The Saint/Chapter 2
THE light was fading in Giovanni Selva's study, and on the little table covered with books and papers. Giovanni rose and opened the west window. The horizon was on fire behind Subiaco, along the oblique line of the Sabine hills, which stretch from Rocca di Canterano and Rocca di Mezzo to Rocca San Stefano. Subiaco, that pointed pile of houses large and small which culminates in the Rocca del Cardinale, was veiled in shadow; not a branch stirred on the olives clustered behind the small, red villa with green blinds, rising on the summit of the circular cliff, round whose base winds the public road; not a branch stirred on the great oak beside it, overhanging the little ancient oratory of Santa Maria della Febbre. The air, laden with the odours of wild herbs and recent rain, came fresh from Monte Calvo. It was a quarter past seven. In the shell-shaped tract watered by the Anio the bells were ringing; first the big bell of Sant' Andrea, then the querulous bells of Santa Maria della Valle; high up on the right, from the little white church near the great wood, the bells of the Capuchins, and others in the far-away distance. A woman's voice, submissive and sweet, the voice of five and twenty, came from the half-open, door behind Giovanni, saying almost timidly in French:
"May I come in?"
Giovanni, smiling, turned half round, and stretching out his arm, encircled the young woman pressing her to his side without answering,
She felt she must not speak; that her husband's soul was following the dying night, and the mystic song of the bells. She rested her head on his shoulder, and only after a moment of religious silence did she ask softly;
"Shall we say our prayer?"
A pressure of the arm encircling her was the answer. Neither her lips nor his moved. Only the eyes of both dilated, straining towards the Infinite, and assumed that look of reverence and sadness which mirrors the thoughts that remain unspoken, the uncertain future, the dark portals which lead to God. The bells became silent, and Signora Selva, fixing her blue eyes on her husband's eager gaze, offered him her lips. The man's snowy head and the woman's fair face met in a long kiss which would have filled the world with astonishment. Maria d'Arxel, at one and twenty, had fallen In love with Giovanni Selva. after having read one of his books on religious philosophy, translated into French. She wrote to the unknown author in such ardent words of admiration, that Selva, in answering, alluded to his fifty-six years and his white hair. The girl replied that she was aware of both, that she neither offered nor asked for love, she only craved a few lines from time to time. Her letters sparkled with brilliant intellect. They came to Selva when he was passing through a dark crisis, a bitter struggle, which need not be related here. He thought this Maria d'Arxel might prove his saving star. He wrote to her again.
"Do you know what anniversary this is?" asked Maria. "Do you remember?"
Giovanni remembered; it was the anniversary of their first meeting. During the correspondence the two had bared the very depths of their souls to one another in an inexpressible fervour of sincerity, while as yet unacquainted save by means of portraits. After they had exchanged four or five letters, Giovanni asked his unknown correspondent for her likeness; a request she had expected and dreaded. The girl consented on condition of a speedy restitution of the photograph, and was in agony until it was returned, accompanied by some very tender words from her friend. He was charmed with the intellectual, passionate, and youthful face, with the sweetness of the great eyes, with the symmetry of the figure. Then when they had arranged to meet, he coming from the Lake of Como, she from Brussels to Hergyswyl near Lucerne, both had been in a fever of apprehension. She reflected:
"The portrait pleased him, but the bearing of the real person, a line, the colour of the garments, the manner of meeting, the first words, the tone of voice, may perhaps destroy his love at one blow,"
"She knows my face, ravaged by time, my white hair, and she loves them in the picture, but I am ageing day by day; perhaps when she sees me this incredible love will be killed at a blow."
He had reached Hergyswyl by boat some hours before her; she, leaving Basel in the morning, arrived by the Bruenigbahn in the afternoon.
"Do you know," Maria continued, "when I did not see you at the station, my first sensation was one of relief; I trembled so! The second sensation was different, was one of fright,"
"You never told me that," said he.
The young wife looked up at him and smiled in her turn.
"Perhaps you yourself have never told me quite everything about those moments."
Giovanni placed his hands on her shoulders and whispered in her ear:
"That is true."
She started, and then laughed at herself for starting, and Giovanni laughed with her.
"What, what?" she cried, her face aglow, vexed but still laughing. Her husband whispered again, in a tone of great mystery:
"That your hat was in disorder!"
"Oh, that is not true! Really not true!"
Sparkling with mirth, and at the same time trembling at the idea of the great danger she had encountered unawares, she protested that it was impossible; she had looked in the mirror of her nécessaire so many times before reaching Hergyswyl.
Every moment of that hour passed two years before, they recalled together jestingly; she often kissing his breast, and he her hair. Giovanni had not waited for her at the station, where there was a crowd of holiday-makers, but a few yards distant, on the road leading to the hotel. He had seen her coming, tall, slender, with a tiny sprig of Olea fragrans, the sign they had chosen, at her breast. He had approached her, his head bared, and they had pressed one another's hands in silence. He had signed to the porter, who was following with her travelling bag, to precede them. They had followed slowly, their throats contracted by a nameless emotion. She had been the first to murmur, in her sweet refined voice: "Mon ami."
Then he had spoken in subdued tones, in broken sentences, of his infatuation, of his love, of his ecstasy, and had not noticed when they passed the hotel. Twice the porter called after them:
"Monsieur! Madame! C'est ici!" and neither had heard. Then the girl had gone to her room smiling, but pale with fatigue, and with aching head. Giovanni went out again to wander among the level gardens and orchards of Hergyswyl, breathing hard like a man exhausted by excess of feeling, blessing every stone and every leaf of this verdant corner of a foreign land, the lake, sleeping in its bosom, the crowd of great religious mountains; blessing God, who at his time of life had sent him such a love. And he had returned soon, too soon, to the hotel. The only other guests there on that May day, an old German professor and his daughter, had gone up Mount Pilatus. There was no one in the little reading-room. In that reading-room Maria and Giovanni had spent two happy hours, hand in hand, talking with hushed voices, often trembling in fear lest some one should come in.
"Do you remember," said Maria, "that there was a fireplace in the room, near the sofa where we sat?"
"And that it was cold, although it was May; so cold that the waiter came in to light the fire?"
"Yes, and it was then I made you cry."
"Could you repeat those same words to-day?"
So saying, Giovanni kissed his wife's white forehead reverently, as if it were a holy thing. When the waiter came in to light the fire in the little salon at Hergyswyl, Giovanni had dropped the beloved hand, and had said, while the servant still lingered:
"The old log will surely burn on to the end, but who can tell how long the youthful flame will last?" Maria had not answered, but had looked at him, her eyes dilating, and dimmed by the cold touch of the unjust suspicion, as the glass of a hothouse is dimmed by the touch of a frost outside.
No, Giovanni had never again harboured such a thought. He and Maria often said to each other that perhaps there was no other union on earth like theirs, so penetrated with, so full of peace derived from the solemnly sweet and grave certainty that, no matter how God might order their existence after death, their spirits would surely be united in the love of the Divine Will. Nevertheless, they did not neglect to lay the desire of their souls before the Almighty. The prayer they had just prayed together, both wrapt in inward contemplation, had been composed by Giovanni, and ran as follows:
"Father, let it be with us as Jesus prayed that last night; life with Him in Thee, for all eternity."
Even in the present they were two in one, in the narrowest, the most accurate sense of the phrase, for their duality was also perceptible in their spiritual union; as, when a green current mingles with a blue current, it sometimes happens, at the beginning of their united course, that broken waves flash here and there—some the colour of the woods, some as blue as the sky. Giovanni was a mystic, who harmonised all human affections with Divine love, in his heart. His wife, who had come through him from Protestantism to a Catholicism thirsting for reason, had entered into his mystic soul as far as was possible; but love for Giovanni predominated in her over every other sentiment. She was rich and he comfortably off, but they lived almost poorly, that they might have greater means for their broad charities. They lived in Rome in the winter, in Subiaco from April to November, in the modest villa of which they had hired the second floor. Only on books and on their correspondence did they spend freely. Giovanni was preparing a work on reason in Christian morality. His wife read for him, made extracts, took notes.
"I should so much like to go to Hergyswyl next summer," said she, "that you might write the last chapter of the book there, the chapter on Purity!"
So saying, she clasped her hands, happy in the vision of the little village, nestling among the apple trees at the head of the tiny bay, the calm lake, the great religious mountains, the quiet days, spent in work and peaceful contemplation. She was acquainted with the entire plan of her husband's work, with the subject of each chapter, with the principal arguments.
The chapter on Purity was her favourite because of its rational trend. In it her husband intended to propose and to solve the following problem: "Why does Christianity exalt, as an element of human perfection, that renunciation which subjects man to fierce struggles, is of no benefit to any one, and closes the door of existence to possible human lives?" The answer was to be deduced from, the study of the moral phenomenon in its historical origins, and its development; to this study the first two chapters of the work were dedicated. Selva showed by the example of the brutes, who sacrifice themselves for their young, or for companions of their own kind, and are sometimes capable of strictly monogamous unions, that in inferior animal nature the moral instinct becomes manifest and develops in proportion as the carnal instinct diminishes. He maintained the hypothesis that the human conscience was thus being progressively developed in the inferior species. He now proposed to return to this conclusion, and to lay down the general principle that the renunciation of carnal pleasures for a satisfaction of a higher order signifies the striving of the species towards a superior form of existence. He would then examine the exceptional cases of individuals who, with no other end in view than that of honouring the Divinity, oppose to the carnal instincts—greatly stimulated in them by intellect and sensual imagination—a still stronger instinct of renunciation. He would show that many creeds furnish such examples and extol renunciation, but that it must, however, always remain a spontaneous action on the part of the individual. He was willing to admit that it would be both a blameworthy and foolish action, did it not correspond to a mysterious impulse of Nature herself—to that so-called spiritual element—which persists in its eternal antagonism to the carnal instinct, in obedience to a cosmic law. Unconscious collaborators of Him who governs the universe, these heroes of supreme renunciation imagine that only through their sacrifice are they honouring Him, while in reality they incarnate, according to the Divine design, the progressive energy of the species, strengthening their own spiritual element, that it may have the power to create for itself a superior corporeal form, more in the likeness of the Master; thus their purity is human perfection, is the elevation on which our human nature culminates, and touches the nebulous beginnings of an unknown superhuman nature.
"When I think of incarnate purity," said Giovanni, "I see! Don Clemente before me. Did I tell you he is coming to the meeting to-night? He will come down directly after supper."
Maria started. "Oh!" said she, "I almost forgot to tell you Noemi has written to me. She was to leave Milan yesterday with the Dessalles, They are going to stay in Rome a day or two, and then they are coming here."
"You recalled this because I mentioned Don Clemente," said Giovanni smiling.
"Yes," replied his wife; "nevertheless, you know I do not believe."
How could Don Clemente's lofty forehead, his blue eyes, so serene and pure, have known passion? In the soft, submissive, almost timid voice of the young Benedictine there was—to Maria's mind—a chastity too delicate, a purity too virginal.
"You do not believe," Giovanni answered, "and perhaps, after all, you are right; perhaps, after all, he is not Maironi. Still it will be better to let him know to-night, in some way, that Signora Dessalle is coming to Subiaco, and that she will, of course, visit the convents. Especially as he would be obliged to accompany her, being the Father who receives visitors."
There could be no doubt about this. Maria herself would warn him. As she did not believe him to have been Jeanne's lover it would be easier for her to speak naturally to him of her. But what a terrible thing it would be if he really were Maironi, and if they should meet face to face, quite unprepared, in front of the monastery, he and the woman! Was Giovanni quite sure the monk was coming to the meeting? Yes, quite sure. Don Clemente had obtained the abbot's permission while Giovanni was at the convent, and had at once told him. He was coming, and would bring with him, and introduce to them, the man who helped the kitchen-gardener, of whom he had already spoken to Giovanni. Thus, another time, the gardener could come alone, and would teach him to bank up the potatoes in the little piece of ground he had hired behind the villa, intending to cultivate it with his own hands. Manual labour, to which he had recently taken, was a pet hobby of Giovanni's of which Maria did not altogether approve, deeming it incompatible with his habits and with his age. However, she respected his whim and held her peace. At that moment the girl from Affile, who served them, came to tell them that their guests were on their way upstairs, and that supper would be ready shortly.
Three people, in fact, were ascending the narrow winding stair of the little villa, Giovanni went down to meet them. First came his young friend Leyni, who, on greeting Giovanni, begged to be excused for preceding the two ecclesiastics who were his companions.
"I am master of ceremonies," he explained, and proceeded to introduce them there on the stairs.
"The Abbé Marinier of Geneva. Don Paolo Fare of Varese, with whose name you are already acquainted."
Selva was slightly perplexed; nevertheless he at once invited his guests to follow him, and conducted them to the terrace, where some chairs had been placed.
"And Dane?" said he anxiously to Leyni, taking his arm, "And Professor Minucci, and Father Salvati."
"They have arrived," the young man replied, smiling. "They are at the Aniene. I must tell you about it—but it is a long story! They will be here presently."
Meanwhile the Abbé Marinier had gone out on the terrace, and now exclaimed:
"Oh, c'est admirable!"
Don Paolo Faré, always loyal to his native Como, murmured, "Beautiful, beautiful indeed!" as if he would have liked to add, "but if you could only see my country!"
Maria joined them, and the introductions were repeated; then Leynì told his story while Marinier let his little sparkling eyes wander over the landscape, from the pyramid-shaped Subiaco, standing out with a dark scenic effect against the bright background in the west, to the wild hornbeams close by, which shut out the east.
Don Fare was devouring Selva with his eyes, Selva, the author of critical essays on the Old and New Testament, and especially of a book on the basis of future Catholic theology, which had elevated and transfigured his faith. Baron Leynì was telling his story. At the station of Mandela it had been very windy, and Professor Dane greatly feared he had taken cold; suspecting that there would be no cognac in the house of such an alcohol hater as Selva, and, moreover, the hour having arrived at which it was his daily custom to take two eggs, he had stopped at the Albergo dell' Aniene for the eggs and cognac. On the terrace of the restaurant, which faced the river, there was too much air, and in the small adjacent rooms there was too little, so he had ordered his repast served in a room at the hotel, and had sent the eggs back twice. Then the others had walked on, leaving him in the company of Professor Minucci and Father Salvati.
As Professor Dane, who was so delicate and sensitive to the cold, was not of the party, Giovanni. proposed having supper on the terrace. He at once abandoned the idea, however, on perceiving that it did not suit the Abbé from Geneva. The elegant, worldly Marinier took as great care of his own person as did his friend Dane, but with more dissimulation and without the excuse of ill-health. He had not, stayed to supper at the Aniene with his friend, because, on a previous visit to Subiaco, he had found the cuisine of that hotel too simple to suit his taste, and he had hopes of a French supper from Signora Selva. Baron Leynì knew well how fallacious such hopes were; but in a spirit of mischief he refrained from enlightening him. There was barely: room for the five people in the tiny dining-room. It was fortunate the other two had not come. In fact, neither the Abbé Marinier nor Don Faré was expected, but others who had been expected were absent. A monk and a priest, men of repute from northern Italy, who should have been present, had both written to apologise for their absence, to the lively regret of Selva, of Faré, and of Leynì. Marinier, on the other hand, proffered his apologies for having intruded. Dane was responsible for his presence, as Leynì was for the presence of Don Paolo Faré. Selva protested. Friends of his friends were, of course, always welcome. Leynì and Dane both knew they were free to bring any one in whom they had confidence, any one who shared their views. Maria was silent; she was not greatly pleased with Abbé Marinier. She also felt that Leynì and Dane would have done well had they abstained from introducing strangers without notifying Giovanni. Marinier spoke, with slightly knitted brows, after a close scrutiny of his bean soup.
"I fear," said he, "we shall weary Signora Selva if we talk now of the subject to be discussed at the meeting."
Maria reassured him. She should not be present at the meeting, but she took the liveliest interest in its objects.
"Very well, then," Marinier continued. "It will be a great advantage to me to become better acquainted with those objects, for Dane has spoken of them only in rather vague terms, and I do not feel sure that I entirely share your views."
Don Paole could not restrain a movement of impatience. Selva himself seemed slightly annoyed, because unanimity of opinion on certain fundamental principles was surely necessary. Without this unanimity the meeting might prove worse than useless, even dangerous.
"Well," said he, "there are many Catholics in Italy and outside of Italy who, with us, desire certain reforms in the Church. We wish them to be brought about without rebellion, to be the work of the legitimate authorities. We desire reforms in religious instruction, in the ceremonies, in the discipline of the clergy, reforms even in the highest sphere of ecclesiastical government. To obtain these ends it is necessary to create a current of opinion strong enough to induce the legitimate authorities to act in conformity with our views, be it twenty, thirty, or even fifty years hence. Now we who hold these opinions are widely dispersed, and, save in the case of those who publish articles or books, are ignorant of one another's views. Very probably a large number of pious and cultured people in the Catholic world feel as we do; and I believe it would afford the greatest assistance in the spreading of our opinions if we could, at least, know one another. To-night a few of us are to meet together for a first discussion."
While Giovanni spoke, the others kept their eyes fixed on the Genevese. The Abbé gazed steadily as his plate. A brief silence followed, and Giovanni was the first to break it.
"Has Professor Dane not told you this?" he asked.
"Yes, yes," replied the Abbé, raising his eyes from his plate at last; "he has told me something similar."
The tone was that of one who only half approves. But, why, then, had he come? Don Paolo looked displeased; the others were silent. An embarrassing pause ensued. At last Marinier said:
"We will discuss this again to-night."
"Yes," answered Selva quietly; "we will discuss it again to-night."
He felt he had found an adversary in this abbé, and he thought Dane had committed an error both of judgment and of tact in inviting him to the meeting. At the same time he comforted himself with the tacit reflection that it would be an advantage to hear all possible objections set forth; and that a friend of Professor Dane was, at least, sure to be trustworthy, and would not divulge names and speeches it were better to keep secret for the present. Young di Leynì, on the other hand, was very apprehensive of this danger knowing how many and how various were the Abbé Marinier's acquaintances in Rome, where he had lived for five years, pursuing certain historical studies; and he was also annoyed at not having known of his coming in time to write to Selva, suggesting the advisability of seeking to propitiate him, beginning through his palate. The table at the Selvas', always exquisitely neat, and decorated with flowers, was most frugal, and very simple as regards food. The Selvas never drank wine, and the pale, acid wine of Subiaco could only have a souring effect on a man accustomed to French vintages.
The girl from Affile had already served the coffee, when, at the same moment, Don Clemente arrived on foot from Santa Scolastica, and Dane, Professor Salvati, and Professor Minucci, in a two-horse carriage, from Subiaco. But Don Clemente, who was followed by his gardener, seeing the carriage approaching the gate of the villa, and understanding that it brought guests for the Selvas, hastened his steps, that Giovanni might see the gardener and speak with him a few moments before the meeting.
The Selvas and their three companions had risen from the table, and Maria, coming out to the terrace on the arm of the gallant Abbé Marinier, saw, in spite of the growing darkness, the Benedictine on the steep path leading up from the gate which opened upon the public road. She greeted him from above, and begged him to wait for a light at the foot of the stairs. She herself descended the winding stairs with the light, and signed to Don Clemente that she wished to speak to him, casting a significant glance in the direction of the man standing behind him. Don Clemente turned, and requested him to wait outside under the acacias. Then, having ascended a few steps at the lady's silent invitation, he stopped to listen to what she had to tell him.
She spoke hastily of her three guests, particularly of the Abbé Marinier, saying she was much annoyed on account of her husband, who had such faith in this cherished idea of a Catholic association, and who would now find himself confronted with an unexpected opposition. She wished Don Clemente to know this that he might be prepared. She herself had come to explain to him, because her husband could not leave his guests at that moment. At the same time she would say good-night to Don Clemente, as she did not intend to be present at the meeting, being a woman and so ignorant. Perhaps she should meet him at the monastery in a few days. Was not he the Padre who received visitors? She would probably be going to Santa Scolastica in three or four days, with her sister——
At this point Signora Selva involuntarily raised the light to observe her companion's face more narrowly, but she at once repented of the action, as if she had failed in respect towards that soul which was surely holy, surely in harmony with the manly and virginal beauty of the tall slender person, with the head habitually held erect, in a pose almost military in its frank modesty; with the face so noble in its spacious forehead, in its clear blue eyes, expressing at the same time womanly sweetness and manly fire.
"There will also be an intimate friend of my sister's, a certain Signora Dessalle," she added, in a low voice, as if ashamed.
Don Clemente turned his head away, starting violently, and Maria, feeling the counter-shock, trembled. Then it was he? He at once turned towards her again, his face slightly flushed, but composed.
"Pardon me," said he, "what is the lady's name?"
"Whose, Signora Dessalle's?"
"Her name is Jeanne."
"About what age is she?"
"I do not know. I should say from thirty to thirty-five."
Maria was now completely at a loss to understand. The Padre put these questions with such indifference, such calmness! She herself risked a question.
"Do you know her, Padre?"
Don Clemente made no answer. At this point poor, gouty Dane arrived, having dragged himself up from the gate with great difficulty, leaning on Professor Minucci's arm. They were both intimate friends, and Signora Selva welcomed them kindly, but in a somewhat absent manner.
The meeting was held in Giovanni's little study. It was very small and as—out of regard for Dane and his rheums—the windows could not be opened, the fiery Don Fare felt he should stifle, and said as much, in his outspoken Lombard fashion. The others pretended not to have heard, except Leyni who signed to him not to insist, and Giovanni, who opened the door leading to the corridor, and the one beyond opening upon the terrace. Dane at once perceived an odour of damp woods, and the doors had to be closed again. An old petroleum lamp was burning on the writing-desk. Professor Minucci, who had weak eyes, asked timidly for a shade; which was looked for, found, and put in place. Don Paolo grumbled under his breath: "This is an infirmary!" His friend Leyni, who also thought these numerous petty cares should be set aside at such a moment, experienced an unpleasant sensation of coldness. Giovanni experienced the same sensation, but in a reflex manner, for he knew the impression that those present, who were strangers to them, must receive of Dane and perhaps also of Minucci. He himself knew them well. Dane, with all his colds and his nerves and his sixty-two years, possessed, besides great learning, an indomitable vigour of mind and a steadfast moral courage. Andrea Minucci, in spite of his disordered fair hair, his spectacles, and a certain awkwardness in his movements, which gave him the appearance of a learned German, was a youthful and most ardent soul, tried in the fire of life, not sparkling on the surface like the soul of the Lombard, but enveloped in its own flame, severe, and, probably, stronger.
Giovanni began speaking in a frank, open way. He thanked those present for coming, and excused the absent ones, the monk and the priest, at the same time expressing regret for their absence. He said that in any case their adherence was insured, and he insisted upon the importance of their adherence. He added, speaking louder and more slowly, and fixing his eyes on the Abbé Marinier, that for the time being he deemed it prudent not to divulge anything regarding either the meeting, or any measures which might be adopted; and he begged all to consider themselves bound in honour to silence. He then explained, rather more fully than he had done at supper, the idea he had conceived, and the object of the meeting,
"And now," he concluded, "let each one express his opinion,"
A profound silence followed. The Abbé Marinier was about to speak when Dane rose feebly to his feet. His pale, fleshless face, refined and full of intellect, wore a look of solemn gravity. "I believe," said he in Italian, which sounded foreign and formal, but which was nevertheless warm with feeling, "that finding ourselves, as we now do, united at the beginning of a religious movement, we should at once do two things. The first is to concentrate our souls in God, silently each in his own way, until we feel the presence in us of God Himself, the desire of Him, His very glory, in our hearts. I will now do this, and I beg you to do it with me."
So saying, Professor Dane crossed his arms over his breast, bent his head, and closed his eyes. The others rose, and all save Abbé Marinier clasped their hands. The Abbé, with a sweeping gesture which embraced the air, brought them together on his breast. The soft complaining of the lamp, a step on the floor below could be distinctly heard. Marinier was the first to glance up furtively, to ascertain if the others still prayed. Dane raised his head, and said:
"The second thing!" he added. "We propose to ourselves to obey in all things the legitimate ecclesiastical authority——"
Don Paolo Faré burst out, exclaiming: "That must depend!"
The vibration of sudden thought, the muffled rumbling of unspoken words, shook all present. Dane said slowly: "Exercised according to just principles." The movement shrunk to a murmur of assent, and then ceased. Dane went on: "And now one thing more! Let there never be hatred of any one on our lips nor in our hearts!"
Don Paolo burst out again: "No, not hatred but indignation! 'Circumspiciens eos cum ira!'"
"Yes," said Don Clemente in his sweet, soft voice; "when we shall have enthroned Christ within us; when we shall feel the wrath of pure love."
Don Paolo, who was near him, made no answer; he looked at him, his eyes suffused with tears, and, seizing his hand, carried it to his lips. The Benedictine drew back, startled, his face aflame.
"And we shall not enthrone Christ within us," said Giovanni, much moved, and pleased with the mystic breath he seemed to feel passing over the assembly, "If we do not purify our ideas of reform through love; if, when the time comes to operate, we do not first purify our hands and our instruments. This indignation, this wrath of which you, Don Paolo, speak, is really a powerful snare which the evil one uses against us; powerful precisely because it bears the semblance of virtue and sometimes, as is the case with the saints really has the substance of virtue. In us it is nearly always pure malevolence, because we do not know how to love. The prayer I love best, after the Pater Noster, is the prayer of Unity, which unites us all in the spirit of Christ, when He prays thus to the Father: 'Ut et ipsi in nobis unum sint.' The desire and hope are always strong within us of a union in God with those of our brothers whose beliefs separate them from us. Therefore say now whether you accept my proposal to found this association. First discuss the question, and then, if the proposal be accepted we will examine the means of promoting it."
Don Paolo exclaimed impetuously, that the principle needed no discussion; and Minucci observed, in a submissive tone, that the object of the meeting was known to all before they came; therefore, by their presence, they had implied their approval and their willingness to bind themselves together in a common action; the question of ways and means remaining still undecided. Abbé Marinier asked permission to speak.
"I am really very sorry," he said smiling, "but I have not brought even the smallest thread with which to bind myself. I also am one of those who see many things going wrong in the Church. Still, when Signor Selva carefully explained his views to me (first at supper and then here), views which I had not clearly understood from my friend Professor Dane's explanation, certain objections, which I consider serious, forced themselves upon me."
"Exactly," thought Minucci, who had heard how ambitious Marinier was; "if you look for promotion, you must not join us;" and he added aloud: "Let us hear them."
"In the first place, gentlemen," the clever Abbé said, "it seems to me you have begun with the second meeting. I may say, with all due respect, that you remind me of a party of good people who sit down to a game of cards, and cannot get on because one holds Italian, one French, another German cards, and therefore they cannot understand one another. I have heard unanimity of opinions mentioned; but there exists perhaps among us rather a unanimity of negative opinions. We are probably unanimous in believing that the Catholic Church has grown to resemble a very ancient temple, originally of great simplicity, of great spirituality, which the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries have crowded with superfluities. Perhaps the more malicious among you will say that only a dead language may be spoken aloud in this temple, that living languages may only be whispered there, and that the sun itself takes on false colours when it shines through the windows. But I cannot believe we are all of one mind as regards the quantity and quality of the remedies to be applied. Therefore before initiating this catholic freemasonry, I think it would be wiser to come to an understanding respecting these reforms. I will go even farther; I believe that, were it possible to establish perfect harmony of opinion among you, it would still be inexpedient to bind yourselves together with visible fetters, as Signor Selva proposes. My objection is of a most delicate nature. You doubtless expect to be able to swim in safety, below the surface, like wary fishes, and you do not reflect that the vigilant eye of the Sovereign-Fisherman, or rather Vice-Fisherman, may very easily spy you out, and spear you with a skilful thrust of the harpoon. Now I should never advise the finest, most highly flavoured, most desirable fishes to bind themselves together. You will easily understand what might happen should one be caught and landed. Moreover, you know very well that the great Fisherman of Galilee put the small fishes into his vivarium, but the Great Fisherman of Rome fries them."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Don Paolo with a laugh. The others maintained a frigid silence. The Abbé continued:
"Furthermore, I do not believe any good can be achieved through this league. Associations may be useful in helping to raise salaries, they may promote industries and commerce; but science and truth, never. Reforms will surely be brought about some day, because ideas are stronger than men, and are always pressing forward; but by arraying them in armour, and marching them forward in companies, you expose them to a terrible fire, which will check their progress for a long time to come. Science and religion progress only through the individual, through the Messiah. Have you a saint among you? Do you know where to look for one? Then find him and let him march forward. Fiery language, broad charity, two or three little miracles, and your Messiah alone will achieve more than all of you together."
The Abbé was silent, and Giovanni rose to speak.
"Perhaps the Abbé," said he, "has not yet been able to form a true conception of the value of the union we desire. We have just prayed together, seeking to stand united in the Divine Presence. This is sufficient to indicate the character of our union. In consideration of the ills afflicting the Church—which in substance are the result of discord between her mutable human element and her immutable element of Divine Truth—we wish, in our desire that He may remove these discords, to become one in the God of Truth; and we wish to feel ourselves united. Such a union has no need of community of opinion on certain subjects, although many of us hold many opinions in common. We do not propose to create a collective movement, either public or private, in order to bring about this or that reform. I am old enough to remember the time of the Austrian domination. If the Lombard and Venetian patriots called us together in those days to talk of politics, it was by no means always in order to conspire, nor to determine revolutionary acts; it was to enable us to communicate news, to become acquainted, to keep the flame of the idea alive. This is what we wish to do in the religious field. The Abbé Marinier may rest assured that that negative accord of which he spoke will amply suffice. We must strive to widen it, that it may embrace the majority of the intelligent faithful; that it may even reach the Hierarchy. He will see that positive accord will ripen in it, mysteriously, as the seed of life ripens in the decaying body of the fruit. Yes, yes, the negative accord is sufficient. The feeling that the Church of Christ is suffering is sufficient to unite us in the love of our Mother, and to move us at least to pray for her, we and our brothers who, like us, feel her sufferings! What is your answer, Abbé?"
The Abbé murmured with a faint smile:
"C'est beau, mais ce n'est pas la logique."
Don Paolo started up:
"Logic has nothing to do with it."
"Ah!" Marinier replied, assuming a contrite expression, "if you intend to forego logic——!"
Don Paolo, all on fire, wished to protest, but Professor Dane signed to him to be calm.
"We do not intend to forego logic," said he, "but it is not as easy to measure the logical value of a conclusion in questions of sentiment, of love of faith, as it is to measure the logical value of a conclusion in geometrical problems. In the questions which interest us the logical process is hidden. Surely my dear friend Marinier, one of the most acute-minded men I know, when he answered my dear friend Selva, did not intend to imply that when a person very dear to us falls ill, it is necessary for us to decide what method of treatment to adopt before hastening to his bedside together."
"These are very fine figures," said the Abbé Marinier with vehemence; "but you are all aware that similes are not arguments!"
Don Clemente, standing in the corner between the door leading into the corridor and the window, and Professor Minucci, seated near him, began to speak at the same moment, but both stopped short; each wishing to allow the other to speak first. Selva proposed that the monk be heard first. All eyes were fixed on that noble face, the face of an archangel: Don Clemente's colour deepened, but he held his head erect. After a moment of hesitation he spoke in his soft, modest voice.
"The Abbé Marinier made an observation which seemed to me very just. He said that we need a saint. I also believe this, I do not despair of finding one, for perhaps, even now, he exists. Who knows?"
"Himself," murmured Don Paolo,
"Now," Don Clemente went on, "I wish the Abbé Marinier to understand this: that we are, in a manner, the prophets of this saint, of this Messiah, preparing the way for him; which simply means that we point out the necessity of a renovation of all that, in our religion, is outward clothing, and not the body of truth, even should such a renovation cause suffering to many consciences. Ingemiscit et parturit! We must point out this necessity, standing the while on absolutely Catholic ground, looking for the new laws from the old authorities, bringing proofs that if these garments which have been worn so long and in such stormy times, be not changed, no decent person will come near us; and God forbid that some among us should be driven to cast them off without permission, out of a loathing not to be borne. I wish furthermore to say, if the Abbé Marinier will permit me, that we have very few human fears."
A murmur of hearty assent answered him, and Minucci started up, every nerve vibrating. While the Abbé Marinier had been speaking, di Leynì and Selva had watched Minucci, who was fuming, with knitted brows; and Giovanni, knowing well the violent temper of this ascetic mystic, had intended to give him time to control himself by requesting Don Clemente to speak first. He now sprang up excitedly. His words did not flow smoothly, their very impetus causing them to tremble and break, and, broken, they poured from his lips in a torrent, precise, nevertheless, and powerful, with their vigorous Roman accent.
"That is true! We have no human fears. We are striving for things too great, and we desire them too intensely to feel human fears! We wish to be united in the living Christ, all among us who feel that the understanding of the Way, the Truth, and the Life—is—is—is—growing, yes, is growing in our hearts, in our minds! And this understanding bursts so many—what shall I call them?—so many bonds of ancient formulas which press us, which suffocate us; which would suffocate the Church were the Church mortal! We wish to be united in the living Christ, all among us who thirst—who thirst, Abbé Marinier! who thirst! thirst!—that our faith, if it lose in extent, may gain in intensity—gain a hundredfold—for God's glory! And may it irradiate from us, and may it, I say, be as a purifying fire, purifying first Catholic thought and then Catholic action! We wish to be united in the living Christ, all among us who feel that He is preparing a slow but tremendous reformation, through the prophets and the saints; a transformation to be accomplished by sacrifice, by sorrow, by the severing of affections; all who know that the prophets are consecrated to suffering, and that these things are revealed to us not by flesh and blood, but by God Himself, dwelling in our souls. We wish to be united, all of us, from many lands, and to regulate our course of action. Catholic freemasonry? Yes; the freemasonry of the Catacombs. You are afraid, Abbé? You fear that many heads will fall at one blow? I answer. Where is the sword mighty enough for such a blow? One at a time, all in turn may be struck; to-day, for instance, Professor Dane; to-morrow, Don Faré; the next day, this Padre here. But should the day come on which Abbé Marinier's fantastic harpoon should bring up, all bound by a common cord, famous laymen, priests, monks, bishops, perhaps even cardinals, what fisherman is there great or small, who would not be terrified, and who would not cast back into the water harpoon and all the rest? Moreover, I must beg you to pardon me, Abbé Marinier, if I ask you and other prudent persons like you, where is your faith? Would you hesitate to serve Christ from fear of Peter? Let us band together against the fanaticism which crucified Him and which is now poisoning His Church; and if suffering be our reward, let us give thanks to the Father: 'Beati estis cum persecuti vos fuerint et dixerint omne malum adversum vos, mentientes, propter me.'"
Don Paolo Faré started to his feet and embraced the orator. Di Leynì fixed upon him eyes aflame with enthusiasm. Dane, Selva, Don Clemente, and the other monk were silent and embarrassed, feeling—especially the three ecclesiastics—that Minucci had gone too far, that his words concerning the extent and intensity of faith, concerning the fear of Peter, were not weighed; that the whole tone of his discourse was too aggressive, and not in harmony with Dane's mystical exhortation, or with the language Selva had used in delineating the character of the proposed association. The Genevese abbé had never for a moment removed his small bright eyes from Minucci's face while he was speaking. He watched Don Paolo's demonstration with an expression of mingled irony and pity; then he rose:
"Very well," he said; "I do not know whether my friend Dane, in particular, shares this gentleman's views. Indeed, I am inclined to doubt it. The speaker mentioned Peter. In truth it seems to me the present company is preparing to leave Peter's bark, in the hope perhaps of being able to walk upon the waves. I humbly declare that my faith is not sufficient, and I should sink at once. I intend to remain in the bark, at the most plying a small oar, according to my light, for, as this gentleman says, I am very timid. It is therefore necessary for us to part, and it only remains for me to beg you to pardon my coming. I feel the need of a stroll to aid my digestion. Dear friend," said he addressing Dane, "we shall meet at the Aniene."
He approached Selva to bid him good-night, his hand extended. At once the entire company, with the exception of Don Paolo and Minucci, gathered round him, urging him to remain. He insisted quietly, checking his over-zealous assailants with a cold smile, a delicately sarcastic phrase, or a graceful gesture. Di Leyni turned to Fare, motioning to him to join the others; but the fiery Don Paolo responded only by an emphatic shrug and a scowl of irritation. In the meantime, a Tuscan voice was heard above the clamour of Marinier's assailants.
"Stia bono!" it said. "As yet nothing has been decided! Wait! I have not yet spoken!"
The speaker was Father Salvati, a Scolopio, and an old man with snowy hair, a florid complexion, and bright eyes.
"Nothing has as yet been decided," he repeated. "I, for one, approve of uniting, but I have one special end in view, while the discourses I have heard seem to me to favour a very different end. Intellectual progress is good, renovation of the formulas according to the spirit of the times is also good, a Catholic reform is excellent. I hold with Rafaello Lambruschini, who was a great man; with the 'Pensieri di un solitario'; but it appears to me that Professor Minucci is advocating a reform of an eminently intellectual nattire, and that——"
Here Dane lifted his small, white, refined hand.
"Allow me, Father," he said. "My dear friend Marinier sees that the discussion is reopened. I beg him to resume his seat." The Abbé raised his eyebrows slightly, but obeyed. The others also sat down, quite satisfied. They had little faith in the Abbé's discretion, and it would have been a great misfortune had he left ab irato. Father Salvati resumed his discourse.
He was opposed to giving an eminently intellectual character to the movement of reform, not so much on account of the danger from Rome as of the danger of troubling the simple faith of a multitude of quiet souls. He wished the Union to set itself first of all a great moral task, that of bringing back the faithful to the practice of gospel teachings. To illumine hearts was, in his eyes, the first duty of those who aspired to illumine minds. Speaking with all due respect, it was obviously less important to transform Catholic faith in the Bible, than to render Catholic faith in the word of Christ efficacious. It must be shown that, in general, the faithful praise Christ with their lips, but that the heart of the people is far from Him; it must further be shown how much egoism enters into a certain form of fervent piety which many believed to be a source of sanctification.
Here Don Paolo and Minucci protested, grumbling: "This has nothing to do with the question."
Salvati exclaimed that it had much to do with it, and he begged them to listen to him patiently. He continued, alluding to a general perversion of the sense of Christian duty as regards the desire for, and the use of, riches; a perversion it would be very difficult to eradicate, it having—In the course of centuries, and with the full sanction of the clergy—taken deep root in the human conscience.
"The times, gentlemen," the old monk exclaimed, "demand a Franciscan movement. Now I see no signs of such a movement. I see ancient religious orders which no longer have power to influence society. I see Christian democracy, both administrative and political, which is not in the spirit of St. Francis; which does not love holy poverty. I see a society for the study of Franciscan thought—simply an intellectual pastime! I believe that we should promote a Franciscan movement; that is, if we desire Catholic reform.."
"But how?" Faré demanded, while Minucci, much vexed, grumbled: "It's not that at all!"
Selva felt that the souls which had been united by a first impulse were drifting apart again. He felt that Dane, Minucci, and probably also Faré, wished, as did he himself, to initiate an intellectual movement, and that this Franciscan flash had come out of season and was out of place. It was all the more inopportune in that it was hot with living truth. For undoubtedly there was much truth in Padre Salvati's words: he recognised this, he, who had often debated in his own mind if it had not been wiser and for the greater good of the Church to promote a moral agitation rather than an intellectual one. But he himself did not feel qualified for this Franciscan apostolate, nor could he discover the necessary qualifications in any of his friends; not even in the most zealous of all, Luigi Minucci, a recluse, an ascetic, shunning the world like Selva himself. Salvati's arguments served to demolish, but not to build up. Giovanni secretly felt the irony of applying them either to Marinier or to Dane, of whom it was well known that their tastes were anything but Franciscan, that their palates were fastidious, their nerves delicate, and their affections lavished on parrots and little dogs. If anything was to be achieved, a line of defence must at once be adopted.
"Dear Padre Salvati must pardon me," he began, "if I observe that his discourse—so warm with the true Christian spirit—is ill-timed. I gather that he is with us in desiring a Catholic reform. To-night only a proposal is before us; the proposal to form a sort of league among all those who cherish the same desire. Let us then decide this point."
The Scolopio would not yield. He could not understand an inactive league, and action, according to the ideas of the intellectualists, did not suit him. The Genevese abbé exclaimed:
"Je l'avais bien dit!"
And he rose, determined this time to depart. But Selva would not allow this, and proposed closing the meeting, intending again to summon Professor Dane, Minucci, di Leynì, and Faré, on the morrow, or perhaps later on. Sa intractable, and It would be wiser to let Marinier carry away the impression that the plan was abandoned. Minucci guessed his motive, and was silent; but the thoughtless Don Paolo did not understand, and insisted that they should deliberate and vote at once. Selva, and di Leynì also—out of respect for Giovanni's wishes—persuaded him to wait. Nevertheless he continued to fume, his vexation directed mainly against the Swiss. Dane and Don Clemente were dissatisfied, each for a reason of his own; Dane being at heart vexed with Marinier, and sorry he had brought him; while Don Clemente would have liked to say that Padre Salvati's words were very beautiful and holy, and not out of season, because it was right that each should labour according to his vocation, the intellectualist in one way, the Franciscan in another. He who called them would provide for the co-ordination of their actions. The different vocations might well be united in the League. He would have liked to say this, but he had not been prepared, and had let the right moment pass; partly from mental shyness, fearing he should not speak well, partly out of consideration for Selva, who evidently wished to cut the meeting short. It was cut short, for all rose, and all, save Dane and Giovanni, went out to the terrace.
The Abbé Marinier proposed going to Santa Scolastica and the Sacro Speco on the morrow, returning perhaps to Rome by way of Olevano and Palestrina, that road being new to him. Could any one show him the way from the terrace? Don Clemente pointed out the road. It was the same that he had followed as he came from Subiaco. It passed just below them, crossed the Anio a little to the left, by the Ponte di S. Mauro, turned to the right, and then rose towards the hills of Affile, over yonder. The air rose to them laden with the odours of the woods, of the narrow gorge below the convents, from whence the river issued. The sky was overcast save just above the Francolano. There, over the great black mountain, two stars trembled; Minucci called di Leyni's attention to them.
"See how those two little stars flash," said he.
"Dante would say they are the 'little flames' of San Benedetto and Santa Scolastica, glittering because they perceive, in the shadow, a soul akin to theirs."
"You speak of saints?" said Marinier, drawing near. "A few minutes ago I inquired whether you had a saint among you, and I expressed the hope that you might possess one. These were simply oratorical figures, for I know well enough that you have no saint. Had you one, he would immediately be cautioned by the police, or sent to China by the Church."
"Well," di Leyni replied, "what if he were cautioned?"
"Cautioned to-day, he would be imprisoned to-morrow."
"And what of that?" the young man repeated. "How about St. Paul, Abbé Marinier?"
"Ah! my friend! St. Paul, St. Paul—"
By this unfinished sentence the Abbé Marinier probably meant to convey that St. Paul was St. Paul. Di Leynì, on the other hand, reflected that Marinier was Marinier. Don Clemente remarked that not all saints could be sent to China. Why should not the saint of the future be a layman?
"I believe he will be," exclaimed Padre Salvati, The enthusiastic Don Faré, on the contrary, was convinced that he would be a Sovereign Pontiff. The Abbé laughed. "A simple and excellent idea," said he. "But I hear the carriage coming that is to take Dane and myself, and any one else who wishes to join us, to Subiaco, so I will go and take leave of Signor Selva."
He leaned over the parapet to gather a small branch of the olive, planted on the terrace of the ground floor.
"I should offer him this," he said, "and to you, gentlemen, as well," he smilingly added, with a graceful gesture, and then entered the house.
The noise of a two-horse carriage on the road below could in fact be heard. It rounded the cliff upon which the villa stood, and stopped at the gate. A few moments later Maria Selva and Dane, in his heavy overcoat and huge black broad-brimmed hat, came out on the terrace; Giovanni and the Abbé followed.
"Who is coming with us?" Dane asked.
No one answered. Above the deep rumbling of the Anio, voices and steps could be heard approaching the villa from the gate. Minucci, who was standing at the eastern end of the terrace, looked down, and said:
"Ladies. Two ladies."
Maria gasped. "Two ladies?" she exclaimed. Hastening to the parapet she perceived two white figures ascending slowly; they were at the first turning of the steep little path. It was impossible to recognise the figures, they were still too far away, and it was too dark. Giovanni observed that they were probably people coming to the first floor to see the proprietors of the house. Professor Dane smiled mysteriously.
"They may be coming to the second floor," said he.
"You know something about this!" and called down:
"Noemi, est-ce vous?"
Noemi's clear voice answered:
"Oui, c'est nous!"
Another female voice was heard saying aloud to her:
"What a child! You should have kept quiet!"
Maria gave a little cry of joy and disappeared, running down the winding stairway.
"You knew, Professor Dane?" Selva asked. Yes, Dane knew. He had made Signora Dessalle's acquaintance at her villa in the Veneto—the villa containing the frescoes by Tiepolo—and had recently seen her in Rome. Her brother, Signor Carlino Dessalle, had remained in Florence. She and Signorina d'Arxel, wishing to surprise the Selvas, had forbidden him to tell. The name Dessalle recalled to Selva's mind in a flash what he had not at first remembered—the presence of Don Clemente, the suspicion that he was this woman's missing lover, and the necessity of preventing a meeting, which might prove terrible to both. He was, of course, unaware of the conversation which had taken place between his wife and the Padre. In the meantime they heard Maria hastening down the path, and then joyous exclamations and greetings. Dane, uneasy lest he had stayed too long on the terrace, proposed going downstairs. The ladies had certainly availed themselves of the carriage which was coming for him. Don Clemente also seemed very uneasy. Hiding his own agitation, Selva hastily took his arm.
"If you do not care to meet these ladies," he said, "come with me at once, and I will let you out through the Casino, by the upper path." The Padre seemed greatly relieved, and the two started off in haste, the Benedictine even forgetting to say good-night.
"It is late, too" said he. "When I asked the Father Abbot's permission, I said I should be back at half-past nine."
They ran down the widening stairway, but when they reached the little open space where the acacias stood, Jeanne Dessalle, Maria, and Noemi were just entering it from the opposite direction.
It was not too dark under the acacias for Maria to recognise her husband and Don Clemente in the two figures coming from the house. Being in advance of her sister with Jeanne, she promptly turned to the right, making her companion turn with her, and directed her steps towards the little Casino, an addition to the villa, and standing with its back to the larger house. Selva, on his part, seeing his wife's movement, promptly whispered to the Padre:
"Go down the straight path at once."
But it was all to no purpose.
All to no purpose, because Noemi, astonished at seeing her sister turn to the right, stopped short, exclaiming:
"Where are you going?" and Don Clemente, having perhaps noticed a lady standing in his way, instead of passing her and going down, went to summon the gardener, who was waiting for him in the darkest corner of the little opening, where the side of the house meets the hill. He called "Benedetto!" and then turning to Selva said: "Would you like to show him the little field?" "At this hour?" Giovanni answered, while his wife whispered to Noemi: "Some visitors are just leaving, let us stay here at the Casino until they have passed," shaking her head at her so emphatically the while, that Signora Dessalle noticed the action, and at once suspected some mystery.
"Why?" she said. "Are they dangerous?" and slackened her pace. Noemi, on the other hand, having understood her sister's wish, but not her secret motive, was over-zealous in seconding her; and clasping her two companions round the waist, she pushed them towards the Casino. Jeanne Dessalle was instinctively moved to rebel, and turning upon her, exclaimed: "What are you doing?" Then she saw Selva coming towards them. He hastened to greet them, spreading out his arms as if to hide Don Clemente, who, followed by the gardener, passed rapidly within five paces of Jeanne, and descended the steep path.
Noemi, who had also turned at her brother-in-law's greeting, ran to embrace him; Selva in the meantime, feeling gratified that Don Clemente had avoided a meeting. Selva, releasing himself from Noemi's embrace, extended his hand to Jeanne, who did not see it, and murmured absently some incomprehensible words of greeting. At that point Dane, Marinier, Fare, di Leyni, and Padre Salvati issued from the villa. The Selvas went to meet them, leaving Noemi and Signora Dessalle to await their return. The parting compliments lasted some time. Dane wished to pay his respects to Signora Dessalle, but Maria, not seeing her where she had left her, supposed that she and Noemi had gone into the house, passing behind them, so she promised to be the bearer of the professor's greetings. At last, when the five had started down the hill accompanied by Giovanni, Maria heard Noemi calling her:
A peculiar note in her sister's voice told her something had happened. She ran back, and found Signora Dessalle seated on a bundle of fagots, in the corner where the gardener from Santa Scolastica had stood, not five minutes before, and repeating in a weak voice: "It is nothing, nothing, nothing! We will go in directly, we will go in directly!" Noemi, greatly agitated, explained that her friend had suddenly felt faint while those gentlemen were talking, and that she had with difficulty been able to drag her as far as the bundle of fagots.
"Let us go in, let us go in," Jeanne repeated, and rising with an effort, dragged herself as far as the villa, supported by her two friends. She sat down on the steps waiting for some water, of which she took only a sip. She would have nothing else, and was presently sufficiently restored to ascend the stairs very, very slowly. She apologised at each halt, and smiled, but the maid who, walking backwards, led the way with the light nearly fainted herself, at sight of those dazed eyes, those white lips, and that terrible pallor. They led her to the sofa in the little salon; and after a minute of silent relaxation with closed eyes, she was able to tell Signora Selva, still smiling, that these attacks were caused by anæmia, and that she was accustomed to them. Noemi and Maria spoke softly together. Jeanne caught the words "to bed" and with a look of gratitude, consented by a nod. Maria had prepared the best room in the little apartment for Jeanne and Noemi—the corner room opposite Giovanni's study, on the other side of the corridor. While Jeanne was walking painfully towards it, leaning on Noemi's arm, Selva returned, having accompanied his friends as far as the gate. His wife heard his step on the stairs, and went down to detain him. They spoke, in the dark, with hushed voices. Then it was really he; but how could she have recognised him? Indeed Giovanni had to place himself between Jeanne and Don Clemente at the critical moment, and the Padre had passed her almost running; but he, Giovanni, had at once suspected something, for Signora Dessalle had stood like a statue, not giving him her hand, and hardly responding to his greeting. On the terrace the Padre himself had shown uneasiness when he heard that Signora Dessalle had arrived. His desire to avoid her had been evident; but he was quite master of his feelings. Oh! yes, he was quite master of his feelings. Maria was of the same opinion, and she told of her conversation with him at the foot of the stairway. Husband and wife slowly ascended the stairs, absorbed in contemplation of this extraordinary drama, of the poor woman's crushing grief, of the terrible impression the man must have borne away with him, and—now that it was over—of the night both must pass, wondering what would happen to-morrow, what he would do, what she would do.
"It is well to pray over such matters, is it not?" said Maria.
"Yes, dear, it is. Let us pray that she may learn to give her love and her sorrow to God," the husband answered.
Hand in hand they entered their bedroom, which was divided in two by a heavy curtain. They went to the window and looked up at the sky, praying silently. A breath of the north wind soughed like a lament through the oak overhanging the tiny chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre.
"Poor creature!" said Maria. It seemed to her and to her husband that their affection for one another was more tender than ever to-night, but nevertheless—though neither said so—both felt that there was something deterring them from the kiss of love.
Jeanne, as soon as Noemi had closed the door of their room behind them, fell upon her neck in a paroxysm of uncontrollable sobbing. Poor Noemi had concluded, from the effect produced on her friend when the monk hastened past her, that he was Maironi, and she was now overcome with pity. She spoke most loving, tender, and sweet words to her, in the voice of one soothing a suffering child. Jeanne did not answer, but her sobbing continued.
"Perhaps it is better so, dear," Noemi ventured to say. "Perhaps it is better for you to know, that you may no longer cherish a false hope; better for you to have seen him in that habit."
This time an answer came between the sobs, "No, no!" Jeanne repeated passionately and vehemently many times, and the tone, though hardly sorrowful, was so strange that Noemi was greatly puzzled. She resumed her soothing, but more timidly now.
"Yes, dear! yes, dear! because knowing there is no help——"
Jeanne raised her tear-stained face, "Do you not understand? It is not he!" she said.
Noemi drew away from her embrace, amazed,
"What do you mean? Not he—! All this scene because it is not he?"
Jeanne again fell upon her neck.
"The monk who passed me, is not he," she said sobbing; "it is the other man!"
"What other man?"
"The one who was following him, who went away with him!"
Noemi had not even noticed this person. With a convulsive laugh Jeanne nearly suffocated her in a close embrace.