Chapter 3

Francis Guinigi, the military Peasant.—Castruccio resides with him one Year.

Castruccio passed through Bologna, Ferrara and Rovigo, to arrive at Este. It was not the most favourable period for a visit to Lombardy. The beauty of that country consists in its exquisite vegetation: its fields of waving corn, planted with rows of trees to which vines are festooned, form prospects, ever varying in their combinations, that delight and refresh the eye; but autumn had nearly stript the landscape, and the low lands were overflowed by the inundation of various rivers. Castruccio’s mind, fixed on the imagination of future events, found no amusement in the wintry scene; but he saw with delight the mountains that were the bourn of his journey, become more and more distinct. Este is situated nearly at the foot of the Euganean hills, on a declivity overlooked by an extensive and picturesque castle, beyond which is a convent; the hills rise from behind, from whose heights you discover the vast plain of Lombardy, bounded to the west by the far Apennines of Bologna, and to the east by the sea and the towers of Venice.

Castruccio ascended the hill immediately above the town, to seek for the habitation of Guinigi. The autumnal wind swept over it, scattering the fallen leaves of the chesnut wood; and the swift clouds, driven over the boundless plain, gave it the appearance, as their shadows came and went, of a heaving sea of dusky waters. Castruccio found Guinigi sitting at the door of his house; it was a low-roofed cottage, that seemed more fit for the habitation of a peasant, than of a man bred in camps and palaces. Guinigi himself was about forty years of age: the hardships of war had thinned the locks on his temples before their time, and drawn a few lines in his face, beaming as it was with benevolence. The sparkling intelligence of his eye was tempered by gentleness and wisdom; and the stately mien of the soldier had yielded somewhat to his late rustic occupations; for, since his exile he had turned his sword to a ploughshare, and he dwelt with much complacency on the change.

As Castruccio first saw him, he was gazing with the most heartfelt and benevolent pleasure on his boy, a child of seven years of age, who was busy with the peasants, drawing off wine from the vats; for it was just the time when the vintage was finished, and the last labours were bestowed on the crushed grapes. The youth paused: but for the air of dignity that was visible beneath his rustic dress, he could not have believed that this was his father’s friend; his father, who in exile never forgot that he was a soldier and a knight. He gave the letter; and, when Guinigi had read it, he embraced the orphan son of his old comrade, and welcomed him with a cordiality that warmed the heart of Castruccio. The name of a stranger soon struck the ear of Arrigo, his little son, who came with joy to greet him, bearing a large basket of grapes and figs. Guinigi was much amused by the evident astonishment with which his guest regarded the appearance of the house and its master, and said:—‘You come to the dwelling of a peasant who eats the bread his own hands have sown; this is a new scene for you, but you will not find it uninstructive. To my eyes, which do not now glance with the same fire as yours, the sight of the bounties of nature, and of the harmless peasants who cultivate the earth, is far more delightful than an army of knights hasting in brilliant array to deluge the fields with blood, and to destroy the beneficial hopes of the husbandman. But these are new doctrines to you; and you perhaps will never, like me, in the deep sincerity of your heart, prefer this lowly cottage to yonder majestic castle.’

To say the truth, Castruccio was greatly disappointed. As he had ascended from the town, and saw a gay banner waving from the keep of the castle, as he heard the clash of armour, and beheld the sunbeams glitter on the arms of the centinel, he hoped that he should find his future protector a favourite with the happy chief. He would, he felt, have accosted him with more respect, if he had found him a monk in the neighbouring monastery, than a contented farmer, a peasant whose narrow views soared not beyond the wine-vat and the ox’s stall.

These were the first feelings that occurred to Castruccio; but he soon found that he was introduced to a new world in the society of Guinigi; a world with whose spring of action he could not sympathize, yet which he could not contemn. It was characterized by a simple yet sublime morality, which resting on natural bases, admitted no factitious colouring. Guinigi thought only of the duty of man to man, laying aside the distinctions of society, and with lovely humility recognized the affinity of the meanest peasant to his own noble mind. Exercising the most exalted virtues, he also cultivated a taste and imagination

  By PanEris using Melati.

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