Part 4 out of 5
This inquiry, in the identical words which Donatello had so recently
addressed to him from beneath the penitent's mask, startled the
sculptor. Either the previous disquietude of his mind, or some tone
in Miriam's voice, or the unaccountableness of beholding her there at
all, made it seem ominous.
"All is well, I believe," answered he doubtfully. "I am aware of no
misfortune. Have you any to announce'?"
He looked still more earnestly at Miriam, and felt a dreamy
uncertainty whether it was really herself to whom he spoke. True;
there were those beautiful features, the contour of which he had
studied too often, and with a sculptor's accuracy of perception, to be
in any doubt that it was Miriam's identical face. But he was
conscious of a change, the nature of which he could not satisfactorily
define; it might be merely her dress, which, imperfect as the light
was, he saw to be richer than the simple garb that she had usually
worn. The effect, he fancied, was partly owing to a gem which she had
on her bosom; not a diamond, but something that glimmered with a clear,
red lustre, like the stars in a southern sky. Somehow or other, this
colored light seemed an emanation of herself, as if all that was
passionate and glowing in her native disposition had crystallized upon
her breast, and were just now scintillating more brilliantly than ever,
in sympathy with some emotion of her heart.
Of course there could be no real doubt that it was Miriam, his artist
friend, with whom and Hilda he had spent so many pleasant and familiar
hours, and whom he had last seen at Perugia, bending with Donatello
beneath the bronze pope's benediction. It must be that selfsame
Miriam; but the sensitive sculptor felt a difference of manner, which
impressed him more than he conceived it possible to be affected by so
external a thing. He remembered the gossip so prevalent in Rome on
Miriam's first appearance; how that she was no real artist, but the
daughter of an illustrious or golden lineage, who was merely playing
at necessity; mingling with human struggle for her pastime; stepping
out of her native sphere only for an interlude, just as a princess
might alight from her gilded equipage to go on foot through a rustic
lane. And now, after a mask in which love and death had performed
their several parts, she had resumed her proper character.
"Have you anything to tell me?" cried he impatiently; for nothing
causes a more disagreeable vibration of the nerves than this
perception of ambiguousness in familiar persons or affairs. "Speak;
for my spirits and patience have been much tried to-day."
Miriam put her finger on her lips, and seemed desirous that Kenyon
should know of the presence of a third person. He now saw, indeed,
that, there was some one beside her in the carriage, hitherto
concealed by her attitude; a man, it appeared, with a sallow Italian
face, which the sculptor distinguished but imperfectly, and did not
"I can tell you nothing," she replied; and leaning towards him, she
whispered,--appearing then more like the Miriam whom he knew than in
what had before passed,--"Only, when the lamp goes out do not despair."
The carriage drove on, leaving Kenyon to muse over this unsatisfactory
interview, which seemed to have served no better purpose than to fill
his mind with more ominous forebodings than before. Why were
Donatello and Miriam in Rome, where both, in all likelihood, might
have much to dread? And why had one and the other addressed him with
a question that seemed prompted by a knowledge of some calamity,
either already fallen on his unconscious head, or impending closely
"I am sluggish," muttered Kenyon, to himself; "a weak, nerveless fool,
devoid of energy and promptitude; or neither Donatello nor Miriam
could have escaped me thus! They are aware of some misfortune that
concerns me deeply. How soon am I to know it too?"
There seemed but a single calamity possible to happen within so narrow
a sphere as that with which the sculptor was connected; and even to
that one mode of evil he could assign no definite shape, but only felt
that it must have some reference to Hilda.
Flinging aside the morbid hesitation, and the dallyings with his own
wishes, which he had permitted to influence his mind throughout the
day, he now hastened to the Via Portoghese. Soon the old palace stood
before him, with its massive tower rising into the clouded night;
obscured from view at its midmost elevation, but revealed again,
higher upward, by the Virgin's lamp that twinkled on the summit.
Feeble as it was, in the broad, surrounding gloom, that little ray
made no inconsiderable illumination among Kenyon's sombre thoughts;
for; remembering Miriam's last words, a fantasy had seized him that he
should find the sacred lamp extinguished.
And even while he stood gazing, as a mariner at the star in which he
put his trust, the light quivered, sank, gleamed up again, and finally
went out, leaving the battlements of Hilda's tower in utter darkness.
For the first time in centuries, the consecrated and legendary flame
before the loftiest shrine in Rome had ceased to burn.
THE DESERTED SHRINE
Kenyon knew the sanctity which Hilda (faithful Protestant, and
daughter of the Puritans, as the girl was) imputed to this shrine. He
was aware of the profound feeling of responsibility, as well earthly
as religious, with which her conscience had been impressed, when she
became the occupant of her aerial chamber, and undertook the task of
keeping the consecrated lamp alight. There was an accuracy and a
certainty about Hilda's movements, as regarded all matters that lay
deep enough to have their roots in right or wrong, which made it as
possible and safe to rely upon the timely and careful trimming of this
lamp (if she were in life, and able to creep up the steps), as upon
the rising of to-morrow's sun, with lustre-undiminished from to-day.
The sculptor could scarcely believe his eyes, therefore, when he saw
the flame flicker and expire. His sight had surely deceived him. And
now, since the light did not reappear, there must be some smoke wreath
or impenetrable mist brooding about the tower's gray old head, and
obscuring it from the lower world. But no! For right over the dim
battlements, as the wind chased away a mass of clouds, he beheld a
star, and moreover, by an earnest concentration of his sight, was soon
able to discern even the darkened shrine itself. There was no
obscurity around the tower; no infirmity of his own vision. The flame
had exhausted its supply of oil, and become extinct. But where was
A man in a cloak happened to be passing; and Kenyon--anxious to
distrust the testimony of his senses, if he could get more acceptable
evidence on the other side--appealed to him.
"Do me the favor, Signore," said he, "to look at the top of yonder
tower, and tell me whether you see the lamp burning at the Virgin's
"The lamp, Signore?" answered the man, without at first troubling
himself to look up. "The lamp that has burned these four hundred
years! How is it possible, Signore, that it should not be burning
now?" "But look!" said the sculptor impatiently. With good-natured
indulgence for what he seemed to consider as the whim of an eccentric
Forestiero, the Italian carelessly threw his eyes upwards; but, as
soon as he perceived that there was really no light, he lifted his
hands with a vivid expression of wonder and alarm.
"The lamp is extinguished!" cried he. "The lamp that has been burning
these four hundred years! This surely must portend some great
misfortune; and, by my advice, Signore, you will hasten hence, lest
the tower tumble on our heads. A priest once told me that, if the
Virgin withdrew her blessing and the light went out, the old Palazzo
del Torte would sink into the earth, with all that dwell in it. There
will be a terrible crash before morning!"
The stranger made the best of his way from the doomed premises; while
Kenyon--who would willingly have seen the tower crumble down before
his eyes, on condition of Hilda's safety--determined, late as it was,
to attempt ascertaining if she were in her dove-cote.
Passing through the arched entrance,--which, as is often the case with
Roman entrances, was as accessible at midnight as at noon,--he groped
his way to the broad staircase, and, lighting his wax taper, went
glimmering up the multitude of steps that led to Hilda's door. The
hour being so unseasonable, he intended merely to knock, and, as soon
as her voice from within should reassure him, to retire, keeping his
explanations and apologies for a fitter time. Accordingly, reaching
the lofty height where the maiden, as he trusted, lay asleep, with
angels watching over her, though the Virgin seemed to have suspended
her care, he tapped lightly at the door panels,--then knocked more
forcibly,--then thundered an impatient summons. No answer came; Hilda,
evidently, was not there.
After assuring himself that this must be the fact, Kenyon descended
the stairs, but made a pause at every successive stage, and knocked at
the door of its apartment, regardless whose slumbers he might disturb,
in his anxiety to learn where the girl had last been seen. But, at
each closed entrance, there came those hollow echoes, which a chamber,
or any dwelling, great or small, never sends out, in response to human
knuckles or iron hammer, as long as there is life within to keep its
heart from getting dreary.
Once indeed, on the lower landing-place, the sculptor fancied that
there was a momentary stir inside the door, as if somebody were
listening at the threshold. He hoped, at least, that the small
iron-barred aperture would be unclosed, through which Roman
housekeepers are wont to take careful cognizance of applicants for
admission, from a traditionary dread, perhaps, of letting in a robber
or assassin. But it remained shut; neither was the sound repeated;
and Kenyon concluded that his excited nerves had played a trick upon
his senses, as they are apt to do when we most wish for the clear
evidence of the latter.
There was nothing to be done, save to go heavily away, and await
whatever good or ill to-morrow's daylight might disclose.
Betimes in the morning, therefore, Kenyon went back to the Via
Portoghese, before the slant rays of the sun had descended halfway
down the gray front of Hilda's tower. As he drew near its base, he
saw the doves perched in full session, on the sunny height of the
battlements, and a pair of them--who were probably their mistress's
especial pets, and the confidants of her bosom secrets, if Hilda had
any--came shooting down, and made a feint of alighting on his shoulder.
But, though they evidently recognized him, their shyness would not
yet allow so decided a demonstration. Kenyon's eyes followed them as
they flew upward, hoping that they might have come as joyful
messengers of the girl's safety, and that he should discern her
slender form, half hidden by the parapet, trimming the extinguished
lamp at the Virgin's shrine, just as other maidens set about the
little duties of a household. Or, perhaps, he might see her gentle
and sweet face smiling down upon him, midway towards heaven, as if she
had flown thither for a day or two, just to visit her kindred, but had
been drawn earthward again by the spell of unacknowledged love.
But his eyes were blessed by no such fair vision or reality; nor, in
truth, were the eager, unquiet flutterings of the doves indicative of
any joyful intelligence, which they longed to share with Hilda's
friend, but of anxious inquiries that they knew not how to utter.
They could not tell, any more than he, whither their lost companion
had withdrawn herself, but were in the same void despondency with him,
feeling their sunny and airy lives darkened and grown imperfect, now
that her sweet society was taken out of it.
In the brisk morning air, Kenyon found it much easier to pursue his
researches than at the preceding midnight, when, if any slumberers
heard the clamor that he made, they had responded only with sullen and
drowsy maledictions, and turned to sleep again. It must be a very
dear and intimate reality for which people will be content to give up
a dream. When the sun was fairly up, however, it was quite another
thing. The heterogeneous population, inhabiting the lower floor of
the old tower, and the other extensive regions of the palace, were now
willing to tell all they knew, and imagine a great deal more. The
amiability of these Italians, assisted by their sharp and nimble wits,
caused them to overflow with plausible suggestions, and to be very
bounteous in their avowals of interest for the lost Hilda. In a less
demonstrative people, such expressions would have implied an eagerness
to search land and sea, and never rest till she were found. In the
mouths that uttered them they meant good wishes, and were, so far,
better than indifference. There was little doubt that many of them
felt a genuine kindness for the shy, brown-haired, delicate young
foreign maiden, who had flown from some distant land to alight upon
their tower, where she consorted only with the doves. But their
energy expended itself in exclamation, and they were content to leave
all more active measures to Kenyon, and to the Virgin, whose affair it
was to see that the faithful votary of her lamp received no harm.
In a great Parisian domicile, multifarious as its inhabitants might be,
the concierge under the archway would be cognizant of all their
incomings and issuings forth. But except in rare cases, the general
entrance and main staircase of a Roman house are left as free as the
street, of which they form a sort of by-lane. The sculptor, therefore,
could hope to find information about Hilda's movements only from
On probing the knowledge of these people to the bottom, there was
various testimony as to the period when the girl had last been seen.
Some said that it was four days since there had been a trace of her;
but an English lady, in the second piano of the palace, was rather of
opinion that she had met her, the morning before, with a drawing-book
in her hand. Having no acquaintance with the young person, she had
taken little notice and might have been mistaken. A count, on the
piano next above, was very certain that he had lifted his hat to Hilda,
under the archway, two afternoons ago. An old woman, who had
formerly tended the shrine, threw some light upon the matter, by
testifying that the lamp required to be replenished once, at least, in
three days, though its reservoir of oil was exceedingly capacious.
On the whole, though there was other evidence enough to create some
perplexity, Kenyon could not satisfy himself that she had been visible
since the afternoon of the third preceding day, when a fruit seller
remembered her coming out of the arched passage, with a sealed packet
in her hand. As nearly as he could ascertain, this was within an hour
after Hilda had taken leave of the sculptor at his own studio, with
the understanding that they were to meet at the Vatican the next day.
Two nights, therefore, had intervened, during which the lost maiden
was unaccounted for.
The door of Hilda's apartments was still locked, as on the preceding
night; but Kenyon sought out the wife of the person who sublet them,
and prevailed on her to give him admittance by means of the duplicate
key which the good woman had in her possession. On entering, the
maidenly neatness and simple grace, recognizable in all the
arrangements, made him visibly sensible that this was the daily haunt
of a pure soul, in whom religion and the love of beauty were at one.
Thence, the sturdy Roman matron led the sculptor across a narrow
passage, and threw open the door of a small chamber, on the threshold
of which he reverently paused. Within, there was a bed, covered with
white drapery, enclosed with snowy curtains like a tent, and of barely
width enough for a slender figure to repose upon it. The sight of
this cool, airy, and secluded bower caused the lover's heart to stir
as if enough of Hilda's gentle dreams were lingering there to make him
happy for a single instant. But then came the closer consciousness of
her loss, bringing along with it a sharp sting of anguish.
"Behold, Signore," said the matron; "here is the little staircase by
which the signorina used to ascend and trim the Blessed Virgin's lamp.
She was worthy to be a Catholic, such pains the good child bestowed
to keep it burning; and doubtless the Blessed Mary will intercede for
her, in consideration of her pious offices, heretic though she was.
What will become of the old palazzo, now that the lamp is extinguished,
the saints above us only know! Will you mount, Signore, to the
battlements, and see if she have left any trace of herself there?"
The sculptor stepped across the chamber and ascended the little
staircase, which gave him access to the breezy summit of the tower.
It affected him inexpressibly to see a bouquet of beautiful flowers
beneath the shrine, and to recognize in them an offering of his own to
Hilda, who had put them in a vase of water, and dedicated them to the
Virgin, in a spirit partly fanciful, perhaps, but still partaking of
the religious sentiment which so profoundly influenced her character.
One rosebud, indeed, she had selected for herself from the rich mass
of flowers; for Kenyon well remembered recognizing it in her bosom
when he last saw her at his studio.
"That little part of my great love she took," said he to himself.
"The remainder she would have devoted to Heaven; but has left it
withering in the sun and wind. Ah! Hilda, Hilda, had you given me a
right to watch over you, this evil had not come!"
"Be not downcast, signorino mio," said the Roman matron, in response
to the deep sigh which struggled out of Kenyon's breast. "The dear
little maiden, as we see, has decked yonder blessed shrine as devoutly
as I myself, or any Other good Catholic woman, could have done. It is
a religious act, and has more than the efficacy of a prayer. The
signorina will as surely come back as the sun will fall through the
window to-morrow no less than to-day. Her own doves have often been
missing for a day or two, but they were sure to come fluttering about
her head again, when she least expected them. So will it be with this
"It might be so," thought Kenyon, with yearning anxiety, "if a pure
maiden were as safe as a dove, in this evil world of ours."
As they returned through the studio, with the furniture and
arrangements of which the sculptor was familiar, he missed a small
ebony writing-desk that he remembered as having always been placed on
a table there. He knew that it was Hilda's custom to deposit her
letters in this desk, as well as other little objects of which she
wished to be specially careful.
"What has become of it?" he suddenly inquired, laying his hand on the
"Become of what, pray?" exclaimed the woman, a little disturbed.
"Does the Signore suspect a robbery, then?"
"The signorina's writing-desk is gone," replied Kenyon; "it always
stood on this table, and I myself saw it there only a few days ago."
"Ah, well!" said the woman, recovering her composure, which she seemed
partly to have lost. "The signorina has doubtless taken it away with
her. The fact is of good omen; for it proves that she did not go
unexpectedly, and is likely to return when it may best suit her
"This is very singular," observed Kenyon. "Have the rooms been
entered by yourself, or any other person, since the signorina's
"Not by me, Signore, so help me Heaven and the saints!" said the
matron. "And I question whether there are more than two keys in Rome
that will suit this strange old lock. Here is one; and as for the
other, the signorina carlies it in her pocket."
The sculptor had no reason to doubt the word of this respectable dame.
She appeared to be well meaning and kind hearted, as Roman matrons
generally are; except when a fit of passion incites them to shower
horrible curses on an obnoxious individual, or perhaps to stab him
with the steel stiletto that serves them for a hairpin. But Italian
asseverations of any questionable fact, however true they may chance
to be, have no witness of their truth in the faces of those who utter
them. Their words are spoken with strange earnestness, and yet do not
vouch for themselves as coming from any depth, like roots drawn out of
the substance of the soul, with some of the soil clinging to them.
There is always a something inscrutable, instead of frankness, in
their eyes. In short, they lie so much like truth, and speak truth so
much as if they were telling a lie, that their auditor suspects
himself in the wrong, whether he believes or disbelieves them; it
being the one thing certain, that falsehood is seldom an intolerable
burden to the tenderest of Italian consciences.
"It is very strange what can have become of the desk!" repeated Kenyon,
looking the woman in the face.
"Very strange, indeed, Signore," she replied meekly, without turning
away her eyes in the least, but checking his insight of them at about
half an inch below the surface. "I think the signorina must have
taken it with her."
It seemed idle to linger here any longer. Kenyon therefore departed,
after making an arrangement with the woman, by the terms of which she
was to allow the apartments to remain in their present state, on his
assuming the responsibility for the rent.
He spent the day in making such further search and investigation as he
found practicable; and, though at first trammelled by an unwillingness
to draw public attention to Hilda's affairs, the urgency of the
circumstances soon compelled him to be thoroughly in earnest. In the
course of a week, he tried all conceivable modes of fathoming the
mystery, not merely by his personal efforts and those of his brother
artists and friends, but through the police, who readily undertook the
task, and expressed strong confidence of success. But the Roman
police has very little efficiency, except in the interest of the
despotism of which it is a tool. With their cocked hats, shoulder
belts, and swords, they wear a sufficiently imposing aspect, and
doubtless keep their eyes open wide enough to track a political
offender, but are too often blind to private outrage, be it murder or
any lesser crime. Kenyon counted little upon their assistance, and
profited by it not at all.
Remembering the mystic words which Miriam had addressed to him, he was
anxious to meet her, but knew not whither she had gone, nor how to
obtain an interview either with herself or Donatello. The days wore
away, and still there were no tidings of the lost one; no lamp
rekindled before the Virgin's shrine; no light shining into the
lover's heart; no star of Hope--he was ready to say, as he turned his
eyes almost reproachfully upward--in heaven itself!
THE FLIGHT OF HILDA'S DOVES
Along with the lamp on Hilda's tower, the sculptor now felt that a
light had gone out, or, at least, was ominously obscured, to which he
owed whatever cheerfulness had heretofore illuminated his cold,
artistic life. The idea of this girl had been like a taper of virgin
wax, burning with a pure and steady flame, and chasing away the evil
spirits out of the magic circle of its beams. It had darted its rays
afar, and modified the whole sphere in which Kenyon had his being.
Beholding it no more, he at once found himself in darkness and astray.
This was the time, perhaps, when Kenyon first became sensible what a
dreary city is Rome, and what a terrible weight is there imposed on
human life, when any gloom within the heart corresponds to the spell
of ruin that has been thrown over the site of ancient empire. He
wandered, as it were, and stumbled over the fallen columns, and among
the tombs, and groped his way into the sepulchral darkness of the
catacombs, and found no path emerging from them. The happy may well
enough continue to be such, beneath the brilliant sky of Rome. But,
if you go thither in melancholy mood, if you go with a ruin in your
heart, or with a vacant site there, where once stood the airy fabric
of happiness, now vanished,--all the ponderous gloom of the Roman Past
will pile itself upon that spot, and crush you down as with the
heaped-up marble and granite, the earth-mounds, and multitudinous
bricks of its material decay.
It might be supposed that a melancholy man would here make
acquaintance with a grim philosophy. He should learn to bear
patiently his individual griefs, that endure only for one little
lifetime, when here are the tokens of such infinite misfortune on an
imperial scale, and when so many far landmarks of time, all around him,
are bringing the remoteness of a thousand years ago into the sphere
of yesterday. But it is in vain that you seek this shrub of bitter
sweetness among the plants that root themselves on the roughness of
massive walls, or trail downward from the capitals of pillars, or
spring out of the green turf in the palace of the Caesars. It does
not grow in Rome; not even among the five hundred various weeds which
deck the grassy arches of the Coliseum. You look through a vista of
century beyond century,--through much shadow, and a little sunshine,
--through barbarism and civilization, alternating with one another
like actors that have prearranged their parts: through a broad pathway
of progressive generations bordered by palaces and temples, and
bestridden by old, triumphal arches, until, in the distance, you
behold the obelisks, with their unintelligible inscriptions, hinting
at a past infinitely more remote than history can define. Your own
life is as nothing, when compared with that immeasurable distance; but
still you demand, none the less earnestly, a gleam of sunshine,
instead of a speck of shadow, on the step or two that will bring you
to your quiet rest.
How exceedingly absurd! All men, from the date of the earliest
obelisk,--and of the whole world, moreover, since that far epoch, and
before,--have made a similar demand, and seldom had their wish. If
they had it, what are they the better now? But, even while you taunt
yourself with this sad lesson, your heart cries out obstreperously for
its small share of earthly happiness, and will not be appeased by the
myriads of dead hopes that lie crushed into the soil of Rome. How
wonderful that this our narrow foothold of the Present should hold its
own so constantly, and, while every moment changing, should still be
like a rock betwixt the encountering tides of the long Past and the
Man of marble though he was, the sculptor grieved for the Irrevocable.
Looking back upon Hilda's way of life, he marvelled at his own blind
stupidity, which had kept him from remonstrating as a friend, if with
no stronger right against the risks that she continually encountered.
Being so innocent, she had no means of estimating those risks, nor
even a possibility of suspecting their existence. But he--who had
spent years in Rome, with a man's far wider scope of observation and
experience--knew things that made him shudder. It seemed to Kenyon,
looking through the darkly colored medium of his fears, that all modes
of crime were crowded into the close intricacy of Roman streets, and
that there was no redeeming element, such as exists in other dissolute
and wicked cities.
For here was a priesthood, pampered, sensual, with red and bloated
cheeks, and carnal eyes. With apparently a grosser development of
animal life than most men, they were placed in an unnatural relation
with woman, and thereby lost the healthy, human conscience that
pertains to other human beings, who own the sweet household ties
connecting them with wife and daughter. And here was an indolent
nobility, with no high aims or opportunities, but cultivating a
vicious way of life, as if it were an art, and the only one which they
cared to learn. Here was a population, high and low, that had no
genuine belief in virtue; and if they recognized any act as criminal,
they might throw off all care, remorse, and memory of it, by kneeling
a little while at the confessional, and rising unburdened, active,
elastic, and incited by fresh appetite for the next ensuing sin. Here
was a soldiery who felt Rome to be their conquered city, and doubtless
considered themselves the legal inheritors of the foul license which
Gaul, Goth, and Vandal have here exercised in days gone by.
And what localities for new crime existed in those guilty sites, where
the crime of departed ages used to be at home, and had its long,
hereditary haunt! What street in Rome, what ancient ruin, what one
place where man had standing-room, what fallen stone was there,
unstained with one or another kind of guilt! In some of the
vicissitudes of the city's pride or its calamity, the dark tide of
human evil had swelled over it, far higher than the Tiber ever rose
against the acclivities of the seven hills. To Kenyon's morbid view,
there appeared to be a contagious element, rising fog-like from the
ancient depravity of Rome, and brooding over the dead and half-rotten
city, as nowhere else on earth. It prolonged the tendency to crime,
and developed an instantaneous growth of it, whenever an opportunity
was found; And where could it be found so readily as here! In those
vast palaces, there were a hundred remote nooks where Innocence might
shriek in vain. Beneath meaner houses there were unsuspected dungeons
that had once been princely chambers, and open to the daylight; but,
on account of some wickedness there perpetrated, each passing age had
thrown its handful of dust upon the spot, and buried it from sight.
Only ruffians knew of its existence, and kept it for murder, and worse
Such was the city through which Hilda, for three years past, had been
wandering without a protector or a guide. She had trodden lightly
over the crumble of old crimes; she had taken her way amid the grime
and corruption which Paganism had left there, and a perverted
Christianity had made more noisome; walking saint-like through it all,
with white, innocent feet; until, in some dark pitfall that lay right
across her path, she had vanished out of sight. It was terrible to
imagine what hideous outrage might have thrust her into that abyss!
Then the lover tried to comfort himself with the idea that Hilda's
sanctity was a sufficient safeguard. Ah, yes; she was so pure! The
angels, that were of the same sisterhood, would never let Hilda come
to harm. A miracle would be wrought on her behalf, as naturally as a
father would stretch out his hand to save a best-beloved child.
Providence would keep a little area and atmosphere about her as safe
and wholesome as heaven itself, although the flood of perilous
iniquity might hem her round, and its black waves hang curling above
her head! But these reflections were of slight avail. No doubt they
were the religious truth. Yet the ways of Providence are utterly
inscrutable; and many a murder has been done, and many an innocent
virgin has lifted her white arms, beseeching its aid in her extremity,
and all in vain; so that, though Providence is infinitely good and
wise, and perhaps for that very reason, it may be half an eternity
before the great circle of its scheme shall bring us the superabundant
recompense for all these sorrows! But what the lover asked was such
prompt consolation as might consist with the brief span of mortal life;
the assurance of Hilda's present safety, and her restoration within
that very hour.
An imaginative man, he suffered the penalty of his endowment in the
hundred-fold variety of gloomily tinted scenes that it presented to
him, in which Hilda was always a central figure. The sculptor forgot
his marble. Rome ceased to be anything, for him, but a labyrinth of
dismal streets, in one or another of which the lost girl had
disappeared. He was haunted with the idea that some circumstance,
most important to be known, and perhaps easily discoverable, had
hitherto been overlooked, and that, if he could lay hold of this one
clew, it would guide him directly in the track of Hilda's footsteps.
With this purpose in view, he went, every morning, to the Via
Portoghese, and made it the starting-point of fresh investigations.
After nightfall, too, he invariably returned thither, with a faint
hope fluttering at his heart that the lamp might again be shining on
the summit of the tower, and would dispel this ugly mystery out of the
circle consecrated by its rays. There being no point of which he
could take firm hold, his mind was filled with unsubstantial hopes and
fears. Once Kenyon had seemed to cut his life in marble; now he
vaguely clutched at it, and found it vapor.
In his unstrung and despondent mood, one trifling circumstance
affected him with an idle pang. The doves had at first been faithful
to their lost mistress. They failed not to sit in a row upon her
window-sill, or to alight on the shrine, or the church-angels, and on
the roofs and portals of the neighboring houses, in evident
expectation of her reappearance. After the second week, however, they
began to take flight, and dropping off by pairs, betook themselves to
other dove-cotes. Only a single dove remained, and brooded drearily
beneath the shrine. The flock that had departed were like the many
hopes that had vanished from Kenyon's heart; the one that still
lingered, and looked so wretched,--was it a Hope, or already a
In the street, one day, the sculptor met a priest of mild and
venerable aspect; and as his mind dwelt continually upon Hilda, and
was especially active in bringing up all incidents that had ever been
connected with her, it immediately struck him that this was the very
father with whom he had seen her at the confessional. Such trust did
Hilda inspire in him, that Kenyon had never asked what was the subject
of the communication between herself and this old priest. He had no
reason for imagining that it could have any relation with her
disappearance, so long subsequently; but, being thus brought face to
face with a personage, mysteriously associated, as he now remembered,
with her whom he had lost, an impulse ran before his thoughts and led
the sculptor to address him.
It might be that the reverend kindliness of the old man's expression
took Kenyon's heart by surprise; at all events, he spoke as if there
were a recognized acquaintanceship, and an object of mutual interest
"She has gone from me, father," said he.
"Of whom do you speak, my son?" inquired the priest.
"Of that sweet girl," answered Kenyon, "who knelt to you at the
confessional. Surely you remember her, among all the mortals to whose
confessions you have listened! For she alone could have had no sins
"Yes; I remember," said the priest, with a gleam of recollection in
his eyes. "She was made to bear a miraculous testimony to the
efficacy of the divine ordinances of the Church, by seizing forcibly
upon one of them, and finding immediate relief from it, heretic though
she was. It is my purpose to publish a brief narrative of this
miracle, for the edification of mankind, in Latin, Italian, and
English, from the printing press of the Propaganda. Poor child!
Setting apart her heresy, she was spotless, as you say. And is she
"Heaven forbid, father!" exclaimed Kenyon, shrinking back. "But she
has gone from me, I know not whither. It may be--yes, the idea seizes
upon my mind--that what she revealed to you will suggest some clew to
the mystery of her disappearance.'"
"None, my son, none," answered the priest, shaking his head;
"nevertheless, I bid you be of good cheer. That young maiden is not
doomed to die a heretic. Who knows what the Blessed Virgin may at
this moment be doing for her soul! Perhaps, when you next behold her,
she will be clad in the shining white robe of the true faith."
This latter suggestion did not convey all the comfort which the old
priest possibly intended by it; but he imparted it to the sculptor,
along with his blessing, as the two best things that he could bestow,
and said nothing further, except to bid him farewell.
When they had parted, however, the idea of Hilda's conversion to
Catholicism recurred to her lover's mind, bringing with it certain
reflections, that gave a new turn to his surmises about the mystery
into which she had vanished. Not that he seriously
apprehended--although the superabundance of her religious sentiment
might mislead her for a moment--that the New England girl would
permanently succumb to the scarlet superstitions which surrounded her
in Italy. But the incident of the confessional if known, as probably
it was, to the eager propagandists who prowl about for souls, as cats
to catch a mouse--would surely inspire the most confident expectations
of bringing her over to the faith. With so pious an end in view,
would Jesuitical morality be shocked at the thought of kidnapping the
mortal body, for the sake of the immortal spirit that might otherwise
be lost forever? Would not the kind old priest, himself, deem this to
be infinitely the kindest service that he could perform for the stray
lamb, who had so strangely sought his aid?
If these suppositions were well founded, Hilda was most likely a
prisoner in one of the religious establishments that are so numerous
in Rome. The idea, according to the aspect in which it was viewed,
brought now a degree of comfort, and now an additional perplexity. On
the one hand, Hilda was safe from any but spiritual assaults; on the
other, where was the possibility of breaking through all those barred
portals, and searching a thousand convent cells, to set her free?
Kenyon, however, as it happened, was prevented from endeavoring to
follow out this surmise, which only the state of hopeless uncertainty,
that almost bewildered his reason, could have led him for a moment to
entertain. A communication reached him by an unknown hand, in
consequence of which, and within an hour after receiving it, he took
his way through one of the gates of Rome.
A WALK ON THE CAMPAGNA
It was a bright forenoon of February; a month in which the brief
severity of a Roman winter is already past, and when violets and
daisies begin to show themselves in spots favored by the sun. The
sculptor came out of the city by the gate of San Sebastiano, and
walked briskly along the Appian Way.
For the space of a mile or two beyond the gate, this ancient and
famous road is as desolate and disagreeable as most of the other Roman
avenues. It extends over small, uncomfortable paving-stones, between
brick and plastered walls, which are very solidly constructed, and so
high as almost to exclude a view of the surrounding country. The
houses are of most uninviting aspect, neither picturesque, nor
homelike and social; they have seldom or never a door opening on the
wayside, but are accessible only from the rear, and frown inhospitably
upon the traveller through iron-grated windows. Here and there
appears a dreary inn or a wine-shop, designated by the withered bush
beside the entrance, within which you discern a stone-built and
sepulchral interior, where guests refresh themselves with sour bread
and goats'-milk cheese, washed down with wine of dolorous acerbity.
At frequent intervals along the roadside up-rises the ruin of an
ancient tomb. As they stand now, these structures are immensely high
and broken mounds of conglomerated brick, stone, pebbles, and earth,
all molten by time into a mass as solid and indestructible as if each
tomb were composed of a single boulder of granite. When first erected,
they were cased externally, no doubt, with slabs of polished marble,
artfully wrought bas-reliefs, and all such suitable adornments, and
were rendered majestically beautiful by grand architectural designs.
This antique splendor has long since been stolen from the dead, to
decorate the palaces and churches of the living. Nothing remains to
the dishonored sepulchres, except their massiveness.
Even the pyramids form hardly a stranger spectacle, or are more alien
from human sympathies, than the tombs of the Appian Way, with their
gigantic height, breadth, and solidity, defying time and the elements,
and far too mighty to be demolished by an ordinary earthquake. Here
you may see a modern dwelling, and a garden with its vines and
olive-trees, perched on the lofty dilapidation of a tomb, which forms
a precipice of fifty feet in depth on each of the four sides. There
is a home on that funereal mound, where generations of children have
been born, and successive lives been spent, undisturbed by the ghost
of the stern Roman whose ashes were so preposterously burdened. Other
sepulchres wear a crown of grass, shrubbery, and forest-trees, which
throw out a broad sweep of branches, having had time, twice over, to
be a thousand years of age. On one of them stands a tower, which,
though immemorially more modern than the tomb, was itself built by
immemorial hands, and is now rifted quite from top to bottom by a vast
fissure of decay; the tomb-hillock, its foundation, being still as
firm as ever, and likely to endure until the last trump shall rend it
wide asunder, and summon forth its unknown dead.
Yes; its unknown dead! For, except in one or two doubtful instances,
these mountainous sepulchral edifices have not availed to keep so much
as the bare name of an individual or a family from oblivion.
Ambitious of everlasting remembrance, as they were, the slumberers
might just as well have gone quietly to rest, each in his pigeon-hole
of a columbarium, or under his little green hillock in a graveyard,
without a headstone to mark the spot. It is rather satisfactory than
otherwise, to think that all these idle pains have turned out so
About two miles, or more, from the city gate, and right upon the
roadside, Kenyon passed an immense round pile, sepulchral in its
original purposes, like those already mentioned. It was built of
great blocks of hewn stone, on a vast, square foundation of rough,
agglomerated material, such as composes the mass of all the other
ruinous tombs. But whatever might be the cause, it was in a far
better state of preservation than they. On its broad summit rose the
battlements of a mediaeval fortress, out of the midst of which (so
long since had time begun to crumble the supplemental structure, and
cover it with soil, by means of wayside dust) grew trees, bushes, and
thick festoons of ivy. This tomb of a woman had become the citadel
and donjon-keep of a castle; and all the care that Cecilia Metella's
husband could bestow, to secure endless peace for her beloved relics,
had only sufficed to make that handful of precious ashes the nucleus
of battles, long ages after her death.
A little beyond this point, the sculptor turned aside from the Appian
Way, and directed his course across the Campagna, guided by tokens
that were obvious only to himself. On one side of him, but at a
distance, the Claudian aqueduct was striding over fields and
watercourses. Before him, many miles away, with a blue atmosphere
between, rose the Alban hills, brilliantly silvered with snow and
He was not without a companion. A buffalo-calf, that seemed shy and
sociable by the selfsame impulse, had begun to make acquaintance with
him, from the moment when he left the road. This frolicsome creature
gambolled along, now before, now behind; standing a moment to gaze at
him, with wild, curious eyes, he leaped aside and shook his shaggy
head, as Kenyon advanced too nigh; then, after loitering in the rear,
he came galloping up, like a charge of cavalry, but halted, all of a
sudden, when the sculptor turned to look, and bolted across the
Campagna at the slightest signal of nearer approach. The young,
sportive thing, Kenyon half fancied, was serving him as a guide, like
the heifer that led Cadmus to the site of his destined city; for, in
spite of a hundred vagaries, his general course was in the right
direction, and along by several objects which the sculptor had noted
as landmarks of his way.
In this natural intercourse with a rude and healthy form of animal
life, there was something that wonderfully revived Kenyon's spirits.
The warm rays of the sun, too, were wholesome for him in body and soul;
and so was a breeze that bestirred itself occasionally, as if for the
sole purpose of breathing upon his cheek and dying softly away, when
he would fain have felt a little more decided kiss. This shy but
loving breeze reminded him strangely of what Hilda's deportment had
sometimes been towards himself.
The weather had very much to do, no doubt, with these genial and
delightful sensations, that made the sculptor so happy with mere life,
in spite of a head and heart full of doleful thoughts, anxieties, and
fears, which ought in all reason to have depressed him. It was like
no weather that exists anywhere, save in Paradise and in Italy;
certainly not in America, where it is always too strenuous on the side
either of heat or cold. Young as the season was, and wintry, as it
would have been under a more rigid sky, it resembled summer rather
than what we New Englanders recognize in our idea of spring. But
there was an indescribable something, sweet, fresh, and remotely
affectionate, which the matronly summer loses, and which thrilled, and,
as it were, tickled Kenyon's heart with a feeling partly of the
senses, yet far more a spiritual delight. In a word, it was as if
Hilda's delicate breath were on his cheek.
After walking at a brisk pace for about half an hour, he reached a
spot where an excavation appeared to have been begun, at some not very
distant period. There was a hollow space in the earth, looking
exceedingly like a deserted cellar, being enclosed within old
subterranean walls, constructed of thin Roman bricks, and made
accessible by a narrow flight of stone steps. A suburban villa had
probably stood over this site, in the imperial days of Rome, and these
might have been the ruins of a bathroom, or some other apartment that
was required to be wholly or partly under ground. A spade can
scarcely be put into that soil, so rich in lost and forgotten things,
without hitting upon some discovery which would attract all eyes, in
any other land. If you dig but a little way, you gather bits of
precious marble, coins, rings, and engraved gems; if you go deeper,
you break into columbaria, or into sculptured and richly frescoed
apartments that look like festive halls, but were only sepulchres.
The sculptor descended into the cellar-like cavity, and sat down on a
block of stone. His eagerness had brought him thither sooner than the
appointed hour. The sunshine fell slantwise into the hollow, and
happened to be resting on what Kenyon at first took to be a shapeless
fragment of stone, possibly marble, which was partly concealed by the
crumbling down of earth.
But his practised eye was soon aware of something artistic in this
rude object. To relieve the anxious tedium of his situation, he
cleared away some of the soil, which seemed to have fallen very
recently, and discovered a headless figure of marble. It was earth
stained, as well it might be, and had a slightly corroded surface, but
at once impressed the sculptor as a Greek production, and wonderfully
delicate and beautiful. The head was gone; both arms were broken off
at the elbow. Protruding from the loose earth, however, Kenyon beheld
the fingers of a marble hand; it was still appended to its arm, and a
little further search enabled him to find the other. Placing these
limbs in what the nice adjustment of the fractures proved to be their
true position, the poor, fragmentary woman forthwith showed that she
retained her modest instincts to the last. She had perished with them,
and snatched them back at the moment of revival. For these
long-buried hands immediately disposed themselves in the manner that
nature prompts, as the antique artist knew, and as all the world has
seen, in the Venus de' Medici.
"What a discovery is here!" thought Kenyon to himself. "I seek for
Hilda, and find a marble woman! Is the omen good or ill?"
In a corner of the excavation lay a small round block of stone, much
incrusted with earth that had dried and hardened upon it. So, at
least, you would have described this object, until the sculptor lifted
it, turned it hither and thither in his hands, brushed off the
clinging soil, and finally placed it on the slender neck of the newly
discovered statue. The effect was magical. It immediately lighted up
and vivified the whole figure, endowing it with personality, soul, and
intelligence. The beautiful Idea at once asserted its immortality,
and converted that heap of forlorn fragments into a whole, as perfect
to the mind, if not to the eye, as when the new marble gleamed with
snowy lustre; nor was the impression marred by the earth that still
hung upon the exquisitely graceful limbs, and even filled the lovely
crevice of the lips. Kenyon cleared it away from between them, and
almost deemed himself rewarded with a living smile.
It was either the prototype or a better repetition of the Venus of the
Tribune. But those who have been dissatisfied with the small head,
the narrow, soulless face, the button-hole eyelids, of that famous
statue, and its mouth such as nature never moulded, should see the
genial breadth of this far nobler and sweeter countenance. It is one
of the few works of antique sculpture in which we recognize womanhood,
and that, moreover, without prejudice to its divinity.
Here, then, was a treasure for the sculptor to have found! How
happened it to be lying there, beside its grave of twenty centuries?
Why were not the tidings of its discovery already noised abroad? The
world was richer than yesterday, by something far more precious than
gold. Forgotten beauty had come back, as beautiful as ever; a goddess
had risen from her long slumber, and was a goddess still. Another
cabinet in the Vatican was destined to shine as lustrously as that of
the Apollo Belvedere; or, if the aged pope should resign his claim, an
emperor would woo this tender marble, and win her as proudly as an
Such were the thoughts with which Kenyon exaggerated to himself the
importance of the newly discovered statue, and strove to feel at least
a portion of the interest which this event would have inspired in him
a little while before. But, in reality, he found it difficult to fix
his mind upon the subject. He could hardly, we fear, be reckoned a
consummate artist, because there was something dearer to him than his
art; and, by the greater strength of a human affection, the divine
statue seemed to fall asunder again, and become only a heap of
While the sculptor sat listlessly gazing at it, there was a sound of
small hoofs, clumsily galloping on the Campagna; and soon his frisky
acquaintance, the buffalo-calf, came and peeped over the edge of the
excavation. Almost at the same moment he heard voices, which
approached nearer and nearer; a man's voice, and a feminine one,
talking the musical tongue of Italy. Besides the hairy visage of his
four footed friend, Kenyon now saw the figures of a peasant and a
contadina, making gestures of salutation to him, on the opposite verge
of the hollow space.
THE PEASANT AND CONTADINA
They descended into the excavation: a young peasant, in the short blue
jacket, the small-clothes buttoned at the knee, and buckled shoes,
that compose one of the ugliest dresses ever worn by man, except the
wearer's form have a grace which any garb, or the nudity of an antique
statue, would equally set off; and, hand in hand with him, a village
girl, in one of those brilliant costumes largely kindled up with
scarlet, and decorated with gold embroidery, in which the contadinas
array themselves on feast-days. But Kenyon was not deceived; he had
recognized the voices of his friends, indeed, even before their
disguised figures came between him and the sunlight. Donatello was
the peasant; the contadina, with the airy smile, half mirthful, though
it shone out of melancholy eyes,--was Miriam.
They both greeted the sculptor with a familiar kindness which reminded
him of the days when Hilda and they and he had lived so happily
together, before the mysterious adventure of the catacomb. What a
succession of sinister events had followed one spectral figure out of
that gloomy labyrinth.
"It is carnival time, you know," said Miriam, as if in explanation of
Donatello's and her own costume. "Do you remember how merrily we
spent the Carnival, last year?"
"It seems many years ago," replied Kenyon. We are all so changed!"
When individuals approach one another with deep purposes on both sides,
they seldom come at once to the matter which they have most at heart.
They dread the electric shock of a too sudden contact with it. A
natural impulse leads them to steal gradually onward, hiding
themselves, as it were, behind a closer, and still a closer topic,
until they stand face to face with the true point of interest. Miriam
was conscious of this impulse, and partially obeyed it.
"So your instincts as a sculptor have brought you into the presence of
our newly discovered statue," she observed. "Is it not beautiful? A
far truer image of immortal womanhood than the poor little damsel at
Florence, world famous though she be."
"Most beautiful," said Kenyon, casting an indifferent glance at the
Venus. "The time has been when the sight of this statue would have
been enough to make the day memorable."
"And will it not do so now?" Miriam asked.
"I fancied so, indeed, when we discovered it two days ago. It is
Donatello's prize. We were sitting here together, planning an
interview with you, when his keen eyes detected the fallen goddess,
almost entirely buried under that heap of earth, which the clumsy
excavators showered down upon her, I suppose. We congratulated
ourselves, chiefly for your sake. The eyes of us three are the only
ones to which she has yet revealed herself. Does it not frighten you
a little, like the apparition of a lovely woman that livid of old, and
has long lain in the grave?"
"Ah, Miriam! I cannot respond to you," said the sculptor, with
irrepressible impatience. "Imagination and the love of art have both
died out of me."
"Miriam," interposed Donatello with gentle gravity, "why should we
keep our friend in suspense? We know what anxiety he feels. Let us
give him what intelligence we can."
"You are so direct and immediate, my beloved friend!" answered Miriam
with an unquiet smile. "There are several reasons why I should like
to play round this matter a little while, and cover it with fanciful
thoughts, as we strew a grave with flowers."
"A grave!" exclaimed the sculptor.
"No grave in which your heart need be buried," she replied; "you have
no such calamity to dread. But I linger and hesitate, because every
word I speak brings me nearer to a crisis from which I shrink. Ah,
Donatello! let us live a little longer the life of these last few days!
It is so bright, so airy, so childlike, so without either past or
future! Here, on the wild Campagna, you seem to have found, both for
yourself and me, the life that belonged to you in early youth; the
sweet irresponsible life which you inherited from your mythic ancestry,
the Fauns of Monte Beni. Our stern and black reality will come upon
us speedily enough. But, first, a brief time more of this strange
"I dare not linger upon it," answered Donatello, with an expression
that reminded the sculptor of the gloomiest days of his remorse at
Monte Beni. "I dare to be so happy as you have seen me, only because
I have felt the time to be so brief."
"One day, then!" pleaded Miriam. "One more day in the wild freedom of
this sweet-scented air."
"Well, one more day," said Donatello, smiling; and his smile touched
Kenyon with a pathos beyond words, there being gayety and sadness both
melted into it; "but here is Hilda's friend, and our own. Comfort him,
at least, and set his heart at rest, since you have it partly in your
"Ah, surely he might endure his pangs a little longer!" cried Miriam,
turning to Kenyon with a tricksy, fitful kind of mirth, that served to
hide some solemn necessity, too sad and serious to be looked at in its
naked aspect. "You love us both, I think, and will be content to
suffer for our sakes, one other day. Do I ask too much?"
"Tell me of Hilda," replied the sculptor; "tell me only that she is
safe, and keep back what else you will."
"Hilda is safe," said Miriam. "There is a Providence purposely for
Hilda, as I remember to have told you long ago. But a great
trouble--an evil deed, let us acknowledge it has spread out its dark
branches so widely, that the shadow falls on innocence as well as
guilt. There was one slight link that connected your sweet Hilda with
a crime which it was her unhappy fortune to witness, but of which I
need not say she was as guiltless as the angels that looked out of
heaven, and saw it too. No matter, now, what the consequence has been.
You shall have your lost Hilda back, and--who knows?--perhaps
tenderer than she was."
"But when will she return?" persisted the sculptor; "tell me the when,
and where, and how!"
"A little patience. Do not press me so," said Miriam; and again
Kenyon was struck by the sprite-like, fitful characteristic of her
manner, and a sort of hysteric gayety, which seemed to be a
will-o'-the-wisp from a sorrow stagnant at her heart. "You have more
time to spare than I. First, listen to something that I have to tell.
We will talk of Hilda by and by."
Then Miriam spoke of her own life, and told facts that threw a gleam
of light over many things which had perplexed the sculptor in all his
previous knowledge of her. She described herself as springing from
English parentage, on the mother's side, but with a vein, likewise, of
Jewish blood; yet connected, through her father, with one of those few
princely families of Southern Italy, which still retain great wealth
and influence. And she revealed a name at which her auditor started
and grew pale; for it was one that, only a few years before, had been
familiar to the world in connection with a mysterious and terrible
event. The reader, if he think it worth while to recall some of the
strange incidents which have been talked of, and forgotten, within no
long time past, will remember Miriam's name.
"You shudder at me, I perceive," said Miriam, suddenly interrupting
"No; you were innocent," replied the sculptor. "I shudder at the
fatality that seems to haunt your footsteps, and throws a shadow of
crime about your path, you being guiltless."
"There was such a fatality," said Miriam; "yes; the shadow fell upon
me, innocent, but I went astray in it, and wandered--as Hilda could
tell you--into crime."
She went on to say that, while yet a child, she had lost her English
mother. From a very early period of her life, there had been a
contract of betrothal between herself and a certain marchese, the
representative of another branch of her paternal house,--a family
arrangement between two persons of disproportioned ages, and in which
feeling went for nothing. Most Italian girls of noble rank would have
yielded themselves to such a marriage as an affair of course. But
there was something in Miriam's blood, in her mixed race, in her
recollections of her mother,--some characteristic, finally, in her own
nature,--which had given her freedom of thought, and force of will,
and made this prearranged connection odious to her. Moreover, the
character of her destined husband would have been a sufficient and
insuperable objection; for it betrayed traits so evil, so treacherous,
so vile, and yet so strangely subtle, as could only be accounted for
by the insanity which often develops itself in old, close-kept races
of men, when long unmixed with newer blood. Reaching the age when the
marriage contract should have been fulfilled, Miriam had utterly
Some time afterwards had occurred that terrible event to which Miriam
had alluded when she revealed her name; an event, the frightful and
mysterious circumstances of which will recur to many minds, but of
which few or none can have found for themselves a satisfactory
explanation. It only concerns the present narrative, inasmuch as the
suspicion of being at least an accomplice in the crime fell darkly and
directly upon Miriam herself.
"But you know that I am innocent!" she cried, interrupting herself
again, and looking Kenyon in the face.
"I know it by my deepest consciousness," he answered; "and I know it
by Hilda's trust and entire affection, which you never could have won
had you been capable of guilt."
"That is sure ground, indeed, for pronouncing me innocent," said
Miriam, with the tears gushing into her eyes. "Yet I have since
become a horror to your saint-like Hilda, by a crime which she herself
saw me help to perpetrate!"
She proceeded with her story. The great influence of her family
connections had shielded her from some of the consequences of her
imputed guilt. But, in her despair, she had fled from home, and had
surrounded her flight with such circumstances as rendered it the most
probable conclusion that she had committed suicide. Miriam, however,
was not of the feeble nature which takes advantage of that obvious and
poor resource in earthly difficulties. She flung herself upon the
world, and speedily created a new sphere, in which Hilda's gentle
purity, the sculptor's sensibility, clear thought, and genius, and
Donatello's genial simplicity had given her almost her first
experience of happiness. Then came that ill-omened adventure of the
catacomb, The spectral figure which she encountered there was the evil
fate that had haunted her through life.
Looking back upon what had happened, Miriam observed, she now
considered him a madman. Insanity must have been mixed up with his
original composition, and developed by those very acts of depravity
which it suggested, and still more intensified, by the remorse that
ultimately followed them. Nothing was stranger in his dark career
than the penitence which often seemed to go hand in hand with crime.
Since his death she had ascertained that it finally led him to a
convent, where his severe and self-inflicted penance had even acquired
him the reputation of unusual sanctity, and had been the cause of his
enjoying greater freedom than is commonly allowed to monks.
"Need I tell you more?" asked Miriam, after proceeding thus far. "It
is still a dim and dreary mystery, a gloomy twilight into which I
guide you; but possibly you may catch a glimpse of much that I myself
can explain only by conjecture. At all events, you can comprehend
what my situation must have been, after that fatal interview in the
catacomb. My persecutor had gone thither for penance, but followed me
forth with fresh impulses to crime. He had me in his power. Mad as
he was, and wicked as he was, with one word he could have blasted me
in the belief of all the world. In your belief too, and Hilda's!
Even Donatello would have shrunk from me with horror!"
"Never," said Donatello, "my instinct would have known you innocent."
"Hilda and Donatello and myself,--we three would have acquitted you,"
said Kenyon, "let the world say what it might. Ah, Miriam, you should
have told us this sad story sooner!"
"I thought often of revealing it to you," answered Miriam; "on one
occasion, especially,--it was after you had shown me your Cleopatra;
it seemed to leap out of my heart, and got as far as my very lips.
But finding you cold to accept my confidence, I thrust it back again.
Had I obeyed my first impulse, all would have turned out differently."
"And Hilda!" resumed the sculptor. "What can have been her connection
with these dark incidents?"
"She will, doubtless, tell you with her own lips," replied Miriam.
"Through sources of information which I possess in Rome, I can assure
you of her safety. In two days more--by the help of the special
Providence that, as I love to tell you, watches over Hilda--she shall
"Still two days morel" murmured the sculptor.
"Ah, you are cruel now! More cruel than you know!" exclaimed Miriam,
with another gleam of that fantastic, fitful gayety, which had more
than once marked her manner during this interview. "Spare your poor
"I know not what you mean, Miriam," said Kenyon.
"No matter," she replied; "you will understand hereafter. But could
you think it? Here is Donatello haunted with strange remorse, and an
unmitigable resolve to obtain what he deems justice upon himself. He
fancies, with a kind of direct simplicity, which I have vainly tried
to combat, that, when a wrong has been done, the doer is bound to
submit himself to whatsoever tribunal takes cognizance of such things,
and abide its judgment. I have assured him that there is no such
thing as earthly justice, and especially none here, under the head of
"We will not argue the point again," said Donatello, smiling. "I have
no head for argument, but only a sense, an impulse, an instinct, I
believe, which sometimes leads me right. But why do we talk now of
what may make us sorrowful? There are still two days more. Let us be
It appeared to Kenyon that since he last saw Donatello, some of the
sweet and delightful characteristics of the antique Faun had returned
to him. There were slight, careless graces, pleasant and simple
peculiarities, that had been obliterated by the heavy grief through
which he was passing at Monte Beni, and out of which he had hardly
emerged when the sculptor parted with Miriam and him beneath the
bronze pontiffs outstretched hand. These happy blossoms had now
reappeared. A playfulness came out of his heart, and glimmered like
firelight in his actions, alternating, or even closely intermingled,
with profound sympathy and serious thought.
"Is he not beautiful?" said Miriam, watching the sculptor's eye as it
dwelt admiringly on Donatello. "So changed, yet still, in a deeper
sense, so much the same! He has travelled in a circle, as all things
heavenly and earthly do, and now comes back to his original self, with
an inestimable treasure of improvement won from an experience of pain.
How wonderful is this! I tremble at my own thoughts, yet must needs
probe them to their depths. Was the crime--in which he and I were
wedded--was it a blessing, in that strange disguise? Was it a means
of education, bringing a simple and imperfect nature to a point of
feeling and intelligence which it could have reached under no other
"You stir up deep and perilous matter, Miriam," replied Kenyon. "I
dare not follow you into the unfathomable abysses whither you are
"Yet there is a pleasure in them! I delight to brood on the verge of
this great mystery," returned she. "The story of the fall of man! Is
it not repeated in our romance of Monte Beni? And may we follow the
analogy yet further? Was that very sin,--into which Adam precipitated
himself and all his race, was it the destined means by which, over a
long pathway of toil and sorrow, we are to attain a higher, brighter,
and profounder happiness, than our lost birthright gave? Will not
this idea account for the permitted existence of sin, as no other
"It is too dangerous, Miriam! I cannot follow you!" repeated the
sculptor. "Mortal man has no right to tread on the ground where you
now set your feet."
"Ask Hilda what she thinks of it," said Miriam, with a thoughtful
smile. "At least, she might conclude that sin--which man chose
instead of good--has been so beneficently handled by omniscience and
omnipotence, that, whereas our dark enemy sought to destroy us by it,
it has really become an instrument most effective in the education of
intellect and soul."
Miriam paused a little longer among these meditations, which the
sculptor rightly felt to be so perilous; she then pressed his hand, in
token of farewell.
"The day after to-morrow," said she, "an hour before sunset, go to the
Corso, and stand in front of the fifth house on your left, beyond the
Antonine column. You will learn tidings of a friend."
Kenyon would have besought her for more definite intelligence, but she
shook her head, put her finger on her lips, and turned away with an
illusive smile. The fancy impressed him that she too, like Donatello,
had reached a wayside paradise, in their mysterious life journey,
where they both threw down the burden of the before and after, and,
except for this interview with himself, were happy in the flitting
moment. To-day Donatello was the sylvan Faun; to-day Miriam was his
fit companion, a Nymph of grove or fountain; to-morrow--a remorseful
man and woman, linked by a marriage bond of crime--they would set
forth towards an inevitable goal.
A SCENE IN THE CORSO
On the appointed afternoon, Kenyon failed not to make his appearance
in the Corso, and at an hour much earlier than Miriam had named.
It was carnival time. The merriment of this famous festival was in
full progress; and the stately avenue of the Corso was peopled with
hundreds of fantastic shapes, some of which probably represented the
mirth of ancient times, surviving through all manner of calamity, ever
since the days of the Roman Empire. For a few afternoons of early
spring, this mouldy gayety strays into the sunshine; all the remainder
of the year, it seems to be shut up in the catacombs or some other
sepulchral storehouse of the past.
Besides these hereditary forms, at which a hundred generations have
laughed, there were others of modern date, the humorous effluence of
the day that was now passing. It is a day, however, and an age, that
appears to be remarkably barren, when compared with the prolific
originality of former times, in productions of a scenic and ceremonial
character, whether grave or gay. To own the truth, the Carnival is
alive, this present year, only because it has existed through
centuries gone by. It is traditionary, not actual. If decrepit and
melancholy Rome smiles, and laughs broadly, indeed, at carnival time,
it is not in the old simplicity of real mirth, but with a
half-conscious effort, like our self-deceptive pretence of jollity at
a threadbare joke. Whatever it may once have been, it is now but a
narrow stream of merriment, noisy of set purpose, running along the
middle of the Corso, through the solemn heart of the decayed city,
without extending its shallow influence on either side. Nor, even
within its own limits, does it affect the mass of spectators, but only
a comparatively few, in street and balcony, who carry on the warfare
of nosegays and counterfeit sugar plums. The populace look on with
staid composure; the nobility and priesthood take little or no part in
the matter; and, but for the hordes of Anglo-Saxons who annually take
up the flagging mirth, the Carnival might long ago have been swept
away, with the snowdrifts of confetti that whiten all the pavement.
No doubt, however, the worn-out festival is still new to the youthful
and light hearted, who make the worn-out world itself as fresh as Adam
found it on his first forenoon in Paradise. It may be only age and
care that chill the life out of its grotesque and airy riot, with the
impertinence of their cold criticism.
Kenyon, though young, had care enough within his breast to render the
Carnival the emptiest of mockeries. Contrasting the stern anxiety of
his present mood with the frolic spirit of the preceding year, he
fancied that so much trouble had, at all events, brought wisdom in its
train. But there is a wisdom that looks grave, and sneers at
merriment; and again a deeper wisdom, that stoops to be gay as often
as occasion serves, and oftenest avails itself of shallow and trifling
grounds of mirth; because, if we wait for more substantial ones, we
seldom can be gay at all. Therefore, had it been possible, Kenyon
would have done well to mask himself in some wild, hairy visage, and
plunge into the throng of other maskers, as at the Carnival before.
Then Donatello had danced along the Corso in all the equipment of a
Faun, doing the part with wonderful felicity of execution, and
revealing furry ears, which looked absolutely real; and Miriam had
been alternately a lady of the antique regime, in powder and brocade,
and the prettiest peasant girl of the Campagna, in the gayest of
costumes; while Hilda, sitting demurely in a balcony, had hit the
sculptor with a single rosebud,--so sweet and fresh a bud that he knew
at once whose hand had flung it.
These were all gone; all those dear friends whose sympathetic mirth
had made him gay. Kenyon felt as if an interval of many years had
passed since the last Carnival. He had grown old, the nimble jollity
was tame, and the maskers dull and heavy; the Corso was but a narrow
and shabby street of decaying palaces; and even the long, blue
streamer of Italian sky, above it, not half so brightly blue as
Yet, if he could have beheld the scene with his clear, natural
eyesight, he might still have found both merriment and splendor in it.
Everywhere, and all day long, there had been tokens of the festival,
in the baskets brimming over with bouquets, for sale at the street
corners, or borne about on people's heads; while bushels upon bushels
of variously colored confetti were displayed, looking just like
veritable sugar plums; so that a stranger would have imagined that the
whole commerce and business of stern old Rome lay in flowers and
sweets. And now, in the sunny afternoon, there could hardly be a
spectacle more picturesque than the vista of that noble street,
stretching into the interminable distance between two rows of lofty
edifices, from every window of which, and many a balcony, flaunted gay
and gorgeous carpets, bright silks, scarlet cloths with rich golden
fringes, and Gobelin tapestry, still lustrous with varied hues, though
the product of antique looms. Each separate palace had put on a gala
dress, and looked festive for the occasion, whatever sad or guilty
secret it might hide within. Every window, moreover, was alive with
the faces of women, rosy girls, and children, all kindled into brisk
and mirthful expression, by the incidents in the street below. In the
balconies that projected along the palace fronts stood groups of
ladies, some beautiful, all richly dressed, scattering forth their
laughter, shrill, yet sweet, and the musical babble of their voices,
to thicken into an airy tumult over the heads of common mortals.
All these innumerable eyes looked down into the street, the whole
capacity of which was thronged with festal figures, in such fantastic
variety that it had taken centuries to contrive them; and through the
midst of the mad, merry stream of human life rolled slowly onward a
never-ending procession of all the vehicles in Rome, from the ducal
carriage, with the powdered coachman high in front, and the three
golden lackeys clinging in the rear, down to the rustic cart drawn by
its single donkey. Among this various crowd, at windows and in
balconies, in cart, cab, barouche, or gorgeous equipage, or bustling
to and fro afoot, there was a sympathy of nonsense; a true and genial
brotherhood and sisterhood, based on the honest purpose--and a wise
one, too--of being foolish, all together. The sport of mankind, like
its deepest earnest, is a battle; so these festive people fought one
another with an ammunition of sugar plums and flowers.
Not that they were veritable sugar plums, however, but something that
resembled them only as the apples of Sodom look like better fruit.
They were concocted mostly of lime, with a grain of oat, or some other
worthless kernel, in the midst. Besides the hailstorm of confetti,
the combatants threw handfuls of flour or lime into the air, where it
hung like smoke over a battlefield, or, descending, whitened a black
coat or priestly robe, and made the curly locks of youth irreverently
At the same time with this acrid contest of quicklime, which caused
much effusion of tears from suffering eyes, a gentler warfare of
flowers was carried on, principally between knights and ladies.
Originally, no doubt, when this pretty custom was first instituted, it
may have had a sincere and modest import. Each youth and damsel,
gathering bouquets of field flowers, or the sweetest and fairest that
grew in their own gardens, all fresh and virgin blossoms, flung them
with true aim at the one, or few, whom they regarded with a sentiment
of shy partiality at least, if not with love. Often, the lover in the
Corso may thus have received from his bright mistress, in her father's
princely balcony, the first sweet intimation that his passionate
glances had not struck against a heart of marble. What more
appropriate mode of suggesting her tender secret could a maiden find
than by the soft hit of a rosebud against a young man's cheek?
This was the pastime and the earnest of a more innocent and homelier
age. Nowadays the nosegays are gathered and tied up by sordid hands,
chiefly of the most ordinary flowers, and are sold along the Corso, at
mean price, yet more than such Venal things are worth. Buying a
basketful, you find them miserably wilted, as if they had flown hither
and thither through two or three carnival days already; muddy, too,
having been fished up from the pavement, where a hundred feet have
trampled on them. You may see throngs of men and boys who thrust
themselves beneath the horses' hoofs to gather up bouquets that were
aimed amiss from balcony and carriage; these they sell again, and yet
once more, and ten times over, defiled as they all are with the wicked
filth of Rome.
Such are the flowery favors--the fragrant bunches of sentiment--that
fly between cavalier and dame, and back again, from one end of the
Corso to the other. Perhaps they may symbolize, more aptly than was
intended, the poor, battered, wilted hearts of those who fling them;
hearts which--crumpled and crushed by former possessors, and stained
with various mishap--have been passed from hand to hand along the
muddy street-way of life, instead of being treasured in one faithful
These venal and polluted flowers, therefore, and those deceptive
bonbons, are types of the small reality that still subsists in the
observance of the Carnival. Yet the government seemed to imagine that
there might be excitement enough,--wild mirth, perchance, following
its antics beyond law, and frisking from frolic into earnest,--to
render it expedient to guard the Corso with an imposing show of
military power. Besides the ordinary force of gendarmes, a strong
patrol of papal dragoons, in steel helmets and white cloaks, were
stationed at all the street corners. Detachments of French infantry
stood by their stacked muskets in the Piazza del Popolo, at one
extremity of the course, and before the palace of the Austrian embassy,
at the other, and by the column of Antoninus, midway between. Had
that chained tiger-cat, the Roman populace, shown only so much as the
tip of his claws, the sabres would have been flashing and the bullets
whistling, in right earnest, among the combatants who now pelted one
another with mock sugar plums and wilted flowers.
But, to do the Roman people justice, they were restrained by a better
safeguard than the sabre or the bayonet; it was their own gentle
courtesy, which imparted a sort of sacredness to the hereditary
festival. At first sight of a spectacle so fantastic and extravagant,
a cool observer might have imagined the whole town gone mad; but, in
the end, he would see that all this apparently unbounded license is
kept strictly within a limit of its own; he would admire a people who
can so freely let loose their mirthful propensities, while muzzling
those fiercer ones that tend to mischief. Everybody seemed lawless;
nobody was rude. If any reveller overstepped the mark, it was sure to
be no Roman, but an Englishman or an American; and even the rougher
play of this Gothic race was still softened by the insensible
influence of a moral atmosphere more delicate, in some respects, than
we breathe at home. Not that, after all, we like the fine Italian
spirit better than our own; popular rudeness is sometimes the symptom
of rude moral health. But, where a Carnival is in question, it would
probably pass off more decorously, as well as more airily and
delightfully, in Rome, than in any Anglo-Saxon city.
When Kenyon emerged from a side lane into the Corso, the mirth was at
its height. Out of the seclusion of his own feelings, he looked forth
at the tapestried and damask-curtained palaces, the slow-moving double
line of carriages, and the motley maskers that swarmed on foot, as if
he were gazing through the iron lattice of a prison window. So remote
from the scene were his sympathies, that it affected him like a thin
dream, through the dim, extravagant material of which he could discern
more substantial objects, while too much under its control to start
forth broad awake. Just at that moment, too, there came another
spectacle, making its way right through the masquerading throng.
It was, first and foremost, a full band of martial music,
reverberating, in that narrow and confined though stately avenue,
between the walls of the lofty palaces, and roaring upward to the sky
with melody so powerful that it almost grew to discord. Next came a
body of cavalry and mounted gendarmes, with great display of military
pomp. They were escorting a long train of equipages, each and all of
which shone as gorgeously as Cinderella's coach, with paint and
gilding. Like that, too, they were provided with coachmen of mighty
breadth, and enormously tall footmen, in immense powdered wigs, and
all the splendor of gold-laced, three cornered hats, and embroidered
silk coats and breeches. By the old-fashioned magnificence of this
procession, it might worthily have included his Holiness in person,
with a suite of attendant Cardinals, if those sacred dignitaries would
kindly have lent their aid to heighten the frolic of the Carnival.
But, for all its show of a martial escort, and its antique splendor of
costume, it was but a train of the municipal authorities of Rome,
--illusive shadows, every one, and among them a phantom, styled the
Roman Senator,--proceeding to the Capitol.
The riotous interchange of nosegays and confetti was partially
suspended, while the procession passed. One well-directed shot,
however,--it was a double handful of powdered lime, flung by an
impious New Englander,--hit the coachman of the Roman Senator full in
the face, and hurt his dignity amazingly. It appeared to be his
opinion that the Republic was again crumbling into ruin, and that the
dust of it now filled his nostrils; though, in fact, it would hardly
be distinguished from the official powder with which he was already
While the sculptor, with his dreamy eyes, was taking idle note of this
trifling circumstance, two figures passed before him, hand in hand.
The countenance of each was covered with an impenetrable black mask;
but one seemed a peasant of the Campagna; the other, a contadina in
her holiday costume.
A FROLIC OF THE CARNIVAL
The crowd and confusion, just at that moment, hindered the sculptor
from pursuing these figures,--the peasant and contadina,--who, indeed,
were but two of a numerous tribe that thronged the Corso, in similar
costume. As soon as he could squeeze a passage, Kenyon tried to
follow in their footsteps, but quickly lost sight of them, and was
thrown off the track by stopping to examine various groups of
masqueraders, in which he fancied the objects of his search to be
included. He found many a sallow peasant or herdsman of the Campagna,
in such a dress as Donatello wore; many a contadina, too, brown, broad,
and sturdy, in her finery of scarlet, and decked out with gold or
coral beads, a pair of heavy earrings, a curiously wrought cameo or
mosaic brooch, and a silver comb or long stiletto among her glossy
hair. But those shapes of grace and beauty which he sought had
As soon as the procession of the Senator had passed, the merry-makers
resumed their antics with fresh spirit, and the artillery of bouquets
and sugar plums, suspended for a moment, began anew. The sculptor
himself, being probably the most anxious and unquiet spectator there,
was especially a mark for missiles from all quarters, and for the
practical jokes which the license of the Carnival permits. In fact,
his sad and contracted brow so ill accorded with the scene, that the
revellers might be pardoned for thus using him as the butt of their
idle mirth, since he evidently could not otherwise contribute to it.
Fantastic figures, with bulbous heads, the circumference of a bushel,
grinned enormously in his face. Harlequins struck him with their
wooden swords, and appeared to expect his immediate transformation
into some jollier shape. A little, long-tailed, horned fiend sidled
up to him and suddenly blew at him through a tube, enveloping our poor
friend in a whole harvest of winged seeds. A biped, with an ass's
snout, brayed close to his ear, ending his discordant uproar with a
peal of human laughter. Five strapping damsels--so, at least, their
petticoats bespoke them, in spite of an awful freedom in the flourish
of their legs--joined hands, and danced around him, inviting him by
their gestures to perform a hornpipe in the midst. Released from
these gay persecutors, a clown in motley rapped him on the back with a
blown bladder, in which a handful of dried peas rattled horribly.
Unquestionably, a care-stricken mortal has no business abroad, when
the rest of mankind are at high carnival; they must either pelt him
and absolutely martyr him with jests, and finally bury him beneath the
aggregate heap; or else the potency of his darker mood, because the
tissue of human life takes a sad dye more readily than a gay one, will
quell their holiday humors, like the aspect of a death's-head at a
banquet. Only that we know Kenyon's errand, we could hardly forgive
him for venturing into the Corso with that troubled face.
Even yet, his merry martyrdom was not half over. There came along a
gigantic female figure, seven feet high, at least, and taking up a
third of the street's breadth with the preposterously swelling sphere
of her crinoline skirts. Singling out the sculptor, she began to make
a ponderous assault upon his heart, throwing amorous glances at him
out of her great goggle eyes, offering him a vast bouquet of
sunflowers and nettles, and soliciting his pity by all sorts of
pathetic and passionate dumb-show. Her suit meeting no favor, the
rejected Titaness made a gesture of despair and rage; then suddenly
drawing a huge pistol, she took aim right at the obdurate sculptor's
breast, and pulled the trigger. The shot took effect, for the
abominable plaything went off by a spring, like a boy's popgun,
covering Kenyon with a cloud of lime dust, under shelter of which the
revengeful damsel strode away.
Hereupon, a whole host of absurd figures surrounded him, pretending to
sympathize in his mishap. Clowns and party-colored harlequins;
orang-outangs; bear-headed, bull-headed, and dog-headed individuals;
faces that would have been human, but for their enormous noses; one
terrific creature, with a visage right in the centre of his breast;
and all other imaginable kinds of monstrosity and exaggeration. These
apparitions appeared to be investigating the case, after the fashion
of a coroner's jury, poking their pasteboard countenances close to the
sculptor's with an unchangeable grin, that gave still more ludicrous
effect to the comic alarm and sorrow of their gestures. Just then, a
figure came by, in a gray wig and rusty gown, with an inkhorn at his
buttonhole and a pen behind his ear; he announced himself as a notary,
and offered to make the last will and testament of the assassinated
man. This solemn duty, however, was interrupted by a surgeon, who
brandished a lancet, three feet long, and proposed to him to let him
The affair was so like a feverish dream, that Kenyon resigned himself
to let it take its course. Fortunately the humors of the Carnival
pass from one absurdity to another, without lingering long enough on
any, to wear out even the slightest of them. The passiveness of his
demeanor afforded too little scope for such broad merriment as the
masqueraders sought. In a few moments they vanished from him, as
dreams and spectres do, leaving him at liberty to pursue his quest,
with no impediment except the crowd that blocked up the footway.
He had not gone far when the peasant and the contadina met him. They
were still hand in hand, and appeared to be straying through the
grotesque and animated scene, taking as little part in it as himself.
It might be because he recognized them, and knew their solemn secret,
that the sculptor fancied a melancholy emotion to be expressed by the
very movement and attitudes of these two figures; and even the grasp
of their hands, uniting them so closely, seemed to set them in a sad
remoteness from the world at which they gazed.
"I rejoice to meet you," said Kenyon. But they looked at him through
the eye-holes of their black masks, without answering a word.
"Pray give me a little light on the matter which I have so much at
heart," said he; "if you know anything of Hilda, for Heaven's sake,
Still they were silent; and the sculptor began to imagine that he must
have mistaken the identity of these figures, there being such a
multitude in similar costume. Yet there was no other Donatello, no
other Miriam. He felt, too, that spiritual certainty which impresses
us with the presence of our friends, apart from any testimony of the
"You are unkind," resumed he,--"knowing the anxiety which oppresses me,
--not to relieve it, if in your power."
The reproach evidently had its effect; for the contadina now spoke,
and it was Miriam's voice.
"We gave you all the light we could," said she. "You are yourself
unkind, though you little think how much so, to come between us at
this hour. There may be a sacred hour, even in carnival time."
In another state of mind, Kenyon could have been amused by the
impulsiveness of this response, and a sort of vivacity that he had
often noted in Miriam's conversation. But he was conscious of a
profound sadness in her tone, overpowering its momentary irritation,
and assuring him that a pale, tear-stained face was hidden behind her
"Forgive me!" said he.
Donatello here extended his hand,--not that which was clasping
Miriam's,--and she, too, put her free one into the sculptor's left; so
that they were a linked circle of three, with many reminiscences and
forebodings flashing through their hearts. Kenyon knew intuitively
that these once familiar friends were parting with him now.
"Farewell!" they all three said, in the same breath.
No sooner was the word spoken, than they loosed their hands; and the
uproar of the Carnival swept like a tempestuous sea over the spot
which they had included within their small circle of isolated feeling.
By this interview, the sculptor had learned nothing in reference to
Hilda; but he understood that he was to adhere to the instructions
already received, and await a solution of the mystery in some mode
that he could not yet anticipate. Passing his hands over his eyes,
and looking about him,--for the event just described had made the
scene even more dreamlike than before,--he now found himself
approaching that broad piazza bordering on the Corso, which has for
its central object the sculptured column of Antoninus. It was not far
from this vicinity that Miriam had bid him wait. Struggling onward as
fast as the tide of merrymakers, setting strong against him, would
permit, he was now beyond the Palazzo Colonna, and began to count the
houses. The fifth was a palace, with a long front upon the Corso, and
of stately height, but somewhat grim with age.
Over its arched and pillared entrance there was a balcony, richly hung
with tapestry and damask, and tenanted, for the time, by a gentleman
of venerable aspect and a group of ladies. The white hair and
whiskers of the former, and the winter roses in his cheeks, had an
English look; the ladies, too, showed a fair-haired Saxon bloom, and
seemed to taste the mirth of the Carnival with the freshness of
spectators to whom the scene was new. All the party, the old
gentleman with grave earnestness, as if he were defending a rampart,
and his young companions with exuberance of frolic, showered confetti
inexhaustibly upon the passers-by.
In the rear of the balcony, a broad-brimmed, ecclesiastical beaver was
visible. An abbate, probably an acquaintance and cicerone of the
English family, was sitting there, and enjoying the scene, though
partially withdrawn from view, as the decorum for his order dictated.
There seemed no better nor other course for Kenyon than to keep watch
at this appointed spot, waiting for whatever should happen next.
Clasping his arm round a lamp-post, to prevent being carried away by
the turbulent stream of wayfarers, he scrutinized every face, with the
idea that some one of them might meet his eyes with a glance of
intelligence. He looked at each mask,--harlequin, ape, bulbous-headed
monster, or anything that was absurdest,--not knowing but that the
messenger might come, even in such fantastic guise. Or perhaps one of
those quaint figures, in the stately ruff, the cloak, tunic, and
trunk-hose of three centuries ago, might bring him tidings of Hilda,
out of that long-past age. At times his disquietude took a hopeful
aspect; and he fancied that Hilda might come by, her own sweet self,
in some shy disguise which the instinct Of his love would be sure to
penetrate. Or, she might be borne past on a triumphal car, like the
one just now approaching, its slow-moving wheels encircled and spoked
with foliage, and drawn by horses, that were harnessed and wreathed
with flowers. Being, at best, so far beyond the bounds of reasonable
conjecture, he might anticipate the wildest event, or find either his
hopes or fears disappointed in what appeared most probable.
The old Englishman and his daughters, in the opposite balcony, must
have seen something unutterably absurd in the sculptor's deportment,
poring into this whirlpool of nonsense so earnestly, in quest of what
was to make his life dark or bright. Earnest people, who try to get a
reality out of human existence, are necessarily absurd in the view of
the revellers and masqueraders. At all events, after a good deal of
mirth at the expense of his melancholy visage, the fair occupants of
the balcony favored Kenyon with a salvo of confetti, which came
rattling about him like a hailstorm. Looking up instinctively, he was
surprised to see the abbate in the background lean forward and give a
courteous sign of recognition.
It was the same old priest with whom he had seen Hilda, at the
confessional; the same with whom he had talked of her disappearance on
meeting him in the street.
Yet, whatever might be the reason, Kenyon did not now associate this
ecclesiastical personage with the idea of Hilda. His eyes lighted on
the old man, just for an instant, and then returned to the eddying
throng of the Corso, on his minute scrutiny of which depended, for
aught he knew, the sole chance of ever finding any trace of her.
There was, about this moment, a bustle on the other side of the street,
the cause of which Kenyon did not see, nor exert himself to discover.
A small party of soldiers or gendarmes appeared to be concerned in it;
they were perhaps arresting some disorderly character, who, under the
influence of an extra flask of wine, might have reeled across the
mystic limitation of carnival proprieties.
The sculptor heard some people near him talking of the incident.
"That contadina, in a black mask, was a fine figure of a woman."
"She was not amiss," replied a female voice; "but her companion was
far the handsomer figure of the two. Could they be really a peasant
and a contadina, do you imagine?"
"No, no," said the other. "It is some frolic of the Carnival, carried
a little too far."
This conversation might have excited Kenyon's interest; only that,
just as the last words were spoken, he was hit by two missiles, both
of a kind that were flying abundantly on that gay battlefield. One,
we are ashamed to say, was a cauliflower, which, flung by a young man
from a passing carriage, came with a prodigious thump against his
shoulder; the other was a single rosebud, so fresh that it seemed that
moment gathered. It flew from the opposite balcony, smote gently on
his lips, and fell into his hand. He looked upward, and beheld the
face of his lost Hilda!
She was dressed in a white domino, and looked pale and bewildered, and
yet full of tender joy. Moreover, there was a gleam of delicate
mirthfulness in her eyes, which the sculptor had seen there only two
or three times in the course of their acquaintance, but thought it the
most bewitching and fairylike of all Hilda's expressions. That soft,
mirthful smile caused her to melt, as it were, into the wild frolic of
the Carnival, and become not so strange and alien to the scene, as her
unexpected apparition must otherwise have made her.
Meanwhile, the venerable Englishman and his daughters were staring at
poor Hilda in a way that proved them altogether astonished, as well as
inexpressibly shocked, by her sudden intrusion into their private
balcony. They looked,--as, indeed, English people of respectability
would, if an angel were to alight in their circle, without due
introduction from somebody whom they knew, in the court above,--they
looked as if an unpardonable liberty had been taken, and a suitable
apology must be made; after which, the intruder would be expected to
The abbate, however, drew the old gentleman aside, and whispered a few
words that served to mollify him; he bestowed on Hilda a sufficiently
benignant, though still a perplexed and questioning regard, and
invited her, in dumb-show, to put herself at her ease.
But, whoever was in fault, our shy and gentle Hilda had dreamed of no
intrusion. Whence she had come, or where she had been hidden, during
this mysterious interval, we can but imperfectly surmise, and do not
mean, at present, to make it a matter of formal explanation with the
reader. It is better, perhaps, to fancy that she had been snatched
away to a land of picture; that she had been straying with Claude in
the golden light which he used to shed over his landscapes, but which
he could never have beheld with his waking eyes till he awoke in the
better clime. We will imagine that, for the sake of the true
simplicity with which she loved them, Hilda had been permitted, for a
season, to converse with the great, departed masters of the pencil,
and behold the diviner works which they have painted in heavenly
colors. Guido had shown her another portrait of Beatrice Cenci, done
from the celestial life, in which that forlorn mystery of the earthly
countenance was exchanged for a radiant joy. Perugino had allowed her
a glimpse at his easel, on which she discerned what seemed a woman's
face, but so divine, by the very depth and softness of its womanhood,
that a gush of happy tears blinded the maiden's eyes before she had
time to look. Raphael had taken Hilda by the hand, that fine,
forcible hand which Kenyon sculptured,--and drawn aside the curtain of
gold-fringed cloud that hung before his latest masterpiece. On earth,
Raphael painted the Transfiguration. What higher scene may he have
since depicted, not from imagination, but as revealed to his actual
Neither will we retrace the steps by which she returned to the actual
world. For the present, be it enough to say that Hilda had been
summoned forth from a secret place, and led we know not through what
mysterious passages, to a point where the tumult of life burst
suddenly upon her ears. She heard the tramp of footsteps, the rattle
of wheels, and the mingled hum of a multitude of voices, with strains
of music and loud laughter breaking through. Emerging into a great,
gloomy hall, a curtain was drawn aside; she found herself gently
propelled into an open balcony, whence she looked out upon the festal
street, with gay tapestries flaunting over all the palace fronts, the
windows thronged with merry faces, and a crowd of maskers rioting upon
the pavement below.
Immediately she seemed to become a portion of the scene. Her pale,
large-eyed, fragile beauty, her wondering aspect and bewildered grace,
attracted the gaze of many; and there fell around her a shower of
bouquets and bonbons--freshest blossoms and sweetest sugar plums,
sweets to the sweet--such as the revellers of the Carnival reserve as
tributes to especial loveliness. Hilda pressed her hand across her
brow; she let her eyelids fall, and, lifting them again, looked
through the grotesque and gorgeous show, the chaos of mad jollity, in
quest of some object by which she might assure herself that the whole
spectacle was not an illusion.
Beneath the balcony, she recognized a familiar and fondly remembered
face. The spirit of the hour and the scene exercised its influence
over her quick and sensitive nature; she caught up one of the rosebuds
that had been showered upon her, and aimed it at the sculptor; It hit
the mark; he turned his sad eyes upward, and there was Hilda, in whose
gentle presence his own secret sorrow and the obtrusive uproar of the
Carnival alike died away from his perception.
That night, the lamp beneath the Virgin's shrine burned as brightly as
if it had never been extinguished; and though the one faithful dove
had gone to her melancholy perch, she greeted Hilda rapturously the
next morning, and summoned her less constant companions, whithersoever
they had flown, to renew their homage.
MIRIAM, HILDA, KENYON, DONATELLO
The gentle reader, we trust, would not thank us for one of those
minute elucidations, which are so tedious, and, after all, so
unsatisfactory, in clearing up the romantic mysteries of a story. He
is too wise to insist upon looking closely at the wrong side of the
tapestry, after the right one has been sufficiently displayed to him,
woven with the best of the artist's skill, and cunningly arranged with
a view to the harmonious exhibition of its colors. If any brilliant,
or beautiful, or even tolerable effect have been produced, this
pattern of kindly readers will accept it at its worth, without tearing
its web apart, with the idle purpose of discovering how the threads
have been knit together; for the sagacity by which he is distinguished
will long ago have taught him that any narrative of human action and
adventure whether we call it history or romance--is certain to be a
fragile handiwork, more easily rent than mended. The actual
experience of even the most ordinary life is full of events that never
explain themselves, either as regards their origin or their tendency.
It would be easy, from conversations which we have held with the
sculptor, to suggest a clew to the mystery of Hilda's disappearance;
although, as long as she remained in Italy, there was a remarkable
reserve in her communications upon this subject, even to her most
intimate friends. Either a pledge of secrecy had been exacted, or a
prudential motive warned her not to reveal the stratagems of a
religious body, or the secret acts of a despotic government--whichever
might be responsible in the present instance--while still within the
scope of their jurisdiction. Possibly, she might not herself be fully
aware what power had laid its grasp upon her person. What has chiefly
perplexed us, however, among Hilda's adventures, is the mode of her
release, in which some inscrutable tyranny or other seemed to take
part in the frolic of the Carnival. We can only account for it, by
supposing that the fitful and fantastic imagination of a
woman--sportive, because she must otherwise be desperate--had arranged
this incident, and made it the condition of a step which her
conscience, or the conscience of another, required her to take.
A few days after Hilda's reappearance, she and the sculptor were
straying together through the streets of Rome. Being deep in talk, it
so happened that they found themselves near the majestic, pillared
portico, and huge, black rotundity of the Pantheon. It stands almost
at the central point of the labyrinthine intricacies of the modern
city, and often presents itself before the bewildered stranger, when
he is in search of other objects. Hilda, looking up, proposed that
they should enter.
"I never pass it without going in," she said, "to pay my homage at the
tomb of Raphael."
"Nor I," said Kenyon, "without stopping to admire the noblest edifice
which the barbarism of the early ages, and the more barbarous pontiffs
and princes of later ones, have spared to us."
They went in accordingly, and stood in the free space of that great
circle, around which are ranged the arched recesses and stately altars,
formerly dedicated to heathen gods, but Christianized through twelve
centuries gone by. The world has nothing else like the Pantheon. So
grand it is, that the pasteboard statues over the lofty cornice do not
disturb the effect, any more than the tin crowns and hearts, the dusty
artificial flowers, and all manner of trumpery gew-gaws, hanging at
the saintly shrines. The rust and dinginess that have dimmed the
precious marble on the walls; the pavement, with its great squares and
rounds of porphyry and granite, cracked crosswise and in a hundred
directions, showing how roughly the troublesome ages have trampled
here; the gray dome above, with its opening to the sky, as if heaven
were looking down into the interior of this place of worship, left
unimpeded for prayers to ascend the more freely; all these things make
an impression of solemnity, which St. Peter's itself fails to produce.
"I think," said the sculptor, "it is to the aperture in the dome--that
great Eye, gazing heavenward that the Pantheon owes the peculiarity of
its effect. It is so heathenish, as it were,--so unlike all the
snugness of our modern civilization! Look, too, at the pavement,
directly beneath the open space! So much rain has fallen there, in
the last two thousand years, that it is green with small, fine moss,
such as grows over tombstones in a damp English churchyard."
"I like better," replied Hilda, "to look at the bright, blue sky,
roofing the edifice where the builders left it open. It is very
delightful, in a breezy day, to see the masses of white cloud float
over the opening, and then the sunshine fall through it again,
fitfully, as it does now. Would it be any wonder if we were to see
angels hovering there, partly in and partly out, with genial, heavenly
faces, not intercepting the light, but only transmuting it into
beautiful colors? Look at that broad, golden beam--a sloping cataract
of sunlight--which comes down from the aperture and rests upon the
shrine, at the right hand of the entrance!"
"There is a dusky picture over that altar," observed the sculptor.
"Let us go and see if this strong illumination brings out any merit in
Approaching the shrine, they found the picture little worth looking at,
but could not forbear smiling, to see that a very plump and
comfortable tabby-cat--whom we ourselves have often observed haunting
the Pantheon--had established herself on the altar, in the genial
sunbeam, and was fast asleep among the holy tapers. Their footsteps
disturbing her, she awoke, raised herself, and sat blinking in the sun,
yet with a certain dignity and self-possession, as if conscious of
representing a saint.
"I presume," remarked Kenyon, "that this is the first of the feline
race that has ever set herself up as an object of worship, in the
Pantheon or elsewhere, since the days of ancient Egypt. See; there is
a peasant from the neighboring market, actually kneeling to her! She
seems a gracious and benignant saint enough."
"Do not make me laugh," said Hilda reproachfully," but help me to
drive the creature away. It distresses me to see that poor man, or
any human being, directing his prayers so much amiss."
"Then, Hilda," answered the sculptor more seriously, "the only Place
in the Pantheon for you and me to kneel is on the pavement beneath the
central aperture. If we pray at a saint's shrine, we shall give
utterance to earthly wishes; but if we pray face to face with the
Deity, we shall feel it impious to petition for aught that is narrow
and selfish. Methinks it is this that makes the Catholics so delight
in the worship of saints; they can bring up all their little worldly
wants and whims, their individualities and human weaknesses, not as
things to be repented of, but to be humored by the canonized humanity
to which they pray. Indeed, it is very tempting!"
What Hilda might have answered must be left to conjecture; for as she
turned from the shrine, her eyes were attracted to the figure of a
female penitent, kneeling on the pavement just beneath the great
central eye, in the very spot which Kenyon had designated as the only
one whence prayers should ascend. The upturned face was invisible,
behind a veil or mask, which formed a part of the garb.
"It cannot be!" whispered Hilda, with emotion. "No; it cannot be!"
"What disturbs you?" asked Kenyon. "Why do you tremble so?"
"If it were possible," she replied," I should fancy that kneeling
figure to be Miriam!"
"As you say, it is impossible," rejoined the sculptor; "We know too
well what has befallen both her and Donatello." "Yes; it is
impossible!" repeated Hilda. Her voice was still tremulous, however,
and she seemed unable to withdraw her attention from the kneeling
figure. Suddenly, and as if the idea of Miriam had opened the whole
volume of Hilda's reminiscences, she put this question to the sculptor:
"Was Donatello really a Faun?"
"If you had ever studied the pedigree of the far-descended heir of
Monte Beni, as I did," answered Kenyon, with an irrepressible smile,