Part 11 out of 13
why he has not been to see her--and a thousand other questions."
"That does not matter! While she is silent, no one dare accuse him.
What a marvellous spirit of patience and forgiveness she has!"
"Angela is like her name--an angel!" declared Sylvie impulsively,
the tears springing to her eyes--"I could almost worship her, when I
see her there in her sickroom, looking so white and frail and sad,--
quiet and patient--thanking us all for every little service done--
and never once mentioning the name of Florian--the man she loved so
passionately. Sometimes the dear old Cardinal sits beside her and
talks--sometimes her father,--Manuel is nearly always with her, and
she is quite easy and content, one would almost say happy when he is
there, he is so very gentle with her. But you can see through it all
the awful sorrow that weighs upon her heart,--you can see she has
lost something she can never find again,--her eyes look so wistful--
her smile is so sad--poor Angela!"
Aubrey was silent a moment. "What of the Princesse D'Agramont?"
"Oh, she is simply a treasure!" said Sylvie enthusiastically--"She
and my dear old Bozier are never weary in well-doing! As soon as
Angela can be moved, the Princesse wants to take her back to Paris,-
-because then Rome can be allowed to pour into her studio to see her
"What does Angela say to that?"
"Angela seems resigned to anything!" answered Sylvie. "The only wish
she ever expresses is that Manuel should not leave her."
"There is something wonderful about that boy," said Aubrey slowly--
"From the first time I saw him he impressed me with a sense of
something altogether beyond his mere appearance. He is a child--yet
not a child--and I have often felt that he commands me without my
realising that I am so commanded."
"Aubrey! How strange!"
"Yes, it is strange!--" and Aubrey's eyes grew graver with the
intensity of his thought--"There is some secret--but--" he broke off
with a puzzled air--"I cannot explain it, so it is no use thinking
about it! I went to Varillo's studio yesterday and asked if there
had been any news of him--but there was none. I wonder where the
brute has gone!"
"It would be well if he had made exit out of the world altogether,"
said Sylvie--"But he is too vain of himself for that! However, his
absence creates suspicion--and even if Angela does not speak, people
will guess for themselves what she does not say. He will never dare
to show himself in Rome!"
Their conversation was abruptly terminated here by the entrance of
Madame Bozier with a quantity of fresh flowers which she had been
out to purchase, for Sylvie to take as usual on her morning visit to
her suffering friend; and Aubrey took his leave, promising to return
later in the afternoon, after Monsignor Gherardi had been and gone.
But he had his own ideas on the subject of Gherardi's visit to his
fair betrothed,--ideas which he kept to himself, for if his surmises
were correct, now was the time to put Sylvie's character to the
test. He did not doubt her stability in the very least, but he could
never quite get away from her mignonne child-like appearance of
woman, to the contemplation of the spirit behind the pretty
exterior. Her beauty was so riante, so dazzling, so dainty, that it
seemed to fire the very air as a sunbeam fires it,--and there was no
room for any more serious consideration than that of purely feminine
charm. Walking dreamily, almost unseeingly through the streets, he
thought again and yet again of the sweet face, the rippling hair,
the laughing yet tender eyes, the sunny smile. Behind that beautiful
picture or earth-phantom of womanhood, is there that sword of flame,
the soul?--the soul that will sweep through shams, and come out as
bright and glittering at the end of the fight as at the beginning?--
he mused;--or is it not almost too much to expect of a mere woman
that she can contend against the anger of a Church?
He was still thinking on this subject, when someone walking quickly
came face to face with him, and said--
"Aubrey!" He started and stared,--then uttered a cry of pleasure.
The two men clasped each other's hands in a warm, strong grasp--and
for a moment neither could speak.
"My dear fellow!" said Aubrey at last--"This is indeed an unexpected
meeting! How glad I am to see you! When did you arrive in Rome?"
"This morning only," said Cyrillon, recovering his speech and his
equanimity together--"And as soon as I arrived, I found that my
hopes had not betrayed me--she is not dead!"
"She?" Aubrey started--"My dear Grandit! Or rather I must call you
Vergniaud now--who is the triumphant 'she' that has brought you thus
post haste to Rome?"
Cyrillon flushed--then grew pale.
"I should not have spoken!" he said--"And yet, why not! You were my
first friend!--you found me working in the fields, a peasant lad,
untrained and sullen, burning up my soul with passionate thoughts
which, but for you, might never have blossomed into action,--you
rescued me--you made me all I am! So why should I not confess to you
at once that there is a woman I love!--yes, love with all my soul,
though I have seen her but once!--and she is too far off, too fair
and great for me: she does not know I love her--but I heard she had
been murdered--that she was dead--"
"Angela Sovrani!" cried Aubrey.
Cyrillon bent his head as a devotee might at the shrine of a saint.
Aubrey looked at his handsome face glowing with enthusiasm, and saw
the passion, the tenderness, the devotion of a life flashing in his
"Love at first sight!" he said with a smile--"I believe it is the
only true fire! A glance ought to be enough to express the
recognition of one soul to its mate. Well! Angela Sovrani is a woman
among ten thousand--the love of her alone is sufficient to make a
man better and nobler in every way--and if you can win her--"
"Ah, that is impossible! She is already affianced--"
Aubrey took his arm.
"Come with me, and I will tell you all I know," he said--"For there
is much to say,--and when you have heard everything, you may not be
altogether without hope."
They turned, and went towards the Corso, which they presently
entered, and where numbers of passers-by paused involuntarily to
look at the two men who offered such a marked contrast to each
other,--the one brown-haired and lithe, with dark, eager eyes,--the
other with the slim well set up figure of an athlete, and the fair
head of a Saxon king. And of the many who so looked after them, none
guessed that the one was destined in a few years' time to create a
silent and bloodless French Revolution, which should give back to
France her white lilies of faith and chivalry,--or that the other
was the upholder of such a perfect form of Christianity as should
soon command the following of thousands in all parts of the world.
And while they thus walked through the Roman crowd, the two women
they severally loved were talking of them. In Angela's sick-room,
softly shaded from the light, with a cheery wood fire burning,
Sylvie sat by her friend, telling her all she could think of that
would interest her, and rouse her from the deep gravity of mood in
which she nearly always found her. The weary days of pain and
illness had given Angela a strange, new beauty,--her face, delicate
and pale, seemed transfigured by the working of the soul within,--
and her eyes, tired as they were and often heavy with tears, had a
serenity in their depths which was not of earth, but all of Heaven.
She was able now to move from her bed, and lie on a couch near the
fire,--and her little white hands moved caressingly and with loving
care among the bunches of beautiful flowers which Sylvie had laid on
her coverlet,--daffodils, anemones, narcissi, violets, jonquils, and
all the sweet-scented flowers of early spring which come to Rome in
December from the blossoming fields of Sicily.
"How sweet they are!" she said with a half sigh,--"They almost make
me in love with life again!"
Sylvie said nothing, but only kissed her.
"How good you are to me, dearest Sylvie!" she then said--"You
deserve to be very happy!"
"Not half so much as you do!" responded Sylvie tenderly--"I am of no
use at all to the world; and you are! The world would not miss me a
bit, but it would not find an Angela Sovrani again in a hurry!"
Angela raised a cluster of narcissi and inhaled their fine and
delicate perfume. There were tears in her eyes, but she hid them
with a spray of the flowers.
"Ah, Sylvie, you think too well of me! To be famous is nothing. To
be loved is everything!"
Sylvie looked at her earnestly.
"You are loved," she said.
"No, no!" she said--"No, I am not loved. I am hated! Hush, Sylvie!--
do not say one word of what is in your mind, for I will not hear
She spoke agitatedly, and her cheeks flushed a sudden feverish red.
Sylvie made haste to try and soothe her.
"My darling girl, I would not say anything to vex you for the world!
You must not excite yourself--"
"I am not excited," said Angela, putting her arms round her friend
and drawing her fair head down till it was half hidden against her
own bosom--"No--but I must speak--bear with me for a minute, dear!
We all have our dreams, we women, and I have had mine! I dreamt
there was such a beautiful thing in the world as a great, unselfish
love,--I fancied that a woman, if gifted with a little power and
ability above the rest of her sex, could make the man she loved
proud of her--not jealous!--I thought that a lover delighted in the
attainments of his beloved--I thought there was nothing too high,
too great, too glorious to attempt for the sake of proving oneself
worthy to be loved! And now--I have found out the truth, Sylvie!--a
bitter truth, but no doubt good for me to know,--that men will kill
what they once caressed out of a mere grudge of the passing breath
called Fame! Thus, Love is not what I dreamed it; and I, who was so
foolishly glad to think that I was loved, have wakened up to know
that I am hated!--hated to the very extremity of hate, for a poor
gift of brair and hand which I wish--I wish I had never had!"
Sylvie raised her head and gently put aside the weak trembling
little hands that embraced her.
"Angela, Angela! You must not scorn the gifts of the gods! No, No!--
you will not let me say anything--you forbid me to express my
thoughts fully, and I know you are not well enough to hear me yet--
but one day you WILL know!--you will hear,--you will even be
thankful for all the sorrow you have passed through,--and meanwhile,
dear, dearest Angela, do not be ungrateful!"
She said the word boldly yet hesitatingly, bending over the couch
tenderly, her eyes full of light, and a smile on her lips. And
taking up a knot of daffodils she swept their cool blossoms softly
across Angela's burning forehead, murmuring--
"Do not be ungrateful!"
"Ungrateful--!" echoed Angela,--and she moved restlessly.
"Yes, darling! Do not say you wish you never had received the great
gifts God has given you. Do not judge of things by Sorrow's
measurement only. I repeat--you ARE loved--though not perhaps where
you most relied on love. Your father loves you--your uncle loves
you--Manuel loves you . . ."
Angela interrupted her with a protesting gesture.
"Yes--I know," she murmured, "but--"
"But you think all this love is worthless, as compared with a love
that was no love at all?" said Sylvie. "There! We will not speak
about it any more just now,--you are not strong, and you see things
in their darkest light. Shall I talk to you about Aubrey?"
"Ah! That is a subject you are never tired of!" said Angela with a
faint smile. "Nor am I."
"Well, you ought to be," answered Sylvie gaily, "for I am too
blindly, hopelessly in love to know when to stop! I see nothing else
and know nothing else--it is Aubrey, Aubrey all the time. The air,
the sunlight, the whole world, seem only an admirable exposition of
"Then how would you feel if he did not love you any more?" asked
"But that is not possible!" said Sylvie. "Aubrey could not change.
It is not in him. He is not like our poor friend Fontenelle."
"Ah! That love of yours was only fancy, Sylvie!"
"We all have our fancies!" answered the pretty Comtesse, looking
very earnestly into Angela's eyes. "We are not always sure that what
we first call love is love. But I had much more than a fancy for the
Marquis Fontenelle. If he had loved me--as I think he did at the
last--I should certainly have married him. But during all the time I
knew him he had a way of relegating all women to the same level--
servants, actresses, ballet-dancers, and ladies alike,--he would
never admit that there is as much difference between one woman and
another as between one man and another. And this is a mistake many
men make. Fontenelle wished to treat me as Miraudin would have
treated his 'leading lady';--he judged that quite sufficient for
happiness. Now Aubrey treats me as his comrade,--his friend as well
as his love, and that makes our confidence perfect. By the way, he
spoke to me a great deal yesterday about the Abbe Vergniaud, and
told me all he knew about his son Cyrillon."
"Ah, the poor Abbe!" said Angela. "They are angry with him still at
the Vatican--angry now with his dead body! But 'Gys Grandit' is not
of the Catholic faith, so they can do nothing with him."
"No. He is what they call a 'free-lance,'" said Sylvie. "And a
wonderful personage he is! I You have seen him?"
A faint colour crept over Angela's pale cheeks.
"Yes. Once. Just once, in Paris, on the day his father publicly
acknowledged him. But I wrote to him long before I knew who he
"Angela! You wrote to him?"
"Yes. I admired the writings of Gys Grandit--I used to buy all his
books as they came out, and study them. I wrote to him--as many
people will write to a favourite author--not in my own name of
course--to express my admiration, and he answered. And so we
corresponded for about two years, not knowing each other's identity
till that scene in Paris brought us together--"
"How VERY curious,--ve--ry!" said Sylvie, with a little mischievous
smile. "And so you are quite friends?"
"I think so--I believe so--" answered Angela--"but since we met, he
has ceased to write to me."
Sylvie made a mental note of that fact in her own mind, very much to
the credit of "Gys Grandit," but said nothing further on the
subject. Time was hastening on, and she had to return to the Casa
D'Angeli to receive Monsignor Gherardi.
"I am going to be lectured I suppose," she said laughingly. "I have
not seen the worthy Domenico since my engagement to Aubrey was
Angela looked at her intently.
"Are you at all prepared for what he will say?"
"Not in the least. What CAN he say?"
"Much that may vex you," said Angela. "Considering Aubrey Leigh's
theories, he may perhaps reproach you for your intended marriage--or
he may bring you information of the Pope's objection."
"Well! What of that?" demanded Sylvie.
"But you are a devout Catholic--"
"And you? With a great Cardinal for your uncle you paint 'The Coming
of Christ'! Ah!--I have seen that picture, Angela!"
"But I am different,--I am a worker, and I fear nothing," said
Angela, her eyes beginning to shine with the latent force in her
that was gradually resuming its dominion over her soul--"I thought
long and deeply before I put my thought into shape--"
"And _I_ thought long and deeply before I decided to be the
companion of Aubrey's life and work!" said Sylvie resolutely. "And
neither the Pope or a whole college of Cardinals will change my love
or prevent my marriage. A riverderci!"
"A riverderci!" echoed Angela, raising herself a little to receive
the kiss her friend tenderly pressed on her cheeks. "I shall be
anxious to know the result of your interview!"
"I will come round early to-morrow and tell you all," promised
Sylvie, "for I mean to find out, if I can, what happened at the
Vatican when Cardinal Bonpre last went there with Manuel."
"My uncle is most anxious to leave Rome," said Angela musingly.
"I know. And if there is any plot against him he MUST leave Rome--he
SHALL leave it! And we will help him!"
With that she went her way, and an hour or so later stood, a perfect
picture of grace and beauty, in the grand old rooms of the Casa
D'Angeli, waiting to receive Gherardi. She had taken more than the
usual pains with her toilette this afternoon, and had chosen to wear
a "creation" of wonderful old lace, with knots of primrose and
violet velvet caught here and there among its folds. It suited her
small lissom figure to perfection, and her only ornaments were a
cluster of fresh violets, and one ring sparkling on her left hand,--
a star of rose brilliants and rubies, the sign of her betrothal.
Punctual to the hour appointed, Gherardi arrived, and was at once
shown into her presence. There was a touch of aggressiveness and
irony in his manner as he entered with his usual slow and dignified
step, and though he endeavoured to preserve that suavity and cold
calmness for which he was usually admired and feared by women, his
glance was impatient, and an occasional biting of his lips showed
suppressed irritation. The first formal greetings over, he said--
"I have wished for some time to call upon you, Contessa, but the
pressure of affairs at the Vatican--"
He stopped abruptly, looking at her. How provokingly pretty she
was!--and how easily indifferent she seemed to the authoritative air
he had chosen to assume.
"I should, I know, long ere this have offered you my felicitations
on your approaching marriage--"
Sylvie smiled bewitchingly, and gave him a graceful curtsey.
"Will you not sit down, Monsignor?" she then said. "We can talk more
at our ease, do you not think?"
She seated herself, with very much the air of a queen taking
possession of a rightful throne, and Gherardi was vexedly aware that
he had not by any means the full possession of his ordinary dignity
or self-control. He took a chair opposite to her and sat for a
moment perplexed as to his next move. Sylvie did not help him at
all. Ruffling the violets among the lace at her neck, she looked at
him attentively from under her long golden-brown lashes, but
maintained a perfect silence.
"The news has been received by the Holy Father with great pleasure,"
he said at last. "His special benediction will grace your wedding-
Sylvie bent her head.
"The Holy Father is most gracious!" she replied quietly. "And he is
also more liberal than I imagined, if he is willing to bestow his
special benediction on my marriage with one who is considered a
heretic by the Church."
He flashed a keen glance at her,--then forced a smile. "Mr. Leigh's
heresy is of the past," he said--"We welcome him--with you--as one
Sylvie was silent. He waited, inwardly cursing her tranquillity.
Then, as she still did not speak, he went on in smooth accents--
"The Church pardons all who truly repent. She welcomes all who come
to her in confidence, no matter how tardy or hesitating their
approach. We shall receive the husband of our daughter Sylvie
Hermenstein, with such joy as the prodigal son was in old time
received--and of his past mistakes and follies there shall be
neither word nor memory!"
Then Sylvie looked up and fixed her deep blue eyes steadily upon
"Caro Monsignor!" she said very sweetly. "Why talk all this nonsense
to me? Do you not realise that as the betrothed wife of Aubrey Leigh
I am past the Church counsel or command?"
Gherardi still smiled.
"Past Church counsel or command?" he murmured with an indulgent air,
as though he were talking to a very small child. "Pardon me if I am
at a loss to understand--"
"Oh, you understand very well!" said Sylvie. "You know perfectly--or
you should--that a wife's duty is to obey her husband,--and that in
future HIS Church,--not yours,--must be hers also."
"Surely you speak in riddles?" said Gherardi, preserving his suave
equanimity. "Mr. Leigh is (or was) a would-be ardent reformer, but
he has no real Church."
"Then I have none!" replied Sylvie.
There was a moment's silence. A black rage began to kindle in
Gherardi's soul,--rage all the more intense because so closely
"I am still at a loss to follow you, Contessa," he said coldly.
"Surely you do not mean to imply that your marriage will sever you
from the Church of your fathers?"
"Monsignor, marriage for me means an oath before God to take my
husband for better or for worse, and to be true to him under all
trial and circumstances," said Sylvie. "And I assuredly mean to keep
that oath! Whatever his form of faith, I intend to follow it,--as I
intend to obey his commands, whatever they may be, or wherever they
may lead. For this, to me, is the only true love,--this to me, is
the only possible 'holy' estate of matrimony. And for the Church--a
Church which does not hesitate to excommunicate a dying man, and
persecute a good one,--I will leave the possibility of its wrath,
together with all other consequences of my act--to God!"
For one moment Gherardi felt that he could have sprung upon her and
throttled her. The next, he had mastered himself sufficiently to
speak,--this woman, so slight, so beautiful, so insolent should not
baffle him, he resolved!--and bending his dark brows menacingly, he
addressed her in his harshest and most peremptory manner.
"You talk of God," he said, "as a child talks of the sun and moon,
with as little meaning, and less comprehension! What impertinence it
is for a woman like yourself,--vain, weak and worldly,--to assert
your own will--your own thought and opinion--in the face of the Most
High! What! YOU will desert the Church? YOU whose ancestors have for
ages been devout servants of the faith? YOU, the last descendant of
the Counts Hermenstein, a noble and loyal family, will degrade your
birth by taking up with the rags and tags of humanity--the
scarecrows of life? And by your sheer stupidity and obstinacy, you
will allow your husband's soul to be dragged to perdition with your
own! You call it love--to keep him an infidel? You call it marriage-
-to be united to him without the blessings of Holy Church? Where is
your reason?--Where is your judgment?--Where your faith?"
"Not in my bank, Monsignor!" replied Sylvie coldly. "Though that is
the place where you would naturally expect to find these virtues
manifested, and the potency of their working substantially proved!
Pardon!--I have no wish to offend--but your manner to ME is
offensive, and unless you are disposed to discuss this matter
temperately, I must close our interview!"
Gherardi flushed a dark red, then grew pale. After all, the Countess
Hermenstein was in her own house,--she had the right to command his
exit if she chose. Small and slight as she was, she had a dignity
and power as great as his own, and if anything was to be gained from
her it was necessary to temporize. Among many other qualifications
for the part he had to play in life, he was an admirable actor, and
would have made his fortune on the legitimate stage,--and this
"quick change" ability served him in good stead now. He rose from
his chair as though moved by uncontrollable agitation, and walked to
the window, then turned again and came slowly and with bent head
"Forgive me!" he said simply. "I was wrong!"
Sylvie, easily moved to kindness, was touched by this apparent
humility on the part of a man so renowned for unflinching hauteur,
and she at once gave him her hand.
"I shall forget your words!" she said gently. "So there is nothing
"Thank you for your generosity," he said, still standing before her
and preserving his grave and quiet demeanour. "In my zeal for Holy
Church, my tongue frequently outruns my prudence. I confess you have
hurt me,--cruelly! You are a mere child to me--young, beautiful,
beloved,--and I am growing old; I have sacrificed all the joys of
life for the better serving of the faith--but I have kept a few fair
dreams--and one of the fairest was my belief in YOU!"
Sylvie looked at him searchingly, but his eyes did not flinch in
"I am sorry you are disappointed, Monsignor," she began, when he
raised his hand deprecatingly.
"No--I am not disappointed as yet!" he said, with an affectation of
great kindness. "Because I do not permit myself to believe that you
will allow me to be disappointed! Just now you made a passing
allusion--and I venture to say a hasty and unworthy one--to your
'bank,' as if my whole soul were set on retaining you as a daughter
of the Church for your great wealth's sake only! Contessa, you are
mistaken! Give me credit for higher and nobler motives! Grant me the
right to be a little better--a little more disinterested, than
perhaps popular rumour describes me,--believe me to be at least your
He paused--his voice apparently broken by emotion, and turning away
his head he paced the room once more and finally sat down, covering
his eyes with one hand, in an admirably posed attitude of fatigue
Sylvie was perplexed, and somewhat embarrassed. She had never seen
him in this kind of humour before. She was accustomed to a certain
domineering authority in his language, rendered all the more
difficult to endure by the sarcasm with which he sometimes
embittered his words, as though he had dipped them in gall before
pronouncing them,--but this apparent abandonment of reserve, this
almost touching assumption of candour, were phases of his
histrionical ability which he had never till now displayed in her
"Monsignor," she said after a little silence, "I sincerely ask your
pardon if I have wronged you, even in a thought! I had no real
intention of doing so, and if anything I have said has seemed to you
unduly aggressive or unjust, I am sorry! But you yourself began to
scold"--and she smiled--"and I am not in the humour to be scolded!
Though, to speak quite frankly, I have always been more or less
prepared for a little trouble on the subject of my intended marriage
with Mr. Aubrey Leigh,--I have felt and known all along that it
would incur the Pope's displeasure . . ."
Here Gherardi uncovered his eyes and looked at her fully.
"But there you are mistaken!" he said gently, with a smile that was
almost paternal. "I know of nothing in recent years that has given
the Holy Father greater satisfaction!"
She glanced at him quickly but said nothing, whereat he was secretly
annoyed. Why did she not express her wonder and delight at the
Pope's lenity, as almost any other woman in her position would have
done? Her outward appearance was that of child-like ultra-
femininity,--how was it then that he felt as if she were mentally
fencing with him, and that her intellectual sword-play threatened to
surpass his own?
"Nothing," he repeated suavely, "has given the Holy Father greater
satisfaction! For very naturally, he looks upon you as one of his
most faithful children, and rejoices that by the power of perfect
love--love which is an emanation of the Divine Spirit in itself--you
have been chosen by our Lord to draw so gifted and brilliant a man
as Aubrey Leigh out of the error of his ways and bring him into the
Still the Countess Sylvie was silent. Bending a quick scrutinising
glance upon her, he saw that her eyes were lowered, and that the
violets nestling near her bosom moved restlessly with her quickened
breath, and he judged these little signs of agitation as the
favourable hints of a weakening and hesitating will.
"Aubrey Leigh," he went on slowly, "has long been an avowed enemy of
our Church. In England especially, where many of the Protestant
clergy, repenting of their recusancy--for Protestantism is nothing
more than a backsliding from the true faith--are desirous of
gradually, through the gentler forms of Ritualism, returning to the
Original source of Divine Inspiration, he has taken a great deal too
much upon himself in the freedom of his speeches to the people. But
we are bound to remember that it is not against OUR Church only that
he has armed himself at all points, but seemingly against all
Churches; and when we examine, charitably and with patience, into
the sum and substance of his work and aim, we find its chief object
is to purify and maintain--not to destroy or deny--the Divine
teaching of Christ. In this desire we are one with him--we are even
willing to assist him in the Cause he has espoused--and we shall
faithfully promise to do so, when we receive him as your husband.
Nay, more--we will endeavour to further his work among the poor, and
carry out any scheme for their better care, which he may propose to
us, and we may judge as devout and serviceable. The Church has wide
arms,--she stretches far, and holds fast! The very fact of a man
like Aubrey Leigh voluntarily choosing as his wife the last scion of
one of the most staunch Roman Catholic families in Europe, proves
the salutary and welcome change which your good influence has
brought about in his heart and mind and manner and judgment,--
wherefore it follows, my dear child, that in his marriage with you
he becomes one of us, and is no longer outside us!"
With a swift and graceful imperiousness, Sylvie suddenly rose and
"It is time we understood each other, Monsignor," she said quietly.
"It is no good playing at cross purposes! With every respect for
you, I must speak plainly. I am fully aware of all you tell me
respecting my descent and the traditions of my ancestors. I know
that the former Counts Hermenstein were faithful servants of the
Church. But they were all merely half-educated soldiers; brave, yet
superstitious. I know also that my father, the late Count, was
apparently equally loyal to the Church,--though really only so
because it was too much trouble for him to think seriously about
anything save hunting. But I--Sylvie--the last of the race, do not
intend to be bound or commanded by the trammels of any Church, in
the face of the great truths declared to the world to-day! My faith
in God is as my betrothed husband's faith in God,--my heart is his,-
-my life is his! From henceforth we are together; and together we
are content to go, after death, wherever God shall ordain, be it
Hell or Heaven!"
"Wait!" said Gherardi in low fierce accents, his eyes glittering
with mingled rage and the admiration of her beauty which he could
ill conceal. "Wait! If you care nothing for yourself in this matter,
is it possible that you care nothing for him? Have you thought of
the results of such rashness as you meditate? Listen!" and he leaned
forward in his chair, his dark brows bent and his whole attitude
expressive of a relentless malice--"Your marriage, without the
blessing of the Church of your fathers, shall be declared illegal!--
your children pronounced bastards! Wherever the ramifications of the
Church are spread (and they are everywhere) you, the brilliant, the
courted, the admired Sylvie Hermenstein, shall find yourself not
only outside the Church, but outside all Society! You will be
considered as 'living in sin';--as no true wife, but merely the
mistress of the man with whom you have elected to wander the world!
And he, when he sees the finger of scorn pointed at you and at his
children, he also will change--as all men change when change is
convenient or advantageous to themselves;--he will in time weary of
his miserable Christian-Democratic theories,--and of you!--yes, even
of you!" And Gherardi suddenly sprang up and drew nearer to her.
"Even of YOU, I say! He will weary of your beauty--that delicate
fine loveliness which makes me long to possess it!--me, a priest of
the Mother-Church, whose heart is supposed to beat only for two
things--Power and Revenge! Listen--listen yet a moment!" and he drew
a step nearer, while Sylvie held her ground where she stood,
unflinchingly, and like a queen, though she was pale to the very
lips--"What of the friend you love so well, Angela Sovrani, who has
dared to paint such a picture as should be burnt in the public
market-place for its vile heresy! Do you think SHE will escape the
wrath of the Church? Not she! We in our day use neither poison nor
cold steel--but we know how to poison a name and stab a reputation!
What! You shrink at that? Listen yet--listen a moment longer! And
remember that nothing escapes the vigilant eye of Rome! At this very
moment I can place my hand on Florian Varillo, concerning whom there
is a rumour that he attempted the assassination of his betrothed
wife,--an inhuman deed that no sane man could ever have
perpetrated"--here Sylvie uttered a slight exclamation, and he
paused, looking at her with a cold smile--"Yes, I repeat it!--a deed
WHICH NO SANE MAN COULD HAVE PERPETRATED! The unfortunate, the
deeply wronged Florian Varillo, is prepared to swear, and I AM
PREPARED TO SWEAR WITH HIM, that he is guiltless of any such vile
act or treachery--and also that he painted more than half of the
great picture this woman Sovrani claims as her own work! Whilst
strongly protesting against its heresy and begging her to alter
certain figures in the canvas, still he gave her for love's sake,
all his masculine ability. The blasphemous idea is hers--but the
drawing, the colouring, the grouping, are HIS!"
"He is a liar!" cried Sylvie passionately. "Let him prove his lie!"
"He shall have every chance to prove it!" answered Gherardi calmly.
"I will give him every chance! I will support what you call his lie!
_I_ SAY IT IS A TRUTH! No woman could have painted that picture! And
mark you well--the mere discussion will be sufficient to kill the
Heedless of his ecclesiastical dignity--reckless of everything
concerning herself-Sylvie rushed up to him and laid one hand on his
"What! Are you a servant of Christ," she said half-whisperingly, "or
a slave of the devil?"
"Both," he answered, looking down upon her fair beauty with a wicked
light shining in his eyes. "Both!" and he grasped the little soft
hand that lay on his arm and held it as in a vice. "You are not
wanting in courage, Contessa, to come so close to me!--to let me
hold your hand! How pale you look! If you were like other women you
would scream--or summon your servants, and create a scandal! You
know better! You know that no scandal would ever be believed of a
priest attached to the Court of Rome! Stay there--where you are--I
will not hurt you! No--by all the raging fire of love for you in my
heart, I will not touch more than this hand of yours! Good!--Now you
are quite still--I say again, you have courage! Your eyes do not
flinch--they look straight into mine--what brave eyes! You would
search the very core of my intentions? You shall! Do you not think
it enough for me--who am human though priest--to give you up to the
possession of a man I hate!--A man who has insulted me! Is it not
enough, I say, to immolate my own passion thus, without having to
confront the possibility of your deserting that Church for whose
sake I thus resign you? For had this Aubrey Leigh never met you, I
would have MADE you mine! Still silent?--and your little hand still
quiet in mine?--I envy you your nerve! You stand torture well, but I
will not keep you on the rack too long! You shall know the worst at
once--then you shall yourself judge the position. You shall prove
for yourself the power of Rome! To escape that power you would have,
as the Scripture says, to 'take the wings of the morning and fly
into the uttermost parts of the sea.' Think well!--the fame and
reputation of Angela Sovrani can be ruined at my command,--and
equally, the sanctity and position of her uncle, Cardinal Bonpre!"
With a sudden movement Sylvie wrenched her hand away from his, and
stood at bay, her eyes flashing, her cheeks crimsoning.
"Cardinal Bonpre!" she cried. "What evil have you in your mind
against him? Are you so lost to every sense of common justice as to
attempt to injure one who is greater than many of the Church's
canonized saints in virtue and honesty? What has he done to you?"
"You excite yourself needlessly, Contessa," he said. "He has done
nothing to me personally,--he is simply in my way. That is his sole
offence! And whatever is in my way, I remove! Nothing is easier than
to remove Cardinal Bonpre, for he has, by his very simplicity,
fallen into a trap from which extrication will be difficult. He
should have stopped in his career with the performance of his
miracle at Rouen,--then all would have been well; he should not have
gone on to Paris, there to condone the crime of the Abbe Vergniaud,
and THEN come on to Rome. To come to Rome under such circumstances,
was like putting his head in the wolf's mouth! But the most
unfortunate thing he has done on his ill-fated journey, is to have
played protector to that boy he has with him."
"Why?" demanded Sylvie, growing pale as before she had been flushed.
"Do not ask why!" said Gherardi. "For a true answer would only anger
you. Suffice it for you to know that whatever is in the way of Rome
must be removed,--SHALL be removed at all costs! Cardinal Bonpre, as
I said before, is in the way--and unless he can account fully and
frankly for his strange companionship with a mere child-wanderer
picked out of the streets, he will lose his diocese. If he persists
in denying all knowledge of the boy's origin he will lose his
Cardinal's hat. There is nothing more to be said! But--there is one
remedy for all this mischief--and it rests with YOU!"
"With me?" Sylvie trembled,--her heart beat violently. She looked as
though she were about to swoon, and Gherardi put out his arm to
support her. She pushed him away indignantly.
"Do not touch me!" she said, her sweet voice shaken with something
like the weakness of tears. "You tempt me to kill you,--to kill you
and rid the world of a human fiend!"
His eyes flashed, and narrowed at the corners in the strange snake-
like way habitual to them.
"How beautiful you are!" he said indulgently, "There are some people
in the world who do not admire slight little creatures like you, all
fire and spirit enclosed in sweetness--and in their ignorance they
escape much danger! For when a man stoops to pick up a small flower
half hidden in the long grass, he does not expect it to half-madden
him with its sweetness--or half-murder him by its sting! That is why
you are irresistible to me, and to many. Yes--no doubt you would
like to kill me, bella Contessa!--and many a man would like to be
killed by you! If I were not Domenico Gherardi, servant of Mother-
Church, I would willingly submit to death at your hands. But being
what I am, I must live! And living, I must work--to fulfil the
commands of the Church. And so faithful am I in the work of our
Lord's vineyard, that I care not how many grapes I press in the
making of His wine! I tell you plainly that it rests with you to
save your friend Angela Sovrani, and the saintly Cardinal likewise.
Keep to the vows you have sworn to Holy Church,--vows sworn for you
in infancy at baptism, and renewed by yourself at your confirmation
and first Communion,--bring your husband to Us! And Florian
Varillo's mouth shall be closed--the Sovrani's reputation shall
shine like the sun at noonday; even the rank heresy of her picture
shall be forgiven, and the Cardinal and his waif shall go free!"
Sylvie clasped her hands passionately together and raised them in an
attitude of entreaty.
"Oh, why are you so cruel!" she cried. "Why do you demand from me
what you know to be impossible?"
"It is not impossible," answered Gherardi, watching her closely as
he spoke. "The Church is lenient,--she demands nothing in haste--
nothing unreasonable! I do not even ask you to bring about Aubrey
Leigh's conversion before your marriage. You are free to wed him in
your own way and in his,--provided that one ceremonial of the
marriage takes place according to our Catholic rites. But after you
are thus wedded, you must promise to bring him to Us!--you must
further promise that any children born of your union be baptized in
the Catholic faith. With such a pledge from you, in writing, I will
be satisfied;--and out of all the entanglements and confusion at
present existing, your friends shall escape unharmed. I swear it!"
He raised his hand with a lofty gesture, as though he were asserting
the truth and grandeur of some specially noble cause. Sylvie,
letting her clasped hands drop asunder with a movement of despair,
stood gazing at him in fascinated horror.
"The Church!" he went on, warming with his own inward fervour. "The
Rock, on which our Lord builds the real fabric of the Universe!" And
his tall form dilated with the utterance of his blasphemy. "The
learning, the science, the theoretical discussions of men, shall
pass as dust blown by the breath of a storm-wind--but the Church
shall remain, the same, yesterday, to-day and forever! It shall
crush down kings, governments and nations in its unmoving Majesty!
The fluctuating wisdom of authors and reformers--the struggle of
conflicting creeds--all these shall sink and die under the silent
inflexibility of its authority! The whole world hurled against it
shall not prevail, and were all its enemies to perish by the sword,
by poison, by disease, by imprisonment, by stripes and torture, this
would be but even justice! 'For many are called--but few are
He turned his eyes, flashing with a sort of fierce ecstasy, upon the
slight half-shrinking figure of Sylvie opposite to him. "Yes, bella
Contessa! What the Church ordains, must be; what the Church desires,
that same the Church will have! There is no room in the hearts or
minds of its servants for love, for pity, for pardon, for anything
human merely,--its authority is Divine!--and 'God will not be
mocked'! Humanity is the mere food and wine of sacrifice to the
Church's doctrine,--nations may starve, but the Church must be fed.
What are nations to the Church? Naught but children,--docile or
rebellious;--children to be whipped, and coerced, and FORCED to
obey! Thus for you, one unit out of the whole mass, to oppose
yourself to the mighty force of Rome, is as though one daisy out of
the millions in the grass should protest against the sweep of the
mower's scythe! You do not know me yet! There is nothing I would
hesitate to do in the service of the Church. I would consent to ruin
even YOU, to prove the fire of my zeal, as well as the fire of my
He made a step towards her,--she drew herself to the utmost reach of
her elfin height, and looked at him straightly. Pale, but with her
dark blue eyes flashing like jewels, she in one sweeping glance,
measured him with a scorn so intense that it seemed to radiate from
her entire person, and pierce him with a thousand arrowy shafts of
"You have stated your intentions," she said. "Will you hear my
He bent his head gravely, with a kind of ironical tolerance in his
"There is nothing I desire more!" he replied, "for I am sure that in
the unselfish sweetness of your nature you will do all you can to
serve--and save--your friends!"
"You are right!" she said, controlling the quickness of her
breathing, and forcing herself to speak calmly. "I will! But not in
your way! Not at your command! You have enlightened me on many
points of which I was hitherto ignorant--and for this I thank you!
You have taught me that the Church, instead of being a brotherhood
united in the Divine service of Christ, who was God-in-Man, is a
mere secular system of avarice and tyranny! You pretend to save
souls for God! What do you care for MY soul! You would have me wed a
man with fraud in my heart,--with the secret intent to push upon him
the claims of a Church he abhors,--and this after he has made me his
wife! You would have me tell lies to him before the Eternal! And you
call that the way to salvation? No, Monsignor! It is the wealth of
the Hermensteins you desire!--not the immortal rescue or heavenly
benefit of the last of their children! You will support the murderer
Varillo in his lie to ruin an innocent woman's reputation! You would
destroy the honour and peace of an old man's life for the sake of
furthering your own private interests and grudges! And you call
yourself a servant of Christ! Monsignor, if you are a servant of
Christ, then the Church you serve must be the shadow of a future
hell!--not the promise of a future heaven! I denounce it,--I deny
it!--I swear by the Holy Name of our Redeemer that I am a
Christian!--not a slave of the Church of Rome!"
Such passion thrilled her, such high exaltation, that she looked
like an inspired angel in her beauty and courage, and Gherardi,
smothering a fierce oath, made one stride towards her and seized her
"You defy me!" he said in a hoarse whisper. "You dare me to my
She looked up at his dark cruel face, his glittering eyes, and
shuddered as with icy cold,--but the spirit in that delicate little
body of hers was strong as steel, and tempered to the grandest
"I dare you to do your worst!" she said, half-sobbingly,--half-
closing her eyes in the nervous terror she could not altogether
control. "You can but kill me--I shall die true!"
With a sort of savage cry, Gherardi snatched her round the waist,
but scarcely had he done so when he was flung aside with a force
that made him reel back heavily against the wall, and Aubrey Leigh
"Aubrey!" cried Sylvie. "Oh, Aubrey!"
He caught her as she sprang to him, and held her fast,--and with
perfect self-possession he eyed the priest disdainfully up and down.
"So this," he said coldly, "is the way the followers of Saint Peter
fulfil the commands of Christ! Or shall we say this is the way in
which they go on denying their Master? It is a strange way of
retaining disciples,--a still stranger way of making converts! A
brave way too, to intimidate a woman!"
Gherardi, recovering from the shock of Aubrey's blow, drew himself
"I serve the Church, Mr. Leigh!" he said proudly. "And in that high
service all means are permitted to us for a righteous end!"
"Ah!--the old Jesuitical hypocrisy!" And Aubrey smiled bitterly.
"Lies are permitted in the Cause of Truth! One word, Monsignor! I
have no wish to play at any game of double-dealing with you. I have
heard the whole of your interview with this lady. It is the first
time I have ever played the eavesdropper--but my duty was to protect
my promised wife, if she needed protection--and I thought it was
possible she might need it--from YOU!"
Gherardi turned a livid paleness, and drew a quick breath.
"I know your moves," went on Aubrey quietly, "and it will be my
business as well as my pleasure to frustrate them. Moreover, I shall
give your plot into the care of the public press--"
"You will not dare!" cried Gherardi fiercely. "But--after all, what
matter if you do!--no one will believe you!"
"Not in Rome, perhaps," returned Aubrey coolly. "But in England,--in
America,--things are different. There are many honest men who
dislike to contemplate even a distant vision of the talons of Rome
hovering over us--we look upon such mischief as a sign of decay,--
for only where the carcasses of nations lie, does the vulture hover!
We are not dead yet! And now, Monsignor,--as your interview with the
Countess is ended--an interview to which I have been a witness--may
I suggest the removal of your presence? You have made a proposition-
-she has rejected it--the matter is ended!"
Civilly calm and cold he stood, holding Sylvie close to him with one
embracing arm, and Gherardi, looking at the two together thus,
impotently wished that the heavy sculptured and painted ceiling
above them might fall and crush them into a pulp before him. No
shame, no sense of compunction moved him,--if anything, he raised
his head more haughtily than before.
"Aubrey Leigh," he said, "Socialist, reformer, revolutionist--
whatever you choose to call yourself!--you have all the insolence of
your race and class,--and it is beneath my dignity to argue with
you. But you will rue the day you ever crossed my path! Not one
thing have I threatened, that shall not be performed! This unhappy
lady whose mind has been perverted from Holy Church by your
heretical teachings, shall be excommunicated. Henceforth we look
upon her as a child of sin, and we shall publicly declare her
marriage with you illegal. The rest can be left with confidence, to-
And with a dark smile which made his face look like that of some
malignant demon, he turned, and preserving his proud inflexibility
of demeanour, without another look or gesture, left the apartment.
Then Aubrey, alone with his love, drew her closer, and lifted her
fair face to his own, looking at it with passionate tenderness and
"You brave soul!" he said. "You true woman! You angel of the
covenant of love! How shall I ever tell you how I worship you--how I
revere you--for your truth and courage!"
She trembled under the ardour of his utterance, and her eyes filled
"I was not afraid!" she said. "I should have called Katrine,--only I
knew that if I once did so, she also would be involved, and he would
be unscrupulous enough to ruin my name with a few words in order to
defend himself from all suspicion. But you, Aubrey?--how did it
happen that you were here?"
"I was here from the first!" he replied triumphantly. "I followed on
Gherardi's very heels. Your Arab boy admitted me--he was in my
secret. He showed me into the anteroom just outside, where by
leaving a corner of the door ajar I could see and hear everything.
And I listened to your every word! I saw every bright flash of the
strong soul in your brave eyes! And now those eyes question me,
sweetheart,--almost reproachfully they seem to ask me why I did not
interfere between you and Gherardi before? Ah, but you must forgive
me for the delay! I wanted to drink all my cup of nectar to the
dregs--I could not lose one drop of such sweetness! To see you,
slight fragile blossom of a woman, matching your truth and courage
against the treachery and malice of the most unscrupulous priestly
tool ever employed by the Vatican, was a sight to make me strong for
all my days!" He kissed her passionately. "My love! My wife! How can
I ever thank you!"
She raised her sweet eyes wonderingly.
"Did you doubt me, Aubrey?" "No! I never doubted you. But I wondered
whether your force would hold out, whether you might not be
intimidated, whether you might not temporize, which would have been
natural enough--whether you might not have used some little social
art or grace to cover up and disguise the absoluteness of your
resolve--but no! You were a heroine in the fight, and you gave your
blows straight from the hilt, without flinching. You have made me
twice a man, Sylvie! With you beside me I shall win all I might
otherwise have lost, and I thank God for you, dear!--I thank God for
He drew her close again into his arms, pressing her to his heart
which beat tumultously with its deep rejoicing,--no fear now that
they two would ever cease to be one! No danger now of those
miserable so-called "religious" disputes between husband and wife,
which are so eminently anti-Christian, and which make many a home a
hell upon earth,--disputes which young children sometimes have to
witness from their earliest years, when the mother talks "at" the
father for not going to Church, or the father sneers at the mother
for being "a rank Papist"! Nothing now, but absolute union in spirit
and thought, in soul and intention--the rarest union that can be
consummated between man and woman, and yet the only one that can
engender perfect peace and unchanging happiness.
And presently the lovers' trance of joy gave way to thought for
others; to a realization of the dangers hovering over the good
Cardinal, and the already ill-fated Angela Sovrani, and Aubrey,
raising the golden head that nestled against his breast, kissed the
sweet lips once more and said--
"Now, my Sylvie, we must take the law into our own hands! We must do
all we can to save our friends. The Cardinal must be thought of
first. If we are not quick to the rescue he will be sent 'into
retreat,' which can be translated as forced detention, otherwise
imprisonment. He must leave Rome to-night. Now listen!"
And sitting down beside her, still holding her hand, he gave her an
account of his meeting with Cyrillon Vergniaud, otherwise "Gys
Grandit," and told her of the sudden passion for Angela that had
fired the soul of that fiery writer of the fiercest polemics against
priestcraft that had as yet startled France.
"Knowing now all the intended machinations of Gherardi," continued
Aubrey, "what I suggest is this,--that you, my Sylvie, should
confide in the Princesse D'Agramont, who is fortunately for us, an
enemy of the Vatican. Arrange with her that she persuades Angela to
return under her escort at once to Paris. Angela is well enough to
travel if great care be taken of her, and the Princesse will not
spare that. Cyrillon can go with them--I should think that might be
He smiled as he put this question. Sylvie smiled in answer and
"I should think so!"
"But the Cardinal," resumed Aubrey, "and--and Manuel--must go to-
night. I will see Prince Sovrani and arrange it. And Sylvie--will
you marry me to-morrow morning?"
Her eyes opened wide and she laughed.
"Why yes, if you wish it!" she said. "But--so soon?"
"Darling, the sooner the better! I mean to take every possible
method of making our marriage binding in the sight of the world,
before the Vatican has time to launch its thunders. If you are
willing, we can be married at the American Consulate to-morrow
morning. You must remember that though born of British parents, I do
not resign my American citizenship, and would not forego being of
the New World for all the old worlds ever made! The American Consul
knows me well, and he will begin to make things legal for us to-
morrow if you are ready."
"BEGIN to make things legal?" echoed Sylvie smiling. "Will he do no
more than begin?"
"My sweetheart, he cannot. He will make you mine according to
American law. In England, you will again be made mine according to
English law. And then afterwards we will have our religious
Sylvie looked at him perplexedly, then gave a pretty gesture of
"Let everything be as you wish and decide, Aubrey," she said." I
give my life and love to you, and have no other will but yours!"
He kissed her.
"I accept the submission, only to put myself more thoroughly at your
command," he said tenderly,--"You are my queen,--but with powerful
enemies against us, I must see that you are rightfully enthroned!"
A few minutes' more conversation,--then a hurried consultation with
Madame Bozier, and Sylvie, changing her lace gown for a simple
travelling dress, walked out of the Casa D'Angeli with the faithful
Katrine, and taking the first carriage she could find, was driven to
the Palazzo where the Princesse D'Agramont had her apartments.
Allowing from ten to fifteen minutes to elapse after her departure,
Aubrey Leigh himself went out, and standing on the steps of the
house, looked up and down carelessly, drawing on his gloves and
humming a tune. His quick glance soon espied what he had been almost
certain he should see, namely, the straight black-garmented figure
of a priest, walking slowly along the street on the opposite side,
his hands clasped behind his back, and his whole aspect indicative
of devout meditation.
"I thought so!" said Aubrey to himself. "A spy set on already! No
time to lose--Cardinal Bonpre must leave Rome at nightfall."
Leisurely he crossed the road, and walking with as slow a step as
the priest he had noticed, came opposite to him face to face. With
impenetrable solemnity the holy man meekly moved aside,--with
equally impenetrable coolness, Aubrey eyed him up and down, then the
two passed each other, and Aubrey walked with the same unhasting
pace, to the end of the street,--then turned--to see that the priest
had paused in his holy musings to crane his neck after him and watch
him with the most eager scrutiny. He did not therefore take a
carriage at the moment he intended, but walked on into the Corso,--
there he sprang into a fiacre and drove straight to the Sovrani
Palace. The first figure he saw there, strolling about in the front
of the building, was another priest, absorbed in apparently profound
thoughts on the sublimity of the sunset, which was just then casting
its red glow over the Eternal City. And with the appearance of this
second emissary of the Vatican police, he realised the full
significance of the existing position of affairs.
Without a moment's loss of time he was ushered into the presence of
the Cardinal, and there for a moment stood silent on the threshold
of the apartment, overcome by the noble aspect of the venerable
prelate, who, seated in his great oaken chair, was listening to a
part of the Gospel of Saint Luke, read aloud in clear sweet accents
"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth
that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his
heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the
heart his mouth speaketh.
"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
"Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I
will show you to whom he is like:
"He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid
the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat
vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was
founded upon a rock.
"But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a
foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream
did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; AND THE RUIN OF THAT
HOUSE WAS GREAT."
And emphasizing the last line, Manuel closed the book; then at a
kindly beckoning gesture from the Cardinal, Aubrey advanced into the
room, bowing with deep reverence and honour over the worn old hand
the prelate extended.
"My lord Cardinal," he said without further preface, "you must leave
The Cardinal raised his gentle blue eyes in wondering protest.
"By whose order?"
"Surely by your own Master's will," said Aubrey with deep
earnestness. "For he would not have you be a victim to treachery!"
"Treachery!" And the Cardinal smiled. "My son, traitors harm
themselves more than those they would betray. Treachery cannot touch
Aubrey came a step nearer.
"Monsignor, if you do not care for yourself you will care for the
boy," he said in a lower tone, with a glance at Manuel, who had
withdrawn, and was now standing at one of the windows, the light of
the sunset appearing to brighten itself in his fair hair. "He will
be separated from you!"
At this the Cardinal rose up, his whole form instinct with
resolution and dignity.
"They cannot separate us against the boy's will or mine," he said.
Manuel came to his call, and the Cardinal placed one hand on his
"Child," he said softly, "they threaten to part me from you, if we
stay longer here. Therefore we must leave Rome!"
Manuel looked up with a bright flashing glance of tenderness.
"Yes, dear friend, we must leave Rome!" he said. "Rome is no place
for you--or for me!"
There was a moment's silence. Something in the attitude of the old
man and the young boy standing side by side, moved Aubrey deeply; a
sense of awe as well as love overwhelmed him at the sight of these
two beings, so pure in mind, so gentle of heart, and so widely
removed in years and in life,--the one a priest of the Church, the
other a waif of the streets, yet drawn together as it seemed, by the
simple spirit of Christ's teaching, in an almost supernatural bond
of union. Recovering himself presently he said,
"To-night then, Monsignor?"
The Cardinal looked at Manuel, who answered for him.
"Yes, to-night! We will be ready! For the days are close upon the
time when the birth of Christ was announced to a world that does not
yet believe in Him! It will be well to leave Rome before then! For
the riches of the Pope's palace have nothing to do with the poor
babe born in a manger,--and the curse of the Vatican would be a
discord in the angels' singing--'Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth PEACE, GOODWILL TOWARDS MEN'!"
His young voice rang out, silver clear and sweet, and Aubrey gazed
at him in wondering silence.
"To-night!" repeated Manuel, smiling and stretching out his hand
with a gentle authoritative gesture. "To-night the Cardinal will
leave Rome, and _I_ will leave it too--perchance for ever!"
During these various changes in the lives of those with whom he had
been more or less connected, Florian Varillo lay between life and
death in the shelter of a Trappist monastery on the Campagna. When
he had been seized by the delirium and fever which had flung him,
first convulsed and quivering, and then totally insensible, at the
foot of the grim, world-forgotten men who passed the midnight hours
in digging their own graves, he had been judged by them as dying or
dead, and had been carried into a sort of mortuary chapel, cold and
bare, and lit only by the silver moonbeams and the flicker of a
torch one of the monks carried. Waking in this ghastly place, too
weak to struggle, he fell a-moaning like a tortured child, and was,
on showing this sign of life, straight-way removed to one of the
cells. Here, after hours of horrible suffering, of visions more
hideous than Dante's Hell, of stupors and struggles, of fits of
strong shrieking, followed by weak tears, he woke one afternoon calm
and coherent,--to find himself lying on a straight pallet bed in a
narrow stone chamber, dimly lighted by a small slit of window,
through which a beam of the sun fell aslant, illumining the blood-
stained features of a ghastly Christ stretched on a black crucifix
directly opposite him. He shuddered as he saw this, and half-closed
his eyes with a deep sigh.
"Tired--tired!" said a thin clear voice beside him. "Always tired!
It is only God who is never weary!"
Varillo opened his eyes again languidly, and turned them on a monk
sitting beside him,--a monk whose face was neither old nor young,
but which presented a singular combination of both qualities. His
high forehead, white as marble, had no furrows to mar its
smoothness, and from under deep brows a pair of wondering wistful
brown eyes peered like the eyes of a lost and starving child. The
cheeks were gaunt and livid, the flesh hanging in loose hollows from
the high and prominent bones, yet the mouth was that of a youth,
firm, well-outlined and sweet in expression, and when he smiled as
he did now, he showed an even row of small pearly teeth which might
have been envied by many a fair woman.
"Only God who is never weary!" he said, nodding his head slowly,
"but we--you and I--we are soon tired!"
Varillo looked at him dubiously; and a moment's thought decided him
to assume a certain amount of meekness and docility with this
evident brother of some religious order, so that he might obtain
both sympathy and confidence from him, and from all whom he might be
bound to serve. Ill and weak as he was, the natural tendency of his
brain to scheme for his own advantage, was not as yet impaired.
"Ah, yes!" he sighed, "I am very tired!--very ill! I do not know
what has happened to me--nor even where I am. What place is this?"
"It is a place where the dead come!" responded the monk. "The dead
in heart! the dead in soul--the dead in sin! They come to bury
themselves, lest God should find them and crush them into dust
before they have time to say a prayer! Like Adam and his wife, they
hide themselves 'from the presence of the Lord among the trees of
Varillo raised himself on one elbow, and stared at the pale face and
smiling mouth of the speaker in fear and wonder.
"'A place where the dead come!'" he echoed. "But you are alive--and
so am I!"
"You may be--I am not," said the monk quietly. "I died long ago!
People who are alive say we are men, though we know ourselves to be
ghosts merely. This place is called by the world a Trappist
monastery,--you will go out of it if indeed you are alive--you must
prove that first! But we shall never come out, because we are dead.
One never comes out of the grave!"
With an effort Varillo tried to control the tremor of his nerves,
and to understand and reason out these enigmatical sentences of his
companion. He began to think--and then to remember,--and by and by
was able to conjure up the picture of himself as he had last been
conscious of existence,--himself standing outside the gates of a
great building on the Campagna, and shaking the iron bars to and
fro. It was a Trappist monastery then?--and he was being taken
charge of by the Trappist Order? This fact might possibly be turned
to his account if he were careful. He lay down once more on his
pillow and closed his eyes, and under this pretence of sleep,
pondered his position. What were they saying of him in Rome? Was
Angela buried? And her great picture? What had become of it?
"How long have I been here?" he asked suddenly.
The monk gave a curious deprecatory gesture with his hands.
"Since you died! So long have you been dead!"
Varillo surveyed him with a touch of scorn.
"You talk in parables--like your Master!" he said with a feeble
attempt at a laugh. "I am not strong enough to understand you! And
if you are a Trappist monk, why do you talk at all? I thought one of
your rules was perpetual silence?"
"Silence? Yes--everyone is silent but me!" said the monk--"I may
talk--because I am only Ambrosio,--mad Ambrosio!--something wrong
here!" And he touched his forehead. "A little teasing demon lives
always behind my eyes, piercing my brain with darts of fire. And he
obliges me to talk; he makes me say things I should not--and for all
the mischief he works upon me I wear this--see!"--And springing up
suddenly he threw aside the folds of his garment, and displayed his
bare chest, over which a coarse rope was crossed and knotted so
tightly, that the blood was oozing from the broken flesh on either
side of it. "For every word I say, I bleed!"
Varillo gave a nervous cry and covered his eyes.
"Do not be afraid!" said Ambrosio, drawing his robe together again,
"It is only flesh--not spirit--that is wounded! Flesh is our great
snare,--it persuades us to eat, to sleep, to laugh, to love--the
spirit commands none of these things. The spirit is of God--it wants
neither food nor rest,--it is pure and calm,--it would escape to
Heaven if the flesh did not cramp its wings!"
Varillo took his hand from his eyes and tossed himself back on his
pillow with a petulant moan.
"Can they do nothing better for me than this?" he ejaculated. "To
place me here in this wretched cell alone with a madman!"
Ambrosio stood by the pallet bed looking down upon him with a sort
of child-like curiosity.
"No better than this?" he echoed. "Would you have anything better?
Safe--safe from the world,--no one can find you or follow you--no
one can discover your sin--"
"Sin! What sin!" demanded Varillo fiercely. "You talk like a fool--
as you own yourself to be! I have committed no sin!"
"Good--good!" said Ambrosio. "Then you must be canonized with all
the rest of the saints! And St. Peter's shall be illuminated, and
the Pope shall be carried in to see you and to lay his hands upon
you, and they shall shout to him, 'Tu es Petrus!' and no one will
remember what kind of a bruised, bleeding, tortured, broken-down
Head of the Church stood before the multitude when Pilate cried
Varillo stared at him in unwilling fascination. He seemed carried
beyond himself,--it was as though some other force spoke through
him, and though he scarcely raised his voice, its tone was so clear,
musical, and penetrative that it seemed to give light and warmth to
the cold dullness of the cell.
"You must not mind me!" he went on softly, "My thoughts have all
gone wrong, they tell me,--so have my words. I was young once--and
in that time I used to study hard and try to understand what it was
that God wished me to do with my life. But there were so many
things--so much confusion--so much difficulty--and the end is--
here!" He smiled. "Well! It is a quiet end,--they say the devil
knocks at the gate of the monastery often at midnight, but he never
enters in,--never--unless perchance you are he!"
Varillo turned himself about pettishly.
"If I were he, I should not trouble you long," he said. "Even the
devil might be glad to make exit from such a hole as this! Who is
"We have only one Superior,--God!" replied Ambrosio. "He who never
slumbers or sleeps--He who troubles Himself to look into everything,
from the cup of a flower to the heart of a man! Who shall escape the
lightning of His glance, or think to cover up a hidden vileness from
the discovery of the Most High?"
"I did not ask you for pious jargon," said Varillo, beginning to
lose temper, yet too physically weak to contend with the wordy
vagaries of this singular personage who had evidently been told off
to attend upon him. "I asked you who is the Head or Ruler of this
community? Who gives you the daily rule of conduct which you all
Ambrosio's brown eyes grew puzzled, and he shook his head.
"I obey no one," he said. "I am mad Ambrosio!--I walk about in my
grave, and speak, and sing, while others remain silent. I would tell
you if I knew of anyone greater than God,--but I do not!"
Varillo uttered an impatient groan. It was no good asking this
creature anything,--his answers were all wide of the mark.
"God," went on Ambrosio, turning his head towards the light that
came streaming in through the narrow window of the cell, "is in that
sunbeam! He can enter where He will, and we never know when we shall
meet Him face to face! He may possess with His spirit the chaste
body of a woman, as in our Blessed Lady,--or He may come to us in
the form of a child, speaking to the doctors in the temple and
arguing with them on the questions of life and death. He is in all
things; and the very beggar at our gates who makes trial of our
charity, may for all we know, be our Lord disguised! Shall I tell
you a strange story?"
Varillo gave a weary sign of assent, half closing his eyes. It was
better this crazed fool should talk, he thought, than that he should
lie there and listen, as it were, to the deadly silence which in the
pauses of the conversation could be felt, like the brooding
heaviness of a thick cloud hanging over the monastery walls.
"It happened long ago," said Ambrosio. "There was a powerful prince
who thought that to be rich and strong was sufficient to make all
the world his own. But the world belongs to God,--and He does not
always give it over to the robber and spoiler. This prince I tell
you of, had been the lover of a noble lady, but he was false-
hearted; and the false soon grow weary of love! And so, tiring of
her beauty and her goodness, he stabbed her mortally to death, and
thought no one had seen him do the deed. For the only witness to it
was a ray of moonlight falling through the window--just as the
sunlight falls now!--see!" And he pointed to the narrow aperture
which lit the cell, while Florian Varillo, shuddering in spite of
himself, lay motionless. "But when the victim was dead, this very
ray of moonlight turned to the shape of a great angel, and the angel
wore the semblance of our Lord,--and the glory and the wonder of
that vision was as the lightning to slay and utterly destroy! And
from that hour for many years, the murderer was followed by a ray of
light, which never left him; all day he saw it flickering in his
path,--all night it flashed across his bed, driving sleep from his
eyes and rest from his brain!--till at last maddened by remorse he
confessed his crime to a priest, and was taken into a grave like
this, a monastery,--where he died, so they say, penitent. But
whether he was forgiven, the story does not say!"
"It is a stupid story!" said Varillo, opening his eyes, and smiling
in the clear, candid way he always assumed when he had anything to
hide. "It has neither point nor meaning."
"You think not?" said Ambrosio. "But perhaps you are not conscious
of God. If you were, that sunbeam we see now should make you
careful, lest an angel should be in it!"
"Careful? Why should I be careful?" Varillo half raised himself on
the bed. "I have nothing to hide!"
At this Ambrosio began to laugh.
"Oh, you are happy--happy!" he exclaimed. "You are the first I ever
heard say that! Nothing to hide! Oh, fortunate, fortunate man! Then
indeed you should not be here--for we all have something to hide,
and we are afraid even of the light,--that is why we make such
narrow holes for it; we are always praying God not to look at our
sins,--not to uncover them and show us what vile souls we are--we
men who could be as gods in life, if we did not choose to be devils-
Here he suddenly broke off, and a curious grey rigidity stole over
his features, as if some invisible hand were turning him into stone.
His eyes sparkled feverishly, but otherwise his face was the lace of
the dead. The horrible fixity of his aspect at that moment, so
terrified Varillo that he gave a loud cry, and almost before he knew
he had uttered it, another monk entered the cell. Varillo gazed at
him affrightedly, and pointed to Ambrosio. The monk said nothing,
but merely took the rigid figure by its arm and shook it violently.
Then, as suddenly as he had lost speech and motion, Ambrosio
recovered both, and went on talking evenly, taking up the sentence
he had broken off--"If we did not choose to be as devils, we might
be as gods!" Then looking around him with a smile, he added, "Now
you are here, Filippo, you will explain!"
The monk addressed as Filippo remained silent, still holding him by
the arm, and presently quietly guiding him, led him out of the cell.
When the two brethren had disappeared, Varillo fell back on his
"What am I to do now?" he thought. "I must have been here many
days!--all Rome must know of Angela's death--all Rome must wonder at
my absence--all Rome perhaps suspects me of being her murderer! And
yet--this illness may be turned to some account. I can say that it
was caused by grief at hearing the sudden news of her death--that I
was stricken down by my despair--but then--I must not forget--I was
to have been in Naples. Yes--the thing looks suspicious--I shall be
tracked!--I must leave Italy. But how?"
Bathed in cold perspiration he lay, wondering, scheming, devising
all sorts of means of escape from his present surroundings, when he
became suddenly aware of a tall dark figure in the cell,--a figure
muffled nearly to its eyes, which had entered with such stealthy
softness and silence as to give almost the impression of some
supernatural visitant. He uttered a faint exclamation--the figure
raised one hand menacingly.
"Be silent!" These words were uttered in a harsh whisper. "If you
value your life, hold your peace till I have said what I come to
Moving to the door of the cell, the mysterious visitor bolted it
across and locked it--then dropped the disguising folds of his heavy
mantle and monk's cowl, and disclosed the face and form of Domenico
Gherardi. Paralysed with fear Varillo stared at him,--every drop of
blood seemed to rush from his heart to his brain, turning him sick
and giddy, for in the dark yet fiery eyes of the priest, there was a
look that would have made the boldest tremble.
"I knew that you were here," he said, his thin lips widening at the
corners in a slight disdainful smile. "I saw you at the inn on the
road to Frascati, and watched you shrink and tremble as I spoke of
the murder of Angela Sovrani! You screened your face behind a paper
you were reading,--that was not necessary, for your hand shook,--and
so betrayed itself as the hand of the assassin!"
With a faint moan, Varillo shudderingly turned away and buried his
head in his pillow.
"Why do you now wish to hide yourself?" pursued Gherardi. "Now when
you are an honest man at last, and have shown yourself in your true
colors? You were a liar hitherto, but now you have discovered
yourself to be exactly as the devil made you, why you can look at me
without fear--we understand each other!"
Still Varillo hid his eyes and moaned, and Gherardi thereupon laid a
rough hand on his shoulder.
"Come, man! You are not a sick child to lie cowering there as though
seized by the plague! What ails you? You have done no harm! You
tried to kill something that stood in your way,--I admire you for
that! I would do the same myself at any moment!"
Slowly Varillo lifted himself and looked up at the dark strong face
"A pity you did not succeed!" went on Gherardi, "for the world would
have been well rid of at least one feminine would-be 'genius,' whose
skill puts that of man to shame! But perhaps it may comfort you to
know that your blow was not strong enough or deep enough, and that
your betrothed wife yet lives to wed you--if she will!"
"Lives!" cried Florian. "Angela lives!"
"Ay, Angela lives!" replied Gherardi coldly. "Does that give you
joy? Does your lover's heart beat with ecstasy to know that she--
twenty times more gifted than you, a hundred times more famous than
you, a thousand times more beloved by the world than you--lives, to
be crowned with an immortal fame, while you are relegated to scorn
and oblivion! Does that content you?"
A dull red flush crept over Varillo's cheeks,--his hand flenched the
coverlet of his bed convulsively.
"Lives!" He muttered. "She lives! Then it must be by a miracle! For
I drove the steel deep . . . deep home!"
Gherardi looked at him curiously, with the air of a scientist
watching some animal writhing under vivisection.
"Perhaps Cardinal Felix prayed for her!" he said mockingly, "and
even as he healed the crippled child in Rouen he may have raised his
niece from the dead! But miracle or no miracle, she lives. That is
why I am here!"
"Why--you--are--here?" repeated Varillo mechanically.
"How dull you are!" said Gherardi tauntingly. "A man like you with a
dozen secret intrigues in Rome, should surely be able to grasp a
situation better! Angela Sovrani lives, I tell you,--I am here to
help you to kill her more surely! Your first attempt was clumsy,--
and dangerous to yourself, but--murder her reputation, amico, murder
her reputation!--and so build up your own!"
Slowly Varillo turned his eyes upon him. Gherardi met them
unflinchingly, and in that one glance the two were united in the
spirit of their evil intention.
"You are a man," went on Gherardi, watching him closely. "Will you
permit yourself to be baffled and beaten in the race for fame by a
woman? Shame on you if you do! Listen! I am prepared to swear that
you are innocent of having attempted the murder of your affianced
wife, and I will also assert that the greater part of her picture
was painted by you, though you were, out of generosity and love for
her, willing to let her take the credit of the whole conception!"
Varillo started upright.
"God!" he cried. "Is it possible! Will you do this for me?"
"Not for you--No," said Gherardi contemptuously. "I will do nothing
for you! If I saw you lying in the road at my feet dying for want of
a drop of water, I would not give it to you! What I do, I do for
myself--and the Church!"
By this time Varillo had recovered his equanimity. A smile came
readily to his lips as he said--
"Ah, the Church! Excellent institution! Like charity, it covers a
multitude of sins!"
"It exists for that object," answered Gherardi with a touch of
ironical humor. "Its own sins it covers,--and shows up the
villainies of those who sin outside its jurisdiction. Angela Sovrani
is one of these,--her uncle the Cardinal is another,--Sylvie
"What of her?" cried Varillo, his eyes sparkling. "Is her marriage
"Broken off!" Gherardi gave a fierce gesture. "Would that it were!
No! She renounces the Church for the sake of Aubrey Leigh--she
leaves the faith of her fathers--"
"And takes the wealth of her fathers with her!" finished Varillo,
maliciously. "I see! I understand! The Church has reason for anger!"
"It has reason!" echoed Gherardi. "And we of the Church choose you
as the tool wherewith to work our vengeance. And why? Because you
are a born liar!--because you can look straight in the eyes of man
or woman, and swear to a falsehood without flinching!--because you
are an egotist, and will do anything to serve yourself--because you
have neither heart nor conscience--nor soul nor feeling,--because
you are an animal in desires and appetite,-because of this, I say,
we yoke you to our chariot wheels, knowing you may be trusted to
drive over and trample down the creatures that might be valuable to
you if they did not stand in your way!"
Such bitterness, such scorn, such loathing were in his accents, that
even the callous being he addressed was stung, and made a feeble
gesture of protest.
"You judge me harshly," he began--
"Judge you! Not I! No judgment is wanted. I read you like a book
through and through,--a book that should be set on Nature's Index
Expurgatorius, as unfit to meet the eyes of the faithful! You are a
low creature, Florian Varillo,--and unscrupulous as I am myself, I
despise you for meanness greater than even I am capable of! But you
are a convenient tool, ready to hand, and I use you for the Church's
service! If you were to refuse to do as I bid you, I would brand you
through the world as the murderer you are! So realize to the full
how thoroughly I have you in my power. Now understand me,--you must
leave this place to-morrow. I will send my carriage for you, and you
shall come at once to me, to me in Rome as my guest,--my HONOURED
guest!" And he emphasized the word sarcastically. "You are weak and
ill yet, they tell me here,--so much the better for you. It will
make you all the more interesting! You will find it easier to play
the part of injured innocence! Do you understand?"
"I understand," answered Varillo with a faint shudder, for the
strong and relentless personality of Gherardi overpowered him with a
sense of terror which he could not wholly control.
"Good! Then we will say no more. Brief words are best on such
burning matters. To-morrow at six in the afternoon I will send for
you. Be ready! Till then--try to rest--try to sleep without dreaming
of a scaffold!"
He folded his mantle around him again and prepared to depart.
"Sleep," he repeated. "Sleep with a cold heart and quiet mind! Think
that it is only a woman's name--a woman's work--a woman's honour,
that stand in your way,--and congratulate yourself with the
knowledge that the Church and her Divine authority will help you to
remove all three! Farewell!"
He turned, and unlocked the door of the cell. As he threw it open,
he was confronted by the monk Ambrosio, who was outside on the very
"What are you doing here?" he demanded suspiciously. "I had a permit
from the Superior to speak to your charge alone."
"And were you not alone?" returned Ambrosio smiling. "I was not with
you! I was here as sentinel, to prevent anyone disturbing you. Poor
Ambrosio--mad Ambrosio! He is no good at all except to guard the
Gherardi looked at him scrutinizingly, and noted the lack-lustre
eyes, the helpless childish expression, of the half-young, half-old
face confronting his own.
"Guard the dead as much as you please," he said harshly. "But take
heed how you spy on the living! Be careful of the sick man lying
yonder--we want him back with us in Rome to-morrow."
"Back in Rome--good--good!" he said. "Then he is living after all! I
thought he was dead in his sins as I am,--but you tell me he lives,
and will go back to Rome!--Oh yes--I will take care of him--good
care!--do not fear! I know how to guard him so that he shall not
Gherardi looked at him again sharply, but he was playing with his
long rosary and smiling foolishly, and there seemed no use in
wasting further speech upon him. So, muffling himself in his cloak,
he strode away, and Ambrosio entered the cell.
"You shall have meat and wine presently," he said, approaching the
bed where Florian lay. "The devil has given orders that you shall be
Varillo looked up and smiled kindly. He could assume any expression
at command, and it suited his purpose just now to be all gentleness.
"My poor friend!" he said compassionately. "Your wits are far
astray! Devil? Nay--he who has just left us is more of a saint!"
Ambrosio's brown eyes flashed, but he maintained a grave and
"The devil has often mocked us in saint's disguise," he said slowly.
"I tell the porter here every night to keep the gates well locked
against him,--but this time it was no use; he has entered in. And
now we shall have great work to get him out!"
Varillo resting his head on one arm, studied him curiously.
"You must have lived a strange life in the world!" he said. "That is
if you were ever in the world at all. Were you?"
"Oh yes, I was in the world," replied Ambrosio calmly. "I was in the
midst of men and women who passed their whole lives in acts of
cruelty and treachery to one another. I never met a man who was
honest; I never saw a woman who was true! I wondered where God was
that He permitted such vile beings to live and take His name in
vain. He seemed lost and gone,--I could not find Him!"
"Ah!" ejaculated Florian languidly. "And did yon discover Him here?
In this monastery?"
"No--He is not here, for we are all dead men," said Ambrosio. "And
God is the God of the living, not the God of the dead! Shall I tell
you where I found him?" And he advanced a step or two, raising one
hand warningly as though he were entrusted with some message of
doom--"I found Him in sin! I tried to live a life of truth in a
world of lies, but the lies were too strong for me,--they pulled me
down! I fell--into a black pit of crime--reckless, determined,
conscious wickedness,--and so found God--in my punishment!"
He clasped his hands together with an expression of strange ecstasy.
"Down into the darkness!" he said. "Down through long vistas of
shadow and blackness you go, glad and exultant, delighting in evil,
and thinking 'God sees me not!' And then suddenly at the end, a
sword of fire cuts the darkness asunder,--and the majesty of the
Divine Law breaks your soul on the wheel!"
He looked steadfastly at Varillo.
"So you will find,--so you must find, if you ever go down into the
"Ay, if I ever go," said Florian gently. "But I shall not."
"No?--then perhaps you are there already?" said Ambrosio smiling,
and playing with his rosary. "For those who say they will never sin
have generally sinned!"
Varillo held the same kind look of compassion in his eyes. He was
fond of telling his fellow-artists that he had a "plastic" face,--
and this quality served him well just now. He might have been a hero
and martyr, from the peaceful and patient expression of his
features, and he so impressed by his manner a lay-brother who
presently entered to give him his evening meal, that he succeeded in
getting rid of Ambrosio altogether.
"You are sure you are strong enough to be left without an
attendant?" asked the lay-brother solicitously, quite captivated by
the gentleness of his patient. "There is a special evening service
to-night in the chapel, and Ambrosio should be there to play the
organ--for he plays well--but this duty had been given to Fra
"Nay, but let Ambrosio fulfil his usual task," said Varillo
considerately. "I am much better--much stronger,--and as my good
friend Monsignor Gherardi desires me to be in Rome to-morrow, and to
stay with him till I am quite restored to health, I must try to rest
as quietly as I can till my hour of departure."
"You must be a great man to have Domenico Gherardi for a friend!"
said the lay-brother wistfully.
Here Ambrosio suddenly burst into a loud laugh.
"You are right! He is a great man!--one of the greatest in Rome, or
for that matter in the world! And he means to be yet greater!" And
with that he turned on his heel and left the cell abruptly.
Varillo, languidly sipping the wine that had been brought to him
with his food, looked after him with a pitying smile.
"Poor soul!" he said gently.
"He was famous once," said the lay-brother, lowering his voice as he
spoke. "One of the most famous sculptors in Europe. But something
went wrong with his life, and he came here. It is difficult to make
him understand orders, or obey them, but the Superior allows him to
remain on account of his great skill in music. On that point at
least he is sane."
"Indeed!" said Varillo indifferently. He was beginning to weary of
the conversation, and wished to be alone. "It is well for him that
he is useful to you in some regard. And now, my friend, will you
leave me to rest awhile? If it be possible I shall try to sleep now
"One of us will come to you at daybreak," said the lay-brother. "You
are still very weak--you will need assistance to dress. Your clothes
are here at the foot of the bed. I hope you will sleep well."
"Thank you!" said Varillo, conveying an almost tearful look of
gratitude into his eyes--"You are very good to me! God bless you!"
The lay-brother made a gentle deprecatory gesture of his hands and
retired, and Varillo was left to his own reflections. He lay still,
thinking deeply, and marvelling at the unexpected rescue out of his
difficulties so suddenly afforded him.
"With Gherardi to support me, I can say anything!" he mused, his
heart beating quickly and exultingly. "I can say anything and swear
anything! And even if the sheath of my dagger has been found, it
will be no proof, for I can say it is not mine. Any lie I choose to
tell will have Gherardi's word to warrant it!--so I am safe--unless
He considered this possibility for a moment, then smiled.
"But she never will! She is one of those strange women who endure
without complaint,--she is too lofty and pure for the ways of the
world, and the world naturally takes vengeance upon her. There is
not a man born that does not hate too pure a woman; it is his joy to
degrade her if he can! This is the way of Nature; what is a woman
made for except to subject herself to her master! And when she rises
superior to him--superior in soul, intellect, heart and mind, he
sees in her nothing but an abnormal prodigy, to be stared at,
laughed at, despised--but never loved! The present position of
affairs is Angela's fault, not mine. She should not have concealed
the work she was doing from her lover, who had the right to know all
He laughed,--a low malicious laugh, and then lay tranquilly on his
pillows gazing at the gradually diminishing light. Day was
departing--night was coming on,--and as the shadows lengthened, the
solemn sound of the organ began to vibrate through the walls of the
monastery like far-off thunder growing musical. With a certain
sensuous delight in the beautiful, Varillo listened to it with
pleasure; he had no mind to probe the true meaning of music, but the
mere sound was soothing and sublime, and seemed in its gravity, to
match the "tone" of the light that was gradually waning. So
satisfied was he with that distant pulse of harmony that he began
weaving some verses in his head to "His Absent Lady,"--and succeeded
in devising quite a charming lyric to her whose honour and renown he
was ready to kill. So complex, so curious, so callous, yet sensuous,
and utterly egotistical was his nature, that had Angela truly died
under his murderous blow, he would have been ready now to write such
exquisite verses in the way of a lament for her loss, as should have
made a world of sentimental women weep, not knowing the nature of
The last glimpse of day vanished, and the cell was only illuminated
by a flickering gleam which crept through the narrow crevice of the
door from the oil lamp outside in the corridor. The organ music
ceased--to be followed by the monotonous chanting of the monks at
their evening orisons,--and in turn, these too came to an end, and
all was silent. Easily and restfully Florian Varillo, calling
himself in his own mind poet, artist, and lover of all women rather
than one, turned on his pillow and slept peacefully,--a calm deep
sleep such as is only supposed to visit the innocent and pure of
conscience, but which in truth just as often refreshes the senses of
the depraved and dissolute, provided they are satisfied with evil as
their good. How many hours he slept he did not know, but he was
wakened at last by a terrible sense of suffocation, and he sat up
gasping for breath, to find the cell full of thick smoke and burning
stench. The flickering reflection of the lamp was gone, and as he
instinctively leaped from his bed and grasped his clothes, he heard
the monastery bell above him swinging to and fro, with a jarring
heavy clang. Weak from the effects of his illness, and scarcely able
to stand, he dragged on some of his garments, and rushing to the
door threw it open, to be met with dense darkness and thick clouds
of smoke wreathing towards him in all directions. He uttered a loud
The bell clanged on slowly over his head, but otherwise there was no
response. Stumbling along, blinded, suffocated, not knowing at any
moment whether he might not be precipitated down some steep flight
of stairs or over some high gallery in the building, he struggled to
follow what seemed to be a cooling breath of air which streamed
through the smoke as though blowing in from some open door, and as
he felt his way with his hands on the wall he suddenly heard the
"Thank God!" he thought, "I am near the chapel! The fire has broken
out in this part of the building--the monks do not know and are
still at prayer. I shall be in time to save them all! . . ."
A small tongue of red flame flashed upon his eyes--he recoiled--then
pressed forward again, seeing a door in front of him. The organ
music sounded nearer and nearer; he rushed to the door, half choked
and dizzy, and pushing it open, reeled into the organ loft, where at
the organ, sat the monk Ambrosio, shaking out such a storm of music
as might have battered the gates of Heaven or Hell. Varillo leaped
forward--then, as he saw the interior of the chapel, uttered one
agonized shriek, and stood as though turned to stone. For the whole
place was in flames!--everything from the altar to the last small
statue set in a niche, was ablaze, and only the organ, raised like a
carven pinnacle, appeared to be intact, set high above the blazing
ruin. Enrapt in his own dreams, Ambrosio sat, pouring thunderous
harmony out of the golden-tubed instrument which as yet, with its
self-acting machinery, was untouched by the flames, and Varillo
half-mad with terror, sprang at him like a wild beast
"Stop!" he cried "Stop, fool! Do you not see--can you not
understand--the monastery is on fire!"
Ambrosio shook him off, his brown eyes were clear and bright,--his
whole expression stern and resolved.
"I know it," he replied. "And we shall burn--you and I--together!"
'Oh, mad brute!" cried Varillo. "Tell me which way to go!--where are
"Outside!" he answered "Safe!--away at the farther end of the
garden, digging their own graves, as usual! Do you not hear the
bell? We are alone in the building!--I have locked the doors,--the
fire is kindled inside! We shall be dead before the flames burst
"Madman!" shrieked Varillo, recoiling as the thick volumes of smoke
rolled up from the blazing altar. "Die if you must!--but I will not!
Where are the windows?--the doors?--"
"Locked and bolted fast," said Ambrosio, with a smile of triumph.
"There is no loophole of escape for you! The world might let you go
free to murder and betray,--but I--Ambrosio,--a scourge in the
Lord's hand--I will never let you go! Pray--pray before it is too
late! I heard the devil tempt you--I heard you yield to his
tempting! You were both going to ruin a woman--that is devil's work.
And God told me what to do--to burn the evil out by flame, and
purify your soul! Pray, brother, pray!--for in the searching and
tormenting fire it will be too late! Pray! Pray!"
And pressing his hands again upon the organ he struck out a passage
of chords like the surging of waves upon the shore or storm-winds in
the forest, and began to sing,
Flammis acribus addictis
Voci me cum benedictis!"
Infuriated to madness but too physically weak to struggle with one
who, though wandering in brain, was sound in body, Varillo tried to
drag him from his seat,--but the attempt was useless. Ambrosio
seemed possessed by a thousand electric currents of force and
resolution combined. He threw off Varillo as though he were a mere
child, and went on singing--