Pietro of Abano/XII
Antonio had returned to Florence for the sake of visiting his kindred and his paternal house again. He could not make up his mind on what course of life to enter, since all the happiness of existence had proved so treacherous, and even realities had shewn themselves to him under the aspect of a mad dream.
He settled his affairs, and gave himself up to his sorrow in the great palace of his fathers; where that fatal grotto and every well-known room only harast his mind with the liveliest images of his own and his parents' misfortunes. He thought too of that hateful witch who was so entangled in his fate, and of that Crescentia who had appeared to him and then vanisht again in a way scarcely less marvellous than his bride. If he could have caught the slightest glimmering of hope, he might in time have grown reconciled to life again.
At last there rose up within his soul, like a pale star, the wish of making a pilgrimage to Rome, which he had never yet seen, there to partake in the graces bestowed upon the faithful, to visit the famous churches and holy relics, to divert his thoughts from himself in the midst of the streaming multitude, the throng of numberless strangers who had journied thither from all quarters of the earth, and to seek out his friend Alfonso. He also expected that he should find old Ambrosio in the great city, should receive comfort from this mourner who had meant to become his father, and might perhaps afford him too some comfort in his affliction. With these feelings and views he set out on his way, and after some time arrived at Rome.
He was astonisht when he entered the great city. He had framed no conception of her grandeur, her ancient monuments, or of such a concourse of innumerable strangers. It might well be deemed matter of wonder if one found out any friend or acquaintance, without being able beforehand to give an accurate account of where he lived. And yet this wonderful chance befell him in his suddenly meeting Ambrosio, as he was going up to the Capitol from which the old man was coming down. The Podesta carried him to his house, where Antonio greeted the sorrowing mother. The rumour of Pietro's strange end, of Crescentia's return to life and second departure from it, had already been bruited as far as Rome: this marvellous story was in the mouth of every pilgrim, disfigured with confused additions and contradictions, and drest out by frequent repeating into the very reverse of the truth. The parents listened with alternations of joy and woe to the story as Antonio told it, awestruck as they both were, especially the mother, who gave vent to her loathing in execrations against the old hypocritical magician, and in her rage more than half believed that he had himself been the cause of her daughter's death, having perhaps taken a bribe for that purpose from the family of Marconi, that he had poisoned her for the sake of awakening her corpse again to gratify his frantic abominations.
— Let us leave all this to heaven; said the old man. What happened and was notorious to the whole city and country, was quite horrible enough, without involving others, who may perhaps have been innocent, in this enormous wickedness. However, let the matter with regard to the Marconis stand as it may, I am perfectly resolved that they shall never be the better off for my fortune. By the help of my patrons here I shall obtain leave to make over my property to some convents or charitable foundations; and perhaps my weariness of life may lead me to end my own days as a monk or hermit.
— But what, threw in the mother weeping, if it were possible after all to find out that second Crescentia again, of whom Antonio has told us! The child was stolen from me during your absence in a most incomprehensible manner; the witch who named the Marconis on that night, the likeness, all, all agrees so wonderfully, that surely we ought not to cast away hope, that first and chief good of life, too early, not too hastily, in our despair.
— Good Eudoxia, said the father, have done, have done with all these dreams and stories and wild fancies: for us there remains in this world nothing that is certain, except death; and that ours may be pious and easy, is what we must wish and pray to heaven for.
— And if hereafter, when it is already too late, exclaimed the mother, our poor orphan child should be found again, may not the unhappy girl justly reproach us for not relying on the bounty and mercy of Heaven, and waiting for her return with a little more calmness and patience?
Ambrosio cast a dark frown on the youth, and then said:
— This too has come in over and above all the rest to deepen our wretchedness: you have infected my poor wife with your sick fancies, and have thereby robbed her of her peace, the only, the last blessing of life.
— What mean you by these words? askt Antonio.
— Young man, answered the father, ever since that ride of yours through field and forest, when you pinned that wild tale upon me about the events which you said had befallen you the night before——
— Signor Ambrosio! cried Antonio, and his hand fell involuntarily on his sword.
— Leave that alone, continued the old man calmly: far be from me the wish to accuse you of a falsehood; I have too long known your noble character, and your love for truth. But has it never struck you, my poor young friend, without my putting it into your head, that ever since the night when you met my daughter's coffin, having come with the thought to carry her home with you the next day as your bride, your senses have got into disorder, your reason has been much weakened? During that lonely night, beneath that storm, in the strongly excited state of your passions, you fancied you saw my lost child again; and the recollections of your unfortunate father, of your long-lost mother, connected themselves with her image. In this way were those visions bred, and fixt themselves firmly in your brain. Did we find a single trace of the hut? Was a human creature in the neighbourhood able to tell us a word about the robbers you killed? That awful meeting again with my real daughter, in which I perforce must believe, is of itself enough to fever the very coldest feelings into madness; and need one marvel then at your talking of having encountered another impossibility, at your story about finding the dead Pietro come to life among the mountains, and not knowing him again, and about those almost farcical tricks of jugglery that were played you, all which you have related to us with the very same assurance? No, my good Antonio, pain and grief have distracted your sounder senses, so that you see and believe in things which have no real existence.
Antonio was perplext and knew not what to reply. Greatly as the loss of his beloved had shaken all the faculties of his soul, he still was too clearly conscious of the events he had past through, to bring their reality thus in question.
He now felt a new motive to activity: he wisht at least to prove that the story of that night was no dreamy phantom, that his second Crescentia was an actual being; and thus it became his liveliest desire to find her again, and to restore her to her afflicted parents, or at least make Ambrosio acknowledge that he had misjudged him.
In this mood he left his old friend, and wandered about the city to and fro, prest by the concourse of people, and half stunned by shouts, and questions, and stories in all the languages of the earth. Thus, shoved and pusht about, he had been driven on as far as the Lateran, when he fancied that, as the crowd now and then opened a little, he distinctly perceived, though some way off, that selfsame hideous old woman, the mother of the beautiful maiden, who bore the name of his Crescentia.
He endeavoured to get up to her, and seemed to be succeeding, when a train of pilgrims came pouring from a cross street, who cut him off entirely, and made all further advance impossible. While he was struggling with all his might, and working his way up the steps of St John's Church, that he might be able to overlook the multitude, he felt a friendly slap on his shoulder, and a wellknown voice pronounced his name. It was the Spaniard Alfonso.
— So I find you exactly in the place, said he joyfully, where I lookt for you.
— What do you mean by that? askt Antonio.
— First let us get out of the way of this torrent of human flesh, cried the other: in this place, from the myriads of tongues that are wagging, from the ceaseless buz of this monstrous Babylonian beehive, one can't hear a single word.
They took a walk out into the country; and here Alfonso confest to his friend that, since he had been at Rome, he had devoted himself to the science of astrology, divination, and other like things, which he had formerly held in abhorrence, having been of opinion that they could only be acquired by accursed means and by the help of evil spirits.
— But since the day, he continued, when I made acquaintance with the incomparable Castalio, this knowledge appears to me in a far higher and purer light.
— And is it possible, exclaimed Antonio, that after all those fearful events at Padua, you can again expose your soul to such perils? Do you not clearly see that whatsoever is to be attained in a natural way and by means of our own reason does not repay the trouble, being nothing more than a set of petty tricks that can only excite merriment and laughter! that everything beyond on the other hand, which does not turn upon empty delusion, cannot possibly be called into being, unless by evil and damnable powers?
— Declaiming, said the Spaniard, is not proving. We are far too young to understand the whole of our own nature; much less can we comprehend the rest of the world and all its unexplored mysteries. When you once see the man whom I have so much to thank for, all your doubts will vanish. Pious, simple-hearted, nay childlike, as he is, every look of his eye pours the light of confidence into you.
— And how was it with Apone? Antonio threw in.
— He, replied his friend, always wanted to be coming forward in the light of a supernatural being: he was evermore labouring, consciously and purposely, to appear as a messenger from Heaven, and with counterfeit splendour to dazzle the ordinary sons of men. He delighted in pomp; he would indeed be condescending at times, but it was only to make the enormous distance between him and us more palpably felt. Did he not revel in the admiration which the nobles and citizens, the young and old, were all forced to pay him? But my present friend (for such he is, because he renders himself altogether my equal) has no wish to seem great and sublime: he smiles at the endeavours of so many men to do so, and considers this of itself as an assurance that there is something spurious and hollow to be concealed; since a clear consciousness of worth would only wish to pass for what it feels itself to be, and the wisest of mortals must after all acknowledge that he too, as well as the most ignorant vagabond, is merely a child of the dust.
— You make me curious; said Antonio: so he knows both what is past and what is to come? the destinies of men? and could tell me how happy or unhappy the cast of my future life is to be? whether certain secret wishes can be accomplisht? Would he then be able to decipher and divine such parts of my history as are obscure even to myself?
— It is in this very thing that his wisdom lies, answered Alfonso with enthusiasm; by means of letters and numbers, in the simplest and most harmless way, he finds out everything for which those wretches have to employ conjurations and charms and yells and screams and the agonies of death. Hence too you will find none of that odious magical apparatus about him, no crystals with spirits blockt up in them, no mirrors and skeletons, no incense, and no nauseous imps: he has all his stores in himself. I told him about you; and he found out by his calculations that I was quite sure of meeting you today at this hour on the steps of the Lateran church. And so it has turned out at the very instant he foretold.
Antonio was desirous of becoming acquainted with this wonderfully gifted old man, in the hope of learning his destiny from him. They dined in a garden, and toward evening went back to the city. The streets had grown somewhat quieter; they could pursue their way with less hinderance. At dusk they came into the allies which pass close behind the tomb of Augustus. They walkt through a little garden; a friendly light glimmered upon them from the windows of a small house. They pulled the bell; the door opened; and full of the strangest and highest expectations Antonio entered with his friend into the hall.