Part 5 out of 13
never again lived with D'Agramont as his wife, she carried herself
through all her duties as mistress of the household and hostess of
his guests, with a brave bright gaiety, which deceived even the
closest observer,--and the gossips of Paris used to declare that she
did not know the extent of her husband's follies. But she did know,-
-and while filled with utter disgust and loathing for his conduct
she nevertheless gave him no cause of complaint against herself. And
when he died of a fever brought on through over-indulgence in vice,
she conformed to all the strictest usages of society,--wore her
solemn widow's black for more than the accustomed period,--and then
cast it off,--not to dash into her fashionable "circle" again with a
splurge of colour, but rather to glide into it gracefully, a vision
of refinement, arrayed in such soft hues as may be seen in some rare
picture; and she took complete possession of it by her own unaided
charm. No one could really tell whether she grieved for D'Agramont's
death or not; no one but herself knew how she had loved him,--no one
guessed what agonies of pain and shame she had endured for his sake,
nor how she had wept herself half blind with despair when he died.
All this she shut up in her own heart, but the working of the secret
bitterness within her had made a great change in her disposition.
Her nature, once as loving and confiding as that of a little child,
had been so wronged in its tenderest fibres that now she could not
love at all.
"Why is it," she would ask herself, "that I am totally unable to
care for any living creature? That it is indifferent to me whether I
see any person once, or often, or never? Why are all men like
phantoms, drifting past my soul's immovability?"
The answer to her query would be, that having loved greatly once and
been deceived, it was impossible to love again. Some women,--the
best, and therefore the unhappiest--are born with this difficult
Now, as she rode quietly along, sometimes allowing her horse to
prance upon the turf for the delight of its dewy freshness, she was
weaving quite a brilliant essay on modern morals out of the scene
she had witnessed at the Church of the Lorette that morning. She
well knew how to use that dangerous weapon, the pen,--she could
wield it like a wand to waken tears or laughter with equal ease, and
since her husband's death she had devoted a great deal of time to
authorship. Two witty novels, published under a nom-de-plume had
already startled the world of Paris, and she was busy with a third.
Such work amused her, and distracted her from dwelling too much on
the destroyed illusions of the past. The Figaro snatched eagerly at
everything she wrote; and it was for the Figaro that she busied her
brain now, considering what she should say of the Abbe Vergniaud's
"It is wisest to be a liar and remain in the Church? or tell the
truth and go out of the Church?" she mused, "Unfortunately, if all
priests told the truth as absolutely as the Abbe did this morning we
should have hardly any of them left."
She laughed a little, and stroked her horse's neck caressingly.
"Good Rex! You and your kind never tell lies; and yet you are said
to have no souls. Now I wonder why we, who are mean and cunning and
treacherous and hypocritical should have immortal souls, while
horses and dogs who are faithful and kind and honest should be
supposed to have none."
Rex gave a gay little prance forward as one who should say, "Yes,
but it is only you silly human beings who suppose such nonsense. We
know what WE know;--we have our own secrets!"
"Now the Church," went on Loyse D'Agramont, pursuing the tenor of
her thoughts, "is in a bad way all over the world. It is possible
that God is offended with it. It is possible, that after nearly two
thousand years of patience He is tired of having come down to us to
teach us the path of Heaven in vain. Something out of the common has
surely moved the Abbe Vergniaud to speak as he spoke to-day. He was
quite unlike himself and beyond himself; if all our preachers were
seized by the spirit of frankness in like manner--"
Here she broke off for she had arrived at Angela Sovrani's door, and
a servant coming out, assisted her to alight, and led her horse into
the courtyard there to await her leisure. She was an old friend of
Angela's and was accustomed to enter the house without announcement,
but on this occasion she hesitated, and after ascending the first
few steps leading to the studio paused and rang the bell. Angela
herself answered the summons.
"Loyse! Is it you! Oh, I am so glad!" and Angela caught her by both
hands,--"You cannot imagine the confusion and trouble we have been
in this morning!"
"Oh yes, I can!" answered the Princesse smiling, as she put an arm
round her friend's waist and entered the studio, "You have certainly
had an excitement! What of the courageous Abbe? Where is he?"
"Here!" And Angela's eyes expressed volumes,--"Here, with my uncle.
They are talking together--and that young man--Cyrillon--the son,
"Is that his name?--Cyrillon?" queried the Princesse.
"Yes,--he has been brought up as a peasant. But he is not ignorant.
He has written books and music, so it appears--yet he still keeps to
his labour in the fields. He seems to be a kind of genius; another
sort of Maeterlinck--"
"Oh, capricious Destiny!" exclaimed the Princesse, "The dear Abbe
scandalises the Church by acknowledging his son to all men,--and
lo!--the son he was ashamed of all these years, turns out a prodigy!
The fault once confessed, brings a blessing! Angela, there is
something more than chance in this, if we could only fathom it!"
"This Cyrillon is all softness and penitence now,' Angela went on,
"He is overcome with grief at his murderous attempt,--and has asked
his father's pardon. And they are going away together out of Paris
"Till excommunication is pronounced," said the Princesse, "Yes, I
thought so! I came here to place my Chateau at the Abbe's disposal.
I am myself going to Rome; so he and his son can be perfectly at
home there. I admire the man's courage, and above all I admire his
truthfulness. But I cannot understand why he was at such pains to
keep silence all these years, and THEN to declare his fault? He must
have decided on his confession very suddenly?"
Angela's eyes grew dark and wistful.
"Yes," she answered slowly,--then with a sudden eagerness in her
manner she added, "Do you know, Loyse, I feel as if some very
strange influence had crept in among us! Pray do not think me
foolish, but I assure you I have had the most curious sensations
since my uncle, Cardinal Bonpre arrived from Rouen--bringing Manuel-
"Manuel? Is that the boy I saw in the church this morning? The boy
who threw himself as a shield between Verginaud and the flying shot?
Yes? And do you not know who he is?"
"No," and Angela repeated the story of the way in which Manuel had
been found and rescued by the Cardinal; "You see," she continued,
"it is not possible to ask him any questions since he has declined
to tell us more than we already know."
"Strange!" And the Princesse D'Agramont knitted her delicate brows
perplexedly. "And you have had curious feelings since he came, you
say? What sort of feelings?"
"Well, you will only laugh at me," replied Angela, her cheeks paling
a little as she spoke, "but it really is as if some supernatural
being were present who could see all my inward thoughts,--and not
only mine, but the thoughts of everyone else. Someone too who impels
us to do what we have never thought of doing before--"
The Princesse opened her eyes in amazement.
"My dear girl! You must have been over-working to get such strange
fancies into your head! There is nothing supernatural left to us
nowadays except the vague idea of a God,--and even that we are
rather tired of!"
Angela trembled and grew paler than usual.
"Do not speak in that way," she urged, "The Abbe talked in just such
a light fashion until the other day here,--yet this morning I think-
-nay, I am sure he believes in something better than himself at
The Princesse was silent for a minute.
"Well, what is to happen next?" she queried, "Excommunication of
course! All brave thinkers of every time have been excommunicated,
and many of our greatest and most valuable scientific works are on
the Index Expurgatorius. It is my ambition to get into that Index,--
I shall never rest till I win the honour of being beside Darwin's
'Origin of Species'!"
Angela smiled, but her thoughts were elsewhere.
"I hope the Abbe will go away at once," she said meditatively, "But
you have no idea how happy and at ease he is! He seems to be ready
"What does Cardinal Bonpre think?" asked the Princesse.
"My uncle never thinks in any way except the way of Christ," replied
Angela. "He says, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee; arise and walk', to
every soul stricken with the palsy of pain and repentance. He helps
the fallen; he does not strike them down more heavily."
"Ah, so! And is he fit to be a Cardinal?" queried the Princesse
Angela gave her a quick look, but had no time to reply as at that
moment a servant entered and announced, "Monsignor Moretti!"
Angela started nervously.
"Moretti!" she said in a low tone, "I thought he had left Paris!"
Before she had time to say any more the visitor himself entered, a
tall spare priest with a dark narrow countenance of the true Tuscan
type,--a face in which the small furtive eyes twinkled with a
peculiarly hard brilliancy as though they were luminous pebbles. He
walked into the room with a kind of aggressive dignity common to
many Italians, and made a slight sign of the cross in air as the two
ladies saluted him.
"Pardon me, Mesdames, for this intrusion," he said in a harsh
metallic voice, "But I hear that the Abbe Vergniaud is in this
house,--and that Cardinal Felix Bonpre has received him here SINCE"
(and he emphasised the word "since") "the shameful scene of this
morning. My business in Paris is ended for the moment; and I am
returning to Italy to-night,--but I wish to know if the Abbe has
anything to say through me to His Holiness the Pope in extenuation
of his conduct before I perform the painful duty of narrating this
distressing affair at the Vatican."
"Will you see him for yourself, Monsignor?" said Angela quietly,
offering to lead the way out of the studio, "You will no doubt
obtain a more direct and explicit answer from the Abbe personally."
For a moment Moretti hesitated. Princesse D'Agramont saw his
indecision, and her smile had a touch of malice in it as she said,
"It is a little difficult to know how to address the Abbe to-day, is
it not, Monsignor? For of course he is no longer an Abbe--no longer
a priest of Holy Church! Helas! When anybody takes to telling the
truth in public the results are almost sure to be calamitous!"
Moretti turned upon her with swift asperity.
"Madame, you are no true daughter of the Church," he said, "and my
calling forbids me to enter into any discussion with you!"
The Princesse gave him a charming upward glance of her bright eyes,
and curtsied demurely, but he paid no heed to her obeisance, and
moving away, went at once with Angela towards the Cardinal's
apartments. In the antechamber he paused, hearing voices.
"Is there anyone with His Eminence, besides Vergniaud?" he asked.
"The Abbe's son Cyrillon," replied Angela timidly.
"I will go in alone," he said, "You need not announce me. The Abbe
knows me well, and--" he added with a slight sneer, "he is likely to
know me better!"
Without further words he signed to Angela to retire, and passing
through the antechamber, he opened the door of the Cardinal's room
and entered abruptly.
The Cardinal was seated,--he rose as Moretti appeared.
"I beg your Eminence to spare yourself!" said Moretti suavely, with
a deep salutation, "And to pardon me for thus coming unannounced
into the presence of one so highly esteemed by the Holy Father as
The Cardinal gave a gesture of courteous deprecation; and Monsignor
Moretti, lifting his, till then, partially lowered eyelids, flashed
an angry regard upon the Abbe Vergniaud, who resting his back
against the book-case behind him, met his glance with the most
perfect composure. Close to him stood his son and would-be murderer
Cyrillon,--his dark handsome face rendered even handsomer by the
wistful and softened expression of his eyes, which ever and anon
rested upon his father with a look of mingled wonder and respect.
There was a brief silence--of a few seconds at most,--and then
Moretti spoke again in a voice which thrilled with pent-up
indignation, but which he endeavoured to render calm and clear as he
addressed the Cardinal.
"Your Eminence is without doubt aware of the cause of my visit to
you. If, as I understand, your Eminence was present at Notre Dame de
Lorette this morning, and witnessed the regrettable conduct of the
faithless son of the Church here present--"
"Pardon! This is my affair." interposed Vergniaud, stepping forward,
"His Eminence, Cardinal Bonpre, is not at all concerned in the
matter of the difficult dispute which has arisen between me and my
own conscience. You call me faithless, Monsignor,--will you explain
what you mean by 'faithless' under these present conditions of
"It shows the extent and hopelessness of your retrogression from all
good that you should presume to ask such a question," answered
Moretti, growing white under the natural darkness of his skin with
an impotency of rage he could scarcely suppress, "Your sermon this
morning was an open attack on the Church, and the amazing scene at
its conclusion is a scandal to Christianity!"
"The attack on the Church I admit," said the Abbe quietly, "I am not
the only preacher in the world who has so attacked it. Christ
Himself would attack it if He were to visit this earth again!"
Moretti turned angrily towards the Cardinal.
"Your Eminence permits this blasphemy to be uttered in your
presence?" he demanded.
"Nay, wherever and whenever I perceive blasphemy, my son, I shall
reprove it," said the Cardinal, fixing his mild eyes steadily on
Moretti's livid countenance, "I cannot at present admit that our
unhappy and repentant brother here has blasphemed. In his address to
his congregation to-day he denounced social hypocrisy, and also
pointed out certain failings in the Church which may possibly need
consideration and reform; but against the Gospel of Christ, or
against the Founder of our Faith I heard no word that could be
judged ill-fitting. As for the conclusion which so very nearly ended
in disaster and crime, there is nothing to be said beyond the fact
that both the persons concerned are profoundly sorry for their
"No sorrow can wipe out such infamy--" began Moretti hotly.
"Patience! Patience, my son!" and the Cardinal raised his hand with
a slight gesture of authority, "Surely we must believe the words of
our Blessed Lord, 'There is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that
repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons which have no need
"And on this old and well-worn phrase you excuse a confessed
heretic?" said Moretti, with a sneer.
"This old and well-worn phrase is the saying of our Master,"
answered the Cardinal firmly, "And it is as true as the truth of the
sunshine which, in its old and well-worn way, lights up this world
gloriously every morning! I would stake my very life on the depth
and the truth of Vergniaud's penitence! Who, seeing and knowing the
brand of disgrace he has voluntarily burnt into his own social name
and honour, could doubt his sincerity, or refuse to raise him up,
even as our Lord would have done, saying, 'Thy sins be forgiven
thee! Go, and sin no more!'?"
Moretti's furtive eyes disappeared for a moment under his
discoloured eyelids, which quivered rapidly like the throbbings in
the throat of an angry snake. Before he could speak again however,
"Why trouble His Eminence with my crimes or heresies?" he said
quietly, "I am grateful to him from my soul for his gentleness and
charity of judgment--but I need no defence--not even from him. I am
answerable to God alone!--neither to Church nor Creed! It was
needful that I should speak as I spoke to-day--"
"Needful to scandalize the Church?" demanded Moretti sharply.
"The Church is not scandalized by a man who confesses himself an
unworthy member of it!" returned Vergniaud, "It is better to tell
the truth and go out of the Church than to remain in it as a liar
and a hypocrite."
"According to your own admission you have been a liar and a
hypocrite for twenty-five years!" said Moretti bitterly, "You should
have made your confession before, and have made it privately. There
is something unnatural and reprehensible in the sudden blazon you
have made to the public of your gross immorality."
"'A sudden blazon' you call it,--" said the Abbe, "Well, perhaps it
is! But murder will out, no matter how long it is kept in. You are
not entirely aware of my position, Monseigneur. Have you the
patience to hear a full explanation?"
"I have the patience to hear because it is my duty to hear," replied
Moretti frigidly, "I am bound to convey the whole of this matter to
"True! That is your duty, and who shall say it is not also your
pleasure!" and Vergniaud smiled a little. "Well!--Convey to His
Holiness the news that I, Denis Vergniaud, am a dying man, and that
knowing myself to be in that condition, and that two years at the
utmost, is my extent of life on this planet, I have taken it
seriously into my head to consider as to whether I am fit to meet
death with a clean conscience. Death, Monsignor, admits of no lying,
no politeness, no elegant sophistries! Now, the more I have
considered, the more I am aware of my total unfitness to confront
whatever may be waiting for me in the Afterwards of death--(for
without doubt there is an afterwards,)--and being conscious of
having done at least one grave injury to an innocent person, I have
taken the best and quickest way to make full amends. I wronged a
woman--this boy's mother--" and he indicated with a slight gesture
Cyrillon, who had remained a silent witness of the scene,--"and the
boy himself from early years set his mind and his will to avenge his
mother's dishonour. I--the chief actor in the drama,--am thus
responsible for a woman's misery and shame; and am equally
responsible for the murderous spirit which has animated one, who
without this feeling, would have been a promising fellow enough. The
woman I wronged, alas!--is dead, and I cannot reinstate her name,
save in an open acknowledgment of her child, my son. I do
acknowledge him,--I acknowledge him in your presence, and therefore
virtually in the presence of His Holiness. I thus help to remove the
stigma I myself set on his name. Plainly speaking, Monsignor, we men
have no right whatever to launch human beings into the world with
the 'bar sinister' branded upon them. We have no right, if we follow
Christ, to do anything that may injure or cause trouble to any other
creature. We have no right to be hasty in our judgment, even of
"Sin is sin,--and demands punishment--" interrupted Moretti.
"You quote the law of Moses, Monsignor! I speak with the premise
'if'. IF we follow Christ;--if we do not, the matter is of course
different. We can then twist Scripture to suit our own purpose. We
can organise systems which are agreeable to our own convenience or
profit, but which have nothing whatever of Christ's Divine Spirit of
universal love and compassion in them. My action this morning was
unusual and quixotic no doubt. Yet, it seemed to me the only way to
comport myself under those particular circumstances. I did a wrong--
I seek to make amends. I believe this is what God would have me do.
I believe that the Supernal Forces judge our sins against each other
to be of a far worse nature than sins against Church or Creed. I
also believe that if we try to amend our injustices and set crooked
things straight, death will be an easier business, and Heaven will
come a little nearer to our souls. As for my attack on the Church--"
"Ah truly! What of your attack on the Church?" said Moretti, his
small eyes glistening, and his breath going and coming quickly.
"I would say every word of it again with absolute conviction,"
declared Vergniaud, "for I have said nothing but the truth! There is
a movement in the world, Monsignor, that all the powers of Rome are
unable to cope with!--the movement of an advancing resistless force
called Truth,--the Voice of God,--the Voice of Christ! Truth cannot
be choked, murdered and killed nowadays as in the early Inquisition!
Rather than that the Voice of Truth should be silenced or murdered
now at this period of time, God will shake down Rome!"
"Not so!" exclaimed Moretti hotly--"Every nation in the world shall
perish before Rome shall lose her sacred power! She is the
'headstone of the corner'--and 'upon whomsoever that stone shall
fall, it shall grind him to powder!'"
"You think so?" and Verginaud shrugged his shoulders ever so
slightly--"Well! For me, I believe that material as well as
spiritual forces combine to fight against long-concealed sin and
practised old hypocrisies. It would not surprise me if the volcanic
agencies which are for ever at work beneath the blood-stained soil
of Italy, were to meet under the Eternal City, and in one fell burst
of flame and thunder prove its temporary and ephemeral worth! The
other day an earthquake shook the walls of Rome and sent a warning
shock through St. Peter's. St. Peter's, with its vast treasures, its
gilded shrines, its locked-up wealth, its magnificence,--a strange
contrast to Italy itself!--Italy with its people ground down under
the heel of a frightful taxation, starving, and in the iron bonds of
poverty! 'The Pope is a prisoner and can do nothing'? Monsignor, the
Pope is a prisoner by his own choice! If he elected to walk abroad
among the people and scatter Peter's Pence among the sick and needy,
he would then perhaps be BEGINNING to do the duties our Lord
enjoined on all His disciples!"
Moretti had stood immovable during this speech, his dark face rigid,
his eyes downcast, listening to every word, but now he raised his
hand with an authoritative gesture.
"Enough!" he said, "I will hear no more! You know the consequences
of this at the Vatican?"
"You are prepared to accept them?"
"As prepared as any of the truth-tellers who were burned for the
love of Christ by the Inquisition," replied Vergniaud deliberately.
"The world is wide,--there is room for me in it outside the Church."
"One would imagine you were bitten by the new 'Christian Democratic'
craze," said Moretti with a cold smile, "And that you were a reader
and follower of the Socialist, Gys Grandit!"
At this name, Vergniaud's son Cyrillon stirred, and lifting his dark
handsome head turned his flashing eyes full on the speaker.
"Did you address me, Monsignor?" he queried, in a voice rich with
the musical inflexions of Southern France, "I am Gys Grandit!"
Had he fired another pistol shot in the quiet room as he had fired
it in the church, it could hardly have created a more profound
"You--you--" stammered Moretti, retreating from him as from some
loathsome abomination, "You--Gys Grandit!"
"You, Cyrillon!--you!--you, my son!"--and the Abbe almost lost
breath in the extremity of his amazement, while Cardinal Bonpre half
rose from his chair doubting whether he had heard aright. Gys
Grandit!--the writer of fierce political polemics and powerful
essays that were the life and soul, meat and drink of all the
members of the Christian Democratic party!
"Gys Grandit is my nom-de-plume," pursued the young man, composedly,
"I never had any hope of being acknowledged as Cyrillon Vergniaud,
son of my father,--I had truly no name and resolved to create one.
That is the sole explanation. My history has made me--not myself."
There was a dead pause. At last Moretti spoke.
"I have no place here!" he said, biting his lips hard to keep them
from trembling with rage, "This house which I thought was the abode
of a true daughter of the Church, Donna Sovrani, is apparently for
the moment a refuge for heretics. And I find these heretics kept in
countenance by Cardinal Felix Bonpre, whose reputation for justice
and holiness should surely move him to denounce them were he not
held in check by some malignant spirit of evil, which seems to
possess this atmosphere--"
"Monsignor Moretti," interposed the Cardinal with dignity, "it is no
part of justice or holiness to denounce anything or anybody till the
full rights of the case have been heard. I was as unaware as
yourself that this young man, Cyrillon Vergniaud, was the daring
writer who has sent his assumed name of 'Gys Grandit' like a flame
through Europe. I have read his books, and cannot justly denounce
them, because they are expressed in the language of one who is
ardently and passionately seeking for Truth. Equally, I cannot
denounce the Abbe, because he has confessed his sin, declared
himself as he is, to the public, saved his son from being a
parricide, and has to some extent we trust, made his peace with God.
If you can find any point on which, as a servant of Christ, I can
denounce these two human beings who share with me the strange and
awful privileges of life and death, and the promise of an immortal
hereafter, I give you leave to do so. The works of Gys Grandit do
not blaspheme Christ,--they call, they clamour, they appeal for
Christ through all and in all--"
"And with all this clamour and appeal their writer is willing to
become a murderer!" said Moretti satirically.
Young Vergniaud sprang forward.
"Monsignor, in the name of the Master you profess to serve I would
advise you to set a watch upon your tongue!" he said, "Granted that
I was willing to murder the man who had made my mother's life a
misery, I was also willing to answer to God for it! I saw my mother
die--" here he gave a quick glance towards the Abbe who
instinctively shrank at his words, "I shall pain you, my father, by
what I say, but the pain is perhaps good for us both! I repeat--I
saw my mother die. She passed away uncomforted after a long life of
patient loneliness and sorrow--for she was faithful to the last,
ever faithful! I have seen her weep in the silence of the night!--I
have heard her ever since I was able to understand the sound of
weeping! Oh, those tears!--Do you not think God has seen them! She
worked and toiled, and starved herself to educate me,--she had no
friends, for she had 'fallen', they said, and sometimes she could
get no employment, and often we starved together; and when I thought
of the man who had done this thing, even as a young boy I said to
myself, 'I will kill him!' She did not mean, poor mother, to curse
her lover to me--but unconsciously she did,--her sorrow was so
great--her loneliness so bitter!"
Moretti gave a gesture of impatience and contempt. Cyrillon noted
it, and his dark eyes flashed, but he went on steadily,--
"And then I saw her die--she stretched her poor thin hard-working
hands out to God, and over and over again she muttered and moaned in
her fever the refrain of an old peasant song we have in Touraine,
'Oh, la tristesse d'avoir aime!' If you had heard her--if you had
seen her--if you had, or have a heart to feel, nerves to wrench, a
brain to rack, blood to be stung to frenzy, you would,--seeing your
mother perish thus,--have thought, that to kill the man who had made
such a wreck of a sweet pure life, would be a just, aye even a
virtuous deed! I thought so. But my intended vengeance was
frustrated--whether by the act of God, who can say? But the conduct
of the man whom I am now proud to call my father--"
"You have great cause for pride!" said Moretti sarcastically.
"I think I have"--said the young man, "In the close extremity of
death at my hands, he won my respect. He shall keep it. It will be
my glory now to show him what a son's love and pardon may be. If it
be true as I understand, that he is attacked by a disease which
needs must be fatal, his last hours will not be desolate! It may be
that I shall give him more comfort than Churches,--more confidence
than Creeds! It may be that the clasp of my hand in his may be a
better preparation for his meeting with God,--and my mother,--than
the touch of the Holy Oils in Extreme Unction!"
"Like all your accursed sect, you blaspheme the Sacraments"--
interrupted Moretti indignantly--"And in the very presence of one of
her chiefest Cardinals, you scorn the Church!"
Cyrillon gave a quick gesture of emphatic denial.
"Monsignor, I do not scorn the Church,--but I think that honesty and
fair dealing with one another is better than any Church! Christ had
no Church. He built no temples, He amassed no wealth,--He preached
simply to those who would hear Him under the arching sky,--in the
open air! He prophesied the fall of temples; 'In this place,' He
said, 'is One greater than the temple.' [Footnote: Matt. xii. v. 6.]
He sought to destroy long built-up hypocrisies. 'My house is called
the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.' Thieves,
not only of gold, but of honour!--thieves of the very Gospel, which
has been tampered with and twisted to suit the times, the conditions
and opinions of varying phases of priestcraft. Who that has read,
and thought, and travelled and studied the manuscripts hidden away
in the old monasteries of Armenia and Syria, believes that the
Saviour of the world ever condescended to 'pun' on the word Petrus,
and say, 'On this Rock (or stone) I will build my Church,' when He
already knew that He had to deal with a coward who would soon deny
"Enough! I will hear no further!" cried Moretti, turning livid with
fury--"Cardinal Bonpre, I appeal to you . . ."
But Cyrillon went on unheedingly,--
"Beware of that symbol of your Church, Monsignor! It is a very
strange one! It seems about to be expanded into a reality of
dreadful earnest! 'I know not the man,' said Peter. Does not the
glittering of the world's wealth piled into the Vatican,--useless
wealth lying idle in the midst of hideous beggary and starvation,--
proclaim with no uncertain voice, 'I KNOW NOT THE MAN'? The Man of
sorrows,--the Man of tender and pitying heart,--the Man who could
not send the multitude away without bread, and compassed a miracle
to give it to them,--the Man who wept for a friend's death,--who
took little children in His arms and blessed them,--who pardoned the
unhappy outcast and said, 'Sin no more,'--who was so selfless, so
pure, so strong, so great, that even sceptics, while denying His
Divinity, are compelled to own that His life and His actions were
more Divine than those of any other creature in human shape that has
ever walked the earth! Monsignor, there is no true representative of
Christ in this world!"
"Not for heretics possibly," said Moretti disdainfully.
"For no one!" said Cyrillon passionately--"For no poor sinking,
seeking soul is there any such visible comforter! But there is a
grand tendency in Mankind to absorb His Spirit and His teaching;--to
turn from forms and shadows of faith to the Faith itself,--from
descriptions of a possible heaven to the REAL Heaven, which is being
disclosed to us in transcendent glimpses through the jewel-gates of
science! There were twelve gates in the visioned heaven of St.
John,--and each gate was composed of one pearl! Truly do the
scoffers say that never did any planetary sea provide such pearls as
these! No,--for they were but prophetic emblems of the then
undiscovered Sciences. Ah, Monsignor!--and what of the psychic
senses and forces?--forces which we are just beginning to discover
and to use,--forces which enable me to read your mind at this
present moment and to see how willingly you would send me to the
burning, Christian as you call yourself, for my thoughts and
opinions!--as your long-ago predecessors did with all men who dared
to reason for themselves! But that time has passed, Monsignor; the
Spirit of Christ in the world has conquered the Church THERE!"
The words rushed from his lips with a fervid eloquence that was
absolutely startling,--his eyes were aglow with feeling--his face so
animated and inspired, that it seemed as though a flame behind it
illumined every feature. Abbe Vergniaud, astonished and overcome,
laid a trembling hand on the arm of the passionate speaker with a
gesture more of appeal than restraint, and the young man caught that
hand within his own and held it fast. Moretti for a moment fixed his
eyes upon father and son with an expression of intense hatred that
darkened his face with a deep shadow as of a black mask,--and then
without a word deliberately turned his back upon both.
"Your Eminence has heard all this," he said coldly, addressing the
Cardinal who sat rigidly in his chair, silent and very pale.
"I have," replied Bonpre in a low strained tone.
"And I presume your Eminence permits--?"
"Why talk of permission?" interrupted the Cardinal, raising his eyes
with a sorrowful look, "Who is to permit or deny freedom of speech
in these days? Have I--have you--the right to declare that a man
shall not express his thoughts? In what way are we to act? Deny a
hearing? We cannot--we dare not--not if we obey our Lord, who says,
'Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to
them.' If we ask for ourselves to be heard, we must also hear."
"We may hear--but in such a case as the present one must we not also
condemn?" demanded Moretti, watching the venerable prelate narrowly.
"We can only condemn in the case of a great sin," replied Bonpre
gently, "and even then our condemnation must be passed with fear and
trembling, and with full knowledge of all the facts pertaining to
the error. 'Judge not that ye be not judged.' We are told plainly
that our brother may sin against us not only seven times but seventy
times seven, and still we are bound to forgive, to sustain, to help,
and not to trample down the already fallen."
"These are your Eminence's opinions?" said Moretti.
"Most assuredly! Are they not yours?"
Moretti smiled coldly.
"No. I confess they are not! I am a faithful servant of the Church;
and the Church is a system of moral government in which, if the
slightest laxity be permitted, the whole fabric is in danger--"
"A house of cards then, which a breath may blow down!" interposed
"Gys Grandit," otherwise Cyrillon Vergniaud, "Surely an unstable
foundation for the everlasting ethics of Christ!"
"I did not speak to you, sir," said Moretti, turning upon him
"I know you did not. I spoke to you," answered the young man coolly,
"I have as much right to speak to you, as you have to speak to me,
or to be silent--if you choose. You say the Church is a system of
moral government. Well, look back on the past, and see what it has
done in the way of governing. In the very earliest days of
Christianity, when men were simple and sincere, when their faith in
the power of the Divine things was strong and pure, the Church was
indeed a safeguard, and a powerful restraint on man's uneducated
licentiousness and inherent love of strife. But when the lust of
gain began to creep like a fever into the blood of those with whom
worldly riches should be as nothing compared to the riches of the
mind, the heart, and the spirit, then the dryrot of hypocrisy set
in--then came craftiness, cruelty, injustice, and pitilessness, and
such grossness of personal conduct as revolts even the soul of an
admitted sinner. Moral government? Where is it to day? Look at
France--Italy--Spain! Count up the lies told by the priests in these
countries to feed the follies of the ignorant! Did Christ ever tell
lies? No. Then why, if you are His follower, do you tell them?"
"I repeat, I did not speak to you," said Moretti, his eyes sparkling
with fury,--"To me you are a heretic, accursed, and excommunicate!--
thrust out of salvation, and beyond my province to deal with!"
"Oh, that a man should be thrust out of salvation in these Christian
days!" exclaimed Cyrillon with a flashing look of scorn, "And that
he should find a servant of Christ to tell him so! Accursed and
excommunicate! Then I am a kind of leper in the social community!
And you, as a disciple of your Master, should heal me of my
infirmity--and cleanse me of my Leprosy! Loathsome as leprosy is
whether of mind or body, Christ never thrust it out of salvation!"
"The leper must wish to be cleansed!" said Moretti fiercely, "If he
does not himself seek to be healed of his evil, no miracle can help
"Oh but I do seek!" And young Vergniaud threw back his handsome head
with a splendid gesture of appeal, "With all my soul, if I am
diseased, I wish to be cleansed! Will YOU cleanse me? CAN you? I
wish to stand up whole and pure, face to face with the Divine in
this world, and praise Him for His goodness to me. But surely if He
is to be found anywhere it is in the Spirit of Truth! Not in any
sort of a lie! Now, according to His own words the Holy Ghost is the
Spirit of Truth. 'When the Spirit of Truth is come He will guide you
into all Truth.' And what then? Monsignor, it is somewhat dangerous
to oppose the Spirit of Truth, whether that Force speak through the
innocent lips of a child or the diseased ones of a leper! 'For
whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man it shall be
forgiven him, BUT WHOSOEVER SPEAKETH AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST'--or the
Spirit of Truth, known sometimes as Inspiration . . . "IT SHALL NOT BE
FORGIVEN HIM in this world, neither in the world to come.' That is a
terrible curse, which an ocean of Holy Water could scarcely wash
"Your argument is wide of the mark," said Moretti, impatiently, yet
forced in spite of himself to defend his position, "the Church is
not opposed to Truth but to Atheism."
"Atheism! There is no such thing as a real atheist in the world!"
declared Cyrillon passionately, "No reasoning human being alive,
that has not felt the impress of the Divine Image in himself and in
all the universe around him! He may, through apathy and the
falsehoods of priestcraft, have descended into callousness,
indifference and egotism, but he knows well that that impress cannot
be stamped out--that he will have to account for his part, however
small it be, in the magnificent pageant of life and work, for he has
not been sent into it 'on chance.' Inasmuch as if there is chance in
one thing there must be chance in another, and the solar system is
too mathematically designed to be a haphazard arrangement. With all
our cleverness, our logic, our geometrical skill, we can do nothing
so exact! As part of the solar system, you and I have our trifling
business to enact, Monsignor,--and to enact it properly, and with
satisfaction to our Supreme Employer, it seems to me that if we are
honest with the world and with each other, we shall be on the right
"For my part, I am perfectly honest with you," said Moretti smiling
darkly, "I told you, and I tell you again, that to me you are a
heretic, accursed and excommunicate. You will, as the democrat 'Gys
Grandit,' no doubt feel a peculiar pleasure when your father is also
declared accursed and excommunicate. I have said, and I say again,
that the Church is a system of moral government, and that no laxity
can be permitted. It is a system founded on the Gospel of our Lord,
but to obey the commands of our Lord to the letter we should have to
find another world to live in--"
"Pardon me--I ask for information," interposed Cyrillon, "You of
course maintain that Christ was God in Man?"
"And yet you say that to obey His commands to the letter we should
have to find another world to live in! Strange! Since He made the
world and knows all our capabilities of progress! But have you never
fancied it possible that we may be forced to obey His commands to
the letter, or perish for refusing to do so?"
Moretti made as though he would have sprung forward,--his face was
drawn and rigid, his lips tightly compressed, but he had no answer
to this unanswerable logic. He therefore took refuge in turning
brusquely away as before and was about to address himself to Bonpre,
but stopped short, as he perceived Manuel, who had entered while the
conversation was going on, and who now stood quietly by the
Cardinal's chair in an attitude of composed attention. Moretti
glanced at him with a vexed sense of irritation and reluctant
wonder;--then moistening his dry lips he began,
"I am bound to regret deeply that your Eminence has allowed this
painful discussion to take place in your presence without reproof.
But I presume you are aware of the responsibility incurred?"
The Cardinal slowly inclined his head in grave assent.
"In relating the scene of to-day to His Holiness, I shall be
compelled to mention the attitude you have maintained throughout the
"You are at perfect liberty to do so, my son," said Bonpre with
Moretti hesitated. His eyes again rested on Manuel.
"Pardon me," he said suddenly and irrelevantly, "This boy . . ."
"Is a foundling," said the Cardinal, "He stays with me till I can
place him well in the world. He has no friends."
"He took some part in the affair of this morning, I believe?"
queried Moretti, with a doubtful air.
"He saved my life," said Abbe Vergniaud advancing, "It was not
particularly worth saving--but he did it. And I owe him much--for in
saving me, he also saved Cyrillon from something worse than death."
"Naturally you must be very gratefu," retorted Moretti satirically,
"The affection of a son you have denied for twenty-five years must
be exceedingly gratifying to you!" He paused--then said, "Does this
boy belong to the Church?"
"No," said Manuel, answering for himself, "I have no Church."
"No Church!" exclaimed Moretti, "His Eminence must educate you, boy.
You must be received."
"Yes," said Manuel, raising his eyes, and fixing them full on
Moretti, "I must be received! I need education to understand the
Church. And so,--for me to be received might be difficult!"
As he thus spoke, slowly and with an exquisite softness, something
in his voice, manner, or words aroused a sudden and violent
antipathy in Moretti's mind. He became curiously annoyed, without
any possible cause, and out of his annoyance answered roughly.
"Ignorance is always difficult to deal with," he said, "But if it is
not accompanied by self-will or obstinacy--(and boys of your age are
apt to be self-willed and obstinate)--then much can be done. The
Church has infinite patience even with refractory sinners."
"Has it?" asked Manuel simply, and his clear eyes, turning slowly
towards Vergniaud and his son, rested there a moment, and then came
back to fix the same steady look upon Moretti's face. Not another
word did he say,--but Moretti flushed darkly, and anon grew very
pale. Restraining his emotions however by an effort, he addressed
himself with cold formality once more to the Abbe.
"You have no explanation then to offer to His Holiness, beyond what
you have already said?"
"None!" replied Vergniaud steadily. "The reasons for my conduct I
think are sufficiently vital and earnest to be easily understood."
"And your Eminence has nothing more to say on this matter?" pursued
Moretti, turning to the Cardinal.
"Nothing, my son! But I would urge that the Holy Father should
extend his pardon to the offenders, the more so as one of them is on
the verge of that land where we 'go hence and are no more seen.'"
Moretti's eyelids quivered, and his lips drew together in a hard and
"I will assuredly represent your wishes to His Holiness," he
replied, "But I doubt whether they will meet with so much approval
as surprise and regret. I have the honour to wish your Eminence
"Farewell, my son!" said the Cardinal mildly, "Benedicite!"
Moretti bent down, as custom forced him to do, under the gently
uttered blessing, and the extended thin white hand that signed the
cross above him. Then with a furtive under-glance at Manuel, whose
quiet and contemplative observation of him greatly vexed and
disturbed his composure, he left the room.
There was a short silence. Then Abbe Vergniaud, somewhat
hesitatingly, approached Bonpre.
"I much fear, my dear friend, that all this means unpleasantness for
you at the Vatican," he said, "And I sincerely grieve to be the
means of bringing you into any trouble."
"Nay, there should be no trouble," said Bonpre quietly, "Nothing has
happened which should really cause me any perplexity--on the
contrary, events have arranged themselves so that there shall be no
obstacle in the way of speaking my mind. I have journeyed far from
my diocese to study and to discover for myself the various phases of
opinion on religious matters in these days, and I am steadily
learning much as I go. I regret nothing, and would have nothing
altered,--for I am perfectly confident that in all the things I
meet, or may have to consider, my Master is my Guide. All is well
wherever we hear His Voice;--all things work for the best when we
are able to perceive His command clearly, and have strength and
resolution enough to forsake our sins and follow Him."
As he spoke, a tranquil smile brightened his venerable features, and
seeing the fine small hand of Manuel resting on his chair, he laid
his own wrinkled palm over it and clasped it tenderly. Cyrillon
Vergniaud, moved by a quick impulse, suddenly advanced towards him.
"Monseigneur," he said, with unaffected deference, "You are much
more than a Cardinal,--you are a good and honest man! And that you
serve Christ purely is plainly evidenced in your look and bearing.
Do me one favour! Extend your pardon to me for my almost committed
crime of to-day,--and give me your blessing! I will try to be worthy
The Cardinal was silent for a few minutes looking at him earnestly.
"My blessing is of small value," he said, "And yet I do not think
you would ask it for mere mockery of an old man's faith. I should
like,--" here he paused--then slowly went on again, "I should like
to say a few words to you if I might--to ask you one or two
questions concerning yourself--"
"Ask anything you please, Monseigneur," replied Cyrillon, "I will
answer you frankly and fully. I have never had any mysteries in my
life save one,--that of my birth, which up till to day was a stigma
and a drawback;--but now, I feel I may be proud of my father. A man
who sacrifices his entire social reputation and position to make
amends for a wrong done to the innocent is worthy of honour."
"I grant it!" said the Cardinal, "But you yourself--why have you
made a name which is like a firebrand to start a conflagration of
discord in Europe?--why do you use your gifts of language and
expression to awaken a national danger which even the strongest
Government may find itself unable to stand against? I do not blame
you till I hear,--till I know;--but your writings,--your appeals for
truth in all things,--are like loud clarion blasts which may awaken
more evil than good."
"Monseigneur, the evil is not of my making,--it exists!" replied
Cyrillon, "My name, my writings,--are only as a spark from the huge
smouldering fire of religious discontent in the world. If it were
not MY name it would be another's. If _I_ did not write or speak,
someone else would write and speak--perhaps better--perhaps not so
well. At any rate I am sincere in my convictions, and write from the
fulness of the heart. I do not care for money--I make none at all by
literature,--but I earn enough by my labour in the fields to keep me
in food and lodging. I have no desire for fame,--except in so far as
my name may serve as an encouragement and help to others. If you
care to hear my story--"
"I should appreciate your confidence greatly," said the Cardinal
earnestly, "The Fates have made you a leading spirit of the time,--
it would interest me to know your thoughts and theories. But if you
would prefer not to speak--"
"I generally prefer not to speak," replied Cyrillon, "But to-day is
one of open confession,--and I think too that it is sometimes
advisable for men of the Church to understand and enter into the
minds of those who are outside the Church,--who will have no
Church,--not from disobedience or insubordination, but simply
because they do not find God or Christ in that institution as it at
present exists. And nowadays we are seeking for God strenuously and
passionately! We have found Him too in places where the Church
assured us He was not and could not be."
"Is there any portion of life where God is not?" asked Manuel
Cyrillon's dark eyes softened as he met the boy's glance.
"No, dear child!--truly there is not,--but the priests do nothing to
maintain or to prove that," he replied; "and the more the world
lifts itself higher and higher into the light, the more we shall
perceive God, and the less we will permit anything to intervene
between ourselves and Him. But you are too young to understand--"
"No, not at all too young to understand!" answered Manuel, "Not at
all too young to understand that God is love, and pardon, and
patience;--and that wheresoever men are intolerant, uncharitable,
and bigoted, there they straightway depart from God and know Him not
"Truly that is how I understand Christianity," said Cyrillon, "But
for so simple and plain a perception of duty one is called atheist
and socialist, and one's opinions are branded as dangerous to the
community. Truth is dangerous, I know--but why?"
"Would that not take a century to explain?" said the silvery voice
of the Princesse D'Agramont, who entered with Angela at that moment,
and made her deep obeisance before the Cardinal, glancing
inquisitively as she did so at Manuel who still stood resting
against the prelate's chair, "Pardon our abrupt appearance,
Monseigneur, but Angela and I are moved by the spirit of curiosity!-
-and if we are swept out of the Church like straws before the wind
for our impertinence, we care not! Monsignor Moretti has just left
the house, wrapt up in his wrath like a bird of prey in a thunder-
cloud, muttering menaces against 'Gys Grandit' the Socialist writer.
Now what in the world has Gys Grandit to do with him or with us?
Salut, cher Abbe!"--and she gave Vergniaud her hand with charming
friendliness; "I came here really to see you, and place the Chateau
D'Agramont at your disposal, while I am away passing the winter in
Italy. Pray make yourself at home there--and your son also . . ."
"Madame," said the Abbe, profoundly touched by the sincerity of her
manner, and by the evident cordiality of her intention, "I thank you
from my heart for your friendship at this moment when friendship is
most needed! But I feel I ought not to cast the shadow of my
presence on your house under such circumstances--and as for my son--
it would certainly be unwise for you to extend your gracious
hospitality to him . . . he is my son--yes truly!--and I acknowledge him
as such; but he is also another person of his own making--Gys
Angela Sovrani gave a slight cry, and a wave of colour flushed her
face,--the Princesse stood amazed.
"Gys Grandit!" she echoed in a low tone, "And Vergniaud's son! Grand
Dieu! Is it possible!" Then advancing, she extended both her hands
to Cyrillon, "Monsieur, accept my homage! You have a supreme
genius,--and with it you command more than one-half of the thoughts
Cyrillon took her hands,--lightly pressed, and released them.
"Madame, you are too generous!"
But even while he exchanged these courtesies with her, his eyes were
fixed on Angela Sovrani, who, moving close to her uncle's chair, had
folded her hands upon its sculptured edge and now stood beside it, a
graceful nymph-like figure of statuesque repose. But her breath came
and went quickly, and her face was very pale.
"No wonder Monsignor Moretti was so exceedingly angry," resumed the
Princesse D'Agramont with a smile, "I understand the position now.
It is a truly remarkable one. Monseigneur," this with a profound
reverence to the Cardinal, "you have found it difficult to be umpire
in the discussion."
"The discussion was not mine," said the Cardinal slowly, "But the
cause of the trouble is a point which affects many,--and I am one of
those who desire to hear all before I presume to judge one. I have
asked the son of my old friend Vergniaud to tell me what led him to
make his assumed name one of such terror and confusion in the world;
he is but six-and-twenty, and yet . . ."
"And yet people talk much of me you would say, Monseigneur," said
Cyrillon, a touch of scorn lighting up his fine eyes, "True, and it
is easy to be talked of. That is nothing, I do not wish for that,
except in so far as it helps me to attain my ambition."
"And that ambition is?" queried the Princesse.
"To lead!" answered Cyrillon with a passionate gesture, "To gather
the straying thoughts of men into one burning focus--and turn THAT
fire on the world!"
They were all silent for a minute--then the Princesse D'Agramont
"But--Pardon me! Then you were about to destroy all your own chances
of the future in your wild impulse of this morning?"
"Oh, Madame, it was no wild impulse! When a man takes an oath by the
side of a dead woman, and that woman his mother, he generally means
to keep it! And I most resolutely meant to kill my father and make
of myself a parricide. But I considered my mother had been murdered
too--socially and morally--and I judged my vengeance just. If it had
not been for the boy there--" and he glanced at Manuel, "I should
certainly have fulfilled my intention."
"And then there would have been no Abbe Vergniaud, and no 'Gys
Grandit,'" said the Princesse lightly, endeavouring to change the
sombre tone of the conversation,--"and the 'Christian Democratic'
party would have been in sackcloth and ashes!"
"The Christian Democratic party!" echoed the Cardinal, "What do they
mean? What do they want?"
"Christianity, Monseigneur! That is all!" replied Cyrillon, "All--
but so much! You asked me for my history--will you hear it now?"
There was an immediate murmur of assent, and the group around
Cardinal Bonpre were soon seated--all save Manuel, who remained
standing. Angela sat on a cushion at her uncle's feet, and her deep
violet eyes were full of an eager, almost feverish interest which
she could scarcely conceal; and the Abbe Vergniaud, vitally and
painfully concerned as he was in the narrative about to be told,
could not help looking at her, and wondering at the extraordinary
light and beauty of her face thus transfigured by an excitation of
thought. Was she a secret follower of his son's theories, he
wondered? Composing himself in his chair, he sat with bent head,
marvelling as he heard the story of the bold and fearless and
philosophic life that had sprung into the world all out of his
summer's romance with a little innocent girl, whom he had found
praying to her guardian angel.
"It is not always ourselves," began Cyrillon in his slow, emphatic,
yet musical voice, "who are responsible for the good or the evil we
may do in our lives. Much of our character is formed by the earliest
impressions of childhood--and my earliest impressions were those of
sorrow. I started life with the pulse of my mother's broken heart
beating in me,--hence my thoughts were sombre, and of an altogether
unnatural character to a child of tender years. We lived--my mother
and I--in a small cottage on the edge of a meadow outside the quaint
old city of Tours--a meadow, full at all seasons, of the loveliest
wild flowers, but sweetest in the springtime when the narcissi
bloomed, lifting their thousand cups of sweet perfume like incense
to the sky. I used to sit among their cool green stems,--thinking
many thoughts, chief among which was a wonder why God had made my
little mother so unhappy. I heard afterwards that God was not to
blame,--only man, breaking God's laws of equity. She was a good
brave woman, for despite her loneliness and tears, she worked hard;-
-worked to send me to school, and to teach me all she herself knew--
which was little enough, poor soul,--but she studied in order to
instruct me,--and often when I slept the unconscious sleep of
healthy childhood, she was up through half the night spelling out
abstruse books, difficult enough for an educated woman to master,
but for a peasant--(she was nothing more)--presenting almost
superhuman obstacles. I was very quick to learn, and her loving
patience was not wasted upon me;--but when I was about eleven years
old I resolved that I could no longer burden her with the expenses
of my life--so without asking her consent, I hired myself out to a
farmer, to clear weeds from his fields, and so began to earn my
bread, which is the best and noblest form of knowledge existing in
the world for all of us. With the earning of my body's keep came
spiritual independence, and young as I was I began to read and
consider for myself--till when I was about fifteen chance brought me
across the path of a man whose example inspired me and decided my
fate, named Aubrey Leigh."
Angela gave a slight exclamation of surprise, and Cyrillon turned
his dark eyes upon her.
"Yes, mademoiselle!--I am aware that he has been in Paris lately. No
doubt you know him. Certainly he is born to be a leader of men, and
if a noble life and unsullied character, together with eloquence,
determination, and steadfastness of purpose can help him to fulfil
his mission, he will assuredly succeed. He is from America, though
born of British parents, and the first thing I gathered from him was
an overwhelming desire to study and to master the English language--
not because it was English, but because it was the universal
language spoken by America. I felt from what he said then,--and I
feel still from what I have learnt and know now,--that America has
all the future in the hollow of her hand. My intention, had I
succeeded in my revengeful attempt this morning, was to escape to
America immediately, and from there write under the nom de plume
which I have already made known. I can write as easily in English as
in French,--for my friend Aubrey Leigh was very kind and took a
great liking to me, and stayed in Touraine for a year and a half,
simply for the pleasure of instructing me and grafting his theories
upon my young and aspiring mind. And now we are as one in our hopes
and endeavours, and the years make little disparity between us. He
was twenty-two when I was but fifteen,--but now that I am twenty-six
and he thirty-three we are far better matched associates. From him I
learnt much of the discontents,--ethical and religious,--of the
world; from him I learnt how to speak in public. He was then an
actor, a sort of wandering 'Bohemian,'--but he soon tired of the
sordidness of the stage and aspired to higher platforms of work, and
he had already begun to lead the people by his powers of oratory, as
he leads them now. I heard him speak in French as fluently as in
English; and I resolved on my part to speak likewise in English as
easily as he did in French. And when we parted it was with a mutual
resolve TO LEAD!--to lead--and ever still to lead!--we would starve
on our theories, we said, but we would speak out if it cost us our
very lives. To earn daily bread I managed to obtain steady
employment as a labourer in the fields,--and I soon gained
sufficient to keep my mother and myself. My friend Aubrey had imbued
me thoroughly with the love of incessant hard work; there was no
disgrace, he said, in digging the soil, if the brain were kept
working as well as the hands. And I did keep my brain working; I
allowed it also to lie fallow, and to absorb everything of nature
that was complex, grand and beautiful,--and from such studies I
learnt the goodness and the majesty of the Creator as they are never
found in human expositions of Him made by the preachers of creeds.
At eighteen I made my first public address,--and the next year
published my first book in Tours. But though I won an instant
success my soul was hampered and heavy with the burning thought of
vengeance; and this thought greatly hindered the true conceptions of
life that I desired to entertain. When my mother died, and her
failing voice crooned for the last time, 'Ah, la tristesse d'avoir
aime!' the spark of hatred I had cherished all the years of my life
for my father burst into a flame, and leapt up to its final height
this morning as you saw. Now it has gone out into dust and ashes--
the way of all such flames! I have been spared for better things I
hope. What I have written and done, France knows,--but my thoughts
are not limited to France, they seek a wider horizon. France is a
decaying nation--her doom is sealed. I work and write for the To-Be,
not the Has-Been. Such as my life is, it has never been darkened or
brightened by love of any sort, save that which my mother gave me.
Your Eminence," and he turned towards the Cardinal, "asks me why I
inculcate theories which suggest change, terror and confusion;--
Monseigneur, terror and confusion can never be caused save among the
ranks of those who have secret reason to be terrorised! There is
nothing terrifying in Truth to those who are true! If I distract and
alarm unworthy societies, revolting hypocrism, established shams and
miserable conventions, I am only the wielder of the broom that
sweeps out the cobwebs and the dust from a dirty house. My one
desire is to make the habitation of Christian souls clean! Terror
and confusion there will be,--there must be;--the time is ripe for
it--none of us can escape it--it is the prophesied period of 'men's
hearts failing them for fear, and looking after those things which
are coming on the earth.' I have not made the time. I am born OF it-
-one WITH it;--God arranges these things. I am not working for self
or for money,--I can live on bread and herbs and water. I want no
luxurious surroundings,--no softnesses--no delicacies--no
tendernesses--no sympathies! I set my face forward in the teeth of a
thousand winds of opposition, forward still forward! I seek nothing
for my own personal needs! I know that nothing can hinder me or keep
me back! Nothing! Monseigneur, I voice the cry of multitudes!--they
have, as it were, been wandering in the wilderness listening to the
Gospel for many days,--days which have accumulated to more than
eighteen hundred years; just as they did of old,--only the Master
did not send them away hungry--He fed them lest they should 'faint
by the way.' He thought of that possibility!--we seldom care how
many faint by the way, or die in the effort to live! Monseigneur, I
must--I will speak for the dumb mouths of the nations! And every
unit that can so speak, or can so write, should hasten to turn
itself into a Pentecostal flame of fire to blaze and burn a warning
upon the verge of this new century,--causing men to prophesy with
divers tongues, of the Truth of God,--not of the lies that have been
made to represent Him!"
Felix Bonpre raised one hand with a slight gesture enjoining
silence, and seemed wrapped for a moment in painful meditation.
Angela looking anxiously up at him caught, not his glance, but that
of Manuel, who smiled at her encouragingly. Presently the Cardinal
spoke,--gently and with a kind of austere patience.
"Am I to understand from your speech, my son, and the work of your
life, that you consider the Church a lie? I put the question
plainly; but I do not ask it either to reproach or intimidate you. I
am well aware I can do neither. Thought is free to the individual as
well as to the nations; and whereas, in past time we had one man who
could think and speak, we have now a thousand! We are unfortunately
apt to forget the spread of education;--but a man who thinks as you
do, and dares all things for the right to act upon his thought,
should surely be able to clearly explain his reasons for arming
himself against any outwardly expressed form of faith, which has
received the acceptance and submission of the world?"
"Monseigneur, I do not attack any faith! Faith is necessary,--faith
is superb! I honour this uplifting virtue,--whether I find it in the
followers of the Talmud or the Koran, or the New Testament, and,
personally speaking, I would die for my belief in the great name and
ethical teaching of Christ. I attack the Church--yes,--and why?
Because it has departed from the Faith! Because it is a mere system
now,--corrupt in many parts, as all systems must naturally become
when worn out by long usage. In many ways it favours stupid
idolatries, and in others it remains deaf and blind and impervious
to the approach of great spiritual and religious facts, which are
being made splendidly manifest by Science. Why, there is not a
miracle in the Testament that science will not make possible!--there
is not a word Christ ever spoke that shall not be proved true! And
may I not be called a Christian? I may,--I must,--I will be,--for I
am! But hypocrisy, false measures, perverted aims, and low pandering
to ignorance and brutality, vile superstition and intimidation--
these things must be destroyed if the Church is to last with honour
to itself and with usefulness to others. To-day, over in England,
they are quarrelling with bitter acrimony concerning forms and
outward symbols of religion, thus fulfilling the words of the Lord,
'Ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter but within
ye are full of extortion and excess.' Now, if the Spirit of Christ
were at all in these men who thus argue, there would be no trouble
about forms or symbols of faith,--there would be too much of the
faith itself for any such petty disputation. Monseigneur, I swear to
you, I say nothing, teach nothing but what is the straight and true
command of Christ! . . . no more, but also no less!"
Moved by the young man's eloquence, the Cardinal looked at him
straightly in the eyes.
"You speak well," he said, "Some people would tell you that you have
that fluency of tongue which is judged dangerous. But danger is
after all only for those who have something to fear. If we of the
Church are pure in our intent nothing should disturb our peace,--
nothing should move us from our anchorage. Your ideas, you say, are
founded on the Master's Word?"
"Entirely," replied Cyrillon, "I am working,--Aubrey Leigh is
working,--we are all working for a House of Praise more than a Place
of Prayer. We want to give thanks for what we are, and what, if we
follow the sane and healthy laws of life, we may be,--rather than
continue the clamour for more benefits when we have already
received, and are receiving so much."
"Would you not pray at all then?" asked Bonpre.
"Yes--for others, not for ourselves! And then not as the Church
prays. Her form of service is direct disobedience!"
"In what way?"
"Monseigneur, I always preface my remarks on these subjects with the
words 'IF we believe in Christ.' I say IF we believe, we must accept
His commands; and they are plain enough. 'WHEN YE PRAY, USE NOT VAIN
REPETITIONS AS THE HEATHEN DO, FOR THEY THINK THEY SHALL BE HEARD
FOR THEIR MUCH SPEAKING. BE NOT YE THEREFORE LIKE UNTO THEM, FOR
YOUR FATHER KNOWETH WHAT THINGS YE HAVE NEED OF BEFORE YE ASK HIM.'
Now if this is to be understood as the command of Christ, the
Messenger of God, do we not deliberately act against it in all
directions? Vain repetitions! The Church is full of them,--choked
with them! The priests who order us to say ten or twenty
'Paternosters' by way of penance, are telling us to do exactly what
Christ commanded us not to do! The terrible Litany of the Protestant
Church, with its everlasting 'Good Lord deliver us,' is another
example of vain repetition. Again--think of these words--'When thou
prayest, thou shalt NOT BE AS THE HYPOCRITES ARE, for they love to
pray standing in the synagogues, and at the corners of the streets
THAT THEY MAY BE SEEN OF MEN.' Is not all our churchgoing that we
may be seen of men?"
"Then, my son, it seems that you would do away with the Church
altogether in the extremity of your zeal!" said the Cardinal gently,
"There must surely be some outward seeming--some city set on a hill
whose light cannot be hid--some visible sign of Christ among us--"
"True, Monseigneur, but such a sign must be of so brilliant and pure
a nature,--so grand an uplifted Cross of unsullied light that it
shall be as the sun rising out of darkness! Oh, I would have
churches built gloriously, with every possible line of beauty and
curve of perfect architecture in their fabrication;--but I would
have no idolatrous emblems,--no superstitious ceremonies within
them,--no tawdry reliquaries of gems--no boast of the world's wealth
at all; but great Art,--the result of man's great Thought rendered
and given with pure simplicity! I would have great music,--and more
than all I would have thanksgiving always! And if valuables were
brought to the altar for gifts, the gifts should be given out again
to those in need-not kept,--not left untouched like a miser's
useless hoard, while one poor soul was starving!"
"My son, such a scheme of purification as yours will take centuries
to accomplish," murmured Bonpre slowly, "Almost it would need Christ
to come again!"
"And who shall say He will not come!" exclaimed Cyrillon fervently,
"Who shall swear He is not even now among us! Has he not told us all
to 'watch,' because we know not the hour at which He cometh? No,
Monseigneur!--centuries are not needed for Truth to make itself
manifest nowadays! We hold Science by the hand,--she is becoming our
familiar friend and companion, and through her guidance we have
learned that the Laws of the Universe are Truth,--Truth which cannot
be contradicted; and that only the things which move and work in
harmony with those laws can last. All else must perish! 'WHOSOEVER
IS NOT WITH ME IS AGAINST ME'--or in other words, whosoever opposes
himself to Eternal Laws must be against the whole system of the
Universe. and is therefore a discord which is bound to be silenced.
Monseigneur, Christ was a Divine Preacher of Truth;--and I, in my
humble man's way endeavour to follow Truth. And if I ever fail now,
after to-day's attempted crime, to honour the commands of Christ,
and obey them as closely as I can, then pass your condemnation upon
me, but not till then! Meanwhile, give me a good man's blessing!"
Deeply interested as he was, the Cardinal nevertheless still
hesitated. To him, though the sayings and opinions of the famous
"Gys Grandit" were not exactly new, there was something terrible in
hearing him utter them with such bold and trenchant meaning. He
sighed, and appeared lost in thought; till Manuel touched him gently
on the arm.
"Dear friend, are you afraid to bless this man who loves our
"Afraid? My child, I am afraid of nothing--but there is grave
trouble in my heart--"
"Nay, trouble should never enter there!" said Manuel softly,
"Stretch out your hand!--let no human soul wait for a benediction!"
Profoundly moved, the Cardinal obeyed, and laid his white trembling
hand on Cyrillon's bent head.
"May God forgive thee the intention of thy sin today!" he said, in a
low and solemn tone--"May Christ guide thee out of all evil, and
lead thee through the wildness of the world to Heaven's own peace,
which passeth understanding!"
So gentle, so brave, so sweet and tender were the accents in which
he spoke these few simple works, that the tears filled Angela's
eyes, and Abbe Vergniaud, resting his head on one hand, felt a
strange contraction in his throat, and began to think of possible
happy days yet to be passed perchance in seclusion with this long-
denied son of his, who had sprung out of the secret ways of love,
first to slay and then to redeem him. Could there be a more plain
and exact measuring out of law? If he had not confessed his sin he
would have probably died in it suddenly without a chance of
amendment or repentance--but lo!--on confession, his life had been
saved as if by a miracle, and the very result of evil had been
transformed into consolation! So he sat absorbed, wondering--musing-
-and while the Cardinal spoke his blessing with closed eyes, all
heads were bent, and faces hidden. And in the reverent silence that
followed, the gentle prelate gave a sign of kind dismissal and
farewell to all, which they, understanding, accepted, and at once
made their brief adieuxthe Abbe Vergniaud only lingering a moment
longer than the rest, to bend humbly down and kiss his Apostolic
ring. Then they left him, alone with Manual.
On their way out of the house, through Angela's studio, the
Princesse D'Agramont paused for a few minutes to say further kind
words to the Abbe respecting the invitation she had given him to her
Chateau--, and while she was thus engaged, Angela turned hurriedly
"As 'Gys Grandit' you receive many letters from strangers, do you
The young man regarded her earnestly, with unconcealed admiration
glowing in his fine eyes.
"Assuredly, Mademoiselle! And some of these letters are very dear to
me, because they make me aware of friends I might otherwise never
"You have one correspondent who is deeply interested in your
theories, and who sympathises keenly in all your religious views--"
she went on, lowering her eyes--"a certain Madame Angele--"
He uttered a quick exclamation of pleasure.
"You know her?"
She looked up,--her eyes sparkled--and she laid a finger on her
"Keep my secret!" she said--"I am so glad to meet you personally at
He stared, bewildered.
"You--you . . . !"
"Yes. I!" and she smiled--"The mysterious and Christian-Democratic
'Angele' is Angela Sovrani. So you see we have been unconscious
friends for some time!"
His face grew radiant, and he made a quick movement towards her.
"Then I owe you a great debt of gratitude!" he said--"For
encouragement--for sympathy--for help in dark hours!--and how
unworthy I have proved of your goodness . . . what must you think of
me--you--so beautiful--so good--"
She moved back a little with a warning gesture--and his words were
interrupted by the Abbe, who glancing from one to the other in a
little surprise, said, as he bent reverently over her hand and
"We must be going, Cyrillon!"
Another few moments and Angela was left alone to think over, and try
to realise the strange and rapidly-occurring events of the day.
Whatever her thoughts were they seemed for a long time to be of a
somewhat April-like character, for her eyes brimmed over with tears
even while she smiled.
In one of the few remaining streets of Rome which the vandal hand of
the modern builder and restorer has not meddled with, stands the
"Casa D'Angeli", a sixteenth-century building fronted with
wonderfully carved and widely projecting balconies--each balcony
more or less different in design, yet forming altogether in their
entirety the effect of complete sculptural harmony. The central one
looks more like a cathedral shrine than the embrasure of a window,
for above it angels' heads look out from the enfolding curves of
their own tall wings, and a huge shield which might serve as a copy
of that which Elaine kept bright for Lancelot, is poised between,
bearing a lily, a cross, and a heart engraven in its quarterings.
Here, leaning far forward to watch the intense gold of the Roman
moon strike brightness and shadow out of the dark uplifted pinions
of her winged stone guardians, stood Sylvie Hermenstein, who, in her
delicate white attire, with the moonbeams resting like a halo on her
soft hair, might have easily passed for some favoured saint whom the
sculptured angels were protecting. And yet she was only one whom the
world called "a frivolous woman of society, who lived on the
admiration of men". So little did they know her,--so little indeed
does the world know about any of us. It was true that Sylvie, rich,
lovely, independent, and therefore indifferent to opinions, lived
her own life very much according to her own ideas,--but then those
ideas were far more simple and unworldly than anybody gave her
credit for. She to whom all the courts of Europe were open,
preferred to wander in the woods alone, reading some favourite book,
to almost any other pleasure,--and as for the admiration which she
won by a look or turn of her head wherever she went, nothing in all
the world so utterly bored her as this influence of her own charm.
For she had tried men and found them wanting. With all the pent-up
passion of her woman's soul she longed to be loved,--but what she
understood by love was a much purer and more exalted emotion than is
common among men and women. She was suffering just now from an
intense and overpowering ennui. Rome was beautiful, she averred, but
dull. Stretching her fair white arms out over the impervious stone-
angels she said this, and more than this, to someone within the
room, who answered her in one of the most delightfully toned voices
in the world--a voice that charmed the ear by its first cadences,
and left the listener fascinated into believing that its music was
the expression of a perfectly harmonious mind.
"You seem very discontented," said the voice, speaking in English,
"But really your pathway is one of roses!"
"You think so?" and Sylvie turned her head quickly round and looked
at her companion, a handsome little man of some thirty-five years of
age, who stretching himself lazily full length in an arm-chair was
toying with the silky ears of an exceedingly minute Japanese
spaniel, Sylvie's great pet and constant companion. "Oh, mon Dieu!
You, artist and idealist though you are--or shall I say as you are
supposed to be," and she laughed a little, "you are like all the
rest of your sex! Just because you see a woman able to smile and
make herself agreeable to her friends, and wear pretty clothes, and
exchange all the bon mots of badinage and every-day flirtation, you
imagine it impossible for her to have any sorrow!"
"There is only one sorrow possible to a woman," replied the
gentleman, who was no other than Florian Varillo, the ideal of
Angela Sovrani's life, smiling as he spoke with a look in his eyes
which conveyed an almost amorous meaning.
Sylvie left the balcony abruptly, and swept back into the room,
looking a charming figure of sylph-like slenderness and elegance in
her clinging gown of soft white satin showered over with lace and
"Only one sorrow!" she echoed, "And that is--?"
"Inability to win love, or to awaken desire!" replied Varillo, still
The pretty Comtesse raised her golden head a little more proudly,
with the air of a lily lifting itself to the light on its stem--her
deep blue eyes flashed.
"I certainly cannot complain on that score!" she said, with a touch
of malice as well as coldness--"But the fact that men lose their
heads about me does not make me in the least happy."
"It should do so!" and Varillo set the little Japanese dog carefully
down on the floor, whereupon it ran straight to its mistress,
uttering tiny cries of joy, "There is no sweeter triumph for a woman
than to see men subjugated by her smile, and intimidated by her
frown;--to watch them burning themselves like moths in her clear
flame, and dying at her feet for love of her! The woman who can do
these things is gifted with the charm which makes or ruins life,--
few can resist her,--she draws sensitive souls as a magnet draws the
needle,--and the odd part of it all is that she need not have any
heart herself--she need not feel one pulse of the passion with which
she inspires others--indeed it is better that she should not. The
less she is moved herself, the greater is her fascination. Love
clamours far more incessantly and passionately at a closed gate than
an open one!"
Sylvie was silent for a minute or two looking at him with something
of doubt and disdain. The room they were in was one of those wide
and lofty apartments which in old days might have been used for a
prince's audience chamber, or a dining hall for the revelry of the
golden youth of Imperial Rome. The ceiling, supported by eight
slender marble columns, was richly frescoed with scenes from
Ariosto's poems, some of the figures being still warm with colour
and instinct with life--and on the walls were the fading remains of
other pictures, the freshest among them being a laughing Cupid
poised on a knot of honeysuckle, and shooting his arrow at random
into the sky. Ordinarily speaking, the huge room was bare and
comfortless to a degree,--but the Comtesse Sylvie's wealth, combined
with her good taste, had filled it with things that made it homelike
as well as beautiful. The thickest velvet pile carpets laid over the
thickest of folded mattings, covered the marble floors, and deprived
them of their usual chill,--great logs of wood burned cheerfully in
the wide chimney, and flowers, in every sort of quaint vase or bowl,
made bright with colour and blossom all dark and gloomy corners, and
softened every touch of melancholy away. A grand piano stood open,--
a mandoline tied with bright ribbons, lay on a little table near a
cluster of roses and violets,--books, music, drawings, bits of old
drapery and lace were so disposed as to hide all sharp corners and
forbidding angles,--and where the frescoes on the wall were too
damaged to be worth showing even in outline, some fine old Flemish
tapestry covered the defect. Sylvie herself, in the exquisite
clothing which she always made it her business to wear, was the
brilliant completion of the general picturesqueness,--and Florian
Varillo seemed to think so as he looked at her with the practised
underglance of admiration which is a trick common to Italians, and
which some women accept as a compliment and others resent as an
"Do you not agree with me?" he said persuasively, with a smile which
showed his fine and even teeth to perfection, "When the chase is
over the hunters go home tired! What a man cannot have, that very
thing is what he tries most to obtain!"
"You speak from experience, I suppose," said Sylvie, moving slowly
across the room towards the fire, and caressing her little dog which
she held nestled under her rounded chin like a ball of silk, "And
yet you, more than most men, have everything you can want in this
world--but I suppose you are not satisfied--not even with Angela!"
"Angela is a dear little woman!" said Florian, with an air of
emotional condescension, "The dearest little woman in the world! And
she is really clever."
"Clever!" echoed Sylvie, "Is that all?"
"Cara Contessa, is not that enough?"
"Angela is a genius," averred Sylvie, with warmth and energy, "a
true genius!--a great,--a sublime artist!"
"Che Che!" and Varillo smiled, "How delightful it is to hear one
woman praise another! Women are so often like cats spitting and
hissing at each other, tearing at each other's clothes and
reputations,--clothes even more than reputations,--that it is really
quite beautiful to me to hear you admire my Angela! It is very
generous of you!"
"Generous of me!" and the Comtesse Hermenstein looked him full in
the eyes, "Why I think it an honour to know her--a privilege to
touch her hand! All Europe admires her--she is one of the world's
"She paints wonderfully well,--for a woman," said Varillo lazily,
"But there is so much in that phrase, cara Contessa, 'for a woman'.
Your charming sex often succeeds in doing very clever and pretty
things; but in a man they would not be considered surprising. You
fairy creatures are not made for fame--but for love!"
The Comtesse glanced him up and down for a moment, then laughed
"And for desertion, and neglect as well!" she said, "And sometimes
for bestowing upon YOUR charming sex every fortune and every good
blessing, and getting kicked for our pains! And sometimes it happens
that we are permitted the amazing honour of toiling to keep you in
food and clothing, while you jest at your clubs about the
uselessness of woman's work in the world! Yes, I know! Have you seen
Angela's great picture?"
Again Florian smiled.
"Great? No! I know that the dear little girl has fixed an enormous
canvas up in her studio, and that she actually gets on a ladder to
paint something upon it;--but it is always covered,--she does not
wish me to see it till it is finished. She is like a child in some
things, and I always humour her. I have not the least desire to look
at her work till she herself is willing to show it to me. But in
myself I am convinced she is trying to do too much--it is altogether
too large an attempt."
"What are YOU doing?" asked Sylvie abruptly.
"Merely delicate trifles,--little mosaics of art!" said Varillo with
languid satisfaction, "They may possibly please a connoisseur,--but
they are quite small studies."
"You have the same model you had last year?" queried Sylvie.
Their eyes met, and Varillo shifted uneasily in his chair.
"The same," he replied curtly.
Again Sylvie laughed.
"Immaculate creature!" she murmured, "The noblest of her sex, of
course! Men always call the women who pander to their vices
Varillo flushed an angry red.
"You are pleased to be sarcastic, fair lady." he said carelessly, "I
do not understand--"
"No? You are not usually so dense with me, though to those who do
not know you as well as I do, you sometimes appear to be the very
stupidest of men! Now be frank!--tell me, is not Pon-Pon one of the
"She is a very good creature," averred Varillo gently, and with an
air that was almost pious,--"She supports her family entirely on her
"How charming of her!" laughed Sylvie, "And so exceptional a thing
to do, is it not? My dressmaker does the same thing,--she 'supports'
her family; but respectably! And just think!--if ever your right
hand loses its cunning as a painter, Angela will be able to
"Always Angela!" muttered Varillo, beginning to sulk, "Cannot you
talk of something else?"
"No,--not for the moment! She is an interesting subject,--to ME! She
will arrive in Rome to-morrow night, and her uncle Cardinal Bonpre,
will be with her, and they will all stay at the Sovrani Palace,
which seems to me like a bit of the Vatican and an old torture-
chamber rolled into one! And, talking of this same excellent
Cardinal, they have almost canonized him at the Vatican,--almost,
but not quite."
"For what reason?"
"Oh, have you not heard? It appears he performed a miracle in Rouen,
curing a child who had been a cripple ever since babyhood, and
making him run about as well and strong as possible. One prayer did
it, so it is said,--the news reached the Vatican some days ago; our
charming Monsignor Gherardi told me of it. The secretary of the
Archbishop of Rouen brought the news personally to the Holy Father."
"I do not believe it," said Varillo indifferently, "The days of
miracles are past. And from what I know, and from what Angela has
told me of her uncle, Cardinal Bonpre, he would never lend himself
to such nonsense."
"Well, I only tell you what is just now the talk at the Vatican,"
said Sylvie, "Your worthy uncle-in-law that is to be, may be Pope
yet! Have you heard from Angela?"
"Every day. But she has said nothing about this miracle."
"Perhaps she does not know,"--and Sylvie began to yawn, and stretch
her white arms above her head lazily, "Oh, DIO MIO! How terribly
dull is Rome!"
"How long have you been here, Contessa?"
"Nearly a week! If I am not more amused I shall go away home to
"But how is one to amuse you?" asked Varillo, sitting down beside
her and endeavouring to take her hand. She drew it quickly from him.
"Not in that way!" she said scornfully, "Is it possible that you can
be so conceited! A woman says she is dull and bored, and straightway
the nearest man imagines his uncouth caresses will amuse her! TIENS
TIENS! When will you understand that all women are not like Pon-
Varillo drew back, chafed and sullen. His AMOUR PROPRE was wounded,
and he began to feel exceedingly cross. The pretty laugh of Sylvie
rang out like a little peal of bells.
"Suppose Angela knew that you wished to 'amuse' me in that
particularly unamusing way?" she went on, "You--who, to her, are
CHEVALIER SANS PEUR ET SANS REPROCHE!"
"Angela is different to all other women," said Varillo quickly, with
a kind of nervous irritation in his manner as he spoke, "and she has
to be humoured accordingly. She is extremely fantastic--full of
strange ideas and unnatural conceptions of life. Her temperament is
studious and dreamy--self-absorbed too at times--and she is
absolutely passionless. That is why she will make a model wife."
The Comtesse drew her breath quickly,--her blood began to tingle and
her heart to beat--but she repressed these feelings and said,
"You mean that her passionless nature will be her safety in all
"Exactly!" and Varillo, smiling, became good natured again--"For
Angela to be untrue would be a grotesque impossibility! She has no
idea of the stronger sentiment of love which strikes the heart like
a lightning flash and consumes it. Her powers of affection are
intellectually and evenly balanced,--and she could not be otherwise
than faithful because her whole nature is opposed to infidelity. But
it is not a nature which, being tempted, overcomes--inasmuch as
there is no temptation which is attractive to her!"
"You think so?" and a sparkle of satire danced in Sylvie's bright
eyes, "Really? And because she is self-respecting and proud, you
would almost make her out to be sexless?--not a woman at all,--
without heart?--without passion? Then you do not love her!"
"She is the dearest creature to me in all the world!" declared
Florian, with emotional ardour, "There is no one at all like her!
Even her beauty, which comes and goes with her mood, is to an
artist's eye like mine, exquisite,--and more dazzling to the senses
than the stereotyped calm of admitted perfection in form and
feature. But, CARA CONTESSA, I am something of an analyst in
character--and I know that the delicacy of Angela's charm lies in
that extraordinary tranquillity of soul, which, (YOU suggested the
word!) may indeed be almost termed sexless. She is purer than snow--
and very much colder."
"You are fortunate to be the only man selected to melt that
coldness," said Sylvie with a touch of disdain, "Myself, I think you
make a great mistake in calling Angela passionless. She is all
passion--and ardour--but it is kept down,--held firmly within
bounds, and devoutly consecrated to you. Pardon me, if I say that
you should be more grateful for the love and trust she gives you.
You are not without rivals in the field."
Florian Varillo raised his eyebrows smilingly.
"Rivals? VERAMENTE! I am not aware of them!"
"No, I should say you had too good an opinion of yourself to imagine
any rival possible!" said the Comtesse, "But such a person may
Varillo yawned, and flicked a grain of dust off his waistcoat with a
fastidious thumb and finger.
"Impossible! No one could possibly fall in love with Angela now! She
is an icicle,--no man save myself has the ghost of a chance with
"Of course not," said Sylvie impatiently, "Because she is betrothed
to you. But if things were not as they are--"
"It would make no difference, I assure you," laughed Varillo gaily,
"Angela does not like men as a rule. She is fondest of romance--of
dreams--of visions, out of which come the ideas for her pictures--"
"And she is quite passionless with all this, you think?" said
Sylvie, "The 'stronger sentiment which strikes the heart like a
flash of lightning, and consumes it', as you so poetically describe
it--could never possibly disturb her peace?"
"I think not," replied Varillo, with a meditative air, "Angela and I
glided into love like two children wandering by chance into a meadow
full of flowers,--no storm struck us--no sudden danger signal
flashed from our eyes--no trembling hurry of the blood bade us rush
into each other's arms and cling!--nothing of this marvel touched
us!--we loved with all the calm--but without the glory!"
His voice,--the most fascinating quality attached to his
personality,--rose and fell in this little speech with an exquisite
cadence, half sad, half sweet,--and Sylvie, impressionable creature
as she was, with her innate love of romance and poetry, was
unconsciously moved by it to a faint sigh. There was nothing to sigh
for, really,--it was just a mere melodious noise of words, in the
making of which Florian Varillo was an adept. He had not an atom of
serious thought in his remark, any more than in the dainty verses he
was wont to append to his pictures--verses which he turned out with
the lightest and swiftest ease, and which read like his spoken
sentences, as if there were a meaning in them, when truly there was
none. But Sylvie was just then in a curious state of mind, and
slight things easily impressed her. She was in love--and yet she was
not in love. The handsome face and figure of the Marquis Fontenelle,
together with many of his undoubted good and even fine qualities,
attracted her and held her in thrall, much more than the
consciousness of his admiration and pursuit of her,--but--and this
was a very interfering "but" indeed,--she was reluctantly compelled
to admit to herself that there was no glozing over the fact that he
was an incorrigibly "fast", otherwise bad man. His life was a long
record of LIAISONS with women,--an exact counterpart of the life of
the famous actor Miraudin. And though there is a saying that a
reformed rake makes the best husband, Sylvie was scarcely sure of
being willing to try this test,--besides, the Marquis had not
offered himself in that capacity, but only as a lover. In Paris,--
within reach of him, surrounded by his gracious and graceful
courtesies everywhere, the pretty and sensitive Comtesse had
sometimes felt her courage oozing out at her finger's ends,--and the
longing to be loved became so strong and overwhelming in her soul
that she had felt she must perforce one day yield to her persistent
admirer's amorous solicitations, come what would of it in the end.
Her safety had been in flight; and here in Rome, she had found
herself, like a long-tossed little ship, suddenly brought up to firm
anchorage. The vast peace and melancholy grandeur of the slowly
dying "Mother of Nations", enveloped her as with a sheltering cloak
from the tempest of her own heart and senses, and being of an
exquisitely refined and dainty nature in herself, she had, while
employing her time in beautifying, furnishing and arranging her
apartments in the casa D'Angeli, righted her mind, so to speak, and
cleared it from the mists of illusion which had begun to envelop it,
so that she could now think of Fontenelle quietly and with something
of a tender compassion,--she could pray for him and wish him all
things good,--but she could not be quite sure that she loved him.
And this was well. For we should all be very sure indeed that we do
love, before we crucify ourselves to the cross of sacrifice.
Inasmuch as if the love in us be truly Love, we shall not feel the
nails, we shall be unconscious of the blood that flows, and the
thorns that prick and sting,--we shall but see the great light of
Resurrection springing glorious out of death! But if we only THINK
we love,--when our feeling is the mere attraction of the senses and
the lighter impulses--then our crucifixion is in vain, and our death
is death indeed. Some such thoughts as these had given Sylvie a new
charm of manner since her arrival in Rome--she was less mirthful,
but more sympathetic--less RIANTE, but infinitely prettier and more
fascinating. Florian Varillo studied her appreciatively in this
regard after he had uttered his little meaningless melody of
sentiment, and thought within himself--"A week or two and I could
completely conquer that woman!" He was mistaken--men who think these
sort of things often are. But the thought satisfied him, and gave
bold lustre to his eyes and brightness to his smile when he rose to
take his leave. He had been one of the guests at a small and early
dinner-party given by the Comtesse that evening,--and with the
privilege of an old acquaintance, he had lingered thus long after
all the others had gone to their respective homes.
"I will bid you now the felicissima notte, cara e bella contessa!"
he said caressingly, raising her small white hand to his lips, and
kissing it with a lingering pressure of what he considered a
peculiarly becoming moustache--"When Angela arrives to-morrow night
I shall be often at the Palazzo Sovrani--shall I see you there?"
"Of course you will see me there," replied Sylvie, a little
impatiently, "Am I not one of Angela's closest friends?"
"True! And for the sake of la mia dolcezza, you will also be a
friend to me?"
"'la mia dolcezza'", repeated Sylvie, "Is that what you call her?"
"Yes--but I fear it is not original!" said Varillo smiling, "One
Ariosto called his lady thus."
"Yes?" and Sylvie's eyes darkened and grew humid with a sudden
tenderness of thought, "It is a pretty phrase!"
"It should be used to YOU always, by every man who has my present
privilege!" said Varillo, gallantly, kissing her hand once more,
"You will be my friend?"
Sylvie disengaged her hand from his.
"You must not depend upon me, Signor," she said with sudden
coldness, "To be perfectly frank with you I am not sure that I like
you. You are very charming and very clever--but I doubt your
"Ah, che sono infelice!" murmured varillo softly, "you are right,
bellissima madama! I am not myself with many people--but with you--
you are one of the few who understand me . . . I am the very soul of
He fixed his eyes full upon her with an open and straight regard,
adding, "Can you doubt me?" in a touching tone of wounded feeling.
The Comtesse laughed, and her face flushed.
"Well, I do not know!" she said, with a light gesture of her hands
as though she threw something unpleasant away from her, "I shall
fudge of you by the happiness--or sorrow--of Angela!"
A slight frown contracted his brows--but it passed quickly, and the
candid smile illumined his mobile face once more.
"Ebben! Buona notte, bela capricciosa!" and bowing low he turned
towards the door, "Thank you a thousand times for a very happy
evening! Even when you are unkind to me you are still charming!
She murmured an "addio" in response, and when he had gone, and the
echo of his footfall down the great marble stairs had completely
died away, she went out once more to the balcony and leaned among
the sculptured angels, a dainty, slender, white figure, with her
soft flower-like face turned up to the solemn sky, where the large
moon marched like an Amazon through space, attended by her legions
and battalions of stars. So slight, so fragile and sweet a woman!--
with a precious world of love pent up in her heart . . . yet alone--
quite alone on this night of splendid luminousness and majestic
suggestions of infinity,--an infinity so monstrous and solitary to
the one delicate creature, whose whole soul craved for a perfect
love. Alas, for this "perfect love," of which all the dearest women
dream! Where shall they find it?--and how shall they win it? Too
often it comes when they may not have it; the cup of nectar is
offered to lips that are forbidden to drink of it, because the
world's convention stands between and turns the honey to gall. One
of the many vague problems of a future life, offered for our
consideration, is the one concerning the righteous satisfaction of
love. Will not those who have been bound fast as prisoners in the
bonds of matrimony without love, find those whose spirits are
naturally one with theirs, but whom they have somehow missed in this
life? For Byron's fine lines are eternally true,--
"Few--none--find what they love or could have loved,--
Though accident, blind contact, and the strong
Necessity of loving, have removed
Antipathies--but to recur ere long
Envenom'd with irrevocable wrong."
And the "blind contact" is the worst of all influences brought to
bear upon the mind and heart,--the most pernicious, and the most
deeply weighted with responsibility. In this regard, Sylvie
Hermenstein had acted wisely by removing herself from association,
or "blind contact" with her would-be lover,--and yet, though she was
aware that her doing so had caused a certain dispersal of the
atmosphere which almost veered towards complete disillusion, she
found nevertheless, that Rome as she had said, was "dull"; her heart
was empty, and longing for she knew not what. And that deep longing
she felt could not have been completely gratified by the brief
ardours of Fontenelle. And so she sat thinking wearily,--wondering
what was to become of her life. She had riches in plenty, a fine
estate and castle in Hungary,--servants at her beck and call--and
yet with all her wealth and beauty and brilliancy, she felt that she
was only loved by two persons in the world, her old butler, and
Madame Bozier, who had been her first governess, and who now lived
with her, as a sort of dame d'honneur surrounded with every comfort