From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900, first published, c. 1824]; pp. 545-554.
At the age of sixteen, Valerio, the native of one of Italy’s most distinguished republics, was left an orphan, the heir of very considerable wealth, well educated, and of a cultivated mind and susceptible feelings. His father’s death, happening just at this period, was a severe blow to him, inexperienced as he yet was in the manners and practices of the world. Reflecting upon this, and in grief for his recent loss, he determined to retire for some time into the country until the completion of his education, being desirous of attaining to greater age and experience before he mixed in the conversation and manners of the world. With this intention he fixed upon a pleasant little villa, very delightfully situated on the skirts of his own estate, where he contrived, by dint of study, by arranging his 548 affairs, and by a limited intercourse with surrounding families, to pass away his time, leading the sort of life most congenial to his wishes. Happening one day, in the course of his walks, to be engaged in perusing the works of Tully, he turned to his treatise De Amicitiâ, and began to study it with attention. As he became more deeply interested, he frequently interrupted his reading with expressions of admiration, and wishes for the possession of such a friend as he found there described, one who might in some degree supply the loss of his kind and beloved father. Thus meditating, he extended his walk until he reached a beautiful grove, which cast a soft and solemn shade from its tall overspreading boughs, still admitting, in its opening glades, enough of the sun’s rays to produce an agreeable warmth below. The green earth was enamelled with flowers, while grateful breezes, wafting through the branches, served to cool the air, and, by gentle undulations of the leaves, produced a thousand variations of light upon the surface of the ground. The most beautiful birds were seen flying from branch to branch, and a sweet chorus rose from among the leaves of innumerable hidden songsters; while a limpid streamlet pursued its course, adding its murmurs as it fell at a distance among the rocks, and in its way refreshing banks of flowers, where it rose in places interrupted in its pebbly bed. Near it appeared a circle of beautiful shrubs in full flower and leaf, surrounding a little vacant space, just sufficient to admit one person in a recumbent posture. Charmed with the delicious spot, Valerio penetrated into its cool recess, and, throwing himself idly at his length, he fixed his eyes upon the beautiful skies, listening to the voice of rural harmony that rose around him.
He had not long indulged his reverie, when, hearing a rustling sound near him among the trees, he turned his head, and beheld a youth of noble aspect, but apparently overwhelmed with sorrow, walking with a slow pace, and frequently stopping as if checked by some painful recollection, until he finally seated himself upon the margin of the stream, and rested his head mournfully on his hand. There he long sat, careless of every object around him, and often sighing bitterly, as he exclaimed in a sorrowful tone, “And what will now become of you, hapless Ireno, your dear father torn from your embraces by a violent death? What will become of our family, a sick mother and a young orphan sister committed wholly to my charge? Young and inexperienced as I am, my time spent in youthful studies and amusements, under the eye of an indulgent father, I might have risen to occupy a respectable and honourable place in society; but now, alas! my prospects are for ever destroyed. Who is there to advise me in danger or to console me in adversity, to place a rein upon my passions and to teach me how to conduct myself in prosperity?” As he ceased, Valerio felt himself deeply affected, no less by the expression of Ireno’s unfeigned sorrow than by the similarity of circumstances that had led them to seek the same solitudes for relief. Feeling something stronger than mere sympathy, he could not restrain his desire of making himself known to the orphan sufferer, and, starting from his seat, he saluted Ireno with an expression of kindness and courtesy, and then proceeded in the gentlest terms to reason with and console him. Recounting at the 549 same time his own loss, he intimated how rejoiced he should be in any manner to supply the place of a parent, if he might so soon venture to offer the hand of friendship to one whom he had already learned to esteem. Nor did he omit to recommend his proposal by some of the most beautiful arguments of the Roman orator whose treatise he held in his hands. Ireno, expressing his grateful sense of his kindness, testified his acceptance of it by continuing the conversation in the same tone, and added an account of his family, of some wealth and consideration in a neighbouring village belonging to the next principality, whither he invited Valerio to accompany him; to which the other, desirous of being introduced to his mother and sister, willingly consented. Their regard for each other, thus auspiciously commenced, was soon riveted by a variety of circumstances, by similarity of taste and pursuits, and by sympathising in their common joys and sufferings. In a short time there was nothing that they did not confide to each other; they seemed to participate in one another’s most intimate thoughts and feelings, while they did not scruple to reprove their mutual faults. They also vied with each other in acts of piety and benevolence, as well as in all noble accomplishments, so as to afford a model of excellence to their countrymen, whose society they adorned.
One day as Ireno was returning from a visit to his friend, just as he approached the city walls he chanced to fall in with a certain lord of high rank, accompanied by his son, going to the chase. Although he turned aside his horse to give them convenient passage, and respectfully saluted him, the proud patrician, instead of returning his politeness, had the rudeness to call out to him to make more way, taunting him at the same time with his want of spirit, and his romantic friendship for the young Valerio. Ireno with modest firmness replied to this strange charge, smiling a little at the cause of the great man’s irritation, which had the effect of further provoking him; for, not content with reviling Ireno, he began to attack the character of Valerio. Further incensed that Ireno presumed to answer him in so easy and unconcerned a style, he attempted to astound him with the number of his titles, the only merit, indeed, that he could boast; but finding these as ineffectual as his threats, he gave vent to his passion, and attempted to strike the object of his unjust resentment. Ireno, parrying the blow, suddenly gave his horse the spur, which had the effect of making him plunge in such a way as to alarm the brave patrician by his furious kicks; then giving him the rein, he set off at full speed: upon which the nobleman, taking it for the effect of terror, drew his sword and rode after him in a very bold and heroic style. For some time Ireno succeeded in avoiding his pursuer, until, finding his road intercepted by the river, he was compelled to make head in his own defence. All his efforts to mollify the angry lord proving vain, he in his turn drew his sword, which pierced his enemy, unluckily rushing forward in the heat of his fury, to the heart. He fell dead upon the spot; and there being no other witness to the deed besides his son, Ireno threw down his sword and was departing. But the youth, who had only been deterred from attacking him by the dread of his superior prowess, then rode boldly after him, raising the whole 550 country round by his cries, until the unhappy Ireno found himself surrounded by crowds who instantly laid hands upon him, and detained him while they sent for the city officers, who speedily appeared. He was surrendered into the hands of justice, and thrown into one of the gloomiest prisons, while tidings of the extraordinary murder just committed soon reached the ears of his friend Valerio, whose horror and surprise it is impossible to describe. He set off, without losing a moment, for the public prison; and with some difficulty obtaining an interview, he had the delight of finding his friend perfectly tranquil and resigned, and received from his own lips a clear statement of the affair just as it occurred. Not an instant did he delay in discovering the real circumstances to persons of the greatest weight and respectability in the city. But the superior rank of the deceased and the influence of his family, together with the want of witnesses in Ireno’s favour, were too powerful to be withstood; he was tried and condemned to suffer death.
Reduced to this extremity, Ireno’s mind seemed less disturbed at his approaching fate than at the grief and tears of his friend, his mother, and his orphan sister. These, with all his private affairs, he recommended to the care of Valerio, who promised to supply the loss of a son and a brother. The prisoner then declared that he should die happy if permitted once more to revisit his native place, to embrace his mother and sister, and, after arranging a few private matters, to return within four days. The adverse party, however, ridiculed the proposal, declaring it a mere subterfuge to facilitate his escape; when Valerio, indignant as such an aspersion, came forward to give his own life in pledge for his friend’s honour, saying that he would willingly suffer on the fourth day in case Ireno did not return.
His offer was at length accepted, and the noon of the fourth day was appointed for the term of his imprisonment, the adverse party hoping to cast double disgrace upon Ireno’s name, in the belief that he would not be able within that period to return. Accordingly he set out to see his relatives, and having taken final leave of them and settled his affairs, on the morning of the fourth day he hastened back as fast as possible. But the treacherous relatives of the deceased lord, in contemplation of this event, despatched a troop of hired menials with orders to arrest him on the road. Falling in with him accordingly, they commanded him to turn back, which he refused to do, and a fierce struggle took place, in which the brave youth succeeded in opening himself a path through the midst of them. Proceeding wounded and breathless, he with much difficulty reached the city, but not until after the period fixed for the execution had elapsed. Here he had the grief of beholding his best friend already placed upon the scaffold, and the executioner preparing to fulfil his office. “Make way, here is the criminal!” was the cry caught from the lips of Ireno, and echoed by a thousand tongues. The crowd opened, and the next moment he sank down upon the scaffold, exclaiming, “I die happy; I have saved his life!” It then became a contest which should suffer for the other, each appealing to the judges, who experienced no slight difficulty in adjusting their claims. Under all 551 circumstances, they declared it was left wholly to their own choice; when the noble contest became so painful, that the son of the deceased, no longer proof against the sight, confessed the real fact, and did full justice to Ireno’s conduct in the affair. The two friends then hand in hand descended from the scaffold, amid the rapturous plaudits of the surrounding multitude.
Precisely at this juncture of affairs there arrived at the father’s house a friend of Valerio on a visit to him, a young man of noble birth, who had been intimate with the family while residing at Rome. He met with the most gratifying reception both from the old Count and his son, and even the haughty Eleonora deigned to smile upon him in consideration of his recent succession to a marquisate, though scarcely ancient enough to place him upon an equal footing with a family of her antique stock. Occasionally, therefore, she attempted to indulge her sharp and sarcastic humour at his expense, which he very good-naturedly parried or retorted, until she grew insolent, when he only smiled and remained silent. The young wife of his friend Valerio, on the other hand, treated him with the utmost courtesy, though there was something in her manner that betrayed the anxiety to which she was a prey.
The young Marquis was at no loss to penetrate into the real source of her sorrows after witnessing the assuming airs and the grievous sway exercised by the lady of the house over her whole establishment. As he had the greatest respect for the rest of the family, whom he had long known, he felt equal disgust and concern at her conduct, and would instantly have left the house had he not feared by any sudden step to hurt their feelings. He had, moreover, a desire to observe more of Valerio’s motions, as well as to study some means, if possible, of mitigating the domestic evils he could not remove, too happy, he thought, could he succeed in restoring some portion of that family harmony and peace which he had beheld in the Count’s house on first becoming acquainted with his son Valerio. With such kind and disinterested views, he began to study the exact character and position of the parties; he paid profound respect to the haughty Countess, and lavished upon her a due portion of titles; he did justice to the good feelings of her husband; he gazed on the lovely wife of his friend with the tenderest compassion, but said nothing; while he attempted to occupy as much as possible of her misguided husband’s time and attention. One evening, as the good old Count was sitting up late reading, expecting the return of his son Valerio, and trying to make up his mind to reprehend him for his late conduct, he observed that his young friend likewise had not retired to rest. Addressing him with much warmth of feeling, he reminded him of the affection that had so long subsisted between their families, more especially between his son and himself, and which he trusted would plead his excuse in venturing to trouble the young Marquis with his family anxieties; but as he had understood from good authority that since his arrival he had spent much of his time in company with his poor son, even in places of riot and dissipation (which it wounded his feelings to believe), instead of snatching his friend Valerio from the precipice 553 on which he stood, it became impossible for him longer to conceal the serious anxiety which he felt on his son’s account, and the grief under which he laboured.
The young Marquis listened attentively to the complaints of his old friend, conscious of the purity of his motives, nor was it without much reluctance that he entered upon a defence of his own conduct, being almost as unwilling to confess his noble and disinterested efforts on that son’s behalf as to admit the charges just advanced against him by the unhappy Count. With such modest feelings he attempted to allay the wretched father’s anxiety, by suggesting in the first place that no violent passion, like that which his poor son had conceived for the gaming-table, could possibly be destroyed at a single effort, but that, like a wild beast of the woods, it would require much soothing and flattering usage before submitting to the hand of friendship or of power. That, moreover, instead of encouraging him in such a career, he had already undertaken the difficult task of eradicating so fatal a propensity, and that it would be quite necessary for his young friend to be left solely to his direction, without the authority of a father appearing in any of the steps he was about to take. Further, he would presume to insist upon his old friend retiring to rest, and leaving him to await the arrival of Valerio, as he was, moreover, expecting one of his messengers, whom he had despatched from Rome to Turin, bearing commissions of the highest importance, with the result of a long-impending lawsuit. The old Count, yielding entire credit to the kind words and looks of the Marquis, that sufficiently bespoke the tender interest he took in his son’s welfare, affectionately embraced him, expressed his lasting gratitude for so much kindness, and entreated his forgiveness at the same time for having indulged the least suspicion of his fidelity. Yet it was long after the Count’s departure before Valerio made his appearance, with an air of satisfaction and triumph which augured nothing good for the success of his friend’s attempt. He said he had that evening had a very surprising run of fortune, enough to compensate him for nearly all his late losses — tidings which his friend received with apparent pleasure, observing that he was glad he had not suffered, and that he would himself accompany him the next time he meant to play. This occurred the ensuing night, and, apprehensive of losing his influence over him, the young Marquis accordingly went. It was at the house of a foreigner whom the Marquis himself recommended to his young friend, and who was in fact no other than one of his most confidential servants, who had assumed the character at his master’s request. He was the same person who had been despatched by him to Turin, and had just returned with tidings of his master’s success in his long-contested lawsuit. Possessing, in addition to strict integrity, a very pleasing person and manners, he had all the art of a conjuror in a variety of games, especially at cards, with which he often amused his master and his friends. On this occasion, he was arrayed in a rich dress, with all the instruments of his art place around him, and furnished with an immense sum of money, with orders from his master to win as much more from his friend and himself as he could possibly contrive to do, even until they should cast their
future fortunes on the die. His skilful servant instantly understood his cue, and assuming his character, prepared to execute his orders to the minutest point. About evening, the two friends issued forth, and proceeding to the house of the disguised foreigner (who received his master only as a cavalier whom he had casually met), they instantly, after a few ceremonies, sat down to table, where in a short time the two friends were unlucky enough to lose everything they had in the world. Valerio then, in a paroxysm of despair, pledged his word for the future inheritance from his father; all which being gone, both the losers leaped up in the utmost despair and rushed out of the house. The time was now arrived for attempting the long-wished-for reform: the rage of Valerio was dreadful, and he proposed the most fatal expedients, bent upon not surviving his utter ruin. With much difficulty the Marquis prevailed upon him to return home, contriving that he should pass by the chamber of his lovely but unhappy wife, who was then heard indulging the profoundest grief. Valerio was cut to the soul; he raved, he toe his hair, and it was long before he became sufficiently composed to listen to the reasonings of his friend, who easily obtained from him a promise that, if he could possibly succeed in recovering his lost property, he would for ever abandon the fatal pursuit. This was the point at which his friend had long wished to arrive. He had at last triumphed over this hateful propensity, and his next object was to restore Valerio to the arms and to the confidence of his young and hapless wife. This also was effected; and terrible was the repentant gamester’s remorse when he beheld the false foreigner approach his house the ensuing morning, imagining that he came to enforce his claims for everything he had in the world. What was his surprise, then, to perceive him, on entering the room, prostrate himself at the feet of the Marquis, disrobe himself of his cavalier’s attire, and present him with the whole of the ill-gotten gains he had made the evening before! The scales fell from the eyes of the infatuated Valerio, and from that time forward he was restored to himself, an ornament to society and the pride of his friends. Yet his feelings were not for a moment to be put into competition with the delightful consciousness that swelled the bosom of the noble young Marquis, a gratification exceeding every other that this world can afford. Nor was the example of so much good sense and benevolence, exercised in correcting the extravagance of ill-regulated passions, lost on the Countess Eleonora, who began from that time to check her inordinate pride; and thus, by the intervention of a judicious friend, concord and happiness were re-established in the mansion to which they had so long been strangers.