Part 7 out of 13
"I am very sorry," he said at last without raising his eyes, and
carefully preserving an equable and mild tone of voice, "I am sorry
you are so harsh in your judgments, Mr. Leigh;--and still more sorry
that you appear to be bent on opposing the Roman Catholic movement
in England. I will do you the justice to believe that you are moved
by a sincere though erroneous conviction,--and it is out of pure
kindness and interest in you that I warn you how useless you will
find the task in which you have engaged. The force of Rome is
impregnable!--the interpretation of the Gospel by the Pope
infallible. Any man, no matter how gifted with eloquence, or moved
by what he imagines to be truth-(and alas! how often error is
mistaken for truth and truth for error!)--must be crushed in the
endeavour to cope with such a divinely ordained power."
"The Car of Juggernaut was considered to be divinely ordained," said
Aubrey, "And the wretched and ignorant populace flung themselves
under it in the fit of hysterical mania to which they were excited
by the priests of the god, and so perished in their thousands. Not
THEY were to blame; but the men who invented the imposture and
encouraged the slaughter. THEY had an ideal;--the priests had none!
But Juggernaut had its end--and so will Rome!"
"You call yourself a Christian?" asked Gherardi, with a touch of
"Most assuredly I do," replied Aubrey, "Most assuredly I am! I love
and honour Christ with every fibre of my being. I long to see that
Divine Splendour of the ages stand out white and shining and free
from the mud and slime with which His priests have bespattered Him.
I believe in Him absolutely! But I can find nowhere in His Gospel
that He wished us to turn Religion into a sort of stock-jobbing
company managed by sacerdotal directors in Rome!"
"What do you know about the 'sacerdotal directors' as you call them,
of Rome?" asked Gherardi slowly, his eyes narrowing at the corners,
and his whole countenance expressing ineffable disdain, "Do you
think we give out the complex and necessary workings of our sacred
business to the uneducated public?"
"No, I do not," replied Aubrey, "For you keep the public in the dark
as much as you can. Your methods of action are precisely those of
the priests of ancient Egypt, who juggled with what they were
pleased to call their sacred 'mysteries' in precisely the same way
as you do. Race copies race. Roman Christianity is grafted upon
Roman Paganism. When the Apostles were all dead, and their
successors (who had never been in personal touch with Christ) came
on to the scene of action, they discovered that the people of Rome
would not do without the worship of woman in their creed, so they
cleverly substituted the Virgin Mary for Venus and Diana. They
turned the statues of gods and heroes into figures of Apostles and
Saints. They knew it would be unwise to deprive the populace of what
they had been so long accustomed to, and therefore they left them
their swinging censers, their gold chalices, and their symbolic
candles. Thus it is that Roman Catholicism became, and is still,
merely a Christian form of Paganism which is made to pay
successfully, just as the feasts and Saturnalia of ancient days were
made to pay as spectacular and theatrical pastimes. I should not
blame your Church if it declared itself to be an offshoot of
Paganism at once,--Paganism, or any other form of faith, deserves
respect as long as its priests and followers are sincere; but when
their belief is a mere pretence, and their system degenerates into a
scheme of making money out of the fond faiths of the ignorant, then
I consider it is time to protest against such blasphemy in the
presence of God and all things divine and spiritual!"
Gherardi had listened to these words very quietly, his countenance
gradually relaxing and smoothing into an amiable expression of
forbearance. He looked up now at Aubrey with a smile that was almost
"You are quite right, Mr. Leigh!" he said gently, "I begin to
understand you now! I see that you have studied deeply, and you have
thought still more. If you will continue your studies and your
thinking also, you will see how difficult it is for us to move as
rapidly with the times as you would have us do. You must remember
that it would be quite possible for Holy Mother Church to rise at
once to the high scientific and psychical position you wish her to
adopt, if it were not for the mass of the ignorant, with whom one
must have patience! You are a man in the prime of life--you are
zealous--eager for improvement,--yes!--all that is very admirable
and praiseworthy. But you forget the numerous and widely differing
interests with which we of the Church have to deal. For the great
majority of persons it would be useless, for example, to give them
lessons on the majesty of God's work in the science of Astronomy.
They would be confused, bewildered, and more or less frightened out
of faith altogether. They must have something tangible to cling to--
for instance,"--and he pressed the tips of his fingers delicately
together, "there are grades of intelligence just as there are grades
of creation; you cannot instruct a caterpillar as you instruct a
man. Now there are many human beings who are of the caterpillar
quality of brain--what are you to do with them? They would not
understand God as manifested in the solar system, but they would try
to please some favourite Saint by good conduct. Is it not better
that they should believe in the Saint than in nothing?"
"I cannot think it well for anyone to believe in a lie," said Aubrey
slowly, taken aback despite himself by Gherardi's sudden gentleness,
"There is a magnificent simplicity in truth;--truth which, the more
it is tested, the truer it proves. Where is there any necessity of
falsehood? Surely the marvels of nature could be explained with as
much ease as the supposed miracles of a Saint?"
"I doubt it!" answered Gherardi smiling, "You must admit, my dear
sir, that our scientific men are a great deal too abstruse for the
majority;--in some cases they are almost too abstruse for
themselves! You spoke just now of the priests of Egypt;--the oracles
of Memphis were clear reading compared to the involved sentences of
some of our modern scientists! Scientific books are hard nuts to
crack even for the highly educated; but for the uneducated, believe
me, the personality of a Saint is much more consoling than the
movements of a star. Besides, Humanity must have something human to
love and to revere. The infinite gradations of the Mind of God
through Matter, appeal to none but those of the very highest
Aubrey was silent a moment, then he said,
"But even the most ignorant can understand Christ,--Christ as He
revealed Himself to the world in perfect beauty and simplicity as 'a
Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' There needs no Vatican,
no idolatry of the Pope, no superstitious images, no shrines of
healing and reliquaries to explain His sublime intention!"
"I am afraid, Mr. Leigh, you entertain a very optimistic view of
mankind," said Gherardi, "Unfortunately Christ is not enough for
many people. Christ was an Incarnation of God, and though He became
Man he 'knew not sin.' He therefore stands apart; an Example, but
not a Companion. There are a certain class of sinners who like to
think of Saints;--human beings constituted like themselves, who have
committed errors, even crimes, and repented of them. This is a
similar spirit to that of the child who catches hold of any
convenient support he can find to guide his first tottering steps
across the floor to his mother,-the Saint helps the feeble-footed
folk to totter their way towards Christ. I assure you, our Church
considers everything that is necessary for the welfare of its
"Yes,--I grant you that it is full of subtle means for approaching
and commanding the ignorant," said Aubrey. "But to the intellectual
forces it offers no progress."
"The intellectual forces can clear their own way!" declared
Gherardi, rising to his full imposing height, and beaming sovereign
benevolence on his visitor, "and can, if they choose, make their own
Church. This is the age of freedom, and no restraint is placed on
the action of the intellectually free. But the ignorant must always
form the majority; and in their ignorance and helplessness, will do
wisely to remain like obedient children under the sway of Rome!"
Aubrey rose also, and could not forbear an involuntary glance of
reluctant admiration at the stately figure and commanding attitude
of the man who confronted him with such a pride in the persistent
Jesuitical conviction that even a Lie may be used in religion for
the furtherance of conversion to the Truth.
"I do not see," Gherardi went on, smiling blandly, "why after all,
you should not be received by the Holy Father. I will try to arrange
it for you. But it would avail you very little, I imagine, as he is
not strong, and would not be capable of conversing with you for more
than a few minutes. I think it would serve your purpose much more to
carefully study the movements, and the work of what you call 'the
stock-jobbing company of sacerdotal directors,'" and here his smile
became still more broadly benevolent, "and take note of their
divisions and subdivisions of influence which extend from the very
poorest and most abandoned to the very highest and most cultured.
You will then understand why I maintain that Rome as a power is
impregnable;--and why some of the more far-sighted and prophetic
among us look upon the Conversion of England as an almost
Aubrey smiled; but he was not without the consciousness that from
his own particular point of view Gherardi had some excuse for his
"According to your own written opinions," went on Gherardi, "for I
have read your books,--the Church of England is in a bad way. Its
Ritualistic form is very nearly Roman. Some of your Archbishops
confess to a liking for incense! You admit that the stricter forms
of Protestantism do not comfort the sick soul in times of need;
well, what would you Socialists and Freethinkers have? Would you do
without a Church altogether?"
"No," said Aubrey quickly, "But we would have a purified Church,--a
House of Praise to God--without any superstition or dogma."
"You must have dogma," said Gherardi complacently, "You must
formulate something out of a chaos of opinion. As for superstition,
you will never get rid of that weakness out of the human
composition. If the Church gives nothing for this particular mood of
man to feed on, man will invent something else OUTSIDE the Church.
My dear sir, we have thought of all these difficulties for ages! In
religion one cannot appeal solely to the intellect. One must touch
the heart--the emotions. Music, painting, colour, spectacle, all
these are permitted us to use for the good purpose of lifting the
soul of a sinner to contemplate something better than himself. Women
and little children enter the Church as well as men,--would you have
THEM find no comfort? Must a woman with a broken heart take her
sorrows to the vast Silence of an unreasonable God among universes
of star systems? Or shall she find hope, and a gleam of comfort in a
prayer to a woman of the same clay as herself in the person of the
Virgin Mary? And remember, there is something very beautiful in the
symbol of the Virgin as applied to womanhood! The Mother of God!
Does it not suggest to your poetical mind that woman is destined
always to be the Mother of the God?--that is, mother of the perfect
man when that desirable consummation shall be accomplished?"
"I have never doubted it.'" said Aubrey, "The Mother of Christ is to
me a symbol of womanhood for all time!" Gherardi smiled.
"Good! Then in spite of your denunciations you come very near to our
"I never denied the beauty, romance, or mysticism of the Roman
Catholic Faith," said Aubrey, "If it were purified from the
accumulated superstition of ages, and freed from intolerance and
bigotry, it would perhaps be the grandest form of Christianity in
the world. But the rats are in the house, and the rooms want
"In every house there are those rats--in every room there is dirt!"
said Gherardi, "Presuming that you speak in a moral sense. What of
your Houses of Parliament? What of the French Senate? What of the
Reichstag? What of the Russian Autocracy?--the American Republic? In
every quarter the rats squeal, and the dirt gathers! The Church of
Rome is purity itself compared to your temporal governments! My dear
sir," and approaching, he laid a kindly hand on Aubrey's arm, "I
would not be harsh with you for the world! I understand your nature
perfectly. It is full of enthusiasm and zeal for righteousness,--
your heart warms to the sorrows of the human race,--you would lift
up the whole world to God's footstool; you would console--you would
be a benefactor--you would elevate, purify, rejuvenate, inspire!
Yes! This is a grand mood--one which has fired many a would-be
reformer before you,--but you forget! It is not the Church against
which you should arm yourself--it is the human race! It is not one
or many religious systems with which you should set yourself to
contend--it is the blind brutishness of humanity!" As he spoke, his
tall form appeared to tower to an even greater height,--his eyes
flashed, and the intellectual pride and force of his character
became apparent in every feature of his face. "If humanity in the
mass asked us for Christ only; if men and women would deny
themselves the petty personal aim, the low vice, the crawling desire
to ingratiate themselves with Heaven, the Pharisaical affectation of
virtue--if they would themselves stand clear of 'vain repetition'
and obstinate egoism, and would of themselves live purely, the
Church would be pure! May I venture to suggest to you that men make
the Church, not the Church the men? We try to supply the spiritual
needs of the human being, such as his spiritual needs at present
are,--when he demands more we will give him more. At present his
needs are purely personal, and therefore low and tainted with
sensuality,--yet we drag him along through these emotions as near to
the blameless Christ as we can. When he is impersonal enough,
unselfish enough, loyal-hearted enough, to stand face to face with
the glorious manifestation of the Deity unaided, we can cast away
his props, such as superstitious observances, Saints and the like,
and leave him,--but then the Millennium will have come, and there
will be new heavens and a new earth!"
He spoke well, with force and fervour, and Aubrey Leigh was for a
moment impressed. After a slight pause however, he said,
"You admit the ignorance of human beings, and yet--you would keep
"Keep them ignorant!" Gherardi laughed lightly. "That is more than
any of us can do nowadays! Every liberty is afforded them to learn,-
-and if they still remain barbarous it is because they elect to be
so. But OUR duty is to look after the ignorant more than the
cultured! Quite true it is that the Pope lost a magnificent
opportunity in the Dreyfus affair,--if he had spoken in favour of
mercy and justice he would have won thousands of followers; being
silent he has lost thousands. But this should be a great
satisfaction to you, Mr. Leigh! For if the Holy Father had given an
example to the Catholic clergy to act in the true Christian spirit
towards Dreyfus, the Conversion of England might have been so
grafted on enthusiastic impulse as to be a much nearer possibility
than it is now!"
Aubrey was silent.
"Now, Mr. Leigh, I think you have gained sufficient insight into my
views to judge me with perhaps greater favour than you were inclined
to do at the beginning of our interview," continued Gherardi, "I
assure you that I shall watch your career with the greatest
interest! You have embarked in a most hopeless cause,--you will try
to help the helpless, and as soon as they are rescued out of
trouble, they will turn and rend you,--you will try to teach them
the inner mysteries of God's working, and they will say you are
possessed of a devil! You will endeavour to upset shams and
hypocrisies, and the men of your press will write you down and say
you are seeking advertisement and notoriety for yourself. Was there
ever a great thinker left unmartyred? Or a great writer that has not
been misunderstood and condemned? You wish to help and serve
humanity! Enthusiast! You would do far better to help and serve the
Church! For the Church rewards; humanity has cursed and killed every
great benefactor it ever had INCLUDING CHRIST!"
The terrible words beat on Aubrey's ears like the brazen clang of a
tocsin, for he knew they were true. But he held his ground.
"There are worse things than death," he said simply.
Gherardi smiled kindly.
"And there are worse things than life!" he said,
"Life holds a good many harmless enjoyments, which I am afraid you
are putting away from you in your prime, for the sake of a mere
chimera. But--after all, what does it matter! One must have a hobby!
Some men like horse-racing, others book-collecting,--others
pictures,--and so forth--you like the religious question! Well, no
doubt it affords you a great many opportunities of studying
character. I shall be very happy--" here he extended his hand
cordially, "to show you anything that may be of interest to you in
Rome, and to present you to any of our brethren that may assist you
in your researches. I can give you a letter to Rampolla--"
Aubrey declined the offered introduction with a decided negative
shake of his head.
"No," he said, "I know Cardinal Bonpre; that is enough!"
"But there is a great difference between Rampolla and Bonpre," said
Gherardi, with twinkling eyes, "Bonpre is scarcely ever in Rome. He
lives a life apart--and has for a long while been considered as a
kind of saint from the privacy and austerity of his life. But he has
heralded his arrival in the Eternal City triumphantly--by the
performance of a miracle! What do you say to this?--you who would do
away with things miraculous?"
"I say nothing till I hear," answered Aubrey, "I must know what the
nature of the so-called miracle is. I am a believer in soul-forces,
and in the exhalation of spiritual qualities affecting or
influencing others: but in this there is no miracle, it is simply
"Well, you must interview the Cardinal yourself," said Gherardi
indulgently, "and tell me afterwards what you think about it, if
indeed you think anything. But you will not find him at home this
morning. He is summoned to the Vatican."
"On account of the miracle?--or the scandal affecting the Abbe
Vergniaud?" asked Aubrey.
"Both matters are under discussion, I believe," replied Gherardi
evasively, "But they are not in my province. Now, can I be of any
further service to you, Mr. Leigh?"
"No. I am sorry to have taken up so much of your time," said Aubrey,
"But I think I understand your views--"
"I hope you do," interrupted Gherardi, "And that you will by and by
grasp the fact that my views are shared by almost everyone holding
any Church authority. But you must go about in Rome, and make
enquiries for yourself . . . now, let me see! Do you know the Princesse
"Oh, you must know her,--she is a great friend of Donna Sovrani's,
and a witty and brilliant personage in herself. She is rather of
your way of thinking, and so is out of favour with the Church. But
that will not matter to you; and you will meet all the dissatisfied
and enthusiastic of the earth in her salons! I will tell her to send
you a card."
Aubrey said something by way of formal acknowledgment, and then took
his leave. He was singularly depressed, and his face, always quick
to show traces of thought, had somewhat lost its former expression
of eager animation. The wily Gherardi had for the time so influenced
his sensitive mind as to set it almost to the tune of the most
despairing of Tennyson's "Two Voices",
"A life of nothings, nothing worth,
From that first nothing ere his birth,
To that last nothing under earth."
What was the use of trying to expound a truth, if the majority
preferred a lie?
"Will one bright beam be less intense,
When thy peculiar difference
Is cancelled in the world of sense?"
And Gherardi noted the indefinable touch of fatigue that gave the
slight droop of the shoulders and air of languor to the otherwise
straight slim figure as it passed from his presence,--and smiled. He
had succeeded in putting a check on unselfish ardour, and had thrown
a doubt into the pure intention of enthusiastic toil. That was
enough for the present. And scarcely had Aubrey crossed the
threshold--scarcely had the echo of his departing footsteps died
away--when a heavy velvet curtain in the apartment was cautiously
thrust aside, and Monsignor Moretti stepped out of a recess behind
it, with a dignity and composure which would have been impossible to
any but an Italian priest convicted of playing the spy. Gherardi
faced him confidently.
"Well?" he said, with a more exhaustive enquiry expressed in his
look than in the simple ejaculation.
"Well!" echoed Moretti, as he slowly advanced into the centre of the
room, "You have not done as much as I expected you would. Your
arguments were clever, but not--to a man of his obstinacy,
And sitting down, he turned his dark face and gleaming eyes full on
his confrere, who with a shrug of his massive shoulders expressed in
his attitude a disdainful relinquishment of the whole business.
"You have not," pursued Moretti deliberately, "grasped anything like
the extent of this man Leigh's determination and indifference to
results. Please mark that last clause,--indifference to results. He
is apparently alone in the world,--he seems to have nothing to lose,
and no one to care whether he succeeds or fails;--a most dangerous
form of independence! And in his persistence and eloquence he is
actually stopping--yes, I repeat it,--stopping and putting a serious
check on the advancement of the Roman Catholic party. And of course
any check just now means to us a serious financial loss both in
England and America,--a deficit in Vatican revenues which will very
gravely incommode certain necessary measures now under the
consideration of His Holiness. I expected you to grasp the man and
hold him,--not by intimidation but by flattery."
"You think he is to be caught by so common a bait?" said Gherardi,
"Bah! He would see through it at once!"
"Maybe!" replied Moretti, "But perhaps not if it were administered
in the way I mean. You seem to have forgotten the chief influence of
any that can be brought to bear upon the heart and mind of a man,--
and that is, Woman."
Gherardi laughed outright.
"Upon my word I think it would be difficult to find the woman suited
to this case!" he said. "But you who have a diplomacy deeper than
that of any Jew usurer may possibly have one already in view?"
"There is now in Rome," pursued Moretti, speaking with the same even
deliberation of accent, "a faithful daughter of the Church, whose
wealth we can to a certain extent command, and whose charm is
unquestionable,--the Comtesse Sylvie Hermenstein--"
Gherardi started. Moretti eyed him coldly.
"You are not stricken surely by the childlike fascination with which
this princess of coquettes rules her court?" he enquired
"I?" echoed Gherardi, shifting his position so that Moretti's gaze
could not fall so directly upon him. "I? You jest!"
"I think not!" said Moretti, "I think I know something about women--
their capabilities, their passions, their different grades of power.
Sylvie Hermenstein possesses a potent charm which few men can
resist, and I should not wonder if you yourself had been
occasionally conscious of it. She is one of those concerning whom
other women say 'they can see nothing in her'. Ah!" and Moretti
smiled darkly, "What a compliment that is from the majority of women
to one! This woman Sylvie is unique. Where is her beauty? You cannot
say--yet beauty is her very essence. She cannot boast perfection of
features,--she is frequently hidden away altogether in a room and
scarcely noticed. And so she reminds me of a certain flower known to
the Eastern nations, which is difficult to find, because so fragile
and small that it can scarcely be seen, but when it is found, and
the scent of it unwittingly inhaled, it drives men mad!"
Gherardi looked at him with a broadly wondering smile.
"You speak so eloquently," he said, "that one would almost fancy--"
"Fancy nothing!" retorted Moretti quickly, "Fancy and I are as far
apart as the poles, except in the putting together of words, in
which easy art I daresay I am as great an adept as Florian Varillo,
who can write verses on love or patriotism to order, without
experiencing a touch of either emotion. What a humbug by the way,
that fellow is!--" and Moretti broke off to consider this new point-
-"He rants of the honour of Italy, and would not let his finger ache
for her cause! And he professes to love the 'Sovrani' while all Rome
knows that Pon-Pon is his mistress!"
Gherardi wisely held his peace.
"The Comtesse Sylvie Hermenstein is the little magic flower you must
use;" resumed Moretti, emphasising his words with an authoritative
movement of his hand, "Use her to madden Aubrey Leigh. Bring them
together;--he will lose his head as surely as all men do when they
come under the influence of that soft deep-eyed creature, with the
full white breast of a dove, and the smile of an angel,--and
remember, it would be an excellent thing for the Church if he could
be persuaded to marry her,--there would be no more preaching then!--
for the thoughts of love would outweigh the theories of religion."
"You think it?" queried Gherardi dubiously.
"I know it!" replied Moretti rising, and preparing to take his
departure, "But,--play the game cautiously! Make no false move. For-
-understand me well, this man Leigh must be silenced, or we shall
And with these last words he turned abruptly on his heel and left
Cardinal Felix Bonpre sat alone in the largest and loneliest room of
the large and lonely suite of rooms allotted to him in the Palazzo
Sovrani,--alone at a massive writing table near the window, his head
resting on one hand, and his whole figure expressive of the most
profound dejection. In front of him an ancient silver crucifix
gleamed in the flicker of the small wood fire which had been kindled
in the wide cavernous chimney--and a black-bound copy of the Gospels
lay open as if but lately consulted. The faded splendour of certain
gold embroidered hangings on the walls added to the solemn and
melancholy aspect of the apartment, and the figure of the venerable
prelate seen in such darkening gloom and solitude, was the crowning
completion of an expressive and pathetic picture of patient
desolation. So might a martyr of the Inquisition have looked while
the flames were getting ready to burn him for the love of the gentle
Saviour; and something of the temper of such a possible predecessor
was in the physically frail old man, who just now was concentrating
all the energies of his mind on the consideration of a difficult
question which is often asked by many hearts in secret, but is
seldom voiced to the public ear;--"Christ or the Church? Which must
I follow to be an honest man?"
Never had the good Cardinal been in such a strange predicament.
Living away from the great centres of thought and action, he had
followed a gentle and placid course of existence, almost unruffled,
save by the outside murmurs of a growing public discontent which had
reached him through the medium of current literature, and had given
him cause to think uneasily of possible disaster for the religious
world in the near future,--but he had never gone so far as to
imagine that the Head of the Church would, while being perfectly
conscious of existing threatening evils, deliberately turn his back
to appeals for help,--shut his ears to the cry of the "lost sheep of
the House of Israel", and even endeavour, with an impotence of
indignation which was as pitiable as useless, to shake a rod of
Twelfth-century menace over the advancement of the Twentieth!
"For the onward movement of Humanity is God's work," said the
Cardinal, "And what are we--what is even the Church--when it does
not move side by side in perfect and pure harmony with the order of
And he was bitterly troubled in spirit. He had spent the whole
morning at the Vatican, and the manner of his reception there had
been so curiously divided between flattery and reproach that he had
not known what to make of it. The Pope had been tetchy and
querulous,--precisely in such a humour as one naturally expects so
aged a man to be when contradicted on any matter, whether trivial or
important. For with such advanced years the faculties are often as
brittle as the bones, and the failing powers of the brain are often
brought to bear with more concentration on inconsiderable trifles
than on the large and important affairs of life. He had questioned
the Cardinal closely concerning the miraculous cure performed at
Rouen, and had become excessively angry when the honest prelate
earnestly disclaimed all knowledge of it. He had then confronted him
with Claude Cazeau, the secretary of the Archbishop of Rouen, and
Cazeau had given a clear and concise account of the whole matter,
stating that the child, Fabien Doucet, had been known in Rouen since
his babyhood as a helpless cripple, and that after Cardinal Bonpre
had prayed over him and laid hands on him, he had been miraculously
cured, and was now to be seen running about the city as strong and
straight as any other healthy child. And Bonpre listened patiently;-
-and to all that was said, merely reiterated that if the child WERE
so cured, then it was by the special intervention of God, as he
personally had done no more than pray for his restoration. But to
his infinite amazement and distress he saw plainly that the Holy
Father did not believe him. He saw that he was suspected of playing
a trick,--a trick, which if he had admitted, would have been
condoned, but which if he denied, would cause him to be looked upon
with distrust by all the Vatican party. He saw that even the man
Cazeau suspected him. And then,--when the public confession of the
Abbe Vergniaud came under discussion,--the Pope had gathered
together all the visible remains of physical force his attenuated
frame could muster, and had hurled himself impotently against the
wall of opposing fact with such frail fury as almost to suggest the
celebrated simile of "a reed shaken with the wind". In vain had the
Cardinal pleaded for Vergniaud's pardon; in vain had he urged that
after all, the sinner had branded himself as such in the sight of
all men; what further need to add the ban of the Church's
excommunication against one who was known to be within touch of
death? Would not Christ have said, "Go, and sin no more"? But this
simple quotation from the Gospels seemed to enrage the
representative of St. Peter more violently than before, and when
Bonpre left the Holy Presence he knew well enough that he was, for
no fault of his own, under the displeasure of the Vatican. How had
it all come about? Nothing could have been simpler than his life and
actions since he left his own Cathedral-town,--he had prayed for a
sick child,--he had sympathised with a sorry sinner,--that was all.
And such deeds as these were commanded by Christ. Yet--the Head of
the Church for these same things viewed him with wrath and
suspicion! Wearily he sat, turning over everything in his mind, and
longing, with a weakness which he fully admitted to his own
conscience, to leave Rome at once and return to his own home, there
to die among his roses at peace. But he saw it would never do to
leave Rome just yet. He was bound fast hand and foot. He was
"suspect"! In his querulous fit the Pope had ordered Claude Cazeau
to return to Rouen without delay, and there gather further evidence
respecting the Cardinal's stay at the Hotel Poitiers, and if
possible, to bring the little Fabien Doucet and his mother back to
Rome with him. Pending the arrival of fresh proof, Bonpre, though he
had received no actual command, knew he was expected to remain where
he was. Weary and sick at heart, the venerable prelate sighed as he
reviewed all the entangling perplexities, which had, so
unconsciously to himself, become woven like a web about his innocent
and harmless personality, and so absorbed was he in thought that he
did not hear the door of his room open, and so was sot aware that
his foundling Manuel had stood for some time silently watching him.
Such love and compassion as were expressed in the boy's deep blue
eyes could not however radiate long through any space without some
sympathetic response,--and moved by instinctive emotion, Cardinal
Felix looked up, and seeing his young companion smiled,--albeit the
smile was a somewhat sad one.
"Where have you been, my child?" he asked gently, "I have missed you
for some hours."
Manuel advanced a little, and stood between the pale afternoon light
reflected through the window, and the warmer glow of the wood fire.
"I have been to the strangest place in all the world!" he answered,
"The strangest,--and surely one of the most wicked!"
The Cardinal raised himself in his chair, and bent an anxious
wondering look upon the young speaker.
"One of the most wicked!" he echoed, "What place are you talking
"St. Peter's!" answered Manuel, with a thrill of passion in his
voice as he uttered the name, "St. Peter's,--the huge Theatre
misnamed a Church! Oh, dear friend!--do not look at me thus! Surely
you must feel that what I say is true? Surely you know that there is
nothing of the loving God in that vast Cruelty of a place, where
wealth and ostentation vie with intolerant officialism, bigotry and
superstition!--where even the marble columns have been stolen from
the temples of a sincerer Paganism, and still bear the names of Isis
and Jupiter wrought in the truthful stone;--where theft, rapine and
murder have helped to build the miscalled Christian fane! You cannot
in your heart of hearts feel it to be the abode of Christ; your
soul, bared to the sight of God, repudiates it as a Lie! Yes!"--For,
startled and carried away by the boy's fervour, Cardinal Felix had
risen, and now stood upright, making a feeble gesture with his
hands, as though seeking to keep back the crushing weight of some
too overwhelming conviction,--"Yes--you would silence me!--but you
cannot!--I read your heart! You love God . . . and I--I love Him too!
You would serve Him!--and I--I would obey Him! Ah, do not struggle
with yourself, dear and noble friend! If you were thrice crowned a
martyr and saint you could not see otherwise than clearly--you could
not but accept Truth when Truth is manifested to you,--you could not
swear falsely before God! Would the Christ not say now as He said so
many centuries ago--'My House is called the house of prayer, but ye
have made it a den of thieves!' Is it not truly a den of thieves?
What has the Man of Sorrows to do with all the evil splendour of St.
Peter's?--its bronzes, its marbles, its colossal statues of dead
gods, its glittering altars, its miserable dreary immensity, its
flaring gilding and insolent vulgarity of cost! Oh, what a
loneliness is that of Christ in this world! What a second Agony in
The sweet voice broke--the fair head was turned away,--and Cardinal
Felix, overcome by such emotion as he found it impossible to
explain, suddenly sank on his knees, and stretched out his arms to
the young slight creature who spoke with such a passion and
intensity of yearning.
"Child!" he said, with tremulous appeal in his accents, "For God's
sake'--you who express your thoughts with such eloquence and fervent
pain!--tell me, WHO ARE YOU? My mind is caught and controlled by
your words,--you are too young to think as you do, or to speak as
you do,--yet some authority you seem to possess, which I submit to,
not knowing why; I am very old, and maybe growing foolish in my age-
-many troubles are gathering about me in these latter days,--do not
make them more than I can bear!"
His words were to himself incoherent, and yet it seemed as if Manuel
understood them. Suffering himself to be clasped for a moment by the
old man's trembling hands, he nevertheless gently persuaded and
assisted him to rise, and when he was once more seated, stood
quietly by his side, waiting till he should have recovered from his
"Dear friend, you are weary and troubled in spirit," he said
tenderly then, "And my words seem to you only terrible because they
are true! If they grieve you, it is because the grief in your heart
echoes mine! And if I do think and speak more seriously than I
should, it is for the reason that I have been so much alone in the
world,--left to myself, with my own thoughts of God, which are not
thoughts such as many care for. I would not add to your sorrows,--I
would rather lighten them if I could--but I feel and fear that I
shall be a burden upon you before long!"
"Never!" exclaimed Bonpre fervently, "Never a burden on me, child!
Surely while I live you will not leave me?"
Manuel was silent for a little space. His eyes wandered from the
Cardinal's venerable worn features to the upstanding silver crucifix
that gleamed dully in the glow of the wood-embers.
"I will not leave you unless it is well for you that I should go,"
he answered at last, "And even then, you will always know where to
The Cardinal looked at him earnestly, and with a searching
interrogation,--but the boy's face though sweetly composed, had a
certain gravity of expression which seemed to forbid further
questioning. And a deep silence fell between them,--a silence which
was only broken by the door opening to admit Prince Sovrani who,
pausing on the threshold, said,
"Brother, if you will allow yourself to be disturbed, Angela would
like to see you in her studio. There are several people there,--her
fiance, Varillo among the number,--and I think the girl would be
glad of your presence."
The Cardinal started as from a dream, and rose from his chair.
"I will come at once--yes--I will come," he said, "I must not be
selfish and think only of my own troubles!" He stood erect,--he was
still in the scarlet robes in which he had made his appearance at
the Vatican, and they fell regally about his tall dignified form,
the vivid colour intensifying the pallor of his thin features. A
servant entering at the moment with two large silver candelabra
ablaze with lights, created an effect of luminance in the room that
made him appear to even greater advantage as an imposing figure of
ecclesiastical authority, and Prince Pietro looked at him with the
admiring affection and respect which he, though a cynic and sceptic,
had always felt for the brother of his wife,--affection and respect
which had if anything become intensified since that beloved one's
"You were well received at the Vatican?" he said tentatively.
"Not so well as I had hoped," replied the Cardinal patiently--"Not
so well! But the cloud will pass. I will go with you to the studio,-
-Manuel, will you stay here?"
Manuel bent his head in assent; he had just closed the before open
copy of the Gospels, and now stood with his hand upon the Book.
"I will wait till you call me, my lord Cardinal," he replied.
Prince Pietro then led the way, and Cardinal Bonpre followed, his
scarlet robes sweeping behind him with a rich rustling sound, and as
the two entered the large lofty studio, hung with old tapestries,
and panelled with deeply carved and gilded oak, the room which was
Angela Sovrani's special sanctum, all the persons there assembled
rose from their different sitting or lounging attitudes, and
respectfully bent their heads to the brief and unostentatious
benediction given to them by the venerable prelate of whom all
present had heard, but few had seen, and everyone made way for him
as Angela met and escorted him to a seat on one of the old, throne-
like chairs with which the Sovrani palace was so amply supplied.
When he was thus installed, he made the picturesque centre of a
brilliant little scene enough,--one of those vivacious and bright
gatherings which can be found nowhere so perfectly blended in colour
and in movement as in a great art-studio in Rome. Italians are not
afraid to speak, to move, to smile,--unlike the Anglo-Saxon race,
their ease of manner is inborn, and comes to them without training,
hence there is nothing of the stiff formality and awkward gloom
which too frequently hangs like a cloud over English attempts at
sociality,--and that particular charm which is contained in the
brightness and flashing of eyes, creates a dazzling effect
absolutely unknown to colder northern climes. Eyes,--so potent to
bewitch and to command, are a strangely neglected influence in
certain forms of social intercourse. English eyes are too often dull
and downcast, and wear an inane expression of hypocrisy and prudery;
unless they happen to be hard and glittering and meaningless; but in
southern climes, they throw out radiant invitations, laughing
assurances, brilliant mockeries, melting tendernesses, by the
thousand flashes, and make a fire of feeling in the coldest air. And
so in Angela's beautiful studio, among the whiteness of classic
marbles, and the soft hues of richly falling draperies, fair faces
shone out like flowers, lit up by eyes, whose light seemed to be
vividly kindled by the heat of an amorous southern sun,--Venetian
eyes blue as a cornflower, Florentine eyes brown and brilliant as a
russet leaf in autumn, Roman eyes black as night, Sicilian eyes of
all hues, full of laughter and flame--and yet among all, no sweeter
or more penetratingly tender eyes than those of Sylvie Hermenstein
ever shot glances abroad to bewilder and dazzle the heart of man.
Not in largeness, colour or brilliancy lay their charm, but in deep,
langourous, concentrated sweetness,--a sweetness so far-reaching
from the orb to the soul that it was easy to sink away into their
depths and dream,--and never wish to wake. Sylvie was looking her
fairest that afternoon,--the weather was chilly, and the close-
fitting black velvet dress with its cape-like collar of rich sables,
well became her figure and delicately fair complexion, and many a
spiteful little whisper concerning her went round among more showy
but less attractive women,--many an involuntary but low murmur of
admiration escaped from the more cautious lips of the men. She was
talking to the Princesse D'Agramont, who with her brilliant dark
beauty could afford to confess ungrudgingly the charm of a woman so
spirituelle as Sylvie, and who, between various careless nods and
smiles to her acquaintance, was detailing to her with much animation
the account of her visit to the Marquis Fontenelle before leaving
"He must be very epris!" said the Princesse laughing, "For he froze
into a rigid statue of virtue when I suggested that he should escort
me to Rome! I did not wait to see the effect of my announcement that
YOU were already there!"
Sylvie lowered her eyes, and a faint colour crimsoned her cheeks.
"Then he knows where I am?" she asked.
"If he believes ME, he knows," replied Loyse D'Agramont, "But
perhaps he does not believe me! All Paris was talking about the Abbe
Vergniaud and his son 'Gys Grandit', when I left, and the Marquis
appeared as interested in that esclandre as he can ever be
interested in anything or anybody. So perhaps he forgot my visit as
soon as it was ended. Abbe Vergniaud is very ill by the way. His
self-imposed punishment, and his unexpected reward in the
personality of his son, have proved a little too much for him,--both
he and 'Grandit' are at my Chateau," here she raised her lorgnon,
and peered through it with an inquisitive air, "Tiens! There is the
dear Varillo making himself agreeable as usual to all the ladies!
When does the marriage come off between him and our gifted Sovrani?"
"I do not know," answered Sylvie, with a little dubious look,
"Nothing is contemplated in that way until Angela's great picture is
The Princesse D'Agramont looked curiously at the opposite wall where
an enormous white covering was closely roped and fastened across an
invisible canvas, which seemed to be fully as large as Raffaelle's
"Still a mystery?" she queried, "Has she never shown it even to
Sylvie shook her head.
"Never!" and then breaking off with a sudden exclamation she turned
in the direction of the door where there was just now a little
movement and murmur of interest, as the slim tall figure of a man
moved slowly and with graceful courtesy through the assemblage
towards that corner of the studio where the Cardinal sat, his niece
standing near him, and there made a slight yet perfectly reverential
"Mr. Leigh!" cried Angela, "How glad I am to see you!"
"And I too," said the Cardinal, extending his hand, and kindly
raising Aubrey before he could complete his formal genuflection,
"You have not wasted much of your time in Florence!"
"My business was soon ended there," replied Aubrey. "It merely
concerned the saving of a famous religious picture--but I find the
modern Florentines so dead to beauty that it is almost impossible to
rouse them to any sort of exertion . . ." Here he paused, as Angela
with a smile moved quickly past him saying,
"One moment, Mr. Leigh! I must introduce you to one of my dearest
He waited, with a curious sense of impatience, and full beating of
his heart, answering quite mechanically one or two greetings from
Florian Varillo and other acquaintances who knew and recognised him-
-and then felt, rather than saw, that he was looking into the deep
sweet eyes of the woman who had flung him a rose from the balcony of
the angels, and that her face, sweet as the rose itself, was smiling
upon him. As in a dream he heard her name, "The Comtesse Sylvie
Hermenstein" and his own, "Mr. Aubrey Leigh"; he was dimly aware of
bowing, and of saying something vague and formal, but all the
actuality of his being was for the moment shaken and transfigured,
and only one strong and overwhelming conviction remained,--the
conviction that, in the slight creature who stood before him
gracefully acknowledging his salutation, he had met his fate. Now he
understood as he had never done before what the poet-philosopher
meant by "the celestial rapture falling out of heaven";--for that
rapture fell upon him and caught him up in a cloud of glory, with
all the suddenness and fervour which must ever attend the true birth
of the divine passion in strong and tender natures. The calculating
sensualist can never comprehend this swiftly exalted emotion, this
immediate radiation of light through all life, which is like the sun
breaking through clouds on a dark day. The sensualist has by self-
indulgence, blunted the edge of feeling, and it is impossible for
him to experience this delicate sensation of exquisite delight,--
this marvellous assurance that here and now, face to face, stands
the One for whom all time shall be merged into a Song of Love, and
upon whom all the sweetest thoughts of imagination shall be brought
to bear for the furtherance of mutual joy! Aubrey's strong spirit,
set to stern labour for so long, and trained to toil with but scant
peace for reward, now sprang up as it were to its full height of
capability and resolution,--yet its power was tempered with that
tender humility which, in a noble-hearted man, bends before the
presence of the woman whose love for him shall make her sacred. All
his instincts bade him recognise Sylvie as the completion and
fulfilment of his life, and this consciousness was so strong and
imperative that it made him more than gentle to her as he spoke his
first few words, and obtained her consent to escort her to a seat
not far off from the Cardinal, yet removed sufficiently from the
rest of the people to enable them to converse uninterruptedly for a
time. Angela watched them, well pleased;--she too had quick
instincts, and as she noted Sylvie's sudden flush under the
deepening admiration of Aubrey's eyes, she thought to herself, "If
it could only be! If she could forget Fontenelle--if--"
But here her thoughts were interrupted by her own "ideal",--Florian
Varillo who, catching her hand abruptly, drew her aside for a
"Carissima mia, why did you not introduce the Princesse D'Agramont
to Mr. Leigh rather than the Comtesse Hermenstein? The Princesse is
of his way of thinking,--Sylvie is not!" and he finished his
sentence by slipping an arm round her waist quickly, and whispering
a word which brought the colour to her cheeks and the sparkle to her
eyes, and made her heart beat so quickly that she could not speak
for a moment. Yet she was supposed by the very man whose embrace
thus moved her, to be "passionless!"
"You must not call her 'Sylvie'," she answered at last, "She does
not like such familiarity--even from you!"
"No? Did she tell you so?" and Florian laughed, "What a confiding
little darling you are, Angela! I assure you, Sylvie Hermenstein is
not so very particular--but there! I will not say a word against any
friend of yours! But do you not see she is already trying to make a
fool of Aubrey Leigh?"
Angela looked across the room and saw Leigh's intellectual head
bending closely towards the soft gold of Sylvie's hair, and smiled.
"I do not think Sylvie would willingly make a fool of anyone," she
answered simply, "She is too loyal and sincere. I fancy you do not
understand her, Florian. She is full of fascination, but she is not
But Florian entertained a very lively remembrance of the recent
rebuff given to himself by the fair Comtesse, and took his masculine
vengeance by the suggested innuendo of a shrug of his shoulders and
a lifting of his eyebrows. But he said no more just then, and merely
contented himself with coaxingly abstracting a rose out of Angela's
bodice, kissing it, and placing it in his own buttonhole. This was
one of his "pretty drawing-room tricks" according to Loyse
D'Agramont who always laughed unmercifully at these kind of
courtesies. They had been the stock-in-trade of her late husband,
and she knew exactly what value to set upon them. But Angela was
easily moved by tenderness, and the smallest word of love, the
lightest caress made her happy and satisfied for a long time. She
had the simple primitive notions of an innocent woman who could not
possibly imagine infidelity in a sworn love. Looking at her sweet
face, earnest eyes, and slim graceful figure now, as she moved away
from Florian Varillo's side, and passed glidingly in and out among
her guests, the Princesse D'Agramont, always watchful, wondered with
a half sigh how she would take the blow of disillusion if it ever
came; would it crush her, or would she rise the nobler and stronger
"Many a one here in this room to-day," mused the Princesse, "would
be glad if she fell vanquished in the hard fight! Many a man--
shameful as it seems--would give a covert kick to her poor body. For
there is nothing that frets and irks some male creatures so much as
to see a woman attain by her own brain and hand a great position in
the world, and when she has won her crown and throne they would
deprive her of both, and trample her in the mud if they dared! SOME
male creatures--not all. Florian Varillo for instance. If he could
only get the world to believe that he paints half Angela's pictures
he would be quite happy. I daresay he does persuade a few outsiders
to think it. But in Rome we know better. Poor Angela!"
And with another sigh she dismissed the subject from her mind for
the moment, her attention being distracted by the appearance of
Monsignor Gherardi, who just then entered and took up a position by
the Cardinal's chair, looking the picture of imposing and stately
affability. One glance of his eyes in the direction of Aubrey Leigh,
where he sat absorbed in conversation with the Comtesse Hermenstein,
had put the wily priest in an excellent humour, and nothing could
exceed the deferential homage and attention he paid to Cardinal
Bonpre, talking with him in low, confidential tones of the affairs
which principally occupied their attention,--the miraculous cure of
Fabien Doucet, and the defection of Vergniaud from the Church.
Earnestly did the good Felix, thinking Gherardi was a friend,
explain again his utter unconsciousness of any miracle having been
performed at his hands, and with equal fervour did he plead the
cause of Vergniaud, in the spirit and doctrine of Christ, pointing
out that the erring Abbe was, without any subterfuge at all, truly
within proximity of death, and that therefore it seemed an almost
unnecessary cruelty to set the ban of excommunication against a
repentant and dying man. Gherardi heard all, with a carefully
arranged facial expression of sympathetic interest and benevolence,
but gave neither word nor sign of active partisanship in any cause.
He had another commission in charge from Moretti, and he worked the
conversation dexterously on, till he touched the point of his secret
"By the way," he said gently, "among your many good and kindly
works, I hear you have rescued a poor stray boy from the streets of
Rouen--and that he is with you now. Is that true?"
"Quite true," replied the Cardinal, "But no particular goodness can
be accredited to any servant of the Gospel for trying to rescue an
orphan child from misery."
"No--no, certainly not!" assented Gherardi--"But it is seldom that
one as exalted in dignity as yourself condescends--ah, pardon me!--
you do not like that word I see!"
"I do not understand it in OUR work," said the Cardinal, "There can
be no 'condescension' in saving the lost."
Gherardi was silent a moment, smiling a little to himself. "What a
simpleton is this Saint Felix!" he thought. "What a fool to run
amuck at his own chances of distinction and eminence!"
"And the boy is clever?" he said presently in kindly accents--
"Docile in conduct?--and useful to you?"
"He is a wonderful child!" answered the Cardinal with unsuspecting
candour and feeling, "Thoughtful beyond his years,--wise beyond his
Gherardi shot a quick glance from under his eyelids at the fine
tranquil face of the venerable speaker, and again smiled.
"You have no further knowledge of him?--no clue to his parentage?"
Just then the conversation was interrupted by a little movement of
eagerness,--people were pressing towards the grand piano which
Florian Varillo had opened,--the Comtesse Sylvie Hermenstein was
about to grant a general request made to her for a song. She moved
slowly and with a touch of reluctance towards the instrument, Aubrey
Leigh walking beside her.
"You are a musician yourself?--" she said, glancing up at him, "You
play--or you sing?"
"I do a little of both," he answered, "But I shall be no rival to
you! I have heard YOU sing!"
"You have? When?"
"The other night, or else I dreamed it," he said softly, "I have a
very sweet echo of a song in my mind with words that sounded like
'Ti volglio bene', and a refrain that I caught in the shape of a
Their eyes met--and what Emerson calls "the deification and
transfiguration of life" began to stir Sylvie's pulses, and set her
heart beating to a new and singular exaltation. The warm colour
flushed her cheeks--the lustre brightened in her eyes, and she
looked sweeter and more bewitching than ever as she loosened the
rich sables from about her slim throat, and drawing off her gloves
sat down to the piano. Florian Varillo lounged near her--she saw him
not at all,--Angela came up to ask if she could play an
accompaniment for her,--but she shook her bright head in a smiling
negative, and her small white fingers running over the keys, played
a rippling passage of a few bars while she raised her clear eyes to
Aubrey and asked him,--
"Do you know an old Brittany song called 'Le Palais D'Iffry'? No? It
is just one of those many songs of the unattainable,--the search for
the 'Fortunate Isles', or the 'Fata Morgana' of happiness."
"Is happiness nothing but a 'Fata Morgana'?'" asked Aubrey gently,
"Must it always vanish when just in sight?"
His eyes grew darkly passionate as he spoke, and again Sylvie's
heart beat high, but she did not answer in words,--softening the
notes of her prelude she sang in a rich mezzo-soprano, whose
thrilling tone penetrated to every part of the room, the quaint old
"Il serait un roi! Mais quelqu'un a dit, 'Non!--Pas pour toi! 'Reste
en prison,--ecoute le chant d'amour, 'Et le doux son des baisers que
la Reine a promit 'A celui qui monte, sans peur et sans retour Au
Palais D'Iffry!' Helas, mon ami, C'est triste d'ecouter le chanson
sans le chanter aussi!"
Aubrey listened to the sweet far-reaching notes--"Sans peur, et sans
retour, au Palais D'Iffry"! Thither would he climb--to that
enchanted palace of love with its rainbow towers glittering in the
"light that never was on sea or land"--to the throne of that queen
whose soft eyes beckoned him--whose kiss waited for him--everything
now must be for her--all the world for her sake, willingly lost or
willingly won! And what of the work he had undertaken? The people to
whom he had pledged his life? The great Christ-message he had
determined to re-preach for the comfort of the million lost and
sorrowful? His brows contracted,--and a sudden shadow of pain
clouded the frank clearness of his eyes. Gherardi's words came back
to his memory,--"You have embarked in a most hopeless cause! You
will help the helpless, and as soon as they are rescued out of
trouble they will turn and rend you,--you will try to teach them the
inner mysteries of God's working and they will say you are possessed
of a devil!" Then he thought of another and grander saying--"Whoso,
putting his hand to the plough, looketh back, is not fit for the
Kingdom of God!--" and over all rang the enchanting call of the
"Et le doux son des baisers que la Reine a promit A celui qui monte,
sans peur et sans retour Au Palais D'Iffry!"
and he so lost himself in a tangle of thought that he did not
observe how closely Monsignor Gherardi was studying every expression
of his face, and he started as if he had been awakened from a dream
when Sylvie's song ceased, and Sylvie herself glanced up at him.
"Music seems to make you sad, Mr. Leigh!" she said timidly.
"Not music--but sometimes the fancies which music engenders, trouble
me," he answered, bending his earnest searching eyes upon her, and
wondering within himself whether such a small, slight gossamer thing
of beauty, brilliant as a tropical humming-bird, soft and caressable
as a dove, could possibly be expected to have the sweet yet austere
fortitude and firmness needed to be a true "helpmeet" to him in the
work he had undertaken, and the life he had determined to lead. He
noted all the dainty trifles of her toilette half doubtingly, half
admiringly,--the knot of rich old lace that fastened her sables,--
the solitary star-like diamond which held that lace in careless
position--the numerous little touches of taste and elegance which
made her so unique and graceful among women--and a pang shot through
his heart as he thought of her wealth, and his own poverty. She
meanwhile, on her part, was studying him with all the close interest
that a cultured and refined woman feels, who is strongly conscious
of having awakened a sudden and masterful passion in a man whom she
secretly admires. A triumphant sense of her own power moved her,
allied to a much more rare and beautiful emotion--the sense of soul-
submission to a greater and higher life than her own. And so it
chanced that never had she looked so charming--never had her fair
cheeks flushed a prettier rose--never had her easy fascination of
manner been so bewitchingly troubled by hesitation and timidity--
never had her eyes sparkled with a softer or more irresistible
languor. Aubrey felt that he was fast losing his head as he watched
her move, speak, and smile,--and with a sudden bracing up of his
energies resolved to make his adieux at once.
"I must be going,--" he began to say, when his arm was touched from
behind, and he turned to confront Florian Varillo, who smiled with
all the brilliancy his white and even teeth could give him.
"Why must you be going?" asked Varillo cheerily, "Why not stay and
dine with my future father-in-law, and Angela, and the eminent
Cardinal? We shall all be charmed!"
"Thanks, no!--I have letters to write to England . . ."
"Good-bye!" said the Comtesse Hermenstein at this juncture,--"I am
going to drive the Princesse D'Agramont round the Pincio, will you
join us, Mr. Leigh? The Princesse is anxious to know you--may I
And without waiting for a reply, as the Princesse was close at hand,
she performed the ceremony of introduction at once in her own light
"Truly a strange meeting!" laughed Varillo, "You three ought to be
very good friends! The Comtesse Hermenstein is a devout daughter of
the Roman Church--Madame la Princesse is against all Churches--and
you, Mr. Leigh, are making your own Church!"
Aubrey did not reply. It was not the time or place to discuss either
his principles or his work, moreover he was strangely troubled by
hearing Sylvie described as "a devout daughter of the Roman Church."
"I am charmed!" said the Princesse D'Agramont, "Good fortune really
seems to favour me for once, for in the space of a fortnight I have
met two of the most distinguished men of the time, 'Gys Grandit',
and Aubrey Leigh!"
"You are too kind, Madame! Grandit and I have been friends for some
years, though we have never seen each other since I parted from him
in Touraine. But we have always corresponded."
"You have of course heard who he really is? The son of Abbe
Vergniaud?" continued the Princesse.
"I have heard--but only this morning, and I do not know any of the
details of the story."
"Then you must certainly come and drive with us," said Loyse
D'Agramont, "for I can tell you all about it. I wrote quite a
brilliant essay on it for the Figaro, and called it 'Church
Morality'!" She laughed. "Come,--we will take no denial!"
Aubrey tried to refuse, but could not,--the attraction,--the 'will
o' the wisp' magnetism of Sylvie's dainty personality drew him on,
and in a few minutes, after taking respectful leave of the Cardinal,
Prince Sovrani, and Angela, he left the studio in the company of the
two ladies. Passing Monsignor Gherardi on the way out he received a
wide smile and affable salute from that personage.
"A pleasant drive to you, Mr. Leigh," he said, "The view from the
Pincio is considered extremely fine!"
Aubrey made some formal answer and went his way. Gherardi returned
to the studio and resumed his confidential talk with Bonpre, while
one by one the visitors departed, till at last the only persons left
in the vast room were Angela and Florian Varillo, Prince Pietro, and
the two dignitaries of the Church. Florian was irritated, and made
no secret of his irritation to his fair betrothed, with whom he sat
a little apart from the others in the room.
"Do you want a love affair between Sylvie Hermenstein and that
fellow Leigh?" he enquired, "If so, it is probable that your desire
will be gratified!"
Angela raised her delicate eyebrows in a little surprise.
"I have no wish at all in the matter," she answered, "except to see
Sylvie quite happy."
"How very romantic is the friendship between you two women!" said
Varillo somewhat sarcastically, "You wish to see Sylvie happy,--and
the other day she told me she would form her judgment of me by YOUR
happiness! Really, it is most admirable and touching!"
Angela began to feel somewhat puzzled. Petulance and temper were not
in her character, and she was annoyed to see any touch of them in
"Are you cross, Florian?" she asked gently, "Has something worried
"Oh, I am often worried!" he replied;--and had he spoken the exact
truth he would have confessed that he was always seriously put out
when he was not the centre of attraction and the cynosure of women's
eyes--"But what does it matter! Do not think at all about me, cara
mia! Tell me of yourself. How goes the picture?"
"It is nearly finished now," she replied, her beautiful violet eyes
dilating and brightening with the fervour that inspired her whenever
she thought of her work, "I rise very early, and begin to paint with
the first gleam of daylight. I think I shall have it ready sooner
than I expected. The Queen has promised to come and see it here
before it is exhibited to the public."
"Margherita di Savoja is very amiable!" said Florian, with a tinge
of envy he could not wholly conceal, "She is always useful as a
A quick flush of pride rose to Angela's cheeks.
"I do not need any patronage, Florian," she said simply yet with a
little coldness, "You know that I should resent it were it offered
to me. If my work is not good in itself, no 'royal' approval can
make it so. Queen Margherita visits me as a friend--not as a
"There now! I have vexed you!" And Florian took her hand and kissed
it. "Forgive me, sweetest!--Look at me--give me a smile!--Ah! That
is kind!" and he conveyed an expression of warm tenderness into his
eyes as Angela turned her charming face upon him, softened and
radiant with the quick affection which always moved her at his voice
and caress. "I spoke foolishly! Of course my Angela could not be
patronised--she is too independent and gifted. I am very glad the
Queen is coming!"
"The Queen is coming?" echoed Gherardi, who just then advanced.
"Here? To see Donna Sovrani's picture? Ah, that will be an excellent
advertisement! But it would have been far better, my dear young
lady, had you arranged with me, or with some other one of my
confreres, to have the picture sent to the Vatican for the
inspection of His Holiness. The Popes, as you know, have from time
immemorial been the best patrons of art!"
"My picture would not please the Pope," said Angela quietly, "It
would more probably win his denunciation than his patronage."
Gherardi smiled. The idea of a woman--a mere woman imagining that
anything which she could do was powerful enough to bring down Papal
denunciation! The strange conceit of these feminine geniuses! He
could almost have laughed aloud. But he merely looked her over
blandly and forbearingly.
"I am sorry," he said, "very sorry you should consider such a thing
as possible of your work. But no doubt you speak on impulse. Your
distinguished uncle, the Cardinal Bonpre, would be sadly distressed
if your picture should contain anything of a nature to bring you any
condemnation from the Vatican,--and your father . . ."
"Leave me out of it, if you please!" interrupted Prince Pietro, "I
have nothing whatever to do with it! Angela works with a free hand;
none of us have seen what she is doing."
"Not even you, Signor Varillo?" enquired Gherardi affably.
"Oh, I?" laughed Florian carelessly, "No indeed! I have not the
least idea of the subject or the treatment!"
"A mystery then?" said Gherardi, still preserving his bland suavity
of demeanour, "But permit me, Donna Sovrani, to express the hope
that when the veil is lifted a crown of laurels may be disclosed for
Angela thanked him by a silent inclination of her head, and in a few
minutes the stately Vatican spy had taken his leave. As he
disappeared the Cardinal rose from his chair and moving somewhat
feebly, prepared to return to his own apartments.
"Dearest uncle, will you not stay with us to-night? Or are you too
tired?" asked Angela as she came to his side.
He raised her sweet face between his two wrinkled hands and looked
at her long and earnestly. "Dear child!" he said, "Dear brave little
child! For you must always be nothing more than a child to me,--tell
me, are you sure you are moved by the right spirit in the painting
of your picture?"
"I think so!" answered Angela gently, "Indeed, indeed, I think so! I
know that according to the teaching of our Master Christ, it is a
Slowly the Cardinal released her, and slowly and with impressive
earnestness traced the Cross on her fair brows.
"God bless you!" he said, "And God help you too! For if you work by
'the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter', remember it is the same Spirit
which our Lord tells us 'the world cannot receive because it seeth
Him not, neither knoweth Him.' And to testify of a Spirit which the
world cannot receive makes the world very hard to you!"
And with these words he gently leaned on the arm she proffered and
left the studio with her, the rich glow and voluminous folds of his
scarlet robes contrasting vividly with the simple black gown which
Angela wore without other adornment than a Niphetos rose to relieve
its sombreness. As she went with her uncle she looked over her
shoulder and smiled an adieu to Florian,--he, in his turn lightly
kissed his hand to her, and then addressed Prince Pietro, who, with
the care of a man to whom expense is a consideration, was putting
out some of the tall lamps that had illumined the dusk of the late
"The good Cardinal is surely breaking up," he said carelessly, "He
looks extremely frail!"
"Young men sometimes break up before old ones!" returned the Prince
drily, "Felix is strong enough yet. You dine with us to-night?"
"If you permit--" said Varillo, with a graceful salutation.
"Oh, my permission does not matter'" said Sovrani eyeing him
narrowly, "Whatever gives pleasure to Angela must needs please me.
She is all that is left to me now in an exceedingly dull world. A
riverderci! At eight we dine."
Flonan nodded,--and took his departure, and the Prince for a moment
stood hesitating, looking at the great white covering on the wall
which concealed his daughter's mysterious work. His tall upright
figure stiff and sombre, looked as if cast in bronze in the half
light shed by the wood fire,--one lamp was still burning, and after
a pause he moved from his rigid attitude of gloomy consideration,
and extinguished it, then glancing round to see that all was in
order, he left the studio, closing its great oaken door behind him.
Five minutes after he had gone a soft step trod the polished floor,
and the young Manuel, holding a lighted taper, entered all alone.
The flame of the little torch he carried cast a soft golden glow
about him as he walked noiselessly through the great empty room, his
blue eyes lifted to the marble heads of gods and heroes which
occupied their different positions on the gilded and oaken brackets
set against the tapestried walls,--and presently he paused in front
of Angela's hidden work. It was but a moment's pause, and then,
still with the same light step, and the same bright glow reflected
from the flame that glittered in his hand, he passed through the
room, lifted the velvet portiere at the other end where there was
another door leading to the corridor connected with the Cardinal's
apartments, and so unnoticed, disappeared.
Meanwhile, the Marquis Fontenelle had been nearly a fortnight in
Rome, living a sufficiently curious sort of life, and passing his
time in a constant endeavour to avoid being discovered and
recognised by any of his numerous acquaintances who were arriving
there for the winter. His chief occupation was of course to watch
the Comtesse Sylvie,--and he was rewarded for his untiring pains by
constant and bewitching glimpses of her. Sometimes he would see her
driving, wrapped in furs, her tiny Japanese dog curled up in a fold
of her sables, and on her lap a knot of violets, the fresh scent of
which came to him like a sweet breath on the air as she passed. Once
he almost met her, face to face in the gardens of the Villa
Borghese, walking all alone, and reading a book in which she seemed
to be deeply interested. He made a few cautious enquiries about her,
and learnt that she lived very quietly,--that she received certain
"great" people,--especially Cardinals and Monsignori, notably
Monsignor Gherardi, who was a constant visitor. But of any closer
admirer he never gathered the slightest rumour, till one afternoon,
just when the sun was sinking in full crimson glory behind the dome
of St. Peter's, he saw her carriage come to a sudden halt on the
Pincio and she herself leaned out of it to shake hands with, and
talk to a tall fair man, who seemed to be on exceptionally friendly
terms with her. It is true she was accompanied in the carriage by
the famous Sovrani,--but that fact did not quell the sudden flame of
jealousy which sprang up in Fontenelle's mind--for both ladies
appeared equally charmed with the fair man, and their countenances
were radiant with pleasure and animation all the time they were in
conversation with him. When the carriage resumed its round again,
the Marquis sauntered by a side path where he could take quiet
observation of his apparent rival, who walked past him with a firm
light step, looking handsome, happy, and amazingly confident. There
was an old man raking the path, and of him Fontenelle asked
"Do you know who that gentleman is?"
The gardener looked up and smiled.
"Ah, si, si! Il Signor Inglese! Molto generoso! Il Signor Aubri
Aubrey Leigh! A "celebrity" then,--an English author;--not that all
English authors are considered "celebrities" in Rome. Italian
society makes very short work of spurious art, and closes its doors
ruthlessly against mere English "Grub Street". But Aubrey Leigh was
more than an author,--he was an influential power in the world, as
the Marquis well knew.
"A great religious reformer! And yet a victim to the little Sylvie!"
he mused, "Well! The two things will not work together. Though truly
Sylvie would captivate a John Knox or a Cromwell. I really think,--I
really do begin to think, that rather than lose her altogether, I
must marry her!"
And he went back to the obscure hotel where he had chosen
temporarily to reside in a meditative mood, and as he entered, was
singularly annoyed to see a flaring poster outside, announcing the
arrival of Miraudin and his whole French Company in Rome for a few
nights only. The name "MIRAUDIN" glared at him in big, fat, red
letters on a bright yellow ground; and involuntarily he muttered,
"D--n the fellow! Can I go nowhere in the world without coming
Irritated, and yet knowing his irritation to be foolish,--for after
all, what was the famous actor to him?--what was there in his
personality to annoy him beyond the trivial fact of a curious
personal resemblance?--he retired to his room in no pleasant humour,
and sitting down began to write a letter to Sylvie asking her to be
his wife. Yet somehow the power of expression seemed lacking, and
once or twice he laid down his pen in a fit of abstraction,
wondering why, when he had sought Sylvie as a lover only, he had
been able to write the most passionate love phrases, full of ardour
and poetry, and now, when he was about to make her the offer of his
whole life, his sentences were commonplace and almost cold. And
presently he tore up what he had been writing, and paced the room
"The fact is I shall make a bad husband, and I know it!" he said
candidly to himself, "And Sylvie will make a great mistake if she
He walked to the window and looked out. His hotel was not in a
fashionable or frequented quarter of Rome, and the opposite view of
the street was anything but enlivening. Dirty, frowsy women,--idle
men, lounging along with the slouching gait which is common to the
'unemployed' Italian,--half-naked children, running hither and
thither in the mud, and screaming like tortured wild animals,--this
kind of shiftless, thriftless humanity, pictured against the
background of ugly modern houses, such as one might find in a London
back slum, made up a cheerless prospect, particularly as the blue
sky was clouded and it was beginning to rain. One touch of colour
brightened the scene for a moment, when a girl with a yellow
handkerchief tied round her head passed along, carrying a huge flat
basket overflowing with bunches of purple violets, and as Fontenelle
caught the hue, and imagined the fragrance of the flowers, he was
surprised to feel his eyes smart with a sudden sting of tears. The
picture of Sylvie Hermenstein, with her child-like head, fair hair,
and deep blue eyes, floated before him,--she was fond of violets,
and whenever she wore them, their odour seemed to be the natural
exhalation of her sweet and spirituelle personality.
"She is much too good for me!" he said half aloud, "To be perfectly
honest with myself, I know I have no stability of character, and I
cannot imagine myself remaining constant to any woman for more than
six months. And the best way is to be perfectly straight-forward
He sat down again, and without taking any more thought wrote
straight from the heart of his present humour, addressing her by the
name he had once playfully bestowed upon her.
"Enchanteresse! I am here in Rome, and this brief letter is to ask,
without preamble or apology, whether you will do me the infinite
honour to become my wife. I confess to you honestly that I am not
worth this consideration on your part, for I am not to be relied
upon. I repose no confidence in myself, therefore I will leave it to
you to measure my audacity in making the suggestion that you should
place a lifetime's confidence in me. But with all my heart, (as much
as I know of it at the present), I desire to show you what respect
so poor a life as mine can give to one who deserves all tenderness,
as well as trust. If I may hope that you will pardon my past follies
and libertinage with regard to you,--if you can love me well enough
to wear my not too exalted name, and preserve my remaining stock of
honour, summon me to your presence, and I will endeavour, by such
devotion and fidelity as in me lies, to atone for whatsoever offence
I may have given you previously by my too passionate pursuit of your
beauty. Yours, unless you decide my fate otherwise,
"GUY BEAUSIRE DE FONTENELLE."
Thrusting this note into an envelope he hastily sealed it, but
decided not to post it till late at night, in order that Sylvie
might only receive it with the early morning, when her mind was
fresh, and unswayed by any opinions or events of a long day. And to
pass the time he strolled out to one of the many "osterie," or wine-
houses which abound in Rome,--a somewhat famous example of its kind
in the Via Quattro Fontane. Choosing a table where he could sit with
his back turned towards the door, so as to avoid being seen by
either strangers or possible friends, he took up the Giornale
Romano, and ordered a "mezzo-litro" of the "Genzano" wine, for which
that particular house has long been celebrated. He sat there about
half an hour thus quietly reading,--scarcely hearing the loud voices
and louder laughter of the men who came and went around him, when
suddenly the name "Sylvie Hermenstein" caught his ear. It was spoken
carelessly and accompanied with a laugh. Quietly laying down his
newspaper, he sat very still in his chair, keeping his back turned
to the groups of wine drinkers who were gathering in large numbers
as the evening advanced, and listened.
"The most delicious little bonbon in the whole box! Jolie a
craquer!" said a man's voice.
"Chocolat fondant! Garantie tres pure!" cried another, his words
being followed by a shout of laughter.
Fontenelle gripped the arm of his chair, and held himself rigid, but
ready to spring.
"The Church always knows where to find the prettiest women," said
the first man who had spoken, "from the Santissima Madonna
downwards! What would become of the Pope if it were not for the
"Bah! The Pope is only one man, but what would become of all the
Monsignori?" asked a voice different to the rest in mellowness and
deep quality, but with a touch of insolent mockery in its tone.
Another burst of laughter answered him.
Fontenelle turned in his chair and looked at the last speaker, and
to his amazement saw the actor, Miraudin. He was leaning carelessly
against the wine counter, a half-emptied "fiaschetto" in front of
him, and a full glass of wine in his hand.
"The Monsignori would be all desolate bachelors!" he went on,
lazily, "And the greatest rascal in the Vatican, Domenico Gherardi,
would no longer be the fortunate possessor of the wealth, the
influence, and the dear embraces of the fascinating Hermenstein!"
Scarcely had he spoken when the glass he held was dashed out of his
hand, and Fontenelle, white with fury, struck him smartly and full
across the face. A scene of the wildest confusion and uproar ensued.
All the men in the wine-shop crowded around them, and for a moment
Miraudin, blinded by the blow, and the wine that had splashed up
against his eyes, did not see who had struck him, but as he
recovered from the sudden shock and stared at his opponent, he broke
into a wild laugh.
"Diantre! Ban soir, Monsieur le Marquis! Upon my life, there is
something very strange in this! Fate or the devil, or both! Well!
"You are a liar and a blackguard!" said Fontenelle fiercely, "And
unless you apologise for your insult to the lady whose name you have
presumed to utter with your mountebank tongue--"
"Apologise! I! Moi!--genie de France! Never!" retorted Miraudin with
an air of swaggering audacity, "All women are alike! I speak from
White to the lips, the Marquis Fontenelle looked around.
"Are there any MEN here?" he asked, eying the crowd about him with
A young fellow stepped forward. "At your command, Marquis! You
served me once--I shall be happy to serve you now!"
Quickly Fontenelle shook hands with this timely friend. He
recognised in him a young Italian officer, named Ruspardi, an
acquaintance of some years back, to whom he had chanced to be useful
in a pressing moment of need.
"Thanks! Arrange everything for me, will you, Ruspardi? And as
quickly as possible!"
"It is nearly midnight now," said Ruspardi in a low tone, "Shall we
say five or six in the morning?"
"Yes--anything you like--but quickly!"
Then raising his head haughtily, he addressed Miraudin in distinct
"Monsieur Miraudin, you have greatly insulted and falsely slandered
a lady whom I have the honour to know. I have struck you for your
lie; and consider you worthy of no further treatment save a
horsewhipping in public. Gentlemen do not as a rule condescend to
meet their paid servants--actors and the like,--in single combat--
but I will do you that honour!"
And with these words he bowed haughtily to all present, and left the
scene of noisy disorder.
Out in the streets the moonlight lay in broad silver bands, like
white glistening ribbon spread in shining strips across the
blackness, and there was a moisture in the air which,--dropped as it
were fresh, from the surrounding hills,--cooled Fontenelle's flushed
face and burning brows. He walked rapidly,--he had a vague, unformed
desire in his mind to see Sylvie again if possible. He knew where
she lived, and he soon turned down the street where the quaint old
central balcony of the Casa D'Angeli thrust itself forward into the
moon-rays among the sculptured angels' wings,--and he saw that the
windows were open. Pausing underneath he waited, hesitating--full of
strange thoughts and stranger regrets. How poor and valueless seemed
his life as he regarded it now!--now when he had voluntarily placed
it in jeopardy! What had he done with his days of youth and prime?
Frittered away every valuable moment,--thrown to the winds every
costly opportunity,--spent his substance on light women who had
kissed and clung to him one day, and repulsed him the next. Well--
and after? His heart beat thickly,--if he could only see Sylvie for
a moment! Hush! There was a murmur--a voice--a ripple of sweet
laughter; and moving cautiously back into the shadows, he looked up-
-yes!--there she was--clad in some soft silvery stuff that gathered
a thousand sparkles from the light of the moon,--her fair hair
caught up in a narrow circlet of diamonds, and her sweet face purely
outlined against the dark worn stone of one of the great carved
angel-wings. But someone was with her,--someone whom Fontenelle
recognised at once by the classic shape of his head and bright curly
hair,--the man whom he had seen that very day on the Pincio,--Aubrey
Leigh. With a jealous tightening at his heart, Fontenelle saw that
Leigh held the soft plume of downy feathers which served Sylvie for
a fan, and that he was lightly waving it to and fro as he talked to
her in the musical, all-potent voice which had charmed thousands,
and would surely not be without its fascination for the sensitive
ears of a woman. Moving a little closer he tried to hear what was
being said,--but Leigh spoke very softly, and Sylvie answered with
equal softness, so that he could catch no distinct word. Yet the
mere tone of these two voices melted into a harmony more dulcet and
perfect than could be endured by Fontenelle with composure, and
uttering an impatient exclamation at his own folly he hastily left
his retreat, and with one parting glance up at the picture of fair
loveliness above him walked swiftly away. Returning to his hotel he
saw the letter that he had written to Sylvie lying on the table, and
he at once posted it. Then he began to prepare for his encounter
with Miraudin. He dressed quickly,--wrote a few business letters,--
and was about to lie down for a rest of an hour or so when the swift
and furious galloping of a horse's hoofs awoke the echoes of the
quiet street, and almost before he had time to realise what had
happened, his friend Ruspardi stood before him, breathless and wild
"Marquis, you are tricked!" he cried, "Everything is prepared--
seconds,--pistols,--all! But your man--your man has gone!"
"Gone!" exclaimed Fontenelle furiously, "Where?"
"Out of Rome! In a common fiacre--taking his latest mistress, one of
the stage-women with him. They were seen driving by the Porta Pia
towards the Campagna half an hour ago! He dare not face fire--bully
and coward that he is!"
"I will go after him!" said Fontenelle promptly, "Half an hour
ahead, you say! Good!--I will catch him up. Can I get a horse
"Take mine," said Ruspardi eagerly, "he is perfectly fresh--just out
of the stable. Have you weapons?"
"Yes," and the Marquis unlocked a case, and loading two, placed them
in a travelling holder. Then, turning to Ruspardi he shook hands.
"Thanks, a thousand times! There are a few letters here--see to them
if I should not come back."
"What are you going to do?" asked Ruspardi, his excitement beginning
to cool a little, now that he saw the possible danger into which
Fontenelle was voluntarily rushing.
"Persuade the worthy mountebank either to come back or fight at once
on whatever ground I find him, and assume to be a gentleman--for
once!" said Fontenelle, carelessly. "Addio!"
And without further words he hurried off, and tossing a twenty-franc
piece to the sleepy hotel porter who was holding Ruspardi's horse
outside, he flung himself into the saddle and galloped away.
Ruspardi, young and hotblooded, was of too mercurial a disposition
to anticipate any really serious results of the night's adventure;--
his contempt for a coward was far greater than his fear of death,
and he was delighted to think that in all probability the Marquis
would use his riding-whip on Miraudin's back rather than honour him
by a pistol shot. And so dismissing all fears from his mind he took
Fontenelle's letters in his charge, and went straight out of the
hotel singing gaily, charmed with the exciting thought of the
midnight chase which was going on, and the possible drubbing and
discomfiture of the "celebrated" Miraudin.
Meanwhile, under the flashing stars, and through the sleeping
streets of Rome, the Marquis galloped with almost breakneck haste.
He was a daring rider, and the spirited animal he bestrode soon
discovered the force of his governing touch,--the resolve of his
urging speed. He went by the Porta Pia, remembering Ruspardi's
hurried description of the route taken by the runaway actor, and
felt, rather than saw the outline of the Villa Torlonia, as he
rushed past, and the Basilica of St. Agnese Fuori le Mura, which is
supposed to cover the tomb of the child-martyr St. Agnes,--then
across the Ponte Nomentano, till, two miles further on, in the white
radiance of the moon, he perceived, driving rapidly ahead of him,
the vehicle of which he was in pursuit. Letting the reins fall
loosely on the neck of his straining steed, he raised himself in his
stirrups, and by his own movements assisted the animal's now
perfectly reckless gallop,--and at last, hearing the flying hoofs
behind, the driver of the fiacre became seized with panic, and
thinking of possible brigands and how to pacify them, he suddenly
pulled up and came to a dead halt. A head was thrust out of the
carriage window,--Miraudin's head,--and Miraudin's voice shouted in
"What are you stopping for, rascal! On with you! On with you! Five
hundred francs for your best speed!"
Scarcely had he uttered the words when the Marquis gained the side
of the vehicle, and pulling up his horse till it almost fell in
rearing backwards, he cried furiously,
"Lache! Tu vas te crever sur terre avant je te quitte!"
And he struck his riding-whip full in the actor's face.
Springing out of the fiacre Miraudin confronted his antagonist. His
hat was off--and his countenance, marked as it was with the crimson
line of the lash, lightened with laughter.
"Again! Monsieur le Marquis, je vous salue!" he said, "Kismet! One
cannot escape it! Better to fight with you, beau sire, than with
destiny! I am ready!"
Fontenelle at once dismounted, and tied his horse to the knotted
bough of a half-withered tree. Taking his pistols out of their
holder he proffered them to Miraudin.
"Choose!" he said curtly, "Or use your own if you have any,--but
mine are loaded,--take care yours are! Play no theatrical tricks on
such a stage as this! "And then he gave a comprehensive wave of his
hand towards the desolate waste of the Campagna around them, and the
faint blue misty lines of the Alban hills just rimmed with silver in
the rays of the moon.
At the first sight of the pistols the driver of the fiacre, who had
been more or less stupefied till now, by the suddenness of the
adventure, gave a sort of whining cry, and climbing down from his
box fell on his knees before Miraudin, and then ran a few paces and
did the same thing in front of the Marquis, imploring both men not
to fight,--not to get killed, on account of the trouble it would
cause to him, the coachman;--and with a high falsetto shriek a lady
flung herself out of the recesses of the closed vehicle, and clung
to the actor's arm.
"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! What is it you would do?" she cried, "Be killed
out here on the Campagna? and not a soul in sight--not a house--not
a shelter? And what is to become of me!--Me!--Me!--" and she tapped
her heaving bosom in melodramatic style, "Have you thought of ME?"
"You--you!" laughed Miraudin, tearing off the lace veil which she
wore wrapped loosely round her head and shoulders, "You, Jeanne
Richaud! What is to become of you? The same fate will attend you
that attends all such little moths of the footlights! Perhaps a
dozen more lovers after me--then old age, and the care of a third-
class lodging-house for broken-down actors!" Here he chose his
weapon. "At your service, Marquis!"
Jeanne Richaud, a soubrette, whose chief stock-in-trade had been her
large dark eyes and shapely legs, uttered a desperate scream, and
threw herself at the feet of the Marquis Fontenelle.
"Monsieur! Monsieur! Think for a moment! This combat is unequal--out
of rule! You are a gentleman,--a man of honour!--would you fight
without seconds? It is murder--murder--!"
Here she broke off, terrified in spite of herself by the
immovability of Fontenelle's attitude, and the coldness of his eyes.
"I regret to pain you, Madame," he said stiffly, "This combat was
arranged according to rule between Monsieur Miraudin and myself some
hours since--and though it seems he did not intend to keep his
engagement I intend to keep mine! The principals in the fight are
here,--seconds are, as their name implies, a secondary matter. We
must do without them."
"By no means!" exclaimed Miraudin, "We have them! Here they are!
You, Jeanne, will you be my second--how often you have seconded me
in many a devil's game--and you--cochon d'un cocher!--you will for
once in your life support the honour of a Marquis!"
And with these words he seized the unhappy Roman cab-driver by the
collar of his coat, and flung him towards Fontenelle, who took not
the slightest notice of him as he lay huddled up and wailing on the
grass, but merely stood his ground, silently waiting. Mademoiselle
Jeanne Richaud however was not so easily disposed of. Throwing
herself on the cold ground, thick with the dust of dead Caesars, she
clung to Miraudin, pouring out a torrent of vociferous French,
largely intermixed with a special slang of the Paris streets, and
broken by the hysterical yells when she saw her "protector" throw
off his coat, and, standing in his shirt-sleeves, take close
observation of the pistol he held.
"Is this your care of me?" she cried, "Mon Dieu! What a thing is a
man! Here am I alone in a strange country--and you endanger your
life for some quarrel of which I know nothing,--yet you pretend to
love me! Nom de Jesus! What is your love!"
"You do well to ask," said Miraudin, laughing carelessly, "What is
my love! A passing fancy, chere petite! We actors simulate love too
well to ever feel it! Out of the way, jou-jou! Your life will be
amusing so long as you keep a little beaute de diable. After that--
He pushed her aside, but she still clung pertinaciously to his arm.
"Victor! Victor!" she wailed, "Will you not look at me--will you not
Miraudin wheeled round, and stared at her amazed.
"Kiss you!" he echoed, "Pardieu! Would you care! Jeanne! Jeanne! You
are a little mad,--the moonlight is too much for you! To-morrow I
will kiss you, when the sun rises--or if I am not here--why,
somebody else will!"
"Who is the woman you are fighting for?" she suddenly demanded,
springing up from her crouching position with flushed cheeks and
flashing eyes. Miraudin looked at her with nonchalant admiration.
"I wish you would have looked like that sometimes on my stage," he
said, "You would have brought down the house! 'Woman!' No 'woman' at
all, but WOMEN! The glamour of them--the witchery of them--women!--
the madness of them! Women!--The ONE woman saves when the ONE woman
exists, but then,--we generally kill HER! Now, once more, Jeanne,--
out of the way! Time flies, and Monsieur le Marquis is in haste. He
has many fashionable engagements!"
He flashed upon her a look from the bright amorous hazel eyes, that
were potent to command and difficult to resist, and she cowered
back, trembling and sobbing hysterically as the Marquis advanced.
"You are ready?" he enquired civilly.
"Shall we say twelve paces?"
Deliberately Fontenelle dug his heel into the ground and measured
twelve paces from that mark between himself and his antagonist. Then
with cold courtesy he stood aside for Miraudin to assure himself
that the measurement was correct. The actor complied with this
formality in a sufficiently composed way, and with a certain grace
and dignity which Fontenelle might almost have taken for bravery if
he had not been so convinced that the man was "acting" still in his
mind, and was going through a "part" which he disliked, but which he
was forced to play. And with it all there was something indefinable
about him--something familiar in the turn of his head, the glance of
his eye, the movement of his body, which annoyed Fontenelle, because
he saw in all these little personal touches such a strong
resemblance to himself. But there was now no time to think, as the
moment for the combat drew near. Jeanne Richaud was still weeping
hysterically and expostulating with the cab-driver, who paid no
attention whatsoever to her pleadings, but remained obstinately on
his knees out of harm's way, begging the "Santissima Madonna" and
all his "patron saints" to see him safely with his fiacre back to
the city. That was all he cared for.
"We have no one to give us a signal," said Miraudin lightly, "But
there is a cloud on the moon. When it passes, shall we fire?"
The Marquis bowed assent.
For a moment the moon-rays were obscured,--and a faint sigh from the
wind stirred the long dry grass. A bat flew by, scurrying towards
the Catacombs of Alexander,--a shadow lay upon the land. The
combatants,--so singularly alike in form and feature,--stood rigidly
in position, their weapons raised,--their only witnesses a cabman
and a wanton, both creatures terrified out of their wits for
themselves and their own safety. Swiftly the cloud passed--and a
brilliant silver glory was poured out on hill and plain and broken
column,--and as it shone, the two shots were fired simultaneously--
the two bullets whizzed through the air. A light puff of smoke rose
in the moonbeams--it cleared--and Miraudin reeled backwards and fell
heavily to the ground. Fontenelle stood upright, but staggered a
little,--instinctively putting his hand to his breast. Jeanne
Richaud rushed to the side of her fallen lover.
Miraudin struggled up to a half sitting position--the blood was
welling up thickly from a wound in his lungs. Half suffocated as he
was, he made a strong effort to speak, and succeeded.
"Not you--not you!" he gasped, "Do not touch me! Do not come near
me! Him!--him!" And he pointed to Fontenelle who still stood erect,
swaying slightly to and fro with a dazed far-off look in his eyes--
but now--as the frenzied soubrette beckoned him, he moved unsteadily
to the side of his mortally wounded opponent, and there, through
weakness, not emotion, dropped on his knees. Miraudin looked at him
with staring filmy eyes.
"How I have hated you, Monsieur le Marquis!" he muttered thickly,
"How I have hated you! Yes--as Cain hated Abel! For we--we are
brothers as they were--born of the same father--ah! You start!" for
Fontenelle uttered a gasping cry--"Yes--in spite of your pride, your
lineage, your insolent air of superiority--YOUR father was MY
father!--the late Marquis was no more satisfied with one wife than
any of us are!--and had no higher code of honour! YOUR mother was a
grande dame,--MINE was a 'light o' love' like this feeble creature!"
and he turned his glance for a moment on the shuddering, wailing
Jeanne Richaud. "YOU were the legal Marquis--_I_ the illegal
genius! . . . yes--genius--!"
He broke off, struggling for breath.
"Do you hear me?" he whispered thickly, "Do you hear?"
"I hear," answered Fontenelle, speaking with difficulty, "You have
hated me, you say--hate me no more!--for hate is done with--and love
He grasped the rank grass with both hands in sudden agony, and his
face grew livid. Miraudin turned himself on one arm.
"Dying! You, too! By Heaven! Then the Marquisate must perish! I
should have fired in the air--but--but the sins of the
fathers . . . what is it?" Here a ghastly smile passed over his
features, "The sins of the fathers--are visited on the children!
What a merciful Deity it is, to make such an arrangement!--and the
excellent fathers!--when all the children meet them--I wonder what
they will have to say to each other I wonder . . ." A frightful shudder
convulsed his body and he threw up his arms.
"'Un peu d'amour,
Et puis--bon soir!'
C'est ca! Bon soir, Marquis!"
A great sigh broke from his lips, through which the discoloured
blood began to ooze slowly--he was dead. And Fontenelle, whose wound
bled inwardly, turned himself wearily round to gaze on the rigid
face upturned to the moon. His brother's face! So like his own! He
was not conscious himself of any great pain--he felt a dizzy languor
and a drowsiness as of dreams--but he knew what the dreaming meant,-
-he knew that he would soon sleep to wake again--but where? He did
not see that the woman who had professed to love Miraudin had
already rushed away from his corpse in terror, and was entreating
the cabman to drive her quickly from the scene of combat,--he
realised nothing save the white moonbeams on the still face of the
man who in God's sight had been his brother. Fainter and still
fainter grew his breath--but he felt near his heart for a little
crumpled knot of filmy lace which he always carried--a delicate
trifle which had fallen from one of Sylvie's pretty evening gowns
once, when he had caught her in his arms and sworn his passion. He
kissed it now, and inhaled its violet perfume--as he took it from
his lips he saw that it was stained with blood. The heavy languor
upon him grew heavier--and in the dark haze which began to float
before his eyes he saw women's faces, some beautiful, some devilish,
yet all familiar,--he felt himself sinking--sinking into some deep
abyss of shadows, so dark and dreary that he shuddered with the icy
cold and horror, till Sylvie came, yes!--Sylvie's soft eyes shone
upon him, full of the pity and tenderness of some divine angel near
God's throne,--an angel of sweetness--an angel of forgiveness--ah!--
so sweet she was, so childlike, so trusting, so fair, so enticing in
those exquisite ways of hers which had pleaded with him, prayed to
him, tried to draw him back from evil, and incite him to noble
thought; "ways" that would have persuaded him to cleanse his flag of
honour from the mud of social vice and folly, and lift it to the
heavens white and pure! Ah, sweet ways!--sweet voice!--sweet woman!-
-sweet possibilities of life now gone forever! Again that sinking,--
that icy chill! His eyes were closing--yet he forced himself to open
them as he sank back heavily on the turf, and then--then he saw the
great white moon descending on him as it seemed, like a shield of
silver flung down to crush him, by some angry god!
"Sylvie!--Sylvie!" he muttered, "I never knew--how much I loved you-
His eyes closed--a little smile flickered on his mouth for a moment-
-and then the Shadow fell. And he lay stark and pallid in the
moonlight, close to the brother he had never known till the last
hour of life had revealed the bond of blood between them. Side by
side they lay,--strangely alike in death,--men to whom the
possibilities of noble living had been abundantly given, and who had
wasted all their substance on vanity. For Victor Miraudin, despite
his genius and the brilliancy of his art, was not likely to be
longer remembered or mourned than the Marquis Fontenelle. The fame
of the actor is even less than that of the great noble,--the actor's
name is but a bubble on the air which a breath disperses,--and the
heir to a proud house is only remembered by the flattering
inscription on his tombstone. Forgotten Caesars, greater than any
living monarch, had mixed their bones with the soil where these two
sons of one father lay dead,--the bright moon was their sanctuary
lamp,--the stars their funeral torches,--the width of the Campagna