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AFTER DARK by Wilkie Collins

Part 6 out of 8

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"You have something on your mind," he said, simply and quietly,
taking the young man by the hand. "I may be able to relieve you,
if you tell me what it is."

As Gabriel heard these gentle words, and saw, by the light of a
lamp which burned before a cross fixed against the wall, the sad
kindness of expression with which the priest was regarding him,
the oppression that had lain so long on his heart seemed to leave
it in an instant. The haunting fear of ever divulging his fatal
suspicions and his fatal secret had vanished, as it were, at the
touch of Father Paul's hand. For the first time he now repeated
to another ear--the sounds of prayer and praise rising grandly
the while from the congregation above--his grandfather's
death-bed confession, word for word almost, as he had heard it in
the cottage on the night of the storm.

Once, and once only, did Father Paul interrupt the narrative,
which in whispers was addressed to him. Gabriel had hardly
repeated the first two or three sentences of his grandfather's
confession, when the priest, in quick, altered tones, abruptly
asked him his name and place of abode.

As the question was answered, Father Paul's calm face became
suddenly agitated; but the next moment, resolutely resuming his
self-possession, he bowed his head as a sign that Gabriel was to
continue; clasped his trembling hands, and raising them as if in
silent prayer, fixed his eyes intently on the cross. He never
looked away from it while the terrible narrative proceeded. But
when Gabriel described his search at the Merchant's Table; and,
referring to his father's behavior since that time, appealed to
the priest to know whether he might even yet, in defiance of
appearances, be still filially justified in doubting whether the
crime had been really perpetrated--then Father Paul moved near to
him once more, and spoke again.

"Compose yourself, and look at me," he said, with his former sad
kindness of voice and manner. "I can end your doubts forever.
Gabriel, your father was guilty in intention and in act; but the
victim of his crime still lives. I can prove it."

Gabriel's heart beat wildly; a deadly coldness crept over him as
he saw Father Paul loosen the fastening of his cassock round the
throat.

At that instant the chanting of the congregation above ceased;
and then the sudden and awful stillness was deepened rather than
interrupted by the faint sound of one voice praying. Slowly and
with trembling fingers the priest removed the band round his
neck--paused a little--sighed heavily--and pointed to a scar
which was now plainly visible on one side of his throat. He said
something at the same time; but the bell above tolled while he
spoke. It was the signal of the elevation of the Host. Gabriel
felt an arm passed round him, guiding him to his knees, and
sustaining him from sinking to the floor. For one moment longer
he was conscious that the bell had stopped, that there was dead
silence, that Father Paul was kneeling by him beneath the cross,
with bowed head--then all objects around vanished; and he saw and
knew nothing more.

When he recovered his senses, he was still in the cabin; the man
whose life his father had attempted was bending over him, and
sprinkling water on his face; and the clear voices of the women
and children of the congregation were joining the voices of the
men in singing the _Agnus Dei._

"Look up at me without fear, Gabriel," said the priest. "I desire
not to avenge injuries: I visit not the sins of the father on the
child. Look up, and listen! I have strange things to speak of;
and I have a sacred mission to fulfill before the morning, in
which you must be my guide ."

Gabriel attempted to kneel and kiss his hand but Father Paul
stopped him, and said, pointing to the cross: "Kneel to that--not
to me; not to your fellow-mortal, and your friend--for I will be
your friend, Gabriel; believing that God's mercy has ordered it
so. And now listen to me," he proceeded, with a brotherly
tenderness in his manner which went to Gabriel's heart. The
service is nearly ended. What I have to tell you must be told at
once; the errand on which you will guide me must be performed
before to-morrow dawns. Sit here near me, and attend to what I
now say!"

Gabriel obeyed; Father Paul then proceeded thus:

"I believe the confession made to you by your grandfather to have
been true in every particular. On the evening to which he
referred you, I approached your cottage, as he said, for the
purpose of asking shelter for the night. At that period I had
been studying hard to qualify myself for the holy calling which I
now pursue; and, on the completion of my studies, had indulged in
the recreation of a tour on foot through Brittany, by way of
innocently and agreeably occupying the leisure time then at my
disposal, before I entered the priesthood. When I accosted your
father I had lost my way, had been walking for many hours, and
was glad of any rest that I could get for the night. It is
unnecessary to pain you now, by reference to the events which
followed my entrance under your father's roof. I remember nothing
that happened from the time when I lay down to sleep before the
fire, until the time when I recovered my senses at the place
which you call the Merchant's Table. My first sensation was that
of being moved into the cold air; when I opened my eyes I saw the
great Druid stones rising close above me, and two men on either
side of me rifling my pockets. They found nothing valuable there,
and were about to leave me where I lay, when I gathered strength
enough to appeal to their mercy through their cupidity. Money
was not scarce with me then, and I was able to offer them a rich
reward (which they ultimately received as I had promised) if they
would take me to any place where I could get shelter and medical
help. I supposed they inferred by my language and accent--perhaps
also by the linen I wore, which they examined closely--that I
belonged to the higher ranks of the community, in spite of the
plainness of my outer garments; and might, therefore, be in a
position to make good my promise to them. I heard one say to the
other, 'Let us risk it'; and then they took me in their arms,
carried me down to a boat on the beach, and rowed to a vessel in
the offing. The next day they disembarked me at Paimboeuf, where
I got the assistance which I so much needed. I learned, through
the confidence they were obliged to place in me in order to give
me the means of sending them their promised reward, that these
men were smugglers, and that they were in the habit of using the
cavity in which I had been laid as a place of concealment for
goods, and for letters of advice to their accomplices. This
accounted for their finding me. As to my wound, I was informed by
the surgeon who attended me that it had missed being inflicted in
a mortal part by less than a quarter of an inch, and that, as it
was, nothing but the action of the night air in coagulating the
blood over the place, had, in the first instance, saved my life.
To be brief, I recovered after a long illness, returned to Paris,
and was called to the priesthood. The will of my superiors
obliged me to perform the first duties of my vocation in the
great city; but my own wish was to be appointed to a cure of
souls in your province, Gabriel. Can you imagine why?"

The answer to this question was in Gabriel's heart; but he was
still too deeply awed and affected by what he had heard to give
it utterance.

"I must tell you, then, what my motive was," said Father Paul.
"You must know first that I uniformly abstained from disclosing
to any one where and by whom my life had been attempted. I kept
this a secret from the men who rescued me--from the surgeon--from
my own friends even. My reason for such a proceeding was, I would
fain believe, a Christian reason. I hope I had always felt a
sincere and humble desire to prove myself, by the help of God,
worthy of the sacred vocation to which I was destined. But my
miraculous escape from death made an impression on my mind, which
gave me another and an infinitely higher view of this
vocation--the view which I have since striven, and shall always
strive for the future, to maintain. As I lay, during the first
days of my recovery, examining my own heart, and considering in
what manner it would be my duty to act toward your father when I
was restored to health, a thought came into my mind which calmed,
comforted, and resolved all my doubts. I said within myself, 'In
a few months more I shall be called to be one of the chosen
ministers of God. If I am worthy of my vocation, my first desire
toward this man who has attempted to take my life should be, not
to know that human justice has overtaken him, but to know that he
has truly and religiously repented and made atonement for his
guilt. To such repentance and atonement let it be my duty to call
him; if he reject that appeal, and be hardened only the more
against me because I have forgiven him my injuries, then it will
be time enough to denounce him for his crimes to his fellow-men.
Surely it must be well for me, here and hereafter, if I begin my
career in the holy priesthood by helping to save from hell the
soul of the man who, of all others, has most cruelly wronged me.
It was for this reason, Gabriel--it was because I desired to go
straightway to your father's cottage, and reclaim him after he
had believed me to be dead--that I kept the secret and entreated
of my superiors that I might be sent to Brittany. But this, as I
have said, was not to be at first, and when my desire was
granted, my place was assigned me in a far district. The
persecution under which we still suffer broke out; the designs of
my life were changed; my own will became no longer mine to guide
me. But, through sorrow and suffering, and danger and bloodshed,
I am now led, after many days, to the execution of that first
purpose which I formed on entering the priesthood. Gabriel, when
the service is over, and the congregation are dispersed, you must
guide me to the door of your father's cottage."

He held up his hand, in sign of silence, as Gabriel was about to
answer. Just then the officiating priests above were pronouncing
the final benediction. When it was over, Father Paul opened the
cabin door. As he ascended the steps, followed by Gabriel, Pere
Bonan met them. The old man looked doubtfully and searchingly on
his future son-in-law, as he respectfully whispered a few words
in the ear of the priest. Father Paul listened attentively,
answered in a whisper, and then turned to Gabriel, first begging
the few people near them to withdraw a little.

"I have been asked whether there is any impediment to your
marriage," he said, "and have answered that there is none. What
you have said to me has been said in confession, and is a secret
between us two. Remember that; and forget not, at the same time,
the service which I shall require of you to-night, after the
marriage-ceremony is over. Where is Perrine Bonan?" he added,
aloud, looking round him. Perrine came forward. Father Paul took
her hand and placed it in Gabriel's. "Lead her to the altar
steps," he said, "and wait there for me."

It was more than an hour later; the boats had left the ship's
side; the congregation had dispersed over the face of the
country--but still the vessel remained at anchor. Those who were
left in her watched the land more anxiously than usual; for they
knew that Father Paul had risked meeting the soldiers of the
Republic by trusting himself on shore. A boat was awaiting his
return on the beach; half of the crew, armed, being posted as
scouts in various directions on the high land of the heath. They
would have followed and guarded the priest to the place of his
destination; but he forbade it; and, leaving them abruptly,
walked swiftly onward with one young man only for his companion.

Gabriel had committed his brother and his sisters to the charge
of Perrine. They were to go to the farmhouse that night with his
newly-married wife and her father and mother. Father Paul had
desired that this might be done. When Gabriel and he were left
alone to follow the path which led to the fisherman's cottage,
the priest never spoke while they walked on--never looked aside
either to the right or the left--always held his ivory crucifix
clasped to his breast. They arrived at the door.

"Knock," whispered Father Paul to Gabriel, "and then wait here
with me."

The door was opened. On a lovely moonlight night Francois Sarzeau
had stood on that threshhold, years since, with a bleeding body
in his arms. On a lovely moonlight night he now stood there
again, confronting the very man whose life he had attempted, and
knowing him not.

Father Paul advanced a few paces, so that the moonlight fell
fuller on his features, and removed his hat.

Francois Sarzeau looked, started, moved one step back, then stood
motionless and perfectly silent, while all traces of expression
of any kind suddenly vanished from his face. Then the calm, clear
tones of the priest stole gently on the dead silence. "I bring a
message of peace and forgiveness from a guest of former years,"
he said; and pointed, as he spoke, to the place where he bad been
wounded in the neck.

For one moment, Gabriel saw his father trembling violently from
head to foot--then his limbs steadied again--stiffened suddenly,
as if struck by catalepsy. His lips parted, but without
quivering; his eyes glared, but without moving in the orbits. The
lovely moonlight itself looked ghastly and horrible, shining on
the supernatural panic deformity of that face! Gabriel turned
away his head in terror. He heard the voice of Father Paul saying
to him: "Wait here till I come back."

Then there was an instant of silence again--then a low groaning
sound that seemed to articulate the name of God; a sound unlike
his father's voice, unlike any human voice he had ever heard--and
then the noise of a closing door. He looked up, and saw that he
was standing alone before the cottage.

Once, after an interval, he approached the window.

He just saw through it the hand of the priest holding on high the
ivory crucifix; but stopped not to see more, for he heard such
words, such sounds, as drove him back to his former place. There
he stayed, until the noise of something falling heavily within
the cottage struck on his ear. Again he advanced toward the door;
heard Father Paul praying; listened for several minutes; then
heard a moaning voice, now joining itself to the voice of the
priest, now choked in sobs and bitter wailing. Once more he went
back out of hearing, and stirred not again from his place. He
waited a long and a weary time there--so long that one of the
scouts on the lookout came toward him, evidently suspicious of
the delay in the priest's return. He waved the man back, and then
looked again toward the door. At last he saw it open--saw Father
Paul approach him, leading Francois Sarzeau by the hand.

The fisherman never raised his downcast eyes to his son's face;
tears trickled silently over his cheeks; he followed the hand
that led him, as a little child might have followed it, listened
anxiously and humbly at the priest's side to every word that he
spoke.

"Gabriel," said Father Paul, in a voice which trembled a little
for the first time that night--"Gabriel, it has pleased God to
grant the perfect fulfillment of the purpose which brought me to
this place; I tell you this, as all that you need--as all, I
believe, that you would wish--to know of what has passed while
you have been left waiting for me here. Such words as I have now
to speak to you are spoken by your father's earnest desire. It is
his own wish that I should communicate to you his confession of
having secretly followed you to the Merchant's Table, and of
having discovered (as you discovered) that no evidence of his
guilt remained there. This admission, he thinks, will be enough
to account for his conduct toward yourself from that time to
this. I have next to tell you (also at your father's desire) that
he has promised in my presence, and now promises again in yours,
sincerity of repentance in this manner: When the persecution of
our religion has ceased--as cease it will, and that speedily, be
assured of it--he solemnly pledges himself henceforth to devote
his life, his strength and what worldly possessions he may have,
or may acquire, to the task of re-erecting and restoring the
road-side crosses which have been sacrilegiously overthrown and
destroyed in his native province, and to doing good, go where he
may. I have now said all that is required of me, and may bid you
farewell--bearing with me the happy remembrance that I have left
a father and son reconciled and restored to each other. May God
bless and prosper you, and those dear to you, Gabriel! May God
accept your father's repentance, and bless him also throughout
his future life!"

He took their hands, pressed them long and warmly, then turned
and walked quickly down the path which led to the beach. Gabriel
dared not trust himself yet to speak; but he raised his arm, and
put it gently round his father's neck. The two stood together so,
looking out dimly through the tears that filled their eyes to the
sea. They saw the boat put off in the bright track of the
moonlight, and reach the vessel's side; they watched the
spreading of the sails, and followed the slow course of the ship
till she disappeared past a distant headland from sight.

After that, they went into the cottage together. They knew it not
then, but they had seen the last, in this world, of Father Paul.

CHAPTER V.

THE events foretold by the good priest happened sooner even than
he had anticipated. A new government ruled the destinies of
France, and the persecution ceased in Brittany.

Among other propositions which were then submitted to the
Parliament, was one advocating the restoration of the road-side
crosses throughout the province. It was found, however, on
inquiry, that these crosses were to be counted by thousands, and
that the mere cost of wood required to re-erect them necessitated
an expenditure of money which the bankrupt nation could ill
afford to spare. While this project was under discussion, and
before it was finally rejected, one man had undertaken the task
which the Government shrank from attempting. When Gabriel left
the cottage, taking his brother and sisters to live with his wife
and himself at the farmhouse, Francois Sarzeau left it also, to
perform in highway and byway his promise to Father Paul. For
months and months he labored without intermission at his task;
still, always doing good, and rendering help and kindness and
true charity to any whom he could serve. He walked many a weary
mile, toiled through many a hard day's work, humbled himself even
to beg of others, to get wood enough to restore a single cross.
No one ever heard him complain, ever saw him impatient, ever
detected him in faltering at his task. The shelter in an
outhouse, the crust of bread and drink of water, which he could
always get from the peasantry, seemed to suffice him. Among the
people who watched his perseverance, a belief began to gain
ground that his life would be miraculously prolonged until he had
completed his undertaking from one end of Brittany to the other.
But this was not to be.

He was seen one cold autumn evening, silently and steadily at
work as usual, setting up a new cross on the site of one which
had been shattered to splinters in the troubled times. In the
morning he was found lying dead beneath the sacred symbol which
his own hands had completed and erected in its place during the
night. They buried him where he lay; and the priest who
consecrated the ground allowed Gabriel to engrave his father's
epitaph in the wood of the cross. It was simply the initial
letters of the dead man's name, followed by this inscription:
"Pray for the repose of his soul: he died penitent, and the doer
of good works."

Once, and once only, did Gabriel hear anything of Father Paul.
The good priest showed, by writing to the f armhouse, that he had
not forgotten the family so largely indebted to him for their
happiness. The letter was dated "Rome." Father Paul said that
such services as he had been permitted to render to the Church in
Brittany had obtained for him a new and a far more glorious trust
than any he had yet held. He had been recalled from his curacy,
and appointed to be at the head of a mission which was shortly to
be dispatched to convert the inhabitants of a savage and far
distant land to the Christian faith. He now wrote, as his
brethren with him were writing, to take leave of all friends
forever in this world, before setting out--for it was well known
to the chosen persons intrusted with the new mission that they
could only hope to advance its object by cheerfully risking their
own lives for the sake of their religion. He gave his blessing to
Francois Sarzeau, to Gabriel, and to his family; and bade them
affectionately farewell for the last time.

There was a postscript to the letter, which was addressed to
Perrine, and which she often read afterward with tearful eyes.
The writer begged that, if she should have any children, she
would show her friendly and Christian remembrance of him by
teaching them to pray (as he hoped she herself would pray) that a
blessing might attend Father Paul's labors in the distant land.

The priest's loving petition was never forgotten. When Perrine
taught its first prayer to her first child, the little creature
was instructed to end the few simple words pronounced at its
mother's knees, with, "God bless Father Paul."

In those words the nun concluded her narrative. After it was
ended, she pointed to the old wooden cross, and said to me:

"That was one of the many that he made. It was found, a few years
since, to have suffered so much from exposure to the weather that
it was unfit to remain any longer in its old place. A priest in
Brittany gave it to one of the nuns in this convent. Do you
wonder now that the Mother Superior always calls it a Relic?"

"No," I answered. "And I should have small respect indeed for the
religious convictions of any one who could hear the story of that
wooden cross, and not feel that the Mother Superior's name for it
is the very best that could have been chosen."

PROLOGUE TO THE SIXTH STORY.

ON the last occasion when I made a lengthened stay in London, my
wife and I were surprised and amused one morning by the receipt
of the following note, addressed to me in a small, crabbed,
foreign-looking handwriting.

"Professor Tizzi presents amiable compliments to Mr. Kerby, the
artist, and is desirous of having his portrait done, to be
engraved from, and placed at the beginning of the voluminous work
on 'The Vital Principle; or, Invisible Essence of Life,' which
the Professor is now preparing for the press--and posterity.

"The Professor will give five pounds; and will look upon his face
with satisfaction, as an object perpetuated for public
contemplation at a reasonable rate, if Mr. Kerby will accept the
sum just mentioned.

"In regard to the Professor's ability to pay five pounds, as well
as to offer them, if Mr. Kerby should, from ignorance, entertain
injurious doubts, he is requested to apply to the Professor's
honorable friend, Mr. Lanfray, of Rockleigh Place."

But for the reference at the end of this strange note, I should
certainly have considered it as a mere trap set to make a fool of
me by some mischievous friend. As it was, I rather doubted the
propriety of taking any serious notice of Professor Tizzi's
offer; and I might probably have ended by putting the letter in
the fire without further thought about it, but for the arrival by
the next post of a note from Mr. Lanfray, which solved all my
doubts, and sent me away at once to make the acquaintance of the
learned discoverer of the Essence of Life.

"Do not be surprised" (Mr. Lanfray wrote) "if you get a strange
note from a very eccentric Italian, one Professor Tizzi, formerly
of the University of Padua. I have known him for some years.
Scientific inquiry is his monomania, and vanity his ruling
passion. He has written a book on the principle of life, which
nobody but himself will ever read; but which he is determined to
publish, with his own portrait for frontispiece. If it is worth
your while to accept the little he can offer you, take it by all
means, for he is a character worth knowing. He was exiled, I
should tell you, years ago, for some absurd political reason, and
has lived in England ever since. All the money he inherits from
his father, who was a mail contractor in the north of Italy, goes
in books and experiments; but I think I can answer for his
solvency, at any rate, for the large sum of five pounds. If you
are not very much occupied just now, go and see him. He is sure
to amuse you."

Professor Tizzi lived in the northern suburb of London. On
approaching his house, I found it, so far as outward appearance
went, excessively dirty and neglected, but in no other respect
different from the "villas" in its neighborhood. The front garden
door, after I had rang twice, was opened by a yellow-faced,
suspicious old foreigner, dressed in worn-out clothes, and
completely and consistently dirty all over, from top to toe. On
mentioning my name and business, this old man led me across a
weedy, neglected garden, and admitted me into the house. At the
first step into the passage, I was surrounded by books. Closely
packed in plain wooden shelves, they ran all along the wall on
either side to the back of the house; and when I looked up at the
carpetless staircase, I saw nothing but books again, running all
the way up the wall, as far as my eye could reach. "Here is the
Artist Painter!" cried the old servant, throwing open one of the
parlor doors, before I had half done looking at the books, and
signing impatiently to me to walk into the room.

Books again! all round the walls, and all over the floor--among
them a plain deal table, with leaves of manuscript piled high on
every part of it--among the leaves a head of long, elfish white
hair covered with a black skull-cap, and bent down over a
book--above the head a sallow, withered hand shaking itself at me
as a sign that I must not venture to speak just at that
moment--on the tops of the bookcases glass vases full of spirits
of some kind, with horrible objects floating in the liquid--dirt
on the window panes, cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, dust
springing up in clouds under my intruding feet. These were the
things I observed on first entering the study of Professor Tizzi.

After I had waited for a minute or so, the shaking hand stopped,
descended with a smack on the nearest pile of manuscript, seized
the book that the head had been bending over, and flung it
contemptuously to the other end of the room. "I've refuted _you,_
at any rate!" said Professor Tizzit, looking with extreme
complacency at the cloud of dust raised by the fall of the
rejected volume.

He turned next to me. What a grand face it was! What a broad,
white forehead---what fiercely brilliant black eyes--what perfect
regularity and refinement in the other features; with the long,
venerable hair, framing them in, as it were, on either side! Poor
as I was, I felt that I could have painted his portrait for
nothing. Titian, Vandyke, Valasquez--any of the three would have
paid him to sit to them!

"Accept my humblest excuses, sir," said the old man, speaking
English with a singularly pure accent for a foreigner. "That
absurd book plunged me so deep down in the quagmires of sophistry
and error, Mr. Kerby, that I really could not get to the surface
at once when you came into the room. So you are willing to draw
my likeness for such a small sum as five pounds?" he continued,
rising, and showing me that he wore a long black velvet gown,
instead of the paltry and senseless costume of modern times.

I informed him that five pounds was as much as I generally got
for a drawing.

"It seems little," said the professor; "but if you want fame, I
can make it up to you in that way. There is my great work" (he
pointed to the piles of manuscript), "the portrait of my mind and
the mirror of my learning; put a likeness of my face on the first
pa ge, and posterity will then be thoroughly acquainted with me,
outside and in. Your portrait will be engraved, Mr. Kerby, and
your name shall be inscribed under the print. You shall be
associated, sir, in that way, with a work which will form an
epoch in the history of human science. The Vital Principle--or,
in other words, the essence of that mysterious Something which we
call Life, and which extends down from Man to the feeblest insect
and the smallest plant--has been an unguessed riddle from the
beginning of the world to the present time. I alone have found
the answer; and here it is!" He fixed his dazzling eyes on me in
triumph, and smacked the piles of manuscript fiercely with both
his sallow hands.

I saw that he was waiting for me to say something; so I asked if
his great work had not cost a vast expenditure of time and pains.

"I am seventy, sir," said the Professor; "and I began preparing
myself for that book at twenty. After mature consideration, I
have written it in English (having three other foreign languages
at my fingers' ends), as a substantial proof of my gratitude to
the nation that has given me an asylum. Perhaps you think the
work looks rather long in its manuscript state? It will occupy
twelve volumes, sir, and it is not half long enough, even then,
for the subject. I take two volumes (and no man could do it in
less) to examine the theories of all the philosophers in the
world, ancient and modern, on the Vital Principle. I take two
more (and little enough) to scatter every one of the theories,
_seriatim_, to the winds. I take two more (at the risk, for
brevity's sake, of doing things by halves) to explain the exact
stuff, or vital compound, of which the first man and woman in the
world were made--calling them Adam and Eve, out of deference to
popular prejudices. I take two more--but you are standing all
this time, Mr. Kerby; and I am talking instead of sitting for my
portrait. Pray take any books you want, anywhere off the floor,
and make a seat of any height you please. Furniture would only be
in my way here, so I don't trouble myself with anything of the
kind."

I obediently followed the Professor's directions, and had just
heaped up a pile of grimy quartos, when the old servant entered
the room with a shabby little tray in his hand. In the middle of
the tray I saw a crust of bread and a bit of garlic, encircled by
a glass of water, a knife, salt, pepper, a bottle of vinegar, and
a flask of oil.

"With your permission, I am going to breakfast," said Professor
Tizzi, as the tray was set down before him on the part of his
great work relating to the vital compound of Adam and Eve. As he
spoke, he took up the piece of bread, and rubbed the crusty part
of it with the bit of garlic, till it looked as polished as a new
dining-table. That done, he turned the bread, crumb uppermost,
and saturated it with oil, added a few drops of vinegar,
sprinkled with pepper and salt, and, with a gleam of something
very like greediness in his bright eyes, took up the knife to cut
himself a first mouthful of the horrible mess that he had just
concocted. "The best of breakfasts," said the Professor, seeing
me look amazed. "Not a cannibal meal of chicken-life in embryo
(vulgarly called an egg); not a dog's gorge of a dead animal's
flesh, blood and bones, warmed with fire (popularly known as a
chop); not a breakfast, sir, that lions, tigers, Caribbees, and
costermongers could all partake of alike; but an innocent,
nutritive, simple, vegetable meal; a philosopher's refection, a
breakfast that a prize-fighter would turn from in disgust, and
that a Plato would share with relish."

I have no doubt that he was right, and that I was prejudiced; but
as I saw the first oily, vinegary, garlicky morsel slide
noiselessly into his mouth, I began to feel rather sick. My hands
were dirty with moving the books, and I asked if I could wash
them before beginning to work at the likeness, as a good excuse
for getting out of the room, while Professor Tizzi was unctuously
disposing of his simple vegetable meal.

The philosopher looked a little astonished at my request, as if
the washing of hands at irregular times and seasons offered a
comparatively new subject of contemplation to him; but he rang a
hand-bell on his table immediately, and told the old servant to
take me up into his bedroom.

The interior of the parlor had astonished me; but a sight of the
bedroom was a new sensation--not of the most agreeable kind. The
couch on which the philosopher sought repose after his labors was
a truckle-bed that would not have fetched half a crown at a sale.
On one side of it dangled from the ceiling a complete male
skeleton, looking like all that was left of a man who might have
hung himself about a century ago, and who had never been
disturbed since the moment of his suicide. On the other side of
the bed stood a long press, in which I observed hideous colored
preparations of the muscular system, and bottles with curious,
twining, thread-like substances inside them, which might have
been remarkable worms or dissections of nerves, scattered
amicably side by side with the Professor's hair-brush (three
parts worn out), with remnants of his beard on bits of
shaving-paper, with a broken shoe-horn, and with a traveling
looking-glass of the sort usually sold at sixpence apiece.
Repetitions of the litter of books in the parlor lay all about
over the floor; colored anatomical prints were nailed anyhow
against the walls; rolled-up towels were scattered here, there,
and everywhere in the wildest confusion, as if the room had been
bombarded with them; and last, but by no means least remarkable
among the other extraordinary objects in the bed-chamber, the
stuffed figure of a large unshaven poodle-dog, stood on an old
card-table, keeping perpetual watch over a pair of the
philosopher's black breeches twisted round his forepaws.

I had started, on entering the room, at the skeleton, and I
started once more at the dog. The old servant noticed me each
time with a sardonic grin. "Don't be afraid," he said; "one is as
dead as the other." With these words, he left me to wash my
hands.

Finding little more than a pint of water at my disposal, and
failing altogether to discover where the soap was kept, I was not
long in performing my ablutions. Before leaving the room, I
looked again at the stuffed poodle. On the board to which he was
fixed, I saw painted in faded letters the word "Scarammuccia,"
evidently the comic Italian name to which he had answered in his
lifetime. There was no other inscription; but I made up my mind
that the dog must have been the Professor's pet, and that he kept
the animal stuffed in his bedroom as a remembrance of past times.
"Who would have suspected so great a philosopher of having so
much heart!" thought I, leaving the bedroom to go downstairs
again.

The Professor had done his breakfast, and was anxious to begin
the sitting; so I took out my chalks and paper, and set to work
at once--I seated on one pile of books and he on another.

"Fine anatomical preparations in my room, are there not, Mr.
Kerby?" said the old gentleman. "Did you notice a very
interesting and perfect arrangement of the intestinal ganglia?
They form the subject of an important chapter in my great work."

"I am afraid you will think me very ignorant," I replied. "But I
really do not know the intestinal ganglia when I see them. The
object I noticed with most curiosity in your room was something
more on a level with my own small capacity."

"And what was that?" asked the Professor.

"The figure of the stuffed poodle. I suppose he was a favorite of
yours?"

"Of mine? No, no; a young woman's favorite, sir, before I was
born; and a very remarkable dog, too. The vital principle in that
poodle, Mr. Kerby, must have been singularly intensified. He
lived to a fabulous old age, and he was clever enough to play an
important part of his own in what you English call a Romance of
Real Life! If I could only have dissected that poodle, I would
have put him into my book; he should have headed my chapter on
the Vital Principle of Beasts."

"Here is a story in prospect," thought I, "if I can only keep his
attentio n up to the subject."

"He should have figured in my great work, sir," the Professor
went on. "Scarammuccia should have taken his place among the
examples that prove my new theory; but unfortunately he died
before I was born. His mistress gave him, stuffed, as you see
upstairs, to my father to take care of for her, and he has
descended as an heirloom to me. Talking of dogs, Mr. Kerby, I
have ascertained, beyond the possibility of doubt, that the
brachial plexus in people who die of hydrophobia--but stop! I had
better show you how it is--the preparation is upstairs under my
wash-hand stand."

He left his seat as he spoke. In another minute he would have
sent the servant to fetch the "preparation," and I should have
lost the story. At the risk of his taking offense, I begged him
not to move just then, unless he wished me to spoil his likeness.
This alarmed, but fortunately did not irritate him. He returned
to his seat, and I resumed the subject of the stuffed poodle,
asking him boldly to tell me the story with which the dog was
connected. The demand seemed to impress him with no very
favorable opinion of my intellectual tastes; but he complied with
it, and related, not without many a wearisome digression to the
subject of his great work, the narrative which I propose calling
by the name of "The Yellow Mask." After the slight specimens that
I have given of his character and style of conversation, it will
be almost unnecessary for me to premise that I tell this story as
I have told the last, and "Sister Rose," in my own language, and
according to my own plan in the disposition of the
incidents--adding nothing, of course, to the facts, but keeping
them within the limits which my disposable space prescribes to
me.

I may perhaps be allowed to add in this place, that I have not
yet seen or heard of my portrait in an engraved state. Professor
Tizzi is still alive; but I look in vain through the publishers'
lists for an announcement of his learned work on the Vital
Principle. Possibly he may be adding a volume or two to the
twelve already completed, by way of increasing the debt which a
deeply obliged posterity is, sooner or later, sure of owing to
him.

THE PROFESSOR'S STORY

OF

THE YELLOW MASK.

PART FIRST.

CHAPTER I.

ABOUT a century ago, there lived in the ancient city of Pisa a
famous Italian milliner, who, by way of vindicating to all
customers her familiarity with Paris fashions, adopted a French
title, and called herself the Demoiselle Grifoni. She was a wizen
little woman with a mischievous face, a quick tongue, a nimble
foot, a talent for business, and an uncertain disposition. Rumor
hinted that she was immensely rich, and scandal suggested that
she would do anything for money.

The one undeniable good quality which raised Demoiselle Grifoni
above all her rivals in the trade was her inexhaustible
fortitude. She was never known to yield an inch under any
pressure of adverse circumstances Thus the memorable occasion of
her life on which she was threatened with ruin was also the
occasion on which she most triumphantly asserted the energy and
decision of her character. At the height of the demoiselle's
prosperity her skilled forewoman and cutter-out basely married
and started in business as her rival. Such a calamity as this
would have ruined an ordinary milliner; but the invincible
Grifoni rose superior to it almost without an effort, and proved
incontestably that it was impossible for hostile Fortune to catch
her at the end of her resources. While the minor milliners were
prophesying that she would shut up shop, she was quietly carrying
on a private correspondence with an agent in Paris. Nobody knew
what these letters were about until a few weeks had elapsed, and
then circulars were received by all the ladies in Pisa,
announcing that the best French forewoman who could be got for
money was engaged to superintend the great Grifoni establishment.
This master-stroke decided the victory . All the demoiselle's
customers declined giving orders elsewhere until the forewoman
from Paris had exhibited to the natives of Pisa the latest
fashions from the metropolis of the world of dress.

The Frenchwoman arrived punctual to the appointed day--glib and
curt, smiling and flippant, tight of face and supple of figure.
Her name was Mademoiselle Virginie, and her family had inhumanly
deserted her. She was set to work the moment she was inside the
doors of the Grifoni establishment. A room was devoted to her own
private use; magnificent materials in velvet, silk, and satin,
with due accompaniment of muslins, laces, and ribbons were placed
at her disposal; she was told to spare no expense, and to
produce, in the shortest possible time, the finest and nearest
specimen dresses for exhibition in the show-room. Mademoiselle
Virginie undertook to do everything required of her, produced her
portfolios of patterns and her book of colored designs, and asked
for one assistant who could speak French enough to interpret her
orders to the Italian girls in the work-room.

"I have the very person you want," cried Demoiselle Grifoni. "A
work-woman we call Brigida here--the idlest slut in Pisa, but as
sharp as a needle--has been in France, and speaks the language
like a native. I'll send her to you directly."

Mademoiselle Virginie was not left long alone with her patterns
and silks. A tall woman, with bold black eyes, a reckless manner,
and a step as firm as a man's, stalked into the room with the
gait of a tragedy-queen crossing the stage. The instant her eyes
fell on the French forewoman, she stopped, threw up her hands in
astonishment, and exclaimed, "Finette!"

"Teresa!" cried the Frenchwoman, casting her scissors on the
table, and advancing a few steps.

"Hush! call me Brigida."

"Hush! call me Virginie."

These two exclamations were uttered at the same moment, and then
the two women scrutinized each other in silence. The swarthy
cheeks of the Italian turned to a dull yellow, and the voice of
the Frenchwoman trembled a little when she spoke again.

"How, in the name of Heaven, have you dropped down in the world
as low as this?" she asked. "I thought you were provided for
when--"

"Silence!" interrupted Brigida. "You see I was not provided for.
I have had my misfortunes; and you are the last woman alive who
ought to refer to them."

"Do you think I have not had my misfortunes, too, since we met?"
(Brigida's face brightened maliciously at those words.) "You have
had your revenge," continued Mademoiselle Virginie, coldly,
turning away to the table and taking up the scissors again.

Brigida followed her, threw one arm roughly round her neck, and
kissed her on the cheek. "Let us be friends again," she said. The
Frenchwoman laughed. "Tell me how I have had my revenge," pursued
the other, tightening her grasp. Mademoiselle Virginie signed to
Brigida to stoop, and whispered rapidly in her ear. The Italian
listened eagerly, with fierce, suspicious eyes fixed on the door.
When the whispering ceased, she loosened her hold, and, with a
sigh of relief, pushed back her heavy black hair from her
temples. "Now we are friends," she said, and sat down indolently
in a chair placed by the worktable.

"Friends," repeated Mademoiselle Virginie, with another laugh.
"And now for business," she continued, getting a row of pins
ready for use by putting them between her teeth. " I am here, I
believe, for the purpose of ruining the late forewoman, who has
set up in opposition to us? Good! I _will_ ruin her. Spread out
the yellow brocaded silk, my dear, and pin that pattern on at
your end, while I pin at mine. And what are your plans, Brigida?
(Mind you don't forget that Finette is dead, and that Virginie
has risen from her ashes.) You can't possibly intend to stop here
all your life? (Leave an inch outside the paper, all round.) You
must have projects? What are they?"

"Look at my figure," said Brigida, placing herself in an attitude
in the middle of the room.

"Ah," rejoined the other, "it's not what it was. There's too much
of it. You want diet, walking, and a French stay-maker," muttered
Mademoiselle Virginie through her chevaus-defrise of pins.

"Did the goddess Minerva walk, and employ a
French stay-maker? I thought she rode upon clouds, and lived at
a period before waists were invented."

"What do you mean?"

"This--that my present project is to try if I can't make my
fortune by sitting as a model for Minerva in the studio of the
best sculptor in Pisa."

"And who is he! (Unwind me a yard or two of that black lace.)"

"The master-sculptor, Luca Lomi--an old family, once noble, but
down in the world now. The master is obliged to make statues to
get a living for his daughter and himself."

"More of the lace--double it over the bosom of the dress. And how
is sitting to this needy sculptor to make your fortune?"

"Wait a minute. There are other sculptors besides him in the
studio. There is, first, his brother, the priest--Father Rocco,
who passes all his spare time with the master. He is a good
sculptor in his way--has cast statues and made a font for his
church--a holy man, who devotes all his work in the studio to the
cause of piety."

"Ah, bah! we should think him a droll priest in France. (More
pins.) You don't expect _him_ to put money in your pocket,
surely?"

"Wait, I say again. There is a third sculptor in the
studio--actually a nobleman! His name is Fabio d'Ascoli. He is
rich, young, handsome, an only child, and little better than a
fool. Fancy his working at sculpture, as if he had his bread to
get by it--and thinking that an amusement! Imagine a man
belonging to one of the best families in Pisa mad enough to want
to make a reputation as an artist! Wait! wait! the best is to
come. His father and mother are dead--he has no near relations in
the world to exercise authority over him--he is a bachelor, and
his fortune is all at his own disposal; going a-begging, my
friend; absolutely going a-begging for want of a clever woman to
hold out her hand and take it from him."

"Yes, yes--now I understand. The goddess Minerva is a clever
woman, and she will hold out her hand and take his fortune from
him with the utmost docility."

"The first thing is to get him to offer it. I must tell you that
I am not going to sit to him, but to his master, Luca Lomi, who
is doing the statue of Minerva. The face is modeled from his
daughter; and now he wants somebody to sit for the bust and arms.
Maddalena Lomi and I are as nearly as possible the same height, I
hear--the difference between us being that I have a good figure
and she has a bad one. I have offered to sit, through a friend
who is employed in the studio. If the master accepts, I am sure
of an introduction to our rich young gentleman; and then leave it
to my good looks, my various accomplishments, and my ready
tongue, to do the rest."

"Stop! I won't have the lace doubled, on second thoughts. I'll
have it single, and running all round the dress in curves--so.
Well, and who is this friend of yours employed in the studio? A
fourth sculptor?"

"No, no; the strangest, simplest little creature--"

Just then a faint tap was audible at the door of the room.

Brigida laid her finger on her lips, and called impatiently to
the person outside to come in.

The door opened gently, and a young girl, poorly but very neatly
dressed, entered the room. She was rather thin and under the
average height; but her head and figure were in perfect
proportion. Her hair was of that gorgeous auburn color, her eyes
of that deep violet-blue, which the portraits of Giorgione and
Titian hare made famous as the type of Venetian beauty. Her
features possessed the definiteness and regularity, the "good
modeling" (to use an artist's term), which is the rarest of all
womanly charms, in Italy as elsewhere. The one serious defect of
her face was its paleness. Her cheeks, wanting nothing in form,
wanted everything in color. That look of health, which is the
essential crowning-point of beauty, was the one attraction which
her face did not possess.

She came into the room with a sad and weary expression in her
eyes, which changed, however, the moment she observed the
magnificently-dressed French forewoman, into a look of
astonishment, and almost of awe. Her manner became shy and
embarrassed; and after an instant of hesitation, she turned back
silently to the door.

"Stop, stop, Nanina," said Brigida, in Italian. "Don't be afraid
of that lady. She is our new forewoman; and she has it in her
power to do all sorts of kind things for you. Look up, and tell
us what you want You were sixteen last birthday, Nanina, and you
behave like a baby of two years old!"

"I only came to know if there was any work for me to-day," said
the girl, in a very sweet voice, that trembled a little as she
tried to face the fashionable French forewoman again.

"No work, child, that is easy enough for you to do," said
Brigida. "Are you going to the studio to-day?"

Some of the color that Nanina's cheeks wanted began to steal over
them as she answered "Yes."

"Don't forget my message, darling. And if Master Luca Lomi asks
where I live, answer that you are ready to deliver a letter to
me; but that you are forbidden to enter into any particulars at
first about who I am, or where I live."

"Why am I forbidden?" inquired Nanina, innocently.

"Don't ask questions, baby! Do as you are told. Bring me back a
nice note or message tomorrow from the studio, and I will
intercede with this lady to get you some work. You are a foolish
child to want it, when you might make more money here and at
Florence., by sitting to painters and sculptors; though what they
can see to paint or model in you I never could understand."

"I like working at home better than going abroad to sit," said
Nanina, looking very much abashed as she faltered out the answer,
and escaping from the room with a terrified farewell obeisance,
which was an eccentric compound of a start, a bow, and a
courtesy.

"That awkward child would be pretty," said Mademoiselle Virginie,
making rapid progress with the cutting-out of her dress, "if she
knew how to give herself a complexion, and had a presentable gown
on her back. Who is she?"

"The friend who is to get me into Master Luca Lomi's studio,"
replied Brigida, laughing. "Rather a curious ally for me to take
up with, isn't she?"

"Where did you meet with her?"

"Here, to be sure; she hangs about this place for any plain work
she can get to do, and takes it home to the oddest little room in
a street near the Campo Santo. I had the curiosity to follow her
one day, and knocked at her door soon after she had gone in, as
if I was a visitor. She answered my knock in a great flurry and
fright, as you may imagine. I made myself agreeable, affected
immense interest in her affairs, and so got into her room. Such a
place! A mere corner of it curtained off to make a bedroom. One
chair, one stool, one saucepan on the fire. Before the hearth the
most grotesquely hideous unshaven poodle-dog you ever saw; and on
the stool a fair little girl plaiting dinner-mats. Such was the
household--furniture and all included. 'Where is your father?' I
asked. 'He ran away and left us years ago,' answers my awkward
little friend who has just left the room, speaking in that simple
way of hers, with all the composure in the world. 'And your
mother?'--'Dead.' She went up to the little mat-plaiting girl as
she gave that answer, and began playing with her long flaxen
hair. 'Your sister, I suppose,' said I. 'What is her
name?'--'They call me La Biondella,' says the child, looking up
from her mat (La Biondella, Virginie, means The Fair). 'And why
do you let that great, shaggy, ill-looking brute lie before your
fireplace?' I asked. 'Oh!' cried the little mat-plaiter, 'that is
our dear old dog, Scarammuccia. He takes care of the house when
Nanina is not at home. He dances on his hind legs, and jumps
through a hoop, and tumbles down dead when I cry Bang!
Scarammuccia followed us home one night, years ago, and he has
lived with us ever since. He goes out every day by himself, we
can't tell where, and generally returns licking his chops, which
makes us afraid that he is a thief; but nobody finds him out,
because he is the cleverest dog that ever lived!' The child ran
on in this way about the great beast by the fireplace, till I was
obliged to stop her; while that simpleton Nanina stood by, lau
ghing and encouraging her. I asked them a few more questions,
which produced some strange answers. They did not seem to know of
any relations of theirs in the world. The neighbors in the house
had helped them, after their father ran away, until they were old
enough to help themselves; and they did not seem to think there
was anything in the least wretched or pitiable in their way of
living. The last thing I heard, when I left them that day, was La
Biondella crying 'Bang!'--then a bark, a thump on the floor, and
a scream of laughter. If it was not for their dog, I should go
and see them oftener. But the ill-conditioned beast has taken a
dislike to me, and growls and shows his teeth whenever I come
near him."

"The girl looked sickly when she came in here. Is she always like
that?"

"No. She has altered within the last month. I suspect our
interesting young nobleman has produced an impression. The
oftener the girl has sat to him lately, the paler and more out of
spirits she has become."

"Oh! she has sat to him, has she?"

"She is sitting to him now. He is doing a bust of some Pagan
nymph or other, and prevailed on Nanina to let him copy from her
head and face. According to her own account the little fool was
frightened at first, and gave him all the trouble in the world
before she would consent."

"And now she has consented, don't you think it likely she may
turn out rather a dangerous rival? Men are such fools, and take
such fancies into their heads--"

"Ridiculous! A thread-paper of a girl like that, who has no
manner, no talk, no intelligence; who has nothing to recommend
her but an awkward, babyish prettiness! Dangerous to me? No, no!
If there is danger at all, I have to dread it from the sculptor's
daughter. I don't mind confessing that I am anxious to see
Maddalena Lomi. But as for Nanina, she will simply be of use to
me. All I know already about the studio and the artists in it, I
know through her. She will deliver my message, and procure me my
introduction; and when we have got so far, I shall give her an
old gown and a shake of the hand; and then, good-by to our little
innocent!"

"Well, well, for your sake I hope you are the wiser of the two in
this matter. For my part, I always distrust innocence. Wait one
moment, and I shall have the body and sleeves of this dress ready
for the needle-women. There, ring the bell, and order them up;
for I have directions to give, and you must interpret for me."

While Brigida went to the bell, the energetic Frenchwoman began
planning out the skirt of the new dress. She laughed as she
measured off yard after yard of the silk.

"What are you laughing about?" asked Brigida, opening the door
and ringing a hand-bell in the passage.

"I can't help fancying, dear, in spite of her innocent face and
her artless ways, that your young friend is a hypocrite."

"And I am quite certain, love, that she is only a simpleton."

CHAPTER II.

THE studio of the master-sculptor, Luca Lomi, was composed of two
large rooms unequally divided by a wooden partition, with an
arched doorway cut in the middle of it.

While the milliners of the Grifoni establishment were
industriously shaping dresses, the sculptors in Luca Lomi's
workshop were, in their way, quite as hard at work shaping marble
and clay. In the smaller of the two rooms the young nobleman
(only addressed in the studio by his Christian name of Fabio) was
busily engaged on his bust, with Nanina sitting before him as a
model. His was not one of those traditional Italian faces from
which subtlety and suspicion are always supposed to look out
darkly on the world at large. Both countenance and expression
proclaimed his character frankly and freely to all who saw him.
Quick intelligence looked brightly from his eyes; and easy good
humor laughed out pleasantly in the rather quaint curve of his
lips. For the rest, his face expressed the defects as well as the
merits of his character, showing that he wanted resolution and
perseverance just as plainly as it showed also that he possessed
amiability and intelligence.

At the end of the large room, nearest to the street door, Luca
Lomi was standing by his life-size statue of Minerva; and was
issuing directions, from time to time, to some of his workmen,
who were roughly chiseling the drapery of another figure. At the
opposite side of the room, nearest to the partition, his brother,
Father Rocco, was taking a cast from a statuette of the Madonna;
while Maddalena Lomi, the sculptor's daughter, released from
sitting for Minerva's face, walked about the two rooms, and
watched what was going on in them.

There was a strong family likeness of a certain kind between
father, brother and daughter. All three were tall, handsome,
dark-haired, and dark-eyed; nevertheless, they differed in
expression, strikingly as they resembled one another in feature.
Maddalena Lomi's face betrayed strong passions, but not an
ungenerous nature. Her father, with the same indications of a
violent temper, had some sinister lines about his mouth and
forehead which suggested anything rather than an open
disposition. Father Rocco's countenance, on the other hand,
looked like the personification of absolute calmness and
invincible moderation; and his manner, which, in a very firm way,
was singularly quiet and deliberate, assisted in carrying out the
impression produced by his face. The daughter seemed as if she
could fly into a passion at a moment's notice, and forgive also
at a moment's notice. The father, appearing to be just as
irritable, had something in his face which said, as plainly as if
in words, "Anger me, and I never pardon." The priest looked as if
he need never be called on either to ask forgiveness or to grant
it, for the double reason that he could irritate nobody else, and
that nobody else could irritate him.

"Rocco," said Luca, looking at the face of his Minerva, which was
now finished, "this statue of mine will make a sensation."

"I am glad to hear it," rejoined the priest, dryly

"It is a new thing in art," continued Luca, enthusiastically.
"Other sculptors, with a classical subject like mine, limit
themselves to the ideal classical face, and never think of aiming
at individual character. Now I do precisely the reverse of that.
I get my handsome daughter, Maddalena, to sit for Minerva, and I
make an exact likeness of her. I may lose in ideal beauty, but I
gain in individual character. People may accuse me of
disregarding established rules; but my answer is, that I make my
own rules. My daughter looks like a Minerva, and there she is
exactly as she looks."

"It is certainly a wonderful likeness," said Father Rocco,
approaching the statue.

"It the girl herself," cried the other. "Exactly her expression,
and exactly her features. Measure Maddalena, and measure Minerva,
and from forehead to chin, you won't find a hairbreadth of
difference between them."

"But how about the bust and arms of the figure, now the face is
done?" asked the priest, returning, as he spoke, to his own work.

"I may have the very model I want for them to-morrow. Little
Nanina has just given me the strangest message. What do you think
of a mysterious lady admirer who offers to sit for the bust and
arms of my Minerva?"

"Are you going to accept the offer?" inquired the priest.

"I am going to receive her to-morrow; and if I really find that
she is the same height as Maddalena, and has a bust and arms
worth modeling, of course I shall accept her offer; for she will
be the very sitter I have been looking after for weeks past. Who
can she be? That's the mystery I want to find out. Which do you
say, Rocco--an enthusiast or an adventuress?"

"I do not presume to say, for I have no means of knowing."

"Ah, there you are with your moderation again. Now, I do presume
to assert that she must be either one or the other--or she would
not have forbidden Nanina to say anything about her in answer to
all my first natural inquiries. Where is Maddalena? I thought she
was here a minute ago."

"She is in Fabio's room," answered Father Rocco, softly. "Shall I
call her?"

"No, no!" returned Luca. He stopped, looked round at the workmen,
who were chipping away mechanically at their bit o f drapery;
then advanced close to the priest, with a cunning smile, and
continued in a whisper, "If Maddalena can only get from Fabio's
room here to Fabio's palace over the way, on the Arno--come,
come, Rocco! don't shake your head. If I brought her up to your
church door one of these days, as Fabio d'Ascoli's betrothed, you
would be glad enough to take the rest of the business off my
hands, and make her Fabio d'Ascoli's wife. You are a very holy
man, Rocco, but you know the difference between the clink of the
money-bag and the clink of the chisel for all that!"

"I am sorry to find, Luca," returned the priest, coldly, "that
you allow yourself to talk of the most delicate subjects in the
coarsest way. This is one of the minor sins of the tongue which
is growing on you. When we are alone in the studio, I will
endeavor to lead you into speaking of the young man in the room
there, and of your daughter, in terms more becoming to you, to
me, and to them. Until that time, allow me to go on with my
work."

Luca shrugged his shoulders, and went back to his statue. Father
Rocco, who had been engaged during the last ten minutes in mixing
wet plaster to the right consistency for taking a cast, suspended
his occupation; and crossing the room to a corner next the
partition, removed from it a cheval-glass which stood there. He
lifted it away gently, while his brother's back was turned,
carried it close to the table at which he had been at work, and
then resumed his employment of mixing the plaster. Having at last
prepared the composition for use, he laid it over the exposed
half of the statuette with a neatness and dexterity which showed
him to be a practiced hand at cast-taking. Just as he had covered
the necessary extent of surface, Luca turned round from his
statue.

"How are you getting on with the cast?" he asked. "Do you want
any help?"

"None, brother, I thank you," answered the priest. "Pray do not
disturb either yourself or your workmen on my account."

Luca turned again to the statue; and, at the same moment, Father
Rocco softly moved the, cheval-glass toward the open doorway
between the two rooms, placing it at such an angle as to make it
reflect the figures of the persons in the smaller studio. He did
this with significant quickness and precision. It was evidently
not the first time he had used the glass for purposes of secret
observation.

Mechanically stirring the wet plaster round and round for the
second casting, the priest looked into the glass, and saw, as in
a picture, all that was going forward in the inner room.
Maddalena Lomi was standing behind the young nobleman, watching
the progress he made with his bust. Occasionally she took the
modeling tool out of his hand, and showed him, with her sweetest
smile, that she, too, as a sculptor's daughter, understood
something of the sculptor's art; and now and then, in the pauses
of the conversation, when her interest was especially intense in
Fabio's work, she suffered her hand to drop absently on his
shoulder, or stooped forward so close to him that her hair
mingled for a moment with his. Moving the glass an inch or two,
so as to bring Nanina well under his eye, Father Rocco found that
he could trace each repetition of these little acts of
familiarity by the immediate effect which they produced on the
girl's face and manner. Whenever Maddelena so much as touched the
young nobleman--no matter whether she did so by premeditation, or
really by accident--Nanina's features contracted, her pale cheeks
grew paler, she fidgeted on her chair, and her fingers nervously
twisted and untwisted the loose ends of the ribbon fastened round
her waist.

"Jealous," thought Father Rocco; "I suspected it weeks ago."

He turned away, and gave his whole attention for a few minutes to
the mixing of the plaster. When he looked back again at the
glass, he was just in time to witness a little accident which
suddenly changed the relative positions of the three persons in
the inner room.

He saw Maddalena take up a modeling tool which lay on a table
near her, and begin to help Fabio in altering the arrangement of
the hair in his bust. The young man watched what she was doing
earnestly enough for a few moments; then his attention wandered
away to Nanina. She looked at him reproachfully, and he answered
by a sign which brought a smile to her face directly. Maddalena
surprised her at the instant of the change; and, following the
direction of her eyes, easily discovered at whom the smile was
directed. She darted a glance of contempt at Nanina, threw down
the modeling tool, and turned indignantly to the young sculptor,
who was affecting to be hard at work again.

"Signor Fabio," she said, "the next time you forget what is due
to your rank and yourself, warn me of it, if you please,
beforehand, and I will take care to leave the room." While
speaking the last words, she passed through the doorway. Father
Rocco, bending abstractedly over his plaster mixture, heard her
continue to herself in a whisper, as she went by him, "If I have
any influence at all with my father, that impudent beggar-girl
shall be forbidden the studio."

"Jealousy on the other side," thought the priest. "Something must
be done at once, or this will end badly."

He looked again at the glass, and saw Fabio, after an instant of
hesitation, beckon to Nanina to approach him. She left her seat,
advanced half-way to his, then stopped. He stepped forward to
meet her, and, taking her by the hand, whispered earnestly in her
ear. When he had done, before dropping her hand, he touched her
cheek with his lips, and then helped her on with the little white
mantilla which covered her head and shoulders out-of-doors. The
girl trembled violently, and drew the linen close to her face as
Fabio walked into the larger studio, and, addressing Father
Rocco, said:

"I am afraid I am more idle, or more stupid, than ever to-day. I
can't get on with the bust at all to my satisfaction, so I have
cut short the sitting, and given Nanina a half-holiday."

At the first sound of his voice, Maddalena, who was speaking to
her father, stopped, and, with another look of scorn at Nanina
standing trembling in the doorway, left the room. Luca Lomi
called Fabio to him as she went away, and Father Rocco, turning
to the statuette, looked to see how the plaster was hardening on
it. Seeing them thus engaged, Nanina attempted to escape from the
studio without being noticed; but the priest. stopped her just as
she was hurrying by him.

"My child," said he, in his gentle, quiet way, "are you going
home?"

Nanina's heart beat too fast for her to reply in words; she could
only answer by bowing her head.

"Take this for your little sister," pursued Father Rocco, putting
a few silver coins in her hand; "I have got some customers for
those mats she plaits so nicely. You need not bring them to my
rooms; I will come and see you this evening, when I am going my
rounds among my parishioners, and will take the mats away with
me. You are a good girl, Nanina--you have always been a good
girl--and as long as I am alive, my child, you shall never want a
friend and an adviser."

Nanina's eyes filled with tears. She drew the mantilla closer
than ever round her face, as she tried to thank the priest.
Father Rocco nodded to her kindly, and laid his hand lightly on
her head for a moment, then turned round again to his cast.

"Don't forget my message to the lady who is to sit to me
tomorrow," said Luca to Nanina, as she passed him on her way out
of the studio.

After she had gone, Fabio returned to the priest, who was still
busy over his cast.

"I hope you will get on better with the bust to-morrow," said
Father Rocco, politely; "I am sure you cannot complain of your
model."

"Complain of her!" cried the young man, warmly; "she has the most
beautiful head I ever saw. If I were twenty times the sculptor
that I am, I should despair of being able to do her justice."

He walked into the inner room to look at his bust again--lingered
before it for a little while--and then turned to retrace his
steps to the larger studio. Between him and the doorway stood
three chairs. As he went by them, he absently touched the backs
of the
first two, and passed the third; but just as he was entering the
larger room, stopped, as if struck by a sudden recollection,
returned hastily, and touched the third chair. Raising his eyes,
as he approached the large studio again after doing this, he met
the eyes of the priest fixed on him in unconcealed astonishment.

"Signor Fabio!" exclaimed Father Rocco, with a sarcastic smile,
"who would ever have imagined that you were superstitious?"

"My nurse was," returned the young man, reddening, and laughing
rather uneasily. "She taught me some bad habits that I have not
got over yet." With those words he nodded and hastily went out.

"Superstitious," said Father Rocco softly to himself. He smiled
again, reflected for a moment, and then, going to the window,
looked into the street. The way to the left led to Fabio's
palace, and the way to the right to the Campo Santo, in the
neighborhood of which Nanina lived. The priest was just in time
to see the young sculptor take the way to the right.

After another half-hour had elapsed, the two workmen quitted the
studio to go to dinner, and Luca and his brother were left alone.

"We may return now," said Father Rocco, "to that conversation
which was suspended between us earlier in the day."

"I have nothing more to say," rejoined Luca, sulkily.

"Then you can listen to me, brother, with the greater attention,"
pursued the priest. "I objected to the coarseness of your tone in
talking of our young pupil and your daughter; I object still more
strongly to your insinuation that my desire to see them married
(provided always that they are sincerely attached to each other)
springs from a mercenary motive."

"You are trying to snare me, Rocco, in a mesh of fine phrases;
but I am not to be caught. I know what my own motive is for
hoping that Maddalena may get an offer of marriage from this
wealthy young gentleman--she will have his money, and we shall
all profit by it. That is coarse and mercenary, if you please;
but it is the true reason why I want to see Maddalena married to
Fabio. You want to see it, too--and for what reason, I should
like to know, if not for mine?"

"Of what use would wealthy relations be to me? What are people
with money--what is money itself--to a man who follows my
calling?"

"Money is something to everybody."

"Is it? When have you found that I have taken any account of it?
Give me money enough to buy my daily bread, and to pay for my
lodging and my coarse cassock, and though I may want much for the
poor, for myself I want no more. Then have you found me
mercenary? Do I not help you in this studio, for love of you and
of the art, without exacting so much as journeyman's wages? Have
I ever asked you for more than a few crowns to give away on
feast-days among my parishioners? Money! money for a man who may
be summoned to Rome tomorrow, who may be told to go at half an
hour's notice on a foreign mission that may take him to the ends
of the earth, and who would be ready to go the moment when he was
called on! Money to a man who has no wife, no children, no
interests outside the sacred circle of the Church! Brother, do
you see the dust and dirt and shapeless marble chips lying around
your statue there? Cover that floor instead with gold, and,
though the litter may have changed in color and form, in my eyes
it would be litter still."

"A very noble sentiment, I dare say, Rocco, but I can't echo it.
Granting that you care nothing for money, will you explain to me
why you are so anxious that Maddalena should marry Fabio? She has
had offers from poorer men--you knew of them--but you have never
taken the least interest in her accepting or rejecting a proposal
before."

"I hinted the reason to you, months ago, when Fabio first entered
the studio."

"It was rather a vague hint, brother; can't you be plainer
to-day?"

"I think I can. In the first place, let me begin by assuring you
that I have no objection to the young man himself. He may be a
little capricious and undecided, but he has no incorrigible
faults that I have discovered."

"That is rather a cool way of praising him, Rocco."

"I should speak of him warmly enough, if he were not the
representative of an intolerable corruption, and a monstrous
wrong. Whenever I think of him I think of an injury which his
present existence perpetuates; and if I do speak of him coldly,
it is only for that reason."

Luca looked away quickly from his brother, and began kicking
absently at the marble chips which were scattered over the floor
around him.

"I now remember, " he said, "what that hint of yours pointed at.
I know what you mean."

"Then you know," answered the priest, "that while part of the
wealth which Fabio d'Ascoli possesses is honestly and
incontestably his own; part, also, has been inherited by him from
the spoilers and robbers of the Church--"

"Blame his ancestors for that; don't blame him."

"I blame him as long as the spoil is not restored."

"How do you know that it was spoil, after all?"

"I have examined more carefully than most men the records of the
civil wars in Italy; and I know that the ancestors of Fabio
d'Ascoli wrung from the Church, in her hour of weakness, property
which they dared to claim as their right. I know of titles to
lands signed away, in those stormy times, under the influence of
fear, or through false representations of which the law takes no
account. I call the money thus obtained spoil, and I say that it
ought to be restored, and shall be restored, to the Church from
which it was taken."

"And what does Fabio answer to that, brother?"

"I have not spoken to him on the subject."

"Why not?"

"Because I have, as yet, no influence over him. When he is
married, his wife will have influence over him, and she shall
speak."

"Maddalena, I suppose? How do you know that she will speak?"

"Have I not educated her? Does she not understand what her duties
are toward the Church, in whose bosom she has been reared?"

Luca hesitated uneasily, and walked away a step or two before he
spoke again.

"Does this spoil, as you call it, amount to a large sum of
money?" he asked, in an anxious whisper.

"I may answer that question, Luca, at some future time," said the
priest. "For the present, let it be enough that you are
acquainted with all I undertook to inform you of when we began
our conversation. You now know that if I am anxious for this
marriage to take place, it is from motives entirely unconnected
with self-interest. If all the property which Fabio's ancestors
wrongfully obtained from the Church were restored to the Church
to-morrow, not one paulo of it would go into my pocket. I am a
poor priest now, and to the end of my days shall remain so. You
soldiers of the world, brother, fight for your pay; I am a
soldier of the Church, and I fight for my cause."

Saying these words, he returned abruptly to the statuette; and
refused to speak, or leave his employment again, until he had
taken the mold off, and had carefully put away the various
fragments of which it consisted. This done, he drew a
writing-desk from the drawer of his working-table, and taking out
a slip of paper wrote these lines:

"Come down to the studio to-morrow. Fabio will be with us, but
Nanina will return no more."

Without signing what he had written, he sealed it up, and
directed it to "Donna Maddalena"; then took his hat, and handed
the note to his brother.

"Oblige me by giving that to my niece," he said.

"Tell me, Rocco," said Luca, turning the note round and round
perplexedly between his finger and thumb; "do you think Maddalena
will be lucky enough to get married to Fabio?"

"Still coarse in your expressions, brother!"

"Never mind my expressions. Is it likely?"

"Yes, Luca, I think it is likely."

With those words he waved his hand pleasantly to his brother, and
went out.

CHAPTER III.

FROM the studio Father Rocco went straight to his own rooms, hard
by the church to which he was attached. Opening a cabinet in his
study, he took from one of its drawers a handful of small silver
money, consulted for a minute or so a slate on which several
names and addresses were written, provided himself with a
portable inkhorn and some strips of paper, and again we nt out.

He directed his steps to the poorest part of the neighborhood;
and entering some very wretched houses, was greeted by the
inhabitants with great respect and affection. The women,
especially, kissed his hands with more reverence than they would
have shown to the highest crowned head in Europe. In return, he
talked to them as easily and unconstrainedly as if they were his
equals; sat down cheerfully on dirty bedsides and rickety
benches; and distributed his little gifts of money with the air
of a man who was paying debts rather than bestowing charity.
Where he encountered cases of illness, he pulled out his inkhorn
and slips of paper, and wrote simple prescriptions to be made up
from the medicine-chest of a neighboring convent, which served
the same merciful purpose then that is answered by dispensaries
in our days. When he had exhausted his money, and had got through
his visits, he was escorted out of the poor quarter by a perfect
train of enthusiastic followers. The women kissed his hand again,
and the men uncovered as he turned, and, with a friendly sign,
bade them all farewell.

As soon as he was alone again, he walked toward the Campo Santo,
and, passing the house in which Nanina lived, sauntered up and
down the street thoughtfully for some minutes. When he at length
ascended the steep staircase that led to the room occupied by the
sisters, he found the door ajar. Pushing it open gently, he saw
La Biondella sitting with her pretty, fair profile turned toward
him, eating her evening meal of bread and grapes. At the opposite
end of the room, Scarammuccia was perched up on his hindquarters
in a corner, with his mouth wide open to catch the morsel of
bread which he evidently expected the child to throw to him. What
the elder sister was doing, the priest had not time to see; for
the dog barked the moment he presented himself, and Nanina
hastened to the door to ascertain who the intruder might be. All
that he could observe was that she was too confused, on catching
sight of him, to be able to utter a word. La Biondella was the
first to speak.

"Thank you, Father Rocco," said the child, jumping up, with her
bread in one hand and her grapes in the other--"thank you for
giving me so much money for my dinner-mats. There they are, tied
up together in one little parcel, in the corner. Nanina said she
was ashamed to think of your carrying them; and I said I knew
where you lived, and I should like to ask you to let me take them
home!"

"Do you think you can carry them all the way, my dear?" asked the
priest.

"Look, Father Rocco, see if I can't carry them!" cried La
Biondella, cramming her bread into one of the pockets of her
little apron, holding her bunch of grapes by the stalk in her
mouth, and hoisting the packet of dinner-mats on her head in a
moment. "See, I am strong enough to carry double," said the
child, looking up proudly into the priest's face.

"Can you trust her to take them home for me?" asked Father Rocco,
turning to Nanina. "I want to speak to you alone, and her absence
will give me the opportunity. Can you trust her out by herself?"

"Yes, Father Rocco, she often goes out alone." Nanina gave this
answer in low, trembling tones, and looked down confusedly on the
ground.

"Go then, my dear," said Father Rocco, patting the child on the
shoulder; "and come back here to your sister, as soon as you have
left the mats."

La Biondella went out directly in great triumph, with
Scarammuccia walking by her side, and keeping his muzzle
suspiciously close to the pocket in which she had put her bread.
Father Rocco closed the door after them, and then, taking the one
chair which the room possessed, motioned to Nanina to sit by him
on the stool.

"Do you believe that I am your friend, my child, and that I have
always meant well toward you?" he began.

"The best and kindest of friends," answered Nanina.

"Then you will hear what I have to say patiently, and you will
believe that I am speaking for your good, even if my words should
distress you?" (Nanina turned away her head.) "Now, tell me;
should I be wrong, to begin with, if I said that my brother's
pupil, the young nobleman whom we call 'Signor Fabio,' had been
here to see you today?" (Nanina started up affrightedly from her
stool.) "Sit down again, my child; I am not going to blame you. I
am only going to tell you what you must do for the future."

He took her hand; it was cold, and it trembled violently in his.

"I will not ask what he has been saying to you," continued the
priest; "for it might distress you to answer, and I have,
moreover, had means of knowing that your youth and beauty have
made a strong impression on him. I will pass over, then, all
reference to the words he may have been speaking to you; and I
will come at once to what I have now to say, in my turn. Nanina,
my child, arm yourself with all your courage, and promise me,
before we part tonight, that you will see Signor Fabio no more."

Nanina turned round suddenly, and fixed her eyes on him, with an
expression of terrified incredulity. "No more?"

"You are very young and very innocent," said Father Rocco; "but
surely you must have thought before now of the difference between
Signor Fabio and you. Surely you must have often remembered that
you are low down among the ranks of the poor, and that he is high
up among the rich and the nobly born?"

Nanina's hands dropped on the priest's knees. She bent her head
down on them, and began to weep bitterly.

"Surely you must have thought of that?" reiterated Father Rocco.

"Oh, I have often, often thought of it!" murmured the girl "I
have mourned over it, and cried about it in secret for many
nights past. He said I looked pale, and ill, and out of spirits
today, and I told him it was with thinking of that!"

"And what did he say in return?"

There was no answer. Father Rocco looked down. Nanina raised her
head directly from his knees, and tried to turn it away again. He
took her hand and stopped her.

"Come!" he said; "speak frankly to me. Say what you ought to say
to your father and your friend. What was his answer, my child,
when you reminded him of the difference between you?"

"He said I was born to be a lady," faltered the girl, still
struggling to turn her face away, "and that I might make myself
one if I would learn and be patient. He said that if he had all
the noble ladies in Pisa to choose from on one side, and only
little Nanina on the other, he would hold out his hand to me, and
tell them, 'This shall be my wife.' He said love knew no
difference of rank; and that if he was a nobleman and rich, it
was all the more reason why he should please himself. He was so
kind, that I thought my heart would burst while he was speaking;
and my little sister liked him so, that she got upon his knee and
kissed him. Even our dog, who growls at other strangers, stole to
his side and licked his hand. Oh, Father Rocco! Father Rocco!"
The tears burst out afresh, and the lovely head dropped once
more, wearily, on the priest's knee.

Father Rocco smiled to himself, and waited to speak again till
she was calmer.

"Supposing," he resumed, after some minutes of silence,
"supposing Signor Fabio really meant all he said to you--"

Nanina started up, and confronted the priest boldly for the first
time since he had entered the room.

"Supposing!" she exclaimed, her cheeks beginning to redden, and
her dark blue eyes flashing suddenly through her tears
"Supposing! Father Rocco, Fabio would never deceive me. I would
die here at your feet, rather than doubt the least word he said
to me!"

The priest signed to her quietly to return to the stool. "I never
suspected the child had so much spirit in her," he thought to
himself.

"I would die," repeated Nanina, in a voice that began to falter
now. "I would die rather than doubt him."

"I will not ask you to doubt him," said Father Rocco, gently;
"and I will believe in him myself as firmly as you do. Let us
suppose, my child, that you have learned patiently all the many
things of which you are now ignorant, and which it is necessary
for a lady to know. Let us suppose that Signor Fabio has really
violated all the laws that govern people in his high station ,
and has taken you to him publicly as his wife. You would be happy
then, Nanina; but would he? He has no father or mother to control
him, it is true; but he has friends--many friends and intimates
in his own rank--proud, heartless people, who know nothing of
your worth and goodness; who, hearing of your low birth, would
look on you, and on your husband too, my child, with contempt. He
has not your patience and fortitude. Think how bitter it would be
for him to bear that contempt--to see you shunned by proud women,
and carelessly pitied or patronized by insolent men. Yet all
this, and more, he would have to endure, or else to quit the
world he has lived in from his boyhood--the world he was born to
live in. You love him, I know--"

Nanina's tears burst out afresh. "Oh, how dearly--how dearly!"
she murmured.

"Yes, you love him dearly," continued the priest; "but would all
your love compensate him for everything else that he must lose?
It might, at first; but there would come a time when the world
would assert its influence over him again; when he would feel a
want which you could not supply--a weariness which you could not
solace. Think of his life then, and of yours. Think of the first
day when the first secret doubt whether he had done rightly in
marrying you would steal into his mind. We are not masters of all
our impulses. The lightest spirits have their moments of
irresistible depression; the bravest hearts are not always
superior to doubt. My child, my child, the world is strong, the
pride of rank is rooted deep, and the human will is frail at
best! Be warned! For your own sake and for Fabio's, be warned in
time."

Nanina stretched out her hands toward the priest in despair.

"Oh, Father Rocco! Father Rocco!" she cried, "why did you not
tell me this before?"

"Because, my child, I only knew of the necessity for telling you
today. But it is not too late; it is never too late to do a good
action. You love Fabio, Nanina? Will you prove that love by
making a great sacrifice for his good?"

"I would die for his good!"

"Will you nobly cure him of a passion which will be his ruin, if
not yours, by leaving Pisa tomorrow?"

"Leave Pisa!" exclaimed Nanina. Her face grew deadly pale; she
rose and moved back a step or two from the priest.

"Listen to me," pursued Father Rocco; "I have heard you complain
that you could not get regular employment at needle-work. You
shall have that employment, if you will go with me--you and your
little sister too, of course--to Florence to-morrow."

"I promised Fabio to go to the studio," began Nanina,
affrightedly. "I promised to go at ten o'clock. How can I--"

She stopped suddenly, as if her breath were failing her.

"I myself will take you and your sister to Florence," said Father
Rocco, without noticing the interruption. "I will place you under
the care of a lady who will be as kind as a mother to you both. I
will answer for your getting such work to do as will enable you
to keep yourself honestly and independently; and I will
undertake, if you do not like your life at Florence, to bring you
back to Pisa after a lapse of three months only. Three months,
Nanina. It is not a long exile."

"Fabio! Fabio!" cried the girl, sinking again on the seat, and
hiding her face.

"It is for his good," said Father Rocco, calmly: "for Fabio's
good, remember."

"What would he think of me if I went away? Oh, if I had but
learned to write! If I could only write Fabio a letter!"

"Am I not to be depended on to explain to him all that he ought
to know?"

"How can I go away from him! Oh! Father Rocco, how can you ask me
to go away from him?"

"I will ask you to do nothing hastily. I will leave you till
to-morrow morning to decide. At nine o'clock I shall be in the
street; and I will not even so much as enter this house, unless I
know beforehand that you have resolved to follow my advice. Give
me a sign from your window. If I see you wave your white mantilla
out of it, I shall know that you have taken the noble resolution
to save Fabio and to save yourself. I will say no more, my child;
for, unless I am grievously mistaken in you, I have already said
enough."

He went out, leaving her still weeping bitterly. Not far from the
house, he met La Biondella and the dog on their way back. The
little girl stopped to report to him the safe delivery of her
dinner-mats; but he passed on quickly with a nod and a smile. His
interview with Nanina had left some influence behind it, which
unfitted him just then for the occupation of talking to a child.

Nearly half an hour before nine o'clock on the following morning,
Father Rocco set forth for the street in which Nanina lived. On
his way thither he overtook a dog walking lazily a few paces
ahead in the roadway; and saw, at the same time, an
elegantly-dressed lady advancing toward him. The dog stopped
suspiciously as she approached, and growled and showed his teeth
when she passed him. The lady, on her side, uttered an
exclamation of disgust, but did not seem to be either astonished
or frightened by the animal's threatening attitude. Father Rocco
looked after her with some curiosity as she walked by him. She
was a handsome woman, and he admired her courage. "I know that
growling brute well enough," he said to himself, "but who can the
lady be?"

The dog was Scarammuccia, returning from one of his marauding
expeditions The lady was Brigida, on her way to Luca Lomi's
studio.

Some minutes before nine o'clock the priest took his post in the
street, opposite Nanina's window. It was open; but neither she
nor her little sister appeared at it. He looked up anxiously as
the church-clocks struck the hour; but there was no sign for a
minute or so after they were all silent. "Is she hesitating
still?" said Father Rocco to himself.

Just as the words passed his lips, the white mantilla was waved
out of the window.

PART SECOND.

CHAPTER I.

EVEN the master-stroke of replacing the treacherous Italian
forewoman by a French dressmaker, engaged direct from Paris, did
not at first avail to elevate the great Grifoni establishment
above the reach of minor calamities. Mademoiselle Virginie had
not occupied her new situation at Pisa quite a week before she
fell ill. All sorts of reports were circulated as to the cause of
this illness; and the Demoiselle Grifoni even went so far as to
suggest that the health of the new forewoman had fallen a
sacrifice to some nefarious practices of the chemical sort, on
the part of her rival in the trade. But, however the misfortune
had been produced, it was a fact that Mademoiselle Virginie was
certainly very ill, and another fact that the doctor insisted on
her being sent to the baths of Lucca as soon as she could be
moved from her bed.

Fortunately for the Demoiselle Grifoni, the Frenchwoman had
succeeded in producing three specimens of her art before her
health broke down. They comprised the evening-dress of yellow
brocaded silk, to which she had devoted herself on the morning
when she first assumed her duties at Pisa; a black cloak and hood
of an entirely new shape; and an irresistibly fascinating
dressing-gown, said to have been first brought into fashion by
the princesses of the blood-royal of France. These articles of
costume, on being exhibited in the showroom, electrified the
ladies of Pisa; and orders from all sides flowed in immediately
on the Grifoni establishment. They were, of course, easily
executed by the inferior work-women, from the specimen designs of
the French dressmaker. So that the illness of Mademoiselle
Virginie, though it might cause her mistress some temporary
inconvenience, was, after all, productive of no absolute loss.

Two months at the baths of Lucca restored the new forewoman to
health. She returned to Pisa, and resumed her place in the
private work-room. Once re-established there, she discovered that
an important change had taken place during her absence. Her
friend and assistant, Brigida, had resigned her situation. All
inquiries made of the Demoiselle Grifoni only elicited one
answer: the missing work-woman had abruptly left her place at
five minutes' warning, and had departed without confiding to any
one what she thought of doing, or whither she intended to turn
her steps.

Months elapsed The new year came; but no explanatory letter
arrived from Brigida. The spring season passed off, with all its
accompaniments of dressmaking and dress-buying, but still there
was no news of her. The first anniversary of Mademoiselle
Virginie's engagement with the Demoiselle Grifoni came round; and
then at last a note arrived, stating that Brigida had returned to
Pisa, and that if the French forewoman would send an answer,
mentioning where her private lodgings were, she would visit her
old friend that evening after business hours. The information was
gladly enough given; and, punctually to the appointed time,
Brigida arrived in Mademoiselle Virginie's little sitting-room.

Advancing with her usual indolent stateliness of gait, the
Italian asked after her friend's health as coolly, and sat down
in the nearest chair as carelessly, as if they had not been
separated for more than a few days. Mademoiselle Virginie laughed
in her liveliest manner, and raised her mobile French eyebrows in
sprightly astonishment.

"Well, Brigida!" she exclaimed, "they certainly did you no
injustice when they nicknamed you 'Care-for-Nothing,' in old
Grifoni's workroom. Where have you been? Why have you never
written to me?"

"I had nothing particular to write about; and besides, I always
intended to come back to Pisa and see you," answered Brigida,
leaning back luxuriously in her chair.

"But where have you been for nearly a whole year past? In Italy?"

"No; at Paris. You know I can sing--not very well; but I have a
voice, and most Frenchwomen (excuse the impertinence) have none.
I met with a friend, and got introduced to a manager; and I have
been singing at the theater--not the great parts, only the
second. Your amiable countrywomen could not screech me down on
the stage, but they intrigued against me successfully behind the
scenes. In short, I quarreled with our principal lady, quarreled
with the manager, quarreled with my friend; and here I am back at
Pisa, with a little oney saved in my pocket, and no great notion
what I am to do next."

"Back at Pisa? Why did you leave it?"

Brigida's eyes began to lose their indolent expression. She sat
up suddenly in her chair, and set one of her hands heavily on a
little table by her side.

"Why?" she repeated. "Because when I find the game going against
me, I prefer giving it up at once to waiting to be beaten."

"Ah! you refer to that last year's project of yours for making
your fortune among the sculptors. I should like to hear how it
was you failed with the wealthy young amateur. Remember that I
fell ill before you had any news to give me. Your absence when I
returned from Lucca, and, almost immediately afterward, the
marriage of your intended conquest to the sculptor's daughter,
proved to me, of course, that you must have failed. But I never
heard how. I know nothing at this moment but the bare fact that
Maddalena Lomi won the prize."

"Tell me first, do she and her husband live together happily?"

"There are no stories of their disagreeing. She has dresses,
horses, carriages; a negro page, the smallest lap-dog in
Italy--in short, all the luxuries that a woman can want; and a
child, by-the-by, into the bargain."

"A child?"

"Yes; a child, born little more than a week ago."

"Not a boy, I hope?"

"No; a girl."

"I am glad of that. Those rich people always want the first-born
to be an heir. They will both be disappointed. I am glad of
that."

"Mercy on us, Brigida, how fierce you look!"

"Do I? It's likely enough. I hate Fabio d'Ascoli and Maddalena
Lomi--singly as man and woman, doubly as man and wife. Stop! I'll
tell you what you want to know directly. Only answer me another
question or two first. Have you heard anything about her health?"

"How should I hear? Dressmakers can't inquire at the doors of the
nobility."

"True. Now one last question. That little simpleton, Nanina?"

"I have never seen or heard anything of her. She can't be at
Pisa, or she would have called at our place for work."

"Ah! I need not have asked about her if I had thought a moment
beforehand. Father Rocco would be sure to keep her out of Fabio's
sight, for his niece's sake."

"What, he really loved that 'thread-paper of a girl' as you
called her?"

"Better than fifty such wives as he has got now! I was in the
studio the morning he was told of her departure from Pisa. A
letter was privately given to him, telling him that the girl had
left the place out of a feeling of honor, and had hidden herself
beyond the possibility of discovery, to prevent him from
compromising himself with all his friends by marrying her.
Naturally enough, he would not believe that this was her own
doing; and, naturally enough also, when Father Rocco was sent
for, and was not to be found, he suspected the priest of being at
the bottom of the business. I never saw a man in such a fury of

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