The Ring and the Book/III
III. THE OTHER HALF-ROME.
Another day that finds her living yet, Little Pompilia, with the patient brow And lamentable smile on those poor lips, And, under the white hospital-array, A flower-like body, to frighten at a bruise You'd think, yet now, stabbed through and through again, Alive i' the ruins. 'T is a miracle. It seems that, when her husband struck her first, She prayed Madonna just that she might live So long as to confess and be absolved; And whether it was that, all her sad life long Never before successful in a prayer, This prayer rose with authority too dread,— Or whether, because earth was hell to her, By compensation, when the blackness broke She got one glimpse of quiet and the cool blue, To show her for a moment such things were,— Or else,—as the Augustinian Brother thinks, The friar who took confession from her lip,— When a probationary soul that moved From nobleness to nobleness, as she, Over the rough way of the world, succumbs, Bloodies its last thorn with unflinching foot, The angels love to do their work betimes, Staunch some wounds here nor leave so much for God. Who knows? However it be, confessed, absolved, She lies, with overplus of life beside To speak and right herself from first to last, Right the friend also, lamb-pure, lion-brave, Care for the boy's concerns, to save the son From the sire, her two-weeks' infant orphaned thus, And—with best smile of all reserved for him— Pardon that sire and husband from the heart. A miracle, so tell your Molinists!
There she lies in the long white lazar-house. Rome has besieged, these two days, never doubt, Saint Anna's where she waits her death, to hear Though but the chink o' the bell, turn o' the hinge When the reluctant wicket opes at last, Lets in, on now this and now that pretence, Too many by half,—complain the men of art,— For a patient in such plight. The lawyers first Paid the due visit—justice must be done; They took her witness, why the murder was. Then the priests followed properly,—a soul To shrive; 't was Brother Celestine's own right, The same who noises thus her gifts abroad. But many more, who found they were old friends, Pushed in to have their stare and take their talk And go forth boasting of it and to boast. Old Monna Baldi chatters like a jay, Swears—but that, prematurely trundled out Just as she felt the benefit begin, The miracle was snapped up by somebody,— Her palsied limb 'gan prick and promise life At touch o' the bedclothes merely,—how much more Had she but brushed the body as she tried! Cavalier Carlo—well, there's some excuse For him—Maratta who paints Virgins so— He too must fee the porter and slip by With pencil cut and paper squared, and straight There was he figuring away at face: "A lovelier face is not in Rome," cried he, "Shaped like a peacock's egg, the pure as pearl, "That hatches you anon a snow-white chick." Then, oh that pair of eyes, that pendent hair, Black this and black the other! Mighty fine— But nobody cared ask to paint the same, Nor grew a poet over hair and eyes Four little years ago when, ask and have, The woman who wakes all this rapture leaned Flower-like from out her window long enough, As much uncomplimented as uncropped By comers and goers in Via Vittoria: eh? 'T is just a flower's fate: past parterre we trip, Till peradventure someone plucks our sleeve— "Yon blossom at the briar's end, that's the rose "Two jealous people fought for yesterday "And killed each other: see, there's undisturbed "A pretty pool at the root, of rival red!" Then cry we "Ah, the perfect paragon!" Then crave we "Just one keepsake-leaf for us!"
Truth lies between: there's anyhow a child Of seventeen years, whether a flower or weed, Ruined: who did it shall account to Christ— Having no pity on the harmless life And gentle face and girlish form he found, And thus flings back. Go practise if you please With men and women: leave a child alone For Christ's particular love's sake!—so I say.
Somebody, at the bedside, said much more, Took on him to explain the secret cause O' the crime: quoth he, "Such crimes are very rife, "Explode nor make us wonder now-a-days, "Seeing that Antichrist disseminates "That doctrine of the Philosophic Sin: "Molinos' sect will soon make earth too hot!" "Nay," groaned the Augustinian, "what's there new? "Crime will not fail to flare up from men's hearts "While hearts are men's and so born criminal; "Which one fact, always old yet ever new, "Accounts for so much crime that, for my part, "Molinos may go whistle to the wind "That waits outside a certain church, you know!"
Though really it does seem as if she here, Pompilia, living so and dying thus, Has had undue experience how much crime A heart can hatch. Why was she made to learn —Not you, not I, not even Molinos' self— What Guido Franceschini's heart could hold? Thus saintship is effected probably; No sparing saints the process!—which the more Tends to the reconciling us, no saints, To sinnership, immunity and all.
For see now: Pietro and Violante's life Till seventeen years ago, all Rome might note And quote for happy—see the signs distinct Of happiness as we yon Triton's trump. What could they be but happy?—balanced so, Nor low i' the social scale nor yet too high, Nor poor nor richer than comports with ease, Nor bright and envied, nor obscure and scorned, Nor so young that their pleasures fell too thick, Nor old past catching pleasure when it fell, Nothing above, below the just degree, All at the mean where joy's components mix. So again, in the couple's very souls You saw the adequate half with half to match, Each having and each lacking somewhat, both Making a whole that had all and lacked nought. The round and sound, in whose composure just The acquiescent and recipient side Was Pietro's, and the stirring striving one Violante's: both in union gave the due Quietude, enterprise, craving and content, Which go to bodily health and peace of mind. But, as 't is said a body, rightly mixed, Each element in equipoise, would last Too long and live for ever,—accordingly Holds a germ—sand-grain weight too much i' the scale— Ordained to get predominance one day And so bring all to ruin and release,— Not otherwise a fatal germ lurked here: "With mortals much must go, but something stays; "Nothing will stay of our so happy selves." Out of the very ripeness of life's core A worm was bred—"Our life shall leave no fruit." Enough of bliss, they thought, could bliss bear seed, Yield its like, propagate a bliss in turn And keep the kind up; not supplant themselves But put in evidence, record they were, Show them, when done with, i' the shape of a child. "'T is in a child, man and wife grow complete, "One flesh: God says so: let him do his work!"
Now, one reminder of this gnawing want, One special prick o' the maggot at the core, Always befell when, as the day came round, A certain yearly sum,—our Pietro being, As the long name runs, an usufructuary,— Dropped in the common bag as interest Of money, his till death, not afterward, Failing an heir: an heir would take and take, A child of theirs be wealthy in their place To nobody's hurt—the stranger else seized all. Prosperity rolled river-like and stopped, Making their mill go; but when wheel wore out, The wave would find a space and sweep on free And, half-a-mile off, grind some neighbour's corn.
Adam-like, Pietro sighed and said no more: Eve saw the apple was fair and good to taste, So, plucked it, having asked the snake advice. She told her husband God was merciful, And his and her prayer granted at the last: Let the old mill-stone moulder,—wheel unworn, Quartz from the quarry, shot into the stream Adroitly, as before should go bring grist— Their house continued to them by an heir, Their vacant heart replenished with a child. We have her own confession at full length Made in the first remorse: 't was Jubilee Pealed in the ear o' the conscience and it woke. She found she had offended God no doubt, So much was plain from what had happened since, Misfortune on misfortune; but she harmed No one i' the world, so far as she could see. The act had gladdened Pietro to the height, Her spouse whom God himself must gladden so Or not at all: thus much seems probable From the implicit faith, or rather say Stupid credulity of the foolish man Who swallowed such a tale nor strained a whit Even at his wife's far-over-fifty years Matching his sixty-and-under. Him she blessed; And as for doing any detriment To the veritable heir,—why, tell her first Who was he? Which of all the hands held up I' the crowd, one day would gather round their gate, Did she so wrong by intercepting thus The ducat, spendthrift fortune thought to fling For a scramble just to make the mob break shins? She kept it, saved them kicks and cuffs thereby. While at the least one good work had she wrought, Good, clearly and incontestably! Her cheat— What was it to its subject, the child's self, But charity and religion? See the girl! A body most like—a soul too probably— Doomed to death, such a double death as waits The illicit offspring of a common trull, Sure to resent and forthwith rid herself Of a mere interruption to sin's trade, In the efficacious way old Tiber knows. Was not so much proved by the ready sale O' the child, glad transfer of this irksome chance? Well then, she had caught up this castaway: This fragile egg, some careless wild bird dropped, She had picked from where it waited the foot-fall, And put in her own breast till forth broke finch Able to sing God praise on mornings now. What so excessive harm was done?—she asked.
To which demand the dreadful answer comes— For that same deed, now at Lorenzo's church, Both agents, conscious and inconscious, lie; While she, the deed was done to benefit, Lies also, the most lamentable of things, Yonder where curious people count her breaths, Calculate how long yet the little life Unspilt may serve their turn nor spoil the show, Give them their story, then the church its group.
Well, having gained Pompilia, the girl grew I' the midst of Pietro here, Violante there, Each, like a semicircle with stretched arms, Joining the other round her preciousness— Two walls that go about a garden-plot Where a chance sliver, branchlet slipt from bole Of some tongue-leaved eye-figured Eden tree, Filched by two exiles and borne far away. Patiently glorifies their solitude,— Year by year mounting, grade by grade surmount The builded brick-work, yet is compassed still, Still hidden happily and shielded safe,— Else why should miracle have graced the ground? But on the twelfth sun that brought April there What meant that laugh? The coping-stone was reached; Nay, above towered a light tuft of bloom To be toyed with by butterfly or bee, Done good to or else harm to from outside: Pompilia's root, stalk and a branch or two Home enclosed still, the rest would be the world's. All which was taught our couple though obtuse, Since walls have ears, when one day brought a priest, Smooth-mannered soft-speeched sleek-cheeked visitor, The notable Abate Paolo—known As younger brother of a Tuscan house Whereof the actual representative, Count Guido, had employed his youth and age In culture of Rome's most productive plant— A cardinal: but years pass and change comes, In token of which, here was our Paolo brought To broach a weighty business. Might he speak? Yes—to Violante somehow caught alone While Pietro took his after-dinner doze, And the young maiden, busily as befits, Minded her broider-frame three chambers off.
So—giving now his great flap-hat a gloss With flat o' the hand between-whiles, soothing now The silk from out its creases o'er the calf, Setting the stocking clerical again, But never disengaging, once engaged, The thin clear grey hold of his eyes on her— He dissertated on that Tuscan house, Those Franceschini,—very old they were— Not rich however—oh, not rich, at least, As people look to be who, low i' the scale One way, have reason, rising all they can By favour of the money-bag! 't is fair— Do all gifts go together? But don't suppose That being not so rich means all so poor! Say rather, well enough—i' the way, indeed, Ha, ha, to fortune better than the best: Since if his brother's patron-friend kept faith, Put into promised play the Cardinalate, Their house might wear the red cloth that keeps warm, Would but the Count have patience—there's the point! For he was slipping into years apace, And years make men restless—they needs must spy Some certainty, some sort of end assured, Some sparkle, tho' from topmost beacon-tip, That warrants life a harbour through the haze. In short, call him fantastic as you choose, Guido was home-sick, yearned for the old sights And usual faces,—fain would settle himself And have the patron's bounty when it fell Irrigate far rather than deluge near, Go fertilize Arezzo, not flood Rome. Sooth to say, 't was the wiser wish: the Count Proved wanting in ambition,—let us avouch, Since truth is best,—in callousness of heart, And winced at pin-pricks whereby honours hang A ribbon o'er each puncture: his—no soul Ecclesiastic (here the hat was brushed) Humble but self-sustaining, calm and cold, Having, as one who puts his hand to the plough, Renounced the over-vivid family-feel— Poor brother Guido! All too plain, he pined Amid Rome's pomp and glare for dinginess And that dilapidated palace-shell Vast as a quarry and, very like, as bare— Since to this comes old grandeur now-a-days— Or that absurd wild villa in the waste O' the hill side, breezy though, for who likes air, Vittiano, nor unpleasant with its vines, Outside the city and the summer heats. And now his harping on this one tense chord The villa and the palace, palace this And villa the other, all day and all night Creaked like the implacable cicala's cry And made one's ear drum ache: nought else would serve But that, to light his mother's visage up With second youth, hope, gaiety again, He must find straightway, woo and haply win And bear away triumphant back, some wife. Well now, the man was rational in his way: He, the Abate,—ought he to interpose? Unless by straining still his tutelage (Priesthood leaps over elder-brothership) Across this difficulty: then let go, Leave the poor fellow in peace! Would that be wrong? There was no making Guido great, it seems, Spite of himself: then happy be his dole! Indeed, the Abate's little interest Was somewhat nearly touched i' the case, they saw: Since if his simple kinsman so were bent, Began his rounds in Rome to catch a wife, Full soon would such unworldliness surprise The rare bird, sprinkle salt on phoenix' tail, And so secure the nest a sparrow-hawk. No lack of mothers here in Rome,—no dread Of daughters lured as larks by looking-glass! The first name-pecking credit-scratching fowl Would drop her unfledged cuckoo in our nest To gather greyness there, give voice at length And shame the brood … but it was long ago When crusades were, and we sent eagles forth! No, that at least the Abate could forestall. He read the thought within his brother's word, Knew what he purposed better than himself. We want no name and fame—having our own: No worldly aggrandizement—such we fly: But if some wonder of a woman's-heart Were yet untainted on this grimy earth, Tender and true—tradition tells of such— Prepared to pant in time and tune with ours— If some good girl (a girl, since she must take The new bent, live new life, adopt new modes) Not wealthy (Guido for his rank was poor) But with whatever dowry came to hand,— There were the lady-love predestinate! And somehow the Abate's guardian eye— Scintillant, rutilant, fraternal fire,— Roving round every way had seized the prize —The instinct of us, we, the spiritualty! Come, cards on table; was it true or false That here—here in this very tenement— Yea, Via Vittoria did a marvel hide, Lily of a maiden, white with intact leaf Guessed thro' the sheath that saved it from the sun? A daughter with the mother's hands still clasped Over her head for fillet virginal, A wife worth Guido's house and hand and heart? He came to see; had spoken, he could no less— (A final cherish of the stockinged calf) If harm were,—well, the matter was off his mind.
Then with the great air did he kiss, devout, Violante's hand, and rise up his whole height (A certain purple gleam about the black) And go forth grandly,—as if the Pope came next. And so Violante rubbed her eyes awhile, Got up too, walked to wake her Pietro soon And pour into his ear the mighty news How somebody had somehow somewhere seen Their tree-top-tuft of bloom above the wall, And came now to apprize them the tree's self Was no such crab-sort as should go feed swine, But veritable gold, the Hesperian ball Ordained for Hercules to haste and pluck, And bear and give the Gods to banquet with— Hercules standing ready at the door. Whereon did Pietro rub his eyes in turn, Look very wise, a little woeful too, Then, periwig on head, and cane in hand, Sally forth dignifiedly into the Square Of Spain across Babbuino the six steps, Toward the Boat-fountain where our idlers lounge,— Ask, for form's sake, who Hercules might be, And have congratulation from the world.
Heartily laughed the world in his fool's-face And told him Hercules was just the heir To the stubble once a corn-field, and brick-heap Where used to be a dwelling-place now burned. Guido and Franceschini; a Count,—ay: But a cross i' the poke to bless the Countship? No! All gone except sloth, pride, rapacity, Humours of the imposthume incident To rich blood that runs thin,—nursed to a head By the rankly-salted soil—a cardinal's court Where, parasite and picker-up of crumbs, He had hung on long, and now, let go, said some, Shaken off, said others,—but in any case Tired of the trade and something worse for wear, Was wanting to change town for country quick, Go home again: let Pietro help him home! The brother, Abate Paolo, shrewder mouse, Had pricked for comfortable quarters, inched Into the core of Rome, and fattened so; But Guido, over-burly for rat's hole Suited to clerical slimness, starved outside, Must shift for himself: and so the shift was this! What, was the snug retreat of Pietro tracked, The little provision for his old age snuffed? "Oh, make your girl a lady, an you list, "But have more mercy on our wit than vaunt "Your bargain as we burgesses who brag! "Why, Goodman Dullard, if a friend must speak, "Would the Count, think you, stoop to you and yours "Were there the value of one penny-piece "To rattle 'twixt his palms—or likelier laugh, "Bid your Pompilia help you black his shoe?"
Home again, shaking oft the puzzled pate, Went Pietro to announce a change indeed, Yet point Violante where some solace lay Of a rueful sort,—the taper, quenched so soon, Had ended merely in a snuff, not stink— Congratulate there was one hope the less Not misery the more: and so an end.
The marriage thus impossible, the rest Followed: our spokesman, Paolo, heard his fate, Resignedly Count Guido bore the blow: Violante wiped away the transient tear, Renounced the playing Danae to gold dreams, Praised much her Pietro's prompt sagaciousness, Found neighbours' envy natural, lightly laughed At gossips' malice, fairly wrapped herself In her integrity three folds about, And, letting pass a little day or two, Threw, even over that integrity, Another wrappage, namely one thick veil That hid her, matron-wise, from head to foot, And, by the hand holding a girl veiled too, Stood, one dim end of a December day, In Saint Lorenzo on the altar-step— Just where she lies now and that girl will lie— Only with fifty candles' company Now, in the place of the poor winking one Which saw,—doors shut and sacristan made sure,— A priest—perhaps Abate Paolo—wed Guido clandestinely, irrevocably To his Pompilia aged thirteen years And five months,—witness the church register,— Pompilia, (thus become Count Guido's wife Clandestinely, irrevocably his,) Who all the while had borne, from first to last, As brisk a part i' the bargain, as yon lamb, Brought forth from basket and set out for sale, Bears while they chaffer, wary market-man And voluble housewife, o'er it,—each in turn Patting the curly calm inconscious head, With the shambles ready round the corner there, When the talk's talked out and a bargain struck. Transfer complete, why, Pietro was apprised. Violante sobbed the sobs and prayed the prayers And said the serpent tempted so she fell, Till Pietro had to clear his brow apace And make the best of matters: wrath at first,— How else? pacification presently, Why not?—could flesh withstand the impurpled one, The very Cardinal, Paolo's patron-friend? Who, justifiably surnamed "a hinge," Knew where the mollifying oil should drop To cure the creak o' the valve,—considerate For frailty, patient in a naughty world. He even volunteered to supervise The rough draught of those marriage-articles Signed in a hurry by Pietro, since revoked: Trust's politic, suspicion does the harm, There is but one way to brow-beat this world, Dumb-founder doubt, and repay scorn in kind,— To go on trusting, namely, till faith move Mountains.
And faith here made the mountains move. Why, friends whose zeal cried "Caution ere too late!"— Bade "Pause ere jump, with both feet joined, on slough!"— Counselled "If rashness then, now temperance!"— Heard for their pains that Pietro had closed eyes, Jumped and was in the middle of the mire, Money and all, just what should sink a man. By the mere marriage, Guido gained forthwith Dowry, his wife's right; no rescinding there: But Pietro, why must he needs ratify One gift Violante gave, pay down one doit Promised in first fool's-flurry? Grasp the bag Lest the son's service flag,—is reason and rhyme, Above all when the son's a son-in-law. Words to the wind! The parents cast their lot Into the lap o' the daughter: and the son Now with a right to lie there, took what fell, Pietro's whole having and holding, house and field, Goods, chattels and effects, his worldly worth Present and in perspective, all renounced In favour of Guido. As for the usufruct— The interest now, the principal anon, Would Guido please to wait, at Pietro's death: Till when, he must support the couple's charge, Bear with them, housemates, pensionaries, pawned To an alien for fulfilment of their pact. Guido should at discretion deal them orts, Bread-bounty in Arezzo the strange place,— They who had lived deliciously and rolled Rome's choicest comfit 'neath the tongue before. Into this quag, "jump" bade the Cardinal! And neck-deep in a minute there flounced they.
But they touched bottom at Arezzo: there— Four months' experience of how craft and greed Quickened by penury and pretentious hate Of plain truth, brutify and bestialize,— Four months' taste of apportioned insolence, Cruelty graduated, dose by dose Of ruffianism dealt out at bed and board, And lo, the work was done, success clapped hands. The starved, stripped, beaten brace of stupid dupes Broke at last in their desperation loose, Fled away for their lives, and lucky so; Found their account in casting coat afar And bearing off a shred of skin at least: Left Guido lord o' the prey, as the lion is, And, careless what came after, carried their wrongs To Rome,—I nothing doubt, with such remorse As folly feels, since pain can make it wise, But crime, past wisdom, which is innocence, Needs not be plagued with till a later day.
Pietro went back to beg from door to door, In hope that memory not quite extinct Of cheery days and festive nights would move Friends and acquaintance—after the natural laugh, And tributary "Just as we foretold—" To show some bowels, give the dregs o' the cup, Scraps of the trencher, to their host that was, Or let him share the mat with the mastiff, he Who lived large and kept open house so long. Not so Violante: ever a-head i' the march, Quick at the bye-road and the cut-across, She went first to the best adviser, God— Whose finger unmistakably was felt In all this retribution of the past. Here was the prize of sin, luck of a lie! But here too was what Holy Year would help, Bound to rid sinners of sin vulgar, sin Abnormal, sin prodigious, up to sin Impossible and supposed for Jubilee' sake: To lift the leadenest of lies, let soar The soul unhampered by a feather-weight. "I will" said she "go burn out this bad hole "That breeds the scorpion, baulk the plague at least "Of hope to further plague by progeny: "I will confess my fault, be punished, yes, "But pardoned too: Saint Peter pays for all."
So, with the crowd she mixed, made for the dome, Through the great door new-broken for the nonce Marched, muffled more than ever matron-wise, Up the left nave to the formidable throne, Fell into file with this the poisoner And that the parricide, and reached in turn The poor repugnant Penitentiary Set at this gully-hole o' the world's discharge To help the frightfullest of filth have vent, And then knelt down and whispered in his ear How she had bought Pompilia, palmed the babe On Pietro, passed the girl off as their child To Guido, and defrauded of his due This one and that one,—more than she could name, Until her solid piece of wickedness Happened to split and spread woe far and wide: Contritely now she brought the case for cure.
Replied the throne—"Ere God forgive the guilt, "Make man some restitution! Do your part! "The owners of your husband's heritage, "Barred thence by this pretended birth and heir,— "Tell them, the bar came so, is broken so, "Theirs be the due reversion as before! "Your husband who, no partner in the guilt, "Suffers the penalty, led blindfold thus "By love of what he thought his flesh and blood "To alienate his all in her behalf,— "Tell him too such contract is null and void! "Last, he who personates your son-in-law, "Who with sealed eyes and stopped ears, tame and mute, "Took at your hand that bastard of a whore "You called your daughter and he calls his wife,— "Tell him, and bear the anger which is just! "Then, penance so performed, may pardon be!"
Who could gainsay this just and right award? Nobody in the world: but, out o' the world, Who knows?—might timid intervention be From any makeshift of an angel-guide, Substitute for celestial guardianship, Pretending to take care of the girl's self: "Woman, confessing crime is healthy work, "And telling truth relieves a liar like you, "But how of my quite unconsidered charge? "No thought if, while this good befalls yourself, "Aught in the way of harm may find out her?" No least thought, I assure you: truth being truth, Tell it and shame the devil!
Said and done: Home went Violante, disbosomed all: And Pietro who, six months before, had borne Word after word of such a piece of news Like so much cold steel inched through his breastblade, Now at its entry gave a leap for joy As who—what did I say of one in a quag?— Should catch a hand from heaven and spring thereby Out of the mud, on ten toes stand once more. "What? All that used to be, may be again? "My money mine again, my house, my land, "My chairs and tables, all mine evermore? "What, the girl's dowry never was the girl's, "And, unpaid yet, is never now to pay? "Then the girl's self, my pale Pompilia child "That used to be my own with her great eyes— "He who drove us forth, why should he keep her "When proved as very a pauper as himself? "Will she come back, with nothing changed at all, "And laugh 'But how you dreamed uneasily! "'I saw the great drops stand here on your brow— "'Did I do wrong to wake you with a kiss?' "No, indeed, darling! No, for wide awake "I see another outburst of surprise: "The lout-lord, bully-beggar, braggart-sneak, "Who not content with cutting purse, crops ear— "Assuredly it shall be salve to mine "When this great news red-letters him, the rogue! "Ay, let him taste the teeth o' the trap, this fox, "Give us our lamb back, golden fleece and all, "Let her creep in and warm our breasts again! "Why care for the past? We three are our old selves, "And know now what the outside world is worth." And so, he carried case before the courts; And there Violante, blushing to the bone, Made public declaration of her fault, Renounced her motherhood, and prayed the law To interpose, frustrate of its effect Her folly, and redress the injury done.
Whereof was the disastrous consequence, That though indisputably clear the case (For thirteen years are not so large a lapse, And still six witnesses survived in Rome To prove the truth o' the tale)—yet, patent wrong Seemed Guido's; the first cheat had chanced on him: Here was the pity that, deciding right, Those who began the wrong would gain the prize. Guido pronounced the story one long lie Lied to do robbery and take revenge: Or say it were no lie at all but truth, Then, it both robbed the right heirs and shamed him Without revenge to humanize the deed: What had he done when first they shamed him thus? But that were too fantastic: losels they, And leasing this world's-wonder of a lie, They lied to blot him though it brand themselves.
So answered Guido through the Abate's mouth. Wherefore the court, its customary way, Inclined to the middle course the sage affect. They held the child to be a changeling,—good: But, lest the husband got no good thereby, They willed the dowry, though not hers at all, Should yet be his, if not by right then grace— Part-payment for the plain injustice done. As for that other contract, Pietro's work, Renunciation of his own estate, That must be cancelled—give him back his gifts, He was no party to the cheat at least! So ran the judgment:—whence a prompt appeal On both sides, seeing right is absolute. Cried Pietro "Is the child no child of mine? "Why give her a child's dowry?"—"Have I right "To the dowry, why not to the rest as well?" Cried Guido, or cried Paolo in his name: Till law said "Reinvestigate the case!" And so the matter pends, to this same day.
Hence new disaster—here no outlet seemed; Whatever the fortune of the battle-field, No path whereby the fatal man might march Victorious, wreath on head and spoils in hand, And back turned full upon the baffled foe,— Nor cranny whence, desperate and disgraced, Stripped to the skin, he might be fain to crawl Worm-like, and so away with his defeat To other fortune and a novel prey. No, he was pinned to the place there, left alone With his immense hate and, the solitary Subject to satisfy that hate, his wife. "Cast her off? Turn her naked out of doors? "Easily said! But still the action pends, "Still dowry, principal and interest, "Pietro's possessions, all I bargained for,— "Any good day, be but my friends alert, "May give them me if she continue mine. "Yet, keep her? Keep the puppet of my foes— "Her voice that lisps me back their curse—her eye "They lend their leer of triumph to—her lip "I touch and taste their very filth upon?"
In short, he also took the middle course Rome taught him—did at last excogitate How he might keep the good and leave the bad Twined in revenge, yet extricable,—nay Make the very hate's eruption, very rush Of the unpent sluice of cruelty relieve His heart first, then go fertilize his field. What if the girl-wife, tortured with due care, Should take, as though spontaneously, the road It were impolitic to thrust her on? If, goaded, she broke out in full revolt, Followed her parents i' the face o' the world, Branded as runaway not castaway, Self-sentenced and self-punished in the act? So should the loathed form and detested face Launch themselves into hell and there be lost While he looked o'er the brink with folded arms; So should the heaped-up shames go shuddering back O' the head o' the heapers, Pietro and his wife, And bury in the breakage three at once: While Guido, left free, no one right renounced, Gain present, gain prospective, all the gain, None of the wife except her rights absorbed, Should ask law what it was law paused about— If law were dubious still whose word to take, The husband's—dignified and derelict, Or the wife's—the … what I tell you. It should be.
Guido's first step was to take pen, indite A letter to the Abate,—not his own, His wife's,—she should re-write, sign, seal and send. She liberally told the household-news, Rejoiced her vile progenitors were gone, Revealed their malice—how they even laid A last injunction on her, when they fled, That she should forthwith find a paramour, Complot with him to gather spoil enough, Then burn the house down,—taking previous care To poison all its inmates overnight,— And so companioned, so provisioned too, Follow to Rome and there join fortunes gay. This letter, traced in pencil-characters, Guido as easily got re-traced in ink By his wife's pen, guided from end to end, As if it had been just so much Chinese. For why? That wife could broider, sing perhaps, Pray certainly, but no more read than write This letter "which yet write she must," he said, "Being half courtesy and compliment, "Half sisterliness: take the thing on trust!" She had as readily re-traced the words Of her own death-warrant,—in some sort 't was so. This letter the Abate in due course Communicated to such curious souls In Rome as needs must pry into the cause Of quarrel, why the Comparini fled The Franceschini, whence the grievance grew, What the hubbub meant: "Nay,—see the wife's own word, "Authentic answer! Tell detractors too "There's a plan formed, a programme figured here "—Pray God no after-practice put to proof, "This letter cast no light upon, one day!"
So much for what should work in Rome: back now To Arezzo, follow up the project there, Forward the next step with as bold a foot, And plague Pompilia to the height, you see! Accordingly did Guido set himself To worry up and down, across, around, The woman, hemmed in by her household-bars,— Chase her about the coop of daily life, Having first stopped each outlet thence save one Which, like bird with a ferret in her haunt, She needs must seize as sole way of escape Though there was tied and twittering a decoy To seem as if it tempted,—just the plume O' the popinjay, not a real respite there From tooth and claw of something in the dark,— Giuseppe Caponsacchi.
Now begins The tenebrific passage of the tale: How hold a light, display the cavern's gorge? How, in this phase of the affair, show truth? Here is the dying wife who smiles and says "So it was,—so it was not,—how it was, "I never knew nor ever care to know—" Till they all weep, physician, man of law, Even that poor old bit of battered brass Beaten out of all shape by the world's sins, Common utensil of the lazar-house— Confessor Celestino groans "'T is truth, "All truth and only truth: there's something here, "Some presence in the room beside us all, "Something that every lie expires before: "No question she was pure from first to last." So far is well and helps us to believe: But beyond, she the helpless, simple-sweet Or silly-sooth, unskilled to break one blow At her good fame by putting finger forth,— How can she render service to the truth? The bird says "So I fluttered where a springe "Caught me: the springe did not contrive itself, "That I know: who contrived it, God forgive!" But we, who hear no voice and have dry eyes, Must ask,—we cannot else, absolving her,— How of the part played by that same decoy I' the catching, caging? Was himself caught first? We deal here with no innocent at least, No witless victim,—he's a man of the age And priest beside,—persuade the mocking world Mere charity boiled over in this sort! He whose own safety too,—(the Pope's apprised— Good-natured with the secular offence, The Pope looks grave on priesthood in a scrape) Our priest's own safety therefore, may-be life, Hangs on the issue! You will find it hard. Guido is here to meet you with fixed foot, Stiff like a statue—"Leave what went before! "My wife fled i' the company of a priest, "Spent two days and two nights alone with him: "Leave what came after!" He stands hard to throw Moreover priests are merely flesh and blood; When we get weakness, and no guilt beside, 'Tis no such great ill-fortune: finding grey, We gladly call that white which might be black, Too used to the double-dye. So, if the priest Moved by Pompilia's youth and beauty, gave Way to the natural weakness… . Anyhow Here be facts, charactery; what they spell Determine, and thence pick what sense you may! There was a certain young bold handsome priest Popular in the city, far and wide Famed, since Arezzo's but a little place, As the best of good companions, gay and grave At the decent minute; settled in his stall, Or sidling, lute on lap, by lady's couch, Ever the courtly Canon; see in him A proper star to climb and culminate, Have its due handbreadth of the heaven at Rome, Though meanwhile pausing on Arezzo's edge, As modest candle does 'mid mountain fog, To rub off redness and rusticity Ere it sweep chastened, gain the silver-sphere! Whether through Guido's absence or what else, This Caponsacchi, favourite of the town, Was yet no friend of his nor free o' the house, Though both moved in the regular magnates' march: Each must observe the other's tread and halt At church, saloon, theatre, house of play. Who could help noticing the husband's slouch, The black of his brow—or miss the news that buzzed Of how the little solitary wife Wept and looked out of window all day long? What need of minute search into such springs As start men, set o' the move?—machinery Old as earth, obvious as the noonday sun. Why, take men as they come,—an instance now,— Of all those who have simply gone to see Pompilia on her deathbed since four days, Half at the least are, call it how you please, In love with her—I don't except the priests Nor even the old confessor whose eyes run Over at what he styles his sister's voice Who died so early and weaned him from the world. Well, had they viewed her ere the paleness pushed The last o' the red o' the rose away, while yet Some hand, adventurous 'twixt the wind and her, Might let shy life run back and raise the flower Rich with reward up to the guardian's face,— Would they have kept that hand employed all day At fumbling on with prayer-book pages? No! Men are men: why then need I say one word More than that our mere man the Canon here Saw, pitied, loved Pompilia?
This is why; This startling why: that Caponsacchi's self— Whom foes and friends alike avouch, for good Or ill, a man of truth whate'er betide, Intrepid altogether, reckless too How his own fame and fortune, tossed to the winds, Suffer by any turn the adventure take, Nay, more—not thrusting, like a badge to hide, 'Twixt shirt and skin a joy which shown is shame— But flirting flag-like i' the face o' the world This tell-tale kerchief, this conspicuous love For the lady,—oh, called innocent love, I know! Only, such scarlet fiery innocence As most folk would try muffle up in shade,— —'T is strange then that this else abashless mouth Should yet maintain, for truth's sake which is God's, That it was not he made the first advance, That, even ere word had passed between the two, Pompilia penned him letters, passionate prayers, If not love, then so simulating love That he, no novice to the taste of thyme, Turned from such over-luscious honey-clot At end o' the flower, and would not lend his lip Till … but the tale here frankly outsoars faith: There must be falsehood somewhere. For her part, Pompilia quietly constantly avers She never penned a letter in her life Nor to the Canon nor any other man, Being incompetent to write and read: Nor had she ever uttered word to him, nor he To her till that same evening when they met, She on her window-terrace, he beneath I' the public street, as was their fateful chance, And she adjured him in the name of God To find out, bring to pass where, when and how Escape with him to Rome might be contrived. Means were found, plan laid, time fixed, she avers, And heart assured to heart in loyalty, All at an impulse! All extemporized As in romance-books! Is that credible? Well, yes: as she avers this with calm mouth Dying, I do think "Credible!" you'd cry— Did not the priest's voice come to break the spell. They questioned him apart, as the custom is, When first the matter made a noise at Rome, And he, calm, constant then as she is now, For truth's sake did assert and re-assert Those letters called him to her and he came, —Which damns the story credible otherwise. Why should this man,—mad to devote himself, Careless what comes of his own fame, the first,— Be studious thus to publish and declare Just what the lightest nature loves to hide, So screening lady from the byword's laugh "First spoke the lady, last the cavalier!" —I say,—why should the man tell truth just now When graceful lying meets such ready shrift? Or is there a first moment for a priest As for a woman, when invaded shame Must have its first and last excuse to show? Do both contrive love's entry in the mind Shall look, i' the manner of it, a surprise,— That after, once the flag o' the fort hauled down, Effrontery may sink drawbridge, open gate, Welcome and entertain the conqueror? Or what do you say to a touch of the devil's worst? Can it be that the husband, he who wrote The letter to his brother I told you of, I' the name of her it meant to criminate,— What if he wrote those letters to the priest? Further the priest says, when it first befell, This folly o' the letters, that he checked the flow, Put them back lightly each with its reply. Here again vexes new discrepancy: There never reached her eye a word from him: He did write but she could not read—could just Burn the offence to wifehood, womanhood, So did burn: never bade him come to her, Yet when it proved he must come, let him come, And when he did come though uncalled,—why, spoke Prompt by an inspiration: thus it chanced. Will you go somewhat back to understand?
When first, pursuant to his plan, there sprang, Like an uncaged beast, Guido's cruelty On soul and body of his wife, she cried To those whom law appoints resource for such, The secular guardian,—that's the Governor, And the Archbishop,—that's the spiritual guide, And prayed them take the claws from out her flesh. Now, this is ever the ill consequence Of being noble, poor and difficult, Ungainly, yet too great to disregard,— This—that born peers and friends hereditary,— Though disinclined to help from their own store The opprobrious wight, put penny in his poke From private purse or leave the door ajar When he goes wistful by at dinner-time,— Yet, if his needs conduct him where they sit Smugly in office, judge this, bishop that, Dispensers of the shine and shade o' the place— And if, friend's door shut and friend's purse undrawn, Still potentates may find the office-seat Do as good service at no cost—give help By-the-bye, pay up traditional dues at once Just through a feather-weight too much i' the scale, Or finger-tip forgot at the balance-tongue,— Why, only churls refuse, or Molinists. Thus when, in the first roughness of surprise At Guido's wolf-face whence the sheepskin fell, The frightened couple, all bewilderment, Rushed to the Governor,—who else rights wrong? Told him their tale of wrong and craved redress— Why, then the Governor woke up to the fact That Guido was a friend of old, poor Count!— So, promptly paid his tribute, promised the pair, Wholesome chastisement should soon cure their qualms Next time they came, wept, prated and told lies: So stopped all prating, sent them dumb to Rome. Well, now it was Pompilia's turn to try: The troubles pressing on her, as I said, Three times she rushed, maddened by misery, To the other mighty man, sobbed out her prayer At footstool of the Archbishop—fast the friend Of her husband also! Oh, good friends of yore! So, the Archbishop, not to be outdone By the Governor, break custom more than he, Thrice bade the foolish woman stop her tongue, Unloosed her hands from harassing his gout, Coached her and carried her to the Count again, —His old friend should be master in his house, Rule his wife and correct her faults at need! Well, driven from post to pillar in this wise, She, as a last resource, betook herself To one, should be no family-friend at least, A simple friar o' the city; confessed to him, Then told how fierce temptation of release By self-dealt death was busy with her soul, And urged that he put this in words, write plain For one who could not write, set down her prayer That Pietro and Violante, parent-like If somehow not her parents, should for love Come save her, pluck from out the flame the brand Themselves had thoughtlessly thrust in so deep To send gay-coloured sparkles up and cheer Their seat at the chimney-corner. The good friar Promised as much at the moment; but, alack, Night brings discretion: he was no one's friend, Yet presently found he could not turn about Nor take a step i' the case and fail to tread On someone's toe who either was a friend, Or a friend's friend, or friend's friend thrice-removed, And woe to friar by whom offences come! So, the course being plain,—with a general sigh At matrimony the profound mistake,— He threw reluctantly the business up, Having his other penitents to mind.
If then, all outlets thus secured save one, At last she took to the open, stood and stared With her wan face to see where God might wait— And there found Caponsacchi wait as well For the precious something at perdition's edge, He only was predestinate to save,— And if they recognized in a critical flash From the zenith, each the other, her need of him, His need of … say, a woman to perish for, The regular way o' the world, yet break no vow, Do no harm save to himself,—if this were thus? How do you say? It were improbable; So is the legend of my patron-saint.
Anyhow, whether, as Guido states the case, Pompilia,—like a starving wretch i' the street Who stops and rifles the first passenger In the great right of an excessive wrong,— Did somehow call this stranger and he came,— Or whether the strange sudden interview Blazed as when star and star must needs go close Till each hurts each and there is loss in heaven— Whatever way in this strange world it was,— Pompilia and Caponsacchi met, in fine, She at her window, he i' the street beneath, And understood each other at first look.
All was determined and performed at once. And on a certain April evening, late I' the month, this girl of sixteen, bride and wife Three years and over,—she who hitherto Had never taken twenty steps in Rome Beyond the church, pinned to her mother's gown, Nor, in Arezzo, knew her way through street Except what led to the Archbishop's door,— Such an one rose up in the dark, laid hand On what came first, clothes and a trinket or two, Belongings of her own in the old day,— Stole from the side o' the sleeping spouse—who knows? Sleeping perhaps, silent for certain,—slid Ghost-like from great dark room to great dark room In through the tapestries and out again And onward, unembarrassed as a fate, Descended staircase, gained last door of all, Sent it wide open at first push of palm, And there stood, first time, last and only time, At liberty, alone in the open street,— Unquestioned, unmolested found herself At the city gate, by Caponsacchi's side, Hope there, joy there, life and all good again, The carriage there, the convoy there, light there Broadening ever into blaze at Rome And breaking small what long miles lay between; Up she sprang, in he followed, they were safe.
The husband quotes this for incredible, All of the story from first word to last: Sees the priest's hand throughout upholding hers, Traces his foot to the alcove, that night, Whither and whence blindfold he knew the way, Proficient in all craft and stealthiness; And cites for proof a servant, eye that watched And ear that opened to purse secrets up, A woman-spy,—suborned to give and take Letters and tokens, do the work of shame The more adroitly that herself, who helped Communion thus between a tainted pair, Had long since been a leper thick in spot, A common trull o' the town: she witnessed all, Helped many meetings, partings, took her wage And then told Guido the whole matter. Lies! The woman's life confutes her word,—her word Confutes itself: "Thus, thus and thus I lied." "And thus, no question, still you lie," we say.
"Ay but at last, e'en have it how you will, "Whatever the means, whatever the way, explodes "The consummation"—the accusers shriek: "Here is the wife avowedly found in flight, "And the companion of her flight, a priest; "She flies her husband, he the church his spouse: "What is this?"
Wife and priest alike reply "This is the simple thing it claims to be, "A course we took for life and honour's sake, "Very strange, very justifiable." She says, "God put it in my head to fly, "As when the martin migrates: autumn claps "Her hands, cries 'Winter's coming, will be here, "'Off with you ere the white teeth overtake! "'Flee!' So I fled: this friend was the warm day, "The south wind and whatever favours flight; "I took the favour, had the help, how else? "And so we did fly rapidly all night, "All day, all night—a longer night—again, "And then another day, longest of days, "And all the while, whether we fled or stopped, "I scarce know how or why, one thought filled both, "'Fly and arrive!' So long as I found strength "I talked with my companion, told him much, "Knowing that he knew more, knew me, knew God "And God's disposal of me,—but the sense "O' the blessed flight absorbed me in the main, "And speech became mere talking through a sleep, "Till at the end of that last longest night "In a red daybreak, when we reached an inn "And my companion whispered 'Next stage—Rome!' "Sudden the weak flesh fell like piled-up cards, "All the frail fabric at a finger's touch, "And prostrate the poor soul too, and I said "'But though Count Guido were a furlong off, "'Just on me, I must stop and rest awhile!' "Then something like a huge white wave o' the sea "Broke o'er my brain and buried me in sleep "Blessedly, till it ebbed and left me loose, "And where was I found but on a strange bed "In a strange room like hell, roaring with noise, "Ruddy with flame, and filled with men, in front "Who but the man you call my husband? ay— "Count Guido once more between heaven and me, "For there my heaven stood, my salvation, yes— "That Caponsacchi all my heaven of help, "Helpless himself, held prisoner in the hands "Of men who looked up in my husband's face "To take the fate thence he should signify, "Just as the way was at Arezzo. Then, "Not for my sake but his who had helped me— "I sprang up, reached him with one bound, and seized "The sword o' the felon, trembling at his side, "Fit creature of a coward, unsheathed the thing "And would have pinned him through the poison-bag "To the wall and left him there to palpitate, "As you serve scorpions, but men interposed— "Disarmed me, gave his life to him again "That he might take mine and the other lives, "And he has done so. I submit myself!" The priest says—oh, and in the main result The facts asseverate, he truly says. As to the very act and deed of him, However you mistrust the mind o' the man— The flight was just for flight's sake, no pretext For aught except to set Pompilia free. He says "I cite the husband's self's worst charge "In proof of my best word for both of us. "Be it conceded that so many times "We took our pleasure in his palace: then, "What need to fly at all?—or flying no less, "What need to outrage the lips sick and white "Of a woman, and bring ruin down beside, "By halting when Rome lay one stage beyond?" So does he vindicate Pompilia's fame, Confirm her story in all points but one— This; that, so fleeing and so breathing forth Her last strength in the prayer to halt awhile, She makes confusion of the reddening white Which was the sunset when her strength gave way, And the next sunrise and its whitening red Which she revived in when her husband came: She mixes both times, morn and eve, in one, Having lived through a blank of night 'twixt each Though dead-asleep, unaware as a corpse, She on the bed above; her friend below Watched in the doorway of the inn the while, Stood i' the red o' the morn, that she mistakes, In act to rouse and quicken the tardy crew And hurry out the horses, have the stage Over, the last league, reach Rome and be safe: When up came Guido.
Guido's tale begins— How he and his whole household, drunk to death By some enchanted potion, poppied drugs Plied by the wife, lay powerless in gross sleep And left the spoilers unimpeded way, Could not shake off their poison and pursue, Till noontide, then made shift to get on horse And did pursue: which means he took his time, Pressed on no more than lingered after, step By step, just making sure o' the fugitives, Till at the nick of time, he saw his chance, Seized it, came up with and surprised the pair. How he must needs have gnawn lip and gnashed teeth, Taking successively at tower and town, Village and roadside, still the same report "Yes, such a pair arrived an hour ago, "Sat in the carriage just where now you stand, "While we got horses ready,—turned deaf ear "To all entreaty they would even alight; "Counted the minutes and resumed their course." Would they indeed escape, arrive at Rome, Leave no least loop-hole to let murder through, But foil him of his captured infamy, Prize of guilt proved and perfect? So it seemed. Till, oh the happy chance, at last stage, Rome But two short hours off, Castelnuovo reached, The guardian angel gave reluctant place, Satan stepped forward with alacrity, Pompilia's flesh and blood succumbed, perforce A halt was, and her husband had his will. Perdue he couched, counted out hour by hour Till he should spy in the east a signal-streak— Night had been, morrow was, triumph would be. Do you see the plan deliciously complete? The rush upon the unsuspecting sleep, The easy execution, the outcry Over the deed "Take notice all the world! "These two dead bodies, locked still in embrace,— "The man is Caponsacchi and a priest, "The woman is my wife: they fled me late, "Thus have I found and you behold them thus, "And may judge me: do you approve or no?"
Success did seem not so improbable, But that already Satan's laugh was heard, His black back turned on Guido—left i' the lurch Or rather, baulked of suit and service now, Left to improve on both by one deed more, Burn up the better at no distant day, Body and soul one holocaust to hell. Anyhow, of this natural consequence Did just the last link of the long chain snap: For an eruption was o' the priest, alive And alert, calm, resolute and formidable, Not the least look of fear in that broad brow— One not to be disposed of by surprise, And armed moreover—who had guessed as much? Yes, there stood he in secular costume Complete from head to heel, with sword at side, He seemed to know the trick of perfectly. There was no prompt suppression of the man As he said calmly "I have saved your wife "From death; there was no other way but this; "Of what do I defraud you except death? "Charge any wrong beyond, I answer it." Guido, the valorous, had met his match, Was forced to demand help instead of fight, Bid the authorities o' the place lend aid And make the best of a broken matter so. They soon obeyed the summons—I suppose, Apprised and ready, or not far to seek— Laid hands on Caponsacchi, found in fault, A priest yet flagrantly accoutred thus,— Then, to make good Count Guido's further charge, Proceeded, prisoner made lead the way, In a crowd, upstairs to the chamber-door Where wax-white, dead asleep, deep beyond dream, As the priest laid her, lay Pompilia yet.
And as he mounted step and step with the crowd How I see Guido taking heart again! He knew his wife so well and the way of her— How at the outbreak she would shroud her shame In hell's heart, would it mercifully yawn— How, failing that, her forehead to his foot, She would crouch silent till the great doom fell, Leave him triumphant with the crowd to see Guilt motionless or writhing like a worm! No! Second misadventure, this worm turned, I told you: would have slain him on the spot With his own weapon, but they seized her hands: Leaving her tongue free, as it tolled the knell Of Guido's hope so lively late. The past Took quite another shape now. She who shrieked "At least and for ever I am mine and God's, "Thanks to his liberating angel Death— "Never again degraded to be yours "The ignoble noble, the unmanly man, "The beast below the beast in brutishness!"— This was the froward child, "the restif lamb "Used to be cherished in his breast," he groaned— "Eat from his hand and drink from out his cup, "The while his fingers pushed their loving way "Through curl on curl of that soft coat—alas, "And she all silverly baaed gratitude "While meditating mischief!"—and so forth. He must invent another story now! The ins and outs o' the rooms were searched: he found Or showed for found the abominable prize— Love-letters from his wife who cannot write, Love-letters in reply o' the priest—thank God!— Who can write and confront his character With this, and prove the false thing forged throughout: Spitting whereat, he needs must spatter whom But Guido's self?—that forged and falsified One letter called Pompilia's, past dispute: Then why not these to make sure still more sure?
So was the case concluded then and there: Guido preferred his charges in due form, Called on the law to adjudicate, consigned The accused ones to the Prefect of the place, (Oh mouse-birth of that mountain-like revenge!) And so to his own place betook himself After the spring that failed,—the wildcat's way. The captured parties were conveyed to Rome; Investigation followed here i' the court— Soon to review the fruit of its own work, From then to now being eight months and no more. Guido kept out of sight and safe at home: The Abate, brother Paolo, helped most At words when deeds were out of question, pushed Nearest the purple, best played deputy, So, pleaded, Guido's representative At the court shall soon try Guido's self,—what's more, The court that also took—I told you, Sir— That statement of the couple, how a cheat Had been i' the birth of the babe, no child of theirs. That was the prelude; this, the play's first act: Whereof we wait what comes, crown, close of all.
Well, the result was something of a shade On the parties thus accused,—how otherwise? Shade, but with shine as unmistakable. Each had a prompt defence: Pompilia first— "Earth was made hell to me who did no harm: "I only could emerge one way from hell "By catching at the one hand held me, so "I caught at it and thereby stepped to heaven: "If that be wrong, do with me what you will!" Then Caponsacchi with a grave grand sweep O' the arm as though his soul warned baseness off— "If as a man, then much more as a priest "I hold me bound to help weak innocence: "If so my worldly reputation burst, "Being the bubble it is, why, burst it may: "Blame I can bear though not blameworthiness. "But use your sense first, see if the miscreant proved, "The man who tortured thus the woman, thus "Have not both laid the trap and fixed the lure "Over the pit should bury body and soul! "His facts are lies: his letters are the fact— "An infiltration flavoured with himself! "As for the fancies—whether … what is it you say? "The lady loves me, whether I love her "In the forbidden sense of your surmise,— "If, with the midday blaze of truth above, "The unlidded eye of God awake, aware, "You needs must pry about and trace the birth "Of each stray beam of light may traverse night, "To the night's sun that's Lucifer himself, "Do so, at other time, in other place, "Not now nor here! Enough that first to last "I never touched her lip nor she my hand "Nor either of us thought a thought, much less "Spoke a word which the Virgin might not hear. "Be such your question, thus I answer it." Then the court had to make its mind up, spoke. "It is a thorny question, yea, a tale "Hard to believe, but not impossible: "Who can be absolute for either side? "A middle course is happily open yet. "Here has a blot surprised the social blank,— "Whether through favour, feebleness or fault, "No matter, leprosy has touched our robe "And we unclean must needs be purified. "Here is a wife makes holiday from home, "A priest caught playing truant to his church, "In masquerade moreover: both allege "Enough excuse to stop our lifted scourge "Which else would heavily fall. On the other hand, "Here is a husband, ay and man of mark, "Who comes complaining here, demands redress "As if he were the pattern of desert— "The while those plaguy allegations frown, "Forbid we grant him the redress he seeks. "To all men be our moderation known! "Rewarding none while compensating each, "Hurting all round though harming nobody, "Husband, wife, priest, scot-free not one shall 'scape, "Yet priest, wife, husband, boast the unbroken head "From application of our excellent oil: "So that, whatever be the fact, in fine, "We make no miss of justice in a sort. "First, let the husband stomach as he may, "His wife shall neither be returned him, no— "Nor branded, whipped and caged, but just consigned "To a convent and the quietude she craves; "So is he rid of his domestic plague: "What better thing can happen to a man? "Next, let the priest retire—unshent, unshamed, "Unpunished as for perpetrating crime, "But relegated (not imprisoned, Sirs!) "Sent for three years to clarify his youth "At Civita, a rest by the way to Rome: "There let his life skim off its last of lees "Nor keep this dubious colour. Judged the cause: "All parties may retire, content, we hope." That's Rome's way, the traditional road of law; Whither it leads is what remains to tell.
The priest went to his relegation-place, The wife to her convent, brother Paolo To the arms of brother Guido with the news And this beside—his charge was countercharged; The Comparini, his old brace of hates, Were breathed and vigilant and venomous now— Had shot a second bolt where the first stuck, And followed up the pending dowry-suit By a procedure should release the wife From so much of the marriage-bond as barred Escape when Guido turned the screw too much On his wife's flesh and blood, as husband may. No more defence, she turned and made attack, Claimed now divorce from bed and board, in short: Pleaded such subtle strokes of cruelty, Such slow sure siege laid to her body and soul, As, proved,—and proofs seemed coming thick and fast,— Would gain both freedom and the dowry back Even should the first suit leave them in his grasp: So urged the Comparini for the wife. Guido had gained not one of the good things He grasped at by his creditable plan O' the flight and following and the rest: the suit That smouldered late was fanned to fury new, This adjunct came to help with fiercer fire, While he had got himself a quite new plague— Found the world's face an universal grin At this last best of the Hundred Merry Tales Of how a young and spritely clerk devised To carry off a spouse that moped too much, And cured her of the vapours in a trice: And how the husband, playing Vulcan's part, Told by the Sun, started in hot pursuit To catch the lovers, and came halting up, Cast his net and then called the Gods to see The convicts in their rosy impudence— Whereat said Mercury "Would that I were Mars!" Oh it was rare, and naughty all the same! Brief, the wife's courage and cunning,—the priest's show Of chivalry and adroitness,—last not least, The husband—how he ne'er showed teeth at all, Whose bark had promised biting; but just sneaked Back to his kennel, tail 'twixt legs, as 't were,— All this was hard to gulp down and digest. So pays the devil his liegeman, brass for gold. But this was at Arezzo: here in Rome Brave Paolo bore up against it all— Battled it out, nor wanting to himself Nor Guido nor the House whose weight he bore Pillar-like, by no force of arm but brain. He knew his Rome, what wheels to set to work; Plied influential folk, pressed to the ear Of the efficacious purple, pushed his way To the old Pope's self,—past decency indeed,— Praying him take the matter in his hands Out of the regular court's incompetence. But times are changed and nephews out of date And favouritism unfashionable: the Pope Said "Render Cæsar what is Cæsar's due!" As for the Comparini's counter-plea, He met that by a counter-plea again, Made Guido claim divorce—with help so far By the trial's issue: for, why punishment However slight unless for guiltiness However slender?—and a molehill serves Much as a mountain of offence this way. So was he gathering strength on every side And growing more and more to menace—when All of a terrible moment came the blow That beat down Paolo's fence, ended the play O' the foil and brought mannaia on the stage.
Five months had passed now since Pompilia's flight, Months spent in peace among the Convert nuns. This,—being, as it seemed, for Guido's sake Solely, what pride might call imprisonment And quote as something gained, to friends at home,— This naturally was at Guido's charge: Grudge it he might, but penitential fare, Prayers, preachings, who but he defrayed the cost? So, Paolo dropped, as proxy, doit by doit Like heart's blood, till—what's here? What notice comes? The convent's self makes application bland That, since Pompilia's health is fast o' the wane, She may have leave to go combine her cure Of soul with cure of body, mend her mind Together with her thin arms and sunk eyes That want fresh air outside the convent-wall, Say in a friendly house,—and which so fit As a certain villa in the Pauline way, That happens to hold Pietro and his wife, The natural guardians? "Oh, and shift the care "You shift the cost, too; Pietro pays in turn, "And lightens Guido of a load! And then, "Villa or convent, two names for one thing, "Always the sojourn means imprisonment, "Domus pro carcere—nowise we relax, "Nothing abate: how answers Paolo?"
You, What would you answer? All so smooth and fair, Even Paul's astuteness sniffed no harm i' the world. He authorized the transfer, saw it made And, two months after, reaped the fruit of the same, Having to sit down, rack his brain and find What phrase should serve him best to notify Our Guido that by happy providence A son and heir, a babe was born to him I' the villa,—go tell sympathizing friends! Yes, such had been Pompilia's privilege: She, when she fled, was one month gone with child, Known to herself or unknown, either way Availing to explain (say men of art) The strange and passionate precipitance Of maiden startled into motherhood Which changes body and soul by nature's law. So when the she-dove breeds, strange yearnings come For the unknown shelter by undreamed-of shores, And there is born a blood-pulse in her heart To fight if needs be, though with flap of wing, For the wool-flock or the fur-tuft, though a hawk Contest the prize,—wherefore, she knows not yet. Anyhow, thus to Guido came the news. "I shall have quitted Rome ere you arrive "To take the one step left,"—wrote Paolo. Then did the winch o' the winepress of all hate, Vanity, disappointment, grudge and greed, Take the last turn that screws out pure revenge With a bright bubble at the brim beside— By an heir's birth he was assured at once O' the main prize, all the money in dispute: Pompilia's dowry might revert to her Or stay with him as law's caprice should point,— But now—now—what was Pietro's shall be hers, What was hers shall remain her own,—if hers, Why then,—oh, not her husband's but—her heir's! That heir being his too, all grew his at last By this road or by that road, since they join. Before, why, push he Pietro out o' the world,— The current of the money stopped, you see, Pompilia being proved no Pietro's child: Or let it be Pompilia's life he quenched, Again the current of the money stopped,— Guido debarred his rights as husband soon, So the new process threatened;—now, the chance, Now, the resplendent minute! Clear the earth, Cleanse the house, let the three but disappear A child remains, depositary of all, That Guido may enjoy his own again, Repair all losses by a master-stroke, Wipe out the past, all done all left undone, Swell the good present to best evermore, Die into new life, which let blood baptize!
So, i' the blue of a sudden sulphur-blaze, Both why there was one step to take at Rome, And why he should not meet with Paolo there, He saw—the ins and outs to the heart of hell— And took the straight line thither swift and sure. He rushed to Vittiano, found four sons o' the soil, Brutes of his breeding, with one spark i' the clod That served for a soul, the looking up to him Or aught called Franceschini as life, death, Heaven, hell,—lord paramount, assembled these, Harangued, equipped, instructed, pressed each clod With his will's imprint; then took horse, plied spur, And so arrived, all five of them, at Rome On Christmas-Eve, and forthwith found themselves Installed i' the vacancy and solitude Left them by Paolo, the considerate man Who, good as his word, had disappeared at once As if to leave the stage free. A whole week Did Guido spend in study of his part, Then played it fearless of a failure. One, Struck the year's clock whereof the hours are days, And off was rung o' the little wheels the chime "Good will on earth and peace to man:" but, two, Proceeded the same bell and, evening come, The dreadful five felt finger-wise their way Across the town by blind cuts and black turns To the little lone suburban villa; knocked— "Who may be outside?" called a well-known voice. "A friend of Caponsacchi's bringing friends "A letter."
That's a test, the excusers say: Ay, and a test conclusive, I return. What? Had that name brought touch of guilt or taste Of fear with it, aught to dash the present joy With memory of the sorrow just at end,— She, happy in her parents' arms at length With the new blessing of the two weeks' babe,— How had that name's announcement moved the wife? Or, as the other slanders circulate, Were Caponsacchi no rare visitant On nights and days whither safe harbour lured, What bait had been i' the name to ope the door? The promise of a letter? Stealthy guests Have secret watchwords, private entrances: The man's own self might have been found inside And all the scheme made frustrate by a word. No: but since Guido knew, none knew so well, The man had never since returned to Rome Nor seen the wife's face more than villa's front, So, could not be at hand to warn or save,- For that, he took this sure way to the end.
"Come in," bade poor Violante cheerfully, Drawing the door-bolt: that death was the first, Stabbed through and through. Pietro, close on her heels, Set up a cry—"Let me confess myself! "Grant but confession!" Cold steel was the grant. Then came Pompilia's turn.
Then they escaped. The noise o' the slaughter roused the neighbourhood. They had forgotten just the one thing more Which saves i' the circumstance, the ticket to-wit Which puts post-horses at a traveller's use: So, all on foot, desperate through the dark Reeled they like drunkards along open road, Accomplished a prodigious twenty miles Homeward, and gained Baccano very near, Stumbled at last, deaf, dumb, blind through the feat, Into a grange and, one dead heap, slept there Till the pursuers hard upon their trace Reached them and took them, red from head to heel, And brought them to the prison where they lie. The couple were laid i' the church two days ago, And the wife lives yet by miracle.
All is told. You hardly need ask what Count Guido says, Since something he must say. "I own the deed—" (He cannot choose,—but—) "I declare the same "Just and inevitable,—since no way else "Was left me, but by this of taking life, "To save my honour which is more than life. "I exercised a husband's rights." To which The answer is as prompt—"There was no fault "In any one o' the three to punish thus: "Neither i' the wife, who kept all faith to you, "Nor in the parents, whom yourself first duped, "Robbed and maltreated, then turned out of doors. "You wronged and they endured wrong; yours the fault. "Next, had endurance overpassed the mark "And turned resentment needing remedy,— "Nay, put the absurd impossible case, for once— "You were all blameless of the blame alleged "And they blameworthy where you fix all blame, "Still, why this violation of the law? "Yourself elected law should take its course, "Avenge wrong, or show vengeance not your right; "Why, only when the balance in law's hand "Trembles against you and inclines the way "O' the other party, do you make protest, "Renounce arbitrament, flying out of court, "And crying 'Honour's hurt the sword must cure'? "Aha, and so i' the middle of each suit "Trying i' the courts,—and you had three in play "With an appeal to the Pope's self beside,— "What, you may chop and change and right your wrongs "Leaving the law to lag as she thinks fit?"
That were too temptingly commodious, Count! One would have still a remedy in reserve Should reach the safest oldest sinner, you see! One's honour forsooth? Does that take hurt alone From the extreme outrage? I who have no wife, Being yet sensitive in my degree As Guido,—must discover hurt elsewhere Which, half compounded-for in days gone by, May profitably break out now afresh, Need cure from my own expeditious hands. The lie that was, as it were, imputed me When you objected to my contract's clause,— The theft as good as, one may say, alleged, When you, co-heir in a will, excepted, Sir, To my administration of effects, —Aha, do you think law disposed of these? My honour's touched and shall deal death around! Count, that were too commodious, I repeat! If any law be imperative on us all, Of all are you the enemy: out with you From the common light and air and life of man!