"Are they really worth reading?" I enquired.
"Yes, in my opinion they are; but I am prejudiced in their favour by my friendship for the writer, and my respect for his ability."
"Why do you not publish them?" I asked.
"I once had the wish," he replied; "but on reflection several objections presented themselves, and I gave up the idea. In the first place I hardly considered it consistent with the gravity of my profession to edit a series of fantastic tales of any kind, as they leave us in doubt whether the astrologer, who is supposed to inhabit the castle at the time the events took place, did not derive his power from objectionable sources, even from the powers of darkness themselves."
"But they are not of an immoral or irreligious tendency?"
"Certainly not," he answered; "on the contrary, they all profess to carry with them a moral, and the text, 'Therefore by their fruits shall ye know them,' might, to a certain degree, absolve them from the probability of their being of evil origin. Still it may be held that a priest would not be justified in publishing a book of the kind. Besides, in Italy, I might have some difficulty in finding a publisher; nor would tales of that description be relished by the Italians, and the attempt might end in such a loss as I could ill afford."
"Why should you imagine that your countrymen would not admire them?" I enquired.
"Because they are hardly suited to their tastes. They are of that wild, fantastic school, which might perhaps be liked in Germany or in your own country, but which, I fear, would hardly be adapted for us children of the south."
"If I were some day to return to the village do you think I could obtain permission to see them?"
"You can see and inspect them without taking that trouble," said the priest. "A few days ago I sent them with some other things to my own house, which is not a quarter of an hour's walk from Ponte. Call on me any day you please, and I will place the whole of my friend's manuscripts before you. Nay, more, as you appear interested in literature, they are all perfectly at your service, should you think you can make any use of them; and you can make any extracts from them you please."
I warmly thanked my companion for his kind offer, and assured him that I would willingly profit by it; and then arranged that I should call on him the next morning for the purpose of examining the papers.
We now continued on our road, chatting pleasantly on diverse subjects – principally connected with the localities we were at the moment passing through. It was nearly evening before we reached Ponte, where I found my friend in a state of great anxiety in consequence of my absence. I told him the cause, and also of the friendship I had formed with the priest. Mr. R----, it appeared, knew him intimately. “He is a very good fellow,” he said, “a true Christian, and a great benefactor to the poor around us, and is much liked by everyone acquainted with him. I do not think there is a person in the world who could say a bad word about him.”
“Did you know his friend the priest who has lately died?” I inquired.
“I knew him very slightly, and that only from seeing him with our friend Don Giorgio. He was evidently a man of considerable learning, and a great antiquary, but very eccentric. I have no doubt you will find some very curious documents among his papers.”
“Do you happen to know anything about the old castle?” I asked.
“Nothing whatever, beyond having visited it once or twice. It appears to be one of those strongholds erected in the feudal times, and of which the origin is entirely lost. There are several of them about the Comasque and Bresciano districts, of which not the slightest reliable records remain. Nothing but the faintest traditions can be found respecting them. The one you saw is said to have been inhabited by a mysterious individual, known as the Innominato, who really, one would think, must have had some existence, from the fact that there is said to have been another castle inhabited by him somewhere in the mountains to the north of Bergamo. But even in this tradition a strong discrepancy exists, for the latter chief was a man much dreaded for his sanguinary propensities; while the other, who inhabited the castle near us, is said to have made himself much beloved.”
Next day I called on my new acquaintance, the priest, who received me with great cordiality. After a little conversation on general subjects, he placed before me the memoranda of his deceased friend relating to the Innominato and his castle, and we were soon absorbed in their investigation. Although at first they appeared but a confused mass of papers, with little arrangement or connexion, I soon found that they comprised a series of legends connected with the castle, all exceedingly fantastic; and if some were not absolutely original, they were obviously founded on local traditions. Many of them were not only curious but highly interesting, notwithstanding their wildness and improbability. The most difficult portion of the whole to understand were a number of detached sheets of paper, evidently intended for the opening chapter. In spite of my earnest wish to make them out, and place them in some kind of order, I found the task impossible – so confused and illegible were they. I could, however, make out that the Innominato was an astrologer, who had obtained a wide celebrity for his skill in magic, and that he lived in great seclusion in the castle, his priniciple attendants being three or four old men-servants and a porter. Although it seemed many persons of all grades called on him for advice or assistance, very few were allowed to remain a night within the castle walls. At the same time he appeared to have been by no means insensible to the duties of hospitality, as he had built, for the reception of his visitors, a spacious lodge or hospice, about a third of a mile distant from the castle, at which all persons desirous to see him were obliged to remain till a messenger had taken up their names and the object of their visit to the Innominato; and after their reception they were again conducted back to the hospice, where they were usually entertained with great liberality. Of this lodge or hospice no portion now remains. It appears, however, to have been situated somewhere beside the present path, and in sight of the porter when he stood at the entrance gates of the castle. Of what country the Innominato was a native there is no record.
I ought to have stated that the priest had evidently died before he had completed his work, for the last – and certainly one of the moost interesting – of his narratives was left half-finished. From the many legends before me I selected a few for publication, and now offer them to the notice of the reader...