Adrian di Castello, to which in his softer and less
patriotic moments his imagination had often and fondly turned; and thither
the young nobleman, dismissing his more courtly and distinguished
companions in the Neapolitan embassy, retired after his ill-starred return
to Rome. Most of those thus dismissed joined the Barons; the young
Annibaldi, whose daring and ambitious nature had attached him strongly to
the Tribune, maintained a neutral ground; he betook himself to his castle
in the Campagna, and did not return to Rome till the expulsion of Rienzi.
The retreat of Irene's lover was one well fitted to feed his melancholy
reveries. Without being absolutely a fortress, it was sufficiently strong
to resist any assault of the mountain robbers or petty tyrants in the
vicinity; while, built by some former lord from the materials of the half-
ruined villas of the ancient Romans, its marbled columns and tesselated
pavements relieved with a wild grace the grey stone walls and massive
towers of feudal masonry. Rising from a green eminence gently sloping to
the lake, the stately pile cast its shadow far and dark over the beautiful
waters; by its side, from the high and wooded mountains on the background,
broke a waterfall, in irregular and sinuous course - now hid by the
foliage, now gleaming in the light, and collecting itself at last in a
broad basin - beside which a little fountain, inscribed with half-
obliterated letters, attested the departed elegance of the classic age -
some memento of lord and poet whose very names were lost; thence descending
through mosses and lichen, and odorous herbs, a brief, sheeted stream bore
its surplus into the lake. And there, amidst the sturdier and bolder
foliage of the North, grew, wild and picturesque, many a tree transplanted,
in ages back, from the sunnier East; not blighted nor stunted in that
golden clime, which fosters almost every produce of nature as with a
mother's care. The place was remote and solitary. The roads that
conducted to it from the distant towns were tangled, intricate,
mountainous, and beset by robbers. A few cottages, and a small convent, a
quarter of a league up the verdant margin, were the nearest habitations;
and, save by some occasional pilgrim or some bewildered traveller, the
loneliness of the mansion was rarely invaded. It was precisely the spot
which proffered rest to a man weary of the world, and indulged the memories
which grow in rank luxuriance over the wrecks of passion. And he whose
mind, at once gentle and self-dependent, can endure solitude, might have
ransacked all earth for a more fair and undisturbed retreat.
But not to such a solitude had the earlier dreams of Adrian dedicated the
place. Here had he thought - should one bright being have presided - here
should love have found its haven: and hither, when love at length admitted
of intrusion, hither might wealth and congenial culture have invited all
the gentler and better spirits which had begun to move over the troubled
face of Italy, promising a second and younger empire of poesy, and lore,
and art. To the graceful and romantic but somewhat pensive and inert,
temperament of the young noble, more adapted to calm and civilized than
stormy and barbarous times, ambition proffered no reward so grateful as
lettered leisure and intellectual repose. His youth coloured by the
influence of Petrarch, his manhood had dreamed of a happier Vaucluse not
untenanted by a Laura. The visions which had connected the scene with the
image of Irene made the place still haunted by her shade; and time and
absence only ministering to his impassioned meditations, deepened his
melancholy and increased his love.
In this lone retreat - which even in describing from memory, for these eyes
have seen, these feet have trodden, this heart yet yearneth for, the spot -
which even, I say, in thus describing, seems to me (and haply also to the
gentle reader) a grateful and welcome transit from the storms of action and
the vicissitudes of ambition, so long engrossing the narrative; - in this
lone retreat Adrian passed the winter, which visits with so mild a change
that intoxicating clime. The roar of the world without was borne but in
faint and indistinct murmurings to his ear. He learned only imperfectly,
and with many contradictions, the news which broke like a thunderbolt over
Italy, that the singular and aspiring man - himself a revolution - who had
excited the interest of all Europe, the brightest hopes of the
enthusiastic, the profusest adulation of the great, the deepest terror of
the despot, the wildest aspirations of all free spirits, had been suddenly
stricken from his state, his name branded and his head proscribed. This
event, which happened at the end of December, reached Adrian, through a
wandering pilgrim, at the commencement of March, somewhat more than two
months after the date; the March of that awful year 1348, which saw Europe,
and Italy especially, desolated by the direst pestilence which history has
recorded, accursed alike by the numbers and the celebrity of its victims,
and yet strangely connected with some not unpleasing images by the grace of
Boccaccio and the eloquence of Petrarch.
The pilgrim who informed Adrian of the revolution at Rome was unable to
give him any clue to the present fate of Rienzi or his family. It was only
known that the Tribune and his wife had escaped, none knew whither; many
guessed that they were already dead, victims to the numerous robbers who
immediately on the fall of the Tribune settled back to their former habits,
sparing neither age nor sex, wealth nor poverty. As all relating to the
ex-Tribune was matter of eager interest, the pilgrim had also learned that,
previous to the fall of Rienzi, his sister had left Rome, but it was not
known to what place she had been conveyed.
The news utterly roused Adrian from his dreaming life. Irene was then in
the condition his letter dared to picture - severed from her brother,
fallen from her rank, desolate and friendless. "Now," said the generous
and high-hearted lover, "she may be mine without a disgrace to my name.
Whatever Rienzi's faults, she is not implicated in them. Her hands are not
red with my kinsman's blood; nor can men say that Adrian di Castello allies
himself with a House whose power is built upon the ruins of the Colonnas.
The Colonna are restored - again triumphant - Rienzi is nothing - distress
and misfortune unite me at once to her on whom they fall!"
But how were these romantic resolutions to be executed - Irene's dwelling-
place unknown? He resolved himself to repair to Rome and make the
necessary inquiries: accordingly he summoned his retainers: - blithe
tidings to them, those of travel! The mail left the armoury - the banner
the hall - and after two days of animated bustle, the fountain by which
Adrian had passed so many hours of revery was haunted only by the birds of
the returning spring; and the nightly lamp no longer cast its solitary ray
from his turret chamber over the bosom of the deserted lake.
Chapter 6.II. The Seeker.
It was a bright, oppressive, sultry morning, when a solitary horseman was
seen winding that unequalled road, from whose height, amidst figtrees,
vines, and olives, the traveller beholds gradually break upon his gaze the
enchanting valley of the Arno, and the spires and domes of Florence. But
not with the traveller's customary eye of admiration and delight passed
that solitary horseman, and not upon the usual activity, and mirth, and
animation of the Tuscan life, broke that noon-day sun. All was silent,
void, and hushed; and even in the light of heaven there seemed a sicklied
and ghastly glare. The cottages by the road-side were some shut up and
closed, some open, but seemingly inmateless. The plough stood still, the
distaff plied not: horse and man had a dreary holiday. There was a darker
curse upon the land than the curse of Cain! Now and then a single figure,
usually clad in the gloomy robe of a friar, crossed the road, lifting
towards the traveller a livid and amazed stare, and then hurried on, and
vanished beneath some roof, whence issued a faint and dying moan, which but
for the exceeding stillness around could scarcely have pierced the
threshold. As the traveller neared the city, the scene became less
solitary, yet more dread. There might be seen carts and litters, thick
awnings wrapped closely round them, containing those who sought safety in
flight, forgetful that the Plague was everywhere! And while these gloomy
vehicles, conducted by horses, gaunt, shadowy skeletons, crawling heavily
along, passed by, like hearses of the dead, sometimes a cry burst the
silence in which they moved, and the traveller's steed started aside, as
some wretch, on whom the disease had broke forth, was dropped from the
vehicle by the selfish inhumanity of his comrades, and left to perish by
the way. Hard by the gate a waggon paused, and a man with a mask threw out
its contents in a green slimy ditch that bordered the road. These were
garments and robes of all kind and value; the broidered mantle of the
gallant, the hood and veil of my lady, and the rags of the peasant. While
glancing at the labour of the masker, the cavalier beheld a herd of swine,
gaunt and half famished, run to the spot in the hopes of food, and the
traveller shuddered to think what food they might have anticipated! But
ere he reached the gate, those of the animals that had been busiest rooting
at the infectious heap, dropped down dead amongst their fellows. (The same
spectacle greeted, and is recorded by, Boccaccio.)
"Ho, ho," said the masker, and his hollow voice sounded yet more hollow
through his vizard, - "comest thou here to die, stranger? See, thy brave
mantle of triple-pile and golden broidery will not save thee from the
gavocciolo. (The tumour that made the fatal symptom.) Ride on, ride on; -
today fit morsel for thy lady's kiss, tomorrow too foul for the rat and
Replying not to this hideous welcome, Adrian, for it was he, pursued his
way. The gates stood wide open: this was the most appalling sign of all,
for, at first, the most jealous precaution had been taken against the
ingress of strangers. Now all care, all foresight, all vigilance, were
vain. And thrice nine warders had died at that single post, and the
officers to appoint their successors were dead too! Law and Police, and
the Tribunals of Health, and the Boards of Safety, Death had stopped them
all! And the Plague killed art itself, social union, the harmony and
mechanism of civilization, as if they had been bone and flesh!
So, mute and solitary, went on the lover, in his quest of love, resolved to
find and to save his betrothed, and guided (that faithful and loyal
knight!) through the Wilderness of Horror by the blessed hope of that
strange passion, noblest of all when noble, basest of all when base! He
came into a broad and spacious square lined with palaces, the usual haunt
of the best and most graceful nobility of Italy. The stranger was alone
now, and the tramp of his gallant steed sounded ghastly and fearful in his
own ears, when just as he turned the corner of one of the streets that led
from it, he saw a woman steal forth with a child in her arms, while
another, yet in infancy clung to her robe. She held a large bunch of
flowers to her nostrils, (the fancied and favourite mode to prevent
infection), and muttered to the children, who were moaning with hunger, -
"Yes, yes, you shall have food! Plenty of food now for the stirring forth.
But oh, that stirring forth!" - and she peered about and round, lest any of
the diseased might be near.
"My friend," said he, "can you direct me to the convent of - "
"Away, man, away!" shrieked the woman.
"Alas!" said Adrian, with a mournful smile, "can you not see that I am not,
as yet, one to spread contagion?"
But the woman, unheeding him, fled on; when, after a few paces, she was
arrested by the child that clung to her.
"Mother, mother!" it cried, "I am sick - I cannot stir."
The woman halted, tore aside the child's robe, saw under the arm the fatal
tumour, and, deserting her own flesh, fled with a shriek along the square.
The shriek rang long in Adrian's ears, though not aware of the unnatural
cause; - the mother feared not for her infant, but herself. The voice of
Nature was no more heeded in that charnel city than it is in the tomb
itself! Adrian rode on at a brisker pace, and came at length before a
stately church; its doors were wide open, and he saw within a company of
monks (the church had no other worshippers, and they were masked) gathered
round the altar, and chanting the Miserere Domine; - the ministers of God,
in a city hitherto boasting the devoutest population in Italy, without a
The young Cavalier paused before the door, and waited till the service was
done, and the monks descended the steps into the street.
"Holy fathers," said he then, "may I pray your goodness to tell me my
nearest way to the convent Santa Maria de' Pazzi?"
"Son," said one of these featureless spectres, for so they seemed in their
shroud-like robes, and uncouth vizards, - "son, pass on your way, and God
be with you. Robbers or revellers may now fill the holy cloisters you
speak of. The abbess is dead; and many a sister sleeps with her. And the
nuns have fled from the contagion."
Adrian half fell from his horse, and, as he still remained rooted to the
spot, the dark procession swept on, hymning in solemn dirge through the
desolate street the monastic chaunt -
"By the Mother and the Son,
Death endured and mercy won:
Spare us, sinners though we be;
Recovering from his stupor, Adrian regained the brethren, and, as they
closed the burthen of their song, again accosted them.
"Holy fathers, dismiss me not thus. Perchance the one I seek may yet be
heard of at the convent. Tell me which way to shape my course."
"Disturb us not, son," said the monk who spoke before. "It is an ill omen
for thee to break thus upon the invocations of the ministers of Heaven."
"Pardon, pardon! I will do ample penance, pay many masses; but I seek a
dear friend - the way - the way - "
"To the right, till you gain the first bridge. Beyond the third bridge, on
the riverside, you will find the convent," said another monk, moved by the
earnestness of Adrian.
"Bless you, holy father," faltered forth the Cavalier, and spurred his
steed in the direction given. The friars heeded him not, but again resumed
their dirge. Mingled with the sound of his horse's hoofs on the clattering
pavement, came to the rider's ear the imploring line -
Impatient, sick at heart, desperate, Adrian flew through the street at the
full speed of his horse. He passed the marketplace - it was empty as the
desert; - the gloomy and barricadoed streets, in which the countercries of
Guelf and Ghibeline had so often cheered on the Chivalry and Rank of
Florence. Now huddled together in vault and pit, lay Guelf and Ghibeline,
knightly spurs and beggar's crutch. To that silence the roar even of civil
strife would have been a blessing! The first bridge, the riverside, the
second, the third bridge, all were gained, and Adrian at last reined his
steed before the walls of the convent. He fastened his steed to the porch,
in which the door stood ajar, half torn from its hinges, traversed the
court, gained the opposite door that admitted to the main building, came to
the jealous grating, now no more a barrier from the profane world, and as
he there paused a moment to recover breath and nerve, wild laughter and
loud song, interrupted and mixed with oaths, startled his ear. He pushed
aside the grated door, entered, and, led by the sounds, came to the
refectory. In that meeting-place of the severe and mortified maids of
heaven, he now beheld gathered round the upper table, used of yore by the
abbess, a strange, disorderly, ruffian herd, who at first glance seemed
indeed of all ranks, for some wore serge, or even rags, others were tricked
out in all the bravery of satin and velvet, plume and mantle. But a second
glance sufficed to indicate that the companions were much of the same
degree, and that the finery of the more showy was but the spoil rent from
unguarded palaces or tenantless bazaars; for under plumed hats, looped with
jewels, were grim, unwashed, unshaven faces, over which hung the long locks
which the professed brethren of the sharp knife and hireling arm had just
begun to assume, serving them often instead of a mask. Amidst these savage
revellers were many women, young and middle-aged, foul and fair, and Adrian
piously shuddered to see amongst the loose robes and uncovered necks of the
professional harlots the saintly habit and beaded rosary of nuns. Flasks
of wine, ample viands, gold and silver vessels, mostly consecrated to holy
rites, strewed the board. As the young Roman paused spellbound at the
threshold, the man who acted as president of the revel, a huge, swarthy
ruffian, with a deep scar over his face, which, traversing the whole of the
left cheek and upper lip, gave his large features an aspect preternaturally
hideous, called out to him -
"Come in, man - come in! Why stand you there amazed and dumb? We are
hospitable revellers, and give all men welcome. Here are wine and women.
My Lord Bishop's wine and my Lady Abbess's women!
"Sing hey, sing ho, for the royal DEATH,
That scatters a host with a single breath;
That opens the prison to spoil the palace,
And rids honest necks from the hangman's malice.
Here's a health to the Plague! Let the mighty ones dread,
The poor never lived till the wealthy were dead.
A health to the Plague! May She ever as now
Loose the rogue from his chain and the nun from her vow:
To the gaoler a sword, to the captive a key,
Hurrah for Earth's Curse - 'tis a Blessing to me!"
Ere this fearful stave was concluded, Adrian, sensible that in such orgies
there was no chance of prosecuting his inquiries, left the desecrated
chamber and fled, scarcely drawing breath, so great was the terror that
seized him, till he stood once more in the court amidst the hot, sickly,
stagnant sunlight, that seemed a fit atmosphere for the scenes on which it
fell. He resolved, however, not to desert the place without making another
effort at inquiry; and while he stood without the court, musing and
doubtful, he saw a small chapel hard by, through whose long casement
gleamed faintly, and dimmed by the noon-day, the light of tapers. He
turned towards its porch, entered, and saw beside the sanctuary a single
nun kneeling in prayer. In the narrow aisle, upon a long table, (at either
end of which burned the tall dismal tapers whose rays had attracted him,)
the drapery of several shrouds showed him the half-distinct outline of
human figures hushed in death. Adrian himself, impressed by the sadness
and sanctity of the place, and the touching sight of that solitary and
unselfish watcher of the dead, knelt down and intensely prayed.
As he rose, somewhat relieved from the burthen at his heart, the nun rose
also, and started to perceive him.
"Unhappy man!" said she, in a voice which, low, faint, and solemn, sounded
as a ghost's - "what fatality brings thee hither? Seest thou not thou art
in the presence of clay which the Plague hath touched - thou breathest the
air which destroys! Hence! and search throughout all the desolation for
one spot where the Dark Visitor hath not come!"
"Holy maiden," answered Adrian, "the danger you hazard does not appal me; -
I seek one whose life is dearer than my own."
"Thou needest say no more to tell me thou art newly come to Florence! Here
son forsakes his father, and mother deserts her child. When life is most
hopeless, these worms of a day cling to it as if it were the salvation of
immortality! But for me alone, death has no horror. Long severed from the
world, I have seen my sisterhood perish - the house of God desecrated - its
altar overthrown, and I care not to survive, - the last whom the Pestilence
leaves at once unperjured and alive."
The nun paused a few moments, and then, looking earnestly at the healthful
countenance and unbroken frame of Adrian, sighed heavily - "Stranger, why
fly you not?" she said. "Thou mightst as well search the crowded vaults
and rotten corruption of the dead, as search the city for one living."
"Sister, and bride of the blessed Redeemer!" returned the Roman, clasping
his hands - "one word I implore thee. Thou art, methinks, of the
sisterhood of yon dismantled convent; tell me, knowest thou if Irene di
Gabrini, (The family name of Rienzi was Gabrini.) - guest of the late
Abbess, sister of the fallen Tribune of Rome, - be yet amongst the living?"
"Art thou her brother, then?" said the nun. "Art thou that fallen Sun of
"I am her betrothed," replied Adrian, sadly. "Speak."
"Oh, flesh! flesh! how art thou victor to the last, even amidst the
triumphs and in the lazar-house of corruption!" said the nun. "Vain man!
Think not of such carnal ties; make thy peace with heaven, for thy days are
"Woman!" cried Adrian, impatiently - "talk not to me of myself, nor rail
against ties whose holiness thou canst not know. I ask thee again, as thou
thyself hopest for mercy and for pardon, is Irene living?"
The nun was awed by the energy of the young lover, and after a moment,
which seemed to him an age of agonized suspense, she replied -
"The maiden thou speakest of died not with the general death. In the
dispersion of the few remaining, she left the convent - I know not whither;
but she had friends in Florence - their names I cannot tell thee."
"Now bless thee, holy sister! bless thee! How long since she left the
"Four days have passed since the robber and the harlot have seized the
house of Santa Maria," replied the nun, groaning: "and they were quick
successors to the sisterhood."
"Four days! - and thou canst give me no clue?"
"None - yet stay, young man!" - and the nun, approaching, lowered her voice
to a hissing whisper - "Ask the Becchini." (According to the usual custom
of Florence, the dead were borne to their resting-place on biers, supported
by citizens of equal rank; but a new trade was created by the plague, and
men of the lowest dregs of the populace, bribed by immense payment,
discharged the office of transporting the remains of the victims. These
were called Becchini.)
Adrian started aside, crossed himself hastily, and quitted the convent
without answer. He returned to his horse, and rode back into the silenced
heart of the city. Tavern and hotel there were no more; but the palaces of
dead princes were free to the living stranger. He entered one - a spacious
and splendid mansion. In the stables he found forage still in the manger;
but the horses, at that time in the Italian cities a proof of rank as well
as wealth, were gone with the hands that fed them. The highborn Knight
assumed the office of groom, took off the heavy harness, fastened his steed
to the rack, and as the wearied animal, unconscious of the surrounding
horrors, fell eagerly upon its meal, its young lord turned away, and
muttered, "Faithful servant, and sole companion! may the pestilence that
spareth neither beast nor man, spare thee! and mayst thou bear me hence
with a lighter heart!"
A spacious hall, hung with arms and banners - a wide flight of marble
stairs, whose walls were painted in the stiff outlines and gorgeous colours
of the day, conducted to vast chambers, hung with velvets and cloth of
gold, but silent as the tomb. He threw himself upon the cushions which
were piled in the centre of the room, for he had ridden far that morning,
and for many days before, and he was wearied and exhausted, body and limb;
but he could not rest. Impatience, anxiety, hope, and fear, gnawed his
heart and fevered his veins, and, after a brief and unsatisfactory attempt
to sober his own thoughts, and devise some plan of search more certain than
that which chance might afford him, he rose, and traversed the apartments,
in the unacknowledged hope which chance alone could suggest.
It was easy to see that he had made his resting-place in the home of one of
the princes of the land; and the splendour of all around him far outshone
the barbarous and rude magnificence of the less civilized and wealthy
Romans. Here, lay the lute as last touched - the gilded and illumined
volume as last conned; there, were seats drawn familiarly together, as when
lady and gallant had interchanged whispers last.
"And such," thought Adrian, - "such desolation may soon swallow up the
vestige of the unwelcomed guest, as of the vanished lord!"
At length he entered a saloon, in which was a table still spread with wine-
flasks, goblets of glass, and one of silver, withered flowers, half-mouldy
fruits, and viands. At one side the arras, folding-doors opened to a broad
flight of stairs, that descended to a little garden at the back of the
house, in which a fountain still played sparkling and livingly - the only
thing, save the stranger, living there! On the steps lay a crimson mantle,
and by it a lady's glove. The relics seemed to speak to the lover's heart
of a lover's last wooing and last farewell. He groaned aloud, and feeling
he should have need of all his strength, filled one of the goblets from a
half-emptied flask of Cyprus wine. He drained the draught - it revived
him. "Now," he said, "once more to my task! - I will sally forth," when
suddenly he heard heavy steps along the rooms he had quitted - they
approached - they entered; and Adrian beheld two huge and ill-omened forms
stalk into the chamber. They were wrapped in black homely draperies, their
arms were bare, and they wore large shapeless masks, which descended to the
breast, leaving only access to sight and breath in three small and circular
apertures. The Colonna half drew his sword, for the forms and aspects of
these visitors were not such as men think to look upon in safety.
"Oh!" said one, "the palace has a new guest today. Fear us not, stranger;
there is room, - ay, and wealth enough for all men now in Florence! Per
Bacco! but there is still one goblet of silver left - how comes that?" So
saying, the man seized the cup which Adrian had just drained, and thrust it
into his breast. He then turned to Adrian, whose hand was still upon his
hilt, and said, with a laugh which came choked and muffled through his
vizard - "Oh, we cut no throats, Signor; the Invisible spares us that
trouble. We are honest men, state officers, and come but to see if the
cart should halt here tonight."
"Ye are then - "
Adrian's blood ran cold. The Becchino continued - "And keep you this house
while you rest at Florence, Signor?"
"Yes, if the rightful lord claim it not."
"Ha! ha! 'Rightful lord!' The plague is Lord of all now! Why, I have
known three gallant companies tenant this palace the last week, and have
buried them all - all! It is a pleasant house enough, and gives good
custom. Are you alone?"
"At present, yes."
"Shew us where you sleep, that we may know where to come for you. You
won't want us these three days, I see."
"Ye are pleasant welcomers!" said Adrian; - "but listen to me. Can ye find
the living as well as bury the dead? I seek one in this city who, if you
discover her, shall be worth to you a year of burials!"
"No, no! that is out of our line. As well look for a dropped sand on the
beach, as for a living being amongst closed houses and yawning vaults; but
if you will pay the poor gravediggers beforehand, I promise you, you shall
have the first of a new charnel-house; - it will be finished just about
"There!" said Adrian, flinging the wretches a few pieces of gold - "there!
and if you would do me a kinder service, leave me, at least while living;
or I may save you that trouble." And he turned from the room.
The Becchino who had been spokesman followed him. "You are generous,
Signor, stay; you will want fresher food than these filthy fragments. I
will supply thee of the best, while - while thou wantest it. And hark, -
whom wishest thou that I should seek?"
This question arrested Adrian's departure. He detailed the name, and all
the particulars he could suggest of Irene; and, with sickened heart,
described the hair, features, and stature of that lovely and hallowed
image, which might furnish a theme to the poet, and now gave a clue to the
The unhallowed apparition shook his head when Adrian had concluded. "Full
five hundred such descriptions did I hear in the first days of the Plague,
when there were still such things as mistress and lover; but it is a dainty
catalogue, Signor, and it will be a pride to the poor Becchino to discover
or even to bury so many charms! I will do my best; meanwhile, I can
recommend you, if in a hurry, to make the best use of your time, to many a
pretty face and comely shape - "
"Out, fiend!" muttered Adrian: "fool to waste time with such as thou!"
The laugh of the gravedigger followed his steps.
All that day did Adrian wander through the city, but search and question
were alike unavailing; all whom he encountered and interrogated seemed to
regard him as a madman, and these were indeed of no kind likely to advance
his object. Wild troops of disordered, drunken revellers, processions of
monks, or here and there, scattered individuals gliding rapidly along, and
shunning all approach or speech, made the only haunters of the dismal
streets, till the sun sunk, lurid and yellow, behind the hills, and
Darkness closed around the noiseless pathway of the Pestilence.
Chapter 6.III. The Flowers Amidst the Tombs.
Adrian found that the Becchino had taken care that famine should not
forestall the plague; the banquet of the dead was removed, and fresh viands
and wines of all kinds, - for there was plenty then in Florence! - spread
the table. He partook of the refreshment, though but sparingly, and
shrinking from repose in beds beneath whose gorgeous hangings Death had
been so lately busy, carefully closed door and window, wrapped himself in
his mantle, and found his resting-place on the cushions of the chamber in
which he had supped. Fatigue cast him into an unquiet slumber, from which
he was suddenly awakened by the roll of a cart below, and the jingle of
bells. He listened, as the cart proceeded slowly from door to door, and at
length its sound died away in the distance. - He slept no more that night!
The sun had not long risen ere he renewed his labours; and it was yet early
when, just as he passed a church, two ladies richly dressed came from the
porch, and seemed through their vizards to regard the young Cavalier with
earnest attention. The gaze arrested him also, when one of the ladies
said, "Fair sir, you are overbold: you wear no mask; neither do you smell
"Lady, I wear no mask, for I would be seen: I search these miserable
places for one in whose life I live."
"He is young, comely, evidently noble, and the plague hath not touched him:
he will serve our purpose well," whispered one of the ladies to the other.
"You echo my own thoughts," returned her companion; and then turning to
Adrian, she said, "You seek one you are not wedded to, if you seek so
"It is true."
"Young and fair, with dark hair and neck of snow; I will conduct you to
"Know you who I am, and whom I seek?"
"Can you in truth tell me aught of Irene?"
"I can: follow me."
"Yes, yes: follow us!"
The ladies moved on as if impatient of further parley. Amazed, doubtful,
and, as if in a dream, Adrian followed them. Their dress, manner, and the
pure Tuscan of the one who had addressed him, indicated them of birth and
station; but all else was a riddle which he could not solve.
They arrived at one of the bridges, where a litter and a servant on
horseback holding a palfrey by the bridle were in attendance. The ladies
entered the litter, and she who had before spoken bade Adrian follow on the
"But tell me - " he began.
"No questions, Cavalier," said she, impatiently; "follow the living in
silence, or remain with the dead, as you list."
With that the litter proceeded, and Adrian mounted the palfrey wonderingly,
and followed his strange conductors, who moved on at a tolerably brisk
pace. They crossed the bridge, left the river on one side, and, soon
ascending a gentle acclivity, the trees and flowers of the country began to
succeed dull walls and empty streets. After proceeding thus somewhat less
than half an hour, they turned up a green lane remote from the road, and
came suddenly upon the porticoes of a fair and stately palace. Here the
ladies descended from their litter; and Adrian, who had vainly sought to
extract speech from the attendant, also dismounted, and following them
across a spacious court, filled on either side with vases of flowers and
orange-trees, and then through a wide hall in the farther side of the
quadrangle, found himself in one of the loveliest spots eye ever saw or
poet ever sung. It was a garden plot of the most emerald verdure, bosquets
of laurel and of myrtle opened on either side into vistas half overhung
with clematis and rose, through whose arcades the prospect closed with
statues and gushing fountains; in front, the lawn was bounded by rows of
vases on marble pedestals filled with flowers, and broad and gradual
flights of steps of the whitest marble led from terrace to terrace, each
adorned with statues and fountains, half way down a high but softly sloping
and verdant hill. Beyond, spread in wide, various, and luxurious
landscape, the vineyards and olive-groves, the villas and villages, of the
Vale of Arno, intersected by the silver river, while the city, in all its
calm, but without its horror, raised its roofs and spires to the sun.
Birds of every hue and song, some free, some in net-work of golden wire,
warbled round; and upon the centre of the sward reclined four ladies
unmasked and richly dressed, the eldest of whom seemed scarcely more than
twenty; and five cavaliers, young and handsome, whose jewelled vests and
golden chains attested their degree. Wines and fruits were on a low table
beside; and musical instruments, chess-boards, and gammon-tables, lay
scattered all about. So fair a group, and so graceful a scene, Adrian
never beheld but once, and that was in the midst of the ghastly pestilence
of Italy! - such group and such scene our closet indolence may yet revive
in the pages of the bright Boccaccio!
On seeing Adrian and his companions approach, the party rose instantly; and
one of the ladies, who wore upon her head a wreath of laurel-leaves,
stepping before the rest, exclaimed, "well done, my Mariana! welcome back,
my fair subjects. And you, sir, welcome hither."
The two guides of the Colonna had by this time removed their masks; and the
one who had accosted him, shaking her long and raven ringlets over a
bright, laughing eye and a cheek to whose native olive now rose a slight
blush, turned to him ere he could reply to the welcome he had received.
"Signor Cavalier," said she, "you now see to what I have decoyed you. Own
that this is pleasanter than the sights and sounds of the city we have
left. You gaze on me in surprise. See, my Queen, how speechless the
marvel of your court has made our new gallant; I assure you he could talk
quickly enough when he had only us to confer with: nay, I was forced to
impose silence on him."
"Oh! then you have not yet informed him of the custom and origin of the
court he enters!" quoth she of the laurel wreath.
"No, my Queen; I thought all description given in such a spot as our poor
Florence now is would fail of its object. My task is done, I resign him to
So saying the lady tripped lightly away, and began coquettishly sleeking
her locks in the smooth mirror of a marble basin, whose waters trickled
over the margin upon the grass below, ever and anon glancing archly towards
the stranger, and sufficiently at hand to overhear all that was said.
"In the first place, Signor, permit us to inquire," said the lady who bore
the appellation of Queen, "thy name, rank, and birth-place."
"Madam," returned Adrian, "I came hither little dreaming to answer
questions respecting myself; but what it pleases you to ask, it must please
me to reply to. My name is Adrian di Castello, one of the Roman house of
"A noble column of a noble house!" answered the Queen. "For us, respecting
whom your curiosity may perhaps be aroused, know that we six ladies of
Florence, deserted by or deprived of our kin and protectors, formed the
resolution to retire to this palace, where, if death comes, it comes
stripped of half its horrors; and as the learned tell us that sadness
engenders the awful malady, so you see us sworn foes to sadness. Six
cavaliers of our acquaintance agreed to join us. We pass our days, whether
many or few, in whatever diversions we can find or invent. Music and the
dance, merry tales and lively songs, with such slight change of scene as
from sward to shade, from alley to fountain, fill up our time, and prepare
us for peaceful sleep and happy dreams. Each lady is by turns Queen of our
fairy court, as is my lot this day. One law forms the code of our
constitution - that nothing sad shall be admitted. We would live as if
yonder city were not, and as if (added the fair Queen, with a slight sigh)
youth, grace, and beauty, could endure for ever. One of our knights madly
left us for a day, promising to return; we have seen him no more; we will
not guess what hath chanced to him. It became necessary to fill up his
place; we drew lots who should seek his substitute; it fell upon the ladies
who have - not, I trust, to your displeasure - brought you hither. Fair
sir, my explanation is made."
"Alas, lovely Queen," said Adrian, wrestling strongly, but vainly, with the
bitter disappointment he felt - "I cannot be one of your happy circle; I am
in myself a violation of your law. I am filled with but one sad and
anxious thought, to which all mirth would seem impiety. I am a seeker
amongst the living and the dead for one being of whose fate I am uncertain;
and it was only by the words that fell from my fair conductor, that I have
been decoyed hither from my mournful task. Suffer me, gracious lady, to
return to Florence."
The Queen looked in mute vexation towards the dark-eyed Mariana, who
returned the glance by one equally expressive, and then suddenly stepping
up to Adrian she said, -
"But, Signor, if I should still keep my promise, if I should be able to
satisfy thee of the health and safety of - of Irene."
"Irene!" echoed Adrian in surprise, forgetful at the moment that he had
before revealed the name of her he sought - "Irene - Irene di Gabrini,
sister of the once renowned Rienzi!"
"The same," replied Mariana, quickly; "I know her, as I told you. Nay,
Signor, I do not deceive thee. It is true that I cannot bring thee to her;
but better as it is, - she went away many days ago to one of the towns of
Lombardy, which, they say, the Pestilence has not yet pierced. Now, noble
sir, is not your heart lightened? and will you so soon be a deserter from
the Court of Loveliness; and perhaps," she added, with a soft look from her
large dark eyes, "of Love?"
"Dare I, in truth, believe you, Lady?" said Adrian, all delighted, yet
still half doubting.
"Would I deceive a true lover, as methinks you are? Be assured. Nay,
Queen, receive your subject."
The Queen extended her hand to Adrian, and led him to the group that still
stood on the grass at a little distance. They welcomed him as a brother,
and soon forgave his abstracted courtesies, in compliment to his good mien
and illustrious name.
The Queen clapped her hands, and the party again ranged themselves on the
sward. Each lady beside each gallant. "You, Mariana, if not fatigued,"
said the Queen, "shall take the lute and silence these noisy grasshoppers,
which chirp about us with as much pretension as if they were nightingales.