Part 4 out of 7
voices cried. "Let the Saint come!"
Among the students forming the rear-guard voices shouted: "Bring the
Saint forward! Let the Saint speak!"
"What actions are these?" the old man exclaimed, turning round with
the indignation of the popular orator who finds himself deposed. "What
actions are these?"
A rumble of angry voices drowned his words, and the students continued
to shout louder than ever:
"The Saint! Let the Saint speak! Away with the priest! Away with him!"
The women turned threateningly:
"Away with you, yourselves! Away with you!"
Up above, among the hovels perched on the hillside, the plumes of the
_carabinieri_ appeared. Then Benedetto rose, and came out into the open.
As soon as the people perceived him, they greeted him with a great,
joyous clamour. The Selvas went to the door of the cave and looked down.
Noemi ran swiftly down the hill. In a second Benedetto found himself
surrounded by people kissing his habit, and pouring out blessings upon
him. Many were weeping, on their knees. Noemi, who had rushed down alone
behind the students, pressed forward, and saw the man, at last!
Jeanne had shown her several photographs of him, telling her at the same
time that no one of them was entirely satisfactory. In Piero Maironi's
winning face Noemi had noticed a shade of sadness; Benedetto's face
shone with extraordinary vivacity. Two days before he had had his
hair and beard shaved, because he had heard a woman murmur: "He is as
beautiful as Jesus Himself!" The expression of the dominating soul in
him had become more marked; the nose had grown more prominent through
his increased fleshlessness, there were great dark rings under his eyes.
The eyes had an ineffable fascination. They still wore an expression of
sadness, but of sweet sadness, full of vigour, of peace, and of mystic
devotion. Standing there, under the little white cloud of the flowering
apple tree, in the midst of the prostrate crowd, surrounded by sunshine
and moving shadows he seemed an apparition such as visited the old
masters. Noemi stood as if turned to stone, a great sob in her throat.
Near her, several women were weeping for the joy of having seen him,
and influenced by reciprocal hypnotism. One, who was ill and weary, had
seated herself on the edge of the path, where she could not see the
Saint, and was weeping from excitement, without knowing why. Some
late arrivals came forward, an old man and three women from Vallepietra.
The three women immediately mistook Don Clemente for Benedetto, and
burst out sobbing and exclaiming: "How beautiful he is, how beautiful!"
In the meantime Benedetto, standing under the little white cloud of
the flowering apple tree, had succeeded, with words of sorrow, of
supplication, of reproach, in repulsing the assault of the adoring
throng, and in bringing the people to their feet. A cry went up from the
group of students: "Speak!" Just at that moment the bells of Jenne, far
up above them, solemnly announced the hour of noon to the village, to
the solitudes, to Monte Leo, to Monte Sant' Antonio, to Monte Altuino,
and to the clouds, sailing westwards. Benedetto laid his finger on his
lips, the bells alone spoke. He glanced at Don Clemente, and his look
seemed to convey a tacit invitation. Don Clemente bared his head, and
began to recite the _Angelus Domini_. Benedetto, erect, his hands
clasped, said it with him, and, as long as the bells continued to ring,
kept his gaze fixed on the young man who had shouted to him to speak;
his eyes were full oisadness, of mystic sweetness. That ineffable look,
the pealing of the solemn-voiced bells, the trembling of the grass, the
gentle waving in the breeze of the flowery branches, the rapt expression
of so many tearful faces, all turned towards this one face, were blended
for Noemi into a single word, which thrilled her while it evaded her,
as the soul is tormented by the longing for that occult word which
underlies a tragic procession of harmonious chords. The bells ceased,
and Benedetto said gently to those nearest him:
"Who are you, and what has happened that you come to me as if I were
that which I am not?"
Several voices answered at once; he was informed of the miracle, and of
how he was wanted in this village and in that.
"You exalt me," said he, "because you are blind. If this girl is healed,
not I have healed her, but her faith has made her whole. This power of
faith, which has caused her to rise up and walk, is in God's world,
everywhere and always, like the power of terror, which causes us to
tremble and fall down. It is a power in the soul, like the powers which
are in water, and in fire. Therefore, if the girl is healed, it is
because God has put this great power into His world; praise God for it,
and not me. And now listen! You offend God by believing His strength
and bounty to be greater in miracles. His strength and bounty are
everywhere, and always infinite. It is difficult to understand how faith
can heal, but it is impossible to understand how these flowers can grow.
The Lord would be no less powerful, no less good, if this girl had
not been healed. It is well to pray for health, but pray still more
fervently to understand this great thing of which I have just told you;
pray to be able to adore the Lord's will, when it gives you death, as
when it gives you life. There are men in the world who think they do not
believe in God, and when sickness comes to their homes they say: 'It is
the law, it is nature, it is the economy of the Universe; we bow our
heads, we accept without a murmur, we march on in the path of duty.'
Have a care that such men do not pass before you in the kingdom of
Heaven! And reflect also on the manner of miracles you demand. You come
to be healed of the ills of the body, and for this you wish me to visit
your villages. Have faith, and you will be healed without me. But
remember that your faith may be used to better purpose, according to the
will of God. Are you, all of you, perfectly healthy in your souls? No,
you are not; and what can it profit you that the skin be whole, if the
wine be spoiled? You love yourselves and your families better than
truth, better than justice, better than divine law. You are always
dwelling upon what is due to you and yours, and you seldom dwell upon
what is due to others. You believe your souls will be saved by the great
number of your prayers, and you do not even know how to pray. You pray
in the same manner to the saints, who are the servants, and to God, who
is the Master; when you do not do still worse! You do not reflect that
the Master cares little for many words. He desires rather that you serve
Him faithfully in silence, your minds fixed always on His will. And you
do not understand the nature of your own ills; you are like the dying
man who says: 'I am well!' Perhaps some one of you is thinking at this
moment. 'If I do not understand that I am doing wrong, then God will not
condemn me.' But the Lord does not judge as do the judges of this world.
He who takes poison unwittingly must fall, as he who takes it wittingly
must fall. He who is without the white robe may not come to the Lord's
supper, though he be not aware the robe is necessary. He who loves
himself above all things, be he ignorant of conscious of his sin, cannot
pass through the gate of the kingdom of Heaven; as the bride's finger,
if it be doubled up, cannot pass through the ring the bridegroom offers.
Know the infirmities of your souls, and pray with faith to be freed from
them. In the name of Christ, I say to you, that you will be freed from
them. The healing of your body is good for you, for your family, for the
animals and plants you tend; but the healing of your soul--believe this,
though you do not understand it!--the healing of your soul is good for
all the poor souls of the living, which are being tossed between good
and evil, is good for all the poor souls of the dead, which by toil and
suffering are being purified, as the victory of a soldier is good for
the whole nation. It is also good for the angels, who, Jesus has told
us, feel immense joy at the healing of a soul. Joy enhances their power;
and do you think their power is for the darkness or for the light, for
death or for life? Ask with faith, first for the healing of the soul,
and then for the healing of the body!" From the steep hillside a sea of
faces looked down on him; those highest up, where only the sound of his
voice could be heard, were eager, and tear-stained. Of those nearest
him, some were astonished, some enthusiastic, some doubtful. The tears
were pouring down Noemi's pale face also. The students had put off their
air of raillery. When Benedetto ceased, one of them came forward to
speak, resolute and serious. At the same moment the old man exclaimed:
"Heal our souls, heal our souls!"
Other voices repeated anxiously:
"Heal our souls, heal our souls!"
In an instant the contagion had spread throughout the vanguard; they
flung themselves on their knees, stretching out imploring arms:
"Heal our souls, heal our souls!"
Benedetto sprang forward, his hands clenched in his hair, exclaiming:
"What are you doing again? What are you doing again?"
A shout rang out from above: _"La miracolata!_ The girl who is healed!"
The girl who had felt health returning to her, as she lay on Benedetto's
bed, was coming down in search of him, leaning on the arm of an elder
sister. He heeded neither the cry nor the movement among those up above,
who parted, allowing the two women to pass. Being unable to persuade the
crowd to rise, he himself fell upon his knees. Then those around him
rose, and the excited movement and the cry of _"La_ _miracolata, la
miracolata!"_ having reached them, they forced him to rise also; he did
not seem to have heard. _"La miracolata!"_ each one repeated to
him. _"La miracolata!"_ And they searched his face for a trace of
satisfaction at the miracle, with eyes that called out "She is coming to
you! You have healed her!" They acted as if he had not spoken to them
only a few minutes before.
The young girl was coming down, as pale and sallow as the stony,
sun-baked path, her gentle, sad, little face, resting against her
sister's arm. And the sister looked sad also. The crowd parted before
them, and Benedetto, stepping aside sought refuge behind Don Clemente;
an involuntary action, which however, seemed premeditated. Every one was
trembling and smiling, in the anticipation of another miracle. The two
women were not deceived; they passed Don Clemente without so much as a
glance, turned to Benedetto, and the elder said firmly:
"Holy man of God! You have healed this one, now heal the other also!"
Benedetto replied, almost under his breath, trembling violently:
"I am not a holy man; I did not heal this one, and for the other one of
whom you speak, I can only pray."
When they had told him that the sick man was their brother, that he was
in the hut, stretched on the bed, and suffering greatly, Benedetto said
to Don Clemente: "Let us go and care for him!"
And he started forward with his master. Behind them the divided stream
of people flowed together again, noisily. Benedetto turned, and forbade
them to follow him; he ordered the women to attend to the young girl,
who must not climb the steep hill on foot, under the burning rays of the
sun. He ordered them to take her to the inn, put her to bed and refresh
her with food and wine. Those who were following stopped, and the others
stepped aside, allowing him to pass. The student who had once before
asked to speak, approached him respectfully, and inquired if he and some
of his friends might speak a few words with him alone, later on.
"Oh yes!" Benedetto answered, consenting with manly warmth and
eagerness. Noemi, who was standing near, took heart.
"I also must ask for five minutes," she said in French, blushing; and
then it immediately occurred to her she had thus shown that she knew
him to be a man of culture; her face was aflame, as she repeated her
petition in Italian.
Almost involuntarily Don Clemente pressed Benedetto's arm gently.
Benedetto replied courteously, but somewhat drily:
"Do you wish to do a kind action? Care for that poor girl."
And he passed on.
He and Don Clemente entered the hovel alone. No one had followed them.
An old woman, the sick man's mother, seeing him enter, threw herself
weeping at his feet, repeating her daughter's words:
"Are you the holy man? Are you he? You have healed one of my children,
now heal this one also."
At first, coming from the sunlight into that darkness, Benedetto could
not distinguish anything, but presently he saw the man stretched on the
bed; he was breathing hard, groaning and crying, and cursing the Saints,
women, the village of Jenne, and his own unhappy fate. On her knees
beside the bed, Maria Selva was wiping the sweat from his brow with
a handkerchief. There was no one else in the cave. Near the luminous
entrance the great cross, carved unevenly on the wall of yellowish
stone, was repeating at that moment a dark and solemn word.
"Hope in God!" Benedetto answered the old woman gently. He went to the
bed, bent over the sick man and felt his pulse. The old woman stopped
crying, the sufferer stopped cursing and groaning. The buzzing of flies
in the light fireplace could be heard.
"Have you sent for the doctor?" Benedetto whispered.
The old woman began to sob again,
"You heal him! You heal him! in the name of Jesus and Mary!"
Again the sick man's groans were heard. Maria Selva said softly to
"The doctor is in Subiaco. Signor Selva, whom you perhaps know, has gone
to the chemist's. I am his wife."
At this point Giovanni returned, out of breath and worried. The
chemist's shop was closed, the chemist absent. The parish priest had
given him some Marsala, and some tourists from Rome, who had brought
plenty of provisions, had given him brandy and coffee. Benedetto
beckoned Don Clemente to his side, and whispered to him to bring the
parish priest, for the man was dying. He would go for him himself, but
it seemed cruel to the poor mother to leave them. Don Clemente went out
without a word. A few steps from the hut, the party of smart people
who had come from Rome out of curiosity about the Saint of Jenne, were
holding a consultation; the party consisted of three ladies and four
gentlemen, and was under the guidance of the citizen of Jenne, whom the
Selvas had met on the hillside. On perceiving the Benedictine they spoke
together rapidly, in an undertone, and then one of their number, a very
fashionably dressed young man, screwed his eyeglass into his eye,
and came towards Don Clemente, at whom the ladies were looking with
admiration, and also with disappointment, their guide having informed
them that he was not the Saint.
These people also wished for an interview with Benedetto. The ladies
were especially anxious to speak with him. The young man added, with a
derisive smile, that for his part, he did not consider himself worthy,
Don Clemente answered very shortly, that for the present it was
impossible to speak with Benedetto and he walked away. The young man
informed the ladies that the Saint was in the tabernacle, under lock and
In the meantime Benedetto--although the distracted mother implored him
not to use medicines, but to perform a miracle--was comforting the
prostrate man with a few mouthfuls of the cordial Giovanni Selva had
brought, but still more comforting were his gentle caresses, and the
promise of other saving words, which would soon be brought to him. And
the pitying voice, tender and grave, worked a miracle of peace. The sick
man breathed with great difficulty, and still groaned, but he no longer
cursed. The mother, wild with hope, murmured tearfully, with clasped
"The miracle, the miracle, the miracle!"
"_Caro_ [dear one]," Benedetto said, "you are in God's hand, and
you feel its might. Give yourself up to Him, and you will feel its
gentleness. Let His hand place you once more in the ocean of life, or
place you in heaven, or place you where it will, but give yourself up,
do not think of that. When you were a little child your mother carried
you, and you asked neither how, nor when, nor why; you were in her
arms, you were in her love, you asked nothing more. It is the same now,
_caro_. I, who speak to you, have done much evil in my life, perhaps
you also have done a little evil; perhaps you remember it. Weep, weep,
resting thus on the bosom of the Father who is calling you, who longs to
pardon, who longs to forget it all. Presently the priest will come, and
you will tell him everything, all the evil you have done, just as you
remember it, without anguish. And then, do you know who will come to you
in the great mystery? Do you know, _caro_, what love, what pity, what
joy, what life will come?"
Struggling in the shadow of death, his glassy eyes fixed on Benedetto,
eyes which shone with an intense longing, and with the fear of being
unable to express it, the poor young man who had misunderstood
Benedetto's words, and thought he must confess to him, began telling him
of his sins. The mother, who, while Benedetto had been speaking, had
flung herself on her knees in front of the wall of rock, and kept her
lips pressed to the cross expecting a miracle, started up at the strange
ring in that voice, sprang to the bedside and--understanding--gave a
cry of despair, flinging her hands towards heaven, while Benedetto,
terrified, exclaimed: "No, _caro_, not to me, not to me!" But the sick
man did not hear; he put his arm round Benedetto's neck, drawing him to
him, and continued his sorrowful confession, Benedetto repeating over
and over again "My God, my God!" and making a mighty effort not to
hear, but lacking the courage to tear himself away from the dying man's
embrace. And, in fact, he did not hear, nor would it have been easy to
do so, for the words came so slowly, so brokenly, so confusedly. Still
the parish priest did not appear, and Don Clemente did not return.
Subdued voices and steps could be heard outside, and, sometimes a
curious face peered in at the door, but no one entered. The dying man's
words lost themselves in a confusion of weak sounds, and at last he was
"Is there any one outside?" Benedetto inquired. "Let some one go to the
parish priest, and bid him hasten."
Giovanni and Maria were attending to the mother, who, quite beside
herself, was tossed between grief and anger. After having believed in
the miracle, she would not now believe that her son had been reduced to
this desperate condition by natural causes; at one moment she wept for
him, and at the next cursed the medicines Benedetto had given him,
although the Selvas assured her they were not medicines. Maria had put
her arms round her, partly to comfort her and partly to hold her. She
signed to Giovanni to go for the priest and Giovanni hurried away. The
glistening eyes of the dying man were full of supplication. Benedetto
said to him:
"My son, do you long for Christ?"
With an indescribable groan, he bowed his head feebly in assent.
Benedetto kissed him and kissed him again, tenderly.
"Christ tells me that your sins are forgiven, and that you may depart in
The glistening eyes lighted up with joy. Benedetto called the mother,
who, escaping from Maria's open arms, threw herself upon her son. At
that moment Don Clemente entered, looking exhausted; Giovanni and the
parish priest were with him.
* * * * *
At the priest's house Don Clemente had found an ecclesiastic whom he did
not know, arguing with the parish priest. According to what he said, a
crowd of fanatics were about to carry the girl who had been healed by a
miracle to the church of Sant' Andrea, to return thanks to God. It was
the priest's duty to prevent such a scandal. If the healing of this
girl were not an imposture, neither was it a fact. The would-be
miracle-worker had also preached much rank heresy concerning miracles
and eternal salvation. He had spoken of faith as being a natural virtue;
he had even criticised Christ, who healed the sick. At present he was
preparing another miracle with a second unfortunate victim. A stop must
be put to this! Put a stop to it, indeed! The poor priest who already
perceived the odour of the Holy Office, reflected that it was easy
enough to say "put a stop to it," but how was it to be accomplished? Don
Clemente's arrival at that point gave him a moment of relief. "Now," he
told himself, "he will help me." But, on the contrary, things were worse
than ever. When he had heard Don Clemente's sad message the strange
"You see! That is how these miracles end. You must not enter that
heretic's house with the holy viaticum, unless he has first left it, and
left it never to return."
Don Clemente's face flushed.
"He is not a heretic," said he. "He is a man of God!"
"You say so!" the other retorted.
"And you, consider well!" he added, turning to the parish priest. "But,
after all, you are free to act as you please. It is none of my business.
Having bowed to Don Clemente, he slipped out of the room, without
"And now? And now?" groaned the unhappy priest, pressing his hands
to his temples. "That is a terrible man, but I must not betray the
Almighty! Tell me what to do! Tell me what to do!"
Indeed the parish priest had a holy fear of God, but he was also not
without a certain fear (half holy, half human), of Don Clemente, of the
austere conscience which would judge him. At that decisive moment the
wisest course to pursue became suddenly clear to Don Clemente.
"Arrange for the viaticum," said he, "and come with me at once, to hear
this poor young man's confession. Benedetto will show whether he be a
heretic or a man of God!"
The servant came to say a gentleman begged the priest to make haste, for
the sick man was dying.
Don Clemente, much exhausted, entered the hut, with Giovanni and the
parish priest. He called Benedetto to him, standing near the door and
spoke to him in an undertone. The rattling had begun in the sick man's
throat. Benedetto listened with bowed head to the painful words which
demanded of him a saintly humiliation; he knelt, without answering,
before the cross he had carved on the rock and kissed it eagerly at the
point where the tragic arms meet, as if to draw into himself from the
furrow in the stone, the symbol of sacrifice, its love, its blessedness,
its strength its life and then, rising, he went forth for ever.
* * * * *
The sun was disappearing in a whirling mass of smoke-like clouds rising,
in the north, behind the village. The places which, only a short time
before, had been astir with people, were now colourless and deserted.
From the turnings of stony lanes, from behind half-open doors, round the
corners of poor houses, women were peering. When Benedetto came in sight
they all withdrew. He felt that Jenne knew of the agony of the sick
man who had come to him in search of health, he felt that the hour of
triumph had come for his adversaries. Don Clemente, the Master, the
friend, had first asked him to lay aside his habit, and now asked him to
go forth from his house, to go forth from Jenne. It is true he had asked
in grief and love, still he had asked. Partly because of the bitterness
of it all, partly because of his long fasthe had not been able to eat
his mid-day meal of beans and bread--he felt ready to faint, and his
sight was troubled. He sank down on the decayed threshold of a small,
closed door, at the entrance to the little lane called _della Corte_. A
long peal of thunder sounded above his head.
Little by little, as he rested, he recovered. He thought of the man who
was dying in the desire of Christ, and a wave of sweetness swept
his soul. He was filled with remorse that he had, for a few moments
forgotten the Lord's great gift; that he had ceased to love the cross,
as soon as he had drawn life and joy from it. He hid his face in his
hands and wept silently. A slight noise above of a shutter being opened;
something soft fell upon his head. With a start, he removed his hands
from his eyes; at his feet lay a tiny wild rose. He shivered! For
several days--either on returning to his hut at night, or on leaving
it in the morning--he had found flowers on his threshold. He had never
removed them. He simply placed them on one side upon a stone, that they
might not be stepped on, that was all. Neither had he ever tried to
discover what hand laid them there. Surely this tiny wild rose had
fallen from the same hand. He did not raise his head, but he understood
that even if he did not lift the rose, or make any movement towards it,
he must, nevertheless, leave the spot. He tried to rise, but his limbs
could, as yet, hardly support him, and he tarried a moment before moving
away. The thunder rumbled again louder and longer. A small door was
pushed open, and a young girl, dressed in black, looked out. She was
fair, and as white as wax; her blue eyes were full of despair and
of tears. Benedetto could not help turning his face towards her. He
recognised the village schoolmistress, whom he had once seen for a
moment at the priest's house. He was already moving away without
greeting her, when she moaned softly: "Hear me!" Stepping back into the
passage she fell upon her knees, stretched out beseeching hands to him,
and dropped her head upon her breast.
Benedetto stopped. He hesitated a moment and then said, with dignified
"What do you want of me?"
It had become almost dark. The lightning flashed, the noise of the
thunder filled the miserable little lane, and prevented the two from
hearing each other. Benedetto approached the door.
"I have been told," the young girl answered, without raising her head,
and pausing when the thunder crashed forth, "that you will perhaps be
obliged to leave Jenne. A word spoken by you has given me life, but your
departure will kill me. Repeat that word to me; say it for _me_, for me
"You were with the _Signor Arciprete_, the parish priest, I was in the
next room with the servant, and the door was open. You said that a
man may deny the existence of God without really being an atheist or
deserving eternal death, if that God, whose existence he denies, be
placed before him in a shape repugnant to his intellect, and if he love
Truth, Virtue, and his fellow-men, and by his life give proof of his
Benedetto was silent. Yes, he had said this, but to a priest, and not
knowing another person (perhaps one not capable of understanding) was
listening. She guessed the cause of his silence.
"I am not the person in question," she said. "I believe; I am a
Catholic. It was my father, who lived and died thus; and--only think of
it--they have persuaded even my mother that he cannot be saved."
While she was speaking, amidst the lightning and the thunder, large,
slow drops began to beat upon the road, making great spots in the dust,
hissing through the air, lashing against the walls. But Benedetto did
not seek shelter inside the door, nor did she invite him to do so; and
this was the only confession on her part, of the profound sentiment,
which covered itself with a cloak of mysticism and filial piety.
"Tell me, tell me!" she begged, raising her eyes at last. "Say that my
father is saved, that I shall meet him in Paradise!"
"My God! Only that?"
"Do we pray for the pardon of such as may not be pardoned? Pray!"
"Oh! Thank you!--Are you ill?" These last words were whispered so softly
that it was possible Benedetto did not hear them. He made a gesture of
farewell, and started on, in the driving rain, that lashed and pushed
the little dead, wild rose away, into the mud.
Either from a window, or from the door of the inn, where she was, with
the sick girl of Arcinazzo, Noemi saw him pass. She borrowed an umbrella
from the innkeeper, and followed him, braving the wind and the rain.
She followed him, distressed at seeing him bareheaded and without an
umbrella, and reflecting that if he were not a Saint, one would think
him insane. On entering the square where the church stands, she saw a
door on the right open a little way; a tall, thin priest looked out. She
believed the priest would invite Benedetto to come in, but, to Noemi's
great vexation, when Benedetto was quite near him, the priest closed the
door noisily. Benedetto entered the church of Sant' Andrea; she went in
also. He approached the high altar and knelt down, while she remained
near the door. The sacristan, who was dozing, seated on the steps of an
altar, heard them enter, and, rising, went towards Benedetto. But he
belonged to the Roman priest's party, and, recognising the heretic,
turned back, and asked the foreign signorina if she could tell him
anything about the sick man from Arcinazzo, who had been brought to the
church that morning, when the sacristan had also seen her there. He
added that his reason for inquiring was, that he had been ordered to
wait for the parish priest, who was going to carry the viaticum to the
man. Noemi knew that the young man from Arcinazzo was dying, but that
"I see," said the sacristan, raising his voice intentionally. "He
probably does not wish for Christ. These are their fine miracles! Thank
God for the thunder and lightning, for had it not been for the storm,
they would have brought the girl here!"
Then he went back to rest and doze on the steps.
Noemi could not turn her eyes away from Benedetto. It was not a
fascination in the true sense of the word, nor was it the passionate
sentiment of the young schoolmistress. She saw him sway, rest his hands
on the steps and then turn with difficulty and sit down; and she did
not ask herself if he were suffering. She gazed at him, but was more
absorbed in herself than in him, absorbed in a gradual change which was
taking place within her, and which was making her different, making her
irrecognisable to herself; a still confused and blind sense of immense
truth, which was being borne in upon her, in mysterious ways, and
which strained painfully at the innermost fibres of her heart. Her
brother-in-law's religious arguments might have troubled her mind, but
they had never touched her heart. Why was it touched now? And how? What
had that pale, emaciated man said, after all? Ah I but the look, the
voice, the-what else? Something it was impossible to grasp. Perhaps
a presentiment--But of what? _Ma! Chi sa?_ Who knows? A presentiment of
some future bond between this man and herself. She had followed him, had
entered the church that she might not lose the opportunity of speaking
to him, and now she was almost afraid of him. And then to talk to him of
Jeanne! Had Jeanne understood him? How had Jeanne, loving him, been able
to resist the current of higher thought which was in him, which perhaps,
at that time, was latent, but which a Jeanne should have felt? What had
she loved? The lower man? If she, Noemi, spoke with him, she would speak
not only of Jeanne, but of religion also. She would ask him what his
own religion really was. And then what if he should answer something
foolish, something commonplace? For this reason she was almost afraid to
speak to him.
A dash of rain splashed through a broken window upon the pavement. It
seemed to Noemi she could never forget that hour, that great empty
church, that dark sky, that dash of rain like falling tears, that
world's outcast on the steps of the high altar, absorbed in what sublime
thoughts God alone knew, and the sacristan, his enemy, who had gone to
sleep on the steps of another altar, with the easy familiarity of a
colleague of the Almighty. Some time elapsed, perhaps an hour, perhaps
more. The church grew lighter; the rain seemed to be stopping. It struck
four o'clock. Don Clemente entered the church, followed by Maria and
Giovanni who were glad to find Noemi there, for they had not known where
she was. The sacristan, who knew Don Clemente, came forward.
"_Dunque_? The viaticum?"
The viaticum? Alas, the man was dead; they had thought of the viaticum
too late! The Padre inquired for Benedetto, and Noemi pointed to where
he sat. They spoke of the interview which Noemi desired. Don Clemente
blushed and hesitated, but could not refuse to ask for it, and he went
to join Benedetto.
While the two conversed, Giovanni and Maria related to Noemi all that
had taken place. After the arrival of the parish priest, the sick man
had not spoken again. Confession had not been possible. Meanwhile the
storm had burst with such violence as to render it impossible for the
priest to go for the holy oil. They had thought the sick man would live
some hours longer, but at three o'clock he had expired. As soon as the
torrents of rain would permit, Don Clemente and the priest had gone out,
but Giovanni and Maria had remained with the mother until the arrival of
the dead man's elder sister; the mother seemed to have quite lost her
senses. Then they also had left, to go in search of Noemi. Not finding
her at the inn, they had started for the church. In the square they had
met the Padre, coming out of one of the best houses. They did not know
what errand had taken him there. Maria spoke enthusiastically of
Benedetto, of his spiritual ministrations to the dying man. She and her
husband were very indignant at the war which had been waged against him
by people who would now find no difficulty in turning the whole town
against him. They censured the parish priest's weakness, and were not
satisfied with Don Clemente himself. He should not have aided in driving
his disciple away. Why had he been the one to tell him to leave, when
the parish priest came? His first mistake had been in bringing the
Abbot's message. Noemi knew nothing of this message. When she heard that
Benedetto was to be deprived of his habit her indignation burst forth:
Benedetto must not obey.
Meanwhile the Padre and his disciple were approaching the door.
Benedetto stood apart while the Padre came to tell the Selvas and Noemi
that as several persons wished to speak with Benedetto, he had arranged
that they should see him at the house of a gentleman of the town. He
must now take Benedetto there, but in a few minutes he would return to
the church for them.
* * * * *
The gentleman was the same person the Selvas had met on the hillside of
Jenne, where he was awaiting the Duchess di Civitella. The Duchess had
arrived shortly after, with two other ladies and several gentlemen,
among them a journalist, and the young man of the eye-glass. The
citizen, of Jenne was beside himself with satisfaction; on that day he
was in a truly ducal state of graciousness and magnificence! Therefore,
when Don Clemente--following the parish priest's advice--appealed to
him, he had no difficulty in obtaining from him the promise of an
old suit of black, a black tie, and a broad brimmed black hat, for
In the room where the secular clothes were spread out, the disciple,
having removed his habit, began to put them on in silence, and his
master, who was standing at the window, could not repress a sob.
Presently Benedetto called softly to him.
"_Padre mio_," said he, "look at me!"
Arrayed in the new clothes, which were too long and too large for
him, he smiled, showing himself at peace. The Padre seized his hand,
intending to kiss it, but Benedetto caught it hastily away, and opening
his arms, pressed to his breast the man who now seemed the younger, the
son, the penitent instrument of shameful human persecutions, which, upon
that heart, beating with divine fire, turned to dust, to ashes, and
vanished! They stood a long time thus, locked in a silent embrace.
"I did it, for your sake," Don Clemente murmured at last. "I myself
brought the humiliating message, that I might see the grace of the Lord
shine, in this humble dress, even brighter than in the habit."
Benedetto interrupted him. "No, no!" said he. "Do not tempt me, do
not tempt me! Let us rather thank God, who is chastening me for that
presumptuous joy I experienced at Santa Scolastica, when you offered me
the Benedictine habit, and I reflected that in my vision, I had seen
myself dying in that dress. My heart was uplifted as if crying out: 'I
am beloved indeed of God!' And now--"
"Ah! but--!" the Padre exclaimed, and then stopped suddenly, his face
suffused with colour. Benedetto believed he understood what was in his
mind: "It is not said that you may not sometime resume the habit you
have just laid aside! It is not said that the vision may not yet come
true!" He had not wished to utter this thought, either from prudence, or
in order not to allude to Benedetto's death. He smiled and embraced his
master. The Padre hastened to speak of other things; he apologised for
the parish priest, who was much grieved by what was happening, and would
not have sent Benedetto away, had he not feared his superiors. He was
not a Don Abbondio ; he did not fear for himself, but dreaded scandal
of a conflict with the authorities.
[Footnote: Don Abbondio-a priest in Mazzoni's work _I Promessi Sposi_.
"I forgive him," said Benedetto, "and I pray God to forgive him, but
this lack of moral courage is a great evil in the Church. Many, rather
than contend against their superiors, will contend against God Himself.
And they rid themselves of all responsibility by substituting their
superiors' conscience to their own wherein God speaks. They do not
comprehend that by striving against what is good, or by refraining from
striving against what is evil, in obedience to superiors, they give
scandal to the world, they stain the Christian character in the eyes of
the world. They do not comprehend that both their duty toward God and
their duty toward their superiors may be fulfilled, by never striving
against what is good, by never refraining from striving against what is
evil, by never judging their superiors, by obeying them with perfect
obedience in everything that is neither opposed to what is good nor in
favour of what is evil, by laying even life itself at their feet, but
not their conscience; their conscience, never! Thus the Inferior,
stripped of everything save conscience and just obedience, becomes a
pure grain of the salt of the earth, and where many such grains are
united, that to which they adhere will be saved from corruption, and
that to which they do not adhere, will rot and fall to pieces!"
As he talked Benedetto became transfigured. With the last words he rose
to his feet. His eyes flashed, his brow shone with the august light of
the spirit of Truth. He placed his hands on Don Clemente's shoulders.
"Dear Master," he said, his face softening, "I am leaving the roof, the
bread, the habit which were offered me, but while I have life, I will
not cease telling of Christ, who is the Truth! I go forth, but not to
remain silent. Do you remember giving me the letter to read, that St.
Peter Damian wrote to a layman, who preached? That man preached in the
church. I will not preach in the church, but if Christ wish me to speak
in the dwellings of the poor, I will speak in the dwellings of the poor;
if He wish me to speak in the palace, I will speak in the palace; if He
wish me to speak in the cubicles, I will speak in the cubicles; if He
wish me to speak on the housetops, I will speak on the housetops. Think
of the man who laboured in Christ's name, and was forbidden to do so by
the disciples. Christ said: 'Forbid him not.' Shall we obey the disciple
or shall we obey Christ?"
"You are right about the man in the Gospel, _caro_," Don Clemente
replied, "but remember that one may mistake what is really Christ's
Don Clemente's heart did not speak precisely thus, but the heart's
imprudent, undisciplined words were not allowed to pass his lips.
"After all, _Padre mio_," Benedetto continued, "believe me, I am not
banished because I preached the Gospel to the people. There are two
things you must know. The first is this. A proposal was made to me here
in Jenne by a person whom I never saw again after that interview, to
take holy orders, that I might become a missionary. I replied that I did
not feel called to that work. The second incident is this. On one of the
first days after my arrival at Jenne, while talking religion with the
parish priest, I spoke of the eternal vitality of Catholic doctrine, of
the power which the soul of Catholic doctrine possesses, of continually
transforming its own body, increasing its strength and beauty
unlimitedly. You know _Padre mio_, from whom--through you--these
thoughts came to me. The parish priest must have repeated my words,
which pleased him. The next day he asked me whether I had met Selva at
Subiaco, and had read his books. He said he had not read them himself,
but he knew they were to be avoided. _Padre mio_, you will understand
now. It is on account of Signer Selva, and of your friendship for him,
that I am leaving Jenne thus. I have never loved you as I love you now.
I do not know whither I shall wander, but wherever the Lord may send me,
be it far or near, do not let your soul forsake me!"
As he spoke these words, his voice shaking with sorrow and love,
Benedetto again threw himself into the arms of his master, who--himself
torn by a tempest of conflicting emotions--knew not whether to ask his
forgiveness, or promise him glory, the true glory, and could only say,
with laboured breath:
"You do not know it, but I, too, have need that your soul should not
Touching it with careful, reverent hands; Don Clemente made the habit
his disciple had laid aside into a bundle. When it was folded he
told Benedetto that he could not offer him the hospitality of Santa
Scolastica; he had intended asking Signor Selva to take him in, but he
now doubted if it would be opportune and in the interests of his mission
for Benedetto to put himself so openly under the protection of Signor
"Oh! certainly not!" said he. "Shall we fear the darkness more than we
love the light? But I must pray God to make His will known to me, if it
be possible. Perhaps He desires that, perhaps something else. And now
will you send me some food and a little wine? And then let those come
in, who wish to speak with me."
Don Clemente was secretly astonished that Benedetto should ask him for
wine, but he did not allow his astonishment to appear. He said he would
also send him the young girl who was with the Selvas. Benedetto looked
at him questioningly. He remembered that when the girl, whom he had
seen later in the church, had asked for an interview, Don Clemente had
pressed his arm, as if silently warning him to be on his guard. Don
Clemente grew very red while he explained his action. He had seen the
young girl at Santa Scolastica with another person. His movement had
been involuntary. The other person was now far away. "We shall not meet
again," said he, "because as soon as I have sent you the food, and
spoken to these people, I must start for Santa Scolastica."
In speaking of going to Subiaco or elsewhere, Benedetto had said
"perhaps that, perhaps something else," with an accent so full of
meaning that, when Don Clemente bade him farewell, he murmured:
"Are you thinking of Rome?"
Instead of answering, Benedetto gently took from his hands the bundle
containing the poor tunic, which had been bestowed and then withdrawn,
and with trembling hands raised it to his lips, pressing them to it; he
let them rest there a long time.
Was it regret for the days of peace, of labour, of prayer, of gospel
words? Was it the anticipation of a luminous hour in the future?
He gave the bundle back into his master's hands.
"Farewell!" said he.
Don Clemente hastened away.
The room the master of the house had set apart for Benedetto's use
contained a large sofa, a small square table, covered with a yellowish
cloth; over which a blue floral pattern sprawled; a few shaky chairs;
one or two armchairs, their stuffing showing through the rents in the
old and faded leather; and two portraits of bewigged ancestors in
tarnished frames. It had two windows, one almost blinded by a grey wall,
the other open to the fields, to a lovely, peaceful hill, to the sky.
Before receiving his visitors Benedetto approached this window to take a
last farewell of the fields, the hill, and the poor town itself. Seized
with sudden weakness, he leaned against the sill. It was a gentle,
pleasant weakness. He was hardly conscious of the weight of his body,
and his heart was flooded with mystic beatitude. Little by little, as
his thoughts became vague and objectless he was moved by a sense of the
quiet, innocent, external life; the drops falling from the roofs, the
air laden with odours of the hills, stirring mysteriously at that hour
and in that place. The memory of distant hours of his early youth came
back to him, of a time when he was still unmarried and had no thought of
marriage. He recalled the close of a thunder storm in the upper Valsolda
on the crest of the Pian Biscagno. How different his fate would have
been had his parents lived thirty or even twenty years longer! At least
one of them! In his mind's eye he saw the stone in the cemetery at Oria:
and his eyes filled with tears. Then came the violent reaction of his
will against this soft langour of the intellect, this temptation of
"No, no, no!" he murmured, half aloud. A voice behind him answered:
"You do not wish to listen to us?"
Betiedetto turned round, surprised. Three young men stood before him.
He had not heard them enter. The one who appeared to be the eldest, a
fine-looking young fellow, short of stature, dark, with eyes speaking
knowledge of many things, asked him boldly why he had laid aside the
clerical dress. Benedetto did not reply.
"You do not wish to say?" the other exclaimed.
"It does not matter, but listen to us. We are students from the
University of Rome, men of little faith, that I confess openly and at
once. We are enjoying and making the most of our youth, that I will also
confess at once."
One of his companions pulled a fold of the spokesman's coat.
"Be quiet!" said the leader. "It is true there is one among us who,
though he has no great faith in the saints, is very pure. He, however,
is not here before you. There are others missing also, who are playing
cards at the tavern. The 'Most Pure' would not come with us. He says he
will find a way of speaking with you alone. We are what I have told
you. We came from Rome for an excursion, and, if possible, to witness a
miracle; in fact, we came to have some fun!"
His companions interrupted him, protesting. "Yes, yes!" he repeated,
"to have some fun! Excuse me, I speak frankly. Indeed our fun came near
costing us too dear. We joked a little and they wanted to knock us down,
you know; and all to your honour and glory! But then we heard the little
speech you made to that crowd of fanatics. 'By the Lord Harry,'
we thought, 'this is a new style of language for a priestly or
half-priestly mouth! This is a saint who suits us better than the
others!' Forgive my familiarity! So we at once decided to ask you for an
interview; because even if we be rather sceptical, and fond of worldly
pleasures, we are also more or less intellectual, and certain religious
truths interest us. I myself, for instance, shall perhaps very shortly
become a Neo-Buddhist."
His companions laughed, and he turned upon them angrily.
"Yes indeed! I shall not be a practical Buddhist, but Buddhism interests
me more than Christianity!"
Then ensued an altercation among the three students, on account of this
inopportune sally, and a second spokesman, tall, thin, and wearing
spectacles, took the place of the first. This man spoke nervously,
with frequent spasmodic movements of the head and stiff forearms. His
discourse was to the following effect. He and his companions had often
discussed the question of the vitality of Catholicism. They were
all convinced that it was exhausted, and that speedy death could
be prevented only by radical reform. Some considered such a reform
possible, while others did not. They were anxious to have the opinion of
an intelligent and modern-spirited Catholic such as Benedetto had shown
himself. They had many questions to ask him.
At this point the third ambassador of the party of students, feeling
that his turn had come, poured out upon Benedetto a disordered stream of
Did he feel disposed to become the champion of a reform in the Church?
Did he believe in the infallibility of the Pope, of the Council? Did
he approve of the worship of the Virgin Mary and of the saints in
its present form? Was he a Christian Democrat? What were his views
concerning the desired reform? They had seen Giovanni Selva at Jenne.
Was Benedetto acquainted with his works? Did he approve of cardinals
being forbidden to go out on foot, and of priests not being allowed
to ride a bicycle? What was his opinion of the Bible, and what did he
believe concerning its inspiration?
Before answering, Benedetto looked steadily and severely at his young
"A physician," he began at last, "was reputed to be able to cure all
diseases. A man, who did not believe in medicine, went to him out of
curiosity, to question him about his art, his studies, his opinions. The
physician let him talk on for some time; then he took his wrist, thus."
Benedetto took the wrist of the one who had spoken first, and continued.
"He took it, and held it a moment in silence; then he said to him, 'My
friend, your heart is affected. I read it first in your face, and now I
feel the hammering of the carpenter who is making your coffin!"
The young man whose pulse he was pressing could not refrain from
"I do not mean you," said Benedetto. "The physician was speaking to the
man who does not believe in medicine. And he continued, thus: 'Do you
come to me for health and life? I will give you both. Are you not come
for that? Then I have no time for you!' The man, who had always believed
himself to be well, turned pale, and said. 'Master, I place myself in
your hands; give me life!'"
The three students stood for a moment dum-founded. When they showed
signs of coming to their senses, and of wishing to answer, Benedetto
"If three blind men ask me for my lamp of truth what shall I reply? I
shall reply, 'First go and prepare your eyes for it, because, should I
give it unto your hands now, you would receive no light from it, and you
would only break it.'"
"I hope," said the tall, lean, bespectacled student, "that in order to
see your lamp of truth it may not be necessary to shut out the light of
the sun. But, after all, I can easily understand that you do not wish to
explain yourself to us, whom you believe to be reporters. To-day we are
not--or at least I am not--in the state of mind you desire. I may be
blind, but I do not feel inclined to ask the Pope for light, or a Luther
either. Nevertheless, if you come to Rome, you will find young men
better disposed than I am, than we are. Come, speak, let us also listen
to you! To-day it is curiosity with us, to-morrow, who knows? we may
feel the right spirit. Come to Rome!"
"Give me your name," said Benedetto.
The other offered him his card. His name was Elia Viterbo. Benedetto
looked at him curiously.
"Yes, indeed," he said, "I am a Jew; but these two baptised ones are no
better Christians than I am. I have, moreover, no religious prejudices."
The interview was over. As they were leaving, the youngest of the party,
the man of the stream of questions, made a last onslaught.
"Tell us, at least, if you believe Catholics should vote on political
Benedetto was silent. The other insisted:
"Will you not answer even that question?"
"_Non expedit_," said he.
There were steps in the ante-room; two gentle taps at the door; the
Selvas entered with Noemi. Maria Selva came in first, and seeing
Benedetto dressed thus, could not restrain a movement of indignation, of
regret, and a soft laugh; then she blushed and wished to speak a word
of protest, but could not find the right one. The tears came to Noemi's
eyes. All four were silent for a moment and understood each other. Then
"'_Non fu dal vel del cuor giawmai disciolto_'"[*1*];
and pressed the hand of him who in his awkward garments still appeared
august to him.
"But you must not wear these things!" exclaimed Maria, less mystic than
Benedetto made a gesture which said, "Let us not speak of that," and
looked at the master of his master with eyes full of longing and
"Are you aware," said he, "how much truth and how much good have come to
me from you?"
Giovanni did not know how strongly he had influenced this man through
Don Clemente. He supposed he had read his books. He was moved, and in
his heart thanked God, who was thus gently showing him that he had
worked some real good in a soul.
"How happy I should have been," Benedetto continued, "to have worked in
your garden, to [Footnote 1:"Of the heart's veil she never was divested."
DANTE'S _Paradiso_, Canto iii.
(Longfellow's translation) ] have sometimes seen you, to have heard you
A stifled exclamation escaped Noemi when reminded of that evening full
of memories she could not express. Giovanni took this opportunity of
offering hospitality to Benedetto, Don Clemente having told him he
intended leaving Jenne that night. They could leave together, if he
wished, after the interview which he was going to grant Giovanni's
sister-in-law. Noemi, very pale, looked fixedly at Benedetto for the
first time, awaiting his answer.
"I thank you," said he. "If I knock at your door, you will throw it open
to me. I can say no more at present."
Giovanni and his wife prepared to leave. Benedetto begged them to
remain. Surely the _Signorina_ had no secrets from them; at least not
from her sister, if perhaps from her brother-in-law. Even this indirect
appeal to Maria was of no avail, for Noemi remarked, with much
embarrassment, that these secrets were not her own. The Selvas withdrew.
Benedetto remained standing, and did not invite Noemi to be seated. He
was aware that a friend of Jeanne's stood before him, and he foresaw
what was coming--a message from Jeanne.
"_Signorina_?" said he.
His manner was not discourteous, but signified clearly, "The quicker the
Noemi understood. She would have been offended had another person acted
thus; but with Benedetto she was not offended. With him she felt humble.
"I have been requested to ask you," she began, "whether you know
anything about a person with whom you must have been intimately
acquainted, whom, I believe, you also loved very dearly? I am not sure
I pronounce the name correctly, I am not an Italian. It is Don Giuseppe
Benedetto started. He had not expected this.
"No!" he exclaimed anxiously, "I know nothing."
Nomei gazed at him a moment in silence. Before continuing she would have
liked to ask his forgiveness for the pain she was about to cause him.
She said sadly and in a low tone:
"Some one has written to me to tell you that he is no longer of this
Benedetto bowed his head, and hid his face in his hands. Don Giuseppe,
dear Don Giuseppe; dear, great, pure soul; dear luminous brow, dear
eyes, full of God, dear, kind voice! Softly came two tears, which Noemi
did not see; then he heard Don Giuseppe's voice saying within him, "Do
you not feel that I am here, that I am with you, that I am in your
After a long silence Noemi said softly:
"Forgive me! I am sorry I was obliged to cause you so much pain."
Benedetto raised his head.
"Pain, and still not pain," said he. Noemi maintained a reverent
silence. Benedetto asked if she knew when this person had passed away.
Towards the end of April, she believed. She was absent from Italy at the
time. She was in Belgium, at Bruges, with a friend to whom the news had
been sent. She had understood from her friend that that person--a sense
of delicacy prevented Noemi from pronouncing the name--had died a very
holy death. She had also been asked to say that his papers had been
entrusted to the bishop of the city. Benedetto made a gesture of
approval which might also serve to close the interview. Noemi did not
"I have not yet finished," she said, and hastened to add:
"I have a Catholic friend--I myself am not a Catholic, I am a
Protestant--who has lost her faith in God. She has been advised to
devote herself to deeds of charity. She lives with her brother, who is
very hostile to all religions. This innovation, the fact that his sister
interests herself in charities, that she associates with people who
promote good works from religious principles, is most displeasing to
him. At present he is ill; he becomes irritated, excited, protests
against these virtuous bigots, does not wish his sister to visit the
poor, to protect young girls, or to provide for abandoned children. He
says all these things are clericalism, are utopianism, that the world
wags in its own way, and that it must be allowed to wag in its own way,
that all this associating with the lower classes only serves to put
false and dangerous ideas into their heads. Now, my friend has been told
that she must either leave her brother, or lie to him, by doing secretly
what she has hitherto done openly. She is in sore need of sound advice!
She writes to me to ask you for it. She has read in the newspapers that
you are helping so many here in these hills, and she hopes you will not
"As her brother is ill, both bodily and mentally," Benedetto answered,
"does she not find deeds of charity to perform in her own house? Will
she arrive at a knowledge of God by becoming a bad sister? Let her give
up her works of charity and devote herself to her brother; let her
attend to his bodily ills, and to his moral ills, with all the
affection"--he was going to say "which she bears him," but he corrected
himself, that he might not thus clearly admit a knowledge of the
person--"with all the affection of which she is capable; let her make
herself precious to him; let her win him by degrees, without sermons,
by her goodness alone. It will do her much good also, this striving to
incarnate in herself true goodness, active, untiring, patient, prudent
goodness. And she will win him, little by little, without words; she
will persuade him that all she does is well done. Then she can take up
her works of charity again, take them up alone, and she will succeed
better. Now she performs them because she has been advised to do so, and
perhaps she does not succeed very well. Then she will be prompted by the
habit of goodness, acquired with her brother, and she will have better
"I thank you!" said Noemi. "I thank you for my friend, and also for
myself, for I am much pleased with what you have said. And may I repeat
your advice, your words of encouragement, in your name?"
The question seemed superfluous, because the words of encouragement and
advice had been spoken by Benedetto in direct answer to the friend. But
Benedetto was troubled. It was an explicit message which Noemi asked of
him for Jeanne.
"Who am I?" he said. "What authority do I possess? Tell her I will
Noemi was trembling inwardly. It would have been so easy now to speak
to him of religion! And she did not dare. Ah! but to lose such an
opportunity! No, she must speak; but she could not reflect a quarter of
an hour upon what she should say. She said the first thing that came
into her head.
"I beg your pardon, but as you speak of praying, I should like to ask
you if you really approve of all my brother-in-law's religious views?"
As soon as she had uttered the question, it seemed to her so
impertinent, so awkward, that she was ashamed. She hastened to
add, conscious she was saying something still more foolish, but,
nevertheless, feeling impelled to say it. "Because my brother-in-law is
a Catholic, and I am a Protestant, and I should like to know what to
"_Signorina,_" Benedetto answered, "the day will come when all shall
worship the Father in spirit and in truth, upon the hilltops; to-day it
is best to worship Him in the shadows, in figures, from deep Valleys.
Many there are who can rise, some higher than others, towards the spirit
and the truth; but many cannot. There are plants which bear no fruit
above a certain altitude, and if carried still higher, they die. It
would be folly to remove them from the climate which suits them. I do
not know you, and I cannot say if your brother-in-law's religious views,
planted without preparation in you, would bear good fruit. But I advise
you to study Catholicism carefully, with Signor Selva's help; for there
is not one conscientious Protestant who knows it well."
"You will not come to Subiaco?" Noemi inquired timidly.
A note of hidden melancholy rang in her voice, and aroused in
Benedetto's heart a sense of sweet pain, which at once turned to fear,
so new was it.
"No," said he, "I think not."
Noemi wished, and still did not wish to say she was sorry. She
pronounced some confused words.
They heard some one in the ante-room. Noemi bowed, and Benedetto doing
the same, the interview came to an end, without any further leave
The Duchess also was anxious to speak with Benedetto. She brought her
companions, both male and female, with her. No longer young, but still
frivolous, half superstitious, half sceptical, egotistical but not
heartless, she was devoted to the consumptive daughter of her old
coachman, Having heard of the Saint of Jenne and his miracles, she had
arranged this excursion, partly for amusement, partly to satisfy her
curiosity, and she wished to ascertain if it would be wiser to have
the Saint come to Rome, or to send the girl to him. At the house of a
cardinal, her cousin, she had become acquainted with one of the priests
now staying at Jenne, This man, having met her, had given her his own
opinion of the Saint, announcing the downfall of his reputation. But, as
the Duchess had little confidence in any priest, and was curious to
know a man to whom such a romantic past was attributed, and as her
companions--one woman in particular--shared her curiosity she resolved,
at any cost, to find a means of approaching him.
An elderly, English gentlewoman was of her party; a lady famous for her
wealth and her peculiar _toilettes_, for her theosophic and Christian
mysticism, metaphysically in love with the Pope and also with the
Duchess who laughed at her friends. These friends, on beholding
Benedetto in that strange outfit, exchanged glances and smiles which
very nearly became giggles; but the elderly Englishwoman forestalling
them all constituted herself their spokeswoman. She said, in bad French,
that she was aware she was speaking to a man of culture, that she, with
her friends, of both sexes and of all nationalities, was working to
unite all Christian Churches under the Pope, reforming Catholicism in
certain particulars which were really too absurd, and which no one
honestly believed were of any further use, such particulars as
ecclesiastical celibacy and the dogma of hell. She needed a saint to
accomplish these reforms. Benedetto would be that saint, because a
spirit (she herself was not a spiritualist, but a friend of hers was),
the Spirit of the Countess Blavatzky herself, had revealed this fact.
It was therefore necessary that he should come to Rome, and there his
saintly gifts would also enable him to render a service to the Duchess
di Civitella, here present. She ended her discourse thus:
_"Nous vous attendons absolument, monsieur! Quittez ce vilain trou!
Quittez-le bientot! Bientot!"_
Having let his stern gaze wander rapidly round the circle of mocking
or stolid faces, from the Duchess's _lorgnon_ to the journalist's
eye-glass, Benedetto replied:
_"A l'instant, madame!"_
And he left the room.
He left the room and the house, crossed the square, walking awkwardly in
his ill-fitting clothes, and, without looking to right or left, took the
road leading down the slope, impelled by his spirit rather than by the
weakened powers of his body. He intended to pass the night under some
tree, and, on the morrow, go to Subiaco; from there, with Don Clemente's
aid, he would go to Tivoli, where he knew a good old priest, who was in
the habit of coming to Santa Scolastica from time to time. He no longer
thought of accepting the Selvas' hospitality, which would have been
precious to him. His heart was pure and at peace, but he could not
forget that the young foreign girl's sweet voice, and the tone of
sadness in which she had said "You will not come to Subiaco?" had
awakened strange echoes within him, and that in that one second the
thought had flashed across his mind: "Had Jeanne been like this, I
should not have left her!" The mystics were right; penance and fasting
were of no avail. But it had all disappeared now. Only the humiliating
sense of a frailty essentially human remained, which, though it may have
come forth triumphant from hard trials, may also reappear unexpectedly,
and be overthrown by a breath. The little town was deserted. The storm
over, the people from Trevi, Filettino, and Vallepietra had started
homeward, discussing the events of the morning, the case of doubtful
healing, and that in which the healing had not been effected, the
warnings which had been swiftly sown by hidden hands against the
corrupter of the people, the false Catholic. On leaving the town
Benedetto was seen by two or three women of Jenne. The secular garments
filled them with amazement; they concluded he had been excommunicated
and allowed him to pass in silence.
A few steps beyond, some one who was running overtook him. It was a
slender, fair lad, with blue eyes full of intelligence.
"Are you going to Rome, Signor Maironi?" he said.
"I beg you not to call me by that name!" Benedetto answered, ill-pleased
to find that his name, who knows by what means, had been revealed. "I do
not yet know whether I go to Rome."
"I shall follow you," the young man said, impulsively.
"You will follow me? But why should you follow me?"
In reply the young man took his hand, and, in spite of Benedetto's
resistance and protests, raised it to his lips.
"Why?" said he. "Because I am sick of the world, and could not find
God, and to-day it Seems to me that, through you, I have been born to
happiness! Please, please, let me follow you!
"_Caro_ [dear one];" Benedetto replied, greatly moved, "I myself do not
know whither I shall go!"
The young man entreated him to say, at least, when he should see him
again, and exclaimed, seeing Benedetto really did not know what to
"Oh! I shall see you in Rome! You will surely go to Rome!"
"In Rome? And how will you find me there?"
The lad answered that he would certainly be talked of in Rome, that
every one would know where to find him.
"If it be God's will!" said Benedetto, with an affectionate gesture of
The lad detained him a moment, holding his hand.
"I am a Lombard also," said he. "I am Alberti, from Milan. Do not forget
And his intense gaze followed Benedetto until he disappeared at a bend
of the mule-path.
* * * * *
At sight of the cross with its great arms, rising on the brow of the
hill, Benedetto suddenly shuddered with emotion, and was obliged to
stop. When he once more started forward he was seized with giddiness.
Swaying, he stepped aside a few yards, leaving the way free for
passers-by, and sank upon the grass, In a hollow of the field. Then,
closing his eyes, he realised that this was no passing disturbance, but
something far more serious. He did not become entirely unconscious, but
he lost the sense of hearing and of touch, his memory, and all account
of time. When he first recovered his senses, the feeling on the backs of
his hands, of the coarse cloth, different from that of his usual habit,
filled him with a curiosity, rather amused than troubled, concerning his
own identity. He felt his breast, the buttons, the button-holes, without
understanding. He thought. A boy from Jenne, who passed near him in the
field, ran to the town and reported excitedly that the Saint was lying
dead on the grass, near the cross.
Benedetto reflected, with that shade of cloudy reason which governs us
when we sleep and when we first awake. These were not his clothes. They
were Piero Maironi's clothes. He was still Piero Maironi. This thought
terrified him, and he recovered his senses completely. He rose to a
sitting posture, looked at himself, looked about him at the field and
the hills, veiled in the shades of evening. At sight of the great cross,
his mind regained its composure. He felt ill, very ill. He tried to
rise to his feet, but found it difficult to do so. Directing his steps
towards the mulepath, he asked himself what he should do in that
condition. Some one coming swiftly down the path from Jenne stopped
before him; he heard the exclamation: "Oh! my God! it is you!" He
recognised the voice of the woman who had spoken so passionately to him
while the storm was raging. She alone of all those at Jenne who had
heard the boy's story had come to him. The others had either not
believed or not wished to believe. She had come running, and mad with
grief. Now she had stopped suddenly, and stood speechless, not two steps
from him. He, not suspecting she had come on his account, wished her
good-night and passed on. She did not return his salutation, for, after
the first moment of joy, she was distressed to see him walk with such
difficulty, and she did not dare to follow him. She saw him stop and
speak to a man riding a mule, who was coming up. She rushed forward to
hear what was said. The man was a muleteer, sent by the Selvas to look
for Benedetto. The Selvas, with two mules for the ladies, had left Jenne
soon after him, thinking to overtake him on the hillside. Reaching the
Anio without having seen him, they questioned a passer-by coming from
Sublaco. He could give them no news of Benedetto. Noemi, who was to
take the last train for Tivoli, went on with Giovanni, hiding her
disappointment. The muleteer had been sent back to Jenne to look for
Benedetto, and to fetch a parasol which had been forgotten at the inn.
Maria was awaiting his return among the rocks of the Infernillo. The
young school-mistress heard Benedetto ask the muleteer to bring him a
little water from Jenne, for the sake of charity. The two men were still
talking, but she sped away, without waiting to hear more.
After a brief consultation with the muleteer, Benedetto had consented
to ride down to where Signora Selva was waiting. Left alone, he seated
himself near the cross, and waited for the man to return with the water
and the parasol. The crescent moon was rising, gilding the bright sky,
above the hills of Arcinazzo; the evening was warm and breathless.
Benedetto felt his temples throb and burn; his breath came quick and
short, but he suffered no pain. The sweet-scented grass of the field,
the scattered trees, the great shadowy hills, all, to him, was alive,
was filled with religion; all was sweet with a mystery of adoring love
which bent even the crescent moon towards the heights in the opalescent
sky. Don Giuseppe Flores whispered in his heart that it would be sweet
to die thus with the day, praying in unison with the innocent things.
Hurried steps were heard in the direction of Jenne. They stopped a short
distance from him. A little girl came towards Benedetto, timidly offered
him a bottle of water and a glass, and then turned and fled. Benedetto,
astonished, called her to him. She came slowly, shyly, and did not
answer when he asked her name, her parents' name. A voice said:
"She is the innkeeper's child."
Benedetto recognised the voice and the person also, though the moonlight
was pale; she had remained at a distance, prompted by the same sense of
delicacy which had moved her to bring the child with her.
"I thank you," said he. She came a little nearer, holding the child by
the hand, and asked softly:
"Do you know the priests have been talking to the dead man's mother? Do
you know the woman now accuses you of killing her son?"
Benedetto replied with some severity in his tone:
"Why do you tell me this?"
She saw she had displeased him by repeating this accusation, and
exclaimed in distress;
"Oh! forgive me!"
Presently she added:
"May I ask you a question?"
"Shall you never return to Jenne?"
The woman was silent. They could hear steps approaching in the distance;
it was the muleteer and his mule. She said in a lower tone:
"For pity's sake, one word more! How do you picture to yourself the
future life? Do you believe we shall meet those we have known in this
If the moonlight had not been so pale, Benedetto would have seen two
great tears rolling down the young girl's face.
"I believe," he replied, "that until the death of our planet, our future
life will be one of labour upon it, and that all those minds which
aspire to truth, to unity, will meet there, and labour together." The
muleteer's hobnailed shoes, which grated among the pebbles, could be
heard very near them. The woman said:
The tears sounded in her voice now. Benedetto answered:
"_A Dio_! God be with you!"
Mounted on the mule, he goes down into the shadows of the valley. He is
burning with fever. He is going to Casa Selva, after all. He knows, for
the muleteer has told him, that he will not see Noemi there; but that
is indifferent to him, he does not fear her, does not even remember the
moment of gentle emotion. Another feverish thought is stirring in his
soul. There is a whirl of words spoken by Don Clemente, by the lad
Alberti, by the elderly Englishwoman, while fragments of the Vision
flash like pictures before his mind's eye. Yes, he will go to Casa
Selva, but only for a short time. As he ascends, the mighty voice of the
Anio roars louder, ever louder, out of the depths:
"Rome! Rome! Rome!"
JEANNE TO NOEMI
VENA DI FONTE ALTA, July 4,----
Forgive me if I write to you in pencil. I have just reread your letter
here, at a point half an hour distant from the hotel, seated on the edge
of a stone basin where the flocks come to drink. The tiny stream of
water which trickles into the basin from a small wooden pipe reminds me,
with its gentle voice, of something which makes my heart ache; a walk
with him across fields and through woods in the mist; a halt by this
very spring, painful words, a few tears, something written in the water,
a moment of happiness--the last. I made a great sacrifice for Carlino's
sake when I returned to Vena after an absence of three years. I have
always loved him, but the message from Jenne would make me face far
greater sacrifices than this for him, make me face them willingly,
though conscious of having lost all merit in them.
I am not satisfied with your letters; I will tell you why sometime, but
not now. It is too difficult to write here. The mist is rolling down
from the uplands high above the spring, and a cold west wind is blowing.
I must be careful of my health on Carlino's account, and this is another
sacrifice, for I hate my health!
Noemi, could you not contrive to let the enclosed half-sheet of paper,
upon which I have written in pencil, fall into _his_ hands? You hesitate
to tell him how obedient I am; could you not, at least, help me to let
him know it in this way?
I am not satisfied with your letters, first of all because they are too
short. You know how eager I am to hear all about him. He is a guest in
the same house with you; at Subiaco he can surely not know how to employ
his time, and you sum up everything in two or three words!--He
is better. He reads a great deal. He has been working in the
kitchen-garden. Perhaps he will spend the summer with us. He
writes.--And you have never yet told me what malady he is really
suffering from, what he reads, where he will go if he does not spend the
summer with you, whether he writes letters or books, and what you talk
about together, for it is not possible that you never talk together. Do
not repeat your excuse that the less you speak of him, the better it
is for me. That is a convenient excuse you have invented, but it is
foolish, because, whether you talk to me of him or not, it is all the
same. My hopes are quite dead; they will not revive. Then write me long
letters, I am sure he wishes to convert you, that you have very serious
talks together, and that is why you tell me so little about him. It
would not be a very glorious achievement to convert _you_, for you are
sentimental in matters of religion; you do not possess that clear, cold,
and positive insight which is, unfortunately, natural to me, and which I
wish _I_ did not possess.
When do you intend to return to Belgium? Do not your affairs there need
your attention? You once mentioned an agent in whom you had little
confidence. We shall probably travel in August. At least, that is what
Carlino says at present, but he changes his mind very easily. I should
like to visit Holland with you, in September. Good-bye! Please write.
If he reads much you might get him to lend you a book, and leave the
half-sheet of paper in it as a book-mark, At any rate, find some way.
That or something else; you are a woman! Contrive some means, if you
love me! But I really believe you no longer love me at all! You would
confess it if you told the truth! However, there is a lady at this hotel
who is in love with me! Laugh, if you like, but it is true. She lives in
Rome. Her husband is Under-Secretary of State. She is determined that I
shall spend next winter in Rome. It will depend upon Carlino. This lady
lays siege to him; he lets himself be besieged, and neither resists nor
capitulates. Good-bye. Write, write, and again write!
NOEMI TO JEANNE (_from the French_)
I did still better! In my presence, my brother-in-law cited from memory
a Latin passage which impressed _him_, concerning certain monks of
ancient times, before Christ. He begged Giovanni to write it down for
him. We were in the olive-grove above the villetta, seated on the grass.
I immediately passed a pencil to Giovanni, and the half-sheet of paper,
with the blank side uppermost. He wrote, and Maironi took the paper,
read the Latin passage, and put the sheet into his pocket, without
looking at the other side. It was an act of treason, and I have been
guilty of treason for love of you. Will you ever doubt me again?
What can I tell you about his illness which I have not told you already?
He was troubled with fever for about two weeks. One day the physician
would pronounce it typhoid, and the next he would say it was not. At
last the fever left him, but his strength has not returned completely;
he is very thin; he seems to have some persistent, internal ailment; the
doctor is very particular about the quality of his food; he has changed
his way of living, eats meat and drinks a little wine. Yesterday a
friend of Giovanni's came from Rome to see him; the famous Professor
Mayda, Giovanni begged him to examine Maironi, and to advise him. He
recommended some waters, which Maironi will certainly not take. I feel I
know him well enough to be sure of that. However, during the last week
he has improved rapidly. In the morning and evening he works a little in
the kitchen-garden. This morning he rose very early, and what should he
do but take it into his head to wash down the stairs! Yesterday Maria
scolded the old servant because the stairs were not clean. When the
old woman, who sleeps at Subiaco, arrived at seven o'clock, she found
Maironi had done the work for her. My sister and my brother-in-law
reproached him; Giovanni was almost severe, perhaps because he is so
different from Maironi, and would never think of touching a broom, even
if he lived in a cloud of cobwebs! What does Maironi read? He has never
but once spoken to me of what he reads, and then only for a moment, as I
shall tell you later. I wrote you that perhaps he would spend the
summer with us, for I know Maria and Giovanni wish it. I now have a
presentiment that he will not stay, but will go to Rome. This, however,
is only my impression; I have no positive knowledge.
As to his wishing to convert me, I do not know whether it would be an
easy task or not, or whether Maironi thinks anything about it. You will
notice that I call him Maironi in writing to you; in speaking to him I
call him simply Benedetto, for that is his wish. I am sure Giovanni
once thought of converting me. He found it so easy that he never speaks
of it to me now. I should not think the same of Maironi. I believe that
to him Christianity means, above all things, actions and life according
to the spirit of Christ, of the risen Christ who lives for ever among
us, of whom we have, as he puts it, the experience. It seems to me that
the object of his religious mission is, not the placing of the creed
of one Christian Church before another, although there is no doubt the
holiness of the life he leads is strictly Catholic. Whenever I have
heard him speak of dogmas, with Giovanni, it has never been to discuss
the difference between Church and Church, but rather to expound certain
formulas of faith, and to show what a strong light emanates from
them when they are expounded in a certain way. Giovanni himself is
past-master at this, but when Giovanni speaks you are impressed above
all, by the immense store of knowledge his mind contains; when Maironi
speaks you feel that the living Christ is in his heart, the risen
Christ, and he fires you! In order to be perfectly, scrupulously
sincere, I will tell you that although I do not think he intends to
convert me, still I am not very sure of this. One day we were in the
olive-grove. He and Giovanni were discussing a German book on the
essence of Christianity, which, it seems, has made a stir, and was
written by a Protestant theologian. Maironi observed that, when this
Protestant speaks of Catholicism, he does so with a most honest
intention of being impartial, but that, in reality, he does not know the
Catholic religion. His opinion is that no Protestant does really know
it; they are all of them full of prejudices, and believe certain
external and remediable abuses in its practices to be essential to
Catholicism. There was a basket of apricots standing near, and he chose
one which had been very fine, but which was beginning to rot. "Here,"
said he, "is an apricot, which is slightly rotten. If I offer this
apricot to one who does not know, but who wishes to be amiable, he
will tell me that part of it is indeed firm and good, but that,
unfortunately, part of it is diseased, and therefore, though he much
regrets it, he cannot accept it. Thus this illustrious Protestant speaks
of Catholicism. But if I offer my apricot to one who knows, he will
accept it even if it be entirely rotten; and he will plant the immortal
seed in his own garden, in the hope of raising fine, healthy fruit."
These remarks he addressed to Giovanni, but his eyes sought mine
continually. I must add that at Jenne also, he told me to learn to
understand Catholicism. At any rate, if I remain a Protestant, it will
not be because I do or do not understand, but rather in obedience to my
most sacred feelings.
My dear Jeanne, there is something else I must tell you plainly. I have
a suspicion that you are jealous, I believe you do not realise the
inexpressible grief you would cause me, if this were really the
case. I fear you do not realise the immense gravity of the offence it
would be, first to him and then to me. Now I am going to open my heart
to you. I should reproach myself if I did not do so, dear friend,
reproach myself on your account, on his, and on my own. As to him, he is
kind and gentle to all with whom he comes in contact, especially to the
humble, and you might even be jealous of the old woman who comes from
Subiaco to do the rough work in the house. With Maria and myself he
shows his kindness and gentleness silently rather than in words. With us
he is quiet, simple, and affable; he does not appear to wish to avoid
us, but it has never happened that he has remained alone with either
of us. In his eyes I am a soul, and souls are to him exactly what the
tiniest plants in my father's great garden were to him; he would have
liked to protect them from frost with the warmth of his own heart, and
make then grow and flower by communicating his own vitality to them. But
I am a soul like any other soul, the only difference perhaps being,
that he deems me further removed from the truth, and consequently more
exposed to frost. But this is not apparent in his bearing.
As to myself, dearest, I certainly have a deep feeling for him, but it
would be abominable to say that this feeling in the least resembles what
men call by the familiar name. This sentiment is one of reverence, of
a kind of devout fear, of awe; I feel his person is surrounded by
something like a magic circle, into which I should never dare to
penetrate. My heart beats no faster in his presence. I think, indeed, it
beats more slowly but of this I am not sure. Dear Jeanne, I could not
possibly speak more honestly than I have done, therefore I beg you, I
entreat you, not to imagine anything different!
For the present I am not thinking of going to Belgium. I may possibly
go there for a short time, later on. My kind regards to your brother. I
should like to know if he has sent the old priest and the young woman to
Formalhaut at last! I myself sometimes think of his Formalhaut! Tell
him that if you and he come to Rome this winter, we will make music
together. Good-bye I embrace you!
BENEDETTO TO DON CLEMENTE
_Padre mio_, the Lord has departed from my soul, not, indeed, giving me
up to sin, but He has taken from me all sense of His presence, and the
despairing cry of Jesus Christ on the cross thrills, at times, through
my whole being. If I strive to concentrate all my thoughts in the one
thought of the Divine Presence, all my senses in an act of submission to
the Divine Will, I derive only pain and discouragement from it. I feel
like the beast of burden which falls under its load, and which, at the
first cut of the whip, makes an effort to rise, and falls again; at a
second blow, at a third, or a fourth, it only shivers, and does not
attempt to rise. If I open the Gospels or the _Imitation_, I find no
flavour in them. If I recite prayers, weariness overpowers me, and I am
silent. If I prostrate myself upon the ground, the ground freezes me. If
I make complaint to God at being treated thus, His silence seems to grow
more hostile. If, on the authority of the great mystics, I say to myself
that I am wrong to feel such affection for spiritual joys, to suffer
thus when deprived of them, I answer myself that the mystics err, that
in the state of conscious grace one walks safely, but that in this
starless night of spiritual darkness one cannot see the way; there is no
other rule than to withdraw one's foot when it touches the soft grass,
and that is not sufficient, for there is also the danger of setting the
foot in empty space. Father, _Padre mio_, open your arms to me, that I
may feel the warmth of your breast, filled with God! There are a hundred
reasons why I should not go to Santa Scolastica, and in any case I
should prefer to write. You are here present with me more than in the
body; I can become one with you, can mingle with you more easily than if
you stood before me; and I need to mingle with you in thought, I need
to force my soul into yours. Perhaps I shall send you this letter, but
perhaps I shall not send it. Father, father! it does me more good to
write to you than to speak to you! I could not speak with the fire which
now rushes to my pen, and which would not rush to my lips. Writing, I
speak, I cry out to the immortal in you, I divest you of all that is
mortal even in your soul, and which in your presence would extinguish
my fire. I divest you of the mortality of an incomplete knowledge of
things, of prudence, which would prompt you to veil your thoughts. No,
I will not send this letter, but nevertheless it will reach you. I will
burn it, but still it will reach you; for it is not possible that my
silent cry should not come to you, perhaps now, in the darkness of
the night, while you sleep, perhaps in two hours' time, still in the
darkness of the night, while you pray with the brothers, in the dear
church, where we worshipped so often together.
I know why I am wretched, I know why God has forsaken me. Always when
God forsakes me, when all the living springs of my soul are dry, and the
living germs are parched, and my heart becomes as a dead sea, I know the
reason why. It is because I have heard sweet music behind me, and have
looked back; or because the wind has brought me the scent of blossoming
fields beside my path, and I have paused; or because the mist has risen
before me, and I have been afraid; or because a thorn has pierced my
foot, and I have felt vexation. Moments, flashes, but in that moment the
door opens, an evil breath enters! It is always thus: an earnest glance,
a word of praise enjoyed, an image lingered over, an offence recalled,
any one of these suffices; the evil breath has time to enter.
And now all of these causes are joined together! Darkness descended upon
my path; I set my foot in the soft grass, I felt it; I withdrew my foot,
but not at once. Why do I speak in figures? Write, write the naked
truth, cowardly hand! Write that this house is a nest of ease, and that,
if I have enjoyed the soft bed, the fine linen, the odour of lavender, I
have delighted still more in the conversation of Giovanni Selva, in the
readings, which have filled me with the joys of the intellect, in the
presence of two young and pure women, cultured and full of grace, in
their secret admiration, in the perfume of a sentiment which I believe
one of them harbours, in the vision of a life of retirement in this
nest, with these beings, far from all that is vulgar, all that is low,
unclean, and loathsome.
I have felt the sin of the world with the repulsion which shrinks from
it, and not with the fiery sorrow which braves it and wrests souls from
its clutches. Moments, flashes; I took refuge, as in times past, in
the embrace of the cross; but, little by little, the cross turned to
unfeeling, dead wood in my arms, and this was not as in times past! I
told myself, "Spirits of evil, strong and cunning powers of the air, are
conspiring against me, against my mission." I answered myself, "Pride,
be gone!" And then the first idea took possession of me once more. In
this sad manner I rocked to and fro, every day, and all day long. And
because I did not allow any part of all this to transpire, because I
understood that Signor Giovanni and the ladies did not doubt I was
inwardly as calm, as pure as I was externally; I despised myself at
certain moments for a hypocrite, only to tell myself the next moment
that, on the contrary, my pure and calm exterior helped me to live--I
allude to the spiritual life--that by appearing strong, I was forced to
be strong. I compared myself to a tree whose marrow has been destroyed
by worms, whose wood is rotten, but which still lives through its bark,
by means of which it produces leaves and flowers, and can spread welcome
shade. Then I told myself that this was good reasoning before men; but
was it good reasoning before God, before God? And again I told myself
that God could heal me, for though the tree may not be healed yet a man
may be made whole. Again my mind was tormented, because I was incapable
of doing what God would demand of me, in order that my will might once
more work in unison with His. He would order me to flee, to flee! God is
in the voice of the Anio, which, since the evening of my departure from
Jenne, has been saying: "Rome, Rome, Rome!" And God is also in the
strength of the invisible worms, which have gnawed the vital virtues of
my body. Am I then to blame? Am I then to blame? Lord, hear my groan,
which asks for justice!
I have said many times that I will leave as soon as I am strong enough,
but they wish to keep me here, and how can I say to them "My friends,
you are my enemies?" Behold my cowardice! Why can I not say so? Why
should I not say so?
One day I read in the young Protestant girl's glance the question: "If
you go, what will become of my soul? Should you not desire to lead me to
your faith? I will not yet allow myself to be led." No, I cannot, I must
not write all. How can I write the meaning of a glance, the accent of
a word, commonplace in itself? They are not such glances as drove
St. Jerome to plunge into icy water, or at least my emotion does not
resemble his. Icy water is of no avail against a glance which is all
sweet purity. Only fire can prevail against it, the fire of the Supreme
Love! Ah! who will free me from my mortal heart, whose faintest throb
thrills all the fibres of my body? Who will set free the immortal heart
which is within it, like the germ of a fruit, preparing for itself a
celestial body? I cannot, I must not write all, but this, indeed, I will
write: The Lord seeks to ensnare me, to entrap me! When I shall have
fallen, He will deride me! Why did it happen that I wrote the Latin
quotation about those who live and do penance between the Dead Sea and
the desert, _"Sine pecunia, sine ulla femina, omni venere abdicata
socia palmarum_," on that piece of paper, which on the other side bore
words from J. D., words still hot concerning my past sin and hers, words
reminding me of the most terrible moments? How did a person so timid
dare to force a secret communication upon me?
The wind has blown my window open. Oh! Anio, Anio! will you never tire
of your commanding? I must start now, at once? Impossible, the doors
are locked. Moreover, it would be shame to leave thus. I should be
dishonouring God; they would say "what ungrateful, what mad servants has
the Lord!" Come, spirit of my master, come, come! Speak to me; I will
listen. What have you to say to me? What have you to say to me? Ah! you
smile at my tempest; you tell me to leave, yes, but to leave honourably,
to announce that the Lord Himself commands my departure. You tell me
to obey the voice of God in the Anio. Now the wind is ceasing; as if
satisfied, it seems to be growing quiet. Yes, yes, yes, with tears!
To-morrow, to-morrow morning! I will announce it. And I know to whom I
shall go in Rome. Oh! light, oh! peace, oh! springs burst forth again in
my soul: oh! dead sea, swelling with a wave of warmth! Yes, yes, yes,
with tears! I return thanks! I return thanks! Glory be to Thee, our
Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come: Thy
will be done!
IN THE WHIRLPOOL OF THE WORLD
It was already growing dark when a private carriage stopped at the door
of a house in Via della Vite in Rome. Two ladies alighted, and quickly
disappeared within the gloomy entrance, while the carriage drove away.
Presently another carriage arrived, deposited two more ladies before the
same gloomy door, and in its turn rolled away. Thus, within a quarter of
an hour, five carriages drove up, and no less than twelve female figures
were engulfed by the dark portal. The narrow street then relapsed into
its usual quiet. In about half an hour groups of men began to appear,
coming from the Corso. They paused before the same door, read the number
by the light of a neighbouring street-lamp, and then entered. In this
manner about forty persons more were engulfed by the gloomy portal The
last arrivals were two priests. The one who tried to read the number
was near-sighted, and could not make it out. His companion said to him,
"Go in, go in! There is an odour of Luther in the air; it must be here!"
The first priest entered the evil-smelling darkness. By a black and
dirty stair they mounted up, up, towards a small oil lamp, burning on
the fourth floor. On reaching the third floor they struck a match to
read the names upon the door-plates. A voice called out from above:
"Here, gentlemen, here!"
An affable young man in a dark morning suit came down to meet them. He
showed them great deference, said the others were waiting for them, and
conducted them through an ante-room and a passage almost as dark as the
stairway itself, to a large room, full of people, and dimly lighted by
four candles and two old oil lamps. The young man apologised for the
darkness, saying his parents would tolerate neither the electric light,
nor gas, nor petroleum. All the men who had arrived in groups were
assembled here. Three or four wore clerical dress. The others, with the
exception of an old man with a red face and a white beard, seemed to be
students. There were no women present. All were standing save the old
man, who was evidently an important personage. Conversation was being
carried on in low tones. The room was full of whisperings, like the
murmur of tiny rivulets and falling drops in a cave. When the two
priests had entered the young host said:
"We are ready!"
Those forming, the central group fell back in a circle, and Benedetto
appeared in their midst. A small table with two candles upon it, and a
chair, had been prepared for his use. He begged that the candles might
be removed. Then he was dissatisfied with the table. Saying he was
weary, he asked to be allowed to speak seated on the sofa, beside the
old man with the flushed face and the white beard. Benedetto was dressed
in black, and was paler and thinner than at Jenne. His hair had receded
from his forehead, which had acquired something of the solemn aspect of
the brow of Don Giuseppe Flores. His eyes had become a still brighter
blue. Many of the faces turned eagerly towards him seemed more
fascinated by those eyes and that brow than anxious to hear his words.
Making no gestures, his hands resting on his knees, be began speaking as
"I must first state to whom I speak, for not all here present are of one
mind concerning Christ and the Church. I do not address my remarks to
the ecclesiastics; I believe and hope they are not in need of my words.
Neither do I speak to this gentleman seated beside me, for I know he
does not need my words. I speak to no one who is firmly grounded in the
Catholic faith. I address myself solely to those young men who wrote to
me in the following terms."
He took out a letter and read:
"'We were educated in the Catholic faith, and on attaining manhood
we--by an act of our own free will--accepted its most arduous mysteries;
we have laboured in the faith, both in the administrative and social
field; but now another mystery rises in our way, and our faith falters
before it. The Catholic Church, calling herself the fountain of truth,
to-day opposes the research of truth, when her foundations, the sacred
books, the formulae of her dogmas, her alleged infallibility, become
objects of research. To us this signifies that she no longer has faith
in herself. The Catholic Church, which proclaims herself the channel of
life, to-day chains and stifles all that lives youthfully within her,
to-day seeks to prop all that is tottering and aged within her, To us
these things mean death, distant, but inevitable death. The Catholic
Church, claiming to wish to renew all things through Christ, is hostile
to us, who strive to wrest the direction of social progress from the
enemies of Christ. This fact, with many others, signifies to us, that
she has Christ on her lips but not in her heart. Such is the Catholic
Church to-day. Can God desire our obedience to her to continue? We come
to you with this question. What shall we do? You who profess to be a
Catholic, who preach Catholicism, who have the reputation----'"
Here Benedetto broke off, saying;
"Only some unimportant words follow."
And he continued his discourse.
"I answer those who wrote to me, thus: Tell me, why have you appealed to
me who profess to be a Catholic? Do you perhaps think me a superior of
the superiors in the Church? Will you, perhaps for that reason, rest in
peace upon my word, if my word be different from what you call the word
of the Church? Listen to this allegory. Thirsty pilgrims draw near to a
famous fountain. They find its basin full of stagnant water, disgusting
to the taste. The living spring is at the bottom of the basin; they
do not find it. Sadly they turn for aid to a quarryman, working in
a neighbouring quarry. The quarryman offers them living water. They
inquire the name of the spring. 'It is the same as the water in the
basin,' he replies. 'Underground it is all one and the same stream. He
who digs will find it.' You are the thirsty pilgrims, I am the humble
quarryman, and Catholic truth is the hidden, underground current. The
basin is not the Church; the Church is the whole field through which the
living waters flow. You have appealed to me because you unconsciously
recognise that the Church is not the hierarchy alone, but the universal
assemblage of all the faithful, _gens sancta;_ that from the bottom of
any Christian heart the living waters of the spring itself, of truth
itself, may rush forth. Unconscious recognition, for were it not
unconscious you would not say, the Church opposes this, the Church
stifles that, the Church is growing old, the Church has Christ on her
lips and not in her heart.
"Understand me well. I do not pass judgment upon the hierarchy; I
respect the authority of the hierarchy; I simply say that the Church
does not consist of the hierarchy alone. Listen to another example. In
the thoughts of every man there is a species of hierarchy. Take the
upright man. With him certain ideas, certain aims, are dominant
thoughts, and control his actions. They are these: to fulfil his
religious, moral, and civil duties. To these various duties he gives
the traditional interpretations which have been taught him. Yet this
hierarchy of firmly grounded opinions does not constitute the whole man.
Below it there are in him a multitude of other thoughts, a multitude of
other ideas, which are continually being changed and modified by the
impressions and experiences of life. And below these thoughts there is
another region of the soul, there is the subconsciousness, where occult
faculties work at an occult task, where the mysterious contact with God
comes to pass. The dominant ideas exercise authority over the will
of the upright man, but all that other world of thought is of vast
importance as well, because it is continually deriving truth from the
experience of what is real externally, and from the experience of what
is Divine internally, and therefore seems to rectify the superior ideas,
the dominant ideas, in that in which their traditional element is not in
perfect harmony with truth. And to them, it is a perennial fountain of
fresh life which renews them, a source of legitimate authority, derived
rather from the nature of things, from the true value of ideas, than
from the decrees of men. The Church is the whole man, not one separate
group of exalted and dominant ideas; the Church is the hierarchy, with
its traditional views, and the laity, with its continual derivations
from reality, its continual reaction upon tradition; the Church is
official theology, and she is the inexhaustible treasure of Divine
Truth, which reacts upon official theology; the Church does not die; the
Church does not grow old; the Church has the living Christ in her heart
rather than on her lips; the Church is a laboratory of truth, which is
in continual action, and God commands you to remain in the Church, to
become the Church fountains of living water."
Like a gust of wind, a feeling of emotion and of admiration swept over
the audience. Benedetto, whose voice had been growing louder and louder,
rose to his feet.
"But what manner of faith is yours!" he exclaimed excitedly, "if you
talk of deserting the Church because you are displeased with certain
antiquated doctrines of her rulers, with certain decrees of the Roman
congregations, with certain tendencies in the government of a Pontiff?
What manner of sons are you who talk of denying your mother because her
dress is not to your taste? Can a dress change the maternal bosom? When
resting there, you tearfully confess your infirmities to Christ, and
Christ heals you, do you speculate concerning the authenticity of a
passage in St. John, the true author of the Fourth Gospel, or the two
Isaiahs? When, gathered there, you unite yourselves to Christ in the
sacrament, are you disturbed by the decrees of the Index, or of the Holy
Office? When, lying there, you pass into the shadows of death, is the
peace it sheds about you any less sweet because a Pope is opposed to
"My friends, you say 'We have rested in the shade of this tree, but now
its bark is splitting, is being dried up, the tree will die; let us seek
another tree.' The tree will not die. If you had ears you would hear the
movement of the new bark which is forming, which will have its span of
life, which will crack, will be dried up in its turn only to be replaced
by another coat of bark. The tree does not perish, the tree grows."
Benedetto sat down, exhausted, and was silent. There was a movement
among the audience like the shuddering of waves surging towards him.
Raising his hands, he stopped them.
"Friends," he said, in a weary, sweet voice, "listen to me once more.
Scribes and Pharisees, elders and princes among priests, have striven in
all times against innovations, as they strive to-day. It is not for me
to speak to you of them; God will judge them. We pray for all those who
know not what they do. But perhaps those of the other Catholic camp, the
militant camp, are not entirely without sin. In the other camp they
are intoxicated with the idea of modernity. Modernity is good, but the
eternal is better. I fear that there they do not esteem the eternal at
its just value. It is expected that the Church of Christ will
derive much strength from united Catholic action in the fields of
administration and politics, action resulting in strife, through which
the Father will suffer insult at the hands of men, while not enough
reliance is placed on the strength to be derived from the light shed by
the good deeds of each individual Christian, through which light the
Father is glorified. The supreme object of humanity is to glorify the
Father. Now men glorify the Father of such as possess the spirit of
charity, of peace, of wisdom, of purity, of fortitude, who give their
vital strength for the good of others. One such just man, who professes
and practises Catholicism, contributes more largely to the glory of the
Father, of Christ, of the Church, than many congresses, many clubs, many
Catholic victories in politics.
"A moment ago I heard some one murmur: 'And what about the social
action?' The social action, my friends, is certainly salutary, as a work
of justice, of fraternisation; but like the Socialists, some Catholics
put upon it the seal of their own religious and political opinions, and
refuse to admit well-intentioned men, if they do not accept that seal;
they repulse the good Samaritan, and this is an abomination in the eyes
of God. They also set the seal of Catholicism upon works which are
instruments of gain, and this again is an abomination in the eyes of
God. They preach the just distribution of riches, and that is well; but
they too often forget to preach also poverty of the heart, and if they
are deterred from doing this by mercenary motives, then this is
another abomination in the eyes of God. Purge your actions of these
abominations. Call all well-intentioned men to help, especially in works
of justice and of love, satisfied yourselves to have initiated these
labours. By your words and by your example preach poverty of the heart
to rich and poor alike."
The audience swayed confusedly, drawn in different directions. Benedetto
covered his face with his hands, while he collected his thoughts.
"You ask me what you are to do?" he said uncovering his face.
He reflected a moment longer and then continued:
"I see, In the future, Catholic laymen striving zealously for Christ
and for truth, and finding a means of instituting unions different from