Text: Unknown (???), Literary Reviews, Southern Literary Messenger, vol. III, no. 2, February 1837, 3:135-146


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[page 135:]

MARCO VISCONTI:

A TALE OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY.

BY MRS. E. F. ELLET.

It is but recently that the historical novel has been naturalized, if we may so express it, in Italy. Why it has been so long wanting among a people whose history is so rich in incident and materials for the exhibition of character, we cannot pretend to explain. The splendid romances of Scott, which became speedily known on the continent, were chiefly instrumental in awakening the public taste for that kind of fiction; and Manzoni was not long in demonstrating to his countrymen, that there was no lack of ability among them to follow in the steps of “the Ariosto of the North.” Since Manzoni, in the excess of religious zeal, has retired from the field of fiction, the arena has been open to other candidates for the prize of literary distinction; and not a few have been the names entered upon the list.

The novels which have so rapidly succeeded each other within the last few years in Italy, are almost unknown to American readers. Very few, if any of them, have been translated even in England; and we trust, therefore, that the task of exploring so rich a field, will prove as grateful to our readers as ourselves. We propose to examine some of those most worthy our attention. The difference in the dates of their appearance is too slight to render it necessary to observe the order [column 2:] of time; and we may, accordingly, take them in the order of their merit.

One of the latest and best of these productions, is the story whose title forms the subject of the present article. The period of history at which the scene is laid, is one fruitful in remarkable events, and favorable for the exhibition of conflicting passions and characters. The Peninsula, without a legitimate sovereign, had been for years a prey to faction, and agitated by the strife of the rival parties, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Matteo Visconti, duke of Milan, had been long at the head of the Ghibelline party; and Pope John XXII, unable to compel him to resign his power, at the instance of Robert, king of Sicily, had excommunicated him, and laid Milan under an interdict. Matteo died; succeeded by Galeazzo, the elder brother of Marco, who figures as the hero of the tale. Louis of Bavaria, having sent assistance to the Visconti while under pontifical displeasure, was excommunicated and deposed by his holiness; but having descended into Italy and caused himself to be crowned at Rome, he in his turn instituted a process against Pope John, pronounced sentence of deposition against him, and appointed as his successor Pierre de Corvario, who took the name of Nicholas W. John resided at Avignon, and was acknowledged by the Guelphs.

It is at this period that the story commences. While Milan declared for the anti-pope, who had removed the interdict from the city and territory, the remote parts of the country, less prompt in shifting their allegiance, retained their faith to the legitimate pontiff, and refused to open their churches to the ministers of the new spiritual sovereign. Among the adherents to the old cause, were the inhabitants of Limonta, a small district on the lake of Como, and a feudal territory of the monastery of St. Ambrose of Milan, the Abbot of which had, among his other titles, that of Count of Limonta. One of the Visconti, who had been appointed Abbot of St. Ambrose in place of the true inheritor Astolfo da Lampugnano, had sent to Limonta, as his factor, one Pelagrua, who pretended to have discovered from some old deeds that the Limontese were not vassals, but serfs of the monastery. The cause is judged at Bellano; and as it may be supposed that the inhabitants decline submitting to a claim which would deprive them of their liberty, in the absence of sufficient evidence on either side, it is agreed that the question shall be decided “by judgment of God,” in the trial by combat.

The first scene opens in the house of the Count Oldrado di Balzo, who resides in the neighborhood with his wife and daughter. His falcomer announces the arrival of a waterman (barcajuolo,) and his son from Bellano, who inform him of the sentence, and the approaching combat. The champion of the monastery is already chosen; and their conjectures, who will fight for the cause of the people, are answered by the falconer, who exclaims, “Would that my son Lupo were here!” Michel, the waterman, in great dread lest his own son Arrigozzo should offer himself, proposes to depart in search of Lupo, whom he had seen at Como in the service of Ottorino Visconti. On the following Sunday a great commotion is excited about the church, where the adherents of the anti-pope are assembled to say mass. The dwelling of Pelagrua is next attacked by the irritated multitude; he escapes from imminent danger, and [page 136:] is compelled to fly, while his wife obtains shelter in the castle of the Count di Balzo. The whole of this chapter presents a most spirited and graphic picture. The peasantry are diverted from thoughts of slaughter by the arrival of Michel and his son with Lupo, who is unanimously chosen champion of the Limontese. The day of trial comes: Ottorino Visconti, having promised to be present in honor of his squire, arrives to witness the combat. As this youth plays so conspicuous a part in the ensuing history, it may not be amiss here to add a description of his first appearance.

“Our young cavalier was elegantly habited in crimson velvet, with a short blue mantle embroidered with silver, and lined with sables; a heavy chain of gold twice encircled his neck, falling to his breast; and under a cap, handsomely formed, of the same color with the mantle, escaped thick curls of black hair, waving down his neck; while a white plume that drooped on his left shoulder contrasted finely with his raven locks. Add to these, eyes sparkling with youthful fire, cheeks slightly browned by the sun in the active duties of the soldier, a tall and symmetrical person, displaying grace, but decision and boldness, in every action and movement, and in repose.”

The Count di Balzo and his daughter also attend the trial; Ottorino recognizes and embraces an old friend in the father, and is presented by him to our hearine. Bice (the name is a contraction for Beatrice,) is saluted with loud praises on her entrance by the minstrel Tremacoldo, a favorite with the peasantry, who improvises a song in honor of her charms, and is rewarded by the gallant Ottorino with the chain of gold aforementioned. The trumpet gives signal for the combat to commence; the champions are sworn according to custom, when a difficulty arises from the circumstance that the weapons have not been blessed. This obstacle promises to occasion no little delay, as no regular priest can be found in time of interdict to incur the displeasure of the head of the church by pronouncing the benediction. Lupo, aware of the necessity of this ceremony, had previously secured a blessing in secret for his arms; and this is the only advantage he takes over his adversary. The people, however, are too much in dread of magic to dispense with a form then deemed of importance to prevent the use of spells or incantations to obtain success, and in extremity call upon Tremacoldo, who, having been a priest before he assumed his present vocation, is fairly entitled to perform the office. The scene of buffoonery which ensues is highly characteristic of those times. The benediction at length pronounced, and the arms sprinkled, instead of holy water, with wine from the cautina of the archbishop, the champions betake themselves to their posts, armed with shields and clubs, which, as they were not of noble blood, were the only weapons allowed them.

After an obstinate fight, Lupo vanquishes his oppoment, and drags him from the field. He is received and borne off with acclamations by the people whose liberty he has preserved; but escapes from their gratitude to join his patron and the count. The noble party returning homeward by the lake, are overtaken by a violent storm and wrecked among the rocks; with difficulty they reach a place of security, all safe except Arrigozzo, the son of the waterman, whose body is afterwards drawn from the water. The grief of Michel for this [column 2:] terrible bereavement is most touchingly and naturally described, and the subsequent scene in his hut is one of the most admirable portions of the book. At present he is alone in his sorrow.

“All stood round looking at him with a terrified air; none dared to offer him a word of consolation. But the priest, having left him some time to his grief, approached him, and instead of addressing the bereaved father himself, laid his hand on the son’s head as it rested on Michel’s knees, and said with emotion: “‘My poor Arrigozzo! thou hast ever been a good son, fearing God and loving thy parents!”

“‘It is true! it is true!’ cried the father, quite softened by the praise bestowed on the dead; “I did not deserve so good a son.’

“‘In these times when faith is beset with temptations,’ pursued the priest, “who knows, my poor Michel, that it is not in mercy the Lord has called him, while he is yet in innocence? Go, resign the gift to him who bestowed it, and who resumed it, for ends that we cannot know, but which are most surely those of righteousness and love for his elect.’

“‘Oh! but what shall I do in the world without him?” cried the waterman; ‘what shall I answer to my poor Martha, returning home, when she asks me what I have done with our boy?” “The Lord will not forsake you,’ insisted the good priest, sorrowfully. ‘He who has assigned you the affliction, will give you strength to bear it.’

“Our party are by no means resigned to the prospect of spending the night on the rock; and however pleasing to the young Ottorino it may be to be near Bice in so romantic a situation, it becomes necessary to devise some means for gaining assistance. The indefatigable Lupo volunteers his aid; and climbs a precipice at his own imminent hazard.

“Those who from the rock followed him with their eyes, trembling with fear at every uncertain movement, saw him by the fitful light already half way up, holding by the steep masses which still echoed the rolling thunder, and hanging over the waves that murmured beneath him; yet still above his head they beheld other peaks, more threatening, more desperate than the first.

“Lupo had found by chance a small cavity where he was able to rest himself and take breath; thence he looked downward to measure the distance he had accomplished, but instantly withdrew his eyes, dazzled and bewildered by the height; then after a few moments he made the sign of the cross, and returned to his labor. From time to time as he approached the summit, his figure diminished in size; now scarcely distinguished from the rocks, it seemed now some bush shaken by the wind, or a falcon fluttering his wings, in search of prey among the cliffs.”

* * * *

“The young cavalier, without another word, seated himself on the rock near Bice. All eyes were turned upward towards the mountain of Tremezzo, behind which the sun had descended. Gigantic clouds, driven by the wind, were seen to unfold and roll in a hundred fantastic forms, tinged with a fiery red. The light grew less by degrees over all visible objects, which, the most distant at first, and gradually the nearer, became every moment paler and more indistinct; when the outlines could no longer be discerned, they seemed to take [page 137:] other forms, to move, totter, and finally to disappear entirely. Those who looked toward the west, saw the sky yet crimson with the rays of the sun, but glancing downward from the highest peaks along the mountain slopes to the shore of the lake, no longer perceived the houses, the shrubs, or the trees. Every prominence had disappeared, and the whole mountain showed only an immense shadow in relief against the sky. Gradually even the shadow grew indistinct, faded, and vanished entirely; the darkness became yet more dense, and our shipwrecked friends were soon wrapped in such gloom, that it was impossible to distinguish each other. Upon the changeful bosom of the lake, even through the darkness, could be seen afar the infuriated waves, which, struggling as they swelled upwards, burst into white foam, rolling tumultuously in chase of each other, and lashing the rock as if they threatened to swallow it up, roaring for the prey that had escaped their fury.

“All was silent, save that amidst the warring of the surge and the wind, might be heard the low, monotonous, continued tones of poor Michel, telling his beads over the corpse of his son.

“Ottorino was holding Bice’s hand, which, in the moment of her terror, she had suffered him to take, feeling reassured by the vicinity of one who could protect her. Her father, who, seated on the other side, had stooped his head between his knees, his teeth chattering with fear and cold, could not contribute much to her feeling of security. Her long locks, blown about by the wind, were swept against the young man’s face; and even in that desolate condition, surrounded by so many objects to awaken fear or compassion, he would not have given that moment for the happiest in his life.”

Lupo soon brings boats to their assistance, and they are conveyed ashore. Ottorino is invited to pass some days at the castle, and as might be expected, falls in love with its beautiful heiress, who becomes equally attached to him. Ermelinda, the mother of Bice, is not slow to perceive the turn affairs are taking, and is sorely troubled at the discovery, knowing the design of Marco Visconti, the kinsman and patron of Ottorino, to wed his young protegé to a daughter of Rusconi. Having ascertained that negotiations have actually been commenced for the hand of that lady, the prudent mother warns her daughter against the impropriety of suffering the elegant stranger to make any impression on her heart. But, as it too often happens in such cases, the advice comes a little too late, and only produces the effect of plunging the enamored girl into a sea of disappointment and vexation, and causing her to wear a chilling aspect of reserve towards her lover, on the day previous to his departure for Milan. The knight, who is much grieved at her sudden change of manner, failing in his attempt to seek an explanation from herself, contrives to hide a letter between the leaves of her Dante, which it seems she read by stealth at night. In this he avows his passion for her, and his determination to seek her hand, at the same time confessing the unfortunate entanglement prepared for him by his friend Marco. This letter is duly carried by the dutiful maiden to her mother.

Ermelinda is a favorite with our author; she is represented as possessing every matronly grace, scrisible, dignified, and in every way superior to her husband. [column 2:] An episodical chapter gives us an insight into her history. She had been in her youth betrothed to Marco Visconti, in opposition to the wishes of her father, who wished to compel her to marry the Count di Balzo. An attempt was made by her lover to carry her off; but her fear of her father’s displeasure prevented its success. Afterwards she had resisted every endeavor to induce her to marry another, till convinced of the inconstancy of Marco by a letter from him renouncing all claim to her hand, and returning half a chain of gold which had been broken between them as a pledge of faith. Some time after her marriage Ermelinda, one day while hunting, met a knight armed, with his visor down, who demanded the chain, which she still carried in her bosom. Having received that and the letter addressed to her, he pronounced the letter a forgery, alleging that the chain had been stolen from him; and abruptly bidding her farewell, rode out of sight. Since then she had never seen the lover of her youth, who had highly distinguished himself, and obtained almost sovereign power in Italy.

The following is the first description of this singular personage:

“Marco was above the middle height; his age about forty-five. The hardships of a troubled and tempestuous life, if they had robbed his countenance of its first freshness, its first fire, of its juvenile expression of light- heartedness and daringness, had substituted a severe yet gentle gravity, an air of self-possession and hauteur, an indefinite expression of melancholy, which displayed habitual discontent of mind, yet without the slightest mixture of bitterness.

“The uncommon paleness of his face was rendered yet more striking by his thick dark beard, and a pair of heavy well defined eyebrows, and eyes of excessive brilliancy; while the deep color that now and then suffused his cheeks, gave testimony of strong internal emotions. In those moments he seemed younger; the fleeting crimson gave to his countenance its primitive beauty, with a certain singular mixture of pride and bashfulness.

“But he who saw that countenance when the lightning of wrath transformed it in an instant, when its habitual paleness grew yet deeper, and the brow contracted, and the eyes became darker as they flashed fire, would have likened it to the lake, whose tranquil and polished surface, by the sudden onset of the wind, is stirred to the tempest’s fury. “He wore a robe of black velvet, open before, and lined with grey nimiver, over a silken vest confined with a girdle, fastened by a rich golden buckle; in the girdle was a long dagger with the handle studded with rubies.

“His head was uncovered, and his dark hair, parted over an ample and majestic forehead, hung on both sides as low as the ear, following the contour of his face.”

The wise politician had already begun to foresee the issue of his support of the anti-pope Nicholas.

“‘You well understand,’ (he says to his kinsman,) ‘that the legitimate pope is he of Avignon. He has persecuted my father, all my family, all our friends; has excommunicated us, taken the cross from us, and done his worst against us; yet for all that has he not ceased to be the true pope. Do you believe that, so many years as I have been his enemy, I have been at [page 138:] peace with my own conscience, knowing myself under ban of the church?”’

But we have no room to notice the political plans, manoeuvres and events, which are so skilfully interwoven in these volumes with the incidents of more domestic interest. There are many striking and graphic scenes, in which the multitude play a part, as well as the higher personages. The tumult before the church in Monza, and other pictures of a similar kind, are most spiritedly described, and remind us, without being imitations, of like exhibitions in some of Scott’s novels. As much previous explanation would be necessary to render these passages interesting, we shall only follow the fortunes of the individuals with whom we have already made acquaintance, separating the thread of the narrative from the web which surrounds it.

The Count di Balzo and his family are summoned by Marco to Milan; and leave Limonta without reluctance, as a residence in that district has become dangerous from the disturbances among the people, and the apprehension of severe revenge on the part of the new Abbot, for their disregard of the dignity of his agent, and contempt of his orders. Lupo is despatched thither by Ottorino, to warn his fellow-townsmen against the effects of the Abbot’s wrath. The Count, therefore, who is cowardly, vacillating and selfish by nature, and has all his life scrupulously avoided committing himself by siding with either party, is well pleased to quit so perilous a vicinity for the protection of the noble and powerful Marco; besides that his vanity is flattered by the invitation to Milan, and the chief’s intimation that he might become necessary to him. Marco’s principal reason for this attention is a curiosity to see the daughter, of whom Ottorino had given so glowing a description. They are invited to a magnificent banquet at his palace on their arrival, which the Countess Ermelinda, from motives of delicacy, of course declines attending. At this sumptuous feast, minutely and gorgeously described, at which the guests arrange a tournament in honor of the election of Azzo Visconti, nephew of Marco, to the office of Imperial Vicar, the stately host devotes his attentions to Bice, whose strong resemblance in voice and person to her mother, calls up again all the emotions of his youth. This pleasing excitement he experiences in her presence determines him to cultivate her intimacy.

The scene then changes to Limonta, where we follow our friend Lupo. In the hut of the poor waterman, Michel and his wife sit down in desolate sorrow to their lonely evening meal; and the utter misery of the bereaved parents is pathetically depicted. The silence of the cottage is soon disturbed.

“It was late; nothing was heard except the low moaning of the lake, and now and then the surging of the wind among the chestnut boughs which concealed the waterman’s hut. Then suddenly the dog (by the way, this dog, which had belonged to Arrigozzo, is the hero of a most touching little episode) which had been snugly reposing on the bed, started up, pricking up his ears and uttering a low growl; then leaped down and ran towards the door barking most furiously. Michel and his wife listened; but they could hear nothing, save the accustomed murmur of the waves. The waterman unbarred the door, and going out, distinguished in the distance on his right, towards Limonta, the barking of [column 2:] another dog, belonging to the fisherman; he ascended a small knoll behind his hut, and looking towards the town, saw the sky in that quarter crimsoned, and the rocks illuminated with a fitful and lurid glare. ‘Fire in Limonta!’ exclaimed he, and hastened towards the spot, to give what aid he might. His wife only called after him, ‘Take care of yourself!” and returned to her cottage to pray for the distressed.

“Michel as he went on heard other cries from that direction and from the mountain, at first so distinct that he could have pointed out the dwelling from which they came; but gradually increasing they mingled with each other, till all became general confusion.

“Michel had mounted a hill, and could ascertain that the fire had been purposely kindled, as he saw burning at once two houses at opposite ends of the hamlet. Listening attentively, he could distinguish amidst the confused tumult voices of menace and blasphemy; could see in the disorder the flashing of breastplates and of lances. It was then he first suspected the real state of the case.

“Meanwhile the fire increased; in a moment the ground seemed to be covered with flame. The lake reflected the lurid light, and several small boats were seen detached from the shore and urged across the waters. These crafts and those within them were at first clearly visible in the glare ; but the light gradually fell from them as they receded, now scarcely distinguished, now strongly illuminated as they shot into a sudden stream of light, till they disappeared in the deep darkness around them.

“The waterman halted as he was about to plunge into the midst of the fray; withheld by the thought of her he had left alone in her wretched hut.

“While he stood, he heard a noise as of something living approaching; and retired behind the trunk of an old olive, discerned by the light of the flames, reaching even to that spot, a woman with a child in her arms, and another clinging to her dress, who was driving a cow before her. The reluctant animal cast a backward glance at the hamlet, and stimulated probably by regret for the loss of comfortable stable accommodations, bellowed mournfully; the lament was responded to in various directions, and from various distances, from other unfortunates who found themselves in the same condition of exile.

“Michel recognized the woman, came forward, and addressing her by name — “What has happened?’ he asked. “Tell me, can any help be afforded?’

“‘The soldiers of the monastery have set fire to our homes,’ answered the frightened fugitive, ‘and murdered those who fell into their hands; we are undone ! we are lost utterly Oh misericordia! that I should see this night! ‘tis the last night for Limonta; the Lord is chastising us for some great sin. Michael,” she added in an imploring tone, “since Providence has sent you here, have the charity to help me drag forward this beast, which is all remaining to me to support my poor children.’

“The waterman took the cord in his right hand, carrying on his left arm the little girl who had followed crying in her mother’s steps; and accommodating his pace with that of the terrified woman, they all turned towards Bellagio.

“‘The Lord show to you and the dead,” said the [page 139:] woman, ‘the pity you have shown to the poor widow; you will find your reward in another world, and your good deed shall be so much for the soul of your Arrigozzo. Ah, Michell you have the compassion of all the village; they have spoken of nothing but your misfortune; but to-morrow, the many who will have to mourn for their sons, will envy you for having lost yours in the manner you did.’

“Michel went on in silence, casting a glance, now at the burning village, now at his own dwelling. Having placed the widow and her family in safety, he returned hastily to his hut.

“Hardly had he stepped in, when he saw a man coming towards him, partly armed; and believing him one of the ruffians from Limonta, he laid hold of the iron bar he used for fastening the door, and resolutely advanced; but the soldier cried out quickly —

“‘Michel, do you not know me?’

“‘Ah! it is Lupo Are you also come with these dogs?’

“‘God keep me from it! I came to liberate you; but it was too late; the soldiers had already taken the ground, and all was in flames, and our friends either murdered or fled. Now, since force cannot avail, we must betake ourselves to invention, to prevent the evil not already done; to get from the claws of these devils, those prisoners they have taken alive, and will hang to-morrow, as Stefano the fisherman told me, whom I met on the shore of the lake in coming hither.’

“‘Santo Dio! for me — I would see — but — and then, what can we do, two against so many ?” said the waterman.

“‘We are not quite alone; there are some others waiting for us, and I have already thought of a stratagem; but I have need of your help, and have therefore come to seek you, knowing you a man of courage.”

“‘Santo Dio!” exclaimed Michel; you see very well ——— ‘

“But his wife, guessing the kind solicitude that made him waver, said quickly — ‘Think not of me! our guardian angel will watch over this house, and if — if — , It is charity to our neighbor — and we are bound — go — go!’

“Michel only answered, “The Lord protect you!” and hastened away in company with Lupo, who on the way opened to him his project; they devised some amendments of it together, and each prepared himself for the part he was to act. When they reached the village, Lupo, taking a by-path, went to gather three or four other Limontese, armed with hatchets and knives, who lay waiting for him in a cellar; and Michel quite unarmed, not even with a stick, kept his way directly towards the chapel, where the soldiers of the monastery were assembled. Hardly had he made his appearance, when one of them ran towards him with his sword raised to strike him; but the waterman holding up his hands, before he came up with him, called out — “I seek for your captain; is he not named Bellebuono!”

“‘I have a secret — come — show me where he may be found — something of benefit to you — and to him.”

“‘Alla peggio,” said the soldier to himself; “it is another loggerhead come to be strung up; it will be a wax taper the more for the feast to-morrow. Come, then,” said he aloud, ‘villano, come with me;’ and this [column 2:] said, he led him into the little church where was gathered the poor booty rifled from the peasantry, and where stood, with their hands tied behind them, the seven wretches who had fallen alive into the hands of the licentious soldiery, and were only spared for insult. The Limontine immediately recognized the priest among the captives, whom he saw receive a blow on the head, at the moment of his entrance.

“‘Here is Bellebuono,” said the man who had conducted Michel thither, pointing to the soldier who had struck the curate. Our waterman approached him; and the captain, who looked at the first glance as if he would devour him alive, soon softened at the sound of certain words whispered in his ear. They spoke together some time in a low tone, and then the captain of the sixty lances took with him four of the soldiers, and departed, guided by the Limontine towards a small house at some distance from the hamlet, near the valley of Roucate.

“‘For more than three hundred florins? thou hast said?’ demanded Bellebuono of his guide, as the two walked on eight or ten paces in advance of the four soldiers in company.

“‘Certainly,’ was the reply; “it is the treasure of the church saved for perhaps twenty years.”

“‘But the house of the parish priest — is it not that near the belfry?”

“‘This to which I lead you is that of his kinsman; and the treasure is here.”

“‘Diavolo! is it not possible that some of my soldiers have found it in the search they have made every where to-night?”

“‘Quite impossible! who would ever think of searching in the place I have mentioned to you?”

“‘Meantime they arrived in front of a house situated on the declivity; and Michel said — ‘It is this.”

“‘You, Ribaldo, and you, Vinciquerra,” then said Bellebuono, “stand here on guard without; let no one come out who is not with me; and at my first call you must shout for assistance if it be necessary. You others — come on.’

“‘One word,” said the waterman to the chief who had delivered the order, speaking in a loud voice, so as to be heard by all the four — “Then you promise me to liberate unhurt all those you have made prisoners?’

“‘Yes — I promised you; I will give you all except the curate, who has so disgusted me with his cursed sermons, that I have a mind to see if the coward will preach when he has a rope under his neck.’

“Nay — may,’ insisted Michel; “all — you told me so.”

“‘Well then; I will give you also the curate, provided what you show me be worth more than the fool’s life.”

“Those who had received the command remained on guard at the entrance; Bellebuono, Michel and the other two ascended a small staircase, and found themselves in a passage, opposite which there was another door.

“If you will let me go down with you’ — said the Limontine to the captain, ‘I will show you the spot.’

“‘Ah knave!” was the answer, “there may be some cheating in this business; no-no — remain here with these two good friends who shall bear thee company. Soldiers, whatever should happen, let him not escape till I return.” [page 140:]

“The two soldiers took the waterman between them, and he submitted in silence; only, still addressing Bellebuono, who having taken a lantern, approached the above mentioned door, he added — ‘You cannot mistake; after the second chamber, a winding staircase, under the fourth barrel, a square stone — ‘

“‘Yes — yes — I remember all,’ answered the chief.

“‘If you will let me descend with you’ — insisted the waterman.

“‘I will do it by myself.” Those were the last words of the ruffian who had already penetrated to the second chamber; the noise of his footsteps were heard on a staircase below; the light of the lantern slowly diminished, then vanished entirely. Some moments passed in silence, after which was heard far below, from the cellar, a dull noise, as if a heavy body had fallen down.

“The waterman trembled all over; it seemed as if his heart would leap from his bosom. It was well for him there was no light in the passage to reveal his agitation to the two guards.

“‘What can that noise be?” muttered the soldiers who held Michel between them. ‘Could Bellebuono have stumbled ? have moved any thing? should some one be hidden there 2 Let us go and see!’

“‘Let us go. But no-he told us to wait here for him.”

“During this brief conversation, by the faint light yet afforded from the burning buildings, Bellebuono was seen looking from the door through which he had departed, and making a sign to the waterman. Michel approached him, exchanged a few whispered words, then raising his voice so as to be heard by the guards in whose keeping he had been left, “Well,” said he, ‘I have kept my promise; it belongs to you to fulfil yours.”

“They went out, joining the other two that had remained outside to watch, and proceeded towards the chapel. While they were in the lane, the waterman remained some paces behind his companions, with him whom they obeyed as their leader, busy in endeavoring to clean a guantlet that was stained with blood.

“‘What is the use of it?’ said the other; “its purity from blood, rather than its stains, would be a mark in such a night as this.’ They ‘whispered together again, and then raising himself up, the waterman called his companions who went on before: ‘Listen, your captain here is going down a moment to the shore to deposit in the boat something he has under his arm, and will return speedily. Meanwhile you must come with me and release me the prisoners.’

“At this moment, the man, who had till then been whispering with Michel, said in an undertone to the soldiers, “Ribaldo, and you, Vinciquerra, and you two,” and he threw to each of them some silver coin, “this is for earnest money; go, and release those prisoners quickly.’ This said, he turned down the slope and disappeared.

“The waterman went on with the four; one of whom said to his comrade, ‘Did you observe Bellebuono’s altered voice; he seemed not the same person.”

“‘Probably from his visor being down,” responded the other.

“‘More likely,” said the first, “from the bundle he carried under his arm.’ [column 2:]

“‘Maladetta!” exclaimed a third, ‘we soldiers are not wont to see the like; and we had the trouble — ‘

“‘He said he meant to share with us all, did he not?” demanded the first of Michel.

“‘Exactly,’ was the answer; ‘one half he means to keep for himself, and the other he will divide among you four.’

“‘Brave countryman,’ cried the first, ‘nor must thou remain with an empty palm, for thou art a good fellow and a friend to bold soldiers.”

“‘For me, I ask nothing else but what your captain promised me, and if you give me aught else it will be so much charity.”

“‘Take it, villano, take it — take it,” and each forced into his hand a piece of the money they had just received, rendered generous by the expectation of the larger booty Bellebuono had secured for them.

“They entered the church, and here the four soldiers commanded, in the name of their leader, the sentinels to release the prisoners, and helped to cut the cords from those who were bound. When they were liberated, and on foot, Vinciquerra said to the waterman, “Away, good man, now you will be satisfied.”

“But while Michel hastened towards the mountain with the freed captives, who in extasies of joy inundated him with questions, the news of their release had gone abroad, and a crowd of soldiers ran to prevent the departure of the prisoners.

“‘It is not true to they cried impetuously; “it is not true: Bellebuono could not have given such an order.”

“‘He did, he did he gave it to me! he gave it to us,” shouted the four.

“‘No, no it is all a trick!’ exclaimed another more loudly; ‘going hence but a short time ago in company with you all, the captain stopped a moment to whisper in my ear, bidding me have ready yet another rope to accommodate this villain, as soon as he had returned.”

“‘But he said so to us,’ insisted the four; “he commanded us to satisfy this honest man, by setting the prisoners at liberty.”

“‘No, no — it is not true! — it is all a trick’ shouted the multitude; and some began already to lay hands on the captives and the waterman, when there was heard a cry from many voices —

“‘Bellebuono, Bellebuono! he is here!”

“And sure enough he was seen running towards the spot, completely enclosed in his armor, with his visor down, and his lance in his hand. When he had come up, he began to lay about him with his weapon right and left, with good christian blows, sparing none he came near, and crying, or rather muttering between his teeth, “Ah! Canaglia! Canaglia!

“The recipients of the blows drew back, discomfitted and confused, and some endeavored humbly to excuse themselves. ‘We did not believe it was your order! — for you said to me before you went — ‘ while he never ceased beating about him as briskly as ever.

“When all were driven back, he gave his arm to the priest, made signal to the others to follow him, and they withdrew together along the first bypath that led to the mountain, leaving the soldiers about the chapel of Limonta to marvel and conjecture, and reproach each other, and rub their bruised shoulders.

“Having walked a considerable distance, the priest turned to his deliverer, who still held him by the arm, [page 141:] assisting his ascent, and rendering every courtesy in his power, and said, he might now turn back, as they were in safety. All the rest crowded round the supposed Bellebuono, professing themselves indebted to him for their lives. Then he, taking the helmet from his head, discovered his face to them. My readers have already guessed the masker — it was Lupo.

“All that night, the next day, and the next, the soldiers waited the return of Bellebuono from the mountain; when the four who had accompanied him on his last expedition, returning to the house, descended the staircase down which they had heard him go, passed into a small subterranean apartment, thence into a cellar, and another apartment, where they found him lying dead upon the ground.

“Then was explained the treachery of the villano, as they called him. They understood that there had been enemies hidden in the cellar, and even found an absolute proof, as is said, in a coat of mail and a trooper’s cloak, which one of the captain’s murderers had left behind, when he assumed the dress of the ruffian, and in this disguise deceived, as we have seen, the soldiers of the monastery.”

Poor Lupo is destined to pay for his gallant interference in behalf of his captured fellow townsmen. Lodrisio and the Abbot of St. Ambrose ask leave of Marco to punish the brave youth as a traitor to his liege lord; and Visconti, not now disposed to protect a retainer of his cousin Ottorino, giving consent, the armor-bearer is arrested and condemned to die. Ottorino, who is under the displeasure of Marco, awakened by feelings of jealousy, and cannot obtain admission to plead for the life of his follower, entreats the Count to use his influence to obtain this grace. His request is seconded by the prayers and tears of the father, mother, and sister of Lupo, who are all domestics in the Count’s family; and Bice promises to unite her entreaties. They are invited to a banquet at the palace of Marco, given on the eve of his departure for Tuscany. The cautious Count, while preparing the way for a petition in favor of the doomed youth, is alarmed by an intimation from his host that he has provoked the hostility of Rusconi, by allowing the visits of Ottorino to his daughter, and risked also the displeasure of his noble friend. He is too much frightened to pursue his request, and abandoning Lupo to his fate, hastens to give the assurance that he will forbid his house to the lover of his daughter. Bice is more earnest and successful. Marco offers her his arm, leads her through the crowded rooms, and shows her the knights who are to engage in the approaching tournament. We will translate part of the ensuing scene.

“‘The combatants are twelve in number, as you know,” said Visconti to the young lady, as he led her through the apartments; “eleven I can show to you, as they are here; but the twelfth you will not find. Yet there is no necessity that I should point him out, since I believe you are already acquainted with him; is it not so?’

“Bice colored deeply, but remained silent.

“‘I saw that you saluted him with much courtesy the day we passed your house together; and then I know he was at Limonta a long time, and that even now ——— ‘

“‘Yes — yes — I know him,’ said the young girl, [column 2:] timidly looking down; ‘indeed, he has a squire, for whom ——— ‘

“‘We will not talk of his squires, if you please,” interrupted Marco; “we talk of himself a little.”

“At this moment the maiden, who, conducted by her companion, had entered a spacious apartment at the end of the banqueting rooms, turned accidentally round, and saw her father placing his finger on his lips with a significant gesture, an earnest signal for her to be silent. This increased greatly her embarrassment and apprehension, already great, at finding herself alone with a person of whom she had heard such things — at listening to words seemingly designed to search into the most hidden secret of her heart — and at her sense of awe, when upon the point of preferring a request of so much importance. Calling back, with an effort, all her feminine courage, which diminished not in such moments, she began with a trembling and imploring voice.

“‘Signor, may I hope you will listen to an humble and earnest petition of mine?”

“‘Have you not accepted me for your cavalier and vassal?’ answered Marco; “how then becomes you such language to me? You have not to petition, but only to signify your will.”

“Bice was silent for an instant; and in the meanwhile they had crossed three or four rooms, and entered a saloon separated from the view of the other guests. Neither the maiden, fully occupied with the object she had in view, nor Visconti, fired with a passion which completely overpowered his discretion, seemed conscious of the singularity, and even impropriety of their conduct, in thus separating from the company, or perhaps neither was aware that they had done so.

“When Bice found herself alone with her companion, she looked about her, and at first seemed bewildered; but immediately, sinking on her knees before him who stood at her side, she exclaimed, sobbing — “One word of yours can save him; have compassion on a desolate family! Oh, if I could weep as his poor father wept but just now ! — if God would put his words in my mouth! — I am sure you could not refuse me!’

“She spoke thus, in the belief that her father had already informed Visconti of every thing; but he, who knew nothing of the matter, hearing her beseech him with so much emotion, and wholly unable to guess her meaning, stood at first in amazement; then yielding by turns to pity, love, and his confusion at beholding in so servile an attitude the queen of all his thoughts, forgetful of every thing else, he stooped to raise her, saying in hurried accents, “What is this? No-no — rise! You prostrate yourself before a human being? You?’ But she maintained her position, and continued to implore, clasping her hands, and lifting up to him her tearful eyes, till Visconti almost believed he actually beheld in the kneeling girl her mother, as thus prostrate at his feet, so many years before, she had supplicated him the night he came to take her from her father’s house. The tide of emotion almost overpowered him; he lifted up by force the trembling girl, and led her to a seat, while Bice, covering her face with both hands, wept for anguish, confusion and fear, till the tears flowed from between her slender fingers. “Tell me,” continued Marco, without daring to approach nearer, “Tell me your wish, and I swear, as my hope [page 142:] of eternal salvation is dear to me, I will do all in my power to fulfil it — all, should it involve my state, my life, my honor Tell me — relieve me from this torture — tell me who it is I can save!”

“‘Lupo,” answered the maiden, sobbing.

“‘Who? That vassal of the monastery of St. Ambrose, who has been condemned to capital punishment?”

“‘Yes — he is son to my father’s falconer, and brother to a favorite handmaiden of mine. Oh! if you could have seen them!”

“‘Well, weep no more — Lupo is safe. I give him to you. Could I thus purchase with my blood one of those tears! Come. Ermelinda, Ermelinda! You make me rave! Bice, weep no more — Lupo shall not die!”

“‘Do you say that he shall not die?’

“‘Yes, I swear it, on my soul!’

“At these words the maiden sprang up, and rushed towards Wisconti, to throw herself again, in a transport of gratitude, at his feet; but he, anticipating the motion, withheld her by force, and she, confused, agitated and palpitating, faint with excess of joy, sank breathless into his arms. Marco’s frame thrilled at the touch of so dear a burthen, as he felt the grateful tears of the lovely girl fall on his hand, and felt her heart beat against his agitated bosom. Half maddened with his passion, he stooped over, and kissed her fair forehead. Bice was conscious of the caress; but it disturbed her no more than would the kiss of a father — and quietly disengaging herself, with her eyes yet red with weeping, on her face that still bore the traces of emotion, appeared the smile of joy. So after the rain, breaks forth bright and clear the sunshine through the parting clouds, in the misty heaven of spring!

“The hero was in the hand of a girl. Marco approached a table, and standing, wrote a few lines to the Abbot of St. Ambrose, confused expressions of entreaty, command and menace, signifying that he should instantly set at liberty that Lupo, of whom they had spoken a few days ago. Having secured the letter with a silken string, on which he placed his seal he wrote the superscription, and giving it to Bice, “Let this be sent to the Abbot,” said he, ‘and Lupo shall be restored to you.’

“‘The Lord will reward you for having spared this innocent blood,” said the maiden, “for the tears you have wiped away; his family will pray for you — ever — ever;’ and she went towards the door.

“‘Bice,” said Marco, and he motioned her to remain, ‘grant me yet a moment; you have time enough till to-morrow to send the letter. Listen; this night I depart on a long journey, but the remembrance of this hour — your remembrance — Bice — believe me, you will be always in my thoughts — ‘

“‘And I too — will never forget the favor you have granted me. I too will pray for you; and to think I had such a dread of your presence — before; my mother told me so — that you have a good and generous heart.”

“‘Your mother does not hate me, then? — she has forgiven me; — and you, Bice, forgive me too? — you cannot hate me?’

“‘I? — what do you say? My gratitude — my homage — ‘

“‘Is not sufficient for me — is not what I ask of you!” exclaimed Visconti, taking between his trembling hands [column 2:] one of hers. “What avails it to dissemble longer? Know, Bice, from the moment I first beheld you, my destiny was immutably fixed. I also await fearfully from your lips a sentence of life or death.’

“The young girl trembled like an aspen leaf, and struggled to disengage herself. But Wisconti, interrupting himself, as if suddenly struck by a new thought, which at that instant flashed upon his mind, relaxed his hold upon her hand, so that Bice could withdraw it, and with a startling change in his countenance, after a moment of silence, asked in a severe tone:

“‘Tell me, this Lupo, is he not squire to some one you mentioned to me just now!’

“‘Yes, he is his squire.”

“‘His? — whose?’

“‘His — your cousin’s — that cavalier’s,” replied the maiden, who could not bring herself to utter the name.

“‘Tell me, whose?’ insisted he more eagerly.

“‘Ottorino’s,” answered Bice, her whole face crimsoning as she spoke.

“‘Now answer, as you would answer your confessor on a death-bed,” said Marco in a hollow and trembling voice, “was it to gratify him you came to ask of me Lupo’s pardon?”

“‘It was my father who came to ask it.’

“‘This is no reply to my question. Tell me, on your life, was it he who urged you to this step?’

“‘Yes, he besought my father, because he, being under your displeasure, could not succeed — “

”’Ah, you know all his secrets! and when did you see him?’

“‘A few moments before we entered your palace.”

“‘And you see him every day, do you not? and the promise — your promise which you have given him — tell me — was it from your heart? Are you his? — speak — speak — in the name of God!’

“Bice, in affright, remained silent.

“‘You do not deny it, then?’

“‘No — I do not deny it,” saltered the maiden. “We — are betrothed.”

“‘Death and damnation ‘’ exclaimed Marco, in a voice of suppressed rage; and snatching, while he spoke, the letter from Bice’s hands, rushed up to her furiously, as if about to tear her in pieces. The poor girl felt her limbs totter, her sight failed, and she fell in a swoon upon the floor.

“Visconti stood a moment gazing on her sternly; his hand grasped his dagger involuntarily, but he quickly relinquished it; placed the letter in the girdle of the senseless girl, hastened from the apartment, and down a private staircase, till he reached a small interior court. Feeling at the moment a suffocating, frenzied desire of motion in the open air, he leaped upon the horse, which stood ready for his journey that night, and spurred him to his utmost speed along the first road that presented itself. One only among the many squires who were to accompany him, was in time to ride after his lord, and without being able to overtake him, followed at a distance. Such was the temper of that soul; at the first effervescence of passion, the present feeling overpowered every thought of the past and the future, and absorbed him entirely.

“He rode as if flying from a pursuing enemy; but his enemy was still behind him, clung to him, and left him neither peace nor a breathing space. [page 143:]

“In his furious speed, in the midst of the darkness, feeling on his face the cool night breeze, which yielded him a feeling of something like refreshment, he continued to rush on like a madman, hearing nothing around him but the trampling of his horse, and the whistling of the air, that blew back the damp hair from his forehead.

“The noble steed, with the bridle loose, and bleeding flanks, rushed impetuously on, devouring the road without perceiving it, galloping to the right, to the left, through unbeaten pathways, over fields, through meadows and thickets, leaping bushes, and ditches, and torrents, at the risk of breaking his rider’s neck against a tree, or tumbling into some stream. The cavalier, who in the rapidity of his course, and his impetuous boundings, felt some relief to the madness that tore his heart, ceased not to urge his horse forward with voice and spurs, which he had planted deep in the sides of the poor animal, and in a sort of delirium, was conscious only of a frantic desire to escape from all the world, and plunge into oblivion.”

Lupo’s scenes in the prison with Vinciquerra, and his interview with his father Ambrose, who brings his pardon, are admirable, but we have no room to notice them. We had also marked for extraction the description of the tournament, but must forego the pleasure of presenting it to our readers, spirited as it is, from the same imperative want. All the mobility of the city are present to honor this trial of martial skill. Ottorino is proclaimed victor of the field on the first day; Bice hears of his honors, and is sufficiently recovered from her indisposition to attend in company with her father the day succeeding. An unknown knight, in complete panoply of steel, with his visor down, and undistinguished by any badge or device, appears on the field, rides up to the shield of Ottorino, and instead of touching it with his lance as was the custom, pulls down and reverses it; that being the greatest insult that could be offered a cavalier, and the signal of a challenge a tutto transito, or, as we say, a challenge to mortal combat. This scene, which is probably suggested by a similar one in Ivanhoe, is highly wrought; the stranger shows considerable emotion when Lupo sounds the war-cry of his master, which is echoed by all lips — Viva Marco Visconti! After nearly breaking his lance in a crevice, they begin the charge; Ottorino is overthrown and wounded severely — his life having only been saved by the breaking of the lance, which had been so providentially disabled before the beginning of the action.

Marco Visconti becomes master of Lucca, which city had recently belonged to Castruccio Castracani, his friend. His bitter reflections on Castruccio’s fate, and that of his beggared family, whose inheritance he has acquired, give us a deeper insight into the mind of this singular man. The sight of his friend’s portrait poisons all the joy arising from the glory of conquest, the sight of his domain, and the shouts with which his vassals hail their new lord. Pelagrua, the factor who figured in the first chapters, arrives with letters from Milan; is questioned minutely concerning the family of the Count di Balzo, and from his patron’s manifestations of extreme interest, divines the secret of his passion for Bice.

The city of Milan is besieged by the Emperor Louis. LodrĂ­sio, an unworthy kinsman of Marco, enters into a [column 2:] secret league with the Germans to betray the town, the governorship of which is promised him in case of success. This project, when all but successful, is defeated by the promptness and intrepidity of our friend Lupo, and the Germans are driven back. Lodrisio, disappointed and enraged, betakes himself to other schemes of villainy. Ottorino and Bice are secretly married, with the consent of her parents, and set off for a castle belonging to him, which after a few days they design to leave for the Holy Land. They are overtaken on the way by a courier, bearing a letter signed by Marco, couched in terms of kindness and contrition, expressing a desire to make amends for wrong done, and requesting an interview with Ottorino alone at Castel Seprio, a few miles distant. The young cavalier, who is anxious to recover the favor of his kinsman, and is ignorant of what had passed between him and Bice, departs in spite of her entreaties, promising to return in two hours. After several hours have elapsed, his anxious bride sends Lupo in quest of him; and soon after a messenger arrives, saying he is despatched from Ottorino to request she will proceed to Castelletto, the place of their destination, under his guidance, where her lord will join her on the morrow. She is not destined, however, so soon to meet her lover. The letter was a forgery; the whole plot has been contrived by the villain Lodrisia and Pelagrua to get her into their power, hoping thereby to obtain ascendancy over Marco. Instead of being conducted to Castelletto, she is led to Rosate, a castle owned by Visconti, and under the charge of Pelagrua; there, deceived, she awaits from day to day the promised arrival of Ottorino. Her parents, who visit Castelletto believing here there, are desperate at her loss; no clue for her recovery is found, till Lupo, delivered from prison through the agency of our old acquaintance Tremacoldo, informs the afflicted mother of the snare which had been laid for them. Ermelinda writes an appealing letter to Marco, and commits it to the care of Lupo, who, after narrowly escaping assassination on the road, traces Visconti from Lucca to Florence, and places the letter in his hands. The indignation of that cavalier at the fraud practised in his name, and his grief at the reflection that Ermelinda believes him guilty of the abduction of her daughter, know no bounds. He hastens to Milan, and is conducted by Lupo at night to the palace of the Count. We must make room for the interview between him and Ermelinda.

“Marco having loosened his helmet, took it off and laid it on the table; then threw himself on a seat to await the entrance of Ermelinda. Twenty-five years had passed since he had seen her; what changes, what revolutions in both their fates from that time to this How had he left her! How should he find her! With what courage sustain her look, which would reproach him for the death of a father and her present desolation, after so much love and so much virtue!

“At every slight noise, every stirring of the air, every flitting shadow, he would exclaim, ‘It is she’ and a cold shiver ran through all his frame.

“But he remained not long in expectation; he saw the door open softly, and a female figure enter, in a white loose dress, with her hair simply arranged, but without disorder. A saint color was in her cheeks, evidently brought there by some extraordinary agitation, and soon yielding to her usual paleness. In her eyes, [page 144:] swollen and red with weeping and long vigils, a ray of hope was seen, disturbed apparently, however, by some secret despondency.

“Visconti was not at first certain that it was she; so much had years and, more than they, afflictions changed her; and though from her appearance in that place, from her evident emotion, he inferred that it could be no other than the mother of Bice, he was not sufficiently assured to address her. The lady, who had stopped some paces from him, frankly extended her hand, and with downcast eyes, asked, ‘Is it you?”

“It was the same sweet tone, the same gentle voice, whose melody had so often intoxicated his youth. He sprang to his feet as if bewildered, almost in awe, and fixed his astonished eyes once more upon her face, as if seeking and hoping to find in that moment of surprise, the same beauty, the same enchanting loveliness that had been so many years the light of his existence; whose remembrance alone had inspired him with his passion for Bice — but the next instant, in returning consciousness, he dropped his eyes once more on the ground, and stood in troubled silence.

“‘Is it you?” continued Ermelinda, in accents of deep yet calm sorrow, ‘come in person to restore me life? The Lord will reward you for this work of mercy. I said it ever in my heart, when he knows the misery he has caused, he cannot hold out against it — for he is noble and generous.’ “Marco at these words, moved with strong emotion, sympathy for her sufferings, and filled with confusion and self-loathing, waved his hand angrily, at which motion the Countess started in dismay. “I noble? I generous?’ cried he with faltering voice; “for pity, Ermelinda, cease this cruel mockery. I — I am a wretch — a madman — most unhappy; but not so utterly depraved that I feel it not — that I find not consolation in confessing it — in confessing it to you — ‘

“‘Oh! talk not so; God forgive you; I have already forgiven you; the joy you make me feel in this moment, compensates for past anguish. Now, tell me, where is my child? when shall I see her again?”

“‘Have you not then succeeded in gaining intelligence of her by means of the minstrel who was sent to trace her?’ asked Marco, eagerly. “At this the Countess seemed suddenly disconcerted; a cloud came over her face, which had been lighted with hope; she looked into Visconti’s face, then answered hesitatingly: ‘The minstrel, do you say? No — he has never appeared. But you — do you ask of me — ‘ and she could not go on.

“I understand you, Ermelinda,” said her companion. “You believe that I caused the abduction of Bice; but it is not so. Know ——— ‘

“O God what do I hear! — where is she then? Marco, forgive me; I do not question your word, but did you not just now yourself confess it. And I have long known, too, your feelings towards my unhappy child.’

“‘Listen to me,’ said Visconti, looking down like a culprit, and speaking in a slow and faltering voice, which became from time to time broken with agitation; ‘listen to me, Ermelinda. It is true, I loved your daughter; I loved her with a frantic passion. It was your image impressed on her features, your spirit that seemed transfused into hers, that charmed me, and [column 2:] blinded my judgment. Oh! could I have laid a crown at her feet! have made her the arbitress of my fate There was a moment in which I tasted the sweetness of such a hope, and in that moment I was lost; the secret poison ran through my veins, and rushed like a torrent through my heart. When I was assured that the maiden was already pledged to another, it was too late; the wound was incurable. I will not tell you by what long and bitter grief I was led to the madness of meditating the death of my kinsman, my noble, generous friend I shudder yet when I reflect that I was on the point of imbruing in his blood this hand, which he has so often clasped with the warm respectful affection of a son!’

“‘You speak of Ottorino?’

“‘Yes. The unknown cavalier who encountered him with murderous arms on the day of the tournament, was he who now stands before you.’

“The Countess mildly raised her eyes to Visconti’s face, and was about to speak; but he went on with still increasing vehemence: “No — first hear all. You know at that time I was obliged to leave this place; well, in departing I left behind an iniquitous command; I enjoined it on a villain that he should prevent the marriage of that youth with your daughter. My gold in his hands bought a traitor in your very house, among your most confidential domestics. But I repeat it, Ermelinda, I did not command the carrying off of Bice, nor had the least knowledge of it — but the wretch to whom I gave so infamous a charge, probably took courage to go even to that extreme. In any case I am a miserable — dishonored ——— ‘

“‘No, no, Marco; I pray you do not use such language; it becomes you not; he cannot be depraved who feels such deep remorse for his fault. The tempest of your passions might draw you from the right path, but the heart of Marco, I am sure, I never doubted it, the heart of Marco was never base.”

“‘Oh, my consoling angel!’ exclaimed Marco, quite softened, ‘what a balm for me are your words! Ermelinda, Ermelinda! had you been ever at my side, my light and guide in the gloomy and joyless path of life, my days had passed tranquil and innocent, full of the joys of conjugal and parental love now in the decline of years, would the past have to bear the grievous weight of such wanderings! You do not believe me depraved? I thank you, Ermelinda, I thank you! Since you say it, even I will believe myself not utterly so. How could a heart be quite corrupted, which ever burns with the flame kindled by your angelic loveliness and virtue. Yes, Ermelinda, I believe it, believe it for your sake, that I am yet less guilty than unhappy.”

“The Countess hid her face in her hands and wept silently.

“‘Now I am all yours,” continued Marco, in accents of still deeper feeling. ‘Could my blood make atonement for what you have suffered, how willingly would I shed it, even to the last drop I will seek for Bice to give her back to you; to make her happy in the husband of her choice; I will find Ottorino, this shall be my care, and bestow on him with my own hand the bride I envied him. His happiness shall stand in account against the ills I have made him suffer; against my long and harsh ingratitude to so much devotion [page 145:] and fidelity. I shall not be at peace till I see you all happy; till I have dragged into the light this secret iniquity.’ “Here he paused a moment and fixed his eyes on the face of the Countess, who was still weeping; then grasping his dagger, exclaimed in furious tones, ‘Let the villains tremble who have to render account for those tears! Wo, wo to them all! Hear me, Ermelinda, if I should have to tear them one by one from the altar, I swear to you — I swear by hell — “

”’Nay, Marco,’ interrupted the Countess, lifting up her head with a gentle dignity, “let not blasphemy be heard from christian lips. How can you hope the Lord will bless the work of mercy to which you have devoted yourself, if it be undertaken with revenge in your heart? What trust can I place in the deeds of one who has not God with him?”

“‘You are an angel, exclaimed Visconti, ‘and I — I am only a wretch. Now away; before the dawn, I shall be at my castle of Rosate; to-morrow’s sun shall see your wishes fulfilled. Adieu.’”

But the good resolutions of Marco are too late. After much search, Bice is found insensible in a vault of the castle of Rosate, where with her faithful maiden Lauretta, she had wandered in endeavoring to escape. She is brought into her chamber and restored to the embraces of her parents, but her protracted sufferings have proved too much for her feeble frame. Her last scenes with her friends are simple and pathetic. The following account of her death cannot fail to give our readers a favorable impression of the powers of our author:

“But on a sudden the profound quiet that reigned in those apartments was broken by the noise of hasty footsteps ascending the stairs; the keeper’s wife arose, and met at the entrance two persons who were earnestly exchanging a few words. One of the two paused at the door; the other rushed into the chamber, flung himself on his knees at the bed-side, and grasping and kissing the drapery, watered it with his tears. Ermelinda, the Count and Lauretta recognised Ottorino; the rest knew it could be no other. “The young man had just arrived from the castle of Binasco, accompanied by him in whose name he had been made prisoner, and who had hastened in person to liberate him. “The dying girl, disturbed by the sudden confusion, opened her eyes languidly, and without being able to discover the cause, those standing around intercepting her sight, asked what it was. “‘Give thanks to God,” said the confessor, tenderly; “you have taken the bitter cup at his hands; have taken it with peace and gratitude; with the same spirit receive now the joy he offers you, that both may contribute to the welfare of your soul.”

“‘What — Ottorino?” asked the invalid, making a last effort to pronounce the name.

“It is your husband,’ replied the priest, and turning to the youth he raised and led him nearer the bed. Bice fixed on his countenance her eyes, in which gleamed the last rays of life, and stretched out her hand, over which he bent his face, agonized yet no longer tearful. After an instant, the dying girl drew the hand feebly towards her, and looked up at him, signing at the same time to her mother, and striving apparently to say [column 2:] something she could not distinctly utter. Her mother guessed her thoughts, and turning to the young man: ‘She would tell you she has given her nuptial ring to her mother, and she wishes you to receive it.’ The face of Bice was animated with a smile expressive of satisfaction. Ermelinda then drew the ring from her finger and gave it to Ottorino, who kissed it, saying, ‘It shall go with me to the grave.’

“‘Yet one petition your bride has bequeathed you,’ continued the priest, ‘that you lay aside, if your heart ever cherished them, all thoughts of revenging her death. Vengeance belongeth unto God.”

“Her eyes were fixed anxiously on the countenance of the young man, who stood in silence with his head dropped on his breast; but the confessor seeing his irresolution, took him by the arm — “Come!” he demanded in a grave and severe tone, ‘Will you promise it? Will you promise it to her who, on the last step between life and death, between time and eternity, asks it of you as a grace, imposes it on you as a duty, in the name of that God before whom she is about to appear?”

“Yes — I promise it!’ answered Ottorino, bursting into passionate tears. Bice thanked him with a look full of angelic sweetness, signifying clearly that she had nothing further to desire in this world.

“The priest then made sign to those around, and as they knelt, resumed the interrupted prayers. Only in a moment of suspense and universal silence, the expiring girl heard a sound of suppressed sobbing, that came from the adjoining chamber, and lifting her eyes feebly to her mother’s face, seemed to ask who was there. The Countess hid her face between her hands, for she could no longer command herself to articulate a word; but the priest bending over the dying, said in a low tone, ‘Pray also for him, chiefly for him; it is Marco Visconti.” The maiden gently inclined her head to signify that she did so, and was not seen to raise it again; she was dead.” The other personages of the tale are soon disposed of Marco, in his vindictive pursuit of Lodrisio, is betrayed by him, through false accusations sent to Azzo Visconti, into the power of the latter, by whose servants he is basely murdered. The last chapter closes with a lament or sirvente on the death of this celebrated chief. Bice is buried at Limonta, where the Count and Countess continue to reside. Ottorino departs for the Holy Land.

Our extracts from these volumes have been tolerably copious, and we trust have convinced the reader that Marco Visconti is a production of no ordinary merit. Grossi, the author, has been some years known in Italy by his poetical works, La Fuggitira, I Lombardi alla prima Orociata, and Ildegonda. The latter is a touching story in verse, illustrating the evils of bigotry and ambition. But it needed not his previous reputation to account for the high popularity of this novel. The incidents are abundant, and succeed each other naturally, contributing ever to the developement of the plot, as well as the illustration of individual or national character. The domestic details are most skilfully blended with incidents of political interest. The dialogue is spirited and natural; and this is a rare merit in Italian novelists. The exhibition of the manners of the times, and the pictures of persons and ceremonies, are graphic without being too minute. It is a fault with many writers [page 146:] of this class, that the interest is frequently suspended, and the reader detained, to attend to some trifling description of dress or scene. We have here no occasion to complain. To crown all, this work is full of character. Marco has all the interest of reality; bold and generous, but self-willed, ambitious and haughty, his actions arise from blended motives. His disappointments excite our sympathy, and his nobleness frequently commands our admiration. Even in the depths of his remorse and self-humiliation, he preserves the dignity that adorned his power. Ottorino is a high-spirited youth, full of loyal devotion for his cousin and the protector of his childhood, who, even in the midst of his jealous hatred, knows him too noble for any act of treachery. The Count is weak and over cautious; and his contemptible selfishness is well contrasted with the firmness and noble-minded dignity of Ermelinda. Bice is a lovely creation; ingenuous, affectionate and high-minded, she has no care on earth but her attachment to her parents and her passionate love for Ottorino. The minor personages are not less strongly marked. Lupo, who has indeed a right to be called the hero of the tale, is drawn with a pen worthy of Scott. The numerous individuals besides these, entitled to notice, are described with masterly touches, and show that our author did not lavish his skill upon one or two favorite characters.

We are far from imagining that, by our brief and imperfect outline of this story, we have lessened its interest to our readers; so rich is the book in interesting incident and description. Will not some admirer of Italian literature present it to the public in an English dress? Superior to most of the novels of the present day, in this country and England, and not as yet surpassed by any in Italy, we are confident the success of a translation would well reward such an enterprize, and therefore recommend it to the attention of the scholar.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1837] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - SLM Literary Reviews (May 1837)