Pietro of Abano/I
The setting sun was flinging its red rays upon the towers and over the houses of Padua, when a young stranger, newly arrived, had his attention excited by a throng of people who were hurrying and running along, and was carried by them out of his way. He askt a girl who was passing quickly by him, what had set the whole town in such an extraordinary commotion.
— Don't you know then? answered she: the beautiful Crescentia, the young thing, is just going to be buried; everybody wishes to have one more sight of her; for she has always been counted the sweetest maiden in the whole city. Her parents are heartbroken.
The last words she called back to him, from some distance beyond him.
The stranger turned round the dark palace into the great street, and his ears were now met by the funeral hymn, and his eyes by the flickering light of the pale-red torches. On drawing nearer, pusht forward by the crowding of the people, he saw a scaffold covered with black cloth. Around it were raised seats, likewise black, on which the sorrowing parents and relations were sitting, all in stern gloom, some faces with the look of despair. Figures now began to move forth from the door of the house; priests and black forms bore an open coffin, out of which wreaths of flowers and green garlands were hanging down.
In the midst of the blooming gay plants lay the maidenly form raised upon cushions, pale, in a white robe, her lovely slender hands folded and holding a crucifix, her eyes closed, dark black tresses hanging full and heavy round her head, on which a wreath of roses and cypress and myrtle was gleaming.
The coffin with its beautiful corpse was placed upon the scaffold; the priests cast themselves down to pray; the parents gave yet louder vent to their grief; yet more wailing grew the sound of the hymns; and everybody around, even the strangers, sobbed and wept. The traveller thought he had never yet seen so lovely a creature, as this corpse that thus mournfully reminded him how fleeting life is, how vain and perishable its charms.
Now sounded the solemn tolling of the bells, and the bearers were on the point of taking up the coffin, to carry the corpse into the burial-vault of the great church, when loud riotous shouts of exultation and pealing laughter and the cries of an unrestrained joy disturbed and alarmed the parents and kinsfolk, the priests and mourners. All lookt indignantly round, when out of the next street a merry troop of young men came boisterously toward them, singing and huzzaing, and evermore again and again crying a long life! to their venerable teacher. They were the students of the university, carrying an aged man of the noblest aspect on a chair raised atop of their shoulders, where he sat as on a throne, covered with a purple cloak, his head adorned with a doctor's hat, from beneath which white silver locks hung forth, while a long white beard flowed down majestically over his black velvet doublet. Beside him came a fool with bells and in a motley dress, jumping about, and striving by blows and by jests to make way for the train through the people and the line of mourners: but on a sign from the venerable old man the students lowered his chair; he descended, and approacht the weeping parents, much moved and with a solemn demeanour.
— Forgive me, said he mournfully and with a tear in his eye, that this wild tumult thus breaks in upon your burial rites, which grieve and shock me to the heart. I am just come back at length from my journey; my scholars wisht to celebrate my enterance by their joy; I yielded to their entreaties and preparations; and I now find — how? your Crescentia, that fairest emblem of all loveliness and virtue, here before you in her coffin. And all around there is this dark pomp and these forms of sorrow, accompanying her with tears and the heart's woe to her place of rest.
He beckoned to his companions, and spake a few words. All had long since become quiet and silent, and most of them now withdrew, that they might not interrupt the funeral.
Then the mother came nearer tottering, and sank down before the form of the old man, while she embraced his knee in convulsive grief.
— Ah! why were you not here? she cried despairingly; your art, your knowledge would have saved her. O Pietro! Pietro! you, the friend of our house! how could you thus let your darling, the apple of your eye, perish? But come! Awaken her even now! Pour into her even now one of those wonderworking elixirs which you know how to compound; and in return take all that we possess, so she be but again here, walking about among us and talking to us.
— Let not despair guide your tongue, answered Pietro: the Lord had lent her to you; he has demanded her back from you; let not man presume to arrest the arm of his wise counsels. Who are we, that we should murmur against him? Shall the child of the dust, that is scattered to nought by the wind, puff forth its weak breath in anger against the eternal decrees? No, my dear friends, as Crescentia's parents, as having loved her and been loved by her, cherish the feeling of your grief; let none of it escape you. Grief should be as familiar an inmate in our hearts as Pleasure and Gladness; for he too is sent us by our Father, who beholds all our tears, and well understands and tries our hearts, and knows what frail mortals can bear. Bear then this great overwhelming woe for his sake, out of love to him; for it is all love, whatsoever burthen he may cast upon you. Is not grief, is not the heart in its wringing agony, the soul that would melt away in sorrow, a holy and godly offering, which amid your burning tears you lay, as the most precious of your possessions, before the everlasting Love of the Most High? As such too is it considered by Him above, who numbers all your sighs and tears. But our wicked enemy, who is always lurking at our side, grudges us the holiness of this heavenly sorrow: it is he who would foment and stir it up in you into despair, into rage against the Father of love and of grief, that you may not in your anguish become yet more thoroughly the children of Love, but may plunge and sink into the abyss of Hatred. He, this Spirit of Lies, is now beguiling you and maliciously whispering his tales in your ears, as though you had for ever lost her, who yet was one with you only in spirit and soul and love, and belonged to you only so far as she was invisible. He would have you forget that this beauteous covering was only her garment, akin to the dust, and now going back to the dust. Cast him back from you, this lying Spirit; shame and confound him with the eternal almighty truth which you hold up before him, that she is still yours, still near you, still at your side, yea far more, far entirelier yours, than when these party walls of mortal flesh kept you asunder, and in the midst of all your love estranged you from each other. From this day forward she is all your memory and hope and sorrow and joy; she shines upon you in every gladdening light; she cheers you in the flowers of spring; she kisses you in the gentle airs that breathe on your cheeks: and every delight that henceforth blossoms in your hearts, is her heart and her love to you; and this delight and this everlasting deathless love are one with God. Carry her then to her resting-place, and follow her in silent humble resignation, that her soul in the abode of everlasting peace may not be disturbed and made uneasy by you.
All seemed to have become calmer; the father speechlessly held forth his hand to him with an expression of cordial friendship and of a comforted heart. They drew up in order; the procession set itself in motion; the masks, the fraternities that made it their duty to attend corpses, ranged themselves in their white gowns, with hooded faces, of which nothing could be seen but the eyes.
Silently the train moved on: they had now nearly reacht the church, when a rider on a foaming horse gallopt toward them.
— What is the matter? cried the youth.
He threw a look into the coffin, and with a shriek of despair turned his horse, darted away, and in his wild speed lost his hat, so that his long hair waved about behind him in the evening breeze. He was the bridegroom, come to the wedding.
Darkness gathered round the train of mourners, and their husht rites, as the beauteous corpse sank down into the vault of her family.