Pietro of Abano/II
When the crowd had disperst, the young stranger, who had followed the procession in wonder mixt with sadness, went up to an old priest who remained alone praying by the grave. He longed to learn who that majestic old man was, that had seemed to him gifted with god-like powers and more than earthly wisdom.
When the youth had laid his question modestly before the priest, the latter stood up and, by the light of a lamp that shone upon them from a window, lookt sharply into his eye.
The old man had a little spare form; his pale narrow face hightened the fire of his eyes yet more; and his pincht lips quivered, as with hoarse voice he answered:
— How! you don't know him? our far-famed Petrus of Apone, or Abano, of whom people talk in Paris, and London, and in the German Empire, and throughout all Italy? You know not the greatest of philosophers and physicians, of astronomers and astrologers, to learn from whom and to see whom the wild youth flock hither from the far parts of Poland?
The young Spaniard, Alfonso, had moved back a step in delighted surprise; for the renown of this great teacher had driven him too from Barcelona over the sea.
— Then it was he, it was himself! he cried enthusiastically: this too was why my heart felt so deeply moved. My spirit recognized his. O generous, pious man, how I love you for honouring him no less than do all the noble-minded and good in the Christian world!
— You too mean perchance to study under him? askt the priest with a bitter tone.
— Certainly, answered the other, if he will vouchsafe to receive me among his scholars.
The old man stood still, laid his hand on the youth's shoulder, and then said mildly:
— My dear young friend, there is yet time; listen even now to my fatherly warning, before it is too late. Do not deceive yourself, as so many, even without number, have done already; be on your guard, and watch over your soul. Are you then at your age thus beforehand aweary of your peace and future blessedness? would you requite your Saviour's love by becoming a runagate from him, and denying him, and taking up arms as a rebel against him?
— I understand you not, old man, replied Alfonso: did not you yourself see and hear how piously, how christianly, with what a heart-stirring majesty, the glorious man spake, and led back the erring footsteps of sorrowing love by his heavenly comfort into the right path?
— What is there that he cannot, that he will not do, the trickster, the magician! exclaimed the old priest warmly.
— Magician! returned Alfonso. So you too would take part in the folly of the rabble that is unable to appreciate the knowledge of lofty spirits, and would rather credit any absurdity than strengthen their own souls by gazing upon the grandeur of a fellow-creature?
— Only go on in this way, said the priest indignantly, and you scarcely need go into his vaunted school. It is clear his magic has you already in its snares, just as he subdues every heart that but beats within his reach. Yes forsooth, the heathen, he has spoken and prophesied today like a priest, and has for once besmeared his lies with this varnish. In the same manner he is lord and master in the house of the Podesta. Poor Crescentia could hardly in her last hours find her way back to holy church: so bound and held fast was her soul by the false doctrines the wicked hypocrite had flung like poisonous nets around her young spirit. Now she has escaped him; the Lord has called her to himself, and has sent this disease to save her soul with the loss of her body.
The speakers were come into the large square before the church. The youth was irritated, and, to give his feelings vent, exclaimed:
— What boots all this fierce envy, my ghostly sir? Do you not see, can you not perceive, how the world only falls away from you more and more, the more you by your excommunications and anathemas and persecutions strive to quench and stifle the new spirit? that spirit of eternal truth which is now awakening all nations from their sleep, and which in spite of your arts will never sink upon the pillow again to swallow your legends in submissive faith.
— Bravo! said the old man in high wrath: Have we not Averroes now instead of Christ, and Aristoteles instead of the Almighty, and this Pietro of yours, this Iscariot, instead of the Holy Ghost? And verily the spirit of the earth has built up a high and stately body for him, and has crowned it with a noble brow, and has set an eye of fire in it and the sweet mouth of persuasion, and has poured grace and majesty over his motions, that he may juggle and delude: while I, the unworthy servant of the Lord, walk about here sickly and weak and without all comeliness of feature, and have only my own confession, only my faith, to give assurance that I am a christian. I cannot descend like him into the depths of dazzling knowledge, nor measure the course of the stars, nor foretell good and evil fortune; I am reviled and scorned by the overwise; but I bear it humbly, for the love of him who has laid all this upon me. Wait however until the end, and see whether his seven spirits whom he holds under his magical spell, can save him then; whether his Familiar, that spawn of hell, will then assist him.
— Was his Familiar with him? askt Alfonso eagerly.
— Did not you observe the monster, answered the monk, that had trickt itself out like a clown? the abortion with that hump, those twisted hands and arms, those crooked legs, those squinting eyes, and that enormous nose jutting out from its unsightly face.
— I took all that for a mask; said the youth.
— No, this creature, replied the old man, need not put on a mask. Such as he is, he is mask enough, and spectre, and imp of hell, this Beresynth, as they call him.—— Will you pass the night in our convent, young man, until you have found a lodging?
— No, rejoined he very positively; I will be indebted for no hospitality to a man thus unjust and slanderous toward the noble being whose name I heard with rapture while yet in my own country, and who shall walk and shine before me here as my guide and model. It is bad enough that I have been forced to hear such language from you, from a man whose condition and age forbid my calling him to account for it. If he alone is to be esteemed godly, who despises science and knowledge, he alone a christian, who in a waking slumber dozes away the days of his life and the powers of his soul, I depart out of the dull communion. But it is not so; nor is it the man, the christian, or the priest, that has been speaking from your lips, but your guild and fraternity. Farewell, if with such feelings you can.
They parted, both much out of temper.