Part 8 out of 13
their bier, and the heavens their pall. And when the two terrified
witnesses of the fatal fight realised the position, and saw that
both combatants had truly perished, there were no regrets, no
lamentations, no prayers, no thought of going for assistance. With
the one selfish idea uppermost,--that of escaping immediate trouble-
-Jeanne Richaud rallied her scattered wits, and dragging the praying
and gesticulating cab-driver up from his knees, she bade him mount
his box and drive her back to the city. Tremblingly he prepared to
obey, but not without unfastening the horse which the dead Marquis
had so lately ridden, and taking some trouble to attach it to his
vehicle for his own uses.
"For if we do this, they will never know!" he muttered with
chattering teeth, "A horse is always a horse--and this is a good
animal, more valuable than the men;--and when they find the men that
is none of our business. In--in with you, Madama! I will drive you
into the city,--that is, if you give me a thousand francs instead of
the five hundred your man promised me! Otherwise I will leave you
"A thousand!" shrieked Richaud, "Oh, thief! You know I am a poor
stranger--Oh, mon Dieu! Do not murder me!" This, as the driver,
having hustled her into the vehicle and shut the door, now shook his
dirty fist at her threateningly. "Oh!--what a night of horror! Yes--
yes!--a thousand!--anything!--only take me back to Rome!"
Satisfied in his own mind that he had intimidated her sufficiently
to make her give him whatever he demanded, the driver who, despite
his native cupidity, was seriously alarmed for his own safety,
hesitated no longer, and the noise of the dashing wheels and the
galloping hoofs woke loud echoes from the road, and dull
reverberations from the Ponte Nomentano, as the equipage, with two
horses now instead of one, clattered out of sight. And then came
silence,--the awful silence of the Campagna--a silence like no other
silence in the world--brooding like darkness around the dead.
The next morning dawned with all the strange half mystical glow of
light and colour common to the Italian sky,--flushes of pink warmed
the gray clouds, and dazzling, opalescent lines of blue suggested
the sun without declaring it,--and Sylvie Hermenstein, who had
passed a restless and wakeful night, rose early to go on one of what
her society friends called her "eccentric" walks abroad, before the
full life of the city was up and stirring. She, who seemed by her
graceful mignonne fascinations and elegant toilettes, just a
butterfly of fashion and no more, was truly of a dreamy and poetic
nature,--she had read very deeply, and the griefs and joys of
humanity presented an ever-varying problem to her refined and
penetrative mind. She was just now interesting herself in subjects
which she had never studied so closely before,--and she was
gradually arriving at the real secret of the highest duty of life,--
that of serving and working for others without consideration for
oneself. A great love was teaching her as only a great love can;--a
love which she scarcely dared to admit to herself, but which
nevertheless was beginning to lead her step by step, into that
mysterious land, half light, half shadow, which is the nearest road
to Heaven,--a land where we suffer gladly for another's sorrow, and
are joyous in our own griefs, because another is happy! To love ONE
greatly, means to love ALL more purely,--and to find heart-room and
sympathy for the many sorrows and perplexities of those who are not
as uplifted as ourselves. For the true mission of the divine passion
in its divinest form, is that it should elevate and inspire the
soul, bringing it to the noblest issues, and for this it must be
associated with respect, as well as passion. No true soul can love
what it does not sincerely feel to be worthy of love. And Sylvie--
the brilliant little caressable Sylvie, whose warm heart had been so
long unsatisfied, was, if not yet crowned by the full benediction of
love, still gratefully aware of the wonderful colour and interest
which had suddenly come into her life with the friendship of Aubrey
Leigh. His conversation, so different to the "small talk" of the
ordinary man, not only charmed her mind, but strengthened and
tempered it,--his thoughtful and tender personal courtesy filled her
with that serenity which is always the result of perfect manner,--
his high and pure ideas of life moved her to admiration and homage,-
-and when she managed to possess herself of every book he had
written, and had read page after page, sentence after sentence, of
the glowing, fervent, passionate language, in which he denounced
shams and glorified truth,--the firmness and fearlessness with which
he condemned religious hypocrisy, and lifted pure Christianity to
the topmost pinnacle of any faith ever known or accepted in the
world, her feelings for him, while gaining fresh warmth, grew deeper
and more serious, merging into reverence as well as submission. She
had a book of his with her as a companion to her walk this very
morning, and as she entered the Pamphili woods, where she had a
special "permesso" to go whenever she chose, and trod the mossy
paths, where the morning sun struck golden shafts between the dark
ilex-boughs, as though pointing to the thousands of violets that
blossomed in the grass beneath, she opened it at a page containing
"Who is it that dares assert that his life or his thoughts are his
own? No man's life is his own! It is given to him in charge to use
for the benefit of others,--and if he does not so use it, it is
often taken from him when he least expects it. 'THOU FOOL, THIS
NIGHT THY LIFE SHALL BE REQUIRED OF THEE!' No man's thoughts even,
are his own. They are the radiations of the Infinite Mind of God
which pass through every living atom. The beggar may have the same
thought as the Prime Minister,--he only lacks the power of
expression. The more helpless and inept the beggar, the greater the
responsibility of the Premier. For the Premier has received
education, culture, training, and the choice of the people, and to
him is given the privilege of voicing the beggar's thought. And not
only the beggar's thought, but the thoughts of all in the nation who
have neither the skill nor the force to speak. If he does not do
what he is thus elected to do, he is but an inefficient master of
affairs. And what shall we say of the ministers of Religion who are
'ordained' to voice the Message of Christ? To echo the Divine!--to
repeat the grand Ethics of Life,--the Law of Love and Charity and
Forbearance and Pity and Forgiveness! When one of these highly
destined servants of the Great King fails in his duty,--when he
cannot pardon the sinner,--when he looks churlishly upon a child, or
condemns the innocent amusements of the young and happy,--when he
makes the sweet Sabbath a day of penance instead of praise--of
tyranny instead of rest,--when he has no charity for backsliders, no
sympathy for the sorrowful, no toleration for the contradictors of
his own particular theory--do we not feel that his very existence is
a blasphemy, and his preaching a presumption!"
Here Sylvie raised her eyes from the book. She was near an ancient
cedar-tree whose dark spreading boughs, glistening with the early
morning dew, sparkled like a jewelled canopy in the sun,--at her
feet the turf was brown and bare, but a little beyond at the turn of
the pathway, a cluster of white narcissi waved their graceful stems
to the light wind. There was a rustic bench close by, and she sat
down to rest and think. Very sweet thoughts were hers,--such
thoughts as sweet women cherish when they dream of Love. Often the
dream vanishes before realisation, but this does not make the time
of dreaming less precious or less fair. Lost in a reverie which in
its pleasantness brought a smile to her lips, she did not hear a
stealthy footstep on the grass behind her, or feel a pair of dark
eyes watching her furtively from between the cedar-boughs,--and she
started with surprise, and something of offence also, as Monsigner
Gherardi suddenly appeared and addressed her,--
"Buon giorno, Contessa!"
She rose from her seat and saluted him in silence, instinctively
grasping the book she held a little closer. But Gherardi's quick
glance had already perceived the title and the name of its author.
"You improve the time!" he said, sarcastically, pacing slowly beside
her. "To one of your faith and devotion that book should be
She raised her clear eyes and looked at him straightly,
"Is the sunlight accursed?" she said, "The grass or the
flowers? The thoughts in this book are as pure and beautiful
Gherardi smiled. The enthusiasm of a woman's unspoilt nature was
always a source of amusement to him.
"Your sentiments are very pretty and poetic!" he said, "But they are
exaggerated. That book is on the 'Index'!"
"Yes, of course it would be!" answered Sylvie quietly, "I have often
wondered why so much fine literature is condemned by the Church,--
and do you know, it occurred to me the other day that if our Lord
had WRITTEN what He said in the form of a book, it might be placed
on the 'Index' also?"
Gherardi lifted his eyes from their scrutiny of the ground, and
fixed them upon her with a look of amazement that was almost a
menace. But she was not in the least intimidated,--and her face,
though pale as the narcissi she had just seen in blossom, was very
"Are you the Comtesse Hermenstein?" said Gherardi then, after an
impressive pause, "The faithful, gentle daughter of Holy Church? or
are you some perverted spirit wearing her semblance?"
"If I am a perverted spirit you ought to be able to exorcise me,
Monsignor!" she said,--"With the incense of early Mass clinging to
you, and the holy water still fresh on your hands, you have only to
say, 'Retro me Sathanas!' and if I am NOT Sylvie Hermenstein I shall
melt into thin air, leaving nothing but the odour of sulphur behind
me! But if I AM Sylvie Hermenstein, I shall remain invincible and
immovable,--both in myself and in my opinions!"
Gherardi controlled his rising irritation, and was silent for some
minutes, reflecting within himself that if the fair Countess had
suddenly turned restive and wayward, it was probably because she was
falling in love with the author whose works she defended, and taking
this into consideration, he judged it would be wisest to temporise.
"Invincible you always are!" he said in softer tones, "As many
unhappy men in Europe can testify!"
"Are you among them?" queried Sylvie mischievously, the light of
laughter beginning to twinkle and flash in her pretty eyes.
"Of course!" answered Gherardi suavely, though his heart beat
thickly, and the secret admiration he had always felt for the
delicate beauty of this woman who was so utterly out of his reach,
made his blood burn with mingled rage and passion. "Even a poor
priest is not exempt from temptation!"
Sylvie hummed a little tune under her breath, and looked up at the
"It will be a lovely day!" she said--"There will be no rain!"
"Is that the most interesting thing you can say to me?" queried
"The weather is always interesting," she replied, "And it is such a
safe subject of conversation!"
"Then you are afraid of dangerous subjects?"
"Oh no, not at all! But I dislike quarrelling,--and I am afraid I
should get very angry if you were to say anything more against the
book I am reading"--here she paused a moment, and then added
steadily, "or its author!"
"I am aware that he is a great friend of yours," said Gherardi
gently, "And I assure you, Contessa--seriously I assure you, I
should be the last person in the world to say anything against him.
Indeed, there is nothing to say, beyond the fact that he is,
according to our religion, a heretic--but he is a brilliant and
intellectual heretic,--WELL WORTH REDEEMING!" He emphasised the
words, and shot a meaning glance at her; but she did not appear to
take his hint or fathom his intention. She walked on steadily, her
eyes downcast,--her tiny feet, shod in charming little French
walking shoes, peeping in and out with a flash of steel on their
embroidered points, from under the mysterious gleam of silk flounces
that gave a soft "swish," as she moved,--her golden hair escaping in
one or two silky waves from under a picturesque black hat, fastened
on by velvet ribbons, which were tied in a captivating knot under
the sweetest of little white chins, a chin whose firm contour almost
contradicted the sensitive lines of the kissable mouth above it. A
curious, dull sense of anger teased the astute brain of Domenico
Gherardi, as with all the dignified deportment of the stately
churchman, he walked on by her side. What was all his scheming
worth, he began to think, if this slight feminine creature proved
herself more than a match for him? The utmost he could do with his
life and ambitions was to sway the ignorant, cram his coffers with
gold, and purchase a change of mistresses for his villa at Frascati.
But love,--real love, from any human creature alive he never had
won, and knew he never should win. Sylvie Hermenstein was richer far
than he,--she had not only wealth and a great position, but the joys
of a natural existence, and of a perfect home-life were not denied
to her. Presently, seeing that they were approaching the gates of
exit from the Pamphili, he said,--
"Contessa, will you give me the favour of an hour's conversation
with you one afternoon this week? I have something of the very
greatest importance to say to you."
"Can you not say it now?" asked Sylvie.
"No, it would take too long,--besides, if walls have ears, it is
possible that gardens have tongues! I should not presume to trouble
you, were it not for the fact that my business concerns the welfare
of your friend, Mr. Aubrey Leigh, in whose career I think you are
interested,--and not only Mr. Leigh, but also Cardinal Bonpre. You
will be wise to give me the interview I seek,--unwise if you refuse
"Monsignor, you have already been well received at my house, and
will be well received again,"--said Sylvie with a pretty dignity,
"Provided you do not abuse my hospitality by calumniating my
FRIENDS, whatever you may think of myself,--you will be welcome!
What day, and at what hour shall I expect you?"
Gherardi considered a moment.
"I will write," he said at last, "I cannot at this moment fix the
time, but I will not fail to give you notice. A riverderci!
And he left her abruptly at the gates, walking rapidly in the
direction of the Vatican. Full of vague perplexities to which she
could give no name, Sylvie went homewards slowly, and as she entered
her rooms, and responded to the affectionate morning greetings of
Madame Bozier, she was conscious of a sudden depression that stole
over her bright soul like a dark cloud on a sunny day, and made her
feel chilled and sad. Turning over the numerous letters that waited
her perusal, she recognised the handwriting of the Marquis
Fontenelle on one, and took it up with a strange uneasy dread and
beating of the heart. She read it twice through, before entirely
grasping its meaning, and then--as she realised that the man who had
caused her so much pain and shame by his lawless and reckless
pursuit of her in the character of a libertine, was now, with a
frank confession of his total unworthiness, asking her to be his
wife,--the tears rushed to her eyes, and a faint cry broke from her
"Oh, I cannot . . . I cannot!" she murmured, "Not now--not now!"
Madame Bozier looked at her in distress and amazement.
"What is the matter, dear?" she asked, "Some bad news?"
Silently Sylvie handed her Fontenelle's letter.
"Dear me! He is actually in Rome!" said the old lady, "And he asks
you to be his wife! Well, dear child, is not that what you had a
right to expect from him?"
"Yes--perhaps--but I cannot--not now!--Oh no, not now!" murmured
Sylvie, and her eyes, wet with tears, were full of an infinite pain.
"But--pardon me dear--do you not love him?"
Sylvie stood silent--gazing blankly before her, with such perplexity
and sorrow in her face that her faithful gouvernante grew anxious
"Child, do not look like that!" she exclaimed, "It cuts me to the
heart! You were not made for sorrow!"
"Dear Katrine,--we were all made for sorrow," said Sylvie slowly,
"Sorrow is good for us. And perhaps I have not had sufficient of it
to make me strong. And this is real sorrow to me,--to refuse
"But why refuse him if you love him?" asked Madame Bozier
Sylvie sat down beside her, and put one soft arm caressingly round
"Ah, Katrine,--that is just my trouble," she said, "I do not love
him now! When I first met him he attracted me greatly, I confess,--
he seemed so gentle, so courteous, and above all, so true! But it
was 'seeming' only, Katrine!--and he was not anything of what he
seemed. His courtesy and gentleness were but a mask for
licentiousness,--his apparent truth was but a disguise for mere
reckless and inconstant passion. I had to find this bit by bit,--and
oh, how cruel was the disillusion! How I prayed for him, wept for
him, tried to think that if he loved me he might yet endeavour to be
nobler and truer for my sake. But his love was not great enough for
that. What he wanted was the body of me, not the soul. What _I_
wanted of him was the soul, not the body! So we played at cross
purposes,--each with a different motive,--and gradually, as I came
to recognise how much baseness and brutality there is in mere
libertinism,--how poor and paltry an animal man becomes when he
serves himself and his passions only, my attraction for him
diminished,--I grew to realise that I could never raise him out of
the mud, because he had lived by choice too long in it,--I could
never persuade him to be true, even to himself, because he found the
ways of falsehood and deceit more amusing. He did unworthy things,
which I could not, with all my admiration for him, gloze over or
excuse;--in fact, I found that in his private life and code of
honour he was very little better than Miraudin,--and Miraudin, as
you know, one CANNOT receive!"
"He is in Rome also," said Madame Bozier, "I saw his name placarded
in the streets only yesterday, and also outside one of the leading
theatres. He has brought all his Parisian company here to act their
repertoire for a few nights before proceeding to Naples."
"How strange he should be here!" said Sylvie, "How very strange! He
is so like the Marquis Fontenelle, Katrine! So very like! I used to
go to the theatre and frighten myself with studying the different
points of resemblance! be the rough copy of Fontenelle's,--and I
always saw in the actor what the gentleman would be if he continued
to live as he was doing. Miraudin, whose amours are a disgrace, EVEN
to the stage!--Miraudin, who in his position of actor-manager, takes
despicable advantage of all the poor ignorant, struggling creatures
who try to get into his company, and whose vain little heads are
turned by a stray compliment,--and to think that the Marquis
Fontenelle should be merely the better-born copy of so mean a
villain! Ah, what useless tears I have shed about it,--how I have
grieved and worried myself all in vain!--and now . . ."
"Now he asks you to marry him," said Madame Bozier gently, "And you
think it would be no use? You could not perhaps make him a better
"Neither I nor any woman could!" said Sylvie, "I do not believe very
much in 'reforming' men, Katrine. If they need to reform, they must
reform themselves. We make our own lives what they are."
"Dear little philosopher!" said Madame Bozier tenderly, taking
Sylvie's small white hand as it hung down from her shoulder and
kissing it, "You are very depressed to-day! You must not take things
so seriously! If you do not love the Marquis as you once did--"
"As I once did--ah, yes!" said Sylvie, "I did love him. I thought he
could not be otherwise than great and true and noble-hearted--but--"
She broke off with a sigh.
"Well, and now that you know he is not the hero you imagined him,
all you have to do is to tell him so," said the practical Bozier
cheerfully, "Or if you do not want to pain him by such absolute
candour, give him his refusal as gently and kindly as you can."
Sylvie sighed again.
"I am very sorry," she said, "If I could have foreseen this--
"But did you not foresee it?" asked Madame Bozier persistently, "Did
you not realize that men always want what they cannot have--and that
the very fact of your leaving Paris increased his ardour and sent
him on here in pursuit?"
Sylvie Hermenstein was of a very truthful nature, and she had not
attempted to deny this suggestion.
"Yes--I confess I did think that if I separated myself altogether
from him it might induce him to put himself in a more honourable
position with me--but I did not know then--" she paused, and a deep
flush crimsoned her cheeks.
"Did not know what?" queried Madame Bozier softly.
Sylvie hesitated a moment, then spoke out bravely.
"I did not know then that I should meet another man whose existence
would become ten times more interesting and valuable to me than his!
Yes, Katrine, I confess it! There is no shame in honesty! And so, to
be true to myself, however much the Marquis might love me now, I
could never be his wife."
Madame Bozier was silent. She guessed her beloved pupil's heart's
secret,--but she was too tactful to dwell upon the subject, and
before the brief, half-embarrassed pause between them had ended, a
servant entered, asking,
"Will the Signora Contessa receive the Capitano Ruspardi?"
Sylvie rose from her seat with a look of surprise.
"Ruspardi?--I do not know the name."
"The business is urgent;--the Capitano is the bearer of a letter to
the Signora Contessa."
"Remain with me, Katrine," said Sylvie after a pause,--then to the
servant--"Show Captain Ruspardi in here."
Another moment, and a young officer in the Italian uniform entered
hurriedly,--his face was very pale,--and as the Comtesse Hermenstein
received him in her own serene sweet manner which, for all its high-
bred air had something wonderfully winning and childlike about it,
his self-control gave way, and when after a profound salute he
raised his eyes, she saw they were full of tears. Her heart began to
"You bring some bad news?" she asked faintly.
"Madama, I beg you not to distress yourself--this letter--" and he
held out a sealed envelope,--"was given to me specially marked,
among others, by my friend, the Marquis Fontenelle--last right
before--before he went to his death!"
"His death!" echoed Sylvie, her eyes dilating with horror--"His
death! What do you mean?"
Madame Bozier came quickly to her side, and put a hand gently on her
arm. But she did not seem to feel the sympathetic touch.
"His death!" she murmured. And with trembling fingers she opened and
read the last lines ever penned by her too passionate admirer.
"SWEETEST SYLVIE! Dearest and purest of women! If you ever receive
this letter I shall be gone beyond the reach of your praise or your
blame. For it will not be given to you at all unless I am dead.
Dead, dear Sylvie! That will be strange, will it not? To be lying
quite still, cold and stiff, out of the reach of your pretty warm
white arms,--deprived for ever and ever of any kiss from your rose-
red lips,--ah, Sylvie, it will be very cold and lonely! But perhaps
better so! To-night I saw you, up in your balcony, with someone who
is a brave and famous man, and who no doubt loves you. For he cannot
fail to love you, if he knows you. God grant you may be happy when I
am gone! But I want you to feel that to-night--to-night _I_ love
you!--love you as I have never loved you or any woman before--
without an evil thought,--without a selfish wish!--to the very
height and breadth of love, I love you, my queen, my rose, my saving
grace of sweetness!--whose name I shall say to God as my best prayer
for pardon, if I die to-night!
Sylvie shuddered as with icy cold . . . a darkness seemed to overwhelm
her . . . she staggered a little, and Ruspardi caught her, wondering--at
the lightness and delicacy and beauty of her, as he assisted Madame
Bozier to lead her to a deep fauteuil where she sank down, trembling
in every nerve.
"And--he is dead?" she asked mechanically.
Ruspardi bowed a grave assent. She paused a moment--then forced
herself to speak again.
"How did it happen?"
In brief, concise words Ruspardi gave the account of the quarrel
with Miraudin,--and Sylvie shrank back as though she had received a
blow when she heard that her name had been the cause of the dispute.
"And this morning, hearing no news," continued Ruspardi, "I made
enquiries at the theatre. There I found everything in confusion;
Miraudin and a soubrette named Jeanne Richaud, had left Rome the
previous evening so the box-keeper said, and there was no news of
either of them beyond a note from the girl saying she had returned
alone to Paris by the first morning train. Nothing had been heard of
Miraudin himself;--I therefore, knowing all the circumstances, drove
out to the Campagna by the Porte Pia, the way that Miraudin had
gone, and the way I bade the Marquis follow;--but on the Ponte
Nomentano I met some of the Miserecordia carrying two corpses on the
same bier,--two corpses so strangely alike that they might almost
have been brothers!--they were the bodies of the Marquis Fontenelle
Sylvie uttered a low cry and covered her face with her hands.
"Miraudin!" exclaimed Madame Bozier in horrified tones. "Miraudin!
Is he killed also?"
"Yes, Madame! Both shots must have been fired with deadly aim. They
had no seconds. Miraudin had hired a common fiacre to escape in from
the city, and the police will offer a reward for the discovery of
the driver. My horse, which my unfortunate friend Fontenelle rode,
is gone, and if it could be discovered, its possessor might furnish
a clue;--but I imagine it will be difficult, if not impossible to
trace the witnesses of the combat. The woman Richaud is on her way
to Paris. But by this time all Rome knows of the death of Miraudin;
and in a few hours all the world will know!"
"And what of the Marquis Fontenelle?" asked Madame Bozier.
"Madama, I posted all the letters he entrusted to my charge. The one
I have brought to the Contessa was enclosed in an envelope to me and
marked 'To be personally delivered in case of my death.' But among
the letters for the post was one to the Marquis's only sister, the
Abbess of a convent in Paris--she will probably claim her brother's
He was silent. After a pause Sylvie rose unsteadily, and detached a
cluster of violets she wore at her neck.
"Will you--" her voice faltered.
But Ruspardi understood, and taking the flowers, respectfully kissed
the little hand that gave them.
"They shall be buried with him," he said. "His hand was clenched in
death on a small knot of lace--you perhaps might recognise it,--
yes?--so!--it shall be left as it was found."
And,--his melancholy errand being done,--he bowed profoundly once
more, and retired.
Sylvie gazed around her vaguely,--the letter of her dead admirer
grasped in her hand,--and his former letter, proposing marriage,
lying still open on the table. Her old gouvernante watched her
anxiously, the tears rolling down her cheeks.
"You are crying, Katrine!" she said, "And yet you knew him very
little,--he never loved you! I wish--I wish MY tears would come! But
they are all here--aching and hurting me--"and she pressed her hand
to her heart--"You see--when one is a woman and has been loved by a
man, one cannot but feel sorry--for such an end! You see he was not
altogether cruel!--he defended my name--and he has died for my sake!
For my sake!--Oh, Katrine! For MY sake! So he DID love me--at the
last! . . . and I--I--Oh, Katrine!--I wish--I wish the tears would
And as she spoke she reeled--and uttering a little cry like that of
a wounded bird, dropped senseless.
The death of the famous actor Miraudin was a nine days' wonder, and
about a three weeks' regret. He had made no reputation beyond that
of the clever Mime,--he was not renowned for scholarship,--he had
made no mark in dramatic literature,--and his memory soon sank out
of sight in the whirling ocean of events as completely as though he
had never existed. There was no reality about him, and as a natural
consequence he went the way of all Shams. Had even his study of his
art been sincere and high--had he sought for the best, the greatest,
and most perfect work, and represented that only to the public, the
final judgment of the world might perhaps have given him a corner
beside Talma or Edmund Kean,--but the conceit of him, united to an
illiterate mind, was too great for the tolerance of the universal
Spirit of things which silently in the course of years pronounces
the last verdict on a man's work. Only a few of his own profession
remembered him as one who might have been great had he not been so
little;--and a few women laughed lightly, recalling the legion of
his "amours", and said, "Ce pauvre coquin, Miraudin!" That was all.
And for the mortal remains of Guy Beausire de Fontenelle, there came
a lady, grave and pale, clothed in deep black, with the nun's white
band crossing her severe and tranquil brows,--and she, placing a
great wreath of violets fresh gathered from the Pamphili woods, and
marked, "In sorrow, from Sylvie Hermenstein", on the closed coffin,
escorted her melancholy burden back to Paris, where in a stately
marble vault, to the solemn sound of singing, and amid the flare of
funeral tapers, with torn battle banners drooping around his bier,
and other decaying fragments of chivalry, the last scion of the once
great house of Fontenelle was laid to rest with his fathers. Little
did the austere Abbess, who was the chief mourner at these
obsequies, guess that the actor Miraudin, whose grave had been
hastily dug in Rome, had also a right to be laid in the same marble
vault;--proud and cold and stern as her heart had grown through long
years of pain and disappointment, it is possible that had she known
this, her sufferings might have been still more poignant. But the
secret had died with the dead so far as the world went;--there
remained but the Eternal Record on which the bond of brotherhood was
inscribed,--and in that Eternal Record some of us do our best not to
believe, notwithstanding the universal secret dread that we shall
all be confronted with it at last.
Meanwhile, events were moving rapidly, and the net of difficult
circumstance was weaving itself round the good Cardinal Bonpre in a
manner that was strangely perplexing to his clear and just mind. He
had received a letter from Monsignor Moretti, worded in curtly civil
terms, to the effect that as the Cardinal's miracle of healing had
been performed in France, he, as on Vatican service in Paris, found
it his duty to enquire thoroughly into all the details. For this
cause, he, Monsignor Moretti, trusted it would suit the Cardinal's
convenience to remain in Rome till the return of Monsieur Claude
Cazeau, secretary to the Archbishop of Rouen, who had been
despatched back to that city on the business connected with this
affair. Thus Monsignor Moretti;--and Cardinal Bonpre, reading
between the lines of his letter, knew that the displeasure of Rome
had fallen upon him as heavily as it did upon the eloquent and
liberal-minded Padre Agostino when he made the mistake of asking a
blessing from Heaven on the King and Queen of Italy for their works
of charity among the poor. And he easily perceived where the real
trouble lay,--namely, in the fact of his having condoned the Abbe
Vergniaud's public confession. Out of the one thing there was an
effort being made to contrive mischief with the other,--and Bonpre,
being too frail and old to worry his brain with complex arguments as
to the how and why and wherefore of the machinations carried on at
the Vatican, resigned himself to God, and contenting his mind with
meditation and prayer, waited events patiently, caring little how
they ended for himself, provided they did not involve others in any
catastrophe. Moreover, there was a certain consolation contained in
his enforced waiting,--for his niece Angela had confided to him that
the work of her great picture had advanced more swiftly than she had
imagined possible, and that it was likely she would be able to show
it to her relatives and private friends in the course of a week or
"But Florian must see it first," she said, "Of course you know that!
Florian must always be first!"
"Yes," and the Cardinal stroked her hair tenderly, while his eyes
rested on her with rather a troubled look--"Yes--of course--Florian
first. I suppose he will always be first with you, Angela?--after
"Always!" she answered softly, "Always--after God!"
And Felix Bonpre sighed--he knew not why--except that he was always
sorry for women who loved men with any very great exaltation or
devotion. That curiously tender adoration of a true woman's heart
which is so often wasted on an unworthy object, seemed to him like
lifting a cup of gold to a swine's snout. He found no actual fault
with Florian Varillo,--he was just a man as men go, with nothing
very pronounced about him, except a genius for fine mosaic-like
painting. He was not a great creator, but he was a delicate and
careful artist,--a man against whom nothing particular could be
said, except perhaps that his manner was often artificial, and that
his conduct was not always sincere. But he had a power of
fascinating the opposite sex,--and Angela had fallen a willing
victim to his candid smile, clear eyes, charming voice, and
courteous ways,--and with that strange inconsistency so common to
gifted women, she was so full of "soul" and "over-soul" herself,
that she could not imagine "soul" lacking in others;--and never
dreamed of making herself sure that it elevated the character or
temperament of the man she loved.
"Alas, the love of women! it is known
To be a lovely and a fearful thing;
For all of theirs upon that die is thrown
And, if 'tis lost, life hath no more to bring!"
During the time that matters were thus pending in Rome, Claude
Cazeau, well satisfied with himself, and the importance of being
entrusted with a special message from the Vatican to the Archbishop
of Rouen, returned to the Normandy capital with many ambitious
speculations rife in his brain, and schemes for improving the
position of confidence with which he had, by the merest chance, and
the fluctuations of the Pope's hunxour, been suddenly thrust. He
took the Patoux family by surprise on the evening of his arrival in
Rouen, and much to his secret satisfaction found Martine Doucet in
their company. The children were gone to bed, and the appearance of
Cazeau in Papa Patoux's kitchen was evidently not altogether the
most agreeable circumstance that could have happened at the Hotel
Poitiers. He was civilly received, however, and when he expressed
his pleasure at seeing Madame Doucet present, that worthy female
lifted her eyes from her knitting and gave him a suspicious glance
of exceeding disfavour.
"I do not see what pleasure my company can give you, Monsieur," she
said curtly, "I am only a poor marketwoman!"
"But you have been singularly favoured by the protection and
confidence of a great Cardinal,--" began Cazeau.
"Protection--confidence--!" echoed Martine snappishly, "Nom de
Jesus! What is the man talking about! I never set eyes on the
Cardinal in my life. But that he cured my Fabien is enough to make
me think of him as a saint for ever,--though it seems there are some
that would almost make him out to be a devil for having done a good
deed! And ever since my boy was cured I have lived a life of torture
and trouble--yes, truly!--torn between two things, our Blessed Lord
and the Church! But I am trying my best to keep fast hold of our
Lord, whatever the Church may do to me!"
"Dear me!" said Cazeau blandly, turning with a smile and
propitiatory air to Patoux who sat silently smoking, "Madame Doucet
seems a little--what shall we say?--unduly excited? Yet surely the
recovery of her child should fill her with thanksgiving and make her
a faithful and devout servant--" "Pardon, Monsieur," interrupted
Madame Patoux, "Believe me, Martine is thankful enough, and devout
enough,--but truly it has been very hard for her to suffer the
things that have been said to her of late,--how that the child could
never have been really crippled at all, but simply shamming,--how
that it was all a trick got up between herself and the priests for
the purpose of bringing visitors and their money to Rouen,--for of
course since the miracle was noised abroad there have been many
pilgrimages to Notre Dame, it having got about that there was some
mysterious spirit or angel in one of the shrines,--for look you, our
Archbishop, when he came to visit the Cardinal here in this very
hotel, distinctly remembers that His Eminence assured him he had
heard strange music in the Cathedral, when truly there was no organ
unlocked, and no organist on duty,--and then there was something
about the boy that His Eminence found lost that night . . ."
"Stop! Stop!" said Cazeau, growing impatient, "Your eloquence is so
impressive, Madame, and you say so much that is excellent in one
breath, that you must pardon my inferior capacity in not being able
to follow you quite coherently! There are conflicting statements,
"No, there are none," said Patoux himself, drawing his pipe out of
his mouth slowly, and looking intently at its well-sucked stem--"It
is all the same sort of thing. A child is sick--a child is cured--
and it is either God or the Devil who has done it. Some people
prefer to think it is the Devil,--some give the praise to God. It
was exactly like that whenever our Lord did a good deed. Half the
folks said he was God,--the other half that he had a devil.
Jerusalem was like Rouen, Rouen is like Jerusalem. Jerusalem was
ancient and wicked; Rouen is modern and wickeder,--that's all! As
for music in the church, we have only the Archbishop's warrant that
the Cardinal ever said anything about hearing music."
"'ONLY' the Archbishop's warrant!" echoed Cazeau meaningly.
"I said 'ONLY', Monsieur!--Make the best of it!" answered Patoux,
sticking his pipe into his mouth again, and resuming his smoke with
Cazeau hummed and hawed,--he was irritated yet vaguely amused too at
the singular self-assertion of these common folk who presumed to
take their moral measurement of an Archbishop! It is a strange fact,
but these same common folk always DO take these sorts of
"The inconsistencies--(if there are any--) in the story will soon be
cleared up," he said, with a benevolent assumption of authority, "At
least, I hope so! I am glad to say that I am entrusted with a
message to the Archbishop from our Holy Father, the Pope,--and I
have also His Holiness's instructions to request you, Madame Doucet,
together with your son Fabien, to accompany me back to Rome!"
Martine Doucet bounced up from her chair, and let fall her knitting.
"Me--me!" she cried, "ME go to Rome! Never! Wild horses will not
drag me there, nor shall you take my Fabien either! What should I do
"Testify personally to the truth of the Cardinal's miracle,"
answered Cazeau, gazing coldly at her excited face as though he saw
something altogether strange and removed from human semblance. "And
bring your child into the Holy Presence and relate his history. It
will be nothing but an advantage to you,--for you will obtain a
patient hearing, and the priceless boon of the Papal benediction!"
"Grand merci!" said Martine, "But I have lived more than half my
time without the Papal benediction, and I can work out the rest of
my days in the same way! Look you!--there is a great English Duke I
am told, who has an only son sorely afflicted, and he has taken this
son to every place in the world where the Church is supposed to work
miracles for the healing of the sick and the helpless,--all to no
use, for the poor boy is as sick and helpless as ever. How is that?
What has the Papal benediction done for him?"
"Woman, your tongue overrules your senses!" said Cazeau, with rising
temper, "You rail against the Church like an ungrateful heathen,
even though you owe your son's recovery to the Church! For what is
Cardinal Bonpre but a Prince of the Church?"
Martine stuck her arms akimbo, and surveyed him disdainfully.
"OH--HE!" she cried, "My tongue overrules my senses, Monsieur Clause
Cazeau! Take care that your cunning does not overrule yourself! Did
I ever deny the worth and the goodness of Cardinal Bonpre? Though if
I were to speak the whole truth, and if I were to believe the
nonsense-talk of a child, I should perhaps give the credit of the
miracle to the stray boy whom the Cardinal found outside the
Cathedral door--"Cazeau started--"For Fabien says that he began to
feel strong the moment that little lad touched him!"
"The boy!" exclaimed Cazeau--"The boy!"
A curious silence ensued. Jean Patoux lifting his drowsy eyes gazed
fixedly at the whitewashed ceiling,--Madame, his wife, stood beside
him watching the changes on Cazeau's yellow face--and Martine sat
down to take breath after her voluble outburst.
"The boy!" muttered Cazeau again--then he broke into a harsh laugh.
"What folly!" he exclaimed, "As if a little tramp of the streets
could have anything to do with a Church miracle! Martine Doucet, if
you were to say such a thing at the Vatican--"
"_I_ have not said it," said Martine angrily, "I only told you what
my Fabien says. I am not answerable for the thoughts of the child!
That he is well and strong--that he has the look and the soul of an
angel, is enough for me to praise God all my life. But I shall never
say the Laus Deo at the Vatican,--you will have no chance to trap me
in that way!"
Cazeau stared at her haughtily.
"You must be mad!" he said, "No one wishes to 'trap' you, as you
express it! The miracle of healing performed on your child is a very
remarkable one,--it should not be any surprise to you that the Head
of the Church seeks to know all the details of it thoroughly, in
order to ratify and confirm it, and perhaps bestow new honour on the
"I rather doubt that!" interposed Patoux slowly, "For I gather from
our Archbishop that the Holy Father was suspicious of some trick
rather than an excess of sanctity!"
Cazeau reddened through his pallid skin.
"I know nothing of that!" he said curtly, "But my orders are
imperative, and I shall seek the assistance of the Archbishop to
enforce and carry them out! For the moment I have the honour to wish
you good-night, Monsieur Patoux!--and you also, Mesdames!"
And he departed abruptly, in an anger which he was at no pains to
disguise. Personally he cared nothing about the miracle or how it
had been accomplished, but he cared very much for his own
advancement,--and he saw, or thought he saw, a chance of very
greatly improving his position among the ecclesiastical authorities
if he only kept a cool head and a clear mind. He recognised that
there was a desire on the part of the Pope to place Cardinal Bonpre
under close observance and restraint on account of his having
condoned the Abbe Vergniaud's confession to his congregation in
Paris; and he rightly judged that anything he could do to aid the
accomplishment of that end would not be without its reward. And the
few words which Martine Doucet had let drop concerning the stray boy
who now lived under the Cardinal's protection, had given him a new
idea which he resolved to act upon when he returned to Rome. For it
was surely very strange that an eminent Prince of the Church should
allow himself to be constantly attended by a little tramp rescued
from the street! There was something in it more than common,--and
Cazeau decided that he would suggest a close enquiry being made on
Crossing the square opposite the Hotel Poitiers, he hesitated before
turning the corner of the street which led towards the avenue where
the Archbishop's house was situated. The night was fine and calm--
the air singularly balmy,--and he suddenly decided to take a stroll
by the river before finally returning to his rooms for the night.
There is one very quiet bit of the Seine in Rouen where the water
flows between unspoilt grassy banks, which in summer are a frequent
resort for lovers to dream the dreams which so often come to
nothing,--and here Cazeau betook himself to smoke and meditate on
the brilliancy of his future prospects. The river had been high in
flood during the week, and the grass which sloped towards the water
was still wet, and heavy to the tread. But Cazeau limited his walk
to the broad summit of the bank, being aware that the river just
below flowed over a muddy quicksand, into which, should a man chance
to fall, it would be death and fast burial at one and the same
moment. And Cazeau set a rather exorbitant value on his own life, as
most men do whose lives are of no sort of consequence to the world.
So he was careful to walk where there was the least danger of
slipping,--and as he lit an excellent cigar, and puffed the faint
blue rings of smoke out into the clear moonlit atmosphere, he was in
a very agreeable frame of mind. He was crafty and clever in his
way,--one of those to whom the Yankee term "cute" would apply in its
fullest sense,--and he had the happy knack of forgetting his own
mistakes and follies, and excusing his own sins with as much ease as
though he were one of the "blood-royal" of nations. Vices he had in
plenty in common with most men,--except that his particular form of
licentiousness was distinguished by a callousness and cruelty in
which there was no touch of redeeming quality. As a child he had
loved to tear the wings off flies and other insects, and one of his
keenest delights in boyhood had been to watch the writhings of frogs
into whose soft bodies he would stick long pins,--the frogs would
live under this treatment four and five hours--sometimes longer, and
while observing their agonies he enjoyed "that contented mind which
is a perpetual feast." Now that he was a man, he delighted in
torturing human beings after the same methods applied mentally,
whenever he could find a vulnerable part through which to thrust a
sharp spear of pain.
"The eminent Cardinal Bonpre!" he mused now; "What is he to me! If I
could force the Archbishop of Rouen into high favour at the Vatican
instead of this foolish old Saint Felix, it would be a better thing
for my future. After all, it was at Rouen that the miracle was
performed--the city should have some credit! And Bonpre has condoned
a heretic . . . he is growing old and feeble--possibly he is losing his
wits. And then there is that boy . . ."
He started violently as a fantastic shadow suddenly crossed his
path, in the moonlight, and a peal of violent laughter assailed his
"Enfin! Toi, mon Claude!--enfin!--Grace a Dieu! Enfin!"
And the crazed creature, known as Marguerite, "La Folle", stood
before him, her long black hair streaming over her bare chest and
gaunt arms, her eyes dilated, and glowing with the mingled light of
madness and despair.
Cazeau turned a livid white in the moon-rays;--his blood grew icy
cold. What! After two years of dodging about the streets of Rouen to
avoid meeting this wretched woman whom he had tricked and betrayed,
had she found him at last!
"When did you come back from the fair?" cried the girl shrilly, "I
lost you there, you know-and you man-aged to lose ME--but I have
waited!--waited patiently for news of you! . . . and when none came, I
still waited, making myself beautiful! . . . see!--" And she thrust her
fingers through her long hair, throwing it about in wilder disorder
than ever. "You thought you had killed me--and you were glad!--it
makes all men glad to kill women when they can! But I--I was not
killed so easily,--I have lived!--for this night--just for this
night! Listen!" and she sprang forward and threw herself violently
against his breast, "Do you love me now? Tell me again--as you told
me at the fair--you love me?"
He staggered under her weight--and tried for a moment to thrust her
back, but she held him in a grip of iron, looking up at him with her
great feverish dark eyes, and grasping his shoulders with thin
burning hands. He trembled;--he was beginning to grow horribly
afraid. What devil had sent this woman whom he had ruined so long as
two years ago, across his path to-night? Would it be possible to
"Marguerite--" he began.
"Yes, yes, Marguerite! Say it again!" she cried wildly, "Marguerite!
Say it again! Sweet--sweet and tenderly as you said it then! Poor
Marguerite! Your pale ugly face seemed the face of a god to her
once, because she thought you loved her--we all find men so
beautiful when we think they love us! Yes--your cold eyes and cruel
lips and hard brow!--it was quite a different face at the fair! So
was mine a different face--but you!--YOU have made mine what it is
now!--look at it! What!--you thought you could murder a woman and
never be found out! You thought you could kill poor Marguerite, and
that no one would ever know--"
"Hush, hush!" said Cazeau, his teeth chattering with the cold of his
inward terror, "I never killed you, Marguerite!--I loved you--yes,
listen!" For she was looking up at him with an attentive, almost
sane expression in her eyes. "I meant to write to you after the
fair,--and come to you . . ."
"Hush, hush!" said the girl, "Let me hear this!--this is strange
news! He meant to write to me--yet he let me die by inches in an
agony of waiting!--till I dropped into the darkness where I am now!
He meant to come to me--oh, it was very easy to come if he had
chosen to come,--before I wandered away into all this strangeness--
this shadow--this confusion and fire! But you see, it is too late
now," and she began to laugh again, "Too late! I have a strange idea
that I am dead, though I seem alive--I am in my grave; and so you
must die also and be buried with me! Yes, you must certainly die!--
when one is cruel and false and treacherous one is not wanted in the
world!--better to go out of it--and it is quite easy,--see!--this
And before he realised her intention she sprang back a step--then
drew a knife from her bosom, and with a sort of exultant shriek,
stabbed him furiously once--twice--thrice . . . crying out--"This for
your lie! This for my sorrow!--This for your love!--"
Reeling back with the agony of her murderous blows he made a fierce
effort to tear the knife from her hands, but she suddenly threw it a
long way from her towards the river, where it fell with a light
splash, and rushing at him twined her arms close about his neck,
while her mad laughter, piercing and terrible, rang out through the
"Together!" she said, "That day at the fair we were together, and
now--we shall be together again! Come!--Come! I have waited long
enough!--your promised letter never came--you have kept me waiting a
long long while--but now I will wait no longer! I have found you!--I
will never let you go!"
Furiously, despite his wounds, he fought with her,--tried to thrust
her away from him,--and beat her backwards and downwards,--but she
had the strength of ten women in her maddened frame, and she clung
to him with the tenacity of some savage beast. All around them was
perfectly quiet,--there was not a soul in sight,--there was no place
near where a shout for help could have been heard. Struggling still,
dizzy, blind and breathless, he did not see that they were nearing
the edge of the slippery bank--all his efforts were concentrated in
an endeavour to shake off the infuriated creature, made more
powerful in her very madness by the just sense of her burning wrong
and his callous treachery--when all at once his foot slipped and he
fell to the ground. She pounced on him like a tigress, and fastened
her fingers on his throat,--clutching his flesh and breathlessly
muttering, "Never!--never! Never can you hide away from me any more!
Together--together! I will never let you go!--" till, as his eyes
rolled up in agony and his jaw relaxed, she uttered a shout of
ecstasy to see him die! He sank heavily under her fierce grasp which
she never relaxed for an instant, and his dead weight dragged her
unconsciously down--down!--she not heeding or knowing whither she
was moving,--down--still down!--till, as she clung to his inert
body, madly determining not to let it go, she fell,--fast grappling
her betrayer's corpse,--into the ominous stillness of the river. The
flood opened, as it were, to receive the two,--the dead and the
living--there was a slight ripple as though a mouth in the water
smiled--then the usual calm surface reflected the moon once more,
and there was no sign of trouble. Nothing struggled,--nothing
floated,--all was perfectly tranquil. The bells chimed from all the
churches in the city a quarter to midnight, and their pretty echoes
were wafted across the water,--no other sound disturbed the
silence,--not a trace of the struggle was left, save just one
smeared track of grass and slime, which, if examined carefully,
might have been found sprinkled with blood. But with the morning the
earth would have swallowed those drops of human life as silently as
the river-quicksand had sucked down the bodies of the betrayed and
the betrayer;--in neither case would Nature have any hint to give of
the tragedy enacted. Nature is a dumb witness to many dramas,--and
it may be that she has eyes and ears and her own way of keeping
records. Sometimes she gives up long-buried secrets, sometimes she
holds them fast;--biding her time until the Judgment Day, when not
only the crime shall be disclosed but the Cause of the crime's
committal. And it may chance in certain cases, such as those of men
who have deliberately ruined the lives of trusting and loving women,
that the Cause may be proved a more criminal thing than the crime!
That night Martine Doucet slept badly, and had horrible dreams of
being dragged by force to Rome, and there taken before the Pope who
at once deprived her of her son Fabien, and ordered her to be shot
in one of the public squares for neglecting to attend Mass
regularly. And Jean Patoux and his wife, reposing on their virtuous
marital couch, conversed a long time about the unexpected and
unwelcome visit of Claude Cazeau, and the mission he had declared
himself entrusted with from the Vatican,--"And you may depend upon
it," said Madame sententiously, "that he will get his way by fair
means or foul! I am thankful that neither of OUR children were
subjects for a Church-miracle!--the trouble of the remedy seems more
troublesome than the sickness!"
"No, no," said her husband, "Thou dost not judge these things
rightly, my little one! God worked the remedy, as He works all good
things,--and there would be no trouble about it if it were not for
the men's strange way of taking it. Did ever our Lord do a good or a
kind deed without being calumniated for it? Did not all those men-
fools in Jerusalem go about 'secretly seeking how they might betray
him'? That is a lesson for us all,--and never forget, petite, that
for showing them the straight way to Heaven He was crucified!"
The next day a telegram was despatched from the Archbishop of Rouen
to Monsignor Moretti at the Vatican:--
"Claude Cazeau visited Hotel Poitiers last night, but has since
mysteriously disappeared. Every search and enquiry being made.
Strongly suspect foul play."
November was now drawing to a close, and St. Cecilia's Day dawned in
a misty sunrise, half cloud, half light, like smoke and flame
intermingled. Aubrey Leigh, on waking that morning, had almost
decided to leave Rome before the end of the month. He had learned
all that was necessary for him to know;--he had not come to study
the antiquities, or the dark memories of dead empires, for he would
have needed to live at least ten years in the city to gain even a
surface knowledge of all the Romes, built one upon another, in the
Rome of to-day. His main object had been to discover whether the
Holy See existed as a grand and pure institution for the uplifting
and the saving of the souls of men; or whether it had degenerated
into an unscrupulous scheme for drawing the money out of their
pockets. He had searched this problem and solved it. He had
perceived the trickery, the dissimulation and hypocrisy of Roman
priestcraft. He had seen the Pope officiate at High Mass in the
Sistine Chapel, having procured the "introduction from very high
quarters" which, even according to ordinary guide-books, is
absolutely necessary,--the "high quarters" in this instance being
Monsignor Gherardi. Apart from this absurdity,--this impious idea of
needing an "introduction" to a sacred service professedly held for
the worship of the Divine, by the Representative of Christ on earth,
he had watched with sickening soul all the tawdry ceremonial so far
removed from the simplicity of Christ's commands,--he had stared
dully, till his brows ached, at the poor, feeble, scraggy old man
with the pale, withered face and dark eyes, who was chosen to
represent a "Manifestation of the Deity" to his idolatrous
followers;--and as he thought of all the poverty, sorrow, pain,
perplexity, and bewilderment of the "lost sheep" who were wandering
to and fro in the world, scarcely able to fight the difficulties of
their daily lot, and unable to believe in God because they were
never allowed to understand or to experience any of His goodness,
such a passion of protest arose in him, that he could have sprung on
the very steps of the altar and cried aloud to the aged Manager of
the Stage-scene there, "Away with this sham of Christianity! Give us
the true message of Christ, undefiled! Sell these useless broidered
silks,--these flaunting banners;--take the silver, gold, and bank-
notes which hysterical pilgrims cast at your feet!--this Peter's
Pence, amounting to millions, whose exact total you alone know,--and
come out into the highways and byways of the cities of all lands,--
call to you the lame, the halt, the blind, the sickly, and
diseased,--give comfort where comfort is needed,--defend the
innocent--protect the just, and silence the Voce de la Verita which
published under your authority, callously advocates murder!"
And though he felt all this, he could only remain a dumb spectator
of the Show in which not the faintest shadow of Christianity
according to Christ, appeared--and when the theatrical pageant was
over, he hurried out into the fresh air half stupefied with the
heavy sense of shame that such things could be, and no man found
true enough to the commands of the Divine Master to shake the world
with strong condemnation.
"Twelve fishermen were enough to preach the Gospel," he thought,
"Yet now there cannot be found twelve faithful souls who will
protest against its falsification!"
And on St. Cecilia's morning he was in sad and sober mood,--too
vexed with himself to contemplate his future work without a sense of
pain and disappointment and loneliness. He loved Sylvie Hermenstein,
and admitted his passion for her frankly to his own soul, but at the
same time felt that a union with her would be impossible. He had
seen her nearly every day since their first introduction to each
other, and had realised to the height of soul-intoxication the
subtle charm of her delicate beauty, and the sweetness of her
disposition. But--(there was a but in it,--there always is!) he was
not sure of her constancy. The duel between the Marquis Fontenelle
and the actor Miraudin had furnished food for gossip at all the
social gatherings in Rome, and Sylvie's name, freely mentioned as
the cause of the dispute, had been thus given an unpleasant
notoriety. And though Aubrey Leigh was far too chivalrous and noble-
natured to judge and condemn a woman without seeking for the truth
from her own lips, he was indescribably annoyed to hear her spoken
of in any connection with the late Marquis. He had a strong desire
to ask Angela Sovrani a few questions concerning the affair, but
hesitated, lest his keen personal anxiety should betray the depth of
his feelings. Then, too, he was troubled by the fact that the
Hermenstein family had been from time immemorial devout Romanists,
and he felt that Sylvie must perforce be a firm adherent to that
"Better to leave Rome!" he said to himself, "Better to shake off the
witchery of her presence, and get back to England and to work. And
if I cannot kill or quell this love in me, at any rate it shall
serve me to good purpose,--it shall make me a better and a braver
He had promised to meet the Princesse D'Agramont that morning at the
Catacombs of St. Callistus, to see the illumination of the tomb of
St. Cecilia, which takes place there annually on the Saint's Feast-
Day, and he knew that Angela Sovrani and the Comtesse Hermenstein
were to be of the Princesse's party. He was somewhat late in
starting, and hired a fiacre to drive him along the Via Appia to his
destination, but when he arrived there Mass had already commenced. A
Trappist monk, tall and grim and forbidding of aspect, met him at
the entrance to the Catacombs with a lighted taper, and escorted him
in silence through the gloomy "Oratorium" and passage of tombs,--the
torch he carried flinging ghastly reflections on the mural paintings
and inscriptions, till, on reaching the tomb of St. Cecilia where
the murdered saint once lay, though her remains are now enshrined in
the Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, the Trappist suddenly left
him at a corner to attend to other incoming visitors, and
disappeared. Aubrey looked around him, vaguely touched and awed by
the solemnity of the scene;--the damp walls on which old Byzantine
paintings of the seventh century were still visible, though
crumbling fast away,--the glimmering lights,--the little crowd of
people pressed together,--the brilliantly illuminated altar,--the
droning accents of the officiating priests;--and presently the sound
of a boy's exquisite young voice rose high and pure, singing the
Agnus Dei. St. Cecilia herself might have been enraptured by such
sweet harmony,--and Aubrey Leigh instinctively bent his head, moved
strongly by the holy and tender fervour of the anthem. Growing
accustomed to the flickering lights, he presently perceived the
Princesse D'Agramont a little in front of him,--and beside her were
her two friends, Angela Sovrani and Sylvie Hermenstein. Sylvie was
kneeling, and her face was hidden. Angela was seated,--and her eyes,
full of the radiance of thought and dreaming genius, were fixed on
the altar. Gradually he moved up till he reached the rough bench
where they were all together--the Princesse D'Agramont saw him at
once, and signed to him to take a vacant place next to Sylvie. He
sat down very gently--afraid to disturb the graceful figure kneeling
within touch of his hand--how devout she seemed, he thought! But as
the Agnus Dei ceased, she stirred, and rose quietly,--as quietly as
a bent flower might lift itself in the grass after the rush of the
wind,--and gave him a gentle salute, then sat down beside him,
drooping her soft eyes over her prayer-book, but not before he had
seen that they were wet with tears. Was she unhappy he wondered? It
seemed impossible! Such a woman could never be unhappy! With beauty,
health, and a sunny temperament,--wealth and independence, what
could she know of sorrow! It is strange how seldom a man can enter
into the true comprehension of a woman's grief, though he may often
be the cause of the trouble. A woman, if endowed with beauty and
charm, ought never, in a man's opinion, to LOOK sad, whatever she
may FEEL. It is her business to smile, and shine like a sunbeam on a
spring morning for his delectation always. And Aubrey Leigh, though
he could thoroughly appreciate and enter into the sordid woes of
hard-worked and poverty-stricken womankind, was not without the same
delusion that seems to possess all his sex,--namely, that if a woman
is brilliantly endowed, and has sufficient of this world's goods to
ensure her plenty of friends and pretty toilettes, she need never be
unhappy. Sylvie's tears were therefore a mystery to him, except when
a jealous pang contracted his generally liberal and tender soul, and
he thought, "Perhaps she is grieving for the Marquis Fontenelle!" He
glanced at her every now and again dubiously,--while the service
went on, and the exquisite music beat rhythmic waves against the
ancient walls and roof of the murdered Saint's tomb,--but her face,
fair and childlike, was a puzzle to his mind,--he could never make
out from its expression whether she were thoughtful or frivolous.
Strange mistakes are often made in physiognomy. Often the so-called
"intellectual" face,--the "touch-me-not" dignity--the "stalking-
tragedy" manner, covers a total lack of brain,--and often a large-
featured, seemingly "noble" face, has served as a mask for untold
depths of villainy. The delicate, small face of Nelson suggested
nothing of the giant heroism in his nature, and many a pretty, and
apparently frivolous woman's face, which suggests nothing but the
most thoughtless gaiety, is a disguise for a strong nature capable
of lofty and self-sacrificing deeds. There is nothing likely to be
so deceptive as a human countenance,--for with the exception of a
few uncomfortably sincere persons, we all try to make it disguise
our feelings as much as we can.
The service concluded, and St. Cecilia solemnly commended once more
to her eternal rest, the people all rose and wandered like black
ghosts, through the darkness of the Catacombs, following the flicker
of the torches carried by the Trappist monks, who always perform the
duty of guides on this occasion,--and, once out in the open air, in
the full blaze of the sunshine which had now broken brilliantly
through the mist of the previously threatening rain-clouds, Aubrey
Leigh saw with pain that Sylvie looked very pale and ill. He
ventured to say something solicitous concerning this to the
Princesse D'Agramont, whose bright dark eyes flashed over him with
an enigmatical look, half wonder, half scorn.
"What strange creatures men are!" she said satirically, "Even you,
clever, and gifted with an insight into human nature, seem to be
actually surprised that our poor, pretty little Sylvie looks ill!
With half Rome declaring that she WAS the mistress of Fontenelle,
and the other half swearing itself black in the face that she IS the
mistress of Gherardi, she certainly ought to be very happy, ought
she not? Indeed, almost dancing with the joy and consolation of
knowing how pleasant her 'Society' friends are making her life for
Aubrey's heart beat violently.
"Princesse," he said, in a low tone of vibrating earnestness, "If I
thought--if I could think such abominable lies were told of her . . ."
"Chut!" And the Princesse smiled rather sadly,--"It is not like you
to 'pretend,' Mr. Leigh--You DO know,--you MUST know--that a coarse
discussion over her name was the cause of the duel between the
Marquis Fontenelle and that miserable vaurien of the stage,
Miraudin,--gossip generously lays the two deaths at her door--and
the poor child is as innocent of harm as the lilies we have just
seen left to die in the darkness of St. Cecilia's tomb. The fact is,
she came to Rome to escape the libertinage and amorous persecution
of Fontenelle; and she never knew till the day she heard of his
death, that he had followed her. Nor did I. In fact, I asked him to
be my escort to Rome, and he refused. Naturally I imagined he was
still in Paris. So we were all in the dark,--and as often happens in
such cases, when the world does not know whom to blame for a
disaster, it generally elects to punish the innocent. All the Saints
we have heard about this morning, bear witness to THAT truth!"
Aubrey lifted his eyes and looked yearningly at the sylph-like
figure of Sylvie walking a little ahead of him with her friend
"I thought," he said hesitatingly,--"I confess, I thought there
might have been something between her and the late Marquis . . ."
"Of course there was something!" answered the Princesse impatiently,
"Oh, mon Dieu! Plus de sottises! There always IS something where
Sylvie is, Mr. Leigh! She cannot smile or sing, or turn her head, or
raise her eyes, or smell a bunch of violets, without some one of
your audacious sex conceiving the idea of making himself agreeable
and indispensable to her. And when she will not compromise herself--
(is that not your convenient little phrase?)--she is judged much
more severely than if she had done so! And do you know why? Because
you men can never endure defeat in love-matters! You would rather
spread abroad the rumour that you had conquered, than confess that
your libertinism had been perceived and repulsed with indignation
and scorn! And I will tell you another thing if you do not know it.
In the frequent destruction of an innocent woman's reputation. it is
a rejected suitor who generally starts the first rumour and hands
the lie over to debased women, knowing that THEY may be trusted to
keep it up!"
Aubrey flushed, and winced under the lash of her cutting words. "You
are very cruel, Princesse!" he said, "Surely unnecessarily bitterly
"Cher philosophe, I have loved!" she replied, "And that is why I am
cruel. I have loved and have been deceived in love,--and that kind
of thing often turns the most patient Griselda into an exceptionally
fierce tiger-cat! I am not quite a tiger-cat,--but I confess I do
not like one-sidedness in anything, Nature's tendency being to
equalise--equalise--till we are all flattened down into one level,--
the grave! At the present moment we are treading on a mixture of
kings and saints and heroes,--all one soil you see, and rather
marshy,--badly in need of draining at all times!" She laughed a
little. "Frankly, I assure you, it is to me the most deplorable
arrangement that a true woman should be destined to give all the
passion and love of her life to one man, while the same man scatters
his worthless affections about like halfpence among dozens of drabs!
My dear Mr. Leigh, do not frown at me in that tragic way! I am not
blaming YOU! I am not in the least inclined to put you in the
general category,--at least not at present. You do not look like the
ordinary man, though you may be for all that! Expression is very
deceptive!" She laughed again, then added, "Think of our sweet
Angela, for instance! Unless a merciful Providence intervenes, she
will marry Florian Varillo,--and no doubt he will make her invite
Mademoiselle Pon-Pon to her house to dine and sleep!"
"She loves him!" said Aubrey simply.
"Yes, she loves him, because she deludes herself with the idea that
he is worthy of love. But if she were to find him out her whole soul
would indignantly repulse him. If she knew all _I_ know of him, she
would rather embrace the mildewy skeleton of San Carlo Borromeo,
with the great jewels glistening in his ghastly eye-sockets, than
the well-fed, fresh coloured Florian Varillo!"
"If you fear for her happiness, why not warn her?" asked Aubrey.
"Warn her against the one creature she loves in the world?" said the
Princesse, "Thanks very much! I would rather not. She would never
speak to me again, and I should lose every chance of comforting or
helping her when affliction comes--as of course it is bound to come!
Each individual man or woman makes his or her own life,--we poor
'friends' can only stand and look on, waiting till they get into the
muddle that we have always foreseen, and then doing our best to drag
them out of it; but God Himself I think, could not save them from
falling into the muddle in the first place. As for Sylvie, I have
advised her to leave Rome and go back to Budapest at once."
"Why? Can you ask? Because she is misjudged here on account of
Fontenelle's death, and calumniated and wronged; because the women
hate her for her beauty and wealth, and the men hate her too because
she will not flatter them by accepting their ridiculous attentions.
She will be much happier in her own home,--such a grand old castle
it is!--a cluster of towers and broad battlements, with purple
mountains in the background, and tall pine-trees everywhere . . ."
"It must be lonely for her!" said Aubrey quickly, "She is so
mignonne--so caressable--so made for love and care and tenderness--"
Here he broke off, vexed with himself for having said so much,--and
his face flushed warmly. The Princesse stopped in her walk and
looked at him straightly.
"Mr. Leigh," she said, "I think--I hope you are an honest man! And
do you know the best advice I can give you?"
He answered no word, but his eyes questioned her meaning.
"Remain honest!" she said, smiling an answer to his look, "Be true
to your own instincts and highest impulses. Do not allow yourself to
be swayed by opinion or rumour; stand clear of both,--and treat even
a woman as you would treat a man!--squarely--candidly--faithfully!"
She moved on and rejoined her companions, and Aubrey followed. The
Comtesse Hermenstein's carriage was waiting for her, and the
Comtesse herself was just entering it with Angela Sovrani as he came
"Good-bye, Mr. Leigh," she said gently, extending her hand, "I may
not see you again perhaps. I am going home to Buda this week."
"Must you go?" he asked, looking earnestly into the lovely eyes,
lovelier than ever in their present sorrowful languor.
"I think so," she answered, "I may wait to see Angela's great
"Do not hurry your departure," said Aubrey, speaking in a softer
tone--"Tell me--may I come and see you this evening,--just for a few
His eyes rested on her tenderly, and at the passion of his glance
her own fell.
"If you like--yes," she murmured. And just then the Princesse
"May I drive you home, Mr. Leigh?" she asked.
"Thank you!" And Aubrey smiled as he accepted the invitation.
And presently the carriages started, Sylvie's light victoria
leading, and the Princesse D'Agramont's landeau following. Half way
back to Rome a picturesque little beggar, whose motley-coloured rags
scarcely clothed his smooth brown limbs, suddenly sprang out of a
corner where he had been in hiding with a great basket of violets,
and threw the whole fragrant heap dexterously into Sylvie's
carriage, crying out,
"Bellissima Signora! Bellissima! Bellissima! Un soldo! Un soldo!"
Laughingly Sylvie threw out four or five francs, but Aubrey, carried
beyond all prudence by catching a glimpse of Sylvie's pretty head
gleaming above the great purple cluster of violets she had caught
and held, tossed a twenty-franc piece to the clever little rascal
who had by "suiting the action to the word, and the word to the
action" as Italians so often do, gained a week's earnings in one
And the evening came, misty but mild, with the moon peering
doubtfully through a fleecy veil of fine floating vapour, which,
gathering flashes of luminance from the silver orb, turned to the
witch-lights of an opal,--and Aubrey made his way to the Casa
D'Angeli, which in his own mind he called the "Palais D'lffry," in
memory of the old Breton song Sylvie had sung. On giving his name he
was at once shown up into the great salon, now made beautiful by the
picturesque and precious things accumulated there, and arranged with
the individuality and taste of the presiding spirit. She was quite
alone, seated in a deep easy chair near the fire,--and her dress, of
some faint shell-pink hue, clung about her in trailing soft folds
which fell in a glistening heap of crushed rose-tints at her feet,
making a soft rest for her tiny dog who was luxuriously curled
therein. The firelight shed a warm glow around her,--flickering
brightly on her fair hair, on her white arms, and small hands where
one or two diamonds flashed like drops of dew,--and Aubrey, as he
entered, was conscious of an overpowering sense of weakness, poverty
of soul, narrowness of mind, incompetency of attainment,--for the
tranquillity and sweet perfection of the picture his eyes rested
upon--a picture lovelier than even the Gretchen which tempted
Goethe's Faust to Hell,--made him doubtful of his own powers--
mistrustful of his own worth. In his life of self-renunciation among
the poorer classes, he had grown accustomed to pity women,--to look
upon them more or less as frail, broken creatures needing help and
support,--sometimes to be loved, but far more often to be despised
and neglected. But Sylvie, Comtesse Hermenstein, was not of these,--
he knew, or thought he knew that she needed nothing. Beauty was
hers, wealth was hers, independence of position was hers; and if she
had given a smile or nod of encouragement, lovers were hers to
command. What was he that he should count himself at all valuable in
her sight, even as the merest friend? These despondent thoughts were
doubly embittered by the immense scorn he now entertained for
himself that he should have been such a fool as to listen for a
moment to the silly and malignant gossip circulated among the
envious concerning a woman who was admittedly the superior of those
who calumniated her. For clearest logic shows that wherever
superiority exists, inferiority rises up in opposition, and the
lower endeavours to drag the higher down. Such vague reflections,
coursing rapidly through his, brain, gave him an air of
embarrassment and awkwardness not by any means common to him, as he
advanced, and Sylvie, half rising from her chair, greeted him in her
turn with a little touch of shyness which sent a wave of soft colour
over her face, and made her look ten times prettier than ever.
"I am glad to find you alone--" he began.
"Yes? I am generally alone," answered Sylvie with a little smile--
"except for Katrine--she would be here to welcome you this evening,
but she has a very bad neuralgic headache--"
"I am very sorry," murmured Aubrey, with hypocritical earnestness,
all the while devoutly blessing Madame Bozier's timely
indisposition. "She is a great sufferer from neuralgia, I believe?"
"Yes . . ." and Sylvie, to divert the cloud of embarrassment that
seemed to be deepening rather than dispersing for them both, rang
the bell with a pretty imperativeness that was rather startling to
"What is that for?" he enquired irrelevantly.
"Only for coffee!"
Their eyes met,--the mutual glance was irresistible, and they both
laughed. Sylvia's Arab page entered in response to her summons, a
pretty dusky-skinned lad of some twelve years old, picturesquely
arrayed in scarlet, and bearing a quaintly embossed gilt salver with
coffee prepared in the Arabian fashion.
"Do you like coffee made in this way?" asked Sylvie, as she handed
Aubrey his cup.
Aubrey's eyes were fixed on the small white hand that looked so
dainty, curled over the trifle of Sevres china that was called a
coffee-cup,--and he answered vaguely,
"This way? Oh, yes--of course--any way!"
A faint smile lifted the rosy corners of Sylvie's mouth as she heard
this incoherent reply--and the Arab page rolled his dark eyes up at
his fair mistress with a look of dog-like affectionate enquiry, as
to whether perhaps some fault in his serving had caused that little
playful enigmatical expression on the face which he, in common with
many others of his sex, thought the fairest in the world. The coffee
dispensed and the page gone, there followed a spell of silence. The
fire burned cheerily in the deep chimney, and the great logs cracked
and spluttered as much as to say, "If these two curious people can
find nothing to talk about, we can!" And then, just as luck would
have it, a burning ember suddenly detached itself from the rest and
fell out blazing on the hearth--Sylvie sprang up to push it back,
and Aubrey to assist her,--and then, strange to relate--only the
occult influences of attraction know how it happened--the little
difficulty of the burning ember brought those two other burning
embers of humanity together--for Aubrey, hardly conscious of what he
did, caught Sylvie's swaying, graceful figure as she rose from
bending over the fire, closely in his arms, with a passion which
mounted like a wave to tempest height, and knew no further
hesitation or obstacle.
"Sylvie! Sylvie! I love you!--my darling! I love you!--"
No answer came, for there was none needed. Her face was hidden on
his breast--but he felt rather than saw the soft white arms and
dainty hands moving tremblingly upwards, till they closed round him
in the dear embrace which meant for him from henceforth the faith
and love and devotion of one true heart through all the sorrows and
perplexities as well as the joys and triumphs of life. And when,
with his heart beating, and all his pulses thrilling with the new
ecstacy that possessed him, he whispered a word or two that caused
the pretty golden head to raise itself timidly--the beautiful dark
blue eyes to grow darker with the tenderness that overflowed the
soul behind them, and the sweet lips to meet his own in a kiss, as
soft and fragrant as though a rose had touched them, it was small
blame to him that for a moment he lost his self-possession, and
drawing her closer in his arms, showered upon her not only kisses,
but whispered words of all that tender endearment which is judged as
"foolish" by those who have never had the privilege of being made
the subject of such priceless and exquisite "fooling." And when they
were calmer, and began to think of the possibility of the worthy
Bozier suddenly recovering from her neuralgia and coming to look
after her pupil,--or the undesired but likely entrance of a servant
to attend to the lamps, or to put fresh wood on the fire, they
turned each from the other, with reluctance and half laughing
decorum,--Sylvie resuming her seat by the fire, and Aubrey flinging
himself with happy recklessness in a low fauteuil as near to her as
could be permitted for a gentleman visitor, who might be considered
as enthusiastically expounding literature or science to a
fascinating hostess. And somehow, as they talked, their conversation
did gradually drift from passionate personalities into graver themes
affecting wider interests, and Aubrey, warming into eloquence, gave
free vent to his thoughts and opinions, till noticing that Sylvie
sat very silent, looking into the fire somewhat gravely, he checked
himself abruptly, fancying that perhaps he was treading on what
might be forbidden ground with her whose pleasure was now his law.
As he came to this sudden pause, she turned her soft eyes towards
him tenderly, with a smile.
"Well!" she said, in the pretty foreign accent which distinguished
her almost perfect English, "And why do you stop speaking? You must
not be afraid to trust me with your closest thoughts,--because how
can our love be perfect if you do not?"
"Sweetheart!" he answered, catching the white hand that was so
temptingly near his own, "Our love IS perfect!--and so far as I am
concerned there shall never be a cloud on such a dazzling sky!"
"Ah, you talk romance just now!" she said, "But Aubrey, I want our
love to be something more than romance--I want it to be a grand and
helpful reality! If I am not worthy to be the companion of your very
soul, you will not, you cannot love me long. Now, no protestations!"
For he had possessed himself of the dear little hand again, and was
covering it with kisses--"You see, it is very sweet just now to sit
by the fire together, and look at each other, and feel how happy we
are--but life does not go on like that. And your life, my Aubrey,
belongs to the world . . ."
"To you!--to you!" said Aubrey passionately, "I give it to you! You
know the song?--I set my life in your hand Mar it or make it sweet,--I
set my life in your hand, I lay my heart at your feet!"
Sylvie rose impulsively, and leaning over his chair kissed his
"Yes, I know! And I know you mean what you say! I could not imagine
you telling an untruth,--not even in making love!" and she laughed,
"Though there are many of your sex who think any amount of lies
permissible under similar circumstances! And it is just because I
have found men such practised liars, that I have the reputation of
being heartless. Did you ever think me heartless?"
Aubrey hesitated a moment.
"Yes," he admitted at last, frankly, "I did till I knew better. I
"Stop! I know all you were told!" said Sylvie, drawing her slim
figure up with a pretty dignity as she moved back to her place by
the fire--"You were told that I was the cause of the death of the
Marquis Fontenelle. So I was, unhappily--but not through my own
fault. The actor Miraudin,--known to be one of the most coarse-
minded and brutal of men,--slandered me in public,--the Marquis
defended me. Hence the combat and its fatal end, which no one has
deplored more bitterly than I. Miraudin was never a gentleman,--
Fontenelle could have been one had he chosen. And I confess I cared
very much for him at one time!"
"You loved him," said Aubrey, trying to master a pang of jealousy.
"Yes! I loved him!--till he proved himself unworthy of love."
There was a silence.
"I tell you all this," said Sylvie then slowly and emphatically,
"that you may know me at once as I am. I wish to hide nothing from
you. I have read all your books--I know your views of life--your
hatred of dissimulation--your contempt of a lie! In your love for
me, you must have complete knowledge of my nature, and confidence in
my truth. I would never give my life to any man unless he trusted me
absolutely,--unless I was sure he felt I was a real helpmate for
him. I love you--but I also love your work and your aims; and I go
with all your thoughts and wish to share all your responsibilities.
But I must feel that you will never misjudge me,--never set me down
on the level of mean and small-natured women, who cannot sacrifice
themselves or their personal vanities for another's sake. It is not
for me to say that the calumnies circulated concerning me are
untrue,--it is for my life to show and PROVE they are not! But I
must be trusted--not suspected; and if you give me your life as you
say, I will give mine to help make yours happier, asking from you in
return just your faith--your FAITH as well as your love!"
Like a fair queen she stood, royal in her look, bearing and
attitude, and Aubrey bent his head low in reverence before her as he
once more kissed her hand.
"My wife!" he said simply.
And the silence that followed was as that of God's benediction on
that perfect marriage which is scarcely ever consummated in all the
world,--the marriage of two souls, which like twin flames, unite and
burn upward clear to Heaven, as One.
Society soon learned the news of the Countess Hermenstein's
betrothal to the "eccentric Englishman," Aubrey Leigh,--and with its
million tongues discussed the affair in all tones,--most people
preferring to say, with the usual "society" kindness, that--"Leigh
was not quite such a self-sacrificing idealist as he seemed to be,--
he was going to marry for money." Some few ventured to remark that
Sylvie Hermenstein was charming in herself and well worth winning,--
but the more practical pooh-poohed this view of the case at once.
"Pretty women are to be had by the score," they said, "It is the
money that tells!" Aubrey Leigh caught these rumours, and was in a
manner stung by them,--he said very little however, and to all the
congratulations he received, merely gave coldly civil thanks. And so
the gossips went to work again in their own peculiar way, and said,
"Well! She will have an iceberg for a husband, that is one thing! A
stuck up, insolent sort of chap!--not a bit of go in him!" Which was
true,--Aubrey had no "go." "Go" means, in modern parlance, to drink
oneself stupid, to bet on the most trifling passing events, and to
talk slang that would disgrace a stable-boy, as well as to amuse
oneself with all sorts of mean and vulgar intrigues which are
carried on through the veriest skulk and caddishness;--thus Aubrey
was a sad failure in "tip-top" circles. But the "tip-top" circles
are not a desirable heaven to every man;--and Aubrey did not care
much as to what sort of comments were passed on himself, provided he
could see Sylvie always "queen it" over her inferiors in that
graceful, gracious way of conquest which was her special peculiarity
and charm. Among her friends no one perhaps was happier in Sylvie's
happiness than Angela Sovrani; her nature was of that rare quality
which vibrates like a harp to every touch, and the joy of others
swept over her with a gladness which made her more glad than if she
had received some priceless boon for her own benefit. Florian
Varillo was exceedingly angry at the whole affair,--and whenever
Sylvie's betrothal was spoken of he assumed an expression of pained
and personal offence which was almost grotesque.
"Such a marriage is ridiculous!" he declared,--"Everyone can see how
utterly unsuited the two are in tastes, habits and opinions! They
will rue the day they ever met!"
And not all the gentle remonstrances of his own fiancee Angela,
could soothe his ruffled humour, or make him accept the inevitable
with grace. Angela was exceedingly troubled and puzzled by his
almost childish waywardness,--she did not yet understand the nature
of a man who was to himself all in all, and who could not endure the
idea that any woman whom he personally condescended to admire should
become the possession of another, no matter how completely that
woman might be beyond his own reach. Poor Angela! She was very
simple--very foolish indeed;--she never imagined it could be
possible for a man to carry on five or six love-affairs at once, and
never be found out. Yet this was the kind of life her "ideal" found
the most suitable to his habit and temperament,--and he had made a
mental note of Sylvie Hermenstein as one whom he proposed to add to
his little list of conquests. So that her engagement of marriage to
one who, though reserved in manner and without "go," was yet every
inch a gentleman, and a determined opposer of sophistry and humbug,
had considerably disturbed his little plans, and the unsettlement of
anything he had set his heart upon greatly displeased him. He
generally had his own way in most things, and could not at all
comprehend why he was not to have it now. But among all the people
who discussed the intended marriage there were two who were so well
satisfied as to be almost jubilant, and these were the Monsignori
Moretti and Gherardi. These worthies met together in one of the
private chambers set apart for the use of the Papal court in the
Vatican, and heartily congratulated each other on the subjugation
and enthralment of Aubrey Leigh, which meant, as they considered,
the consequent removal of a fierce opponent to the Roman Catholic
movement in England.
"Did I not tell you," said Moretti, as he untied some papers he had
been carrying, and sat down at a table to glance over them, "Did I
not tell you that when all other arguments fail, the unanswerable
one of woman can be brought in to clinch every business?"
Gherardi, though in a way contented, was not altogether so sure of
his goal. He remembered, with an uncomfortable thrill of doubt, the
little skirmish of words he had had with the fair Sylvie in the
"You take your thoughts for deeds, and judge them as fully
accomplished while they are still in embryo!" he said, "It is true
that the engagement of marriage is settled,--but can you be certain
that in religious matters the wife may not go with her husband?"
"What!" exclaimed Moretti, opening his dark eyes quickly, as a flash
of hell-fire illumined them at the very idea, "Do you suggest that
Sylvie Hermenstein,--the last of her race--a race which, back to its
earliest source, has been distinguished for its faithful allegiance
to Mother-Church, and has moreover added largely to the Papal
revenues--could be otherwise than our obedient and docile daughter?
Per la Santissima Madonna!--if I thought she could turn against us
her marriage should never take place!"
And he brought his fist down with a fierce blow on the papers before
"The marriage should never take place!" echoed Gherardi, "How could
you prevent it?"
"The Pope himself should intervene!" said Moretti, with increasing
fury, losing a little of his self-control, "Gran Dio! Conceive for a
moment the wealth of the Hermensteins being used to promulgate the
reformer Leigh's threadbare theories, and feed his rascal poor! Do
you know what Sylvie Hermenstein's fortune is? No, I suppose you do
not! But I do! She tries to keep it a secret, but I have made it my
business to find out! It is enormous!--and it is ever increasing.
With all the fanciful creature's clothes and jewels and unthinking
way of living her life, she spends not a quarter, nor half a quarter
of her income,--and yet you actually venture to suggest that her
power is so slight over the man who is now her promised husband,
that she would voluntarily allow him to use all that huge amount of
money as he pleased, OUTSIDE the Church?"
Moretti spoke with such passionate insistence that Gherardi thought
it prudent not to irritate him further by argument. So he merely
"You expect her to persuade him to embrace our faith?"
"Naturally!" answered Moretti, "And she can, and will do so. If she
cannot or will not, she must be MADE to do so!"
He bent over his papers again and rustled them impatiently, but his
hand trembled. The pale December sunlight glittered through a
stained-glass window above him, and cast deep violet rays about his
chair,--Gherardi stood where the same luminance touched his pale
face with a crimson glow as of fire.
"This is a busy morning with us," said Moretti, without looking up,
"The excommunication of Denis Vergniaud will be pronounced to-day,--
and, what is even more important,--Cardinal Bonpre is summoned by
His Holiness's command to wait upon him this afternoon, bringing the
boy,--that boy who is always with him--"
"Ah, there is a history there!" interrupted Gherardi, "It should be
remembered that this boy was a witness of the miracle in Rouen, and
he was also present at the Vergniaud scandal in Paris--he should
have been sent for ere now. He, more than anyone, must surely know
how the miracle was accomplished,--for the worthy Felix tells me he
is 'wise beyond his years'!"
"So! His wisdom will be put to the test to-day!" said Moretti
coldly, "Do you not think it strange"--here he raised his eyes from
his papers, "and somewhat incriminating too--always supposing the
miracle is a case of conspiracy--that no trace has been discovered
of the man Claude Cazeau?"
Gherardi had moved to a book-case, and was standing close to it,
turning over a vellum-bound manuscript.
"Yes--the whole business looks as black as murder!" he said.
Moretti looked at him sharply.
"Murder? You suppose--"
"That Claude Cazeau has been murdered? Certainly I suppose it! It is
more than a week now since we heard that he had mysteriously
disappeared, and still there is no news. What can it be but murder?
But I do not for a moment suppose that our good Saint Felix is
concerned in it!"
And he smiled, turning over the vellum volume carelessly.
Moretti knitted his dark brows.
"No--no!" he said musingly, "That would not be possible! Cardinal
Bonpre is not that kind of man--he would rather bear the heaviest
weight of punishment for himself than allow another to suffer. That
I KNOW of him;--and though I do not admire his extreme views on this
point, and do not think them politic, I give him full credit for
this particular and uncommon form of--eccentricity!"
"Or Christianity!" said Gherardi, still smiling.
Moretti pushed aside his papers, and leaning his head on one hand
frowned meditatively at the amethyst light which streamed radiantly
through the jewel-like window above him. "Yes--or Christianity, if
you like!" he said, "For Christianity pur et simple, WOULD be
eccentricity. In its primitive simplicity it is an impossible creed.
Founded by the Divine it needs divine beings to comprehend and
follow it,--beings not of this world nor addicted to the things of
this world. And to exist in the world, made of the world's clay, and
the world's inherited associations, and yet not be of it, is to be
judged crazed! True, there have been saints and martyrs,--there are
saints and martyrs now, unknown and unheard of, but nevertheless
consumed by flames more cruel perhaps than those which physically
burn the flesh;--idealists, thinkers, dreamers, heralds of future
progress,--and how are they estimated? As madmen all! To be human,
and yet above humanity, is the supreme sin! For that very affront
the multitude cried out, 'Not this man, but Barabbas!' And to this
day we all prefer Barabbas to Christ. Hence the power of the
Gherardi put back the volume he had been glancing at, on its shelf,
and looked at his confrere with a certain amount of admiring
respect. He had been long an interested student of the various
psychological workings of Moretti's mind,--and he knew that
Moretti's scheming brain was ever hard at work designing bold and
almost martial plans for securing such conversions to the Church as
would seriously trouble the peace of two or three great nations.
Moretti was in close personal touch with every crowned head in
Europe; he was acquainted more closely than anyone alive with the
timidities, the nervous horrors, the sudden scruples, the sickening
qualms of conscience, and the overwhelming fears of death which
troubled the minds of certain powerful personages apparently
presenting a brave front to the world,--and he held such personages
in awe by the very secrets which they had, in weak moments,
entrusted to him. Gherardi even was not without his own fears,--he
instinctively felt that Moretti knew more about himself than was
either safe or convenient.
"We all live for Barabbas," pursued Moretti, an ironical smile
playing on his thin lips, "Not for Christ! Barabbas, in the shape of
the unscrupulous millionaire, robs the world!--and we share the
spoils, pardon his robberies, and set him free. But whosoever lives
outside Dogma, serving God purely and preaching truth,--him we
crucify!--but our Robber,--our murderer of Truth, we set at liberty!
Hence, as I said before, the power of the Church!"
Carried away by his thoughts, he rose, and pacing the room, talked
more to himself than to Gherardi.
"The Church supports the robber, because he is always a coward and
cannot stand alone. The murderer of his fellow-men's good name is
naturally a liar, and fears lest his lies should find him out. Fear!
That is the keynote on which we of Rome play our invincible march of
triumph! The Church appeals to the ignorant, the base, the sensual,
the false, and the timorous; and knowing that they never repent, but
are only afraid, retains them by fear!--fear, not love! Christ
taught love--but hate is the more popular virtue! Hence again, the
power of the Church!"
"Your argument is perfectly orthodox!" said Gherardi, with a smile.
"Hate is a grand, a strong quality!" went on Moretti, "It makes
nations, it builds up creeds! If men loved one another what should
they need of a Church? But Hate!--the subtle sense which makes the
ultra-respectable thank God that he is not as other men are!--the
fierce emotion which almost touches ecstacy when the wronged
individual thinks his enemy will go to hell!--the fine fever which
sets father against son, creed against creed, nation against
nation!--hate is the chief mainspring of human motives! From hate
and envy spring emulation and conquest--and we of the Church
encourage the haters to hate on! They make Us!--they emulate each
other in the greed of their gifts to us, which give them notoriety
and advertise their generosity,--WE fan the flame and encourage the
fury! For the world must have a religion--it crucified Christ, but
the Church, built up in His name, takes just and daily revenge for
His murder! We do not save--we kill! We do not rescue--we trample
down! We humiliate,--we crush wherever we can, and it is well and
fitting we should do so! For Humanity is a brute beast, and serves
us best under the lash. Rome made many a blunder in the old days of
barbarity and ignorance--but now we have a thousand forces put into
our hands instead of one or two,--forces to terrorise--forces to
compel!--and the power of Rome wielded by the Popes of the days to
come, shall be indeed a power irresistible!"
He stood enrapt,--his hand upraised, his eyes flashing, then
recalling himself, turned abruptly on Gherardi with an impatient
"You can repeat all this," he said sarcastically, "in your next
eloquent discourse with Aubrey Leigh! It will save you the trouble
of thinking! His influence with the English masses will be but a
brief phenomenon,--the blind and brutal stupidity of the people he
seeks to serve will soon dishearten and discourage him, and then he
will come to us through his wife, and his conversion will be a
triumph worth winning,--a step in the right direction. And now to
other matters. These papers," and he sat down at the table once
more, "are, I think, sufficiently in order to be placed before His
Holiness. But you may as well look through them with me first. Later
on, the affair of Cardinal Bonpre will occupy all our time . . ."
"It is an 'affair' then?" asked Gherardi, "The 'saint' is in
"All 'saints' get into trouble!" answered Moretti, "It is only
sinners who receive honour! Cardinal Bonpre has made the fatal
mistake of reading Jesus Christ's Gospel instead of Church Doctrine!
His creed is Love,--his duty, as I have just explained to you, if he
would be a faithful son of the Church, is Hate!"
"Love forms no part of your nature then?" asked Gherardi, hardly
knowing why he put the question, yet curious as to the answer.
"I am of the world!" replied Moretti coldly, "And I hate
accordingly. I hate, and in my hate, aspire to crush those who in
turn hate me! That is the human code, and one that must be strictly
practised by all who would rule mankind. Never do anything for those
who can do nothing for you! Firmly oppose those who oppose you!
Revenge yourself on those who despitefully use you! We do revenge
ourselves,--and we reward all who help us to our revenge! For
example, Denis Vergniaud has cast opprobrium on his calling, and
made a scandal and a shame of the Church before his congregation in
Paris;--we excommunicate him! It is no use, but we do it on
principle. And we are still unable to explain away, or offer any
excuse for Cardinal Bonpre's mistake in condoning and pardoning his
offence. Therefore it follows as you say, that the 'saint' is in
"Notwithstanding the miracle?"
"Notwithstanding the miracle!" echoed Moretti, "For the miracle is
doubtful. The Holy Father is not satisfied of its truth. Yes--there
is no doubt about it, Saint Felix is in trouble! It would be better
for him had he never come out of his long retirement. But perhaps he
was compelled to look after his Rouen foundling!"
A smile flickered faintly over Gherardi's face, but he said not a
word in answer. Discovering an error in one of the documents he was
examining, he called Moretti's attention to it, and the conversation
drifted to everyday trivial subjects. But the thoughts of both men
were elsewhere, and not even the news received that morning of the
bequest of one hundred thousand pounds to the Shrine of Lourdes from
a deluded believer in the miraculous Virgin there, absorbed so much
of their reflective brain powers as the imminent trial--for it was
little else--of Cardinal Bonpre, in the presence of the boy to whom
he so openly gave his confidence and protection.
Meanwhile, the good Felix himself was very sorely troubled. During
his sojourn in Rome, he had grown thinner and paler, and the fine,
spiritual delicacy of his features had become more intensified,
while his clear blue eyes shone from under their deeply arched brows
with a flashing luminance that was almost unearthly. Often, when
about to enter his room with unthinking haste, his brother-in-law,
Prince Pietro, would see him kneeling before his crucifix absorbed,
one might almost say entranced, in prayer. And he would softly move
away again with a deep sense of awe, and a feeling that some higher
power than any on earth, sustained the venerable prelate, and
inspired both his words and actions. But with all his patient,
sometimes passionate prayer, earnest meditations, and constant study
of the Gospels, the Cardinal himself was more or less heavy-
hearted,--and his Master's phrase--"My soul is exceeding sorrowful
even unto death!" was one which he often breathed in the solitude
and extremity of his own position. The news of the disappearance of
Claude Cazeau had materially added to his difficulties--and now he
had been commanded, with a certain peremptoriness in the summons, to
wait upon the Sovereign Pontiff in a private audience, bringing with
him the boy who could, or would give no further account of himself
than that of a world's waif and stray. Prepared for this visit and
arrayed in all the splendour befitting his rank in the Church, the
gentle old man looked paler and more fragile than ever, and the