Part 2 out of 7
any measures which might be adopted; and he begged all to consider
themselves bound in honour to silence. He then explained, rather more
fully than he had done at supper, the idea he had conceived, and the
object of the meeting,
"And now," he concluded, "let each one express his opinion,"
A profound silence followed. The Abbe Marinier was about to speak when
Dane rose feebly to his feet. His pale, fleshless face, refined and full
of intellect, wore a look of solemn gravity. "I believe," said he in
Italian, which sounded foreign and formal, but which was nevertheless
warm with feeling, "that finding ourselves, as we now do, united at the
beginning of a religious movement, we should at once do two things. The
first is to concentrate our souls in God, silently each in his own way,
until we feel the presence in us of God Himself, the desire of Him, His
very glory, in our hearts. I will now do this, and I beg you to do it
So saying, Professor Dane crossed his arms over his breast, bent his
head, and closed his eyes. The others rose, and all save Abbe Marinier
clasped their hands. The Abbe, with a sweeping gesture which embraced
the air, brought them together on his breast. The soft complaining of
the lamp, a step on the floor below could be distinctly heard. Marinier
was the first to glance up furtively, to ascertain if the others still
prayed. Dane raised his head, and said:
"The second thing!" he added. "We propose to ourselves to obey in all
things the legitimate ecclesiastical authority--"
Don Paolo Fare burst out, exclaiming: "That must depend!"
The vibration of sudden thought, the muffled rumbling of unspoken words,
shook all present. Dane said slowly: "Exercised according to just
principles." The movement shrunk to a murmur of assent, and then ceased.
Dane went on: "And now one thing more! Let there never be hatred of any
one on our lips nor in our hearts!"
Don Paolo burst out again: "No, not hatred but indignation!
'_Circumspiciens eos cum ira_!'"
"Yes," said Don Clemente in his sweet, soft voice; "when we shall have
enthroned Christ within us; when we shall feel the wrath of pure love."
Don Paolo, who was near him, made no answer; he looked at him, his eyes
suffused with tears, and, seizing his hand, carried it to his lips. The
Benedictine drew back, startled, his face aflame.
"And we shall not enthrone Christ within us," said Giovanni, much moved,
and pleased with the mystic breath he seemed to feel passing over the
assembly, "If we do not purify our ideas of reform through love; if,
when the time comes to operate, we do not first purify our hands and
our instruments. This indignation, this wrath of which you, Don Paolo,
speak, is really a powerful snare which the evil one uses against
us; powerful precisely because it bears the semblance of virtue and
sometimes, as is the case with the saints really has the substance of
virtue. In us it is nearly always pure malevolence, because we do not
know how to love. The prayer I love best, after the _Pater Noster_, is
the prayer of Unity, which unites us all in the spirit of Christ, when
He prays thus to the Father: '_Ut et ipsi in nobis unum sint._' The
desire and hope are always strong within us of a union in God with those
of our brothers whose beliefs separate them from us. Therefore say now
whether you accept my proposal to found this association. First discuss
the question, and then, if the proposal be accepted we will examine the
means of promoting it."
Don Paolo exclaimed impetuously, that the principle needed no
discussion; and Minucci observed, in a submissive tone, that the object
of the meeting was known to all before they came; therefore, by their
presence, they had implied their approval and their willingness to bind
themselves together in a common action; the question of ways and means
remaning still undecided. Abbe Marinier asked permission to speak. "I am
really very sorry," he said smiling, "but I have not brought even the
smallest thread with which to bind myself. I also am one of those who
see many things going wrong in the Church. Still, when Signor Selva
carefully explained his views to me (first at supper and then here),
views which I had not clearly understood from my friend Professor Dane's
explanation, certain objections, which I consider serious, forced
themselves upon me."
"Exactly," thought Minucci, who had heard how ambitious Marinier was;
"if you look for promotion, you must not join us;" and he added aloud:
"Let us hear them."
"In the first place, gentlemen," the clever Abbe said, "it seems to me
you have begun with the second meeting. I may say, with all due respect,
that you remind me of a party of good people who sit down to a game of
cards, and cannot get on because one holds Italian, one French, another
German cards, and therefore they cannot understand one another. I have
heard unanimity of opinions mentioned; but there exists perhaps among us
rather a unanimity of negative opinions. We are probably unanimous in
believing that the Catholic Church has grown to resemble a very ancient
temple, originally of great simplicity, of great spirituality, which
the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries have crowded with
superfluities. Perhaps the more malicious among you will say that only a
dead language may be spoken aloud in this temple, that living languages
may only be whispered there, and that the sun itself takes on false
colours when it shines through the windows. But I cannot believe we are
all of one mind as regards the quantity and quality of the remedies to
be applied. Therefore before initiating this catholic freemasonry, I
think it would be wiser to come to an understanding respecting these
reforms. I will go even farther; I believe that, were it possible to
establish perfect harmony of opinion among you, it would still be
inexpedient to bind yourselves together with visible fetters, as Signor
Selva proposes. My objection is of a most delicate nature. You doubtless
expect to be able to swim in safety, below the surface, like
wary fishes, and you do not reflect that the vigilant eye of the
Sovereign-Fisherman, or rather Vice-Fisherman, may very easily spy you
out, and spear you with a skilful thrust of the harpoon. Now I should
never advise the finest, most highly flavoured, most desirable fishes to
bind themselves together. You will easily understand what might happen
should one be caught and landed. Moreover, you know very well that the
great Fisherman of Galilee put the small fishes into his vivarium, but
the Great Fisherman of Rome fries them."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Don Paolo with a laugh. The others maintained a
frigid silence. The Abbe continued:
"Furthermore, I do not believe any good can be achieved through this
league. Associations may be useful in helping to raise salaries, they
may promote industries and commerce; but science and truth, never.
Reforms will surely be brought about some day, because ideas are
stronger than men, and are always pressing forward; but by arraying them
in armour, and marching them forward in companies, you expose them to a
terrible fire, which will check their progress for a long time to come.
Science and religion progress only through the individual, through the
Messiah. Have you a saint among you? Do you know where to look for one?
Then find him and let him march forward. Fiery language, broad charity,
two or three little miracles, and your Messiah alone will achieve more
than all of you together."
The Abbe was silent, and Giovanni rose to speak.
"Perhaps the Abbe," said he, "has not yet been able to form a true
conception of the value of the union we desire. We have just prayed
together, seeking to stand united in the Divine Presence. This is
sufficient to indicate the character of our union. In consideration of
the ills afflicting the Church--which in substance are the result of
discord between her mutable human element and her immutable element of
Divine Truth--we wish, in our desire that He may remove these discords,
to become one in the God of Truth; and we wish to feel ourselves united.
Such a union has no need of community of opinion on certain subjects,
although many of us hold many opinions in common. We do not propose to
create a collective movement, either public or private, in order to
bring about this or that reform. I am old enough to remember the time of
the Austrian domination. If the Lombard and Venetian patriots called us
together in those days to talk of politics, it was by no means always in
order to conspire, nor to determine revolutionary acts; it was to enable
us to communicate news, to become acquainted, to keep the flame of the
idea alive. This is what we wish to do in the religious field. The Abbe
Marinier may rest assured that that negative accord of which he spoke
will amply suffice. We must strive to widen it, that it may embrace
the majority of the intelligent faithful; that it may even reach
the Hierarchy. He will see that positive accord will ripen in it,
mysteriously, as the seed of life ripens in the decaying body of the
fruit. Yes, yes, the negative accord is sufficient. The feeling that the
Church of Christ is suffering is sufficient to unite us in the love of
our Mother, and to move us at least to pray for her, we and our brothers
who, like us, feel her sufferings! What is your answer, Abbe?"
The Abbe murmured with a faint smile:
"_C'est beau, mais ce n'est pas la logique_."
Don Paolo started up:
"Logic has nothing to do with it." "Ah!" Marinier replied, assuming a
contrite expression, "if you intend to forego logic----!"
Don Paolo, all on fire, wished to protest, but Professor Dane signed to
him to be calm.
"We do not intend to forego logic," said he, "but it is not as easy to
measure the logical value of a conclusion in questions of sentiment, of
love of faith, as it is to measure the logical value of a conclusion in
geometrical problems. In the questions which interest us the logical
process is hidden. Surely my dear friend Marinier, one of the most
acute-minded men I know, when he answered my dear friend Selva, did not
intend to imply that when a person very dear to us falls ill, it is
necessary for us to decide what method of treatment to adopt before
hastening to his bedside together."
"These are very fine figures," said the Abbe Marinier with vehemence;
"but you are all aware that similes are not arguments!"
Don Clemente, standing in the corner between the door leading into the
corridor and the window, and Professor Minucci, seated near him, began
to speak at the same moment, but both stopped short; each wishing to
allow the other to speak first. Selva proposed that the monk be heard
first. All eyes were fixed on that noble face, the face of an archangel:
Don Clemente's colour deepened, but he held his head erect. After a
moment of hesitation he spoke in his soft, modest voice. "The Abbe
Marinier made an observation which seemed to me very just. He said that
we need a saint. I also believe this, I do not despair of finding one,
for perhaps, even now, he exists. Who knows?"
"Himself," murmured Don Paolo,
"Now," Don Clemente went on, "I wish the Abbe Marinier to understand
this: that we are, in a manner, the prophets of this saint, of this
Messiah, preparing the way for him; which simply means that we point out
the necessity of a renovation of all that, in our religion, is outward
clothing, and not the body of truth, even should such a renovation cause
suffering to many consciences. _Ingemiscit et parturit!_ We must point
out this necessity, standing the while on absolutely Catholic ground,
looking for the new laws from the old authorities, bringing proofs that
if these garments which have been worn so long and in such stormy times,
be not changed, no decent person will come near us; and God forbid that
some among us should be driven to cast them off without permission, out
of a loathing not to be borne. I wish furthermore to say, if the Abbe
Marinier will permit me, that we have very few human fears."
A murmur of hearty assent answered him, and Minucci started up, every
nerve vibrating. While the Abbe Marinier had been speaking, di Leyni
and Selva had watched Minucci, who was fuming, with knitted brows; and
Giovanni, knowing well the violent temper of this ascetic mystic, had
intended to give him time to control himself by requesting Don Clemente
to speak first. He now sprang up excitedly. His words did not flow
smoothly, their very impetus causing them to tremble and break, and,
broken, they poured from his lips in a torrent, precise, nevertheless,
and powerful, with their vigorous Roman accent.
"That is true! We have no human fears. We are striving for things too
great, and we desire them too intensely to feel human fears! We wish
to be united in the living Christ, all among us who feel that the
understanding of the Way, the Truth, and the Life--is--is--is--growing,
yes, is growing in our hearts, in our minds! And this understanding
bursts so many--what shall I call them?--so many bonds of ancient
formulas which press us, which suffocate us; which would suffocate
the Church were the Church mortal! We wish to be united in the living
Christ, all among us who thirst--who thirst, Abbe Marinier! who
thirst! thirst!--that our faith, if it lose in extent, may gain in
intensity--gain a hundredfold--for God's glory! And may it irradiate
from us, and may it, I say, be as a purifying fire, purifying first
Catholic thought and then Catholic action! We wish to be united in the
living Christ, all among us who feel that He is preparing a slow
but tremendous reformation, through the prophets and the saints; a
transformation to be accomplished by sacrifice, by sorrow, by the
severing of affections; all who know that the prophets are consecrated
to suffering, and that these things are revealed to us not by flesh and
blood, but by God Himself, dwelling in our souls. We wish to be united,
all of us, from many lands, and to regulate our course of action.
Catholic freemasonry? Yes; the freemasonry of the Catacombs. You are
afraid, Abbe? You fear that many heads will fall at one blow? I answer.
Where is the sword mighty enough for such a blow? One at a time, all in
turn may be struck; to-day, for instance, Professor Dane; to-morrow, Don
Fare; the next day, this Padre here. But should the day come on which
Abbe Marinier's fantastic harpoon should bring up, all bound by a common
cord, famous laymen, priests, monks, bishops, perhaps even cardinals,
what fisherman is there great or small, who would not be terrified,
and who would not cast back into the water harpoon and all the rest?
Moreover, I must beg you to pardon me, Abbe Marinier, if I ask you and
other prudent persons like you, where is your faith? Would you hesitate
to serve Christ from fear of Peter? Let us band together against the
fanaticism which crucified Him and which is now poisoning His Church;
and if suffering be our reward, let us give thanks to the Father:
_'Beati estis cum persecuti vos fuerint et dixerint omne malum adversum
vos, mentientes, propter me_.'"
Don Paolo Fare started to his feet and embraced the orator. Di Leyni
fixed upon him eyes aflame with enthusiasm. Dane, Selva, Don Clemente,
and the other monk were silent and embarrassed, feeling--especially the
three ecclesiastics--that Minucci had gone too far, that his words
concerning the extent and intensity of faith, concerning the fear of
Peter, were not weighed; that the whole tone of his discourse was too
aggressive, and not in harmony with Dane's mystical exhortation, or with
the language Selva had used in delineating the character of the proposed
association. The Genevese abbe had never for a moment removed his small
bright eyes from Minucci's face while he was speaking. He watched Don
Paolo's demonstration with an expression of mingled irony and pity; then
"Very well," he said; "I do not know whether my friend Dane, in
particular, shares this gentleman's views. Indeed, I am inclined to
doubt it. The speaker mentioned Peter. In truth it seems to me the
present company is preparing to leave Peter's bark, in the hope perhaps
of being able to walk upon the waves. I humbly declare that my faith is
not sufficient, and I should sink at once. I intend to remain in the
bark, at the most plying a small oar, according to my light, for, as
this gentleman says, I am very timid. It is therefore necessary for us
to part, and it only remains for me to beg you to pardon my coming. I
feel the need of a stroll to aid my digestion. Dear friend," said he
addressing Dane, "we shall meet at the Aniene." He approached Selva to
bid him good-night, his hand extended. At once the entire company, with
the exception of Don Paolo and Minucci, gathered round him, urging him
to remain. He insisted quietly, checking his over-zealous assailants
with a cold smile, a delicately sarcastic phrase, or a graceful gesture.
Di Leyni turned to Fare, motioning to him to join the others; but the
fiery Don Paolo responded only by an emphatic shrug and a scowl of
irritation. In the meantime, a Tuscan voice was heard above the clamour
of Marinier's assailants.
"_Stia bono!_" it said. "As yet nothing has been decided! Wait! I have
not yet spoken!"
The speaker was Father Salvati, a _Scolopio,_ and an old man with snowy
hair, a florid complexion, and bright eyes.
"Nothing has as yet been decided," he repeated. "I, for one, approve of
uniting, but I have one special end in view, while the discourses I have
heard seem to me to favour a very different end. Intellectual progress
is good, renovation of the formulas according to the spirit of the times
is also good, a Catholic reform is excellent. I hold with Rafaello
Lambruschini, who was a great man; with the _'Pensieri di un
solitario'_; but it appears to me that Professor Minucci is advocating a
reform of an eminently intellectual nattire, and that----"
Here Dane lifted his small, white, refined hand,
"Allow me, Father," he said. "My dear friend Marinier sees that the
discussion is reopened. I beg him to resume his seat." The Abbe raised
his eyebrows slightly, but obeyed. The others also sat down, quite
satisfied. They had little faith in the Abbe's discretion, and it would
have been a great misfortune had he left _ab irato_. Father Salvati
resumed his discourse.
He was opposed to giving an eminently intellectual character to the
movement of reform, not so much on account of the danger from Rome as of
the danger of troubling the simple faith of a multitude of quiet souls.
He wished the Union to set itself first of all a great moral task, that
of bringing back the faithful to the practice of gospel teachings. To
illumine hearts was, in his eyes, the first duty of those who aspired
to illumine minds. Speaking with all due respect, it was obviously less
important to transform Catholic faith in the Bible, than to render
Catholic faith in the word of Christ efficacious. It must be shown that,
in general, the faithful praise Christ with their lips, but that the
heart of the people is far from Him; it must further be shown how much
egoism enters into a certain form of fervent piety which many believed
to be a source of sanctification.
Here Don Paolo and Minucci protested, grumbling: "This has nothing to do
with the question."
Salvati exclaimed that it had much to do with it, and he begged them to
listen to him patiently. He continued, alluding to a general perversion
of the sense of Christian duty as regards the desire for, and the use
of, riches; a perversion it would be very difficult to eradicate, it
having--In the course of centuries, and with the full sanction of the
clergy--taken deep root in the human conscience.
"The times, gentlemen," the old monk exclaimed, "demand a Franciscan
movement. Now I see no signs of such a movement. I see ancient religious
orders which no longer have power to influence society. I see Christian
democracy, both administrative and political, which is not in the spirit
of St. Francis; which does not love holy poverty. I see a society for
the study of Franciscan thought--simply an intellectual pastime! I
believe that we should promote a Franciscan movement; that is, if we
desire Catholic reform.."
"But how?" Fare demanded, while Minucci, much vexed, grumbled: "It's not
that at all!"
Selva felt that the souls which had been united by a first impulse were
drifting apart again. He felt that Dane, Minucci, and probably also
Fare, wished, as did he himself, to initiate an intellectual movement,
and that this Franciscan flash had come out of season and was out of
place. It was all the more inopportune in that it was hot with living
truth. For undoubtedly there was much truth in Padre Salvati's words: he
recognised this, he, who had often debated in his own mind if it had not
been wiser and for the greater good of the Church to promote a moral
agitation rather than an intellectual one. But he himself did not feel
qualified for this Franciscan apostolate, nor could he discover the
necessary qualifications in any of his friends; not even in the most
zealous of all, Luigi Minucci, a recluse, an ascetic, shunning the world
like Selva himself. Salvati's arguments served to demolish, but not to
build up. Giovanni secretly felt the irony of applying them either to
Marinier or to Dane, of whom it was well known that their tastes were
anything but Franciscan, that their palates were fastidious, their
nerves delicate, and their affections lavished on parrots and little
dogs. If anything was to be achieved, a line of defence must at once be
"Dear Padre Salvati must pardon me," he began, "if I observe that his
discourse--so warm with the true Christian spirit--is ill-timed. I
gather that he is with us in desiring a Catholic reform. To-night only a
proposal is before us; the proposal to form a sort of league among all
those who cherish the same desire. Let us then decide this point."
The _Scolopio_ would not yield. He could not understand an inactive
league, and action, according to the ideas of the intellectualists, did
not suit him. The Genevese abbe exclaimed:
"_Je l'avais bien dit!_"
And he rose, determined this time to depart. But Selva would not allow
this, and proposed closing the meeting, intending again to summon
Professor Dane, Minucci, di Leyni, and Fare, on the morrow, or perhaps
later on. Salvati was intractable, and It would be wiser to let Marinier
carry away the impression that the plan was abandoned. Minucci guessed
his motive, and was silent; but the thoughtless Don Paolo did not
understand, and insisted that they should deliberate and vote at
once. Selva, and di Leyni also--out of respect for Giovanni's
wishes--persuaded him to wait. Nevertheless he continued to fume, his
vexation directed mainly against the Swiss. Dane and Don Clemente were
dissatisfied, each for a reason of his own; Dane being at heart vexed
with Marinier, and sorry he had brought him; while Don Clemente would
have liked to say that Padre Salvati's words were very beautiful and
holy, and not out of season, because it was right that each should
labour according to his vocation, the intellectualist in one way,
the Franciscan in another. He who called them would provide for the
co-ordination of their actions. The different vocations might well be
united in the League. He would have liked to say this, but he had not
been prepared, and had let the right moment pass; partly from mental
shyness, fearing he should not speak well, partly out of consideration
for Selva, who evidently wished to cut the meeting short. It was cut
short, for all rose, and all, save Dane and Giovanni, went out to the
The Abbe Marinier proposed going to Santa Scolastica and the Sacro
Speco on the morrow, returning perhaps to Rome by way of Olevano and
Palestrina, that road being new to him. Could any one show him the way
from the terrace? Don Clemente pointed out the road. It was the same
that he had followed as he came from Subiaco. It passed just below them,
crossed the Anio a little to the left, by the Ponte di S. Mauro, turned
to the right, and then rose towards the hills of Affile, over yonder.
The air rose to them laden with the odours of the woods, of the narrow
gorge below the convents, from whence the river issued. The sky was
overcast save just above the Francolano. There, over the great black
mountain, two stars trembled; Minucci called di Leyni's attention to
"See how those two little stars flash," said he.
"Dante would say they are the 'little flames' of San Benedetto and Santa
Scolastica, glittering because they perceive, in the shadow, a soul akin
"You speak of saints?" said Marinier, drawing near. "A few minutes ago
I inquired whether you had a saint among you, and I expressed the hope
that you might possess one. These were simply oratorical figures, for
I know well enough that you have no saint. Had you one, he would
immediately be cautioned by the police, or sent to China by the Church."
"Well," di Leyni replied, "what if he were cautioned?"
"Cautioned to-day, he would be imprisoned to-morrow." "And what of
that?" the young man repeated. "How about St. Paul, Abbe Marinier?"
"Ah! my friend! St. Paul, St. Paul--"
By this unfinished sentence the Abbe Marinier probably meant to convey
that St. Paul was St. Paul. Di Leyni, on the other hand, reflected that
Marinier was Marinier. Don Clemente remarked that not all saints could
be sent to China. Why should not the saint of the future be a layman?
"I believe he will be," exclaimed Padre Salvati, The enthusiastic Don
Fare, on the contrary, was convinced that he would be a Sovereign
Pontiff. The Abbe laughed. "A simple and excellent idea," said he. "But
I hear the carriage coming that is to take Dane and myself, and any one
else who wishes to join us, to Subiaco, so I will go and take leave of
He leaned over the parapet to gather a small branch of the olive,
planted on the terrace of the ground floor.
"I should offer him this," he said, "and to you, gentlemen, as well," he
smilingly added, with a graceful gesture, and then entered the house.
The noise of a two-horse carriage on the road below could in fact be
heard. It rounded the cliff upon which the villa stood, and stopped
at the gate. A few moments later Maria Selva and Dane, in his heavy
overcoat and huge black broad-brimmed hat, came out on the terrace;
Giovanni and the Abbe followed.
"Who is coming with us?" Dane asked. No one answered. Above the deep
rumbling of the Anio, voices and steps could be heard approaching the
villa from the gate. Minucci, who was standing at the eastern end of the
terrace, looked down, and said:
"Ladies. Two ladies."
Maria gasped. "Two ladies?" she exclaimed. Hastening to the parapet she
perceived two white figures ascending slowly; they were at the first
turning of the steep little path. It was impossible to recognise the
figures, they were still too far away, and it was too dark. Giovanni
observed that they were probably people coming to the first floor to see
the proprietors of the house. Professor Dane smiled mysteriously.
"They may be coming to the second floor," said he.
"You know something about this!" and called down:
"_Noemi, est-ce vous?_"
Noemi's clear voice answered:
"_Oui, c'est nous!_"
Another female voice was heard saying aloud to her:
"What a child! You should have kept quiet!"
Maria gave a little cry of joy and disappeared, running down the winding
"You knew, Professor Dane?" Selva asked. Yes, Dane knew. He had made
Signora Dessalle's acquaintance at her villa in the Veneto--the villa
containing the frescoes by Tiepolo--and had recently seen her in Rome.
Her brother, Signor Carlino Dessalle, had remained in Florence. She and
Signorina d'Arxel, wishing to surprise the Selvas, had forbidden him to
tell. The name Dessalle recalled to Selva's mind in a flash what he had
not at first remembered--the presence of Don Clemente, the suspicion
that he was this woman's missing lover, and the necessity of preventing
a meeting, which might prove terrible to both. He was, of course,
unaware of the conversation which had taken place between his wife and
the Padre. In the meantime they heard Maria hastening down the path, and
then joyous exclamations and greetings. Dane, uneasy lest he had stayed
too long on the terrace, proposed going downstairs. The ladies had
certainly availed themselves of the carriage which was coming for him.
Don Clemente also seemed very uneasy. Hiding his own agitation, Selva
hastily took his arm.
"If you do not care to meet these ladies," he said, "come with me at
once, and I will let you out through the Casino, by the upper path." The
Padre seemed greatly relieved, and the two started off in haste, the
Benedictine even forgetting to say good-night.
"It is late, too" said he. "When I asked the Father Abbot's permission,
I said I should be back at half-past nine."
They ran down the widening stairway, but when they reached the little
open space where the acacias stood, Jeanne Dessalle, Maria, and Noemi
were just entering it from the opposite direction.
It was not too dark under the acacias for Maria to recognise her husband
and Don Clemente in the two figures coming from the house. Being in
advance of her sister with Jeanne, she promptly turned to the right,
making her companion turn with her, and directed her steps towards the
little Casino, an addition to the villa, and standing with its back
to the larger house. Selva, on his part, seeing his wife's movement,
promptly whispered to the Padre:
"Go down the straight path at once."
But it was all to no purpose.
All to no purpose, because Noemi, astonished at seeing her sister turn
to the right, stopped short, exclaiming:
"Where are you going?" and Don Clemente, having perhaps noticed a lady
standing in his way, instead of passing her and going down, went to
summon the gardener, who was waiting for him in the darkest corner of
the little opening, where the side of the house meets the hill. He
called "Benedetto!" and then turning to Selva said: "Would you like to
show him the little field?" "At this hour?" Giovanni answered, while his
wife whispered to Noemi: "Some visitors are just leaving, let us stay
here at the Casino until they have passed," shaking her head at her so
emphatically the while, that Signora Dessalle noticed the action, and at
once suspected some mystery.
"Why?" she said. "Are they dangerous?" and slackened her pace. Noemi, on
the other hand, having understood her sister's wish, but not her
secret motive, was over-zealous in seconding her; and clasping her two
companions round the waist, she pushed them towards the Casino. Jeanne
Dessalle was instinctively moved to rebel, and turning upon her,
exclaimed: "What are you doing?" Then she saw Selva coming towards them.
He hastened to greet them, spreading out his arms as if to hide Don
Clemente, who, followed by the gardener, passed rapidly within five
paces of Jeanne, and descended the steep path.
Noemi, who had also turned at her brother-in-law's greeting, ran to
embrace him; Selva in the meantime, feeling gratified that Don Clemente
had avoided a meeting. Selva, releasing himself from Noemi's embrace,
extended his hand to Jeanne, who did not see it, and murmured absently
some incomprehensible words of greeting. At that point Dane, Marinier,
Fare, di Leyni, and Padre Salvati issued from the villa. The Selvas went
to meet them, leaving Noemi and Signora Dessalle to await their return.
The parting compliments lasted some time. Dane wished to pay his
respects to Signora Dessalle, but Maria, not seeing her where she had
left her, supposed that she and Noemi had gone into the house, passing
behind them, so she promised to be the bearer of the professor's
greetings. At last, when the five had started down the hill accompanied
by Giovanni, Maria heard Noemi calling her:
A peculiar note in her sister's voice told her something had happened.
She ran back, and found Signora Dessalle seated on a bundle of fagots,
in the corner where the gardener from Santa Scolastica had stood, not
five minutes before, and repeating in a weak voice: "It is nothing,
nothing, nothing! We will go in directly, we will go in directly!"
Noemi, greatly agitated, explained that her friend had suddenly felt
faint while those gentlemen were talking, and that she had with
difficulty been able to drag her as far as the bundle of fagots.
"Let us go in, let us go in," Jeanne repeated, and rising with an
effort, dragged herself as far as the villa, supported by her two
friends. She sat down on the steps waiting for some water, of which
she took only a sip. She would have nothing else, and was presently
sufficiently restored to ascend the stairs very, very slowly. She
apologised at each halt, and smiled, but the maid who, walking
backwards, led the way with the light nearly fainted herself, at sight
of those dazed eyes, those white lips, and that terrible pallor. They
led her to the sofa in the little salon; and after a minute of silent
relaxation with closed eyes, she was able to tell Signora Selva, still
smiling, that these attacks were caused by anaemia, and that she was
accustomed to them. Noemi and Maria spoke softly together. Jeanne caught
the words "to bed" and with a look of gratitude, consented by a nod.
Maria had prepared the best room in the little apartment for Jeanne and
Noemi--the corner room opposite Giovanni's study, on the other side of
the corridor. While Jeanne was walking painfully towards it, leaning on
Noemi's arm, Selva returned, having accompanied his friends as far as
the gate. His wife heard his step on the stairs, and went down to detain
him. They spoke, in the dark, with hushed voices. Then it was really he;
but how could she have recognised him? Indeed Giovanni had attemped to
place himself between Jeanne and Don Clemente at the critical moment,
and the Padre had passed her almost running; but he, Giovanni, had at
once suspected something, for Signora Dessalle had stood like a statue,
not giving him her hand, and hardly responding to his greeting. On
the terrace the Padre himself had shown uneasiness when he heard that
Signora Dessalle had arrived. His desire to avoid her had been evident;
but he was quite master of his feelings. Oh! yes, he was quite master
of his feelings. Maria was of the same opinion, and she told of her
conversation with him at the foot of the stairway. Husband and
wife slowly ascended the stairs, absorbed in contemplation of this
extraordinary drama, of the poor woman's crushing grief, of the terrible
impression the man must have borne away with him, and--now that it
was over--of the night both must pass, wondering what would happen
to-morrow, what he would do, what she would do.
"It is well to pray over such matters, is it not?" said Maria.
"Yes, dear, it is. Let us pray that she may learn to give her love and
her sorrow to God," the husband answered.
Hand in hand they entered their bedroom, which was divided in two by a
heavy curtain. They went to the window and looked up at the sky, praying
silently. A breath of the north wind soughed like a lament through the
oak overhanging the tiny chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre.
"Poor creature!" said Maria. It seemed to her and to her husband that
their affection for one another was more tender than ever to-night, but
nevertheless--though neither said so--both felt that there was something
deterring them from the kiss of love.
Jeanne, as soon as Noemi had closed the door of their room behind them,
fell upon her neck in a paroxysm of uncontrollable sobbing. Poor Noemi
had concluded, from the effect produced on her friend when the monk
hastened past her, that he was Maironi, and she was now overcome with
pity. She spoke most loving, tender, and sweet words to her, in the
voice of one soothing a suffering child. Jeanne did not answer, but her
"Perhaps it is better so, dear," Noemi ventured to say. "Perhaps it is
better for you to know, that you may no longer cherish a false hope;
better for you to have seen him in that habit."
This time an answer came between the sobs, "No, no!" Jeanne repeated
passionately and vehemently many times, and the tone, though hardly
sorrowful, was so strange that Noemi was greatly puzzled. She resumed
her soothing, but more timidly now.
"Yes, dear! yes, dear! because knowing there is no help---"
Jeanne raised her tear-stained face, "Do you not understand? It is not
he!" she said.
Noemi drew away from her embrace, amazed,
"What do you mean? Not he--! All this scene because it is not he?"
Jeanne again fell upon her neck.
"The monk who passed me, is not he," she said sobbing; "it is the other
"What other man?"
"The one who was following him, who went away with him!"
Noemi had not even noticed this person. With a convulsive laugh Jeanne
nearly suffocated her in a close embrace.
A NIGHT OF STORMS
On his way down from the villa to the gate, Don Clemente asked himself
with secret anxiety: "Did he recognise her, or not? And if he did, what
impression did she make?" On reaching the gate he turned to him he had
called Benedetto, and scrutinised his face closely--a fleshless, pallid,
intellectual face, in which he read no sign of agitation. The eyes met
his wonderingly, almost as if questioning: "Why do you look at me thus?"
The monk said to himself: "Probably he did not recognise her, or he
supposes me to be unaware of her arrival." He passed his arm through
his companion's, holding him close, and in silence turned to the left
towards the dark and noisy gorge of the Anio. When they had walked on a
few paces under the trees which border the road, he said: "Do you not
wish to question me about the meeting?" There was more tenderness in his
tone than the commonplace words demanded. His companion answered:
"Yes, tell me about it."
The voice was husky and devoid of interest. Don Clemente said to
himself: "He certainly recognised her!" Then he talked of the meeting,
but as one preoccupied with other thoughts, without warmth, without
details; nor did his companion once interrupt him with questions or
"We separated," he said, "without having come to any conclusion; this
was partly owing to the arrival of some foreigners. So I was not able
to arrange with Signor Giovanni about you. But I think some of us,
at least, will meet again tomorrow. And you yourself," he added
hesitatingly, "do you, or do you not feel inclined to return?"
Benedetto, walking steadily on, answered in the same submissive tone as
before: "Are the foreign ladies I saw going to remain?"
Don Clemente pressed his arm very hard.
"I do not know," he said, adding, much moved, and with another pressure
of the arm: "If I had only known--!"
Benedetto opened his lips to speak, but checked himself. They proceeded
thus in silence towards the two black cliffs in the noisy ravine, and
leaving the main road, which turns to cross the Anio by the Ponte di San
Mauro, took the mule-path leading to the convents, which winds up to
the cliff on the left. The enormous, slanting mass of rock before them
seemed to Don Clemente at that moment the symbol of a demoniacal power
standing in Benedetto's way; so, too, the gathering darkness seemed to
him symbolically threatening, and threatening also the ever-increasing,
ever-deepening roar of the lonely river.
Beyond the oratory of San Mauro, where the mule-path to the convents
turns to the left, running along the side of the hill towards the
Madonnina dell' Oro, and another mule-path leads straight into the
ravine, past the ruins of the Baths of Nero, Benedetto disengaged
himself gently from the monk's arm, and stopped.
"Listen, Padre," said he; "I must speak with you; perhaps at some
"Yes, my friend, but it is late; let us go into the monastery."
Benedetto lived at the Ospizio for pilgrims, the farmhouse, which is
reached from a courtyard communicating by a great gate with the public
way and by a small gate with the corridor of the monastery, leading from
the public way to the church and to the second of the three cloisters.
"I had rather not return to the monastery tonight, Padre," said he.
"You had rather not return?"
On other occasions during the three years he had spent in the free
service of the monastery, Benedetto had obtained permission from Don
Clemente to spend the night in prayer, out among the hills. Therefore
the master at once concluded that his disciple was passing through one
of those periods of terrible inward struggle, which forced him to flee
from his poor couch and from the shadows of his room, accomplices,
these, of the evil one, in tormenting his imagination,
"Listen to me, Padre!" said Benedetto.
His tone was so firm, so laden with the gravity of coming words, that
Don Clemente judged it wiser not to insist upon the lateness of the
hour. Hearing the beat of hoofs above them, and knowing the riders were
coming in their direction, the two stepped aside on to the small, grassy
plateau, upon which still remain humble remnants of Neronian grandeur,
which, with some arches hidden in the thick grove of hornbeams on the
opposite bank, once formed part of the same _Terme_, but are now divided
by the complaining of the Anio far below. Above those arches once dwelt
the priest of Satan, and the shameless women, who assailed the sons of
St. Benedict with their wiles. The monk thought of Jeanne Dessalle.
There, at the end of the ravine, high up above the hills of Preclaro and
of Jenne Vecchio, shone the two stars which had bean spoken of on the
Selvas' terrace as "holy lights."
They waited for the riders to pass. When they had done so, Benedetto, in
silence, fell upon his master's neck. Don Clemente, full of wonder and
noticing that he trembled and was shaken by convulsive starts, concluded
that the sight of that woman had caused this emotion, and, kept
repeating to him:
"Courage, dear friend, courage; this is a trial sent by the Lord!"
Benedetto whispered to him:
"It is not what you think."
Having controlled his feelings, he begged the master to sit down upon a
ruined wall, against which he himself--kneeling on the grass--rested his
"Since this morning," said he, "I have been warned by certain signs that
the Lord's will concerning me is changed; but I have not been able to
understand in what way. You know what happened to me three years ago in
that little church where I was praying, while my poor wife lay dying?"
"You allude to your vision?"
"No; before the vision--having closed my eyes--I read on my eyelids the
words of Martha: '_Magister adest et vocat te!_' This morning, while
you were saying Mass, I saw the same words within me. I believed this
to be an automatic revulsion of memory. After the communion I had a
moment of anxiety, for it seemed to me Christ was saying in my soul:
'Dost thou not understand, dost thou not understand, dost thou not
understand?' I passed the day in a state of continual agitation,
although I strove to tire myself more than usual in the garden. In the
afternoon I sat reading a short time under the ilex tree, where the
Fathers congregate. I had St. Augustine's _De Opere Monachorum_. Some
people passed on the upper road, talking in loud voices. I raised my
head mechanically. Then, I cannot tell why, but instead of resuming my
reading, I closed the book and fell to thinking. I thought of what St.
Augustine says about manual labour for monks, I thought of the order of
St. Benedict, of Rance, and of how the Benedictine order might again
return to manual labour. Then, in a moment of weariness, but with my
heart still full of the immense grandeur of St. Augustine, I believed
I heard a voice from the upper world crying: '_Magister adest et
vocat te!_' Perhaps it was only an hallucination, only because of St.
Augustine, only some unconscious memory of the '_Tolle, lege_'; I do not
deny this, but, nevertheless, I trembled, trembled like a leaf. And I
asked myself fearfully, Does the Lord wish me to become a monk?
You know, _Padre mio_--I have repeated it to you on two or three
occasions--that in one particular, at least, this would correspond
with the end of my vision. But when you counselled me, as did also Don
Giuseppe Flores, not to put faith in this vision, I told you that, to
me, another reason for not putting faith in it was that I do not feel
myself worthy to be a priest, and, furthermore, that the idea of joining
any religious order is strangely repugnant to me. But what if God should
enjoin it upon me! What if this great repugnance be but a trial! I
wished to speak to you when we were on our way to the Selvas', but you
were in haste to be there, and so it was not possible. There, seated on
the bundle of fagots under the acacias, I received the last blow. I was
weary, very weary, and for five minutes allowed myself to be overcome by
sleep, I dreamt that I was walking with Don Giuseppe Flores under the
arches of the courtyard at Praglia. I said to him weeping: 'Here, it was
here!' And Don Giuseppe answered with great tenderness: 'Yes, but do not
think of that, think rather that the Lord calls you.' And I replied:
'But whither, whither does He call me?' My anguish was so great that I
awoke. I heard a voice calling from the top of the house, and some one
answered in French from the bottom of the garden. I saw a lady leave the
villa, running. I heard the greetings she exchanged with the new-comers;
I distinguished _her_ voice! At first I was not sure of it, but
presently, the voices coming nearer, I could no longer doubt. It was
she! For a second I was dazed, but only for a second. Then a great light
shone out in my mind."
Benedetto raised his head and his clasped hands. His voice rang with
mystic ardour. "_Magister adest_," said he. "Do you understand? The
divine Master was with me, I had naught to fear, _Padre mio!_ And I
feared naught, neither her, nor myself. I saw her coming up to the open
space. My thought was: 'If we meet alone, I will speak to her as to a
sister, I will beg her forgiveness; perhaps God will give me a word of
truth for her. I will show her that I have hopes for her soul, and
that I do not fear for my own." Don Clemente could not refrain from
"No, no, no, my son!" he exclaimed, greatly alarmed; and while he held
the young man's face imprisoned between his hands, he was casting about
in his mind for a means of preventing such a meeting, and of getting
Benedetto away. The Selvas, the Selvas! they must be warned!
"I can understand why you speak thus to me," Benedetto resumed,
breathlessly; "but if I meet her, must I not seek to give her of the
good that is in me, as I once sought to give her of the evil? And have
not you yourself taught me that placing the saving of our own souls
above all things is incompatible with the love of God above all things?
That when we love truly we do not think of ourselves? That we strive
only to do the will of the person beloved, and desire that others do the
same? That thus we are sure of salvation, and that he who constantly has
in mind the saving of his own soul risks losing it?"
"That is very true, very true, my dear friend," answered the Padre,
stroking his hair. "But nevertheless to-morrow you must go to Jenne,
and remain there until I send for you. I will give you a letter to the
parish priest, who is a most worthy man, and you can stay with him. Do
you understand? And now we will go to the monastery, for it is late!"
He rose and obliged Benedetto to do the same. Above their heads the
clock of Santa Scolastica was ringing the hour. Was it ten o'clock,
or was it eleven? Don Clemente had not counted the strokes from the
beginning, and feared the worst; for with all these conflicting emotions
he had lost account of time. What was going to happen? Who could have
foreseen? And what would take place now? They left the grassy plateau
and started up the steep and rocky mule-path, Don Clemente in front, and
Benedetto following close behind; both silent and with stormy souls,
while the deep voice of the Anio answered their thoughts. At a bend of
the path they see the lights of distant Subiaco. Only a few, however, so
it is probably eleven o'clock! Presently a dark corner of the inclosure
of Santa Scolastica looms before the wayfarers. Benedetto is thinking by
what a mysterious way God has led him from the _logge_ at Praglia, where
Jeanne tempted and conquered him, to this toilsome ascent amidst the
gloom towards another holy spot, with Jeanne near, and his heart
anchored in Christ.
In the meantime, the reasons for practical prudence which pressed
upon Don Clemente at this time of distress, and the reasons for ideal
holiness which in calmer moments he had taught his beloved disciple,
were contending for supremacy over Benedetto's will, no longer so
steadfast as in the beginning; the first striving at close quarters, and
with imperious violence; the second, from a distance and by means only
of their stern and sad beauty. It seemed to him the two "holy lights"
high above the dark angle of the inclosure were watching him sternly and
sadly. Oh! unholy earth, he thought; oh! sad earth! And, perhaps, unholy
prudence, sad prudence--earthly prudence!
Upon reaching the corner, the two wayfarers turned to the left, leaving
the deep roar of the Anio behind them. They passed the great gate of
the monastery, and having turned the other corner of the inclosure, and
traversed the long, dark passage which runs beneath the library, reached
a low door. Don Clemente rang the bell. They would be obliged to wait
some time, for at nine o'clock, or shortly after, all the keys of the
monastery were taken to the Abbot.
"Then you will allow me to remain outside?" Benedetto asked.
On other occasions when the master had granted him this permission, he
had climbed the bare heights of Colle Lungo above the monastery, and
passed the night in prayer, either there, or on the heights of Taleo,
or on the rocky hillside which is crossed in going from the oratory of
Santa Crocella to the grove of the Sacro Speco. The master hesitated
a moment; he had not thought of this wish of Benedetto's again. And
precisely to-day his disciple had looked to him more emaciated, more
bloodless, than usual; he feared for his health, which was much impaired
by the fatigues of labour in the fields, by penance, and by a life
devoid of comfort. This the master told him.
"Do not consider my body," the young man pleaded humbly and ardently.
"My body is infinitely remote from me! Fear rather that I may not do all
that is possible to ascertain the Divine Will!"
He added that he would also pray for light concerning this meeting, and
that he had never felt God so near as when praying on the hills. The
master took his face between his hands, and kissed him on the forehead.
"Go," said he.
"And you will pray for me?"
"Yes, _nunc et semper_."
Steps in the corridor. A key turns in the lock. Benedetto vanishes like
* * * * *
Good old Fra Antonio, the doorkeeper of the monastery, did not betray
the fact that he had expected to see Benedetto also, and, with that
dignified respect in which were blended the humility of an inferior and
the pride of an old and honest retainer, he told Don Clemente that the
Father Abbot was waiting for him in his private apartment. Don Clemente,
carrying a tiny lantern, went up to the great corridor, out of which the
Abbot's rooms and his own opened.
The Abbot, Padre Omobono Ravasio of Bergamo, was waiting for him in
a small salon dimly lighted by a poor little petroleum lamp. The
_salottino_, in its severe, ecclesiastical simplicity, held nothing of
interest, save a canvas by Morone--the fine portrait of a man; two small
panels with angels' heads, in the style of Luini; and a grand piano,
loaded with music. The Abbot, passionately fond of pictures, music, and
snuff, dedicated to Mozart and Haydn a great part of the scant leisure
he enjoyed after the performance of his duties as priest and ruler. He
was intelligent, somewhat eccentric, and possessed of a certain amount
of literary, philosophical, and religious learning which, however,
stopped short with the year 1850, he having a profound contempt for all
learning subsequent to that date. Short and grey-haired, he had a clever
face. A certain curtness of manner, and his rough familiarity, had
astonished the monks, accustomed to the exquisitely refined manners of
his predecessor, a Roman of noble birth. He had come from Parma, and had
assumed his duties only three days previously.
Don Clemente knelt before him and kissed his hand.
"You have strange ways here at Subiaco," said the Abbot. "Is ten o'clock
the same as eleven o'clock to you?"
Don Clemente apologised. He had been detained by a duty of charity. The
Abbot invited him to be seated,
"My son," said he, "are you sleepy?" Don Clemente smiled without
"Well," the Father Abbot continued, "you have wasted an hour of sleep,
and now I have my reasons for robbing you of a little more. I intend
to speak to you about two matters. You asked my permission, to visit a
certain Selva and his wife. Have you been there? Yes? Can you assure me
that your conscience is at rest?"
Don Clemente answered unhesitatingly, but with a movement of surprise:
"Yes, most certainly."
"Well, well, well," said the Abbot, and took a large pinch of snuff with
evident satisfaction. "I do not know these Selvas, but there are people
in Rome who do know them, or, at least, think they do. Signor Selva is
an author, is he not? Has he not written on religion? I fancy he is a
Rosminian, judging by the people who are opposed to him; people unworthy
to tie Rosmini's shoe-strings; but let us discriminate! True Rosminians
are those at Domodossola, and not those who have wives, eh? Very well
then, this evening after supper I received a letter from Rome. They
write me--and you must know my correspondent is one of the mighty--that
precisely to-night a conventicle was to be held at the house of this
false Catholic, Selva, who had summoned to it other malignant insects
like himself; that probably you would wish to be present, and that I was
to prevent your going. I do not know what I should have done, for when
the Holy Father speaks I obey; if the Holy Father does not speak, I
reflect. But, fortunately for you, you had already started. There are
really some good people who will ferret out heretics in Paradise itself!
Now you tell me that your conscience is quiet. Am I not then to believe
what the letter says?"
Don Clemente replied that there had certainly been neither heretics nor
schismatics at Signor Selva's house. They had talked of the Church, of
her ills, and of possible remedies, but in the same spirit in which the
Abbot himself might speak.
"No, my son," the Abbot answered. "It is not for me to reflect upon the
ills of the Church, or upon possible remedies. Or rather, I may reflect
upon these matters, but I must speak of them only to God, that He
Himself may then speak of them to the proper persons. And do you do
the same. Bear this in mind, my son! The ills exist, and perhaps the
remedies also exist, but--who knows?--these remedies may be poisons,
and we must let the Great Healer apply them. We, for our part, must
pray. If we did not believe in the communion of saints, what would,
there be to do in the monasteries? So for the sake of our peace of mind,
my son, do not return to that house. Do not again ask permission to go
The Abbot had ended in a paternal tone, and now laid an affectionate
hand upon his monk's shoulder. Don Clemente was much grieved at the
thought of not seeing his good friends again, and especially not to
be able to confer with Signer Giovanni the next day, to warn him of
Benedetto's danger, and to consult with him concerning a means of
"They are Christians of gold," he said sadly, and in submissive tones.
"I believe you," replied the Abbot. "They are probably far better than
the zealots who write these letters. You see I speak my mind. You come
from Brescia, eh? Well, I come from Bergamo. In either place they would
be called _piaghe_--festers! They are indeed festers of the Church. I
shall answer in a fitting tone. My monks take no part in meetings of
heretics. But, nevertheless, you will not revisit the Selvas."
Don Clemente kissed the hand of the fatherly old man resignedly.
"And now I come to the other question," said the Abbot. "I learn that
a young man whom you installed there has lived for three years at the
_Ospizio_ for pilgrims, where, as a rule, only the herder should have a
permanent abode. Oh, I know, of course, that my predecessor sanctioned
what you did! This young man is greatly attached to you, you are his
spiritual director, and you encourage him to study in the library. It
is true that he also works in the kitchen-garden, true that he displays
great piety, that he is a source of edification to all, still--as he
does not appear to have any intention of becoming a monk--his presence
at our _Ospizio_, where he has had a place for three years, Is somewhat
irregular, What can you tell concerning this matter? Come, let us hear."
Don Clemente knew that some of his brother monks--and not the oldest,
but precisely the youngest among them--did not approve of the
hospitality the late Abbot had extended to Benedetto. Neither was the
attachment existing between himself and Benedetto entirely to their
taste. Don Clemente had already had trouble on this account. He now at
once perceived that certain brothers had lost no time, but had already
tried to influence the new Abbot. His fine face flushed hotly. He did
not answer immediately, wishing first to quell the anger burning within
him by an act of mental forgiveness. At last he assured the Abbot that
it was both, his duty and his wish to enlighten him.
"This young man," he began, "Is a certain Piero Maironi of Brescia. You
must surely have heard of the family. His father, Don Franco Maironi,
married a woman without birth or money. His parents were already dead at
the time, and he lived with his paternal grandmother, Marchesa Maironi,
an imperious and proud woman."
"Oh!" exclaimed the Abbot, "I knew her! A perfect terror! I remember her
well. In Brescia they called her the 'Marchesa _Haynau_' [Footnote: In
allusion to the terrible Austrian, General Haynau, who, on account
of his cruelty to the Italian patriots, was surnamed the "Hyena of
Brescia."--TRANSLATOR.] She had twelve cats and wore a great black wig! I
remember her well!"
"I knew her only by reputation," Don Clemente continued, smiling, while
the Abbot, with a sort of guttural purr, took a generous pinch of snuff,
to rid himself of the bad taste this unpleasant memory had left.
"Well, the grandmother would not hear of this ill-assorted marriage. The
young couple therefore were guests in the house of the bride's uncle,
she being also an orphan. He, Don Franco, enlisted in 1859, and died of
the wounds he received. His wife died soon after. The little boy was
cared for by the grandmother, Marchesa Maironi, and, after her death,
by certain Venetian relations of hers, of the name of Scremin. The
grandmother left him very wealthy. He married a daughter of these
Scremins,' who, unfortunately, went mad soon after her marriage, I
believe. Piero felt this affliction keenly, and led a life of retirement
until he had the misfortune to come in contact with a woman separated
from her husband. Then a period of transgression set in; he transgressed
morally and in matters of faith. At last (it seems like a miracle
performed by the Lord Himself) the wife in her dying moments recovered
her reason, summoned her husband, spoke with him, and then died the
death of a saint. This death turned Piero's heart towards God; he left
the woman, renounced his rights, left everything, and fled from his home
in the night, telling no one whither he was going. Having met me once at
Brescia, where I had gone to visit my sick father, and knowing I was
at Subiaco, he came here. He was, moreover, fond of our Order, and
cherished certain memories connected with our poor Praglia. He told
me his story, entreating me to help him lead a life of expiation. I
supposed he aspired to enter the Order. But he told me that, on the
contrary, he did not feel himself worthy; that he had not as yet been
able to ascertain the Divine Will on this point; that he wished, in
the meantime, to do penance, to labour with his hands, to earn his
bread--only a crust of bread. He told me other things; he spoke of
certain incidents of a supernatural character which had happened to him.
I at once told the late Father Abbot about him, and we decided to lodge
him in the _Ospizio_, to let him work within the inclosure, helping the
kitchen-gardener, and to provide him with the frugal fare he craved. In
three years he has never once tasted coffee, wine, milk, or eggs. He
has touched nothing save bread, _polenta_, fruit, herbs, oil, and pure
water, He has led the life of a saint, all can assure you of that. Still
he believes himself the greatest sinner on earth!"
"Hm!" the Abott ejaculated thoughtfully, "Hm! I see! But why does he not
join the Order? Then, another thing: I know he has passed several nights
outside the inclosure."
Don Clemente felt his face once more aflame. "In prayer," he said.
"That may be, but perhaps some may not believe it. You know what Dante
Ad ogni ver che ha faccia di menzogna
Dee l'uom chiuder la bocca quant'ei puote,
Pero che senza colpa fa vergogna."
[Footnote:Aye to that truth which has the face of falsehood
A man should close his lips as far as may be,
Because without his fault it causes shame.
--Longfellow's _Translation of the "Inferno."_]
"Oh!" Don Clemente exclaimed, blushing, in his modest dignity, for those
who were capable of harbouring vile suspicions.
"Forgive me, my son!" said the Abbot. "He is not accused, the
appearances alone are criticised. Do not vex yourself. It is wiser to
pray in the house! And these incidents of a supernatural character--pray
tell me about them."
Don Clemente said they were visions--voices heard in the air.
"Hm! Hm!" ejaculated the Abbot, with a complicated play of wrinkled
forehead, eyebrows, and lips, as if he were swallowing a mouthful of
"You said his name was--? His real name?"
"Piero, but when he came here he wished to part with that name, and
begged me to give him another. I chose 'Benedetto'--it seemed the most
appropriate." At this point the Abbot expressed a wish to see Signor
Benedetto, and desired Don Clemente to send him to him on the following
morning after the office in the choir. At this Don Clemente was somewhat
embarrassed, and had to confess that he could not promise to do so,
because, as it happened, the young man had gone out among the hills to
pass the night in prayer, and he did not know precisely at what hour he
would return. The Abbot was greatly annoyed, and mumbled a series of
reproaches and caustic remarks. Don Clemente therefore decided to tell
him of the meeting with Signora Dessalle, the former mistress; of what
had followed on the way home, of his determination to send Benedetto to
Jenne, and to oblige him to remain there until the woman had gone. The
Father Superior kept up a continuous, low grumbling, and heard him with
"Here," he exclaimed at last, "you are going back to the days of St.
Benedict! to the wiles of shameless women! Let your Benedetto go, let
him go, let him go! To Jenne and farther still! And you were not going
to tell me this? Did it seem a matter of slight consequence? Was it of
no consequence that intrigues of this sort should be carried on round
the monastery? Now go; go, I say!"
Don Clemente was about to answer that he had not known of any intrigue,
nor if the woman had recognised his disciple; that at any rate he had
already informed Benedetto of his intention of sending him away; but he
silenced this useless self-justification and, kneeling, took leave of
Don Clemente took up again the tiny lantern, which he had left in the
corridor, but did not go to his cell. Slowly, very slowly, he walked to
the end of the corridor; slowly, very slowly, and not without frequent
pauses, he descended by a little winding stair to the other passage
leading to the chapter-hall. The thought of his beloved disciple
wandering amidst the darkness on the mountains; the anticipation of the
resolutions he might form, after communing with his God; the covert
hostility of his brother monks; the Abbot's frowns and doubts; the fear
that he would oblige Benedetto to choose between leaving the convent
and taking the monastic vows, all weighed heavily upon his heart.
Benedetto's mystic fervour, his great and unconscious humility, his
progress in comprehending the Faith according to the ideas originating
with Signer Giovanni, a new lucidity of thought which flashed from him
in conversation, the growing strength of their mutual affection, had
awakened in him hopes of a revelation of Divine Grace, of Divine Truth,
of Divine Power for the saving of souls, to be made, at no distant
period, through this outcast of the world. They had said at the meeting
at Signor Selva's house, "A saint is needed." The first to affirm this
had been the Swiss Abbe. Others had said that the saint should be a
layman. This was moreover his own opinion, and Benedetto's repugnance
to a monastic life seemed to him providential. The coming of the woman
seemed almost providential also, forcing him as it did to leave the
convent. But what was happening out on the hills? What words was God
uttering in his heart? And if--
This unexpected, formidable _if_ flashing into his mind stopped the
ponderer in his slow walk. _"Magister adest et vocat te!"_ Perhaps the
Divine Master Himself was even now calling Benedetto to serve Him in the
habit of a monk.
He ceased thinking, terrified, and, having set the tiny lantern down,
passed from the chapter-hall into the church, directing his steps
towards the chapel of the Sacrament. With that dignity of which no
internal storm could rob his refined bearing and the lofty beauty of his
face, he sank upon his knees at the desk which stands in the centre of
the chapel, between the four columns, under the lamp, raising his eyes
to the tabernacle.
The Teacher of the Way, of Truth, of Life, the Beloved of the soul, was
there, and sleeping, as He had slept on that stormy night on the Lake
of Gennesaret, between Gadara and Galilee, in the bark which other
wave-tossed barks followed through the roaring darkness. He was there,
praying as on that other night, alone, on the hillside. He was there,
saying with His sweet eternal voice: "Come unto Me all ye who suffer,
all ye who are heavy laden, come unto Me." He was there and speaking,
the living Christ: "Believe in Me, for I am with you; I am your
strength, and I am peace. I the Humble, son of the Almighty; I the Meek,
son of the Terrible; I who prepare hearts for the kingdom of justice,
for the future union of all with Me in My Father." He, the Merciful, was
there in the tabernacle, breathing the ineffable invitation: "Come, open
thy heart; give thyself up to Me!"
And Clemente gave himself up, confiding to Him what he had never
confessed even to himself. He felt that everything in the ancient
monastery was dying, save Christ in the tabernacle. As the germ-cell
of ecclesiastical organism, the centre from which Christian warmth
irradiates upon the world, the monastery was becoming ossified by the
action of inexorable age. Within its walls noble fires of faith
and piety, enclosed--like the flames of the candles burning on the
altars--in traditional forms, were consuming their human envelope, their
invisible vapours rising towards heaven, but sending no wave of heat or
of light to vibrate beyond the ancient walls. Currents of living air no
longer swept through the monastery, and the monks no longer, as in the
first centuries, went out in search of them, labouring in the woods and
in the fields, co-operating with the vital energies of nature while
they praised God in song. His talks with Giovanni Selva had brought him
indirectly, and little by little, to feel thus regarding the monastic
life in its present form, although he was convinced that it has
indestructible roots in the human soul. But now, perhaps for the first
time, he looked his belief squarely in the face. For a long time his
wish and his hope had been that Benedetto might become a great gospel
labourer; not an ordinary labourer, a preacher, a confessor, but an
extraordinary labourer; not a soldier of the regular army, hampered by
uniform and discipline, but a free champion of the Holy Spirit. The
monastic laws had never before appeared to him in such fierce antagonism
with his ideal of a modern saint. And now, what if the Divine Will
concerning Benedetto should reveal itself contrary to his desires?
Ah! was he not already almost on the verge of committing mortal sin?
Had he not been about to judge the ways of God, he presumptuous dust?
Prostrate upon the kneeling-stool, he sought to merge himself in
the Almighty, praying silently for forgiveness, for a revelation to
Benedetto of the Divine Will, and ready to worship it, whatever it might
be, from this time forth. As he rose, with a natural ebbing of the
mystic wave from his heart, his eyes still turned towards the altar, but
no longer fixed upon the tabernacle, he could not refrain from thinking
of Jeanne Dessalle and of what Benedetto had said. The very indifferent
picture above the altar represented the martyr Anatolia offering,
from Paradise, the symbolical palms to Audax, the young pagan who had
attempted to seduce her, but whom, instead, she had led to Christ.
Jeanne Dessalle had seduced Benedetto; of this Don Clemente had no
doubts, notwithstanding Benedetto's attempt to exonerate her and accuse
himself. What if she should now be converted through him? Was it perhaps
right that he should try? Was Benedetto's impulse really more Christian
than his own fears and the Abbot's scruples? As he crossed the church
with bowed head, Don Clemente's mind was struggling with these
questions. Anatolia and Audax! He remembered that a sceptical foreigner,
upon hearing the explanation of the picture from him, had said: "Yes,
but what if neither of them had been put to death? And what if Audax had
been a married man?"
These jesting words had seemed to him an unworthy profanation. He
thought of them again now, and, sighing, took up the little lantern he
had left on the floor in the chapter-hall.
Instead of going towards his cell he turned into the second cloister
to look at the ridge of the Colle Lungo, where, perhaps, Benedetto was
praying. Some stars were shining above the rocky, grey ridge, spotted
with black, and their dim light revealed the square of the cloister, the
scattered shrubs, the mighty tower of Abate Umberto, the arcades, the
old walls, which had stood for nine centuries, and the double row of
little stone friars ascending in procession upon the arch of the great
gate where Don Clemente stood, lost in contemplation. The cloister and
the tower stood out majestic and strong against the darkness. Was
it indeed true that they were dying? In the starlight the monastery
appeared more alive than in the sunlight, aggrandised by its mystic
religious communing with the stars. It was alive, it was big with many
different spiritual currents, all confused in one single being, like the
different wrought and sculptured stones, which, united, formed its
body; like different thoughts and sentiments in a human conscience.
The ancient stones, inclosing souls which love had mingled with them,
saturated with holy longings and holy sorrows, with groans and prayers,
radiated a dim something which penetrated the subconsciousness. They had
the power of infusing strength into those of God's labourers who, in
arid moments, withdrew from the world, seeking brief repose among them,
as a spring of water infuses strength into the reaper on the lonely
hills. But in order that the life of the stones might continue, a
ceaseless living stream must flow through them, a stream of adoring and
contemplating spirits. Don Clemente felt something akin to remorse for
the thoughts he had harboured in the church about the decrepitude of the
monastery; thoughts which had sprung from his own personal judgment,
pleasing to his self-esteem, and therefore tainted by that arrogance
of the spirit which his beloved mystics had taught him to discern and
abhor. Clasping his hands, he fixed his gaze on the wild ridge of the
hill, picturing to himself Benedetto praying there, and, in an act of
silent renunciation, he humbly relinquished his own desires concerning
the young man's future. He praised God should He choose to let him
remain a layman; he praised God should He choose to make him a monk,
should He reveal His will, or should it remain hidden. "_Si vis me
esse in luce sis benedictus, si vis me esse in tenebris sis iterum
benedictus._" And then he sought his cell.
As he passed the Abbot's door in the broad corridor where the two dim
lamps were still burning, he thought of the talk he had had with the old
man, of those maxims of his concerning the ills affecting the Church,
and the wisdom of struggling against them. He remembered something
Signor Giovanni had said about the words "_Fiat voluntas tua_," which
the majority of the faithful understand only as an act of resignation,
and which really point out the duty of working with all our strength for
the triumph of Divine Law in the field of human liberty. Signor Giovanni
had made his heart beat faster, and the Abbot had made it beat more
slowly: which had spoken the word of life and of truth?
His cell was the last one on the right, near the balcony which overlooks
Subiaco, the Sabine Hills, and the shell-shaped tract watered by the
Anio. Before entering his cell Don Clemente stopped to look at the
distant lights of Subiaco; he thought of the little red villa, nearer
but not discernible; he thought of the woman. Intrigues, the Abbot had
said. Did she still love Piero Maironi? Had she discovered, did she know
that he had sought refuge at Santa Scolastica? Had she recognised him?
If so, what did she propose to do? Probably she was not staying in the
Selvas' very small lodging, but was at some hotel in Subiaco. Were those
distant lights fires in an enemy's camp? He made the sign of the cross,
and entered his narrow cell, for a short rest until two o'clock, the
hour of assembly in the choir.
Benedetto took the road to the Sacro Speco. Beyond the further corner
of the monastery he crossed the dry bed of a small torrent, reached the
very ancient oratory of Santa Crocella on the right, and climbed the
rocky slope which tumbles its stones down towards the rumbling Anio and
faces the hornbeams of the Francolano, rising, straight and black, to
the star-crowned cross on its summit. Before reaching the arch which
stands at the entrance to the grove of the Sacro Speco, he left the
road, and climbed up towards the left, in search of the scene of his
last vigil, high above the square roofs and the squat tower of Santa
Scolastica. The search for the stone where he had knelt in prayer on
another night of sorrow distracted his thoughts from the mystic fire
which had enveloped him, and cooled its ardour. He soon perceived this
and was seized with a heavy sense of regret, with impatience to rekindle
the flame, enhanced by the fear of not succeeding in the attempt, by
the feeling that it had been his own fault, and by the memory of other
barren moments. He was growing colder, ever colder. He fell upon his
knees, calling upon God in an outburst of prayer. Like a small flame
applied in vain to a bundle of green sticks, this effort of his will
gradually weakened without having moved the sluggish heart, and left him
at last in vague contemplation of the even roar of the Anio. His senses
returned to him with a rush of terror! Perhaps the whole night would
pass thus; perhaps this barren coldness would be followed by burning
temptation! He silenced the clamour of his fervid imagination, and
concentrated his thoughts on his determination not to lose courage. He
now became firmly convinced that hostile spirits had seized upon him. He
would not have felt more sure of this had he seen fiendish eyes flashing
in the crevices of the neighbouring rocks. He felt conscious of
poisonous vapours within him; he felt the absence of all love, the
absence of all sorrow; he felt weariness, a great weight, the advance of
a mortal drowsiness. Once more he fell into stupid contemplation of the
noise of the river, and fixed his unseeing eyes upon the dark woods of
the Francolano. Before his mental vision passed slowly, automatically,
the image of the evil priest, who had lived there with his court of
harlots. He felt weary from kneeling, and let himself sink to the
ground. Again he was the slow automaton. With a painful effort he rose
to a sitting posture, and dropped his hand upon the tufts of soft,
sweet-smelling grass, pushing up between the stones. He closed his eyes
in enjoyment of the sweetness of that soft touch, of the wild odour,
of rest, and he saw Jeanne, pale under the drooping brim of her black,
plumed hat, smiling at him, her eyes wet with tears. His heart beat
fast, fast, ever faster; a thread, only a thread of will-power held him
back on the downward slope leading him to answer the invitation of that
face. With wide eyes, his arms extended, his hands spread open, he
uttered a long groan. Then, suddenly fearing some nocturnal wayfarer
might have heard him, he held his breath, listening. Silence: silence in
all things save the river. His heart was growing more calm. "My God! my
God!" he murmured, horrified at the he had been in, at the abyss he had
crossed. He clung with his eyes, with his soul, to the great, sacred,
cube-shaped Santa Scolastica, down below with its squat, friendly tower,
which he loved. In spirit he passed through the shadows and the roofs;
he had a vision of the church, of the lighted lamp, of the tabernacle,
of the Sacrament, at which he gazed hungrily. With an effort he pictured
to himself the cloisters, the cells, the great crosses near the monks'
couches, the seraphic face of his sleeping master. He continued in this
effort as long as possible, checking in anguish of soul frequent flashes
of the drooping plumed hat and of the pale face, until these flashes
grew fainter, and were finally lost in the unconscious depths of his
soul. Then he rose wearily to his feet, and slowly, as though his
movements were controlled by a consciousness of great majesty, he
clasped his hands and rested his chin upon them. He concentrated his
thoughts on the prayer from the _Imitation: "Domine, dummodo voluntas
mea recta et firma ad te permaneat, fac de me quid-quid tibi
placuerit."_ He was no longer inwardly agitated; it seemed to him that
the evil spirits had fled, but no angels had as yet entered into him.
His weary mind rested upon external things: vague forms, the flakes of
white among the shadows, the distant hoot of an owl among the hornbeams,
the faint scent of the grass which still clung to his clasped hands upon
the grass, before Jeanne's sad smile had appeared to him. Impetuously he
unclasped his hands and turned his hungry eyes towards the monastery.
No, no, God would not allow him to be conquered! God had chosen him to
do His own work. Then from the depths of his soul, and independently of
his will, arose images, which, in obedience to his master's counsels, he
had not allowed himself to evoke since his arrival at Santa Scolastica;
images of the vision, a written description of which he had confided to
Don Giuseppe Flores.
He saw himself in Rome at night, on his knees in Piazza San Pietro,
between the obelisk and the front of the immense temple, illumined by
the moon. The square was deserted; the noise of the Anio seemed to him
the noise of the fountains. A group of men clad in red, in violet and
in black, issued forth from the door of the temple and stopped on the
steps. They fixed their gaze upon him, pointing with their forefingers
towards Castel Sant' Angelo, as if commanding him to leave the sacred
spot. But now it was no longer the vision, this was a new imagining.
He was standing, straight and bold, before the hostile band. Suddenly
behind him he heard the rumbling of hastening multitudes pouring into
the square in streams from all the adjacent streets. A human wave swept
him along, and, proclaiming him the reformer of the Church, the true
Vicar of Christ, set him upon the threshold of the temple. Here he faced
about, as if ready to affirm his world-wide authority. At that moment
there flashed across his mind the thought of Satan offering the kingdoms
of the world to Christ. He fell upon the ground, stretching himself
face downward on the rock, groaning in spirit: "Jesus, Jesus, I am not
worthy, not worthy to be tempted as Thou wast!" And he pressed his
tightly closed lips to the stone, seeking God in the dumb creature. God!
God! the desire, the life, the ardent peace of the soul! A breath of
wind blew over him, and moved the grass about him.
"Is it Thou?" he groaned. "Is it Thou, is it Thou?"
The wind was silent.
Benedetto pressed his clenched hands to his cheeks, raised his head,
and, resting his elbows on the rock, listened, for what he knew not.
Sighing he rose to a sitting posture. God will not speak to him. His
weary soul is silent, barren of thought. Time creeps slowly on. To
refresh itself, the weary soul makes an effort to recall the last part
of the vision, its soaring flight through a stormy nocturnal sky to meet
descending angels. And he reflects dimly: "If this fate awaits me, why
should I repine? Though I be tempted I shall not be conquered, and
though I be conquered still God will raise me up again. Neither is it
necessary to ask what His will is concerning me. Why not go down, and
Benedetto rose, his head heavy with leaden weariness. The sky was hidden
by thick clouds as far as the hills of Jenne, where the valley of the
upper Anio turns. Benedetto could hardly distinguish the black shadow
of the Francolano opposite, or the livid, rocky slope at his feet. He
started down, but stopped after a few steps. His legs would not support
him, a rush of blood set his face aflame. He had scarcely broken his
fast for thirty hours, having eaten only a crust of bread at noon. He
felt millions of pins pricking him, felt the violent beating of his
heart, felt his mind becoming clouded. What was that tangle of serpents
winding themselves about his feet, in the disguise of innocent grasses?
And what sinister demon was that, waiting for him down there, crouching
on all fours on a rock, disguised as a bush and ready to jump upon him?
Were not the demons waiting for him at the monastery also? Did they not
nest in the openings of the great tower? Was there not a black flame
flashing in those openings? No, no, not now; now they were staring at
him like half-closed and mocking eyes. Was this the rumbling of the
Anio? No, rather the roaring of the triumphant abyss. He did not
entirely credit all he saw and heard, but he trembled, trembled like a
reed in the wind, and the millions of pins were moving over his whole
body. He tried to free his feet from the tangle of serpents, and did not
succeed. From terror he passed to anger: "I _must_ be able to do it!"
he exclaimed aloud. From the gloomy gorge of Jenne, the dull rumble of
thunder answered him. He glanced in that direction. A flash of lightning
rent the clouds and disappeared above the blackness of Monte Preclaro.
Benedetto tried again to free his feet from the serpents, and again the
leonine voice of the thunder threatened him.
"What am I doing?" he asked himself, trying to understand. "Why do I
wish to go down?" He no longer knew, and was obliged to make a mental
effort to recall the reason. That was it! He had decided to go down and
sleep, because one sure of the kingdom of heaven has no need of prayer.
Then, like the lightning flashing round him, came a flash within him:
"I am tempting God!"
The serpents pressed him tighter; the demon crept towards him on all
fours, up the rocky slope, all hellishly alive with fierce spirits; the
black flames burst forth in the openings of the great tower, the abyss
the while howling, triumphant! Then the sovereign roar of the thunder
rumbled through the clouds: "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God!"
Benedetto raised his face and his clasped hands towards heaven,
worshipping as best he might with the last glimmer of clouded
consciousness. He swayed, spread wide his arms, clutching the air.
Slowly he bent backwards, fell prostrate upon his back on the hillside,
and then lay motionless.
* * * * *
His body, motionless midst the rush of the thunderstorm, lay like an
uprooted trunk, among the straining gorse and the waving grass. His soul
must have been sealed by the central contact with the Being without time
and without space, for when Benedetto first regained consciousness he
had lost all sense of place and of time. His limbs felt strangely light;
he experienced a pleasant sensation of physical exhaustion, and his
heart was flooded with infinite sweetness. First upon his face, then
upon his hands, he felt innumerable slight touches, as though loving,
animate atoms of the air were gently tickling him; he heard a faint
murmur of timid voices round what seemed to be his bed. He sat up and
looked about him, dazed, but at peace; forgetful of the where and the
when, but perfectly at peace and filled with content by the quiet, inner
spring of vague love, which flowed through all his being, and overflowed
upon surrounding things, upon the sweet little lives about him, that
thus came to love him in turn. Smiling at his own bewilderment, he
recognised the where and the how. The when he could not recognise, nor
did he desire to do so. Neither did he question whether hours or minutes
had passed since his fall, so content was he in the blessed present. The
storm had rolled down towards Rome. In the murmur of the rain falling
softly, without wind; in the great voice of the Anio, in the restored
majesty of the mountains, in the wild odour of the damp rocky slope, in
his own heart, Benedetto felt something of the Divine mingling with the
creature, a hidden essence of Paradise. He felt that he was mingling
with the souls of things, as a small voice mingles with an immense
choir, felt that he was one with the sweet-smelling hill, one with the
blessed air. And thus submerged in a sea of heavenly sweetness, his
hands resting in his lap, his eyes half closed, soothed by the soft,
soft rain, he gave himself up to enjoyment, not however, without a vague
wish that those who do not believe, those who do not love, might also
know such sweetness. As his ecstasy diminished his mind once more
recalled the reason of his presence on the lonely hill, in the darkness
of night; recalled the uncertainties of the morrow, and Jeanne, and
his exile from the monastery. But now his soul anchored in God, was
indifferent to uncertainties and doubts, as the motionless Francolano
was indifferent to the quiverings of its cloak of leaves. Uncertainties,
doubts, memories of the mystic vision, departed from him in his profound
self-abandonment to the Divine Will, which might deal with him as it
would. The image of Jeanne, which he seemed to contemplate from the
summit of an inaccessible tower, awakened only a desire to labour
fraternally for her good. Calm reason having fully resumed its sway,
he perceived that the rain had drenched his clothes and that it still
continued to fall softly, softly. What should he do? He could not go
back to the _Ospizio_ for pilgrims, for the herder would be asleep, and
he would not wake him to get in, nor would this, indeed, be easy to
accomplish. He determined to seek shelter under the evergreen oaks of
the Sacro Speco. He rose wearily, and was seized with dizziness. He
waited a short time, and then crept down very, very slowly, towards the
path which leads from Santa Scolastica to the arch at the entrance to
the grove. Exhausted he let himself sink upon the ground there, in the
dark shadow of the great evergreen oaks, bent and spreading upon the
hillside, their arms flung wide; there between the dim light on the
slope beyond the arch to the right, and the dim light on the slope in
front of the grove to the left.
He longed for a little food, but dared not ask it of God, for it would
be like asking for a miracle. He was prepared to wait for the dawn. The
air was warm, the ground hardly damp; a few great drops fell, here and
there, from the leaves of the evergreen oaks. Benedetto sank into a
sleep so light that it hardly made him unconscious of his sensations,
which it transformed into a dream. He fancied he was in a safe refuge of
prayer and peace, in the shadow of holy arms extended above his head;
and it seemed to him he must leave this refuge for reasons of which the
necessity was evident to him, although he was unaware of their nature.
He could go by a door opening on to the road which leads down to the
world, or he could go by the opposite door, taking a path which rose
towards sacred solitudes. He hesitated, undecided. The falling of a
great drop near him made him open his eyes. After the first moment of
numbness he recognised the arch on the right, where the road begins
which leads down to Santa Scolastica, to Subiaco, to Rome; and on the
left the path which rises toward the Sacro Speco. He noticed with
astonishment that on both sides, beyond the evergreen oaks, the bare
rocks looked much whiter than before; that many little streaks of light
were glinting through the foliage above his head. Dawn? Was it dawn?
Benedetto had thought it was little past midnight. The hour struck at
Santa Scolastica--one, two, three, four. It was indeed morning, and it
would be lighter still--for it no longer rained-were the sky not one
heavy cloud from the hills of Subiaco to the hills of Jenne. A step in
the distance; some one coming up towards the arch.
It was the herder of Santa Scolastica who, for special reasons, was
carrying the milk to the Sacro Speco at that unusually early hour.
Benedetto greeted him. The man started violently at the sound of his
voice, and nearly let the jug of milk fall.
"Oh, Benede!" he exclaimed, recognising Benedetto, "are you here?"
Benedetto begged for a drink of milk, for the love of God!
"You can explain to the monks," said he. "You can say I was exhausted,
and asked for a little milk, for the love of God."
"Yes, yes! It is all right! Take it! Drink!" the man exclaimed, for he
believed Benedetto to be a saint. "And have you passed the night out
here? You were out in all that rain? Good Lord! how wet you are! You are
soaked through like a sponge!" Benedetto drank.
"I thank God," he said, "for your Madness and for the blessing of the
He embraced the man, and years afterwards the herder, Nazzareno Mercuri,
used to tell that while Benedetto held him in his arms, he, Nazzareno
did not seem to be himself; that his blood first turned to ice and then
to fire; that his heart beat hard, very hard, as it did the first time
he received Christ in the Sacrament; that a terrible headache which
had tormented him for two days suddenly disappeared; that then he had
realised he was in the arms of a saint, a worker of miracles; and that
he had fallen on his knees at his feet! In reality he did not fall on
his knees, but stood as one petrified, and Benedetto had to say twice to
him: "Now go, Nazzareno; go, my dear son." Having despatched him thus
lovingly on his way to the Sacro Speco, he himself started towards Santa
In the light of day the rocky slope held no spirits either good or evil.
The mountains, the clouds, even the dark walls of the monastery, and the
tower itself looked heavy with sleep in the pale dawn. Benedetto entered
the Ospizio, and stretching himself on his poor couch, without removing
his wet garments, he crossed his arms on his breast, and sank into a
FACE TO FACE
The rumbling of the thunder roused Noemi shortly after two o'clock;
she had fallen asleep only a short time before. Her room was next
to Jeanne's, and the door between them had been left open. Jeanne
immediately called out to her. They had talked until two o'clock,
when Noemi, quite exhausted, and after many vain efforts, had finally
succeeded in persuading her indefatigable friend to leave her in peace.
Now she pretended not to hear. Jeanne called again.
"Noemi! The thunder-storm! I am so frightened!"
"You are not a bit frightened!" Noemi answered irritably. "Be quiet! Go
"I am frightened! I am coming into your room."
"I forbid it!"
"Then you must come in here!"
Noemi's "Will you be quiet?" sounded so resolute that the other was
Only for a moment, however; then the tearful, childish voice, that Noemi
knew so well, began again:
"Have you not slept long enough? Can you not talk now? You must have
slept three hours!"
Noemi struck a match and looked at her watch, holding which she had
previously begged for silence.
"Twenty-two minutes!" she announced. "Be quiet!"
Jeanne was still for a moment, then she uttered those little
hm!--hm!--hms!--which are always the prelude to tears in a spoilt child.
And the complaining voice went on:
"You do not love me at all! Hm! Hm! For pity's sake let us talk a
little! Hm! Hm! Hm!"
In her mother tongue, Noemi sighed:
"_Oh_! _mon Dieu_!"
With another sigh she resigned herself to the inevitable:
"Well, go ahead! But what can you say to me that you have not already
said in the last four hours?"
The thunder roared, but Jeanne no longer noticed it.
"To-morrow morning we will go to the monastery," said she.
"Why yes, of course!"
"Only we two alone?"
"Yes, certainly, that is already settled."
The tearful voice was silent a moment, and then went on: "You have not
yet promised not to tell anything here in the house."
"I've promised at least ten times!"
"You know what you are to say--do you not--if you are questioned about
my fainting last night?"
"You must say that the Padre was not _he_; that I was disappointed, and
that was why I fainted."
"Gracious, Jeanne! This is the twentieth time you have said that!"
"How cruel you are, Noemi! How little you care for me!"
Jeanne's voice began again:
"Tell me what you think. Do you really believe he has forgotten me?"
"I will not answer that again!"
"Oh! please answer! Just one word, then I will let you go to sleep!"
Noemi reflected a moment and then answered drily, hoping to silence
"Well, I think he has. I do not believe he ever loved you."
"You say that because I myself have said so to you!" Jeanne retorted
violently, no longer in a tearful voice.
"You are no judge of that!"
"_Bon ca_!" Noemi grumbled. "_C'est elle qui me l'a dit, et je ne dois
pas le savoir_!" Silence again.
The tearful voice once more:
Still no answer. Jeanne began to cry, and Noemi yielded.
"For heaven's sake! what Is it now?"
"Piero cannot know that my husband is dead."
"Well, and what of that?"
"Then he cannot know that I am free,"
"Well? How stupid you are! You make me angry!"
Silence. Jeanne knew the nature of her anger very well. Her friend's
convictions were too much like her own, and she longed to have her
painful presentiment contradicted, longed for a word of hope.
She laughed a low, forced laugh:
"Noemi, now you are pretending to be offended on purpose not to have to
Jeanne began again, very sweetly:
"Listen. Don't you believe he suffers temptations?"
Jeanne, this time ignoring the fact that Noemi did not answer,
"It _would_ be nice if he had just now stopped suffering from
Her sarcasm is so comic, that--although she is greatly shocked--Noemi
cannot help laughing; and Jeanne laughs with her. In spite of her mirth,
Noemi reproaches Jeanne for saying such intensely foolish things without
stopping to reflect. For Noemi knows her friend, and knows that the
Jeanne of this hour is not the true Jeanne, self-possessed and mistress
of herself; or rather perhaps it is the true Jeanne, but certainly not
she who will stand before Piero Maironi, if, by any chance, they meet.
The thunder has ceased, and Jeanne would like to see what the weather
is, but she dreads to leave her bed, fearing to feel ill again, fearing
to discover she will not be able to go up to the monastery a few hours
hence. She also fears the opposition of her hosts, should the weather
prove too unpleasant. She is therefore anxious to see how the sky looks.
Get up must Noemi, the slave whose acts of rebellion very seldom ended
in victory. Noemi rises, opens the window, and examines the darkness,
her hand extended. Tiny, frequent drops tickle her palm. The darkness
grows less impenetrable as her eyes become accustomed to it. She
distinguishes, down below, Santa Maria della Febbre, grey, against a
black background. The mass of heavy mist grows lighter, and the arms of
the oak towering on the right show black against it. The tiny, frequent
drops continue to tickle her outstretched hand, which she finally
withdraws. Jeanne questions.
"Well?" "It is raining."
She sighs "What a bother," as if it were going to rain for ever. And the
tiny drops acquire a louder voice, fill the room with soft murmurs, and
then are hushed once more. Jeanne does not understand the soft murmurs,
does not understand that the man of whom her heart is full is lying
unconscious, on the lonely, rocky, hillside, down which the rain washes.
Late on the following morning Signora Selva, somewhat anxious because
neither of her guests had as yet appeared, entered her sister's room
quietly. Noemi was nearly dressed, and signed to her to be silent.
Jeanne had fallen asleep at last. The two sisters left the room together
and went to the study where Giovanni was waiting for them. Well? Was Don
Clemente really the man? The husband and wife were anxious to know in
order to regulate their conduct accordingly. Giovanni no longer doubted,
but his wife was not sure even now. Noemi! Noemi must know! Giovanni
closed the door, while Maria, interpreting her sister's silence as
confirmation, insisted: "Then it is really he, really he?"
Noemi was silent. She would perhaps have betrayed her friend's secret in
order to conspire with the Selvas for Jeanne's happiness, had she not
been deterred by a doubt of their agreeing with her, and by a sense of
wavering in her own mind. Probably, as Catholics, the Selvas would
not wish this man who had fled from the world to return to it. She, a
Protestant, could not feel thus; at least she _should_ not feel thus.
She should rather believe that God is better served out in the world and
in the married state. She did feel this, but she could not hide from
herself that should Signor Maironi marry Jeanne now, she could feel
little respect for him. At any rate it would be wiser to hide the
"Well, what is it you think?" said she. "That the priest who was here
last night, and who passed in front of us, after all that by-play of
yours, was really the former lover? Is he your Don Clemente? Very well
then, he is not the man."
"Ah! Really not?" Giovanni exclaimed, between surprise and incredulity.
His wife triumphed.
"There!" said she.
But Giovanni would not yield. He asked Noemi if she were quite sure of
what she said, and how she explained Signora Dessalle's fainting? Noemi
answered that there was nothing to explain. Jeanne suffered from anaemia,
and was subject to attacks of terrible weakness. Giovanni was silent,
but he was not convinced. If this were really so, how could Noemi assert
so positively that Don Clemente was not the man? In his sister-in-law's
words, in her manner, in her face, Giovanni perceived something that was
not natural. Maria asked how they had passed the night. How had Signora
Dessalle rested? She had been uneasy? In what way uneasy?
"She was uneasy! What more can I say?" Noemi exclaimed rather irritably,
and went to the open window as if to ascertain the intention of the
clouds. Giovanni took a step towards her, determined to conquer her
reticence. She had a presentiment of this, and, as an expedient, she
asked what his predictions concerning the weather were.
The sky was completely overcast; low, heavy clouds rolled down from the
crests of Monte Calvo upon the Cappuccini and the Rocca. The air was
warm, the roar of the Anio loud. Far below, the road to Subiaco, like
a winding ribbon and almost black with mud, was visible through the
foliage of the olives. Giovanni answered;
Noemi at once asked how far it was from the little villa to the
convents. It took twenty minutes to go to Santa Scolastica. But why did
she ask? Upon hearing that Jeanne intended going there with Noemi that
very morning, Maria protested. In such weather? You are obliged to walk
the last part of the way. Could they not postpone their visit until
to-morrow or the next day?
"When did she tell you?" Giovanni asked, almost sharply. Noemi hesitated
"In the night."
As soon as she had spoken the words she realised that they would arouse
suspicion, especially after that moment of hesitation; she now awaited
an attack, undecided whether to resist or surrender.
"Noemi!" Giovanni exclaimed severely.
She looked at him, her face slightly flushed; she was silent, not even
saying, "Well, what is it?"
"Do not deny it," her brother-in-law went on.
"This woman recognised Don Clemente. Do not deny it, rather say so at
once; it is a duty which your conscience must surely urge upon you! They
must on no account be allowed to meet!"
"What I said is true," Noemi answered, having now decided on a line
of action. In her tone, free from all trace of irritation and almost
submissive, there lurked the implied confession that she had not told
the whole truth.
"She did not recognise him? But surely you know something more?"
"Yes, I do know something more," Noemi replied; "but I must not tell
you what I know. I can only ask you to warn Don Clemente that Signora
Dessalle and I propose visiting the convents this morning. I will say
nothing more, and now I am going to see if Jeanne is awake."
She left the room hastily. The Selvas looked at each other. What was
the meaning of her wish to have Don Clemente warned? Maria read in her
husband's thoughts something which displeased her, something she did not
wish him to utter,
"You had better write the letter to Don Clemente," she said.
But Giovanni, before writing, wished to free his mind. There seemed to
be only one explanation possible: Don Clemente was really the man. Noemi
had promised Signora Dessalle not to say so, but she nevertheless wished
to prevent a meeting. Maria exclaimed with some heat: "Oh! Noemi does
not tell lies!" and then, crimsoning and smiling, she embraced her
husband as if fearful of having offended him. For, once, she had
offended him by some thoughtless words concerning the lack of
truthfulness in Italians, and now perhaps her exclamation might have the
effect of recalling the shadow of that cloud. He was indeed annoyed,
more by the embrace than by the protest, and, remembering, he also
crimsoned and maintained that in Noemi's place Maria herself would have
denied everything. Maria was silent, and left the study, importunate
tears welling up in her eyes. At first Giovanni was glad he had repulsed
this offensive tenderness, and he began the note to Don Clemente. Before
he had finished it, however, his irritation had turned to remorse,
and he rose and went in search of his wife. She was in the corridor,
speaking in low tones to Noemi. She turned her face towards him at once;
understanding, she smiled, her eyes still wet, and signed to him to come
nearer, and to speak softly. What was the matter? The matter was that
Jeanne wished to start for Santa Scolastica at once. Noemi explained
that she had only just awakened, and that _at once_ meant an hour and a
half at least. But they must send to Subiaco for a carriage, for Jeanne
was in no condition to walk more than was absolutely necessary--more
than the last part of the way. A ring of the bell called Noemi away.
Jeanne was waiting for her with impatience.
"What a chatterbox of a maid!" she said, half jestingly and half
irritably. "What have you been telling your sister?"
Noemi threatened to leave her. Jeanne clasped her hands in supplication,
and asked, looking her straight in the eyes, as though to read her soul:
"How shall I arrange my hair? How shall I dress?"
Noemi answered thoughtlessly:
"Why, just as you please."
Jeanne stamped her foot angrily. Noemi understood.
"As a peasant girl," said she.
"You silly creature!"
Jeanne sighed out the usual reproach:
"You do not love me! You do not love me!"
Then Noemi became serious, and asked her if she really wished to entice
him back again--her precious Maironi?
"I want to be beautiful!" Jeanne exclaimed. "There!"
She really was beautiful at that moment, in her dressing-gown of a warm
yellow tint, with her streaming dark hair down to a hand's-breadth below
her waist. She looked far lovelier and younger than the night before.
Her eyes shone with that look of intense animation which, in former
days, they had been wont to assume when Maironi entered the room, or
even when she heard his step outside.
"I wish I had the _toilette_ I wore at Praglia," she said. "I should
like to appear before him in my green fur-lined cloak, now, in May! I
should like him to see at a glance how unchanged I am, and how much I
wish to remain unchanged! Oh! my God, my God!"
With a sudden impulse she threw her arms about Noemi's neck, and pressed
her face against her shoulder, stifling a sob and murmuring words Noemi
could not distinguish.
"No, no, no!" she cried at last. "I am mad! I am wicked! Let us go away,
let us go away!" She raised her tearful face. "Let us go to Rome!" said
"Yes, yes!" Noemi answered in great agitation, "we will go to Rome. We
will leave at once. Let me go and ask when the next train starts."
Jeanne immediately seized upon her and held her back. No, no, it was
madness. What would her sister say? What would her brother-in-law think?
It was madness, an impossibility! And besides, besides, besides--She
hid her face, whispering behind her hands that she would be satisfied if
she could only see him for one moment; but she could not--no, no--she
could not leave without having seen him.
"Enough!" said she, uncovering her face, after a long pause. "Let us
dress! I will wear whatever you please; sackcloth, if you wish it, or
Her face had resumed the aggrieved smile she had worn before.