The Betrothed CHAPTER 13

The unfortunate commissioner was having a dyspeptic and troubled siesta after a dinner at which both appetite and fresh bread had been lacking. He was waiting very anxiously to hear what the end of the day’s disturbances would be; but he was far from suspecting that it would fall so catastrophically on his own head. A good citizen ran on ahead of the mob to warn him what was coming. The commissioner’s servants had been attracted to the door by the noise, and were standing there looking fearfully along the street towards the approaching uproar. While they listened to the messenger, the vanguard of the mob came into sight. They quickly took the message in to their master. He decided on flight, and was thinking how to get away, when a second messenger arrived to say that it was already too late. The servants hardly had time to shut the door, which they rapidly bolted and barred. Then they ran to shut the windows, as people do when the sky goes very black and a hailstorm is expected from one moment to another.

The howling outside grew louder and louder. In the courtyard it seemed to be coming down from the sky, like the sound of thunder; and every room and hollow space in the building resounded with it. Amid the vast, confused clamour could be heard the loud, rapid impact of heavy stones against the door.

‘The commissioner! The tyrant! The starver of the people! We’ll have him, dead or alive!’

The wretched man wandered from room to room, pale, breathless, slapping one trembling hand against the palm of the other, imploring God to show him mercy and his servants to stand firm and help to get him out of the house. But how could it be done, and where could he go? He went up to the attic and looked anxiously out of one of the little windows into the street, which was full of furious faces. He heard many voices calling for his death, and withdrew, more bewildered than ever, to look for the safest and most secluded hiding-place in the house. He cowered there, and listened feverishly for some sign of reduction in the volume of that ill-omened uproar. But then he heard the clamour grow louder and fiercer than ever, while the battering on the door redoubled. Overcome by the thumping of his own heart, he put his fingers in his ears. Then, as if out of his mind, he gritted his teeth, screwed up his face, and stretched out his arms in front of him, pushing, pushing, with the actions of a man trying to hold a door shut … But we cannot be sure exactly what he did next; for he was alone, and history can only guess at the details. Fortunately she has had plenty of practice …

This time Renzo was in the thick of it. He had not been carried there by the movement of the crowd, but had thrust his way into the centre of things deliberately. He had felt a thrill of revulsion at the first cry for blood. As regards breaking into the house and ransacking it, he could hardly have said whether that was right or wrong in the circumstances; but the idea of murder inspired him with an immediate feeling of unmixed horror. Passionate natures are all too ready to accept the passionate assertions of a crowd, and Renzo was utterly convinced that the commissioner was the main cause of the famine and the enemy of the people. And yet … and yet … as the crowd moved off towards the commissioner’s house, Renzo happened to overhear someone saying that he would do anything to save the unfortunate man, and at once decided to do what he could to help. With that object he had pushed his way through the throng almost up to the door, which was suffering many different kinds of assault at once.

Some people were banging away with large stones at the nails which held the lock in position, hoping to work it loose. Others were using heavy poles, hammers and chisels in a more regular attack. Others again were using broken knives, pieces of stone, iron nails, sticks or their bare fingers if they had nothing else, scraping and picking at the wall, trying to loosen the bricks and make a breach. Those who could do nothing to help encouraged the others with loud cries; but at the same time they kept thronging in towards the wall and getting in the way of the workers, who were already getting in each other’s way as they vied with one another in their uncoordinated enthusiasm. This is a thing we often see in good works – that the most ardent participants become a hindrance to the others – but mercifully it sometimes happens in bad works too.

As soon as the magistrates heard what was happening, they at once sent for help to the commander of the fortress, which was then known as the Castello di Porta Giovia; and he did send some troops. But by the time the message had been delivered, the orders given, the soldiers formed up and given the word to move off and marched to their destination, the house was already surrounded by a vast mob. The detachment halted on the edge of the crowd, at quite a distance from the door. The officer in charge did not know what to do next. Immediately in front of him was nothing but a rabble of spectators, of all ages and both sexes. When they were told to move on, or to make way, their only response was a long, ugly, rumbling sound; not one of them budged an inch. To open fire on this mass of people seemed to the officer to be not only inhumane, but also highly dangerous; for it would have hurt only the least vicious elements in the crowd, and roused its more violent members to a frenzy. Besides he had no instructions to use fire-arms. To open a way through that outer throng, pushing them back on either side as his men went in, and to go forward to attack the aggressive elements in the centre, would be the best plan; but how could he bring it off? As the soldiers moved in, would they be able to keep together, in proper formation?… If, instead of breaking up the crowd, they were themselves split up in the middle of the throng, they would be at the mercy of the rioters, after having roused them to wrath.

Rightly or wrongly the hesitation of the officer and the immobility of the troops were attributed to fear. The people nearest them merely stared them in the face, as much as to say: we don’t give a damn for you. Those who were a little further into the crowd defied them with grimaces and derisive shouts. Further in still, few members of the mob either knew or cared that they were there. The men who were demolishing the wall went on with their work, without any other concern than its speedy completion, and the spectators continued to urge them on with shouts of encouragement.

Among the spectators was one – a debauched looking old man – who was a spectacle in himself. With his deep-set, bloodshot eyes stretched as wide open as they would go, with the wrinkles of his face distorted into a smirk of fiendish pleasure, with hands held high above his unreverend white locks, he was brandishing a hammer, a rope and four large nails. When the commissioner had been killed, he said, these things would be used to hang his body up on the front door of his own house.

‘For shame!’ cried Renzo. He was horrified by the old man’s words, and by the faces of many bystanders who seemed to approve them; but at the same time he was encouraged by others he saw who looked as deeply shocked as himself, though they were keeping quiet about it. ‘For shame! Do we want to do the hangman out of a job? Do we want to kill a fellow-Christian? How can we expect God to send us bread, if we do terrible things like that? It’s thunderbolts, not bread, that he’d be sending us!’

‘You swine! You traitor to your country!’ cried a bystander who had managed to hear this praiseworthy speech among the general din, turning a face contorted with devilish passion towards Renzo. ‘Look at him! He’s one of the commissioner’s servants, disguised as a peasant; he’s a spy! Kill him! Kill him!’

Many more voices took up the cry: ‘What is it?’ – ‘Where is he?’ – ‘Who is it?’ – ‘It’s one of the commissioner’s servants!’ – ‘It’s a spy!’ – ‘It’s the commissioner himself, trying to escape disguised as a peasant!’ ‘Where?’ – ‘Where?’ ‘Kill him!’ – ‘Kill him!’

Renzo kept quiet and tried to look as small as possible. He would gladly have vanished altogether. One or two of his neighbours gathered round him protectively, and shouted other slogans as loudly as they could to confuse and drown the voices of those who were crying for blood. But what really saved him was a great cry of ‘Make way! Make way!’ which suddenly rang out close at hand. ‘Make way! Here it comes! This is what we want! Make way!’

What could it be? – It was a long ladder, which some men were bringing up, with the intention of leaning it against the wall and getting in at an upper window. Once in position, it would have made the task easy enough; but getting it there fortunately proved very difficult. It was carried by a man at each end and others on either side; they were pushed, jostled, and separated from each other by the crowd, so that their advance was slow and irregular. One man had his head between two rungs, and the supports on his shoulders; he was weighed down and shaken from side to side as if beneath a yoke, and was roaring with pain. Another was pushed right away from the ladder by a movement of the crowd. The end he had dropped cracked against the backs, arms and ribs of the bystanders, whose comments can be imagined. Others hoisted the free end up again on to their shoulders, crying: ‘All’s well now! Come on! Let’s go!’ The fateful object staggered and wound its way forward. It arrived just in time to distract and disorganize Renzo’s enemies. He took advantage of the local confusion which was now superimposed on the general one, and made off. He covered the first few yards bent almost double, as unobtrusively as possible, and then made free use of his elbows to get away from a spot which was clearly unhealthy for him. He decided to get right out of the mob as soon as he could, and really go back to the monastery this time to find Father Bonaventura, or wait for him if necessary.

But suddenly a strange ripple of excitement seemed to pass through the crowd from a point on its outskirts. A name was heard, passing from mouth to mouth across the throng: ‘Ferrer! Ferrer!’. Amazement, joy, anger, affection, repugnance seemed to vie for expression wherever the name was heard. Some shouted it loud and clear; others tried to shout it down; affirmations were mingled with denials, and blessings with curses.

‘Ferrer is here!’ ‘No, he’s not; it’s not true!’ – ‘Yes, he is here; long live Ferrer! He’s the one who brought down the price of bread.’ – ‘Nonsense!’ – ‘He is here! He’s come in his carriage!’ – ‘What does it matter? What’s it got to do with him? We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do.’ – ‘It’s Ferrer! Long live Ferrer, the friend of the poor! He’s come to take the commissioner off to prison’ – ‘No, no! we’ll see justice done ourselves! Away with him!’ ‘Yes ! Yes ! We want Ferrer! Let him take the commissioner to prison!’

Everyone stood on tiptoe and turned to look in the direction where the unexpected visitor was said to be. With everyone on tiptoe no one could see any more than he would have seen if everyone had kept his weight on his heels; but the fact is that they all got up on their toes.

Antonio Ferrer, the Grand Chancellor, had in fact arrived at the edge of the crowd, on the side furthest from the soldiers. His conscience had probably been troubling him with the thought that his own folly and obstinacy had been the cause, or anyway the occasion, of the revolt, and now he had come to try to quell it, or at least to prevent the most terrible and irreparable of its consequences. He had come to make good use of the fund of goodwill that he had acquired by doubtful means.

In popular uprisings there are always a certain number of men, inspired by hot-blooded passions, fanatical convictions, evil designs, or a devilish love of disorder for its own sake, who do everything they can to make things take the worst possible turn. They put forward or support the most merciless projects, and fan the flames every time they begin to subside. Nothing ever goes too far for them; they would like to see rioting continue without bounds and without an end. But to counterbalance them, there are always a certain number of other men, equally ardent and determined, who are doing all they can in the opposite direction, inspired by friendship or fellow-feeling for the people threatened by the mob, or by a reverent and spontaneous horror of bloodshed and evil deeds. God bless them for it!

In each of the two groups we have just mentioned, the conformity of the individual members’ wishes provides an instant coordination of their actions, even if there has been no previous agreement about what should be done. The bulk of the mob – what we may term its raw material – is made up of a fortuitous conglomeration of human beings, who range from one end of the scale to the other without any clear-cut divisions. A little hot-headed; a little cunning; a little too fond of their own special brand of justice, and inclined to hanker after flagrant examples of it; quick to ferocious violence and quick to feelings of pity; quick to both loathing and to adoration, whenever a convincing occasion for either sentiment offers itself; greedy at all times to hear and to believe something outrageous; always looking for a reason to shout, to applaud someone or to howl for his blood. ‘Long live Peter!’ and ‘Death to Paul!’ are the phrases that come most readily to their lips. If you can persuade them that a man does not deserve to be hanged, only a few more words will be needed to convince them that he ought to be carried shoulder high in triumph. They will play the part of actors, spectators, tools or obstacles, according to the way the wind blows. They will also be quite ready to keep silent, when they can hear no more slogans to repeat; to stop rioting, when the agitators cease their work; to break up, when a sufficient number of voices unites in saying ‘Let’s call it a day’, without anyone saying the opposite; and finally to go home, asking each other what it was all about.

But since the main power of the mob resides in that central mass, each of the two active extremes uses every trick to win it over and gain control of it. One might think that two rival and hostile souls were fighting to enter into possession of that great ugly body and set it in motion. They vie with each other in spreading rumours calculated to rouse the passions and direct the actions of the mob in ways that will favour their own respective ends; in reporting news that will rekindle or extinguish the wrath of the crowd, and revive its hopes or its fears; in finding the key slogan which, once taken up and shouted loudly by the greater number, will simultaneously create, express and confirm a majority vote in favour of one party or the other.

So much by way of prelude to the fact that a struggle was going on between the two parties for control of the mob assembled in front of the commissioner’s house, and that the appearance of Antonio Ferrer at once gave a great advantage to the more humane section, which had been clearly the weaker force before. Indeed, if his intervention had been only a little later, they would have had no power to defend their cause, and indeed no cause to defend. Ferrer was popular with the mob because of the prices he had fixed at a rate so favourable to the consumer, and because of his heroic stand against every argument to the contrary. Those who were already favourably disposed to him were still more captivated by the confident courage of the old man, who had brought no guards with him, no official pomp, as he came out to face a stormy and furious multitude. And then the story that he had come to take the commissioner to prison had a remarkable effect. Popular fury against the unfortunate official would have raged higher than ever, if anyone had bluntly opposed it, without offering any concessions; but this sop to Cerberus quietened it a little, so that it gave way to feelings of an opposite character in the hearts of many of the crowd.

The party that favoured peace felt a new surge of vitality, and set about helping Ferrer in every possible way. Those who were nearest to him applauded and led the public applause, at the same time doing their best to induce the crowd to make way for his carriage. Those further away cheered loudly, and repeated and passed on every word that Ferrer uttered, or that they thought he should have uttered, shouting down those who were obstinate in their wish for blood, and turning the latest mood of the fickle crowd against them. ‘Who’s this who doesn’t want us to shout “Long live Ferrer!” So you don’t want bread to be cheap, eh? These swine who don’t want justice to be done in a Christian way! Some of the noisiest of them are trying to make a diversion so that the commissioner can escape. To prison with the commissioner! Long live Ferrer! Make way for Ferrer!’

More and more people echoed these views, and the morale of the opposite party declined in proportion. In the end those who were for peace went over from words to deeds against those who were still battering at the wall, pushing them away from it and wrenching the tools out of their grasp. They fumed and threatened, and tried to get back to work again; but the cause of those who thirsted for blood was already lost. The words that dominated the tumult were ‘prison’, ‘justice’, and ‘Ferrer’. After a certain amount of argument the demolition workers were repulsed. The other party took control of the door, both to protect it from further attack, and to prepare the way for Ferrer to go in. One of them called out to the people in the house – there were plenty of holes to speak through – and told them that rescue was at hand, and that the commissioner must be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, ‘to go to prison – prison, I said. Do you understand?’

‘Is that the same Ferrer who helps them to make the proclamations?’ said Renzo to one of his new neighbours. He was thinking of the words ‘Vidit Ferrer’ which Doctor Quibbler had bawled in his ear while pointing them out to him at the bottom of one particular proclamation.

‘That’s right – the Grand Chancellor.’

‘Is he a good man?’

‘Is he a good man, indeed! He’s the man who brought down the price of bread; and the others wouldn’t have it; and now he’s come to take the commissioner away to prison, because of the unjust things he’s done.’

There is no need to say that Renzo was all for Ferrer at once. He wanted to go right up and see him; it was not an easy matter, but he shoved and used his elbows like a true hillman, and managed to push his way into the front rank, right next to the carriage.

The carriage had already made its way a certain distance into the crowd, and had halted there – one of the frequent stops that are inevitable in such a journey. Old Ferrer looked out of the windows, first on one side, and then on the other, with a humble, smiling, affectionate expression, which he had previously always saved for the moments when he found himself in the presence of His Majesty King Philip IV; but he was compelled to put it on for this occasion as well. He spoke to the crowd too; but the clamour and the buzzing of many voices, the cheering addressed to Ferrer himself, were such that very few people could hear anything at all of what he said, and even they could not hear much. So he did what he could with gestures, putting the tips of his fingers to his lips, and then separating them to blow kisses with both hands to right and left in thanks for the goodwill of the people. Then he put his hands right out of the window and waved them gently to ask the crowd to make way, or gracefully motioned for a little silence. When the uproar did quieten a little, those nearest to him heard and repeated his words: ‘Bread … yes … plenty … yes … I have come to see justice done … make way for me a little, if you please …’

Overcome and almost suffocated by the discord of so many voices and by the sight of so many serried, staring faces, he withdrew from the window for a moment, blew out his cheeks, sighed deeply, and muttered to himself: ‘Por mi vida, que de gente!’1

‘Long live Ferrer! Don’t be afraid, sir! We know you’re a good man. Bread! Bread!’

‘That’s right – bread, bread,’ said Ferrer. ‘Bread and plenty – I give you my word’ – and he laid his hand on his heart.

‘Make way now,’ he went on a moment later. ‘I have come to take him to prison, and see he gets the just punishment that he deserves.’ Under his breath he added the words ‘Si es culpable.’ 2 Then, leaning forward toward the coachman, he said: ‘Adelante, Pedro, si puedes.’3

The coachman also smiled with graceful affection at the mob, as if he had been a gentleman of rank. With indescribable elegance he swung the whip very slowly to left and right, to ask the bystanders who were in the way to move back a little and make way for the coach. ‘If you please,’ he said, echoing his master’s words, ‘if you please, gentlemen, let us have just a little room, just a little; just enough to let us get through.’

Meanwhile the more active men of good will set about getting him the room that he had requested so politely. Some of them got in front of the horses and moved people to one side, with flattering words, or by laying their hands on people’s chests and giving them the gentlest of pushes. ‘Over there, please, gentlemen; a little room, if you please.’ Others were performing the same operation on the flanks of the carriage, so that it could get by without crushing toes or bloodying noses; for that would not only have been painful for their owners, but would have imperilled Antonio Ferrer’s popularity.

Renzo gazed for a few moments at that venerable old face, which was marked by strain, and heavy with fatigue, but alive with concern for others, and shining with the hope of rescuing a man from the terrors of death. The young man put aside all thought of leaving the throng, and resolved to help Ferrer, and to stay with him until he had achieved his object. So he promptly joined the others in making way for the coach, working as hard as any of them. Soon the necessary space opened up. ‘Come on, then!’ cried several men to the coachman, moving aside or pushing on ahead to make more room for him. ‘Adelante, presto, con juicio,’4 said Ferrer, and the carriage began to move. Amid all the salutations that Ferrer showered on the public in general, he reserved certain special gestures of gratitude, certain smiles of complicity, for the individuals who were visibly exerting themselves on his behalf. Several of those smiles came Renzo’s way – and he certainly deserved them, for he was working harder for the Grand Chancellor that day than any of his confidential servants could have done. The young hillman was charmed by his courtesy, and almost felt that he was now a personal friend of the great man.

Once the carriage began to move, it kept on moving, slowly enough, but with only momentary halts. The whole distance it had to cover probably did not amount to more than a musket-shot; but if you went by the time it took, it might seem quite a long journey, even for someone who had not Ferrer’s irreproachable reasons for haste. The crowd swirled round the carriage, in front, behind and on either side, like great waves around a ship advancing through the middle of a tempest. But no tempest could have matched that shrill, discordant, deafening uproar.

Ferrer looked out first on one side and then on the other. As he posed and waved, he tried to make out what people in the crowd were saying, so that he could respond appropriately. He wanted to exchange a few words with his band of supporters; but it was a difficult matter – perhaps the most difficult that had come his way in all his years as Grand Chancellor. But from time to time the odd word, or even the odd phrase, would be repeatedly called out by a group of men as he went by, and he would pick it out clearly, like the louder noise of a big rocket amid the immense, crackling din of a firework display. Now trying to find a truly satisfactory answer to those cries from the crowd, now merely giving a reply which he knew would be acceptable, or which seemed appropriate to the demands of the moment, Ferrer had something to say at every step.

‘Yes, yes, gentlemen … Bread, bread and plenty … I will take him to prison myself; he shall be punished … si es culpable5… Yes, yes; I will give the necessary orders … bread shall be cheap again. Asi es6 – that’s it, I meant to say. Our sovereign lord the King does not want faithful subjects like yourselves to suffer from hunger …Guardaos!7 Mind you don’t get hurt, gentlemen. Pedro, adelante con juicio.8 Plenty, plenty for everybody. Let us have a little more room, if you please. Bread! yes, bread! Prison! yes, prison! – What was that?’ he finished abruptly, as a man thrust the top half of his body through the window and howled some words of advice, entreaty or applause. But the man did not even have time to take in Ferrer’s question before being pulled back again by a bystander who noticed that he was about to fall under the wheels. Amid repartee and cheering, and also the odd ripple of opposition, which made itself felt here and there but was quickly suppressed, Ferrer finally arrived at the commissioner’s door, thanks mainly to his well-intentioned helpers.

The others, who had reached the door earlier, with equally good motives, as we mentioned before, had been trying very hard to clear, and keep cleared, a space in front of it. They begged, exhorted and threatened; they pushed and pushed again, making a little ground here and there, with that extra vigour that comes from the knowledge that one’s goal is in sight. Finally they managed to split the mob into two parts, and to push both of them so that a little opening appeared between the door and the coach, which had now halted just in front of it. Between clearing the way and acting as escort, Renzo reached the door at the same time as the carriage, and was able to take his place in one of the two lines of men of good-will who were flanking the carriage and holding back the two surging divisions of the mob. And as he lent his powerful shoulders to the task of restraining one section of the crowd, he found himself in an excellent position to see what was happening.

Ferrer sighed with relief when he saw that open space, and the front door still shut – though ‘shut’ must be taken in the limited sense of ‘not open’. The hinges were almost out of the door-posts. The two leaves of the door were splintered, dented, and wrenched apart in the centre. You could look through the gap and see a piece of stretched and twisted chain, almost torn from its moorings, which just about held them together. One worthy citizen had put his mouth to the gap, and was shouting to the people inside to open up; another quickly flung open the carriage door. The old man put out his head, rose from his seat, grasped his helper’s arm with his right hand, and got down on to the footboard. On either side the crowd was standing on tiptoe. Hundreds of faces turned towards him; hundreds of beards pointed in his direction. General curiosity and universal attention brought about a momentary complete silence. Ferrer stood for a moment on the footboard, looked round him, bowed formally to the crowd, as if from a pulpit, laid his left hand on his heart, and shouted ‘Bread! Bread and justice!’ Bold, erect and dignified in his long robes, he stepped down on to the pavement amid frenzied cheering.

Meanwhile the people inside had undone the door – or rather finished undoing it. They removed the chain, together with its damaged staples, and widened the gap between the leaves just enough to admit the welcome guest. ‘Quick! quick!’ he said. ‘Open up properly, so that I can get in; and you gentlemen out there, be good fellows and hold the crowd back. Don’t let them get through to me, for heaven’s sake. Try to keep a little space open for a minute, until I come back … And you gentlemen inside! Just a moment now!’ he went on, turning back towards them. ‘Steady with that door, and let me in! Oh, my ribs! Mind my ribs! You can shut the door now … no, not yet; mind my gown! My gown, I said!’ His gown would in fact have been caught between the leaves of the door, if he had not adroitly twitched at the train which vanished like the tail of a snake taking refuge in a hole.

The two halves of the door were brought together again; they even managed to bolt them, after a fashion. Outside, the men who had assumed the functions of a bodyguard made full use of shoulders, arms and lung-power to keep a little space free. They also put up a silent prayer that Ferrer would be quick.

Ferrer himself was urging the servants to be quick, as they gathered round him in the inner porch, gasping with relief and crying: ‘Oh, Your Excellency! God bless Your Excellency!’

‘Be quick, then, be quick!’ said Ferrer. ‘Where’s that blessed commissioner?’

The poor man was coming down the stairs, half dragged and half carried by other servants, his face as white as a sheet. When he saw his rescuer, he uttered a deep sigh of relief. His heart beat again; a little strength returned to his legs, and a little colour to his cheeks. He made all the haste he could towards Ferrer, saying: ‘I am in the hands of God and the hands of Your Excellency. But how are we to get out of here? There are people who want my blood all round the house.’

‘Venga usted conmigo,9 and don’t be afraid. I’ve got my carriage just outside; but be quick! be quick!’ He took the commissioner by the hand, and led him towards the door, saying all he could to encourage him; but inwardly he was thinking: ‘Aqui esta el busilis; Dios nos valga! 10

The door opened. Ferrer went out first, followed by the commissioner, hunched, clinging as if glued to the protective robes of the Grand Chancellor, like a child holding on to its mother’s skirts. The men who had kept a space clear in front of the door now raised their arms and waved their hats, making a sort of screen to protect the commissioner from the danger of being sighted by the mob. The poor man got into the carriage before Ferrer, and cowered in a corner. Ferrer followed him, and the door closed behind them. The crowd dimly saw, heard or guessed what had happened, and sent up a great roar of mingled applause and cursing.

The next stage might well have seemed the most difficult and dangerous. But public opinion had come down definitely enough on the side of allowing the commissioner to be taken to prison; and while Ferrer was inside the house, a number of the men who had made it possible for him to reach it in the first place were busy opening up and keeping open a kind of corridor through the crowd for his retreat. The carriage was therefore able to pass through the mob this second time at a better pace, and with fewer stops. As it went forward, the two sections of the crowd, which had been held apart to let it through, came together again and mingled in its wake.

As soon as Ferrer had taken his seat, he had leant over to warn the commissioner to keep down out of sight, for the love of heaven; but there was no need for this reminder. Ferrer, on the other hand, had to show himself, so that the attention of the crowd should be directed and concentrated on him. He repeated the performance he had given on the way to the commissioner’s house, addressing his changeable audience with a speech which lasted throughout the journey. Nothing more continuous in delivery, nor more unconnected in content, can ever have been heard. He did however intersperse an occasional word in Spanish, which he whispered rapidly into the ear of his invisible companion.

‘That’s right, gentlemen. Bread and justice! He’s going to prison, in the castle, in my custody. Thank you, gentlemen, thank you! No, no; he won’t get away. Por ablandarlos.11 Quite right … quite right. There will be an inquiry; we shall see. Thank you, thank you – I feel the same regard for all you gentlemen. Yes, the punishment must be most severe. Esto lo digo por su bien.12 A fair price, a just price, and the starvers of the people must be punished. Make way, if you please. Yes – you’re right. I am an honest fellow, and the friend of the people. He must be punished. You’re right again – he is a villain, he is a blackguard. Perdone, usted.13 Yes he’s in for a rough time, all right … si es culpable. 14 Yes, yes, I’ll see the bakers do their duty in future. Long live the King, and the good people of Milan, his most faithful subjects! Yes, he certainly is in trouble! Animo; estamos ya quasi fuera.’15

They had in fact got through the worst of the crowd, and were nearly clear of it altogether. Just as Ferrer was beginning to rest his vocal cords, he saw that largely ineffective force, the detachment of Spanish soldiers. They had not been completely useless right at the end, in point of fact. With the support and guidance of one or two citizens in the crowd, they had helped to persuade a few people to go home quietly, and were able to keep the way open for the last stages of Ferrer’s retreat. When the carriage reached them, they lined its route and presented arms to the Grand Chancellor. He made a final salute to right and left. Then the officer in charge came up to greet him, and was met with a wave of the hand and the words: ‘Beso a usted las manos’, 16 which he correctly interpreted as meaning: ‘A fine lot of help you’ve given me!’ He saluted again and shrugged his shoulders. It would have been a perfect opportunity for the Grand Chancellor to trot out the tag ‘Cedant arma togae’.17 But Ferrer had no time to think of quotations; and in any case it would have been lost on the officer, who did not know Latin.

As Pedro passed between those two rows of Spanish soldiers, and those respectfully raised muskets, his ancient courage returned at once. He recovered completely from his dazed condition, and remembered who he was, and whom he drove. Shouting ‘Out of the way! Out of the way!’ without ceremony, to a crowd which had now thinned out enough to be safely addressed in that manner, he whipped the horses on towards the castle.

‘Levantese, levantese; estamos ya fuera,’18 said Ferrer to the commissioner. Reassured by the silence, the rapid movement of the carriage and by Ferrer’s words, the poor man bestirred himself, lifted his weight off his haunches, and got up. When he had recovered a little, he began to shower unending thanks on his rescuer. Ferrer sympathized with him over the dangers he had run, and rejoiced with him over his present safety, but suddenly broke off. ‘Good God!’ he cried, striking his bald head with his hand, ‘que dirà de esto sua excelencia,19 who is already in such a state over that infernal Casale, which refuses to surrender? Que dirà el conde duque,20 who takes umbrage every time a dog barks louder than usual? Que dirà el rey nuestro señor,21 who can hardly help hearing something about an uproar like this? Can we even be sure that it is finished? Dios lo sabe …’ 22

‘Well,’ said the commissioner, ‘as far as I am concerned, I decline to have anything more to do with it. I resign all interest in the matter. I shall hand over my office to Your Excellency, and go and live in a cave in the mountains as a hermit, far, far away from these savage brutes.’

‘You will have to do whatever suits the requirements of el servicio de su magestad,’ 23 replied the Grand Chancellor gravely.

‘His Majesty will not want me to die,’ replied the commissioner. ‘A cave shall be my home … a cave far away from these people.’

Our author does not tell us what became of the poor fellow’s resolution. We can follow him as far as the castle, but then we lose sight of him.