Part 3 out of 7
"Who can tell?" she said. "Perhaps it will do me good to see him in the
dress of a peasant!"
"It would cure _me_ at once!" Noemi muttered; then she blushed, for she
felt she had spoken a great untruth.
When Signora Selva knocked at the door to say the carriage was waiting,
Jeanne, with mock humility, begged Noemi to allow her to wear a certain
large Rembrandt hat of which she was very fond. The black, feather-laden
brim, drooping over her pale face, above the sombre light in her eyes,
above the tall figure wrapped in a dark cloak, seemed to partake of her
feelings, gloomy, passionate, and haughty. When she said good morning
to Maria Selva she felt the admiration she aroused. She saw it in
Giovanni's eyes also, but it was admiration of a different sort, and not
of a sympathetic nature. As soon as she and Noemi had left him and were
on their way down to the gate, where the carriage was waiting, Jeanne
asked her if she really had not told her brother-in-law anything at all?
Upon being reassured she murmured:
"I thought you must have."
When they had proceeded a few paces she pressed her friend's arm
very hard and exclaimed, much pleased, and as though she had made an
"At any rate, I am still beautiful!"
Noemi did not heed her. She was wondering if the name Dessalle had
conveyed anything to the monk. Had Maironi ever mentioned it to him? If
he had told him of this love, had he not perhaps concealed the woman's
name? At the bottom of her heart there lurked a lively curiosity to
see this man who had awakened such a strong passion in Jeanne and had
disappeared from the world in such a strange manner. But she would have
liked to see him alone. It was terrifying to think of these two meeting
without any preparation. If she could only speak to the monk first, to
this Don Clemente, to make sure he knew, and to enlighten him if he did
not know; if she could only find out from him something of that other
man, the state of his mind, his intentions. "But enough!" she said to
herself as she entered the carriage. "Providence must provide! And may
Providence help this poor creature!" When they left the carriage where
the mule-path begins, Jeanne proposed timidly, and as one who expects a
refusal and knows it is justified, that she should go up to the convents
by herself, a small boy, who had run after the carriage all the way
from Subiaco, acting as guide. The refusal came indeed, and was most
emphatic. Such a thing was out of the question! What was she thinking
of? Then Jeanne begged at least to be left alone with him should she
find him. Noemi did not know what to answer.
"What if I went up before you?" said she. "If I asked for Padre
Clemente, and tried to find out from him what he is, what he is doing,
and what he thinks; this, your--"
Jeanne interrupted her, horrified.
"The Padre? Speak to the Padre?" she exclaimed, pressing both hands to
Noemi's face as though to silence her words. "Woe to you if you speak
to the Padre!"
They started slowly up the rocky mule-path, Jeanne often stopping,
seized with trembling, and vibrating like a taut cord in the wind. In
silence she stretched out her hands that Noemi might feel how cold they
were, and smiled. In the sea of clouds rushing towards the hills the
pale eye of the sun appeared; the sun, too, was curious.
* * * * *
Don Clemente said Mass at about seven o'clock, spoke with the Abbot,
and then went to the Ospizio where pilgrims were sheltered. He found
Benedetto asleep, his arms crossed upon his breast, his lips slightly
parted, his face reflecting an inward vision of beatitude. Don Clemente
stroked his hair, calling him softly. The young man started, raised his
head with a dazed look, and, springing out of bed, grasped and kissed
Don Clemente's hand. The monk withdrew it with an impulse of humility,
quickly checked by the purity of his soul, by his consciousness of the
dignity of his office.
"Well?" he said. "Did the Lord speak to you?"
"I am subject to His will," Benedetto replied, "as a leaf in the wind, a
leaf which knows nought."
The monk took his head between his hands, drawing him towards him, and
pressed his lips upon his hair, letting them rest there while their
souls silently communed.
"You must go to the Abbot," he said. "Afterwards you can come to me."
Benedetto fixed his gaze upon him, questioning him without words:
"Why this visit?" Don Clemente's eyes were veiled in silence, and the
disciple humbled himself in a mute but visible impulse of obedience.
"At once?" he inquired.
"May I first go and wash in the torrent?"
The master smiled:
"Go, wash in the torrent." Bathing in the water which sometimes, after
heavy rains, sings in the Pucceia Valley to the east of the monastery,
and cuts in rivulets across the road to the Sacro Speco, below Santa
Crocella, was the only physical pleasure in which Benedetto allowed
himself to indulge. It was still sprinkling; mist smoked slowly in the
deep valley; the trembling shallow waters complained to Benedetto as
they hastened across the road, but rested quiet and content in the
hollow of his hands; and through his forehead, his eyes, his cheeks, his
neck, they infused deep into his heart a sense of the sweet chastity of
their soul, a sense of Divine bounty. Benedetto poured the water over
his head copiously, and the spirit of the water entered into his
thoughts. He felt that the Father was sending him forth upon new paths,
but that He would carry him in His mighty hand. He reverently blessed
the creature through which so much light of grace had come to him,
the most pure water! Then he bent his steps towards the Ospizio. Don
Clemente, who was waiting for him in the courtyard, started when he
caught sight of him, so transfigured did he appear. Under his thick,
damp hair his eyes shone with quiet celestial joy, and the fleshless
face, the colour of ivory, wore that expression of occult spirituality
which flowed from the brushes of the _Quattrocento_. How could that face
harmonise with peasant's attire? In his heart Don Clemente congratulated
himself upon a thought which he had conceived during the night, and had
already communicated to the Abbot, namely, to give Benedetto an old
lay-brother's habit. Before consenting or refusing the Abbot wished to
see Benedetto and speak with him.
The Abbot, while waiting for Benedetto, was strumming with his knuckles
a piece of his own composition, accompanying the sound with horrible
contortions of lips, nostrils and eyebrows. Upon hearing a gentle knock
at the door, he neither answered nor stopped playing. Having finished
the piece he began it again, and played it a second time from beginning
to end. Then he stopped and listened. Another knock was heard, more
gentle than the first. The Abbot exclaimed.
"_Seccatore_! Some bore!"
After some angry chords he began playing chromatic scales. From
chromatic scales he passed to broken chords. Then he listened again for
three or four minutes. Hearing nothing more he went to open the door,
and perceived Benedetto, who fell upon his knees.
"Who are you?" he demanded roughly.
"My name is Piero Maironi," Benedetto answered; "but here at the
monastery they call me Benedetto."
And he made a movement to take the Abbot's hand and kiss it.
"One moment," said the Abbot, frowning, withdrawing and raising his
hand. "What are you doing here?"
"I work in the kitchen garden," Benedetto replied.
"Fool!" exclaimed the Abbot. "I ask what you are doing here outside my
"I was coming to see you, Padre."
"Who told you to come to me?"
The Abbot was silent, and studied the kneeling man for some time; then
he grumbled something incomprehensible, and offered him his hand to
"Rise!" said he, still sharply. "Come in. Close the door."
When Benedetto had entered the Abbot appeared to forget him. He put on
his glasses and began turning over the leaves of a book and glancing
through the papers on his desk. In an attitude of soldierly respect,
holding himself very erect, Benedetto stood, waiting for him to speak.
"Maironi of Brescia?" said the Abbot, in the same unfriendly tone as
before, and without turning round.
Having received an answer he continued to turn the pages and read.
Finally he removed his glasses and turned round.
"What did you come here to Santa Scolastica for?" said he.
"I was a great sinner," Benedetto answered, "God called me to withdraw
from the world, and I withdrew from It."
The Abbot was silent for a moment, his gaze fixed upon the young man,
and then he said with ironical gentleness:
"No, my friend!"
He took out his snuff-box, shook it, repeating "No, no, no," rapidly and
almost under his breath; he examined the snuff, dipped his fingers into
it, raised his eyes once more to Benedetto's face, and, emphasising each
"That is not true!"
Grasping the pinch with his thumb, his forefinger, and his middle
finger, he raised his hand swiftly, as though about to throw the snuff
into the air, and, with his arm suspended, continued to speak.
"It is probably true enough that you were a great sinner, but it is not
true that you withdrew from the world. You are neither in it nor out of
He took his pinch of snuff with a loud noise, and went on:
"Neither in it nor out of it!"
Benedetto looked at him without answering. In those eyes there was
something so serious and so sweet, that the Abbot lowered his to the
open snuff-box, once more dipping his fingers into it and toying with
"I do not understand you," he said.
"You are of the world, and still you are not of it. You are in the
monastery, and still you are not in the monastery. I fear your head
serves you no better than your great-grandfather's, your grandfather's,
and your father's served them. Fine heads, those!"
Benedetto's ivory face flushed slightly.
"They are souls with God," he said, "better than we are, and your words
offend against one of God's commandments."
"Silence!" the Abbot exclaimed. "You say you have renounced the world,
and you are full of worldly pride. If you really wished to renounce the
world, you should have tried to become a novice! Why did you not attempt
this? You wished to come here _in villeggiatura_, for an outing, that is
the truth of the matter. Or perhaps you were under certain obligations
at home, there were certain troublesome matters--you know what I mean!
_Nec nominentur in nobis_. And you wished to rid yourself of these
troubles, only to get yourself into fresh ones. You tell stories to that
simple-minded Don Clemente; you usurp the place of a poor pilgrim; and
perhaps--eh?--you hoped with prayers and sacraments to throw dust in the
eyes of the monks, which is an easy matter enough, and even in the eyes
of the Almighty Himself, which is a far more difficult matter. You do
not deny this!"
The slight flush had vanished from the ivory face; the lips, which at
one moment had parted, ready to utter, words of calm severity, were now
motionless; the penetrating eyes were fixed upon the Abbot with the same
sweedy grave look as before. And this calm silence seemed to exasperate
"Speak then!" said he. "Confess! Have you not also boasted of special
gifts, of visions, of miracles even, for all I know? You have been a
great sinner? Prove that you are one no longer! Exonerate yourself if
you can. Say how you have lived; explain this pretension of yours that
God has called you; justify yourself for coming here to eat the monk's
bread for nothing; for you did not wish to become a monk, and as to
work, you have done little enough of that."
"Padre," Benedetto replied (and the severe tone of his voice, the
austere dignity of his face, accorded ill with the humble gentleness of
his words), "this is good for me, a sinner, who for three years have
lived the life of the spirit, in ease and delights, in peace, in the
affection of saintly men, in an atmosphere full of God Himself. Your
words are good, and sweet unto my soul, they are a blessing from the
Lord; their sting has made me feel how much pride there is in me still,
of which I was ignorant, for it was a joy to me to despise myself. But
as a servant of holy Truth, I say to you that harshness is not good,
even when used towards one who deceives, because gentleness might
perhaps bring him to repent of his deceit; and I say also, Padre, that
in your words there is not the spirit of our true and; only Father, to
whom be all glory!"
At the words "to whom be all glory" Benedetto fell upon his knees, his
face glowing with intense fervour.
"Is it for you, miserable sinner, to play the part of teacher?" the
"You are right, you are right!" Benedetto replied impulsively, with
laboured breath and clasped hands. "Now I will confess my sin to you. I
desired illicit love; I was happy in the passion of a woman who was not
free, as I myself was not free, and I accepted this passion. I abandoned
all religious practices and heeded not the scandal I gave. This woman
did not believe in God, and I dishonoured God in her company, my faith
being dead, and showing myself sensual, selfish, weak, and false. God
called me back with the voices of my dead, the voices of my father and
mother. Then I left the woman who loved me, but I was without strength
of purpose, wavering in my heart between good and evil. Soon I returned
to her, all aflame with sin, knowing I should lose myself, even
determined to lose myself. There was no longer an atom of grace in my
soul when a dying hand, dear and saintly, seized me and saved me."
"Look me in the eyes," said the Abbot, without allowing him to rise.
"Have you ever let any one know you were here?"
"I have never let any one know." The Abbot answered drily:
"I do not believe you!"
Benedetto did not flinch.
"You know why I do not believe you?" the Abbot continued.
"I can imagine why," Benedetto answered, dropping his eyes. "_Peccatum
meum contra me est semper_."
"Rise!" the Abbot commanded, still inflexible. "I expel you from the
monastery. You will now go and take leave of Don Clemente, in his cell,
and then you will depart, never to return. Do you understand?"
Benedetto bowed his head in assent, and was about to bend his knee to
pay homage in the usual way, when the Abbot stopped him with a gesture.
"Wait," said he.
Putting on his glasses he took a sheet of paper, upon which he traced
some words, standing the while,
"What will you do, when you have left?" he asked still writing.
Benedetto answered softly:
"Does the sleeping child that his father lifts in his arms know what his
father will do with him?"
The Abbot made no answer; his writing finished, he placed the paper in
an envelope, closed it, and without turning his head, held it out to
Benedetto, who was standing behind him.
"Take this to Don Clemente," he said. Benedetto begged permission to
kiss his hand.
"No, no, go away, go away!"
The Abbot's voice trembled with anger. Benedetto obeyed. Hardly had
he reached the corridor when he heard the angry man thundering on the
* * * * *
Before entering Don Clemente's little cell, Benedetto stopped before the
great window at the end of the corridor. Here, a few hours earlier, the
master himself had lingered, contemplating the lights of Subiaco, and
thinking of the enemy, the creature of beauty, of genius, of natural
kindliness, who was perhaps come to strive with him for possession of
his spiritual son, to strive with God Himself. Now the spiritual son
felt a mysterious certainty that the woman he had loved so ill, during
the time of his blind and ardent leaning towards inferior things, had
discovered his presence in the monastery, and would come in search of
him. Seeking deep in his own heart for the Spirit which dwelt there,
he gained from it a pious sense of the Divine, which was surely in her
also, hidden even from herself; and he felt a mystic hope that, by some
dark way, she also would one day reach the sea of eternal truth and
love, which awaits so many poor wandering souls.
Don Clemente had heard him coming, and had set his door ajar. Benedetto
entered, and offered him the Abbot's letter. "I must leave the
monastery," he said, very calmly. "At once, and for ever."
Don Clemente did not answer, but opened the letter. When he had read
it he observed, smiling, that Benedetto's departure for Jenne had been
decided upon the night before. True, but the Abbot had said never to
return, Don Clemente's eyes were full of tears, but he still smiled.
"You are glad?" said Benedetto, almost plaintively,
Oh, glad! How could the master explain what he felt? His beloved
disciple was leaving him, leaving him for ever, after three years of
spiritual union; but then the hidden Will had made itself manifest; God
was taking him from the monastery, setting his feet in other ways. Glad!
Yes; afflicted and glad, but he could not communicate the cause of his
gladness to Benedetto, The Divine Word would have no value for Benedetto
did he not interpret it for himself.
"Not glad," he said, "but at peace. We understand each other, do we not?
And now prepare yourself to listen to my last words, which I hope you
Don Clemente's whole face flushed as he spoke thus, in low tones.
Benedetto bowed his head, and Don Clemente laid his hands upon it with
"Do you desire to surrender your whole being to Supreme Truth, to His
Church, visible and invisible?" said the low, manly voice.
As though he had expected both the action and the question, Benedetto
answered at once, and in a firm voice:
The low voice:
"Do you promise, as from man to man, to remain unwed and poor, until I
shall absolve you from your promise?"
The firm voice
The low voice:
"Do you promise to be obedient always to the authority of the Holy
Church, administered according to her laws?"
The firm voice:
Don Clemente drew his disciple's head towards him, and said, his lips
almost touching Benedetto's forehead:
"I asked the Abbot to allow me to give you the habit of a lay-brother,
that on leaving here you might, at least, carry with you the sign of
a humble religious office. The Abbot wished to speak with you before
Here Don Clemente kissed his disciple on the forehead, thus intimating
what the Abbot's decision had been after their meeting; and into the
kiss he put silent words of praise which his fatherly character and the
humility of his disciple would not permit him to utter.
He did not notice that the disciple was trembling from head to foot.
"Here is what the Abbot wrote after talking with you," said he.
He showed Benedetto the sheet of paper, upon which the Abbot had
"I consent. Send him away at once, that I may not be tempted to detain
Benedetto embraced his master impulsively, and rested his forehead
against his shoulder without speaking. Don Clemente murmured: "Are you
glad? Now it is I who ask you!"
He repeated his question twice without obtaining an answer. At last he
heard a whisper:
"May I be allowed not to answer? May I pray a moment?"
"Yes, _caro_, yes!"
Beside the monk's narrow bed, and high above the kneeling-desk, a great
bare cross proclaimed: "Christ is risen; now nail thy soul to me!" In
fact some one, perhaps Don Clemente, perhaps one of his predecessors,
had written, below it: "_Omnes superbiae motus ligno crucis affigat_."
Benedetto prostrated himself on the floor, and placed his forehead where
the knees should rest. Through the open window of the cell, the pale
light of the rainy sky fell obliquely upon the backs of the prostrate
man and of the man standing erect, his face raised towards the great
cross. The murmur of the rain, the rumble of the deep Anio, would have
meant to Jeanne the distressed lament of all that lives and loves in the
world; to Don Clemente they meant the pious union of inferior creatures
with the creature supplicating the common Father. Benedetto himself did
not notice them.
He rose, his face composed, and, in obedience to his master's gesture,
put on the robe of a lay-brother, which was spread out upon the bed, and
fastened the leathern girdle. When he was dressed he opened wide his
arms and displayed himself, smiling to his master, who was gratified to
see how dignified, how spiritually beautiful he was in that habit.
"You did not understand?" said Benedetto. "You were not reminded of
No, Don Clemente had thought that Benedetto's intense emotion had been
caused by his humility. Now he understood that he should have recalled
something; but what?
"Ah!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Was it perhaps your vision?"
Yes, surely. Benedetto had seen himself dying on the bare ground, in the
shade of a great tree, and wearing the habit of the Benedictines; and
one argument against believing in the vision--in accordance with the
advice of Don Giuseppe Flores and of Don Clemente--had been the seeming
contradiction between this detail and his repugnance to the monastic
vows, which had been ever increasing since his withdrawal from the
world. Now this contradiction seemed to be vanishing, and therefore the
credibility of the prophetic nature of the vision was reappearing. Don
Clemente was aware of this part of the vision, and should have been able
to read in Benedetto's heart, his awe at being once more confronted with
a mysterious, divine purpose concerning him, and his fear of falling
into the sin of pride. Of this, he had not thought.
"Do not you think of it, either," said he, and he hastened to change the
subject. He gave Benedetto some books and a letter for the parish-priest
at Jenne, whose guest he would be for the present. Whether or no he
should remain at Jenne, and in case he did not, whether he should return
to Subiaco or go elsewhere, that Divine Providence must point out to
"_Padre mio_," Benedetto said, "truly I do not think of what may happen
to me to-morrow. I think only of the words: _'Magister adest et vocat
me!'_ but not as being spoken by a supernatural voice. I was wrong not
to understand that the Master is always present, and always calling me,
you, every one! If only our soul be hushed, we may hear His voice!"
A faint ray of sunshine glinted into the cell. Don Clemente reflected at
once that should the rain cease, Signora Dessalle would very probably
come to visit the monastery. He said nothing, but his inward anxiety
betrayed itself by a slight shudder, by a glance at the sky which told
Benedetto it was time to leave. He begged the privilege of praying,
first in the Church of Santa Scolastica, and then at the Sacro Speco.
The sun disappeared, and it began to rain again. Master and disciple
descended to the church together, and there, kneeling side by side,
they lingered in prayer. That was their only farewell. At nine o'clock
Benedetto took the road to the Sacro Speco. He left the monastery
unobserved, while Fra Antonio was confabulating with Giovanni Selva's
messenger. At that moment the rays of the returning sun suddenly lit
up the old walls, the road, the hill itself; shrill cries of gladness,
swift wings of tiny birds broke through the green on all sides, and to
his lips the words rose spontaneously:
"I am coming!"
Jeanne and Noemi reached the monastery at ten o'clock. A few paces from
the gate Jeanne was seized with a violent palpitation. She would have
liked to visit the garden before the convent, the urchin from Subiaco
having told her that the monks of Santa Scolastica had a fine
kitchen-garden, and that some people belonging to them worked in it--an
old man from Subiaco and a young stranger. Now, it was out of the
question. Pale, exhausted, and leaning on Noemi's arm, she, with
difficulty, dragged herself as far as the door, where a beggar stood,
waiting for his bowl of soup. Fortunately Fra Antonio opened the door
before Noemi had time to ring, and she entreated him to bring a chair
and a glass of water for her friend, who was feeling unwell. Frightened
at the sight of Jeanne, so deathly pale, and drooping against her
companion's shoulder, the humble old lay-brother placed the bowl of soup
he had brought for the beggar in Noemi's hands, and hastened away in
search of the chair and the water. Thanks partly to the droll spectacle
the astonished Noemi presented, as she stood holding the bowl of soup,
partly to the rest--the water, the sight of the ancient cloister
sleeping so peacefully, and the reassertion of her own will--a few
minutes sufficed to restore Jeanne sufficiently. Fra Antonio went to
call the _Padre foresterario_, to act as guide to the visitors.
"Tell him we are the two ladies staying at Signor Selva's house," said
Don Clemente appeared, blushing in the virginal purity of his soul
because Jeanne was unaware that he knew her story, as he might have
blushed had he been committing some fraud. He mistook Noemi, who came
forward first, for Signora Dessalle. Tall, slim, and elegant, Noemi
might well pass for a siren; she did not, however, look a day over five
and twenty, and therefore could not be the woman of whose adventures
Benedetto had told him. But the Benedictine was incapable of such
calculations, and Noemi was anxious to satisfy herself that Fra Antonio
had fulfilled his mission faithfully.
"Good morning, Padre," she said in her pretty voice, to which the
foreign accent lent additional charm. "We met last night. You were just
leaving Signor Selva's house."
Don Clemente bent his head slightly. Noemi had really hardly had a
glimpse of him, but she had been struck by his beauty, and had reflected
that if he were Signer Maironi she could understand Jeanne's passion.
Conscious of her fresh and youthful appearance, it never entered
her head that her twenty-five years could be mistaken for Jeanne's
thirty-two. Jeanne, in the meantime, was wondering how she could turn
her dilemma to the best account.
"You were not expected last night," said Don Clemente to Noemi. "You
come from the Veneto, I believe?"
"The Veneto?" Noemi seemed surprised.
"The Selvas told me you lived in the Veneto," the Padre added.
Then Noemi understood. She smiled, and murmured a monosyllable which was
neither "yes" nor "no"; she also was determined to take advantage of
her position, and, thanks to this misunderstanding, obtain a private
interview with Don Clemente, and warn him if necessary. It was moreover
most amusing to talk to this handsome monk, who believed her to be
Jeanne. By a look she cautioned Jeanne, who, much embarrassed, was
glancing from her to the monk, doubtful whether to speak or remain
"Of course my friend knows Santa Scolastica already," she said, "but I
have never been here before."
She turned to Jeanne.
"If the Padre will be kind enough to accompany me, it seems to me you
might remain here, as you are not feeling well," she said.
Jeanne consented so readily that Noemi suspected she had some secret
plan, and wondered if she had not made a mistake in proposing this.
However, it was too late now. Don Clemente, not over-pleased at having
to accompany one lady alone, suggested they should wait; perhaps her
friend would feel stronger presently. Jeanne protested. No, they must
not wait; she was glad to remain there.
While passing from the first to the second cloister, Noemi once more
reminded the Padre of their meeting on the previous night.
"You had a companion?" she said, and immediately felt ashamed of her
deceit, and of not having cleared up the mistake under which the monk
was labouring. Don Clemente answered almost under his breath:
"Yes, signora, a kitchen-gardener from the monastery."
Both their faces were crimson, but they did not look at one another, and
each was conscious only of his and her own blush.
"Do you know who we are?" Noemi continued.
Don Clemente replied that he believed he knew. They must be the two
ladies Signora Selva expected. He thought she had mentioned her sister
and Signora Dessalle.
"Oh! you heard of us from my sister?"
At Noemi's words Don Clemente could not refrain from exclaiming:
"Then you are not Signora Dessalle?"
Noemi saw that the man knew. Therefore he had surely taken precautions,
and an unexpected meeting was not possible. She breathed freely again,
and in her feminine heart curiosity took the place of the anxiety of
which she was now relieved.
Don Clemente spoke to her of the tower, of the ancient arcades, of the
frescoes near the door of the church, while she wondered how he could be
brought to speak of Maironi. When he was showing her the procession of
little stone monks, she interrupted him thoughtlessly, to ask if souls,
tired of the world, disappointed and desirous of giving themselves to
God, often came to the monastery.
"I am a Protestant," she said. "This interests me greatly."
In his heart Don Clemente thought that if this really interested her
greatly, it was not on account of her Protestantism, but on account of
her friendship for Signora Dessalle.
"Not often," he answered; "sometimes. Such souls usually prefer other
Orders. So you are a Protestant? But you will have no objection to
entering our church? I do not mean the Catholic Church," he added,
smiling and blushing, "I mean the church of our monastery."
And he told her about a Protestant Englishman, who was in love with St.
Benedict, and made long stays at Subiaco, frequently visiting Santa
Scolastica and the Sacro Speco.
"He has a most beautiful soul," he said.
But Noemi wished to return to the first subject; to know if--urged by a
spirit of penitence--any one ever came from the world to serve in the
cloister without wearing the habit. She received no answer, for Don
Clemente, seeing a colossal monk enter the cloister, begged to be
excused one minute, and went to speak to him, returning presently with
his majestic companion, whom he introduced as Don Leone, a guide far
superior to himself, both as to the amount and the depths of his
knowledge. Then, to her great chagrin, he himself withdrew.
When she was alone Jeanne had another attack of violent palpitation.
_Dio!_ how the past came back to her! How Praglia came back! And to
think that he came and went through that entrance, through those
cloisters, who knows how many times a day; that he must often think
of Praglia, of that hour fixed by fate, of that water spilled, of the
ecstasy, the tightly clasped hands, under cover of the fur cloak, on the
way home. To think he was now free, and she also was free! How feverish
she felt, how feverish!
Fra Antonio, who had at first been terrified at finding this breathless
woman left there on his hands, was presently amazed by the rapid words
and questions with which she suddenly assailed him.--Was there not a
kitchen-garden near the monastery?--Yes, very near, on the west side;
there was only a narrow lane intervening.--And who cultivated it?--A
kitchen-gardener.--Young? Old? From Subiaco? A stranger?--Old. From
Subiaco.--And no one else?--Yes, Benedetto.--Benedetto? Who was
Benedetto?--A young man from the _Padre foresterario's_
native town.--And what was the _Padre foresterario's_ native
town?--Brescia.--And this young man was called Benedetto?--Every one
called him Benedetto, but Fra Antonio could not say if that was his real
name.--But what sort of man was he?--Ah! that Fra Antonio could say. He
was almost more holy than the monks themselves. You could see by his
face that he came of a good family, yet he was housed like a dog; he ate
only bread, fruit, and herbs; he spent whole nights, in prayer probably,
out on the mountains. He tilled the soil, and he also studied in the
library with the _Padre foresterario_. And such a heart! Such a great
heart! Many times he had given the scanty dole of food he received
from the monastery to the poor.--And where could one find him at this
hour?--Oh! surely in the garden; Fra Antonio fancied he would be busy
sprinkling the grape vines with sulphate of copper.
Jeanne's heart beats so violently that her sight becomes dim. She sits
silent and motionless. Fra Antonio thinks she has forgotten Benedetto.
"Ah! signora," he says, "Santa Scolastica is a fine monastery, but you
should see Praglia!" For Fra Antonio passed several years at Praglia in
his youth, before the abbey was suppressed, and he speaks of it as of a
venerable mother. "Ah! the church at Praglia! The cloisters! The hanging
cloister, the refectory!" At these unexpected words Jeanne grows
excited. They seem to say to her: "Go, go, go at once!" She starts from
"And this garden? In which direction is it?"
Fra Antonio, somewhat astonished, answered that it might be reached
through the monastery, or by skirting the outside. Jeanne went out;
absorbed in her burning thoughts she passed the gate, turned to the
right, entered the gallery below the library, where she paused a moment,
pressing her hands to her heart, and walked on again.
The herder belonging to the convent, standing at the entrance to the
courtyard where the Ospizio, which shelters pilgrims, is located,
pointed out the door of the garden on the opposite side of the narrow
lane, running between two walls. She asked him if she would find a
certain Benedetto in the garden. In spite of her efforts to control
herself, her voice trembled in anticipation of an affirmative answer.
The herder replied that he did not know, and offered to go and see.
Knocking several times, he called: "Benede! Benede!"
A step at last! Jeanne was leaning against the door-post to keep herself
from falling. O God! if it be Piero, what shall she say to him? The door
opens; it is not Piero but an old man. Jeanne breathes freely again,
glad for the moment. The old man looks at her, astonished, and says to
"Benedetto is not here."
Her gladness had already vanished; she felt icy cold; the two men looked
at her curiously, in silence.
"Is this the lady who is looking for Benedetto?" said the old man.
Jeanne did not reply; the herder answered for her, and then he told how
Benedetto had spent the night out of doors; that he had found him at
daybreak, in the grove of the Sacro Speco, wet to the skin. He had
offered him some milk and Benedetto had drunk like a dying man to whom
life is returning.
"Listen, Giovacchino," the herder added, growing suddenly grave. "When
he had drunk he embraced me like this. I was feeling ill; I had not
slept, my head ached, all my bones ached. Well, as he held me in his
arms slight shivers seemed to come from them and creep over me, and then
I felt a sort of comforting heat; and I was content, and as comfortable
all over as if I had had two mouthfuls of the very best spirits in
my stomach! The headache was gone, the pains in the bones were gone,
everything was gone. Then I said to myself: 'By St. Catherine, this man
is a saint!' And a saint he certainly is!"
While he was speaking a poor cripple passed, a beggar from Subiaco.
Seeing a lady, he stopped and held out his hat. Jeanne, completely
absorbed in what the herder was saying, did not notice him, nor did she
hear him when--the herder having ceased speaking--he begged for alms,
for the love of God. She asked the gardener where this Benedetto was to
be found. The man scratched his head, doubtful how to answer. Then the
beggar groaned out in a mournful voice:
"You are seeking Benedetto? He is at the Sacro Speco."
Jeanne turned eagerly towards him.
"At the Sacro Speco?" said she; and the gardener asked the beggar if he
himself had seen him there.
The cripple, more tearful than ever, told how more than an hour ago he
had been on the road to the Sacro Speco, beyond the grove of evergreen
oaks, only a few steps from the convent. He was carrying a bundle of
fagots, and had fallen badly, and could not rise again with his burden.
"God and St. Benedict sent a monk that way," he continued. "This monk
lifted me up, comforted me, gave me his arm, and took me to the convent,
where the other monks restored me. Then I came away, but the monk stayed
at the Sacro Speco."
"And what has all this to do with it?" the gardener exclaimed.
"Simply this, that dressed as he was I did not at once know him; but
afterwards I did. It was he."
"Whom do you mean by _he_?"
"Who was Benedetto?"
"You are mad! You idiot!" the two men exclaimed together.
Jeanne gave the cripple a silver piece.
"Think well," she said. "Tell the truth!"
The cripple overflowed with benedictions, mingling with them such humble
expressions as: "Just as you please, just as you please! I may have
been mistaken, I may have been mistaken," and with his string of pious
mumblings he took himself off. Jeanne again questioned the herder
and the gardener. Was it possible that Benedetto had taken the
habit?--Impossible! The beggar was only a poor fool.
Presently the herder left, and Jeanne, entering the kitchen-garden, sat
down tinder an olive tree, reflecting that Noemi could easily learn from
the door-keeper where to find her. The old gardener, whose curiosity
was aroused, asked, with many apologies, if she was a relative of
"For it is known that he is a gentleman, a rich man!" said he.
Jeanne did not answer his question. She wished rather to find out why
this belief in Piero's riches prevailed.--Well, you could see by his
manners and by his face; he really had the face of a gentleman.--And
he had not become a monk?--Well, no.--And why had he not become a
monk?--That was not known for a certainty, There were many tales told.
It was even said he had a wife, and that his wife had played him what
the gardener called "a mean trick." Jeanne was silent, and it suddenly
struck the gardener that she might be the wife, the woman who had played
the "mean trick." She had perhaps repented, and was come to ask his
"If this story about the wife is true," he added, "I don't say she may
not have had her reasons; but as far as goodness goes, she surely did
not find a better man. You see, signora, these fathers are holy men,
that is undeniable; but there is no one so holy as he, either at Santa
Scolastica or at the Sacro Speco. That I will swear to! Not even Don
Clemente, who is most holy! Still he is not equal to Benedetto. No, no!"
The beggar's words suddenly sounded in Jeanne's heart. Benedetto a monk!
But why? It was discouraging to have them thus return, without a reason,
to her heart. Had not the two men said it was nonsense; that the cripple
was a fool? Yes, nonsense, she could see that herself; yes, a fool, he
had impressed her as such; but still the stupid words beat and throbbed
in her heart, as gruesome as masqueraders in comic masks would be should
they knock at your door at any other time save during Carnival!
"If you will wait, signora, in less than half an hour he is sure to be
here. _Che_! What am I saying? In a quarter of an hour. Perhaps he is in
the library studying with Don Clemente, or perhaps he is in the church."
The library, which runs across the narrow lane, communicates directly
with the kitchen-garden.
"There he is now!" the old man exclaimed.
Jeanne started to her feet. The door leading from the library to the
garden opened slowly. Instead of Piero, Noemi appeared, followed by
the big monk. Noemi perceived her friend among the olives, and stopped
suddenly, greatly surprised. Jeanne in the garden? Was it possible
that--? No, the old man beside her could not be Maironi, and there was
no one else with her. She smiled and shook her finger at her. Don Leone
took leave of Noemi upon learning that this was the friend who--as she
had told him during the visit to the monastery--had remained at the
door-keeper's lodge. Of course the ladies would go up to the other
convent, and his great size was no longer adapted to the climb to the
It was nearly eleven o'clock; they had ordered the carriage to meet them
where they had left it at half-past twelve, for dinner was at one at the
Selvas'; if Jeanne wished to see the Sacro Speco there was no time to
lose, provided her indisposition had disappeared, as would seem to be
the case. Noemi encouraged her going, and did not stop to ask, in the
presence of the gardener, why she had left Fra Antonio to run off and
explore the garden. She merely whispered: "You were making believe, eh?"
Jeanne said that Noemi must certainly start for the Sacro Speco at once,
but that she herself intended to wait for her in the garden. Noemi
suspected another plot.
"No, no!" she exclaimed, "either you come to the Sacro Speco or--if you
do not feel well enough--we will go down to Subiaco at once."
Jeanne objected that it would be useless to go down now, for they would
not find the carriage; but Noemi was determined not to yield. They could
walk down very slowly, and be ready for the carriage as soon as it
arrived. Jeanne refused again, more emphatically than before, having
no other argument to set forth. Then Noemi looked searchingly into her
eyes, silently trying to read her hidden purpose there. In that moment
of silence Jeanne's heart was again assailed by the beggar's words.
Impulsively she seized her friend's arm.
"You wish me to go to the Sacro Speco?" she said. "Very well, let us go
then. You believe something and you do not know! Let Fate decide!"
But before moving a step she dropped her friend's arm, and while Noemi,
completely bewildered, stood watching her she wrote in her notebook: "I
am at the Sacro Speco. For the sake of Don Giuseppe Flores wait for me!"
She did not sign her name, but tearing out the tiny page gave it to
the gardener. "For that man, should he return." Then once more taking
Noemi's arm, she exclaimed:
"Let us go!"
The sun's burning rays, smiting the steaming, rocky hillside, brought
out damp odours of herbs and of stone, silvered the puffs of mist
creeping along the sides of the narrow, wild valley, as far as the
enormous mass resting there, in the background, like a cap on the
heights of Jenne, while the mighty voice of the Anio filled the
solitude. Jeanne climbed upwards in silence, without replying to Noemi's
questions. Noemi was becoming more and more alarmed by her silence, by
her pallor, by the nervous twitching of her arm, by the sight of her
lips pressed tightly together, to keep back her sobs. Why was she thus
moved? During the night and, indeed, until they had reached the entrance
to Santa Scolastica, the poor creature had wavered between fear and
hope, in a fever of expectancy. Now her fever was of a different nature;
at least it seemed so to Noemi. She thought Jeanne must have heard
something there in the garden, something of which she did not wish to
speak, something painful, frightful! What could it be? The tragic lament
of the invisible water, the silent trembling of the blades of grass on
the rocky slope, even the burning heat, made the heart shrink. A few
paces from the arch which, standing rigid there, holds in check the
black crowd of evergreen oaks, Noemi was relieved to hear human voices.
They belonged to Dane on horseback and to Marinier and the Abbot on
foot, who were coming down together from the Sacro Speco,
Dane showed great pleasure at this meeting; he stopped his horse,
presented the ladies to the Abbot, and spoke of the Sacro Speco in
enthusiastic language. Jeanne, after exchanging a few words with the
Abbot, asked him if any one had recently pronounced the solemn vows or
perhaps taken the habit. The Abbot replied that he had been at Santa
Scolastica only a few days, and was not, at that moment, in a position
to answer her question; but he did not believe any one had made the
solemn profession or assumed the habit of a novice at Santa Scolastica
for at least a year. Jeanne was radiant with joy. Now she understood;
she had been a fool to believe it possible, even for a single moment,
that in twelve hours Piero the peasant had become Piero the monk. She
longed to return at once to the garden at Santa Scolastica; but how
could she manage it? what pretext could she invent? She pressed forward,
anxious to be done with the Sacro Speco as soon as possible. Noemi
proposed resting a few minutes in the shade of the evergreen oaks,
which, there on the path of those souls agitated by Divine Love,
themselves seem twisted by an inward ascetic fury, by a frantic effort
to tear themselves from the earth, and to dart their arms into the sky.
Jeanne refused impatiently. The colour had returned to her face, and the
light to her eyes. She started rapidly up the narrow stair where the
short walk comes to an end, and in spite of the protests of Noemi (who
could not understand the cause of this change) would not stop to take
breath at the head of the stairs where, suddenly, the dark, deep
spectacle of the valley reveals itself. High up on the left looms the
terrible crag, dear to falcons and crows, bulging out above the dreary
walls, pierced by unadorned openings which are incrusted upon the bare
slope, running crosswise along its face, and form the monastery of the
Sacro Speco. In the depths below the convent hangs the rose garden of
St. Benedict, and below the rose garden hang the kitchen-garden and the
olive groves, sloping to the open bed of the roaring Anio. The mass of
cloud which had rested on the heights of Jenne was rising and invading
the sky. A wave of shadow passed over the enormous crag, over the
monastery, over the parapet upon which Noemi had rested her elbows, lost
"This is magnificent!" she said. "Let us stop here a few seconds at
least, now that it is shady,"
But at that moment the little door of the monastery, not two steps from
them, opened and a party of visitors, men and women, came out. The monk
who had acted as guide, seeing Noemi and Jeanne, held the door open,
expecting them to enter. Jeanne hastened to do so, and Noemi, much
against her will, followed her,
"Thirteenth century frescoes," said the Benedictine, in the dark
entrance-hall, in an indifferent tone, as he passed on. Noemi stopped,
curiously regarding the ancient paintings. Jeanne followed the
Benedictine, looking neither to right nor left, distracted, tormented by
a doubt. What if the Abbot had been mistaken, if the beggar had told
the truth? She recalled in fancy the happy meeting in the courtyard at
Praglia, the intense pallor of his face, the "Thank you!" which had made
her tremble with joy. A shiver ran through her blood, and, as though
with a sudden pull at the reins of her imagination, she turned to Noemi:
"Come!" she said.
She followed the monk, hearing nothing that he said, observing
nothing that he pointed out. Noemi found it difficult to hide her own
uneasiness, for she had a presentiment of evil on their return. The
dangerous point was the garden at Santa Scolastica, which, judging by
what she had said to the old gardener, Jeanne intended to revisit. She
no longer wished to see this famous Maironi; she longed only to get
Jeanne safely back to the Selvas', without any meetings, and she
intended to tarry as long as possible at the Sacro Speco, that they
might not have time to stop at Santa Scolastica. She therefore pretended
to take a lively interest in the precious interior of this monastery,
which has such a bare and dreary exterior, while all the while her
one wish was to revisit it more peacefully with her sister or her
Upon descending into that mine of holiness, neither of them understood
what road they were following, surrounded as they were by the lifeless,
cold atmosphere, the mystic shadows, the yellowish lights falling from
above, the odours of damp stone, of smoking wicks, of musty draperies;
bewildered by visions of chapels, of grottos, of crosses at the foot of
dark stairs; losing themselves in their flight down towards the lower
caverns, keeping on a level with their own pointed vaults; of marbles
the colour of blood, the colour of the night, the colour of snow; of
stiff, pious groups with Byzantine features, crowding the walls, the
drums of the arches; of little monks and little friars, standing in the
window niches, on the pinnacles of the vaults, along the line of the
entablatures, each with his venerable aureole. The visitors did not know
what path they were following, and Jeanne hardly felt the reality of it
While descending the Scala Santa--the Holy Staircase--the monk leading
and Jeanne following closely, while Noemi came last, some five or six
steps behind, Jeanne, suddenly throwing out her hands, clutched
the guide's shoulder, and then, ashamed of her involuntary action,
immediately withdrew them, while the monk, who was greatly astonished,
stopped, and turned his head towards her.
"Pardon me!" she said. "Who is that father?"
Between two landings of the Scala, behind a projection of the left wall,
a figure, all black in the habit of the Benedictines, stood, erect and
still, in the dark corner, its forehead resting against the marble,
Jeanne had passed it by four or five steps without having perceived
it, then she had chanced to look round, and had seen it, while an
instinctive suspicion flashed through her trembling heart.
The monk answered:
"He is not a father, signora."
He bent down to unlock the low gate of a chapel.
"What is the matter?" Noemi inquired, drawing near. "He is not a
father?" Jeanne repeated.
Noemi trembled at the strange ring in her friend's voice. She herself
had not noticed the figure standing erect in the shadow of the wall.
"Who?" she asked.
The monk, who, in the meantime, had opened the gate, misunderstood her,
and thought she referred to something that had been said before.
"No," he answered. "The authentic portrait of St. Francis is not here.
Lower down there is a St. Francis painted by the Cavalier Manente. You
will see it presently. Please come in."
"What is it?" Noemi said softly to Jeanne. Her friend having answered
in a calmer voice, "Nothing," she passed her, entering the chapel, and
listened to the monk's explanations. Then the black figure moved away
from the wall. Jeanne saw it slowly mounting in the dim light, under the
pointed arches. On the upper landing the figure turned to the right,
and disappeared, to reappear almost immediately on an arm of the stair,
crossing the slanting background of the scene, and brilliant in the
light of an invisible window. The figure mounted slowly, almost wearily.
Before it vanished behind the enormous flank of an arch, it bent its
head and looked down. Jeanne recognised the face!
On the instant, as if in obedience to a lightning will impelling her,
as if borne along by the rush of her destiny, pale, resolute, without
knowing what she would say, what she would do, she started upwards.
Having crossed the upper landing, she was about to place her foot on the
lighter stairway, when she stumbled and fell, remaining for a moment
prostrate. Thus Noemi, on leaving the chapel, did not see her, and
concluded she had gone down in search of the portrait of St. Francis,
Jeanne rose and started forward; she was a poor creature torn by
passions, to whom the images of celestial peace, grown rigid on the
sacred walls, called in vain. All before her was silence and void. She
was following paths unknown to her, swiftly, securely, as one in an
hypnotic trance. She passed through dark and narrow places, through
light and broad places, never hesitating, never looking to right
or left, all her senses sharpened and concentrated in her hearing,
following little sounds of distant whisperings, the faint complaining
of one door, the breath of wind from another, the brushing of a robe
against the frame. Thus, through the wide-open wings of the last door
she passed rapidly, and found herself face to face with _him_.
He also had recognised her, at the last moment, on the Scala Santa. He
felt almost certain he himself had not been recognised, nevertheless he
had sought to avoid the path usually followed by visitors. Upon hearing
a swift rustle of woman's drapery approaching that mysterious hall, he
understood all, and, facing the entrance, he waited. She perceived him
and stopped suddenly, in the very act of entering, standing as though
turned to stone, between the wings of the door; her eyes fixed on his
eyes, which no longer wore the look of Piero Maironi.
He was transfigured. His form, owing perhaps to the black habit,
appeared slighter. His pale, fleshless face, his brow, which seemed to
have become higher, expressed a dignity, a gravity, a sad sweetness
which Jeanne had never known in him. And the eyes were totally different
eyes; in them shone a something ineffable and divine, much humility,
much power, the power of a transcendent love, springing not from his
heart, but from a mystic fount within his heart; a love reaching beyond
her heart, but seeking her in the inner, mysterious regions of the soul,
regions unknown to her. Slowly, slowly she clasped her hands and sank
upon her knees.
Benedetto carried the forefinger of his left hand to his lips, while
with his other hand he pointed to the wall facing the balcony, which
opens to the hornbeams of the Francolano hill and to the roar of the
river far below. In the centre of the wall, showing black and large, was
For centuries, ever since the word had been written there, no human
voice had been heard in this place. Jeanne did not look, did not see.
That finger at Piero's lips was enough to seal her own. But it was not
enough to check the sob in her throat. She gazed at him intently, her
lips pressed tightly together, while great, silent tears rolled down her
face. Immovable, his arms hanging close to his sides, Benedetto slightly
bent his head and closed his eyes, absorbed in prayer. The great, black,
imperious word, big with shadows and with death, triumphed over these
two human souls, while from the shining balcony the fierce souls of the
Anio and of the wind roared in protest.
Suddenly, a few seconds after Benedetto's eyes had closed to her gaze,
she was shaken and rent from shoulder to knee by a great sob, a sob
bitter with all the bitterness of her fate. He opened his eyes and
looked tenderly at her, while she drank in his look thirstily, sobbing
twice, as in sorrowful gratitude. And because this man, her beloved,
again raised his finger to his lips she bowed her head in assent. Yes,
yes, she would be silent, she would be calm! Still in obedience to his
gesture, to his look, she rose to her feet and drew back, allowing him
to pass out through the open door; then she followed him humbly, her
hope dead in her breast, so many sweet phantoms dead in her heart, her
love turned to fear and veneration.
She followed him to the chapel which they call the upper church. There,
opposite the three small pointed arches inclosing deep shadows through
which an altar looms, and where a silver cross shines against the dark
phantoms of ancient paintings, Jeanne, upon a sign from him, knelt
on the _prie-dieu_ placed on the right side of the great arch, which
follows the line of the pointed vault, while he knelt on the one placed
on the left. On the drum of the arch a fourteenth century painter had
depicted the Great Sorrow. Through a high window on the left, the light
fell upon the Mother of Sorrows--the _Dolorosa_; Benedetto was in the
His voice murmured in a scarcely audible tone:
"Still without faith?"
Softly, as he himself had spoken, and without turning her head, she
He was silent for a time, then he continued, in the same tone:
"Do you long for it? Could you regulate your actions as if you believed
"Yes, if I be not forced to lie."
"Will you promise to live for the poor and the afflicted, as if each one
of these were a part of the soul that you love?"
Jeanne did not answer. She was too far-seeing, too honest to declare
that she could.
"Will you promise this," Benedetto continued, "if I promise to call you
to my side at a certain hour in the future?"
She did not know of what solemn and not far distant hour he was
thinking, as he spoke thus. She answered, quivering:
"Yes, yes!" "In that hour I will call you," said the voice out of the
shadow, "But until I call you, you must never seek to see me again."
Jeanne pressed her hands to her eyes, and answered "No" in a smothered
tone. It seemed to her she was whirling in the vortex of such agonising
dreams as accompany a raging fever, Piero had ceased speaking. Two or
three minutes slipped by. She withdrew her hands from her tearful eyes,
and fixed her gaze upon the cross, which shone there in front of
her, beyond the pointed arches, against the dark phantoms of ancient
paintings. She murmured:
"Do you know that Don Giuseppe Flores is dead?"
Jeanne turned her head. The church was empty.
The moon had already set, and in the wind of late evening the
Anio discoursed, now noisily, now softly, as one who in animated
conversation, from time to time, reminds his interlocutor of something
which others must not hear. Perhaps the only person who, in all the
lovely shell in which Subiaco lies, was listening to this discourse, was
Giovanni Selva. Seated on the terrace, near the parapet, on which he
rested his elbows, he was gazing silently into the sounding darkness.
Maria and Noemi, who had also come out to enjoy the freshness and
the wild odours of the night wind, stood at a little distance. Maria
whispered a word in her sister's ear, and Noemi withdrew. When she was
alone, Maria approached her husband very softly, and dropped a kiss upon
"Giovanni," said she. How often, oppressed by the intensity of her love,
had she not given him her soul, her whole being, in that one word,
spoken under her breath, all others seeming to her inadequate, or worn
by too many lips! Giovanni answered sadly, wearily:
No longer feeling her face on his hair he feared he had spoken coldly to
"Dearest!" he said.
She was silent for a moment, then placing both hands on his head, began,
caressing it slowly, saying:
"Blessed are they who suffer for Truth's sake."
He turned round, smiling, with a thrill of affection. Having assured
himself by a glance that Noemi was no longer present, he raised his arm
and drew the dear face down to his lips.
"I need you so much," he said. "I need your strength!"
"That is why I am yours," Maria answered. "I am strong only because you
He took her hand and kissed it reverently.
"Do you understand?" he presently exclaimed, raising his head. "Perhaps
you do not know how deep my suffering really is, for it is a dark point
even to me, who am old, and yet do not know myself. I was thinking of
this just now. I reflected that when we suffer from a wound the cause of
our suffering is visible, but when we suffer from a fever the cause is
hidden, as in this case, and we never succeed in becoming thoroughly
acquainted with it."
A month had not yet elapsed since the meeting at which a league among
progressive Catholics had been talked of. No league had sprung from
it, but to nothing else could the origin of a series of strange and
unpleasant events be attributed. Professor Dane had been recalled to
Ireland by his Archbishop. He had immediately called upon an English
Cardinal attached to the Papal Court, in order to acquaint him with the
unsatisfactory condition of his health, and to solicit his support of a
petition to the Archbishop for an extension of his leave. His Eminence
had opened Dane's eyes. The blow had come from Rome, where he was looked
upon with the greatest disapproval. Only out of consideration for the
Cardinal himself, who was known to be his friend, and above all out of
consideration for the English Government, had the authorities refrained
from satisfying those who wished to see his writings placed on the
Index, and Dane himself constrained to resign his professorship. The
Cardinal advised him to leave Rome, where the heat was beginning to be
unpleasant, and to become a little more seriously ill at Montecatini or
Salsomaggiore, where he would be left in peace. Don Clemente had not
again appeared. Giovanni had sought him out at Santa Scolastica, where
the monk had signified to him, with tears in his eyes, that their
friendship must be buried like a treasure in times of war. Upon Don
Paolo Fare, who had been giving a course of religious instruction for
adults at Pavia, silence had been enjoined. Young di Leyni had been
reached through his family. His excellent and pious mother had besought
him with tears and in the name of his dead father, to break with those
dangerous acquaintances, the Selvas; and he believed that this step had
been suggested by her confessor. He had resisted, but at the cost of
his domestic peace. Finally, a clerical periodical had published three
articles on Giovanni's complete works, summing up some partial and
grudging praise, and some equally partial and biting censure in a very
severe judgment on the character of the works themselves, which the
critic pronounced rationalistic, and on the intolerable audacity of the
author, who, equipped solely with worldly learning, had dared to publish
writings in which the lack of theological knowledge was painfully
evident. In substance these three articles were a terrible and
prohibitive condemnation of the very book Giovanni was then engaged
upon, dealing with the rational foundations of Christian morality, and,
in the opinion of the initiated, it predicted the Index for his other
"Are you in doubt concerning your own views?" Maria asked.
The question was insincere. Notwithstanding her great love for him, she
had a deep and clear knowledge of her husband's soul. She believed he
was, in his heart, suffering from the presentiment of an ecclesiastical
condemnation. Giovanni might speak lightly of certain sentences passed
by the Congregation of the Index, but his conscience, more respectful
towards the authorities than he himself realised, was troubled, so Maria
thought, more deeply than he wished it to be by the threatened blow.
And Maria, fearing to wound him by the question, "Are you afraid?"
had insinuated this other doubt, in order to prepare the way for a
spontaneous confession of the truth. Giovanni's answer astonished her.
"Yes," said he. "I doubt myself. Not, however, in the way you suppose.
I fear I am a purely intellectual being, and that I exaggerate the
importance my views may have in the sight of God. I fear I do not live
up to my views. I fear my indignation is too great against those who do
not share them, against my persecutors, against that Swiss Abbe who came
here with Dane, and probably talked of what was then said in our midst
as he should not have done, and in places where he should have kept
silent. I fear my life is one of too great inactivity, of too great
ease, of too much pleasure, for to me study is a delight. I even doubt
my love of God, because I feel too lightly the love of my neighbour. I
am often reminded that the mystic pleasures may lull my conscience on
this point. You, Maria, you live your faith; you visit the sick, work
for the poor, you comfort, you instruct. I do nothing."
"I am one with you," Maria whispered. "You made me what I am. Besides,
you distribute the alms of the intellect."
"No, no! Those words applied to me are presumptuous!" Maria knew that
the loving sense of human fraternity was not strong in Glovanni. She
felt--and she was loath to confess it even to herself--that this
deficiency incapacitated her husband for the successful fulfilment of
that great religious apostolate which should have resulted from his
intellectual powers, and that deep and enlightened faith, which in him
was more the fruit of genius, of study, of love of the divine, than of
tradition or habit. She reproached herself for having sometimes rejoiced
at Giovanni's coldness towards his fellows, for it lent a precious
flavour to the treasures of affection he lavished upon herself.
Nevertheless he was conscious of the fraternal obligations, and she had
never known him turn a deaf ear to an appeal, or seen him insensible to
the grief of others. He did not feel, and therefore did not love God in
man, which is the most sublime flame of charity; he felt and loved man
in God, which is a cold love, as would be the love of one who was kind
to his brother solely to please their father. But this last is the
temper common to even the best of human hearts. Giovanni's heart was
tempered thus; he could not give out that sublime charity of which he
humbly and sadly acknowledged himself to be void. Maria, caressing his
hair with infinite tenderness, dreamed that sweet, divine, indulgence
flowed out upon that head through her heart and her hands.
"Listen," said she. "I am going to propose to you at once an act of
charity in which there is much merit. Noemi has received a letter from
her friend Jeanne Dessalle, and says she is in need of your help."
"Call her," said he.
Noemi came. A slight cloud had gathered that day between Giovanni and
herself. As rarely happened, they had conversed on religion. Noemi clung
blindly to her own religion, and disliked discussions. Notwithstanding
her tenderness for Maria, and her affectionate respect for Giovanni,
she feared she should lean more towards the scepticism of Jeanne than
towards the liberal and progressive Catholicism of the Selvas, if she
stopped to examine the reasons and nature of her own belief. This
Catholicism appeared to her a hybrid thing, and she had perhaps learned
from Jeanne to consider it such; for Jeanne, in moments of nervous
irritability, defended her own scepticism with acrimony against that
faith which, because it shone with spirituality and truth, might prove
formidable to her. Noemi was always suspicious, not of her sister, but
of Giovanni, fearing he would attempt to convert her, and her suspicion
had that day been apparent when, discussing the confessional, she had
several times answered him very sharply. Then Giovanni had reminded her,
gently and gravely, that error harboured unconsciously, in the sincere
and pure desire of truth, is innocent in the eyes of God, but that if
a sentiment foreign to that desire have any part in the repulsion of
truth, then sin alone is the outcome. This argument wounded Noemi more
deeply still. She had been on the point of asking her brother-in-law by
what right he was acting as vice-divine judge. She controlled herself,
however, and let the discussion drop.
Upon thinking it over afterwards, she regretted her sullen silence, not
so much because Giovanni's words had affected her views, as because she
was aware of the sorrow the religious opinions he professed brought him,
and because she saw how depressed his spirits were. This was one reason
why--when she was called to him, and entreated by her sister to show him
much affection--she resolved, for once, to be unfaithful to Jeanne. Of
what Jeanne had written to her under the seal of secrecy she had told
Maria only as much as was absolutely necessary. Jeanne, still suffering
both physically and mentally, had heard of the "Saint of Jenne," who was
healing bodies and souls, and she besought Noemi to go to Jenne and see
this Saint, and then to write to her about him. Now Noemi could not
go to Jenne alone, she must ask Giovanni to accompany her. Her first
confidence had stopped here. Now she broke all the seals of secrecy her
friend had imposed, and spoke freely.
Poor Jeanne Dessalle was more unhappy than ever. During her short visit
at Subiaco she had met her former lover. An exclamation from Giovanni!
Then it was Don Clemente, after all? No, it was the man who came to the
villa with the Padre the night of Jeanne's arrival, the under-gardener
from Santa Scolastica--he who was no longer at the monastery--of whom
all the valley of the Anio was talking, and who was known, even at Rome,
as the "Saint of Jenne." Noemi begged them to forgive her for not having
told them at the time. Woe to her if Jeanne had discovered her breach of
confidence, after her many admonitions. Besides it would have done no
good. Giovanni took his wife's hand almost stealthily, and raised it to
his lips, Maria understood, and smiled. Then both assailed Noemi with
Yes, Jeanne had recognised him the night of their arrival, and now
Maria and Giovanni could understand the reason of the faintness she had
experienced. Their meeting had taken place the following day at Sacro
Speco. Concerning the meeting Noemi knew only this much, that Jeanne's
hopes had been dashed to the ground, that he was clad as a monk, and
had spoken as one who has given himself to God for ever; that she had
promised him to dedicate her life to good works, and that no direct
correspondence between them was any longer possible.
Jeanne now wrote from Villa Diedo, the home in the Veneto where she had
gone with her brother from Rome, two days after leaving Subiaco. She
wrote in a moment of most bitter despondency. Her brother, surprised at
her devoting so much time to the poor, was irritated by this innovation
in her mode of thought and of life. She might give money, if she
pleased, and as much as she pleased, but to bring a string of beggars
into the house, to visit them in their hovels, that he would not allow!
It was foolish, it was a bore, it was ridiculous, it was eccentric, it
was clerical. There were other difficulties, She would have liked to
join the women's charitable associations of the town, but they drew
back, shrinking into themselves like sensitive plants at the touch of
this woman, who had been the subject of so much gossip on account of
Maironi, and who, though she did sometimes go to church of a Sunday, did
not fulfil her Easter duties. And finally her habits, which were those
of a woman of leisure, were reforming their ranks after the first
defeat, and delaying her progress on the new road, ever more
successfully as the road became more difficult. She felt she must
succumb if no word of counsel reached her, no help from him. She could
not see him, she dared not write, for certainly he had intended to
forbid that also; and she would rather die than do anything to displease
him, if she could avoid it. She had read an article in the _Corriere_ on
the "Saint of Jenne," in which it was stated that the Saint was young,
and had been a day-labourer in the kitchen-garden at Santa Scolastica.
Therefore it must be he! She entreated Noemi to go to Jenne, and beg a
word of comfort for her, for the sake of charity! Noemi was determined
to go. Would Giovanni accompany her? In the humble tone in which she
asked this favour, Giovanni heard a tacit petition for forgiveness and
peace; he held out his hand:
"With all my heart," he said.
Maria offered to join them, and they decided to go the following
morning, starting on foot, at five o' clock, in order to avoid the
blazing sun on the slope of Jenne. Then they spoke of the Saint.
The whole valley was talking about him. The article Jeanne had seen said
that a great number of people were flocking to Jenne to see and hear the
Saint; that miraculous cures were being announced as his work; that the
Benedictines told with admiration of the life of penance and of prayer
he had led for three years at Santa Scolastica, working in the garden.
At Subiaco still more wonderful reports were circulating. A certain
forester called Torquato, a most worthy man and a relative of the
Selvas' servant, told her he had been to Jenne with a stranger, a sort
of poet, who had come all the way from Rome to talk with the Saint. On
the way there and back, they had met perhaps fifty people--real ladies
and gentlemen they were, too; and on the hillside of Jenne they had met
a procession of women singing the litanies. At Jenne he had heard the
whole story. One night the parish priest had dreamed that a globe of
fire rested on the great cross planted on the summit of the hill; this
blazing globe had set the cross itself on fire, and it was burning and
glowing without being consumed, while all the mountains and the valley
were illumined by it. The next day there had appeared before him a young
man, in the habit of a Benedictine lay-brother, who was the bearer of a
letter to him. This letter was from the Abbot of Santa Scolastica, and
said: "I send you an angel whose fire burns clear, through whom Jenne
will become renowned throughout the universe!" It was also written that
this young man was, by birth, a mighty prince, of royal blood, but
that in order to serve God, in all humility he had laboured as
kitchen-gardener at Santa Scolastica for three years. The parish priest
had gone half crazy from the emotion caused by the fire seen in his
dream, and the fire that had come to him, and had been seized by a
raging fever. The next day was a _festa_--a holy-day--and of the two
other priests who live at Jenne, one was ill, and the other had gone to
Filettino two days before to see his sick mother. In the village the
priest's servant had told all about this Benedictine, all about the
dream, had told, in fact, the whole story. The villagers flocked to
church, to hear the Benedictine say Mass; for they had seen him enter,
and would not believe he was not going to officiate. They demanded that
he should preach, at least, although he assured them he had no right to
preach in church; and, keeping him in their midst, they pressed him so
hard, that he finally signed to them with his hand to leave the church,
promising those nearest him to speak outside. And he had spoken outside!
What he had really said the servant could not tell Maria, nor could
Maria herself gather much from Torquatof; but by dint of much
questioning, and with the aid of her own imagination, she succeeded in
reconstructing his discourse somewhat as follows:
Are you fit to enter the church? Are you at peace with your neighbour?
Do you know what the Lord Jesus means, when He says to you that no man
may approach the altar if he be not at peace with his neighbour? Do
you know that you may not enter the church if you have sinned against
charity or justice, and have not made amends, or have not repented when
it was impossible to make amends? Do you know that you may not enter the
church, not only if you bear ill-will against your neighbour, but
also if you have injured him in any manner whatsoever, either in your
dealings with him, or in his honour, if you have slandered him, or
harbour in your heart wicked desires against his body or his soul? Do
you know that all the Masses, all the Benedictions, all the Rosaries,
and all the Litanies, count for less than nothing, if you do not first
purify your hearts, according to the word of Jesus? Are you unclean with
hatred, or with any impurity whatsoever? Then go! Jesus will not have
you in the church! "_Ma che_!" said Torquato, "The discourse was
nothing, it was the face, the voice, the eyes!"
The worthy man spoke as if he himself had been present, telling how the
crowd had thrown themselves upon their knees and wept, and how certain
women, who were enemies, had embraced each other. In fact there had been
only women and old men present, for the men of Jenne are all shepherds
at Nettuno and Anzio, and do not return to the hills before the end of
June. The Saint seeing them so penitent, had said: "Enter and kneel. God
is within you. Worship Him in silence." Then the crowd had entered, a
perfect multitude! They had fallen upon their knees, all of them, and
for a quarter of an hour--according to Torquato--you could have heard
a fly winging in the great church. The Saint had then intoned the "Our
Father" in a loud voice, and, the crowd lifting their voices and joining
in, he had gone through it, stopping at each verse. Torquato told how
the parish priest, having heard all this, kissed his guest, and as
he kissed him he was cured of his fever! Then the people came to the
canonica--the priest's house--bringing the sick, that the Saint might
bless and heal them. He would not do this, but all those who succeeded
in touching his habit, even by stealth were healed. And many had come to
him for advice. Then there had been a great miracle concerning a mule,
which turned ugly on the steep path down the slope, and which was about
to throw its rider upon the rocks. The Saint, who was present, being on
his way up from the Infernillo with water, had stretched out his hand,
and the mule had become quiet on the instant!
Maria told the story as she had heard it from the forester.
"I wonder if it is all as true as the part about the prince of royal
blood!" said Noemi.
"To-morrow we shall know," Giovanni answered, rising.
They started at about six o'clock; the sky was cloudy; and a cool breeze
was blowing, fragrant with the odours of the woods and the hills, alive
with the tiny, gay voices of birds, purifying to the soul itself. At the
Baths of Nero they took the mule-path which leads into the narrow, green
ravine, winding upwards on the right of the Anio. High up on the left
they saw Santa Scolastica, the Sacro Speco, and the House of the Blessed
Lawrence, all white below the rocks, which are the colour of iron. They
left the bridge of the Scalilla on the right--only a log, thrown across
to the wild left bank of the turbulent little torrent. On the way they
talked much of the strange Saint. Giovanni wondered that Don Clemente
had never in the past told him anything of the character of this
under-gardener. He approved of the little sermon in the open air. He had
once mentioned the subject of it to Don Clemente, pointing out to Mm
that those words of Christ are neither properly observed, nor taught;
even the best of Christians apply them only to the use of the
sacraments. If the faithful realised that they must not enter the
church, bringing an impure heart, the Christian peoples would indeed
become examples to the world, and no one would then dare affirm that
morality is much the same everywhere, and has nothing to do with
He also highly approved of thus reciting "Our Father" in church, but he
did not approve of the miracles. He suspected weakness in a man who did
not know how to break resolutely with popular superstition when it was
flattering to himself.
What could Noemi say about this man's character? What opinion had she
formed of him from Jeanne's confidences? Noemi was embarrassed. All that
Jeanne had told her about him convinced her that Maironi had behaved
very badly to her friend, that he had never really loved her and at the
same time awoke in Noemi an intellectual curiosity, which, though she
struggled against it, was always returning--a curiosity to know if that
man would have loved her better than Jeanne. She replied that Maironi's
character was an enigma to her. And his intellect? His culture? She
could say nothing concerning either his intellect or his culture, but
if such a woman as Jeanne Dessalle had loved him so devotedly, he must
certainly be both intelligent and cultured. And his former religious
views? To this last question Noemi's answer was that from some facts
Jeanne had mentioned, from the decisive influence which the religious
traditions of his family had had upon him at a crisis in their love, she
judged him to have been a Catholic of the old school, not a Catholic
like--Here Noemi broke off blushing and smiling. Giovanni smiled also,
but Maria looked slightly annoyed. The subject was at once dropped.
They proceeded for some time in silence, exchanging only now and then a
word of greeting with some mountaineer on his way down to the mills at
Subiaco, mounted on his mule, laden with grain.
They stopped to rest in the field of San Giovanni, which divides the
territory of Subiaco from that of Jenne. The Blessed Lawrence, now left
far behind, all white under the rocks which are the colour of iron,
looked down upon them from on high. Rays of sunshine, breaking through
the clouds, gilded the hills, and the little party, remembering the arid
hillside of Jenne, had just started forward again, when they met the
doctor from Jenne, who recognised Maria, having seen her some time
before at the house of his colleague at Subiaco. He bowed, and smiling,
reined in his mule.
"You are on the way to Jenne? Are you going to see the Saint? You will
find many people there to-day." Many people! This was disappointing to
Noemi, who feared she would not be able to speak quietly with Maironi.
The Selvas were curious to know all about it. Why so many people?
Because they want the Saint at Filettino, they want him at Vallepietra,
they want him at Trevi, and the women of Jenne intend to keep him for
"And all to give me a rest!" the doctor added. "And to give the chemist
a rest also, for now the Benedictine is the doctor, and his tunic is the
He told them that to-day people were coming from Filettino, from
Vallepietra, and from Trevi, to treat with Jenne concerning some means
of dividing the Saint among all those towns, "Who knows but what they
may come to blows!" At any rate the _carabinieri_ were already stationed
"You call him 'the Saint' also?" said Maria.
"Oh, yes!" the doctor answered, laughing. "They all call him that, all
save those who call him 'the Devil,' for at Jenne some do so already!"
How astonishing! This was news to them! Who called him "the Devil," and
"Ah!" and the doctor put on the knowing look of one who is well
informed, but does not intend to tell all he knows. "Well," said he,
"there are two priests from Rome staying at Jenne for a holiday, two
priests, two priests--! They are very clever! They have not told me what
they think of the Saint, but, at any rate, the parish priest's ardour
has cooled considerably, and it has been the same with others. Those
priests are workers. You do not see it, but they are at work all the
time. They are insects--I say it without intending to speak ill of them,
indeed in this case their action may even be praiseworthy! They are
insects, which, when they wish to kill a plant, do not touch the fruit,
the flowers, the leaves, or the roots I may even say, for there a
poisonous draught might reach them, or a spade reveal their presence,
and they do not wish to be reached, do not wish to be seen. They bore
into the marrow. These two have already reached the marrow. Perhaps it
may not be for a month, perhaps not for two months; but the plant is
doomed to wither, and wither it must!"
"But what do you yourself think about it?" Maria inquired. "Does this
man really pretend to be a saint? Is he pleased that these superstitious
people quarrel about him in this way? Is it true he has healed the
The doctor continued to laugh while she was speaking.
"I laugh," he answered. "It is a ease of contagious, mystic psychopathy!
But you must excuse me now, for I am due at Subiaco at eight o'clock. I
hope you will enjoy yourselves. May your visit divert you,"
With this malicious thrust, he shook the reins on the mule's neck, and
rode on, fearing he might be obliged to give proofs of what he asserted.
Noemi, who was the most agitated of the party at the prospect of seeing
the man Jeanne loved, began to feel weary. They halted a second time
at the foot of the slope of Jenne, on the gravel across which shallow
rivulets streak, flowing down to the river from the grotto of the
Infernillo. Someone was approaching them from behind. What a surprise!
What a pleasure! Don Clemente! The Padre's fine face lit up also. He
loved and respected Giovanni for a true Christian, and sometimes had to
struggle against the temptation to judge his superior, the Abbot, who
had forbidden him to visit Giovanni, to struggle against the temptation
to appeal to Someone greater than abbots, greater than pontiffs, in his
own soul. This Someone was saying to him now: "The meeting is My gift!"
and so the monk joined his friends joyfully. Maria presented him to
Noemi, and he blushed again on recognising the woman he had mistaken for
"And your friend?" he inquired, trembling lest he be informed of her
presence there. Upon being reassured a look of relief flashed across
his face. Noemi smiled at this, and he, noticing her smile, was greatly
embarrassed. The others smiled also, but no one spoke. Giovanni was the
first to break the silence. Surely Don Clemente was, like themselves, on
his way to Jenne? Perhaps he was going there for the same purpose, to
see the same person, the gardener, eh? the gardener of that famous
evening? Ah! Don Clemente, Don Clemente! Yes, Don Clemente was also
going to Jenne, was going to see Benedetto. And as to the gardener,
there had been no deception, only a desire to bring the two souls
together in the most natural way, without violence, without
recommendations and previous explanations.
They started up the hill together, talking of Benedetto.
Noemi, forgetting her weariness, hung upon the Padre's lips, and the
Padre, precisely on this account, said so little and was so circumspect
that she trembled with impatience, and presently felt tired again.
She took Maria's arm, and allowed Don Clemente to go on with her
brother-in-law. Then Don Clemente confided to Giovanni that his mission
at Jenne was of a painful nature. It seemed some one at Jenne had
written to Rome, speaking in hostile language of Benedetto, accusing
him of preaching what was not perfectly orthodox, of pretending to be
a miracle worker, and of wearing a religious habit to which he had no
right: this greatly enhancing the gravity of the scandal. Certainly they
had written to the Abbot from Rome, for he had ordered Don Clemente to
go to Jenne, and demand of Benedetto the restitution of the habit. Don
Clemente had tried in vain to dissuade the old abbot, who had waved the
matter aside with a jest. "Read the Gospel--the Passion according to
St. Mark. He who follows Christ after all others have forsaken Him must
part with his cloak. It is a mark of holiness." Therefore, as some
one must carry this message to Jenne, Don Clemente preferred to do it
himself. He had, moreover, received a strange letter from the parish
priest of Jenne. This priest, a good man, but timid, had written that
Benedetto was, to his mind, a most pious Christian, but that he talked
too much of religion to the people, and that his discourses sometimes
had a flavour of quietism and of rationalism, that there were those who
accused him of employing a demoniacal power for the furtherance of his
not over-orthodox views, that this accusation was certainly false, but
that, nevertheless, prudence forbade the writer to keep Benedetto with
him any longer. Perhaps the wisest course for him would be to retire to
some town where he was not known, and to live quietly there.
Their conversation was here interrupted by a call from Maria.
Noemi, overpowered by the heat of the burning sun, and seized with
palpitations, must rest again. The sisters had seated themselves in the
shadow of a rock.
Don Clemente took leave of them. They would meet later at Jenne. Maria
was greatly distressed about her sister, and secretly reproached herself
for having allowed her to come on foot. She and Giovanni stood silently
watching Noemi, who, though very pale, smiled at them bravely. Upon that
wilderness of mountains, devoid of beauty, upon those sun-baked rocks,
the silence hung with a mortal weight! It was a relief to all three to
hear the voices of some wayfarers who were coming up. There were six or
seven in the party, and they had two mules with them. As they toiled
upwards they sang the Rosary. When the procession had drawn nearer, a
girl and a man could be seen riding the mules; both were emaciated
and almost cadaverous in appearance. The girl opened her eyes wide on
perceiving the Selvas, but the man kept his closed. The others looked at
them with a rapt expression, continuing their prayers. The monotonous
chant and the beat of the mule's hoofs grew fainter, and at last died
away among the heights above. Soon after this sad procession had passed,
a party of young men from the city appeared, laughing merrily, and
talking of Quirites who were on the lookout rather for Sabine women
than for saints. On perceiving Giovanni and his companions they became
silent, but when they had passed them they again began to laugh and
jest; they jested about Giovanni, who, they said, might be the Saint
between two temptresses.
A great cloud with silver edges, the first of a whole fleet, sailing
towards the west, hid the sun. Noemi, greatly refreshed, proposed that
they should take advantage of the shade, and go forward. A few steps
below the cross of which, according to Torquato, the parish priest had
dreamed, they met a _bourgeons_ dressed in black, who was coming down,
riding a mule.
"I beg your pardon," he said, addressing the ladles and reining in his
mule, "but is either of you Her Excellency the Duchess di Civitella?"
On receiving an answer he apologised, saying that a friend of his--a,
senator--had recommended this duchess to his care; that he himself did
not know her, but that she was coming to Jenne to see the Saint.
"Indeed, perhaps you, gentlemen, have come for the same purpose!" he
said smiling. "Everyone comes for that now. Once upon a time they came
to see a pope! Certainly! There was a pope at Jenne once--Alexander IV,
You will see the inscription: '_Colores aestivos vitandi caussa.'_ Now
they come for a saint. He ought to be more than a pope, but I fear he
is less. Did you see the two sick people? did you see the students from
Rome? Ah! you will see other astonishing things, other astonishing
things! But, after all, I am afraid he is less than a pope! A pleasant
journey to you!"
Beyond the cross, they ascended with the open sky before them, between
the green ridges, which slope downward, forming the lonely hollow of
Jenne, which is crowned on the opposite side with that wretched herd of
poor dwellings, dominated by the carnpanile. Giovanni had been to Jenne
before, but it did not seem to him in any way changed because a saint
now lived there, and miracles were performed there. It impressed his
wife, who now saw it for the first time, as a spot which might inspire
religious contemplation, by that sense of altitude, not suggested by
distant views, by that deep sky behind the village, by its solitude, its
silence. Noemi was thinking with profound pity of poor far-away Jeanne.
The innkeeper at Jenne was a worthy, gravely courteous man, in
spectacles, who, having been to America, could be said to know the
world, but who seemed to have escaped its corrupting influences. To the
new-comers he spoke of Benedetto favourably, on the whole, but with a
certain diplomatic reserve. He did not call him "the Saint," he called
him "Fra Benedetto." The Selvas learned from him that Benedetto occupied
a cabin belonging to the innkeeper himself, in payment of which he
tilled a small piece of ground. Those who wished to see him must
wait until eleven o'clock. Now he was mowing the grass. His life was
regulated in the following manner: At dawn he went to hear the parish
priest say Mass, then he worked until eleven. He ate only bread, herbs,
and fruit and drank only water. In the afternoon he worked in the fields
of widows and orphans. In the evening, seated before his door, he talked
At half-past eleven, the Selvas and Noemi accompanied by the innkeeper's
wife--a fine, big woman, very neat, very simple, and gay in a quiet
way--went to visit Sant' Andrea, the church of Jenne. Coming out into
the open square from the maze of narrow lanes, where stands the inn,
they found a large assemblage of women, strangers, so the hostess said.
She could distinguish them by their corselets, their fustian skirts,
their foot-gear. Those were from Trevi, those from Filettino, and those
others from Vallepietra. The hostess went into a bakehouse on the
right of the church, where several women of Jenne were having their
_stiacciati_  baked, each having brought her own.
[Footnote 1: _Stiacciati_ a sort of very large, round cake, common
in all parts of Italy. It is made of cornflour, of wheatflour, or of
chestnut-flour, and in some places of vegetables. It is mixed with, oil,
and baked in a flat pan.--_Translators Note_.]
"Strangers, who wish to talk with our Saint," she said to Maria. She did
not, like her husband, say "Fra Benedetto," she called him "the Saint."
"But not to his face," she declared, crimsoning, "because it vexes him."
"No, he does not really get angry, because he is a saint, but he begs
very earnestly not to be called thus."
In the large, dilapidated church--which, "one Sunday or another, will
crush us all, like so many rats," the hostess said--there were only the
two invalids and their party. The sick man and girl had been laid on the
floor exactly in the centre of the church, with two pillows under their
heads. Their companions, on their knees, were singing psalms, and,
without looking at the new-comers, continued their devotions. "Probably
they have brought them to be blessed by the Saint," said the hostess
under her breath. "That is painful to him; he does not wish it. Perhaps
they will try to touch his habit by stealth, but even that is difficult
The poor people stopped singing, and a woman came to ask the hostess if
it had already struck eleven o'clock? Maria answered, telling her it was
only a quarter to eleven, and then inquired about the two sick ones. The
man had been ill with fever for two years, and the girl, his sister, had
heart disease. They had come from the lowlands of Arcinazzo, a journey
of several hours, to be healed by the Saint of Jenne. A woman from
Arcinazzo, who had heart disease, had been cured some days before by
simply touching his habit. Maria and Noemi spoke to the sufferers. The
girl was confident, but the man, who was shaking with fever, seemed to
have come simply to satisfy his people, to give this a trial also. He
had suffered greatly on the jouney.
"These roads lead me into the next world," he said. "I shall be healed
in that way."
A woman, his mother perhaps, burst into tears, and besought him to pray,
to commend himself to Jesus, to Mary. The two sisters withdrew, in
obedience to a summons from Giovanni; for a quarrel had broken out in
the square, between the women and the students who had passed the
Selvas on the Jenne hillside. The students had probably jested broadly
concerning the devotion of the women to the Saint, and this had enraged
them. The women of Jenne came rushing out of the bakehouse, while the
plumes of a couple of _carabinieri_ appeared in the opposite direction.
Noemi and Maria mingled with the women, trying to pacify them. Giovanni
harangued the students, who swaggered and laughed, and might possibly do
worse. Chanting was heard in the church, muffled at first and then loud,
as the door was thrown open:
"_Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis_."
The two sufferers appeared. The girl, supported on either side, was
walking; the man, as limp as a corpse, was being borne along, some women
carrying his shoulders, others his feet; and the bearers were also
chanting, with solemn faces:
"_Sancta Virgo virginum, ora pro nobis_."
The women in the square all fell on their knees, the astonished
_carabinieri_ standing in their midst. The students were silent, while
a party of ladies and gentlemen, about to enter the square from the Val
d'Aniene mule-path, stopped their mules. First Maria, then Noemi, knelt,
drawn towards the earth by an impulse which made them tremble with
emotion. Giovanni hesitated. This was not his faith. It seemed to him
an offence to the Creator, the Giver of reason, to allow a sick man to
journey a long distance on a mule, that he might be miraculously healed
by an image, a relic, or a man. Still it was faith. It was--enclosed in
a rough envelope of frail ignorance--that sense denied, to proud minds,
of the hidden truth which is life; that mysterious radium within the
mass of impure ore. It was faith, it was guiltless error, it was love,
it was suffering, it was a visible something belonging to the union of
the highest mysteries of the Universe. The ground itself, the great sad
face of the church, and the small humble faces of the little houses
surrounding the square, seem to understand, to reverence it. In his
mind's eye Giovanni saw the image of a dead woman who had been dear to
him, and who had believed thus; a cold wave flowed through his blood,
his knees bent under him. The little band with the sufferers passed on,
singing, their faces uplifted:
"_Mater Christi_." The kneeling women answered with bowed heads:
"_Ora pro nobis_."
Then they rose, and followed the procession, while three or four women
of Jenne said aloud:
"He does not wish it, he does not wish it!"
One of them explained to Maria that the Saint did not wish the sick
brought to him. Their words were not heeded, so they also joined the
procession, anxious to see what would happen.
Maria and Giovanni also, who, at first, had been loath to do so, started
on, following the eager Noemi. Behind them, at a proper distance to
indicate that they were spectators and not participants, came
the students. Alone, and at a much greater distance, walked the
_carabinieri_, forming the end of this winding, snake-like line of
people, which slipped into a crack between the dilapidated houses,
huddled together opposite the church, and disappeared.
It disappeared, writhing through dark lanes, with pompous names, which
lead to another side of the village, the most miserable, the most
deformed part. Here, on the steep and rocky hillside, loosely fastened
to projections, to slabs of rock, the hovels, piled one above the other,
slide downwards among the stones. The small black windows, like empty
sockets in a skull, stare into the silence of the deep and narrow
valley. The doors pour out crazy flights of stairs upon the slope, most
of them reduced to three or four splintered steps, while some of
the doors are entirely widowed of their steps. When one has, with
difficulty, succeeded in climbing in at one of these doors, one finds a
cave without light or air.
"_So mali passi, vigoli cattivi_! [Bad walking, bad lanes!]" said a
smiling old woman, standing in her doorway, as the ladies passed.
One of these caves, so difficult of access, was Benedetto's abode. Two
streams of people--the crowd had split coming down the hill--met below
the open door. Some women came out of a neighbouring bakehouse to say
that Benedetto was not there. The crowd surged round the invalids, and
groans were heard. Anxious questions were asked, rumours were carried up
through the two streams of people, to the very end of the procession,
where the cause of those groans was not understood, and all, eager to
see, were struggling downwards. Perhaps the sufferers had become worse,
there in the blazing sun. Three students slid down among the women, and
were received with grunts and imprecations. Now a woman of the town has
"Take the poor creatures inside."
Yes, yes! Inside, inside! Into the Saint's house!
The crowd already expects a miracle from the walls between which
he dwells, from the floor his foot presses, from all these objects
saturated with his holiness. On the Saint's bed! On the Saint's bed!
Some boards are laid upon the broken slabs of stone which lead up to
Benedetto's door, and the two invalids are half pushed, half carried up,
by the surging crowd. There they lie, crosswise upon the Saint's pallet.
The crowd fills the cave. All fall upon their knees in prayer.
It is indeed a cave. One whole side of it is a wall of yellowish rock,
hewn obliquely. The bare, uneven earth forms the floor. Near the couch,
raised about two spans, is a fireplace. There are no windows, but a ray
of sunshine, falling through the chimney, strikes--like a celestial
flame--on the stones of the hearth where there is no trace of ashes. A
brown blanket is spread over the couch. A cross is roughly carved on
the face of the rock, near the entrance. In one corner appear--the only
luxuries--a large pail full of water, a green basin, a bottle, and a
glass. Some books are piled on a rickety cane-seated chair; and a second
chair bears a plate of beans and some bread. The place indicates extreme
poverty, but is clean and orderly.
The feverish man complains of the cold, of the dampness, of the dark. He
says he is worse, that they have brought him here to die. They beseech
him to calm himself, to hope. But his young sister, with the diseased
heart, begins to feel relief almost as soon as they have placed her on
the bed. She proclaims this at once, announces that she is being healed.
Pressing around her they laugh and cry, and praise the Lord all at the
same moment. They kiss her garments, as if she herself had become holy;
the news is shouted to those outside. Joyous voices answer, more people
press into the den, with glowing faces, with eager eyes. But at that
moment some one who has gone farther down the hill in search of the
Saint, cries from afar: "The Saint is coming! The Saint is coming!" Then
the cave pours out a stream of people upon the slope; a din of voices
and a rush of feet flow downwards, and in a second the Selvas and the
three or four students stand alone, below the door of the cabin. Many of
the women of Jenne have gone back to their work in the bakehouse, while
others are looking on from the doorway. Maria exchanges a few words with
the latter. Are they all strangers, those who have gone down? _Eh, si_!
Not all, but most of them. People from Vallepietra, for the most part.
It would be better if water came to us from Vallepietra. And what do
they want? To take the Saint away from Jenne with them? Yes, they have
said that; they talked about doing great things. And you of Jenne? We of
Jenne know he does not wish to go. And besides--Her companions call out
something from within; the woman turns away; a quarrel is going on.
Giovanni, Maria, and the students go in to see the girl who has been
miraculously healed. Noemi remains outside. She is impatient to see
Benedetto; she trembles, without knowing why; in her heart she calls
herself a fool; but she does not move.
Two Benedictine habits are crossing the small field in the distance
below. Above the second the blade of a scythe flashes from time to time.
Hearing the hubbub of voices, and steps descending from above, Benedetto
turned to his companion with a smile:
Upon reaching Jenne, Don Clemente had immediately joined Benedetto in
the small field he was mowing. He had given him the painful message,
and after a long discussion, had promised to say certain things which
Benedetto wished said, to those who called him a saint. He also heard
the hubbub of the crowd which was coming down; the cry of "The Saint!
The Saint!" And when Benedetto said to him, smiling: "_Padre mio!_" his
face paled, but he made a gesture of acquiescence, and stepped forward.
Benedetto dropped his scythe and went a few steps away from the path.
He sat down behind a rock and a great apple tree covered with blossoms,
which hid him from those who were approaching. Don Clemente faced the
On perceiving him they stopped. Several voices said. "It is not he!"
Other voices answered "He is behind!" While others in the rear-guard
called out "Press forward!" The column moved on.
Then Don Clemente raised his hand and said:
This man who could not speak to two strangers without blushing was now
very pale. His soft, sweet voice hardly made itself heard, but the
gesture was seen. The beautiful, peaceful face, the tall figure,
"You seek Benedetto," said he. "You call him a saint. By this you cause
him great grief. Since the day of his arrival at Jenne he has repeatedly
stated that he was a great sinner, brought by the grace of God to
repentance. Now he wishes me to confirm this to you. I do confirm it; it
is the truth. He was a great sinner. To-morrow he may fall again. If he
believed you, for one moment only, when you call him a saint, God would
depart from him. Do not again call him thus, and above all do not ask
him to perform miracles."
"Padre!" Coming forward, his arms spread wide, an old man, tall, thin,
toothless, with the profile of the eagle, interrupted him in a solemn
voice. "Padre, we do not ask for a miracle, the miracle is already
performed. The woman was healed when she touched the man's dwelling, and
we say to you that the man is saintly, and that if there are those in
Jenne who speak differently, they are worthy to burn in the very bottom
of hell! _Padre_, we kiss your hands, but we say this."
"There is another to be healed, another to be healed!" ten, twenty