Part 2 out of 5
We use the word _ball_ from habit, meaning, merely, the projectile,
which will probably never again resume its spherical shape in actual
service. We conceive the perfection of precision and range in
rifle-practice to have been attained in the American target-ride,
carrying a slug or cone of one ounce weight,--the gun itself weighing
not less than thirty pounds,--and provided with a telescope-sight, and
Clark's patent muzzle. At three-quarters of a mile this weapon may be
said to be entirely trustworthy for an object of the size of a man, and
to have force enough at that distance to disable three men. But it is
obvious that such weight and such equipments as are required for it must
render it utterly useless for ordinary field-service. It becomes, in
fact, a species of light artillery, and as such we are firm in the
conviction that it is destined to establish for itself a reputation
which will render it henceforth a necessity in the composition of an
For troops of the line the weight of the gun should not exceed ten
pounds. Now, if we reduce the rifle to that weight, and preserve the
ratio of 1-500 as that of the ball, we reduce its range; for the
momentum being, as every school-boy knows, in proportion to weight as
well as velocity, a projectile which may be perfectly sure for two or
three hundred yards flies wide of the mark at six hundred, and can
hardly be found at a thousand. Here begins the operation of the sliding
scale, in the necessity of sacrificing some degree of precision, in
order to procure a weapon fulfilling other indispensable requisites for
the soldier's use. In the English and our own service, the Enfield and
Springfield rifled muskets have been fixed upon as presenting the
nearest attainable approach to perfection in all the desirable elements
of a military rifle.
It is out of the question to look for any such nice work with these
tools as our best amateur riflemen are constantly in the habit of
performing with the heavy thick-barrelled American rifle. The short
Enfield is found to shoot better than the long, owing to the increased
"spring" of the long, thin barrel of the latter; and the English
themselves are becoming aware that they have carried the point of
reducing the weight too far, and their best gun-makers are now insisting
upon the fact which General Jacobs told them years ago,--that a "heavy
conical ball cannot be used effectively from a long, thin barrel like
that of the Enfield rifle, which is liable to great vibration."
The Enfield rifle, however, is a long step in advance of the old
smooth-bored musket, concerning which a veteran British officer has
declared his opinion that "a man might sit at his ease in an armchair
all day long while another at two hundred yards' distance was blazing
away at him with a brown Bess, on the sole condition that he should, on
his honor, aim exactly at him at every shot." _Per contra_ to this,
may be stated the fact, mentioned by Lord Raglan in his despatches, that
at Balaklava a Russian battery of two guns was silenced by the skill in
rifle-shooting of a single officer, (Lieutenant Godfrey,) who,
approaching under cover of a ravine within six hundred yards, and having
his men hand him their Enfield rifles in turn, actually picked off the
artillerymen, one after another, till there were not enough left to
serve the guns, and this in spite of the storm of shot and shell which
they poured around him in reply, he being under no necessity of exposing
a larger target than his head and shoulders for them to aim at.
A trustworthy breech-loading rifle has long been a _desideratum_
with military men; but nothing has yet been produced which offers
sufficient advantages, or seems sufficiently free from objections, to
authorize its introduction as anything more than an experiment. In fact,
the special object of a breech-loading gun--that of enabling its owner
to deliver his fire with greater rapidity--is found in actual service to
be an objection: the soldier being tempted, in the excitement of battle,
to load and fire as rapidly as possible, and thus to waste the greater
portion of his shots, whereas the primary object at such a time is to
induce the deliberation which alone can insure efficiency. It must be
obvious to any one who reflects upon the matter, that in reality the
whole question of efficiency in battle must hinge upon the one point of
precision of fire. It is well known that in actual service not more than
one shot in six hundred takes effect, and, except for the moral effect
of the roar of the musketry and the whistling of the balls, the
remaining five hundred and ninety-nine might better have been kept in
the cartridge-boxes. Upon raw troops, for the most part, this moral
effect is sufficient to decide the question, with the addition of a
comparatively small number of killed and wounded. But veteran troops are
not disturbed by it. They know that a ball which misses by a quarter of
an inch is as harmless as if it had never been shot, and they very soon
learn to disregard the whistling. When they encounter such a fire,
however, as the English met at Bunker's Hill and at New Orleans,--when
the shots which miss are the exceptions, and those which hit, the rule,
no amount of discipline or courage can avail. Disciplined soldiers are
no more willing to be shot than raw levies; but having learned by
experience that the danger in an ordinary action is very trifling in
comparison with its appearance to the imagination of a recruit, they
face it with a determination which to him is inconceivable. Make the
apparent danger real, as in the cases we have cited, and veterans become
as powerless as the merest tyros. With the stimulus of the present
demand, it is probable that Yankee ingenuity will erelong produce some
kind of rifle so far superior to anything yet known as to supersede all
others; and indeed we have little doubt that such would already have
been the case, but for the fact that comparatively few of our most
ingenious mechanics are also expert riflemen, and none but a first-rate
shot can thoroughly appreciate all the requirements of the weapon.
Since the Crimean War, the Governments of Europe seem to have become
awakened to the fact, that, however important and desirable it may be to
secure the best possible implements for the soldier's use, it is
infinitely more so that he should know how to use them. In the hands of
a marksman the rifle is an efficient weapon at half a mile's distance;
but to expect on that account that it will do any more execution in the
hands of one who is not familiar with it than a smooth-bored musket is
as idle as it would be to hope that a person unacquainted with the
violin could give us better music from a Cremona than he could from a
For years past the European powers have been training men to the use of
the rifle. Hundreds of thousands of Englishmen and Frenchmen are at this
moment as familiar with the practical application of its powers as if
their subsistence had been dependent upon its use. Government and people
have perceived that the improvements in small-arms have wrought such a
revolution in the art of war as to revive the necessity which existed in
the days of archery, of making every man a marksman, and in England the
old archery sports of prize-shooting and unremitting private practice
have been renewed, with the substitution of the rifle for the bow; and
besides the regular standing army, England is now guarded by two hundred
thousand volunteers, every one of whom is a good rifleman, and who have
all been subjected to such an amount of drilling as would enable them
speedily to accomplish themselves in the art of united action. The
inciting cause of this great national movement was the apprehension of a
French invasion. Whether there was any ground for such apprehension, or
whether the preparations which were made in consequence have served to
avert the danger, are questions which are irrelevant to our present
object, which lies nearer home.
It needs no argument at this moment to prove the possibility that we may
become engaged in a foreign war, before we have done with the one we
have on our hands at home; but without troubling ourselves with
apprehensions of possible contingencies, have we not sufficient motive
in the condition of affairs at home to render it an imperative duty to
strengthen ourselves by every available means?
We have been so long unused to anything like warlike preparations that
we find it difficult to arouse ourselves to a realization of the fact
that every able-bodied man is liable to be called upon to render active
service for his country; and when a war is raging within our borders, of
whose termination the only thing that can be predicted with certainty is
that it can be reached only through fearful suffering and destruction of
life and property, is it not incumbent on every man to prepare himself
by whatever means are within his reach to render his services efficient?
That the affirmative would be the popular answer is sufficiently proved
by a recurrence to the zeal with which we organized drill-clubs and
practised military tactics in the early stages of the war. It was not
long before the zeal died away. It soon proved a bore to people who
could not help perceiving, that, however perfect they might become in
the manual exercise, their efficiency as soldiers could hardly amount to
much, when most of them had never fired a gun in their lives. And so the
drill-room was quietly abandoned,--the conduct of the war was left to
the Government and the army, while we looked on as mere spectators,--and
the future was left to take care of itself.
We do not mourn greatly at the decay of the drill-clubs, which, in the
form they assumed, were likely to be of little practical benefit; but we
do most sincerely regret the decay of the spirit which led to their
formation, for it was founded on the universal conviction of the fact,
which exists at this moment in still stronger force, that every man
ought to make himself ready for the possible contingency of his services
being demanded in the field.
No man can foretell the chances and changes which are before us; but he
must be ignorant indeed of human nature and human history, who does not
perceive, that, even if our success in the present contest is all that
we can hope, there are issues involved in the weighty questions which
must ensue before the storm subsides, which may render the preservation
of our liberties dependent upon our ability to resist the attempts of
factions or of ambitious and unprincipled military leaders to overturn
them. We have had evidence enough, since the struggle began, (if any one
doubted it before,) that selfishness and ambition are not unrepresented
among us; and if such spirits are abroad, they are working for evil, and
we are worse than foolish to trust to virtue and patriotism to encounter
them unarmed. Do we not owe it to that fatal error, that we are in our
present condition? Were not ambition and lust of power secretly
strengthening their hands for years, in the hope to spring upon us
unawares, and bind us fast before we could prepare for resistance?--and
can we again suffer ourselves to be caught in the same trap?
The question implies its own answer, and the practical reply should be
the immediate and universal instruction of the people in the use of
arms; and to this end the readiest and most efficient means lie in the
encouragement of rifle-practice, by the organization of rifle-clubs, the
institution of shooting-matches for prizes, and the inculcation by all
available methods of a taste for the acquirement of an art which
constitutes the vital spirit of military efficiency. Wherever clubs can
be formed, a course of drilling should be entered upon in connection
with target-practice; but thousands of able-bodied men throughout the
country may be unable to unite with clubs or attend the drills, who may
yet perfect themselves in target-shooting, and the prizes at
shooting-matches should be open to all competitors and all weapons.
The volume of instructions for the Hythe School, issued from the
Horse-Guards, contains the following preliminary remarks:--"The rifle is
placed in the soldier's hands for the destruction of his enemy; his own
safety depends upon his efficient use of it: it cannot, therefore, be
too strongly inculcated, that every man who has no defect in his eyes
may be made a good shot, and that no degree of perfection he may have
attained in the other parts of his drill can upon service remedy any
want of proficiency in this; in fact, all his other instructions in
marching and manoeuvring can do no more than place him in the best
possible situation for using his weapon with effect."
To the assertion that "every man who has no defect in his eyes may be
made a good shot," we beg leave to object, or at least to accept it with
allowances. That every one may attain sufficient skill for ordinary
military service, by which we mean according to modern requirements, we
have no manner of doubt; but the experience of the great shooting-match
at Wimbledon in July last proves conclusively the existence of very wide
differences in the powers of men who had enjoyed equal opportunities of
perfecting themselves; and we are confident that our best riflemen will
sooner indorse the verdict of Frank Forester, who, after a fair
statement of the obstacles to the attainment of perfection, concludes
with the remark,--"It is impossible, therefore, for one-half at least,
if not more, of mankind to become even fair rifle-shots, with any
possible amount of practice; but to all men who have good eyes, iron
nerves, sufficient physical strength, and phlegmatic tempers, it is a
certainty beyond calculation that they can become first-rate rifle-shots
with sufficient practice."[A]
[Footnote A: _Complete Manual for Young Sportsmen_.]
We not only recognize this difference in the powers of different
individuals, but we insist upon the importance of observing it in the
military organization of the rifle corps. The men who prove by their
work that they possess the skill which is the result of such a
combination of moral and physical characteristics as are here enumerated
should be selected for special duty, and armed with the most efficient
weapons that can be procured, which, even at four times the cost of
ordinary infantry muskets, would prove in the end the better economy, by
rendering needless the enormous waste of ammunition which seems
inseparable from the use of ordinary arms. The sharp-shooters thus
selected should be armed in part with the best rifles of ordinary
construction and weight, (and we are strongly inclined to believe, if
allowed their own choice, they would select the common American
hunting-rifle,) and a portion with the best telescope-rifles of the kind
we have heretofore described. We are well aware, that, till recently,
the introduction of these guns into the service has been scouted at by
military men, and the experiment of sending a company of men provided
with them and familiar with their use from this State was met with
ridicule, which, however, has been changed to admiration by the
triumphant manner in which they have vindicated the most sanguine hopes
of those who were instrumental in procuring their introduction.
A letter from a member of the company says of them,--"The
telescope-rifles more than equalled our expectations. They do good
service at a mile, and are certain death at half a mile." At Edwards's
Ferry, on the 22d of October, seventy men of this company repelled a
charge of fifteen hundred of the enemy and drove them from the field,
with the loss of more than one hundred killed, while not one of their
own men received a scratch. They lay upon the ground behind a fence,
resting their guns upon the lower rail, and the enemy came in sight half
a mile distant and started towards them at double-quick, loading and
firing as they ran; but before they had traversed half the distance,
they had learned that the whistle of every bullet was the death-knell of
one, and in many instances of more than one of their number, and coming
to a slight ravine, the temptation of its shelter from so fearful a
storm proved irresistible, and, turning up course, they fled in dismay,
leaving their dead upon the ground in windrows. Three standard-bearers
in succession fell before the fatal aim of the same rifle, and no man
dared repeat the suicidal act of again displaying that ensign. We have
seen a letter from an officer high in command who witnessed that action,
and, after describing it, he remarks,--"There is more chance of credit
to your State in the new gun and men than in twenty drilled regiments."
But the history of that skirmish proves the capacity of the weapon in
question for the performance of more than ought ever to be asked of it.
Had the troops who attempted the charge been thoroughly disciplined and
accustomed to the work, they could not have been checked by so small a
number, and in five minutes more the little handful of riflemen would
have been riddled with bayonets. On the other hand, nothing but the
confidence inspired by the consciousness of the power they wielded could
have enabled such a handful to hold their ground as they did in the face
of such overwhelming odds. Two companies of infantry in their rear, who
were intended as a support, fired one volley and then fled.
In a close conflict so unwieldy a weapon as the telescope-rifle is of
course useless, and its owner must depend upon his side-arms for
defence. The same is true of artillery, and, as we said before, these
riflemen are to be considered and used in service as light
artillery,--requiring a sufficient support to enable them to withdraw
from close action, but operating with deadly effect upon individual
enemies at a distance at which cannon are serviceable only against
masses, and, for the most part, require a series of trials to get the
range, which may be constantly shifting. The telescope-rifle is a
field-piece possessing such precision and range as no other weapon can
boast, and provided with an instrument which reduces the art of aiming
to a point of mathematical certainty,--and all within such a compass of
size and weight that every man of a company can manage one with nearly
the rapidity and with ten times the efficiency of an ordinary musket. We
submit the question, whether we can afford to dispense with such
advantages,--or rather, whether we are not bound to develop them to
their fullest extent, by the adoption and adaptation to field-service of
the weapon which combines them? It is obvious that a corps armed with
such a weapon would require a peculiar drill, and their sphere of
usefulness would necessarily be limited by circumstances which would not
affect ordinary infantry; but common sense would readily dictate the
positions of attack or defence in which their peculiar powers would
render the best service, and military science would suggest the most
efficient manner of directing their operations. Such a force, however,
would necessarily form but a small portion of any army; and we have
dwelt upon the subject solely from the conviction that its importance is
too great to allow it to be neglected, while it is yet too little known
to be appreciated as it deserves.
We turn now to the ordinary rifle-practice, which has come of late years
to be considered in Europe almost as the one thing needful for the
soldier, while with us it has been gradually sinking into disuse for a
quarter of a century. When called upon to send an army into the field,
we find that more than half of its members have never fired a gun, and
even of those who have, not one in a hundred has had any instruction
beyond what he has been able to pick up for himself, while popping at
robins and squirrels with a ten-dollar Birmingham shot-gun; and every
account we receive of a skirmish with the enemy elicits exclamations of
astonishment that so few are hurt on either side. It may relieve in some
degree the prevalent dread of fire-arms (which is a primary cause of
this general ignorance of their use) to discover that it requires no
small amount of skill to hurt anybody with them; and when the fact comes
to be equally appreciated, that ignorance lies at the bottom of all the
unintended mischief that is done with them, it is probable that proper
instruction in their use will be considered, as it ought, a necessary
part of a boy's education. It had been better for us, if this matter had
been sooner attended to. _Let us lose no time now_.
Reader! are you a man, having the use of your limbs and eyes, and do you
know how to put a ball into a rifle and bring it out again with a true
aim? If not, it is time you were learning. Provide yourself with a rifle
and equipments, and find some one to give you the first lessons in their
use, and then practise daily at target-shooting. Do not excuse yourself
with the plea that you have no intention to enter the service. If the
work of preparation is left only to those who mean to become soldiers,
it will not be done; but if every man proves his appreciation of its
importance by taking an active interest in its promotion, the right men
for soldiers will be forthcoming when they are needed, and the most
important element of their military education will have been acquired;
and it is not impossible that the day may come when you yourself will
feel that the power you have thus obtained is worth more to you than all
you learned in college. Are you too old and infirm for such service, or
are you a woman, and have you the means of equipping another who is
unable to do it for himself? If so, it will not be hard to find an
able-bodied young man who will gladly take charge of a rifle, on the
condition that he is to be its owner at the end of six months, if he can
then place ten successive shots in a circle of a foot in diameter at two
"A word to the wise is enough." The word has been uttered in
trumpet-tones from the battle-fields of the South. Let us prove that we
are wise, by acting at once upon its suggestions.
* * * * *
AGNES OF SORRENTO.
The morning sun rose clear and lovely on the old red rocks of Sorrento,
and danced in a thousand golden scales and ripples on the wide
Mediterranean. The shadows of the gorge were pierced by long golden
shafts of light, here falling on some moist bed of crimson cyclamen,
there shining through a waving tuft of gladiolus, or making the abundant
yellow fringes of the broom more vivid in their brightness. The
velvet-mossy old bridge, in the far shadows at the bottom, was lit up by
a chance beam, and seemed as if it might be something belonging to
There had been a bustle and stir betimes in the little dove-cot, for
to-morrow the inmates were to leave it for a long, adventurous journey.
To old Elsie, the journey back to Rome, the city of her former days of
prosperity, the place which had witnessed her ambitious hopes, her
disgrace and downfall, was full of painful ideas. There arose to her
memory, like a picture, those princely halls, with their slippery, cold
mosaic floors, their long galleries of statues and paintings, their
enchanting gardens, musical with the voice of mossy fountains, fragrant
with the breath of roses and jessamines, where the mother of Agnes had
spent the hours of her youth and beauty. She seemed to see her flitting
hither and thither down the stately ilex-avenues, like some gay
singing-bird, to whom were given gilded cages and a constant round of
caresses and sweets, or like the flowers in the parterres, which lived
and died only as the graceful accessories of the grandeur of an old
She compared, mentally, the shaded and secluded life which Agnes had led
with the specious and fatal brilliancy which had been the lot of her
mother,--her simple peasant garb with those remembered visions of
jewelry and silk and embroideries with which the partial patronage of
the Duchess or the ephemeral passion of her son had decked out the poor
Isella; and then came swelling at her heart a tumultuous thought, one
which she had repressed and kept down for years with all the force of
pride and hatred. Agnes, peasant-girl though she seemed, had yet the
blood of that proud old family in her veins; the marriage had been a
true one; she herself had witnessed it.
"Yes, indeed," she said to herself, "were justice done, she would now be
a princess,--a fit mate for the nobles of the land; and here I ask no
more than to mate her to an honest smith,--I that have seen a prince
kneel to kiss her mother's hand,--yes, he did,--entreat her on his knees
to be his wife,--I saw it. But then, what came of it? Was there ever one
of these nobles that kept oath or promise to us of the people, or that
cared for us longer than the few moments we could serve his pleasure?
Old Elsie, you have done wisely! keep your dove out of the eagle's nest:
it is foul with the blood of poor innocents whom he has torn to pieces
in his cruel pride!"
These thoughts swelled in silence in the mind of Elsie, while she was
busy sorting and arranging her household stores, and making those
thousand-and-one preparations known to every householder, whether of
much or little, who meditates a long journey.
To Agnes she seemed more than ever severe and hard; yet probably there
never was a time when every pulse of her heart was beating more warmly
for the child, and every thought of the future was more entirely
regulated with reference to her welfare. It is no sinecure to have the
entire devotion of a strong, enterprising, self-willed friend, as Agnes
had all her life found. One cannot gather grapes of thorns or figs of
thistles, and the affection of thorny and thistly natures has often as
sharp an acid and as long prickers as wild gooseberries,--yet it is
their best, and must be so accepted.
Agnes tried several times to offer her help to her grandmother, but was
refused so roughly that she dared not offer again, and therefore went to
her favorite station by the parapet in the garden, whence she could look
up and down the gorge, and through the arches of the old mossy Roman
bridge that spanned it far down by the city-wall. All these things had
become dear to her by years of familiar silent converse. The little
garden, with its old sculptured basin, and the ever-lulling dash of
falling water,--the tremulous draperies of maiden's-hair, always beaded
with shining drops,--the old shrine, with its picture, its lamp, and
flower-vase,--the tall, dusky orange-trees, so full of blossoms and
fruit, so smooth and shining in their healthy bark,--all seemed to her
as so many dear old friends whom she was about to leave, perhaps
What this pilgrimage would be like, she scarcely knew: days and weeks of
wandering,--over mountain-passes,--in deep, solitary valleys,--as years
ago, when her grandmother brought her, a little child, from Rome.
In the last few weeks, Agnes seemed to herself to have become wholly
another being. Silently, insensibly, her feet had crossed the enchanted
river that divides childhood from womanhood, and all the sweet ignorant
joys of that first early paradise lay behind her. Up to this time her
life had seemed to her a charming dream, full of blessed visions and
images: legends of saints, and hymns, and prayers had blended with
flower-gatherings in the gorge, and light daily toils.
Now, a new, strange life had been born within her,--a life full of
passions, contradictions, and conflicts. A love had sprung up in her
heart, strange and wonderful, for one who till within these few weeks
had been entirely unknown to her, who had never toiled for, or housed,
or clothed, or cared for her as her grandmother had, and yet whom a few
short interviews, a few looks, a few words, had made to seem nearer and
dearer than the old, tried friends of her childhood. In vain she
confessed it as a sin,--in vain she strove against it; it came back to
her in every hymn, in every prayer. Then she would press the sharp cross
to her breast, till a thousand stings of pain would send the blood in
momentary rushes to her pale cheek, and cause her delicate lips to
contract with an expression of stern endurance, and pray that by any
penance and anguish she might secure his salvation.
To save one such glorious soul, she said to herself, was work enough for
one little life. She was willing to spend it all in endurance, unseen by
him, unknown to him, so that at last he should be received into that
Paradise which her ardent imagination conceived so vividly. Surely,
there she should meet him, radiant as the angel of her dream; and then
she would tell him that it was all for his sake that she had refused to
listen to him here. And these sinful longings to see him once more,
these involuntary reachings of her soul after an earthly companionship,
she should find strength to overcome in this pilgrimage. She should go
to Rome,--the very city where the blessed Paul poured out his blood for
the Lord Jesus,--where Peter fed the flock, till his time, too, came to
follow his Lord in the way of the cross. She should even come near to
her blessed Redeemer; she should go up, on her knees, those very steps
to Pilate's hall where He stood bleeding, crowned with thorns,--His
blood, perhaps, dropping on the very stones. Ah, could any mortal love
distract her there? Should she not there find her soul made free of
every earthly thrall to love her Lord alone,--as she had loved Him in
the artless and ignorant days of her childhood,--but better, a thousand
"Good morning to you, pretty dove!" said a voice from without the
garden-wall; and Agnes, roused from her reverie, saw old Jocunda.
"I came down to help you off," she said, as she came into the little
garden. "Why, my dear little saint! you are looking white as a sheet,
and with those tears! What's it all for, baby?"
"Ah, Jocunda! grandmamma is angry with me all the time now. I wish I
could go once more to the Convent and see my dear Mother Theresa. She is
angry, if I but name it; and yet she will not let me do anything here to
help her, and so I don't know _what_ to do."
"Well, at any rate, don't cry, pretty one! Your grandmamma is worked
with hard thoughts. We old folks are twisted and crabbed and full of
knots with disappointment and trouble, like the mulberry-trees that they
keep for vines to run on. But I'll speak to her; I know her ways; she
shall let you go; I'll bring her round."
"So-ho, sister!" said the old soul, hobbling to the door, and looking in
at Elsie, who was sitting flat on the stone floor of her cottage,
sorting a quantity of flax that lay around her. The severe Roman profile
was thrown out by the deep shadows of the interior,--and the piercing
black eyes, the silver-white hair, and the strong, compressed lines of
the mouth, as she worked, and struggled with the ghosts of her former
life, made her look like no unapt personification of one of the Fates
reviewing her flax before she commenced the spinning of some new web of
"Good morning to you, sister!" said Jocunda. "I heard you were off
tomorrow, and I came to see what I could do to help you."
"There's nothing to be done for me, but to kill me," said Elsie. "I am
weary of living."
"Oh, never say that! Shake the dice again, my old man used to say,--God
rest his soul! Please Saint Agnes, you'll have a brave pilgrimage."
"Saint Agnes be hanged!" said Elsie, gruffly. "I'm out with her. It was
she put all these notions into my girl's head. Because she didn't get
married herself, she don't want any one else to. She has no
consideration. I've done with her: I told her so this morning. The
candles I've burned and the prayers I've gone through with, that she
might prosper me in this one thing! and it's all gone against me. She's
a baggage, and shall never see another penny of mine,--that's flat!"
Such vituperation of saints and sacred images may be heard to this day
in Italy, and is a common feature of idol-worship in all lands; for,
however the invocation of the saints could be vitalized in the hearts of
the few spiritual, there is no doubt that in the mass of the common
people it had all the well-defined symptoms of the grossest idolatry,
among which fits of passionate irreverence are one. That feeling, which
tempts the enlightened Christian in sore disappointment and vexation to
rise in rebellion against a wise Providence, in the childish twilight of
uncultured natures finds its full expression unawed by reverence or
"Oh, hush, now!" said Jocunda. "What is the use of making her angry just
as you are going to Rome, where she has the most power? All sorts of ill
luck will befall you. Make up with her before you start, or you may get
the fever in the marshes and die, and then who will take care of poor
"Let Saint Agnes look after her; the girl loves her better than she does
me or anybody else," said Elsie. "If she cared anything about me, she'd
marry and settle down, as I want her to."
"Oh, there you are wrong," said Jocunda. "Marrying is like your dinner:
one is not always in stomach for it, and one's meat is another's poison.
Now who knows but this pilgrimage may be the very thing to bring the
girl round? I've seen people cured of too much religion by going to
Rome. You know things a'n't there as our little saint fancies. Why,
between you and me, the priests themselves have their jokes on those who
come so far to so little purpose. More shame for 'em, say I, too; but we
common people mustn't look into such things too closely. Now take it
cheerfully, and you'll see the girl will come back tired of tramping and
able to settle down in a good home with a likely husband. I have a
brother in Naples who is turning a pretty penny in the fisheries; I will
give you directions to find him; his wife is a wholesome Christian
woman; and if the little one be tired by the time you get there, you
might do worse than stop two or three days with them. It's a brave city;
seems made to have a good time in. Come, you let her just run up to the
Convent to bid goodbye to the Mother Theresa and the sisters."
"I don't care where she goes," said Elsie, ungraciously.
"There, now!" said Jocunda, coming out,--"Agnes, your grandmother bids
you go to the Convent to say good-bye to the sisters; so run along,
there's a little dear. The Mother Theresa talks of nothing else but you
since she heard that you meditated this; and she has broken in two her
own piece of the True Cross which she's carried in the gold and pearl
reliquary that the Queen sent her, and means to give it to you. One
doesn't halve such gifts, without one's whole heart goes with them."
"Dear mother!" said Agnes, her eyes filling with tears. "I will take her
some flowers and oranges for the last time. Do you know, Jocunda, I feel
that I never shall come back here to this dear little home where I have
been so happy?--everything sounds so mournful and looks so mournful!--I
love everything here so much!"
"Oh, dear child, never give in to such fancies, but pluck up heart. You
will be sure to have luck, wherever you go,--especially since the mother
will give you that holy relic. I myself had a piece of Saint John
Baptist's thumb-nail sewed up in a leather bag, which I wore day and
night all the years I was tramping up and down with my old man; but when
he died, I had it buried with him to ease his soul. For you see, dear,
he was a trooper, and led such a rackety, up-and-down life, that I doubt
but his confessions were but slipshod, and he needed all the help be
could get, poor old soul! It's a comfort to think he has it."
"Ah, Jocunda, seems to me it were better to trust to the free love of
our dear Lord who died for us, and pray to Him, without ceasing, for his
"Like enough, dearie; but then, one can't he too sure, you know. And
there isn't the least doubt in my mind that that was a true relic, for I
got it in the sack of the city of Volterra, out of the private cabinet
of a noble lady, with a lot of jewels and other matters that made quite
a little purse for us. Ah, that was a time, when that city was sacked!
It was hell upon earth for three days, and all our men acted like devils
incarnate; but then they always will in such cases. But go your ways
now, dearie, and I'll stay with your grandmamma; for, please God, you
must be up and away with the sun tomorrow."
Agnes hastily arranged a little basket of fruit and flowers, and took
her way down through the gorge, under the Roman bridge, through an
orange-orchard, and finally came out upon the sea-shore, and so along
the sands below the cliffs on which the old town of Sorrento is
So cheating and inconsistent is the human heart, especially in the
feminine subject, that she had more than once occasion to chide herself
for the thrill with which she remembered passing the Cavalier once in
this orange-garden, and the sort of vague hope which she detected that
somewhere along this road he might appear again.
"How perfectly wicked and depraved I must be," she said to herself, "to
find any pleasure in such a thought of one I should pray never to meet
And so the little soul went on condemning herself in those exaggerated
terms which the religious vocabulary of conventual life furnished
ready-made for the use of penitents of every degree, till by the time
she arrived at the Convent she could scarcely have been more oppressed
with a sense of sin, if she had murdered her grandmother and eloped with
On her arrival in the Convent court, the peaceful and dreamy stillness
contrasted strangely with the gorgeous brightness of the day outside.
The splendid sunshine, the sparkling sea, the songs of the boatmen, the
brisk passage of gliding sails, the bright hues of the flowers that
garlanded the rocks, all seemed as if the earth had been arrayed for
some gala-day; but the moment she had passed the portal, the silent,
mossy court, with its pale marble nymph, its lull of falling water, its
turf snow-dropt with daisies and fragrant with blue and white violets,
and the surrounding cloistered walks, with their pictured figures of
pious history, all came with a sad and soothing influence on her nerves.
The nuns, who had heard the news of the projected pilgrimage, and
regarded it as the commencement of that saintly career which they had
always predicted for her, crowded around her, kissing her hands and her
robe, and entreating her prayers at different shrines of especial
sanctity that she might visit.
The Mother Theresa took her to her cell, and there hung round her neck,
by a golden chain, the relic which she designed for her, and of whose
genuineness she appeared to possess no manner of doubt.
"But how pale you are, my sweet child!" she said. "What has happened to
alter you so much? Your cheeks look so thin, and there are deep, dark
circles round your eyes."
"Ah, my mother, it is because of my sins."
"Your sins, dear little one! What sins can you be guilty of?"
"Ah, my dear mother, I have been false to my Lord, and let the love of
an earthly creature into my heart."
"What can you mean?" said the mother.
"Alas, dear mother, the cavalier who sent that ring!" said Agnes,
covering her face with her hands.
Now the Mother Theresa had never left the walls of that convent since
she was ten years old,--had seen no men except her father and uncle, who
once or twice made her a short call, and an old hunch-back who took care
of their garden, safe in his armor of deformity. Her ideas on the
subject of masculine attractions were, therefore, as vague as might be
the conceptions of the eyeless fishes in the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky
with regard to the fruits and flowers above-ground. All that portion of
her womanly nature which might have throbbed lay in a dead calm. Still
there was a faint flutter of curiosity, as she pressed Agnes to tell her
story, which she did with many pauses and sobs and blushes.
"And is he so very handsome, my little heart?" she said, after
listening. "What makes you love him so much in so little time?"
"Yes,--he is beautiful as an angel."
"I never saw a young man, really," said the Mother Theresa. "Uncle
Angelo was lame, and had gray hair; and papa was very fat, and had a red
face. Perhaps he looks like our picture of Saint Sebastian;--I have
often thought that I might be in danger of loving a young man that
looked like him."
"Oh, he is more beautiful than that picture or any picture!" said Agnes,
fervently; "and, mother, though he is excommunicated, I can't help
feeling that he is as good as he is beautiful. My uncle had strong hopes
that he should restore him to the True Church; and to pray for his soul
I am going on this pilgrimage. Father Francesco says, if I will tear
away and overcome this love, I shall gain so much merit that my prayers
will have power to save his soul. Promise me, dear mother, that you and
all the sisters will help me with your prayers;--help me to work out
this great salvation, and then I shall be so glad to come back here and
spend all my life in prayer!"
THE MOUNTAIN FORTRESS.
And so on a bright spring morning our pilgrims started. Whoever has
traversed the road from Sorrento to Naples, that wonderful path along
the high, rocky shores of the Mediterranean, must remember it only as a
wild dream of enchantment. On one side lies the sea, shimmering in bands
of blue, purple, and green to the swaying of gentle winds, exhibiting
those magical shiftings and changes of color peculiar to these waves.
Near the land its waters are of pale, transparent emerald, while farther
out they deepen into blue and thence into a violet-purple, which again,
towards the horizon-line, fades into misty pearl-color. The shores rise
above the sea in wild, bold precipices, grottoed into fantastic caverns
by the action of the waves, and presenting every moment some new variety
of outline. As the path of the traveller winds round promontories whose
mountain-heights are capped by white villages and silvery with
olive-groves, he catches the enchanting sea-view, now at this point, and
now at another, with Naples glimmering through the mists in the
distance, and the purple sides of Vesuvius ever changing with streaks
and veins of cloud-shadows, while silver vapors crown the summit. Above
the road the steep hills seem piled up to the sky,--every spot
terraced, and cultivated with some form of vegetable wealth, and the
wild, untamable rocks garlanded over with golden broom, crimson
gillyflowers, and a thousand other bright adornments. The road lies
through villages whose gardens and orange-orchards fill the air with,
sweet scents, and whose rose-hedges sometimes pour a perfect cascade of
bloom and fragrance over the walls.
Our travellers started in the dewy freshness of one of those gorgeous
days which seem to cast an illuminating charm over everything. Even old
Elsie's stern features relaxed somewhat under the balmy influences of
sun and sky, and Agnes's young, pale face was lit up with a brighter
color than for many a day before. Their pilgrimage through this
beautiful country had few incidents. They walked in the earlier and
latter parts of the day, reposing a few hours at noon near some fountain
or shrine by the wayside,--often experiencing the kindly veneration of
the simple peasantry, who cheerfully offered them refreshments, and
begged their prayers at the holy places whither they were going.
In a few days they reached Naples, where they made a little stop with
the hospitable family to whom Jocunda had recommended them. From Naples
their path lay through the Pontine Marshes; and though the malaria makes
this region a word of fear, yet it is no less one of strange, soft,
enchanting beauty. A wide, sea-like expanse, clothed with an abundance
of soft, rich grass, painted with golden bands and streaks of bright
yellow flowers, stretches away to a purple curtain of mountains, whose
romantic outline rises constantly in a thousand new forms of beauty. The
upland at the foot of these mountains is beautifully diversified with
tufts of trees, and the contrast of the purple softness of the distant
hills with the dazzling gold and emerald of the wide meadow-tracts they
inclose is a striking feature in the landscape. Droves of silver-haired
oxen, with their great, dreamy, dark eyes and polished black horns, were
tranquilly feeding knee-deep in the lush, juicy grass, and herds of
buffaloes, uncouth, but harmless, might be seen pasturing or reposing in
the distance. On either side of the way were waving tracts of yellow
fleur-de-lis, and beds of arum, with its arrowy leaves and white
blossoms. It was a wild luxuriance of growth, a dreamy stillness of
solitude, so lovely that one could scarce remember that it was deadly.
Elsie was so impressed with the fear of the malaria, that she trafficked
with an honest peasant, who had been hired to take back to Rome the
horses which had been used to convey part of the suite of a nobleman
travelling to Naples, to give them a quicker passage across than they
could have made on foot. It is true that this was quite contrary to the
wishes of Agnes, who felt that the journey ought to be performed in the
most toilsome and self-renouncing way, and that they should trust solely
to prayer and spiritual protection to ward off the pestilential
In vain she quoted the Psalm, "Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror
by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the pestilence
that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at
noon-day," and adduced cases of saints who had walked unhurt through all
sorts of dangers.
"There's no use talking, child," said Elsie. "I'm older than you, and
have seen more of real men and women; and whatever they did in old
times, I know that nowadays the saints don't help those that don't take
care of themselves; and the long and the short of it is, we must ride
across those marshes, and get out of them as quick as possible, or we
shall get into Paradise quicker than we want to."
In common with many other professing Christians, Elsie felt that going
to Paradise was the very dismallest of alternatives,--a thing to be
staved off as long as possible.
After many days of journeying, the travellers, somewhat weary and
foot-sore, found themselves in a sombre and lonely dell of the
mountains, about an hour before the going down of the sun. The slanting
yellow beams turned to silvery brightness the ashy foliage of the
gnarled old olives, which gaunt and weird clung with their great,
knotty, straggling roots to the rocky mountain-sides. Before them, the
path, stony, steep, and winding, was rising upward and still upward, and
no shelter for the night appeared, except in a distant mountaintown,
which, perched airily as an eagle's nest on its hazy height, reflected
from the dome of its church and its half-ruined old feudal tower, the
golden light of sunset. A drowsy-toned bell was ringing out the Ave
Maria over the wide purple solitude of mountains, whose varying outlines
were rising around.
"You are tired, my little heart," said old Elsie to Agnes, who had
drooped during a longer walk than usual.
"No, grandmamma," said Agnes, sinking on her knees to repeat her evening
prayer, which she did, covering her face with her hands.
Old Elsie kneeled too; but, as she was praying,--being a thrifty old
body in the use of her time,--she cast an eye up the steep mountain-path
and calculated the distance of the little airy village. Just at that
moment she saw two or three horsemen, who appeared to be stealthily
observing them from behind the shadow of some large rocks.
When their devotions were finished, she hurried on her grandchild,
"Come, dearie! it must be we shall find a shelter soon."
The horsemen now rode up behind them.
"Good evening, mother!" said one of them, speaking from under the shadow
of a deeply slouched hat.
Elsie made no reply, but hurried forward.
"Good evening, pretty maid!" he said again, riding still nearer.
"Go your ways in the name of God," said Elsie. "We are pilgrims, going
for our souls to Rome; and whoever hinders us will have the saints to
"Who talks of hindering you, mother?" responded the other. "On the
contrary, we come for the express purpose of helping you along."
"We want none of your help," said Elsie, gruffly.
"See, now, how foolish you are!" said the horseman. "Don't you see that
that town is a good seven miles off, and not a bit of bed or supper to
be had till you get there, and the sun will be down soon? So mount up
behind me, and here is a horse for the little one."
In fact, the horsemen at this moment opening disclosed to view a palfrey
with a lady's saddle, richly caparisoned, as if for a person of
condition. With a sudden movement, two of the men dismounted, confronted
the travellers, and the one who had acted as spokesman, approaching
Agnes, said, in a tone somewhat imperative,--
"Come, young lady, it is our master's will that your poor little feet
should have some rest."
And before Agnes could remonstrate, he raised her into the saddle as
easily as if she had been a puff of thistle-down, and then turning to
Elsie, he said,--
"For you, good mother, if you wish to keep up, you must e'en be content
with a seat behind me."
"Who are you? and how dare you?" said Elsie, indignantly.
"Good mother," said the man, "you see God's will is that you should
submit, because we are four to you two, and there are fifty more within
call. So get up without more words, and I swear by the Holy Virgin no
harm shall be done you."
Elsie looked and saw Agnes already some distance before her, the bridle
of her palfrey being held by one of the horsemen, who rode by her side
and seemed to look after her carefully; and so, without more ado, she
accepted the services of the man, and, placing her foot on the toe of
his riding-boot, mounted to the crupper behind him.
"That is right," said he. "Now hold on to me lustily, and be not
So saying, the whole troop began winding as rapidly as possible up the
steep, rocky path to the mountain-town.
Notwithstanding the surprise and alarm of this most unexpected
adventure, Agnes, who had been at the very point of exhaustion from
fatigue, could not but feel the sensation of relief and repose which the
seat in an easy saddle gave her. The mountain air, as they arose,
breathed fresh and cold on her brow, and a prospect of such wondrous
beauty unrolled beneath her feet that her alarm soon became lost in
admiration. The mountains that rose everywhere around them seemed to
float in a transparent sea of luminous vapor, with olive-orchards and
well-tilled fields lying in far, dreamy distances below, while out
towards the horizon silver gleams of the Mediterranean gradually widened
to the view. Soothed by the hour, refreshed by the air, and filled with
admiration for the beauty of all she saw, she surrendered herself to her
situation with a feeling of solemn religious calm, as to some unfolding
of the Divine Will, which might unroll like the landscape beneath her.
They pursued their way in silence, rising higher and higher out of the
shadows of the deep valleys below, the man who conducted them observing
a strict reserve, but seeming to have a care for their welfare.
The twilight yet burned red in the sky, and painted with solemn lights
the mossy walls of the little old town, as they plunged under a sombre
antique gateway, and entered on a street as damp and dark as a cellar,
which went up almost perpendicularly between tall, black stone walls
that seemed to have neither windows nor doors. Agnes could only remember
clambering upward, turning short corners, clattering down steep stone
steps, under low archways, along narrow, ill-smelling passages, where
the light that seemed so clear without the town was almost extinguished
in utter night.
At last they entered the damp court of a huge, irregular pile of stone
buildings. Here the men suddenly drew up, and Agnes's conductor,
dismounting, came and took her silently from her saddle, saying briefly,
"Come this way."
Elsie sprang from her seat in a moment, and placed herself at the side
of her child.
"No, good mother," said the man with whom she had ridden, seizing her
powerfully by the shoulders, and turning her round.
"What do you mean?" said Elsie, fiercely. "Are you going to keep me from
my own child?"
"Patience!" replied the man. "You can't help yourself, so recommend
yourself to God, and no harm shall come to you."
Agnes looked back at her grandmother.
"Fear not, dear grandmamma," she said, "the blessed angels will watch
As she spoke, she followed her conductor through long, damp, mouldering
passages and up flights of stone steps, and again through other long
passages smelling of mould and damp, till at last he opened the door of
an apartment from which streamed a light so dazzling to the eyes of
Agnes that at first she could form no distinct conception as to where
As soon as her eyesight cleared, she found herself in an apartment which
to her simplicity seemed furnished with an unheard-of luxury. The walls
were richly frescoed and gilded, and from a chandelier of Venetian glass
the light fell upon a foot-cloth of brilliant tapestry which covered the
marble floor. Gilded chairs and couches, covered with the softest
Genoese velvet, invited to repose; while tables inlaid with choice
mosaics stood here and there, sustaining rare vases, musical
instruments, and many of the light, fanciful ornaments with which, in
those days, the halls of women of condition were graced. At one end of
the apartment was an alcove, where the rich velvet curtains were looped
away with heavy cords and tassels of gold, displaying a smaller room,
where was a bed with hangings of crimson satin embroidered with gold.
Agnes stood petrified with amazement, and put her hand to her head, as
if to assure herself by the sense of touch that she was not dreaming,
and then, with an impulse of curious wonder, began examining the
apartment. The rich furniture and the many adornments, though only such
as were common in the daily life of the great at that period, had for
her simple eyes all the marvellousness of the most incredible illusion.
She touched the velvet couches almost with fear, and passed from object
to object in a sort of maze. When she arrived at the alcove, she thought
she heard a slight rustling within, and then a smothered laugh. Her
heart beat quick as she stopped to listen. There was a tittering sound,
and a movement as if some one were shaking the curtain, and at last
Giulietta stood in the doorway.
For a moment Agnes stood looking at her in utter bewilderment. Yes,
surely it was Giulietta, dressed out in all the bravery of splendid
apparel, her black hair shining and lustrous, great solid ear-rings of
gold shaking in her ears, and a row of gold coins displayed around her
She broke into a loud laugh at the sight of Agnes's astonished face.
"So, here you are!" she said, "Well, now, didn't I tell you so? You see
he was in love with you, just as I said; and if you wouldn't come to him
of your own accord, he must fly off with you."
"Oh, Giulietta!" said Agnes, springing towards her and catching her
hands, "what does all this mean? and where have they carried poor
"Oh, never worry about her! Do you know you are in high favor here, and
any one who belongs to you gets good quarters? Your grandmother just now
is at supper, I doubt not, with my mother; and a jolly time they will
have of it, gossiping together."
"Your mother here, too?"
"Yes, simple, to be sure! I found it so much easier living here than in
the old town that I sent for her, that she might have peace in her old
age.--But how do you like your room? Were you not astonished to see it
so brave? Know, then, pretty one, that it is all on account of the good
courage of our band. For, you see, the people there in Rome (we won't
say who) had given away all our captain's lands and palaces and villas
to this one and that, as pleased them; and one pretty little villa in
the mountains not far from here went to a stout old cardinal. What does
a band of our men do, one night, but pounce on old red-hat and tie him
up, while they helped themselves to what they liked through the house?
True, they couldn't bring house and all; but they brought stores of rich
furnishing, and left him thanking the saints that he was yet alive. So
we arranged your rooms right nobly, thinking to please our captain when
he comes. If you are not pleased, you will be ungrateful, that's all."
"Giulietta," said Agnes, who had scarcely seemed to listen to this
prattle, so anxious was she to speak of what lay nearest her heart, "I
want to see grandmamma. Can't you bring her to me?"
"No, my little princess, I can't. Do you know you are my mistress now?
Well, you are; but there's one that's master of us both, and he says
none must speak with you till he has seen you."
"And is he here?"
"No, he has been some time gone Northward, and has not returned,--
though we expect him to-night. So compose yourself, and ask for anything
in the world, but to see your grandmother, and I will show that I am
your humble servant to command."
So saying, Giulietta curtsied archly and laughed, showing her white,
shiny teeth, which looked as bright as pearls.
Agnes sat down on one of the velvet couches and leaned her head on her
"Come, now, let me bring you some supper," said Giulietta. "What say you
to a nice roast fowl and a bottle of wine?"
"How can you speak of such things in the holy time of Lent?" said Agnes.
"Oh, never you fear about that! Our holy Father Stefano sets such
matters right for any of us in a twinkling, and especially would he do
it for you."
"Oh, but, Giulietta, I don't want anything. I couldn't eat, if I were to
"Ta, ta, ta!" said Giulietta, going out. "Wait till you smell it. I
shall be back in a little while."
And she left the room, locking the door after her.
In a few moments she returned, bearing a rich silver tray, on which was
a covered dish that steamed a refreshing odor, together with a roll of
white bread, and a small glass _flacon_ containing a little choice
By much entreaty and coaxing, Agnes was induced to partake of the bread,
enough to revive her somewhat after the toils of the day; and then, a
little reassured by the familiar presence of Giulietta, she began to
undress, her former companion officiously assisting her.
"There, now, you are tired, my lady princess," she said. "I'll unlace
your bodice. One of these days your gowns will be all of silk, and stiff
with gold and pearls."
"Oh, Giulietta," said Agnes, "don't!--let me,--I don't need help."
"Ta, ta, ta!--you must learn to be waited on," said Giulietta,
persisting. "But, Holy Virgin! what is the matter here? Oh, Agnes, what
are you doing to yourself?"
"It's a penance, Giulietta," said Agnes, her face flushing.
"Well, I should think it was! Father Francesco ought to be ashamed of
himself; he is a real butcher!"
"He does it to save my soul, Giulietta. The cross of our Lord without
will heal a deadly wound within."
In her heart, Giulietta had somewhat of secret reverence for such
austerities, which the whole instruction of her time and country taught
her to regard as especially saintly. People who live in the senses more
than in the world of reflection feel the force of such outward appeals.
Giulietta made the sign of the cross, and looked grave for several
"Poor little dove!" she said at last, "if your sins must needs be
expiated so, what will become of me? It must be that you will lay up
stores of merit with God; for surely your sins do not need _all_
this. Agnes, you will be a saint some day, like your namesake at the
Convent, I truly do believe."
"Oh, no, no, Giulietta! don't talk so! God knows I wrestle with
forbidden thoughts all the while. I am no saint, but the chief of
"That's what the saints all say," said Giulietta. "But, my dear
princess, when _he_ comes, he will forbid this; he is lordly, and
will not suffer his little wife"--
"Giulietta, don't speak so,--I cannot hear it,--I must not be his
wife,--I am vowed to be the spouse of the Lord."
"And yet you love our handsome prince," said Giulietta; "and there is
the great sin you are breaking your little heart about. Well, now, it's
all of that dry, sour old Father Francesco. I never could abide him,--he
made such dismal pother about sin; old Father Girolamo was worth a dozen
of him. If you would just see our good Father Stefano, now, he would set
your mind at ease about your vows in a twinkling; and you must needs get
them loosed, for our captain is born to command, and when princes stoop
to us peasant-girls it isn't for us to say nay. It's being good as Saint
Michael himself for him to think of you only in the holy way of
marriage. I'll warrant me, there's many a lord cardinal at Rome that
isn't so good; and as to princes, he is one of a thousand, a most holy
and religious knight, or he would do as others do when they have the
Agnes, confused and agitated, turned away, and, as if seeking refuge,
laid her down in the bed, looking timidly up at the unwonted
splendor,--and then, hiding her face in the pillow, began repeating a
Giulietta sat by her a moment, till she felt, from the relaxing of the
little hand, that the reaction of fatigue and intense excitement was
beginning to take place. Nature would assert her rights, and the heavy
curtain of sleep fell on the weary little head. Quietly extinguishing
the lights, Giulietta left the room, locking the door.
Agnes was so entirely exhausted with bodily fatigue and mental agitation
that she slept soundly till awakened by the beams of the morning sun.
Her first glance up at the gold-embroidered curtains of her bed
occasioned a bewildered surprise;--she raised herself and looked around,
slowly recovering her consciousness and the memory of the strange event
which had placed her where she was. She rose hastily and went to the
window to look out. This window was in a kind of circular tower
projecting from the side of the building, such as one often sees in old
Norman architecture;--it overhung not only a wall of dizzy height, but
a precipice with a sheer descent of some thousand feet; and far below,
spread out like a map in the distance, lay a prospect of enchanting
richness. The eye might wander over orchards of silvery olives,
plantations with their rows of mulberry-trees supporting the vines, now
in the first tender spring green, scarlet fields of clover, and patches
where the young corn was just showing its waving blades above the brown
soil. Here and there rose tufts of stone-pines with their dark
umbrella-tops towering above all other foliage, while far off in the
blue distance a silvery belt of glittering spangles showed where the sea
closed in the horizon-line. So high was the perch, so distant and dreamy
the prospect, that Agues felt a sensation of giddiness, as if she were
suspended over it in the air,--and turned away from the window, to look
again at what seemed to her the surprising and unheard-of splendors of
the apartment. There lay her simple peasant garb, on the rich velvet
couch,--a strange sight in the midst of so much luxury. Having dressed
herself, she sat down, and, covering her face with her hands, tried to
reflect calmly on the position in which she was placed.
With the education she had received, she could look on this strange
interruption of her pilgrimage only as a special assault upon her faith,
instigated by those evil spirits that are ever setting themselves in
conflict with the just. Such trials had befallen saints of whom she had
read. They had been assailed by visions of worldly ease and luxury
suddenly presented before them, for which they were tempted to deny
their faith and sell their souls. Was it not, perhaps, as a punishment
for having admitted the love of an excommunicated heretic into her
heart, that this sore trial had been permitted to come upon her? And if
she should fail? She shuddered, when she recalled the severe and
terrible manner in which Father Francesco had warned her against
yielding to the solicitations of an earthly love. To her it seemed as if
that holy man must have been inspired with a prophetic foresight of her
present position, and warned her against it. Those awful words came
burning into her mind as when they seemed to issue like the voice of a
spirit from the depths of the confessional:--"_If ever you should
yield to his love, and turn back from this heavenly marriage to follow
him, you will accomplish his damnation and your own_."
Agnes trembled in an agony of real belief, and with a vivid terror of
the world to come such as belonged to the almost physical certainty with
which the religious teaching of her time presented it to the popular
mind. Was she, indeed, the cause of such awful danger to his soul? Might
a false step now, a faltering human weakness, indeed plunge that soul,
so dear, into a fiery abyss without bottom or shore? Should she forever
hear his shrieks of torture and despair, his curses on the hour he had
first known her? Her very blood curdled, her nerves froze, as she
thought of it, and she threw herself on her knees and prayed with an
anguish that brought the sweat in beaded drops to her forehead,--strange
dew for so frail a lily!--and her prayer rose above all intercession of
saints, above the seat even of the Virgin Mother herself, to the heart
of her Redeemer, to Him who some divine instinct told her was alone
mighty to save. We of the present day may look on her distress as
unreal, as the result of a misguided sense of religious obligation; but
the great Hearer of Prayer regards each heart in its own scope of
vision, and helps not less the mistaken than the enlightened distress.
And for that matter, who is enlightened? who carries to God's throne a
trouble or a temptation in which there is _not_ somewhere a
misconception or a mistake?
And so it came to pass. Agnes rose from prayer with an experience which
has been common to the members of the True Invisible Church, whether
Catholic, Greek, or Protestant. "In the day when I cried Thou answeredst
me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul." She had that vivid
sense of the sustaining presence and sympathy of an Almighty Saviour
which is the substance of which all religious forms and appliances are
the shadows; her soul was stayed on God, and was at peace, as truly as
if she had been the veriest Puritan maiden that ever worshipped in a
New-England meeting-house. She felt a calm superiority to all things
earthly,--a profound reliance on that invisible aid which comes from God
She was standing at her window, deep in thought, when Giulietta
entered,--fresh and blooming,--bearing the breakfast-tray.
"Come, my little princess, here I am," she said, "with your breakfast!
How do you find yourself, this morning?"
Agnes came towards her.
"Bless us, how grave we are!" said Giulietta. "What has come over us?"
"Giulietta, have you seen poor grandmamma this morning?"
"Poor grandmamma!" said Giulietta, mimicking the sad tone in which Agnes
spoke,--"to be sure I have. I left her making a hearty breakfast. So
fall to, and do the same,--for you don't know who may come to see you
"Giulietta, is he here?"
"He!" said Giulietta, laughing. "Do hear the little bird! It begins to
chirp already! No, he is not here yet; but Pietro says he will come
soon, and Pietro knows all his movements."
"Pietro is your husband?" said Agnes, inquiringly.
"Yes, to be sure,--and a pretty good one, too, as men go," said
Giulietta. "They are sorry bargains, the best of them. But you'll get a
prize, if you play your cards well. Do you know that the King of Naples
and the King of France have both sent messages to our captain? Our men
hold all the passes between Rome and Naples, and so every one sees the
sense of gaining our captain's favor. But eat your breakfast, little
one, while I go and see to Pietro and the men."
So saying, she bustled out of the room, locking the door behind her.
Agnes took a little bread and water,--resolved to fast and pray, as the
only defence against the danger in which she stood.
After breakfasting, she retired into the inner room, and, opening the
window, sat down and looked out on the prospect, and then, in a low
voice, began singing a hymn of Savonarola's, which had been taught her
by her uncle. It was entitled "Christ's Call to the Soul." The words
were conceived in that tender spirit of mystical devotion which
characterizes all this class of productions.
"Fair soul, created in the primal hour,
Once pure and grand,
And for whose sake I left my throne and power
At God's right hand,
By this sad heart pierced through because I loved thee,
Let love and mercy to contrition move thee!
"Cast off the sins thy holy beauty veiling,
Vain against thee the hosts of hell assailing:
My strength is thine!
Drink from my side the cup of life immortal,
And love will lead thee back to heaven's portal!
"I, for thy sake, was pierced with many sorrows,
And bore the cross,
Yet heeded not the galling of the arrows,
The shame and loss.
So faint not thou, whate'er the burden be:
But bear it bravely, even to Calvary!"
While Agnes was singing, the door of the outer room was slowly opened,
and Agostino Sarelli entered. He had just returned from Florence, having
ridden day and night to meet her whom he expected to find within the
walls of his fastness.
He entered so softly that Agnes did not hear his approach, and he stood
listening to her singing. He had come back with his mind burning with
indignation against the Pope and the whole hierarchy then ruling in
Rome; but conversation with Father Antonio and the scenes he had
witnessed at San Marco had converted the blind sense of personal wrong
into a fixed principle of moral indignation and opposition. He no longer
found himself checked by the pleading of his early religious
recollections; for now he had a leader who realized in his own person
all his conceptions of those primitive apostles and holy bishops who
first fed the flock of the Lord in Italy. He had heard from his lips the
fearless declaration, "If Rome is against me, know that it is not
contrary to me, but to Christ, and its controversy is with God: doubt
not that God will conquer"; and he embraced the cause with all the
enthusiasm of patriotism and knighthood. In his view, the most holy
place of his religion had been taken by a robber, who reigned in the
name of Christ only to disgrace it; and he felt called to pledge his
sword, his life, his knightly honor to do battle against him. He had
urged his uncle in Milan to make interest for the cause of Savonarola
with the King of France; and his uncle, with that crafty diplomacy which
in those days formed the staple of what was called statesmanship, had
seemed to listen favorably to his views,--intending, however, no more by
his apparent assent than to withdraw his nephew from the dangers in
which he stood in Italy, and bring him under his own influence and
guardianship in the court of France. But the wily diplomate had sent
Agostino Sarelli from his presence with the highest possible
expectations of his influence both with the King of France and the
Emperor of Germany in the present religious crisis in Italy.
And now the time was come, Agostino thought, to break the spell under
which Agnes was held,--to show her the true character of the men whom
she was beholding through a mist of veneration arising entirely from the
dewy freshness of ignorant innocence. All the way home from Florence he
had urged his horse onward, burning to meet her, to tell her all that he
knew and felt, to claim her as his own, and to take her into the sphere
of light and liberty in which he himself moved. He did not doubt his
power, when she should once be where he could speak with her freely,
without fear of interruption. Hers was a soul too good and pure, he
said, to be kept in chains of slavish ignorance any longer. When she
ceased singing, he spoke from the outer apartment,--"Agnes!"
The name was uttered in the softest tone, but it sent the blood to her
heart, as if it were the summons of doom. Everything seemed to swim
before her, and grow dark for a moment; but by a strong effort she
lifted her heart in prayer, and, rising, came towards him.
Agostino had figured her to himself in all that soft and sacred
innocence and freshness of bloom in which he had left her, a fair angel
child, looking through sad, innocent eyes on a life whose sins and
sorrows, and deeper loves and hates, she scarcely comprehended,--one
that he might fold in his arms with protecting tenderness, while he
gently reasoned with her fears and prejudices; but the figure that stood
there in the curtained arch, with its solemn, calm, transparent paleness
of face, its large, intense dark eyes, now vivid with some mysterious
and concentrated resolve, struck a strange chill over him. Was it Agnes
or a disembodied spirit that stood before him? For a few moments there
fell such a pause between them as the intensity of some unexpressed
feeling often brings with it, and which seems like a spell.
"Agnes! Agnes! is it you?" at last said the knight, in a low, hesitating
tone. "Oh, my love, what has changed you so? Speak!--do speak! Are you
angry with me? Are you angry that I brought you here?"
"My Lord, I am not angry," said Agnes, speaking in a cold, sad tone;
"but you have committed a great sin in turning aside those vowed to a
holy pilgrimage, and you tempt me to sin by this conversation, which
ought not to be between us."
"Why not?" said Agostino. "You would not see me at Sorrento. I sought to
warn you of the dangers of this pilgrimage,--to tell you that Rome is
not what you think it is,--that it is not the seat of Christ, but a foul
cage of unclean birds, a den of wickedness,--that he they call Pope is a
"My Lord," said Agnes, speaking with a touch of something even
commanding in her tone, "you have me at advantage, it is true, but you
ought not to use it in trying to ruin my soul by blaspheming holy
things." And then she added, in a tone of indescribable sadness, "Alas,
that so noble and beautiful a soul should be in rebellion against the
only True Church! Have you forgotten that good mother you spoke of? What
must she feel to know that her son is an infidel!"
"I am not an infidel, Agnes; I am a true knight of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ, and a believer in the One True, Holy Church."
"How can that be?" said Agnes. "Ah, seek not to deceive me! My Lord,
such a poor little girl as I am is not worth the pains."
"By the Holy Mother, Agnes, by the Holy Cross, I do not seek to deceive
you! I speak on my honor as a knight and gentleman. I love you truly and
honorably, and seek you among all women as my spotless wife, and would I
lie to _you_?"
"My Lord, you have spoken words which it is a sin for me to hear, a
peril to your soul to say; and if you had not, you must not seek me as a
wife. Holy vows are upon me. I must be the wife of no man here; it is a
sin even to think of it."
"Impossible, Agnes!" said Agostino, with a start. "You have not taken
the veil already? If you had"--
"No, my Lord, I have not. I have only promised and vowed in my heart to
do so when the Lord shall open the way."
"But such vows, dear Agnes, are often dispensed; they may be loosed by
the priest. Now hear me,--only hear me. I believe as your uncle
believes,--your good, pious uncle, whom you love so much. I have taken
the sacrament from his hand; he has blessed me as a son. I believe as
Jerome Savonarola believes. He it is, that holy prophet, who has
proclaimed this Pope and his crew to be vile usurpers, reigning in the
name of Christ."
"My Lord! my Lord! I must not hear more! I must not,--I cannot,--I will
not!" said Agnes, becoming violently agitated, as she found herself
listening with interest to the pleadings of her lover.
"Oh, Agnes, what has turned your heart against me? I thought you
promised to love me a little?"
"Oh, hush! hush! don't plead with me!" she said, with a wild, affrighted
He sought to come towards her, and she sprang forward and threw herself
at his feet.
"Oh, my Lord, for mercy's sake let me go! Let us go on our way! We will
pray for you always,--yes, always!" And she looked up at him in an agony
"Am I so hateful to you, then, Agnes?"
"Hateful? Oh, no, no! God knows you are--I--I--yes, I love you too well,
and you have too much power over me; but, oh, do not use it! If I hear
you talk, I shall yield,--I surely shall, and we shall be lost, both of
us! Oh, my God! I shall be the means of your damnation!"
"It is true! it is true! Oh, do not talk to me, but promise me, promise
me, or I shall die! Have pity on me! have pity on yourself!"
In the agony of her feelings her voice became almost a shriek, and her
wild, affrighted face had a deadly pallor; she looked like one in a
death-agony. Agostino was alarmed, and hastened to soothe her, by
promising whatever she required.
"Agnes, dear Agnes, I submit; only be calm. I promise
anything,--anything in the wide world you can ask."
"Will you let me go?"
"And will you let my poor grandmamma go with me?"
"And you will not talk with me any more?"
"Not if you do not wish it. And now," he said, "that I have submitted to
all these hard conditions, will you suffer me to raise you?"
He took her hands and lifted her up; they were cold, and she was
trembling and shivering. He held them a moment; she tried to withdraw
them, and he let them go.
"Farewell, Agnes!" he said. "I am going."
She raised both her hands and pressed the sharp cross to her bosom, but
made no answer.
"I yield to your will," he continued. "Immediately when I leave you,
your grandmother will come to you, and the attendants who brought you
here will conduct you to the high-road. For me, since it is your will, I
part here. Farewell, Agnes!"
He held out his hand, but she stood as before, pale and silent, with her
hands clasped on her breast.
"Do your vows forbid even a farewell to a poor, humble friend?" said the
knight, in a low tone.
"I cannot," said Agnes, speaking at broken intervals, in a suffocating
voice,--"for _your_ sake I cannot! I bear this pain for you,--for
_you_! Oh, repent, and meet me in heaven!"
She gave him her hand; he kneeled and kissed it, pressed it to his
forehead, then rose and left the room.
For a moment after the departure of the Cavalier, Agnes felt a bitter
pang,--the pain which one feels on first realizing that a dear friend
is lost forever; and then, rousing herself with a start and a sigh, she
hurried into the inner room and threw herself on her knees, giving
thanks that the dreadful trial was past and that she had not been left
In a few moments she heard the voice of her grandmother in the outer
apartment, and the old wrinkled creature clasped her grandchild in her
arms, and wept with a passionate abandonment of fondness, calling her by
every tender and endearing name which mothers give to their infants.
"After all," said Elsie, "these are not such bad people, and I have been
right well entertained among them. They are of ourselves,--they do not
prey on the poor, but only on our enemies, the princes and nobles, who
look on us as sheep to be shorn and slaughtered for their wearing and
eating. These men are none such, but pitiful to poor peasants and old
widows, whom they feed and clothe out of the spoils of the rich. As to
their captain,--would you believe it?--he is the same handsome gentleman
who once gave you a ring,--you may have forgotten him, as you never
think of such things, but I knew him in a moment,--and such a religious
man, that no sooner did he find that we were pilgrims on a holy errand
than he gave orders to have us set free with all honor, and a band of
the best of them to escort us through the mountains; and the people of
the town are all moved to do us reverence, and coming with garlands and
flowers to wish us well and ask our prayers. So let us set forth
Agnes followed her grandmother through the long passages and down the
dark, mouldy stair-way to the court-yard, where two horses were standing
caparisoned for them. A troop of men in high peaked hats, cloaked and
plumed, were preparing also to mount, while a throng of women and
children stood pressing around. When Agnes appeared, enthusiastic cries
were heard: "_Viva Jesu!_" "_Viva Maria!_" "_Viva! viva
Jesu! nostro Re!_" and showers of myrtle-branches and garlands fell
around. "Pray for us!" "Pray for us, holy pilgrims!" was uttered eagerly
by one and another. Mothers held up their children; and beggars and
cripples, aged and sick,--never absent in an Italian town,--joined with
loud cries in the general enthusiasm. Agnes stood amid it all, pale and
serene, with that elevated expression of heavenly calm on her features
which is often the clear shining of the soul after the wrench and
torture of some great interior conflict. She felt that the last earthly
chain was broken, and that now she belonged to Heaven alone. She
scarcely saw or heard what was around her, wrapt in the calm of inward
"Look at her! she is beautiful as the Madonna!" said one and another,
"She is divine as Santa Catarina!" said others. "She might have been the
wife of our chief, who is a nobleman of the oldest blood, but she chose
to be the bride of the Lord," said others: for Giulietta, with a woman's
love of romancing, had not failed to make the most among her companions
of the love-adventures of Agnes.
Agnes meanwhile was seated on her palfrey, and the whole train passed
out of the court-yard into the dim, narrow street,--men, women, and
children following. On reaching the public square, they halted a moment
by the side of the antique fountain to water their horses. The groups
that surrounded it at this time were such as a painter would have
delighted to copy. The women and girls of this obscure mountain-town had
all that peculiar beauty of form and attitude which appears in the
studies of the antique; and as they poised on their heads their copper
water-jars of the old Etruscan pattern, they seemed as if they might be
statues of golden bronze, had not the warm tints of their complexion,
the brilliancy of their large eyes, and the bright, picturesque colors
of their attire given the richness of painting to their classic
outlines. Then, too, the men, with their finely-moulded limbs, their
figures so straight and strong and elastic, their graceful attitudes,
and their well-fitting, showy costumes, formed a no less imposing
feature in the scene. Among them all sat Agnes waiting on her palfrey,
seeming scarcely conscious of the enthusiasm which surrounded her. Some
admiring friend had placed in her hand a large bough of blossoming
hawthorn,--which she held unconsciously, as, with a sort of childlike
simplicity, she turned from right to left, to make reply to the request
for prayers, or to return thanks for the offered benediction of some one
in the crowd.
When all the preparations were at last finished, the procession of
mounted horsemen, with a confused gathering of the population, passed
down the streets to the gates of the city, and as they passed they sang
the words of the Crusaders' Hymn, which had fluttered back into the
traditionary memory of Europe from the knights going to redeem the Holy
"Fairest Lord Jesus,
Ruler of all Nature,
O Thou of God and man the Son!
Thee will I honor,
Thee will I cherish,
Thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown!
"Fair are the meadows,
Fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the pleasing garb of spring:
Jesus shines fairer,
Jesus is purer
Who makes the woful heart to sing!
"Fair is the sunshine,
Fairer still the moonlight,
And all the twinkling starry host;
Jesus shines fairer,
Jesus is purer,
Than all the angels heaven can boast!"
They were singing the second verse, as, emerging from the dark old
gate-way of the town, all the distant landscape of silvery
olive-orchards, crimson clover-fields, blossoming almond-trees,
fig-trees, and grape-vines, just in the tender green of spring, burst
upon their view. Agnes felt a kind of inspiration. From the high
mountain elevation she could discern the far-off brightness of the sea--
all between one vision of beauty,--and the religious enthusiasm which
possessed all around her had in her eye all the value of the most solid
and reasonable faith. With us, who may look on it from a colder and more
distant point of view, doubts may be suggested whether this _naive_
impressibility to religious influences, this simple, whole-hearted
abandonment to their expression, had any real practical value. The fact
that any or all of the actors might before night rob or stab or lie
quite as freely as if it has not occurred may well give reason for such
a question. Be this as it may, the phenomenon is not confined to Italy
or the religion of the Middle Ages, but exhibits itself in many a
prayer-meeting and camp-meeting of modern days. For our own part, we
hold it better to have even transient upliftings of the nobler and more
devout element of man's nature than never to have any at all, and that
he who goes on in worldly and sordid courses, without ever a spark of
religious enthusiasm or a throb of aspiration, is less of a man than he
who sometimes soars heavenward, though his wings be weak and he fall
In all this scene Agostino Sarelli took no part. He had simply given
orders for the safe-conduct of Agnes, and then retired to his own room.
From a window, however, he watched the procession as it passed through
the gates of the city, and his resolution was immediately taken to
proceed at once by a secret path to the place where the pilgrims should
emerge upon the high-road.
He had been induced to allow the departure of Agnes, from seeing the
utter hopelessness by any argument or persuasion of removing a barrier
that was so vitally interwoven with the most sensitive religious nerves
of her being. He saw in her terrified looks, in the deadly paleness of
her face, how real and unaffected was the anguish which his words gave
her; he saw that the very consciousness of her own love to him produced
a sense of weakness which made her shrink in utter terror from his
"There is no remedy," he said, "but to let her go to Rome and see with
her own eyes how utterly false and vain is the vision which she draws
from the purity of her own believing soul. What Christian would not wish
that these fair dreams had any earthly reality? But this gentle dove
must not be left unprotected to fly into that foul, unclean cage of
vultures and harpies. Deadly as the peril may be to me to breathe the
air of Rome, I will be around her invisibly to watch over her."
A vision rises upon us from the land of shadows. We see a wide plain,
miles and miles in extent, rolling in soft billows of green, and girded
on all sides by blue mountains, whose silver crests gleaming in the
setting sunlight tell that the winter yet lingers on their tops, though
spring has decked all the plain. So silent, so lonely, so fair is this
waving expanse with its guardian mountains, it might be some wild
solitude, an American prairie or Asiatic steppe, but that in the midst
thereof, on some billows of rolling land, we discern a city, sombre,
quaint, and old,--a city of dreams and mysteries,--a city of the living
and the dead. And this is Rome,--weird, wonderful, ancient, mighty
Rome,--mighty once by physical force and grandeur, mightier now in
physical decadence and weakness by the spell of a potent moral
As the sun is moving westward, the whole air around becomes flooded with
a luminousness which seems to transfuse itself with pervading presence
through every part of the city, and make all its ruinous and mossy age
bright and living. The air shivers with the silver vibrations of
hundreds of bells, and the evening glory goes up and down, soft-footed
and angelic, transfiguring all things. The broken columns of the Forum
seem to swim in golden mist, and luminous floods fill the Coliseum as it
stands with its thousand arches looking out into the city like so many
sightless eye-holes in the skull of the past. The tender light pours up
streets dank and ill-paved,--into noisome and cavernous dens called
houses, where the peasantry of to-day vegetate in contented
subservience. It illuminates many a dingy court-yard, where the moss is
green on the walls, and gurgling fountains fall into quaint old
sculptured basins. It lights up the gorgeous palaces of Rome's modern
princes, built with stones wrenched from ancient ruins. It streams
through a wilderness of churches, each with its tolling prayer-bell, and
steals through painted windows into the dazzling confusion of pictured
and gilded glories that glitter and gleam from roof and wall within. And
it goes, too, across the Tiber, up the filthy and noisome Ghetto, where,
hemmed in by ghostly superstition, the sons of Israel are growing up
without vital day, like wan white plants in cellars; and the black
mournful obelisks of the cypresses in the villas around, it touches with
a solemn glory. The castle of St. Angelo looks like a great translucent,
luminous orb, and the statues of saints and apostles on the top of St.
John Lateran glow as if made of living fire, and seem to stretch out
glorified hands of welcome to the pilgrims that are approaching the Holy
City across the soft, palpitating sea of green that lies stretched like
a misty veil around it.
Then, as now, Rome was an enchantress of mighty and wonderful power,
with her damp, and mud, and mould, her ill-fed, ill-housed populace, her
ruins of old glory rising dim and ghostly amid her palaces of to-day.
With all her awful secrets of rapine, cruelty, ambition,
injustice,--with her foul orgies of unnatural crime,--with the very
corruption of the old buried Roman Empire steaming up as from a
charnel-house, and permeating all modern life with its effluvium of
deadly uncleanness,--still Rome had that strange, bewildering charm of
melancholy grandeur and glory which made all hearts cleave to her, and
eyes and feet turn longingly towards her from the ends of the earth.
Great souls and pious yearned for her as for a mother, and could not be
quieted till they had kissed the dust of her streets. There they fondly
thought was rest to be found,--that rest which through all weary life
ever recedes like the mirage of the desert; there sins were to be
shriven which no common priest might forgive, and heavy burdens unbound
from the conscience by an infallible wisdom; there was to be revealed to
the praying soul the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of
things not seen. Even the mighty spirit of Luther yearned for the breast
of this great unknown mother, and came humbly thither to seek the repose
which he found afterwards in Jesus.
At this golden twilight-hour along the Appian Way come the pilgrims of
our story with prayers and tears of thankfulness. Agnes looks forward
and sees the saintly forms on St. John Lateran standing in a cloud of
golden light and stretching out protecting hands to bless her.
"See, see, grandmother!" she exclaimed,--"yonder is our Father's house,
and all the saints beckon us home! Glory be to God who hath brought us
Within the church the evening-service is going on, and the soft glory
streaming in reveals that dizzying confusion of riches and brightness
with which the sensuous and color-loving Italian delights to encircle
the shrine of the Heavenly Majesty. Pictured angels in cloudy wreaths
smile down from the gold-fretted roofs and over the round, graceful
arches; and the floor seems like a translucent sea of precious marbles
and gems fused into solid brightness, and reflecting in long gleams and
streaks dim intimations of the sculptured and gilded glories above.
Altar and shrine are now veiled in that rich violet hue which the Church
has chosen for its mourning color; and violet vestments, taking the
place of the gorgeous robes of the ecclesiastics, tell the approach of
that holy week of sadness when all Christendom falls in penitence at the
feet of that Almighty Love once sorrowful and slain for her.
The long-drawn aisles are now full to overflowing with that weird
chanting which one hears nowhere but in Rome at this solemn season.
Those voices, neither of men nor women, have a wild, morbid energy which
seems to search every fibre of the nervous system, and, instead of
soothing or calming, to awaken strange yearning agonies of pain, ghostly
unquiet longings, and endless feverish, unrestful cravings. The sounds
now swell and flood the church as with a rushing torrent of wailing and
clamorous supplication,--now recede and moan themselves away to silence
in far-distant aisles, like the last faint sigh of discouragement and
despair. Anon they burst out from the roof, they drop from arches and
pictures, they rise like steam from the glassy pavement, and, meeting,
mingle in wavering clamors of lamentation and shrieks of anguish. One
might fancy lost souls from out the infinite and dreary abysses of utter
separation from God might thus wearily and aimlessly moan and wail,
breaking into agonized tumults of desire, and trembling back into
exhaustions of despair. Such music brings only throbbings and yearnings,
but no peace; and yonder, on the glassy floor, at the foot of a
crucifix, a poor mortal lies sobbing and quivering under its pitiless
power, as if it had wrenched every tenderest nerve of memory, and torn
open every half-healed wound of the soul.
When the chanting ceases, he rises slow and tottering, and we see in the
wan face turning towards the dim light the well-remembered features of
Father Francesco. Driven to despair by the wild, ungovernable force of
his unfortunate love, weary of striving, overborne with a hopeless and
continually accumulating load of guilt, he had come to Rome to lay down
at the feet of heavenly wisdom the burden which he can no longer bear
alone; and rising now, he totters to a confessional where sits a holy
cardinal to whom has been deputed the office to hear and judge those
sins which no subordinate power in the Church is competent to absolve.
Father Francesco kneels down with a despairing, confiding movement, such
as one makes, when, after a long struggle of anguish, one has found a
refuge; and the churchman within inclining his ear to the grating, the
Could we only be clairvoyant, it would be worth our while to note the
difference between the two faces, separated only by the thin grating of
the confessional, but belonging to souls whom an abyss wide as eternity
must forever divide from any common ground of understanding.
On the one side, with ear close to the grate, is a round, smoothly
developed Italian head, with that rather tumid outline of features which
one often sees in a Roman in middle life, when easy living and habits of
sensual indulgence begin to reveal their signs in the countenance, and
to broaden and confuse the clear-cut, statuesque lines of early youth.
Evidently, that is the head of an easy-going, pleasure-loving man, who
has waxed warm with good living, and performs the duties of his office
with an unctuous grace as something becoming and decorous to be gone
through with. Evidently, he is puzzled and half-contemptuous at the
revelations which come through the grating in hoarse whispers from those
thin, trembling lips. That other man, who speaks with the sweat of
anguish beaded on his brow, with a mortal pallor on his thin, worn
cheeks, is putting questions to the celestial guide within which seem to
that guide the ravings of a crazed lunatic; and yet there is a deadly,
despairing earnestness in the appeal that makes an indistinct knocking
at the door of his heart, for the man is born of woman, and can feel
that somehow or other these are the words of a mighty agony.
He addresses him some words of commonplace ghostly comfort, and gives a
plenary absolution. The Capuchin monk rises up and stands meekly wiping
the sweat from his brow, the churchman leaves his box, and they meet
face to face, when each starts, seeing in the other the apparition of a
once well-known countenance.
"What! Lorenzo Sforza!" said the churchman. "Who would have thought it?
Don't you remember me?"
"Not Lorenzo Sforza," said the other, a hectic brilliancy flushing his
pale cheek; "that name is buried in the tomb of his fathers; he you
speak to knows it no more. The unworthy Brother Francesco, deserving
nothing of God or man, is before you."
"Oh, come, come!" said the other, grasping his hand in spite of his
resistance; "that is all proper enough in its place; but between
friends, you know, what's the use? It's lucky we have you here now; we
want one of your family to send on a mission to Florence, and talk a
little reason into the citizens and the Signoria. Come right away with
me to the Pope."
"Brother, in God's name let me go! I have no mission to the great of
this world; and I cannot remember or be called by the name of other
days, or salute kinsman or acquaintance after the flesh, without a
breach of vows."
"Poh, poh! you are nervous, dyspeptic; you don't understand things.
Don't you see you are where vows can be bound and loosed? Come along,
and let us wake you out of this nightmare. Such a pother about a pretty
peasant-girl! One of your rank and taste, too! I warrant me the little
sinner practised on you at the confessional. I know their ways, the
whole of them; but you mourn over it in a way that is perfectly
incomprehensible. If you had tripped a little,--paid a compliment, or
taken a liberty or two,--it would have been only natural; but this
desperation, when you have resisted like Saint Anthony himself, shows
your nerves are out of order and you need change."
"For God's sake, brother, tempt me not!" said Father Francesco,
wrenching himself away, with such a haggard and insane vehemence as
quite to discompose the churchman; and drawing his cowl over his face,
he glided swiftly down a side-aisle and out the door.
The churchman was too easy-going to risk the fatigue of a scuffle with a
man whom he considered as a monomaniac; but he stepped smoothly and
stealthily after him and watched him go out.
"Look you," he said to a servant in violet livery who was waiting by the
door, "follow yonder Capuchin and bring me word where he abides.--He may
be cracked," he said to himself; "but, after all, one of his blood may
be worth mending, and do us good service either in Florence or Milan. We
must have him transferred to some convent here, where we can lay hands
on him readily, if we want him."
Meanwhile Father Francesco wends his way through many a dark and dingy
street to an ancient Capuchin convent, where he finds brotherly
admission. Weary and despairing is he beyond all earthly despair, for
the very altar of his God seems to have failed him. He asked for bread,
and has got a stone,--he asked a fish, and has got a scorpion. Again and
again the worldly, almost scoffing, tone of the superior to whom he has
been confessing sounds like the hiss of a serpent in his ear.
But he is sent for in haste to visit the bedside of the Prior, who has
long been sick and failing, and who gladly embraces this opportunity to
make his last confession to a man of such reputed sanctity in his order
as Father Francesco. For the acute Father Johannes, casting about for
various means to empty the Superior's chair at Sorrento, for his own
benefit, and despairing of any occasion of slanderous accusation, had
taken the other tack of writing to Rome extravagant laudations of such
feats of penance and saintship in his Superior as in the view of all the
brothers required that such a light should no more be hidden in an
obscure province, but be set on a Roman candlestick, where it might give
light to the faithful in all parts of the world. Thus two currents of
worldly intrigue were uniting to push an unworldly man to a higher
dignity than he either sought or desired.
When a man has a sensitive or sore spot in his heart, from the pain of
which he would gladly flee to the ends of the earth, it is marvellous
what coincidences of events will be found to press upon it wherever he
may go. Singularly enough, one of the first items in the confession of
the Capuchin Superior related to Agnes, and his story was in substance
as follows. In his youth he had been induced by the persuasions of the
young son of a great and powerful family to unite him in the holy
sacrament of marriage with a _protegee_ of his mother's; but the
marriage being detected, it was disavowed by the young nobleman, and the
girl and her mother chased out ignominiously, so that she died in great
misery. For his complicity in this sin the conscience of the monk had
often troubled him, and he had kept track of the child she left,
thinking perhaps some day to make reparation by declaring the true
marriage of her mother, which now he certified upon the holy cross, and
charged Father Francesco to make known to one of that kin whom he named.
He further informed him, that this family, having fallen under the
displeasure of the Pope and his son, Caesar Borgia, had been banished
from the city, and their property confiscated, so that there was none of
them to be found thereabouts except an aged widowed sister, who, having
married into a family in favor with the Pope, was allowed to retain her
possessions, and now resided in a villa near Rome, where she lived
retired, devoting her whole life to works of piety. The old man
therefore conjured Father Francesco to lose no time in making this
religious lady understand the existence of so near a kinswoman, and take
her under her protection.--Thus strangely did Father Francesco find
himself again obliged to take up that enchanted thread which had led him
into labyrinths so fatal to his peace.
* * * * *
METHODS OF STUDY IN NATURAL HISTORY.
It is in the search after the true boundaries and characteristics of
orders that we may expect the greatest advance by the naturalists of the
present day; and yet there is now much discrepancy among them, some
mistaking orders for classes, others raising families to the dignity of
orders. This want of agreement in their results is not strange, however;
for the recognition of orders is indeed exceedingly difficult. If they
are, as I have defined them, groups in Nature founded upon a greater or
less complication of structure, they must of course form a regular
gradation within the limits of their class, since comparative perfection
implies comparative rank, and a correct estimate of these degrees of
complication requires an intimate and extensive knowledge of structure
throughout the class. There would seem to be an arbitrary element
here,--that of our individual appreciation of structural character. If
one man holds a certain kind of structural characters superior to
another, he will establish the rank of the order upon that feature,
while some other naturalist, appreciating a different point of the
structure more highly, will make that the test character of the group.
Let us see whether we can eliminate this arbitrary element in our
estimate of these groups, and find any mode of determining orders that
shall be unquestionable, and give us results as positive as a chemical
analysis according to quantitative elements. I believe that there are
such absolute tests of structural relations. It is my conviction, that
orders, like all the other groups of the Animal Kingdom, have a positive
existence in Nature with definite limits, that no arbitrary element
should enter into any part of our classifications, and that we have
already the key by which to solve this question about orders.
To illustrate this statement, I must return to the class of Insects. We
have seen that they are divided into three orders: the long cylindrical
Centipedes, with the body divided throughout in uniform rings, like the
Worms; the Spiders, with the body divided into two regions; and the
Winged Insects, with head, chest, and hind body distinct from each
other, forming three separate regions. In the first group, the
Centipedes, the nervous system is scattered through the whole body, as
in the Worms; in the Spiders it is concentrated in two nervous
swellings, as in the Crustacea, the front one being the largest; and in
the Insects there are three nervous centres, the largest in the head, a
smaller one in the chest, and the smallest in the hind body. Now
according to this greater or less individualization of parts, with the
corresponding localization of the nervous centres, naturalists have
established the relative rank of these three groups, placing Centipedes
lowest, Spiders next, and Winged Insects highest. But naturalists may,
and indeed they actually do, differ as to this estimation of the
anatomical structure. Have we, then, any means of testing its truth to
Nature? Let us look at the development of these animals, taking the
highest order as an illustration, that we may have the whole succession
of changes. All know the story of the Butterfly with its three lives, as
Caterpillar, Chrysalis, and Winged Insect. I speak of its three lives,
but we must not forget that they make after all but one life, and that
the Caterpillar is as truly the same being with the future Butterfly as
the child is the same being with the future man. The old significance of
the word _metamorphosis_--the fabled transformation of one
individual into another, in which so much of the imagination and
poetical culture of the ancients found expression--still clings to us;
and where the different phases of the same life assume such different
external forms, we are apt to overlook the fact that it is one single
continuous life. To a naturalist, metamorphosis is simply growth; and in
that sense the different stages of development in animals that undergo
their successive changes within the egg are as much metamorphoses as the
successive phases of life in those animals that complete their
development after they are hatched.
But to return to our Butterfly. In its most imperfect, earliest
condition, it is Worm-like, the body consisting of thirteen uniform
rings; but when it has completed this stage of its existence, it passes
into the Chrysalis state, during which the body has two regions, the
front rings being soldered together to form the head and chest, while
the hind joints remain distinct; and it is only when it bursts from its
Chrysalis envelope, as a complete Winged Insect, that it has three
distinct regions of the body. Do not the different periods of growth in
this highest order explain the relation of all the orders to each other?
The earliest condition of an animal cannot be its highest condition,--it
does not pass from a more perfect to a less perfect state of existence.
The history of its growth is, on the contrary, the history of its
progress in development; and therefore, when we find that the first
stage of growth in the Winged Insect transiently represents a structural
character that is permanent in the lowest order of its class, that its
second stage of growth transiently represents a structural character
that is permanent in the second order of its class, and that only in the
last stage of its existence does the Winged Insect attain its complete
and perfect condition, we may fairly infer that this division of the
class of Insects into a gradation of orders placing Centipedes lowest,
Spiders next, and Winged Insects highest, is true to Nature.
This is not the only instance in which the embryological evidence
confirms perfectly the anatomical evidence on which orders have been
distinguished, and I believe that Embryology will give us the true
standard by which to test the accuracy of our ordinal groups. In the
class of Crustacea, for instance, the Crabs have been placed above the
Lobsters by some naturalists, in consequence of certain anatomical
features; but there may easily be a difference of individual opinion as
to the relative value of these features. When we find, however, that the
Crab, while undergoing its changes in the egg, passes through a stage in
which it resembles the Lobster much more than it does its own adult
condition, we cannot doubt that its earlier state is its lower one, and
that the organization of the Lobster is not as high in the class of
Crustacea as that of the Crab. While using illustrations of this kind,
however, I must guard against misinterpretation. These embryological
changes are never the passing of one kind of animal into another kind of
animal: the Crab is none the less a Crab during that period of its
development in which it resembles a Lobster; it simply passes, in the
natural course of its growth, through a phase of existence which is
permanent in the Lobster, but transient in the Crab. Such facts should
stimulate all our young students to embryological investigation as a
most important branch of study in the present state of our science.
But while there is this structural gradation among orders, establishing
a relative rank between them, are classes and branches also linked
together as a connected chain? That such a chain exists throughout the
Animal Kingdom has long been a favorite idea, not only among
naturalists, but also in the popular mind. Lamarck was one of the
greatest teachers of this doctrine. He held not only that branches and
classes were connected in a direct gradation, but that within each class
there was a regular series of orders, families, genera, and species,
forming a continuous chain from the lowest animals to the highest, and
that the whole had been a gradual development of higher out of lower
forms. I have already alluded to his division of the Animal Kingdom into
the Apathetic, Sensitive, and Intelligent animals. The Apathetic were
those devoid of all sensitiveness except when aroused by the influence
of some external agent. Under this head he placed five classes,
including the Infusoria, Polyps, Star-Fishes, Sea-Urchins, Tunicata, and
Worms,--thus bringing together indiscriminately Radiates, Mollusks, and
Articulates. Under the head of Sensitive he had also a heterogeneous
assemblage, including Winged Insects, Spiders, Crustacea, Annelids, and
Barnacles, all of which are Articulates, and with these he placed in two
classes the Mollusks, Conchifera, Gasteropoda, and Cephalopoda. Under