Part 12 out of 13
"Oro supplex et acclinis
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.
. . . .
Lacrymosa dies illa,--"
Driven to utter desperation, Varillo stood for a moment inert,--
then, suddenly catching sight of a rope hanging from one of the
windows close at hand, he rushed to it and pulled it furiously. The
top of the window yielded, and fell open on its hinge--the smoke
rushed up to the aperture, and Florian, still clinging to the rope,
shouted, "Help!--Help!" with all the force he could muster. But the
air blowing strongly against the smoke fanned the flames in the body
of the chapel,--they leaped higher and higher,--and--seeing the red
glow deepening about him, Ambrosio smiled.--"Cry your loudest, you
will never be heard!" he said--"Those who are busy with graves have
done with life! You had best pray while you have time--let God take
you with His name on your lips!"
And as the smoke and flame climbed higher and higher and began to
wreathe itself about the music gallery, he resumed his solemn
"Lacrymosa dies illa,
Qua resurgat ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine
Dona eis requiem!"
But Varillo still shrieked "Help!" and his frenzied cries were at
last answered. The great bell overhead ceased ringing suddenly,--and
its cessation created an effect of silence even amid the noise of
the crackling fire and the continued grave music of the organ. Then
came a quick tramp of many feet--a hubbub of voices--and loud
battering knocks at the chapel door. Ambrosio laughed triumphantly.
"We are at prayers!" he cried--"We admit no one! The devil and I are
Varillo sprang at him once more.
"Madman! Show me the way!" he screamed. "Show me the way down from
this place or I will strangle you!"
"Find your own way!" answered Ambrosio--"Make it--as you have always
made it!--and follow it--to Hell!"
As he spoke the gallery rocked to and fro, and a tall flame leaped
at the organ like a living thing ready to seize and devour. Still
the knocking and hammering continued, and still Ambrosio played wild
music--till all at once the chapel door was broken open and a group
of pale spectral faces in monk's cowls peered through the smoke, and
then retreated again.
"Help!" shrieked Varillo--"Help!"
But the air rushing through the door and meeting with that already
blowing through the window raised a perfect pyramid of flame which
rose straight up and completely encircled the organ. With a
frightful cry Varillo rushed to Ambrosio's side, and cowering down,
clung to his garments.
"Oh, God!--Oh, God! Have mercy!--"
"He will have mercy!" said Ambrosio, still keeping his hands on the
organ-keys and drawing out strange plaintive chords of solemn
harmony--"He will have mercy--be sure of it! Ambrosio will ask Him
to be merciful!--Ambrosio has saved you from crime worse than
death,--Ambrosio has cleansed you by fire! Ambrosio will help you to
find God in the darkness!"
Smoke and flame encircled them,--for one moment more their figures
were seen like black specks in the wreathing columns of fire--for
one moment more the music of the organ thundered through the
chapel,--then came a terrific crash--a roar of the victorious flames
as they sprang up high to the roof of the building, and then--then
nothing but a crimson glare on the Campagna, seen for miles and
miles around, and afterwards described to the world by the world's
press as the "Burning Down of a Trappist Monastery" in which no
lives had been lost save those of one Fra Ambrosio, long insane, who
was supposed to have kindled the destructive blaze in a fit of
mania,--and of a stranger, sick of malarial fever, whom the monks
had sheltered, name unknown.
The same night which saw the red glare of the burning monastery
reflected from end to end of the Campagna, like the glow of some
gigantic pagan funeral pyre, saw also the quiet departure of
Cardinal Bonpre and his "foundling" Manuel from Rome. Innocent of
all evil, their escape was after the manner of the guilty; for the
spies of the Vatican were on guard outside the Sovrani Palace, and
one priest after another "relieved the watch" in the fashion of
military sentries. But like all too cunning schemers, these pious
detectives overreached the goal of their intention, and bearing in
mind the fact of the Cardinal's unsuspecting simplicity, it never
occurred to them to think he had been put on his guard so soon, or
that he would take advantage of any secret way of flight. But the
private door of Angela's studio through which Florian Varillo had
fled, and the key of which he had thrown into the Tiber, had been
forced open, and set in use again, and through this the harmless
prelate, with his young companion, passed without notice or
hindrance, and under the escort of Aubrey Leigh and Cyrillon
Vergniaud, reached the railway station unintercepted by any message
or messenger from the Papal court, and started for Paris and London.
When the train, moving slowly at first from the platform, began to
rush, and finally darted swiftly out of sight, Aubrey breathed more
"Thank God!" he said. "They are safe for the present! England is a
"Is it?" And Vergniaud smiled a little. "Are you sure? England
cannot dispute the authority of the Vatican over its own sworn
servants. Are you not yourself contending against the power of Rome
in Great Britain?"
"Not only against Rome do I contend," replied Aubrey. "My battle is
against all who seek to destroy the true meaning and intention of
Christianity. But so far as Romanism is concerned,--we have a
monarch whose proudest title is Defender of the Faith--that is
Defender of the Faith against Papal interference."
"Yes? And yet her bishops pander to Rome? Ah, my dear friend!--your
monarch is kept in ignorance of the mischief being worked in her
realm by the Papal secret service! Cardinal Bonpre in London is as
much under the jurisdiction of the Pope as if he still remained in
Rome, and though he may be able to delay the separation between
himself and the boy he cherishes, he will scarcely avert it!"
"Why should they wish to part that child from him I wonder!" said
Cyrillon shrugged his shoulders.
"Who can tell! They have their reasons, no doubt. Why should they
wish to excommunicate Tolstoi? But they do! Believe me, there is a
time of terror coming for the religious world--especially in your
great English Empire. And when your good Queen dies, the trouble
Aubrey was silent for some minutes.
"We must work, Cyrillon!" he said at last, laying a hand on his
friend's shoulder. "We must work and we must never leave off
working! One man may do much,--all history proves the conquering
force of one determined will. You, young as you are, have persuaded
France to listen to you,--I am doing my best to persuade England to
hear me. We are only two--but others will follow. I know it is
difficult!--it is harassing and often heartbreaking to insist on
Truth when the whole world's press is at work bolstering up false
gods, false ideals, false art, false sentiment,--but if we are firm-
-if we hold an unflinching faith, we shall conquer!"
"You are brave!" said Cyrillon with a glance of mingled trust and
admiration. "But you are an exception to the majority of men. The
majority are cruel and treacherous, and stupid as well. Dense
stupidity is hard to fight against! Who for example, do you suppose,
will understand the lesson of Donna Sovrani's great picture?"
"All the New World!" said Aubrey, with enthusiasm,--"It is for the
New World--not the Old. And that reminds me to-day the picture is on
view to the art-critics and experts for the first time. I prophesy
it will be sold at once!"
"That would make her father happy," said Cyrillon slowly. "But she--
she will not care!"
Aubrey looked at him attentively.
"Have you seen her?"
"Yes. For a moment only. I called at the Sovrani Palace and her
father received me. We talked for some time together. I think he
knows who dealt the murderous blow at his daughter, but he says
nothing positive. He showed me the picture. It is great--sublime! I
could have knelt before it! Then he took me to see Her--and I would
have knelt still more readily! But--she is changed!"
"And--are you?" asked Aubrey with a slight smile.
"Changed? I? No--I shall never change. I loved her at first sight--I
love her still more now. Yet I see the truth--she is broken-
"Time and great tenderness will heal the wound," said Aubrey gently.
"Meanwhile have patience!"
Cyrillon gave him a look more eloquent than speech, and by mutual
consent they said no more on the subject of Angela just then.
Next morning at the American Consulate, Sylvie, Comtesse
Hermenstein, was quietly married by civil law to Aubrey Leigh. The
ceremony took place in the presence of the Princesse D'Agramont,
Madame Bozier, and Cyrillon Vergniaud. When it was over the wedded
lovers and their friends returned to the Sovrani Palace, there to
join Angela who had come down from her sick room to grace the
occasion. She looked as fair and fragile as the delicate "Killmeny"
of the poet's legend, just returned from wondrous regions of
"faery," though the land poor Angela had wandered away from was the
Land of Sweet Delusion, which enchanted garden she would never enter
again. Pale and thin, with her beautiful eyes drooping wearily under
their dreamy tired lids, she was the very ghost of her former self;-
-and the child-like way in which she clung to her father, and kept
near her father always, was pathetic in the extreme. When Sylvie and
Aubrey entered, with their three companions, she advanced to greet
them, smiling bravely, though her lips quivered.
"All happiness be with you, dear!" she said softly, and she slipped
a chain of fine pearls round Sylvie's neck. "These were my mother's
pearls,--wear them for my sake!"
Sylvie kissed her in silence,--she could not say anything, even by
the way of thanks,--her heart was too full.
"We shall be very lonely without you, darling," went on Angela.
"Shall we not, father?" Prince Pietro came to her side, and taking
her hand patted it consolingly--"But we shall know you are happy in
England--and we shall try and come and see you as soon as I get
strong,--I want to join my uncle and Manuel. I miss Manuel very
much,--he and my father are everything to me now!"
She stretched out her hand to Aubrey, who bent over it and kissed it
"You are happy now, Mr. Leigh?" she said smiling.
"Very happy!" said Aubrey. "May you be as happy soon!"
She shook her head, and the smile passed from her eyes and lips,
leaving her face very sorrowful.
"I must work," she said. "Work brings content--if it does not insure
joy." Her gaze involuntarily wandered to her great picture, "The
Coming of Christ," which now, unveiled in all its splendour,
occupied one end of her studio, filling it with a marvellous colour
and glow of light. "Yes, I must work! That big canvas of mine will
not sell I fear! My father was right. It was a mistake"--and she
sighed--"a mistake altogether,--in more ways than one! And what is
the use of painting a picture for the world if there is no chance to
let the world see it?"
Prince Pietro looked at her benevolently.
"Your father was right, you think? Well, Angela mia, I think I had
better be the first to own that your father was wrong! The picture
is already sold;--that is if you consent to sell it!"
Angela turned very white. "If I consent to sell it? Sell it--to
Sylvie put a caressing arm around her. "Your father had the news
this morning," she said, "and we all decided to tell it to you as
soon as we came back from the Consulate. A wedding-surprise on our
parts, Angela! You know the picture was on view for the first time
yesterday to some of the critics and experts in Rome?"
Angela made a faint sign of assent. Her wistful eyes were full of
wonder and anxiety.
"Well, among them was a purchaser for America--Oh, you need not look
at me, my dear!--I have nothing to do with it! You shall see the
letter your father received--and you shall decide; but the end of
the whole matter is, Angela, that if you consent, the picture will
be bought, not by any private purchaser, but by the American
"The American nation!" repeated Angela. "Are you really, really sure
"Quite sure!" said Sylvie joyously. "And you must say good-bye to it
and let it go across the wide ocean--out to the New World all alone
with its grand and beautiful message,--unless you go with it and
show the Americans something even more perfect and beautiful in
yourself than the picture!--and you must be content to take twenty
thousand pounds for it, and be acknowledged as the greatest painter
of the age as well! This will be hard work, Angela!--but you must
She laughed for pure delight in her friend's triumph,--but Angela
turned at once to her father.
"Dearest father!" she said softly. "I am glad--for your sake!"
He folded her in his arms, too deeply moved to speak, and then as he
felt her trembling, he led her to a chair and beckoned to Cyrillon
Vergniaud who had stood apart, watching the little scene in silence.
"Come and talk to this dear girl!" he said. "She is not at all a
good hostess to-day! She ought to entertain the bride and bridegroom
here,--but it seems as if she needed to be entertained herself!" And
then, as Cyrillon obeyed him, and drew near the idol of his thoughts
with such hesitating reverence as might befit a pilgrim approaching
the shrine of a beloved saint, he turned away and was just about to
speak to the Princesse D'Agramont when a servant entered and said
"Monsignor Gherardi desires to see Cardinal Bonpre!"
There was a dead pause. The group of friends looked at one another
in embarrassment. Angela rose from her chair trembling and glanced
instinctively at her picture--and for a moment no one seemed quite
certain what should be done next. The Princesse D'Agramont was the
first to recover her self-possession.
"Angela must not be here," she said. "She is not strong enough to
stand a scene. And no doubt Gherardi has come to make one! We will
leave him to you, Mr. Leigh--and to Gys Grandit!"
She withdrew at once with Angela, and in another moment Gherardi was
ushered in. He glanced quickly around him as he made his formal
salutation,--his eyes rested for a moment on Sylvie and Aubrey
Leigh--then he addressed himself to Prince Pietro.
"I am sorry to intrude upon you, Prince!" he said. "I have an urgent
matter to discuss with Cardinal Bonpre, and must see him at once."
"I regret that it is not in my power to gratify your desire,
Monsignor," said Prince Sovrani with stiff courtesy. "My brother-in-
law the Cardinal left Rome last night"
"Left Rome! Left Rome!" exclaimed Gherardi. "Who gave him permission
to leave Rome!"
"Was permission necessary?" asked Aubrey, stepping forward.
"I did not address you, sir," returned Gherardi haughtily. "I spoke
to Prince Sovrani."
"Prince Sovrani might well decline to answer you," said Aubrey
undauntedly. "Were I to make him acquainted with the fiendish plot
you have contrived against his daughter's fame and honour, he would
scarcely allow you to cross his threshold!"
Gherardi stood still, breathing quickly, but otherwise unmoved.
"Plot?" he echoed. "You must be mad! I have no plot against anyone.
My business is to uphold the cause of truth and justice, and I shall
certainly defend the name of the great artist who painted that
picture"--and he pointed to Angela's canvas--"Florian Varillo! Dead
as he is, his memory shall live!"
"Dead!" cried Prince Sovrani, springing forward. "Dead! Make me sure
of that, and I will praise God even for your lying tongue, if it
could for once speak such a welcome truth!"
Gherardi drew back amazed, instinctively recoiling from the flashing
eyes and threatening figure of the irate nobleman.
"Speak!" cried Sovrani again. "Tell me that the murderer of my
child's youth and joy is dead and gone to hell--and I will sing a
Laus Deo at St. Peter's! I will pay you a thousand pounds in masses
to keep his soul safe with the devil to whom it has gone!"
"Prince Sovrani, you are in ignorance of the facts," said Gherardi
coldly. "And you speak in an anger, which if what you suspect were
true, would be natural enough, but which under present circumstances
is greatly misplaced. The unfortunate Florian Varillo has been ill
for many days at a Trappist monastery on the Campagna. He had gone
out towards Frascati on a matter connected with some business before
starting for Naples, and as he was returning, he was suddenly met by
the news of the assassination of his betrothed wife--"
"And he knew nothing of it--" interposed Sovrani grimly. "Of course-
-he knew nothing!"
"He knew nothing--how should he know!" responded Gherardi calmly--
"The terrible shock threw him into a delirium and fever--he was
found in a dead swoon and taken into the monastery for shelter. I
saw him there only yesterday."
He paused. No one spoke.
"He was to have come to Rome to-day, and a full explanation of his
absence would have been given. But last night the monastery was set
"Thank God!" said Sovrani.
Gherardi looked at him with an air of admirably affected sorrowful
"I grieve for your injustice and cruelty, Prince!" he said--"Some
natural regret there should surely be in your mind at the tragic end
of one so highly gifted--one whom you had accepted as your future
son-in-law. He met with a terrible death! The monastery was set on
fire, as I have told you--but the doors had all been previously
locked within, it is supposed by one of the monks named Ambrosio,
who was subject to fits of insanity--with the tragic result that he
and Varillo perished in the flames, there being no possibility of
"Then the guillotine is saved unnecessary soiling," said Sovrani
fiercely. "And you, Monsignor Gherardi, should have a special
'Jubilate' sung for the world being well-rid of an exceptionally
damned and damnable villain!"
There was something terrific in the aspect of Sovrani's face and
threatening attitude, and for a moment Gherardi hesitated to go on
with his prepared sequence of lies. Rallying his forces at last with
an effort he made a very good assumption of his most authoritative
"Prince, I must ask you to be good enough to hear me patiently," he
said. "Your mind has been grossly abused, and you are not aware of
the true position of affairs. You imagine with some few gossips in
Rome, that Florian Varillo, your daughter's betrothed husband, was
guilty of the murderous attack upon her life--you are mistaken!"
"Mistaken!" Prince Pietro laughed scornfully. "Prove my mistake!--
"I give you my word!" said Gherardi. "And I also swear to you that
the picture yonder, which, though offensive to the Church and
blasphemous in its teaching, is nevertheless a great masterpiece of
painting, is the work of the unfortunate dead man you so greatly
"Liar!" And Cyrillon Vergniaud sprang forward, interposing himself
between Sovrani and the priest. "Liar!"
Gherardi turned a livid white.
"Who is this ruffian?" he demanded, drawing his tall form up more
haughtily than before. "A servant of yours?"
"Ay, a servant of his, and of all honest men!" returned Cyrillon. "I
am one whom your Church has learned to fear, but who has no fear of
you!--one whom you have heard of to your cost, and will still hear
Gherardi glanced him up and down, and then turned from him in
disgust as from something infected by a loathly disease.
"Prince Sovrani!" he said. "I cannot condescend to converse with a
street ranter, such as this misguided person, who has most
regrettably obtained admission to your house and society! I came to
see your brother-in-law Cardinal Bonpre,--who has left Rome, you
tell me--therefore my business must be discussed with you alone. I
must ask you for a private audience."
Sovrani looked at him steadily.
"And I must refuse it, Monsignor! If in private audience you wish to
repeat the amazing falsehood you have just uttered respecting my
daughter's work--I am afraid I should hardly keep my hands off you!
Believe me you are safest in company!"
Monsignor Gherardi paused a moment,--then turned towards Sylvie.
"Contessa," he said very deliberately. "You can perhaps arrange this
matter better than I can. Florian Varillo is dead--as I have told
you; and for stating what I believe to be the truth regarding him I
have been subjected to insult in your presence. I have known you for
many years and I knew your father before you,--I have no wish to
either distress or offend you,--do you understand? I am in your
Sylvie looked him full in the face. "My husband will answer you,
Monsignor," she said. "I am in his hands!" Gherardi turned as
crimson as he had before been pale. "Your husband!" He strode
forward with a threatening movement--then stopped short, as he
confronted Aubrey Leigh. "Your husband! So! You are married then!"--
and he laughed fiercely--"Married by the law, and excommunicated by
the Church! A pleasant position for the last of the Hermensteins!
Contessa, by your own act you have ruined the fortunes of your
friends! I would have held my peace at your will,--but now all Rome
shall know the truth!" "The truth according to the convenience of
papal Rome?" queried Aubrey Leigh--"The truth, as expounded to the
Comtesse Hermenstein in your interview with her yesterday?"
Gherardi looked him over with superb indifference.
"My interview with the Comtesse Hermenstein was a private one"--he
said,--"And if a spy was present, he must prove himself a spy. And
we of the Church do not accept a spy's testimony!"
White with indignation Aubrey sprang forward,--but Cyrillon
Vergniaud restrained him. "Patience!" he said in a low tone--"Let
him have his way for the moment--it will then be my turn!"
"My word is law in Rome!"--went on Gherardi--"Whatsoever I choose to
say will be confirmed and ratified by the greatest authority in the
world--the Pope! I am ready to swear that Florian Varillo painted
that picture,--and the Pope is ready to believe it! Who will admit
such a masterpiece to be a woman's work? No one! Each member of the
house of Sovrani can bear witness to the fact that no one ever saw
Angela Sovrani painting it! But I know the whole story--I was the
last to see Florian Varillo before his death--and he confessed the
truth--that he had worked for his betrothed wife in order to give
her the greater fame! So that he was not, and could not have been
"Then her assassin must be found!" said Prince Pietro suddenly. "And
the owner of this sheath--the sheath of the dagger with which she
was stabbed--must claim his property!" And holding up the sheath in
question before Gherardi he continued--
"This _I_ found! This _I_ traced! Varillo's servant admitted it to
be his master's--Varillo's mistress recognised it as her lover's--a
slight thing, Monsignor!--but an uncomfortable witness! And if you
dare to promulgate your lie against my daughter and her work, I will
accuse you in the public courts of complicity in an attempted
murder! And I doubt whether the Pope will judge it politic, or a
part of national diplomacy, to support you then!"
For a moment Gherardi was baffled. His dark brows met in a frown of
menace and his lips tightened with his repressed fury. Then,--still
managing to speak with the utmost composure, he said,
"You will permit me to look at this dagger-sheath--this proof on
which you place so much reliance?"
In the certainty of his triumph, old Sovrani was ready to place it
in the priest's extended hand, when young Vergniaud interposed and
"No! You can admire it from a distance, Monsignor! You are capable
in your present humour of tearing it to atoms and so destroying
evidence! As the 'servant' of Prince Sovrani, it is my business to
defend him from this possibility!"
Gherardi raised his dark eyes and fixed them, full of bitterest
scorn, on the speaker.
"So YOU are Gys Grandit!" he said in accents which thrilled with an
intensity of hatred. "You are the busy Socialist, the self-
advertising atheist, who, like a yelping cur, barks impotently under
the wheels of Rome! You--Vergniaud's bastard--"
"Give that name to your children at Frascati!" cried Cyrillon
passionately. "And own them as yours publicly, as my father owned me
before he died!"
With a violent start, Gherardi reeled back as though he had been
dealt a sudden blow, and over his face came a terrible change, like
the grey pallor of creeping paralysis. White to the lips, he
struggled for breath . . . he essayed to speak,--then failing, made a
gesture with his hands as though pushing away some invisible foe.
Slowly his head drooped on his breast, and he shivered like a man
struck suddenly with ague. Startled and awed, everyone watched him
in fascinated silence. Presently words came slowly and with
difficulty between his dry lips.
"You have disgraced me!" he said hoarsely--"Are you satisfied?" He
took a step or two close up to the young man. "I ask you--are you
satisfied? Or--do you mean to go on--do you want to ruin me?--"
Here, moved by uncontrollable passion he threw up his hands with a
gesture of despair. "God! That it should come to this! That I should
have to ask you--you, the enemy of the Church I serve, for mercy!
Let it be enough I say!--and I--I also will be silent!"
Cyrillon looked at him straightly.
"Will you cease to persecute Cardinal Bonpre?" he demanded. "Will
you admit Varillo's murderous treachery?"
Gherardi bent his head.
"I will!" he answered slowly, "because I must! Otherwise--" He
clenched his fist and his eyes flashed fire-then he went on--"But
beware of Lorenzo Moretti! He will depose the Cardinal from office,
and separate him from that boy who has affronted the Pope. He is
even now soliciting the Holy Father to intervene and stop the
marriage of the Comtesse Sylvie Hermenstein with Aubrey Leigh,--and-
-they are married! No more--no more!--I cannot speak--let me go--let
me go--you have won your way!--I give you my promise!"
"What is your promise worth?" said Vergniaud with disdain.
"Nothing!" replied Gherardi bitterly. "Only in this one special
instance it is worth all my life!--all my position! You--even you,
the accursed Gys Grandit!--you have me in your power!"
He raised his head as he said this,--his face expressed mingled
agony and fury; but meeting Cyrillon's eyes he shrank again as if he
were suddenly whipped by a lash, and with one quick stride, reached
the door, and disappeared.
There was a moment's silence after his departure. Then Aubrey Leigh
"My dear Grandit! You are a marvellous man! How came you to know
"Through a section of the Christian-Democratic party here"--replied
Cyrillon--"You must not forget that I, like you, have my disciples!
They keep me informed of all that goes on in Rome, and they have
watched Domenico Gherardi for years. We all know much--but we have
little chance to speak! If England knew of Rome what France knows,
what Spain knows,--what Italy knows, she would pray to be given a
second Cromwell! For the time is coming when she will need him!"
A few days later the fashionable world of Europe was startled by the
announcement of two things. One was the marriage of Sylvie, Countess
Hermenstein, to the "would-be reformer of the clergy," Aubrey Leigh,
coupled with her renunciation of the Church of her fathers. There
was no time for that Church to pronounce excommunication, inasmuch
as she renounced it herself, of her own free will and choice, and
made no secret of having done so. Some of her Hungarian friends
were, or appeared to be, scandalized at this action on her part, but
the majority of them treated it with considerable leniency, and in
some cases with approval, on the ground that a wife's religion ought
to be the same as that of her husband. If love is love at all, it
surely means complete union; and one cannot imagine a perfect
marriage where there is any possibility of wrangling over different
forms of creed. The other piece of news, which created even more
sensation than the first, was the purchase of Angela Sovrani's great
picture, "The Coming of Christ," by the Americans. As soon as this
was known, the crowd of visitors to the artist's studio assumed
formidable proportions, and from early morning till late afternoon,
the people kept coming and going in hundreds, which gradually
swelled to thousands. For by-and-by the history of the picture got
about in disjointed morsels of information and gossip which soon
formed a consecutive and fairly correct narration. Experts
criticized it,--critics "explained" it--and presently nothing was
talked of in the art world but "The Coming of Christ" and the artist
who painted it, Angela Sovrani. A woman!--only a woman! It seemed
incredible--impossible! For why should a woman think? Why should a
woman dare to be a genius? It seemed very strange! How much more
natural for her to marry some decent man of established position and
be content with babies and plain needlework! Here was an abnormal
prodigy in the ways of womanhood,--a feminine creature who ventured
to give an opinion of her own on something else than dress,--who
presumed as it were, to set the world thinking hard on a particular
phase of religious history! Then, as one after the other talked and
whispered and commented, the story of Angela's own private suffering
began to eke out bit by bit,--how she had been brutally stabbed m
her own studio in front of her own picture by no other than her own
betrothed husband Florian Varillo, who was moved to his murderous
act by a sudden impulse of jealousy,--and how that same Varillo had
met with his deserts in death by fire in the Trappist monastery on
the Campagna. And the excitement over the great picture became more
and more intense--especially when it was known that it would soon be
taken away from Rome never to be seen there again. Angela herself
knew little of her rapidly extending fame,--she was in Paris with
the Princesse D'Agramont who had taken her there immediately after
Monsignor Gherardi's visit to her father. She was not told of
Florian Varillo's death till she had been some days in the French
capital, and then it was broken to her as gently as possible. But
the result was disastrous. The strength she had slowly regained
seemed now to leave her altogether, and she was stricken with a mute
despair which was terrible to witness. Hour after hour, she lay on a
couch, silent and motionless,--her large eyes fixed on vacancy, her
little white hands clasped close together as though in a very
extremity of bodily and mental anguish, and the Princesse
D'Agramont, who watched her and tended her with the utmost devotion,
was often afraid that all her care would be of no avail, and that
her patient would slip through her hands into the next world before
she had time to even attempt to save her. And Cyrillon Vergmaud,
unhappy and restless, wandered up and down outside the house, where
this life, so secretly dear to him, was poised as it were on the
verge of death, not daring to enter, or even enquire for news, lest
he should hear the worst.
One cold dark afternoon however, as he thus paced to and fro, he saw
the Princesse D'Agramont at a window beckoning him, and with a
sickening terror at his heart, he obeyed the signal.
"I wish you would come and talk to her!" said the Princesse as she
greeted him, with tears in her bright eyes. "She must be roused from
this apathy. I can do nothing with her. But I think YOU might do
much if you would!"
"I will do anything--anything in the wide world!" said Cyrillon
earnestly. "Surely you know that!"
"Yes--but you must not be too gentle with her! I do not mean that
you should be rough--God forbid!--but if you would speak to her with
authority--if you could tell her that she owes her life and her work
to the world--to God--"
She broke off, not trusting herself to say more. Cyrillon raised her
hand to his lips.
"I understand!" he said. "You know I have hesitated--because--I love
her! I cannot tell her not to grieve for her dead betrothed, when I
myself am longing to take his place!"
The Princesse smiled through her tears.
"The position is difficult I admit!" she said, with a returning
touch of playfulness--"But the very fact of your love for her should
give you the force to command her back to life. Come!"
She took him into the darkened room where Angela lay--inert,
immovable, with always the same wide-open eyes, blank with misery
and desolation, and said gently,
"Angela, will you speak to Gys Grandit?"
Angela turned her wistful looks upon him, and essayed a poor little
ghost of a smile. Very gently Cyrillon advanced and sat down beside
her,--and with equal gentleness, the Princesse D'Agramont withdrew.
Cyrillon's heart beat fast; if he could have lifted that frail
little form of a woman into his arms and kissed away the sorrow
consuming it, he would have been happy,--but his mission was that of
a friend, not lover, and his own emotions made it hard for him to
begin. At last he spoke
"When are you going to make up your mind to get well, dear friend?"
She looked at him piteously.
"Make up my mind to get well? I shall never be well again!"
"You will if you resolve to be," said Cyrillon. "It rests with you!"
She was silent.
"Have you heard the latest news from Rome?" he asked after a pause.
She made a faint sign in the negative.
"The Church has with all due solemnity anathematized your picture as
an inspiration of the Evil One! But it is better that it should be
so anathematized than that it should be reported as not your own
work. Between two lies, the emissaries of the Vatican have chosen
the one least dangerous to themselves."
Angela sighed wearily.
"You do not care?" queried Cyrillon. "Neither anathema nor lie has
any effect on you?"
She raised her left hand and looked dreamily at the circlet of
rubies on it--Florian Varillo's betrothal ring.
"I care for nothing," she said slowly. "Nothing--now he is gone!"
A bitter pang shot through Cyrillon's heart. He was quite silent.
Presently she turned her eyes wistfully towards him.
"Please do not think me ungrateful for all your kindness!--but--I
"Dear Donna Sovrani, may I speak to you fully and, frankly--as a
friend? May I do so without offence?"
She looked at him and saw how pale he was, how his lips trembled,
and the consciousness that he was unhappy moved her to a faint sense
"Of course you may!" she answered gently. "I know you do not hate
"Hate you!" Cyrillon paused, his eyes softening with a great
tenderness as they rested upon her. "Who could hate you?"
"Florian hated me," she said. "Not always,--no! He loved me once!
Only when he saw my picture, then his love perished. Ah, my Florian!
Had I known, I would have destroyed all my work rather than have
given him a moment's pain!"
"And would that have been right?" asked Cyrillon earnestly. "Would
not such an act have been one of selfishness rather than sacrifice?"
A faint color crept over her pale cheeks.
"Yes! Your love for him was quite a personal matter,--but your work
is a message to the world. You would have sacrificed the world for
his sake, even though he had murdered you!"
"I would!" she answered, and her eyes shone like stars as she spoke.
"The world is nothing to me; love was everything!"
"That is your way of argument," said Cyrillon. "But it is not God's
She was silent, but her looks questioned him.
"Genius like yours," he went on, "is not given to you for yourself
alone. You cannot tamper with it, or play with it, for the sake of
securing a little more temporal happiness or peace for yourself.
Genius is a crown of thorns,--not a wreath of flowers to be worn at
a feast of pleasure! You wished your life to be one of love,--God
has chosen to make it one of suffering. You say the world is nothing
to you,--then my dear friend, God insists that it shall be something
to you! Have you the right--I ask you, have you the right to turn
away from all your fellow mortals and say--'No--because I have been
disappointed in my hope and my love, then I will have nothing to do
with life--I will turn away from all who need my help--I will throw
back the gifts of God with scorn to the Giver, and do nothing simply
because I have lost what I myself specially valued!'"
Her eyes fell beneath his straight clear regard, and she moved
"Ah you do not know--you do not understand!" she said. "I am not
thinking of myself--indeed I am not! But I feel as if my work--my
picture--had killed Florian! I hate myself!--I hate everything I
have ever done, or could ever possibly do. I see him night and day
in those horrible flames!--Oh God! those cruel flames!--he seems to
reproach me,--even to curse me for his death!"
She shuddered and turned her face away. Cyrillon ventured to take
"That is not like you, dear friend!" he said, his rich voice
trembling with the pity he felt for her. "That is not like your
brave spirit! You look only at one aspect of grief--you see the
darkness of the cloud, but not its brighter side. If I were to say
that he whom you loved so greatly has perhaps been taken to save him
from even a worse fate, you would be angry with me. You loved him--
yes; and whatever he did or attempted to do, even to your injury,
you would have loved him still had he lived! That is the angel half
of woman's nature. You would have given him your fame had he asked
you for it,--you would have pardoned him a thousand times over had
he sought your pardon,--you would have worked for him like a slave
and been content to die with your genius unrecognized if that would
have pleased him. Yes I know! But God saw your heart--and his--and
with God alone rests the balance of justice. You must not set
yourself in opposition to the law; you,--such a harmonious note in
work and life,--must not become a discord!"
She did not speak. Her hand lay passively in his, and he went on.
"Death is not the end of life. It is only the beginning of a new
school of experience. Your very grief,--your present inaction, may
for all we know, be injuring the soul of the man whose loss you
"Do you think that possible--?"
"I do think it very possible," he answered. "Natural sorrow is not
forbidden to us,--but a persistent dwelling on cureless grief is a
trespass against the law. Moreover you have been endowed with a
great talent,--it is not your own--it is lent to you to use for
others, and you have no right to waste it. The world has taken your
work with joy, with gratitude, with thanksgiving; will you say that
you do not care for the world?--that you will do nothing more for
it?--Because one love--one life, has been taken from you, will you
discard all love, all life? Dear friend, that will not be
reasonable,--not right, nor just, nor brave!"
A wistful longing filled her eyes.
"I wish Manuel were here!" she said plaintively. "He would
"Manuel is with Cardinal Bonpre in London," replied Cyrillon. "I
heard from Aubrey yesterday that they are going about together among
the poor, doing good everywhere. Would you like to join them? Your
friend Sylvie would be glad to have you stay with her, I am sure."
She gave a hopeless gesture.
"I am not strong enough to go--" she began.
"You will be strong enough when you determine to be," said Cyrillon.
"Your frightened soul is making a coward of your body!"
She started and drew her hand away from his gentle clasp.
"You are harsh!" she said, looking at him straightly. "I am not
frightened--I never was a coward!"
Something of the old steady light came back to her eyes, and
Cyrillon inwardly rejoiced to see it.
"My words seem rough," he said, "but truly they are not so. I
repeat, your soul is frightened--yes! frightened at the close
approach of God! God is never so near to us as in a great sorrow;
and when we feel His presence almost within sight and touch, we are
afraid. But we must not give way to fear; we must not grovel in the
dust and hide ourselves as if we were ashamed! We must rise up and
grow accustomed to His glory, and let Him lead us where He will!"
He paused, for Angela was weeping. The sound of her low sobbing
smote him to the heart.
"Angela--Angela!" he whispered, more to himself than to her. "Have I
hurt you so much?"
"Yes, yes!" she murmured between her tears. "You have hurt me!--but
you are right--you are quite right! I am selfish--weak--cowardly--
ungrateful too;--but forgive me,--have patience with me!--I will
try--I will try to bear it all more bravely--I will indeed!"
He rose from her side and paced the room, not trusting himself to
speak. She looked at him anxiously and endeavoured to control her
"You are angry?"
"Angry!" He came back, and lifting her suddenly, but gently like a
little child, he placed her in an easy sitting position, leaning
cosily among her pillows. "Come!" he said smiling, as the colour
flushed her cheeks at the swiftness of his action--"Let the
Princesse D'Agramont see that I am something of a doctor! You will
grow weaker and weaker lying down all day--I want to make you strong
again! Will you help me?"
He looked into her eyes, and her own fell before his earnest,
reverent, but undisguisedly tender glance.
"I will try to do what you wish," she said. "If I fail you must
forgive me--but I will honestly try!"
"If you try, you will succeed"--said Cyrillon, and bending down, he
kissed the trembling little hands--"Ah! forgive me! If you knew how
dear your life is--to--to many, you would not waste it in weeping
for what cannot be remedied by all your tears! I will not say one
word against the man you loved--for YOU do not say it, and you are
the most injured;--he is dead--let him rest;--but life claims you,--
claims me for the moment;--our fellow-men and women claim our
attention, our work, our doing for the best and greatest while we
can,--our duty is to them,--not to ourselves! Will you for your
father's sake--for the world's sake--if I dared say, for MY sake!--
will you throw off this torpor of sorrow? Only you can do it,--only
you yourself can command the forces of your own soul! Be Angela once
more!--the guiding angel of more lives than you know of!--"
His voice sank to a pleading whisper.
"I will try!" she answered in a low voice--"I promise!--"
And when the Princess D'Agramont entered she was surprised and
overjoyed to find her patient sitting up on her couch for the first
time in many days, talking quietly with the Perseus she had sent to
rescue the poor Andromeda from the jaws of a brooding Melancholia
which might have ended in madness or death. With her presence the
conversation took a lighter tone--and by-and-by Angela found herself
listening with some interest to the reading of her father's last
letter addressed to her kind hostess.
"Angela's picture is gone out of Rome"--he wrote--"It was removed
from the studio in the sight of an enormous crowd which had
assembled to witness its departure. The Voce Della Verita has
described it as a direct inspiration of the devil, and suggests the
burning-down of the studio in which it was painted, as a means of
purifying the Sovrani Palace from the taint of sulphur and
brimstone. La Croix demands the excommunication of the artist, which
by the way is very likely to happen. The Osservatore Romano wishes
that the ship specially chartered to take it to America, may sink
with all on board. All of which kind and charitable wishes on the
part of the Vatican press have so augmented the fame of 'The Coming
of Christ' that the picture could hardly be got through the crush of
people craning their necks to get a glimpse of it. It is now en
route via Bordeaux for London, where it is to be exhibited for six
weeks. As soon as I have finished superintending the putting by of a
few home treasures here, I shall join you in Paris, when I hope to
find my dear girl nearly restored to her usual self. It will please
her to know that her friend the charming Sylvie is well and very
happy. She was married for the second time before a Registrar in
London, and is now, as she proudly writes, 'well and truly' Mrs.
Aubrey Leigh, having entirely dropped her title in favour of her
husband's plainer, but to her more valuable designation. Of course
spiteful people will say she ceased to be Countess Hermenstein in
order not to be recognized too soon as the 'renegade from the Roman
Church,' but that sort of thing is to be expected. Society never
gives you credit for honest motives, but only for dishonest ones. We
who know Sylvie, also know what her love for her husband is, and
that it is love alone which inspires all her actions in regard to
him. Her chief anxiety at present seems to be about Angela's health,
and she tells me she telegraphs to you every day for news--"
--"Is that true?" asked Angela, interrupting the reading of her
father's letter. "Does Sylvie in all her new happiness, actually
think of me so much and so often?"
"Indeed she does!" replied the Princess D'Agramont. "Chere enfant,
you must not look at all the world through the cloud of one sorrow!
We all love you!--we are all anxious to see you quite yourself
Angela's eyes filled with tears as they rested on her friend's
kindly face, a face usually so brilliant in its animated expression,
but now saddened and worn by constant watching and fatigue.
"You are far too good to me," she said in a low voice--"And I am
most unworthy of all your attention."
Loyse D'Agramont paid no heed to this remark, but resumed reading
the Prince Sovrani's epistle--
"Let me see! . . . Sylvie--yes--here it is--'She telegraphs to you
every day for news, which is apparently the only extravagance she is
guilty of just now. She and her husband have taken rooms in some
very poor neighbourhood of London, and are beginning work in real
earnest. Our good Felix and his cherished foundling have been with
them into many wretched homes, cheering the broken-hearted,
comforting the sick, and assuring all those who doubt it that there
is a God in spite of priest-craft,--and I have received an English
paper which announces that Mr. Aubrey Leigh will give one of his
famous "Addresses to the People" on the last day of the year. I
should like to hear him, though my very slight knowledge of English
would be rather against me in the comprehension of what he might
say. For all other news you must wait till we meet. Expect me in
Paris in a few days, and ask my Angela to rouse herself sufficiently
to give her old father a smile of welcome. My compliments to "Gys
Grandit," and to you the assurance of my devoted homage. Pietro
The Princesse folded up the letter and looked wistfully at Angela.
"You will give him the smile of welcome he asks for, will you not,
little one?" she asked. "You are all he has in the world, remember!"
"I do remember," murmured Angela. "I know!"
"Aubrey and his wife are 'beginning work in real earnest'!" said
Cyrillon. "And how much their work will mean to the world! More than
the world can at present imagine or estimate! It seems to be a
settled thing that the value of great work shall never be recognised
during the worker's lifetime, but only afterwards--when he or she
who was so noble, so self-sacrificing, or so farseeing, shall have
passed beyond the reach of envy, scorn and contumely, into other
regions of existence and development. The finest deeds are done
without acknowledgment or reward, and when the hero or heroine has
gone beyond recall, the whole world stands lamenting its blindness
for not having known or loved them better. Donna Sovrani"--and his
voice softened--"will also soon begin again to work, like Aubrey and
Sylvie, 'in real earnest.' Will she not?"
Angela raised her eyes, full of sadness, yet also full of light.
"Yes," she said. "I will! I will work my grief into a glory if I
can! And the loss of world's love shall teach me to love God more!"
Loyse D'Agramont embraced her.
"That is my Angela!" she said. "That is what I wanted you to feel--
to know--for I too have suffered!"
"I know you have--and I should have remembered it!" said Angela,
penitently. "But--I have been frozen with grief--paralysed in brain
and heart, and I have forgotten so many things!" She trembled and
closed her eyes for a moment,--then went on--"Give me a little time-
-a few more days!--and I will prove that I am not ungrateful for
your love--" She hesitated, and then turning, gave her hand to
Cyrillon,--"or for your friendship."
He bent over the little hand and kissed it reverently, and soon
afterwards took his leave, more light of heart, and more hopeful in
spirit, than he had been for many days. He felt he could now go on
with his work, part of which was the task of distributing the money
his father had left him, among the poor of Paris. He considered that
to leave money to the poor after death is not half such a Christian
act as to give it while alive. Distributors, secretaries, lawyers,
and red-tapeism come in with the disposal of wealth after we are
gone;--but to give it to those in need with our own hands--to part
with it freely and to deny ourselves something in order to give it,-
-that is doing what Christ asked us to do. And whether we are
blessed or cursed by those whom we seek to benefit, none can take
away from us the sweet sense of peace and comfort which is ours to
enjoy, when we know that we have in some small measure tried to
serve our Divine Master, for the "full measure" of content, "pressed
down and running over" which He has promised to those who "freely
give," has never yet been known to fail.
And Cyrillon Vergniaud was given this happiness of the highest,
purest kind, as with the aid of the wondering and reluctant Monsieur
Andre Petitot, he gave poor families comfort for life, and rescued
the sick and the sorrowful,--and all he reserved to himself from his
father's large fortune was half a million francs. For he learned
that most of the money he inherited had come to the late Abbe
through large bequests left to him by those who had believed in him
as a righteous priest of spotless reputation, and Cyrillon's
conscience would not allow him to take advantage of money thus
obtained, as he sternly told himself, "on false pretences."
"My father would not have wished me to keep it after his public
confession," he said. "And I will not possess more than should have
been spared in common justice to aid my mother's life and mine. The
rest shall be used for the relief of those in need. And I know,--if
I told Angela--she would not wish it otherwise!"
So he had his way. And while his prompt help and personal
supervision of the distribution of his wealth brought happiness to
hundreds of homes, he was rewarded by seeing Angela grow stronger
every day. The hue of health came gradually back to her fair
cheeks,--her eyes once more recovered their steadfast brightness and
beauty, and as from time to time he visited her and watched her with
all the secret passion and tenderness he felt, his heart grew strong
"She will love me one day if I try to deserve her love," he thought.
"She will love me as she has never loved yet! No woman can
understand the true worth of love, unless her lover loves her more
than himself! This is a joy my Angela has not yet been given,--it
will be for me to give it to her!"
With the entry of Angela's great picture "The Coming of Christ" into
London, where it became at once the centre of admiration, contention
and general discussion, one of the most singular "religious"
marriage ceremonies ever known, took place in a dreary out-lying
district of the metropolis, where none but the poorest of the poor
dwell, working from dawn till night for the merest pittance which
scarcely pays them for food and lodging. It was one of Aubrey
Leigh's "centres," and to serve his needs for a church he had
purchased a large wooden structure previously used for the storing
of damaged mechanical appliances, such as worn-out locomotives, old
railway carriages, and every kind of lumber that could possibly
accumulate anywhere in a dock or an engine yard. The building held
from three to four thousand people closely packed, and when Leigh
had secured it for his own, he was as jubilant over his possession
as if the whole continent of Europe had subscribed to build him a
cathedral. He had the roof mended and made rainproof, and the ground
planked over to make a decent flooring,--then he had it painted
inside a dark oak colour, and furnished it with rows of benches. At
the upper end a raised platform was erected, and in the centre of
that platform stood a simple Cross of roughly carved dark wood, some
twelve or fifteen feet in height. There was no other adornment in
the building,--the walls remained bare, the floor unmatted, the
seats uncushioned. No subscriptions were asked for its maintenance;
no collection plate was ever sent around, yet here, whenever Leigh
announced a coming "Address," so vast a crowd assembled that it was
impossible to find room for all who sought admittance. And here, on
one cold frosty Sunday morning, with the sun shining brightly
through the little panes of common glass which had been inserted to
serve as windows, he walked through a densely packed and expectant
throng of poor, ill-clad, work-worn, yet evidently earnest and
reverent men and women, leading his fair wife Sylvie, clad in bridal
white, by the hand, up to the platform, and there stood facing the
crowd. He was followed by Cardinal Bonpre and--Manuel. The Cardinal
wore no outward sign of his ecclesiastical dignity,--he was simply
attired in an ordinary priest's surtout, and his tall dignified
figure, his fine thoughtful face and his reverend age, won for him
silent looks of admiration and respect from many who knew nothing of
him or of the Church to which he belonged, but simply looked upon
him as a friend of their idolized teacher, Aubrey Leigh. Manuel
passed through the crowd almost unnoticed, and it was only when he
stood near the Cross, looking down upon the upturned thousands of
faces, that a few remarked his presence. The people had assembled in
full force on this occasion, an invitation having gone forth in
Leigh's name asking them "to be witnesses of his marriage," and the
excitement was intense, as Sylvie, veiled as a bride, obeyed the
gentle signal of her husband, and took her seat on the platform by
the side of the Cardinal on the left hand of the great Cross,
against which Manuel leaned lightly like a child who is not
conscious of observation, but who simply takes the position which
seems to him most natural. And when the subdued murmuring of the
crowd had died into comparative silence, Aubrey, advancing a little
to the front of the Cross, spoke in clear ringing tones, which
carried music to the ears and conviction to the heart.
"My friends! I have asked you all here in your thousands, to witness
the most sacred act of my human life--my marriage! By the law of
this realm,--by the law of America, the country of my birth,--that
marriage is already completed and justified,--but no 'religious'
ceremony has yet been performed between myself and her whom I am
proud and grateful to call wife. To my mind however, a 'religious'
ceremony is necessary, and I have chosen to hold it here,--with you
who have listened to me in this place many and many a time,--with
you as witnesses to the oath of fidelity and love I am about to take
in the presence of God! There is no clergyman present--no one to my
knowledge of any Church denomination except a Cardinal of the Church
of Rome who is my guest and friend, but who takes no part in the
proceedings. The Cross alone stands before you as the symbol of the
Christian faith,--and what I swear by that symbol means for me a vow
that shall not be broken either in this world, or in the world to
come! I need scarcely tell you that this is not the usual meaning of
marriage in our England of to-day. There is much blasphemy in the
world, but one of the greatest blasphemies of the age is the
degradation of the sacrament of matrimony,--the bland tolerance with
which an ordained priest of Christ presumes to invoke the blessing
of God upon a marriage between persons whom he knows are utterly
unsuited to each other in every way, who are not drawn together by
love, but only by worldly considerations of position and fortune. I
have seen these marriages consummated. I have seen the horrible and
often tragic results of such unholy union. I have known of cases
where a man, recognized as a social blackguard of the worst type,
whose ways of life are too odious to be named, has been accepted as
a fitting mate for a young innocent girl just out of school, because
he is a Lord or a Duke or an Earl. Anything for money! Anything for
the right to stand up and crow over your neighbours! When an
inexperienced girl or woman is united for life to a loathsome
blackguard, an open sensualist, a creature far lower than the
beasts, yet possessed of millions, she is 'congratulated' as being
specially to be envied, when as a matter of strict honesty, it would
be better if she were in her grave. The prayers and invocations
pronounced at such marriages are not 'religious,'--they are mere
profanity! The priest who says 'Those whom God hath joined together
let no man put asunder,' over such immoral wedlock, is guilty of a
worse sacrilege than if he trampled on the bread and wine of
Christ's Communion! For marriage was not intended to be a mere union
of bodies,--but a union of souls. It is the most sacred bond of
humanity. From the love which has created that bond, is born new
life,--life which shall be good or evil according to the spirit in
which husband and wife are wedded. 'The sins of the fathers shall be
visited on the children,'--and the first and greatest sin is bodily
union without soul-love. It is merely a form of animal desire,--and
from desire alone no good or lofty thing can spring. We are not made
to be 'as the beasts that perish'--though materialists and
sensualists delight in asserting such to be our destiny, in order to
have ground whereon to practise their own vices. This planet, the
earth, is set under our dominion; the beasts are ours to control,--
they do not control us. Our position therefore is one of supremacy.
Let us not voluntarily fall from that position to one even lower
than the level of beasts! The bull, the goat, the pig, are moved by
animal desire alone to perpetuate their kind--but we,--we have a
grander mission to accomplish than theirs--we in our union are not
only responsible for the Body of the next generation to come, but
for the brain, the heart, the mind, and above all the Soul! If we
wed in sin, our children must be born in sin. If we make our
marriages for worldly advantage, vanity, blind desire, or personal
convenience, our children will be moulded on those passions, and
grow up to be curses to the world they live in. Love, and love only
of the purest, truest, and highest kind, must be the foundation of
the marriage Sacrament,--love that is prepared to endure all the
changes of fate and fortune--love that is happy in working and
suffering for the thing beloved--love that counts nothing a
hardship,--neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor poverty, provided it
can keep its faith unbroken!"
He paused--there was a slight stir among the audience, but otherwise
not a sound. Sylvie sat quiet, a graceful, nymph-like figure, veiled
in her cloudy white--Cardinal Bonpre's mild blue eyes raised to the
speaker's face, were full of rapt attention--and Manuel still
leaning against the great Cross seemed absorbed in dreamy and
beautiful thoughts of his own.
"I should like," went on Aubrey with increasing warmth and passion,
"to tell you what I mean by 'faith unbroken.' It is the highest form
of love,--the only firm rock of friendship. It leaves no room for
suspicion,--no place for argument--no cause for contradiction. It is
the true meaning of the wedding-ring. Apart from marriage
altogether, it is the only principle that can finally civilize and
elevate man. So long as we doubt God and mistrust our fellows, so
long must corruption sway business, and wars move nations. The man
who gives us cause to suspect his honesty,--the man who forces us to
realize the existence of treachery, is a worse murderer than he who
stabs us bodily to death; for he has tainted our soul; he has pushed
us back many steps on our journey Godward, and has made us wonder
and question whether in truth a God can exist who tolerates in His
universe such a living lie! It is only when we have to contemplate a
broken faith that we doubt God! For a broken faith is an abnormal
prodigy in the natural scheme of the universe--a discord in the
eternal music of the stars! There are no treacheries, no falsifying
of accounts, in the Divine order of the Law. The sun does not fail
to rise each morning, whether clouds obscure the sky or not,--the
moon appears at her stated seasons and performs her silver-footed
pilgrimage faithfully to time--the stars move with precision in
their courses,--and so true are they to their ordainment, that we
are able to predict the manner in which they will group themselves
and shine, years after we have passed away. In the world of Nature
the leaves bud, and the birds nest at the coming of Spring; the
roses bloom in Summer--the harvest is gathered in Autumn,--the whole
marvellous system moves like a grand timepiece whose hands are never
awry, whose chimes never fail to ring the exact hour,--and in all
the splendour of God's gifts to us there is no such thing as a
broken faith! Only we,--we, the creatures He has endowed with 'His
own image,'--Free-will,--break our faith with Him and with each
other. And so we come to mischief, inasmuch as broken faith is no
part of God's Intention. And when two persons, man and woman, swear
to be true to each other before God, so long as life shall last, and
afterwards break that vow, confusion and chaos result from their
perjury, and all the pestilential furies attending on a wrong deed
whip them to their graves! In these times of ours, when wars and
rumours of wars shake the lethargic souls of too-exultant
politicians and statesmen with anxiety for themselves if not for
their country, we hear every day of men and women breaking their
marriage vows as lightly as though God were not existent,--we read
of princes whose low amours are a disgrace to the world--of dukes
and earls who tolerate the unchastity of their wives in order that
they themselves may have the more freedom,--of men of title and
position who even sell their wives to their friends in order to
secure some much-needed cash or social advantage,--and while our law
is busy night and day covering up 'aristocratic' crimes from
publicity, and showing forth the far smaller sins of hard-working
poverty, God's law is at work in a totally different way. The human
judge may excuse a king's vices,--but before God there are neither
kings nor commoners, and punishment falls where it is due! Christ
taught us that the greatest crime is treachery, for of Judas He said
'it were better for that man that he had never been born,' and for
the traitor and perjurer death is not the end, but the beginning, of
evils. Against the man who accepts the life of a woman given to him
in trust and love, and then betrays that life to misery, all Nature
arrays itself in opposition and disaster. We, as observers of the
great Play of human existence, may not at once see, among the
numerous shifting scenes, where the evil-doer is punished, or the
good man rewarded,--but wait till the end!--till the drop-curtain
falls--and we shall see that there is no mistake in God's plan--no
loophole left for breaking faith even with a child,--no 'permit'
existing anywhere to destroy the life of the soul by so much as one
false or cruel word! It is with a deep sense of the exact balance of
God's justice, that I stand before you to-day, my friends, and ask
you without any accepted ritual or ceremonial to hear my vows of
marriage. She to whom I pledge my word and life, is one who in the
world's eyes is accounted great, because rich in this world's
goods,--but her wealth has no attraction for me, and for my own self
I would rather she had been poor. Nevertheless, were she even
greater than she is,--a crowned queen with many kingdoms under her
control, and I but the poorest of her servants, nothing could undo
the love we have for each other,--nothing could keep our lives
asunder! Love and love only is our bond of union--sympathy of mind
and heart and spirit; wealth and rank would have been but causes of
division between us if love had not been greater. The world will
tell you differently--the world will say that I have married for
money--but you who know me better than the world, will feel by my
very words addressed to you to-day that my marriage is a true
marriage, in which no grosser element than love can enter. My wife's
wealth remains her own--settled upon her absolutely and always, and
I am personally as poor as when I first came among you and proved to
you that hard work was a familiar friend. But I am rich in the
possession of the helpmate God has given me, and with the utmost
gratitude and humility I ask you to bear witness to the fact that
this day before you and in the presence of the symbol of the
Christian faith, I take my oath to be true to her and only her while
life shall last!"
Here going to where Sylvie stood, he took her by the hand, and led
her to the front of the platform. Then he turned again to his eager
and expectant audience.
"In your presence, my friends, and in the presence of God and before
the Cross, I take Sylvie Hermenstein to be my wedded wife! I swear
to devote myself to her, body and soul,--to cherish her first and
last of all human creatures,--to be true to her in thought, word and
deed,--to care for her in sickness as in health, in age as in
youth,--to honour her as my chiefest good,--and to die faithful to
her in this world,--hoping by the mercy of God to complete a more
perfect union with her in the world to come! In the name of Christ,
And then Sylvie threw back her veil and turned her enchanting face
upon the crowd,--a face fairer than ever, irradiated by the love and
truth of her soul,--and the people gazed and wondered, and wondering
held their breath as her clear accents rang through the silence.
"In your presence, and in the presence of God and before the Cross,
I take Aubrey Leigh to be my wedded husband! I swear to devote
myself to him body and soul, to cherish him first and last of all
human creatures,--to be true to him in thought, word and deed,--to
care for him in sickness as in health, in age as in youth,--to
honour him as my chiefest good,--and to die faithful to him in this
world,--praying God in His mercy to complete a more perfect union
with him in the world to come. In the name of Christ, Amen!"
Then Aubrey, taking his wife's hand, placed for the first time on
her finger the golden wedding-ring.
"In the presence of you all, before God, I place this ring upon my
wife's hand as a symbol of unbreaking faith and loyalty! I pledge my
life to hers; and promise to defend her from all evil, to shelter
her, to work for her, and to guard her with such tenderness as shall
not fail! I swear my faith; and may God forsake me if I break my
And Sylvie without hesitation, responded in her sweet clear voice.
"In the presence of you all, before God, I take this ring and wear
it as a symbol of my husband's trust in me, and a token of his love!
I pledge my life to his; and promise to uphold the honour of his
name,--to obey him in every just and rightful wish,--to defend his
actions,--to guard his home in peace and good report,--and to
surround him with such tenderness as shall not fail! I swear my
faith; and may God forsake me if I break my vow!"
There followed a deep and almost breathless silence. Then Aubrey
spoke once more, standing before the throng with Sylvie by his side
and her hand clasped in his.
"I thank you all, my friends! Strange and unlike all marriage
ceremonies as ours is to-day, I feel that it is a sacred and a
binding one! Your thousands of eyes and ears have heard and seen us
swear our marriage vows--your thousands of hearts and minds have
understood the spirit in which we accept this solemn sacrament! I
will ask you before we go, to kneel down with us and repeat 'The
Prayer of Heart-searching' which I have said with you so often, and
to then quietly disperse."
In one moment the vast crowd was kneeling, and Cardinal Bonpre's
aged eyes filled with tears of emotion as he saw all these human
beings, moved by one great wave of sympathy, prostrate themselves
before the simple Cross where the wedded lovers knelt also, and
where Manuel alone stood, like one who is too sure of God to need
the help of prayer.
And Aubrey, thrilled to the heart by the consciousness that all the
members of that huge congregation were with him in his ideal dream
of Christian Union, offered up this supplication--
"All-powerful God! Most loving and beneficent Creator of the
Universe! We Thy creatures, who partake with Thee the endowment of
immortality, now beseech Thee to look upon us here, kneeling in
adoration before Thee! Search our hearts and souls with the light of
Thy revealing Holy Spirit, and see if in any of us there is
concealed an unworthy thought, or doubt, or distrust, or scorn of
Thy unfailing goodness! We ask Thee to discover our sins and
imperfections to ourselves, and so instruct us as to what is
displeasing to Thee, that we may remedy these wilful blots upon Thy
fair intention. Give us the force and fervour, the wisdom and truth,
to find and follow the way Thou wouldst have us go,--and if our
strength should fail, constrain us, oh God, to come to Thee, whether
we learn by sorrow or joy, by punishment or pity;--constrain us, so
that we may find Thee, whatever else we lose! Let the great
searchlight of Thy truth be turned upon the secret motives of our
hearts and minds, and if there be one of us in whom such motives be
found false, impure, cruel or cowardly, then let Thy just wrath fall
upon the misguided creature of Thy love, and teach him or her,
obedience and repentance! We pray that Thou wilt punish us, oh God,
when we have sinned, that we may know wherein we have offended our
dear Father;--and equally, when we have sought to serve Thee
faithfully, may we receive Thy blessing! Make us one with Thee in
Thy perfect plan of good; teach us how to work Thy will in the
fulfilment of peace and joy; make our lives of use to this world,
and our deaths gain to the next, and let the glory of Thy love
encompass us, guide us, and defend us now and forever, through
Christ our Lord, Amen."
After he had ceased, there was a deep silence for many minutes, then
all the people as if moved by one impulse, rose from their knees,
and standing, sang the following stanzas, which Aubrey had taught
them when he first began to preach among them his ideals of love and
If thou'rt a Christian in deed and thought,
Loving thy neighbour as Jesus taught,--
Living all days in the sight of Heaven,
And not ONE only out of seven,--
Sharing thy wealth with the suffering poor,
Helping all sorrow that Hope can cure,--
Making religion a truth in the heart,
And not a cloak to be worn in the mart,
Or in high cathedrals and chapels and fanes,
Where priests are traders and count the gains,--
All God's angels will say, "Well done!"
Whenever thy mortal race is run.
White and forgiven,
Thou'lt enter heaven,
And pass, unchallenged, the Golden Gate,
Where welcoming spirits watch and wait
To hail thy coming with sweet accord
To the Holy City of God the Lord!
If Peace is thy prompter, and Love is thy guide,
And white-robed Charity walks by thy side,--
If thou tellest the truth without oath to bind,
Doing thy duty to all mankind,--
Raising the lowly, cheering the sad,
Finding some goodness e'en in the bad,
And owning with sadness if badness there be,
There might have been badness in thine and in thee,
If Conscience the warder that keeps thee whole
Had uttered no voice to thy slumbering soul,--
All God's angels will say, "Well done!"
Whenever thy mortal race is run.
White and forgiven,
Thou'lt enter heaven,
And pass, unchallenged, the Golden Gate,
Where welcoming spirits watch and wait
To hail thy coming with sweet accord
To the Holy City of God the Lord!
If thou art humble, and wilt not scorn.
However wretched, a brother forlorn,--
If thy purse is open to misery's call,
And the God thou lovest is God of all,
Whatever their colour, clime or creed,
Blood of thy blood, in their sorest need,--
If every cause that is good and true,
And needs assistance to dare and do,
Thou helpest on through good and ill,
With trust in Heaven, and God's good will,--
All God's angels will say, "Well done!"
Whenever thy mortal race is run.
White and forgiven, Thou'lt enter heaven,
And pass, unchallenged, the Golden Gate,
Where welcoming spirits watch and wait
To hail thy coming with sweet accord
To the Holy City of God the Lord!
[Footnote: By the late Charles Mackay, LL.D., F.S.A.]
The effect of the last eight-line chorus sung by thousands of
voices, was marvellous. Such a spirit of exaltation pervaded the
music that the common wooden shed-like building in which these
followers of one earnest man asserted their faith in God rather than
in a Church, seemed to take upon itself all the architectural beauty
of a temple costing millions of money. When the singing ceased,
Aubrey raised his hand, and while his audience yet remained
standing, pronounced the blessing.
"God be with you all, my friends!--in your hearts and lives and
daily conduct! May none of you here present shadow His brightness by
one dark deed or thought of evil! I will ask you to pray that God
may be with me too, and with my beloved wife, the future partner of
all my work, my joys and sorrows, that we may in our union make our
lives useful to you and to all others who seek our help or care.
God's blessing be upon us all in the name of Christ our Saviour!"
And with one accord the people answered "Amen!"
Then this brief service over, they began to disperse. Without any
scramble or rush, but in perfect order and with quiet and reverent
demeanour, they left their seats and began to make their way out.
None of them were seen gossiping together, or smiling or nodding
over each other's shoulders as is very often the case when a
congregation disperses from a fashionable church. For these people
in their worship of the Creator, found something reverent, something
earnest, something true, valuable and necessary to daily living,--
and though there were two peaceful-looking constables stationed at
the door of egress, their services were not required to either keep
order or compel any of those thousands of poor to "move on." They
kept order for themselves, and were too busy with practical life and
thought, to hang about or gossip on the way to their various homes.
Several members of the congregation on hearing that their friend
Leigh was going to take his marriage vows before them all, had
provided themselves with flowers, and these managed to pass in front
of the platform where, simply and without ostentation, they handed
up their little bouquets and clusters of such blossoms as they had
been able to obtain and afford in winter,--violets especially, and
white chrysanthemums, and one or two rare roses. These floral
offerings meant much sacrifice on the part of those who gave them,--
and the tears filled Sylvie's eyes as she noted the eagerness with
which poor women with worn sad faces, and hands wrinkled and brown
with toil, handed up their little posies for her to take from them,
or laid them with a touching humility at her feet. What a wonderful
wedding hers was, she thought!--far removed from all the world of
fashion, without any of the hypocritical congratulations of
"society" friends,--without the sickening, foolish waste, expense
and artificiality, which nowadays makes a marriage a mere millinery
parade. She had spoken her vows before thousands whom her husband
had helped and rescued from heathenism and misery, and all their
good wishes and prayers for her happiness were wedding gifts such as
no money could purchase. With a heart full of emotion and gratitude
she watched the crowd break up and disappear, till when the last few
were passing out of the building, she said to her husband--
"Let us leave the flowers they have given me here, Aubrey,--here,
just at the foot of the Cross where you have so often spoken to
them. I shall feel they will bring me a blessing!"
"It shall be as you wish, sweetheart!" he answered tenderly,--"and I
must thank you for having entered so readily into the spirit of this
strange marriage before my poor friends, Sylvie,--for it must have
seemed very strange to you!--and yet believe me,--no more binding
one was ever consummated!" He took her hand and kissed it,--then
turned to Cardinal Bonpre, who had risen and was gazing round the
bare common building with dreamy eyes of wistful wonderment.
"I thank you too, my dear friend! You have learned something of my
work since we came to London, and I think you understand thoroughly
the true sanctity and force of my marriage?"
"I--do!--I do understand it!" said the Cardinal slowly. "And I wish
with all my heart that all marriage vows could be so solemnly and
truly taken! But my heart aches--my heart aches for the world! These
thousands you have helped and taught are but a few,--and they were
as you have told me, little better than heathen when you came
amongst them to tell them the true meaning of Christ's message--what
of the millions more waiting to know what the Church is failing to
teach? What have the priests of the Lord been doing for nearly two
thousand years, that there should still be doubters of God!"
Over his face swept a shadow of deep pain, and at that moment Manuel
left the Cross where he had been leaning and came up and stood
beside him. The Cardinal looked at his waif wistfully.
"What did you think of this service, my child?"
"I thought that the Master of all these His servants could not be
very far away!" answered Manuel softly,--"And that if He came
suddenly, He would find none sleeping!"
"May it prove so!" said Aubrey fervently. "But we own ourselves to
be unprofitable servants at best,--we can only try to fulfil our
Lord's commands as nearly to the letter as possible,--and we often
fail;--but we do honestly make the effort. Shall we go now, my lord
Cardinal? You look fatigued."
Bonpre sighed heavily. "My spirit is broken, my son!" he answered.
"I dare not think of what will happen--what is beginning to happen
for the Christian world! I shall not live to see it; but I have
sinned, in passing my days in too much peace. Dwelling for many
years away in my far-off diocese, I have forgotten the hurrying rush
of life. I should have been more active long ago,--and I fear I
shall have but a poor account to give of my stewardship when I am
called to render it up. This is what troubles both my heart and my
"Dear friend, you have no cause for trouble!" said Sylvie earnestly.
"Among all the servants of our Master surely you are one of the most
"One of the most faithful, and therefore considered one of the most
faithless!" said Manuel. "Come, let us go now,--and leave these
bridal flowers where the bride wishes them to be,--at the foot of
the Cross, as a symbol of her husband's service! Let us go,--the
Cardinal has need of rest."
They returned to their respective homes,--Aubrey and his wife to a
little tenement house they had taken for a few weeks in the district
in order that Sylvie might be able to see and to study for herself
the sad and bitter lives of those who from birth to death are
deprived of all the natural joys of happy and wholesome existence,--
whose children are born and bred up in crime,--where girls are
depraved and ruined before they are in their teens,--and where
nothing of God is ever taught beyond that He is a Being who punishes
the wicked and rewards the good,--and where in the general apathy of
utter wretchedness, people decide that unless there is something
given them in this world to be good for, they would rather be bad
like the rest of the folks they see about them. The Cardinal and
Manuel dwelt in rooms not very far away, and every day and every
hour almost was occupied by them in going among these poor,
helpless, hopeless ones of the world, bringing them comfort and aid
and sympathy. Wherever Manuel went, there brightness followed; the
sick were healed, the starving were fed, the lonely and desolate
were strengthened and encouraged, and the people who knew no more of
the Cardinal than that "he was a priest of some sort or other,"
began to watch eagerly for the appearance of the Cardinal's
foundling, "the child that seemed to love them," as they described
him,--and to long for even a passing glimpse of the fair face, the
steadfast blue eyes, the tender smile, of one before whom all rough
words were silenced--all weeping stilled.
But on this night of all--the night of Sylvie's "religious"
marriage, the Cardinal was stricken by a heavy blow. He had expected
some misfortune, but had not realized that it would be quite so
heavy as it proved. The sum and substance of his trouble was
contained in a "confidential" letter from Monsignor Moretti, and was
worded as follows--
"My Lord Cardinal,--It has come to the knowledge of the Holy Father
that you have not only left Rome without signifying the intention of
your departure to the Vatican as custom and courtesy should have
compelled you to do, but that instead of returning to your rightful
diocese, you have travelled to London, and are there engaged in
working with the socialist and heretic Aubrey Leigh, who is
spreading pernicious doctrine among the already distracted and
discordant of the poorer classes. This fact has to be coupled with
the grave offence committed against the Holy Father by the street-
foundling to whom you accord your favour and protection, and whose
origin you are unable to account for; and the two things taken
together, constitute a serious breach of conduct on the part of so
eminent a dignitary of the Church as yourself, and compel the Holy
Father most unwillingly and sorrowfully to enquire whether he is
justified in retaining among his servants of the Holy See one who so
openly betrays its counsels and commands. It is also a matter of the
deepest distress to the Holy Father, that a picture painted by your
niece Donna Angela Sovrani and entitled 'The Coming of Christ,' in
which the Church itself is depicted as under the displeasure of our
Lord, should be permitted to contaminate the minds of the nations by
public exhibition. Through the Vatican press, the supreme Pontiff
has placed his ban against this most infamous picture, and all that
the true servants of the Church can do to check its pernicious
influence, will be done. But it cannot be forgotten that Your
Eminence is closely connected with all these regrettable events, and
as we have no actual proof of the authenticity of the miracle you
are alleged to have performed at Rouen, the Holy Father is
reluctantly compelled to leave that open to doubt. The Archbishop of
Rouen very strenuously denies the honesty of the mother of the child
supposed to be healed by you, and states that she has not attended
Mass or availed herself of any of the Sacraments for many years. We
are willing to admit that Your Eminence may personally have been
unsuspectingly made party to a fraud,--but this does not free you
from the other charges, (notably that of exonerating the late Abbe
Vergniaud,) of which you stand arraigned. Remembering, however, the
high repute enjoyed by Your Eminence throughout your career, and
taking into kindly consideration your increasing age and failing
health, the Holy Father commissions me to say that all these
grievous backslidings on your part shall be freely pardoned if you
will,--Firstly,--repudiate all connection with your niece, Angela
Sovrani, and hold no further communication with her or her father
Prince Sovrani,--Secondly,--that you will break off your
acquaintance with the socialist Aubrey Leigh and his companion
Sylvie Hermenstein, the renegade from the Church of her fathers,--
and Thirdly,--that you will sever yourself at once and forever from
the boy you have taken under your protection. This last clause is
the most important in the opinion of His Holiness. These three
things being done, you will be permitted to return to your diocese,
and pursue the usual round of your duties there to the end. Failing
to fulfil the Holy Father's commands, the alternative is that you be
deprived of your Cardinal's hat and your diocese together.
"It is with considerable pain that I undertake the transcribing of
the commands of the Holy Father, and I much desired Monsignor
Gherardi to follow you to London and lay these matters before you
privately, with all the personal kindness which his friendship for
you makes possible, but I regret to say, and you will no doubt
regret to learn, that he has been smitten with dangerous illness and
fever, which for the time being prevents his attention to duty.
Trusting to hear from you with all possible speed that Your Eminence
is in readiness to obey the Holy Father's paternal wish and high
command, I am,
"Your Eminence's obedient servant in Christ,
The Cardinal read this letter through once--twice--then the paper
dropped from his hands.
"My God, my God! why hast Thou forsaken me!" he murmured. "What have
I done in these few months! What must I do!"
A light touch on his arm roused him. Manuel confronted him.
"Why are you sorrowful, dear friend? Have you sad news?"
"Yes, my child! Sad news indeed! I am commanded by the Pope to give
up all I have in the world! If it were to give to my Master Christ I
would give it gladly,--but to the Church--I cannot!"
"What does the Pope ask you to resign?" said Manuel.
"My niece Angela and all her love for me!--my friendship with this
brave man Aubrey Leigh who works among the outcast and the poor,--
but more than all this,--he asks me to give You up--you! My child, I
He stretched his thin withered hands out to the slight boyish figure
in front of him.
"I cannot! I am an old man, near--very near--to the grave--and I
love you! I need you!--without you the world is dark! I found you
all alone--I have cared for you and guarded you and served you--I
cannot let you go!" The tears filled his. eyes and rolled down his
worn cheeks. "I cannot lose my last comfort!" he repeated feebly. "I
cannot let You go!"
Silently the boy gave his hands into the old man's fervent clasp,
and as Bonpre bent his head upon them a sense of peace stole over
him,--a great and solemn calm. Looking up he saw Manuel earnestly
regarding him with eyes full of tenderness and light, and a smile
upon his lips.
"Be of good courage, dear friend!" he said. "The time of trial is
hard, but it will soon be over. You must needs part from Angela!--
but remember she has great work still to do, and she is not left
without love! You must also part from Aubrey and his wife--but they
too are given high tasks to fulfil for God's glory--and,--they have
each other! Yes!--you must part with all these things, dear friend--
they are not yours to retain;--and if you would keep your place in
this world you must part with Me!"
"Never!" cried Bonpre, moved to sudden passion. "I cannot! To me the
world without you would be empty!"
As he spoke these words a sudden memory rang in his brain like a
chime from some far-distant tower echoing over a width of barren
land. "For me the world is empty!" had been the words spoken by
Manuel when he had first found him leaning against the locked
Cathedral door in Rouen. And with this memory came another, the
vision he had seen of the end of the world, and the words he had
heard spoken by some mysterious voice in his sleep,--"The light
shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not!" And
still he looked pleadingly, earnestly, almost fearingly, into the
face of his foundling.
"We must speak of this again," said Manuel then, gently. "But to-
night, for at least some hours, you must rest! Have patience with
your own thoughts, dear friend! To part with earthly loves is a
sorrow that must always be;--Angela is young and you are old!--she
has her task to do, and yours is nearly finished! You must part with
Aubrey Leigh,--you cannot help him,--his work is planned,--his ways
ordained. Thus, you have no one to command your life save the
Church,--and it seems that you must choose between the Church and
me! To keep Me, you must forego the Church. To keep the Church you
must say farewell to Me! But think no more of it just now--sleep and
rest--leave all to God!"
The Cardinal still looked at him earnestly.
"You will not leave me? You will not, for a thought of saving me
from my difficulties, go from me? If I sleep I shall find you when I
"I will never leave you till you bid me go!" answered Manuel. "And
if I am taken far from hence you shall go with me! Rest, dear
friend--rest, true servant of God! Rest without thought--without
care--till I call you!"
The night darkened steadily down over London,--a chill dreary night
of heavy fog, half-melting into rain. Cardinal Bonpre, though left
to himself, did not rest at once as Manuel had so tenderly bidden
him to do, but moved by an impulse stronger than any worldly
discretion or consideration, sat down and wrote a letter to the
Supreme Pontiff,--a letter every word of which came straight from
his honest heart, and which he addressed to the Head of his Church
directly and personally, without seeking the interposition of
Lorenzo Moretti. And thus he wrote, in obedience to the dictate of
his own soul--
"Most Holy Father!--I have this day received through Monsignor
Moretti the text of certain commands laid by Your Holiness upon me
to fulfil if I would still serve the Church, as I have in all truth
and devotion served it for so many years. These commands are
difficult to realise, and still more difficult to obey,--I would
rather believe that Your Holiness has issued them in brief anger,
than that they are the result of a reasonable conviction, or
condition of your own heart and intellect. In no way can I admit
that my conduct has been of a nature to give offence to you or to
the Holy See, for I have only in all things sought to obey the
teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, upon whose memory our faith is
founded. Your Holiness desires me, first, to cease every
communication with the only relatives left to me on earth,--my
brother-in-law Pietro Sovrani and his daughter, the daughter of my
dead sister, my niece Angela. You demand the severance of these
bonds of nature, because my niece has produced a work of art, for
which she alone is responsible. I venture most humbly to submit to
Your Holiness that this can scarcely be called true Christian
justice to me,--for, whereas on the one side I cannot be made
answerable for the thoughts or the work of a separately responsible
individual, on the other hand I should surely not be prohibited from
exercising my influence, if necessary, on the future career of those
related to me by blood as well as endeared to me by duty and
affection. My niece has suffered more cruelly than most women; and
it is entirely owing to her refusal to speak, that the memory of
Florian Varillo, her late affianced husband, is not openly branded
as that of a criminal, instead of being as now, merely under the
shadow of suspicion. For we know that he was her assassin,--all Rome
feels the truth,--and yet being dead, his name is left open to the
benefit of a doubt because she who was so nearly slain by him she
loved, forgives and is silent. I submit to Your Holiness that this
forgiveness and silence symbolise true Christianity, on the part of
the poor child who has fallen under your displeasure,--and that as
the Christian Creed goes, your pity and consideration for her should
somewhat soften the ban you have set against her on account of the
work she has given to the world. As a servant of Holy Church I
deeply deplore the subject of that work, while fully admitting its
merit as a great conception of art,--but even on this point I would
most humbly point out to Your Holiness that genius is not always
under the control of its possessor. For being a fire of most
searching and persuasive quality it does so command the soul, and
through the soul the brain and hand, that oftentimes it would appear
as if the actual creator of a great work is the last unit to be
considered in the scheme, and that it has been carried out by some
force altogether beyond and above humanity. Therefore, speaking with
all humility and sorrow, it may chance that Angela Sovrani's picture
'The Coming of Christ' may contain a required lesson to us of the
Church as well as to certain sections of certain people, and that as
all genius comes from God, it would be well to enquire earnestly
whether we do not perhaps in these days need some hint or warning of
the kind to recall us from ways of error, ere we wander too far.
But, having laid this matter straightly before Your Holiness, I am
nevertheless willing to accede to your desire, and see my young
niece and her father no more. For truly there is very little chance
of my so doing, as my age and health will scarcely permit me to
travel far from my diocese again, if indeed I ever return to it. The
same statement will apply with greater force to the friendship I
have lately formed with him whom you call 'heretic,'--Aubrey Leigh.
Your Holiness is mistaken in thinking that I have assisted him in
his work among the poor and desolate of London--though I would it
had been possible for me to do so! For I have seen such misery, such
godlessness, such despair, such self-destruction in this great
English city, the admitted centre of civilization, that I would give
my whole life twice, ay, three times over again to be able to
relieve it in ever so small a degree. The priests of our Church and
of all Churches are here,--they preach, but do very little in the
way of practice, and few like Aubrey Leigh sacrifice their personal
entity, their daily life, their sleep, their very thoughts, to help
the suffering of their fellow-men. Holy Father, the people whom
Aubrey Leigh works for, never believed in a God at all till this man
came among them. Yet there are religious centres here, and teachers-
-Sunday after Sunday, the message of the Gospel is pronounced to
inattentive ears and callous souls, and yet all have remained in
darkest atheism, in hopeless misery, till their earnest, patient,
sympathising, tender brother, the so-called 'atheist,' came to
persuade them out of darkness into light, and made the burdens of
their living lighter to bear. And will you not admit him as a
Christian? Surely he must be; for as our Lord Himself declares, 'Not
every man that shall say unto Me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the
kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is
in heaven.' And of a certainty, the will of the Father is that the
lost should be found, the perishing saved, the despairing
comforted,--and all these things Aubrey Leigh has done, and is yet
doing. But I do not work with him--I am here to look on--and looking
on, to regret my lost youth!
"Touching the miracle attributed to me at Rouen, I have gone over
this ground so often with Your Holiness, both by letter and
personally while in Rome, that it seems but foolish to repeat the
story of my complete innocence in the matter. I prayed for the
crippled child, and laid my hands upon him in blessing. From that
day I never saw him--never have seen him again. I can bear no
witness to his recovery,--your news came from persons at Rouen, and
not from me. I am as unconscious of having healed the child as I am
innocent of having any part in the disappearance of the man Claude
Cazeau. The whole thing is as complete a mystery to me as it is to
Your Holiness or to any of those who have heard the story. I fully
and freely admit, as I have always fully and freely admitted, that I
condoned and forgave the sin of the Abbe Vergniaud, and this, not
only because the man was dying, but because we are strictly
commanded to forgive those who truly repent. And on this point, I
cannot even to you, Most Holy Father, admit that I have been wrong.
"And now coming to the last part of Your Holiness' expressed desire,
wherein you ask me to part from the boy I rescued,--the child
Manuel, who is all alone in the world,--I cannot acknowledge it to
be a Christian act to desert anyone whom we have once befriended.
The boy is young, and far too gentle to fight the world or to meet
with such love and consideration as his youth and simplicity
deserve. I will not disguise, however, from Your Holiness that I
have been often much troubled in mind regarding his companionship
with me,--for foolish as you may judge my words, I feel that there
is something in him not altogether of earth,--that he speaks at
times as a wise prophet might speak,--or as an Angel sent to warn
the world of swiftly-coming disaster! Of the strangely daring spirit
in which he addressed himself to Your Holiness at the Vatican it is
not for me to discourse--I cannot explain it or condone it, for I
was overcome with amazement and fear, and realized the position no
more than did Your Holiness at the time, or than did those of your
confidants immediately around us. It was indeed a matter that went
beyond us all.
"But the chief end of this letter is arrived at--Your Holiness asks
me to part with this boy. With the deepest regret at the rupture you
threaten to cause between myself and Holy Church if I disobey this
command, I must still utterly refuse to do so. So long as the child
looks upon me as a friend, so long will I be one to him. So long as
he will accept the shelter of my roof, so long shall he receive it.
I would rather break with a dozen Churches, a dozen forms of creed,
than be untrue to a child who trusts me! That is my answer to Your
Holiness, and in giving it I add the sincere expression of my sorrow
to cause you displeasure or pain. But I venture to pray you, Holy
Father, to pause and consider deeply before you eject me from the
Church for so simple and plain a matter. Let me as one who is
nearing the grave in company with yourself--as one who with yourself
must soon stand on that dark brink of the Eternal from which we see
the Light beyond--let me most humbly yet most earnestly point out to
you the far more serious things than my offence, which are
threatening Rome to-day. The people of all lands are wandering away
from faith, and wars and terrors are encompassing the land. The lust
of gold and pride of life are now the chief objects of man's
existence and desire, and there was hardly ever a time in history
when utter indifference to the laws of God was more openly exhibited
than it is just now. The sin of unbelief and all the evils attendant
on that sin are steadily increasing, and the Church seems powerless
to stop the approaching disaster. Is it, that knowing herself to be
weak, she does not make the attempt to be strong? If this is so, she
must fall, and not all the getting-in of gold will help her! But
you, Holy Father--you might arrest all this trouble if you would! If
you would change the doctrines of Superstition for those of Science-
-if you would purify our beautiful creed from pagan observances and
incredible idolatries--if you would raise the Church of Rome like a
pure white Cross above the blackening strife, you might save the
sinking ship of faith even now! So little is needed!--simplicity
instead of ostentation--voluntary poverty instead of countless
riches, spiritual power instead of the perpetual cry for temporal
power,--the doctrine of Christ instead of the doctrine of Church
Councils--and the glad welcoming and incorporation of every true,
beautiful, wise and wonderful discovery of the age into the symbolic
teaching of our Creed. Holy Father, if this is not done, then things
old must disappear to make room for things new,--and a new Church of
Christ must rise from the ashes of Rome! We cannot but call to mind
the words of St. John, 'Repent and do the first works, or else I
will come quickly and remove thy candlestick from its place.' 'Do
the first works.' Holy Father, those first works, as exemplified in
Christ Himself, were love, charity, pity and pardon for all men!
With all my heart I beseech Your Holiness to let these virtues
simplify and sustain our Church,--and so raise it a burning and
shining light of loving-kindness and universal tolerance,--so shall
it be the true city set on a hill which shall draw all men to its
shelter! But if unjust judgment, intolerance, cruelty and
fanaticism, should again be allowed, as once before in history, to
blot its fairness and blight its reputation, then there is not much
time left to it,--inasmuch as there is a force in the world to-day
likely to prove too strong for many of us,--a mighty combat for
Truth, in which conflicting creeds will fight their questions out
together with terrible passion and insistence, bringing many souls
to grief and pitiful disaster. You, Holy Father, can arrest all this
by making the Church of Rome, Christian rather than Pagan--by
removing every touch of idolatry, every recollection of paid
prayers, and by teaching a lofty, pure and practical faith such as
our Redeemer desired for us, so that it may be a refuge in the
storm, a haven wherein all the world shall find peace. This is for
you and for those who come after you to do,--I, Felix Bonpre, shall
not be here to see the change so wrought, for I shall have gone from
hence to answer for my poor stewardship,--God grant I may not be
found altogether wanting in intention, though I may have been
inadequate in deed! And so with my earnest prayer for your health
and long continuance of life I bid you farewell, asking you nothing
for myself at all but a reasonable judgment,--unprejudiced and calm
and Christlike,--which will in good time persuade you that it would
be but a cruelty to carry out your indignation against me by
depriving me of that diocese where all my people know and love me,--
simply because I have befriended a child, and because having once
befriended him I refuse to desert him. But if your mind should
remain absolutely fixed to carry out your intentions I can only bow
my head to your will and submit to the stroke of destiny, feeling it