Part 6 out of 13
and luxury, and who certainly served her former pupil with a
faithful worship that would not have changed, even if the direst
poverty instead of riches had been the portion of her beloved
patroness. This elderly lady it was who entered now with a soft and
hesitating step, and raising her glasses to her eyes, peered
anxiously through the lighted room towards the dark balcony where
Sylvie stood, like a fairy fallen out of the moon, and who presently
ventured to advance and call softly,
The pretty Comtesse turned and smiled.
"Is it you, Katrine? Will you come out here? It is not cold, and
there is a lace wrap on the chair,--put it round your dear old head
and come and be romantic with me!" and she laughed as the worthy
Bozier obeyed her, and came cautiously out among the angels'
sculptured wings. "Ah, dear Katrine! The happy days are gone when a
dark-eyed Roman lover would come strolling down a street like this
to strike the chords of his mandoline, and sing the dear old song,
"'Ti voglio bene assai, E tu non pensi a me!'"
Without thinking about it, she sang this refrain suddenly in her
sweet mezzo-soprano, every note ringing clear on the silence of the
night, and as she did so a man of slim figure and medium height,
stepped out of the dark shadows and looked up. His half laughing
eyes, piercing in their regard, met the dreamy soft ones of the
pretty woman sitting among the angels' heads above him--and pausing
a moment he hesitated--then lifted his hat. His face was excessively
delicate in outline and very pale, but a half mischievous smile
softened and sweetened the firm lines of his mouth and chin, and as
the moonbeams played caressingly on his close curling crop of fair
hair, he looked different enough to most of the men in Rome to be
considered singular as well as handsome. Sylvie, hidden as she was
among the shadows, blushed and drew back, a little vexed with
herself,--the worthy Madame Bozier was very properly scandalised.
"My dear child!" she murmured, "Remember--we are in Rome. People
judge things so strangely! What an unfortunate error!--"
But Sylvie became suddenly unmanageable. Her love of coquetry and
mischief got the better of her, and she thrust out her pretty head
over the balcony once more.
"Be quiet, Katrine!" she whispered, "I was longing for a romance,
and here is one!" And detaching a rose from her dress she tossed it
lightly to the stranger below. He caught it--then looked up once
"Till we meet," he said softly in English,--and moving on among the
"Now, who do you suppose HE was?" enquired Sylvie, leaning back
against the edge of the balcony, with an arch glance at her
gouvernante, "It was someone unlike anyone else here, I am sure! It
was somebody with very bright eyes,--laughing eyes,--audacious eyes,
because they laughed at me! They sparkled at me like stars on a
frosty night! Katrine, have you ever been for a sleigh-ride in
America? No, I did not take you there,--I forgot! You would have had
the rheumatism, poor dear! Well, when you are in America during the
winter, you go for rides over the snow in a big sleigh, with
tinkling bells fastened to the horses, and you see the stars flash
as you pass--like the eyes of that interesting gentleman just now.
His face was like a cameo--I wonder who he is! I shall find out! I
must do something desperate for Rome is so terribly dull! But I feel
better now! I like that man's eyes. They are SUCH a contrast to the
sleepy tiger eyes of the Marquis Fontenelle!"
"My dear Sylvie!" remonstrated Madame Bozier, "How can you run on in
this way? Do you want to break any more hearts? You are like a lamp
for unfortunate moths to burn themselves in!"
"Oh no, not I," said Sylvie, shaking her head with a touch of half
melancholy scorn, "I am not a 'professional' beauty! The Prince of
Wales does not select me for his admiration,--hence it follows that
I cannot possibly be an attraction in Europe. I have not the large
frame, the large hands, and the still larger feet of the beautiful
English ladies, who rule royal hearts and millionaires' pockets! Men
scarcely notice me till they come to know me--and then, pouf!--away
go their brains!--and they grovel at my small feet instead of the
large ones of the English ladies!" She laughed. "Now how is that,
"C'est du charme--toujurs du charme!" murmured Madame Bozier,
studying with a wistful affection the dainty lines of Sylvie's
slight figure, "And that is an even more fatal gift than beauty,
"Du charme! You think that is it? Yes?--and so the men grow stupid
and wild!--some want me, and some want my fortune--and some do not
know what they want!--but one thing is certain, that they all
quarrel together about me, and bore me to extinction!--Even the
stranger with the bright stars of an American winter for eyes, might
possibly bore me if I knew him!"
She gave a short sigh of complete dissatisfaction.
"To be loved, Katrine--really loved! What a delicious thing that
would be! Have you ever felt it?"
The poor lady trembled a little, and gave a somewhat mournful smile.
"No, you dear romantic child! I cannot say with truth that I have! I
married when I was very young, and my husband was many years older
than myself. He was afflicted with chronic rheumatism and gout, and
to be quite honest, I could never flatter myself that he thought of
me more than the gout. There! I knew that would amuse you!"--this,
as Sylvie's pretty tender laugh rippled out again on the air, "And
though it sounds as if it were a jest, it is perfectly true. Poor
Monsieur Bozier! He was the drawing master at the school where I was
assistant governess,--and he was very lonely; he wanted someone to
attend to him when the gouty paroxysms came on, and he thought I
should do as well, perhaps better than anyone else. And I--I had no
time to think about myself at all, or to fall in love--I was very
glad to be free of the school, and to have a home of my own. So I
married him, and did my best to be a good nurse to him,--but he did
not live long, poor man--you see he always would eat things that did
not agree with him, and if he could not get them at home he went out
and bought them on the sly. There was no romance there, my dear! And
of course he died. And he left me nothing at all,--even our little
home was sold up to pay our debts. Then I had to work again for my
living,--and it was by answering an advertisement in the Times,
which applied for an English governess to go to a family in
Budapest, that I first came to know you."
"And that is all your history!" said Sylvie, "Poor dear Bozier! How
"Yes, it is," and the worthy lady sighed also, but hers, was a sigh
of placid arid philosophical comfort. "Still, my dear, I am not at
all sorry to be uninteresting! I have rather a terror of lives that
arrange themselves into grand dramas, with terrible love affairs as
the central motives."
"Have you? I have not!" said Sylvie thoughtfully,--"With all my
heart I admire a 'grande passion.' Sometimes I think it is the only
thing that makes history. One does not hear nearly so much of the
feuds in which Dante was concerned, as of his love for Beatrice. It
is always so, only few people are capable of the strength and
patience and devotion needed for this great consummation of life.
Madame Bozier smiled, and with tender fingers arranged one of the
stray knots of pearls with which Sylvie's white gown was adorned.
"You dear child! You were made for sweetness and caresses,--not
suffering . . ."
"You mistake!" said Sylvie, with sudden decision, "You, in your
fondness for me, and because you have seen me grow up from
childhood, sometimes still view me as a child, and think that I am
best amused with frivolities, and have not the soul in me that would
endure disaster. But for love's sake I would do anything--yes!
. . . anything!"
"Yes," repeated Sylvie, her eyes darkening and lightening quickly in
their own fascinating way, "I would consent to shock the stupid old
world!--though one can scarcely ever shock it nowadays, because it
has itself become so shocking! But then the man for whom I would
sacrifice myself, must love ME as ardently as I would love HIM! That
is the difficulty, Katrine. For men do not love--they only desire."
She raised her face to the sky, and the moonbeams shed a golden halo
"That," she said slowly, "is the reason why I have come here to
avoid the Marquis Fontenelle. He does not love me!"
"He is a villain!" said Madame Bozier with asperity.
"Helas! There are so many villains!" sighed Sylvie, still looking up
at the brilliant heavens, "And sometimes if a villain really loves
anybody he half redeems his villainy. But the Marquis loves himself
best of anyone in the world . . . and I--I do not intend to be second in
anyone's affections! So . . ." she paused, "Do you see that star,
Katrine? It is as bright as if it were shining on a frosty night in
America. And do you not notice the resemblance to the eyes of the
stranger who has my rose? I daresay he will put it under his pillow
to-night, and dream!" She laughed,--"Let us go in!"
Madame Bozier followed her as she stepped back into the lighted
salon, where she was suddenly met by her little Arab page, carrying
a large cluster of exquisite red and white roses. A card was
attached to the flowers, bearing the words, "These many unworthy
blossoms in return for one beyond all worth."
The Comtesse read and passed it in silence to Madame Bozier. A smile
was on her face, and a light in her eyes.
"I think Rome is not so dull after all!" she said, as she set the
flowers carefully in a tall vase of Etruscan ware, "Do you know, I
am beginning to find it interesting!"
Aubrey Leigh was a man who had chosen his own way of life, and, as a
natural consequence of this, had made for himself an independent and
original career. Born in the New World of America he had been very
highly educated,--not only under the care of a strict father, and an
idolising mother, but also with all the advantages one of the finest
colleges in the States could give him. Always a brilliant scholar,
and attaining his successes by leaps and bounds rather than by close
and painstaking study, the day came,--as it comes to all finely-
tempered spirits,--when an overpowering weariness or body and soul
took possession of him,--when the very attainment of knowledge
seemed absurd,--and all things, both in nature and art, took on a
sombre colouring, and the majestic pageant of the world's progress
appeared no more than a shadow too vain and futile to be worth while
watching as it passed. Into a Slough of Despond, such as Solomon
experienced when he wrote his famous "Ecclesiastes," Aubrey sank
unconsciously, and,--to do him justice,--most unwillingly. His was
naturally a bright, vivacious, healthy nature--but he was over-
sensitively organised,--his nerves did not resemble iron so much as
finely-tempered steel, which could not but suffer from the damp and
rust in the world's conventionalities. And some "little rift within
the lute" chanced to him, as it often chances to many, so that the
subtle music of his soul jarred into discord with the things of
life, making harsh sounds in place of melody. There was no adequate
cause for this,--neither disappointed love nor balked ambition
shadowed his days;--it was something altogether indefinable--a
delicate, vague discontent which, had he known it, was merely the
first stirring of an embryo genius destined one day to move the
world. He did not know what ailed him,--but he grew tired--tired of
books--tired of music--tired of sifting the perplexing yet
enchanting riddles of science--tired of even his home and his
mother's anxious eyes of love that watched his moods too closely for
his peace,--and one day, out of the merest boyish impulse, he joined
a company of travelling actors and left America. Why he did this he
could never tell, save that he was a student and lover of
Shakespeare. Much to his own surprise, and somewhat to his disgust,
he distinguished himself with exceptional brilliancy on the stage,--
his voice, his manner, his physique and his bearing were all
exceptional, and told highly in his favour,--but unfortunately his
scholarly acumen and knowledge of literature went against him with
his manager. This personage, who was densely ignorant, and who yet
had all the ineffable conceit of ignorance, took him severely to
task for knowing Shakespeare's meanings better than he did,--and
high words resulted in mutual severance. Aubrey was hardly sorry
when his theatrical career came thus untimely to an end. At first he
had imagined it possible to become supreme in histrionic art,--one
who should sway the emotions of thousands by a word, a look or a
gesture,--he had meant to be the greatest Shakespearean actor of his
day; and with his knowledge of French, which was as perfect as his
knowledge of English, he had even foreseen the possibility of taking
the French stage as well as the English by storm. But when he
gradually came to discover the mean tricks and miserable treacheries
used by his fellow-actors to keep a rising comrade down,--when he
felt to the core of his soul the sordidness and uncleanness of his
surroundings,--when he shudderingly repulsed the would-be attentions
of the painted drabs called "ladies of the stage",--and above all,
when he thought of the peace and refinement of the home he had, for
a mere freak, forsaken,--the high tone of thought and feeling
maintained there, the exquisite gracefulness and charm of womanhood,
of which his mother had been, and was still a perfect embodiment,
some new and far stronger spirit rose up within him, crying--"What
is this folly? Am I to sink to the level of those whom I know and
see are beneath me? With what I have of brain and heart and feeling,
are these unworthy souls to drag me down? Shall I not try to feel my
wings, and make one bold dash for higher liberty? And if I do so,
whither shall I fly?"
He had come to England at this period,--and in the small provincial
town where his final rupture with the illiterate theatrical manager
had taken place, there was a curious, silent contest going on
between the inhabitants and their vicar. The vicar was an extremely
unpopular person,--and the people were striving against him, and
fighting him at every possible point of discussion. For so small a
community the struggle was grim,--and Aubrey for some time could not
understand it, till one day an explanation was offered him by a man
engaged in stitching leather, in a dirty evil-smelling little hole
of a shop under a dark archway.
"You see, sir, it's this way," he said, "Bessie Morton,--she wor as
good a girl as ever stepped--bright and buxom and kind hearted--yes,
that was Bessie, till some black scoundrel got her love at a soft
moment, and took the better of her. Well!--I suppose some good
Christian folk would say she wor a bad 'un--but I'll warrant she
worn't bad at heart, but only just soft-like--and she an orphan,
with no one to look after her, or say she done ill or well. And
there was a little child born--the prettiest little creature ye ever
saw--Bessie's own copy--all blue eyes and chestnut hair--and it just
lived a matter of fower year, and then it took sick and died. Bessie
went nigh raving mad; that she did. And now, what do you think, sir?
The passon refused to bury that there little child in consecrated
ground, cos'twas born out of wedlock! What d'ye think of that for a
follower of Jesus with the loving heart? What d'ye think of that?"
"Think!" said Aubrey indignantly, with an involuntary clenching of
his hand, "Why, that it is abominable--disgraceful! I should like to
thrash the brute!"
"So would a many," said his informant with an approving chuckle, "So
would a many! But that's not all--there's more behind--and worse
"Why, what can be worse?"
"Well, sir, we thinks--we ain't got proofs to go on--for Bessie
keeps her own counsel--but we thinks the passon hisself is the
father of that there little thing he winnot lay in a holy grave!"
"Good God!" cried Aubrey.
"Ay, ay--you may say 'Good God!' with a meaning, sir," said the
leather-seller--"And that's why, as we ain't got no facts and no
power with bishops, and we ain't able to get at the passon anyhow,
we're just making it as unpleasant for him in our way as we can.
That's all the people can do, sir, but what they does, they means!"
This incident deeply impressed Aubrey Leigh, and proved to be the
turning point in his career. Like a flash of light illumining some
divinely written scroll of duty, he suddenly perceived a way in
which to shape his own life and make it of assistance to others. He
began his plan of campaign by going about among the poorer classes,
working as they worked, living as they lived, and enduring what they
endured. Disguised as a tramp, he wandered with tramps. He became
for a time one of the "hands" in a huge Birmingham factory. After
that he worked for several months at the coal pits among the lowest
of the men employed there. Then he got a "job" in a dock-yard and
studied the ways of shipping and humanity together. During this time
of self-imposed probation, he never failed to write letters home to
Canada, saying he was "doing well" in England, but how this "doing
well" was brought about he never explained. And the actual motive
and end of all his experiences was as yet a secret locked within his
own heart. Yet when it was put into words it sounded simple enough,-
-it was merely to find out how much or how little the clergy, or so-
called "servants of Christ", obeyed their Master. Did they comfort
the comfortless? Were they "wise as serpents, and harmless as
doves"? Were they long-suffering, slow to wrath, and forbearing one
to the other? Did they truly "feed the sheep"? Did they sacrifice
themselves, their feelings, and their ambitions to rescue what was
lost? All these and sundry other questions Aubrey Leigh set himself
to answer,--and by and by he found himself on an endless path of
discovery, where at every step some new truth confronted him;--some
amazing hypocrisy burned itself in letters of flame against the
splendour of church altars;--some deed of darkness and bigotry and
cruelty smirched the white robes of the "ordained to preach the
Gospel". Gradually he became so intently and vitally interested in
his investigations, and his sympathy for the uncomforted people who
had somehow lost Christ instead of finding Him, grew so keen that he
resolved to give up his entire life to the work of beginning to try
and remedy the evil. He had no independent means,--he lived from
hand to mouth earning just what he could by hard labour,--till one
day, when the forces in his own soul said "Ready!" he betook himself
to one small room which he hired in a fisherman's cottage on the
coast of Cornwall, and there sat down to write a book. Half the day
he wrote, and half the day he earned his bread as a common
fisherman, going out with the others in storm and shine, sailing
through sleet and hail and snow, battling with the waves, and
playing with Death at every turn of the rocks, which, like the teeth
of great monsters, jagged the stormy shore. And he grew strong, and
lithe, and muscular--his outward life of hard and changeful labour,
accompanied by the inward life of intelligent and creative thought,
gradually worked off all depression of soul and effeminacy of body,-
-his experience of the stage passed away, leaving no trace on his
mind but the art, the colour and the method,--particularly the
method of speech. With art, colour, and method he used the pen;--
with the same art, colour, and method he used his voice, and
practised the powers of oratory. He would walk for miles to any
lonely place where he could be sure of no interruption,--and there
he would speak aloud to the roaring waves and wide stretches of
desolate land, and tell them the trenchant things he meant one day
to thunder into human ears. Always of a fine figure, his bearing
grew more dauntless and graceful,--the dangers of the sea taught him
self-control,--the swift changes of the sky gave him the far-off
rapt expression and keen flash of his eyes,--the pitiful sorrows of
the poor, in which, as he had elected to be one of them, he was
bound to share, had deepened the sympathetic lines round his
delicate mouth, and had bestowed upon his whole countenance that
look which is seldom seen save in the classic marbles--the look of
being one with, and yet above mankind. All the different classes of
people with whom he had managed to associate had called him
"gentleman", a name he had gently but firmly repudiated. "Call me a
Man, and let me deserve the title!" he would say smilingly, and his
"mates" hearing this would eye each other askance, and whisper among
themselves "that he WAS a gentleman for all that, though no doubt he
had come down in the world and had to work for his living. And no
shame to him as he gave himself no airs, and could turn a hand to
anything." And so the time moved on, and he remained in the Cornish
fishing village till his book was finished. Then he suddenly went up
to London;--and after a few days' absence came back again, and went
contentedly on with the fishing once more.
A month or so later, one night when the blackness of the skies was
so dense that it could almost be felt, it chanced that he and his
companions were far out at sea in their little smack, which lay
becalmed between two darknesses--the darkness of the rolling water,
and the darkness of the still heaven. Little waves lapped heavily
against the boat's side, and the only glimpse of light at all was
the yellow flicker of the lamp that hung from the mast of the
vessel, casting a tremulous flicker on the sombrous tide, when all
at once a great noise like the crash of thunder, or the roll of
cannon, echoed through the air, and a meteor more brilliant than an
imperial crown of diamonds, flared through the sky from height to
depth, and with a blazing coruscation of flying stars and flame,
dropped hissingly down into the sea. The fishermen startled, all
looked up--the heavy black nets dropped from their brown arms just
as they were about to pull in.
"A sign of strife!" said one.
"Ay, ay! We shall hev a war maybe!"
Aubrey leaned far over the boat's side, and looked out into the
dense blackness, made blacker than ever by the sudden coming and
going of the flaming sky-phenomenon,--and half unconsciously he
murmured, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth,--I come
not to send peace, but a sword!" And he lost himself in dreams of
the past, present, and future,--till he was roused to give a hand in
the dragging up of the nets, now full of glistening fish with
silvery bodies and ruby eyes,--and then his thoughts took a
different turn and wandered off as far back as the Sea of Galilee
when the disciples, fishing thus, were called by the Divine Voice,
saying "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!" And in
silence he helped to row the laden boat homewards, for there was no
wind to fill the sail,--and the morning gradually broke like a great
rose blooming out of the east, and the sun came peering through the
rose like the calyx of the flower,--and still in a dream, Aubrey
walked through all that splendour of the early day home to his
lodging,--there to find himself,--like Byron,--famous. His book was
in everyone's hand--his name on everyone's tongue. Letters from the
publisher whom his visit to London had made his friend, accompanied
by a bundle of the chief newspapers of the day, informed him that he
had in one bound taken his place at the very head and front of
opinion,--and, finest proof of power, the critics were out like the
hounds in full cry, and were already baying the noble quarry. The
Church papers were up in arms--indignant articles were being added
to the "weeklies" by highly respectable clergymen with a large
feminine "following", and in the midst of all these written things,
which in their silent print seemed literally to make a loud clamour
in the quiet of his room, Aubrey, in his sea-stained fisherman's
garb, with the sparkle of the salt spray still glittering on his
closely curling bright hair, looked out at the clear horizon from
which the sun had risen up in all its majesty, and devoutly thanked
"I have written part of my message," he said to himself, "And now
by-and-by I shall speak!"
But he lived on yet for a time in the remote fishing village,
waiting,--without knowing quite what he waited for,--while the great
Gargantuan mouth of London roared his name in every imaginable key,
high and low, and gradually swept it across the seas to America and
Australia, and all the vast New World that is so swiftly rising up,
with the eternal balance of things, to overwhelm the Old. And
presently the rumour of his fame reached those whom he had left
behind in the quiet little town of his birth and boyhood,--and his
mother, reading the frantic eulogies, and still more frantic attacks
of the different sections of press opinion, wept with excitement and
tenderness and yearning; and his father, startled at the strange
power and authority with which this new Apostle of Truth appeared to
be invested, trembled as he read, but nevertheless held himself more
erect with a pride in his own old age that he had never felt before,
as he said a hundred times a day in response to eager questioners--
"Yes,--Aubrey Leigh is my son!" Then mother and father both wrote to
Aubrey, and poured out their affectionate hearts to him and blessed
him, which blessing he received with that strange heaving of the
heart and contraction of the throat, which in a strong man means
tears. And still he waited on, earning his bread in the humble
village which knew nothing of him, save as one of themselves,--for
the inhabitants of the place were deaf and blind to the ways of the
world, and read little save old and belated newspapers, so that they
were ignorant of his newly celebrated personality,--till one day the
Fates gave him that chance for which, though he was unconscious of
it, he had been holding himself back, and counting the slow strokes
of time;--time which seems to beat with such a laggard pulse when
one sees some great thing needing to be done, and while feeling all
the force to do it, yet has to control and keep back that force till
the appointed hour strikes for action.
There had been a terrific storm at sea, and a herring smack had gone
down within sight of land, sinking eight strong men with it, all
husbands and fathers. One after the other, the eight bodies were
thrown back from the surging deep in the sullen grey morning on the
day after the catastrophe,--one after the other they were borne
reverently up from the shore to the village, there to be claimed by
shrieking women and sobbing children,--women, who from more or less
contented, simple-hearted, hard-working souls, were transformed into
the grandly infuriated forms of Greek tragedy--their arms tossing,
their hair streaming, their faces haggard with pain, and their eyes
blind with tears. Throughout the heart-rending scene, Aubrey Leigh
worked silently with the rest--composing the stiff limbs of the
dead, and reverently closing the glared and staring eyes; gently he
had lifted fainting women from the corpses to which they clung,--
tenderly he had carried crying children home to their beds,--and
with sorrowful eyes fixed on the still heaving and angry billows, he
had inwardly prayed for ways and means to comfort these afflicted
ones, and raised their thoughts from the gloom of the grave to some
higher consummation of life. For they were inconsolable,--they could
neither see nor understand any adequate cause for such grief being
inflicted on them,--and the entire little population of the village
wore a resentful attitude towards God, and God's inexorable law of
death. When the funeral day came, and the bodies of the eight
unfortunate victims were committed to the earth, it happened, as
fate would have it, that the rector of the parish, a kindly,
sympathetic, very simple old man, who really did his best for his
parishoners according to the faint perception of holy things that
indistinctly illumined his brain, happened to be away, and his place
was taken by the assistant curate, a man of irritable and hasty
temper, who had a horror of "scenes," and who always put away all
suggestions of death from him whenever it was possible. It was very
disagreeable to him to have to look at eight coffins,--and still
more disagreeable to see eight weeping widows surrounded by forlorn
and fatherless children--and he gabbled over the funeral service as
quickly as he could, keeping his eyes well on the book lest he
should see some sobbing child looking at him, or some woman dropping
in a dead faint before he had time to finish. He was afraid of
unpleasant incidents--and yet with all his brusque and nervous hurry
to avoid anything of the kind, an unpleasant incident insisted on
manifesting itself. Just as the fourth coffin was being lowered into
the ground, a wild-haired girl rushed forward and threw herself upon
"Oh, my man, my man!" she wailed, "My own sweetheart!"
There was a moment's silence. Then one of the widows stepped out,
and approaching the girl, laid her hand on her arm.
"Are ye making a mock of me, Mary Bell?" she said, "Or is it God's
truth ye're speaking to my husband lying there?"
The distraught creature called Mary Bell looked up with a sudden
passion glowing in her tear-wet eyes.
"It's God's truth!" she cried, "And ye needn't look scorn on me!--
for both our hearts are broken, and no one can ever mend them. Yes!
It's God's truth! He was your husband, but my sweetheart! And we'll
neither of us see a finer man again!"
The curate listened, amazed and aghast. Was nothing going to be done
to stop this scandalous scene? He looked protestingly from right to
left, but in all the group of fisher-folk not a man moved. Were
these two women going to fight over the dead? He hummed and hawed--
and began in a thin piercing voice--"My friends--" when he was again
interrupted by the passionate speech of Mary Bell.
"I'm sorry for ye," she said, lifting herself from the coffin to
which she clung, and turning upon the widow of the drowned man, "and
ye can be just as sorry for me! He loved us both, and why should we
quarrel! A man is ever like that--just chancy and changeful--but he
tried his honest hardest not to love me--yes, he tried hard!--it was
my fault! for I never tried!--I loved him!--and I'll love him, till
I go where he is gone! And we'll see who God'll give his soul to!"
This was too much for the curate.
"Woman!" he thundered, "Be silent! How dare you boast of your sin at
such a time, and in such a place! Take her away from that coffin,
some of you!"
So he commanded, but still not a man moved. The curate began to lose
temper in earnest.
"Take her away, I tell you," and he advanced a step or two, "I
cannot permit such a scandalous interruption of this service!"
"Patience, patience, measter," said one of the men standing by,
"When a woman's heart's broke in two ways it ain't no use worrying
her. She'll come right of herself in a minute."
But the curate, never famous for forbearance at any time, was not to
be tampered with. Turning to his verger he said,
"I refuse to go on! The woman is drunk!"
But now the widow of the dead man suddenly took up the argument in a
shrill voice which almost tore the air to shreds.
"She's no more drunk than you are!" she cried passionately, "Leave
her alone! You're a nice sort of God's serving man to comfort we,
when we're all nigh on losing our wits over this mornin' o' misery,
shame on ye! Mary Bell, come here! If so be as my husband was your
sweetheart, God forgive him, ye shall come home wi' me!--and we'll
never have a word agin the man who is lying dead there. Come wi' me,
With a wild cry of anguish, the girl rushed into her arms, and the
two women clung together like sisters united in the same passionate
grief. The curate turned a livid white.
"I cannot countenance such immorality," he said, addressing the
verger, though his words were heard by all present, "Enough of the
service has been said! Lower the coffins into the earth!" and
turning on his heel he prepared to walk away. But Aubrey Leigh
"You will not finish the service, sir?" he asked civilly, but with
something of a warning in the flash of his eyes.
"No! The principal part of it is over. I cannot go on. These women
"They are not drunk, save with their own tears!" said Aubrey, his
rich voice trembling with indignation. "They are not mad, except
with grief! Is it not your place to be patient with them?"
"My place! My place!" echoed the curate indignantly, "Man, do you
know to whom you are talking?"
"I think I do," answered Aubrey steadily, "I am talking to a
professed servant of Christ,--Christ who had patience and pardon for
all men! I am talking to one whose calling and vocation it is to
love, to forgive, and to forbear--whose absolute protestation has
been made at the altar of God that he will faithfully obey his
Master. Even if these unhappy women were drunk, which they are not,
their fault in conduct would not release you from the performance of
your duty,--or the reverence you are bound to show towards the
Trembling with rage, the curate eyed him up and down scornfully.
"How dare you speak to me about my duty! You common lout! Mind your
"I will," said Aubrey, fixing his eyes full upon him, "And it shall
be my business to see that you mind yours! Both your rector and
bishop shall hear of this!"
He strode off, leaving the curate speechless with fury; and joining
the little crowd of mourners who had been startled and interrupted
by this unexpected scene, drew a prayer book from his pocket, and
without asking anyone's permission read with exquisite gravity and
pathos the concluding words of the funeral service,--and then with
his own hands assisted the grave-diggers to lay the coffined dead
tenderly to rest. Awestruck, and deeply impressed by his manner the
fisher-folk mechanically obeyed his instructions, and followed his
movements till all the sad business was over, and then they lingered
about the churchyard wistfully watching him, while he in turn,
standing erect and bare-headed near the open graves, looked at them
with a strange pity, love and yearning.
"It'll be all right when our owld passon comes back," said one of
the men addressing him, "It's just this half eddicated wastrel of a
chap as doesn't know, and doesn't care for the troubles of common
folk like we."
Aubrey was silent for a space. "Common folk like we!" The words were
full of pathetic humility, and the man who spoke them was a hero of
no mean type, who had often buffeted the winds and waves to save a
human life at the risk of his own. "Common folk like we!" Aubrey
laid his hand gently on his "mate's" shoulder.
"Ben, old boy, there are no common folk in God's sight," he said,
"Look there!" and he pointed to the graves that were just beginning
to be filled in, "Every creature lying there had as much of God in
him as many a king, and perhaps more. In this majestic universe
there is nothing common!"
Ben shuffled one foot before the other uneasily.
"Ay, ay, but there's few as argify the way o' life in they lines!"
he said, "There's a many that think--but there's a main few that
"That is true," said Aubrey, still keeping his hand on Ben's
shoulder, "there's a main few that speak! Now, _I_ want to speak,
Ben,--I want to have a talk to you and the rest of our mates about--
well!--about the dangers of the sea and other things. Will you meet
me on the shore this evening near the quay and listen to a word or
Ben looked surprised but interested, and a puzzled smile came into
"Be ye a goin' to preach to us like the passon?" he said, "Or like
the fellers in the porter's caps as calls themselves Salvationists?"
"No! I only want to say a few parting words to you all."
"Parting words!" echoed Ben with a stupefied air.
"Yes--I am going away to-morrow--going for good. I have got some
other work to do. But I shall not forget you all . . . and you will hear
of me often,--yes, you will hear of me!--and some day I will come
back. But to-night . . . I should just like to say good-bye."
Ben was secretly much distressed. "Gentleman Leigh" as he was
sometimes called, had greatly endeared himself to their little
community, and that he should leave them was not at all a desirable
thing, and would, as Ben well knew, cause universal regret. But
there was no time just now for either argument or protestation, so
Ben accepted the blow as he accepted all buffetings of fate, and
"All right! We'll be there to-night for sure!" And then Aubrey,
gravely content, walked slowly out of the little churchyard still
bare-headed, his eyes dark with thought,--and the reluctant sun came
out of the gray sky and shone on his pale face and bright hair--and
one or two of the widowed women timidly touched his arm as he
passed, and murmured, "God bless you!" And Mary Bell, the sorrowful
and sinning, clinging to the waist of the woman she had wronged,
looked up at him appealingly with the strained and hunted gaze of a
lost and desperate creature, and as he met her eyes, turned
shudderingly away and wept. And he, knowing that words were useless,
and that even the kindliest looks must wound in such a case, passed
on in silence, and when he reached his own lodging took some of the
newspapers which spoke of himself and his book, and after marking
certain passages, tied them up in a packet and sent them to the
curate with whom he had crossed swords that morning, accompanied by
a note which briefly ran thus:--
"You asked me how I 'dared' to speak to you about your duty. I
reply--By the force of truth and the power of the pen I dare!--and I
shall be ready to answer to God for it, as you must answer to him
for leaving any part of YOUR duty undone.
And the day passed on, half in drifting clouds, half in glimpses of
sunshine, till late afternoon, when the sky cleared altogether, and
the waves sank to a dead calm;--and with the night a shield-like
moon, all glistening pearl and silver, rose up out of the east with
a royal air of white and wondering innocence, as though she
proclaimed her entire blamelessness for any havoc wrought by storm.
And in the full radiance of that silvery splendour Aubrey Leigh,
leaning against the sea-weed covered capstan of the quay, round
which coils of wet rope glistened like the body of a sleeping
serpent, told to an audience of human hearers for the first time the
story of his life, and adventures, and the varied experiences he had
gone through in order to arrive at some straight and clear
comprehension of "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" of the Gospel of
Love and Mutual Labour. His practised voice, perfect in all
modulation, inflexion, and expression, carried each simple, well-
chosen word home to the hearts of his hearers,--not one so ignorant
as not to understand him--not one so blind as not to see the beauty
of work and creative effort as he depicted them,--not one so
insensate as not to feel the calm, the grandeur, and repose of the
strong soul of a man in complete sympathy with his fellow-men. They
listened to him almost breathlessly--their bronzed weather-beaten
faces all turned towards his; forgetting to smoke, they let their
pipes die out and drop from their hands--and no interruption broke
the even flow and cadence of his earnest language, save the slow
ripple of the water beating against the quay, and the faint,
occasional sigh of a stirring wind. Silhouetted black against the
radiant sky were the masts of the fishing fleet, and the roofs of
the fishermen's cottages--dwellings so often made desolate by death-
-and as Aubrey noted the fascinated attention with which these rough
men heard him, his heart grew strong. "If a few listen, so will
many," he said to himself, "The Master of our creed first taught His
divine ethics to a few fishermen,--to them the message was first
given . . . and by them again delivered,--and it is through our having
departed from the original simplicity of utterance that all the evil
has crept in. So let me be content with this night's work and await
the future with patience." Then lifting up his voice once more he
"You think your lot a hard one--you, friends and brothers, who set
the brown sails out to sea on a night of threatening storm, and bid
farewell to your homes built safe upon the shore. You must meet all
the horror of white foam and cloud-blackness, to drag from the sea
its living spoil, and earn the bread to keep yourselves and those
who are dependent upon you,--you MUST do this, or the Forces of Life
will not have you,--they will cast you out and refuse to nourish
you. For so is your fate in life, and work ordained. Then where is
God?--you cry, as the merciless billows rise to engulf your frail
craft,--why should the Maker of man so deliberately destroy him? Why
should one human unit, doing nothing, and often thinking nothing,
enjoy hundreds of pounds a day, while you face death to win as many
pence? Is there a God of Love who permits this injustice? Ah, stop
there, friends! There is no such thing as injustice! Strange as it
sounds to this world of many contradictions and perplexities, I
repeat there is no such thing as injustice. There is what SEEMS
injustice--because we are all apt to consider the material side of
things only. That is where we make our great mistake in life and
conduct. We should all remember that this world, and the things of
this world, are but the outward expression of an inward soul--the
Matter evolved from Mind--and that unless we are ourselves in
harmony with the Mind, we shall never understand the Matter. Your
millionaire is surrounded with luxuries,--your fishermen has dry
bread and herring,--your millionaire dies, with a famous doctor
counting his pulse-beats, and a respectable clergyman promising him
heaven on account of the money he has left to the church in his
will; your fisherman goes down in a swirl of black water, without a
prayer--for he has no time to pray--without leaving a penny behind
him, inasmuch as he has no pence to leave; and for both these
different creatures we judge the end is come? No,--the end is NOT
come! It is the beginning only! If the millionaire has died with a
thousand selfish sores in his mind,--if his life's privileges have
been wasted in high feeding and self-indulgence,--if he has thought
only of himself, his riches, his pride, his position, or his
particular form of respectability, he will get the full result of
that mental attitude! If the fisherman has been content with his
earnings, and thanked God for them,--if he has been honest, brave,
true, and unselfish, and has shared with others their joys and
sorrows, and if at the last he goes down in the waves trying to save
some other life while losing his own,--depend upon it he will rise
to the full splendour of THAT mental attitude! For both millionaire
and fisherman are but men, made on the same lines, of the same clay,
and are each one, personally and separately responsible to God for
the soul in them,--and when both of them pass from this phase of
being to the next, they will behold all things with spiritual eyes,
not material ones. And then it may be that the dark will be
discovered to be the bright, and the fortunate prove to be the
deplorable, for at present we 'see through a glass darkly, but then,
face to face.' The friends whom we have buried to-day are not dead,-
-for death is not Death, but Life. And for those who are left behind
it is merely a time of waiting, for as the Master said, 'There shall
not a hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your
He paused a moment,--the moon rays illumined his delicate features,
and a half sorrowful smile rested on his lips.
"I am no clergyman, my friends! I have not been 'ordained'. I am not
preaching to you. I will not ask you to be good men, for there is
something effeminate in the sound of such a request made to brawny,
strong fellows such as you are, with an oath ready to leap from your
lips, and a blow prepared to fly from your fists on provocation. I
will merely say to you that it is a great thing to be a Man!--a Man
as God meant him to be, brave, truthful, and self-reliant, with a
firm faith in the Divine Ordainment of Life as Life should be lived.
There is no disgrace in work;--no commonness,--no meanness.
Disgrace, commonness, and meanness are with those who pretend to
work and never do anything useful for the world they live in. The
king who amuses himself at the expense and ruin of his subjects is
the contemptible person,--not the labourer who digs the soil for the
planting of corn which shall help to feed his fellows. And the most
despicable creature of our time and century, is not the man who
doubts Christ, or questions God--for Christ was patient with the
doubter, and God answers, through the medium of science, every
honest question--it is the man who pretends to believe and lives on
the pretence, while his conduct gives the lie to his profession!
That is why you--and why thousands of others like you, are beginning
to look upon many of the clergy with contempt, and to treat their
admonitions with indifference. That is why thousands of the rising
generation of men and women will not go to church. 'The parson does
not do anything for me,' is a common every-day statement. And that
the parson SHOULD do something is a necessary part of his business.
His 'doing' should not consist in talking platitudes from the
pulpit, or in sending round a collection plate. And if he has no
money, and will not 'sell half that he has and give to the poor' as
commanded, he can at any rate give sympathy. But this is precisely
what he chiefly lacks. The parson's general attitude is one of
either superiority or servility,--a 'looking down' upon his poor
parishoners--a 'looking up' to his rich ones. A disinterested,
loving observation of the troubles and difficulties of others never
occurs to him as necessary. But this was precisely the example
Christ gave us--an unselfish example of devotion to others--a
supreme descent of the Divine into man to rescue and bless humanity.
Now I know all your difficulties and sorrows,--I have worked among
you, and lived among you--and I feel the pulse of your existence
beating in my own heart. I know that when a great calamity
overwhelms you all as it has done this week, you have no one to
comfort you,--no one to assure you that no matter how strange and
impossible it seems, you have been deprived of your associates for
some GOOD cause which will be made manifest in due season,--that
they have probably been taken to save them from a worse fate than
the loss of earth-consciousness in the sea. For that, scientifically
speaking, is all that death means--the loss of earth-consciousness,-
-but the gain of another consciousness, whether of another earth or
a heaven none can say. But there is no real death--inasmuch as even
a grain of dust in the air will generate life. We must hold fast to
the Soul of things--the Soul which is immortal, not the body which
is mortal. 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world
and lose his own soul!' That is what each man of us must find, and
hold, and keep,--his own soul! Apart from all creeds, and clergy,
forms and rituals--that is the vital matter. Stand clear of all
things,--all alone if need be, surrounded by the stupendous forces
of this great universe,--let us find,--each man of us--his own soul;
find and keep it brave, truthful, upright, and bound straight on for
the highest,--the highest always! And the very stars in their
courses will help us--storms will but strengthen us--difficulties
but encourage us--and death itself shall but give us larger
He ceased, and one by one the men drew closer to him, and thanked
him, in voices that were tremulous with the emotion he had raised in
them. The instinct which had led them to call him "Gentleman Leigh"
had proved correct,--and there was not a man among them all who did
not feel a thrill of almost fraternal pride in the knowledge that
the dauntless, hard-working "mate" who had fronted tempests with
them, and worked with them in all weathers, had without any boast or
loquacious preparation, made his name famous and fit for discussion
in the great world of London far away, a world to which none of them
had ever journeyed. And they pressed round him and shook his hand,
and gave him simple yet hearty words of cheer and goodwill, together
with unaffected expressions of regret that he was leaving them,--
"though for that matter," said one of them, "we allus felt you was a
scholard-like, for all that you was so handy at the nets. For never
did a bit of shell or weed come up from the sea but ye was a lookin'
at it as if God had throwed it to yer for particular notice. And
when a man takes to obsarvin' common things as if they were special
birthday presents from the Almighty, ye may be pretty sure there's
something out of the ordinary in him!"
Aubrey smiled, and pressed the hand of this roughly eloquent
speaker,--and then they all walked with him up from the shore to the
little cottage where he had lived for so many months, and at the
gate of which he bade them farewell.
"But only for a time," he said, "I shall see you all again. And you
will hear of me!"
"Ay, ay, we'll hear of ye--for we'll take the papers in just for
news of yer!" said Ben, with a rough laugh which covered his deeper
feelings, "And mebbe ye'll come back afore we's all drownded!"
And so with a few more kindly words they left him, and he stood at
the gate watching their stalwart figures disappear down the
different windings of the crooked and picturesque little street.
"God bless them all!" he murmured, "They have taught me many a grand
The next day he took his quiet departure in the early morning before
the village folks were up and stirring,--and a month later he
addressed a large meeting in one of the poorest and most densely
populated districts of London on "The Ethics of Christ versus the
Clergy", which attracted universal attention and created an enormous
sensation. His book began to sell in thousands where it had
previously sold in hundreds, and he earned sufficient from the
profits of the sale to keep him going in the simple fashion of
clothes and food to which he had strictly disciplined himself, so
that he felt free to plunge into the thick of the fight. And he
straightway did so. His name became a terror to liars, and a clarion
sound of alarm in the ears of social hypocrites. He wrote another
book which obtained even a larger hearing than the first--and he
spoke to the people on an average once a week, wherever he could
assemble them together. All his addresses were made gratuitously,
and he soon resembled a sort of blazing torch in the darkness, to
which the crowds rushed for light and leading. In the midst of the
sensation his writings and orations were creating, a noble lord,
with several Church livings in his gift, asked him to stand for
Parliament, and offered to pay the expenses of his election. At
first Aubrey was sufficiently tempted by the offer to pause
hesitatingly on the verge of acceptance, but twenty-four hours' hard
thinking promptly pulled him together. "No," he said--"I see what
you mean! You and your party wish to tie my hands--to gag my mouth,
and make me as one of yourselves--no, I will not consent to it. I
will serve the people with all my life and soul!--but not in YOUR
And to avoid further discussion he went straight out of England for
a time, and travelled through Europe, making friends everywhere, and
learning new phases of the "Christian Dispensation" at every turn in
his road. Paris had held him fascinated for a long while, not only
because he saw her doom written like that of Babylon in letters of
fire, and Ruin, like a giant bird of prey hovering over her with
beak and claw prepared to pick the very flesh from her bones,--but
also because he had met Angela Sovrani, one of the most rarely-
gifted types of womanhood he had ever seen. He recognised her genius
at once, and marvelled at it. And still more did he marvel at her
engagement of marriage with Florian Varillo. That such a fair, proud
creature so splendidly endowed, could consent to unite herself to a
man so vastly inferior, was an interesting puzzle to him. He had met
Varillo by chance in Naples one winter before he ever saw Angela,
and knew that half his claim to the notice of the social world there
was the fact of his betrothal to the famous "Sovrani." And moved by
a strange desire to follow out this romance, and also because he was
completing his studies of the Roman Church viewed as a "moral
support to the education and elevation of man," he, after leaving
Paris, and paying a brief visit to Florence on a matter of business
which could not be attended to otherwise than personally, went on as
though drawn by some invisible magnet to Rome. He had only been
twenty-four hours in the city, when chance had led him under the
balcony where the sculptured angels fronted the moon, and from
whence the sweet voice of Sylvie Hermenstein had floated towards him
with the words,--
"Ti voglio ben assai, E tu non pensi a me."
And he who had faced crowds without a tremor, and had flung
thunderbolts of splendid defiance at shams, with the manner of a
young Ajax defying the lightning, now found himself strangely put
out and disturbed in his usual composure by the innocent aspect, and
harmless perfume of a rose,--a mere little pink petalled thing, with
not even a thorn on its polished green stalk! He had placed it in a
glass of water on his writing table, and his eyes rested upon it the
morning after he had received it with almost a reproachful air. What
was its golden-hearted secret? Why, when he studied it, did he see
the soft hue of a fair cheek, the flash of a bright eye, the
drooping wave of a golden web of hair, the dainty curve of a white
arm on which the sparkle of diamonds gleamed? How was it that he
managed to perceive all this in the leaves of a rose? He could not
tell; and he was angry with himself for his inability to explain the
puzzle. He reminded himself that he had business in Rome--
"business," he repeated sternly to his own conscience,--the chief
part of which was to ascertain from some one of the leading spirits
at the Vatican the view taken by the Papacy of the Ritualistic
movement in England.
"If you can gauge correctly the real feeling, and render it in plain
terms, apart from all conventional or social considerations," wrote
his publisher in a letter which had just reached him--"that is, if
you dare to do so much--and I think you will scarcely hesitate--you
will undoubtedly give great and lasting help to Christian England."
As he read this over for the second or third time he remembered that
he had an appointment with a certain powerful personage, known as
Monsignor Gherardi, that morning at eleven.
"And you," he said, apostrophising the rose with a protesting shake
of his head, "were nearly making me forget it!" He lifted the flower
out of the water and touched it with his lips. "She was a fair
creature,--the woman who wore you last night!"--he said with a smile
as he put it carefully back again in its glass, "In fact, she was
very much like you! But though I notice you have no thorns, I dare
say she has!" He paused a moment, lost in thought, the smile still
giving warmth and light to his features; then with a quick movement
of impatience at his own delaying, threw on his coat and hat and
left the room, saying, "Now for Gherardi!"
Set square and dark against the pale blue of the Italian sky the
Palazzo Sovrani, seen for the first time, suggests a prison rather
than a dwelling house,--a forbidding structure, which though of
unsentient marble, seems visibly to frown into the light, and exhale
from itself a cloud on the clearest day. Its lowest windows, raised
several feet from the ground, and barred across with huge iron
clamps, altogether deprive the would-be inquisitive stranger from
the possibility of peering within,--the monstrous iron gate, richly
wrought with fantastic scroll-work and heraldic emblems raised in
brass, presents so cold and forbidding a front that some of the
youthful ladies who were Angela's friends, were wont to declare that
it gave them a palpitation of the heart to summon up the necessary
courage required to ring the great bell. Within the house there was
much of a similar gloom, save in Angela's own studio, which she had
herself made beautiful with a brightness and lightness found in no
other corner of the vast and stately abode. Her father, Prince
Pietro Sovrani, was of a reserved and taciturn nature,--poor but
intensely proud--and he would suffer no interference by so much as a
word or a suggestion respecting the manner in which he chose to
arrange or to order his household. His wife Gita Bonpre, the only
sister of the good Cardinal, had been the one love of his life,--and
when she died all his happiness had died with her,--his heart was
broken, but he showed nothing of his grief to the outside world,
save that in manner he was more silent and reserved than ever,--more
difficult to deal with,--more dangerous to approach. People knew
well enough that he was poor, but they never dared to mention it,--
though once an English acquaintance, moved by the best intentions in
the world, had suggested that he could make a good deal of money by
having a portion of the Palazzo Sovrani redecorated, and modernized,
to suit the comfort and convenience of travelling millionaires who
might probably be disposed to pay a high rent for it during the
Roman "season." But the proposal was disastrous in its results.
Sovrani had turned upon his adviser like an embodied thunder-cloud.
"When a prince of the House of Sovrani lets out apartments," he
said, "you may ask your English Queen to take in washing!"
And a saturnine smile, accompanied by the frowning bend of his white
fuzzy eyebrows over his flashing black eyes, had produced such a
withering, blistering effect on the soul of the unfortunate
Englishman, whose practical ideas of utility had exceeded his
prudence, that he had scarcely ever dared to look the irate Italian
noble in the face again.
Just now, the Prince was in his library, seated in dignified
uprightness like a king enthroned to give audience, in a huge high-
backed chair, shadowed over by an ancient gilded baldacchino,
listening with a certain amount of grim patience to his daughter's
softly murmured narrative of her stay in Paris. He had received the
Cardinal an hour ago on his arrival, with first, a humble
genuflexion as became a son of the Church, and secondly with a kiss
on both cheeks as became a brother-in-law. The Cardinal's youthful
companion Manual, he had scarcely remarked, even while giving him
welcome. These two had gone to the suite of rooms prepared for the
reception of His Eminence,--but Angela, after hastily changing her
travelling dress, had come down to her father, anxious not only to
give, but to hear news--especially news of Florian Varillo. Prince
Sovrani, however, was not a man given to much social observation,--
nor did he ever break through his half cynical, half gloomy humour,
to detail the gossip of Rome, and he therefore sat more or less
unmoved, while Angela told him all she could think of that would
interest him. At last with a little delicate hesitation, she related
the strange story of Abbe Vergniaud, and added,
"And by this time, I suppose, the Holy Father has been told all!"
"Naturally," said the Prince, with a stern smile moving the hard
muscles of his mouth, "Moretti's love of scandal is as deep as that
of any old woman!--and the joy of excommunicating a soul from the
salvation of the Church must be too exquisite to admit of any delay!
I am sorry for Vergniaud, but I do not think he will suffer much.
These things are scarcely ever noticed in the press nowadays, and it
will only be a very limited circle that even learns of his
excommunication. Nevertheless, I am sorry--one is always sorry for
brave men, even if they are reckless. And the son is Gys Grandit!
Corpo di Bacco! What a denouement!"
He considered it a moment, looking straight before him at the rows
of ancient and musty books that adorned his walls,--then he gave a
"Pesta! I had nearly forgotten! I knew there was a curious thing I
had to tell you, Angela,--but in the hurry of your arrival it had
for the moment escaped my mind . . ."
"About Florian?" asked Angela anxiously.
The Prince bent his brows upon her quizzically.
"Florian! What should I know about Florian? He has not been near me
since you left Rome. I fancy he will not be too attentive a son-in-
law! No, it is not about Florian. It is about your uncle Felix. Have
you heard of this miracle he has performed?"
Angela's eyes opened wide.
"A miracle! What do you mean by a miracle?"
"Santissima Madonna! A miracle is always a miracle," retorted her
father testily, "A something out of the common, and an upsetting of
the ordinary laws of nature. Did your uncle tell you nothing of his
visit to Rouen?"
"Nothing," replied Angela, "Nothing but the story of Manuel."
"Manuel? Who is he?"
"The boy he has with him now. Uncle Felix found him lost at night
near the Cathedral of Rouen, and has taken him under his protection
"Altro! That is nothing!" said her father, "That is only one of
Felix's quixotic ideas. There is no miracle in that. But when a
child is a cripple from babyhood, and our Felix cures him by one
simple prayer, and makes him strong and well again--Gran Dio!--it is
not remarkable that such news creates a stir at the Vatican."
"But it cannot be true!" said Angela surprised, "Uncle Felix never
said a word about it. I am sure he knows nothing whatever of such a
"Ebben! We will ask him presently,"--and the Prince raised himself
stiffly and slowly out of his throne-like chair, "Personally I have
considered Felix above any sort of priestly trickery; but after all,
if he has an ambition for the Papacy, I do not see why he should not
play for it. Others do!"
"Oh, father!" cried Angela, "How can you think such a thing of Uncle
Felix! He is as nearly a saint as any mortal man can be!"
"So I always thought, child--so I always thought!" replied the
Prince, with a vexed air, "But to perform such a miracle of healing
as to cure a child with a twisted spine and bent legs, by the mere
utterance of a prayer!--that is impossible!--impossible! It sounds
like charlatanism--not like Felix!"
As he spoke he straightened himself and stood upright, a tall,
spare, elegant figure of a man,--his dark complexioned face very
much resembling a fine bronze cast of the Emperor Aurelius. Angela
rose too and stood beside him, and his always more or less defiant
eyes slowly softened as he looked at her.
"You grow very like your mother," he said, with just the faintest
tremor in his voice--"Ah, la mia Gita!"
A sigh that was like a groan broke from his lips, and Angela laid
her head caressingly against his breast in silence. He touched her
soft hair tenderly.
"Very like your mother," he repeated, "Very like! But you will leave
me soon, as she has left me,--not for Heaven, no!--but for that
doubtful new life called marriage. It is not doubtful when there is
love--love in both hearts;--and if there is any difference at all,
the love should be greater on the man's side than on the woman's!
Remember that, Angela mia, remember that! The true lover is always
spiritually on his knees before the woman he loves; not only in
passion, but in worship--in reverence!"
"And is not Florian so?" murmured Angela timidly.
"I do not know, child; he may be! Sometimes I think that he loves
himself too much to love YOU as well as you deserve. But we shall
As he spoke a servant entered, carrying an exquisite basket of
flowers, and brought it to Angela who blushed and smiled divinely as
she took it and opened the envelope fastened to its handle and
addressed to her, which contained merely these words,--
"A la mia dolcezza! Con voto d'eterno amore!
"Are they not lovely?" she said, bending over the blossoms tenderly
as though she would have taken them all into her embrace, "Such a
sweet welcome home!"
Her father nodded, but gave no verbal response to her enthusiasm.
Presently he said,
"How about your picture? When will it be finished?"
"A month's work will be enough now," she replied, looking up
"Then it will remain in one of the galleries unsold!" said Sovrani,
with a touch of bitterness in his tone which he could not quell,
"You have chosen too large a canvas. From mere size it is
unsaleable,--for unless it were a marvel of the world no nation
would ever purchase a woman's picture."
Angela's delicate head drooped,--she turned away to hide the tears
that rushed to her eyes. Her father's words were harsh, yet
eminently practical; she knew he did not mean them unkindly, but
that the continual pinch of poverty was sometimes greater than he
could endure with patience. Angela had earned considerable sums of
money by the smaller pictures which had established her name; and
the Prince had bitterly grudged the time she had given to the
enormous canvas which had now remained so long in her studio covered
up, even from his eyes--for he had made up his mind that it was one
of those fantastic dreams of genius, which when they become realised
into the substance of a book or a picture, terrify the timid
conventions of the world so completely as to cause general
"If Raffaelle were alive he would not paint a 'Transfiguration'
now," he was wont to say, "The Church no longer employs great
artists. It keeps its money for speculation purposes. If a Michael
Angelo were in Rome he would find nothing to do."
Which statement was true enough. For the modern Italian loves money
next to his own precious skin, and everything beautiful or sacred is
sacrificed to this insatiable craze. There is no love, no honour, no
patriotism in Italy without careful calculation as to the cost of
indulging in these sentiments,--and what wreck of religion is left
merely panders to the low melodramatic temper of an ignorant
populace. Art is at its lowest ebb, it cannot live without
encouragement and support--and it is difficult for even the most
enthusiastic creator in marble or colour to carry out glorious
conceptions for an inglorious country. But Angela Sovrani--ambitious
Angela,--was not painting for Italy. She was painting for the whole
world. She had dreams of seeing her great picture borne away out of
Rome to Paris, and London, to be gazed upon by thousands who would
take its lesson home to their hearts and lives. Italy was merely a
village in the area of her aspiring mind; but she built her "castles
in the air" alone; and never by so much as the smallest hint allowed
anyone to guess the far reaching scope of her intentions. Truth to
tell, she had obtained very little encouragement during her long
days and months of work, though in the sweetness of her nature she
pleased herself by imagining that Florian Varillo gave her a
complete and perfect sympathy. Yet even with Florian, one or two
casual remarks he had let fall lightly and unthinkingly, had vaguely
startled her, and set her wondering, "Perhaps he does not think much
of my abilities after all"--and had caused her for once to be
closely reserved upon the subject and treatment of her work, and to
refuse a glimpse of it even to him who was her elect Beloved. She
had thought he would perhaps have been pained at this inviolate
secrecy on her part,--she had feared he might take offence at
finding the doors of her studio always locked,--but on the contrary
he appeared quite amused at her uncommunicative humour, and jested
about it as if she were a little child playing in a dark corner at
some forbidden game. She was somewhat surprised at this,--the more
so as he frequently spoke of the importance of his own pictures for
the Roman "Art Season,"--pictures to which he really gave the
attentive discussion and consideration a man always bestows on
matters of his personal business--but often when Angela's work was
spoken of, he smiled with a kindly tolerance, as one who should say,
"Dear girl! How sweetly she embroiders her simple sampler!" And yet
again, he never failed, when asked about it in Angela's presence, to
say that he was "sure Donna Sovrani would astonish the world by what
she was doing!" So that one never quite knew where to have him, his
nature being that curious compound of obsequious servility and
intense self-love which so often distinguishes the Italian
temperament. Angela however put every shadow of either wonder or
doubt as to his views, entirely aside,--and worked on with an
earnest hand and trusting heart, faithfully and with a grand
patience and self-control seldom found either in masculine or
feminine heroes. Sometimes her spirit sank a little, as now, when
her father told her that her picture would remain unsold in one of
the galleries--but all the same, some force within her urged her to
go on with her intention steadily, and leave all results to God. And
the tears that had sprung to her eyes at the smart of old Sovrani's
rough speech, soon returned to their source; and she was quite her
composed sweet self again when her uncle the Cardinal, accompanied
by Manuel, entered the room, holding an open letter in his hand, and
looking strangely agitated.
"Brother, here is a matter which I cannot possibly understand," he
said, "Monsignor Gherardi writes here to congratulate me upon a
miracle I have worked in Rouen!--and summons me at once to the
presence of His Holiness! What can it mean? I have performed no
miracle! Surely some jest is being played with me,--and one most
unbecoming to a man of Gherardi's position and influence!"
Prince Sovrani took the letter from Bonpre's hand and read it in
"Yes--I have heard about it already," he said, "And if you indeed
know nothing, it is strange! But can you not remember--is there no
clue to such a report? Were there no sick children brought to
you . . . ?"
"Oh, for that," answered the Cardinal quickly, "a little boy named
Fabien Doucet, was brought to me by the children of an inn-keeper of
the Hotel Poitiers where I stayed two nights, and to grant their
wishes, (and also because it is my duty to do what I can for the
suffering and the afflicted), I laid my hands upon him and prayed to
our Lord that he might be healed."
"Ebbene! Our Lord has then healed him," said Sovrani drily, "It is
remarkable!--but if the cure is truly accomplished, we shall have to
admit that the Deity does sometimes pay attention to our many
prayers, though for the most part they appear to fall upon a deaf,
dumb, and irresponsive Silence."
The Cardinal sat down, wearily resting his head on his hand.
"I do not like it!" he said, "It is altogether amazing to me; it
seems like a snare set to catch my soul! For I have no power to
perform miracles . . . I can only pray."
"And why should not your prayer be answered?" asked Manuel suddenly.
They had all forgotten the boy's presence in the room, and his voice
startled them. His young face was pale, yet tranquil--and the deep
tenderness that always dwelt in his eyes seemed deeper and softer at
this moment than ever.
"Truly I do not see why," said Prince Sovrani, bending his fierce
regard full on the lad as he spoke, and beginning to wonder like the
rest at his fairness and beauty, "Only as a rule, fanciuollo mio--
prayer is mere waste of breath--a demand without supply."
"Is that not perhaps the fault of the person who prays?" said
Manuel, "May that person not lack faith and pure intention? May he
not even be too self-absorbed to lift his soul high enough for an
approach to God? When the disciples were vexed that they could not
cure a child that was afflicted, and saw that their Master healed
that child at once, they asked why they were unable to do what He
did. And He told them plainly, 'Because of your unbelief. For verily
I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed ye shall
say unto this mountain, remove from yonder place, and it shall
remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you.' And I am sure that
my lord the Cardinal's faith is greater than a grain of mustard
They were all silent. Cardinal Bonpre turned his eyes thoughtfully
on the young speaker
"You were with me, child, when the little cripple sat on my knee and
held my crucifix," he said in a low tone, "You saw--you heard all.
What did I do?--what did I say?"
"You held him in your arms, even as Christ took little children in
His arms and blessed them," replied Manuel, "And you prayed--and in
your prayer you said--'King and Master of all such children, even as
Thou wert a child Thyself, be pleased to heal him of his sad
infirmity. For if Thou wilt, Thou canst make this bent body
straight, and these withered muscles strong,--from death itself Thou
canst ordain life, and nothing is impossible unto Thee!'"
There was a pause. Then Manuel added,--
"That is what you said, my lord Cardinal;--and when the child went
away, you told him that if the giving of your own life could make
him strong, he should have that life willingly. Some people might
say that without meaning it,--but you meant what you said,--every
word came straight from your heart. And should it then surprise you
that God has granted your prayer?"
Prince Sovrani listened to the dulcet young voice with a strange
emotion. Something holy and convincing seemed to emanate from the
boy's very presence, and though he, as became a modern Italian, was
thoroughly sceptical and atheistical, and would have willingly
argued against the very words of Christ as written in the Gospel,
some curious hesitation that was almost shamefacedness held him
silent. But the Cardinal was even more strongly moved. The earnest
spirit of truth with which Manuel appeared always to be environed,--
his simple and straight enunciation of the old, oft-quoted phrases
used by the Divine Saviour of the world,--and then his unfaltering
memory of the simple prayer that had been said for the comfort of
the unfortunate little Fabien Doucet, together with this strange and
unexpected announcement of the child's miraculous cure,--these
things rushed over the mind of the good Bonpre like an overwhelming
flood, and confused his brain--strange half-formed thoughts occurred
to him that he dared not express, chief among which was a vague, a
terrifying idea that the young boy beside him who spoke so sweetly,
and almost so commandingly, must surely be an Angel! Strange legends
of the Church began to recur to him;--legends of old-time when
angels had descended to walk with priests in their monastic
seclusion, and instruct them as to the value of time, as in the
"Legend Beautiful," when the monk Felix, being perplexed by the
phrase "a day with God is as a thousand years," went to sleep in a
garden, soothed by the singing of the birds at sunset, and woke up
to find that in his slumber a century had rolled away! All manner of
fantastic notions swept in upon him, and he grew suddenly blind and
dizzy--rising from his chair totteringly he extended his hands--then
suddenly sank back again in a dead faint. Sovrani caught him as he
fell--and Angela ran for water, and tenderly bathed his forehead
while Manuel took his hand and held it fast.
"Too long a journey, and too much excitement!" said the Prince,--
"Our Felix is growing old,--he cannot stand fatigue. He is failing
"Oh, no," said Manuel brightly, "He is not failing! He is younger by
far than he seems! He is too strong to fail!"
And as he spoke the Cardinal opened his eyes and smiled with an
expression of perfect rapture.
"Why, what has ailed me?" he enquired, looking at Angela's anxious
face, "I had but gone for a moment into the presence of my Lord!"
Here he paused, and then gradually recovering himself entirely, sat
"All is well with me!" he said, pressing the hand of Manuel in his
own, and releasing it again, "Do not fret, Angela,--it was the
merest passing faintness. Forgive me, brother, for alarming you thus
foolishly! As for the letter from the Vatican concerning this
miracle, I must needs present myself before His Holiness and assure
him that I know nothing of it,--that I did no more than pray--that I
left the crippled child still crippled--and that if indeed it be
true he is healed, it is by the merciful act of God and--the
intervention of our Lord and Saviour Christ, to Whom be all the
praise and glory!"
He rose up again from his chair and stood full height,--a grand and
beautiful figure of noble old age, transfigured by the light of some
never-aging thought, some glorious inspiration. And Angela, who had
been startled and alarmed by his sudden fainting fit, was even more
overcome by the sight of him thus radiant and selfpossessed, and
dropping on her knees she caught his hand and kissed it, her tears
falling fast. He stooped and raised her.
"Child, why are you weeping?" he said tenderly, "Nay, I am not so
ill as you think me! I am well--strong!--ready for the doing of many
things in my Master's service! Pietro, take this dear girl and
comfort her!" and he put her gently into her father's arms,--"For
myself, I have work to do--work to do!--" he repeated musingly,--"I
see trouble ahead!--but I shall face it--and if God please--overcome
it!" His, eyes flashed, and after a moment he resumed, "I will write
to Gherardi now--and to-morrow--to-morrow I will speak!"
"Can I help you, brother?" asked the Prince, taken out of himself by
the air of splendour and sovereignty which seemed to surround the
Cardinal as with a divine halo, "You are fatigued with your
journey,--let me write for you!"
"No, Pietro! I must do this myself, and think well of all I should
say." He paused, then added, "They tell me Claude Cazeau, secretary
to the Archbishop of Rouen brought the news of this so-called
miracle to Rome. I should have liked to have seen that man to-
"You will see him at the Vatican," said Sovrani. with a touch of
irony, "That will be time enough! Oh, innocent Felix! Do you not see
you will be confronted with Cazeau? And that Gherardi and his set
will be there to note your every look and gesture, and privately
judge as to whether you and the Archbishop of Rouen concocted the
miracle between you! And that if you were to see this Cazeau to-
night, that very meeting would be taken as a sign of conspiracy!"
Over the pale features of the Cardinal rushed a warm glow of
indignation, but it died away as rapidly as it had come.
"True!" he said simply, "I forgot! If a good deed is done in the
world by the force of the undefined Spirit of Christ, it is judged
as trickery,--and we must never forget that even the Resurrection of
our Blessed Lord from the dead is believed by some to be a mere
matter of conspiracy among His disciples. True--I forgot the
blindness,--the melancholy blindness of the world! But we must
always say, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!' I
will write to Gherardi,--and,--if you will permit me, I will remain
in my own rooms tonight for I must think and pray,--I must be
alone . . ."
"Without me, my lord Cardinal?" asked Manuel softly.
"No, not without you!" and Bonpre looked at him with a smile, "Not
without you! I have no wish to be so much alone as your absence
would make me. Come!"
And lifting the heavy velvet portiere at the door, he held it back
for his "foundling" to pass,--and then slowly followed.
On the first floor of an ancient mansion, in a street which slopes
down towards the Tiber, there is a suite of dreary old rooms which
must evidently have once belonged to some great "Prince of the
Church", (to use the term which Cardinal Bonpre held so much in
aversion,) if one may form any opinion from the ecclesiastical
designs on the faded green hangings, which cling like moss to the
damp walls, and give an additional melancholy to the general gloom
The "salon" or audience-chamber is perhaps the best in repair, and
possesses a gorgeous, painted ceiling, bordered by a frieze of red
and gold, together with one or two large pictures, which perhaps if
cleaned might show the touch of some great Master, but which in
their sad condition of long neglect, present nothing to the view but
a dark blur of indistinct outlines. The rooms in their entirety
composed the business, or town dwelling of Monsignor Gherardi, one
of the cleverest, most astute, and most unscrupulous of men, to whom
Religion was nothing more than a means of making money and gaining
power. There was scarcely a Roman Catholic "community" in the world,
in which Gherardi had not a share,--and he was particularly
concerned in "miraculous shrines", which were to him exactly in the
same category as "companies" are to the speculator on the Stock
Exchange. He had been cautious, prudent, and calculating from his
earliest years,--from the time when, as the last male scion of the
house of Gherardi he had been educated for the Ecclesiastical career
at the "College of Nobles". He had read widely, and no religious or
social movement took place anywhere without his knowing of it and
admitting it into his calculations as a sort of new figure in his
barking sum. He was an extensive shareholder in the "Lourdes"
business; and a careful speculator in all the religious frenzies of
the uneducated and superstitious. His career had been very
successful so far. He had amassed a considerable fortune; and away
out towards Frascati he had a superb Villa, furnished with every
modern luxury and convenience, (not rented in his own name, but in
that of a man whom he paid heavily to serve him as his tool and
menial,)--where a beautiful Neapolitan danseuse condescended to live
as his mistress;--he was a diplomat for himself if not for his
country, and kept his finger on the pulse of European politics as
well as on the fluctuating fevers of new creeds. But he never
troubled himself seriously as to the possible growth of any
"movement", or "society", or "crusade"; as experience had taught him
that no matter how ardently thinkers may propound theories, and
enthusiasts support them, there is always a dense and steady wave of
opposition surging against everything new,--and that few can be
found whose patience will hold out sufficiently long to enable them
to meet and ride over that wet wall of dull resistance.
Monsignor Gherardi was a most useful man at the Vatican, as he never
failed to comfort the Pope whenever that Holy Personage was cast
down or afraid of brooding disasters. When the Representative of the
ever-merciful Christ ventured to give it out as his Christian
opinion that the unhappy and maltreated Dreyfus would be found
guilty Monsignor Gherardi smilingly agreed with him. When His
Holiness denounced Freemasonry as a wicked association, formed for
atheistical and revolutionary purposes, Gherardi, though he knew
well enough that it was a fraternity formed for the mutual help and
sustainment of its members, denounced it too;--in the gardens of the
Vatican, but not elsewhere. There was nothing really either in the
way of Freemasonry or other sort of "society", that he was afraid
of;--no anxiety whatever troubled his mind, except the possibility
of losing money by some incautious speculation. In appearance he was
an exceedingly handsome man,--tall, with a fine figure and
commanding features,--physical advantages which greatly helped him
to enforce his spiritual authority. As he sat in his high-backed,
gilded chair, turning over papers on his desk, docketing this and
marking that for reference, his dark eyes sparkling with avidity as
he counted up certain dividends obtained from mysterious shares in
"miracle" health resorts, and a smile of satisfaction playing on the
firm, well-shaped curve of his intellectual but hard mouth, he
looked an imposing personage enough, of the very type to awe the
weak and timorous. He was much entertained on this particular
morning,--one might almost say he was greatly amused. Quite a
humorous little comedy was being played at the Vatican,--a mock-
solemn farce, which had the possibility of ending in serious
disaster to the innocent,--and he, as a student of the wily and
treacherous side of human nature, was rather interested in its
development. Cardinal Felix Bonpre, a man living far away in an
obscure cathedral-town of France, where he had become renowned for
good works and saintly living, had now, after many years, come out
of his long voluntary retirement, and had performed a miracle!
"And very well done too!" murmured Monsignor Gherardi, smiling to
himself, "Well prepared, well thought out, and successfully
accomplished! Our good Felix is much cleverer than I gave him credit
for. First, he wins a renown for good works,--then he starts
travelling toward Rome, the Mother of our Faith,--and on his way to
the sacred city performs a miraculous cure! An excellent move! I see
a possibility of making the Cathedral of Rouen a popular shrine for
healing. Yes, much can be done there! Only I am sorry that Felix has
made a little mistake in Paris--just a little mistake!--in that
matter of Vergniaud. And it is exceedingly unfortunate that the son
should turn out to be Gys Grandit. No wonder the Holy Father is
troubled;--no wonder! It is a little drama of the age, and will no
doubt prove complex in its movement, and worth watching." Here his
smile broadened,--and his eyes glittered more keenly than ever
"Yes!--it will be an excitement; and one wants a little excitement
now and then in the general monotony. Since Agostino preached,--"
here he paused, and a dark contraction knitted his brows,--"Let me
see!--this morning, yes!--this morning I receive the English
socialist Aubrey Leigh."
He turned in his chair, and glanced at the dial of a huge ticking
clock behind him, and saw that the hands were close on the appointed
hour of eleven. His smile slowly disappeared, and vanished
altogether in a heavy frown. "A dangerous man! I do not like his
book--it is written in melodramatic style, with heat and with
enthusiasm, and will attract the vulgar. He must be suppressed--but
He rose and paced the room slowly, his long white hands clasped
behind his back, and the frown on his brows deepened;--how suppress
a man who had announced himself as free of every Church and Creed,
and who was resolved to stand by the moral ethics of Christ only? A
man who desired nothing for himself, not even money;--"But stop!"
thought Gherardi,--"that is absurd! Every man wants money! Every man
must have it, and the more he has, the more he seeks. There is no
one in the world who cannot be bought or bribed!"
At that moment the green hangings of the door were lifted, and the
Italian man-servant announced,--
"Il Signor Aubri Lee!"
Gherardi, who in his pacing to and fro had reached the window,
wheeled round abruptly and faced his entering visitor. The light
fell aslant upon his stately figure as he drew himself up to his
full height, and greeted Leigh with a suavely condescending bow and
smile, while Aubrey in turn glanced him up and down with a
pleasurable consciousness of his intellectual appearance, and
evident combative temperament.
"You are welcome, Mr. Leigh," said Gherardi, speaking English with a
fluency of which he was pardonably proud, "Your letter from Florence
received my instant attention, and as you see, I have made it a
point to receive you at once--in spite of pressing business. Yes,--
in spite of pressing business! I confess I have been curious to see
the writer who has made himself so obnoxious to our dear friends and
brothers, the English clergy!"
A smile that was brilliant, but which conveyed no meaning whatever,
illumined his features; but for all reply to these words Aubrey
simply bowed and remained silent. Gherardi glanced at him sharply.
Was he intimidated already?--overawed at being in the presence of
one who was known to be a friend and confidant of the Pope? No--
there was nothing of fear or embarrassment in the composed attitude,
proud manner, and reserved expression of this slim, muscular man,
with the bright hair and keen eyes,--and Gherardi dropped his tone
of patronage for one of courtesy.
"Pray sit down!" he said, "I understand that you wish to obtain a
private audience of the Holy Father. That of course is impossible!"
Aubrey drew a chair slowly towards the desk where Gherardi had
resumed his own usual seat, and raised his eyes with a curious look
of half satirical questioning.
"Impossible!" he said, "And why?"
Gherardi almost laughed.
"Why? My dear sir, is it necessary to ask? Your name is sufficiently
well-known! and--I am sorry to tell you so,--but it is quite as
unpleasant at the Vatican as that of Gys Grandit!"
"Gys Grandit is a friend of mine," responded Aubrey composedly, "In
fact, I may almost say he is my disciple. I found him working in the
fields as a little peasant lad,--the love child, or 'bastard,' to
put it roughly, of some priest whose name he never told me. He was
helping to earn daily bread for his deserted mother whose maiden
name he then bore; and I helped to train his evident genius in the
way it has since developed."
"I cannot congratulate you on your pupil!" said Gherardi, smiling
coldly, "The offspring of a priest's sin is not likely to do the
world any credit. The son of the renegade Abbe Vergniaud may become
notorious, but never famous!"
Aubrey Leigh started up from his chair doubting whether he had heard
"The son of Abbe Vergniaud!" he exclaimed, "Is it possible! No, you
must surely be mistaken!--I know the Abbe,--I saw him in Paris but a
"Indeed! Well, since that time strange things have happened," said
Gherardi, still preserving his calm inscrutability of demeanour, "We
have had our news from Monsignor Moretti, an envoy of ours in Paris,
on secret service. To put it briefly,--Vergniaud, for no particular
cause whatever, save perhaps the idea--(which may be only an idea)--
that he is going to die soon, has made a public confession of his
twenty-five-year-old crime and hypocrisy, in a blasphemous address
preached from the pulpit of Notre Dame de Lorette. The son, known to
the world as Gys Grandit, was present in the church, and fired a
pistol shot at his father, hoping to murder him,--then came the
theatrical denouement of the whole scene;--the Abbe ordered the
gendarmes to release the assassin, pronouncing him to be his son.
And finally--the saddest incident of all--there took place the
mutual pardon and reconciliation of both parties in the presence of
one of our most respected and beloved Princes of the Church,
Cardinal Felix Bonpre, whose grave error in this matter is causing
poignant and loving sorrow to the Holy Father!"
A curious expression began to appear in the delicate lines of
Aubrey's face--an expression which some of his London audiences knew
so well, and which generally meant war.
"You surprise me, Monsignor," he said in quiet accents,--"Events
move quickly, I know, in a quickly moving age,--still your news is
entirely unexpected. I never knew till now who the father of my
friend Gys Grandit was;--but now that I do know I think the public
confession you tell me of, was the only fitting reparation such a
man as the Abbe could make to the dead woman who was his wife in the
sight of God, as well as to his living son, and the public
generally. I never quite liked or trusted the Abbe; but if all this
be true, he has risen a hundred per cent, in my opinion! As for
Cardinal Bonpre, one of the noblest and purest of men, you surely
cannot be in earnest when you speak of his having committed a grave
"You know the Cardinal?" asked Gherardi evading the question.
"I was presented to him in Paris the day before I left for
Florence," replied Aubrey, "at the studio of his niece, Donna Angela
"Ah!" and Gherardi balanced a paper-knife lightly on the point of
his long forefinger, "An unpleasant woman that! One of the female
'geniuses' who presume nowadays to compete with men in art and
"In Donna Sovrani's case there can be no question of competition,"
answered Leigh quietly, "She is by far and away the best artist of
"You think so? Very good, very good!" and Gherardi laughed a little,
"You are very chivalrous! You have a touch of the American in you,
have you not?--there is a tendency in the men of the New World to be
always on their knees before women. Strange, very strange!"
"We begin our lives in that way," replied Leigh, "We kneel to our
A slight flush reddened Gherardi's yellow paleness, but he kept his
smile well in evidence.
"Charmingly expressed--very charmingly!" he said suavely, "And so
you have met our dear St. Felix! Well, well! And did he tell you all
about the wonderful miracle he performed at Rouen?"
A cloud of surprise intermingled with contempt darkened Leigh's
"Never!" he said emphatically, "I should not have thought so much of
him if he had laid any claim to such a pretence!"
Gherardi laughed again softly.
"What a pity," he observed, "What a pity you clever heretics are so
violent! You think the power of the Church is a decaying one, and
that our Lord has ceased to supply its ministers with the Spirit of
Grace and the powers of healing? But this is where you are mistaken!
The Church--the Roman Church--remains as it always was and always
will be; impregnable!--the source of inspiration, the seat of
miracle, the only clue and road to everlasting life! And as for its
power--" here he closed his hand and dropped it on the table with a
silent force which was strangely expressive, "its power is
immeasurable! It reaches out in every direction--it grasps--it
holds,--it keeps! Why will you and your co-workers 'kick' like St.
Paul 'against the pricks'? It is quite useless! The Church is too
strong for any one of you--aye, and for any army of you! Do you not
hear the divine Voice from heaven calling daily in your ears, 'Why
persecutest thou Me?'"
"Yes," answered Aubrey deliberately, "I hear that every time I enter
a church! I hear it every time I see an ordained priest or minister
of the Gospel misusing his time in construing to his own purposes
the classic simplicity of Christ's doctrine. In some places of
worship, such as the tawdry church of the 'Annunziata' in Florence
that protest seems to reach its climax. When one sees the unwashen
priests expectorating every five minutes or so [Footnote: A fact] on
the very altars where they perform Mass;--when one notes the dirt,
the neglect, the gim-crackery;--the sickening and barbarous
superstition everywhere offered as being representative of sublime
Deity,--the Force which has raised the heaven above us with its
endless star-patterns of living universe,--then the cry of 'Why
persecutest thou Me?' seems to roll through the arches like the
thunder which sometimes precedes a general earthquake!"
Leigh's clear penetrating voice, artistically modulated to the
perfectly musical expression of thought, was not without its usual
effect, even on a mind so callous as that of Gherardi. He moved
uneasily in his chair,--he was inwardly fuming with indignation, and
for one moment was inclined to assume the melodramatic pose of the
irate Churchman, and to make himself into the figure of an approved
"stage" dignitary of religion, with out stretched arm, menacing
eyes, and words that were as darts to wound and sting. But looking
under his eye lids at the cold, half satirical tranquillity of
Aubrey's pale clear-cut features, he felt that any attempt at
"acting" his part would be seen through in a second by a man who was
so terribly in earnest. So with a benevolent and regretful air, he
"Yes!--no doubt things appear to you as they do not appear to us.
The spirit of faith enables us to see through all unsatisfactory
outward forms and ceremonies, to the actual divine mysteries which
they symbolise;--and heretics perceive incongruities, where we, by
the grace of God, see nothing but harmony! And though you, Mr.
Leigh, receive the information with incredulity and a somewhat
blameable indifference, it is a matter of rejoicing to us that
Cardinal Bonpre has performed this miracle of healing at Rouen. It
would have raised him to a very high place indeed in the Holy
Father's estimation, had it not been for the strange mistake he has
unfortunately made with respect to the Abbe Vergniaud."
"One may cure a sick person then, but one must not pardon a sinner?"
suggested Aubrey, "'For whether is it easier to say, Thy sins be
forgiven thee;' or 'Arise and walk?' The one is considered a
miracle;--the other a mistake!"
Gherardi's cold eyes glittered.
"We will not go into the technicalities of the question," he said
frigidly, "We will return to the point from whence we diverged. Your
wish expressed in this letter," and he drew one from a packet on the
table and glanced it over in a business-like way, "was to obtain a
private audience from the Pope. I repeat that to a mere civilian and
socialistic writer like yourself, that is impossible!"
Aubrey sat unmoved.
"I suppose if I were a prince of the blood-royal I should not be
refused an audience?" he said.
Gherardi's thick dark eyebrows went up with a movement of surprise
at such an irrational remark.
"That would make a difference certainly," he answered smiling, "The
claims of diplomacy have to be considered!"
"If a prince of the blood-royal whose private life was a scandal to
the world"--went on Aubrey, "who was guilty of every vice known in
the calendar,--who was neither intelligent nor sympathetic,--whose
whole career was one of self and self-indulgence,--I say if he were
to seek a private audience of the man who is declared to be the
representative of Christ in Christendom, he would obtain it! On the
other hand, if a man who had denied himself every personal
gratification, and had sacrificed his whole life in working for his
fellow men, and to the following of the teachings of the Gospel as
far as it was possible,--but who yet had got no further in world's
wealth than to be earning from his writings a few hundreds a year,
he could NOT be received! Monsignor, this may be diplomacy, but it
is not Christianity!"
"I cannot enter into these matters with you--" began Gherardi
"No, you cannot, because you dare not!" said Aubrey boldly. "Man,
you are not a Christian! Why pretend to be one? Is it not time you
left off feigning what you do not feel? Is it not preposterous that
you, at your years, should consent to make your life a lie in the
face of Omnipresent Deity?"
Gherardi rose up pale and trembling.
"Mr. Leigh, if you have come here to insult me--"
"Insult you!" echoed Aubrey, "Not I! I would make a man of you if I
could,--but that is too late! You are a witness of imposture and a
supporter of it,--and we are none of us worthy to be called men if
we do either of these two things. You know as well as I do, that
there is no representative of the blameless Christ at the Vatican,--
you know there is only a poor weak old man, whose mind is swayed by
the crafty counsels of the self-seeking flatterers around him, and
who passes his leisure hours in counting up money, and inventing new
means of gaining it through forms of things that should be spiritual
and divine. If you BELIEVE Christ was God Incarnate, how dare you
tamper with such a Supernal Mystery?"
Gherardi turned his head slowly and looked round at Aubrey,--then
recovering his composure, sat down and pretended to turn over some
documents on the table, but Aubrey went on undeterred by his aspect
of frigidity, "How dare you, I say? The God in Man! Do you realize
the stupendous meaning of such a phrase? Do you not see that it
means A DIVINE LIFE PALPITATING THROUGH EVERY ATOM OF CREATION? A
Force so great, so pure and majestic, so absolute in Its working for
good, and yet so deliberate in Its movements that It will give Its
creature Man whole centuries of chance to find and save his own soul
before utterly destroying him? What has this sublime Power in common
with the Pope, who shuts himself up in his palace, a voluntary
prisoner, all forsooth because he is denied temporal power! Temporal
power! What is temporal power compared to spiritual power! If he
were the true representative of Christ he would move the world by
deeds of benevolence, goodness, and sanctity! In such a case as that
of the unhappy Dreyfus for instance, he would have issued a solemn
warning and earnest reproach to the French nation for their
misguided cruelty;--he would have travelled himself to Rennes to use
his personal influence in obtaining an innocent man's release with
honour! That would have been Christian! That would have been a
magnificent example to the world! But what did he do? Shut
comfortably up in his luxurious palace where no harm could touch
him, where no crucifixion of the heart or soul could torture him, he
announced to his myrmidons his opinion that the wretched martyr
would be found guilty! And who can tell but that his utterance thus
unchristianly proclaimed did not help to sway the minds of the
Rennes Court-martial? Again, why are there so many poor in Italy? If
the Pope were the father indeed of those who are immediately around
him, the land should be like the fabled Paradise, flowing with milk
and honey. The Vatican is full of money and jewels. 'Sell half that
thou hast and give to the poor,' was the command of Christ.--Does
the Pope do that? Why does he not go out among the people and work
in active sympathy with them? Christ did so! Christ was never borne
with solemn flourish of trumpets like a mummy in a chair, under
canopies of cloth of gold, to give a blessing to a crowd who had got
admission to see him by paid ticket! Man, man! The theatrical
jugglery of Rome is a blasphemy in the sight of heaven;--and most
truly did St. John declare this city, throned on its seven hills, to
be, 'MYSTERY, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.'
And most clearly does God say at this period of our time, 'Come out
of her My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye
receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven,
and God hath remembered her iniquities!' The days of evil are
drawing to an end; Rome must fall!"
Gherardi's breath came and went quickly,--but he kept up the outward
appearance of cold composure.
"You rant very well, Mr. Leigh!" he said, "You would make an
excellent Hyde Park orator! You have all the qualities which attract
the vulgar; but we--we of the Church know quite well how to deal
with men of your class,--their denunciations do not affect us at
all. They amuse us occasionally; and sometimes they pain us, for
naturally we grieve for the backslidings of refractory brethren. We
regret the clamourings of ignorance which arise from a strong
personal desire for notoriety. That passage in the Revelation of St.
John, has been quoted scores of times as being applicable to Rome,
though as a matter of fact it distinctly mentions Babylon." Here he
smiled suavely. "And thanks to the workings of an All-wise
Influence, Rome was never more powerful than she is at the present
moment. Her ramifications are everywhere; and in England she has
obtained a firm footing. Your good English Queen has never uttered
one word of reproach against the spread of our Holy Religion among
her subjects! Our prayers for the conversion of England will yet be
"Not while I live!" said Aubrey firmly, "Not while I can hold back
but a handful from such a disaster, and that handful shall hold back
yet another handful! The hand of Roman priestcraft shall never weigh
on England while there are any honest men left in it! The conversion
of England! The retrogression of England! Do you think such a thing
is likely to happen because a few misguided clerics choose to appeal
to the silly sentimentality of hysterical women with such church
tricks and rags of paganism as incense and candles! Bah! Do not
judge the English inward heart by its small outward follies,
Monsignor! There are more honest, brave, and sensible folk in the
British Islands than you think. And though our foreign foes desire
our fall, the seed of THEIR decay is not yet in us!"
Gherardi sat for two or three minutes in absolute silence. Only the
twitching of his eyelids and a slight throbbing in the muscles of
his throat showed with what difficulty he suppressed his rising
fury. But his astute and crafty powers of reasoning taught him that
it would be worse than ridiculous to give way to anger in the
presence of this cool, determined man, who, though he spoke with a
passion which from its very force seemed almost to sound like "the
mighty wind" which accompanied the cloven tongues of fire at the
first Pentecost, still maintained his personal calm,--that immovable
calmness which is always the result of strong inward conviction. A
dangerous man!--yes, there was no doubt of that! He was one of those
concerning whom Emerson wrote, "let the world beware when a Thinker
comes into it." Aubrey Leigh was a thinker,--and more than that, he
was a doer. He was of the strong heroic type of genius that turns
its dreams into facts, its thoughts into deeds. He did not talk, in
common with so many men, of what they considered OUGHT to be done,
without exerting themselves to DO it;--he was sincerely in earnest,
and cared nothing for any personal loss or inconvenience he might
suffer from carrying out his intentions. And Gherardi saw that there
was little or no possibility of moving such a man from the firm
ground of truth which he had elected to stand on. There is nothing
so inconvenient in this world as an absolutely truthful person, who
can both speak and write, and has the courage of his convictions.
One can always arrange matters with liars, because they, being
hampered by their own deceits, are compelled to study ways, means,
and chances for appearing honest. But with the man or woman who
holds truth dearer than life, and honour more valuable than
advancement, there is nothing to be done, now that governments
cannot insist on the hemlock-cure, as in the case of Socrates.
Gherardi, looking furtively under his eyelids at Leigh's strong
lithe figure, and classic head, felt he could have willingly
poisoned or stabbed him. For there were, and ARE great interests at
stake in the so-called "conversion of England,"--it is truly one of
the largest financial schemes ever set afloat in the world, if those
whose duty it is to influence and control events could only be
brought to see the practical side of the matter, and set a check on
its advancement before it is too late. Gherardi knew what great
opportunities there were in embryo of making large fortunes;--and
not only of making large fortunes but of obtaining incredible power.
There was a great plan afoot of drawing American and English wealth
into the big Church-net through the medium of superstitious fear and
sentimental bigotry,--and an opposer and enemy like Aubrey Leigh,
physically handsome, with such powers of oratory as are only granted
to the very few, was capable of influencing women as well as men--
and women, as Gherardi well recognised, are the chief supporters of
the Papal system. Uneasily he thought of a certain wealthy American
heiress whom he had persuaded into thinking herself specially
favoured and watched over by the Virgin Mary, and who, overcome by
the strong imaginary consciousness of this heavenly protection, had
signed away in her will a million of pounds sterling to a particular
"shrine" in which he had the largest share of financial profit. Now,
suppose she should chance to come within the radius of Leigh's
attractive personality and teaching, and revoke this bequest? Deeply
incensed he sat considering, yet he was conscious enough of his own
impotency to persuade or move this man a jot.