The Betrothed CHAPTER 26

Don Abbondio had managed to find some answer to the less precise questions that had gone before, but this one left him speechless. And we too, to tell the truth, as we sit here with our manuscript before us, pen in hand, with only words to contend with and only the criticism of our readers to fear – even we in fact feel a certain reluctance to go on. For we find something strange in this long series, uttered with so little effort, of fine precepts and encouragements to fortitude and charity, to anxious care for others, and to unlimited sacrifice of self. But then we reflect that all these things were said by a man who subsequently put them into practice; and this gives us heart to continue.

‘Have you nothing to say?’ asked the Cardinal. ‘But if you had done, for your part, that which charity and duty required, you would not lack for an answer now, no matter what the outcome had been. See for yourself what you have done! You have obeyed the forces of iniquity, without caring for the things which your duty prescribed. You have obeyed those forces most diligently. They appeared openly to you, to tell you what they required; but they wished to remain unknown to those who might have learnt of the coming danger and guarded against it. They did not want the matter bruited abroad; they wanted it kept secret, while they completed their plans of fraud and violence in their own good time. Neglect of duty and silence were what they demanded of you; you did neglect your duty, and you said nothing.

‘And now I must ask you whether you did not go further than that. Is it true that you sought out wretched excuses for your refusal, to hide its true motives?’

He paused, again expecting an answer.

So they let that cat out of the bag, too! thought Don Abbondio. As he gave no sign of having anything to say, the Cardinal went on,

‘If it is true that you told those poor folk a lie, to keep them in the ignorance and obscurity in which the powers of iniquity wanted them kept … but now I see that I have no alternative but to believe it; to blush with you for your sins, and to hope that you will weep for them with me. See to what straits you have been led by your love of this transitory life – which but now you were producing as an excuse! It has led you to … you are free to refute these words if they seem unjust to you; but, if not, take them as the medicine of salutary humiliation … it has led you to deceive the weak, and to lie to your own children.’

So that’s how it goes! – thought Don Abbondio. – Affectionate embraces for that devil incarnate – he meant the Unnamed – and for me, all this noisy reproach for a half-lie, told with the sole object of saving my skin. But people at the top of the tree are always in the right. It’s my destiny to get kicks from everyone, even from saints.

‘I’ve done wrong,’ he said aloud. ‘I can see that I’ve done wrong – but what ought I to have done, in a crisis like that?’

‘Do you ask me that again? Have I not already answered you? And did you need that answer? You should have loved, my son; loved and prayed. Then you would have seen that the forces of iniquity have power to threaten and to wound, but no power to command. You would have joined together, according to the law of God, that which man wished to put asunder. You would have given those poor innocent folk the service they had a right to ask of you. God would have been the surety for the consequences, for you would have walked in his way. But you took another way, and the surety for the consequences – and what consequences they are! – must be yourself. But can you truly say that you had no human resources on which to call? Was there no way out, if you had really looked round for one, really thought about it, really searched? Now indeed you must know that those poor children of yours were ready – had they but been married – to find their own way out. They were prepared to flee from before the face of their tyrant, and had already chosen their place of refuge. But even if that had not been so, did it never cross your mind that you had a bishop? And how could that bishop have the authority to reprove you for not doing your duty, as now, if he were not under an obligation to help you to carry it out? Why did you not think of informing your bishop of the obstacles that an infamous tyrant was placing in the way of your performance of your duties?’

Just what Perpetua said! thought Don Abbondio angrily. Through all this conversation, the thing that was most vividly present to his mind was the picture of those bravoes who had threatened him, and the reflection that Don Rodrigo was alive and well, and would come home again one day or another in all his power and pride, and also in a bad temper. The splendid presence of his guest, his noble appearance and his eloquent words inspired the curé with confusion and with a certain fear; but it was not a fear that mastered him completely, or prevented his mind from formulating objections, because the thought was in his mind that the Cardinal, at least, would never have recourse to bravoes, or swords or muskets.

‘How did you fail to see,’ went on the Archbishop, ‘that, if no other refuge were open to receive those persecuted innocents, I was there, to welcome them and find a place of safety for them, if you had sent them to me – if you had sent those waifs to their bishop, as belonging to him of right, as a precious part of his charge – nay, not of his charge, but of his riches.

‘And as for you,’ he went on, ‘I would have been deeply concerned for you; I would not have slept until I was sure that not a hair of your head would be touched. Do you think I had no means of securing your safety? However reckless that man might be, can you doubt that his daring would have been blunted by the knowledge that his schemes were known far from here – that they were known to me, and that I was on guard and resolute to use every means at my command to protect you? Did you not know that, just as men often promise more than they will perform, so they often threaten worse crimes than they are prepared to commit? Did you not know that the forces of iniquity rely not only on their own strength, but on the credulity and cowardice of others?’

Perpetua’s views exactly! – thought Don Abbondio, without reflecting that if his servant and Federigo Borromeo held this same opinion about the things that he could and should have done, the very fact of their agreement told heavily against him.

‘But you,’ said the Cardinal, ‘could see nothing, and wished to see nothing, but your temporal danger. What wonder then that it seemed so terrible to you that you neglected all else because of it?’

‘Yes, but I was the one who had to see those faces,’ said Don Abbondio, the words escaping from him in a rush. ‘I was the one who had to hear those words. Your Grace is very eloquent; but it’s another thing to be in the shoes of a poor parish priest, and to go through it yourself.’

As soon as he had uttered those words, he bit his tongue, realizing that he had let himself be carried away by his feelings. – Now there’ll be trouble! – he thought. But a moment later, when he timidly raised his eyes, he was astonished by the expression on the face of the Cardinal, whose thoughts he could neither predict nor understand. The look of authoritative, critical gravity was changing to one of serious, thoughtful compunction.

‘It is but too true!’ said Federigo. ‘Such is our wretched and horrifying condition! We have rigorously to exact from others that which only God knows whether we could give ourselves. We have to judge, to correct, to reprove; and only God knows what we ourselves would do in the same situation, or what we have done in similar circumstances in the past. Yet how wrong it would be for me to take my own weakness for the measure of other people’s duty, or as the standard that I should teach! But it is certain that I ought provide others with example as well as precept, and not make myself like the scribes and pharisees who load others with burdens too heavy to carry, which they would not touch themselves.1 Yes, my son; yes, my brother; the errors of those in authority are more often known to others than to themselves. If you know of occasions when cowardice or respect for the things of this world have led me to neglect my duty, tell me so frankly, make me correct myself. Thus, where an example has been sought in vain, a confession may at least be found in its place. Reproach me freely with my weaknesses; for then the words I utter will carry more weight, because you will feel more vividly that they are not my words but those of one who can give both of us the strength to carry them out.’

What a holy man he is! thought Don Abbondio. But how he torments you! And himself too! He’ll torture himself as well, as long as he can search hearts, and dig up old stories, and criticize, and investigate.

‘Oh, Your Grace!’ he said aloud. ‘You must be making fun of me! Everyone knows about your powerful courage and your unshakable zeal.’

(All too well! – he added to himself.)

‘I did not ask you for that word of praise, which makes me tremble,’ said Federigo. ‘Only God knows all my failings, but those that I know are themselves enough to confound me. But I would have preferred, and I would still prefer, that you and I should both be confounded at once in his presence, so that we might find a common trust. I would like you to understand – for your own sake – how contrary your conduct has been, how contrary your language still is, to the law that you preach, and according to which you will be judged.’

‘All the blame falls on my head,’ said Don Abbondio. ‘The people who told you this story did not go on to say that they got into my house by a trick, and tried to cheat me and conclude an irregular marriage.’

‘They did tell me that, in fact, my son … But the thing that hurts me and depresses me is that you are still trying to make excuses, that you think you can excuse yourself by accusing others, and that you use something which ought to be part of your own confession as material for accusing them. For who was it that led them into the … not the necessity, but the temptation to do what they did? Would they have taken that irregular road if the right road had not been closed to them? Would they have thought of laying a trap for their shepherd, if he had received them with open arms, and given them help and advice? Would they have forced his door, if he had not barred it against them? And do you blame them? And are you indignant with them because, after so many misfortunes – nay, in the midst of their misfortune – they relieved their feelings by telling the shepherd, in whose flock both they and you have their being, what had happened? The appeal of the oppressed, the complaint of the afflicted, are odious to the secular world, because the secular world is like that; but are we to follow its example? And what good would it have done you if they had stayed silent? Could you not see that their case would go forward in its entirety to the judgement of God? Is it not yet another reason for you to love them (for you had reason enough before) that they have given you the chance to hear the sincere voice of your bishop, that they have given you the means of seeing more clearly the great debt that you have towards them, and of beginning to pay it off? Why, if they had challenged you, insulted you or tortured you, I would still bid you – but surely there is no need for me to say this – I would still bid you to love them for doing so. Love them because they have suffered, because they still suffer, because they are your children, because they are weak, because you need forgiveness and you know how much their prayers could help you to gain it.’

Don Abbondio said nothing; but this was not the strained and impatient silence of a little earlier. Now he looked like a man who has more on his mind than he knows how to put into words. The speech he had just heard was full of unexpected conclusions and novel applications, but they all followed from a doctrine which had long been rooted in his mind and which he had never gainsaid. The sufferings of others – from which his attention had long been distracted by the fear of having to suffer himself – now appeared to him in a new light. And though he did not feel all the remorse that the Cardinal’s sermon was meant to produce – for that same fear was still there to protect him from some of its effects – he did feel some remorse none the less. He felt a certain dissatisfaction with himself, a compassion for others, a mixed sensation of tenderness and embarrassment. He behaved like the damp and battered wick of an old candle, if we may be permitted the comparison, when it is offered to the flame of a great torch. At the beginning it smokes, drips, crackles, and will have nothing to do with it; but finally it catches fire and burns passably well. He would have accused himself openly, he would have wept, had it not been for the thought of Don Rodrigo. But even as it was, he looked sufficiently moved for the Cardinal to see that his words had not been without effect.

‘And now’, continued the Archbishop, ‘the young man is a fugitive from his home, and the girl is about to leave hers. Now both of them have all too pressing reasons for staying far away from this village and little prospect of reunion here; they are content to hope that God will bring them together again somewhere else. Now, alas, they have no need of you, and you have no opportunity to help them. Nor can our short-sighted view see any such opportunity in the future. But who can say whether God in his mercy is not preparing one for you? If so, do not let it escape! Search it out, be ever vigilant to seize it, pray that he may grant it to you!’

‘I will not fail to do so – I will be true to my word!’ said Don Abbondio, in a voice which, at that moment, came straight from the heart.

‘Yes, yes, my son!’ cried Federigo; and with a dignity full of affection, he concluded: ‘Heaven knows I would rather have had a very different talk with you. Neither of us is young, and Heaven knows how unwelcome a task it is to me to load your grey hairs with reproach, how much more willingly I would have spoken to you in mutual solace of our common cares and sorrows, and in joy of that blessed hope towards which we have both now travelled so far. God grant that the words I have said may be of profit to you, and also to me. Do not let it be reckoned among my faults on the last day, that I left you in possession of an office in which you had so lamentably failed. Let us recover the time we have lost! Midnight is near; the Bridegroom will not now be long; let us keep our lamps lit! Let us offer our poor hearts to God, empty, so that he may fill them with that charity which rectifies the past and which assures the future; which fears and trusts, and weeps and rejoices, all in due season; which converts itself in every case into the virtue that we most need.’

He moved away, and Don Abbondio followed him.

Here our anonymous author mentions that this was not their only conversation, and that Lucia was not the only subject that they discussed. He has confined himself to this one, he says, so as not to digress too widely from the main theme of his story. For the same reason, he does not propose to speak of other noteworthy things that Federigo Borromeo said in the course of his visit; nor of his acts of generosity; nor of the disputes he settled, and the ancient hatreds between individuals, families and whole communities to which he brought permanent reconciliation, or at least temporary peace – which was, alas, necessarily the commoner result. Nor does he mention the taming of bullies and of petty tyrants, whether for the rest of their lives, or for a shorter period. But we know that all these things came to pass, to a greater or less extent, on every visit of any length which that excellent man made to places in his diocese.

Our author goes on to tell us that the following day Donna Prassede arrived, as arranged, to fetch Lucia and to pay her respects to the Cardinal, who praised the girl warmly to the lady, as he recommended her to her care. Lucia tore herself away from her mother, with many tears, and left the cottage. She bade her village farewell for the second time, with that double feeling of sadness with which we leave a spot that has had a special place in our hearts, which it can now never have again. But this was not to be Lucia’s final farewell to her mother, for Donna Prassede had said that she proposed to stay a few more days in her near-by country house, and Agnese promised Lucia to visit her there, for a yet sadder leave-taking.

The Cardinal was also about to leave the village, to continue his tour of duty, when the curĂ© of the parish which contained the Unnamed’s castle arrived and asked to speak to him. He was admitted, and gave the Cardinal a purse and a letter, in which the nobleman asked him to give Lucia’s mother the hundred gold scudi which were in the purse, to serve as a dowry for the girl, or for any other purpose that the two women might prefer. He added that if they ever thought that he could assist them in anything, the poor girl knew all too well where he lived, and he would count it the best of good fortune to be able to help them.

The Cardinal sent for Agnese at once, and gave her the message, which left her equally amazed and delighted. Then he gave her the money, which she accepted without too much ceremony.

‘God reward the gentleman!’ she said. ‘And please thank him very much for it, Your Grace. And please don’t tell anyone else about it, because this is the sort of village where … Oh, I’m sorry, Your Grace; I know very well that a gentleman like yourself isn’t going to go gossiping about this sort of thing. But … you know how it is.’

She went home very quietly, and shut herself up in her room. She unwrapped the roll of coins, and, though she was prepared for what she saw, she was still astonished at the sight of so many of those gold coins, all in a heap and all belonging to her. She had probably never seen more than one of them at a time before, and that but rarely. She counted them and laboriously stacked them up again so that she could hold them all together in her hand, though they kept on bulging out and escaping from her inexpert fingers. Finally she got them back into the tidiest stack she could manage, and wrapped it into a sort of bundle with a piece of rag. She tied it all round with a piece of twine. Then she stuck it into a corner of her straw mattress. For the rest of that day, she did nothing but turn things over in her mind, make plans for the future, and long for the following day to come. When she went to bed, she lay awake for some time, thinking of the hundred scudi on which she was lying. Finally she went to sleep, and saw them in her dreams. She got up at dawn, and hurried straight off to Donna Prassede’s house, to see her daughter.

Though Lucia still felt the same revulsion at the thought of speaking of her vow, she had resolved to overcome her reluctance and to confide in her mother during the coming conversation, which would be their last for a long time.

As soon as they could be alone together, Agnese’s face lit up, while her voice dropped as if there were someone present who she did not wish to overhear her words.

‘I’ve great news for you!’ she said, and she told her about the unexpected stroke of luck.

‘Why, God bless the gentleman, then!’ said Lucia. ‘Now you’ll be well off yourself, and be able to help others as well.’

‘What?’ said Agnese. ‘Don’t you see all the things we can do ourselves, with all that money? Listen now! I’ve got no one but you, Lucia; or I should say no one but the two of you, for ever since Renzo began courting you, I’ve thought of him as a son. The main thing is to be sure that nothing’s happened to him, since he hasn’t sent us any news of himself – but why should everything always have to turn out badly? Let’s hope he’s all right. If it were just myself, I’d like to leave my bones in my own village; but now you can’t stay here because of that bully, and the thought of having him for a neighbour spoils the place for me as well. If I can be with you two, I don’t mind where it is. Ever since the time that trouble started, I’ve always been willing to go anywhere in the world with you two, and I still am; but without money, how could we have done it? Do you see now? That poor boy had got a little money together, with great labour and saving, but the police came and whipped it all away; but now the Lord has sent us this bit of luck to make up for it. So when Renzo finds the right way to let us know how he is, and where he is, and what he means to do, I’ll come and fetch you from Milan – I’ll come myself. At one time I’d have thought that would be too much for me; but even bad luck can teach you a thing or two. I’ve been as far as Monza now, and I know a bit about travelling. I’ll bring some sensible man along with me, one of our relations, as it might be Alessio at Maggianico, for strictly speaking there isn’t anyone suitable in the village; I’ll come with him. We’ll pay for everything, and … do you follow me?’

Seeing that Lucia, instead of cheering up, was looking more and more upset, with a face that expressed plenty of emotion but no joy, Agnese broke off in the middle, and said,

‘What’s wrong, then? Don’t you agree with what I’m saying?’

‘Poor mother!’ cried Lucia, throwing one arm round Agnese’s neck, and hiding her face in that maternal bosom.

‘What is it, then?’ asked Agnese anxiously.

‘I ought to have told you before,’ said Lucia, raising her face, and wiping away her tears, ‘but I hadn’t the heart. Have pity on me!’

‘Tell me what’s happened, then?’

‘I can’t ever marry that poor boy now!’

‘Why? Why?’

Lucia’s head was low, and her bosom heaved; but though the tears ran down her face, her voice was steady as, with the air of someone announcing an unwelcome but immutable fact, she told the story of her oath. With clasped hands, she again implored her mother to forgive her for not having spoken before, and begged her not to tell anyone else about it, and asked her to help her keep her promise.

Agnese was astonished and dismayed. She would have liked to show indignation at her daughter’s long silence; but the seriousness of the event smothered her private resentment. She would have liked to say: ‘What on earth have you done now?’ – but she felt that this would be to quarrel with the will of Heaven; all the more so when Lucia again vividly described the terrible night, the black despair and the totally unexpected deliverance that had formed the background to the vow that she had so explicitly and solemnly taken.

Agnese could not help remembering various examples of the consequences of broken vows – stories of strange and terrible punishments, which she had often heard, and had indeed related to her daughter herself. After a few moments of dazed silence, she said,

‘And what are you going to do now?’

‘That’s for the Lord to decide,’ said Lucia, ‘for the Lord and for the Madonna. I put myself in their hands, and they haven’t abandoned me yet. They won’t abandon me now that … The one thing that I ask the Lord to grant me, the only thing I ask except for the salvation of my soul, is that he should bring me back to live with you – and he will grant me that, I know he will. On that terrible day … in that coach … with those terrible men, Holy Mother of God!… who would ever have thought that they were taking me to a man who would bring me back to you the very next day!’

‘To think of you not telling your mother about it at once!’ said Agnese, the love and pity in her voice almost hiding the touch of pique.

‘Don’t be angry with me; I hadn’t the heart … What good would it have done to distress you before I had to?’

‘What about Renzo?’ said Agnese, shaking her head.

‘Poor lad!’ said Lucia with a jump. ‘I mustn’t even think of him now. You can see it wasn’t meant to be. You can see it looks as if the Lord wanted to keep us apart. Besides, the poor boy may be … but no, God will have preserved him from danger, and will make him happy after all, happier than he would have been with me.’

‘Well,’ said her mother, ‘if it wasn’t that you’ve committed yourself for ever like that, I could have found an answer to all the other problems (provided Renzo’s all right) with the help of this money.’

‘But would we ever have had the money if I hadn’t had to live through that terrible night?’ said Lucia. ‘The Lord must have wanted all this to happen: his will be done!’

The last words were almost drowned in a flood of tears.

At this unexpected argument, Agnese fell into a gloomy silence. A few moments later, Lucia choked back her sobs and went on,

‘Now it’s happened, we must make the best of it. Poor mother, you can help me, first of all by praying to the Lord for your poor daughter, and then by … well, that poor lad must be told about this. Do that for me, do me that kindness, for you can do it. When you know where he is, get a letter written to him, find a man to do it – your cousin Alessio now, who’s a kind and sensible sort of man, and has always been fond of us, and won’t talk about it. Get him to write and say what’s happened … where I was taken and all I suffered … and that it’s God’s will, and that he should try to find peace of heart, and that I can’t marry anyone now. And put it to him as nicely as possible; make him understand that I’ve promised, that I’ve made a vow. Once he knows I’ve made a promise to Our Lady … he’s always been a God-fearing man. And when you get some news of him for the first time, have a letter written to me, just to say that he’s well. Then, after that, don’t tell me anything more at all.’

Deeply touched, Agnese assured her daughter that everything would be done as she wished.

‘And another thing,’ continued Lucia, ‘if that poor boy hadn’t had the bad luck to fix his heart on me, none of this would have happened to him. Now he’s wandering God knows where on the face of the earth, they’ve taken away his livelihood, they’ve taken away all his belongings, and the money the poor boy had saved up because … because … you know why – and now we’ve got so much ourselves! Oh mother! Since the Lord has sent us so much wealth, and it’s quite true that you’ve always looked on the poor fellow like a son, like your own son – oh, let’s give him half of it! The Lord won’t let us go hungry! Find someone you can trust, and send him the money! God knows how he may stand in need of it !’

‘Why, of course,’ said Agnese. ‘I’ll send it to him, then! The poor fellow! Why do you think I was so pleased to get the money in the first place? Oh, I was really happy, as I was coming here today … Never mind, I’ll send it to the poor boy … Poor Renzo! I know what I’m saying, now – money’s a fine thing when you’re in need of it, but it isn’t this lot that’ll make Renzo jump for joy.’

Lucia thanked her mother for her prompt and generous kindness with an emotional gratitude from which an observer might have guessed that her heart was still occupied with Renzo, perhaps more than she realized herself.

‘And what’s your poor mother going to do without you then?’ said Agnese, beginning to weep in her turn.

‘But what shall I do without you, mother? In someone else’s house too! And in that fearful place Milan! But the Lord will be with both of us, and will bring us together again in the end. In eight or nine months we’ll see each other again, and by then, if not before, he’ll have arranged things so that we can stay together. We’ll leave everything to him. And I’ll keep praying to Our Lady to grant me that favour. If I had anything else to offer her, I’d do it, but she’s so full of mercy, I expect I’ll get it for nothing.’

With many repetitions of these and similar words of sorrow and of comfort, of regret and resignation, with many pleas for silence and assurances that it would be observed, with many tears and with long and repeated embraces, the two women finally parted, each promising the other that they would meet again the following autumn at the latest – just as if the fulfilment of their hopes depended only on themselves! But that is what we all do in such cases.

Then a long time went by without Agnese being able to get any news of Renzo. No letters or messages from the young man arrived; and there was no one she could ask in the village or the surrounding country who knew any more than she did.

Agnese was not the only person who was making inquiries of that sort without any result. The Cardinal had meant what he said when he told the two poor women that he would make inquiries about the poor young fellow; and he had in fact written off for information about him at once. When he had returned to Milan after his tour, he had received the answer that no trace could be found of the individual in question. He had indeed spent some time with one of his relations, in such and such a village, and had done nothing out of the way while he was there. But one morning he had unexpectedly vanished, and even his host did not know what had become of him, but could only repeat various contradictory rumours that were in circulation, such as that the young man had enrolled for service in the East, or gone to Germany, or had been drowned while fording a river. But a sharp look-out for him would be maintained, and if any more definite news came to hand, His Grace would be informed immediately.

Later on these rumours, and others, reached the territory of Lecco, and consequently came to Agnese’s ears. The poor woman did all she could to find out which of them was true, and to get back to the source of the various tales; but she never found any more solid basis than the words ‘they say’, which even nowadays often do duty to substantiate a story. Sometimes she had hardly finished listening to one of these rumours before someone arrived to tell her that it was totally untrue, and to tell her another, equally strange or sinister, to replace it.

But this was all idle gossip; now for the facts.

The Governor of Milan and Captain-General of the Spanish forces in Italy, Don Gonzalo Fernandez of Cordova, had lodged a noisy complaint with the Resident of Venice in Milan, on the ground that a malefactor, a common thief, a promoter of looting and murder, none other than the infamous Lorenzo Tramaglino, who when in the very hands of the police had stirred up a riot in order to escape from custody, had been received and harboured in the territory of Bergamo. The Resident replied that he knew nothing of the matter, but would write to Venice for a proper explanation of the case which he could give to His Excellency.

At Venice they made it a rule to support and encourage any inclination that the Milanese silk-workers might show towards emigrating to the territory of Bergamo. They therefore offered them many advantages when they got there, including the indispensable one of personal safety, without which other advantages are worth nothing. When two great powers clash, there is always some benefit, however small, to be gained by a third party. So Bortolo was privately warned, we cannot say by whom, that Renzo’s presence in that village was ill-advised, and that he would do better to go and work in another factory, and perhaps change his name for the time being. Bortolo understood at once, asked no questions, and hurried off to tell his cousin what had happened. He took Renzo with him in a trap, and drove him to another spinning mill, about fifteen miles away, where he introduced him to the owner under the name of Antonio Rivolta. The owner, himself a Milanese, and an old acquaintance of Bortolo, did not need to be asked twice, though it was a bad year, before taking on a worker who was recommended as competent and honest by a decent fellow who knew what he was talking about. And in fact he had no reason to regret his decision in the weeks that followed; though at first he thought the young man might be a bit dull-witted, because when anyone called ‘Antonio!’ he quite often did not reply.

Soon afterwards, the captain of police at Bergamo received a letter from Venice, instructing him, in terms which suggested no special urgency, to investigate and report whether the individual in question was in the area under his jurisdiction, and more particularly, whether he was in the village where Bortolo lived. The captain performed his duty in the manner he understood to be expected of him, and made a negative report, which was passed on to the Resident in Milan, who passed it on to Don Gonzalo Fernandez of Cordova.

Various inquisitive people later asked Bortolo why the young man had left, and where he had gone. To the first question Bortolo replied with the words: ‘He’s just vanished!’ To satisfy the more insistent, without giving them any idea what had really happened, he thought it best to present them with one or other of the various stories mentioned above; saying, however, that these were doubtful matters, and that he himself was only repeating what he had heard from others, without any proof.

One of these questioners was in fact inquiring on behalf of the Cardinal; but the man did not state his master’s name, merely letting it be understood, with a certain air of mysterious importance, that he was acting for a person of great consequence. This made Bortolo more suspicious than ever. He thought it safest, to give his usual reply, except that, as it was for a person of great consequence, he let him have all the stories together, which he had been previously giving out one at a time to the various inquirers.

It must not be thought that a nobleman in Don Gonzalo’s position was personally angry with a poor silk-worker from the hill-country; or that he had heard about the lack of respect Renzo had shown and the rude words he had used towards the Moorish king with the chain round his throat, and wanted to make the lad pay for them; or that he thought Renzo so dangerous a man that he must be hunted down even in exile, and must not be allowed to remain alive even in a far-off land (as the Roman Senate once thought of Hannibal).

The matters on Don Gonzalo’s mind at that time were so many and so important that he could hardly trouble himself to that extent about Renzo’s affairs. If he did none the less appear to trouble himself about them, that was because of a singular combination of circumstances, through which the poor wretch was connected with those many and important matters – without desiring it in any way or even realizing it, either then or later – by a tenuous and invisible thread.