Part 7 out of 10
Sing, sweet subject, sing; and let it be the song our dear friend, Signor
Visdomini, (I know not if this be the same Visdomini who, three years
afterwards, with one of the Medici, conducted so gallant a reinforcement to
Scarperia, then besieged by Visconti d'Oleggio.) made for a kind of
inaugural anthem to such as we admitted to our court."
Mariana, who had reclined herself by the side of Adrian, took up the lute,
and, after a short prelude, sung the words thus imperfectly translated: -
The Song of the Florentine Lady.
Enjoy the more the smiles of noon
If doubtful be the morrow;
And know the Fort of Life is soon
Betray'd to Death by Sorrow!
Death claims us all - then, Grief, away!
We'll own no meaner master;
The clouds that darken round the day
But bring the night the faster.
Love - feast - be merry while on earth,
Such, Grave, should be thy moral!
Ev'n Death himself is friends with Mirth,
And veils the tomb with laurel.
(At that time, in Italy, the laurel was frequently planted over the dead.)
While gazing on the eyes I love,
New life to mine is given -
If joy the lot of saints above,
Joy fits us best for Heaven.
To this song, which was much applauded, succeeded those light and witty
tales in which the Italian novelists furnished Voltaire and Marmontel with
a model - each, in his or her turn, taking up the discourse, and with an
equal dexterity avoiding every lugubrious image or mournful reflection that
might remind those graceful idlers of the vicinity of Death. At any other
time the temper and accomplishments of the young Lord di Castello would
have fitted him to enjoy and to shine in that Arcadian court. But now he
in vain sought to dispel the gloom from his brow, and the anxious thought
from his heart. He revolved the intelligence he had received, wondered,
guessed, hoped, and dreaded still; and if for a moment his mind returned to
the scene about him, his nature, too truly poetical for the false sentiment
of the place, asked itself in what, save the polished exterior and the
graceful circumstance, the mirth that he now so reluctantly witnessed
differed from the brutal revels in the convent of Santa Maria - each alike
in its motive, though so differing in the manner - equally callous and
equally selfish, coining horror into enjoyment. The fair Mariana, whose
partner had been reft from her, as the Queen had related, was in no mind to
lose the new one she had gained. She pressed upon him from time to time
the wine-flask and the fruits; and in those unmeaning courtesies her hand
gently lingered upon his. At length, the hour arrived when the companions
retired to the Palace, during the fiercer heats of noon - to come forth
again in the declining sun, to sup by the side of the fountain, to dance,
to sing, and to make merry by torchlight and the stars till the hour of
rest. But Adrian, not willing to continue the entertainment, no sooner
found himself in the apartment to which he was conducted, than he resolved
to effect a silent escape, as under all circumstances the shortest, and not
perhaps the least courteous, farewell left to him. Accordingly, when all
seemed quiet and hushed in the repose common to the inhabitants of the
South during that hour, he left his apartment, descended the stairs, passed
the outer court, and was already at the gate, when he heard himself called
by a voice that spoke vexation and alarm. He turned to behold Mariana.
"Why, how now, Signor di Castello, is our company so unpleasing, is our
music so jarring, or are our brows so wrinkled, that you should fly as the
traveller flies from the witches he surprises at Benevento? Nay, you
cannot mean to leave us yet?"
"Fair dame," returned the cavalier, somewhat disconcerted, "it is in vain
that I seek to rally my mournful spirits, or to fit myself for the court to
which nothing sad should come. Your laws hang about me like a culprit -
better timely flight than harsh expulsion."
As he spoke he moved on, and would have passed the gate, but Mariana caught
"Nay," said she, softly; "are there no eyes of dark light, and no neck of
wintry snow, that can compensate to thee for the absent one? Tarry and
forget, as doubtless in absence even thou art forgotten!"
"Lady," answered Adrian, with great gravity, not unmixed with an ill-
suppressed disdain, "I have not sojourned long enough amidst the sights and
sounds of woe, to blunt my heart and spirit into callousness to all around.
Enjoy, if thou canst, and gather the rank roses of the sepulchre; but to
me, haunted still by funeral images, Beauty fails to bring delight, and
Love, - even holy love - seems darkened by the Shadow of Death. Pardon me,
"Go, then," said the Florentine, stung and enraged at his coldness; "go and
find your mistress amidst the associations on which it pleases your
philosophy to dwell. I did but deceive thee, blind fool! as I had hoped
for thine own good, when I told thee Irene - (was that her name?) - was
gone from Florence. Of her I know nought, and heard nought, save from
thee. Go back and search the vault, and see whether thou lovest her
Chapter 6.IV. We Obtain What We Seek, and Know it Not.
In the fiercest heat of the day, and on foot, Adrian returned to Florence.
As he approached the city, all that festive and gallant scene he had
quitted seemed to him like a dream; a vision of the gardens and bowers of
an enchantress, from which he woke abruptly as a criminal may wake on the
morning of his doom to see the scaffold and the deathsman; - so much did
each silent and lonely step into the funeral city bring back his bewildered
thoughts at once to life and to death. The parting words of Mariana
sounded like a knell at his heart. And now as he passed on - the heat of
the day, the lurid atmosphere, long fatigue, alternate exhaustion and
excitement, combining with the sickness of disappointment, the fretting
consciousness of precious moments irretrievably lost, and his utter despair
of forming any systematic mode of search - fever began rapidly to burn
through his veins. His temples felt oppressed as with the weight of a
mountain; his lips parched with intolerable thirst; his strength seemed
suddenly to desert him; and it was with pain and labour that he dragged one
languid limb after the other.
"I feel it," thought he, with the loathing nausea and shivering dread with
which nature struggles ever against death; "I feel it upon me - the
Devouring and the Viewless - I shall perish, and without saving her; nor
shall even one grave contain us!"
But these thoughts served rapidly to augment the disease which began to
prey upon him; and ere he reached the interior of the city, even thought
itself forsook him. The images of men and houses grew indistinct and
shadowy before his eyes; the burning pavement became unsteady and reeling
beneath his feet; delirium gathered over him, and he went on his way
muttering broken and incoherent words; the few who met fled from him in
dismay. Even the monks, still continuing their solemn and sad processions,
passed with a murmured bene vobis to the other side from that on which his
steps swerved and faltered. And from a booth at the corner of a street,
four Becchini, drinking together, fixed upon him from their black masks the
gaze that vultures fix upon some dying wanderer of the desert. Still he
crept on, stretching out his arms like a man in the dark, and seeking with
the vague sense that yet struggled against the gathering delirium, to find
out the mansion in which he had fixed his home; though many as fair to
live, and as meet to die in, stood with open portals before and beside his
"Irene, Irene!" he cried, sometimes in a muttered and low tone, sometimes
in a wild and piercing shriek, "where art thou? Where? I come to snatch
thee from them; they shall not have thee, the foul and ugly fiends! Pah!
how the air smells of dead flesh! Irene, Irene! we will away to mine own
palace and the heavenly lake - Irene!"
While thus benighted, and thus exclaiming, two females suddenly emerged
from a neighbouring house, masked and mantled.
"Vain wisdom!" said the taller and slighter of the two, whose mantle, it is
here necessary to observe, was of a deep blue, richly broidered with
silver, of a shape and a colour not common in Florence, but usual in Rome,
where the dress of ladies of the higher rank was singularly bright in hue
and ample in fold - thus differing from the simpler and more slender
draperies of the Tuscan fashion - "Vain wisdom, to fly a relentless and
"Why, thou wouldst not have us hold the same home with three of the dead in
the next chamber - strangers too to us - when Florence has so many empty
halls? Trust me, we shall not walk far ere we suit ourselves with a safer
"Hitherto, indeed, we have been miraculously preserved," sighed the other,
whose voice and shape were those of extreme youth; "yet would that we knew
where to fly - what mount, what wood, what cavern, held my brother and his
faithful Nina! I am sick with horrors!"
"Irene, Irene! Well then, if thou art at Milan or some Lombard town, why
do I linger here? To horse, to horse! Oh, no! no! - not the horse with
the bells! not the death-cart." With a cry, a shriek, louder than the
loudest of the sick man's, broke that young female away from her companion.
It seemed as if a single step took her to the side of Adrian. She caught
his arm - she looked in his face - she met his unconscious eyes bright with
a fearful fire. "It has seized him!" - (she then said in a deep but calm
tone) - "the Plague!"
"Away, away! are you mad?" cried her companion; "hence, hence, - touch me
not now thou hast touched him - go! - here we part!"
"Help me to bear him somewhere, see, he faints, he droops, he falls! - help
me, dear Signora, for pity, for the love of God!"
But, wholly possessed by the selfish fear which overcame all humanity in
that miserable time, the elder woman, though naturally kind, pitiful, and
benevolent, fled rapidly away, and soon vanished. Thus left alone with
Adrian, who had now, in the fierceness of the fever that preyed within him,
fallen on the ground, the strength and nerve of that young girl did not
forsake her. She tore off the heavy mantle which encumbered her arms, and
cast it from her; and then, lifting up the face of her lover - for who but
Irene was that weak woman, thus shrinking not from the contagion of death?
- she supported him on her breast, and called aloud and again for help. At
length the Becchini, in the booth before noticed, (hardened in their
profession, and who, thus hardened, better than the most cautious, escaped
the pestilence,) lazily approached - "Quicker, quicker, for Christ's love!"
said Irene. "I have much gold; I will reward you well: help me to bear
him under the nearest roof."
"Leave him to us, young lady: we have had our eye upon him," said one of
the gravediggers. "We'll do our duty by him, first and last."
"No - no! touch not his head - that is my care. There, I will help you;
so, - now then, - but be gentle!"
Assisted by these portentous officers, Irene, who would not release her
hold, but seemed to watch over the beloved eyes and lips, (set and closed
as they were,) as if to look back the soul from parting, bore Adrian into a
neighbouring house, and laid him on a bed; from which Irene (preserving as
only women do, in such times, the presence of mind and vigilant providence
which make so sublime a contrast with their keen susceptibilities) caused
them first to cast off the draperies and clothing, which might retain
additional infection. She then despatched them for new furniture, and for
whatsoever leech money might yet bribe to a duty, now chiefly abandoned to
those heroic Brotherhoods who, however vilified in modern judgment by the
crimes of some unworthy members, were yet, in the dark times, the best, the
bravest, and the holiest agents, to whom God ever delegated the power to
resist the oppressor - to feed the hungry - to minister to woe; and who,
alone, amidst that fiery Pestilence, (loosed, as it were, a demon from the
abyss, to shiver into atoms all that binds the world to Virtue and to Law,)
seemed to awaken, as by the sound of an angel's trumpet, to that noblest
Chivalry of the Cross - whose faith is the scorn of self - whose hope is
beyond the Lazar-house - whose feet, already winded for immortality,
trample, with a conqueror's march, upon the graves of Death!
While this the ministry and the office of love, - along that street in
which Adrian and Irene had met at last - came singing, reeling, roaring,
the dissolute and abandoned crew who had fixed their quarters in the
Convent of Santa Maria de' Pazzi, their bravo chief at their head, and a
nun (no longer in nun's garments) upon either arm. "A health to the
Plague!" shouted the ruffian: "A health to the Plague!" echoed his frantic
"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."
"Holla!" cried the chief, stopping; "here, Margherita; here's a brave cloak
for thee, my girl: silver enow on it to fill thy purse, if it ever grow
empty; which it may, if ever the Plague grow slack."
"Nay," said the girl, who, amidst all the havoc of debauch, retained much
of youth and beauty in her form and face; nay, Guidotto; perhaps it has
"Pooh, child, silver never infects. Clap it on, clap it on. Besides, fate
is fate, and when it is thine hour there will be other means besides the
So saying, he seized the mantle, threw it roughly over her shoulders, and
dragged her on as before, half pleased with the finery, half frightened
with the danger; while gradually died away, along the lurid air and the
mournful streets, the chant of that most miserable mirth.
Chapter 6.V. The Error.
For three days, the fatal three days, did Adrian remain bereft of strength
and sense. But he was not smitten by the scourge which his devoted and
generous nurse had anticipated. It was a fierce and dangerous fever,
brought on by the great fatigue, restlessness, and terrible agitation he
No professional mediciner could be found to attend him; but a good friar,
better perhaps skilled in the healing art than many who claimed its
monopoly, visited him daily. And in the long and frequent absences to
which his other and numerous duties compelled the monk, there was one ever
at hand to smooth the pillow, to wipe the brow, to listen to the moan, to
watch the sleep. And even in that dismal office, when, in the frenzy of
the sufferer, her name, coupled with terms of passionate endearment, broke
from his lips, a thrill of strange pleasure crossed the heart of the
betrothed, which she chid as if it were a crime. But even the most
unearthly love is selfish in the rapture of being loved! Words cannot
tell, heart cannot divine, the mingled emotions that broke over her when,
in some of these incoherent ravings, she dimly understood that for her the
city had been sought, the death dared, the danger incurred. And as then
bending passionately to kiss that burning brow, her tears fell fast over
the idol of her youth, the fountains from which they gushed were those,
fathomless and countless, which a life could not weep away. Not an impulse
of the human and the woman heart that was not stirred; the adoring
gratitude, the meek wonder thus to be loved, while deeming it so simple a
merit thus to love; - as if all sacrifice in her were a thing of course, -
to her, a virtue nature could not paragon, worlds could not repay! And
there he lay, the victim to his own fearless faith, helpless - dependent
upon her - a thing between life and death, to thank, to serve - to be proud
of, yet protect, to compassionate, yet revere - the saver, to be saved!
Never seemed one object to demand at once from a single heart so many and
so profound emotions; the romantic enthusiasm of the girl - the fond
idolatry of the bride - the watchful providence of the mother over her
And strange to say, with all the excitement of that lonely watch, scarcely
stirring from his side, taking food only that her strength might not fail
her, - unable to close her eyes, - though, from the same cause, she would
fain have taken rest, when slumber fell upon her charge - with all such
wear and tear of frame and heart, she seemed wonderfully supported. And
the holy man marvelled, in each visit, to see the cheek of the nurse still
fresh, and her eye still bright. In her own superstition she thought and
felt that Heaven gifted her with a preternatural power to be true to so
sacred a charge; and in this fancy she did not wholly err: - for Heaven did
gift her with that diviner power, when it planted in so soft a heart the
enduring might and energy of Affection! The friar had visited the sick man
late on the third night, and administered to him a strong sedative. "This
night," said he to Irene, "will be the crisis: should he awaken, as I
trust he may, with a returning consciousness, and a calm pulse, he will
live; if not, young daughter, prepare for the worst. But should you note
any turn in the disease, that may excite alarm, or require my attendance,
this scroll will inform you where I am, if God spare me still, at each hour
of the night and morning."
The monk retired, and Irene resumed her watch.
The sleep of Adrian was at first broken and interrupted - his features, his
exclamations, his gestures, all evinced great agony, whether mental or
bodily: it seemed, as perhaps it was, a fierce and doubtful struggle
between life and death for the conquest of the sleeper. Patient, silent,
breathing but by long-drawn gasps, Irene sate at the bed-head. The lamp
was removed to the further end of the chamber, and its ray, shaded by the
draperies, did not suffice to give to her gaze more than the outline of the
countenance she watched. In that awful suspense, all the thoughts that
hitherto had stirred her mind lay hushed and mute. She was only sensible
to that unutterable fear which few of us have been happy enough not to
know. That crushing weight under which we can scarcely breathe or move,
the avalanche over us, freezing and suspended, which we cannot escape from,
beneath which, every moment, we may be buried and overwhelmed. The whole
destiny of life was in the chances of that single night! It was just as
Adrian at last seemed to glide into a deeper and serener slumber, that the
bells of the death-cart broke with their boding knell the palpable silence
of the streets. Now hushed, now revived, as the cart stopped for its
gloomy passengers, and coming nearer and nearer after every pause. At
length she heard the heavy wheels stop under the very casement, and a voice
deep and muffled calling aloud, "Bring out the dead!" She rose, and with a
noiseless step, passed to secure the door, when the dull lamp gleamed upon
the dark and shrouded forms of the Becchini.
"You have not marked the door, nor set out the body," said one gruffly;
"but this is the third night! He is ready for us."
"Hush, he sleeps - away, quick, it is not the Plague that seized him."
"Not the Plague?" growled the Becchino in a disappointed tone; "I thought
no other illness dared encroach upon the rights of the gavocciolo!"
"Go - here's money; leave us."
And the grisly carrier sullenly withdrew. The cart moved on, the bell
renewed its summons, till slowly and faintly the dreadful larum died in the
Shading the lamp with her hand, Irene stole to the bed side, fearful that
the sound and the intrusion had disturbed the slumberer. But his face was
still locked, as in a vice, with that iron sleep. He stirred not - the
breath scarcely passed his lips - she felt his pulse, as the wan hand lay
on the coverlid - there was a slight beat - she was contented - removed the
light, and, retiring to a corner of the room, placed the little cross
suspended round her neck upon the table, and prayed, in her intense
suffering, to Him who had known death, and who - Son of Heaven though he
was, and Sovereign of the Seraphim - had also prayed, in his earthly
travail, that the cup might pass away.
The Morning broke, not, as in the North, slowly and through shadow, but
with the sudden glory with which in those climates Day leaps upon earth -
like a giant from his sleep. A sudden smile - a burnished glow - and night
had vanished. Adrian still slept; not a muscle seemed to have stirred; the
sleep was even heavier than before; the silence became a burthen upon the
air. Now, in that exceeding torpor so like unto death, the solitary
watcher became alarmed and terrified. Time passed - morning glided to noon
- still not a sound nor motion. The sun was midway in Heaven - the Friar
came not. And now again touching Adrian's pulse, she felt no flutter - she
gazed on him, appalled and confounded; surely nought living could be so
still and pale. "Was it indeed sleep, might it not be - " She turned
away, sick and frozen; her tongue clove to her lips. Why did the father
tarry? - she would go to him - she would learn the worst - she could
forbear no longer. She glanced over the scroll the Monk had left her:
"From sunrise," it said, "I shall be at the Convent of the Dominicans.
Death has stricken many of the brethren." The Convent was at some
distance, but she knew the spot, and fear would wing her steps. She gave
one wistful look at the sleeper and rushed from the house. "I shall see
thee again presently," she murmured. Alas! what hope can calculate beyond
the moment? And who shall claim the tenure of 'The Again?'
It was not many minutes after Irene had left the room, ere, with a long
sigh, Adrian opened his eyes - an altered and another man; the fever was
gone, the reviving pulse beat low indeed, but calm. His mind was once more
master of his body, and, though weak and feeble, the danger was past, and
life and intellect regained.
"I have slept long," he muttered; "and oh, such dreams! And methought I
saw Irene, but could not speak to her, and while I attempted to grasp her,
her face changed, her form dilated, and I was in the clutch of the foul
gravedigger. It is late - the sun is high - I must be up and stirring.
Irene is in Lombardy. No, no; that was a lie, a wicked lie; she is at
Florence, I must renew my search."
As this duty came to his remembrance, he rose from the bed - he was amazed
at his own debility: at first he could not stand without support from the
wall; by degrees, however, he so far regained the mastery of his limbs as
to walk, though with effort and pain. A ravening hunger preyed upon him,
he found some scanty and light food in the chamber, which he devoured
eagerly. And with scarce less eagerness laved his enfeebled form and
haggard face with the water that stood at hand. He now felt refreshed and
invigorated, and began to indue his garments, which he found thrown on a
heap beside the bed. He gazed with surprise and a kind of self-compassion
upon his emaciated hands and shrunken limbs, and began now to comprehend
that he must have had some severe but unconscious illness. "Alone, too,"
thought he; "no one near to tend me! Nature my only nurse! But alas!
alas! how long a time may thus have been wasted, and my adored Irene -
quick, quick, not a moment more will I lose."
He soon found himself in the open street; the air revived him; and that
morning had sprung up the blessed breeze, the first known for weeks. He
wandered on very slowly and feebly till he came to a broad square, from
which, in the vista, might be seen one of the principal gates of Florence,
and the fig-trees and olive-groves beyond, it was then that a Pilgrim of
tall stature approached towards him as from the gate; his hood was thrown
back, and gave to view a countenance of great but sad command; a face, in
whose high features, massive brow, and proud, unshrinking gaze, shaded by
an expression of melancholy more stern than soft, Nature seemed to have
written majesty, and Fate disaster. As in that silent and dreary place,
these two, the only tenants of the street, now encountered, Adrian stopped
abruptly, and said in a startled and doubting voice: "Do I dream still, or
do I behold Rienzi?"
The Pilgrim paused also, as he heard the name, and gazing long on the
attenuated features of the young lord, said: I am he that was Rienzi! and
you, pale shadow, is it in this grave of Italy that I meet with the gay and
high Colonna? Alas, young friend," he added, in a more relaxed and kindly
voice, "hath the Plague not spared the flower of the Roman nobles? Come,
I, the cruel and the harsh Tribune, I will be thy nurse: he who might have
been my brother, shall yet claim from me a brother's care."
With these words he wound his arm tenderly round Adrian; and the young
noble, touched by his compassion, and agitated by the surprise, leaned upon
Rienzi's breast in silence.
"Poor youth," resumed the Tribune, for so, since rather fallen than
deposed, he may yet be called; "I ever loved the young, (my brother died
young;) and you more than most. What fatality brought thee hither?"
"Irene!" replied Adrian, falteringly.
"Is it so, really? Art thou a Colonna, and yet prize the fallen? The same
duty has brought me also to the city of Death. From the furthest south -
over the mountains of the robber - through the fastnesses of my foes -
through towns in which the herald proclaimed in my ear the price of my head
- I have passed hither, on foot and alone, safe under the wings of the
Almighty One. Young man, thou shouldst have left this task to one who
bears a wizard's life, and whom Heaven and Earth yet reserve for an
The Tribune said this in a deep and inward voice; and in his raised eye and
solemn brow might be seen how much his reverses had deepened his
fanaticism, and added even to the sanguineness of his hopes.
"But," asked Adrian, withdrawing gently from Rienzi's arm, "thou knowest,
then, where Irene is to be found; let us go together. Lose not a moment in
this talk; time is of inestimable value, and a moment in this city is often
but the border to eternity."
"Right," said Rienzi, awakening to his object. "But fear not, I have
dreamt that I shall save her, the gem and darling of my house. Fear not, I
have no fear."
"Know you where to seek?" said Adrian, impatiently; "the Convent holds far
"Ha! so said my dream!"
"Talk not now of dreams," said the lover; "but if you have no other guide,
let us part at once in quest of her. I will take yonder street, you take
the opposite, and at sunset let us meet in the same spot."
"Rash man!" said the Tribune, with great solemnity; "scoff not at the
visions which Heaven makes a parable to its Chosen. Thou seekest counsel
of thy human wisdom; I, less presumptuous, follow the hand of the
mysterious Providence, moving even now before my gaze as a pillar of light
through the wilderness of dread. Ay, meet we here at sunset, and prove
whose guide is the most unerring. If my dream tell me true, I shall see my
sister living, ere the sun reach yonder hill, and by a church dedicated to
The grave earnestness with which Rienzi spoke impressed Adrian with a hope
which his reason would not acknowledge. He saw him depart with that proud
and stately step to which his sweeping garments gave a yet more imposing
dignity, and then passed up the street to the right hand. He had not got
half way when he felt himself pulled by the mantle. He turned, and saw the
shapeless mask of a Becchino.
"I feared you were sped, and that another had cheated me of my office,"
said the gravedigger, "seeing that you returned not to the old Prince's
palace. You don't know me from the rest of us I see, but I am the one you
told to seek - "
"Yes, Irene di Gabrini; you promised ample reward."
"You shall have it."
The Becchino strode on, and soon arrived at a mansion. He knocked twice at
the porter's entrance, an old woman cautiously opened the door. "Fear not,
good aunt," said the gravedigger; "this is the young Lord I spoke to thee
of. Thou sayest thou hadst two ladies in the palace, who alone survived of
all the lodgers, and their names were Bianca de Medici, and - what was the
"Irene di Gabrini, a Roman lady. But I told thee this was the fourth day
they left the house, terrified by the deaths within it."
"Thou didst so: and was there anything remarkable in the dress of the
Signora di Gabrini?"
"Yes, I have told thee: a blue mantle, such as I have rarely seen, wrought
"Was the broidery that of stars, silver stars," exclaimed Adrian, "with a
sun in the centre?"
"Alas! alas! the arms of the Tribune's family! I remember how I praised
the mantle the first day she wore it - the day on which we were betrothed!"
And the lover at once conjectured the secret sentiment which had induced
Irene to retain thus carefully a robe so endeared by association.
"You know no more of your lodgers?"
"And is this all you have learned, knave?" cried Adrian.
"Patience. I must bring you from proof to proof, and link to link, in
order to win my reward. Follow, Signor."
The Becchino then passing through the several lanes and streets, arrived at
another house of less magnificent size and architecture. Again he tapped
thrice at the parlour door, and this time came forth a man withered, old,
and palsied, whom death seemed to disdain to strike.
"Signor Astuccio," said the Becchino, "pardon me; but I told thee I might
trouble thee again. This is the gentleman who wants to know, what is often
best unknown - but that's not my affair. Did a lady - young and beautiful
- with dark hair, and of a slender form, enter this house, stricken with
the first symptom of the Plague, three days since?"
"Ay, thou knowest that well enough; and thou knowest still better, that she
has departed these two days: it was quick work with her, quicker than with
"Did she wear anything remarkable?"
"Yes, troublesome man: a blue cloak, with stars of silver."
"Couldst thou guess aught of her previous circumstances?"
"No, save that she raved much about the nunnery of Santa Maria de' Pazzi,
and bravos, and sacrilege."
"Are you satisfied, Signor?" asked the gravedigger, with an air of triumph,
turning to Adrian. "But no, I will satisfy thee better, if thou hast
courage. Wilt thou follow?"
"I comprehend thee; lead on. Courage! What is there on earth now to
Muttering to himself, "Ay, leave me alone. I have a head worth something;
I ask no gentleman to go by my word; I will make his own eyes the judge of
what my trouble is worth," the gravedigger now led the way through one of
the gates a little out of the city. And here, under a shed, sat six of his
ghastly and ill-omened brethren, with spades and pick-axes at their feet.
His guide now turned round to Adrian, whose face was set, and resolute in
"Fair Signor," said he, with some touch of lingering compassion, "wouldst
thou really convince thine own eyes and heart? - the sight may appal, the
contagion may destroy, thee, - if, indeed, as it seems to me, Death has not
already written 'mine' upon thee."
"Raven of bode and woe!" answered Adrian, "seest thou not that all I shrink
from is thy voice and aspect? Show me her I seek, living or dead."
"I will show her to you, then," said the Becchino, sullenly, "such as two
nights since she was committed to my charge. Line and lineament may
already be swept away, for the Plague hath a rapid besom; but I have left
that upon her by which you will know the Becchino is no liar. Bring hither
the torches, comrades, and lift the door. Never stare; it's the
gentleman's whim, and he'll pay it well."
Turning to the right while Adrian mechanically followed his conductors, a
spectacle whose dire philosophy crushes as with a wheel all the pride of
mortal man - the spectacle of that vault in which earth hides all that on
earth flourished, rejoiced, exulted - awaited his eye!
The Becchini lifted a ponderous grate, lowered their torches (scarcely
needed, for through the aperture rushed, with a hideous glare, the light of
the burning sun,) and motioned to Adrian to advance. He stood upon the
summit of the abyss and gazed below.
It was a large deep and circular space, like the bottom of an exhausted
well. In niches cut into the walls of earth around, lay, duly coffined,
those who had been the earliest victims of the plague, when the Becchino's
market was not yet glutted, and priest followed, and friend mourned the
dead. But on the floor below, there was the loathsome horror! Huddled and
matted together - some naked, some in shrouds already black and rotten -
lay the later guests, the unshriven and unblest! The torches, the sun,
streamed broad and red over Corruption in all its stages, from the pale
blue tint and swollen shape, to the moistened undistinguishable mass, or
the riddled bones, where yet clung, in strips and tatters, the black and
mangled flesh. In many, the face remained almost perfect, while the rest
of the body was but bone; the long hair, the human face, surmounting the
grisly skeleton. There was the infant, still on the mother's breast; there
was the lover, stretched across the dainty limbs of his adored! The rats,
(for they clustered in numbers to that feast,) disturbed, not scared, sate
up from their horrid meal as the light glimmered over them, and thousands
of them lay round, stark, and dead, poisoned by that they fed on! There,
too, the wild satire of the gravediggers had cast, though stripped of their
gold and jewels, the emblems that spoke of departed rank; - the broken wand
of the Councillor; the General's baton; the Priestly Mitre! The foul and
livid exhalations gathered like flesh itself, fungous and putrid, upon the
walls, and the -
But who shall detail the ineffable and unimaginable horrors that reigned
over the Palace where the Great King received the prisoners whom the sword
of the Pestilence had subdued?
But through all that crowded court - crowded with beauty and with birth,
with the strength of the young and the honours of the old, and the valour
of the brave, and the wisdom of the learned, and the wit of the scorner,
and the piety of the faithful - one only figure attracted Adrian's eye.
Apart from the rest, a latecomer - the long locks streaming far and dark
over arm and breast - lay a female, the face turned partially aside, the
little seen not recognisable even by the mother of the dead, - but wrapped
round in that fatal mantle, on which, though blackened and tarnished, was
yet visible the starry heraldry assumed by those who claimed the name of
the proud Tribune of Rome. Adrian saw no more - he fell back in the arms
of the gravediggers: when he recovered, he was still without the gates of
Florence - reclined upon a green mound - his guide stood beside him -
holding his steed by the bridle as it grazed patiently on the neglected
grass. The other brethren of the axe had resumed their seat under the
"So, you have revived! Ah! I thought it was only the effluvia; few stand
it as we do. And so, as your search is over, deeming you would now be
quitting Florence if you have any sense left to you, I went for your good
horse. I have fed him since your departure from the palace. Indeed I
fancied he would be my perquisite, but there are plenty as good. Come,
young sir, mount. I feel a pity for you, I know not why, except that you
are the only one I have met for weeks who seem to care for another more
than for yourself. I hope you are satisfied now that I showed some brains,
eh! in your service; and as I have kept my promise, you'll keep yours."
"Friend," said Adrian, "here is gold enough to make thee rich; here, too,
is a jewel that merchants will tell thee princes might vie to purchase.
Thou seemest honest, despite thy calling, or thou mightest have robbed and
murdered me long since. Do me one favour more."
"By my poor mother's soul, yes."
"Take yon - yon clay from that fearful place. Inter it in some quiet and
remote spot - apart - alone! You promise me? - you swear it? - it is well!
And now help me on my horse. Farewell Italy, and if I die not with this
stroke, may I die as befits at once honour and despair - with trumpet and
banner round me - in a well-fought field against a worthy foe! - Save a
knightly death, nothing is left to live for!"
BOOK VII. THE PRISON.
"Fu rinchiuso in una torre grossa e larga; avea libri assai, suo Tito
Livio, sue storie di Roma, la Bibbia." &c. - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib.
ii. c. 13.
"He was immured in a high and spacious tower; he had books enough, his
Titus Livius, his histories of Rome, the Bible," &c.
Chapter 7.I. Avignon. - The Two Pages. - The Stranger Beauty.
There is this difference between the Drama of Shakspeare, and that of
almost every other master of the same art; that in the first, the
catastrophe is rarely produced by one single cause - one simple and
continuous chain of events. Various and complicated agencies work out the
final end. Unfettered by the rules of time and place, each time, each
place depicted, presents us with its appropriate change of action, or of
actors. Sometimes the interest seems to halt, to turn aside, to bring us
unawares upon objects hitherto unnoticed, or upon qualities of the
characters hitherto hinted at, not developed. But, in reality, the pause
in the action is but to collect, to gather up, and to grasp, all the
varieties of circumstance that conduce to the Great Result: and the art of
fiction is only deserted for the fidelity of history. Whoever seeks to
place before the world the true representation of a man's life and times,
and, enlarging the Dramatic into the Epic, extends his narrative over the
vicissitudes of years, will find himself unconsciously, in this, the
imitator of Shakspeare. New characters, each conducive to the end - new
scenes, each leading to the last, rise before him as he proceeds, sometimes
seeming to the reader to delay, even while they advance, the dread
catastrophe. The sacrificial procession sweeps along, swelled by new
comers, losing many that first joined it; before, at last, the same as a
whole, but differing in its components, the crowd reach the fated bourn of
the Altar and the Victim!
It is five years after the date of the events I have recorded, and my story
conveys us to the Papal Court at Avignon - that tranquil seat of power, to
which the successors of St. Peter had transplanted the luxury, the pomp,
and the vices, of the Imperial City. Secure from the fraud or violence of
a powerful and barbarous nobility, the courtiers of the See surrendered
themselves to a holyday of delight - their repose was devoted to enjoyment,
and Avignon presented, at that day, perhaps the gayest and most voluptuous
society of Europe. The elegance of Clement VI. had diffused an air of
literary refinement over the grosser pleasures of the place, and the spirit
of Petrarch still continued to work its way through the councils of faction
and the orgies of debauch.
Innocent VI. had lately succeeded Clement, and whatever his own claims to
learning, (Matteo Villani (lib. iii. cap. 44) says, that Innocent VI. had
not much pretension to learning. He is reported, however, by other
authorities, cited by Zefirino Re, to have been "eccellente canonista." He
had been a professor in the University of Toulouse.) he, at least,
appreciated knowledge and intellect in others; so that the graceful
pedantry of the time continued to mix itself with the pursuit of pleasure.
The corruption which reigned through the whole place was too confirmed to
yield to the example of Innocent, himself a man of simple habits and
exemplary life. Though, like his predecessor, obedient to the policy of
France, Innocent possessed a hard and an extended ambition. Deeply
concerned for the interests of the Church, he formed the project of
confirming and re-establishing her shaken dominion in Italy; and he
regarded the tyrants of the various states as the principal obstacles to
his ecclesiastical ambition. Nor was this the policy of Innocent VI.
alone. With such exceptions as peculiar circumstances necessarily
occasioned, the Papal See was, upon the whole, friendly to the political
liberties of Italy. The Republics of the Middle Ages grew up under the
shadow of the Church; and there, as elsewhere, it was found, contrary to a
vulgar opinion, that Religion, however prostituted and perverted, served
for the general protection of civil freedom, - raised the lowly, and
resisted the oppressor.
At this period there appeared at Avignon a lady of singular and matchless
beauty. She had come with a slender but well appointed retinue from
Florence, but declared herself of Neapolitan birth; the widow of a noble of
the brilliant court of the unfortunate Jane. Her name was Cesarini.
Arrived at a place where, even in the citadel of Christianity, Venus
retained her ancient empire, where Love made the prime business of life,
and to be beautiful was to be of power; the Signora Cesarini had scarcely
appeared in public before she saw at her feet half the rank and gallantry
of Avignon. Her female attendants were beset with bribes and billets; and
nightly, beneath her lattice, was heard the plaintive serenade. She
entered largely into the gay dissipation of the town, and her charms shared
the celebrity of the hour with the verse of Petrarch. But though she
frowned on none, none could claim the monopoly of her smiles. Her fair
fame was as yet unblemished; but if any might presume beyond the rest, she
seemed to have selected rather from ambition than love, and Giles, the
warlike Cardinal d'Albornoz, all powerful at the sacred court, already
foreboded the hour of his triumph.
It was late noon, and in the ante-chamber of the fair Signora waited two of
that fraternity of pages, fair and richly clad, who, at that day, furnished
the favourite attendants to rank of either sex.
"By my troth," cried one of these young servitors, pushing from him the
dice with which himself and his companion had sought to beguile their
leisure, "this is but dull work! and the best part of the day is gone. Our
lady is late."
"And I have donned my new velvet mantle," replied the other,
compassionately eyeing his finery.
"Chut, Giacomo," said his comrade, yawning; "a truce with thy conceit. -
What news abroad, I wonder? Has his Holiness come to his senses yet?"
"His senses! what, is he mad then?" quoth Giacomo, in a serious and
"I think he is; if, being Pope, he does not discover that he may at length
lay aside mask and hood. 'Continent Cardinal - lewd Pope,' is the old
motto, you know; something must be the matter with the good man's brain if
he continue to live like a hermit."
"Oh, I have you! but faith, his Holiness has proxies eno'. The bishops
take care to prevent women, Heaven bless them! going out of fashion; and
Albornoz does not maintain your proverb, touching the Cardinals."
"True, but Giles is a warrior, - a cardinal in the church, but a soldier in
"Will he carry the fort here, think you, Angelo?"
"Why, fort is female, but - "
"The Signora's brow is made for power, rather than love, fair as it is.
She sees in Albornoz the prince, and not the lover. With what a step she
sweeps the floor! it disdains even the cloth of gold!"
"Hark!" cried Giacomo, hastening to the lattice, "hear you the hoofs below?
Ah, a gallant company!"
"Returned from hawking," answered Angelo, regarding wistfully the
cavalcade, as it swept the narrow street. "Plumes waving, steeds
curvetting - see how yon handsome cavalier presses close to that dame!"
"His mantle is the colour of mine," sighed Giacomo.
As the gay procession paced slowly on, till hidden by the winding street,
and as the sound of laughter and the tramp of horses was yet faintly heard,
there frowned right before the straining gaze of the pages, a dark massive
tower of the mighty masonry of the eleventh century: the sun gleamed sadly
on its vast and dismal surface, which was only here and there relieved by
loopholes and narrow slits, rather than casements. It was a striking
contrast to the gaiety around, the glittering shops, and the gaudy train
that had just filled the space below. This contrast the young men seemed
involuntarily to feel; they drew back, and looked at each other.
"I know your thoughts, Giacomo," said Angelo, the handsomer and elder of
the two. "You think yon tower affords but a gloomy lodgment?"
"And I thank my stars that made me not high enough to require so grand a
cage," rejoined Giacomo.
"Yet," observed Angelo, "it holds one, who in birth was not our superior."
"Do tell me something of that strange man," said Giacomo, regaining his
seat; "you are Roman and should know."
"Yes!" answered Angelo, haughtily drawing himself up, "I am Roman! and I
should be unworthy my birth, if I had not already learned what honour is
due to the name of Cola di Rienzi."
"Yet your fellow-Romans merely stoned him, I fancy," muttered Giacomo.
"Honour seems to lie more in kicks than money. Can you tell me," continued
the page in a louder key, "can you tell me if it be true, that Rienzi
appeared at Prague before the Emperor, and prophesied that the late Pope
and all the Cardinals should be murdered, and a new Italian Pope elected,
who should endue the Emperor with a golden crown, as Sovereign of Sicilia,
Calabria, and Apulia, (An absurd fable, adopted by certain historians.) and
himself with a crown of silver, as King of Rome, and all Italy? And - "
"Hush!" interrupted Angelo, impatiently. "Listen to me, and you shall know
the exact story. On last leaving Rome (thou knowest that, after his fall,
he was present at the Jubilee in disguise) the Tribune - " here Angelo,
pausing, looked round, and then with a flushed cheek and raised voice
resumed, "Yes, the Tribune, that was and shall be - travelled in disguise,
as a pilgrim, over mountain and forest, night and day, exposed to rain and
storm, no shelter but the cave, - he who had been, they say, the very
spoilt one of Luxury. Arrived at length in Bohemia, he disclosed himself
to a Florentine in Prague, and through his aid obtained audience of the
"A prudent man, the Emperor!" said Giacomo, "close-fisted as a miser. He
makes conquests by bargain, and goes to market for laurels, - as I have
heard my brother say, who was under him."
"True; but I have also heard that he likes bookmen and scholars - is wise
and temperate, and much is yet hoped from him in Italy! Before the
Emperor, I say, came Rienzi. 'Know, great Prince,' said he, 'that I am
that Rienzi to whom God gave to govern Rome, in peace, with justice, and to
freedom. I curbed the nobles, I purged corruption, I amended law. The
powerful persecuted me - pride and envy have chased me from my dominions.
Great as you are, fallen as I am, I too have wielded the sceptre and might
have worn a crown. Know, too, that I am illegitimately of your lineage; my
father the son of Henry VII.; (Uncle to the Emperor Charles.) the blood of
the Teuton rolls in my veins; mean as were my earlier fortunes and humble
my earlier name! From you, O King, I seek protection, and I demand
justice." (See, for this speech, "the Anonymous Biographer," lib. ii. cap.
"A bold speech, and one from equal to equal," said Giacomo; "surely you
swell us out the words."
"Not a whit; they were written down by the Emperor's scribe, and every
Roman who has once heard knows them by heart: once every Roman was the
equal to a king, and Rienzi maintained our dignity in asserting his own."
Giacomo, who discreetly avoided quarrels, knew the weak side of his friend;
and though in his heart he thought the Romans as good-for-nothing a set of
turbulent dastards as all Italy might furnish, he merely picked a straw
from his mantle, and said, in rather an impatient tone, "Humph! proceed!
did the Emperor dismiss him?"
"Not so: Charles was struck with his bearing and his spirit, received him
graciously, and entertained him hospitably. He remained some time at
Prague, and astonished all the learned with his knowledge and eloquence."
(His Italian contemporary delights in representing this remarkable man as
another Crichton. "Disputava," he says of him when at Prague, "disputava
con Mastri di teologia; molto diceva, parlava cose meravigliose...abbair
fea ogni persona." - "He disputed with Masters of theology - he spoke much,
he discoursed things wonderful - he astonished every one.")
"But if so honoured at Prague, how comes he a prisoner at Avignon?"
"Giacomo," said Angelo, thoughtfully, "there are some men whom we, of
another mind and mould, can rarely comprehend, and never fathom. And of
such men I have observed that a supreme confidence in their own fortunes or
their own souls, is the most common feature. Thus impressed, and thus
buoyed, they rush into danger with a seeming madness, and from danger soar
to greatness, or sink to death. So with Rienzi; dissatisfied with empty
courtesies and weary of playing the pedant, since once he had played the
prince; - some say of his own accord, (though others relate that he was
surrendered to the Pope's legate by Charles,) he left the Emperor's court,
and without arms, without money, betook himself at once to Avignon!"
"Yet, perhaps his only course, under all circumstances," resumed the elder
page. "Once before his fall, and once during his absence from Rome, he had
been excommunicated by the Pope's legate. He was accused of heresy - the
ban was still on him. It was necessary that he should clear himself. How
was the poor exile to do so? No powerful friend stood up for the friend of
the people. No courtier vindicated one who had trampled on the neck of the
nobles. His own genius was his only friend; on that only could he rely.
He sought Avignon, to free himself from the accusations against him; and,
doubtless, he hoped that there was but one step from his acquittal to his
restoration. Besides, it is certain that the Emperor had been applied to,
formally to surrender Rienzi. He had the choice before him; for to that
sooner or later it must come - to go free, or to go in bonds - as a
criminal, or as a Roman. He chose the latter. Wherever he passed along,
the people rose in every town, in every hamlet. The name of the great
Tribune was honoured throughout all Italy. They besought him not to rush
into the very den of peril - they implored him to save himself for that
country which he had sought to raise. 'I go to vindicate myself, and to
triumph,' was the Tribune's answer. Solemn honours were paid him in the
cities through which he passed; ("Per tutto la via li furo fatti solenni
onori," &c. - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. cap. 13.) and I am told
that never ambassador, prince, or baron, entered Avignon with so long a
train as that which followed into these very walls the steps of Cola di
"And on his arrival?"
"He demanded an audience, that he might refute the charges against him. He
flung down the gage to the proud cardinals who had excommunicated him. He
besought a trial."
"And what said the Pope?"
"Nothing - by word. Yon tower was his answer!"
"A rough one!"
"But there have been longer roads than that from the prison to the palace,
and God made not men like Rienzi for the dungeon and the chain."
As Angelo said this with a loud voice, and with all the enthusiasm with
which the fame of the fallen Tribune had inspired the youth of Rome, he
heard a sigh behind him. He turned in some confusion, and at the door
which admitted to the chamber occupied by the Signora Cesarini, stood a
female of noble presence. Attired in the richest garments, gold and gems
were dull to the lustre of her dark eyes, and as she now stood, erect and
commanding, never seemed brow more made for the regal crown - never did
human beauty more fully consummate the ideal of a heroine and a queen.
"Pardon me, Signora," said Angelo, hesitatingly; "I spoke loud, I disturbed
you; but I am Roman, and my theme was - "
"Rienzi!" said the lady, approaching; "a fit one to stir a Roman heart.
Nay - no excuses: they would sound ill on thy generous lips. Ah, if - "
the Signora paused suddenly, and sighed again; then in an altered and
graver tone she resumed - "If fate restore Rienzi to his proper fortunes,
he shall know what thou deemest of him."
"If you, lady, who are of Naples," said Angelo, with meaning emphasis,
"speak thus of a fallen exile, what must I have felt who acknowledge a
"Rienzi is not of Rome alone - he is of Italy - of the world," returned the
Signora. "And you, Angelo, who have had the boldness to speak thus of one
fallen, have proved with what loyalty you can serve those who have the
fortune to own you."
As she spoke, the Signora looked at the page's downcast and blushing face
long and wistfully, with the gaze of one accustomed to read the soul in the
"Men are often deceived," said she sadly, yet with a half smile; "but women
rarely, - save in love. Would that Rome were filled with such as you!
Enough! Hark! Is that the sound of hoofs in the court below?"
"Madam," said Giacomo, bringing his mantle gallantly over his shoulder, "I
see the servitors of Monsignore the Cardinal d'Albornoz. - It is the
"It is well!" said the Signora, with a brightening eye; "I await him!"
With these words she withdrew by the door through which she had surprised
the Roman page.
Chapter 7.II. The Character of a Warrior Priest - an Interview - the
Intrigue and Counter-intrigue of Courts.
Giles, (or Egidio, (Egidio is the proper Italian equivalent to the French
name Gilles, - but the Cardinal is generally called, by the writers of that
day, Gilio d'Albornoz.)) Cardinal d'Albornoz, was one of the most
remarkable men of that remarkable time, so prodigal of genius. Boasting
his descent from the royal houses of Aragon and Leon, he had early entered
the church, and yet almost a youth, attained the archbishopric of Toledo.
But no peaceful career, however brilliant, sufficed to his ambition. He
could not content himself with the honours of the church, unless they were
the honours of a church militant. In the war against the Moors, no
Spaniard had more highly distinguished himself; and Alphonso XI. king of
Castile, had insisted on receiving from the hand of the martial priest the
badge of knighthood. After the death of Alphonso, who was strongly
attached to him, Albornoz repaired to Avignon, and obtained from Clement
VI. the cardinal's hat. With Innocent he continued in high favour, and
now, constantly in the councils of the Pope, rumours of warlike
preparation, under the banners of Albornoz, for the recovery of the papal
dominions from the various tyrants that usurped them, were already
circulated through the court. (It is a characteristic anecdote of this
bold Churchman, that Urban V. one day demanded an account of the sums spent
in his military expedition against the Italian tyrants. The Cardinal
presented to the Pope a wagon, filled with the keys of the cities and
fortresses he had taken. "This is my account," said he; "you perceive how
I have invested your money." The Pope embraced him, and gave him no
further trouble about his accounts.) Bold, sagacious, enterprising, and
cold-hearted, - with the valour of the knight, and the cunning of the
priest, - such was the character of Giles, Cardinal d'Albornoz.
Leaving his attendant gentlemen in the antechamber, Albornoz was ushered
into the apartment of the Signora Cesarini. In person, the Cardinal was
about the middle height; the dark complexion of Spain had faded by thought,
and the wear of ambitious schemes, into a sallow but hardy hue; his brow
was deeply furrowed, and though not yet passed the prime of life, Albornoz
might seem to have entered age, but for the firmness of his step, the
slender elasticity of his frame, and an eye which had acquired calmness and
depth from thought, without losing any of the brilliancy of youth.
"Beautiful Signora," said the Cardinal, bending over the hand of the
Cesarini with a grace which betokened more of the prince than of the
priest; "the commands of his Holiness have detained me, I fear, beyond the
hour in which you vouchsafed to appoint my homage, but my heart has been
with you since we parted."
"The Cardinal d'Albornoz," replied the Signora, gently withdrawing her
hand, and seating herself, "has so many demands on his time, from the
duties of his rank and renown, that methinks to divert his attention for a
few moments to less noble thoughts is a kind of treason to his fame."
"Ah, Lady," replied the Cardinal, "never was my ambition so nobly directed
as it is now. And it were a prouder lot to be at thy feet than on the
throne of St. Peter."
A momentary blush passed over the cheek of the Signora, yet it seemed the
blush of indignation as much as of vanity; it was succeeded by an extreme
paleness. She paused before she replied; and then fixing her large and
haughty eyes on the enamoured Spaniard, she said, in a low voice,
"My Lord Cardinal, I do not affect to misunderstand your words; neither do
I place them to the account of a general gallantry. I am vain enough to
believe you imagine you speak truly when you say you love me."
"Imagine!" echoed the Spaniard.
"Listen to me," continued the Signora. "She whom the Cardinal Albornoz
honours with his love has a right to demand of him its proofs. In the
papal court, whose power like his? - I require you to exercise it for me."
"Speak, dearest Lady; have your estates been seized by the barbarians of
these lawless times? Hath any dared to injure you? Lands and titles, are
these thy wish? - my power is thy slave."
"Cardinal, no! there is one thing dearer to an Italian and a woman than
wealth or station - it is revenge!"
The Cardinal drew back from the flashing eye that was bent upon him, but
the spirit of her speech touched a congenial chord.
"There," said he, after a little hesitation, "there spake high descent.
Revenge is the luxury of the well-born. Let serfs and churls forgive an
injury. Proceed, Lady."
"Hast thou heard the last news from Rome?" asked the Signora.
"Surely," replied the Cardinal, in some surprise, "we were poor statesmen
to be ignorant of the condition of the capital of the papal dominions; and
my heart mourns for that unfortunate city. But wherefore wouldst thou
question me of Rome? - thou art - "
"Roman! Know, my Lord, that I have a purpose in calling myself of Naples.
To your discretion I intrust my secret - I am of Rome! Tell me of her
"Fairest one," returned the Cardinal, "I should have known that that brow
and presence were not of the light Campania. My reason should have told me
that they bore the stamp of the Empress of the World. The state of Rome,"
continued Albornoz, in a graver tone, "is briefly told. Thou knowest that
after the fall of the able but insolent Rienzi, Pepin, count of Minorbino,
(a creature of Montreal's) who had assisted in expelling him, would have
betrayed Rome to Montreal, - but he was neither strong enough nor wise
enough, and the Barons chased him as he had chased the Tribune. Some time
afterwards a new demagogue, John Cerroni, was installed in the Capitol. He
once more expelled the nobles; new revolutions ensued - the Barons were
recalled. The weak successor of Rienzi summoned the people to arms - in
vain: in terror and despair he abdicated his power, and left the city a
prey to the interminable feuds of the Orsini, the Colonna, and the
"Thus much I know, my Lord; but when his Holiness succeeded to the chair of
Clement VI. - "
"Then," said Albornoz, and a slight frown darkened his sallow brow, "then
came the blacker part of the history. Two senators were elected in concert
by the Pope."
"Bertoldo Orsini, and one of the Colonna. A few weeks afterwards, the high
price of provisions stung the rascal stomachs of the mob - they rose, they
clamoured, they armed, they besieged the Capitol - "
"Well, well," cried the Signora, clasping her hands, and betokening in
every feature her interest in the narration.
"Colonna only escaped death by a vile disguise; Bertoldo Orsini was
"Stoned! - there fell one!"
"Yes, lady, one of a great house; the least drop of whose blood were worth
an ocean of plebeian puddle. At present, all is disorder, misrule,
anarchy, at Rome. The contests of the nobles shake the city to the centre;
and prince and people, wearied of so many experiments to establish a
government, have now no governor but the fear of the sword. Such, fair
madam, is the state of Rome. Sigh not, it occupies now our care. It shall
be remedied; and I, madam, may be the happy instrument of restoring peace
to your native city."
"There is but one way of restoring peace to Rome," answered the Signora,
abruptly, "and that is - The restoration of Rienzi!"
The Cardinal started. "Madam," said he, "do I hear aright? - are you not
nobly born? - can you desire the rise of a plebeian? Did you not speak of
revenge, and now you ask for mercy?"
"Lord Cardinal," said the beautiful Signora, earnestly, "I do not ask for
mercy: such a word is not for the lips of one who demands justice. Nobly
born I am - ay, and from a stock to whose long descent from the patricians
of ancient Rome the high line of Aragon itself would be of yesterday. Nay,
I would not offend you, Monsignore; your greatness is not borrowed from
pedigrees and tombstones - your greatness is your own achieving: would you
speak honestly, my Lord, you would own that you are proud only of your own
laurels, and that, in your heart, you laugh at the stately fools who trick
themselves out in the mouldering finery of the dead!"
"Muse! prophetess! you speak aright," said the high-spirited Cardinal, with
unwonted energy; "and your voice is like that of the Fame I dreamed of in
my youth. Speak on, speak ever!"
"Such," continued the Signora, "such as your pride, is the just pride of
Rienzi. Proud that he is the workman of his own great renown. In such as
the Tribune of Rome we acknowledge the founders of noble lineage. Ancestry
makes not them - they make ancestry. Enough of this. I am of noble race,
it is true; but my house, and those of many, have been crushed and broken
beneath the yoke of the Orsini and Colonna - it is against them I desire
revenge. But I am better than an Italian lady - I am a Roman woman - I
weep tears of blood for the disorders of my unhappy country. I mourn that
even you, my Lord, - yes, that a barbarian, however eminent and however
great, should mourn for Rome. I desire to restore her fortunes."
"But Rienzi would only restore his own."
"Not so, my Lord Cardinal; not so. Ambitious and proud he may be - great
souls are so - but he has never had one wish divorced from the welfare of
Rome. But put aside all thought of his interests - it is not of these I
speak. You desire to re-establish the papal power in Rome. Your senators
have failed to do it. Demagogues fail - Rienzi alone can succeed; he alone
can command the turbulent passions of the Barons - he alone can sway the
capricious and fickle mob. Release, restore Rienzi, and through Rienzi the
Pope regains Rome!"
The Cardinal did not answer for some moments. Buried as in a revery, he
sate motionless, shading his face with his hand. Perhaps he secretly owned
there was a wiser policy in the suggestions of the Signora than he cared
openly to confess. Lifting his head, at length, from his bosom, he fixed
his eyes upon the Signora's watchful countenance, and, with a forced smile,
"Pardon me, madam; but while we play the politicians, forget not that I am
thy adorer. Sagacious may be thy counsels, yet wherefore are they urged?
Why this anxious interest for Rienzi? If by releasing him the Church may
gain an ally, am I sure that Giles d'Albornoz will not raise a rival?"
"My Lord, said the Signora, half rising, "you are my suitor; but your rank
does not tempt me - your gold cannot buy. If you love me, I have a right
to command your services to whatsoever task I would require - it is the law
of chivalry. If ever I yield to the addresses of mortal lover, it will be
to the man who restores to my native land her hero and her saviour."
"Fair patriot," said the Cardinal, "your words encourage my hope, yet they
half damp my ambition; for fain would I desire that love and not service
should alone give me the treasure that I ask. But hear me, sweet lady; you
over-rate my power: I cannot deliver Rienzi - he is accused of rebellion,
he is excommunicated for heresy. His acquittal rests with himself."
"You can procure his trial?"
"That is his acquittal. And a private audience of his Holiness?"
"That is his restoration! Behold all I ask!"
"And then, sweet Roman, it will be mine to ask," said the Cardinal,
passionately, dropping on his knee, and taking the Signora's hand. For one
moment, that proud lady felt that she was woman - she blushed, she
trembled; but it was not (could the Cardinal have read that heart) with
passion or with weakness; it was with terror and with shame. Passively she
surrendered her hand to the Cardinal, who covered it with kisses.
"Thus inspired," said Albornoz, rising, "I will not doubt of success.
Tomorrow I wait on thee again."
He pressed her hand to his heart - the lady felt it not. He sighed his
farewell - she did not hear it. Lingeringly he gazed; and slowly he
departed. But it was some moments before, recalled to herself, the Signora
felt that she was alone.
"Alone!" she cried, half aloud, and with wild emphasis - "alone! Oh, what
have I undergone - what have I said! Unfaithful, even in thought, to him!
Oh, never! never! I, that have felt the kiss of his hallowing lips - that
have slept on his kingly heart - I! - holy Mother, befriend and strengthen
me!" she continued, as, weeping bitterly, she sunk upon her knees; and for
some moments she was lost in prayer. Then, rising composed, but deadly
pale, and with the tears rolling heavily down her cheeks, the Signora
passed slowly to the casement; she threw it open, and bent forward; the air
of the declining day came softly on her temples; it cooled, it mitigated,
the fever that preyed within. Dark and huge before her frowned, in its
gloomy shadow, the tower in which Rienzi was confined; she gazed at it long
and wistfully, and then, turning away, drew from the folds of her robe a
small and sharp dagger. "Let me save him for glory!" she murmured; "and
this shall save me from dishonour!"
Chapter 7.III. Holy Men. - Sagacious Deliberations. - Just Resolves. - And
Sordid Motives to All.
Enamoured of the beauty, and almost equally so of the lofty spirit, of the
Signora Cesarini, as was the warlike Cardinal of Spain, love with him was
not so master a passion as that ambition of complete success in all the
active designs of life, which had hitherto animated his character and
signalized his career. Musing, as he left the Signora, on her wish for the
restoration of the Roman Tribune, his experienced and profound intellect
ran swiftly through whatever advantages to his own political designs might
result from that restoration. We have seen that it was the intention of
the new Pontiff to attempt the recovery of the patrimonial territories, now
torn from him by the gripe of able and disaffected tyrants. With this
view, a military force was already in preparation, and the Cardinal was
already secretly nominated the chief. But the force was very inadequate to
the enterprise; and Albornoz depended much upon the moral strength of the
cause in bringing recruits to his standard in his progress through the
Italian states. The wonderful rise of Rienzi had excited an extraordinary
enthusiasm in his favour through all the free populations of Italy. And
this had been yet more kindled and inflamed by the influential eloquence of
Petrarch, who, at that time, possessed of a power greater than ever, before
or since, (not even excepting the Sage of Ferney,) wielded by a single
literary man, had put forth his boldest genius in behalf of the Roman
Tribune. Such a companion as Rienzi in the camp of the Cardinal might be a
magnet of attraction to the youth and enterprise of Italy. On nearing
Rome, he might himself judge how far it would be advisable to reinstate
Rienzi as a delegate of the papal power. And, in the meanwhile, the
Roman's influence might be serviceable, whether to awe the rebellious
nobles or conciliate the stubborn people. On the other hand, the Cardinal
was shrewd enough to perceive that no possible good could arise from
Rienzi's present confinement. With every month it excited deeper and more
universal sympathy. To his lonely dungeon turned half the hearts of
republican Italy. Literature had leagued its new and sudden, and therefore
mighty and even disproportioned, power with his cause; and the Pope,
without daring to be his judge, incurred the odium of being his gaoler. "A
popular prisoner," said the sagacious Cardinal to himself, "is the most
dangerous of guests. Restore him as your servant, or destroy him as your
foe! In this case I see no alternative but acquittal or the knife!" In
these reflections that able plotter, deep in the Machiavelism of the age,
divorced the lover from the statesman.
Recurring now to the former character, he felt some disagreeable and uneasy
forebodings at the earnest interest of his mistress. Fain would he have
attributed, either to some fantasy of patriotism or some purpose of
revenge, the anxiety of the Cesarini; and there was much in her stern and
haughty character which favoured that belief. But he was forced to
acknowledge to himself some jealous apprehension of a sinister and latent
motive, which touched his vanity and alarmed his love. "Howbeit," he
thought, as he turned from his unwilling fear, "I can play with her at her
own weapons; I can obtain the release of Rienzi, and claim my reward. If
denied, the hand that opened the dungeon can again rivet the chain. In her
anxiety is my power!"
These thoughts the Cardinal was still revolving in his palace, when he was
suddenly summoned to attend the Pontiff.
The pontifical palace no longer exhibited the gorgeous yet graceful luxury
of Clement VI., and the sarcastic Cardinal smiled to himself at the quiet
gloom of the ante-chambers. "He thinks to set an example - this poor
native of Limoges!" thought Albornoz; "and has but the mortification of
finding himself eclipsed by the poorest bishop. He humbles himself, and
fancies that the humility will be contagious."
His Holiness was seated before a small and rude table bestrewed with
papers, his face buried in his hands; the room was simply furnished, and in
a small niche beside the casement was an ivory crucifix; below, the death's
head and cross-bones, which most monks then introduced with a purpose
similar to that of the ancients by the like ornaments, - mementos of the
shortness of life, and therefore admonitions to make the best of it! On
the ground lay a map of the Patrimonial Territory, with the fortresses in
especial, distinctly and prominently marked. The Pope gently lifted up his
head as the Cardinal was announced, and discovered a plain but sensible and
somewhat interesting countenance. "My son!" said he, with a kindly
courtesy to the lowly salutation of the proud Spaniard, "scarcely wouldst
thou imagine, after our long conference this morning, that new cares would
so soon demand the assistance of thy counsels. Verily, the wreath of
thorns stings sharp under the triple crown; and I sometimes long for the
quiet abode of my old professor's chair in Toulouse: my station is of pain
"God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," observed the Cardinal, with pious
and compassionate gravity.
Innocent could scarcely refrain a smile as he replied, "The lamb that
carries the cross must have the strength of the lion. Since we parted, my
son, I have had painful intelligence; our couriers have arrived from the
Campagna - the heathen rage furiously - the force of John di Vico has
augmented fearfully, and the most redoubted adventurer of Europe has
enlisted under his banner."
"Does his Holiness," cried the Cardinal, anxiously, "speak of Fra Moreale,
the Knight of St. John?"
"Of no less a warrior," returned the Pontiff. "I dread the vast ambition
of that wild adventurer."
"Your Holiness hath cause," said the Cardinal, drily.
"Some letters of his have fallen into the hands of the servants of the
Church; they are here: read them, my son."
Albornoz received and deliberately scanned the letters; this done, he
replaced them on the table, and remained for a few moments silent and
"What think you, my son?" said the Pope, at length, with an impatient and
even peevish tone.
"I think that, with Montreal's hot genius and John di Vico's frigid
villany, your Holiness may live to envy, if not the quiet, at least the
revenue, of the Professor's chair."
"How, Cardinal!" said the Pope, hastily, and with an angry flush on his
pale brow. The Cardinal quietly proceeded.
"By these letters it seems that Montreal has written to all the commanders
of free lances throughout Italy, offering the highest pay of a soldier to
every man who will join his standard, combined with the richest plunder of
a brigand. He meditates great schemes then! - I know the man!"
"Well, - and our course?"
"Is plain," said the Cardinal, loftily, and with an eye that flashed with a
soldier's fire. "Not a moment is to be lost! Thy son should at once take
the field. Up with the Banner of the Church!"
"But are we strong enough? our numbers are few. Zeal slackens! the piety
of the Baldwins is no more!"
"Your Holiness knows well," said the Cardinal, "that for the multitude of
men there are two watchwords of war - Liberty and Religion. If Religion
begins to fail, we must employ the profaner word. 'Up with the Banner of
the Church - and down with the tyrants!' We will proclaim equal laws and
free government; (In correcting the pages of this work, in the year
1847...strange coincidences between the present policy of the Roman Church
and that by which in the 14th century it recovered both spiritual and
temporal power cannot fail to suggest themselves.) and, God willing, our
camp shall prosper better with those promises than the tents of Montreal
with the more vulgar shout of 'Pay and Rapine.'"
"Giles d'Albornoz," said the Pope, emphatically; and, warmed by the spirit
of the Cardinal, he dropped the wonted etiquette of phrase, "I trust
implicitly to you. Now the right hand of the Church - hereafter, perhaps,
its head. Too well I feel that the lot has fallen on a lowly place. My
successor must requite my deficiencies."
No changing hue, no brightening glance, betrayed to the searching eye of
the Pope whatever emotion these words had called up in the breast of the
ambitious Cardinal. He bowed his proud head humbly as he answered, "Pray
Heaven that Innocent VI. may long live to guide the Church to glory. For
Giles d'Albornoz, less priest than soldier, the din of the camp, the breath
of the war-steed, suggest the only aspirations which he ever dares indulge.
But has your Holiness imparted to your servant all that - "
"Nay," interrupted Innocent, "I have yet intelligence equally ominous.
This John di Vico, - pest go with him! - who still styles himself (the
excommunicated ruffian!) Prefect of Rome, has so filled that unhappy city
with his emissaries, that we have well-nigh lost the seat of the Apostle.
Rome, long in anarchy, seems now in open rebellion. The nobles - sons of
Belial! - it is true, are once more humbled; but how? - One Baroncelli, a
new demagogue, the fiercest - the most bloody that the fiend ever helped -
has arisen - is invested by the mob with power, and uses it to butcher the
people and insult the Pontiff. Wearied of the crimes of this man, (which
are not even decorated by ability,) the shout of the people day and night
along the streets is for 'Rienzi the Tribune.'"
"Ha!" said the Cardinal, "Rienzi's faults then are forgotten in Rome, and
there is felt for him the same enthusiasm in that city as in the rest of
"Alas! It is so."
"It is well, I have thought of this: Rienzi can accompany my progress - "
"My son! the rebel, the heretic - "
"By your Holiness's absolution will become quiet subject and orthodox
Catholic," said Albornoz. "Men are good or bad as they suit our purpose.
What matters a virtue that is useless, or a crime that is useful, to us?
The army of the Church proceeds against tyrants - it proclaims everywhere
to the Papal towns the restoration of their popular constitutions. Sees
not your Holiness that the acquittal of Rienzi, the popular darling, will
be hailed an earnest of your sincerity? - sees not your Holiness that his
name will fight for us? - sees not your Holiness that the great demagogue
Rienzi must be used to extinguish the little demagogue Baroncelli? We must
regain the Romans, whether of the city or whether in the seven towns of
John di Vico. When they hear Rienzi is in our camp, trust me, we shall
have a multitude of deserters from the tyrants - trust me, we shall hear no
more of Baroncelli."
"Ever sagacious," said the Pope, musingly; "it is true, we can use this
man: but with caution. His genius is formidable - "
"And therefore must be conciliated; if we acquit, we must make him ours.
My experience has taught me this, when you cannot slay a demagogue by law,
crush him with honours. He must be no longer Tribune of the People. Give
him the Patrician title of Senator, and he is then the Lieutenant of the
"I will see to this, my son - your suggestions please, but alarm me: he
shall at least be examined; - but if found a heretic - "
"Should, I humbly advise, be declared a saint."
The Pope bent his brow for a moment, but the effort was too much for him,
and after a moment's struggle, he fairly laughed aloud.
"Go to, my son," said he, affectionately patting the Cardinal's sallow
cheek. "Go to. - If the world heard thee, what would it say?"
"That Giles d'Albornoz had just enough religion to remember that the State
is a Church, but not too much to forget that the Church is a State."
With these words the conference ended. That very evening the Pope decreed
that Rienzi should be permitted the trial he had demanded.
Chapter 7.IV. The Lady and the Page.
It wanted three hours of midnight, when Albornoz, resuming his character of
gallant, despatched to the Signora Cesarini the following billet.
"Your commands are obeyed. Rienzi will receive an examination on his
faith. It is well that he should be prepared. It may suit your purpose,
as to which I am so faintly enlightened, to appear to the prisoner what you
are - the obtainer of this grace. See how implicitly one noble heart can
trust another! I send by the bearer an order that will admit one of your
servitors to the prisoner's cell. Be it, if you will, your task to
announce to him the new crisis of his fate. Ah! madam, may fortune be as
favourable to me, and grant me the same intercessor - from thy lips my
sentence is to come."
As Albornoz finished this epistle, he summoned his confidential attendant,
a Spanish gentleman, who saw nothing in his noble birth that should prevent
his fulfilling the various hests of the Cardinal.
"Alvarez," said he, "these to the Signora Cesarini by another hand; thou
art unknown to her household. Repair to the state tower; this to the
Governor admits thee. Mark who is admitted to the prisoner Cola di Rienzi:
Know his name, examine whence he comes. Be keen, Alvarez. Learn by what
motive the Cesarini interests herself in the prisoner's fate. All too of
herself, birth, fortunes, lineage, would be welcome intelligence. Thou
comprehendest me? It is well. One caution - thou hast no mission from, no
connexion with, me. Thou art an officer of the prison, or of the Pope, -
what thou wilt. Give me the rosary; light the lamp before the crucifix;
place yon hair-shirt beneath those arms. I would have it appear as if
meant to be hidden! Tell Gomez that the Dominican preacher is to be
"Those friars have zeal," continued the Cardinal to himself, as, after
executing his orders, Alvarez withdrew. "They would burn a man - but only
on the Bible? They are worth conciliating, if the triple crown be really
worth the winning; were it mine, I would add the eagle's plume to it."
And plunged into the aspiring future, this bold man forgot even the object
of his passion. In real life, after a certain age, ambitious men love
indeed; but it is only as an interlude. And indeed with most men, life has
more absorbing though not more frequent concerns than those of love. Love
is the business of the idle, but the idleness of the busy.
The Cesarini was alone when the Cardinal's messenger arrived, and he was
scarcely dismissed with a few lines, expressive of a gratitude which seemed
to bear down all those guards with which the coldness of the Signora
usually fenced her pride, before the page Angelo was summoned to her
The room was dark with the shades of the gathering night when the youth
entered, and he discerned but dimly the outline of the Signora's stately
form; but by the tone of her voice, he perceived that she was deeply
"Angelo," said she, as he approached, "Angelo - " and her voice failed her.
She paused as for breath and again proceeded. "You alone have served us
faithfully; you alone shared our escape, our wanderings, our exile - you
alone know my secret - you of my train alone are Roman! - Roman! it was
once a great name. Angelo, the name has fallen; but it is only because the
nature of the Roman Race fell first. Haughty they are, but fickle; fierce,
but dastard; vehement in promise, but rotten in their faith. You are a
Roman, and though I have proved your truth, your very birth makes me afraid
"Madam," said the page; "I was but a child when you admitted me of your
service, and I am yet only on the verge of manhood. But boy though I yet
be, I would brave the stoutest lance of knight, or freebooter, in defence
of the faith of Angelo Villani, to his liege Lady and his native land."
"Alas! alas!" said the Signora, bitterly, "such have been the words of
thousands of thy race. What have been their deeds? But I will trust thee,
as I have trusted ever. I know that thou art covetous of honour, that thou
hast youth's comely and bright ambition."
"I am an orphan and a bastard," said Angelo, bluntly! "And circumstance
stings me sharply on to action; I would win my own name."
"Thou shalt," said the Signora. "We shall live yet to reward thee. And
now be quick. Bring hither one of thy page's suits, - mantle and head-
gear. Quick, I say, and whisper not to a soul what I have asked of thee."
Chapter 7.V. The Inmate of the Tower.
The night slowly advanced, and in the highest chamber of that dark and
rugged tower which fronted the windows of the Cesarini's palace sate a
solitary prisoner. A single lamp burned before him on a table of stone,
and threw its rays over an open Bible; and those stern but fantastic
legends of the prowess of ancient Rome, which the genius of Livy has
dignified into history. ("Avea libri assai, suo Tito Livio, sue storie di
Roma, la Bibbia et altri libri assai, non finava di studiare." - "Vita di
Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. cap. 13. See translation to motto to Book VII.
page 202.) A chain hung pendent from the vault of the tower, and confined
the captive; but so as to leave his limbs at sufficient liberty to measure
at will the greater part of the cell. Green and damp were the mighty
stones of the walls, and through a narrow aperture, high out of reach, came
the moonlight, and slept in long shadow over the rude floor. A bed at one
corner completed the furniture of the room. Such for months had been the
abode of the conqueror of the haughtiest Barons, and the luxurious dictator
of the stateliest city of the world!
Care, and travel, and time, and adversity, had wrought their change in the
person of Rienzi. The proportions of his frame had enlarged from the
compact strength of earlier manhood, the clear paleness of his cheek was
bespread with a hectic and deceitful glow. Even in his present studies,
intent as they seemed, and genial though the lecture to a mind enthusiastic
even to fanaticism, his eyes could not rivet themselves as of yore steadily
to the page. The charm was gone from the letters. Every now and then he
moved restlessly, started, re-settled himself, and muttered broken
exclamations like a man in an anxious dream. Anon, his gaze impatiently
turned upward, about, around, and there was a strange and wandering fire in
those large deep eyes, which might have thrilled the beholder with a vague
and unaccountable awe.
Angelo had in the main correctly narrated the more recent adventures of
Rienzi after his fall. He had first with Nina and Angelo betaken himself
to Naples, and found a fallacious and brief favour with Louis, king of
Hungary; that harsh but honourable monarch had refused to yield his
illustrious guest to the demands of Clement, but had plainly declared his
inability to shelter him in safety. Maintaining secret intercourse with
his partisans at Rome, the fugitive then sought a refuge with the Eremites,
sequestered in the lone recesses of the Monte Maiella, where in solitude
and thought he had passed a whole year, save the time consumed in his visit
to and return from Florence. Taking advantage of the Jubilee in Rome, he
had then, disguised as a pilgrim, traversed the vales and mountains still
rich in the melancholy ruins of ancient Rome, and entering the city, his
restless and ambitious spirit indulged in new but vain conspiracies!
(Rainald, Ann. 1350, N. 4, E. 5.) Excommunicated a second time by the
Cardinal di Ceccano, and again a fugitive, he shook the dust from his feet
as he left the city, and raising his hands towards those walls, in which
are yet traced the witness of the Tarquins, cried aloud - "Honoured as thy
prince - persecuted as thy victim - Rome, Rome, thou shalt yet receive me
as thy conqueror!"
Still disguised as a pilgrim, he passed unmolested through Italy into the
Court of the Emperor Charles of Bohemia, where the page, who had probably
witnessed, had rightly narrated, his reception. It is doubtful, however,
whether the conduct of the Emperor had been as chivalrous as appears by
Angelo's relation, or whether he had not delivered Rienzi to the Pontiff's
emissaries. At all events it is certain, that from Prague to Avignon, the
path of the fallen Tribune had been as one triumph. His strange adventures
- his unbroken spirit - the new power that Intellect daily and wonderfully
excited over the minds of the rising generation - the eloquence of
Petrarch, and the common sympathy of the vulgar for fallen greatness, - all
conspired to make Rienzi the hero of the age. Not a town through which he
passed which would not have risked a siege for his protection - not a house
that would not have sheltered him - not a hand that would not have struck
in his defence. Refusing all offers of aid, disdaining all occasion of
escape, inspired by his indomitable hope, and his unalloyed belief in the
brightness of his own destinies, the Tribune sought Avignon - and found a
These, his external adventures, are briefly and easily told; but who shall
tell what passed within? - who narrate the fearful history of the heart? -
who paint the rapid changes of emotion and of thought - the indignant grief
- the stern dejection - the haughty disappointment that saddened while it
never destroyed the resolve of that great soul? Who can say what must have
been endured, what meditated, in the hermitage of Maiella; - on the lonely
hills of the perished empire it had been his dream to restore; - in the
Courts of Barbarian Kings; - and above all, on returning obscure and
disguised, amidst the crowds of the Christian world, to the seat of his
former power? What elements of memory, and in what a wild and fiery brain!
What reflections to be conned in the dungeons of Avignon, by a man who had
pushed into all the fervour of fanaticism - four passions, a single one of
which has, in excess, sufficed to wreck the strongest reason - passions,
which in themselves it is most difficult to combine, - the dreamer - the
aspirant - the very nympholept of Freedom, yet of Power - of Knowledge, yet
"Ay," muttered the prisoner, "ay, these texts are comforting - comforting.
The righteous are not alway oppressed." With a long sigh he deliberately
put aside the Bible, kissed it with great reverence, remained silent, and
musing for some minutes; and then as a slight noise was heard at one corner
of the cell, said softly, "Ah, my friends, my comrades, the rats! it is
their hour - I am glad I put aside the bread for them!" His eye brightened
as it now detected those strange and unsocial animals venturing forth
through a hole in the wall, and, darkening the moonshine on the floor,
steal fearlessly towards him. He flung some fragments of bread to them,
and for some moments watched their gambols with a smile. "Manchino, the
white-faced rascal! he beats all the rest - ha, ha! he is a superior wretch
- he commands the tribe, and will venture the first into the trap. How
will he bite against the steel, the fine fellow! while all the ignobler
herd will gaze at him afar off, and quake and fear, and never help. Yet if
united, they might gnaw the trap and release their leader! Ah, ye are base
vermin, ye eat my bread, yet if death came upon me, ye would riot on my
carcass. Away!" and clapping his hands, the chain round him clanked
harshly, and the noisome co-mates of his dungeon vanished in an instant.
That singular and eccentric humour which marked Rienzi, and which had
seemed a buffoonery to the stolid sullenness of the Roman nobles, still
retained its old expression in his countenance, and he laughed loud as he
saw the vermin hurry back to their hiding-place.
"A little noise and the clank of a chain - fie, how ye imitate mankind!"
Again he sank into silence, and then heavily and listlessly drawing towards
him the animated tales of Livy, said, "An hour to midnight! - waking dreams
are better than sleep. Well, history tells us how men have risen - ay, and
nations too - after sadder falls than that of Rienzi or of Rome!"
In a few minutes, he was apparently absorbed in the lecture; so intent
indeed, was he in the task, that he did not hear the steps which wound the
spiral stairs that conducted to his cell, and it was not till the wards
harshly grated beneath the huge key, and the door creaked on its hinges,
that Rienzi, in amaze at intrusion at so unwonted an hour, lifted his eyes.
The door had reclosed on the dungeon, and by the lonely and pale lamp he
beheld a figure leaning, as for support, against the wall. The figure was
wrapped from head to foot in the long cloak of the day, which, aided by a
broad hat, shaded by plumes, concealed even the features of the visitor.
Rienzi gazed long and wistfully.
"Speak," he said at length, putting his hand to his brow. "Methinks either
long solitude has bewildered me, or, sweet sir, your apparition dazzles. I
know you not - am I sure? - " and Rienzi's hair bristled while he slowly
rose - "Am I sure that it is living man who stands before me? Angels have
entered the prison-house before now. Alas! an angel's comfort never was
The stranger answered not, but the captive saw that his heart heaved even
beneath his cloak; loud sobs choked his voice; at length, as by a violent
effort, he sprung forward, and sunk at the Tribune's feet. The disguising
hat, the long mantle fell to the ground - it was the face of a woman that
looked upward through passionate and glazing tears - the arms of a woman
that clasped the prisoner's knees! Rienzi gazed mute and motionless as
stone. "Powers and Saints of Heaven!" he murmured at last, "do ye tempt me
further! - is it? - no, no - yet speak!"
"Beloved - adored! - do you not know me?"
"It is - it is!" shrieked Rienzi wildly, "it is my Nina - my wife - my - "
His voice forsook him. Clasped in each other's arms, the unfortunates for
some moments seemed to have lost even the sense of delight at their
reunion. It was as an unconscious and deep trance, through which something
like a dream only faintly and indistinctively stirs.
At length recovered - at length restored, the first broken exclamations,
the first wild caresses of joy over - Nina lifted her head from her
husband's bosom, and gazed sadly on his countenance - "Oh, what thou hast
known since we parted! - what, since that hour when, borne on by thy bold
heart and wild destiny, thou didst leave me in the Imperial Court, to seek
again the diadem and find the chain! Ah! why did I heed thy commands? -
why suffer thee to depart alone? How often in thy progress hitherward, in
doubt, in danger, might this bosom have been thy resting-place, and this
voice have whispered comfort to thy soul? Thou art well, my Lord - my
Cola! Thy pulse beats quicker than of old - thy brow is furrowed. Ah!
tell me thou art well!"
"Well,' said Rienzi, mechanically. "Methinks so! - the mind diseased
blunts all sense of bodily decay. Well - yes! And thou - thou, at least,
art not changed, save to maturer beauty. The glory of the laurel-wreath
has not faded from thy brow. Thou shalt yet - " then breaking off abruptly
- "Rome - tell me of Rome! And thou - how camest thou hither? Ah! perhaps
my doom is sealed, and in their mercy they have vouchsafed that I should
see thee once more before the deathsman blinds me. I remember, it is the
grace vouchsafed to malefactors. When I was a lord of life and death, I
too permitted the meanest criminal to say farewell to those he loved."
"No - not so, Cola!" exclaimed Nina, putting her hand before his mouth. "I
bring thee more auspicious tidings. Tomorrow thou art to be heard. The
favour of the Court is propitiated. Thou wilt be acquitted."
"Ha! speak again."
"Thou wilt be heard, my Cola - thou must be acquitted!"
"And Rome be free! - Great God, I thank Thee!"
The Tribune sank on his knees, and never had his heart, in his youngest and
purest hour, poured forth thanksgiving more fervent, yet less selfish.
When he rose again, the whole man seemed changed. His eye had resumed its
earlier expressions of deep and serene command. Majesty sate upon his
brow. The sorrows of the exile were forgotten. In his sanguine and rapid
thoughts, he stood once more the guardian of his country, - and its
Nina gazed upon him with that intense and devoted worship, which steeped
her vainer and her harder qualities in all the fondness of the softest
woman. "Such," thought she, "was his look eight years ago, when he left my
maiden chamber, full of the mighty schemes which liberated Rome - such his
look, when at the dawning sun he towered amidst the crouching Barons, and
the kneeling population of the city he had made his throne!"
"Yes, Nina!" said Rienzi, as he turned and caught her eye. "My soul tells
me that my hour is at hand. If they try me openly, they dare not convict -
if they acquit me, they dare not but restore. Tomorrow, saidst thou,
"Tomorrow, Rienzi; be prepared!"
"I am - for triumph! But tell me what happy chance brought thee to
"Chance, Cola!" said Nina, with reproachful tenderness. "Could I know that
thou wert in the dungeons of the Pontiff, and linger in idle security at
Prague? Even at the Emperor's Court thou hadst thy partisans and
favourers. Gold was easily procured. I repaired to Florence - disguised
my name - and came hither to plot, to scheme, to win thy liberty, or to die
with thee. Ah! did not thy heart tell thee that morning and night the eyes
of thy faithful Nina gazed upon this gloomy tower; and that one friend,
humble though she be, never could forsake thee!"
"Sweet Nina! Yet - yet - at Avignon power yields not to beauty without
reward. Remember, there is a worse death than the pause of life."
Nina turned pale. "Fear not," she said, with a low but determined voice;
"fear not, that men's lips should say Rienzi's wife delivered him. None in
this corrupted Court know that I am thy wife."
"Woman," said the Tribune, sternly; "thy lips elude the answer I would
seek. In our degenerate time and land, thy sex and ours forget too basely
what foulness writes a leprosy in the smallest stain upon a matron's
honour. That thy heart would never wrong me, I believe; but if thy
weakness, thy fear of my death should wrong me, thou art a bitterer foe to
Rienzi than the swords of the Colonna. Nina, speak!"
"Oh, that my soul could speak," answered Nina. "Thy words are music to me,
and not a thought of mine but echoes them. Could I touch this hand, could
I meet that eye, and not know that death were dearer to thee than shame?
Rienzi, when last we parted, in sadness, yet in hope, what were thy words
"I remember them well," returned the Tribune: "'I leave thee,' I said, 'to
keep alive at the Emperor's Court, by thy genius, the Great Cause. Thou
hast youth and beauty - and courts have lawless and ruffian suitors. I
give thee no caution; it were beneath thee and me. But I leave thee the
power of death.' And with that, Nina - "
"Thy hands tremblingly placed in mine this dagger. I live - need I say
"My noble and beloved Nina, it is enough. Keep the dagger yet."
"Yes; till we meet in the Capitol of Rome!"
A slight tap was heard at the door; Nina regained, in an instant, her
"It is on the stroke of midnight," said the gaoler, appearing at the
"I come," said Nina.
"And thou hast to prepare thy thoughts," she whispered to Rienzi: "arm all
thy glorious intellect. Alas! is it again we part? How my heart sinks!"
The presence of the gaoler at the threshold broke the bitterness of parting
by abridging it. The false page pressed her lips on the prisoner's hand,
and left the cell.
The gaoler, lingering behind for a moment, placed a parchment on the table.
It was the summons from the court appointed for the trial of the Tribune.
Chapter 7.VI. The Scent Does Not Lie. - The Priest and the Soldier.
On descending the stairs, Nina was met by Alvarez.
"Fair page," said the Spaniard, gaily, "thy name, thou tellest me, is
Villani? - Angelo Villani - why I know thy kinsman, methinks. Vouchsafe,
young master, to enter this chamber, and drink a night-cup to thy lady's
health; I would fain learn tidings of my old friends."
"At another time," answered the false Angelo, drawing the cloak closer
round her face; it is late - I am hurried."
"Nay," said the Spaniard, "you escape me not so easily;" and he caught firm
hold of the page's shoulder.
"Unhand me, sir!" said Nina, haughtily, and almost weeping, for her strong
nerves were yet unstrung. "Gaoler, at thy peril - unbar the gates."
"So hot," said Alvarez, surprised at so great a waste of dignity in a page;
"nay, I meant not to offend thee. May I wait on thy pageship tomorrow?"
"Ay, tomorrow," said Nina, eager to escape.
"And meanwhile," said Alvarez, "I will accompany thee home - we can confer
by the way."
So saying, without regarding the protestations of the supposed page, he
passed with Nina into the open air. "Your lady," said he, carelessly, "is
wondrous fair; her lightest will is law to the greatest noble of Avignon.
Methinks she is of Naples - is it so? Art thou dumb, sweet youth?"
The page did not answer, but with a step so rapid that it almost put the
slow Spaniard out of breath, hastened along the narrow space between the
tower and the palace of the Signora Cesarini, nor could all the efforts of
Alvarez draw forth a single syllable from his reluctant companion, till
they reached the gates of the palace, and he found himself discourteously
left without the walls.
"A plague on the boy!" said he, biting his lips; "if the Cardinal thrive as
well as his servant, by're Lady, Monsignore is a happy man!"
By no means pleased with the prospect of an interview with Albornoz, who,
like most able men, valued the talents of those he employed exactly in
proportion to their success, the Spaniard slowly returned home. With the
licence accorded to him, he entered the Cardinal's chamber somewhat
abruptly, and perceived him in earnest conversation with a Cavalier, whose
long moustache, curled upward, and the bright cuirass worn underneath his
mantle, seemed to betoken him of martial profession. Pleased with the
respite, Alvarez hastily withdrew: and, in fact, the Cardinal's thoughts
at that moment, and for that night, were bent upon other subjects than
those of love.
The interruption served, however, to shorten the conversation between
Albornoz and his guest. The latter rose.
"I think," said he, buckling on a short and broad rapier, which he laid
aside during the interview, - "I think, my Lord Cardinal, you encourage me
to consider that our negotiation stands a fair chance of a prosperous
close. Ten thousand florins, and my brother quits Viterbo, and launches
the thunderbolt of the Company on the lands of Rimini. On your part - "
"On my part it is agreed," said the Cardinal, "that the army of the Church
interferes not with the course of your brother's arms - there is peace
between us. One warrior understands another!"
"And the word of Giles d'Albornoz, son of the royal race of Arragon, is a
guarantee for the faith of a Cardinal," replied the Cavalier, with a smile.
"It is, my Lord, in your former quality that we treat."
"There is my right hand," answered Albornoz, too politic to heed the
insinuation. The Cavalier raised it respectfully to his lips, and his
armed tread was soon heard descending the stairs.
"Victory," cried Albornoz, tossing his arms aloof; "Victory, now thou art
With that he rose hastily, deposited his papers in an iron chest, and
opening a concealed door behind the arras, entered a chamber that rather
resembled a monk's cell than the apartment of a prince. Over a mean pallet
hung a sword, a dagger, and a rude image of the Virgin. Without summoning
Alvarez, the Cardinal unrobed, and in a few moments was asleep.
Chapter 7.VII. Vaucluse and its Genius Loci. - Old Acquaintance Renewed.
The next day at early noon the Cavalier, whom our last chapter presented to
the reader, was seen mounted on a strong Norman horse, winding his way
slowly along a green and pleasant path some miles from Avignon. At length
he found himself in a wild and romantic valley, through which wandered that
delightful river whose name the verse of Petrarch has given to so beloved a
fame. Sheltered by rocks, and in this part winding through the greenest
banks, enamelled with a thousand wild flowers and water-weeds, went the
crystal Sorgia. Advancing farther, the landscape assumed a more sombre and
sterile aspect. The valley seemed enclosed or shut in by fantastic rocks
of a thousand shapes, down which dashed and glittered a thousand rivulets.
And, in the very wildest of the scene, the ground suddenly opened into a
quaint and cultivated garden, through which, amidst a profusion of foliage,
was seen a small and lonely mansion, - the hermitage of the place. The
horseman was in the valley of the Vaucluse; and before his eye lay the
garden and the house of PETRARCH! Carelessly, however, his eye scanned the
consecrated spot; and unconsciously it rested, for a moment, upon a
solitary figure seated musingly by the margin of the river. A large dog at
the side of the noonday idler barked at the horseman as he rode on. "A
brave animal and a deep bay!" thought the traveller; to him the dog seemed
an object much more interesting than its master. And so, - as the crowd of
little men pass unheeding and unmoved, those in whom Posterity shall
acknowledge the landmarks of their age, - the horseman turned his glance
from the Poet!
Thrice blessed name! Immortal Florentine! (I need scarcely say that it is
his origin, not his actual birth, which entitles us to term Petrarch a
Florentine.) not as the lover, nor even as the poet, do I bow before thy
consecrated memory - venerating thee as one it were sacrilege to introduce
in this unworthy page - save by name and as a shadow; but as the first who
ever asserted to people and to prince the august majesty of Letters; who
claimed to Genius the prerogative to influence states, to control opinion,
to hold an empire over the hearts of men, and prepare events by animating
passion, and guiding thought! What, (though but feebly felt and dimly
seen) - what do we yet owe to Thee if Knowledge be now a Power; if MIND be
a Prophet and a Fate, foretelling and foredooming the things to come! From
the greatest to the least of us, to whom the pen is at once a sceptre and a
sword, the low-born Florentine has been the arch-messenger to smooth the
way and prepare the welcome. Yes! even the meanest of the aftercomers -
even he who now vents his gratitude, - is thine everlasting debtor! Thine,
how largely is the honour, if his labours, humble though they be, find an
audience wherever literature is known; preaching in remotest lands the
moral of forgotten revolutions, and scattering in the palace and the
marketplace the seeds that shall ripen into fruit when the hand of the
sower shall be dust, and his very name, perhaps, be lost! For few, alas!
are they, whose names may outlive the grave; but the thoughts of every man
who writes, are made undying; - others appropriate, advance, exalt them;
and millions of minds unknown, undreamt of, are required to produce the
immortality of one!
Indulging meditations very different from those which the idea of Petrarch
awakens in a later time, the Cavalier pursued his path.
The valley was long left behind, and the way grew more and more faintly
traced, until it terminated in a wood, through whose tangled boughs the
sunlight broke playfully. At length, the wood opened into a wide glade,
from which rose a precipitous ascent, crowned with the ruins of an old
castle. The traveller dismounted, led his horse up the ascent, and,
gaining the ruins, left his steed within one of the roofless chambers,
overgrown with the longest grass and a profusion of wild shrubs; thence
ascending, with some toil, a narrow and broken staircase, he found himself
in a small room, less decayed than the rest, of which the roof and floor
were yet whole.
Stretched on the ground in his cloak, and leaning his head thoughtfully on
his hand, was a man of tall stature, and middle age. He lifted himself on
his arm with great alacrity as the Cavalier entered.
"Well, Brettone, I have counted the hours - what tidings?"
"Glad news! Thou givest me new life. Pardieu, I shall breakfast all the
better for this, my brother. Hast thou remembered that I am famishing?"
Brettone drew from beneath his cloak a sufficiently huge flask of wine, and
a small panier, tolerably well filled; the inmate of the tower threw
himself upon the provant with great devotion. And both the soldiers, for
such they were, stretched at length on the ground, regaled themselves with
considerable zest, talking hastily and familiarly between every mouthful.
"I say, Brettone, thou playest unfairly; thou hast already devoured more
than half the pasty: push it hitherward. And so the Cardinal consents!
What manner of man is he? Able as they say?"
"Quick, sharp, and earnest, with an eye of fire, few words, and comes to
"Unlike a priest then; - a good brigand spoilt. What hast thou heard of
the force he heads? Ho, not so fast with the wine."
"Scanty at present. - He relies on recruits throughout Italy."
"What his designs for Rome? There, my brother, there tends my secret soul!
As for these petty towns and petty tyrants, I care not how they fall, or by
whom. But the Pope must not return to Rome. Rome must be mine. The city
of a new empire, the conquest of a new Attila! There, every circumstance
combines in my favour! - the absence of the Pope, the weakness of the
middle class, the poverty of the populace, the imbecile though ferocious
barbarism of the Barons, have long concurred to render Rome the most
facile, while the most glorious conquest!"
"My brother, pray Heaven your ambition do not wreck you at last; you are
ever losing sight of the land. Surely with the immense wealth we are
acquiring, we may - "
"Aspire to be something greater than Free Companions, generals today, and
adventurers tomorrow. Rememberest thou, how the Norman sword won Sicily,
and how the bastard William converted on the field of Hastings his baton
into a sceptre. I tell thee, Brettone, that this loose Italy has crowns on
the hedge that a dexterous hand may carry off at the point of the lance.