Forest Of Montalbano (Part 2)


 
    To this castle, and all the possessions of her illustrious ancestors, she had now conviction that she still might prove the only lawful heir; yet now she was about to enter as a poor persecuted dependent, despoiled of the favor and courtesy of all; where once every sweet smile of affection, kindness, and respect, most fondly greeted her. She sighed; tears trembled in her eyes. “But, are not these trials,” whispered pious reflection, “which you are thus doomed to endure, inflicted by the all-wise and unerring Ruler of the universe?” — Angelina blushed, in penitent acquiescence. “Assuredly they are,” she firmly, but mentally ejaculated—“and, Oh! may I never, never, falter in the task of submissive duty; never murmur at the thorns which strew my path of life, but still cherish, in the memory of my heart’s veneration, a lively recollection of the sacred hand which sheds them there.”
    These were the thoughts, and such the aspirations, that gave fortitude to the heart, firmness to the steps, and serenity to the fascinating countenance of Lady Angelina, as she once more entered that castle, where pained reminiscence told her, “how she had been loved, and how severely tortured…”

 

 

 

 

My five-and-a-half-thousand words on the subject notwithstanding, all we’ve dealt with so far in Forest Of Montalbano – which occupies no more than the first half of Volume I – is basically just the back-story to the main narrative. Though Fredrico’s problems – and Fredrico himself – continue to come and go, the rest of Volume I and all of Volume II is primarily devoted to the increasingly dangerous situation in which Angelina finds herself after returning to the castle of her ancestors.

Along with all the expected melodrama and emotional excess, there’s some interesting writing here. In Santo Sebastiano, we found Cuthbertson attempting, in the character of Lord Delamere, to delineate a complex psychology; and she follows that up in this novel. Naturally, the heroes and the villains are writ large in unsubtle font; but between these two extremes we find some mixed characters, and others whose personal hang-ups drive the action to a surprising degree.

In fact, to an extent the entire plot of Forest Of Montalbano hangs on two pairs of contrasting brothers. Theodore di Balmero, the future Duca di Montalbano, was in every respect his father’s son: strong, fearless, a warrior; while Sigismund, the younger brother, fell to the care of his doting but unwise mother, who turned him into a frail, scholarly hypochondriac with a raging inferiority complex; though this expressed itself in worship of the brother who was everything that he, Sigismund, could never be, and later of Theodore’s daughter. Convinced that no-one did or could love him except his mother, Sigismund fell easy prey to the seductive wiles of Minora di Tolmezo…only to discover (as he effectively says later to Angelina) that he should, in fact, have trusted his inferiority complex: she certainly did not love him for himself. Sigismund is by now almost literally crippled by guilt over the marriage which has come between Angelina and her inheritance.

Trouble of a similar sort lies – or lay – between Fredrico and his older half-brother, Rolando; but there, we discover, Guiseppe had been working his poison. For reasons of his own, he convinced Rolando that, as the son of the Conte di Alviano’s first, political marriage, he could never compete in his father’s affections with the son of Zarina, who the Conte passionately loved; and moreover, that Zarina and Fredrico were working to supplant him. And Fredrico accidentally does: it was Rolando who really loved Violante—and as we find out, she really wanted him: except that, working from within her convent, with imperfect information, she appealed for help to the wrong brother; thus setting disaster in motion.

Violante’s involvement with the di Alviano family binds to them also the Cardinal Gulielmo, who is one of Cuthbertson’s more interesting creations. We find out in time that the fears of the nuns of Santo Valentino were not entirely unjustified: in his younger days, Gulielmo was indeed a man of unsavoury reputation; but much upheaval in his life later, he honestly repented and embraced his new calling; and the present time finds him, simultaneously, a devoted man of God, a shrewd politician, and a cynical man of the world—and able to toggle between personas in a manner than makes him a powerful ally and a dangerous enemy. Gulielmo’s name strikes fear into the heart of almost everyone; but when he finally appears upon the scene he proves, somewhat unexpectedly, to be on the side of the angels.

(It is belatedly revealed to us that, though she passes in the eyes of the world as his niece, Violante is actually Gulielmo’s illegitimate daughter.)

At the other end of the spectrum, and as we did also in Santo Sebastiano, we find Cuthbertson indulging her sense of humour—but in a new and quite complex way. Father Patrick O’Carrol is one of the novel’s Good Priests, and the one we see the most of; and Cuthbertson manages the not-inconsiderable task of making him both the novel’s comic relief and a fully-rounded, important character. For the former, we find the good Father continuing to speak broad Irish despite the fact that he is, of course, speaking Italian; and his rambling, idiom-riddled speeches pepper the next volume or two. For example—

“Just,” said the sensibly-affected Father Patrick, “as when my self was starved to death, and thought my skeleton was ready made, for the anatomists, the beautiful gift of heaven’s own daughter Pity, came glittering in the sterling form, of a pistole, pop into my badge of poverty, my tatterdemalion hat; that lay beside me; and allowed me to foster my poor uncle Pat; and what but Providence, sent the bedpost to come whack against me, to the rescue of Signora Modo’s child, from the devouring flames, that would have made tinder of him? and what myself would be mighty glad to know, but divine mercy, sent me to Montalbano Castle, to be with you, and comfort, and befriend you, in this time of trouble?”

(We should note two phrases on Father Patrick’s lips that we might be surprised to find extant in 1810: he makes reference to, and then explains – in quite modern terms – the black dog; and he calls someone a son-of-a-gun.)

Father Patrick’s presence in the Castle of Montalbano is one of the Tolmezos’ greatest tactical blunders—not that anyone realises it for quite some time. When introduced, he is more of a hindrance than a help to Angelina and Sigismund: he is at that time quite unable to keep a secret, and guaranteed to say exactly what he shouldn’t at the worst possible time; though seeing the damage he does, he works hard at this and eventually learns to keep his mouth shut.

A poor man of peasant stock, education and religious training have elevated Patrick O’Carrol far above what everyone at this time considers his “natural station”; and it is because of his background and poverty that Lorenzago di Tolmezo has him assigned as Sigismund’s confessor—assuming that such a man will be easily bribed to assist his family’s dark purposes. Patrick, however, is an honest man, a good priest, and a devoted friend; scorning the Tolmezos, he becomes a passionate adherent to the cause of Angelina (who he addresses as “my jewel” and “my honey”) and a serious thorn in the side of the conspirators.

We are so far here from the eek-Catholics! attitude of Santo Sebastiano that it almost makes your head spin. It is impossible to deduce from her novels what Cuthbertson’s own sentiments were, though it is worth noting that she had a foot in each camp: her father was an English soldier, but her mother was Irish, and she was born and raised in Dublin before relocating to London at the turn of the 19th century. Given the prevailing English attitudes of the time, Cuthbertson must have understood that she was taking a significant risk with her Irish Catholic priest; yet she does not merely make Father Patrick a good and devout man, but turns him into one of her heroes; in fact, she makes him – almost literally – her deus ex machina.

The other character worth mentioning in this context is Orsino, the young bandit. Cuthbertson takes an unusually pragmatic approach here, suggesting that the young man’s main shortcoming is that he is lazy-–good or bad according to whose influence he is currently under. Orsino was therefore once an actor, like his father; and now he’s a bandit, like his father. However, there is a hint even at this point of better stuff in the young man: he has taken the initiative and formed a gang of sub-bandits, so to speak, from those of his father’s followers who, like himself, draw the line at shedding blood. Circumstances progressively bind Orsino first to Fredrico, then to Angelina; finally prompting him to change sides altogether, and to reform himself.

The Tolmezos, meanwhile, merely come in degrees of black. Since arranging the marriage of Sigismund and Minora, they have been working assiduously to remove Angelina from the succession, and to remove Sigismund altogether—one way or another.

Knowing that Sigismund’s love for Angelina and his guilt over his marriage are his most vulnerable point, the Tolmezos hatch a two-birds-one-stone plot:

Lady Angelina was, therefore, immediately sent for; as the almost enthusiastic tenderness of affection he bore his niece; the unrestrained joy he evinced at the idea of once more beholding her; and the slender thread, they believed, he held the continuance of existence by, had inspired them with the determination of adopting a diabolical manoeuvre, which, they doubted not, would fatally operate upon his sensitive nerves… They congratulated themselves in the happy prospect of having thus laid a successful train for the removal of every impediment to their revelling on the spoils they panted to obtain, by the death of Sigismund, through horror and dire affliction at the cruel fate of his niece, in becoming a hapless victim to sanguinary banditti; and by that of Angelina herself, by the fell hand of assassination, which they each, in their own bosoms had resolved to give their pitiless mandate for…

However, the plot is thwarted, as we have seen; and Angelina, having uttered the magical word “Gulielmo”, is safely conveyed to the Castle of Montalbano, and reunited with her overjoyed uncle.

Though Sigismund’s situation is presented as a tragedy, and one of his own making, there is a note of black humour lurking in it. Sigismund, as we have said, is a hypochondriac; and one so devoted to the conviction of his own ill-health, he gets angry and offended if anyone suggests he is not at death’s door. Angelina and Father Patrick nearly lose a useful ally in Father Jeronimo when the physician-monk tries to cheer Sigismund up by telling him there’s nothing much wrong with him.

This situation explains why the Tolmezos’ efforts to dispose of Sigismund have so far failed: taking him at his own assessment, they have adopted a course of – in modern parlance – trying to shock him into a heart attack; and they grow increasingly frustrated with his refusal simply to die. (The impatient Vasco begins importing poisons…) However, they remain confident of their ultimate success – to the point that Minora is already in treaty for a second marriage – while they are also propagating rumours of Sigismund’s “lunacy”, chiefly to lay the groundwork for contesting any provision he might make for Angelina; with the side-benefit of having nothing he says believed.

To counter all this, Angelina and Father Patrick devote endless patient hours to trying to get Sigismund up and about. Angelina tries to convince him of the need to show himself to the neighbours, to spike the Tolmezos’ guns by demonstrating that he is neither dying nor a lunatic; but every time she almost gets him to this point, something happens to drop him back into his useless funk.

And action of some sort is urgently needed. It does not take long for Angelina to discover the complete ascendancy of the Tolmezos: Minora’s brother, Lorenzago, has been appointed major-domo, and all the castle domestics have been changed; loyal to their new paymasters, they insolently refuse to follow Sigismund’s orders. Moreover, by the time that Angelina realises she needs to make good on her threat and send word to Gulielmo, she, Sigismund and Father Patrick have been made prisoners—prevented from leaving the castle, sending messages, or having anything or anyone brought to them.

The only immediate hope Angelina can find lies in the ongoing presence at the castle of a small band of pensioned veterans still loyal to her father, and a new young page named Florio, who she is able to assist, and who in turn occasionally defies his orders to help her and Sigismund.

But as it turns out, Angelina has two very unexpected and powerful champions.

Though for the most part they work in concert, each of the Tolmezos has his or her own agenda; and while Minora and Vasco devote themselves to tormenting and humiliating Angelina, and Vasco and Ezzelino to disposing of Sigismund, Lorenzago sees Angelina as the means of achieving his ultimate social ambition: he plots to marry her to his son, Hilario, who he has raised with the single purpose of making such a marriage. Lorenzago therefore sets about recommending himself to Angelina and Sigismund by taking their part against his family—relieving many of their wants and, when Hilario arrives, spending hours in Sigismund’s rooms with his son.

(In the character of Hilario, we have another touch of humour: he is indeed a handsome, intelligent, cultured young man—and one completely enamoured of his own perfections; so much so, when he meets Angelina he is deeply aggrieved by hers.)

Angelina’s other ally is far more mysterious. From the time of her arrival at the castle, she begins finding notes hidden within her rooms: encouraging her on one hand, on the other offering advice—or a warning. It is evident that whoever is leaving these messages is deep in the Tolmezos’ confidence, and has the freedom of the castle; but who it could be, Angelina cannot begin to guess. She does, however, quickly learn to do as the messages instruct.

One of Minora’s manoeuvres is to intercept the new wardrobe ordered for Angelina, forcing her to appear in public only in the simple conventual robe that was all she had to wear at Santo Valentino. Overtly this is another means of humbling her perceived rival, but a deeper plot is afoot.

Minora organises a lavish masquerade at the castle, summoning all the highest-ranking people in the district—and insisting upon Angelina’s attendance. However, Angelina receives another message, warning her at all cost against appearing in her familiar conventual robe. By this time, Angelina’s new wardrobe has appeared in her rooms, as mysteriously as the note itself; however, the note urges her not to wear her new dresses yet, or to let Minora know.

After consultation, it is agreed that Angelina, Lorenzago, Hilario and Father Patrick will attend the masquerade in full costumes that will conceal their identities, and from this hiding-place try to discover what plot is afoot. Angelina is the less reluctant, as it has occurred to her that, under cover of a disguise, Fredrico might be able to infiltrate the party. Focused upon that aim, she does not notice that she has become the party’s cynosure:

But, at length, so loud and general became the at first murmuring eulogiums of the admiring throng, drawn in fast-increasing numbers from herself to gaze on the all-attracting Neapolitan peasant, that Minora with dismaying pangs of envy and alarm feared she was equalled, if not outdone; and, writhing in the agony of apprehensive, jealous curiosity, she employed many of her satellites to discover who this fascinator and her party were; but so effectually were the two contes and Father Patrick disguised by their style of habit, and so convinced were all employed in this investigation of the poverty of Lady Angelina’s wardrobe, that no suspicion whatever was entertained of who this attractive group was composed of…

And soon enough, the point of Minora’s plot becomes clear: another masked figure appears clad in an exact duplicate of Angelina’s well-known robe—and behaving in a manner that draws shocked notice from the other guests—flirting with and encouraging the attentions of every man who comes near her:

…now, in the almost stationary situation she was doomed to, she heard remarks uttered…which increased her painful fears of existing active malice, in the unequivocal disgust and surprise each remark conveyed at the levity of conduct this copy of herself displayed; but one grave and dignified looking man, in the habit of a Spanish grandee, as he passed her audibly saying—“Although la duchessa prepared me for it, I could not have believed it, unless thus clearly demonstrated to me, that such a face of heavenly innocence could index a mind of such reprehensible levity…”

And the counterfeit Angelina’s behaviour then switches from the general to the specific, as she openly pursues a guest whose face is hidden under a pilgrim’s robes, and addresses him in a way that reveals his identity to everyone in earshot. There is a general movement from the guests – many genuinely horrified by finding themselves in the presence of the notorious Fredrico di Alviano, others pleasantly shocked by the scandal – until their attention is arrested by another figure in disguise, who intrudes herself into the painful scene:

    “If those steps would lead you to the shrine of Virtue, pilgrim, turn from that false votary, and seek it in the citron groves of Naples, whither those honest peasants will conduct you,” said a female, advancing towards Conte di Alviano, and pointing to the group of which Lady Angelina formed one.
    For a moment the voice which thus accosted him aroused the astonished attention of Fredrico, and rivetted his eyes upon the speaker; who, modelled in one of the most perfect moulds of female beauty, appeared before him in the most resplendent dress that wealth and fancy ever formed to portray the habit of a sylph. The rich treasures of the earth seemed here combined to adorn surpassing loveliness, and emulate attire appropriate for a celestial wearer.
    The eyes of every gazer seemed, now, like Fredrico’s, enthralled by admiration. Again the resplendently-clad sylph waved her silver wand, with fascinating grace, towards Lady Angelina :
    “Pilgrim,” she said, “would you seek the shrine of Virtue, yonder pure votary will conduct you safely to it. Sent from the spheres to watch over individual happiness, I must hasten to fulfil my further mission… False semblance of innocence, you are detected…”

With the attention of everyone now focused upon the sylph, Fredrico is able to slip away with Angelina. However, they are soon interrupted, first by the persistent Hilario, whose complacent manner towards Angelina gives Fredrico great alarm, and then by Minora and her entourage—the latter prompting Fredrico to flee, so that Angelina will not be seen in his company. Lorenzago, meanwhile, is approached by the sylph, who counsels him to conduct Angelina back into the castle, and to ensure that she is seated during supper at the Duchessa’s own table.

He obeys, and to her horror Angelina finds herself seated opposite her counterfeit, who is escorted to the table by Vasco, in the costume of a knight. The real Angelina and her party have still not been recognised, and Ezzelino, at his niece’s urging, tries to turn out the group of “intruders”:

    “First,” replied Lorenzago full as arrogantly, but completely disguising his voice—“First answer me, most reverend judge in this court of equity, by whose authority yonder boarder of the grey order of Santo Valentino sits at the table of la duchessa?”
    “Who,” returned Ezzelino, haughtily, “can question the right of Lady Angelina di Balermo to a distinguished place of honour at the Duchessa di Montalbano’s table?”
    “Certainly no one ought!—Then why did the reverend and ever-correct Father Ezzelino do it?” said Lady Angelina, gracefully, but blushingly, taking off her mask.
    “Or why,” said Lorenzago ironically, while taking off his, ” did that sapient padre dispute a brother’s right to feast at a sister’s banquet?… Come, off with your obscuring clouds, Father O’Carrol, and Conte Hilario of Tolmezo, and shew this reverend sire you have not usurped the right of sitting here.”
    The Duchessa di Montalbano, totally unprepared for such a direful wound to her torturing envy, as beholding Angelina in the fascinating, all-attractive form of unrivalled beauty, splendor in dress, and taste in adornment, whose superior allurements had taught her to sicken with the pangs of agonising jealousy for so many hours of that evening, no sooner beheld her face revealed, than, in rage and agitation too powerful for concealment, she uttered a shrilling shriek, and fell in a strong hysteric fit…

Meanwhile, the sylph is busy again:

    …availing herself of the advantage this universal throng and confusion afforded her, the wary sylph, to prove herself indeed the guardian of innocence, placed herself immediately behind the counterfeit of Angelina, and, by an ingenious movement of her wand, contrived to sever the string which fastened on this impostor’s mask, which in consequence instantly fell from her face upon the table, and discovered to the numerous assemblage of eagerly-observing gazers the well-known countenance of Signora Rosa Franchesis, a celebrated courtezan and admired opera-dancer of Florence.
    “D–n!” audibly vociferated the almost-infuriated Vasco…

With Minora having been carried away, still having hysterics, Lorenzago’s rage and indignation are turned upon Rosa. She is unrepentant:

“On mine honour, I was bidden to the feast. My ticket, my dress, and one hundred pistoles, invited me hither, to personate the Lady Angelina di Balermo; but had I sooner seen the model I was set to copy, I should more sedulously have studied every grace, to better suit me for the undertaking. By accident, or by Lady Angelina’s friends, the counterfeit has been discovered; and being in consequence no longer useful to my employers, I shall instantly take my departure. No possible censure can attach to me for acting what I am not;—I live by the mimic art: and, in gay scenes like these, we professional people are often hired to aid the project or amusements of our employers; and so dexterously did I perform the part I was this night hired for, that had the imposture not been so publicly detected, I should, as my employers wished it, have left behind me the fame of Lady Angelina di Balermo as nearly blasted as my own…”

In the chaos that follows, Fredrico – having shed his robes for a second costume beneath – is able to bear Angelina away for a private conversation under the chaperonage of Father Patrick, who realises for the first time the relationship between them, and so both keeps guard and removes himself from earshot. Their subsequent exchange is peppered with unfinished declarations; however, its most important point is that, via Father Marsilio, Fredrico has sent a message to Cardinal Gulielmo, alerting him to the situation at the castle: he assures her that relief from her imprisonment and its attendant humiliations should be imminent.

(As it happens, Gulielmo has been dispatched to Spain on business, and Marsilio’s message does not reach him, nor succour arrive.)

The night has other serious consequences: Minora’s hysterics lead to premature labour and the birth of her baby—a boy. You would think she’d be delighted at an event that cuts Angelina so thoroughly from the succession, but no: her henchwoman, Anfania, carelessly remarks on the child’s resemblance to the Montalbanos – specifically, to Angelina – which prompts not just more hysterics, but the absolute repudiation of the child by Minora.

In the short term, this is the best thing that could have happened to the poor little thing, named “Theodore” for his late uncle: he comes under the immediate care of Sigismund and Angelina, with the wife of one of the pensioner-soldiers as his wet-nurse.

Sigismund’s guilt, however, now reaches new heights; and in a state of utter collapse, he confesses to Angelina something he has so far kept to himself: that after his marriage to Minora, and Angelina’s banishment to the convent, he began to be visited by the angry ghost of his brother; and though the visitations stopped after his reunion and reconciliation with his niece, with the birth of the future Duca di Montalbano, the ghost has appeared again…

And so Angelina finds herself secretly sitting up in her uncle’s room, prepared to confront the spirit of her father…

    Sigismund groaned in anguish; and a semblance of the late Theodore di Montalbano entered, in solemn measure, armed cap-a-pee, clad as a very celebrated portrait in the castle depicted him, but with a countenance cadaverous and expressive of stern vengeance, frowning in direful menace; his morion, cuirass, and part of his cuish, off, to render visible the deep and ghastly wounds which bereft him of life, and from which the sanguinary gore seemed yet to trickle.
    The sight was direful, and the chill ague of fear paralyzed the limbs of Angelina; her heart, stunned by the shock, ceased at once its firm throbbings, and seemed, with the feeble flutterings of the last efforts of receding life, to be fast fleeting with her senses to inanimation.
    The spectre began to advance, in solemn, awe-inspiring movement; the refulgent lamp which he bore illuminated the surrounding atmosphere, and gave in fullest horror the complete view of his appalling aspect…

But Angelina, as I have said, is not a fainter: she pulls herself together, reflecting that if this is Theodore’s ghost, she has nothing to fear; and she confronts the seeming shade of her father:

    The spectre had started on beholding her; and for a moment, deprived by surprise of self-possession, had seemed to forget his mission! A preternatural agent, sent from the world of shades, would have been better instructed than to meet surprise; since gifted with omniscience, to fit him for his embassy, he would have anticipated all…
    As the spectre frowned in menace, Angelina smiled in scorn; and as he now moved to the foot of the duca’s bed, and still motioned, with angry, threatening gestures, for her departure, she firmly moved with him; but soon quickly preceding him, she flew to the bedside to support her uncle, who, in direful and almost convulsive trepidation, had raised himself on his knees, to endeavour by prayer to deprecate the wrath of angry Heaven, thus appallingly evinced to him.
    “Fear nothing, my uncle!” she exclaimed, as she clasped him in her arms to protect him, “that impostor shall not harm you.”

Meanwhile, the intrepid Father Patrick pursues the “ghost”; and though he does not catch the midnight visitor, he does find evidence of a hasty undressing; including one revealing detail:

    …they discovered near a pile of armour, which appeared as if hastily thrown there, a casque and blood-stained scarf; both so remarkable, that Angelina positively recognised them as having formed part of the spectre’s costume: and Father Patrick, in raising them from the ground to take possession of them, perceiving the scarf to be a former acquaintance, he vehemently exclaimed—
    “Och! the blackguard! I’m murdered with rage!… Here ’tis for you, jewel; take this token to your creature of an uncle, and bid him be sending it,  ‘with his kind love and service, to one Signore Vasco, and that by a cross-accident, in the cross-examination of witnesses to convict a scoundrel, his chaplain came across this scarf, which formed part of the accoutrements of the gallant crusading knight who performed, with natural ease, the part of Satan’s gentleman-usher to one Signora Rosa, of infamous memory, at a late masquerade.’ So now, darling, you need not be stopping here a morsel longer, since ’tis yourself has got proof for your uncle of a brother’s regard. ‘Twas he that knew it for a fraternal visit, sure enough, only he was after mistaking a d—l for a saint.”

(This, by the way, is not the only hint that Cuthbertson had been re-reading Hamlet: the climax of her novel – or as I should say, one of the climaxes: Volume IV is peppered with them – essentially reworks the play-within-a-play.)

Angelina is on her way back to Sigismund when she comes face-to-face with Orsino. She learns that he has been secretly visiting the castle by secret means, to visit a secret friend – “A present mystery encircles her, and I dare not name her to you” – but Vasco, in hastily fleeing the scene of his own exposure, has cut off his retreat by locking the door of the armoury, and trapped him. Knowing his life is now in Angelina’s hands, he begs for her assistance.

As it happens, earlier that night Angelina overheard part of a conversation between Orsino and his unknown friend, which helped set her mind at ease about him; and she does not let him down. She leads him back to the armoury:

    …she, unused to dissimulation of any species, blushed the deepest tint of ingenuous shame, as the first untruth she had ever voluntarily uttered passed her lips:—
    “This gentleman,” she said, “has been some time waiting for Father Jeronimo, to accompany him to his home ; but, as the duca is much too ill for the good padre to leave the castle this night, the signore wishes to go without him; and as, upon account of the numerous sentinels placed around, it is necessary that he should have an escort out, Grimani, I will thank you to convey him safely through the outward gates.—Grimani, I well know you would do more than this to oblige me.”
    Grimani, with alacrity, proceeded to obey; Orsino profoundly bowed his thanks, which he feared to trust a faltering voice to utter; while Father Patrick, keenly regarding the ill-concealed emotion of Angelina and Orsino, looked doubt and amazement, which Angelina perceiving, she made one successful effort to regain her firmness, and, smiling in courtesy at the grateful Orsino as she waved her hand in adieu, said with ease and dignity—
    “Heaven speed you, signore! and assure your good mother she has my best wishes for her speedy—her permanent recovery.”
    This was a chord that, vibrating keenly on the sensibility of Orsino, combined with his gratitude to nearly overset him; yet prudence forsook him not, and his reply, only expressive of thankfulness for her kindness to his suffering mother, implicated him not in any further suspicion of his being an improper visitor…

It is this act of generosity – the last time Angelina saw Orsino, he was abducting her and being forced on her as a husband – that binds the young bandit so firmly to her cause—and that will lead him to repay her services many times over.

(Grimani is the soldier-husband of the baby’s nurse, and an adherent of the late Duca.)

Things settle down for a time: Angelina devotes herself to the baby and to her uncle, both of whom thrive under her care. But storm-clouds are not long in gathering again; and a pleasant outing on the lake almost leads to tragedy when Theodore’s nurse, altering her grip on the wriggling infant, loses hold of him and drops him in the water.

Angelina, though she does not swim, does not hesitate to jump in after the child; but though she saves him in the short term, her wet clothes begin to drag her under. No assistance is forthcoming from the boat: the nurse has fainted, Hilario can’t work up the courage to jump in, and Vasco, in charge of the oars, rapidly sets out in the other direction—not to get help, as he claims, but to tell Sigismund as quickly as possible that the baby has drowned, and that Angelina deliberately threw him in…

Rescue is at hand, however: Fredrico, lurking as always, pulls both Angelina and the baby from the lake and escorts them back to the castle. Angelina confronts Vasco and Ezzelino in the anteroom of Sigismund’s suite: they join forces to stop her seeing her uncle:

    The pompous confessor looked ludicrously disconcerted; but after a momentary pause oi mortification, he said, “In the dismay and distraction your cruel plot, which has most providentially been frustrated, has involved me in, you cannot expect to find me consistent in any thing I utter. But, however I may express my negatives, you may rest assured I am firm to my purpose of not admitting you here.”
    “Assuredly not!” said Vasco imperiously; “for although her diabolical plot has proved successless, the turpitude of the attempt is still as heinous.”
    “Alas!” said Angelina in a tone and with a look of horrorised despair, ” you have killed my dear, dear uncle, with your cruelties, and fear to let me know it!”
    “Well-parried, most atrocious hypocrite!” exclaimed Vasco, affecting horror at her dire iniquity.
    “We fear not the candid acknowledgement of any action of ours, whatever you may do, Lady Angelina,” said Ezzelino haughtily; “and, to convince you how you have calumniated our humanity, if you promise to advance not a step until you hear the duca’s own decree, I will inform him you are here, and request admittance.”

Angelina agrees to this readily enough; but the decree she waits for, when it comes, is so cruel and so shocking – and coming on the back of her own near escape, and the baby’s – she faints for one of the few times in this narrative:

…instantly the almost-ever gentle Sigismund exclaimed, in the loud commanding voice of an infuriated maniac, “She! that wretch! that murderess of my treasure! dare ask admission here!—never, never shall my sight be blasted by a view of her, barbarian as she has proved to me, who entrusted her with my babe! Oh no, no, no! take her—tear her hence to direct torture, accompanied by the bitterest maledictions of the dying parent whose heart she has broken…”

 

[To be continued…]

4 Comments to “Forest Of Montalbano (Part 2)”

  1. So basically this is The Old Dark House – the castle is yours if you can survive it. 🙂

    “…and the lady is the Cardinal’s… niece.” “Oh, right, we know how that works.” “No, no, not that sort of ‘niece’, the other sort of ‘niece’!”

    My goodness if only certain screenwriters had realised that the comic relief can be non-Odious…

    I suppose Good Catholics may also be more acceptable if they’re not in England.

    One assumes threats of bloodshed are still on the cards for the reformed banditti? “Stand and deliver, or we will… read our poetry to you! It’s very soulful.”

    It’s no good, I’ve seen enough Westerns that I can’t help hearing those “pilgrim” lines spoken by John Wayne…

    • Oh, I like that comparison!

      One thing Catholicism always offered authors was the opportunity for a youth filled with scandal, before the entering of the monastery / convent. Much more attractive than the dreary old orders-after-Oxford alternative. 😀

      In a way I think the Gothic novel offered the flip-side of the disapproving 19th century Protestant novel, which always insisted that Catholicism only appealed to the senses, not the intellect. In effect these novels respond, “Yeah, and look how much fun we can have with that!!”

      We saw Cuthbertson amusing herself with her characters’ speech patterns in Santo Sebastiano, but she certainly goes way beyond that here. It’s a fascinating balancing act: of course Father Patrick’s “Irish-Italian” is absurd, but the way she handles it, it becomes a delineation of character, not just a joke.

      Cuthbertson doesn’t really get into the details of how her kinder, gentler banditti operate…

      And still more pilgrims in Volume 3!—

  2. I am struck by the vast difference between those whose stories completely followed the strictures of nineteenth century moral restraint in all phases, and those like Cuthbertson who followed the letter of it in the text while still communicating that the rest of it is right there just below the surface. There’s a huge difference between not saying shit and not thinking shit.

    • As we have touched upon in both the fictional sense (in Pamela’s Daughters) and in real-life terms (in Suffer And Be Still*), as the 19th century wore on, women were increasingly expected not even to have the capacity to think shit. Enjoy 1810 while you can. 😀

      This is exactly why a study of the evolution of fiction is so gripping for me: study only one period, or one author, and you miss these waves of pressure and rebellion—the clamps and restraints coming increasingly into play, and then people beginning to break free of them again.

      (*Urgh. I’ve just accidentally reminded myself that I have to get around to explaining why Sarah Stickney Ellis did not write the novel Pique, in spite of what the dogma says…)

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