Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, , at sacred-texts.com
—i cavalier sen vanno
dove il pino fatal gli attende in porto.
Gerus. Lib., cant. xv (Argomento.)
The knights came where the fatal bark
Awaited them in the port.
But that which especially distinguishes the brotherhood is their
marvellous knowledge of all the resources of medical art. They
work not by charms, but simples.
—"MS. Account of the Origin and Attributes of the true
Rosicrucians," by J. Von D—.
At this time it chanced that Viola had the opportunity to return the kindness shown to her by the friendly musician whose house had received and sheltered her when first left an orphan on the world. Old Bernardi had brought up three sons to the same profession as himself, and they had lately left Naples to seek their fortunes in the wealthier cities of Northern Europe, where the musical market was less overstocked. There was only left to glad the household of his aged wife and himself, a lively, prattling, dark-eyed girl of some eight years old, the child of his second son, whose mother had died in giving her birth. It so happened that, about a month previous to the date on which our story has now entered, a paralytic affection had disabled Bernardi from the duties of his calling. He had been always a social, harmless, improvident, generous fellow—living on his gains from day to day, as if the day of sickness and old age never was to arrive. Though he received a small allowance for his past services, it ill sufficed for his wants,; neither was he free from debt. Poverty stood at his hearth,—when Viola's grateful smile and liberal hand came to chase the grim fiend away. But it is not enough to a heart truly kind to send and give; more charitable is it to visit and console. "Forget not thy father's friend." So almost daily went the bright idol of Naples to the house of Bernardi. Suddenly a heavier affliction than either poverty or the palsy befell the old musician. His grandchild, his little Beatrice, fell ill, suddenly and dangerously ill, of one of those rapid fevers common to the South; and Viola was summoned from her strange and fearful reveries of love or fancy, to the sick-bed of the young sufferer.
The child was exceedingly fond of Viola, and the old people thought that her mere presence would bring healing; but when Viola arrived, Beatrice was insensible. Fortunately there was no performance that evening at San Carlo, and she resolved to stay the night and partake its fearful cares and dangerous vigil.
But during the night the child grew worse, the physician (the leechcraft has never been very skilful at Naples) shook his powdered head, kept his aromatics at his nostrils, administered his palliatives, and departed. Old Bernardi seated himself by the bedside in stern silence; here was the last tie that bound him to life. Well, let the anchor break and the battered ship go down! It was an iron resolve, more fearful than sorrow. An old man, with one foot in the grave, watching by the couch of a dying child, is one of the most awful spectacles in human calamities. The wife was more active, more bustling, more hopeful, and more tearful. Viola took heed of all three. But towards dawn, Beatrice's state became so obviously alarming, that Viola herself began to despair. At this time she saw the old woman suddenly rise from before the image of the saint at which she had been kneeling, wrap herself in her cloak and hood, and quietly quit the chamber. Viola stole after her.
"It is cold for thee, good mother, to brave the air; let me go for the physician?"
"Child, I am not going to him. I have heard of one in the city who has been tender to the poor, and who, they say, has cured the sick when physicians failed. I will go and say to him, 'Signor, we are beggars in all else, but yesterday we were rich in love. We are at the close of life, but we lived in our grandchild's childhood. Give us back our wealth,—give us back our youth. Let us die blessing God that the thing we love survives us.'"
She was gone. Why did thy heart beat, Viola? The infant's sharp cry of pain called her back to the couch; and there still sat the old man, unconscious of his wife's movements, not stirring, his eyes glazing fast as they watched the agonies of that slight frame. By degrees the wail of pain died into a low moan,—the convulsions grew feebler, but more frequent; the glow of fever faded into the blue, pale tinge that settles into the last bloodless marble.
The daylight came broader and clearer through the casement; steps were heard on the stairs,—the old woman entered hastily; she rushed to the bed, cast a glance on the patient, "She lives yet, signor, she lives!"
Viola raised her eyes,—the child's head was pillowed on her bosom,—and she beheld Zanoni. He smiled on her with a tender and soft approval, and took the infant from her arms. Yet even then, as she saw him bending silently over that pale face, a superstitious fear mingled with her hopes. "Was it by lawful—by holy art that—" her self-questioning ceased abruptly; for his dark eye turned to her as if he read her soul, and his aspect accused her conscience for its suspicion, for it spoke reproach not unmingled with disdain.
"Be comforted," he said, gently turning to the old man, "the danger is not beyond the reach of human skill;" and, taking from his bosom a small crystal vase, he mingled a few drops with water. No sooner did this medicine moisten the infant's lips, than it seemed to produce an astonishing effect. The colour revived rapidly on the lips and cheeks; in a few moments the sufferer slept calmly, and with the regular breathing of painless sleep. And then the old man rose, rigidly, as a corpse might rise,—looked down, listened, and creeping gently away, stole to the corner of the room, and wept, and thanked Heaven!
Now, old Bernardi had been, hitherto, but a cold believer; sorrow had never before led him aloft from earth. Old as he was, he had never before thought as the old should think of death,—that endangered life of the young had wakened up the careless soul of age. Zanoni whispered to the wife, and she drew the old man quietly from the room.
"Dost thou fear to leave me an hour with thy charge, Viola? Thinkest thou still that this knowledge is of the Fiend?"
"Ah," said Viola, humbled and yet rejoiced, "forgive me, forgive me, signor. Thou biddest the young live and the old pray. My thoughts never shall wrong thee more!"
Before the sun rose, Beatrice was out of danger; at noon Zanoni escaped from the blessings of the aged pair, and as he closed the door of the house, he found Viola awaiting him without.
She stood before him timidly, her hands crossed meekly on her bosom, her downcast eyes swimming with tears.
"Do not let me be the only one you leave unhappy!"
"And what cure can the herbs and anodynes effect for thee? If thou canst so readily believe ill of those who have aided and yet would serve thee, thy disease is of the heart; and—nay, weep not! nurse of the sick, and comforter of the sad, I should rather approve than chide thee. Forgive thee! Life, that ever needs forgiveness, has, for its first duty, to forgive."
"No, do not forgive me yet. I do not deserve a pardon; for even now, while I feel how ungrateful I was to believe, suspect, aught injurious and false to my preserver, my tears flow from happiness, not remorse. Oh!" she continued, with a simple fervour, unconscious, in her innocence and her generous emotions, of all the secrets she betrayed,—"thou knowest not how bitter it was to believe thee not more good, more pure, more sacred than all the world. And when I saw thee,—the wealthy, the noble, coming from thy palace to minister to the sufferings of the hovel,—when I heard those blessings of the poor breathed upon thy parting footsteps, I felt my very self exalted,—good in thy goodness, noble at least in those thoughts that did NOT wrong thee."
"And thinkest thou, Viola, that in a mere act of science there is so much virtue? The commonest leech will tend the sick for his fee. Are prayers and blessings a less reward than gold?"
"And mine, then, are not worthless? Thou wilt accept of mine?"
"Ah, Viola!" exclaimed Zanoni, with a sudden passion, that covered her face with blushes, "thou only, methinks, on all the earth, hast the power to wound or delight me!" He checked himself, and his face became grave and sad. "And this," he added, in an altered tone, "because, if thou wouldst heed my counsels, methinks I could guide a guileless heart to a happy fate."
"Thy counsels! I will obey them all. Mould me to what thou wilt. In thine absence, I am as a child that fears every shadow in the dark; in thy presence, my soul expands, and the whole world seems calm with a celestial noonday. Do not deny to me that presence. I am fatherless and ignorant and alone!"
Zanoni averted his face, and, after a moment's silence, replied calmly,—
"Be it so. Sister, I will visit thee again!"