The Betrothed - Alessandro Manzoni - E-Book

The Betrothed E-Book

Alessandro Manzoni

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This historical romance of seventeenth-century Milan, first published in 1827, is the most famous of Italian novels. It has great breadth and depth-- indeed its moral, religious, and political themes are as applicable to the problems of our own day as they were to the Napoleonic times when it was written, or the period of the Thirty Years War in which it is set.

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The Betrothed

Alessandro Manzoni

First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri

Table of Contents







































That branch of the Lake of Como, which turns toward the southbetween two unbroken chains of mountains, presenting to the eye asuccession of bays and gulfs, formed by their jutting and retiringridges, suddenly contracts itself between a headland to the rightand an extended sloping bank on the left, and assumes the flow andappearance of a river. The bridge by which the two shores are hereunited, appears to render the transformation more apparent, andmarks the point at which the lake ceases, and the Adda recommences,to resume, however, the name ofLakewhere the again receding banksallow the water to expand itself anew into bays and gulfs. Thebank, formed by the deposit of three large mountain streams,descends from the bases of two contiguous mountains, the one calledSt.Martin, the other by a Lombard name,Resegone, from its long lineof summits, which in truth give it the appearance of a saw; so thatthere is no one who would not at first sight, especially viewing itin front, from the ramparts of Milan that face the north, at oncedistinguish it in all that extensive range from other mountains ofless name and more ordinary form. The bank, for a considerabledistance, rises with a gentle and continual ascent, then breaksinto hills and hollows, rugged or level land, according to theformation of the mountain rocks, and the action of the floods. Itsextreme border, intersected by the mountain torrents, is composedalmost entirely of sand and pebbles; the other parts of fields andvineyards, scattered farms, country seats,and villages, with hereand there a wood which extends up the mountain side. Lecco, thelargest of these villages, and which gives its name to thedistrict, is situated at no great distance from the bridge, uponthe margin of the lake; nay, often, at therising of the waters, ispartly embosomed within the lake itself; a large town at thepresent day, and likely soon to become a city. At the period of ourstory, this village was also fortified, and consequently had thehonour to furnish quarters to a governor, and the advantage ofpossessing a permanent garrison of Spanish soldiers, who gavelessons in modesty to the wives and daughters of the neighbourhood,and toward the close of summer never failed to scatter themselvesthrough the vineyards, in order tothin the grapes, and lighten forthe rustics the labours of the vintage. From village to village,from the heights down to the margin of the lake, there areinnumerable roads and paths: these vary in their character; attimes precipitous, at others level;now sunk and buried between twoivy-clad walls, from whose depth you can behold nothing but thesky, or some lofty mountain peak; then crossing high and leveltracts, around the edges of which they sometimes wind, occasionallyprojecting beyond the face of the mountain, supported by prominentmasses resembling bastions, whence the eye wanders over the mostvaried and delicious landscape. On the one side you behold the bluelake, with its boundaries broken by various promontories and necksof land, and reflecting the inverted images of the objects on itsbanks; on the other, the Adda, which, flowing beneath the arches ofthe bridge, expands into a small lake, then contracts again, andholds on its clear serpentining course to the distant horizon:above, arethe ponderous masses of theshapeless rocks; beneath, therichly cultivated acclivity, the fair landscape, the bridge; infront, the opposite shore of the lake, and beyond this, themountain, which bounds the view.

Towards evening, on the 7th day of November, 1628, Don Abbondio,curate of one of the villages before alluded to (but of the name ofwhich, nor of the house and lineage of its curate, we are notinformed), was returning slowly towards his home, by one of thesepathways. He was repeating quietly his office; in the pauses ofwhich he held his closed breviary in his hand behind his back; andas he went, with his foot he cast listlessly against the wall thestones that happened to impede his path; at the same time givingadmittance to the idle thoughts that tempted the spirit, while thelips of the worthy man were mechanically performing their function;then raising his head and gazing idly around him, he fixed his eyesupon a mountain summit, where the rays of the setting sun, breakingthrough the openings of an opposite ridge, illumined its projectingmasses, which appeared like large and variously shaped spots ofpurple light. He then opened anew his breviary, and recited anotherportion at an angle of the lane, after which angle the roadcontinued straight for perhaps seventy paces, and then branchedlike the letter Y into two narrow paths; the right-hand oneascended towards the mountain, and led to the parsonage (Cura);that on the left descended the valley towards a torrent, and onthis side the wall rose out to the height of about two feet. Theinner walls of the two narrow paths, instead of meeting at theangle, ended in a little chapel, upon which were depicted certainlong, sinuous, pointed shapes, which, in the intention of theartist, and tothe eyes of the neighbouring inhabitants, representedflames, and amidst these flames certain other forms, not to bedescribed, that were meant for souls in purgatory; souls and flamesof a brick colour, upon a ground of blackish grey, with here andtherea bare spot of plaster. The curate, having turned the corner,directed, as was his wont, a look toward the little chapel, andthere beheld what he little expected, and would not have desired tosee. At the confluence, if we may so call it, of the two narrowlanes, there were two men: one of them sitting astride the lowwall; his companion leaning against it, with his arms folded on hisbreast. The dress, the bearing, and what the curate coulddistinguish of the countenance of these men, left no doubt astotheir profession. They wore upon their heads a green network,which, falling on the left shoulder, ended in a large tassel, fromunder which appeared upon the forehead an enormous lock of hair.Their mustachios were long, and curled at the extremities;themargin of their doublets confined by a belt of polished leather,from which were suspended, by hooks, two pistols; a littlepowder-horn hung like a locket on the breast; on the right-handside of the wide and ample breeches was a pocket, out of whichprojected the handle of a knife, and on the other side they bore along sword, of which the great hollow hilt was formed of brightplates of brass, combined into a cypher: by these characteristicsthey were, at a glance, recognised as individuals of the classofbravoes.

This species, now entirely extinct, flourished greatly at thattime in Lombardy. For those who have no knowledge of it, thefollowing are a few authentic records, that may suffice to impartan idea of its principal characteristics, of the vigorous effortsmade to extirpate it, and of its obstinate and rank vitality.

As early as the 8th of April, 1583, the most illustrious andmost excellent lord Don Charles of Arragon, Prince ofCastelvetrano, Duke of Terranova, Marquis of Avola, Count ofBurgeto, High Admiral and High Constable of Sicily, Governor ofMilan, and Captain General of His Catholic Majesty in Italy,“fully informed of the intolerable misery which the city ofMilan has endured, and still endures, by reason of bravoes andvagabonds,” publishes his decree against them,“declares and designates all those comprehended in thisproclamation to be regarded as bravoes andvagabonds,——who, whether foreigners or natives, have nocalling, or, having one, do not follow it,——but, eitherwith or without wages, attach themselves to any knight, gentleman,officer, or merchant,——to uphold or favour him, or inany manner to molest others.” All such he commands, withinthe space of six days, to leave the country; threatens therefractory with the galleys,and grants to all officers of justicethe most ample and unlimited powers for the execution of hiscommands. But, in the following year, on the 12th of April, thesaid lord, having perceived “that this city still continuesto be filled with bravoes, who have again resumed their former modeof life; their manners unchanged, and their numberundiminished,” puts forth another edict still more energeticand remarkable, in which, among other regulations, he directs“that any person whatsoever, whether of this city or fromabroad, who shall, by the testimony of two witnesses, be shown tobe regarded and commonly reputed as a bravo, even though nocriminal act shall have been proved against him, may, nevertheless,upon the sole ground of his reputation, be condemned by the saidjudges to the rack for examination; and although he make noconfession of guilt, he shall, notwithstanding, be sentenced to thegalleys for the said term of three years, solely for that he isregarded as, and called a bravo, as above-mentioned;” andthis “because His Excellency is resolved to enforce obedienceto his commands.”

One would suppose that at the sound of such denunciations fromso powerful a source, all the bravoes must have disappeared forever. But testimony, of no less authority, obliges us to believedirectly the reverse. This testimony is the most illustrious andmost excellent lord Juan Fernandez de Velasco, Constable ofCastile, High Chamberlain of His Majesty, Duke of the city ofFreas, Count of Haro and Castelnuovo, Lord ofthe house of Velasco,and of that of the Seven Infanti of Lara, Governor of the State ofMilan, &c. On the 5th of June, 1593, he also, fully informed“how great an injury to the common weal, and how insulting tojustice, is the existence of such a class of men,” requiresthem anew to quit the country within six days, repeating verynearly the same threats and injunctions as his predecessor. On the23d of May, then, 1598, “having learnt, with no littledispleasure, that the number of bravoes and vagabonds is increasingdaily in this state and city, and that nothing is heard of them butwounds, murders, robberies, and every other crime, to thecommission of which these bravoes are encouraged by the confidencethat they will be sustained by their chiefs and abettors,” heprescribes again the same remedies, increasing the dose, as isusual in obstinate disorders. “Let every one, then,” heconcludes, “carefully beware that he do not, in any wise,contravene this edict; since, in place of experiencing the mercyofHis Excellency, he shall prove his rigour and his wrath—hebeing resolved and determined that this shall be a final andperemptory warning.”

But this again did not suffice; and the illustrious and mostexcellent lord, the Signor Don Pietro Enriquez de Acevedo, Count ofFuentes, Captain and Governor of the State of Milan,“fullyinformed of the wretched condition of this city and state, inconsequence of the great number of bravoes that abound therein, andresolved wholly to extirpate them,” publishes, on the 5th ofDecember, 1600, a new decree, full of the most rigorous provisions,and “with firm purpose that in all rigour, and without hopeof remission, they shall be wholly carried intoexecution.”

We are obliged, however, to conclude that he did not, in thismatter, exhibit the same zeal which he knew how to employ incontriving plots and exciting enemies against his powerful foe,Henry IV., against whom history attests that he succeeded in armingthe Duke of Savoy, whom he caused to lose more towns than one; andin engaging in a conspiracy the Duke of Biron, whom he caused tolose his head. But as regards the pestilent race of bravoes, it isvery certain they continued to increase until the 22d day ofSeptember, 1612; on which day the most illustrious andmostexcellent lord Don Giovanni de Mendoza, Marchese de la Hynojosa,gentleman, & c., Governor, & c., thought seriously of theirextirpation. He addressed to Pandolfo and Marco Tullio Malatesti,printers of the Royal Chamber, the customary edict, corrected andenlarged, that they might print it, to accomplish that end. But thebravoes still survived, to experience, on the 24th December, 1618,still more terrific denunciations from the most illustrious andmost excellent lord, Don Gomez Suarez de Figueroa,Duke of Feria,Governor, & c.; yet, as they did not fall even under theseblows, the most illustrious and most excellent lord GonzaloFernandez de Cordova, under whose government we are made acquaintedwith Don Abbondio, found himself obliged to republishthe usualproclamation against the bravoes, on the 5th day of October, 1627,that is, a year, a month, and two days previous to the commencementof our story.

Nor was this the last publication; but of those that follow, asof matters not falling within theperiod of our history, we do notthink it proper to make mention. The only one of them to which weshall refer, is that of the 13th day of February, 1632, in whichthe most illustrious and most excellent lord, the Duke of Feria,for the second time governor, informs us, “that the greatestand most heinous crimes are perpetrated by those styledbravoes.” This will suffice to prove that, at the time ofwhich we treat, the bravoes still existed.

It appeared evident to Don Abbondio that the two men abovementioned were waiting for some one, and he was alarmed at theconviction that it was for himself; for on his appearance, theyexchanged a look, as if to say, “'tis he.” Rising fromthe wall, they both advanced to meet him. He held his breviary openbefore him,as though he were employed in reading it; but,nevertheless, cast a glance upward in order to espy theirmovements. Seeing that they came directly toward him, he was besetby a thousand different thoughts. He considered, in haste, whetherbetween the bravoes and himself there were any outlet from theroad, and he remembered there was none. He took a rapid survey ofhis conduct, to discover if he had given offence to any powerful orrevengeful man; but in this matter, he was somewhat reassured bythe consoling testimony of his conscience. The bravoes draw near,and kept their eyes upon him. He raised his hand to his collar, asif adjusting it, and at the same time turned his head round, to seeif any one were coming; he could discover no one. He cast a glanceacross the low stone wall upon the fields; no one! another on theroad that lay before him; no one, except the bravoes! What is to bedone? Flight was impossible.Unable to avoid the danger, he hastenedto encounter it, and to put an end to the tormentsof uncertainty.He quickened his pace, recited a stanza in a louder tone, did hisutmost to assume a composed and cheerful countenance, and findinghimself in front of the two gallants, stopped short. “SignorCurate,” said one of them, fixing his eyesuponhim,—

“Your pleasure, sir,” suddenly raising his eyes fromhis book, which he continued to hold open before him.

“You intend,” pursued the other, with thethreatening and angry mien of one who has detected an inferior inan attempt to commit some villany,“you intend to-morrow tounite in marriage Renzo Tramaglino and Lucy Mondella.”

“That is,” said Don Abbondio with a faltering voice,“that is to say—you gentlemen, being men of the world,are very well aware how these things are managed: the poor curateneither meddles nor makes—they settle their affairs amongstthemselves, and then—then, they come to us, as if to redeem apledge; and we—we are the servants of the public.”

“Mark now,” said the bravo in a low voice, but in atone of command, “this marriageis not to take place, neitherto-morrow, nor at any other time.”

“But, my good sirs,” replied Don Abbondio, with themild and gentle tone of one who would persuade an impatientlistener, “but, my good sirs, deign to put yourselves in mysituation. If the thing depended on myself—you see plainly,that it does not in the least concern——”

“Hold there,” said the bravo, interrupting him,“this matter is not to be settled by prating. We neither knownor care to know any more about it. A man once warned—youunderstand us.”

“But, fair sirs, you are too just, tooreasonable——”

“But,” interrupted the other comrade, who had notbefore spoken, “but this marriage is not to be performed, or(with an oath) he who performs it will not repent of it, becausehe'll not have time” (with another oath).

“Hush, hush,” resumed the first orator, “theSignor Curate knows the world, and we are gentlemen who have nowish to harm him if he conducts himself with judgment. SignorCurate, the most illustrious Signor Don Roderick, our patron,offers you his kind regards.” As in the height of a midnightstorm a vivid flash casts a momentary dazzling glare around andrenders every object more fearful, so did thisnameincrease theterror of Don Abbondio: as if by instinct, he bowed his headsubmissively, and said—

“If it could but be suggested to me.”

“Oh! suggested toyou, who understand Latin!”exclaimed the bravo, laughing; “it is for you to manage thematter. But, above all, be careful not to say a word concerning thehint that has been given you for your good; for if you do,ehem!—you understand—the consequences would be the sameas if you performed the marriage ceremony. But say, what answer arewe to carry in your name to the most illustrious Signor DonRoderick?”

“My respects——”

“Speakmore clearly, Signor Curate.”

“That I am disposed, ever disposed, to obedience.”And as he spoke the words he was not very certain himself whetherhe gave a promise, or only uttered an ordinary compliment. Thebravoes took, orappearedto take them, in the more serioussense.

“'Tis very well; good night, Signor Curate,” saidone of them as he retired, together with his companion. DonAbbondio, who a few minutes before would have given one of his eyesto avoid the ruffians, was now desirous to prolong theconversation.

“Gentlemen——” he began, as he shut hisbook. Without again noticing him, however, they passed on, singinga loose song, of which we will not transcribe the words. Poor DonAbbondio remained for a moment, as if spell-bound,and then withheavy and lagging steps took the path which led towards his home.The reader will better understand the state of his mind, when heshall have learned something more of his disposition, and of thecondition of the times in which it was his lotto live.

Don Abbondio was not (as the reader may have perceived) endowedwith the courage of a lion. But from his earliest years he had beensensible that the most embarrassing situation in those times wasthat of an animal, furnished with neither tusks nor talons, at thesame time having no wish to be devoured. The arm of the lawafforded no protection to a man of quiet, inoffensive habits, whohad no means of making himself feared. Not that laws and penaltieswere wanting for the prevention of private violence: the laws weremost express; the offences enumerated, and minutely particularised;the penalties sufficiently extravagant; and if that were notenough, the legislator himself, and, a hundred others to whom wascommitted the execution of the laws, had power to increase them.The proceedings were studiously contrived to free the judge fromevery thing that might prevent his passing sentence ofcondemnation; the passages we have cited from proclamations againstthe bravoes, may be taken as a faithful specimen of these decrees.Notwithstanding this, or, it may be, inconsequenceof this, theseproclamations, reiterated and reinforced from time to time, servedonly to proclaim in pompous language the impotence of those whoissued them; or, if they producedany immediate effect, it wasthatofadding to the vexations which the peaceful and feeble suffered fromthe disturbers of society. Impunity was organised and effected inso many ways as to render the proclamations powerless. Such was theconsequence of the sanctuaries and asylums; and of the privilegesof certain classes, partly acknowledged by the legal power, partlytolerated in silence, or feebly opposed; but which, infact, weresustained and guarded by almost every individual with interestedactivityand punctilious jealousy. Now this impunity, threatened andassailed, but not destroyed, by these proclamations, wouldnaturally, at every new attack, employ fresh efforts and devices tomaintain itself. The proclamations were efficient, it is true, infettering and embarrassing the honest man, who had neither power inhimself nor protection from others; inasmuch as, in order to reachevery person, they subjected the movements of each privateindividual to the arbitrary will of a thousand magistrates andexecutive officers. But he, who before the commission of his crimehad prepared himself a refuge in some convent or palace wherebailiffs never dared to enter; or who simply wore a livery, whichengaged in his defence the vanity or the interest of a powerfulfamily; such a one was free in his actions, and could laugh toscorn every proclamation. Of those very persons whose part it wasto ensure the execution of thesedecrees, some belonged by birth tothe privileged class, others were its clients and dependants; andas the latter as well as the former had, from education, fromhabit, from imitation, embraced its maxims, they would be verycareful not to violate them. Had they however, been bold as heroes,obedient as monks, and devoted as martyrs, they couldnever haveaccomplished the execution of the laws, inferior as they were innumber tothosewith whom they must engage, and with the frequentprobability of being abandoned, or even sacrificed, by him who, ina moment of theoretical abstraction, might require them to act.But, in addition to this, their office would be regarded as a baseone in public opinion, and their name stamped with reproach. It wastherefore very natural that, instead of risking, nay, throwingaway, their lives in a fruitless attempt,they should sell theirinaction, or, rather, their connivance, to the powerful; or, atleast, exercise their authority only on those occasions when itmight be done with safety to themselves; that is, in oppressing thepeaceable and the defenceless.

The man who acts with violence, or who is constantly in fear ofviolence from others, seeks companions and allies. Hence ithappened that, during these times, individuals displayed so stronga tendency to combine themselves into classes, and to advance, asfaras each one was able, the power of that to which he belonged.The clergy was vigilant in the defence and extension of itsimmunities; the nobility, of its privileges; the military, of itsexemptions; the merchants and artisans were enrolled in companiesand fraternities; the lawyers were united in leagues, and even thephysicians formed a corporation. Each of these little oligarchieshad its own appropriate power,—in each of them the individualfound the advantage of employing for himself, in proportion tohisinfluence and dexterity, the united force of numbers. The morehonest availed themselves of this advantage merely for theirdefence; the crafty and the wicked profited by it to assurethemselves of success in their rogueries, and impunity from theirresults. The strength, however, of these various combinations wasfar from being equal; and, especially in the country, the wealthyand overbearing nobleman, with a band of bravoes, and surrounded bypeasants accustomed to regard themselves as subjects and soldiersof their lord, exercised an irresistible power, and set all laws atdefiance.

Don Abbondio, neither noble, rich, nor valiant, had from earlyyouth found himself alone and unaided in such a state of society,like an earthen vessel thrown amidst ironjars; he therefore readilyobeyed his parents, who wished him to become a priest. He did, tosay the truth, not regard the obligations and the noble ends of theministry to which he dedicated himself, but was only desirous tosecure the means of living, and to connect himself with a powerfuland respected class. But no class provided for the individual, orsecured his safety,furtherthan to a certain point; none rendered itunnecessary for him to adopt for himself a system of his own. Thesystem of Don Abbondio consisted chiefly in shunning all disputes;he maintained an unarmed neutrality in all the contests that brokeout around him;—between the clergy and the civil power,between persons in office and nobles and magistrates, bravoes andsoldiers, down to the squabbles of the peasantry themselves,terminated by the fist or the knife. By keeping aloof from theoverbearing, by affecting not to notice their acts of violence, bybowing low and with the most profound respect to all whom he met,the poor man had succeeded in passing over sixty years withoutencountering any violent storms; not but that he also had somesmall portion of gall in hiscomposition; and this continualexercise of patience exacerbated it to such a degree, that, if hehad not had it inhis power occasionally to give it vent, his healthmust have suffered. But as there were a few persons in the worldconnected with himself whom he knew to be powerless, he could, fromtime to time, discharge on them his long pent-up ill-humour. Hewas, moreover, a severe censor of those who did not regulate theirconduct by his example, provided he could censure without danger.According to his creed, the poor fellow who had been cudgelled hadbeen a little imprudent; the murdered man had always beenturbulent; the man who maintained his right against the powerful,and met with a broken head, must have been somewhat wrong; whichis, perhaps, true enough, for in all disputes the line can never bedrawn so finely as not to leave a little wrong on both sides. Heespecially declaimed against those of his confraternity, who, attheir own risk, took part with the oppressed against a powerfuloppressor. “This,” he said, “was to purchasetrouble with ready money, to kick at snarling dogs, and anintermeddling in profane things that lowered the dignity of thesacred ministry.” He had, in short, a favourite maxim, thatan honest man, who looked to himself and minded his own affairs,never met with any rough encounters.

From all that has been said, we may imagine the effect themeeting just described must have had upon the mind of poor DonAbbondio. Those fierce countenances, the threats of a lord who waswell known not to speak idly, his plan of quiet life and patientendurance disconcerted in an instant, a difficulty before him fromwhich he saw no possibility of extrication; all these thoughtsrushed confusedly through his mind. “If Renzo could bequietly dismissed with a refusal, all would be well; but he willrequire reasons—and what can I say to him? he too has a headof his own; a lamb, if not meddled with—but once attempt tocross him—— Oh!—and raving after that Lucy,as much enamoured as—— Young idiots! who, forwant of something else to do, fall in love, and must be married,forsooth, thinking of nothing else, never concerning themselvesabout the trouble they bring upon an honest man like me. Wretchthat I am! Why should those two scowling faces plant themselvesexactly in my path, and pick a quarrel with me? What have I to doin the matter? Is it I that mean towive? Why did they not rather goand speak—— Ah! truly, that which is to thepurpose always occurs to me after the right time: if I had butthought of suggesting to them to go and bear theirmessage——” But here he was disturbed by thereflection, that torepent of not having been the counsellor andabettor of evil, was too iniquitous a thing; and he thereforeturned the rancour of his thoughts against the individual who hadthus robbed him of his tranquillity. He did not know Don Roderick,except by sightand by report; his sole intercourse with him hadbeen to touch chin to breast, and the ground with the corner of hishat, the few times he had met him on the road. He had, on more thanone occasion, defended the reputation of that Signor against thosewho, in an under-tone, with sighs and looks raised to heaven, hadexecrated some one of his exploits. He had declared a hundred timesthat he was a respectable cavalier. But at this moment he, in hisown heart, readily bestowed upon him all those titles to which hewould never lend an ear from another. Having, amidst the tumult ofthese thoughts, reached the entrance of his house, which stood atthe end of the little glebe, he unlocked the door, entered, andcarefully secured it within. Anxious to find himselfin society thathe could trust, he called aloud, “Perpetua, Perpetua,”advancing towards the little parlour where she was, doubtless,employed in preparing the table for his supper. Perpetua was, asthe readermust be aware, the housekeeper of Don Abbondio; anaffectionate and faithful domestic, who knew how to obey or commandas occasion served; to bear the grumbling and whims of her masterat times, and at others to make him bear with hers. These werebecoming every day more frequent; she had passed theage of forty ina single state; the consequences,shesaid, of having refused all theoffers that had been made her; herfemale friendsasserted that shehad never found any one willing to take her.

“Coming,” said Perpetua, as she set in its usualplace onthe little table the flask of Don Abbondio's favouritewine, and moved slowly toward the parlour door: before she reachedit he entered, with steps so disordered, looks so clouded, and acountenance so changed, that an eye less practised than that ofPerpetua could have discovered at a glance that something unusualhad befallen him.

“Mercy on me! What is it ails my master?”

“Nothing, nothing,” said Don Abbondio, as he sankupon his easy chair.

“How, nothing! Would you have me believe that, looking asyou do? Some dreadful accident has happened.”

“Oh! for the love of Heaven! When I say nothing, it iseither nothing, or something I cannot tell.”

“That you cannot tell, not even to me? Who will take careof your health? Who will give you advice?”

“Oh! peace, peace! Do not make matters worse. Give me aglass of my wine.”

“And you will still pretend to me that nothing is thematter?” said Perpetua, filling the glass, but retaining itin her hand, as if unwilling to present it except as the reward ofconfidence.

“Give here, give here,” said Don Abbondio, takingthe glass with an unsteady hand, and hastily swallowing itscontents.

“Would you oblige me then to go about, asking here andthere what it is has happened to my master?” said Perpetua,standing upright beforehim, with her hands on her sides, andlooking him steadfastly in the face, as if to extract the secretfrom his eyes.

“For the love of Heaven, do not worry me, do not kill mewith your pother; this is a matter that concerns—concerns mylife.”

“Your life!”

“My life.”

“You know well, that, when you have frankly confided inme, I have never——”

“Yes, forsooth, as when——”

Perpetua was sensible she had touched a false string; wherefore,changing suddenly her note, “My dear master,” said she,in a moving tone ofvoice, “I have always had a dutiful regardfor you, and if I now wish to know this affair, it is from zeal,and a desire to assist you, to give you advice, to relieve yourmind.”

The truth is, that Don Abbondio's desire to disburden himself ofhis painfulsecret was as great as that of Perpetua to obtain aknowledge of it; so that, after having repulsed, more and morefeebly, her renewed assaults; after having made her swear manytimes that she would not breathe a syllable of it, he, withfrequent pauses and exclamations, related his miserable adventure.When it was necessary to pronounce the dread name of him from whomthe prohibition came, he required from Perpetua another and moresolemn oath: having uttered it, he threw himself back on his seatwith a heavy sigh, and, in a tone of command, as well assupplication, exclaimed,—

“For the love of Heaven!”—

“Mercy upon me!” cried Perpetua, “what awretch! what a tyrant! Does he not fear God?”

“Will you be silent? or do you want to ruin mecompletely?”

“Oh! weare here alone, no one can hear us. But what willmy poor master do?”

“See there now,” said Don Abbondio, in a peevishtone, “see the fine advice you give me. To ask of me, whatI'll do? what I'll do? as if you were the one in difficulty, and itwas for meto help you out!”

“Nay, I could give you my own poor opinion; butthen—”

“But—but then, let us know it.”

“My opinion would be, that, as every one says ourarchbishop is a saint, a man of courage, and not to be frightenedby an ugly phiz, and who will takepleasure in upholding a curateagainst one of these tyrants; I should say, and do say, that youhad better write him a handsome letter, to inform him ashow——”

“Will you be silent! will you be silent! Is this advice tooffer a poor man? When I get a pistol bullet in my side—Godpreserve me!—will the archbishop take it out?”

“Ah! pistol bullets are not given away like sugarplums;and it were woful if those dogs should bite every time they bark.If a man knows how to show his teeth, and make himself feared,theyhold him in respect: we should not have been brought to such apass, if you had stood upon your rights. Now, all come to us (byyour good leave) to——”

“Will you be silent?”

“Certainly; but it is true though, that when the worldsees one is always ready, in every encounter, tolower——”

“Will you be silent? Is this a time for such idletalk?”

“Well, well, you'll think of it to-night; but in themeantime do not be the first to harm yourself; to destroy your ownhealth: eat a mouthful.”

“I'll think of it,”murmured Don Abbondio;“certainly I'll think of it. Imustthink of it;” and hearose, continuing—“No! I'll take nothing, nothing; I'vesomething else to do. But, that this should have fallen uponme——”

“Swallow at least this other little drop,” saidPerpetua, as she poured the wine. “You know it alwaysrestores your stomach.”

“Oh! there wants other medicine than that, other medicinethan that, other medicine than that——”

So saying, he took the light, and muttering, “A prettybusiness this! To an honestman like me! And to-morrow, what is tobe done?” with other like exclamations, he went towards hisbedchamber. Having reached the door, he stopped a moment, andbefore he quitted the room, exclaimed, turning towards Perpetua,with his finger on his lips—“For the love of Heaven, besilent!”


It is related that the Prince of Condé slept soundly thenight preceding the battle of Rocroi; but then, he was greatlyfatigued, and moreover had made every arrangement for the morrow.It was not thus withDon Abbondio; he only knew the morrow would bea day of trouble, and consequently passed the night in anxiousanticipation. He could not for a moment think of disregarding themenaces of the bravoes, and solemnising the marriage. To confide toRenzo the occurrence, and consult with him as to themeans—God forbid!—He remembered the warning of thebravo, “not to say one word”—otherwise,ahem!andthis dreadfulahemof the bravo resounded in the ears of DonAbbondio; so that he already repented of his communication toPerpetua. To fly was impossible—and wherecouldhe fly? At thethought, a thousand obstacles presented themselves.—Afterlong and painful deliberation, he resolved to endeavour to gaintime, by giving Renzo some fanciful reasons for the postponement ofthe marriage. He recollected that in a few days more the time wouldarrive, during which marriages were prohibited. “And if I cankeep this youngster at bay for a few days, I shall then have twomonths before me; and in two months who can tell what mayhappen?” He thought of various pretexts for his purpose; andthough they were rather flimsy, he persuaded himself that hisauthority would give them weight, and that his experience wouldprevail over the mind of an ignorant youth. “We willsee,” said heto himself: “he thinks of his love, but Ithink of myself; I am, therefore, the party most interested; I mustcall in all my cunning to assist me. I cannot help it, young man,if you suffer; I must not be the victim.” Having somewhatcomposed his mind with this determination, he at length fellasleep. But his dreams, alas! how horrible—bravoes, DonRoderick, Renzo, roads, rocks, cries, bullets.

The arousing from sleep, after a recent misfortune, is a bittermoment; the mind at first habitually recurs to its previoustranquillity, but is soon depressed by the thought of the contrastthat awaits it. When alive to a sense of his situation, DonAbbondio recapitulated the plans of the night, made a betterdisposal of them, and after having risen, awaited with dread andimpatience the moment of Renzo's arrival.

Lorenzo, or as he was called, Renzo, did not make him wait long;at an early hour he presented himself before the curate with thejoyful readiness of one who was on this day to espouse her whom heloved. Hehad been deprived of his parents in his youth, and nowpractised the trade of a weaver of silk, which was, it might besaid, hereditary in his family. This trade had once been verylucrative; and although now on the decline, a skilful workman mightobtainfrom it a respectable livelihood. The continual emigration ofthe tradesmen, attracted to the neighbouring states by promises andprivileges, left sufficient employment for those who remainedbehind. Besides, Renzo possessed a small farm, which he hadcultivated himself when otherwise unoccupied; so that, for one ofhis condition, he might be called wealthy: and although the lastharvest had been more deficient than thepreceding ones, and theevils of famine were beginning to be felt; yet, from the momenthehad given his heart to Lucy, he had been so economical as topreserve a sufficiency of all necessaries, and to be in no dangerof wanting bread. He appeared before Don Abbondio gaily dressed,and with a joyful countenance. The mysterious and perplexedmannerof the curate formed a singular contrast to that of the handsomeyoung man.

“What is the matter now?” thought Renzo; but withoutwaiting to answer his own question, “Signor Curate,”said he, “I am come to know at what hour of the day it willbe convenient for you that we should be at the church?”

“Of what day do you speak?”

“How! of what day? do you not remember that this is theday appointed?”

“To-day?” replied Don Abbondio, as if he heard itfor the first time, “to-day? to-day? be patient, Icannotto-day——”

“You cannot to-day? why not?”

“In the first place I am not well——”

“I am sorry for it; but we shall not detain you long, andyou will not be much fatigued.”

“But then—but then——”

“But then, what, sir?”

“There are difficulties.”

“Difficulties!How can that be?”

“People should be in our situation, to know how manyobstacles there are to these matters; I am too yielding, I thinkonly of removing impediments, of rendering all things easy, andpromoting the happiness of others. To do this I neglectmy duty, andam covered with reproaches for it.”

“In the name of Heaven, keep me not thus in suspense, buttell me at once what is the matter?”

“Do you know how many formalities are required before themarriage can be celebrated?”

“I must, indeed, know something of them,” saidRenzo, beginning to grow angry, “since you have racked mybrains with them abundantly these few days back. But are not allthings now ready? have you not done all there was to do?”

“All, all, you expect; but be patient, I tell you. Ihavebeen a blockhead to neglect my duty, that I might not cause pain toothers;—we poor curates—we are, as may be said, everbetween a hawk and a buzzard. I pity you, poor young man! Iperceive your impatience, but my superiors——Enough, Ihave reasons forwhat I say, but I cannot tell all—we,however, are sure to suffer.”

“But tell me what this other formality is, and I willperform it immediately.”

“Do you know how many obstacles stand in theway?”

“How can I know any thing of obstacles?”

“Error, conditio, votum, cognatis, crimen, cultusdisparitas, vis, ordo.... Si sit affinis....”

“Oh! for Heaven's sake—how should I understand allthis Latin?”

“Be patient, dear Renzo; I am ready to do——allthat depends on me. I—I wish to see you satisfied—Iwish you well—— And when I think that you were sohappy, that you wanted nothing when the whim entered your head tobe married——”

“What words are these, Signor?” interrupted Renzo,with a look of astonishment and anger.

“I say, do be patient—I say, I wish to see youhappy. In short—in short, my dear child, I have not been infault; I did not make the laws. Before concluding a marriage, weare required to search closely that there be noobstacles.”

“Now, I beseech you, tell me at once what difficulty hasoccurred?”

“Bepatient—these are not points to be cleared up inan instant. Therewillbe nothing, I hope; but whether or not, wemust search into the matter. The passage is clear andexplicit,—‘antiquam matrimoniumdenunciet——’”

“I'll not hear your Latin.”

“But it is necessary to explain toyou——”

“But why not do this before? Why tell me all was prepared?Why wait——”

“See there now! to reproach me with my kindness! I havehastened every thing to serve you; but—but there hasoccurred——well, well, I know——”

“And what do you wish that I should do?”

“Be patient for a few days. My dear child, a few days arenot eternity; be patient.”

“For how long a time then?”

“We are coming to a good conclusion,” thought DonAbbondio. “Come,” said he, gently, “in fifteendays I will endeavour——”

“Fifteen days! Oh! this is something new. To tell me now,on the very day you yourself appointed for my marriage, that I mustwait fifteen days! Fifteen,” resumed he, with a low and angryvoice.

Don Abbondio interrupted him, earnestly seizing his hand, andwith an imploring tone beseeching him to be quiet. “Come,come, don't be angry; for the love of Heaven! I'll see, I'll see ifin a week——”

“And what shall I say to Lucy?” said Renzo,softening.

“That it has been a mistake of mine.”

“And to theworld?”

“Say also it is my fault; that through too great haste Ihave made some great blunder: throw all the blame on me. Can I domore than this? Come in a week.”

“And then there will be no furtherdifficulties?”

“When I say a thing——”

“Well, well, I willbe quiet for a week; but be assured, Iwill be put off with no further excuses:—for the present, Itake my leave.” So saying, he departed, making a bow to DonAbbondio less profound than usual, and giving him a look moreexpressive than respectful.

With aheavy heart he approached the house of his betrothed, hismind dwelling on the strange conversation which had just takenplace. The cold and embarrassed reception of Don Abbondio, hisconstrained and impatient air, his mysterious hints, all combinedto convince him there was still something he had not been willingto communicate. He stopped for a moment, debating with himselfwhether he should not return and compel him to be more frank;raising his eyes, however, he beheld Perpetua entering a littlegardena few steps distant from the house. He called to her,quickened his pace, and detaining her at the gate, endeavoured toenter into discourse with her.

“Good day, Perpetua; I expected to have received yourcongratulations to-day.”

“But it must be as God pleases, my poor Renzo.”

“I want to ask a favour of you: the Signor Curate hasoffered reasons I cannot comprehend; will you explain to me thetrue cause why he is unable or unwilling to marry usto-day?”

“Oh! you think then that I know the secrets of mymaster.”

“I was right in supposing there was a mystery,”thought Renzo. “Come, come, Perpetua,” continued he,“we are friends; tell me what you know,—help a pooryoung man.”

“It is a bad thing to be born poor, my dearRenzo.”

“That is true,” replied he, stillmore confirmed inhis suspicions—“that is true; but it is not becoming inthe clergy to behave unjustly to the poor.”

“Hear me, Renzo; I can tell you nothing, because—Iknow nothing. But I can assure you my master would not wrong you orany one; and he isnot to blame.”

“Who then is to blame?” asked Renzo, carelessly, butlistening intently for a reply.

“I have told you already I know nothing. But I may beallowed to speak in defence of my master; poor man! if he haserred, it has been through too great kindness. There are in thisworld men who are overpowerful, knavish, and who fear notGod.”

“Overpowerful! knavish!” thought Renzo; “thesecannot be his superiors.”—“Come,” said he,with difficulty concealing his increasing agitation, “come,tell me who it is.”

“Ah! you would persuade me to speak, and I must not,because—I know nothing. I will keep silence as faithfully asif I had promised to do so. You might put me to the torture, andyou could not draw any thing from me. Adieu! it is lost time forboth ofus.”

Thus saying, she re-entered the garden hastily, and shut thegate. Renzo turned very softly, lest at the noise of his footstepsshe might discern the road he took: when fairly beyond her hearing,he quickened his steps, and in a moment was at the doorof DonAbbondio's house; he entered, rushed towards the little parlourwhere he had left him, and finding him still there, approached himwith a bold and furious manner.

“Eh! eh! what has happened now?” said DonAbbondio.

“Who is this powerful personage?”said Renzo, withthe air of one resolved to obtain an explicit answer; “who ishe that forbids me to marry Lucy?”

“What! what! what!” stammered Don Abbondio, turningpale with surprise. He arose from his chair, and made an effort toreach the door. But Renzo, who expected this movement, was upon hisguard; and locking the door, he put the key in his pocket.

“Ah! will you speak now, Signor Curate? Every one knowsthe affair but myself; and, by heavens! I'll know it too. Who isit, I say?”

“Renzo, Renzo, forthe love of charity, take care what youdo; think of your soul.”

“I must know it at once—this moment.” Sosaying, he placed his hand on his dagger, but perhaps withoutintending it.

“Mercy!” exclaimed Don Abbondio, in a stifledvoice.

“Imustknow it.”

“Who has told you?”

“Come, no more excuses. Speak plainly andquickly.”

“Do you mean to kill me?”

“I mean to know that which I have a right toknow.”

“But if I speak, I die. Must I not preserve mylife?”

“Speak, then.”

The manner of Renzo was so threateningand decided, that DonAbbondio felt there was no possibility of disobeying him.“Promise me—swear,” said he, “never totell——”

“Tell me, tell me quickly his name,or——”

At this new adjuration, the poor curate, with the trembling lookof a man who feels theinstrument of the dentist in his mouth,feebly articulated, “Don——”

“Don?” replied Renzo, inclining his ear towards him,eager to hear the rest. “Don?”

“Don Roderick!” muttered he hastily, trembling atthe sound that escaped his lips.

“Ah! dog!” shouted Renzo; “and how has he doneit? what has he said to you to——”

“What? what?” said Don Abbondio, in an almostcontemptuous tone, already gaining confidence by the sacrifice hehad made. “I wish you were like myself, you would then meddlewith nothing, and certainly you would not have had so many whims inyour head.” He, however, related in terrible colours the uglyencounter; his anger, which had hitherto been subdued by fear,displayed itself as he proceeded; and perceiving that Renzo,between rage and astonishment, remained motionless, with his headbent down, he continued in a lively manner, “You have made apretty business of it, indeed! You have rendered me a notableservice. Thus to attack an honest man, your curate, in his ownhouse! in a sacred place! You have done a fine thing, truly. Towrest from my mouth, that which I concealed,from prudence, for yourown good. And now that you know it, what will you do? When I gaveyou good advice this morning, I had judgment for you and me; butbelieve me, this isno jesting matter, no question of right orwrong, but superior power. At all events, open the door; give methe key.”

“I may have been to blame,” replied Renzo with asoftened voice, but in which might be perceived smothered angertowards his concealed enemy, “I may have been to blame, butif you had been in my situation——” He drew thekey from his pocket, and advanced towards the door.

“Swear to me,” said Don Abbondio with a serious andanxious face.

“I may have been to blame—forgive me,” repliedRenzo, moving to depart.

“Swear first,” said Don Abbondio, holding himtremblingly by the arm.

“I may have been to blame,” said Renzo, freeinghimself from his grasp, and immediately springing out of theroom.

“Perpetua! Perpetua!” cried Don Abbondio, afterhavingin vain called back the fugitive. Perpetua did not answer.The poor man was so overwhelmed by his innumerable difficulties,his increasing perplexities, and so apprehensive of some freshattack, that he conceived the idea of securing to himself a saferetreat from them all, by going to bed and giving out that he had afever. His malady, indeed, was not altogether imaginary; the terrorof the past day, the anxious watching of the night, the dread ofthe future, had combined to produce really the effect. Weary andstupified, he slumbered in his large chair, muttering occasionallyin a feeble but passionate voice,“Perpetua.”—Perpetua arrived at last with a greatcabbage under her arm, and with as unconcerned a countenance as ifnothing had happened. We will spare the reader the reproaches, theaccusations, and denials that passed between them; it is sufficientthat Don Abbondio ordered Perpetua to bolt the door, not to put herfoot outside, and if any one knocked, to reply from the window thatthe curate was gone to bed with a fever. He then slowly ascendedthe stairs and put himself really in bed, where we will leavehim.

Renzo, meanwhile, with hurried steps, and with a mind unsettledand distracted as to the course he should pursue, approached hishome. Thosewho injure others are guilty, not only of the evils theycommit, but also of the effects produced by these evils on thecharacters of the injured persons. Renzo was a quiet and peacefulyouth, but now his nature appeared changed, and his thoughts dweltonly on deeds of violence. He would have run to the house of DonRoderick to assault him there; but he remembered that it was afortress, furnished with bravoes within, and well guarded without;that only those known to be friends and servants could enterwithout the minutest scrutiny; and that not even a tradesman couldbe seen there without being examined from head to foot; and he,above all, would be, alas! but too well known. He then imaginedhimself placed behind a hedge, with his arquebuss in hishand,waiting till Roderick should pass by alone; rejoicinginternally at the thought, he pictured to himself an approachingfootstep; the villain appears, he takes aim, fires, and he falls;he exults a moment over his dying struggles, and then escapes forhis life beyond the confines! And Lucy? This name recalled hiswiser and better thoughts: he remembered the last instructions ofhis parents; he thought of God, the Holy Virgin, and the Saints;and he tremblingly rejoiced that he had been guilty of the deedonly in imagination. But how many hopes, promises, andanticipations did the idea of Lucy suggest? And this day soardently desired! How announce to her the dreadful news? And then,what plan to pursue? How make her his own in spite of the power ofthis wicked lord? And now a tormenting suspicion passed through hismind. Don Roderick must have been instigated to this injury by abrutal passion for Lucy! And she! He could not for a moment endurethe maddening thought that she had given him the slightestencouragement. But was she not informed of his designs? Could hehave conceived his infamous purpose, and have advanced so fartowards its completion, without her knowledge? And Lucy, his ownbeloved, had never uttered a syllable to him concerning it!

These reflections prevailing in his mind, he passed by his ownhouse, which was situated in the centre of the village, and arrivedat that of Lucy, which was at the opposite extremity. It had asmall court-yard in front, which separated it from the road, andwhich was encircled by a low wall. Entering the yard, Renzo heard aconfused murmur of voices in the upper chamber; he rightly supposedit to be the wedding company, and he could not resolve to appearbefore them with such a countenance. A little girl, who wasstanding at the door, ran towards him, crying out, “Thebridegroom! the bridegroom!” “Hush, Betsy, hush,”said Renzo, “come hither; go to Lucy, and whisper in herear—but let no one hear you—whisper in her ear, that Iwish to speak with her in the lower chamber, and that she must comeat once.” The little girl hastily ascended the stairs, proudof having a secret commission to execute. Lucy had just come forth,adorned from the hands of her mother, and surrounded by heradmiring friends. These were playfully endeavouring to steal a lookat the blooming bride; while she, with the timidity of rusticmodesty, attempted to conceal her blushing countenance with herbending arm, from beneath which a smiling mouth neverthelessappeared. Her black tresses, parted on her white forehead, werefolded up in multiplied circles on the back of her head, andfastened with pins of silver, projecting on every side like therays of the sun: this is still the custom of the Milanesepeasantry. Around her throat she had a necklace ofgarnets,alternated with beads of gold filagree; she wore a boddiceembroidered in flowers, the sleeves tied with ribands; a shortpetticoat of silk, withnumerous minute plaits; crimson stockings,and embroidered silk slippers. But beyond all these ornaments wasthe modest and beautiful joy depicted on her countenance; a joy,however, troubled by a slight shade of anxiety. The little Betsyintruded herself into the circle, managed to approach Lucy, andcommunicated her message. “I shall return in a moment,”said Lucy to her friends, as she hastily quitted the room. Onperceiving the altered and unquiet appearance of Renzo, “Whatis the matter?” said she, not without a presentiment ofevil.

“Lucy,” replied Renzo, “all is at a stand, andGod knows whether weshall ever be man and wife!”

“How!” said Lucy, alarmed. Renzo related briefly thehistory of the morning; she listened with anguish: when he utteredthe name of Don Roderick, “Ah!” exclaimed she, blushingand trembling, “has it then come to this?”

“Thenyou knew!” said Renzo.

“Too well,” replied Lucy.

“What did you know?”

“Do not make me speak now, do not make me weep! I'll callmy mother and dismiss the company. We must be alone.”

As she departed, Renzo whispered, “And you have neverspoken of it to me!”

“Ah, Renzo!” replied Lucy, turning for a moment togaze at him.

He understood well what this action meant; it was as if she hadsaid, “Can you doubt me?”

Meanwhile the good Agnes (so the mother of Lucy was called) haddescended the stairs, to ascertainthe cause of her daughter'sdisappearance. She remained with Renzo; while Lucy returned to thecompany, and, assuming all the composure she could, said to them,“The Signor Curate is indisposed, and the wedding cannot takeplace to-day.” The ladies departed, and lost no time inrelating amongst the gossips of the neighbourhood all that hadoccurred, while they made particular enquiries respecting thereality of Don Abbondio's sickness. The truth of this cut short theconjectures which they had already begunto intimate by brief andmysterious hints.


Lucy entered the lower room as Renzo was sorrowfully informingAgnes of that, to which she as sorrowfully listened. Both turnedtowards her from whom they expected an explanation which could notbut be painful; the suspicions of both were, however, excited inthe midst of their grief, and the displeasure they felt towardsLucy differed only according to their relative situation. Agnes,although anxious to hear her daughter speak, could not avoidreproaching her—“To say nothing to thymother!”

“Now, I will tell you all,” said Lucy, wiping hereyes with her apron.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!