Part 1 out of 5
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THE MARBLE FAUN, VOL. II
or The Romance of Monte Beni
BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
IN TWO VOLUMES
Table of Contents
I MIRIAM, HILDA, KENYON, DONATELLO
II THE FAUN
III SUBTERRANEAN REMINISCENCES
IV THE SPECTRE OF THE CATACOMB
V MIRIAM'S STUDIO
VI THE VIRGIN'S SHRINE
VIII THE SUBURBAN VILLA
IX THE FAUN AND NYMPH
X THE SYLVAN DANCE
XI FRAGMENTARY SENTENCES
XII A STROLL ON THE PINCIAN
XIII A SCULPTOR'S STUDIO
XV AN AESTHETIC COMPANY
XVI A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE
XVII MIRIAM'S TROUBLE
XVIII ON THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE
XIX THE FAUN'S TRANSFORMATION
XX THE BURIAL CHANT
XXI THE DEAD CAPUCHIN
XXII THE MEDICI GARDENS
XXIII MIRIAM AND HILDA
XXIV THE TOWER AMONG THE APENNINES
XXVI THE PEDIGREE OF MONTE BENI
XXVIII THE OWL TOWER
XXIX ON THE BATTLEMENTS
XXX DONATELLO'S BUST
XXXI THE MARBLE SALOON
XXXII SCENES BY THE WAY
XXXIII PICTURED WINDOWS
XXXIV MARKET-DAY IN PERUGIA
XXXV THE BRONZE PONTIFF'S BENEDICTION
XXXVI HILDA'S TOWER
XXXVII THE EMPTINESS OF PICTURE GALLERIES
XXXVIII ALTARS AND INCENSE
XXXIX THE WORLD'S CATHEDRAL
XL HILDA AND A FRIEND
XLI SNOWDROPS AND MAIDENLY DELIGHTS
XLII REMINISCENCES OF MIRIAM
XLIII THE EXTINCTION OF A LAMP
XLIV THE DESERTED SHRINE
XLV THE FLIGHT OF HILDA'S DOVES
XLVI A WALK ON THE CAMPAGNA
XLVII THE PEASANT AND CONTADINA
XLVIII A SCENE IN THE CORSO
XLIX A FROLIC OF THE CARNIVAL
L MIRIAM, HILDA, KENYON, DONATELLO
THE MARBLE FAUN
THE TOWER AMONG THE APENNINES
It was in June that the sculptor, Kenyon, arrived on horseback at the
gate of an ancient country house (which, from some of its features,
might almost be called a castle) situated in a part of Tuscany
somewhat remote from the ordinary track of tourists. Thither we must
now accompany him, and endeavor to make our story flow onward, like a
streamlet, past a gray tower that rises on the hillside, overlooking a
spacious valley, which is set in the grand framework of the Apennines.
The sculptor had left Rome with the retreating tide of foreign
residents. For, as summer approaches, the Niobe of Nations is made to
bewail anew, and doubtless with sincerity, the loss of that large part
of her population which she derives from other lands, and on whom
depends much of whatever remnant of prosperity she still enjoys. Rome,
at this season, is pervaded and overhung with atmospheric terrors,
and insulated within a charmed and deadly circle. The crowd of
wandering tourists betake themselves to Switzerland, to the Rhine, or,
from this central home of the world, to their native homes in England
or America, which they are apt thenceforward to look upon as
provincial, after once having yielded to the spell of the Eternal City.
The artist, who contemplates an indefinite succession of winters in
this home of art (though his first thought was merely to improve
himself by a brief visit), goes forth, in the summer time, to sketch
scenery and costume among the Tuscan hills, and pour, if he can, the
purple air of Italy over his canvas. He studies the old schools of
art in the mountain towns where they were born, and where they are
still to be seen in the faded frescos of Giotto and Cimabue, on the
walls of many a church, or in the dark chapels, in which the sacristan
draws aside the veil from a treasured picture of Perugino. Thence,
the happy painter goes to walk the long, bright galleries of Florence,
or to steal glowing colors from the miraculous works, which he finds
in a score of Venetian palaces. Such summers as these, spent amid
whatever is exquisite in art, or wild and picturesque in nature, may
not inadequately repay him for the chill neglect and disappointment
through which he has probably languished, in his Roman winter. This
sunny, shadowy, breezy, wandering life, in which he seeks for beauty
as his treasure, and gathers for his winter's honey what is but a
passing fragrance to all other men, is worth living for, come
afterwards what may. Even if he die unrecognized, the artist has had
his share of enjoyment and success.
Kenyon had seen, at a distance of many miles, the old villa or castle
towards which his journey lay, looking from its height over a broad
expanse of valley. As he drew nearer, however, it had been hidden
among the inequalities of the hillside, until the winding road brought
him almost to the iron gateway. The sculptor found this substantial
barrier fastened with lock and bolt. There was no bell, nor other
instrument of sound; and, after summoning the invisible garrison with
his voice, instead of a trumpet, he had leisure to take a glance at
the exterior of the fortress.
About thirty yards within the gateway rose a square tower, lofty
enough to be a very prominent object in the landscape, and more than
sufficiently massive in proportion to its height. Its antiquity was
evidently such that, in a climate of more abundant moisture, the ivy
would have mantled it from head to foot in a garment that might, by
this time, have been centuries old, though ever new. In the dry
Italian air, however, Nature had only so far adopted this old pile of
stonework as to cover almost every hand's-breadth of it with
close-clinging lichens and yellow moss; and the immemorial growth of
these kindly productions rendered the general hue of the tower soft
and venerable, and took away the aspect of nakedness which would have
made its age drearier than now.
Up and down the height of the tower were scattered three or four
windows, the lower ones grated with iron bars, the upper ones vacant
both of window frames and glass. Besides these larger openings, there
were several loopholes and little square apertures, which might be
supposed to light the staircase, that doubtless climbed the interior
towards the battlemented and machicolated summit. With this
last-mentioned warlike garniture upon its stern old head and brow, the
tower seemed evidently a stronghold of times long past. Many a
crossbowman had shot his shafts from those windows and loop-holes, and
from the vantage height of those gray battlements; many a flight of
arrows, too, had hit all round about the embrasures above, or the
apertures below, where the helmet of a defender had momentarily
glimmered. On festal nights, moreover, a hundred lamps had often
gleamed afar over the valley, suspended from the iron hooks that were
ranged for the purpose beneath the battlements and every window.
Connected with the tower, and extending behind it, there seemed to be
a very spacious residence, chiefly of more modern date. It perhaps
owed much of its fresher appearance, however, to a coat of stucco and
yellow wash, which is a sort of renovation very much in vogue with the
Italians. Kenyon noticed over a doorway, in the portion of the
edifice immediately adjacent to the tower, a cross, which, with a bell
suspended above the roof, indicated that this was a consecrated
precinct, and the chapel of the mansion.
Meanwhile, the hot sun so incommoded the unsheltered traveller, that
he shouted forth another impatient summons. Happening, at the same
moment, to look upward, he saw a figure leaning from an embrasure of
the battlements, and gazing down at him.
"Ho, Signore Count!" cried the sculptor, waving his straw hat, for he
recognized the face, after a moment's doubt. "This is a warm
reception, truly! Pray bid your porter let me in, before the sun
shrivels me quite into a cinder."
"I will come myself," responded Donatello, flinging down his voice out
of the clouds, as it were; "old Tomaso and old Stella are both asleep,
no doubt, and the rest of the people are in the vineyard. But I have
expected you, and you are welcome!"
The young Count--as perhaps we had better designate him in his
ancestral tower--vanished from the battlements; and Kenyon saw his
figure appear successively at each of the windows, as he descended.
On every reappearance, he turned his face towards the sculptor and
gave a nod and smile; for a kindly impulse prompted him thus to assure
his visitor of a welcome, after keeping him so long at an inhospitable
Kenyon, however (naturally and professionally expert at reading the
expression of the human countenance), had a vague sense that this was
not the young friend whom he had known so familiarly in Rome; not the
sylvan and untutored youth, whom Miriam, Hilda, and himself had liked,
laughed at, and sported with; not the Donatello whose identity they
had so playfully mixed up with that of the Faun of Praxiteles.
Finally, when his host had emerged from a side portal of the mansion,
and approached the gateway, the traveller still felt that there was
something lost, or something gained (he hardly knew which), that set
the Donatello of to-day irreconcilably at odds with him of yesterday.
His very gait showed it, in a certain gravity, a weight and measure of
step, that had nothing in common with the irregular buoyancy which
used to distinguish him. His face was paler and thinner, and the lips
less full and less apart.
"I have looked for you a long while," said Donatello; and, though his
voice sounded differently, and cut out its words more sharply than had
been its wont, still there was a smile shining on his face, that, for
the moment, quite brought back the Faun. "I shall be more cheerful,
perhaps, now that you have come. It is very solitary here."
"I have come slowly along, often lingering, often turning aside,"
replied Kenyon; "for I found a great deal to interest me in the
mediaeval sculpture hidden away in the churches hereabouts. An artist,
whether painter or sculptor, may be pardoned for loitering through
such a region. But what a fine old tower! Its tall front is like a
page of black letter, taken from the history of the Italian republics."
"I know little or nothing of its history," said the Count, glancing
upward at the battlements, where he had just been standing. "But I
thank my forefathers for building it so high. I like the windy summit
better than the world below, and spend much of my time there, nowadays."
"It is a pity you are not a star-gazer," observed Kenyon, also looking
up. "It is higher than Galileo's tower, which I saw, a week or two
ago, outside of the walls of Florence."
"A star-gazer? I am one," replied Donatello. "I sleep in the tower,
and often watch very late on the battlements. There is a dismal old
staircase to climb, however, before reaching the top, and a succession
of dismal chambers, from story to story. Some of them were prison
chambers in times past, as old Tomaso will tell you."
The repugnance intimated in his tone at the idea of this gloomy
staircase and these ghostly, dimly lighted rooms, reminded Kenyon of
the original Donatello, much more than his present custom of midnight
vigils on the battlements.
"I shall be glad to share your watch," said the guest; "especially by
moonlight. The prospect of this broad valley must be very fine. But
I was not aware, my friend, that these were your country habits. I
have fancied you in a sort of Arcadian life, tasting rich figs, and
squeezing the juice out of the sunniest grapes, and sleeping soundly
all night, after a day of simple pleasures."
"I may have known such a life, when I was younger," answered the Count
gravely. "I am not a boy now. Time flies over us, but leaves its
The sculptor could not but smile at the triteness of the remark, which,
nevertheless, had a kind of originality as coming from Donatello. He
had thought it out from his own experience, and perhaps considered
himself as communicating a new truth to mankind.
They were now advancing up the courtyard; and the long extent of the
villa, with its ironbarred lower windows and balconied upper ones,
became visible, stretching back towards a grove of trees.
"At some period of your family history," observed Kenyon, "the Counts
of Monte Beni must have led a patriarchal life in this vast house. A
great-grandsire and all his descendants might find ample verge here,
and with space, too, for each separate brood of little ones to play
within its own precincts. Is your present household a large one?"
"Only myself," answered Donatello, "and Tomaso, who has been butler
since my grandfather's time, and old Stella, who goes sweeping and
dusting about the chambers, and Girolamo, the cook, who has but an
idle life of it. He shall send you up a chicken forthwith. But,
first of all, I must summon one of the contadini from the farmhouse
yonder, to take your horse to the stable."
Accordingly, the young Count shouted again, and with such effect that,
after several repetitions of the outcry, an old gray woman protruded
her head and a broom-handle from a chamber window; the venerable
butler emerged from a recess in the side of the house, where was a
well, or reservoir, in which he had been cleansing a small wine cask;
and a sunburnt contadino, in his shirt-sleeves, showed himself on the
outskirts of the vineyard, with some kind of a farming tool in his
hand. Donatello found employment for all these retainers in providing
accommodation for his guest and steed, and then ushered the sculptor
into the vestibule of the house.
It was a square and lofty entrance-room, which, by the solidity of its
construction, might have been an Etruscan tomb, being paved and walled
with heavy blocks of stone, and vaulted almost as massively overhead.
On two sides there were doors, opening into long suites of anterooms
and saloons; on the third side, a stone staircase of spacious breadth,
ascending, by dignified degrees and with wide resting-places, to
another floor of similar extent. Through one of the doors, which was
ajar, Kenyon beheld an almost interminable vista of apartments,
opening one beyond the other, and reminding him of the hundred rooms
in Blue Beard's castle, or the countless halls in some palace of the
It must have been a numerous family, indeed, that could ever have
sufficed to people with human life so large an abode as this, and
impart social warmth to such a wide world within doors. The sculptor
confessed to himself, that Donatello could allege reason enough for
growing melancholy, having only his own personality to vivify it all.
"How a woman's face would brighten it up!" he ejaculated, not
intending to be overheard.
But, glancing at Donatello, he saw a stern and sorrowful look in his
eyes, which altered his youthful face as if it had seen thirty years
of trouble; and, at the same moment, old Stella showed herself through
one of the doorways, as the only representative of her sex at Monte
"Come," said the Count, "I see you already find the old house dismal.
So do I, indeed! And yet it was a cheerful place in my boyhood. But,
you see, in my father's days (and the same was true of all my endless
line of grandfathers, as I have heard), there used to be uncles, aunts,
and all manner of kindred, dwelling together as one family. They
were a merry and kindly race of people, for the most part, and kept
one another's hearts warm."
"Two hearts might be enough for warmth," observed the sculptor, "even
in so large a house as this. One solitary heart, it is true, may be
apt to shiver a little. But, I trust, my friend, that the genial
blood of your race still flows in many veins besides your own?"
"I am the last," said Donatello gloomily. "They have all vanished
from me, since my childhood. Old Tomaso will tell you that the air of
Monte Beni is not so favorable to length of days as it used to be.
But that is not the secret of the quick extinction of my kindred."
"Then you are aware of a more satisfactory reason?" suggested Kenyon.
"I thought of one, the other night, while I was gazing at the stars,"
answered Donatello; "but, pardon me, I do not mean to tell it. One
cause, however, of the longer and healthier life of my forefathers was,
that they had many pleasant customs, and means of making themselves
glad, and their guests and friends along with them. Nowadays we have
"And what is that?" asked the sculptor.
"You shall see!" said his young host.
By this time, he had ushered the sculptor into one of the numberless
saloons; and, calling for refreshment, old Stella placed a cold fowl
upon the table, and quickly followed it with a savory omelet, which
Girolamo had lost no time in preparing. She also brought some
cherries, plums, and apricots, and a plate full of particularly
delicate figs, of last year's growth. The butler showing his white
head at the door, his master beckoned to him. "Tomaso, bring some
Sunshine!" said he. The readiest method of obeying this order, one
might suppose, would have been to fling wide the green window-blinds,
and let the glow of the summer noon into the carefully shaded
room. But, at Monte Beni, with provident caution against the wintry
days, when there is little sunshine, and the rainy ones, when there is
none, it was the hereditary custom to keep their Sunshine stored away
in the cellar. Old Tomaso quickly produced some of it in a small,
straw-covered flask, out of which he extracted the cork, and inserted
a little cotton wool, to absorb the olive oil that kept the precious
liquid from the air.
"This is a wine," observed the Count, "the secret of making which has
been kept in our family for centuries upon centuries; nor would it
avail any man to steal the secret, unless he could also steal the
vineyard, in which alone the Monte Beni grape can be produced. There
is little else left me, save that patch of vines. Taste some of their
juice, and tell me whether it is worthy to be called Sunshine! for
that is its name." "A glorious name, too!" cried the sculptor.
"Taste it," said Donatello, filling his friend's glass, and pouring
likewise a little into his own. "But first smell its fragrance; for
the wine is very lavish of it, and will scatter it all abroad."
"Ah, how exquisite!" said Kenyon. "No other wine has a bouquet like
this. The flavor must be rare, indeed, if it fulfill the promise of
this fragrance, which is like the airy sweetness of youthful hopes,
that no realities will ever satisfy!"
This invaluable liquor was of a pale golden hue, like other of the
rarest Italian wines, and, if carelessly and irreligiously quaffed,
might have been mistaken for a very fine sort of champagne. It was
not, however, an effervescing wine, although its delicate piquancy
produced a somewhat similar effect upon the palate. Sipping, the
guest longed to sip again; but the wine demanded so deliberate a pause,
in order to detect the hidden peculiarities and subtile exquisiteness
of its flavor, that to drink it was really more a moral than a
physical enjoyment. There was a deliciousness in it that eluded
analysis, and--like whatever else is superlatively good--was perhaps
better appreciated in the memory than by present consciousness.
One of its most ethereal charms lay in the transitory life of the
wine's richest qualities; for, while it required a certain leisure and
delay, yet, if you lingered too long upon the draught, it became
disenchanted both of its fragrance and its flavor.
The lustre should not be forgotten, among the other admirable
endowments of the Monte Beni wine; for, as it stood in Kenyon's glass,
a little circle of light glowed on the table round about it, as if it
were really so much golden sunshine.
"I feel myself a better man for that ethereal potation," observed the
sculptor. "The finest Orvieto, or that famous wine, the Est Est Est
of Montefiascone, is vulgar in comparison. This is surely the wine of
the Golden Age, such as Bacchus himself first taught mankind to press
from the choicest of his grapes. My dear Count, why is it not
illustrious? The pale, liquid gold, in every such flask as that,
might be solidified into golden scudi, and would quickly make you a
Tomaso, the old butler, who was standing by the table, and enjoying
the praises of the wine quite as much as if bestowed upon himself,
made answer,--"We have a tradition, Signore," said he, "that this rare
wine of our vineyard would lose all its wonderful qualities, if any of
it were sent to market. The Counts of Monte Beni have never parted
with a single flask of it for gold. At their banquets, in the olden
time, they have entertained princes, cardinals, and once an emperor
and once a pope, with this delicious wine, and always, even to this
day, it has been their custom to let it flow freely, when those whom
they love and honor sit at the board. But the grand duke himself
could not drink that wine, except it were under this very roof!"
"What you tell me, my good friend," replied Kenyon, "makes me venerate
the Sunshine of Monte Beni even more abundantly than before. As I
understand you, it is a sort of consecrated juice, and symbolizes the
holy virtues of hospitality and social kindness?"
"Why, partly so, Signore," said the old butler, with a shrewd twinkle
in his eye; "but, to speak out all the truth, there is another
excellent reason why neither a cask nor a flask of our precious
vintage should ever be sent to market. The wine, Signore, is so fond
of its native home, that a transportation of even a few miles turns it
quite sour. And yet it is a wine that keeps well in the cellar,
underneath this floor, and gathers fragrance, flavor, and brightness,
in its dark dungeon. That very flask of Sunshine, now, has kept
itself for you, sir guest (as a maid reserves her sweetness till her
lover comes for it), ever since a merry vintage-time, when the Signore
Count here was a boy!"
"You must not wait for Tomaso to end his discourse about the wine,
before drinking off your glass," observed Donatello. "When once the
flask is uncorked, its finest qualities lose little time in making
their escape. I doubt whether your last sip will be quite so
delicious as you found the first."
And, in truth, the sculptor fancied that the Sunshine became almost
imperceptibly clouded, as he approached the bottom of the flask. The
effect of the wine, however, was a gentle exhilaration, which did not
so speedily pass away.
Being thus refreshed, Kenyon looked around him at the antique saloon
in which they sat. It was constructed in a most ponderous style, with
a stone floor, on which heavy pilasters were planted against the wall,
supporting arches that crossed one another in the vaulted ceiling.
The upright walls, as well as the compartments of the roof, were
completely Covered with frescos, which doubtless had been brilliant
when first executed, and perhaps for generations afterwards. The
designs were of a festive and joyous character, representing Arcadian
scenes, where nymphs, fauns, and satyrs disported themselves among
mortal youths and maidens; and Pan, and the god of wine, and he of
sunshine and music, disdained not to brighten some sylvan merry-making
with the scarcely veiled glory of their presence. A wreath of dancing
figures, in admirable variety of shape and motion, was festooned quite
round the cornice of the room.
In its first splendor, the saloon must have presented an aspect both
gorgeous and enlivening; for it invested some of the cheerfullest
ideas and emotions of which the human mind is susceptible with the
external reality of beautiful form, and rich, harmonious glow and
variety of color. But the frescos were now very ancient. They had
been rubbed and scrubbed by old Stein and many a predecessor, and had
been defaced in one spot, and retouched in another, and had peeled
from the wall in patches, and had hidden some of their brightest
portions under dreary dust, till the joyousness had quite vanished out
of them all. It was often difficult to puzzle out the design; and
even where it was more readily intelligible, the figures showed like
the ghosts of dead and buried joys,--the closer their resemblance to
the happy past, the gloomier now. For it is thus, that with only an
inconsiderable change, the gladdest objects and existences become the
saddest; hope fading into disappointment; joy darkening into grief,
and festal splendor into funereal duskiness; and all evolving, as
their moral, a grim identity between gay things and sorrowful ones.
Only give them a little time, and they turn out to be just alike!
"There has been much festivity in this saloon, if I may judge by the
character of its frescos," remarked Kenyon, whose spirits were still
upheld by the mild potency of the Monte Beni wine. "Your forefathers,
my dear Count, must have been joyous fellows, keeping up the vintage
merriment throughout the year. It does me good to think of them
gladdening the hearts of men and women, with their wine of Sunshine,
even in the Iron Age, as Pan and Bacchus, whom we see yonder, did in
the Golden one!"
"Yes; there have been merry times in the banquet hall of Monte Beni,
even within my own remembrance," replied Donatello, looking gravely at
the painted walls. "It was meant for mirth, as you see; and when I
brought my own cheerfulness into the saloon, these frescos looked
cheerful too. But, methinks, they have all faded since I saw them
"It would be a good idea," said the sculptor, falling into his
companion's vein, and helping him out with an illustration which
Donatello himself could not have put into shape, "to convert this
saloon into a chapel; and when the priest tells his hearers of the
instability of earthly joys, and would show how drearily they vanish,
he may point to these pictures, that were so joyous and are so dismal.
He could not illustrate his theme so aptly in any other way."
"True, indeed," answered the Count, his former simplicity strangely
mixing itself up with ah experience that had changed him; "and yonder,
where the minstrels used to stand, the altar shall be placed. A
sinful man might do all the more effective penance in this old banquet
"But I should regret to have suggested so ungenial a transformation in
your hospitable saloon," continued Kenyon, duly noting the change in
Donatello's characteristics. "You startle me, my friend, by so
ascetic a design! It would hardly have entered your head, when we
first met. Pray do not,--if I may take the freedom of a somewhat
elder man to advise you," added he, smiling,--"pray do not, under a
notion of improvement, take upon yourself to be sombre, thoughtful,
and penitential, like all the rest of us."
Donatello made no answer, but sat awhile, appearing to follow with his
eyes one of the figures, which was repeated many times over in the
groups upon the walls and ceiling. It formed the principal link of an
allegory, by which (as is often the case in such pictorial designs)
the whole series of frescos were bound together, but which it would be
impossible, or, at least, very wearisome, to unravel. The sculptor's
eyes took a similar direction, and soon began to trace through the
vicissitudes,--once gay, now sombre,--in which the old artist had
involved it, the same individual figure. He fancied a resemblance in
it to Donatello himself; and it put him in mind of one of the purposes
with which he had come to Monte Beni.
"My dear Count," said he, "I have a proposal to make. You must let me
employ a little of my leisure in modelling your bust. You remember
what a striking resemblance we all of us--Hilda, Miriam, and I--found
between your features and those of the Faun of Praxiteles. Then, it
seemed an identity; but now that I know your face better, the likeness
is far less apparent. Your head in marble would be a treasure to me.
Shall I have it?"
"I have a weakness which I fear I cannot overcome," replied the Count,
turning away his face. "It troubles me to be looked at steadfastly."
"I have observed it since we have been sitting here, though never
before," rejoined the sculptor. "It is a kind of nervousness, I
apprehend, which, you caught in the Roman air, and which grows upon
you, in your solitary life. It need be no hindrance to my taking your
bust; for I will catch the likeness and expression by side glimpses,
which (if portrait painters and bust makers did but know it) always
bring home richer results than a broad stare."
"You may take me if you have the power," said Donatello; but, even as
he spoke, he turned away his face; "and if you can see what makes me
shrink from you, you are welcome to put it in the bust. It is not my
will, but my necessity, to avoid men's eyes. Only," he added, with a
smile which made Kenyon doubt whether he might not as well copy the
Faun as model a new bust,--"only, you know, you must not insist on my
uncovering these ears of mine!"
"Nay; I never should dream of such a thing," answered the sculptor,
laughing, as the young Count shook his clustering curls. "I could not
hope to persuade you, remembering how Miriam once failed!"
Nothing is more unaccountable than the spell that often lurks in a
spoken word. A thought may be present to the mind, so distinctly that
no utterance could make it more so; and two minds may be conscious of
the same thought, in which one or both take the profoundest interest;
but as long as it remains unspoken, their familiar talk flows quietly
over the hidden idea, as a rivulet may sparkle and dimple over
something sunken in its bed. But speak the word, and it is like
bringing up a drowned body out of the deepest pool of the rivulet,
which has been aware of the horrible secret all along, in spite of its
And even so, when Kenyon chanced to make a distinct reference to
Donatello's relations with Miriam (though the subject was already in
both their minds), a ghastly emotion rose up out of the depths of the
young Count's heart. He trembled either with anger or terror, and
glared at the sculptor with wild eyes, like a wolf that meets you in
the forest, and hesitates whether to flee or turn to bay. But, as
Kenyon still looked calmly at him, his aspect gradually became less
disturbed, though far from resuming its former quietude.
"You have spoken her name," said he, at last, in an altered and
tremulous tone; "tell me, now, all that you know of her."
"I scarcely think that I have any later intelligence than yourself,"
answered Kenyon; "Miriam left Rome at about the time of your own
departure. Within a day or two after our last meeting at the Church
of the Capuchins, I called at her studio and found it vacant. Whither
she has gone, I cannot tell."
Donatello asked no further questions.
They rose from table, and strolled together about the premises,
whiling away the afternoon with brief intervals of unsatisfactory
conversation, and many shadowy silences. The sculptor had a
perception of change in his companion,--possibly of growth and
development, but certainly of change,--which saddened him, because it
took away much of the simple grace that was the best of Donatello's
Kenyon betook himself to repose that night in a grim, old, vaulted
apartment, which, in the lapse of five or six centuries, had probably
been the birth, bridal, and death chamber of a great many generations
of the Monte Beni family. He was aroused, soon after daylight, by the
clamor of a tribe of beggars who had taken their stand in a little
rustic lane that crept beside that portion of the villa, and were
addressing their petitions to the open windows. By and by they
appeared to have received alms, and took their departure.
"Some charitable Christian has sent those vagabonds away," thought the
sculptor, as he resumed his interrupted nap; "who could it be?
Donatello has his own rooms in the tower; Stella, Tomaso, and the cook
are a world's width off; and I fancied myself the only inhabitant in
this part of the house."
In the breadth and space which so delightfully characterize an Italian
villa, a dozen guests might have had each his suite of apartments
without infringing upon one another's ample precincts. But, so far as
Kenyon knew, he was the only visitor beneath Donatello's widely
THE PEDIGREE OF MONTE BENI
From the old butler, whom he found to be a very gracious and affable
personage, Kenyon soon learned many curious particulars about the
family history and hereditary peculiarities of the Counts of Monte
Beni. There was a pedigree, the later portion of which--that is to
say, for a little more than a thousand years--a genealogist would have
found delight in tracing out, link by link, and authenticating by
records and documentary evidences. It would have been as difficult,
however, to follow up the stream of Donatello's ancestry to its dim
source, as travellers have found it to reach the mysterious fountains
of the Nile. And, far beyond the region of definite and demonstrable
fact, a romancer might have strayed into a region of old poetry, where
the rich soil, so long uncultivated and untrodden, had lapsed into
nearly its primeval state of wilderness. Among those antique paths,
now overgrown with tangled and riotous vegetation, the wanderer must
needs follow his own guidance, and arrive nowhither at last.
The race of Monte Beni, beyond a doubt, was one of the oldest in Italy,
where families appear to survive at least, if not to flourish, on
their half-decayed roots, oftener than in England or France. It came
down in a broad track from the Middle Ages; but, at epochs anterior to
those, it was distinctly visible in the gloom of the period before
chivalry put forth its flower; and further still, we are almost afraid
to say, it was seen, though with a fainter and wavering course, in the
early morn of Christendom, when the Roman Empire had hardly begun to
show symptoms of decline. At that venerable distance, the heralds
gave up the lineage in despair.
But where written record left the genealogy of Monte Beni, tradition
took it up, and carried it without dread or shame beyond the Imperial
ages into the times of the Roman republic; beyond those, again, into
the epoch of kingly rule. Nor even so remotely among the mossy
centuries did it pause, but strayed onward into that gray antiquity of
which there is no token left, save its cavernous tombs, and a few
bronzes, and some quaintly wrought ornaments of gold, and gems with
mystic figures and inscriptions. There, or thereabouts, the line was
supposed to have had its origin in the sylvan life of Etruria, while
Italy was yet guiltless of Rome.
Of course, as we regret to say, the earlier and very much the larger
portion of this respectable descent--and the same is true of many
briefer pedigrees--must be looked upon as altogether mythical. Still,
it threw a romantic interest around the unquestionable antiquity of
the Monte Beni family, and over that tract of their own vines and
fig-trees beneath the shade of which they had unquestionably dwelt for
immemorial ages. And there they had laid the foundations of their
tower, so long ago that one half of its height was said to be sunken
under the surface and to hide subterranean chambers which once were
cheerful with the olden sunshine.
One story, or myth, that had mixed itself up with their mouldy
genealogy, interested the sculptor by its wild, and perhaps grotesque,
yet not unfascinating peculiarity. He caught at it the more eagerly,
as it afforded a shadowy and whimsical semblance of explanation for
the likeness which he, with Miriam and Hilda, had seen or fancied
between Donatello and the Faun of Praxiteles.
The Monte Beni family, as this legend averred, drew their origin from
the Pelasgic race, who peopled Italy in times that may be called
prehistoric. It was the same noble breed of men, of Asiatic birth,
that settled in Greece; the same happy and poetic kindred who dwelt in
Arcadia, and--whether they ever lived such life or not--enriched the
world with dreams, at least, and fables, lovely, if unsubstantial, of
a Golden Age. In those delicious times, when deities and demigods
appeared familiarly on earth, mingling with its inhabitants as friend
with friend,--when nymphs, satyrs, and the whole train of classic
faith or fable hardly took pains to hide themselves in the primeval
woods,--at that auspicious period the lineage of Monte Beni had its
rise. Its progenitor was a being not altogether human, yet partaking
so largely of the gentlest human qualities, as to be neither awful nor
shocking to the imagination. A sylvan creature, native among the
woods, had loved a mortal maiden, and--perhaps by kindness, and the
subtile courtesies which love might teach to his simplicity, or
possibly by a ruder wooing--had won her to his haunts. In due time he
gained her womanly affection; and, making their bridal bower, for
aught we know, in the hollow of a great tree, the pair spent a happy
wedded life in that ancient neighborhood where now stood Donatello's
From this union sprang a vigorous progeny that took its place
unquestioned among human families. In that age, however, and long
afterwards, it showed the ineffaceable lineaments of its wild
paternity: it was a pleasant and kindly race of men, but capable of
savage fierceness, and never quite restrainable within the trammels of
social law. They were strong, active, genial, cheerful as the
sunshine, passionate as the tornado. Their lives were rendered
blissful by art unsought harmony with nature.
But, as centuries passed away, the Faun's wild blood had necessarily
been attempered with constant intermixtures from the more ordinary
streams of human life. It lost many of its original qualities, and
served for the most part only to bestow an unconquerable vigor, which
kept the family from extinction, and enabled them to make their own
part good throughout the perils and rude emergencies of their
interminable descent. In the constant wars with which Italy was
plagued, by the dissensions of her petty states and republics, there
was a demand for native hardihood.
The successive members of the Monte Beni family showed valor and
policy enough' at all events, to keep their hereditary possessions out
of the clutch of grasping neighbors, and probably differed very little
from the other feudal barons with whom they fought and feasted. Such
a degree of conformity with the manners of the generations through
which it survived, must have been essential to the prolonged
continuance of the race.
It is well known, however, that any hereditary peculiarity--as a
supernumerary finger, or an anomalous shape of feature, like the
Austrian lip--is wont to show itself in a family after a very wayward
fashion. It skips at its own pleasure along the line, and, latent for
half a century or so, crops out again in a great-grandson. And thus,
it was said, from a period beyond memory or record, there had ever and
anon been a descendant of the Monte Benis bearing nearly all the
characteristics that were attributed to the original founder of the
race. Some traditions even went so far as to enumerate the ears,
covered with a delicate fur, and shaped like a pointed leaf, among the
proofs of authentic descent which were seen in these favored
individuals. We appreciate the beauty of such tokens of a nearer
kindred to the great family of nature than other mortals bear; but it
would be idle to ask credit for a statement which might be deemed to
partake so largely of the grotesque.
But it was indisputable that, once in a century or oftener, a son of
Monte Beni gathered into himself the scattered qualities of his race,
and reproduced the character that had been assigned to it from
immemorial times. Beautiful, strong, brave, kindly, sincere, of
honest impulses, and endowed with simple tastes and the love of homely
pleasures, he was believed to possess gifts by which he could
associate himself with the wild things of the forests, and with the
fowls of the air, and could feel a sympathy even with the trees; among
which it was his joy to dwell. On the other hand, there were
deficiencies both of intellect and heart, and especially, as it seemed,
in the development of the higher portion of man's nature. These
defects were less perceptible in early youth, but showed themselves
more strongly with advancing age, when, as the animal spirits settled
down upon a lower level, the representative of the Monte Benis was apt
to become sensual, addicted to gross pleasures, heavy, unsympathizing,
and insulated within the narrow limits of a surly selfishness.
A similar change, indeed, is no more than what we constantly observe
to take place in persons who are not careful to substitute other
graces for those which they inevitably lose along with the quick
sensibility and joyous vivacity of youth. At worst, the reigning
Count of Monte Beni, as his hair grew white, was still a jolly old
fellow over his flask of wine, the wine that Bacchus himself was
fabled to have taught his sylvan ancestor how to express, and from
what choicest grapes, which would ripen only in a certain divinely
favored portion of the Monte Beni vineyard.
The family, be it observed, were both proud and ashamed of these
legends; but whatever part of them they might consent to incorporate
into their ancestral history, they steadily repudiated all that
referred to their one distinctive feature, the pointed and furry ears.
In a great many years past, no sober credence had been yielded to the
mythical portion of the pedigree. It might, however, be considered as
typifying some such assemblage of qualities--in this case, chiefly
remarkable for their simplicity and naturalness--as, when they
reappear in successive generations, constitute what we call family
character. The sculptor found, moreover, on the evidence of some old
portraits, that the physical features of the race had long been
similar to what he now saw them in Donatello. With accumulating years,
it is true, the Monte Beni face had a tendency to look grim and
savage; and, in two or three instances, the family pictures glared at
the spectator in the eyes like some surly animal, that had lost its
good humor when it outlived its playfulness.
The young Count accorded his guest full liberty to investigate the
personal annals of these pictured worthies, as well as all the rest of
his progenitors; and ample materials were at hand in many chests of
worm-eaten papers and yellow parchments, that had been gathering into
larger and dustier piles ever since the dark ages. But, to confess
the truth, the information afforded by these musty documents was so
much more prosaic than what Kenyon acquired from Tomaso's legends,
that even the superior authenticity of the former could not reconcile
him to its dullness. What especially delighted the sculptor was the
analogy between Donatello's character, as he himself knew it, and
those peculiar traits which the old butler's narrative assumed to have
been long hereditary in the race. He was amused at finding, too, that
not only Tomaso but the peasantry of the estate and neighboring
village recognized his friend as a genuine Monte Beni, of the original
type. They seemed to cherish a great affection for the young Count,
and were full of stories about his sportive childhood; how he had
played among the little rustics, and been at once the wildest and the
sweetest of them all; and how, in his very infancy, he had plunged
into the deep pools of the streamlets and never been drowned, and had
clambered to the topmost branches of tall trees without ever breaking
his neck. No such mischance could happen to the sylvan child because,
handling all the elements of nature so fearlessly and freely, nothing
had either the power or the will to do him harm.
He grew up, said these humble friends, the playmate not only of all
mortal kind, but of creatures of the woods; although, when Kenyon
pressed them for some particulars of this latter mode of companionship,
they could remember little more than a few anecdotes of a pet fox,
which used to growl and snap at everybody save Donatello himself.
But they enlarged--and never were weary of the theme--upon the
blithesome effects of Donatello's presence in his rosy childhood and
budding youth. Their hovels had always glowed like sunshine when he
entered them; so that, as the peasants expressed it, their young
master had never darkened a doorway in his life. He was the soul of
vintage festivals. While he was a mere infant, scarcely able to run
alone, it had been the custom to make him tread the winepress with his
tender little feet, if it were only to crush one cluster of the grapes.
And the grape-juice that gushed beneath his childish tread, be it
ever so small in quantity, sufficed to impart a pleasant flavor to a
whole cask of wine. The race of Monte Beni--so these rustic
chroniclers assured the sculptor--had possessed the gift from the
oldest of old times of expressing good wine from ordinary grapes, and
a ravishing liquor from the choice growth of their vineyard.
In a word, as he listened to such tales as these, Kenyon could have
imagined that the valleys and hillsides about him were a veritable
Arcadia; and that Donatello was not merely a sylvan faun, but the
genial wine god in his very person. Making many allowances for the
poetic fancies of Italian peasants, he set it down for fact that his
friend, in a simple way and among rustic folks, had been an
exceedingly delightful fellow in his younger days.
But the contadini sometimes added, shaking their heads and sighing,
that the young Count was sadly changed since he went to Rome. The
village girls now missed the merry smile with which he used to greet
The sculptor inquired of his good friend Tomaso, whether he, too, had
noticed the shadow which was said to have recently fallen over
"Ah, yes, Signore!" answered the old butler, "it is even so, since he
came back from that wicked and miserable city. The world has grown
either too evil, or else too wise and sad, for such men as the old
Counts of Monte Beni used to be. His very first taste of it, as you
see, has changed and spoilt my poor young lord. There had not been a
single count in the family these hundred years or more, who was so
true a Monte Beni, of the antique stamp, as this poor signorino; and
now it brings the tears into my eyes to hear him sighing over a cup of
Sunshine! Ah, it is a sad world now!"
"Then you think there was a merrier world once?" asked Kenyon.
"Surely, Signore," said Tomaso; "a merrier world, and merrier Counts
of Monte Beni to live in it! Such tales of them as I have heard, when
I was a child on my grandfather's knee! The good old man remembered a
lord of Monte Beni--at least, he had heard of such a one, though I
will not make oath upon the holy crucifix that my grandsire lived in
his time who used to go into the woods and call pretty damsels out of
the fountains, and out of the trunks of the old trees. That merry
lord was known to dance with them a whole long summer afternoon! When
shall we see such frolics in our days?"
"Not soon, I am afraid," acquiesced the sculptor. "You are right,
excellent Tomaso; the world is sadder now!"
And, in truth, while our friend smiled at these wild fables, he sighed
in the same breath to think how the once genial earth produces, in
every successive generation, fewer flowers than used to gladden the
preceding ones. Not that the modes and seeming possibilities of human
enjoyment are rarer in our refined and softened era,--on the contrary,
they never before were nearly so abundant,--but that mankind are
getting so far beyond the childhood of their race that they scorn to
be happy any longer. A simple and joyous character can find no place
for itself among the sage and sombre figures that would put his
unsophisticated cheerfulness to shame. The entire system of man's
affairs, as at present established, is built up purposely to exclude
the careless and happy soul. The very children would upbraid the
wretched individual who should endeavor to take life and the world as
w what we might naturally suppose them meant for--a place and
opportunity for enjoyment.
It is the iron rule in our day to require an object and a purpose in
life. It makes us all parts of a complicated scheme of progress,
which can only result in our arrival at a, colder and drearier region
than we were born in. It insists upon everybody's adding somewhat--a
mite, perhaps, but earned by incessant effort--to an accumulated pile
of usefulness, of which the only use will be, to burden our posterity
with even heavier thoughts and more inordinate labor than our own. No
life now wanders like an unfettered stream; there is a mill-wheel for
the tiniest rivulet to turn. We go all wrong, by too strenuous a
resolution to go all right.
Therefore it was--so, at least, the sculptor thought, although partly
suspicious of Donatello's darker misfortune--that the young Count
found it impossible nowadays to be what his forefathers had been. He
could not live their healthy life of animal spirits, in their sympathy
with nature, and brotherhood with all that breathed around them.
Nature, in beast, fowl, and tree, and earth, flood, and sky, is what
it was of old; but sin, care, and self-consciousness have set the
human portion of the world askew; and thus the simplest character is
ever the soonest to go astray.
"At any rate, Tomaso," said Kenyon, doing his best to comfort the old
man, "let us hope that your young lord will still enjoy himself at
vintage time. By the aspect of the vineyard, I judge that this will
be a famous year for the golden wine of Monte Beni. As long as your
grapes produce that admirable liquor, sad as you think the world,
neither the Count nor his guests will quite forget to smile."
"Ah, Signore," rejoined the butler with a sigh, "but he scarcely wets
his lips with the sunny juice."
"There is yet another hope," observed Kenyon; "the young Count may
fall in love, and bring home a fair and laughing wife to chase the
gloom out of yonder old frescoed saloon. Do you think he could do a
better thing, my good Tomaso?"
"Maybe not, Signore," said the sage butler, looking earnestly at him;
"and, maybe, not a worse!"
The sculptor fancied that the good old man had it partly in his mind
to make some remark, or communicate some fact, which, on second
thoughts, he resolved to keep concealed in his own breast. He now
took his departure cellarward, shaking his white head and muttering to
himself, and did not reappear till dinner-time, when he favored Kenyon,
whom he had taken far into his good graces, with a choicer flask of
Sunshine than had yet blessed his palate.
To say the truth, this golden wine was no unnecessary ingredient
towards making the life of Monte Beni palatable. It seemed a pity
that Donatello did not drink a little more of it, and go jollily to
bed at least, even if he should awake with an accession of darker
melancholy the next morning.
Nevertheless, there was no lack of outward means for leading an
agreeable life in the old villa. Wandering musicians haunted the
precincts of Monte Beni, where they seemed to claim a prescriptive
right; they made the lawn and shrubbery tuneful with the sound of
fiddle, harp, and flute, and now and then with the tangled squeaking
of a bagpipe. Improvisatori likewise came and told tales or recited
verses to the contadini--among whom Kenyon was often an auditor--after
their day's work in the vineyard. Jugglers, too, obtained permission
to do feats of magic in the hall, where they set even the sage Tomaso,
and Stella, Girolamo, and the peasant girls from the farmhouse, all of
a broad grin, between merriment and wonder. These good people got
food and lodging for their pleasant pains, and some of the small wine
of Tuscany, and a reasonable handful of the Grand Duke's copper coin,
to keep up the hospitable renown of Monte Beni. But very seldom had
they the young Count as a listener or a spectator.
There were sometimes dances by moonlight on the lawn, but never since
he came from Rome did Donatello's presence deepen the blushes of the
pretty contadinas, or his footstep weary out the most agile partner or
competitor, as once it was sure to do.
Paupers--for this kind of vermin infested the house of Monte Beni
worse than any other spot in beggar-haunted Italy--stood beneath all
the windows, making loud supplication, or even establishing themselves
on the marble steps of the grand entrance. They ate and drank, and
filled their bags, and pocketed the little money that was given them,
and went forth on their devious ways, showering blessings innumerable
on the mansion and its lord, and on the souls of his deceased
forefathers, who had always been just such simpletons as to be
compassionate to beggary. But, in spite of their favorable prayers,
by which Italian philanthropists set great store, a cloud seemed to
hang over these once Arcadian precincts, and to be darkest around the
summit of the tower where Donatello was wont to sit and brood.
After the sculptor's arrival, however, the young Count sometimes came
down from his forlorn elevation, and rambled with him among the
neighboring woods and hills. He led his friend to many enchanting
nooks, with which he himself had been familiar in his childhood. But
of late, as he remarked to Kenyon, a sort of strangeness had overgrown
them, like clusters of dark shrubbery, so that he hardly recognized
the places which he had known and loved so well.
To the sculptor's eye, nevertheless, they were still rich with beauty.
They were picturesque in that sweetly impressive way where wildness,
in a long lapse of years, has crept over scenes that have been once
adorned with the careful art and toil of man; and when man could do no
more for them, time and nature came, and wrought hand in hand to bring
them to a soft and venerable perfection. There grew the fig-tree that
had run wild and taken to wife the vine, which likewise had gone
rampant out of all human control; so that the two wild things had
tangled and knotted themselves into a wild marriage bond, and hung
their various progeny--the luscious figs, the grapes, oozy with the
Southern juice, and both endowed with a wild flavor that added the
final charm--on the same bough together.
In Kenyon's opinion, never was any other nook so lovely as a certain
little dell which he and Donatello visited. It was hollowed in among
the hills, and open to a glimpse of the broad, fertile valley. A
fountain had its birth here, and fell into a marble basin, which was
all covered with moss and shaggy with water-weeds. Over the gush of
the small stream, with an urn in her arms, stood a marble nymph, whose
nakedness the moss had kindly clothed as with a garment; and the long
trails and tresses of the maidenhair had done what they could in the
poor thing's behalf, by hanging themselves about her waist, In former
days--it might be a remote antiquity--this lady of the fountain had
first received the infant tide into her urn and poured it thence into
the marble basin. But now the sculptured urn had a great crack from
top to bottom; and the discontented nymph was compelled to see the
basin fill itself through a channel which she could not control,
although with water long ago consecrated to her.
For this reason, or some other, she looked terribly forlorn; and you
might have fancied that the whole fountain was but the overflow of her
"This was a place that I used greatly to delight in," remarked
Donatello, sighing. "As a child, and as a boy, I have been very happy
"And, as a man, I should ask no fitter place to be happy in," answered
Kenyon. "But you, my friend, are of such a social nature, that I
should hardly have thought these lonely haunts would take your fancy.
It is a place for a poet to dream in, and people it with the beings of
"I am no poet, that I know of," said Donatello, "but yet, as I tell
you, I have been very happy here, in the company of this fountain and
this nymph. It is said that a Faun, my oldest forefather, brought
home hither to this very spot a human maiden, whom he loved and wedded.
This spring of delicious water was their household well."
"It is a most enchanting fable!" exclaimed Kenyon; "that is, if it be
not a fact."
"And why not a fact?" said the simple Donatello. "There is, likewise,
another sweet old story connected with this spot. But, now that I
remember it, it seems to me more sad than sweet, though formerly the
sorrow, in which it closes, did not so much impress me. If I had the
gift of tale-telling, this one would be sure to interest you mightily."
"Pray tell it," said Kenyon; "no matter whether well or ill. These
wild legends have often the most powerful charm when least artfully
So the young Count narrated a myth of one of his Progenitors,--he
might have lived a century ago, or a thousand years, or before the
Christian epoch, for anything that Donatello knew to the contrary,
--who had made acquaintance with a fair creature belonging to this
fountain. Whether woman or sprite was a mystery, as was all else
about her, except that her life and soul were somehow interfused
throughout the gushing water. She was a fresh, cool, dewy thing,
sunny and shadowy, full of pleasant little mischiefs, fitful and
changeable with the whim of the moment, but yet as constant as her
native stream, which kept the same gush and flow forever, while marble
crumbled over and around it. The fountain woman loved the youth,--a
knight, as Donatello called him,--for, according to the legend, his
race was akin to hers. At least, whether kin or no, there had been
friendship and sympathy of old betwixt an ancestor of his, with furry
ears, and the long-lived lady of the fountain. And, after all those
ages, she was still as young as a May morning, and as frolicsome as a
bird upon a tree, or a breeze that makes merry with the leaves.
She taught him how to call her from her pebbly source, and they spent
many a happy hour together, more especially in the fervor of the
summer days. For often as he sat waiting for her by the margin of the
spring, she would suddenly fall down around him in a shower of sunny
raindrops, with a rainbow glancing through them, and forthwith gather
herself up into the likeness of a beautiful girl, laughing--or was it
the warble of the rill over the pebbles?--to see the youth's amazement.
Thus, kind maiden that she was, the hot atmosphere became deliciously
cool and fragrant for this favored knight; and, furthermore, when he
knelt down to drink out of the spring, nothing was more common than
for a pair of rosy lips to come up out of its little depths, and touch
his mouth with the thrill of a sweet, cool, dewy kiss!
"It is a delightful story for the hot noon of your Tuscan summer,"
observed the sculptor, at this point. "But the deportment of the
watery lady must have had a most chilling influence in midwinter. Her
lover would find it, very literally, a cold reception!"
"I suppose," said Donatello rather sulkily, "you are making fun of the
story. But I see nothing laughable in the thing itself, nor in what
you say about it."
He went on to relate, that for a long While the knight found infinite
pleasure and comfort in the friendship of the fountain nymph. In his
merriest hours, she gladdened him with her sportive humor. If ever he
was annoyed with earthly trouble, she laid her moist hand upon his
brow, and charmed the fret and fever quite away.
But one day--one fatal noontide--the young knight came rushing with
hasty and irregular steps to the accustomed fountain. He called the
nymph; but--no doubt because there was something unusual and frightful
in his tone she did not appear, nor answer him. He flung himself down,
and washed his hands and bathed his feverish brow in the cool, pure
water. And then there was a sound of woe; it might have been a
woman's voice; it might have been only the sighing of the brook over
the pebbles. The water shrank away from the youth's hands, and left
his brow as dry and feverish as before.
Donatello here came to a dead pause.
"Why did the water shrink from this unhappy knight?" inquired the
"Because he had tried to wash off a bloodstain!" said the young Count,
in a horror-stricken whisper. "The guilty man had polluted the pure
water. The nymph might have comforted him in sorrow, but could not
cleanse his conscience of a crime."
"And did he never behold her more?" asked Kenyon.
"Never but once," replied his friend. "He never beheld her blessed
face but once again, and then there was a blood-stain on the poor
nymph's brow; it was the stain his guilt had left in the fountain
where he tried to wash it off. He mourned for her his whole life long,
and employed the best sculptor of the time to carve this statue of
the nymph from his description of her aspect. But, though my ancestor
would fain have had the image wear her happiest look, the artist,
unlike yourself, was so impressed with the mournfulness of the story,
that, in spite of his best efforts, he made her forlorn, and forever
weeping, as you see!"
Kenyon found a certain charm in this simple legend. Whether so
intended or not, he understood it as an apologue, typifying the
soothing and genial effects of an habitual intercourse with nature in
all ordinary cares and griefs; while, on the other hand, her mild
influences fall short in their effect upon the ruder passions, and are
altogether powerless in the dread fever-fit or deadly chill of guilt.
"Do you say," he asked, "that the nymph's race has never since been
shown to any mortal? Methinks you, by your native qualities, are as
well entitled to her favor as ever your progenitor could have been.
Why have you not summoned her?"
"I called her often when I was a silly child," answered Donatello; and
he added, in an inward voice, "Thank Heaven, she did not come!"
"Then you never saw her?" said the sculptor.
"Never in my life!" rejoined the Count. "No, my dear friend, I have
not seen the nymph; although here, by her fountain, I used to make
many strange acquaintances; for, from my earliest childhood, I was
familiar with whatever creatures haunt the woods. You would have
laughed to see the friends I had among them; yes, among the wild,
nimble things, that reckon man their deadliest enemy! How it was
first taught me, I cannot tell; but there was a charm--a voice, a
murmur, a kind of chant--by which I called the woodland inhabitants,
the furry people, and the feathered people, in a language that they
seemed to understand."
"I have heard of such a gift," responded the sculptor gravely, "but
never before met with a person endowed with it. Pray try the charm;
and lest I should frighten your friends away, I will withdraw into
this thicket, and merely peep at them."
"I doubt," said Donatello, "whether they will remember my voice now.
It changes, you know, as the boy grows towards manhood."
Nevertheless, as the young Count's good-nature and easy persuadability
were among his best characteristics, he set about complying with
Kenyon's request. The latter, in his concealment among the
shrubberies, heard him send forth a sort of modulated breath, wild,
rude, yet harmonious. It struck the auditor as at once the strangest
and the most natural utterance that had ever reached his ears. Any
idle boy, it should seem, singing to himself and setting his wordless
song to no other or more definite tune than the play of his own pulses,
might produce a sound almost identical with this; and yet, it was as
individual as a murmur of the breeze. Donatello tried it, over and
over again, with many breaks, at first, and pauses of uncertainty;
then with more confidence, and a fuller swell, like a wayfarer groping
out of obscurity into the light, and moving with freer footsteps as it
brightens around him.
Anon, his voice appeared to fill the air, yet not with an obtrusive
clangor. The sound was of a murmurous character, soft, attractive,
persuasive, friendly. The sculptor fancied that such might have been
the original voice and utterance of the natural man, before the
sophistication of the human intellect formed what we now call language.
In this broad dialect--broad as the sympathies of nature--the human
brother might have spoken to his inarticulate brotherhood that prowl
the woods, or soar upon the wing, and have been intelligible to such
extent as to win their confidence.
The sound had its pathos too. At some of its simple cadences, the
tears came quietly into Kenyon's eyes. They welled up slowly from his
heart, which was thrilling with an emotion more delightful than he had
often felt before, but which he forbore to analyze, lest, if he seized
it, it should at once perish in his grasp.
Donatello paused two or three times, and seemed to listen,--then,
recommencing, he poured his spirit and life more earnestly into the
strain. And finally,--or else the sculptor's hope and imagination
deceived him,--soft treads were audible upon the fallen leaves. There
was a rustling among the shrubbery; a whir of wings, moreover, that
hovered in the air. It may have been all an illusion; but Kenyon
fancied that he could distinguish the stealthy, cat-like movement of
some small forest citizen, and that he could even see its doubtful
shadow, if not really its substance. But, all at once, whatever might
be the reason, there ensued a hurried rush and scamper of little feet;
and then the sculptor heard a wild, sorrowful cry, and through the
crevices of the thicket beheld Donatello fling himself on the ground.
Emerging from his hiding-place, he saw no living thing, save a brown
lizard (it was of the tarantula species) rustling away through the
sunshine. To all present appearance, this venomous reptile was the
only creature that had responded to the young Count's efforts to renew
his intercourse with the lower orders of nature.
"What has happened to you?" exclaimed Kenyon, stooping down over his
friend, and wondering at the anguish which he betrayed.
"Death, death!" sobbed Donatello. "They know it!"
He grovelled beside the fountain, in a fit of such passionate sobbing
and weeping, that it seemed as if his heart had broken, and spilt its
wild sorrows upon the ground. His unrestrained grief and childish
tears made Kenyon sensible in how small a degree the customs and
restraints of society had really acted upon this young man, in spite
of the quietude of his ordinary deportment. In response to his
friend's efforts to console him, he murmured words hardly more
articulate than the strange chant which he had so recently been
breathing into the air.
"They know it!" was all that Kenyon could yet distinguish,--"they know
"Who know it?" asked the sculptor. "And what is it their know?"
"They know it!" repeated Donatello, trembling. "They shun me! All
nature shrinks from me, and shudders at me! I live in the midst of a
curse, that hems me round with a circle of fire! No innocent thing
can come near me."
"Be comforted, my dear friend," said Kenyon, kneeling beside him.
"You labor under some illusion, but no curse. As for this strange,
natural spell, which you have been exercising, and of which I have
heard before, though I never believed in, nor expected to witness it,
I am satisfied that you still possess it. It was my own
half-concealed presence, no doubt, and some involuntary little
movement of mine, that scared away your forest friends."
"They are friends of mine no longer," answered Donatello.
"We all of us, as we grow older," rejoined Kenyon, "lose somewhat of
our proximity to nature. It is the price we pay for experience."
"A heavy price, then!" said Donatello, rising from the ground. "But
we will speak no more of it. Forget this scene, my dear friend. In
your eyes, it must look very absurd. It is a grief, I presume, to all
men, to find the pleasant privileges and properties of early life
departing from them. That grief has now befallen me. Well; I shall
waste no more tears for such a cause!"
Nothing else made Kenyon so sensible of a change in Donatello, as his
newly acquired power of dealing with his own emotions, and, after a
struggle more or less fierce, thrusting them down into the prison
cells where he usually kept them confined. The restraint, which he
now put upon himself, and the mask of dull composure which he
succeeded in clasping over his still beautiful, and once faun-like
face, affected the sensitive sculptor more sadly than even the
unrestrained passion of the preceding scene. It is a very miserable
epoch, when the evil necessities of life, in our tortuous world, first
get the better of us so far as to compel us to attempt throwing a
cloud over our transparency. Simplicity increases in value the longer
we can keep it, and the further we carry it onward into life; the loss
of a child's simplicity, in the inevitable lapse of years, causes but
a natural sigh or two, because even his mother feared that he could
not keep it always. But after a young man has brought it through his
childhood, and has still worn it in his bosom, not as an early dewdrop,
but as a diamond of pure white lustre,--it is a pity to lose it, then.
And thus, when Kenyon saw how much his friend had now to hide, and
how well he hid it, he would have wept, although his tears would have
been even idler than those which Donatello had just shed.
They parted on the lawn before the house, the Count to climb his tower,
and the sculptor to read an antique edition of Dante, which he had
found among some old volumes of Catholic devotion, in a seldom-visited
room, Tomaso met him in the entrance hall, and showed a desire to
"Our poor signorino looks very sad to-day!" he said.
"Even so, good Tomaso," replied the sculptor. "Would that we could
raise his spirits a little!"
"There might be means, Signore," answered the old butler, "if one
might but be sure that they were the right ones. We men are but rough
nurses for a sick body or a sick spirit."
"Women, you would say, my good friend, are better," said the sculptor,
struck by an intelligence in the butler's face. "That is possible!
But it depends."
"Ah; we will wait a little longer," said Tomaso, with the customary
shake of his head.
THE OWL TOWER
"Will you not show me your tower?" said the sculptor one day to his
"It is plainly enough to be seen, methinks," answered the Count, with
a kind of sulkiness that often appeared in him, as one of the little
symptoms of inward trouble.
"Yes; its exterior is visible far and wide," said Kenyon. "But such a
gray, moss-grown tower as this, however valuable as an object of
scenery, will certainly be quite as interesting inside as out. It
cannot be less than six hundred years old; the foundations and lower
story are much older than that, I should judge; and traditions
probably cling to the walls within quite as plentifully as the gray
and yellow lichens cluster on its face without."
"No doubt," replied Donatello,--"but I know little of such things, and
never could comprehend the interest which some of you Forestieri take
in them. A year or two ago an English signore, with a venerable white
beard--they say he was a magician, too--came hither from as far off as
Florence, just to see my tower."
"Ah, I have seen him at Florence," observed Kenyon. "He is a
necromancer, as you say, and dwells in an old mansion of the Knights
Templars, close by the Ponte Vecchio, with a great many ghostly books,
pictures, and antiquities, to make the house gloomy, and one
bright-eyed little girl, to keep it cheerful!"
"I know him only by his white beard," said Donatello; "but he could
have told you a great deal about the tower, and the sieges which it
has stood, and the prisoners who have been confined in it. And he
gathered up all the traditions of the Monte Beni family, and, among
the rest, the sad one which I told you at the fountain the other day.
He had known mighty poets, he said, in his earlier life; and the most
illustrious of them would have rejoiced to preserve such a legend in
immortal rhyme,--especially if he could have had some of our wine of
Sunshine to help out his inspiration!"
"Any man might be a poet, as well as Byron, with such wine and such a
theme," rejoined the sculptor. "But shall we climb your tower The
thunder-storm gathering yonder among the hills will be a spectacle
"Come, then," said the Count, adding, with a sigh, "it has a weary
staircase, and dismal chambers, and it is very lonesome at the summit!"
"Like a man's life, when he has climbed to eminence," remarked the
sculptor; "or, let us rather say, with its difficult steps, and the
dark prison cells you speak of, your tower resembles the spiritual
experience of many a sinful soul, which, nevertheless, may struggle
upward into the pure air and light of Heaven at last!"
Donatello sighed again, and led the way up into the tower.
Mounting the broad staircase that ascended from the entrance hall,
they traversed the great wilderness of a house, through some obscure
passages, and came to a low, ancient doorway. It admitted them to a
narrow turret stair which zigzagged upward, lighted in its progress by
loopholes and iron-barred windows. Reaching the top of the first
flight, the Count threw open a door of worm-eaten oak, and disclosed a
chamber that occupied the whole area of the tower. It was most
pitiably forlorn of aspect, with a brick-paved floor, bare holes
through the massive walls, grated with iron, instead of windows, and
for furniture an old stool, which increased the dreariness of the
place tenfold, by suggesting an idea of its having once been tenanted.
"This was a prisoner's cell in the old days," said Donatello; "the
white-bearded necromancer, of whom I told you, found out that a
certain famous monk was confined here, about five hundred years ago.
He was a very holy man, and was afterwards burned at the stake in the
Grand-ducal Square at Firenze. There have always been stories, Tomaso
says, of a hooded monk creeping up and down these stairs, or standing
in the doorway of this chamber. It must needs be the ghost of the
ancient prisoner. Do you believe in ghosts?"
"I can hardly tell," replied Kenyon; "on the whole, I think not."
"Neither do I," responded the Count; "for, if spirits ever come back,
I should surely have met one within these two months past. Ghosts
never rise! So much I know, and am glad to know it!"
Following the narrow staircase still higher, they came to another room
of similar size and equally forlorn, but inhabited by two personages
of a race which from time immemorial have held proprietorship and
occupancy in ruined towers. These were a pair of owls, who, being
doubtless acquainted with Donatello, showed little sign of alarm at
the entrance of visitors. They gave a dismal croak or two, and hopped
aside into the darkest corner, since it was not yet their hour to flap
"They do not desert me, like my other feathered acquaintances,"
observed the young Count, with a sad smile, alluding to the scene
which Kenyon had witnessed at the fountain-side. "When I was a wild,
playful boy, the owls did not love me half so well."
He made no further pause here, but led his friend up another flight of
steps--while, at every stage, the windows and narrow loopholes
afforded Kenyon more extensive eye-shots over hill and valley, and
allowed him to taste the cool purity of mid-atmosphere. At length
they reached the topmost chamber, directly beneath the roof of the
"This is my own abode," said Donatello; "my own owl's nest."
In fact, the room was fitted up as a bedchamber, though in a style of
the utmost simplicity. It likewise served as an oratory; there being
a crucifix in one corner, and a multitude of holy emblems, such as
Catholics judge it necessary to help their devotion withal. Several
ugly little prints, representing the sufferings of the Saviour, and
the martyrdoms of saints, hung on the wall; and behind the crucifix
there was a good copy of Titian's Magdalen of the Pitti Palace, clad
only in the flow of her golden ringlets. She had a confident look
(but it was Titian's fault, not the penitent woman's), as if expecting
to win heaven by the free display of her earthly charms. Inside of a
glass case appeared an image of the sacred Bambino, in the guise of a
little waxen boy, very prettily made, reclining among flowers, like a
Cupid, and holding up a heart that resembled a bit of red sealing-wax.
A small vase of precious marble was full of holy water.
Beneath the crucifix, on a table, lay a human skull, which looked as
if it might have been dug up out of some old grave. But, examining it
more closely, Kenyon saw that it was carved in gray alabaster; most
skillfully done to the death, with accurate imitation of the teeth, the
sutures, the empty eye-caverns, and the fragile little bones of the
nose. This hideous emblem rested on a cushion of white marble, so
nicely wrought that you seemed to see the impression of the heavy
skull in a silken and downy substance.
Donatello dipped his fingers into the holy-water vase, and crossed
himself. After doing so he trembled.
"I have no right to make the sacred symbol on a sinful breast!" he
"On what mortal breast can it be made, then?" asked the sculptor. "Is
there one that hides no sin?"
"But these blessed emblems make you smile, I fear," resumed the Count,
looking askance at his friend. "You heretics, I know, attempt to pray
without even a crucifix to kneel at."
"I, at least, whom you call a heretic, reverence that holy symbol,"
answered Kenyon. "What I am most inclined to murmur at is this
death's head. I could laugh, moreover, in its ugly face! It is
absurdly monstrous, my dear friend, thus to fling the dead weight of
our mortality upon our immortal hopes. While we live on earth, 't is
true, we must needs carry our skeletons about with us; but, for
Heaven's sake, do not let us burden our spirits with them, in our
feeble efforts to soar upward! Believe me, it will change the whole
aspect of death, if you can once disconnect it, in your idea, with
that corruption from which it disengages our higher part."
"I do not well understand you," said Donatello; and he took up the
alabaster skull, shuddering, and evidently feeling it a kind of
penance to touch it. "I only know that this skull has been in my
family for centuries. Old Tomaso has a story that it was copied by a
famous sculptor from the skull of that same unhappy knight who loved
the fountain lady, and lost her by a blood-stain. He lived and died
with a deep sense of sin upon him, and on his death-bed he ordained
that this token of him should go down to his posterity. And my
forefathers, being a cheerful race of men in their natural disposition,
found it needful to have the skull often before their eyes, because
they dearly loved life and its enjoyments, and hated the very thought
"I am afraid," said Kenyon, "they liked it none the better, for seeing
its face under this abominable mask."
Without further discussion, the Count led the way up one more flight
of stairs, at the end of which they emerged upon the summit of the
tower. The sculptor felt as if his being were suddenly magnified a
hundredfold; so wide was the Umbrian valley that suddenly opened
before him, set in its grand framework of nearer and more distant
hills. It seemed as if all Italy lay under his eyes in that one
picture. For there was the broad, sunny smile of God, which we fancy
to be spread over that favored land more abundantly than on other
regions, and beneath it glowed a most rich and varied fertility. The
trim vineyards were there, and the fig-trees, and the mulberries, and
the smoky-hued tracts of the olive orchards; there, too, were fields of
every kind of grain, among which, waved the Indian corn, putting
Kenyon in mind of the fondly remembered acres of his father's
homestead. White villas, gray convents, church spires, villages,
towns, each with its battlemented walls and towered gateway, were
scattered upon this spacious map; a river gleamed across it; and lakes
opened their blue eyes in its face, reflecting heaven, lest mortals
should forget that better land when they beheld the earth so beautiful.
What made the valley look still wider was the two or three varieties
of weather that were visible on its surface, all at the same instant
of time. Here lay the quiet sunshine; there fell the great black
patches of ominous shadow from the clouds; and behind them, like a
giant of league-long strides, came hurrying the thunderstorm, which
had already swept midway across the plain. In the rear of the
approaching tempest, brightened forth again the sunny splendor, which
its progress had darkened with so terrible a frown.
All round this majestic landscape, the bald-peaked or forest-crowned
mountains descended boldly upon the plain. On many of their spurs and
midway declivities, and even on their summits, stood cities, some of
them famous of old; for these had been the seats and nurseries of
early art, where the flower of beauty sprang out of a rocky soil, and
in a high, keen atmosphere, when the richest and most sheltered
gardens failed to nourish it.
"Thank God for letting me again behold this scene!" Said the sculptor,
a devout man in his way, reverently taking off his hat. "I have
viewed it from many points, and never without as full a sensation of
gratitude as my heart seems capable of feeling. How it strengthens
the poor human spirit in its reliance on His providence, to ascend but
this little way above the common level, and so attain a somewhat wider
glimpse of His dealings with mankind! He doeth all things right! His
will be done!"
"You discern something that is hidden from me," observed Donatello
gloomily, yet striving with unwonted grasp to catch the analogies
which so cheered his friend. "I see sunshine on one spot, and cloud
in another, and no reason for it in either ease. The sun on you; the
cloud on me! What comfort can I draw from this?"
"Nay; I cannot preach," said Kenyon, "with a page of heaven and a page
of earth spread wide open before us! Only begin to read it, and you
will find it interpreting itself without the aid of words. It is a
great mistake to try to put our best thoughts into human language.
When we ascend into the higher regions of emotion and spiritual
enjoyment, they are only expressible by such grand hieroglyphics as
these around us."
They stood awhile, contemplating the scene; but, as inevitably happens
after a spiritual flight, it was not long before the sculptor felt his
wings flagging in the rarity of the upper atmosphere. He was glad to
let himself quietly downward out of the mid-sky, as it were, and
alight on the solid platform of the battlemented tower. He looked
about him, and beheld growing out of the stone pavement, which formed
the roof, a little shrub, with green and glossy leaves. It was the
only green thing there; and Heaven knows how its seeds had ever been
planted, at that airy height, or how it had found nourishment for its
small life in the chinks of the stones; for it had no earth, and
nothing more like soil than the crumbling mortar, which had been
crammed into the crevices in a long-past age.
Yet the plant seemed fond of its native site; and Donatello said it
had always grown there from his earliest remembrance, and never, he
believed, any smaller or any larger than they saw it now.
"I wonder if the shrub teaches you any good lesson," said he,
observing the interest with which Kenyon examined it. "If the wide
valley has a great meaning, the plant ought to have at least a little
one; and it has been growing on our tower long enough to have learned
how to speak it."
"O, certainly!" answered the sculptor; "the shrub has its moral, or it
would have perished long ago. And, no doubt, it is for your use and
edification, since you have had it before your eyes all your lifetime,
and now are moved to ask what may be its lesson."
"It teaches me nothing," said the simple Donatello, stooping over the
plant, and perplexing himself with a minute scrutiny. "But here was a
worm that would have killed it; an ugly creature, which I will fling
over the battlements."
ON THE BATTLEMENTS
The sculptor now looked through art embrasure, and threw down a bit of
lime, watching its fall, till it struck upon a stone bench at the
rocky foundation of the tower, and flew into many fragments.
"Pray pardon me for helping Time to crumble away your ancestral walls,"
said he. "But I am one of those persons who have a natural tendency
to climb heights, and to stand on the verge of them, measuring the
depth below. If I were to do just as I like, at this moment, I should
fling myself down after that bit of lime. It is a very singular
temptation, and all but irresistible; partly, I believe, because it
might be so easily done, and partly because such momentous
consequences would ensue, without my being compelled to wait a moment
for them. Have you never felt this strange impulse of an evil spirit
at your back, shoving you towards a precipice?"
"Ah, no!" cried. Donatello, shrinking from the battlemented wall with
a face of horror. "I cling to life in a way which you cannot conceive;
it has been so rich, so warm, so sunny!--and beyond its verge,
nothing but the chilly dark! And then a fall from a precipice is such
an awful death!"
"Nay; if it be a great height," said Kenyon, "a man would leave his
life in the air, and never feel the hard shock at the bottom."
"That is not the way with this kind of death!" exclaimed Donatello, in
a low, horrorstricken voice, which grew higher and more full of
emotion as he proceeded. "Imagine a fellow creature,--breathing now,
and looking you in the face,--and now tumbling down, down, down, with
a long shriek wavering after him, all the way! He does not leave his
life in the air! No; but it keeps in him till he thumps against the
stones, a horribly long while; then he lies there frightfully quiet, a
dead heap of bruised flesh and broken bones! A quiver runs through
the crushed mass; and no more movement after that! No; not if you
would give your soul to make him stir a finger! Ah, terrible! Yes,
yes; I would fain fling myself down for the very dread of it, that I
might endure it once for all, and dream of it no morel"
"How forcibly, how frightfully you conceive this!" said the sculptor,
aghast at the passionate horror which was betrayed in the Count's
words, and still more in his wild gestures and ghastly look. "Nay, if
the height of your tower affects your imagination thus, you do wrong
to trust yourself here in solitude, and in the night-time, and at all
unguarded hours. You are not safe in your chamber. It is but a step
or two; and what if a vivid dream should lead you up hither at
midnight, and act itself out as a reality!"
Donatello had hidden his face in his hands, and was leaning against
"No fear of that!" said he. "Whatever the dream may be, I am too
genuine a coward to act out my own death in it."
The paroxysm passed away, and the two friends continued their
desultory talk, very much as if no such interruption had occurred.
Nevertheless, it affected the sculptor with infinite pity to see this
young man, who had been born to gladness as an assured heritage, now
involved in a misty bewilderment of grievous thoughts, amid which he
seemed to go staggering blindfold. Kenyon, not without an unshaped
suspicion of the definite fact, knew that his condition must have
resulted from the weight and gloom of life, now first, through the
agency of a secret trouble, making themselves felt on a character that
had heretofore breathed only an atmosphere of joy. The effect of this
hard lesson, upon Donatello's intellect and disposition, was very
striking. It was perceptible that he had already had glimpses of
strange and subtle matters in those dark caverns, into which all men
must descend, if they would know anything beneath the surface and
illusive pleasures of existence. And when they emerge, though dazzled
and blinded by the first glare of daylight, they take truer and sadder
views of life forever afterwards.
From some mysterious source, as the sculptor felt assured, a soul had
been inspired into the young Count's simplicity, since their
intercourse in Rome. He now showed a far deeper sense, and an
intelligence that began to deal with high subjects, though in a feeble
and childish way. He evinced, too, a more definite and nobler
individuality, but developed out of grief and pain, and fearfully
conscious of the pangs that had given it birth. Every human life, if
it ascends to truth or delves down to reality, must undergo a similar
change; but sometimes, perhaps, the instruction comes without the
sorrow; and oftener the sorrow teaches no lesson that abides with us.
In Donatello's case, it was pitiful, and almost ludicrous, to observe
the confused struggle that he made; how completely he was taken by
surprise; how ill-prepared he stood, on this old battlefield of the
world, to fight with such an inevitable foe as mortal calamity, and
sin for its stronger ally.
"And yet," thought Kenyon," the poor fellow bears himself like a hero,
too! If he would only tell me his trouble, or give me an opening to
speak frankly about it, I might help him; but he finds it too horrible
to be uttered, and fancies himself the only mortal that ever felt the
anguish of remorse. Yes; he believes that nobody ever endured his
agony before; so that--sharp enough in itself--it has all the
additional zest of a torture just invented to plague him individually."
The sculptor endeavored to dismiss the painful subject from his mind;
and, leaning against the battlements, he turned his face southward and
westward, and gazed across the breadth of the valley. His thoughts
flew far beyond even those wide boundaries, taking an air-line from
Donatello's tower to another turret that ascended into the sky of the
summer afternoon, invisibly to him, above the roofs of distant Rome.
Then rose tumultuously into his consciousness that strong love for
Hilda, which it was his habit to confine in one of the heart's inner
chambers, because he had found no encouragement to bring it forward.
But now he felt a strange pull at his heart-strings. It could not
have been more perceptible, if all the way between these battlements
and Hilda's dove-cote had stretched an exquisitely sensitive cord,
which, at the hither end, was knotted with his aforesaid heart-strings,
and, at the remoter one, was grasped by a gentle hand. His breath
grew tremulous. He put his hand to his breast; so distinctly did he
seem to feel that cord drawn once, and again, and again, as if--though
still it was bashfully intimated there were an importunate demand for
his presence. O for the white wings of Hilda's doves, that he might,
have flown thither, and alighted at the Virgin's shrine!
But lovers, and Kenyon knew it well, project so lifelike a copy of
their mistresses out of their own imaginations, that it can pull at
the heartstrings almost as perceptibly as the genuine original. No
airy intimations are to be trusted; no evidences of responsive
affection less positive than whispered and broken words, or tender
pressures of the hand, allowed and half returned; or glances, that
distil many passionate avowals into one gleam of richly colored light.
Even these should be weighed rigorously, at the instant; for, in
another instant, the imagination seizes on them as its property, and
stamps them with its own arbitrary value. But Hilda's maidenly
reserve had given her lover no such tokens, to be interpreted either
by his hopes or fears.
"Yonder, over mountain and valley, lies Rome," said the sculptor;
"shall you return thither in the autumn?"
"Never! I hate Rome," answered Donatello; "and have good cause."
"And yet it was a pleasant winter that we spent there," observed
Kenyon, "and with pleasant friends about us. You would meet them
again there--all of them."
"All?" asked Donatello.
"All, to the best of my belief," said the sculptor: "but you need not
go to Rome to seek them. If there were one of those friends whose
lifetime was twisted with your own, I am enough of a fatalist to feel
assured that you will meet that one again, wander whither you may.
Neither can we escape the companions whom Providence assigns for us,
by climbing an old tower like this."
"Yet the stairs are steep and dark," rejoined the Count; "none but
yourself would seek me here, or find me, if they sought."
As Donatello did not take advantage of this opening which his friend
had kindly afforded him to pour out his hidden troubles, the latter
again threw aside the subject, and returned to the enjoyment of the
scene before him. The thunder-storm, which he had beheld striding
across the valley, had passed to the left of Monte Beni, and was
continuing its march towards the hills that formed the boundary on the
eastward. Above the whole valley, indeed, the sky was heavy with
tumbling vapors, interspersed with which were tracts of blue, vividly
brightened by the sun; but, in the east, where the tempest was yet
trailing its ragged skirts, lay a dusky region of cloud and sullen
mist, in which some of the hills appeared of a dark purple hue.
Others became so indistinct, that the spectator could not tell rocky
height from impalpable cloud. Far into this misty cloud region,
however,--within the domain of chaos, as it were,--hilltops were seen
brightening in the sunshine; they looked like fragments of the world,
broken adrift and based on nothingness, or like portions of a sphere
destined to exist, but not yet finally compacted.
The sculptor, habitually drawing many of the images and illustrations
of his thoughts from the plastic art, fancied that the scene
represented the process of the Creator, when he held the new,
imperfect earth in his hand, and modelled it.
"What a magic is in mist and vapor among the mountains!" he exclaimed.
"With their help, one single scene becomes a thousand. The cloud
scenery gives such variety to a hilly landscape that it would be worth
while to journalize its aspect from hour to hour. A cloud, however,
--as I have myself experienced,--is apt to grow solid and as heavy as
a stone the instant that you take in hand to describe it, But, in my
own heart, I have found great use in clouds. Such silvery ones as
those to the northward, for example, have often suggested
sculpturesque groups, figures, and attitudes; they are especially rich
in attitudes of living repose, which a sculptor only hits upon by the
rarest good fortune. When I go back to my dear native land, the
clouds along the horizon will be my only gallery of art!"
"I can see cloud shapes, too," said Donatello; "yonder is one that
shifts strangely; it has been like people whom I knew. And now, if I
watch it a little longer, it will take the figure of a monk reclining,
with his cowl about his head and drawn partly over his face, and--well!
did I not tell you so?"
"I think," remarked Kenyon, "we can hardly be gazing at the same cloud.
What I behold is a reclining figure, to be sure, but feminine, and
with a despondent air, wonderfully well expressed in the wavering
outline from head to foot. It moves my very heart by something
indefinable that it suggests."
"I see the figure, and almost the face," said the Count; adding, in a
lower voice, "It is Miriam's!"
"No, not Miriam's," answered the sculptor. While the two gazers thus
found their own reminiscences and presentiments floating among the
clouds, the day drew to its close, and now showed them the fair
spectacle of an Italian sunset. The sky was soft and bright, but not
so gorgeous as Kenyon had seen it, a thousand times, in America; for
there the western sky is wont to be set aflame with breadths and
depths of color with which poets seek in vain to dye their verses, and
which painters never dare to copy. As beheld from the tower of Monte
Beni, the scene was tenderly magnificent, with mild gradations of hue
and a lavish outpouring of gold, but rather such gold as we see on the
leaf of a bright flower than the burnished glow of metal from the mine.
Or, if metallic, it looked airy and unsubstantial, like the
glorified dreams of an alchemist. And speedily--more speedily than in
our own clime--came the twilight, and, brightening through its gray
transparency, the stars.
A swarm of minute insects that had been hovering all day round the
battlements were now swept away by the freshness of a rising breeze.
The two owls in the chamber beneath Donatello's uttered their soft
melancholy cry,--which, with national avoidance of harsh sounds,
Italian owls substitute for the hoot of their kindred in other
countries,--and flew darkling forth among the shrubbery. A convent
bell rang out near at hand, and was not only echoed among the hills,
but answered by another bell, and still another, which doubtless had
farther and farther responses, at various distances along the valley;
for, like the English drumbeat around the globe, there is a chain of
convent bells from end to end, and crosswise, and in all possible
directions over priest-ridden Italy.
"Come," said the sculptor, "the evening air grows cool. It is time to
"Time for you, my friend," replied the Count; and he hesitated a
little before adding, "I must keep a vigil here for some hours longer.
It is my frequent custom to keep vigils,--and sometimes the thought
occurs to me whether it were not better to keep them in yonder convent,
the bell of which just now seemed to summon me. Should I do wisely,
do you think, to exchange this old tower for a cell?"
"What! Turn monk?" exclaimed his friend. "A horrible idea!"
"True," said Donatello, sighing. "Therefore, if at all, I purpose
"Then think of it no more, for Heaven's sake!" cried the sculptor.
"There are a thousand better and more poignant methods of being
miserable than that, if to be miserable is what you wish. Nay; I
question whether a monk keeps himself up to the intellectual and
spiritual height which misery implies. A monk I judge from their
sensual physiognomies, which meet me at every turn--is inevitably a
beast! Their souls, if they have any to begin with, perish out of
them, before their sluggish, swinish existence is half done. Better,
a million times, to stand star-gazing on these airy battlements, than
to smother your new germ of a higher life in a monkish cell!"
"You make me tremble," said Donatello, "by your bold aspersion of men
who have devoted themselves to God's service!"
"They serve neither God nor man, and themselves least of all, though
their motives be utterly selfish," replied Kenyon. "Avoid the convent,
my dear friend, as you would shun the death of the soul! But, for my
own part, if I had an insupportable burden,--if, for any cause, I were
bent upon sacrificing every earthly hope as a peace-offering towards
Heaven,--I would make the wide world my cell, and good deeds to
mankind my prayer. Many penitent men have done this, and found peace
"Ah, but you are a heretic!" said the Count.
Yet his face brightened beneath the stars; and, looking at it through
the twilight, the sculptor's remembrance went back to that scene in
the Capitol, where, both in features and expression, Donatello had
seemed identical with the Faun. And still there was a resemblance;
for now, when first the idea was suggested of living for the welfare
of his fellow-creatures, the original beauty, which sorrow had partly
effaced, came back elevated and spiritualized. In the black depths
the Faun had found a soul, and was struggling with it towards the
light of heaven.
The illumination, it is true, soon faded out of Donatello's face. The
idea of lifelong and unselfish effort was too high to be received by
him with more than a momentary comprehension. An Italian, indeed,
seldom dreams of being philanthropic, except in bestowing alms among
the paupers, who appeal to his beneficence at every step; nor does it
occur to him that there are fitter modes of propitiating Heaven than
by penances, pilgrimages, and offerings at shrines. Perhaps, too,
their system has its share of moral advantages; they, at all events,
cannot well pride themselves, as our own more energetic benevolence is
apt to do, upon sharing in the counsels of Providence and kindly
helping out its otherwise impracticable designs.
And now the broad valley twinkled with lights, that glimmered through
its duskiness like the fireflies in the garden of a Florentine palace.
A gleam of lightning from the rear of the tempest showed the
circumference of hills and the great space between, as the last
cannonflash of a retreating army reddens across the field where it has
fought. The sculptor was on the point of descending the turret stair,
when, somewhere in the darkness that lay beneath them, a woman's voice
was heard, singing a low, sad strain.
"Hark!" said he, laying his hand on Donatello's arm.
And Donatello had said "Hark!" at the same instant.
The song, if song it could be called, that had only a wild rhythm, and
flowed forth in the fitful measure of a wind-harp, did not clothe
itself in the sharp brilliancy of the Italian tongue. The words, so
far as they could be distinguished, were German, and therefore
unintelligible to the Count, and hardly less so to the sculptor; being
softened and molten, as it were, into the melancholy richness of the
voice that sung them. It was as the murmur of a soul bewildered amid
the sinful gloom of earth, and retaining only enough memory of a
better state to make sad music of the wail, which would else have been
a despairing shriek. Never was there profounder pathos than breathed
through that mysterious voice; it brought the tears into the
sculptor's eyes, with remembrances and forebodings of whatever sorrow
he had felt or apprehended; it made Donatello sob, as chiming in with
the anguish that he found unutterable, and giving it the expression
which he vaguely sought.
But, when the emotion was at its profoundest depth, the voice rose out
of it, yet so gradually that a gloom seemed to pervade it, far upward
from the abyss, and not entirely to fall away as it ascended into a
higher and purer region. At last, the auditors would have fancied
that the melody, with its rich sweetness all there, and much of its
sorrow gone, was floating around the very summit of the tower.
"Donatello," said the sculptor, when there was silence again, "had
that voice no message for your ear?"
"I dare not receive it," said Donatello; "the anguish of which it
spoke abides with me: the hope dies away with the breath that brought
it hither. It is not good for me to hear that voice."
The sculptor sighed, and left the poor penitent keeping his vigil on
Kenyon, it will be remembered, had asked Donatello's permission to
model his bust. The work had now made considerable progress, and
necessarily kept the sculptor's thoughts brooding much and often upon
his host's personal characteristics. These it was his difficult
office to bring out from their depths, and interpret them to all men,
showing them what they could not discern for themselves, yet must be
compelled to recognize at a glance, on the surface of a block of
He had never undertaken a portrait-bust which gave him so much trouble
as Donatello's; not that there was any special difficulty in hitting
the likeness, though even in this respect the grace and harmony of the
features seemed inconsistent with a prominent expression of
individuality; but he was chiefly perplexed how to make this genial
and kind type of countenance the index of the mind within. His
acuteness and his sympathies, indeed, were both somewhat at fault in
their efforts to enlighten him as to the moral phase through which the
Count was now passing. If at one sitting he caught a glimpse of what
appeared to be a genuine and permanent trait, it would probably be
less perceptible on a second occasion, and perhaps have vanished
entirely at a third. So evanescent a show of character threw the
sculptor into despair; not marble or clay, but cloud and vapor, was
the material in which it ought to be represented. Even the ponderous