Part 2 out of 5
depression which constantly weighed upon Donatello's heart could not
compel him into the kind of repose which the plastic art requires.
Hopeless of a good result, Kenyon gave up all preconceptions about the
character of his subject, and let his hands work uncontrolled with the
clay, somewhat as a spiritual medium, while holding a pen, yields it
to an unseen guidance other than that of her own will. Now and then
he fancied that this plan was destined to be the successful one. A
skill and insight beyond his consciousness seemed occasionally to take
up the task. The mystery, the miracle, of imbuing an inanimate
substance with thought, feeling, and all the intangible attributes of
the soul, appeared on the verge of being wrought. And now, as he
flattered himself, the true image of his friend was about to emerge
from the facile material, bringing with it more of Donatello's
character than the keenest observer could detect at any one moment in
the face of the original Vain expectation!--some touch, whereby the
artist thought to improve or hasten the result, interfered with the
design of his unseen spiritual assistant, and spoilt the whole. There
was still the moist, brown clay, indeed, and the features of Donatello,
but without any semblance of intelligent and sympathetic life.
"The difficulty will drive me mad, I verily believe!" cried the
sculptor nervously. "Look at the wretched piece of work yourself, my
dear friend, and tell me whether you recognize any manner of likeness
to your inner man?"
"None," replied Donatello, speaking the simple truth. "It is like
looking a stranger in the face."
This frankly unfavorable testimony so wrought with the sensitive
artist, that he fell into a passion with the stubborn image, and cared
not what might happen to it thenceforward. Wielding that wonderful
power which sculptors possess over moist clay, however refractory it
may show itself in certain respects, he compressed, elongated, widened,
and otherwise altered the features of the bust in mere recklessness,
and at every change inquired of the Count whether the expression
became anywise more satisfactory.
"Stop!" cried Donatello at last, catching the sculptor's hand. "Let
it remain so!" By some accidental handling of the clay, entirely
independent of his own will, Kenyon had given the countenance a
distorted and violent look, combining animal fierceness with
intelligent hatred. Had Hilda, or had Miriam, seen the bust, with the
expression which it had now assumed, they might have recognized
Donatello's face as they beheld it at that terrible moment when he
held his victim over the edge of the precipice.
"What have I done?" said the sculptor, shocked at his own casual
production. "It were a sin to let the clay which bears your features
harden into a look like that. Cain never wore an uglier one."
"For that very reason, let it remain!" answered the Count, who had
grown pale as ashes at the aspect of his crime, thus strangely
presented to him in another of the many guises under which guilt
stares the criminal in the face. "Do not alter it! Chisel it, rather,
in eternal marble! I will set it up in my oratory and keep it
continually before my eyes. Sadder and more horrible is a face like
this, alive with my own crime, than the dead skull which my
forefathers handed down to me!"
But, without in the least heeding Donatello's remonstrances, the
sculptor again applied his artful fingers to the clay, and compelled
the bust to dismiss the expression that had so startled them both.
"Believe me," said he, turning his eyes upon his friend, full of grave
and tender sympathy, "you know not what is requisite for your
spiritual growth, seeking, as you do, to keep your soul perpetually in
the unwholesome region of remorse. It was needful for you to pass
through that dark valley, but it is infinitely dangerous to linger
there too long; there is poison in the atmosphere, when we sit down
and brood in it, instead of girding up our loins to press onward. Not
despondency, not slothful anguish, is what you now require,--but
effort! Has there been an unalterable evil in your young life? Then
crowd it out with good, or it will lie corrupting there forever, and
cause your capacity for better things to partake its noisome
"You stir up many thoughts," said Donatello, pressing his hand upon
his brow, "but the multitude and the whirl of them make me dizzy."
They now left the sculptor's temporary studio, without observing that
his last accidental touches, with which he hurriedly effaced the look
of deadly rage, had given the bust a higher and sweeter expression
than it had hitherto worn. It is to be regretted that Kenyon had not
seen it; for only an artist, perhaps, can conceive the irksomeness,
the irritation of brain, the depression of spirits, that resulted from
his failure to satisfy himself, after so much toil and thought as he
had bestowed on Donatello's bust. In case of success, indeed, all
this thoughtful toil would have been reckoned, not only as well
bestowed, but as among the happiest hours of his life; whereas,
deeming himself to have failed, it was just so much of life that had
better never have been lived; for thus does the good or ill result of
his labor throw back sunshine or gloom upon the artist's mind. The
sculptor, therefore, would have done well to glance again at his work;
for here were still the features of the antique Faun, but now
illuminated with a higher meaning, such as the old marble never bore.
Donatello having quitted him, Kenyon spent the rest of the day
strolling about the pleasant precincts of Monte Beni, where the summer
was now so far advanced that it began, indeed, to partake of the ripe
wealth of autumn. Apricots had long been abundant, and had passed
away, and plums and cherries along with them. But now came great,
juicy pears, melting and delicious, and peaches of goodly size and
tempting aspect, though cold and watery to the palate, compared with
the sculptor's rich reminiscences of that fruit in America. The
purple figs had already enjoyed their day, and the white ones were
luscious now. The contadini (who, by this time, knew Kenyon well)
found many clusters of ripe grapes for him, in every little globe of
which was included a fragrant draught of the sunny Monte Beni wine.
Unexpectedly, in a nook close by the farmhouse, he happened upon a
spot where the vintage had actually commenced. A great heap of early
ripened grapes had been gathered, and thrown into a mighty tub. In
the middle of it stood a lusty and jolly contadino, nor stood, merely,
but stamped with all his might, and danced amain; while the red juice
bathed his feet, and threw its foam midway up his brown and shaggy
legs. Here, then, was the very process that shows so picturesquely in
Scripture and in poetry, of treading out the wine-press and dyeing the
feet and garments with the crimson effusion as with the blood of a
battlefield. The memory of the process does not make the Tuscan wine
taste more deliciously. The contadini hospitably offered Kenyon a
sample of the new liquor, that had already stood fermenting for a day
or two. He had tried a similar draught, however, in years past, and
was little inclined to make proof of it again; for he knew that it
would be a sour and bitter juice, a wine of woe and tribulation, and
that the more a man drinks of such liquor, the sorrier he is likely to
The scene reminded the sculptor of our New England vintages, where the
big piles of golden and rosy apples lie under the orchard trees, in
the mild, autumnal sunshine; and the creaking cider-mill, set in
motion by a circumgyratory horse, is all a-gush with the luscious
juice. To speak frankly, the cider-making is the more picturesque
sight of the two, and the new, sweet cider an infinitely better drink
than the ordinary, unripe Tuscan wine. Such as it is, however, the
latter fills thousands upon thousands of small, flat barrels, and,
still growing thinner and sharper, loses the little life it had, as
wine, and becomes apotheosized as a more praiseworthy vinegar.
Yet all these vineyard scenes, and the processes connected with the
culture of the grape, had a flavor of poetry about them. The toil
that produces those kindly gifts of nature which are not the substance
of life, but its luxury, is unlike other toil. We are inclined to
fancy that it does not bend the sturdy frame and stiffen the
overwrought muscles, like the labor that is devoted in sad, hard
earnest to raise grain for sour bread. Certainly, the sunburnt young
men and dark-cheeked, laughing girls, who weeded the rich acres of
Monte Beni, might well enough have passed for inhabitants of an
unsophisticated Arcadia. Later in the season, when the true vintage
time should come, and the wine of Sunshine gush into the vats, it was
hardly too wild a dream that Bacchus himself might revisit the haunts
which he loved of old. But, alas! where now would he find the Faun
with whom we see him consorting in so many an antique group?
Donatello's remorseful anguish saddened this primitive and delightful
life. Kenyon had a pain of his own, moreover, although not all a pain,
in the never quiet, never satisfied yearning of his heart towards
Hilda. He was authorized to use little freedom towards that shy
maiden, even in his visions; so that he almost reproached himself when
sometimes his imagination pictured in detail the sweet years that they
might spend together, in a retreat like this. It had just that rarest
quality of remoteness from the actual and ordinary world B a
remoteness through which all delights might visit them freely, sifted
from all troubles--which lovers so reasonably insist upon, in their
ideal arrangements for a happy union. It is possible, indeed, that
even Donatello's grief and Kenyon's pale, sunless affection lent a
charm to Monte Beni, which it would not have retained amid a more
abundant joyousness. The sculptor strayed amid its vineyards and
orchards, its dells and tangled shrubberies, with somewhat the
sensations of an adventurer who should find his way to the site of
ancient Eden, and behold its loveliness through the transparency of
that gloom which has been brooding over those haunts of innocence ever
since the fall. Adam saw it in a brighter sunshine, but never knew
the shade of Pensive beauty which Eden won from his expulsion.
It was in the decline of the afternoon that Kenyon returned from his
long, musing ramble, Old Tomaso--between whom and himself for some
time past there had been a mysterious understanding,--met him in the
entrance hall, and drew him a little aside.
"The signorina would speak with you," he whispered.
"In the chapel?" asked the sculptor.
"No; in the saloon beyond it," answered the butler: "the entrance you
once saw the signorina appear through it is near the altar, hidden
behind the tapestry."
Kenyon lost no time in obeying the summons.
THE MARBLE SALOON
In an old Tuscan villa, a chapel ordinarily makes one among the
numerous apartments; though it often happens that the door is
permanently closed, the key lost, and the place left to itself, in
dusty sanctity, like that chamber in man's heart where he hides his
religious awe. This was very much the case with the chapel of Monte
Beni. One rainy day, however, in his wanderings through the great,
intricate house, Kenyon had unexpectedly found his way into it, and
been impressed by its solemn aspect. The arched windows, high upward
in the wall, and darkened with dust and cobweb, threw down a dim light
that showed the altar, with a picture of a martyrdom above, and some
tall tapers ranged before it. They had apparently been lighted, and
burned an hour or two, and been extinguished perhaps half a century
before. The marble vase at the entrance held some hardened mud at the
bottom, accruing from the dust that had settled in it during the
gradual evaporation of the holy water; and a spider (being an insect
that delights in pointing the moral of desolation and neglect) had
taken pains to weave a prodigiously thick tissue across the circular
brim. An old family banner, tattered by the moths, drooped from the
vaulted roof. In niches there were some mediaeval busts of
Donatello's forgotten ancestry; and among them, it might be, the
forlorn visage of that hapless knight between whom and the
fountain-nymph had occurred such tender love passages.
Throughout all the jovial prosperity of Monte Beni, this one spot
within the domestic walls had kept itself silent, stern, and sad.
When the individual or the family retired from song and mirth, they
here sought those realities which men do not invite their festive
associates to share. And here, on the occasion above referred to, the
sculptor had discovered--accidentally, so far as he was concerned,
though with a purpose on her part--that there was a guest under
Donatello's roof, whose presence the Count did not suspect. An
interview had since taken place, and he was now summoned to another.
He crossed the chapel, in compliance with Tomaso's instructions, and,
passing through the side entrance, found himself in a saloon, of no
great size, but more magnificent than he had supposed the villa to
contain. As it was vacant, Kenyon had leisure to pace it once or
twice, and examine it with a careless sort of scrutiny, before any
This beautiful hall was floored with rich marbles, in artistically
arranged figures and compartments. The walls, likewise, were almost
entirely cased in marble of various kinds, the prevalent, variety
being giallo antico, intermixed with verd-antique, and others equally
precious. The splendor of the giallo antico, however, was what gave
character to the saloon; and the large and deep niches, apparently
intended for full length statues, along the walls, were lined with the
same costly material. Without visiting Italy, one can have no idea of
the beauty and magnificence that are produced by these fittings-up of
polished marble. Without such experience, indeed, we do not even know
what marble means, in any sense, save as the white limestone of which
we carve our mantelpieces. This rich hall of Monte Beni, moreover,
was adorned, at its upper end, with two pillars that seemed to consist
of Oriental alabaster; and wherever there was a space vacant of
precious and variegated marble, it was frescoed with ornaments in
arabesque. Above, there was a coved and vaulted ceiling, glowing with
pictured scenes, which affected Kenyon with a vague sense of splendor,
without his twisting his neck to gaze at them.
It is one of the special excellences of such a saloon of polished and
richly colored marble, that decay can never tarnish it. Until the
house crumbles down upon it, it shines indestructibly, and, with a
little dusting, looks just as brilliant in its three hundredth year as
the day after the final slab of giallo antico was fitted into the wall.
To the sculptor, at this first View of it, it seemed a hall where
the sun was magically imprisoned, and must always shine. He
anticipated Miriam's entrance, arrayed in queenly robes, and beaming
with even more than the singular beauty that had heretofore
While this thought was passing through his mind, the pillared door, at
the upper end of the saloon, was partly opened, and Miriam appeared.
She was very pale, and dressed in deep mourning. As she advanced
towards the sculptor, the feebleness of her step was so apparent that
he made haste to meet her, apprehending that she might sink down on
the marble floor, without the instant support of his arm.
But, with a gleam of her natural self-reliance, she declined his aid,
and, after touching her cold hand to his, went and sat down on one of
the cushioned divans that were ranged against the wall.
"You are very ill, Miriam!" said Kenyon, much shocked at her
appearance. "I had not thought of this."
"No; not so ill as I seem to you," she answered; adding despondently,
"yet I am ill enough, I believe, to die, unless some change speedily
"What, then, is your disorder?" asked the sculptor; "and what the
"The disorder!" repeated Miriam. "There is none that I know of save
too much life and strength, without a purpose for one or the other.
It is my too redundant energy that is slowly--or perhaps
rapidly--wearing me away, because I can apply it to no use. The
object, which I am bound to consider my only one on earth, fails me
utterly. The sacrifice which I yearn to make of myself, my hopes, my
everything, is coldly put aside. Nothing is left for me but to brood,
brood, brood, all day, all night, in unprofitable longings and
"This is very sad, Miriam," said Kenyon.
"Ay, indeed; I fancy so," she replied, with a short, unnatural laugh.
"With all your activity of mind," resumed he, "so fertile in plans as
I have known you, can you imagine no method of bringing your resources
"My mind is not active any longer," answered Miriam, in a cold,
indifferent tone. "It deals with one thought and no more. One
recollection paralyzes it. It is not remorse; do not think it! I put
myself out of the question, and feel neither regret nor penitence on
my own behalf. But what benumbs me, what robs me of all power,- it is
no secret for a woman to tell a man, yet I care not though you know it,
--is the certainty that I am, and must ever be, an object of horror in
The sculptor--a young man, and cherishing a love which insulated him
from the wild experiences which some men gather--was startled to
perceive how Miriam's rich, ill-regulated nature impelled her to fling
herself, conscience and all, on one passion, the object of which
intellectually seemed far beneath her.
"How have you obtained the certainty of which you speak?" asked he,
after a pause.
"O, by a sure token," said Miriam; "a gesture, merely; a shudder, a
cold shiver, that ran through him one sunny morning when his hand
happened to touch mine! But it was enough."
"I firmly believe, Miriam," said the sculptor, "that he loves you
She started, and a flush of color came tremulously over the paleness
of her cheek.
"Yes," repeated Kenyon, "if my interest in Donatello--and in yourself,
Miriam--endows me with any true insight, he not only loves you still,
but with a force and depth proportioned to the stronger grasp of his
faculties, in their new development."
"Do not deceive me," said Miriam, growing pale again.
"Not for the world!" replied Kenyon. "Here is what I take to be the
truth. There was an interval, no doubt, when the horror of some
calamity, which I need not shape out in my conjectures, threw
Donatello into a stupor of misery. Connected with the first shock
there was an intolerable pain and shuddering repugnance attaching
themselves to all the circumstances and surroundings of the event that
so terribly affected him. Was his dearest friend involved within the
horror of that moment? He would shrink from her as he shrank most of
all from himself. But as his mind roused itself,--as it rose to a
higher life than he had hitherto experienced,--whatever had been true
and permanent within him revived by the selfsame impulse. So has it
been with his love."
"But, surely," said Miriam, "he knows that I am here! Why, then,
except that I am odious to him, does he not bid me welcome?"
"He is, I believe, aware of your presence here," answered the sculptor.
"Your song, a night or two ago, must have revealed it to him, and,
in truth, I had fancied that there was already a consciousness of it
in his mind. But, the more passionately he longs for your society,
the more religiously he deems himself bound to avoid it. The idea of
a lifelong penance has taken strong possession of Donatello. He
gropes blindly about him for some method of sharp self-torture, and
finds, of course, no other so efficacious as this."
"But he loves me," repeated Miriam, in a low voice, to herself. "Yes;
he loves me!"
It was strange to observe the womanly softness that came over her, as
she admitted that comfort into her bosom. The cold, unnatural
indifference of her manner, a kind of frozen passionateness which had
shocked and chilled the sculptor, disappeared. She blushed, and
turned away her eyes, knowing that there was more surprise and joy in
their dewy glances than any man save one ought to detect there.
"In other respects," she inquired at length, "is he much changed?"
"A wonderful process is going forward in Donatello's mind," answered
the sculptor. "The germs of faculties that have heretofore slept are
fast springing into activity. The world of thought is disclosing
itself to his inward sight. He startles me, at times, with his
perception of deep truths; and, quite as often, it must be owned, he
compels me to smile by the intermixture of his former simplicity with
a new intelligence. But he is bewildered with the revelations that
each day brings. Out of his bitter agony, a soul and intellect, I
could almost say, have been inspired into him."
"Ah, I could help him here!" cried Miriam, clasping her hands. "And
how sweet a toil to bend and adapt my whole nature to do him good! To
instruct, to elevate, to enrich his mind with the wealth that would
flow in upon me, had I such a motive for acquiring it! Who else can
perform the task? Who else has the tender sympathy which he requires?
Who else, save only me,--a woman, a sharer in the same dread secret,
a partaker in one identical guilt,--could meet him on such terms of
intimate equality as the case demands? With this object before me, I
might feel a right to live! Without it, it is a shame for me to have
lived so long."
"I fully agree with you," said Kenyon," that your true place is by his
"Surely it is," replied Miriam. "If Donatello is entitled to aught on
earth, it is to my complete self-sacrifice for his sake. It does not
weaken his claim, methinks, that my only prospect of happiness a
fearful word, however lies in the good that may accrue to him from our
intercourse. But he rejects me! He will not listen to the whisper of
his heart, telling him that she, most wretched, who beguiled him into
evil, might guide him to a higher innocence than that from which he
fell. How is this first great difficulty to be obviated?"
"It lies at your own option, Miriam, to do away the obstacle, at any
moment," remarked the sculptor. "It is but to ascend Donatello's
tower, and you will meet him there, under the eye of God."
"I dare not," answered Miriam. "No; I dare not!"
"Do you fear," asked the sculptor, "the dread eye-witness whom I have
"No; for, as far as I can see into that cloudy and inscrutable thing,
my heart, it has none but pure motives," replied Miriam. "But, my
friend, you little know what a weak or what a strong creature a woman
is! I fear not Heaven, in this case, at least, but--shall I confess
it? I am greatly in dread of Donatello. Once he shuddered at my
touch. If he shudder once again, or frown, I die!"
Kenyon could not but marvel at the subjection into which this proud
and self-dependent woman had willfully flung herself, hanging her life
upon the chance of an angry or favorable regard from a person who, a
little while before, had seemed the plaything of a moment. But, in
Miriam's eyes, Donatello was always, thenceforth, invested with the
tragic dignity of their hour of crime; and, furthermore, the keen and
deep insight, with which her love endowed her, enabled her to know him
far better than he could be known by ordinary observation. Beyond all
question, since she loved him so, there was a force in Donatello
worthy of her respect and love.
"You see my weakness," said Miriam, flinging out her hands, as a
person does when a defect is acknowledged, and beyond remedy. "What I
need, now, is an opportunity to show my strength."
"It has occurred to me," Kenyon remarked, "that the time is come when
it may be desirable to remove Donatello from the complete seclusion in
which he buries himself. He has struggled long enough with one idea.
He now needs a variety of thought, which cannot be otherwise so
readily supplied to him, as through the medium of a variety of scenes.
His mind is awakened, now; his heart, though full of pain, is no
longer benumbed. They should have food and solace. If he linger here
much longer, I fear that he may sink back into a lethargy. The
extreme excitability, which circumstances have imparted to his moral
system, has its dangers and its advantages; it being one of the
dangers, that an obdurate scar may supervene upon its very tenderness.
Solitude has done what it could for him; now, for a while, let him be
enticed into the outer world."
"What is your plan, then?" asked Miriam.
"Simply," replied Kenyon, "to persuade Donatello to be my companion in
a ramble among these hills and valleys. The little adventures and
vicissitudes of travel will do him infinite good. After his recent
profound experience, he will re-create the world by the new eyes with
which he will regard it. He will escape, I hope, out of a morbid life,
and find his way into a healthy one."
"And what is to be my part in this process?" inquired Miriam sadly,
and not without jealousy. "You are taking him from me, and putting
yourself, and all manner of living interests, into the place which I
ought to fill!"
"It would rejoice me, Miriam, to yield the entire responsibility of
this office to yourself," answered the sculptor. "I do not pretend to
be the guide and counsellor whom Donatello needs; for, to mention no
other obstacle, I am a man, and between man and man there is always an
insuperable gulf. They can never quite grasp each other's hands; and
therefore man never derives any intimate help, any heart sustenance,
from his brother man, but from woman--his mother, his sister, or his
wife. Be Donatello's friend at need, therefore, and most gladly will
I resign him!"
"It is not kind to taunt me thus," said Miriam. "I have told you that
I cannot do what you suggest, because I dare not."
"Well, then," rejoined the sculptor, "see if there is any possibility
of adapting yourself to my scheme. The incidents of a journey often
fling people together in the oddest and therefore the most natural way.
Supposing you were to find yourself on the same route, a reunion
with Donatello might ensue, and Providence have a larger hand in it
than either of us."
"It is not a hopeful plan," said Miriam, shaking her head, after a
moment's thought; "yet I will not reject it without a trial. Only in
case it fail, here is a resolution to which I bind myself, come what
come may! You know the bronze statue of Pope Julius in the great
square of Perugia? I remember standing in the shadow of that statue
one sunny noontime, and being impressed by its paternal aspect, and
fancying that a blessing fell upon me from its outstretched hand.
Ever since, I have had a superstition, you will call it foolish, but
sad and ill-fated persons always dream such things,--that, if I waited
long enough in that same spot, some good event would come to pass.
Well, my friend, precisely a fortnight after you begin your tour,
--unless we sooner meet,--bring Donatello, at noon, to the base of the
statue. You will find me there!"
Kenyon assented to the proposed arrangement, and, after some
conversation respecting his contemplated line of travel, prepared to
take his leave. As he met Miriam's eyes, in bidding farewell, he was
surprised at the new, tender gladness that beamed out of them, and at
the appearance of health and bloom, which, in this little while, had
overspread her face.'
"May I tell you, Miriam," said he, smiling, "that you are still as
beautiful as ever?"
"You have a right to notice it," she replied, "for, if it be so, my
faded bloom has been revived by the hopes you give me. Do you, then,
think me beautiful? I rejoice, most truly. Beauty--if I possess
it--shall be one of the instruments by which I will try to educate and
elevate him, to whose good I solely dedicate myself."
The sculptor had nearly reached the door, when, hearing her call him,
he turned back, and beheld Miriam still standing where he had left her,
in the magnificent hall which seemed only a fit setting for her
beauty. She beckoned him to return.
"You are a man of refined taste," said she; "more than that,--a man of
delicate sensibility. Now tell me frankly, and on your honor! Have I
not shocked you many times during this interview by my betrayal of
woman's cause, my lack of feminine modesty, my reckless, passionate,
most indecorous avowal, that I live only in the life of one who,
perhaps, scorns and shudders at me?"
Thus adjured, however difficult the point to which she brought him,
the sculptor was not a man to swerve aside from the simple truth.
"Miriam," replied he, "you exaggerate the impression made upon my mind;
but it has been painful, and somewhat of the character which you
"I knew it," said Miriam, mournfully, and with no resentment. "What
remains of my finer nature would have told me so, even if it had not
been perceptible in all your manner. Well, my dear friend, when you
go back to Rome, tell Hilda what her severity has done! She was all
womanhood to me; and when she cast me off, I had no longer any terms
to keep with the reserves and decorums of my sex. Hilda has set me
free! Pray tell her so, from Miriam, and thank her!"
"I shall tell Hilda nothing that will give her pain," answered Kenyon.
"But, Miriam, though I know not what passed between her and yourself,
I feel,--and let the noble frankness of your disposition forgive me if
I say so,--I feel that she was right. You have a thousand admirable
qualities. Whatever mass of evil may have fallen into your life,
--pardon me, but your own words suggest it,--you are still as capable
as ever of many high and heroic virtues. But the white shining purity
of Hilda's nature is a thing apart; and she is bound, by the undefiled
material of which God moulded her, to keep that severity which I, as
well as you, have recognized."
"O, you are right!" said Miriam; "I never questioned it; though, as I
told you, when she cast me off, it severed some few remaining bonds
between me and decorous womanhood. But were there anything to forgive,
I do forgive her. May you win her virgin heart; for methinks there
can be few men in this evil world who are not more unworthy of her
SCENES BY THE WAY
When it came to the point of quitting the reposeful life of Monte Beni,
the sculptor was not without regrets, and would willingly have
dreamed a little longer of the sweet paradise on earth that Hilda's
presence there might make. Nevertheless, amid all its repose, he had
begun to be sensible of a restless melancholy, to which the
cultivators of the ideal arts are more liable than sturdier men. On
his own part, therefore, and leaving Donatello out of the case, he
would have judged it well to go. He made parting visits to the
legendary dell, and to other delightful spots with which he had grown
familiar; he climbed the tower again, and saw a sunset and a moonrise
over the great valley; he drank, on the eve of his departure, one
flask, and then another, of the Monte Beni Sunshine, and stored up its
flavor in his memory as the standard of what is exquisite in wine.
These things accomplished, Kenyon was ready for the journey.
Donatello had not very easily been stirred out of the peculiar
sluggishness, which enthralls and bewitches melancholy people. He had
offered merely a passive resistance, however, not an active one, to
his friend's schemes; and when the appointed hour came, he yielded to
the impulse which Kenyon failed not to apply; and was started upon the
journey before he had made up his mind to undertake it. They wandered
forth at large, like two knights-errant, among the valleys, and the
mountains, and the old mountain towns of that picturesque and lovely
region. Save to keep the appointment with Miriam, a fortnight
thereafter, in the great square of Perugia, there was nothing more
definite in the sculptor's plan than that they should let themselves
be blown hither and thither like Winged seeds, that mount upon each
wandering breeze. Yet there was an idea of fatality implied in the
simile of the winged seeds which did not altogether suit Kenyon's
fancy; for, if you look closely into the matter, it will be seen that
whatever appears most vagrant, and utterly purposeless, turns out, in
the end, to have been impelled the most surely on a preordained and
unswerving track. Chance and change love to deal with men's settled
plans, not with their idle vagaries. If we desire unexpected and
unimaginable events, we should contrive an iron framework, such as we
fancy may compel the future to take one inevitable shape; then comes
in the unexpected, and shatters our design in fragments.
The travellers set forth on horseback, and purposed to perform much of
their aimless journeyings under the moon, and in the cool of the
morning or evening twilight; the midday sun, while summer had hardly
begun to trail its departing skirts over Tuscany, being still too
fervid to allow of noontide exposure.
For a while, they wandered in that same broad valley which Kenyon had
viewed with such delight from the Monte Beni tower. The sculptor soon
began to enjoy the idle activity of their new life, which the lapse of
a day or two sufficed to establish as a kind of system; it is so
natural for mankind to be nomadic, that a very little taste of that
primitive mode of existence subverts the settled habits of many
preceding years. Kenyon's cares, and whatever gloomy ideas before
possessed him, seemed to be left at Monte Beni, and were scarcely
remembered by the time that its gray tower grew undistinguishable on
the brown hillside. His perceptive faculties, which had found little
exercise of late, amid so thoughtful a way of life, became keen, and
kept his eyes busy with a hundred agreeable scenes.
He delighted in the picturesque bits of rustic character and manners,
so little of which ever comes upon the surface of our life at home.
There, for example, were the old women, tending pigs or sheep by the
wayside. As they followed the vagrant steps of their charge, these
venerable ladies kept spinning yarn with that elsewhere forgotten
contrivance, the distaff; and so wrinkled and stern looking were they,
that you might have taken them for the Parcae, spinning the threads of
human destiny. In contrast with their great-grandmothers were the
children, leading goats of shaggy beard, tied by the horns, and
letting them browse on branch and shrub. It is the fashion of Italy
to add the petty industry of age and childhood to the hum of human
toil. To the eyes of an observer from the Western world, it was a
strange spectacle to see sturdy, sunburnt creatures, in petticoats,
but otherwise manlike, toiling side by side with male laborers, in the
rudest work of the fields. These sturdy women (if as such we must
recognize them) wore the high-crowned, broad brimmed hat of Tuscan
straw, the customary female head-apparel; and, as every breeze blew
back its breadth of brim, the sunshine constantly added depth to the
brown glow of their cheeks. The elder sisterhood, however, set off
their witch-like ugliness to the worst advantage with black felt hats,
bequeathed them, one would fancy, by their long-buried husbands.
Another ordinary sight, as sylvan as the above and more agreeable, was
a girl, bearing on her back a huge bundle of green twigs and shrubs,
or grass, intermixed with scarlet poppies and blue flowers; the
verdant burden being sometimes of such size as to hide the bearer's
figure, and seem a self-moving mass of fragrant bloom and verdure.
Oftener, however, the bundle reached only halfway down the back of the
rustic nymph, leaving in sight her well-developed lower limbs, and the
crooked knife, hanging behind her, with which she had been reaping
this strange harvest sheaf. A pre-Raphaelite artist (he, for instance,
who painted so marvellously a wind-swept heap of autumnal leaves)
might find an admirable subject in one of these Tuscan girls, stepping
with a free, erect, and graceful carriage. The miscellaneous herbage
and tangled twigs and blossoms of her bundle, crowning her head (while
her ruddy, comely face looks out between the hanging side festoons
like a larger flower), would give the painter boundless scope for the
minute delineation which he loves.
Though mixed up with what was rude and earthlike, there was still a
remote, dreamlike, Arcadian charm, which is scarcely to be found in
the daily toil of other lands. Among the pleasant features of the
wayside were always the vines, clambering on fig-trees, or other
sturdy trunks; they wreathed themselves in huge and rich festoons from
one tree to another, suspending clusters of ripening grapes in the
interval between. Under such careless mode of culture, the luxuriant
vine is a lovelier spectacle than where it produces a more precious
liquor, and is therefore more artificially restrained and trimmed.
Nothing can be more picturesque than an old grapevine, with almost a
trunk of its own, clinging fast around its supporting tree. Nor does
the picture lack its moral. You might twist it to more than one grave
purpose, as you saw how the knotted, serpentine growth imprisoned
within its strong embrace the friend that had supported its tender
infancy; and how (as seemingly flexible natures are prone to do) it
converted the sturdier tree entirely to its own selfish ends,
extending its innumerable arms on every bough, and permitting hardly a
leaf to sprout except its own. It occurred to Kenyon, that the
enemies of the vine, in his native land, might here have seen an
emblem of the remorseless gripe, which the habit of vinous enjoyment
lays upon its victim, possessing him wholly, and letting him live no
life but such as it bestows.
The scene was not less characteristic when their path led the two
wanderers through some small, ancient town. There, besides the
peculiarities of present life, they saw tokens of the life that had
long ago been lived and flung aside. The little town, such as we see
in our mind's eye, would have its gate and its surrounding walls, so
ancient and massive that ages had not sufficed to crumble them away;
but in the lofty upper portion of the gateway, still standing over the
empty arch, where there was no longer a gate to shut, there would be a
dove-cote, and peaceful doves for the only warders. Pumpkins lay
ripening in the open chambers of the structure. Then, as for the town
wall, on the outside an orchard extends peacefully along its base,
full, not of apple-trees, but of those old humorists with gnarled
trunks and twisted boughs, the olives. Houses have been built upon
the ramparts, or burrowed out of their ponderous foundation. Even the
gray, martial towers, crowned with ruined turrets, have been converted
into rustic habitations, from the windows of which hang ears of Indian
corn. At a door, that has been broken through the massive stonework
where it was meant to be strongest, some contadini are winnowing grain.
Small windows, too, are pierced through the whole line of ancient
wall, so that it seems a row of dwellings with one continuous front,
built in a strange style of needless strength; but remnants of the old
battlements and machicolations are interspersed with the homely
chambers and earthen-tiled housetops; and all along its extent both
grapevines and running flower-shrubs are encouraged to clamber and
sport over the roughness of its decay.
Finally the long grass, intermixed with weeds and wild flowers, waves
on the uppermost height of the shattered rampart; and it is
exceedingly pleasant in the golden sunshine of the afternoon to behold
the warlike precinct so friendly in its old days, and so overgrown
with rural peace. In its guard rooms, its prison chambers, and
scooped out of its ponderous breadth, there are dwellings nowadays
where happy human lives are spent. Human parents and broods of
children nestle in them, even as the swallows nestle in the little
crevices along the broken summit of the wall.
Passing through the gateway of this same little town, challenged only
by those watchful sentinels, the pigeons, we find ourselves in a long,
narrow street, paved from side to side with flagstones, in the old
Roman fashion. Nothing can exceed the grim ugliness of the houses,
most of which are three or four stories high, stone built, gray,
dilapidated, or half-covered with plaster in patches, and contiguous
all along from end to end of the town. Nature, in the shape of tree,
shrub, or grassy sidewalk, is as much shut out from the one street of
the rustic village as from the heart of any swarming city. The dark
and half ruinous habitations, with their small windows, many of which
are drearily closed with wooden shutters, are but magnified hovels,
piled story upon story, and squalid with the grime that successive
ages have left behind them. It would be a hideous scene to
contemplate in a rainy day, or when no human life pervaded it. In the
summer noon, however, it possesses vivacity enough to keep itself
cheerful; for all the within-doors of the village then bubbles over
upon the flagstones, or looks out from the small windows, and from
here and there a balcony. Some of the populace are at the butcher's
shop; others are at the fountain, which gushes into a marble basin
that resembles an antique sarcophagus. A tailor is sewing before his
door with a young priest seated sociably beside him; a burly friar
goes by with an empty wine-barrel on his head; children are at play;
women, at their own doorsteps, mend clothes, embroider, weave hats of
Tuscan straw, or twirl the distaff. Many idlers, meanwhile, strolling
from one group to another, let the warm day slide by in the sweet,
interminable task of doing nothing.
From all these people there comes a babblement that seems quite
disproportioned to the number of tongues that make it. So many words
are not uttered in a New England village throughout the year--except
it be at a political canvass or town-meeting--as are spoken here, with
no especial purpose, in a single day. Neither so many words, nor so
much laughter; for people talk about nothing as if they were terribly
in earnest, and make merry at nothing as if it were the best of all
possible jokes. In so long a time as they have existed, and within
such narrow precincts, these little walled towns are brought into a
closeness of society that makes them but a larger household. All the
inhabitants are akin to each, and each to all; they assemble in the
street as their common saloon, and thus live and die in a familiarity
of intercourse, such as never can be known where a village is open at
either end, and all roundabout, and has ample room within itself.
Stuck up beside the door of one house, in this village street, is a
withered bough; and on a stone seat, just under the shadow of the
bough, sits a party of jolly drinkers, making proof of the new wine,
or quaffing the old, as their often-tried and comfortable friend.
Kenyon draws bridle here (for the bough, or bush, is a symbol of the
wine-shop at this day in Italy, as it was three hundred years ago in
England), and calls for a goblet of the deep, mild, purple juice, well
diluted with water from the fountain. The Sunshine of Monte Beni
would be welcome now. Meanwhile, Donatello has ridden onward, but
alights where a shrine, with a burning lamp before it, is built into
the wall of an inn stable. He kneels and crosses himself, and mutters
a brief prayer, without attracting notice from the passers-by, many of
whom are parenthetically devout in a similar fashion. By this time
the sculptor has drunk off his wine-and-water, and our two travellers
resume their way, emerging from the opposite gate of the village.
Before them, again, lies the broad valley, with a mist so thinly
scattered over it as to be perceptible only in the distance, and most
so in the nooks of the hills. Now that we have called it mist, it
seems a mistake not rather to have called it sunshine; the glory of so
much light being mingled with so little gloom, in the airy material of
that vapor. Be it mist or sunshine, it adds a touch of ideal beauty
to the scene, almost persuading the spectator that this valley and
those hills are visionary, because their visible atmosphere is so like
the substance of a dream.
Immediately about them, however, there were abundant tokens that the
country was not really the paradise it looked to be, at a casual
glance. Neither the wretched cottages nor the dreary farmhouses
seemed to partake of the prosperity, with which so kindly a climate,
and so fertile a portion of Mother Earth's bosom, should have filled
them, one and all. But possibly the peasant inhabitants do not exist
in so grimy a poverty, and in homes so comfortless, as a stranger,
with his native ideas of those matters, would be likely to imagine.
The Italians appear to possess none of that emulative pride which we
see in our New England villages, where every householder, according to
his taste and means, endeavors to make his homestead an ornament to
the grassy and elm-shadowed wayside. In Italy there are no neat
doorsteps and thresholds; no pleasant, vine-sheltered porches; none of
those grass-plots or smoothly shorn lawns, which hospitably invite the
imagination into the sweet domestic interiors of English life.
Everything, however sunny and luxuriant may be the scene around, is
especially disheartening in the immediate neighborhood of an Italian
An artist, it is true, might often thank his stars for those old
houses, so picturesquely timestained, and with the plaster falling in
blotches from the ancient brick-work. The prison-like, iron-barred
windows, and the wide arched, dismal entrance, admitting on one hand
to the stable, on the other to the kitchen, might impress him as far
better worth his pencil than the newly painted pine boxes, in
which--if he be an American--his countrymen live and thrive. But
there is reason to suspect that a people are waning to decay and ruin
the moment that their life becomes fascinating either in the poet's
imagination or the painter's eye.
As usual on Italian waysides, the wanderers passed great, black
crosses, hung with all the instruments of the sacred agony and passion:
there were the crown of thorns, the hammer and nails, the pincers,
the spear, the sponge; and perched over the whole, the cock that
crowed to St. Peter's remorseful conscience. Thus, while the fertile
scene showed the never-failing beneficence of the Creator towards man
in his transitory state, these symbols reminded each wayfarer of the
Saviour's infinitely greater love for him as an immortal spirit.
Beholding these consecrated stations, the idea seemed to strike
Donatello of converting the otherwise aimless journey into a
penitential pilgrimage. At each of them he alighted to kneel and kiss
the cross, and humbly press his forehead against its foot; and this so
invariably, that the sculptor soon learned to draw bridle of his own
accord. It may be, too, heretic as he was, that Kenyon likewise put
up a prayer, rendered more fervent by the symbols before his eyes, for
the peace of his friend's conscience and the pardon of the sin that so
Not only at the crosses did Donatello kneel, but at each of the many
shrines, where the Blessed Virgin in fresco--faded with sunshine and
half washed out with showers--looked benignly at her worshipper; or
where she was represented in a wooden image, or a bas-relief of
plaster or marble, as accorded with the means of the devout person who
built, or restored from a mediaeval antiquity, these places of wayside
worship. They were everywhere: under arched niches, or in little
penthouses with a brick tiled roof just large enough to shelter them;
or perhaps in some bit of old Roman masonry, the founders of which had
died before the Advent; or in the wall of a country inn or farmhouse;
or at the midway point of a bridge; or in the shallow cavity of a
natural rock; or high upward in the deep cuts of the road. It
appeared to the sculptor that Donatello prayed the more earnestly and
the more hopefully at these shrines, because the mild face of the
Madonna promised him to intercede as a tender mother betwixt the poor
culprit and the awfulness of judgment.
It was beautiful to observe, indeed, how tender was the soul of man
and woman towards the Virgin mother, in recognition of the tenderness
which, as their faith taught them, she immortally cherishes towards
all human souls. In the wire-work screen 'before each shrine hung
offerings of roses, or whatever flower was sweetest and most
seasonable; some already wilted and withered, some fresh with that
very morning's dewdrops. Flowers there were, too, that, being
artificial, never bloomed on earth, nor would ever fade. The thought
occurred to Kenyon, that flower-pots with living plants might be set
within the niches, or even that rose-trees, and all kinds of flowering
shrubs, might be reared under the shrines, and taught to twine and
wreathe themselves around; so that the Virgin should dwell within a
bower of verdure, bloom, and fragrant freshness, symbolizing a homage
perpetually new. There are many things in the religious customs of
these people that seem good; many things, at least, that might be both
good and beautiful, if the soul of goodness and the sense of beauty
were as much alive in the Italians now as they must have been when
those customs were first imagined and adopted. But, instead of
blossoms on the shrub, or freshly gathered, with the dewdrops on their
leaves, their worship, nowadays, is best symbolized by the artificial
The sculptor fancied, moreover (but perhaps it was his heresy that
suggested the idea), that it would be of happy influence to place a
comfortable and shady seat beneath every wayside shrine. Then the
weary and sun-scorched traveller, while resting himself under her
protecting shadow, might thank the Virgin for her hospitality. Nor,
perchance, were he to regale himself, even in such a consecrated spot,
with the fragrance of a pipe, would it rise to heaven more offensively
than the smoke of priestly incense. We do ourselves wrong, and too
meanly estimate the Holiness above us, when we deem that any act or
enjoyment, good in itself, is not good to do religiously.
Whatever may be the iniquities of the papal system, it was a wise and
lovely sentiment that set up the frequent shrine and cross along the
roadside. No wayfarer, bent on whatever worldly errand, can fail to
be reminded, at every mile or two, that this is not the business which
most concerns him. The pleasure-seeker is silently admonished to look
heavenward for a joy infinitely greater than he now possesses. The
wretch in temptation beholds the cross, and is warned that, if he
yield, the Saviour's agony for his sake will have been endured in vain.
The stubborn criminal, whose heart has long been like a stone, feels
it throb anew with dread and hope; and our poor Donatello, as he went
kneeling from shrine to cross, and from cross to shrine, doubtless
found an efficacy in these symbols that helped him towards a higher
Whether the young Count of Monte Beni noticed the fact, or no, there
was more than one incident of their journey that led Kenyon to believe
that they were attended, or closely followed, or preceded, near at
hand, by some one who took an interest in their motions. As it were,
the step, the sweeping garment, the faintly heard breath, of an
invisible companion, was beside them, as they went on their way. It
was like a dream that had strayed out of their slumber, and was
haunting them in the daytime, when its shadowy substance could have
neither density nor outline, in the too obtrusive light. After sunset,
it grew a little more distinct.
"On the left of that last shrine," asked the sculptor, as they rode,
under the moon, "did you observe the figure of a woman kneeling, with
her, face hidden in her hands?"
"I never looked that way," replied Donatello. "I was saying my own
prayer. It was some penitent, perchance. May the Blessed Virgin be
the more gracious to the poor soul, because she is a woman."
After wide wanderings through the valley, the two travellers directed
their course towards its boundary of hills. Here, the natural scenery
and men's modifications of it immediately took a different aspect from
that of the fertile and smiling plain. Not unfrequently there was a
convent on the hillside; or, on some insulated promontory, a mined
castle, once the den of a robber chieftain, who was accustomed to dash
down from his commanding height upon the road that wound below. For
ages back, the old fortress had been flinging down its crumbling
ramparts, stone by stone, towards the grimy village at its foot.
Their road wound onward among the hills, which rose steep and lofty
from the scanty level space that lay between them. They continually
thrust their great bulks before the wayfarers, as if grimly resolute
to forbid their passage, or closed abruptly behind them, when they
still dared to proceed. A gigantic hill would set its foot right down
before them, and only at the last moment would grudgingly withdraw it,
just far enough to let them creep towards another obstacle. Adown
these rough heights were visible the dry tracks of many a mountain
torrent that had lived a life too fierce and passionate to be a long
one. Or, perhaps, a stream was yet hurrying shyly along the edge of a
far wider bed of pebbles and shelving rock than it seemed to need,
though not too wide for the swollen rage of which this shy rivulet was
capable. A stone bridge bestrode it, the ponderous arches of which
were upheld and rendered indestructible by the weight of the very
stones that threatened to crush them down. Old Roman toil was
perceptible in the foundations of that massive bridge; the first
weight that it ever bore was that of an army of the Republic.
Threading these defiles, they would arrive at some immemorial city,
crowning the high summit of a hill with its cathedral, its many
churches, and public edifices, all of Gothic architecture. With no
more level ground than a single piazza in the midst, the ancient town
tumbled its crooked and narrow streets down the mountainside, through
arched passages and by steps of stone. The aspect of everything was
awfully old; older, indeed, in its effect on the imagination than Rome
itself, because history does not lay its finger on these forgotten
edifices and tell us all about their origin. Etruscan princes may
have dwelt in them. A thousand years, at all events, would seem but a
middle age for these structures. They are built of such huge, square
stones, that their appearance of ponderous durability distresses the
beholder with the idea that they can never fall,--never crumble away,
--never be less fit than now for human habitation. Many of them may
once have been palaces, and still retain a squalid grandeur. But,
gazing at them, we recognize how undesirable it is to build the
tabernacle of our brief lifetime out of permanent materials, and with
a view to their being occupied by future 'generations.
All towns should be made capable of purification by fire, or of decay,
within each half-century. Otherwise, they become the hereditary
haunts of vermin and noisomeness, besides standing apart from the
possibility of such improvements as are constantly introduced into the
rest of man's contrivances and accommodations. It is beautiful, no
doubt, and exceedingly satisfactory to some of our natural instincts,
to imagine our far posterity dwelling under the same roof-tree as
ourselves. Still, when people insist on building indestructible
houses, they incur, or their children do, a misfortune analogous to
that of the Sibyl, when she obtained the grievous boon of immortality.
So we may build almost immortal habitations, it is true; but we
cannot keep them from growing old, musty, unwholesome, dreary,--full
of death scents, ghosts, and murder stains; in short, such habitations
as one sees everywhere in Italy, be they hovels or palaces.
"You should go with me to my native country," observed the sculptor to
Donatello. "In that fortunate land, each generation has only its own
sins and sorrows to bear. Here, it seems as if all the weary and
dreary Past were piled upon the back of the Present. If I were to
lose my spirits in this country,--if I were to suffer any heavy
misfortune here,--methinks it would be impossible to stand up against
it, under such adverse influences."
"The sky itself is an old roof, now," answered the Count; "and, no
doubt, the sins of mankind have made it gloomier than it used to be."
"O, my poor Faun," thought Kenyon to himself, "how art thou changed!"
A city, like this of which we speak, seems a sort of stony growth out
of the hillside, or a fossilized town; so ancient and strange it looks,
without enough of life and juiciness in it to be any longer
susceptible of decay. An earthquake would afford it the only chance
of being ruined, beyond its present ruin.
Yet, though dead to all the purposes for which we live to-day, the
place has its glorious recollections, and not merely rude and warlike
ones, but those of brighter and milder triumphs, the fruits of which
we still enjoy. Italy can count several of these lifeless towns which,
four or five hundred years ago, were each the birthplace of its own
school of art; nor have they yet forgotten to be proud of the dark old
pictures, and the faded frescos, the pristine beauty of which was a
light and gladness to the world. But now, unless one happens to be a
painter, these famous works make us miserably desperate. They are
poor, dim ghosts of what, when Giotto or Cimabue first created them,
threw a splendor along the stately aisles; so far gone towards
nothingness, in our day, that scarcely a hint of design or expression
can glimmer through the dusk. Those early artists did well to paint
their frescos. Glowing on the church-walls, they might be looked upon
as symbols of the living spirit that made Catholicism a true religion,
and that glorified it as long as it retained a genuine life; they
filled the transepts with a radiant throng of saints and angels, and
threw around the high altar a faint reflection--as much as mortals
could see, or bear--of a Diviner Presence. But now that the colors
are so wretchedly bedimmed,--now that blotches of plastered wall dot
the frescos all over, like a mean reality thrusting itself through
life's brightest illusions,--the next best artist to Cimabue or Giotto
or Ghirlandaio or Pinturicchio will be he that shall reverently cover
their ruined masterpieces with whitewash!
Kenyon, however, being an earnest student and critic of Art, lingered
long before these pathetic relics; and Donatello, in his present phase
of penitence, thought no time spent amiss while he could be kneeling
before an altar. Whenever they found a cathedral, therefore, or a
Gothic church, the two travellers were of one mind to enter it. In
some of these holy edifices they saw pictures that time had not dimmed
nor injured in the least, though they perhaps belonged to as old a
school of Art as any that were perishing around them. These were the
painted windows; and as often as he gazed at them the sculptor blessed
the medieval time, and its gorgeous contrivances of splendor; for
surely the skill of man has never accomplished, nor his mind imagined,
any other beauty or glory worthy to be compared with these.
It is the special excellence of pictured glass, that the light, which
falls merely on the outside of other pictures, is here interfused
throughout the work; it illuminates the design, and invests it with a
living radiance; and in requital the unfading colors transmute the
common daylight into a miracle of richness and glory in its passage
through the heavenly substance of the blessed and angelic shapes which
throng the high-arched window.
"It is a woeful thing," cried Kenyon, while one of these frail yet
enduring and fadeless pictures threw its hues on his face, and on the
pavement of the church around him,--"a sad necessity that any
Christian soul should pass from earth without once seeing an antique
painted window, with the bright Italian sunshine glowing through it!
There is no other such true symbol of the glories of the better world,
where a celestial radiance will be inherent in all things and persons,
and render each continually transparent to the sight of all."
"But what a horror it would be," said Donatello sadly, "if there were
a soul among them through which the light could not be transfused!"
"Yes; and perhaps this is to be the punishment of sin," replied the
sculptor; "not that it shall be made evident to the universe, which
can profit nothing by such knowledge, but that it shall insulate the
sinner from all sweet sodety by rendering him impermeable to light,
and, therefore, unrecognizable in the abode of heavenly simplicity and
truth. Then, what remains for him, but the dreariness of infinite and
"That would be a horrible destiny, indeed!" said Donatello.
His voice as he spoke the words had a hollow and dreary cadence, as if
he anticipated some such frozen solitude for himself. A figure in a
dark robe was lurking in the obscurity of a side chapel close by, and
made an impulsive movement forward, but hesitated as Donatello spoke
"But there might be a more miserable torture than to be solitary
forever," said he. "Think of having a single companion in eternity,
and instead of finding any consolation, or at all events variety of
torture, to see your own weary, weary sin repeated in that inseparable
"I think, my dear Count, you have never read Dante," observed Kenyon.
"That idea is somewhat in his style, but I cannot help regretting that
it came into your mind just then."
The dark-robed figure had shrunk back, and was quite lost to sight
among the shadows of the chapel.
"There was an English poet," resumed Kenyon, turning again towards the
window, "who speaks of the 'dim, religious light,' transmitted through
painted glass. I always admired this richly descriptive phrase; but,
though he was once in Italy, I question whether Milton ever saw any
but the dingy pictures in the dusty windows of English cathedrals,
imperfectly shown by the gray English daylight. He would else have
illuminated that word 'dim' with some epithet that should not chase
away the dimness, yet should make it glow like a million of rubies,
sapphires, emeralds, and topazes. Is it not so with yonder window?
The pictures are most brilliant in themselves, yet dim with tenderness
and reverence, because God himself is shining through them."
"The pictures fill me with emotion, but not such as you seem to
experience," said Donatello. "I tremble at those awful saints; and,
most of all, at the figure above them. He glows with Divine wrath!"
"My dear friend," said Kenyon, "how strangely your eyes have
transmuted the expression of the figure! It is divine love, not wrath!"
"To my eyes," said Donatello stubbornly, "it is wrath, not love! Each
must interpret for himself."
The friends left the church, and looking up, from the exterior, at the
window which they had just been contemplating within, nothing; was
visible but the merest outline of dusky shapes, Neither the individual
likeness of saint, angel, nor Saviour, and far less the combined
scheme and purport of the picture, could anywise be made out. That
miracle of radiant art, thus viewed, was nothing better than an
incomprehensible obscurity, without a gleam of beauty to induce the
beholder to attempt unravelling it.
"All this," thought the sculptor, "is a most forcible emblem of the
different aspect of religious truth and sacred story, as viewed from
the warm interior of belief, or from its cold and dreary outside.
Christian faith is a grand cathedral, with divinely pictured windows.
Standing without, you see no glory, nor can possibly imagine any;
standing within, every ray of light reveals a harmony of unspeakable
After Kenyon and Donatello emerged from the church, however, they had
better opportunity for acts of charity and mercy than for religious
contemplation; being immediately surrounded by a swarm of beggars, who
are the present possessors of Italy, and share the spoil of the
stranger with the fleas and mosquitoes, their formidable allies.
These pests--the human ones--had hunted the two travellers at every
stage of their journey. From village to village, ragged boys and
girls kept almost under the horses' feet; hoary grandsires and
grandames caught glimpses of their approach, and hobbled to intercept
them at some point of vantage; blind men stared them out of
countenance with their sightless orbs; women held up their unwashed
babies; cripples displayed their wooden legs, their grievous scars,
their dangling, boneless arms, their broken backs, their burden of a
hump, or whatever infirmity or deformity Providence had assigned them
for an inheritance. On the highest mountain summit--in the most
shadowy ravine--there was a beggar waiting for them. In one small
village, Kenyon had the curiosity to count merely how many children
were crying, whining, and bellowing ail at once for alms. They proved
to be more than forty of as ragged and dirty little imps as any in the
world; besides whom, all the wrinkled matrons, and most of the village
maids, and not a few stalwart men, held out their hands grimly,
piteously, or smilingly in the forlorn hope of whatever trifle of coin
might remain in pockets already so fearfully taxed. Had they been
permitted, they would gladly have knelt down and worshipped the
travellers, and have cursed them, without rising from their knees, if
the expected boon failed to be awarded.
Yet they were not so miserably poor but that the grown people kept
houses over their heads.
In the way of food, they had, at least, vegetables in their little
gardens, pigs and chickens to kill, eggs to fry into omelets with oil,
wine to drink, and many other things to make life comfortable. As for
the children, when no more small coin appeared to be forthcoming, they
began to laugh and play, and turn heels over head, showing themselves
jolly and vivacious brats, and evidently as well fed as needs be. The
truth is, the Italian peasantry look upon strangers as the almoners of
Providence, and therefore feel no more shame in asking and receiving
alms, than in availing themselves of providential bounties in whatever
In accordance with his nature, Donatello was always exceedingly
charitable to these ragged battalions, and appeared to derive a
certain consolation from the prayers which many of them put up in his
behalf. In Italy a copper coin of minute value will often make all
the difference between a vindictive curse--death by apoplexy being the
favorite one- mumbled in an old witch's toothless jaws, and a prayer
from the same lips, so earnest that it would seem to reward the
charitable soul with at least a puff of grateful breath to help him
heavenward. Good wishes being so cheap, though possibly not very
efficacious, and anathemas so exceedingly bitter,--even if the greater
portion of their poison remain in the mouth that utters them,--it may
be wise to expend some reasonable amount in the purchase of the former.
Donatello invariably did so; and as he distributed his alms under
the pictured window, of which we have been speaking, no less than
seven ancient women lifted their hands and besought blessings on his
"Come," said the sculptor, rejoicing at the happier expression which
he saw in his friend's face. "I think your steed will not stumble
with you to-day. Each of these old dames looks as much like Horace's
Atra Cura as can well be conceived; but, though there are seven of
them, they will make your burden on horseback lighter instead of
"Are we to ride far?" asked the Count.
"A tolerable journey betwixt now and to-morrow noon," Kenyon replied;
"for, at that hour, I purpose to be standing by the Pope's statue in
the great square of Perugia."
MARKET DAY IN PERUGIA
Perugia, on its lofty hilltop, was reached by the two travellers
before the sun had quite kissed away the early freshness of the
morning. Since midnight, there had been a heavy, rain, bringing
infinite refreshment to the scene of verdure and fertility amid which
this ancient civilization stands; insomuch that Kenyon loitered, when
they came to the gray city wall, and was loath to give up the prospect
of the sunny wilderness that lay below. It was as green as England,
and bright as Italy alone. There was all the wide valley, sweeping
down and spreading away on all sides from the weed grown ramparts, and
bounded afar by mountains, which lay asleep in the sun, with thin
mists and silvery clouds floating about their heads by way of morning
"It lacks still two hours of noon," said the sculptor to his friend,
as they stood under the arch of the gateway, waiting for their
passports to be examined; "will you come with me to see some admirable
frescos by Perugino? There is a hall in the Exchange, of no great
magnitude, but covered with what must have been--at the time it was
painted--such magnificence and beauty as the world had not elsewhere
"It depresses me to look at old frescos," responded the Count; "it is
a pain, yet not enough of a pain to answer as a penance."
"Will you look at some pictures by Fra Angelico in the Church of San
Domenico?" asked Kenyon; "they are full of religious sincerity, When
one studies them faithfully, it is like holding a conversation about
heavenly things with a tender and devout-minded man."
"You have shown me some of Fra Angelico's pictures, I remember,"
answered Donatello; "his angels look as if they had never taken a
flight out of heaven; and his saints seem to have been born saints,
and always to have lived so. Young maidens, and all innocent persons,
I doubt not, may find great delight and profit in looking at such holy
pictures. But they are not for me."
"Your criticism, I fancy, has great moral depth," replied Kenyon; "and
I see in it the reason why Hilda so highly appreciates Fra Angelico's
pictures. Well; we will let all such matters pass for to-day, and
stroll about this fine old city till noon."
They wandered to and fro, accordingly, and lost themselves among the
strange, precipitate passages, which, in Perugia, are called streets,
Some of them are like caverns, being arched all over, and plunging
down abruptly towards an unknown darkness; which, when you have
fathomed its depths, admits you to a daylight that you scarcely hoped
to behold again. Here they met shabby men, and the careworn wives and
mothers of the people, some of whom guided children in leading strings
through those dim and antique thoroughfares, where a hundred
generations had passed before the little feet of to-day began to tread
them. Thence they climbed upward again, and came to the level plateau,
on the summit of the hill, where are situated the grand piazza and
the principal public edifices.
It happened to be market day in Perugia. The great square, therefore,
presented a far more vivacious spectacle than would have been
witnessed in it at any other time of the week, though not so lively as
to overcome the gray solemnity of the architectural portion of the
scene. In the shadow of the cathedral and other old Gothic
structures--seeking shelter from the sunshine that fell across the
rest of the piazza--was a crowd of people, engaged as buyers or
sellers in the petty traffic of a country fair. Dealers had erected
booths and stalls on the pavement, and overspread them with scanty
awnings, beneath which they stood, vociferously crying their
merchandise; such as shoes, hats and caps, yarn stockings, cheap
jewelry and cutlery, books, chiefly little volumes of a religious
Character, and a few French novels; toys, tinware, old iron, cloth,
rosaries of beads, crucifixes, cakes, biscuits, sugar-plums, and
innumerable little odds and ends, which we see no object in
advertising. Baskets of grapes, figs, and pears stood on the ground.
Donkeys, bearing panniers stuffed out with kitchen vegetables, and
requiring an ample roadway, roughly shouldered aside the throng.
Crowded as the square was, a juggler found room to spread out a white
cloth upon the pavement, and cover it with cups, plates, balls, cards,
w the whole material of his magic, in short,--wherewith he proceeded
to work miracles under the noonday sun. An organ grinder at one point,
and a clarion and a flute at another, accomplished what their could
towards filling the wide space with tuneful noise, Their small uproar,
however, was nearly drowned by the multitudinous voices of the people,
bargaining, quarrelling, laughing, and babbling copiously at random;.
for the briskness of the mountain atmosphere, or some other cause,
made everybody so loquacious, that more words were wasted in Perugia
on this one market day, than the noisiest piazza of Rome would utter
in a month.
Through all this petty tumult, which kept beguiling one's eyes and
upper strata of thought, it was delightful to catch glimpses of the
grand old architecture that stood around the square. The life of the
flitting moment, existing in the antique shell of an age gone by, has
a fascination which we do not find in either the past or present,
taken by themselves. It might seem irreverent to make the gray
cathedral and the tall, time-worn palaces echo back the exuberant
vociferation of the market; but they did so, and caused the sound to
assume a kind of poetic rhythm, and themselves looked only the more
majestic for their condescension.
On one side, there was an immense edifice devoted to public purposes,
with an antique gallery, and a range of arched and stone-mullioned
windows, running along its front; and by way of entrance it had a
central Gothic arch, elaborately wreathed around with sculptured
semicircles, within which the spectator was aware of a stately and
impressive gloom. Though merely the municipal council-house and
exchange of a decayed country town, this structure was worthy to have
held in one portion of it the parliament hall of a nation, and in the
other, the state apartments of its ruler. On another side of the
square rose the mediaeval front of the cathedral, where the
imagination of a Gothic architect had long ago flowered out
indestructibly, in the first place, a grand design, and then covering
it with such abundant detail of ornament, that the magnitude of the
work seemed less a miracle than its minuteness. You would suppose
that he must have softened the stone into wax, until his most delicate
fancies were modelled in the pliant material, and then had hardened it
into stone again. The whole was a vast, black-letter page of the
richest and quaintest poetry. In fit keeping with all this old
magnificence was a great marble fountain, where again the Gothic
imagination showed its overflow and gratuity of device in the manifold
sculptures which it lavished as freely as the water did its shifting
Besides the two venerable structures which we have described, there
were lofty palaces, perhaps of as old a date, rising story above Story,
and adorned with balconies, whence, hundreds of years ago, the
princely occupants had been accustomed to gaze down at the sports,
business, and popular assemblages of the piazza. And, beyond all
question, they thus witnessed the erection of a bronze statue, which,
three centuries since, was placed on the pedestal that it still
"I never come to Perugia, said Kenyon, "without spending as much time
as I can spare in studying yonder statue of Pope Julius the Third.
Those sculptors of the Middle Age have fitter lessons for the
professors of my art than we can find in the Grecian masterpieces.
They belong to our Christian civilization; and, being earnest works,
they always express something which we do not get from the antique.
Will you look at it?"
"Willingly," replied the Count, "for I see, even so far off, that the
statue is bestowing a benediction, and there is a feeling in my heart
that I may be permitted to share it."
Remembering the similar idea which Miriam a short time before had
expressed, the sculptor smiled hopefully at the coincidence. They
made their way through the throng of the market place, and approached
close to the iron railing that protected the pedestal of the statue.
It was the figure of a pope, arrayed in his pontifical robes, and
crowned with the tiara. He sat in a bronze chair, elevated high above
the pavement, and seemed to take kindly yet authoritative cognizance
of the busy scene which was at that moment passing before his eye.
His right hand was raised and spread abroad, as if in the act of
shedding forth a benediction, which every man--so broad, so wise, and
so serenely affectionate was the bronze pope's regard--might hope to
feel quietly descending upon the need, or the distress, that he had
closest at his heart. The statue had life and observation in it, as
well as patriarchal majesty. An imaginative spectator could not but
be impressed with the idea that this benignly awful representative of
divine and human authority might rise from his brazen chair, should
any great public exigency demand his interposition, and encourage or
restrain the people by his gesture, or even by prophetic utterances
worthy of so grand a presence.
And in the long, calm intervals, amid the quiet lapse of ages, the
pontiff watched the daily turmoil around his seat, listening with
majestic patience to the market cries, and all the petty uproar that
awoke the echoes of the stately old piazza. He was the enduring
friend of these men, and of their forefathers and children, the
familiar face of generations.
"The pope's blessing, methinks, has fallen upon you," observed the
sculptor, looking at his friend.
In truth, Donatello's countenance indicated a healthier spirit than
while he was brooding in his melancholy tower. The change of scene,
the breaking up of custom, the fresh flow of incidents, the sense of
being homeless, and therefore free, had done something for our poor
Faun; these circumstances had at least promoted a reaction, which
might else have been slower in its progress. Then, no doubt, the
bright day, the gay spectacle of the market place, and the sympathetic
exhilaration of so many people's cheerfulness, had each their suitable
effect on a temper naturally prone to be glad. Perhaps, too, he was
magnetically conscious of a presence that formerly sufficed to make
him happy. Be the cause what it might, Donatello's eyes shone with a
serene and hopeful expression while looking upward at the bronze pope,
to whose widely diffused blessing, it may be, he attributed all this
"Yes, my dear friend," said he, in reply to the sculptor's remark," I
feel the blessing upon my spirit."
"It is wonderful," said Kenyon, with a smile, "wonderful and
delightful to think how long a good man's beneficence may be potent,
even after his death. How great, then, must have been the efficacy of
this excellent pontiff's blessing while he was alive!"
"I have heard," remarked the Count, "that there was a brazen image set
up in the wilderness, the sight of which healed the Israelites of
their poisonous and rankling wounds. If it be the Blessed Virgin's
pleasure, why should not this holy image before us do me equal good?
A wound has long been rankling in my soul, and filling it with poison."
"I did wrong to smile," answered Kenyon. "It is not for me to limit
Providence in its operations on man's spirit."
While they stood talking, the clock in the neighboring cathedral told
the hour, with twelve reverberating strokes, which it flung down upon
the crowded market place, as if warning one and all to take advantage
of the bronze pontiff's benediction, or of Heaven's blessing, however
proffered, before the opportunity were lost.
"High noon," said the sculptor. "It is Miriam's hour!"
THE BRONZE PONTIFF'S BENEDICTION
When the last of the twelve strokes had fallen from the cathedral
clock, Kenyon threw his eyes over the busy scene of the market place,
expecting to discern Miriam somewhere in the 'crowd. He looked next
towards the cathedral itself, where it was reasonable to imagine that
she might have taken shelter, while awaiting her appointed time.
Seeing no trace of her in either direction, his eyes came back from
their quest somewhat disappointed, and rested on a figure which was
leaning, like Donatello and himself, on the iron balustrade that
surrounded the statue. Only a moment before, they two had been alone.
It was the figure of a woman, with her head bowed on her hands, as if
she deeply felt--what we have been endeavoring to convey into our
feeble description--the benign and awe-inspiring influence which the
pontiff's statue exercises upon a sensitive spectator. No matter
though it were modelled for a Catholic chief priest, the desolate
heart, whatever be its religion, recognizes in that image the likeness
of a father.
"Miriam," said the sculptor, with a tremor in his voice, "is it
"It is I," she replied; "I am faithful to my engagement, though with
many fears." She lifted her head, and revealed to Kenyon--revealed to
Donatello likewise--the well-remembered features of Miriam. They were
pale and worn, but distinguished even now, though less gorgeously, by
a beauty that might be imagined bright enough to glimmer with its own
light in a dim cathedral aisle, and had no need to shrink from the
severer test of the mid-day sun. But she seemed tremulous, and hardly
able to go through with a scene which at a distance she had found
courage to undertake.
"You are most welcome, Miriam!" said the sculptor, seeking to afford
her the encouragement which he saw she so greatly required. "I have a
hopeful trust that the result of this interview will be propitious.
Come; let me lead you to Donatello."
"No, Kenyon, no!" whispered Miriam, shrinking back; "unless of his own
accord he speaks my name,--unless he bids me stay,--no word shall ever
pass between him and me. It is not that I take upon me to be proud at
this late hour. Among other feminine qualities, I threw away my pride
when Hilda cast me off."
"If not pride, what else restrains you?" Kenyon asked, a little angry
at her unseasonable scruples, and also at this half-complaining
reference to Hilda's just severity. "After daring so much, it is no
time for fear! If we let him part from you without a word, your
opportunity of doing him inestimable good is lost forever."
"True; it will be lost forever!" repeated Miriam sadly. "But, dear
friend, will it be my fault? I willingly fling my woman's pride at
his feet. But--do you not see?--his heart must be left freely to its
own decision whether to recognize me, because on his voluntary choice
depends the whole question whether my devotion will do him good or
harm. Except he feel an infinite need of me, I am a burden and fatal
obstruction to him!"
"Take your own course, then, Miriam," said Kenyon; "and, doubtless,
the crisis being what it is, your spirit is better instructed for its
emergencies than mine."
While the foregoing words passed between them they had withdrawn a
little from the immediate vicinity of the statue, so as to be out of
Donatello's hearing. Still, however, they were beneath the pontiff's
outstretched hand; and Miriam, with her beauty and her sorrow, looked
up into his benignant face, as if she had come thither for his pardon
and paternal affection, and despaired of so vast a boon.
Meanwhile, she had not stood thus long in the public square of Perugia,
without attracting the observation of many eyes. With their quick
sense of beauty, these Italians had recognized her loveliness, and
spared not to take their fill of gazing at it; though their native
gentleness and courtesy made their homage far less obtrusive than that
of Germans, French, or Anglo-Saxons might have been. It is not
improbable that Miriam had planned this momentous interview, on so
public a spot and at high noon, with an eye to the sort of protection
that would be thrown over it by a multitude of eye-witnesses. In
circumstances of profound feeling and passion, there is often a sense
that too great a seclusion cannot be endured; there is an indefinite
dread of being quite alone with the object of our deepest interest.
The species of solitude that a crowd harbors within itself is felt to
be preferable, in certain conditions of the heart, to the remoteness
of a desert or the depths of an untrodden wood. Hatred, love, or
whatever kind of too intense emotion, or even indifference, where
emotion has once been, instinctively seeks to interpose some barrier
between itself and the corresponding passion in another breast. This,
we suspect, was what Miriam had thought of, in coming to the thronged
piazza; partly this, and partly, as she said, her superstition that
the benign statue held good influences in store.
But Donatello remained leaning against the balustrade. She dared not
glance towards him, to see whether he were pale and agitated, or calm
as ice. Only, she knew that the moments were fleetly lapsing away,
and that his heart must call her soon, or the voice would never reach
her. She turned quite away from him and spoke again to the sculptor.
"I have wished to meet you," said she, "for more than one reason.
News has come to me respecting a dear friend of ours. Nay, not of
mine! I dare not call her a friend of mine, though once the dearest."
"Do you speak of Hilda?" exclaimed Kenyon, with quick alarm. "Has
anything befallen her? When I last heard of her, she was still in
Rome, and well."
"Hilda remains in Rome," replied Miriam, "nor is she ill as regards
physical health, though much depressed in spirits. She lives quite
alone in her dove-cote; not a friend near her, not one in Rome, which,
you know, is deserted by all but its native inhabitants. I fear for
her health, if she continue long in such solitude, with despondency
preying on her mind. I tell you this, knowing the interest which the
rare beauty of her character has awakened in you."
"I will go to Rome!" said the sculptor, in great emotion. "Hilda has
never allowed me to manifest more than a friendly regard; but, at
least, she cannot prevent my watching over her at a humble distance.
I will set out this very hour."
"Do not leave us now!" whispered Miriam imploringly, and laying her
hand on his arm. "One moment more! Ah; he has no word for me!"
"Miriam!" said Donatello.
Though but a single word, and the first that he had spoken, its tone
was a warrant of the sad and tender depth from which it came. It told
Miriam things of infinite importance, and, first of all, that he still
loved her. The sense of their mutual crime had stunned, but not
destroyed, the vitality of his affection; it was therefore
indestructible. That tone, too, bespoke an altered and deepened
character; it told of a vivified intellect, and of spiritual
instruction that had come through sorrow and remorse; so that instead
of the wild boy, the thing of sportive, animal nature, the sylvan Faun,
here was now the man of feeling and intelligence.
She turned towards him, while his voice still reverberated in the
depths of her soul.
"You have called me!" said she.
"Because my deepest heart has need of you!" he replied. "Forgive,
Miriam, the coldness, the hardness with which I parted from you! I
was bewildered with strange horror and gloom."
"Alas! and it was I that brought it on you," said she. "What
repentance, what self-sacrifice, can atone for that infinite wrong?
There was something so sacred in the innocent and joyous life which
you were leading! A happy person is such an unaccustomed and holy
creature in this sad world! And, encountering so rare a being, and
gifted with the power of sympathy with his sunny life, it was my doom,
mine, to bring him within the limits of sinful, sorrowful mortality!
Bid me depart, Donatello! Fling me off! No good, through my agency,
can follow upon such a mighty evil!"
"Miriam," said he, "our lot lies together. Is it not so? Tell me, in
Heaven's name, if it be otherwise."
Donatello's conscience was evidently perplexed with doubt, whether the
communion of a crime, such as they two were jointly stained with,
ought not to stifle all the instinctive motions of their hearts,
impelling them one towards the other. Miriam, on the other hand,
remorsefully questioned with herself whether the misery, already
accruing from her influence, should not warn her to withdraw from his
path. In this momentous interview, therefore, two souls were groping
for each other in the darkness of guilt and sorrow, and hardly were
bold enough to grasp the cold hands that they found.
The sculptor stood watching the scene with earnest sympathy.
"It seems irreverent," said he, at length; "intrusive, if not
irreverent, for a third person to thrust himself between the two
solely concerned in a crisis like the present. Yet, possibly as a
bystander, though a deeply interested one, I may discern somewhat of
truth that is hidden from you both; nay, at least interpret or suggest
some ideas which you might not so readily convey to each other."
"Speak!" said Miriam. "We confide in you." "Speak!" said Donatello.
"You are true and upright."
"I well know," rejoined Kenyon, "that I shall not succeed in uttering
the few, deep words which, in this matter, as in all others, include
the absolute truth. But here, Miriam, is one whom a terrible
misfortune has begun to educate; it has taken him, and through your
agency, out of a wild and happy state, which, within circumscribed
limits, gave him joys that he cannot elsewhere find on earth. On his
behalf, you have incurred a responsibility which you cannot fling
aside. And here, Donatello, is one whom Providence marks out as
intimately connected with your destiny. The mysterious process, by
which our earthly life instructs us for another state of being, was
begun for you by her. She has rich gifts of heart and mind, a
suggestive power, a magnetic influence, a sympathetic knowledge, which,
wisely and religiously exercised, are what your condition needs. She
possesses what you require, and, with utter self devotion, will use it
for your good. The bond betwixt you, therefore, is a true one, and
never--except by Heaven's own act--should be rent asunder."
"Ah; he has spoken the truth!" cried Donatello, grasping Miriam's hand.
"The very truth, dear friend," cried Miriam.
"But take heed," resumed the sculptor, anxious not to violate the
integrity of his own conscience, "take heed; for you love one another,
and yet your bond is twined with such black threads that you must
never look upon it as identical with the ties that unite other loving
souls. It is for mutual support; it is for one another's final good;
it is for effort, for sacrifice, but not for earthly happiness. If
such be your motive, believe me, friends, it were better to relinquish
each other's hands at this sad moment. There would be no holy
sanction on your wedded life."
"None," said Donatello, shuddering. "We know it well."
"None," repeated Miriam, also shuddering. "United--miserably
entangled with me, rather--by a bond of guilt, our union might be for
eternity, indeed, and most intimate;--but, through all that endless
duration, I should be conscious of his horror."
"Not for earthly bliss, therefore," said Kenyon, "but for mutual
elevation, and encouragement towards a severe and painful life, you
take each other's hands. And if, out of toil, sacrifice, prayer,
penitence, and earnest effort towards right things, there comes at
length a sombre and thoughtful, happiness, taste it, and thank Heaven!
So that you live not for it,--so that it be a wayside flower,
springing along a path that leads to higher ends,--it will be Heaven's
gracious gift, and a token that it recognizes your union here below."
"Have you no more to say?" asked Miriam earnestly. "There is matter
of sorrow and lofty consolation strangely mingled in your words."
"Only this, dear Miriam," said the sculptor; "if ever in your lives
the highest duty should require from either of you the sacrifice of
the other, meet the occasion without shrinking. This is all."
While Kenyon spoke, Donatello had evidently taken in the ideas which
he propounded, and had ennobled them by the sincerity of his reception.
His aspect unconsciously assumed a dignity, which, elevating his
former beauty, accorded with the change that had long been taking
place in his interior self. He was a man, revolving grave and deep
thoughts in his breast. He still held Miriam's hand; and there they
stood, the beautiful man, the beautiful woman, united forever, as they
felt, in the presence of these thousand eye-witnesses, who gazed so
curiously at the unintelligible scene. Doubtless the crowd recognized
them as lovers, and fancied this a betrothal that was destined to
result in lifelong happiness. And possibly it might be so. Who can
tell where happiness may come; or where, though an expected guest, it
may never show its face? Perhaps--shy, subtle thing--it had crept
into this sad marriage bond, when the partners would have trembled at
its presence as a crime.
"Farewell!" said Kenyon; "I go to Rome."
"Farewell, true friend!" said Miriam.
"Farewell!" said Donatello too. "May you be happy. You have no guilt
to make you shrink from happiness."
At this moment it so chanced that all the three friends by one impulse
glanced upward at the statue of Pope Julius; and there was the
majestic figure stretching out the hand of benediction over them, and
bending down upon this guilty and repentant pair its visage of grand
benignity. There is a singular effect oftentimes when, out
of the midst of engrossing thought and deep absorption, we suddenly
look up, and catch a glimpse of external objects. We seem at such
moments to look farther and deeper into them, than by any premeditated
observation; it is as if they met our eyes alive, and with all their
hidden meaning on the surface, but grew again inanimate and
inscrutable the instant that they became aware of our glances. So now,
at that unexpected glimpse, Miriam, Donatello, and the sculptor, all
three imagined that they beheld the bronze pontiff endowed with
spiritual life. A blessing was felt descending upon them from his
outstretched hand; he approved by look and gesture the pledge of a
deep union that had passed under his auspices.
When we have once known Rome, and left her where she lies, like a
long-decaying corpse, retaining a trace of the noble shape it was, but
with accumulated dust and a fungous growth overspreading all its more
admirable features, left her in utter weariness, no doubt, of her
narrow, crooked, intricate streets, so uncomfortably paved with little
squares of lava that to tread over them is a penitential pilgrimage,
so indescribably ugly, moreover, so cold, so alley-like, into which
the sun never falls, and where a chill wind forces its deadly breath
into our lungs,--left her, tired of the sight of those immense
seven-storied, yellow-washed hovels, or call them palaces, where all
that is dreary in domestic life seems magnified and multiplied, and
weary of climbing those staircases, which ascend from a ground-floor
of cook shops, cobblers' stalls, stables, and regiments of cavalry, to
a middle region of princes, cardinals, and ambassadors, and an upper
tier of artists, just beneath the unattainable sky,--left her, worn
out with shivering at the cheerless and smoky fireside by day, and
feasting with our own substance the ravenous little populace of a
Roman bed at night,--left her, sick at heart of Italian trickery,
which has uprooted whatever faith in man's integrity had endured till
now, and sick at stomach of sour bread, sour wine, rancid butter, and
bad cookery, needlessly bestowed on evil meats,--left her, disgusted
with the pretence of holiness and the reality of nastiness, each
equally omnipresent,--left her, half lifeless from the languid
atmosphere, the vital principle of which has been used up long ago, or
corrupted by myriads of slaughters,--left her, crushed down in spirit
with the desolation of her ruin, and the hopelessness of her future,
--left her, in short, hating her with all our might, and adding our
individual curse to the infinite anathema which her old crimes have
unmistakably brought down,--when we have left Rome in such mood as
this, we are astonished by the discovery, by and by, that our
heart-strings have mysteriously attached themselves to the Eternal
City, and are drawing us thitherward again, as if it were more
familiar, more intimately our home, than even the spot where we were
It is with a kindred sentiment, that we now follow the course of our
story back through the Flaminian Gate, and, treading our way to the
Via Portoghese, climb the staircase to the upper chamber of the tower
where we last saw Hilda.
Hilda all along intended to pass the summer in Rome; for she had laid
out many high and delightful tasks, which she could the better
complete while her favorite haunts were deserted by the multitude that
thronged them throughout the winter and early spring. Nor did she
dread the summer atmosphere, although generally held to be so
pestilential. She had already made trial of it, two years before, and
found no worse effect than a kind of dreamy languor, which was
dissipated by the first cool breezes that came with autumn. The
thickly populated centre of the city, indeed, is never affected by the
feverish influence that lies in wait in the Campagna, like a besieging
foe, and nightly haunts those beautiful lawns and woodlands, around
the suburban villas, just at the season when they most resemble
Paradise. What the flaming sword was to the first Eden, such is the
malaria to these sweet gardens and grove. We may wander through them,
of an afternoon, it is true, but they cannot be made a home and a
reality, and to sleep among them is death. They are but illusions,
therefore, like the show of gleaming waters and shadowy foliage in a
But Rome, within the walls, at this dreaded season, enjoys its festal
days, and makes itself merry with characteristic and hereditary
pas-times, for which its broad piazzas afford abundant room. It leads
its own life with a freer spirit, now that the artists and foreign
visitors are scattered abroad. No bloom, perhaps, would be visible in
a cheek that should be unvisited, throughout the summer, by more
invigorating winds than any within fifty miles of the city; no bloom,
but yet, if the mind kept its healthy energy, a subdued and colorless
well-being. There was consequently little risk in Hilda's purpose to
pass the summer days in the galleries of Roman palaces, and her nights
in that aerial chamber, whither the heavy breath of the city and its
suburbs could not aspire. It would probably harm her no more than it
did the white doves, who sought the same high atmosphere at sunset,
and, when morning came, flew down into the narrow streets, about their
daily business, as Hilda likewise did.
With the Virgin's aid and blessing, which might be hoped for even by a
heretic, who so religiously lit the lamp before her shrine, the New
England girl would sleep securely in her old Roman tower, and go forth
on her pictorial pilgrimages without dread or peril. In view of such
a summer, Hilda had anticipated many months of lonely, but unalloyed
enjoyment. Not that she had a churlish disinclination to society, or
needed to be told that we taste one intellectual pleasure twice, and
with double the result, when we taste it with a friend. But, keeping
a maiden heart within her bosom, she rejoiced in the freedom that
enabled her still to choose her own sphere, and dwell in it, if she
pleased, without another inmate.
Her expectation, however, of a delightful summer was woefully
disappointed. Even had she formed no previous plan of remaining there,
it is improbable that Hilda would have gathered energy to stir from
Rome. A torpor, heretofore unknown to her vivacious though quiet
temperament, had possessed itself of the poor girl, like a half-dead
serpent knotting its cold, inextricable wreaths about her limbs. It
was that peculiar despair, that chill and heavy misery, which only the
innocent can experience, although it possesses many of the gloomy
characteristics that mark a sense of guilt. It was that heartsickness,
which, it is to be hoped, we may all of us have been pure enough to
feel, once in our lives, but the capacity for which is usually
exhausted early, and perhaps with a single agony. It was that dismal
certainty of the existence of evil in the world, which, though we may
fancy ourselves fully assured of the sad mystery long before, never
becomes a portion of our practical belief until it takes substance and
reality from the sin of some guide, whom we have deeply trusted and
revered, or some friend whom we have dearly loved.
When that knowledge comes, it is as if a cloud had suddenly gathered
over the morning light; so dark a cloud, that there seems to be no
longer any sunshine behind it or above it. The character of our
individual beloved one having invested itself with all the attributes
of right,--that one friend being to us the symbol and representative
of whatever is good and true,--when he falls, the effect is almost as
if the sky fell with him, bringing down in chaotic ruin the columns
that upheld our faith. We struggle forth again, no doubt, bruised and
bewildered. We stare wildly about us, and discover--or, it may be, we
never make the discovery--that it was not actually the sky that has
tumbled down, but merely a frail structure of our own rearing, which
never rose higher than the housetops, and has fallen because we
founded it on nothing. But the crash, and the affright and trouble,
are as overwhelming, for the time, as if the catastrophe involved the
whole moral world. Remembering these things, let them suggest one
generous motive for walking heedfully amid the defilement of earthly
ways! Let us reflect, that the highest path is pointed out by the
pure Ideal of those who look up to us, and who, if we tread less
loftily, may never look so high again.
Hilda's situation was made infinitely more wretched by the necessity
of Confining all her trouble within her own consciousness. To this
innocent girl, holding the knowledge of Miriam's crime within her
tender and delicate soul, the effect was almost the same as if she
herself had participated in the guilt. Indeed, partaking the human
nature of those who could perpetrate such deeds, she felt her own
Had there been but a single friend,--or not a friend, since friends
were no longer to be confided in, after Miriam had betrayed her trust,
--but, had there been any calm, wise mind, any sympathizing
intelligence; or, if not these, any dull, half-listening ear into
which she might have flung the dreadful secret, as into an echoless
cavern, what a relief would have ensued! But this awful loneliness!
It enveloped her whithersoever she went. It was a shadow in the
sunshine of festal days; a mist between her eyes and the pictures at
which she strove to look; a chill dungeon, which kept her in its gray
twilight and fed her with its unwholesome air, fit only for a criminal
to breathe and pine in! She could not escape from it. In the effort
to do so, straying farther into the intricate passages of our nature,
she stumbled, ever and again, over this deadly idea of mortal guilt.
Poor sufferer for another's sin! Poor wellspring of a virgin's heart,
into which a murdered corpse had casually fallen, and whence it could
not be drawn forth again, but lay there, day after day, night after
night, tainting its sweet atmosphere with the scent of crime and ugly
The strange sorrow that had befallen Hilda did not fail to impress its
mysterious seal upon her face, and to make itself perceptible to
sensitive observers in her manner and carriage. A young Italian
artist, who frequented the same galleries which Hilda haunted, grew
deeply interested in her expression. One day, while she stood before
Leonardo da Vinci's picture of Joanna of Aragon, but evidently without
seeing it,--for, though it had attracted her eyes, a fancied
resemblance to Miriam had immediately drawn away her thoughts,--this
artist drew a hasty sketch which he afterwards elaborated into a
finished portrait. It represented Hilda as gazing with sad and
earnest horror at a bloodspot which she seemed just then to have
discovered on her white robe. The picture attracted considerable
notice. Copies of an engraving from it may still be found in the
print shops along the Corso. By many connoisseurs, the idea of the
face was supposed to have been suggested by the portrait of Beatrice
Cenci; and, in fact, there was a look somewhat similar to poor
Beatrice's forlorn gaze out of the dreary isolation and remoteness, in
which a terrible doom had involved a tender soul. But the modern
artist strenuously upheld the originality of his own picture, as well
as the stainless purity its subject, and chose to call it--and was
laughed at for his pains--"Innocence, dying of a Blood-stain!"
"Your picture, Signore Panini, does you credit," remarked the picture
dealer, who had bought it of the young man for fifteen scudi, and
afterwards sold it for ten times the sum; "but it would be worth a
better price if you had given it a more intelligible title. Looking
at the face and expression of this fair signorina, we seem to
comprehend readily enough, that she is undergoing one or another of
those troubles of the heart to which young ladies are but too liable.
But what is this blood-stain? And what has innocence to do with it?
Has she stabbed her perfidious lover with a bodkin?"
"She! she commit a crime!" cried the young artist. "Can you look at
the innocent anguish in her face, and ask that question? No; but, as
I read the mystery, a man has been slain in her presence, and the
blood, spurting accidentally on her white robe, has made a stain which
eats into her life."
"Then, in the name of her patron saint," exclaimed the picture dealer,
"why don't she get the robe made white again at the expense of a few
baiocchi to her washerwoman? No, no, my dear Panini. The picture
being now my property, I shall call it 'The Signorina's Vengeance.'
She has stabbed her lover overnight, and is repenting it betimes the
next morning. So interpreted, the picture becomes an intelligible and
very natural representation of a not uncommon fact."
Thus coarsely does the world translate all finer griefs that meet its
eye. It is more a coarse world than an unkind one.
But Hilda sought nothing either from the world's delicacy or its pity,
and never dreamed of its misinterpretations. Her doves often flew in
through the windows of the tower, winged messengers, bringing her what
sympathy they could, and uttering soft, tender, and complaining sounds,
deep in their bosoms, which soothed the girl more than a distincter
utterance might. And sometimes Hilda moaned quietly among the doves,
teaching her voice to accord with theirs, and thus finding a temporary
relief from the burden of her incommunicable sorrow, as if a little
portion of it, at least, had been told to these innocent friends, and
been understood and pitied.
When she trimmed the lamp before the Virgin's shrine, Hilda gazed at
the sacred image, and, rude as was the workmanship, beheld, or fancied,
expressed with the quaint, powerful simplicity which sculptors
sometimes had five hundred years ago, a woman's tenderness responding
to her gaze. If she knelt, if she prayed, if her oppressed heart
besought the sympathy of divine womanhood afar in bliss, but not
remote, because forever humanized by the memory of mortal griefs, was
Hilda to be blamed? It was not a Catholic kneeling at an idolatrous
shrine, but a child lifting its tear-stained face to seek comfort from
THE EMPTINESS OF PICTURE GALLERIES
Hilda descended, day by day, from her dove-cote, and went to one or
another of the great old palaces,--the Pamfili Doria, the Corsini, the
Sciarra, the Borghese, the Colonna,--where the doorkeepers knew her
well, and offered her a kindly greeting. But they shook their heads
and sighed, on observing the languid step with which the poor girl
toiled up the grand marble staircases. There was no more of that
cheery alacrity with which she used to flit upward, as if her doves
had lent her their wings, nor of that glow of happy spirits which had
been wont to set the tarnished gilding of the picture frames and the
shabby splendor of the furniture all a-glimmer, as she hastened to her
congenial and delightful toil.
An old German artist, whom she often met in the galleries, once laid a
paternal hand on Hilda's head, and bade her go back to her own country.
"Go back soon," he said, with kindly freedom and directness, "or you
will go never more. And, if you go not, why, at least, do you spend
the whole summer-time in Rome? The air has been breathed too often,
in so many thousand years, and is not wholesome for a little foreign
flower like you, my child, a delicate wood-anemone from the western
"I have no task nor duty anywhere but here," replied Hilda. "The old
masters will not set me free!"
"Ah, those old masters!" cried the veteran artist, shaking his head.
"They are a tyrannous race! You will find them of too mighty a spirit
to be dealt with, for long together, by the slender hand, the fragile
mind, and the delicate heart, of a young girl. Remember that
Raphael's genius wore out that divinest painter before half his life
was lived. Since you feel his influence powerfully enough to
reproduce his miracles so well, it will assuredly consume you like a