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The Marble Faun, VOL. II by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Part 5 out of 5

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"you would have retained few doubts on that point. Faun or not, he
had a genial nature, which, had the rest of mankind been in accordance
with it, would have made earth a paradise to our poor friend. It
seems the moral of his story, that human beings of Donatello's
character, compounded especially for happiness, have no longer any
business on earth, or elsewhere. Life has grown so sadly serious,
that such men must change their nature, or else perish, like the
antediluvian creatures that required, as the condition of their
existence, a more summerlike atmosphere than ours."

"I will not accept your moral!" replied the hopeful and happy-natured

"Then here is another; take your choice!" said the sculptor,
remembering what Miriam had recently suggested, in reference to the
same point. "He perpetrated a great crime; and his remorse, gnawing
into his soul, has awakened it; developing a thousand high
capabilities, moral and intellectual, which we never should have
dreamed of asking for, within the scanty compass of the Donatello whom
we knew."

"I know not whether this is so," said Hilda. "But what then?"

"Here comes my perplexity," continued Kenyon. "Sin has educated
Donatello, and elevated him. Is sin, then,--which we deem such a
dreadful blackness in the universe,--is it, like sorrow, merely an
element of human education, through which we struggle to a higher and
purer state than we could otherwise have attained? Did Adam fall,
that we might ultimately rise to a far loftier paradise than his?" "O
hush!" cried Hilda, shrinking from him with an expression of horror
which wounded the poor, speculative sculptor to the soul. "This is
terrible; and I could weep for you, if you indeed believe it. Do not
you perceive what a mockery your creed makes, not only of all
religious sentiments, but of moral law? And how it annuls and
obliterates whatever precepts of Heaven are written deepest within us?
You have shocked me beyond words!"

"Forgive me, Hilda!" exclaimed the sculptor, startled by her agitation;
"I never did believe it! But the mind wanders wild and wide; and, so
lonely as I live and work, I have neither pole-star above nor light of
cottage windows here below, to bring me home. Were you my guide, my
counsellor, my inmost friend, with that white wisdom which clothes you
as a celestial garment, all would go well. O Hilda, guide me home!"

"We are both lonely; both far from home!" said Hilda, her eyes filling
with tears. "I am a poor, weak girl, and have no such wisdom as you
fancy in me."

What further may have passed between these lovers, while standing
before the pillared shrine, and the marble Madonna that marks
Raphael's tomb; whither they had now wandered, we are unable to record.
But when the kneeling figure beneath the open eye of the Pantheon
arose, she looked towards the pair and extended her hands with a
gesture of benediction. Then they knew that it was Miriam. They
suffered her to glide out of the portal, however, without a greeting;
for those extended hands, even while they blessed, seemed to repel, as
if Miriam stood on the other side of a fathomless abyss, and warned
them from its verge.

So Kenyon won the gentle Hilda's shy affection, and her consent to be
his bride. Another hand must henceforth trim the lamp before the
Virgin's shrine; for Hilda was coming down from her old tower, to be
herself enshrined and worshipped as a household saint, in the light of
her husband's fireside. And, now that life had so much human promise
in it, they resolved to go back to their own land; because the years,
after all, have a kind of emptiness, when we spend too many of them on
a foreign shore. We defer the reality of life, in such cases, until a
future moment, when we shall again breathe our native air; but, by and
by, there are no future moments; or, if we do return, we find that the
native air has lost its invigorating quality, and that life has
shifted its reality to the spot where we have deemed ourselves only
temporary residents. Thus, between two countries, we have none at all,
or only that little space of either in which we finally lay down our
discontented bones. It is wise, therefore, to come back betimes, or

Before they quitted Rome, a bridal gift was laid on Hilda's table. It
was a bracelet, evidently of great cost, being composed of seven
ancient Etruscan gems, dug out of seven sepulchres, and each one of
them the signet of some princely personage, who had lived an
immemorial time ago. Hilda remembered this precious ornament. It had
been Miriam's; and once, with the exuberance of fancy that
distinguished her, she had amused herself with telling a mythical and
magic legend for each gem, comprising the imaginary adventures and
catastrophe of its former wearer. Thus the Etruscan bracelet became
the connecting bond of a series of seven wondrous tales, all of which,
as they were dug out of seven sepulchres, were characterized by a
sevenfold sepulchral gloom; such as Miriam's imagination, shadowed by
her own misfortunes, was wont to fling over its most sportive flights.

And now, happy as Hilda was, the bracelet brought the tears into her
eyes, as being, in its entire circle, the symbol of as sad a mystery
as any that Miriam had attached to the separate gems. For, what was
Miriam's life to be? And where was Donatello? But Hilda had a
hopeful soul, and saw sunlight on the mountain-tops.


There comes to the author, from many readers of the foregoing pages, a
demand for further elucidations respecting the mysteries of the story.

He reluctantly avails himself of the opportunity afforded by a new
edition, to explain such incidents and passages as may have been left
too much in the dark; reluctantly, he repeats, because the necessity
makes him sensible that he can have succeeded but imperfectly, at best,
in throwing about this Romance the kind of atmosphere essential to
the effect at which he aimed.

He designed the story and the characters to bear, of course, a certain
relation to human nature and human life, but still to be so artfully
and airily removed from our mundane sphere, that some laws and
proprieties of their own should be implicitly and insensibly

The idea of the modern Faun, for example, loses all the poetry and
beauty which the Author fancied in it, and becomes nothing better than
a grotesque absurdity, if we bring it into the actual light of day.
He had hoped to mystify this anomalous creature between the Real and
the Fantastic, in such a manner that the reader's sympathies might be
excited to a certain pleasurable degree, without impelling him to ask
how Cuvier would have classified poor Donatello, or to insist upon
being told, in so many words, whether he had furry ears or no. As
respects all who ask such questions, the book is, to that extent, a

Nevertheless, the Author fortunately has it in his power to throw
light upon several matters in which some of his readers appear to feel
an interest. To confess the truth, he was himself troubled with a
curiosity similar to that which he has just deprecated on the part of
his readers, and once took occasion to cross-examine his friends,
Hilda and the sculptor, and to pry into several dark recesses of the
story, with which they had heretofore imperfectly acquainted him.

We three had climbed to the top of St. Peter's, and were looking down
upon the Rome we were soon to leave, but which (having already sinned
sufficiently in that way) it is not my purpose further to describe.
It occurred to me, that, being so remote in the upper air, my friends
might safely utter here the secrets which it would be perilous even to
whisper on lower earth.

"Hilda," I began, "can you tell me the contents of that mysterious
packet which Miriam entrusted to your charge, and which was addressed
to Signore Luca Barboni, at the Palazzo Cenci?"

"I never had any further knowledge of it," replied Hilda, "nor felt it
right to let myself be curious upon the subject."

"As to its precise contents," interposed Kenyon, "it is impossible to
speak. But Miriam, isolated as she seemed, had family connections in
Rome, one of whom, there is reason to believe, occupied a position in
the papal government.

"This Signore Luca Barboni was either the assumed name of the
personage in question, or the medium of communication between that
individual and Miriam. Now, under such a government as that of Rome,
it is obvious that Miriam's privacy and isolated life could only be
maintained through the connivance and support of some influential
person connected with the administration of affairs. Free and
self-controlled as she appeared, her every movement was watched and
investigated far more thoroughly by the priestly rulers than by her
dearest friends.

"Miriam, if I mistake not, had a purpose to withdraw herself from this
irksome scrutiny, and to seek real obscurity in another land; and the
packet, to be delivered long after her departure, contained a
reference to this design, besides certain family documents, which were
to be imparted to her relative as from one dead and gone."

"Yes, it is clear as a London fog," I remarked. "On this head no
further elucidation can be desired. But when Hilda went quietly to
deliver the packet, why did she so mysteriously vanish?"

"You must recollect," replied Kenyon, with a glance of friendly
commiseration at my obtuseness," that Miriam had utterly disappeared,
leaving no trace by which her whereabouts could be known. In the
meantime, the municipal authorities had become aware of the murder of
the Capuchin; and from many preceding circumstances, such as his
persecution of Miriam, they must have seen an obvious connection
between herself and that tragical event. Furthermore, there is reason
to believe that Miriam was suspected of connection with some plot, or
political intrigue, of which there may have been tokens in the packet.
And when Hilda appeared as the bearer of this missive, it was really
quite a matter of course, under a despotic government, that she should
be detained."

"Ah, quite a matter of course, as you say," answered I. "How
excessively stupid in me not to have seen it sooner! But there are
other riddles. On the night of the extinction of the lamp, you met
Donatello, in a penitent's garb, and afterwards saw and spoke to
Miriam, in a coach, with a gem glowing on her bosom. What was the
business of these two guilty ones in Rome, and who was Miriam's

"Who!" repeated Kenyon, "why, her official relative, to be sure; and
as to their business, Donatello's still gnawing remorse had brought
him hitherward, in spite of Miriam's entreaties, and kept him
lingering in the neighborhood of Rome, with the ultimate purpose of
delivering himself up to justice. Hilda's disappearance, which took
place the day before, was known to them through a secret channel, and
had brought them into the city, where Miriam, as I surmise, began to
make arrangements, even then, for that sad frolic of the Carnival."

"And where was Hilda all that dreary time between?" inquired I.

"Where were you, Hilda?" asked Kenyon, smiling.

Hilda threw her eyes on all sides, and seeing that there was not even
a bird of the air to fly away with the secret, nor any human being
nearer than the loiterers by the obelisk in the piazza below, she told
us about her mysterious abode.

"I was a prisoner in the Convent of the Sacre Coeur, in the Trinita de
Monte," said she," but in such kindly custody of pious maidens, and
watched over by such a dear old priest, that--had it not been for one
or two disturbing recollections, and also because I am a daughter of
the Puritans I could willingly have dwelt there forever.

"My entanglement with Miriam's misfortunes, and the good abbate's
mistaken hope of a proselyte, seem to me a sufficient clew to the
whole mystery."

"The atmosphere is getting delightfully lucid," observed I, "but there
are one or two things that still puzzle me. Could you tell me--and it
shall be kept a profound secret, I assure you what were Miriam's real
name and rank, and precisely the nature of the troubles that led to
all those direful consequences?"

"Is it possible that you need an answer to those questions?" exclaimed
Kenyon, with an aspect of vast surprise. "Have you not even surmised
Miriam's name? Think awhile, and you will assuredly remember it. If
not, I congratulate you most sincerely; for it indicates that your
feelings have never been harrowed by one of the most dreadful and
mysterious events that have occurred within the present century!"

"Well," resumed I, after an interval of deep consideration, "I have
but few things more to ask. Where, at this moment, is Donatello?"

"The Castle of Saint Angelo," said Kenyon sadly, turning his face
towards that sepulchral fortress, "is no longer a prison; but there
are others which have dungeons as deep, and in one of them, I fear,
lies our poor Faun."

"And why, then, is Miriam at large?" I asked.

"Call it cruelty if you like, not mercy," answered Kenyon. "But,
after all, her crime lay merely in a glance. She did no murder!"

"Only one question more," said I, with intense earnestness. "Did
Donatello's ears resemble those of the Faun of Praxiteles?"

"I know, but may not tell," replied Kenyon, smiling mysteriously. "On
that point, at all events, there shall be not one word of explanation."

Leamington, March 14, 1860.

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