Chapter 22

Beatrice, disguised as a Pilgrim, visits Valperga.—Castruccio relates her Story.

Spring advanced, and the mountains looked forth from beneath the snow: the chesnuts began to assume their light and fanlike foliage; the dark ilex and cork trees which crowned the hills, threw off their burthen of snow; and the olives now in flower starred the mountain paths with their small fallen blossoms; the heath perfumed the air; the melancholy voice of the cuckoo issued from the depths of the forests; the swallows returned from their pilgrimage; and in soft moonlight evenings the nightingales answered one another from the copses; the vines with freshest green hung over the springing corn; and various flowers adorned the banks of each running stream. Euthanasia beheld the advance of summer with careless eyes: her heart was full of one thought, of one image; and all she saw, whether it were the snow-clad mountains of winter, or the green and flowery fields of spring, was referred by her to one feeling, one only remembrance. She determined to think no more of Castruccio; but every day, every moment of every day, was as a broken mirror, a multiplied reflection of his form alone.

They had often met during the winter in the palaces of the Lucchese nobles, and sometimes at her own castle; he was ever gentle and deferential to her, and sometimes endeavoured to renew the courtship that had formerly subsisted between them. Euthanasia had not strength of purpose sufficient to avoid these meetings; but each of them was as the life-blood taken from her heart, and left her in a state of despair and grief that preyed like fever upon her vitals. To see him, to hear him, and yet not to be his, was as if to make her food of poison; it might assuage the pangs of hunger, but it destroyed the principle of life. She became pale, sleepless, the shadow of what she had been; her friends perceived the change, and knew the cause; and they endeavoured to persuade her to go to Florence, or to take some journey, which might occupy her mind, and break the chain that now bound her to sorrow. She felt that she ought to comply with their suggestions; but even her spirit, strong and self-sustaining as it had been, sank beneath the influence of love, and she had no power to fly, though to remain were death. Tears and grief were her daily portion; yet she took it patiently, as that to which she was doomed, and hardly prayed to have the bitter cup removed.

A circumstance that occurred just at this crisis, when she seemed to stand on the sharp edge which divides life from death, saved her from destruction, and led her back to taste for a few more years the food of sorrow and disappointment which was doled out to her.

The summer solstice had passed, and Castruccio had been absent during several months, carrying his conquests along the shore beyond the Magra, while every day brought the news of some fresh success he had obtained. This was the season of pilgrimages to Monte San Pelegrino, a wild and high Apennine in the neighbourhood of Valperga. It is said, that a king of Scotland, resigning his crown to his son, and exiling himself from his country, finished his days in penitence and prayer on this mountain. In Italy every unknown pilgrim was a king or prince: but this was a strange tradition; and it would seem as if the royal penitent, disdaining the gladsome plains of Italy, sought for the image of his native country on this naked peak among the heaped masses of the Apennines.

His memory was there canonized, and many indulgences were the reward of three successive visits to his rocky tomb; every year numberless pilgrims flocked, and still continue to flock thither. Straining up the rugged paths of the mountain, careless of the burning sun, they walk on, shadowed by their broad pilgrim’s hats, repeating their pater-nosters, and thus, by the toil of the body, buy indulgence for the soul’s idleness. Many on their return visited the castle of Valperga, and partook its hospitality. One party had just withdrawn, as the Ave Maria sounded from the vale below; and they chaunted the evening hymn, as they wound down the steep. Euthanasia listened from her tower, and heard the last song of the sleepy cicala among the olive woods, and the buz of the numerous night insects, that filled the air with their slight but continual noise. It was the evening of a burning day; and the breeze that slightly waved the grass, and bended the ripe corn with its quick steps, was as a refreshing bath to the animals who panted under the stagnant air of the day. Amid the buzzing of the crickets and dragon flies, the aziolo’s monotonous and regular cry told of clear skies and sunny weather; the flowers were bending beneath the dew, and her acacia, now in bloom, crowning its fan-like foliage with a roseate crest, sent forth a sweet scent. A

  By PanEris using Melati.

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