The Betrothed CHAPTER 21

The old woman went off eagerly to obey her orders, and to issue other instructions with the authority of the name which assured prompt compliance from all in the castle, whoever pronounced it. For it never occurred to anyone that somebody might be rash enough to use that name without permission. She did reach the inn before the carriage arrived, and when she saw it drive up, she got out of the litter, signed to the coachman to stop, and went up to the door. Nibbio put his head out, and she whispered the master’s instructions in his ear.

As the carriage stopped, Lucia shook herself, and woke up out of a sort of trance. Her blood ran cold again. She opened her mouth and eyes very wide, and watched to see what would happen. Nibbio had drawn back from the door, and the old woman, with her chin on the window-sill, was looking at Lucia.

‘Come on, young lady,’ she said. ‘Come on, you poor little thing! Come with me, for I’ve orders to treat you well and cheer you up.’

At the sound of a woman’s voice, poor Lucia felt a little comfort, a moment’s return of courage; but then even darker terrors overtook her.

‘Who are you?’ she asked in a trembling voice, staring at the old woman with a dazed look in her eyes.

‘Come on, then; come on, you poor little thing,’ said the old woman again. Nibbio and the others drew their own conclusions about their master’s intentions from the unwonted kindness of the old woman’s words and voice. They also tried, as gently as possible, to induce Lucia to do what she was told. But she went on looking out of the window, and, though the wild and unknown countryside gave her little hope of rescue, and the confident bearing of her guards even less, she still opened her mouth to scream. But then she saw Nibbio scowl meaningly at the cloth in his hand, and she choked back her cry. Trembling and struggling, she was picked up and put into the litter. The old woman followed her inside while Nibbio told the other two bravoes to escort the litter, and quickly made his way up the slope, to report to his master in accordance with his orders.

‘Who are you?’ asked Lucia anxiously, looking at that ill-favoured, unfamiliar face. ‘Why am I here with you? Where is this? Where are you taking me?’

‘To see someone who wants to do you a kindness,’ said the old woman. ‘To see a fine … Oh, it’s a fine thing for people when he decides to do them a kindness. You’re a lucky, lucky girl! Don’t be frightened; and come on, smile now! For he’s told me to cheer you up. You’ll tell him I have, won’t you? You’ll tell him I have cheered you up?’

‘But who is he? Why? What does he want with me? I don’t belong to him! Tell me where I am! Oh, let me go! tell these men to let me go, to take me to a church! Listen, listen! You’re a woman too – in the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary!’

The old woman had often repeated that sweet and holy name in her earliest years, but a very long time had gone by since it last passed her lips. As she heard it at this moment, a strange, faint, confused sensation came to the unhappy creature, like the memory of light to an old man blinded in early childhood.

Meanwhile the Unnamed stood at the great door of the castle, looking down the hill. The litter was coming up at a snail’s pace, as the carriage had done before; in front of it, and leaving it further behind every moment, came Nibbio, running up the hill. When he arrived, his master beckoned to him, and led the way into one of the great rooms of the castle.

He halted and turned towards Nibbio. ‘Well?’ he said.

‘All according to plan, sir,’ said Nibbio, with a bow. ‘The messenger was on time, the girl was on time; there wasn’t anyone around at the place where we picked her up; she only screamed once, and nobody heard her. The coachman knew his job, and the horses were fine; we met no one. And yet …’

‘And yet what?’

‘Well, sir, to tell you the truth, I’d just as soon you’d told me to put a bullet through her from behind, without all this business of having to listen to her and look at her face.’

‘What? What was that? What do you mean?’

‘You see, sir, it went on such a long time … Somehow she made me feel sorry for her. Compassion, I suppose you’d call it.’

‘Compassion? What do you know about compassion? What is compassion, anyway?’

‘I never realized what it was before half so well as I have this time, sir. It seems to be something a bit like fear. If a man lets it get hold of him, he loses his manhood.’

‘Let’s hear what she did to inspire you with this remarkable feeling.’

‘Oh, your Honour, it went on for such a long time! Weeping, begging for mercy, with those great eyes of hers; and going as pale as death, and sobbing, and begging for mercy again; and the things she said …’

‘I won’t have her in the house,’ thought the Unnamed. ‘I was a fool to take this job on; but I’ve given my word. Well, once she’s gone …’

Then he raised his head and looked commandingly at Nibbio. ‘Now then,’ he said, ‘forget about compassion, and all that. Get yourself a horse, and take one of the men with you – or two, if you like – and be off, as fast as you can, to Don Rodrigo’s place – you know Don Rodrigo. Tell him to send someone – and he’d better be quick about it, because otherwise …’

But at this point a second ‘No!’ even more imperious than the first, seemed to resound within him, forbidding him to finish his sentence,

‘No!’ he said resolutely, as if to express the command of that secret voice to himself. ‘No; go to bed, Nibbio; and then tomorrow morning … tomorrow morning you will carry out the instructions I shall give you then.’

‘There’s some special devil in league with that girl,’ he thought, alone now, standing with his arms crossed and staring fixedly at the floor, where the rays of the moon, entering through a high window, made a patch of pale light, crisscrossed with the shadows of heavy iron bars, and cut up into smaller sections by the leading of the panes …‘some special devil, or else there’s a special angel to protect her … To think of Nibbio talking about compassion!… Tomorrow morning, early tomorrow morning, I’ll have her out of here. She must go where her destiny leads her, and I shall never hear of her again; and what’s more,’ he went on, talking to himself in the same spirit in which we address a rebellious child, knowing that it will not do what it is told, ‘I shall never think of her again either. That swine Don Rodrigo had better not come here pestering me with his thanks, because … because I never want to hear her name again. I helped him because I promised I would, and I promised I would because … that’s where my destiny leads me. But I’ll make him pay me for this service, and pay me properly … let me see, what shall it be, now?’

He tried to think of some really horrifying job the performance of which he could exact from Don Rodrigo as a payment, or perhaps as a penalty, for this one. But his mind was struck again by the memory of that word ‘compassion’, coming so strangely from Nibbio. ‘However did she manage to put that into his head?’ he wondered, fascinated by the question. ‘I must see her – no, damn it! – yes, I will see her!’

He went through various great rooms, found the entrance to a small staircase, and groped his way up to the old woman’s room. Instead of knocking at the door, he gave it a kick.

‘Who’s there?’

‘Open up!’

At the sound of that voice, the old woman scurried to the door. In a moment the bolt was creaking as it was drawn back, and the door was thrown open. The Unnamed stood in the doorway and looked round the room. By the light of a lamp burning on a small table, he saw Lucia huddled on the floor, in the angle furthest from the entrance.

‘Who told you to fling her down in the corner like a bundle of rags, you old witch?’ he said, with an angry scowl.

‘You see, sir, it’s her own choice, where she is,’ said the old woman humbly. ‘I tried everything to cheer her up, as she’ll tell you herself, but it couldn’t be done.’

‘Stand up then!’ said the Unnamed to Lucia, going up to her. But the noise he had made when demanding entry, the opening of the door, the apparition in the doorway, and the words he had uttered, all combined to instil new terrors into her terrified heart. She was now huddled more tightly than ever into the corner, with her face hidden in her hands, quite motionless except for a tremor that shook her from head to foot.

‘Stand up, stand up! I don’t want to do you any harm, and I’m in a position to do you some good,’ said the nobleman. Finally he shouted the words ‘Stand up!’ loudly, in anger at seeing his order twice ignored.

Drawing fresh vigour from this new terror, the unfortunate girl got up on to her knees. She put her hands together, as if before the image of a saint, raised her eyes to the Unnamed’s face and dropped them again at once, and said: ‘Here I am: you can kill me now.’

‘I’ve already told you that I don’t want to do you any harm, said the Unnamed, in a softer voice, looking intently at that sorrowful and terrified face.

‘Cheer up, then; cheer up!’ said the old woman. ‘The master says himself that he doesn’t mean you any harm.’

‘Then why is he making me suffer all the pains of hell?’ said Lucia in a voice trembling with fear, but also marked by the confidence that comes from despairing indignation. ‘What have I ever done to him?’

‘Have they ill-treated you? Tell me if they have!

‘Ill-treated, did you say? I’ve been treacherously kidnapped, dragged away by force! And why? Why did they kidnap me? Why am I here? What is this place? I’m only a poor girl; what have I ever done to you? In the name of God …’

‘God, indeed!’ interrupted the Unnamed. ‘I’m always hearing about God. People who can’t defend themselves, who haven’t the strength to defend themselves, always bring God into it, as if they knew him personally. You bring in the name of God; and what claim do you suppose that gives you? Does it entitle you to make me …?’ He left the sentence unfinished.

‘Oh heavens!’ “Claim”, sir? What am I entitled to claim, poor wretch that I am, except your mercy? God will forgive so many things, for a single act of mercy! Let me go! For mercy’s sake let me go! There’s no profit in it for a man who has to die some day to torture a poor creature like this. You have the power to give orders – tell them to let me go! They brought me here by force! Send me with this woman to —, where my mother is. Oh, blessed Virgin Mary, oh, my mother, for mercy’s sake, my mother! Perhaps she’s not very far from here – I saw my own mountains on the way … Why do you want to make me suffer? Or get them to take me to a church. I’ll pray for you, for the rest of my life. What does it cost you to say a couple of words? Oh, thank God! I can see the look of pity in your face! Say those words, say them! God will forgive so many things, for an act of mercy!’

‘If only she were the daughter of one of those brutes who had me banished!’ thought the Unnamed. ‘Or of one of those swine who want to see me dead! Then I’d be glad enough to hear her screeching like this. But as it is …’

‘Don’t turn a deaf ear to a good impulse, sir!’ said Lucia fervently, animated by the sight of traces of uncertainty in her tyrant’s expression and attitude. ‘If you don’t have mercy on me, the Lord will; he’ll let me die, and that’ll be the end of it for me – but not for you … perhaps one day you too will … but no, no; I’ll always pray the Lord to preserve you from evil. What would it cost you to say a couple of words? If you could only feel what I’m suffering …’

‘Come, don’t be afraid,’ said the Unnamed, with a gentleness in his voice which made the old woman gasp. ‘Have I done you any harm? Have I threatened you?’

‘Oh, no, no! I can see that you’re kind, that you feel pity for a poor girl … If you liked, you could frighten me worse than all the others, you could have me killed. But you haven’t – you’ve … made me feel a little bit better. God reward you for it! But finish the work of mercy, sir – let me go, let me go !’

‘Tomorrow morning …’

‘Oh, let me go now!’

‘Tomorrow morning, I was saying, I’ll see you again. Meanwhile don’t be frightened. Get some sleep. And you must be hungry. I’ll see they bring you something.’

‘No, no; I nearly die when there’s a knock on the door – it’ll be the death of me. Take me to a church; God will reward you for every step you take on the way there.’

‘I’ll send a woman up with your food,’ said the Unnamed. Once the words were out of his mouth, he was amazed to think that such an expedient could ever have come into his head, or that he should ever have felt the need of finding one, just for a little peasant girl’s peace of mind.

‘As for you,’ he went on, turning to the old woman, ‘you encourage her to eat something. And let her sleep in that bed. If she wants you in there with her, all right; if she doesn’t, it won’t do you any harm to sleep on the floor for one night. And cheer her up! Try to keep her happy – and don’t let me hear any complaints about you from her!’

He walked quickly towards the door. Lucia jumped up and ran to hold him back, to renew her plea for mercy; but he was gone.

‘God help me! Quick – shut the door!’ said Lucia to the old woman. When she heard the leaves of the door come together and the bolt creak into position, she huddled back into her corner again.

‘God help me!’ she cried again, beginning to sob. ‘Who’ll lend an ear to my appeals now? Where am I? Tell me now, tell me for pity’s sake, who is that gentleman who was here talking to me?’

‘So you want me to tell you who he is? Listen to me, my girl. Because he’s taken you under his wing, you’re getting haughty, and you want to know everything, and get me into trouble. You’d better ask himself. If I did what you ask in this particular matter, it’s not smooth words like he was saying to you that I’d be hearing … I’m old now, an old woman,’ she went on, muttering between her teeth. ‘God’s curse on these young girls, who look so sweet when they’re laughing and when they’re crying too, so that people always think they must be in the right.’

But as she heard Lucia continue to sob, she remembered the threatening words of her master. She bent over the girl’s huddled form, and spoke in a gentler voice.

‘Come on, now!’ she said. ‘I haven’t said anything unkind to you. Let’s have a little smile now; and don’t ask me questions I can’t answer. Apart from that, don’t worry your head. If you only know how happy a lot of people would be to hear him talk to them the way he’s been talking to you! Cheer up now, for in a minute there’ll be something for you to eat, and I’m sure, from the way he spoke to you, that it’ll be something nice. And then you’ll go to bed; and I hope you manage to leave a little room for me too!’ she ended, unable to keep a note of resentment out of her voice.

‘I don’t want to eat anything, and I don’t want to sleep. Leave me alone. Don’t come near me, but don’t go out of the room.’

‘I won’t,’ said the old woman, drawing away from her, and sitting down on a broken-down chair, from which she glared at the poor girl with mingled fear and rancour. Then she stared at her cot, biting her lips at the thought of being excluded from it for the night, and grumbling audibly about the cold. But the thought of Lucia’s supper cheered her up, with the hope that there might be something there for her as well.

Lucia felt no cold and no hunger; half dazed, she now had only a confused consciousness of her own sufferings and fears, like a fever patient lost among his dreams. Then a knock on the door made her jump. She lifted her face up in terror and cried: ‘Who’s that? Who’s that? No one’s to come in!’

‘Don’t worry, now; it’s something nice,’ said the old woman. ‘It’s only Marta, bringing you your supper.’

‘Shut the door! Shut it!’ cried Lucia.

‘I will, I will,’ replied the old woman. She took a basket out of Marta’s hands, and sent her away; she shut the door and came over to set the basket on a table in the middle of the room. Then she made several attempts to get Lucia to come and sample the good things that it contained. She used the words that were in her opinion best calculated to encourage the poor girl’s appetite, breaking out into exclamations about the exquisite nature of the food. ‘There are things here that … well, when people like us have the luck to taste them, we aren’t likely to forget them for a while! This is the wine the master drinks with his friends … when someone special comes to see him, and they want to have a good time! My word!’

But seeing that all her wiles were ineffective, she went on: ‘Well, it’s your own choice. Now, when tomorrow comes, don’t go saying that I didn’t encourage you. I’ll eat a bit myself; but I’ll leave more than enough for you, when you come to your senses and make up your mind to do as you’re told.’

The old woman began to eat greedily. When she had had enough, she went over to Lucia’s corner, and again urged her to have something to eat, and then go to bed.

‘No, no, I don’t want anything,’ the girl replied, in an exhausted, sleepy-sounding voice. Then, in more determined tones, she went on,

‘What about the door? Is it shut? Is it shut properly?’ She looked all round the room, got up, and walked suspiciously over towards the door.

The old woman hurried over ahead of her, stretched out her hand to the bolt and gave it a shake. ‘Do you hear that?’ she said. ‘Can you see it’s really shut? Are you happy now?’

‘Happy?’ said Lucia. ‘Happy in this place?’ She settled back into her corner. ‘Well, at least God knows that this is where I am!’

‘Ah, come to bed now! What good d’you think you can do by cowering there in the corner like a dog? Why refuse to be comfortable while you can?’

‘No, no; leave me alone!’

‘Well, you must please yourself. Look, I’m leaving you the best place. I’m going to sleep right on the edge of the bed; I’m putting myself out for you. If you want to come to bed, you know what to do. And don’t forget I asked you to lie down here several times.’

She got under the bedclothes, fully dressed, and everything was quiet.

Lucia sat motionless in the corner, all huddled together with her hands resting on her knees, and her face hidden in her hands. Neither fully awake nor fully asleep, she was visited by a rapid succession, a confused series of gloomy thoughts, vivid imaginings and grisly fears. At times consciousness returned almost completely, and she had a clear recollection of the hideous things she had seen and suffered that day; then she began a careful and painful examination of the terrifying, obscure realities of her position. At other times her mind wandered off into dark regions, and struggled with the strange images called up by terror and uncertainty.

She sat there for a while in that agonized state; but finally weariness and exhaustion prevailed. Stretching out her aching limbs, she lay down, or rather collapsed into a lying position. Then followed a brief period of something more like real sleep. But suddenly she awoke, as if in response to a call from within her own being, and then felt a compulsive need to regain full alertness, and recover complete command of her senses: to know where she was, and why and how she had got there. She heard a noise, and listened intently. It was the slow, rattling snore of the old woman. She opened her eyes, and saw a weak glimmer that shone out and vanished, shone out and vanished … it was the wick of the lamp, now on the point of going out, which put forth a fitful light and at once took it back again, like the sea lapping softly on a beach. That light, flickering away from the objects in the room before they could acquire definite shape or colour from it, offered the eye nothing but a series of spectral images. But soon the details most recently impressed on her memory returned to it, and enabled her to make sense of those confused visual impressions. It was an unhappy awakening to the realities of her prison; and all the memories of that terrible previous day, all her fears for the future, came flooding back together into her mind. The very calm which had followed all that agony, the very sleep (or rather loss of consciousness) into which she had fallen, filled her with new terrors. She was overcome by such anguish that she earnestly wished to die. And then she remembered that she could at least pray, and together with that thought a little hope returned to her. She took out her rosary again, and began to tell her beads. As the words of prayer passed between her trembling lips, an indefinite feeling of trust in Providence began to creep into her heart.

Suddenly another thought came into her mind – the idea that her prayers would be more likely to find acceptance and be answered if, at that desperate time, they were accompanied by a sacrifice of some kind. So she considered what it was that she held dearest in the whole world – or what she had formerly held dearest in the whole world, since at that moment her heart had no room for any emotion but terror, nor for any desire but the desire for freedom. With her mind on that dearest thing, she resolved to offer it up. She rose from the floor, knelt down, and clasped her hands together against her bosom, with the rosary still hanging from her fingers. She raised her face and looked up to heaven. ‘Most Holy Virgin!’ she said. ‘I have turned to you so often, and you have consoled me so many times! You have suffered so many sorrows, and now dwell in such glory, and have worked so many miracles for the unfortunate and afflicted! Help me now! Save me from my present dangers, let me get back safely to my mother, O Mother of God, and I swear to you that I will remain a virgin all my life. I renounce my poor lover for ever, and will never belong to anyone but you.’

Having uttered those words, she lowered her head, and put the rosary round her neck, as a sign of consecration and at the same time as a protection – as the armour of the members of the militia in which she had just enlisted. She sat down on the floor again, and felt a degree of tranquillity, a greater trust in Providence. She remembered the words ‘tomorrow morning’ which the unknown lord had pronounced more than once, and seemed to find a promise of salvation in them.

Exhausted by so much turmoil, her nerves gradually relaxed as her thoughts grew calmer. With the name of her Protectress still on her lips, she finally fell into a sound and unbroken sleep, not long before dawn.

There was someone else in that castle who would have been delighted to do the same, but could not manage it. Having left Lucia – we might almost say escaped from her presence – and ordered her supper; having done his usual round of the strong points of the castle, with Lucia’s face still before his eyes and her words still ringing in his ears, the Unnamed strode rapidly to his room, locked himself inside with desperate haste, as if barricading himself against a host of enemies, threw off his clothes with equal haste, and went to bed. But that face rose before his eyes again, clearer than ever, and seemed to say, ‘No sleep for you tonight!’

‘Why ever did I yield to that stupid, womanish curiosity of wanting to see her?’ he wondered. ‘That idiot Nibbio’s perfectly right about one thing: you lose your manhood. It’s true enough, you lose your manhood. And now it’s come to me … Am I not a man any longer then?… What the devil has come over me? What’s new about all this? I knew before today that women scream – and men too sometimes, when they can’t do anything else. To hell with it! I’ve heard women make that wretched bleating noise often enough before.’

And at this point, without his having to search very far in his memory, various distinct recollections came to him of their own accord, of occasions when neither prayers nor tears had been enough to restrain him from carrying out his purpose. But those memories, far from giving him the strength he needed to carry out the present enterprise, far from banishing that unwelcome feeling of compassion, filled his heart with a sort of terror, a strange frenzy of repentance. In fact he found it quite a relief to go back to his earlier thoughts of Lucia – the very thoughts he had been trying to find fresh courage to suppress.

Well, she’s alive, he said to himself, and she’s here; it’s not too late. I can tell her to go away – go away and be happy. I can see her face change as I say it … I can ask her to forgive me – ask forgiveness of a woman? A man like myself? Never!… And yet, if a couple of words, a couple of words like that could do me some good, could cure me of this hag-ridden feeling, why, I’d say them! I feel it in my bones that I’d say them!… To what depths I’ve sunk! I’m not a man any longer – it’s true, it’s true!

To hell with it! he went on, rolling over on a bed that seemed strangely hard, under blankets that seemed strangely heavy. To hell with it! I’ve had nonsense like this pass through my mind and out again before. It’ll pass this time too.

To help it to pass, he searched his mind for some important matter, some question of the sort that normally exercised his mind strongly, hoping to be able to concentrate all his attention on it. But nothing came to mind that was any use to him. Everything appeared to him in a new light. The things which had once stimulated his desires most vigorously now had nothing desirable about them. Passion, like a horse suddenly frightened by a shadow, refused to go any further.

When he thought of various other enterprises which he had set in motion but not yet completed, he could not raise any enthusiasm for finishing them off; he could not even raise any anger at the obstacles in the way – though anger would have been a welcome relief at that moment. He merely felt depressed and almost frightened at the thought of the steps he had already taken. Time to come stretched out before him empty of purpose, occupation and desire, full only of the prospect of intolerable memories, with every future hour similar to the one which was then crawling so heavily by. He held a mental parade of his villainous underlings, but could think of nothing which mattered that he could give any of them to do. In fact the idea of seeing them again, of being in their company, was burdensome in itself – a repulsive, uncomfortable notion.

When he tried to think of an occupation for the following day, a task he could perform, nothing came to mind but the possibility of freeing that wretched girl.

‘Yes, I’ll free her,’ he said to himself. ‘As soon as morning comes, I’ll go straight to her and say: “You can go now! Go!” And I’ll send an escort with her … But what about my promise? What about Don Rodrigo? And just who is Don Rodrigo, pray?’

That last thought caught him out like an unexpected and embarrassing question from a superior. He at once began to search for an answer to the query just raised by himself – by that new self which seemed suddenly to have sprung up to a terrifying size, and to be sitting in judgement on his old self. Why had he decided so easily – almost before being asked – to take on the job of causing so much misery to a person he neither hated nor feared, to a poor unknown girl, just to oblige Don Rodrigo? Far from being able to find any reasons for what he had done which might seem to provide it with an adequate excuse, he hardly knew how to explain to himself how he had brought himself to do it at all. His willingness to take that action had been the fruit not of a deliberate decision, but rather the instantaneous response of a mind trained to follow longstanding, habitual ideas – the consequence of a thousand previous events.

Caught in the toils of self-examination, the unhappy man found that to explain a single action he must embark on a review of his whole life. He went back and back, from year to year, from job to job, from bloodshed to bloodshed, from villainy to villainy. Every detail of his actions appeared before his mind’s eye; he knew them well, yet saw them as if for the first time, in isolation from the passions that had led him to will them and to carry them out. They came back to him in their full enormity – an enormity which the passions had previously concealed. Those crimes all belonged to the man who had committed them – in fact they were the man who had committed them. The horror of that thought, renewed by each successive remembered image, inseparable from each recollected event, drove him to despair. Suddenly he sat up and reached out towards the wall beside his bed. He seized a pistol, pulled it down and … at the very moment when he was about to put an end to a life which had become unbearable, his heart was invaded by a new fear, a new disquiet which could almost be called posthumous; for he now cast his mind forwards into the future – that time which would ineluctably continue to flow on after his death. He thought with revulsion of his own disfigured corpse, motionless and defenceless against the vilest of living humanity; the astonishment and confusion in the castle the following day; everything upside down; himself powerless, voiceless, his body cast aside God knew where. He imagined what people would say in the house, in the neighbourhood, and far away. He imagined the joy of his enemies.

The darkness and the silence somehow made the idea of death even more melancholy and horrifying. He felt that he would not have hesitated like that in broad daylight, out in the open before a crowd. He could have thrown himself into a river, for example, and disappeared for ever. Sunk in these torturing reflections, he was cocking and uncocking the pistol with a convulsive twitch of the thumb, when another idea flashed into his mind.

‘That other life which they told me about as a boy – which they’re always talking about, in fact, as if it were certain truth – perhaps it doesn’t exist, perhaps it’s all an invention of the priests. But if so, what am I doing? Why should I cut my life short? What does it matter what I’ve done, what does it matter? In that case it’s crazy to think of putting an end to myself! On the other hand, if that future life does exist … why then it’s crazier than ever to think of death as the answer!’

This extra doubt, this additional peril, brought with them an even blacker and more oppressive despair, from which there was no escape, even in death. He dropped his weapon and tore his hair; his teeth chattered and his body trembled.

Suddenly certain words came back into his mind which he had heard more than once only a few hours before. ‘God will forgive so many things, for an act of mercy!’ But this time it was not with an accent of humble entreaty that they rang in his ears, but with a trumpet note of authority, which also brought with it a whisper of hope. It gave him a moment of relief. Calmer now, he lowered his hands from his temples, and fixed his inward gaze on the girl from whom he had heard those words. This time he saw her not as his prisoner, not as a suppliant, but as a gracious dispenser of consolation. He waited impatiently for day to break, so that he could hasten to her room and set her free, and hear from her mouth yet further words of comfort and of life. He imagined a scene in which he himself escorted her back to her mother …

And then, he thought, what shall I do tomorrow, for the rest of the day? What shall I do the day after, and the day after that? What shall I do at night? It’ll be night again in twelve hours. Nights are the worst of all, the very worst!

Returning to that painful study of the empty future, he searched vainly for a possible use for his time, a way of passing the days and the nights. At one time he thought of leaving the castle and going off to faraway lands, where no one would know him, even by name; but he realized that he would always be accompanied by his own hateful self. At other times he felt a baleful hope that he might recover his old fiery spirit and his ancient purpose, that all this might prove to be a passing aberration. Now he feared the dawn, which must show him to his men in such a lamentably altered state; now he longed for it, as if it might bring light to his heart as well as to his eyes. And then, just as the sky began to grow paler, a few minutes after Lucia had finally gone to sleep, a sound reached his ears, as he sat there motionless – a long-drawn, indefinite sound, that seemed to have something cheerful about it. He listened carefully, and realized it was bells, the distant ringing of bells for some far-off celebration. A moment later he heard the echo from the hills, which faintly repeated the harmony and then blended with it. Soon afterwards, he heard another set of bells, nearer this time, with the same happy notes; and then another.

‘What’s all this happiness for?’ he wondered. ‘What have they got to be so cheerful about?’

He sprang up from his comfortless bed, threw on a few clothes, quickly opened a window, and looked out. The mountains were partly veiled in mist; the sky was not so much covered in clouds as made up of a mass of grey vapour. But as the light grew steadily brighter, he could make out crowds of people moving along the road at the bottom of the valley, some emerging from the houses, but others coming from farther afield. They were all flocking in the same direction, to the right of the castle, towards the exit of the valley. They were all wearing their Sunday clothes, and walking very briskly.

‘What the devil’s up with them all?’ thought the Unnamed. ‘What is there to be so cheerful about in this damned place? Where are they all going, the scum?’

He called a trusted bravo, who slept in the next room, and asked him why all this movement was going on. The man knew no more than his master, but said he would go and find out at once. The Unnamed stayed where he was, with elbows on the window-sill, intent on the procession below. There were men, women and children, in groups, in pairs, and singly. One man would catch up with someone walking ahead, and would fall into step alongside him. Another would come out of his house and pair off with the first passer-by he saw; they would go on together like friends setting out on a pre-arranged journey. Their movements clearly showed a common haste and a common happiness. The ringing of those bells from near and far, in spiritual if not physical harmony, seemed to give a voice to their happy gestures, and to express the sense of the travellers’ words, which were inaudible to the watcher in the castle. He stared and stared, his heart filled with a growing curiosity, and something more than mere curiosity, to know what it was that could give the same powerful happiness to so many different people.