The Betrothed CHAPTER 4

The sun was not yet fully above the horizon when Father Cristoforo left the monastery of Pescarenico to climb up to the cottage where they were waiting for him. Pescarenico1 is a little hamlet on the left bank of the Adda – we might almost say on the left shore of the lake – not far from the bridge. It is a small group of houses, mostly belonging to fishermen, with nets of various kinds hung here and there to dry. The monastery stood – and its shell still stands – a little apart, on the other side of the main road from Lecco to Bergamo, across which it faces the entrance to the hamlet. The sky was perfectly clear that morning, and as the sun rose behind the mountains its rays first struck the peaks opposite, and then the brightness travelled down the slopes, spreading rapidly out, and lit up the valley. An autumnal breeze blew through the mulberry trees, detaching the withered leaves, which fluttered a few yards before falling to earth. On both sides were vineyards, with vines still stretched between their supports; their leaves shone brightly, in various shades of red. Strips of freshly ploughed land showed up black and sharply defined among the whitish fields of stubble, which were glistening with dew. The scene was a cheerful one in itself, but every human figure that appeared in it saddened the eye and the heart. From time to time ragged and emaciated beggars came into view, some of whom had grown old in the trade, while others were now driven to it for the first time by necessity. They walked quietly past Father Cristoforo, with a respectful look; and though they could expect nothing from him, since a Capuchin never handled money, they gave him a grateful bow, thinking of the alms they had received, or hoped to receive, from the monastery. The workers in the fields presented an even sadder picture. Some were sowing; but they cast the seed thinly, sparingly and grudgingly, like a man taking a risk with something he can ill afford to lose. Others were digging the earth, with obvious effort, turning the sods over painfully with their spades. A half-starved girl was tugging a desperately bony cow along on a rope, looking for pasture; the child scanned the ground in front of her, and bent quickly down from time to time to deprive the brute of some herb which hunger had taught her to recognize as food on which men too could live, and which she could take home for her family. With every step that he took, these sights further saddened the friar, who had set out with an unhappy presentiment that the story he was to hear was one of tragedy.

But why was he so concerned about Lucia? Why had he set off so promptly, at the first word from her, as if he had received a summons from his Provincial? And who was Father Cristoforo in the first place? We shall clearly have to answer all these questions.

Father Cristoforo of —, then, was a man in his late fifties. His shaven head – bare except for a circlet of hair round the scalp in the Capuchin manner – raised itself from time to time with a movement which betrayed a restless pride, but sank again at once into its habitual position of humility. The long white beard which covered his cheeks and his chin gave additional relief to the striking contours of the upper part of his face, marked by an abstinence, habitual for many years, which had added gravity to his features without making them less expressive. His eyes were deeply sunk, and were generally bent upon the ground; but sometimes they blazed with a sudden flame. They reminded you of a pair of high-spirited horses in the hands of a driver whose control they know very well they cannot break; but they still allow themselves an occasional buck, which they pay for at once with a good jab on the bit.

Father Cristoforo had not always been like that; nor had his name always been Cristoforo. He had been baptized Lodovico. His father was a rich merchant of — (all these dashes are due to the prudence of my anonymous author), who had found himself, towards the end of his life, very comfortably off, with only the one son to provide for, and had decided to retire from business and live the life of a gentleman.

In his new-found idleness he began to feel deeply ashamed of all the time he had spent doing something useful in this world. It became an obsession with him, and he studied every possible manner of making people forget that he had been in trade; he would have liked to forget it himself. But the shop, with its bales, its account books, and its yard measure, forced its way into his memories like the ghost of Banquo appearing to Macbeth, even at the most splendid dinners, even among the applause of parasites. And it is hard to imagine the trouble those poor wretches had to take to avoid any word which might seem to refer to the earlier status of their host. At the end of dinner one day, for example, at a moment of the purest and most genuine gaiety, when it was hard to say whether the host was happier at having paid for the meal or the guests at having eaten it, he began in a friendly, superior way to tease one of the company, who was one of the pleasantest gluttons you could wish to meet. Without a shadow of malice – with childlike simplicity, in fact – the guest replied to the chaff with the words: ‘I’ll turn a deaf ear to that; I’m a long-suffering sort of merchant.’ He himself was horrified by the sound of the last word, as soon as it passed his lips. He looked uncertainly at his host’s face, and saw it cloud over; both of them would have liked to unsay what had been said, but there was no chance of that. Every one of the other guests tried to think of a way to end this embarrassing situation and create a diversion; but while they were racking their brains their tongues were silent, and the sudden hush made the embarrassment all the more noticeable. Everyone tried to avoid the eyes of his fellow guests; everyone knew that all others’ minds were full of a single thought, which all of them wanted to hide. There was no more enjoyment to be had that day; and the tactless guest – ‘unlucky’ is perhaps a fairer word – was not invited again. So Lodovico’s father passed his last years in continual torment, always afraid of mockery. He never reflected that the act of selling has nothing more ludicrous about it than the act of buying, nor that the profession he now found so shameful was one which he had practised in public for many years without a single qualm. He gave his son the education of a nobleman of those days, as far as was permitted by law and custom; he provided him with teachers of knightly exercises and literature; and finally he died, leaving him a rich young man.

Lodovico had acquired the habits of a nobleman; and the flatterers among whom he had grown up had accustomed him to respectful treatment. But when he wanted to mingle on equal terms with the leading men of the city, he found that things were very different. He could see that if he wanted to live in their society, as he would have wished, he would have to take a fresh course of lessons in patience, submission, perpetual inferiority and the act of swallowing continual snubs. This agreed neither with his education nor his character. He indignantly absented himself from their company. But he was sorry to stay apart from them; he felt that they were really his natural companions and only wished that they would be more amenable. Fascinated and resentful at the same time, he was unable to live on familiar terms with them, yet wanted to keep up some sort of contact. He began to compete with them in ostentation and magnificence, paying in good cash for hatred, envy and ridicule. He had an honest yet vehement nature, which soon involved him in more serious struggles. He felt a spontaneous and genuine horror of bullying and foul play – all the more so when he saw the privileged position of those who indulged most constantly in these things. They were in fact the very men with whom he was already on the worst terms for the other reason. To quieten all these various passions at once – or perhaps to give them a run for their money – he eagerly took the side of the weak and oppressed, and prided himself on putting a spoke in a bully’s wheel here, interfering in a dispute there, inviting a quarrel on another occasion; so that he gradually began to set himself up as a protector of the down-trodden and a righter of wrongs. This was an onerous task, and there is no need to inquire whether poor Lodovico had his share of bitter enemies, difficult duties and painful anxieties. In addition to his struggle against external foes he was much troubled by an internal conflict; for the execution of his more successful exploits (not to mention his failures) involved the use of tricks and acts of violence which his conscience could not subsequently approve. He had to keep a good number of bravoes around him. Both for the sake of his own safety and to have the most effective aid for his plans, he had to recruit the most desperate characters among them – who were also the most wicked. He had to consort with blackguards, out of love of justice. He was often discouraged after some unsuccessful enterprise, or uneasy about some imminent danger, or tired of having to remain permanently on his guard, or disgusted by the company he had to keep, or worried about the future as both his good works and his desperate deeds made daily inroads into his fortune. More than once in fact the idea of going into a monastery had flitted through his mind; it was the commonest way of getting out of an impossible situation in those days. The idea might well have remained no more than a recurrent fancy for the rest of his life, but it was suddenly converted into a resolution by an incident more serious than anything which had happened to him before.

He was walking one day along one of the streets of his native city with two bravoes at his heels; by his side walked a man called Cristoforo, who had started as an assistant in the family shop, and, when it was closed down, had become steward of the household to Lodovico’s father. He was a man of about fifty who had been devoted to Lodovico for many years, having known him since he was a baby. Partly in salary and partly in gifts Lodovico provided him with not only a livelihood but the means to keep and bring up a large family.

Lodovico saw a certain nobleman appear in the distance, an arrogant man and a professional bully, to whom he had never spoken in his life, but who nourished a cordial hatred for him, which he returned no less heartily. For one of the privileges this world offers us is the right to hate and be hated by those whom we have never met. The other man, with four bravoes behind him, came straight on with arrogant stride, head high and mouth fixed in an expression of disdainful pride. They were both walking within arm’s length of the wall. But Lodovico (and this is the important point) had it on his right hand; and this, according to a custom of the time, meant that he did not have to leave the shelter of the wall and give way to any man in the world. This was a right – to misuse an ill-treated word – to which great importance was attached in those days. But the other man held that this right belonged to him as a nobleman, and that it was for Lodovico to step aside into the middle of the road – a view based upon another custom of the time. As often happens to this day, two contrary customs were both in force together without any ruling to say which ought to prevail; and this created the opening for a quarrel every time an obstinate man met another of the same stamp. So the two men drew closer and closer, keeping up against the wall like figures from an animated bas-relief. When they were face to face, the nobleman scowled imperiously, with head held high, looked Lodovico over, and said ‘Make way!’ in a tone suited to the words.

‘Make way yourself,’ said Lodovico. ‘The right of way is mine.’

‘The right of way is always mine with people of your sort.’

‘It would be, if the arrogance of your sort made the rules for us.’

Both sets of bravoes had halted behind their masters, glaring, at each other with hand on dagger, ready for battle. A crowd began to collect, keeping its distance, and waiting to see what would happen. The presence of spectators increased the two men’s obsession with the point of honour.

‘Out of my way, you cowardly huckster, or I shall have to give you a lesson in respect for your betters.’

‘When you call me a coward, you lie.’

‘When you call me a liar, you lie.’ (This was the form of words sanctioned by custom.) ‘And if you were of noble birth, as I am,’ he went on, ‘my sword would soon show which of us is lying.’

‘You seem to have found an excellent excuse not to back up the insolence of your words with any kind of action.’

‘Throw this swine in the gutter,’ said the other, turning to his own supporters.

‘We’ll see about that!’ said Lodovico, taking a quick pace back and putting his hand to his sword.

‘You presumptuous fool!’ cried his opponent drawing. ‘When this blade has been stained with your ignoble blood, I shall break it across my knee.’

Then they flew at each other, and the retainers dashed forward to defend their masters. It was an unequal contest, both in numbers, and because Lodovico was trying primarily to defend himself and disarm his opponent, rather than to kill him, whereas the nobleman was bent on having blood at any price. Soon Lodovico had a stab wound from a bravo’s dagger in his left arm, and a cut across one cheek. His principal enemy was charging in to finish him off, when Cristoforo, seeing the desperate plight of his master, came in with his dagger against the nobleman, who turned all his wrath against the steward, and ran him through with his sword. Nearly out of his mind at this sight, Lodovico thrust his sword into the belly of the murderer, who fell dying at almost the same instant as the unfortunate Cristoforo. The nobleman’s retainers saw that it was all over, and took to their heels in a battered state; Lodovico’s bravoes, who had also suffered a good deal of damage, saw there was nothing more for them to do and did not want to get caught up in the throng of people who were already hastening to the scene, so they made off in the opposite direction. Except for the two dismal companions stretched at his feet, Lodovico was left alone, in the middle of a crowd.

‘What happened, then?’ ‘There’s one down, anyway.’ – ‘Two, I think.’ – ‘Someone’s let the daylight into his belly.’ – ‘Who’s been killed?’ – ‘It’s that swaggering fellow.’ – ‘Mother of God, what a massacre!’ – ‘He asked for it.’ – ‘It’s a quick way of paying a lot of old debts.’ – ‘This one’s done for too.’ – ‘What a blow that must have been!’ – ‘It looks like a serious business.’

‘Look at that other poor devil!’ – ‘Mercy on us, what a sight!’ ‘Help him, somebody!’ – ‘He’s dying, too.’ – ‘Just look at him, pouring with blood all over!’ – ‘Run for it, sir! Don’t wait for them to come and arrest you!’

These last words emerged as the outstanding theme of the confused buzz of remarks coming from the crowd, and expressed the general view of its members – who, as it happened, were able to provide help as well as advice. All this had occurred near a Capuchin church, and, as everyone knows, such buildings were then places of refuge, out of bounds to the watch, and to the whole complex of men and institutions which was collectively known as the Law. Almost unconscious, the wounded killer was half led, half carried to the church, and the friars accepted him from the hands of the crowd, who vouched for him by saying – ‘He’s a decent man who’s just done in an arrogant bully; it was in self-defence, and he didn’t have any choice.’

Lodovico had never killed a man before. Though murder was so common in those days that everyone was used to the news of violent death and the sight of blood, the impression made on him by the spectacle of the man who had died for him, and the man who had died at his hands, was something novel and indescribable – a revelation of feelings he had never known before. To see his enemy fall to the ground, to see the change in his face, as it passed in a moment from fury and menace to the vanquished, solemn peace of death, was an experience which transformed the soul of the killer. When he was dragged into the monastery, he hardly knew where he was or what was happening; later he came to, and found himself in a bed in the infirmary in the hands of the brother surgeon – there was generally one in every Capuchin monastery. The monk was putting plasters and bandages on the two wounds he had received in the fight. One of the fathers, whose special duty it was to tend the dying, and who often had to perform this service in the streets, had been summoned at once to the scene of the clash. A few minutes later, he returned and went into the infirmary. He came up to Lodovico’s bed, and said: ‘Be comforted, my son; at least he made a good end. He charged me to beg your forgiveness, and to assure you that he had forgiven you.’

These words restored poor Lodovico to complete consciousness, and revived in keener and clearer form the confused feelings which had thronged into his mind: sorrow for his friend, horror and remorse at the blow he himself had struck, and at the same time an anguished compassion for the man he had killed.

‘What about the other man?’ he asked the friar anxiously.

‘The other man was dead when I got there.’

Meanwhile the area around the monastery, and the roads leading to it, were thronged with curious sightseers. Then the watch arrived, dispersed the crowds, and took up its position – some way from the monastery gate, but so placed that no one could get out without being seen. A brother of the dead man with two cousins and an elderly uncle also arrived, all armed from head to foot, with a large escort of bravoes. They prowled around the monastery, their expression and gestures showing a lowering hatred of the sightseers, who did not dare to utter the words ‘it serves him right’, though they could be read on every face.

As soon as Lodovico had had time to gather his thoughts, he called a brother confessor, and asked him to find Cristoforo’s widow, to beg her to forgive him for being the cause – the unwilling cause – of the disaster, and to assure her that he would make her family his own responsibility. When he went on to reflect on his own affairs, the idea of becoming a monk, which had passed through his mind several times previously, sprang up again, much more urgent and serious than ever before. It struck him that God himself had pointed the way, and given him a sign of his will, by granting him refuge in a monastery at that particular time; and in a moment his mind was made up. He called the Father Superior, and told him of his decision. The answer was that he should beware of resolutions taken in haste, but that if he persisted in his intention he would not be refused. Then he sent for a lawyer, and dictated a deed of gift making over all his remaining property (which was still a considerable fortune) to Cristoforo’s family: a substantial sum to the widow, as if he were giving her a marriage settlement, and the rest to the eight children that Cristoforo had left behind him.

Lodovico’s decision was most welcome to his hosts, whom he had put in an awkward situation. To expel him from the monastery and expose him to the mercy of the law – in other words, to the revenge of his enemies – was a course which they could not even consider. That would have been to renounce their privileges, to discredit the monastery in the eyes of the public, to invite the censure of all the Capuchins in the world for having connived at the violation of rights common to all of them, and to draw down the wrath of all the ecclesiastical authorities who regarded themselves as the protectors of those rights. On the other hand, the family of the dead nobleman was a powerful one in its own right, and stronger still through its connections; and it had resolved upon revenge, and announced that anyone who got in the way would be treated as an enemy. We are not told that they felt a very profound sorrow at the death of their relative, nor even that a single tear was shed for him by any of the family; we merely learn that they all had a fervent desire to get his killer into their clutches, dead or alive. By putting on the habit of a Capuchin, Lodovico solved the whole problem. He was making amends, in a certain sense; he was imposing a form of penitence on himself; he was implicitly admitting that the blame was his; he was withdrawing from every kind of struggle. He was, in fact, in the position of an enemy who lays down his arms. If they liked, the relations of the dead man could believe that he had become a monk out of despair, or boast that he had done so in terror of their displeasure. And, anyway, to reduce a man to give away all his possessions, to shave his head, to walk barefoot, to sleep on a pallet and to beg his bread might seem a sufficient punishment, even to the most self-important offended party.

With tranquil humility the Father Superior paid a visit to the brother of the dead man; and after many protestations of respect for the illustrious family of the deceased, and of his wish to oblige them in anything that lay within his power, he spoke of Lodovico’s repentance and of his monastic resolution. He neatly suggested that this was something which should satisfy the family, and then gently implied, with even more tactful skill, that this was what had to happen anyway. The brother had many furious things to say about this, and the Capuchin let him get them off his chest, merely saying from time to time: ‘You have good reason for your grief.’ The brother made it clear that his family would in any case make sure of obtaining some further satisfaction; and the Capuchin, whatever he thought of this, made no protest. Finally the nobleman imposed the condition that his brother’s killer must leave the city at once. The Father Superior had already decided on this step, and replied that it would be done, leaving the man free to think, if it pleased him, that his threats had prevailed; and so the whole matter was cleared up. The family were happy to come out of the dispute with honour; the friars were happy to be able to preserve a man’s life and their own privileges without making any enemies; the connoisseurs of points of chivalrous etiquette were pleased to see an affair terminated in so praiseworthy a fashion; the common people were happy to see a popular man out of trouble, and were impressed by his remarkable conversion; but the happiest man of all, even in the midst of his sorrow, was Lodovico himself, who was now beginning a life of expiation and service, which might not be able to undo the effects of his crime, but could at least make reparation for it, and blunt the intolerable sting of remorse. The thought that his resolution might be attributed to fear afflicted him for a moment, but he consoled himself quickly with the reflection that this unfair judgement could also be regarded as a punishment for his sin, and as a means of expiating it. And so he put on the habit at thirty years of age. According to custom he had to give up his old name and take a new one. He chose one which, would serve as a continual reminder of the sin he had to expiate, and called himself Brother Cristoforo.

As soon as the ceremony of ordination was over, the Father Superior informed him that he must serve his novitiate at —, sixty miles away, and that he must leave the following day. The novice bowed deeply and asked a favour.

‘Before I leave this city, father, where I have shed the blood of a man, before I turn my back on a family I have cruelly wronged, I beg you at least to allow me to make amends for the insult I have offered them, and to show my regret that I cannot make good the harm that I have done, by begging the forgiveness of the dead man’s brother, in order to lift the burden of hatred for myself from his soul, if Heaven blesses my intention.’

The Father Superior considered that this was both good in itself and a further step towards a complete reconciliation between the family and the monastery. He went straight to the house of the offended nobleman and put Brother Cristoforo’s request before him. On hearing so unusual a suggestion, he felt not only amazement but a fresh access of rage; yet there was a touch of satisfaction in it too. After a moment’s thought, he replied ‘Let him come tomorrow’, and named an hour for the visit. The Father Superior returned to the novice and told him that his wish had been granted.

The nobleman reflected that the more solemn and conspicuous the amends were the more his credit would rise with the rest of the family, and also with the public. To use one of our elegant modern expressions, it would make a fine chapter in the family history. He quickly passed the word around all his relations that, if they would graciously be pleased to honour him with a visit – such was the language of the time – at noon on the following day, satisfaction would be made to the whole family. At noon the whole palace was thronged with nobles – men and women, old and young. Heavy capes, high-plumed hats, great dangling swords swirled and intermingled, starched and pleated ruffs moved in solemn deliberation, elaborately patterned gowns trailed an uneasy way through the crowd. The anterooms, the courtyard and the street were alive with servants, pages, bravoes and sightseers. The friar saw all these preparations, and guessed the reason for them. He felt a touch of dismay, but a moment later he said to himself: ‘It is right that it should be so – I killed him in the open street in the presence of many of his enemies. That was the public scandal, and this is the reparation.’ With lowered eyes, and with his spiritual father at his side, he entered the door of that house, crossed the courtyard, amid a crowd which looked him up and down with unceremonious curiosity, went up the stairs and through a second throng, this time of nobles, who fell back and made way for him, and finally, watched by hundreds of eyes, he reached the presence of the master of the house. With his closest relatives around him, the noble stood upright in the middle of the room, chin thrust forward, eyes looking obliquely down at the floor, the hilt of his sword clasped in his left hand, while his right clutched the lapel of his cloak against his chest.

A man’s face and manner can sometimes provide such a direct impression of what is in his heart – such a tangible model of it in fact – that a large crowd of spectators will all come to the same conclusion about him. Brother Cristoforo’s face and manner proclaimed unmistakably to the assembled company that he had neither become a monk, nor exposed himself to this humiliation, out of fear for any man; and this began to win them over. When he caught sight of the bereaved nobleman, he quickened his pace, knelt down at the man’s feet, crossed his hands over his chest, bowed his shaven head, and said ‘I am the killer of your brother. God knows I would gladly restore his life to him at the cost of my own; but all I can do is to offer you an ineffective and belated request for forgiveness. I beseech you, for the love of God, to grant it to me.’

Every eye was fixed on the novice and the man to whom he spoke; every ear tensely awaited the reply. When Brother Cristoforo had finished, the whole room was filled with a murmur of compassionate respect. The nobleman, whose stance was meant to suggest strained condescension and suppressed wrath, was shaken by his words. He bent over the kneeling figure. ‘Stand up,’ he said in a trembling voice. ‘It was a crime … a sad thing … but then seeing the habit you now wear … and not only the habit, but you yourself, and what you have done today … stand up, father … my brother … I can’t deny it, he was a gentleman … a man of impetuous nature, quick temper. But everything that happens is the will of God. There’s no more to say … But, father, it’s not right for you to stay in that position.’ And he took him by the arm, and raised him to his feet. Standing with bowed head, Brother Cristoforo replied: ‘So now I can hope that you have forgiven me in your heart I And whose pardon may I not hope to receive, when I have yours?… If only I could hear the word “forgiveness” from your own lips!’

‘Forgiveness?’ said the nobleman. ‘There’s no need of that now, surely? But since it is your wish – why, yes, I forgive you, from my heart. I forgive you, and so do we all …’

‘So do we all!’ cried the others, with one accord. The friar’s face shone with an expression of grateful happiness, through which they could still read a humble and profound awareness of a sin which could not be wiped out by the forgiveness of man. Overcome by the sight, and carried away by the general emotion, the nobleman threw his arms around him and they exchanged the kiss of peace.

Cries of ‘Well done! That’s right! Well done!’ rang out from all over the room. Everybody came forward, and gathered around the friar. Servants entered with great trays of refreshments. The nobleman made his way up to Brother Cristoforo again – he was showing signs of wishing to leave – and said: ‘Father, please take something. Give me this proof of your friendship.’ And he was going to serve him first of all the company; but the friar stepped back in an attitude of amicable resistance, and said: ‘These things are not for me; but never let it be said that I refused your gift. I am about to set out on a journey; pray be so kind as to send for a loaf of bread, so that I can say that I have enjoyed your charity, eaten your bread and had a token of your forgiveness.’

Deeply moved, the nobleman gave the necessary order. A footman in full livery at once brought in a loaf on a silver tray, and presented it to the friar. He accepted it with thanks, and put it in his scrip. Then he took his leave; he embraced the master of the house once more, and all the guests who were standing near enough to be able to monopolize him for a moment exchanged embraces with him as well, so that he had some difficulty in getting away. He also had quite a struggle in the anterooms, to escape from the servants, and even the bravoes, who kissed the hem of his garment, the ends of the rope that served him as a belt, and his hood. Finally he found himself in the street, and started off in something of a triumphal procession, with a crowd of the common people around him, towards one of the city gates, from which he set out on the long walk to the place where he was to serve his novitiate.

The dead man’s brother, and the rest of the family, had expected to savour the dismal pleasures of satisfied pride that day, instead of which they found themselves full of the serene happiness that comes from forgiveness and good will. The assembled company stayed together for some time in an unusually friendly and cheerful atmosphere. The talk was of a kind for which none of them had been prepared in advance. The obtaining of satisfaction, the punishment of arrogance, the outcome of desperate deeds were replaced as topics of conversation by the praises of the new friar, of reconciliation and of meekness. One noble, who would normally have recounted for the fiftieth time how his father, Count Muzio, had put that notorious braggart the Marquis Stanislao in his place on a certain famous occasion, found himself talking about the admirable patience and penitence shown by one Brother Simone, who had died many years before. When his guests left, the master of the house, still deeply moved, went over the whole thing again in his mind, marvelling at what he had heard, and what he himself had said. ‘The devil take that friar!’ he muttered between his teeth (for we must report his exact words), ‘the devil take that friar! If he’d stayed there on his knees a second longer damned if I wouldn’t have found myself apologizing to him, for his murder of my brother!’

The chronicle expressly records that from that day forward the nobleman became a little less hasty and a little more gentle in his ways.

Father Cristoforo strode on feeling an inward peace he had never known since that terrible day, to the expiation of which the rest of his life must be dedicated. Complete silence was prescribed for novices; but he kept the rule without noticing it, so absorbed was he in the thought of the labours, the privations and the humiliations he would undergo to pay off his debt. At dinner time he stopped at a benefactor’s house, and ate some of the bread of forgiveness with a sort of voluptuous pleasure. But he set a piece of it aside, and put it back in his scrip, to keep as a perpetual reminder.

We do not propose to record the detail of his monastic life; we will merely say that his two official duties were those of preaching and of tending the dying, which he carried out willingly and conscientiously, but that he never missed a chance of performing two other duties, which he had set himself – the composing of quarrels and the protection of the oppressed. Unknown to Father Cristoforo an old habit had, to some extent, found its way back into his heart, together with a small remnant of his old combative spirit, which neither humiliation nor fasting had wholly been able to extinguish. His language was generally humble and measured; but in any question of injury to justice or truth, the man would suddenly be animated by all his original fiery vigour, which, reinforced and subtly modified by the solemn emphasis he had learned in the pulpit, gave a singular character to his speech. Not only his face, but his whole manner, showed evidence of a long struggle between a passionate, touchy nature and a strong will, in which the will generally prevailed, remained permanently on guard, and drew its guidance from the highest motives and most lofty inspiration. A friend and brother monk who knew him well once compared him to one of those words, too crudely expressive in their natural state, which respectable men will sometimes use at times of overpowering passion in a mutilated form, with the change of one or two letters, and which retain something of their primitive force even when travestied in this manner.

If Father Cristoforo had received an appeal for help from some poor girl he had never met, who was in the same trouble as Lucia, he would have answered her call at once. He did so the more readily for Lucia, because he knew and admired her sweet and innocent nature, and because he was already deeply concerned about the danger in which she stood, and filled with holy indignation at the ignoble persecution she was suffering. Besides this he had given her advice – the advice to say nothing and hush the matter up, as the lesser of two evils – and now he was afraid that his counsels had produced some ill effect. So he felt not only the anxiety of Christian love, which was part of his nature, but that special self-questioning anguish which often troubles good men.

But we have taken so long over telling the good father’s story that he has reached the cottage and is standing at the door; the women have stood up, dropping the handle of the creaking spinning-wheel which they were turning, and said with one voice: ‘Oh, Father Cristoforo! Bless you for coming!’