Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 6 out of 9
Once indeed a great building like a factory or a workhouse, in the midst of
wide sun-beaten fields. 'Ecco! la fattoria,' said the driver, pointing to
it. And once a strange group of underground dwellings, their chimneys level
with the surrounding land, whence wild swarms of troglodyte children rushed
up from the bowels of the earth to see the carriage pass and shriek for
But the beauty of the sun-scorched upland was its broom! Sometimes they
were in deep tufa lanes; like English lanes, save for their walls and
canopies of gold; sometimes they journeyed through wide barren stretches,
where only broom held the soil against all comers, spreading in sheets
of gold beneath the dazzling sky. Large hawks circled overhead; in the
rare woods the nightingales were loud and merry; and goldfinches were
everywhere. A hot, lonely, thirsty land--the heart of Italy--where the
rocks are honeycombed with the tombs of that mysterious Etruscan race, the
Melchisedek of the nations, coming no one knows whence, 'without father
and without mother'--a land which has to the west of it the fever-stricken
Maremma and the heights of the Amiata range, and to the south the forest
country of Viterbo.
Eleanor looked out upon the road and the fields with eyes that faintly
remembered, and a heart held now, as always, in the grip of that _tempo
felice_ which was dead.
It was she who had proposed this journey. Once in late November she and
Aunt Pattie and Manisty had spent two or three days at Orvieto with
some Italian friends. They had made the journey back to Rome, partly by
_vetturino_, driving from Orvieto to Bolsena and Viterbo, and spending a
night on the way at a place of remote and enchanting beauty which had left
a deep mark on Eleanor's imagination. They owed the experience to their
Italian friends, acquaintances of the great proprietor whose agent gave
the whole party hospitality for the night; and as they jogged on through
this June heat she recalled with bitter longing the bright November day,
the changing leaves, the upland air, and Manisty's delight in the strange
unfamiliar country, in the vast oak woods above the Paglia, and the
marvellous church at Monte Fiascone.
But it was not the agent's house, the scene of their former stay, to which
she was now guiding Lucy. When she and Manisty, hurrying out for an early
walk before the carriage started, had explored a corner of the dense oak
woods below the _palazzo_ on the hill, they had come across a deserted
convent, with a contadino's family in one corner of it, and a ruinous
chapel with a couple of dim frescoes attributed to Pinturicchio.
How well she remembered Manisty's rage over the spoliation of the convent
and the ruin of the chapel! He had gone stalking over the deserted place,
raving against 'those brigands from Savoy,' and calculating how much it
would cost to buy back the place from the rascally Municipio of Orvieto, to
whom it now belonged, and return it to its former Carmelite owners.
Meanwhile Eleanor had gossiped with the _massaja_, or farmer's wife, and
had found out that there were a few habitable rooms in the convent still,
roughly furnished, and that in summer, people of a humble sort came there
sometimes from Orvieto for coolness and change--the plateau being 3,000
feet above the sea. Eleanor had inquired if English people ever came.
'_Inglesi! no!--mai Inglesi_,' said the woman in astonishment.
The family were, however, in some sort of connection with an hotel
proprietor at Orvieto, through whom they got their lodgers. Eleanor had
taken down the name and all particulars in a fit of enthusiasm for the
beauty and loneliness of the place. 'Suppose some day we came here to
write?' Manisty had said vaguely, looking round him with regret as they
drove away. The mere suggestion had made the name of Torre Amiata sweet to
Was it likely that he would remember?--that he would track them? Hardly. He
would surely think that in this heat they would go northward. He would not
dream of looking for them in Italy.
She too was thinking of nothing--nothing!--but the last scenes at the villa
and in Rome, as the carriage moved along. The phrases of her letter to
Manisty ran through her mind. Had they made him her lasting enemy? The
thought was like a wound draining blood and strength. But in her present
state of jealous passion it was more tolerable than that other thought
which was its alternative--the thought of Lucy surrendered, Lucy in her
'Lucy Foster is with me,' she had written. 'We wish to be together for a
while before she goes back to America. And that we may be quite alone, we
prefer to give no address for a few weeks. I have written to Papa to say
that I am going away for a time with a friend, to rest and recruit. You and
Aunt Pattie could easily arrange that there should be no talk and no gossip
about the matter. I hope and think you will. Of course if we are in any
strait or difficulty we shall communicate at once with our friends.'
How had he received it? Sometimes she thought of his anger and
disappointment with terror, sometimes with a vindictive excitement that
poisoned all her being. Gentleness turned to hate and violence,--was it of
that in truth, and not of that heart mischief to which doctors gave long
names, that Eleanor Burgoyne was dying?
* * * * *
They had turned into a wide open space crossed by a few wire fences at vast
intervals. The land was mostly rough pasture, or mere sandy rock and scrub.
In the glowing west, towards which they journeyed, rose far purple peaks
peering over the edge of the great tableland. To the east and south vast
woods closed in the horizon.
The carriage left the main road and entered an ill-defined track leading
apparently through private property.
'Ah! I remember!' cried Eleanor, starting up. 'There is the _palazzo_--and
In front of them, indeed, rose an old villa of the Renaissance, with its
long flat roofs, its fine _loggia_, and terraced vineyards. A rude village
of grey stone, part, it seemed, of the tufa rocks from which it sprang,
pressed round the villa, invaded its olive-gardens, crept up to its very
walls. Meanwhile the earth grew kinder and more fertile. The vines and figs
stood thick again among the green corn and flowering lucerne. Peasants
streaming home from work, the men on donkeys, the women carrying their
babies, met the carriage and stopped to stare after it, and talk.
Suddenly from the ditches of the roadside sprang up two martial figures.
'Carabinieri!' cried Lucy in delight.
She had made friends with several members of this fine corps on the closely
guarded roads about the Alban lake, and to see them here gave her a sense
Bending over the side of the carriage, she nodded to the two handsome
brown-skinned fellows, who smiled back at her.
'How far,' she said, 'to Santa Trinita?'
'_Un miglio grasso_ (a good mile), Signorina. _E tutto_. But you are late.
They expected you half an hour ago.'
The driver took this for reproach, and with a shrill burst of defence
pointed to his smoking horses. The Carabinieri laughed, and diving into the
field, one on either side, they kept up with the carriage as it neared the
'Why, it is like coming home!' said Lucy, wondering. And indeed they were
now surrounded by the whole village population, just returned from the
fields--pointing, chattering, laughing, shouting friendly directions to the
driver. 'Santa Trinita!' 'Ecco!--Santa Trinita!' sounded on all sides, amid
a forest of gesticulating hands.
'How could they know?' said Eleanor, looking at the small crowd with
startled eyes. Lucy spoke a word to the young man on the box.
'They knew, he says, as soon as the carriage was ordered yesterday. Look!
there are the telegraph wires! The whole countryside knows! They are
greatly excited by the coming of _forestieri_--especially at this time of
'Oh! we can't stay!' said Eleanor with a little moan, wringing her hands.
'It's only the country people,' said Lucy tenderly, taking one of the hands
in hers. 'Did you see the Contessa when you were here before?'
And she glanced up at the great yellow mass of the _palazzo_ towering above
the little town, the sunset light flaming on its long western face.
'No. She was away. And the _fattore_ who took us in left in January. There
is a new man.'
'Then it's quite safe!' said Lucy in French. And her kind deep eyes looked
steadily into Eleanor's, as though mutely cheering and supporting her.
Eleanor unconsciously pressed her hand upon her breast. She was looking
round her in a sudden anguish of memory. For, now they were through the
village, they were descending--they were in the woods. Ah! the white walls
of the convent--the vacant windows in its ruined end--and at the gate
of the rough farmyard that surrounded it the stalwart _capoccia_, the
grinning, harsh-featured wife that she remembered.
She stepped feebly down upon the dusty road. When her feet last pressed it,
Manisty was beside her, and the renewing force of love and joy was filling
all the sources of her being.
'Can you bear it? Can you be comfortable?' said Lucy, in some dismay.
They were in one of the four or five bare rooms that had been given up to
them. A bed with a straw palliasse, one or two broken chairs, and bits of
worm-eaten furniture filled what had formerly been one of a row of cells
running along an upper corridor. The floor was of brick and very dirty.
Against the wall a tattered canvas, a daub of St. Laurence and his
gridiron, still recalled the former uses of the room.
They had given orders for a few comforts to be sent out from Orvieto, but
the cart conveying them had not yet arrived. Meanwhile Marie was crying in
the next room, and the _contadina_ was looking on astonished and a little
sulky. The people who came from Orvieto never complained. What was wrong
with the ladies?
Eleanor looked round her with a faint smile.
'It doesn't matter,' she said under her breath. Then she looked at Lucy.
'What care we take of you! How well we look after you!'
And she dropped her head on her hands in a fit of hysterical laughter--very
near to sobs.
'I!' cried Lucy. 'As if I couldn't sleep anywhere, and eat anything! But
you--that's another business. When the cart comes, we can fix you up a
little better--but to-night!'
She looked, frowning, round the empty room.
'There is nothing to do anything with--or I'd set to work right away.'
'Ecco, Signora!' said the farmer's wife. She carried triumphantly in her
hands a shaky carpet-chair, the only article of luxury apparently that the
Eleanor thanked her, and the woman stood with her hands on her hips,
surveying them. She frowned, but only because she was thinking hard how
she could somehow propitiate these strange beings, so well provided, as it
seemed, with superfluous _lire_.
'Ah!' she cried suddenly; 'but the ladies have not seen our _bella
vista_!--our _loggia_! Santa Madonna! but I have lost my senses! Signorina!
And beckoning to Lucy she pulled open a door that had remained unnoticed in
the corner of the room.
Lucy and Eleanor followed.
Even Eleanor joined her cry of delight to Lucy's.
'Ecco!' said the _massaja_ proudly, as though the whole landscape were her
chattel,--'Monte Amiata! Selvapendente--the Paglia--does the Signora see
the bridge down there?--_veda lei_, under Selvapendente? Those forests on
the mountain there--they belong all to the Casa Guerrini--_tutto, tutto_!
as far as the Signorina can see! And that little house there, on the
hill--that _casa di caccia_--that was poor Don Emilio's, that was killed in
And she chattered on, in a _patois_ not always intelligible, even to
Eleanor's trained ear, about the widowed Contessa, her daughter, and her
son; about the new roads that Don Emilio had made through the woods; of the
repairs and rebuilding at the Villa Guerrini--all stopped since his death;
of the Sindaco of Selvapendente, who often came up to Torre Amiata for the
summer; of the nuns in the new convent just built there under the hill, and
their _fattore_,--whose son was with Don Emilio after he was wounded, when
the poor young man implored his own men to shoot him and put him out of his
pain--who had stayed with him till he died, and had brought his watch and
pocket-book back to the Contessa--
'Is the Contessa here?' said Eleanor, looking at the woman with the
strained and startled air that was becoming habitual to her, as though each
morsel of passing news only served somehow to make life's burden heavier.
But certainly the Contessa was here! She and Donna Teresa were always at
the Villa. Once they used to go to Rome and Florence part of the year, but
A sudden uproar arose from below--of crying children and barking dogs. The
woman threw up her hands. 'What are they doing to me with the baby?' she
cried, and disappeared.
Lucy went back to fetch the carpet-chair. She caught up also a couple of
Florentine silk blankets that were among their wraps. She laid them on
the bricks of the _loggia_, found a rickety table in Eleanor's room, her
travelling-bag, and a shawl.
'Don't take such trouble about me!' said Eleanor, almost piteously, as Lucy
established her comfortably in the chair, with a shawl over her knees and a
book or two beside her.
Lucy with a soft little laugh stooped and kissed her.
'Now I must go and dry Marie's tears. Then I shall dive downstairs and
discover the kitchen. They say they've got a cook, and the dinner'll soon
be ready. Isn't that lovely? And I'm sure the cart'll be here directly.
It's the most beautiful place I ever saw in my life!' said Lucy, clasping
her hands a moment in a gesture familiar to her, and turning towards the
great prospect of mountain, wood, and river. 'And it's so strange--so
strange! It's like another Italy! Why, these woods--they might be just in a
part of Maine I know. You can't see a vineyard--not one. And the air--isn't
it fresh? Isn't it lovely? Wouldn't you guess you were three thousand feet
up? I just know this--we're going to make you comfortable. I'm going right
down now to send that cart back to Orvieto for a lot of things. And you're
going to get ever, ever so much better, aren't you? Say you will!'
The girl fell on her knees beside Eleanor, and took the other's thin
hands into her own. Her face, thrown back, had lost its gaiety; her mouth
Eleanor met the girl's tender movement dry-eyed. For the hundredth time
that day she asked herself the feverish, torturing question--'Does she love
'Of course I shall get better,' she said lightly, stroking the girl's hair;
'or if not--what matter?'
Lucy shook her head.
'You must get better,' she said in a low, determined voice. 'And it must
all come right.'
Eleanor was silent. In her own heart she knew more finally, more
irrevocably every hour that for her it would never come right. But how say
to Lucy that her whole being hung now--not on any hope for herself, but on
the fierce resolve that there should be none for Manisty?
Lucy gave a long sigh, rose to her feet, and went off to household duties.
Eleanor was left alone. Her eyes, bright with fever, fixed themselves,
unseeing, on the sunset sky, and the blue, unfamiliar peaks beneath it.
Cheerful sounds of rioting children and loud-voiced housewives came from
below. Presently there was a distant sound of wheels, and the _carro_ from
Orvieto appeared, escorted by the whole village, who watched its unpacking
with copious comment on each article, and a perpetual scuffling for places
in the front line of observation. Even the _padre parroco_ and the doctor
paused as they passed along the road, and Lucy as she flitted about caught
sight of the smiling young priest, in his flat broad-brimmed hat and caped
soutane, side by side with the meditative and gloomy countenance of the
doctor, who stood with his legs apart, smoking like a chimney.
But Lucy had no time to watch the crowd. She was directing the men with
the _carro_ where to place the cooking-stove that had been brought from
Orvieto, in the dark and half-ruinous kitchen on the lower floor of the
convent; marvelling the while at the _risotto_ and the _pollo_ that the
local artist, their new cook, the sister of the farmer's wife, was engaged
in producing, out of apparently nothing in the way either of fire or tools.
She was conferring with Cecco the little manservant, who, with less polish
than Alfredo, but with a like good-will, was running hither and thither,
intent only on pleasing his ladies, and on somehow finding enough spoons
and forks to lay a dinner-table with; or she was alternately comforting and
laughing at Marie, who was for the moment convinced that Italy was pure and
simple Hades, and Torre Amiata the lowest gulf thereof.
Thus--under the soft, fresh evening--the whole forlorn and ruinous building
was once more alive with noise and gaiety, with the tread of men carrying
packages, with the fun of skirmishing children, with the cries of the cook
and Cecco, with Lucy's stumbling yet sweet Italian.
Eleanor only was alone--but how terribly alone!
She sat where Lucy had left her--motionless--her hands hanging listlessly.
She had been always thin, but in the last few weeks she had become a
shadow. Her dress had lost its old perfection, though its carelessness was
still the carelessness of instinctive grace, of a woman who could not throw
on a shawl or a garden-hat without a natural trick of hand, that held even
through despair and grief. The delicacy and emaciation of the face had now
gone far beyond the bounds of beauty. It spoke of disease, and drew the
pity of the passer-by.
Her loneliness grew upon her--penetrated and pursued her. She could not
resign herself to it. She was always struggling with it, beating it away,
as a frightened child might struggle with the wave that overwhelms it on
the beach. A few weeks ago she had been so happy, so rich in friends--the
world had been so warm and kind!
And now it seemed to her that she had no friends; no one to whom she could
turn; no one she wished to see, except this girl--this girl she had known
barely a couple of months--by whom she had been made desolate!
She thought of those winter gatherings in Rome which she had enjoyed with
so keen a pleasure; the women she had liked, who had liked her in return,
to whom her eager wish to love and be loved had made her delightful. But
beneath her outward sweetness she carried a proud and often unsuspected
reserve. She had made a _confidante_ of no one. That her relation to
Manisty was accepted and understood in Rome; that it was regarded as
a romance, with which it was not so much ill-natured as ridiculous to
associate a breath of scandal--a romance which all kind hearts hoped might
end as most of such things should end--all this she knew. She had been
proud of her place beside him, proud of Rome's tacit recognition of her
claim upon him. But she had told her heart to nobody. Her wild scene with
Lucy stood out unique, unparalleled in the story of her life.
And now there was no one she craved to see--not one. With the instinct of
the stricken animal she turned from her kind. Her father? What had he ever
been to her? Aunt Pattie? Her very sympathy and pity made Eleanor thankful
to be parted from her. Other kith and kin? No! Happy, she could have loved
them; miserable, she cared for none of them. Her unlucky marriage had
numbed and silenced her for years. From that frost the waters of life had
been loosened, only to fail now at their very source.
Her whole nature was one wound. At the moment when, standing spell-bound in
the shadow, she had seen Manisty stooping over the unconscious Lucy, and
had heard his tender breathless words, the sword had fallen, dividing the
very roots of being.
And now--strange irony!--the only heart on which she leant, the only hand
to which she clung, were the heart and the hand of Lucy!
'Why, why are we here?' she cried to herself with a sudden change of
position and of anguish.
Was not their flight a mere absurdity?--humiliation for herself, since it
revealed what no woman should reveal--but useless, ridiculous as any check
on Manisty! Would he give up Lucy because she might succeed in hiding
her for a few weeks? Was that passionate will likely to resign itself to
the momentary defeat she had inflicted on it? Supposing she succeeded in
despatching Lucy to America without any further interview between them; are
there no steamers and trains to take impatient lovers to their goal? What
childish folly was the whole proceeding!
And would she even succeed so far? Might he not even now be on their track?
How possible that he should remember this place--its isolation--and her
pleasure in it! She started in her chair. It seemed to her that she already
heard his feet upon the road.
Then her thought rebounded in a fierce triumph, an exultation that shook
the feeble frame. She was secure! She was entrenched, so to speak, in
Lucy's heart. Never would that nature grasp its own joy at the cost of
another's agony. No! no!--she is not in love with him!--the poor hurrying
brain insisted. She has been interested, excited, touched. That, he can
always achieve with any woman, if he pleases. But time and change soon
wear down these first fancies of youth. There is no real congruity between
them--there never, never could be.
But supposing it were not so--supposing Lucy could be reached and affected
by Manisty's pursuit, still Eleanor was safe. She knew well what had been
the effect, what would now be the increasing effect of her weakness and
misery on Lucy's tender heart. By the mere living in Lucy's sight she would
gain her end. From the first she had realised the inmost quality of the
girl's strong and diffident personality. What Manisty feared she counted
Sometimes, just for a moment, as one may lean over the edge of a precipice,
she imagined herself yielding, recalling Manisty, withdrawing her own
claim, and the barrier raised by her own vindictive agony. The mind sped
along the details that might follow--the girl's loyal resistance--Manisty's
ardour--Manisty's fascination--the homage and the seduction, the quarrels
and the impatience with which he would surround her--the scenes in which
Lucy's reserve mingling with her beauty would but evoke on the man's side
all the ingenuity, all the delicacy of which he was capable--and the final
softening of that sweet austerity which hid Lucy's heart of gold.--
No!--Lucy had no passion!--she would tell herself with a feverish, an angry
vehemence. How would she ever bear with Manisty, with the alternate excess
and defect of his temperament?
And suddenly, amid the shadows of the past winter Eleanor would see
herself writing, and Manisty stooping over her,--his hand taking her pen,
his shoulder touching hers. His hand was strong, nervous, restless like
himself. Her romantic imagination that was half natural, half literary,
delighted to trace in it both caprice and power. When it touched her own
slender fingers, it seemed to her they could but just restrain themselves
from nestling into his. She would draw herself back in haste, lest some
involuntary movement should betray her. But not before the lightning
thought had burnt its way through her--'What if one just fell back
against his breast--and all was said--all ventured in a moment!
Afterwards--ecstasy, or despair--what matter!'--
When would Lucy have dared even such a dream? Eleanor's wild jealousy would
secretly revenge itself on the girl's maidenly coldness, on the young
stiffness, Manisty had once mocked at. How incredible that she should have
attracted him!--how, impossible that she should continue to attract him!
All Lucy's immaturities and defects passed through Eleanor's analysing
For a moment she saw her coldly, odiously, as an enemy might see her.
And then!--quick revulsion--a sudden loathing of herself--a sudden terror
of these new meannesses and bitterness that were invading her, stealing
from her her very self, robbing her of the character that unconsciously
she had loved in herself, as other people loved it--knowing that in deed
and truth she was what others thought her to be, kind, and gentle, and
And last of all--poor soul!--an abject tenderness and repentance towards
Lucy, which yet brought no relief, because it never affected for an instant
the fierce tension of will beneath.
A silvery night stole upon the sunset, absorbed, transmuted all the golds
and crimsons of the west into its own dimly shining blue.
Eleanor was in bed; Lucy's clever hands had worked wonders with her room;
and now Eleanor had been giving quick remorseful directions to Marie to
concern herself a little with Miss Foster's comfort and Miss Foster's
Lucy escaped from the rooms littered with trunks and clothes. She took
her hat and a light cape, and stole out into the broad passage, on either
side of which opened the long series of small rooms which had once been
Carmelite cells. Only the four or five rooms at the western end, the bare
'apartment' which they occupied, were still whole and water-tight. Half-way
down the passage, as Lucy had already discovered, you came to rooms where
the windows had no glass and the plaster had dropped from the walls, and
the ceilings hung down in great gaps and rags of ruin. There was a bay
window at the eastern end of the passage, which had been lately glazed
for the summer tenants' sake. The rising moon streamed through on the
desolation of the damp-stained walls and floors. And a fresh upland wind
was beginning to blow and whistle through the empty and windowless cells.
Even Lucy shivered a little. It was perhaps not wonderful that the French
maid should be in revolt.
Then she went softly down an old stone staircase to the lower floor. Here
was the same long passage with rooms on either side, but in even worse
condition. At the far end was a glow of light and a hum of voices, coming
from the corner of the building occupied by the _contadino_, and their own
kitchen. But between the heavy front door, that Lucy was about to open,
and the distant light, was an earthen floor full of holes and gaps, and
on either side--caverns of desolation--the old wine and oil stores, the
kitchens and wood cellars of the convent, now black dens avoided by the
cautious, and dark even at midday because of the rough boarding-up of the
windows. There was a stable smell in the passage, and Lucy already knew
that one of the further dens held the _contadino's_ donkey and mule.
'_Can_ we stay here?' she said to herself, half laughing, half doubtful.
Then she lifted the heavy iron bar that closed the old double door, and
stepped out into the courtyard that surrounded the convent, half of which
was below the road as it rapidly descended from the village, and half above
She took a few steps to the right.
There opened out before her a little cloister, with double shafts carrying
Romanesque arches; and at the back of the court, the chapel, and a tiny
bell-tower. The moon shone down on every line and moulding. Under its
light, stucco and brick turned to ivory and silver. There was an absolute
silence, an absolute purity of air; and over all the magic of beauty and of
night. Lucy thought of the ruined frescoes in the disused chapel, of the
faces of saints and angels looking out into the stillness.
Then she mounted some steps to the road, and turned downwards towards the
forest that crept up round them on all sides.
Ah! was there yet another portion of the convent?--a wing running at right
angles to the main building in which they were established, and containing
some habitable rooms? In the furthest window of all was a light, and a
figure moving across it. A tall black figure--surely a priest? Yes!--as
the form came nearer to the window, seen from the back, Lucy perceived
distinctly the tonsured head and the soutane.
How strange! She had heard nothing from the _massaja_ of any other tenant.
And this tall gaunt figure had nothing in common with the little smiling
_parroco_ she had seen in the crowd.
She moved on, wondering.
Oh, those woods! How they sank, like great resting clouds below her, to the
shining line of the river, and rose again on the further side! They were
oak woods, and spoke strangely to Lucy of the American and English north.
Yet, as she came nearer, the moon shone upon delicate undergrowth of heath
and arbutus, that chid her fancy back to the 'Saturnian land.'
And beyond all, the blue mountains, aetherially light, like dreams on the
horizon; and above all, the radiant serenity of the sky.
Ah! there spoke the nightingales, and that same melancholy note of the
little brown owl which used to haunt the olive grounds of Marinata. Lucy
held her breath. The tears rushed into her eyes--tears of memory, tears of
But she drove them back. Standing on a little cleared space beside the road
that commanded the whole night scene, she threw herself into the emotion
and poetry which could be yielded to without remorse, without any unnerving
of the will. How far, far she was from Uncle Ben, and that shingled house
in Vermont! It was near midsummer, and all the English and Americans had
fled from this Southern Italy. Italy was at home, and at ease in her own
house, living her own rich immemorial life, knowing and thinking nothing of
the foreigner. Nor indeed on those uplands and in those woods had she ever
thought of him; though below in the valley ran the old coach road from
Florence to Rome, on which Goethe and Winckelmann had journeyed to the
Eternal City. Lucy felt as though, but yesterday a tourist and stranger,
she had now crept like a child into the family circle. Nay, she had raised
a corner of Italy's mantle, and drawn close to the warm breast of one of
the great mother-lands of the world.
Ah! but feeling sweeps fast and far, do what we will. Soon she was
struggling out of her depth. These weeks of rushing experience had been
loosening soul and tongue. To-night how she could have talked of these
things to one now parted from her, perhaps for ever! How he would have
listened to her--impatiently often! How he would have mocked and rent her!
But then the quick softening--and the beautiful kindling eye--the dogmatism
at once imperative and sweet--the tyranny that a woman might both fight and
Yet how painful was the thought of Manisty! She was ashamed--humiliated.
Their flight assumed as a certainty what after all, let Eleanor say what
she would, he had never, never said to her--what she had no clear authority
to believe. Where was he? What was he thinking? For a moment, her heart
fluttered towards him like a homing bird.
Then in a sharp and stern reaction she rebuked, she chastened herself.
Standing there in the night, above the forests, looking over to the dim
white cliffs on the side of Monte Amiata, she felt herself, in this strange
and beautiful land, brought face to face with calls of the spirit, with
deep voices of admonition and pity that rose from her own inmost being.
With a long sigh, like one that lifts a weight she raised her young arms
above her head, and then brought her hands down slowly upon her eyes,
shutting out sight and sense. There was a murmur--
'Mother!--darling mother!--if you were just here--for one hour--'
She gathered up the forces of the soul.
'So help me God!' she said. And then she started, perceiving into what
formula she had slipped, unwittingly.
* * * * *
She moved on a few paces down the road, meaning just to peep into the woods
and their scented loneliness. The night was so lovely she was loth to leave
Suddenly she became aware of a point of light in front, and the smell of
A man rose from the wayside. Lucy stayed her foot, and was about to retreat
swiftly when she heard a cheerful--
'Buona sera, Signorina!' She recognised a voice of the afternoon. It was
the handsome carabiniere. Lucy advanced with alacrity.
'I came out because it was so fine,' she said. 'Are you on duty still?
Where is your companion?'
He smiled, and pointed to the wood. 'We have a hut there. First Ruggieri
sleeps--then I sleep. We don't often come this way; but when there are
_forestieri_, then we must look out.'
'But there are no brigands here?'
He showed his white teeth. 'I shot two once with this gun,' he said,
'But not here?' she said, startled.
'No--but beyond the mountains--over there--in Maremma.' He waved his
hand vaguely towards the west. Then he shook his head. 'Bad country--bad
'Oh yes, I know,' said Lucy, laughing. 'If there is anything bad here, you
say it comes from Maremma. When our harness broke this afternoon our driver
said, "_Che vuole?_ It was made in Maremma!"--Tell me--who lives in that
part of the convent--over there?'
And, turning back, she pointed to the distant window and the light.
The man spat upon the road without replying. After replenishing his pipe he
said slowly: 'That, Signorina, is a _forestiere_, too.'
'A priest--isn't it?'
'A priest--and not a priest,' said the man after another pause.
Then he laughed, with the sudden _insouciance_ of the Italian.
'A priest that doesn't say his Mass!--that's a queer sort of priest--isn't
'I don't understand,' said Lucy.
'_Per Dio!_ what does it matter?' said the man, laughing. 'The people here
wouldn't trouble their heads, only--But you understand, Signorina'--he
dropped his voice a little--'the priests have much power--_molto, molto_!
Don Teodoro, the _parroco_ there,--it was he founded the _cassa rurale_.
If a _contadino_ wants some money for his seed-corn--or to marry his
daughter--or to buy himself a new team of oxen--he must go to the
_parroco_. Since these new banks began, it is the priests that have the
money--_capisce?_ If you want it you must ask them! So you understand,
Signorina, it doesn't profit to fall out with them. You must love their
friends, and--' His grin and gesture finished the sentence.
'But what's the matter?' said Lucy, wondering. 'Has he committed any
crime?' And she looked curiously at the figure in the convent window.
'_E un prete spretato, Signorina._'
'_Spretato_?' (unpriested--unfrocked). The word was unfamiliar to her. She
frowned over it.
'_Scomunicato!_' said the _carabiniere_, with a laugh.
'Excommunicated?' She felt a thrill of pity, mingled with a vague horror.
'Why?--what has he done?'
The _carabiniere_ laughed again. The laugh was odious, but she was already
acquainted with that strange instinct of the lower-class Italian which
leads him to make mock of calamity. He has passion, but no sentiment; he
instinctively hates the pathetic.
'_Chi sa, Signorina?_ He seems a quiet old man. We keep a sharp eye on him;
he won't do any harm. He used to give the children _confetti_, but the
mothers have forbidden them to take them. Gianni there'--he pointed to the
convent, and Lucy understood that he referred to the _contadino_--'Gianni
went to Don Teodoro, and asked if he should turn him out. But Don Teodoro
wouldn't say Yes or No. He pays well, but the village want him to go. They
say he will bring them ill-luck with their harvest.'
'And the _Padre parroco_? Does he not speak to him?'
'When Don Teodoro passes him on the road he doesn't see him--_capisce_,
Signorina? And so with all the other priests. When he comes by they have no
eyes. The Bishop sent the word.'
'And everybody here does what the priests tell them?'
Lucy's tone expressed that instinctive resentment which the Puritan feels
against a ruling and dominant Catholicism.
Antonio laughed again, but a little stupidly. It was the laugh of a man who
knows that it is not worth while even to begin to explain certain matters
to a stranger.
'They understand their business--_i preti!_'--was all he would say.
Then--'_Ma!_--they are rich--the priests! All these last years--so many
banks--so many _casse_--so many _societa_! That holds the people better
* * * * *
When Lucy turned homewards she found herself watching the light in the far
window with an eager attention. A priest in disgrace?--and a foreigner?
What could he be hiding here for?--in this remote corner of a district
which, as they had been already told at Orvieto, was Catholic, _fino al
* * * * *
The morning rose, fresh and glorious, over mountain and forest.
Eleanor watched the streaks of light that penetrated through the wooden
sun-shutters grow brighter and brighter on the white-washed wall. She was
weary of herself, weary of the night. The old building was full of strange
sounds--of murmurs and resonances, of slight creepings and patterings, that
tried the nerves. Her room communicated with Lucy's, and their doors were
provided with bolts, the newness of which, perhaps, testified to the fears
of other summer tenants before them. Nevertheless, Eleanor had been a prey
to starts and terrors, and her night had passed in a bitter mingling of
moral strife and physical discomfort.
Seven o'clock striking from the village church. She slipped to her feet.
Ready to her hand lay one of the soft and elegant wrappers--fresh, not long
ago, from Paris--as to which Lucy had often silently wondered how anyone
could think it right to spend so much money on such things.
Eleanor, of course, was not conscious of the smallest reproach in the
matter. Dainty and costly dress was second nature to her; she never thought
about it. But this morning as she first took up the elaborate silken thing,
to which pale girls in hot Parisian workrooms had given so much labour
of hand and head, and then caught sight of her own face and shoulders
in the cracked glass upon the wall, she was seized with certain ghastly
perceptions that held her there motionless in the semi-darkness, shivering
amid the delicate lace and muslin which enwrapped her. Finished!--for
her--all the small feminine joys. Was there one of her dresses that did not
in some way speak to her of Manisty?--that had not been secretly planned
with a view to tastes and preferences she had come to know hardly less
intimately than her own?
She thought of the face of the Orvieto doctor, of certain words that she
had stopped on his lips because she was afraid to hear them. A sudden
terror of death,--of the desolate, desolate end swept upon her. To die,
with this cry of the heart unspent, untold for ever! Unloved, unsatisfied,
unrewarded--she whose whole nature gave itself--gave itself perpetually, as
a wave breaks upon a barren shore. How can any God send human beings into
the world for such a lot? There can be no God. But how is the riddle
easier, for thinking Him away?
When at last she rose, it was to make quietly for the door opening on the
Still there, this radiant marvel of the world!--this pageant of rock and
stream and forest, this pomp of shining cloud, this silky shimmer of the
wheat, this sparkle of flowers in the grass; while human hearts break, and
human lives fail, and the graveyard on the hill yonder packs closer and
closer its rows of metal crosses and wreaths!
Suddenly, from a patch of hayfield on the further side of the road, she
heard a voice singing. A young man, tall and well made, was mowing in a
corner of the field. The swathes fell fast before him: every movement spoke
of an assured rejoicing strength. He sang with the sharp stridency which is
the rule in Italy--the words clear, the sounds nasal.
Gradually Eleanor made out that the song was the farewell of a maiden to
her lover who is going for winter work to the Maremma.
The labourers go to Maremma--
Oh! 'tis long till the days of June,
And my heart is all in a flutter
Alone here, under the moon.
O moon!--all this anguish and sorrow!
Thou know'st why I suffer so--
Oh! send him me back from Maremma,
Where he goes, and I must not go!
The man sang the little song carelessly, commonly, without a thought of
the words, interrupting himself every now and then to sharpen his scythe,
and then beginning again. To Eleanor it seemed the natural voice of the
morning; one more, echo of the cry of universal parting, now for a day, now
for a season, now for ever--which fills the world.
* * * * *
She was too restless to enjoy the _loggia_ and the view, too restless
to go back to bed. She pushed back the door between her and Lucy, only
to see that Lucy was still fast asleep. But there were voices and stops
downstairs. The farm-people had been abroad for hours.
She made a preliminary toilette, took her hat, and stole downstairs. As she
opened the outer door the children caught sight of her and came crowding
round, large-eyed, their fingers in their mouths. She turned towards the
chapel and the little cloister that she remembered. The children gave a
shout and swooped back into the convent. And when she reached the chapel
door, there they were on her skirts again, a big boy brandishing the key.
Eleanor took it and parleyed with them. They were to go away and leave
her alone--quite alone. Then when she came back they should have _soldi_.
The children nodded shrewdly, withdrew in a swarm to the corner of the
cloister, and watched events.
Eleanor entered. From some high lunette windows the cool early sunlight
came creeping and playing into the little whitewashed place. On either hand
two cinque-cento frescoes had been rescued from the whitewash. They shone
like delicate flowers on the rough, yellowish-white of the walls; on one
side a martyrdom of St. Catharine, on the other a Crucifixion. Their pale
blues and lilacs, their sharp pure greens and thin crimsons, made subtle
harmony with the general lightness and cleanness of the abandoned chapel.
A poor little altar with a few tawdry furnishings at the further end, a
confessional box falling to pieces with age, and a few chairs--these were
all that it contained besides.
Eleanor sank kneeling beside one of the chairs. As she looked round her,
physical weakness and the concentration of all thought on one subject and
one person made her for the moment the victim of an illusion so strong that
it was almost an 'apparition of the living.'
Manisty stood before her, in the rough tweed suit he had worn in November,
one hand, holding his hat, upon his hip, his curly head thrown back, his
eyes just turning from the picture to meet hers; eyes always eagerly
confident, whether their owner pronounced on the affinities of a picture or
the fate of a country.
'School of Pinturicchio certainly!--but local work. Same hand--don't
you think so?--as in that smaller chapel in the cathedral. Eleanor! you
She gave a gasp, and hid her face, shaking. Was this haunting of eye and
ear to pursue her now henceforward? Was the passage of Manisty's being
through the world to be--for her--ineffaceable?--so that earth and air
retained the impress of his form and voice, and only her tortured heart and
sense were needed to make the phantom live and walk and speak again?
She began to pray--brokenly and desperately, as she had often prayed during
the last few weeks. It was a passionate throwing of the will against a
fate, cruel, unjust, intolerable; a means not to self-renunciation, but to
a self-assertion which was in her like madness, so foreign was it to all
the habits of the soul.
'That he should make use of me to the last moment, then fling me to the
winds--that I should just make room, and help him to his goal--and then die
meekly--out of the way--No! He too shall suffer!--and he shall know that it
is Eleanor who exacts it!--Eleanor who bars the way!'
And in the very depths of consciousness there emerged the strange and
bitter recognition that from the beginning she had allowed him to hold
her cheaply; that she had been content, far, far too content, with what
he chose to give; that if she had claimed more, been less delicate, less
exquisite in loving, he might have feared and regarded her more.
She heard the chapel door open. But at the same moment she became aware
that her face was bathed in tears, and she did not dare to look round. She
drew down her veil, and composed herself as she best could.
The person behind, apparently, also knelt down. The tread and movements
were those of a heavy man--some countryman, she supposed.
But his neighbourhood was unwelcome, and the chapel ceased to be a place
of refuge where feeling might have its way. In a few minutes she rose and
turned towards the door.
She gave a little cry. The man kneeling at the back of the chapel rose in
astonishment and came towards her.
'Father Benecke! _you_ here,' said Eleanor, leaning against the wall for
support--so weak was she, and so startling was this sudden apparition of
the man whom she had last seen on the threshold of the glass passage at
Marinata, barely a fortnight before.
'I fear, Madame, that I intrude upon you,' said the old priest, staring at
her with embarrassment. 'I will retire.'
'No, no,' said Eleanor, putting out her hand, with some recovery of her
normal voice and smile. 'It was only so--surprising; so--unexpected. Who
could have thought of finding you here, Father?'
The priest did not reply. They left the chapel together. The knot of
waiting children in the cloister, as soon as they saw Eleanor, raised a
shout of glee, and began to run towards her. But the moment they perceived
her companion, they stopped dead.
Their little faces darkened, stiffened, their black eyes shone with malice.
Then suddenly the boys swooped on the pebbles of the courtyard, and with
cries of '_Bestia!--bestia!_' they flung them at the priest over their
shoulders, as they all fled helter-skelter, the brothers dragging off the
sisters, the big ones the little ones, out of sight.
'Horrid little imps!' cried Eleanor in indignation. 'What is the matter
with them? I promised them some _soldi_. Did they hit you, Father?'
She paused, arrested by the priest's face.
'They?' he said hoarsely. 'Did you mean the children? Oh! no, they did no
What had happened to him since they met last at the villa? No doubt he
had been in conflict with his superiors and his Church. Was he already
suspended?--excommunicate? But he still wore the soutane?
Then panic for herself swept in upon and silenced all else. All was over
with their plans. Father Benecke either was, or might at any moment be, in
communication with Manisty. Alas, alas!--what ill-luck!
They walked together to the road--Eleanor first imagining, then rejecting
one sentence after another. At last she said, a little piteously:
'It is so strange, Father--that you should be here!'
The priest did not answer immediately. He walked with a curiously uncertain
gait. Eleanor noticed that his soutane was dusty and torn, and that he was
unshaven. The peculiar and touching charm that had once arisen from the
contrast between the large-limbed strength which he inherited from a race
of Suabian peasants, and an extraordinary delicacy of feature and skin, a
childish brightness and sweetness in the eyes, had suffered eclipse. He was
dulled and broken. One might have said almost that he had become a mere
ungainly, ill-kept old man, red-eyed for lack of sleep, and disorganised by
some bitter distress.
'You remember--what I told you and Mr. Manisty, at Marinata?' he said at
last, with difficulty.
'Perfectly. You withdrew your letter?'
'I withdrew it. Then I came down here. I have an old friend--a Canon of
Orvieto. He told me once of this place.'
Eleanor looked at him with a sudden return of all her natural kindness and
'I am afraid you have gone through a great deal, Father,' she said,
The priest stood still. His hand shook upon his stick.
'I must not detain you, Madame,' he said suddenly, with a kind of tremulous
formality. 'You will be wishing to return to your apartment I heard that
two English ladies were expected--but I never thought--'
'How could you?' said Eleanor hurriedly. 'I am not in any hurry. It is very
early still. Will you not tell me more of what has happened to you? You
would'--she turned away her head--'you would have told Mr. Manisty?'
'Ah! Mr. Manisty!' said the priest, with a long, startled sigh. 'I trust he
is well, Madame?'
'I believe so. He and Miss Manisty are still at Marinata. Father Benecke!'
Eleanor turned aside, poking at the stones on the road with her parasol.
'You would do me a kindness if for the present you would not mention my
being here to any of your friends in Rome, to--to anybody, in fact. Last
autumn I happened to pass by this place, and thought it very beautiful. It
was a sudden determination on my part and Miss Foster's--you remember the
American lady who was staying with us?--to come here. The villa was getting
very hot, and--and there were other reasons. And now we wish to be quite
alone for a little while--to be in retirement even from our friends. You
will, I am sure, respect our wish?'
She looked up, breathing quickly. All her sudden colour had gone. Her
anxiety and discomposure were very evident. The priest bowed.
'I will be discreet, Madame,' he said, with the natural dignity of his
calling. 'May I ask you to excuse me? I have to walk into Selvapendente to
fetch a letter.'
He took off his flat beaver hat, bowed low and departed, swinging along
at a great pace. Eleanor felt herself repulsed. She hurried back to the
convent. The children were waiting for her at the door, and when they
saw that she was alone they took their _soldi_, though with a touch of
And the door was opened to her by Lucy.
'Truant!' said the girl reproachfully, throwing her arm round Eleanor. 'As
if you ought to go out without your coffee! But it's all ready for you on
the _loggia_. Where have you been? And why!--what's the matter?'
Eleanor told the news as they mounted to their rooms.
'Ah! _that_ was the priest I saw last night!' cried Lucy. 'I was just going
to tell you of my adventure. Father Benecke! How very, very strange! And
how very tiresome! It's made you look so tired.'
And before she would hear a word more Lucy had put the elder woman into her
chair in the deep shade of the _loggia_, had brought coffee and bread and
fruit from the little table she herself had helped Cecco to arrange, and
had hovered round till Eleanor had taken at least a cup of coffee and a
fraction of roll. Then she brought her own coffee, and sat down on the rug
at Eleanor's feet.
'I know what you're thinking about!' she said, looking up with her sweet,
sudden smile. 'You want to go--right away!'
'Can we trust him?' said Eleanor, miserably. 'Edward doesn't know where he
is,--but he could write of course to Edward at any moment.'
She turned away her face from Lucy. Any mention of Manisty's name dyed it
with painful colour--the shame of the suppliant living on the mercy of the
'He might,' said Lucy, thinking. 'But if you asked him? No; I don't believe
he would. I am sure his soul is beautiful--like his face.'
'His poor face! You don't know how changed he is.'
'Ah! the _carabiniere_ told me last night. He is excommunicated,' said
Lucy, under her breath.
And she repeated her conversation with the handsome Antonio. Eleanor capped
it with the tale of the children.
'It's his book,' said Lucy, frowning. 'What a tyranny!'
They were both silent. Lucy was thinking of the drive to Nemi, of Manisty's
words and looks; Eleanor recalled the priest's last visit to the villa
and that secret storm of feeling which had overtaken her as she bade him
But when Lucy speculated on what might have happened, Eleanor hardly
responded. She fell into a dreamy silence from which it was difficult to
rouse her. It was very evident to Lucy that Father Benecke's personal
plight interested her but little. Her mind could not give it room. What
absorbed her was the feverish question: Were they safe any longer at Torre
Amiata, or must they strike camp and go further?
The day grew very hot, and Eleanor suffered visibly, even though the
quality of the air remained throughout pure and fresh, and Lucy in the
shelter of the broad _loggia_ felt nothing but a keen physical enjoyment of
the glow and blaze that held the outer world.
After their midday meal Lucy was sitting idly on the outer wall of the
_loggia_ which commanded the bit of road just outside the convent, when she
perceived a figure mounting the hill.
'Father Benecke!' she said to Eleanor. 'What a climb for him in this heat!
Did you say he had gone to Selvapendente? Poor old man!--how hot and tired
he looks!--and with that heavy parcel too!'
And withdrawing herself a little out of sight she watched the priest. He
had just paused in a last patch of shade to take breath after the long
ascent. Depositing the bundle he had been carrying on a wayside stone, he
took out his large coloured handkerchief and mopped the perspiration from
his face with long sighs of exhaustion. Then with his hands on his sides he
looked round him. Opposite to him was a little shrine, with the usual rude
fresco and enthroned Madonna behind a grating. The priest walked over to
it, and knelt down.
In a few minutes he returned and took up his parcel. As he entered the
outer gate of the convent, Lucy could see him glancing nervously from side
to side. But it was the hour of siesta and of quiet. His tormentors of the
morning were all under cover.
The parcel that he carried had partly broken out of its wrappings during
the long walk, and Lucy could see that it contained clothes of some kind.
'Poor Father!' she said again to Eleanor. 'Couldn't he have got some boy to
carry that for him? How I should like to rest him and give him some coffee?
Shall I send Cecco to ask him to come here?'
Eleanor shook her head.
'Better not. He wouldn't come. We shall have to tame him like a bird.'
The hours passed on. At last the western sun began to creep round into
the _loggia_. The empty cells on the eastern side were now cool, but
they looked upon the inner cloistered court which was alive with playing
children, and all the farm life. Eleanor shrank both from noise and
spectators. Yet she grew visibly more tired and restless, and Lucy went out
to reconnoitre. She came back recommending a descent into the forest.
So they braved a few yards of sun-scorched road and plunged into a little
right-hand track, which led downward through a thick undergrowth of heath
and arbutus towards what seemed the cool heart of the woods.
Presently they came to a small gate, and beyond appeared a broad, well-kept
path, winding in zig-zags along the forest-covered side of the hill.
'This must be private,' said Eleanor, looking at the gate in some doubt.
'And there you see is the Palazzo Guerrini.'
She pointed. Above them through a gap in the trees showed the great yellow
pile on the edge of the plateau, the forest stretching steeply up to it and
enveloping it from below.
'There is nothing to stop us,' said Lucy. 'They won't turn us out, if it is
theirs. I can't have you go through that sun again.'
And she pressed on, looking for shade and rest.
But soon she stopped, with a little cry, and they both stood looking in
astonishment at the strange and lovely thing upon which they had stumbled
'I know!' cried Lucy. 'The woman at the convent tried to tell me--and I
couldn't understand. She said we must see the "Sassetto"--that it was a
wonder--and all the strangers thought so. And it _is_ a wonder! And so
Down from the very brow of the hill, in an age before man was born, the
giant force of some primeval convulsion had flung a lava torrent of
molten rock to the bed of the Paglia. And there still was the torrent--a
rock-stream composed of huge blocks of basalt--flowing in one vast steep
fall, a couple of hundred yards wide, through the forest from top to bottom
of the hill.
And very grim and stern would that rock-river have been but for Italy, and
the powers of the Italian soil. But the forest and its lovely undergrowths,
its heaths and creepers, its ferns and periwinkles, its lichen and mosses
had thrown themselves on the frozen lava, had decked and softened its wild
shapes, had reared oaks and pines amid the clefts of basalt, and planted
all the crannies below with lighter, featherier green, till in the dim
forest light all that had once been terror had softened into grace, and
Nature herself had turned her freak to poetry.
And throughout the 'Sassetto' there reigned a peculiar and delicious
coolness--the blended breath of mountain and forest. The smooth path that
Eleanor and Lucy had been following wound in and out among the strange
rock-masses, bearing the signs of having been made at great cost and
difficulty. Soon, also, benches of grey stone began to mark the course of
it at frequent intervals.
'We must live here!' cried Lucy in enchantment. 'Let me spread the shawl
for you--there!--just in front of that glimpse of the river.'
They had turned a corner of the path. Lucy, whose gaze was fixed upon the
blue distance towards Orvieto, heard a hurried word from Eleanor, looked
round, and saw Father Benecke just rising from a seat in front.
A shock ran through her. The priest stood hesitating and miserable before
them, a hot colour suffusing his hollow cheeks. Lucy saw that he was no
longer in clerical dress. He wore a grey alpaca suit, and a hat of fine
Leghorn straw with a broad black ribbon. Both ladies almost feared to speak
Then Lucy ran forward, her cheeks too a bright red, her eyes wet and
sparkling. 'How do you do, Father Benecke? You won't remember me, but I was
just introduced to you that day at luncheon--don't you remember--on the
The priest took her offered hand, and looked at her in astonishment.
'Yes--I remember--you were with Miss Manisty.'
'I wish you had asked me to come with you this morning,' cried the girl
suddenly. 'I'd have helped you carry that parcel up the hill. It was too
much for you in the heat.'
Her face expressed the sweetest, most passionate sympathy, the indignant
homage of youth to old age unjustly wounded and forsaken. Eleanor was no
less surprised than Father Benecke. Was this the stiff, the reticent Lucy?
The priest struggled for composure, and smiled as he withdrew his hand.
'You would have found it a long way, Signorina. I tried to get a boy at
Selvapendente, but no one would serve me.'
He paused a moment, then resumed speaking with a sort of passionate
reluctance, his eyes upon the ground.
'I am a suspended priest--and the Bishop of Orvieto has notified the fact
to his clergy. The news was soon known through the whole district. And now
it seems the people hate me. They will do nothing for me. Nay, if they
could, they would willingly do me an injury.'
The flush had died out of the old cheeks. He stood bareheaded before them,
the tonsure showing plainly amid his still thick white locks--the delicate
face and hair, like a study in ivory and silver, thrown out against the
deep shadows of the Sassetto.
'Father, won't you sit down and tell me about it all?' said Eleanor gently.
'You didn't send me away, you know--the other day--at the villa.'
The priest sighed and hesitated. 'I don't know, Madame, why I should
trouble you with my poor story.
'It would not trouble me. Besides, I know so much of it already.'
She pointed to the bench he had just left.
'And I,' said Lucy, 'will go and fetch a book I left in the _loggia_.
Father Benecke, Mrs. Burgoyne is not strong. She has walked more than
enough. Will you kindly make her rest while I am gone?'
She fixed upon him her kind beseeching eyes. The sympathy, the homage of
the two women enveloped the old man. His brow cleared a little.
She sped down the winding path, aglow with anger and pity. The priest's
crushed strength and humiliated age--what a testimony to the power of that
tradition for which Mr. Manisty was working--its unmerciful and tyrannous
Why such a penalty for a 'mildly Liberal' book?--'a fraction of the truth'?
She could hear Manisty's ironic voice on that bygone drive to Nemi. If he
saw his friend now, would he still excuse--defend?--
Her thoughts wrestled with him hotly--then withdrew themselves in haste,
and fled the field.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Father Benecke's reserve had gradually yielded. He gave Eleanor a
long troubled look, and said at last, very simply--
'Madame, you see a man broken hearted--'
He stopped, staring desolately at the ground. Eleanor threw in a few gentle
words and phrases, and presently he again mustered courage to speak:
'You remember, Madame, that my letter was sent to the _Osservatore
Romano_ after a pledge had been given to me that only the bare fact of my
submission, the mere formula that attends the withdrawal of any book that
has been placed upon the Index, should be given to the public. Then my
letter appeared. And suddenly it all became clear to me. I cannot explain
it. It was with me as it was with St. Paul: "Placuit Domino ut revelaret
filium suum in me!" My heart rose up and said: "Thou hast betrayed the
truth"--"_Tradidisti Sanctum et Justum!_" After I left you that day I wrote
withdrawing my letter and my submission. And I sent a copy to one of the
Liberal papers. Then my heart smote me. One of the Cardinals of the Holy
Office had treated me with much kindness. I wrote to him--I tried to
explain what I had done. I wrote to several other persons at the Vatican,
complaining of the manner in which I had been dealt with. No answer--not
one. All were silent--as though I were already a dead man. Then I tried to
see one or two of my old friends. But no one would receive me; one and all
turned me from their doors. So then I left Rome. But I could not make up
my mind to go home till I knew the worst. You understand, Madame, that I
have been a Professor of Theology; that my Faculty can remove me--that my
Faculty obeys the Bishops, and the Bishops obey the Holy See. I remembered
this place--I left my address in Rome--and I came down here to wait. Ah! it
was not long!'
He drew himself up, smiling bitterly.
'Two days after I arrived here I received two letters simultaneously--one
from my Bishop, the other from the Council of my Faculty--suspending
me both from my priestly and my academical functions. By the next post
arrived a communication from the Bishop of this diocese, forbidding me the
He paused. The mere recital of his case had brought him again into the
bewilderment of that mental anguish he had gone through. Eleanor made a
murmur of sympathy. He faced her with a sudden ardour.
'I had expected it, Madame; but when it came I was stunned--I was bowed to
the earth. A few days later, I received an anonymous letter--from Orvieto,
I think--reminding me that a priest suspended _a divinis_ has no right
to the soutane. "Let the traitor," it said, "give up the uniform he has
disgraced--let him at least have the decency to do that." In my trouble I
had not thought of it. So I wrote to a friend in Rome to send me clothes.'
Eleanor's eyes filled with tears. She thought of the old man staggering
alone up the dusty hill under his unwelcome burden.
He himself was looking down at his new clothes in a kind of confusion.
Suddenly he said under his breath, 'And for what?--because I said what
every educated man in Europe knows to be true?'
'Father,' said Eleanor, longing to express some poor word of comfort and
respect, 'you have suffered greatly--you will suffer--but it is not for
He shook his head.
'Madame, you see a man dying of hunger and thirst! He cannot cheat himself
with fine words. He starves!'
She stared at him, startled--partly understanding.
'For forty-two years,' he said, in a low, pathetic voice, 'have I received
my Lord--day after day--without a break. And now "they have taken Him
away--and I know not where they have laid Him!"'
Nothing could be more desolate than tone and look. Eleanor understood. She
had seen this hunger before. She remembered a convent in Rome where on Good
Fridays some of the nuns were often ill with restlessness and longing,
because for twenty-four hours the Sacrament was not upon the altar.
Under the protection of her reverent and pitying silence he gradually
recovered himself. With great delicacy, with fine and chosen words, she
began to try and comfort him, dwelling on his comradeship with all the
martyrs of the world, on the help and support that would certainly gather
round him, on the new friends that would replace the old. And as she talked
there grew up in her mind an envy of him so passionate, so intense, that
she could have thrown herself at his feet there and then and opened her own
wretched heart to him.
He, tortured by the martyrdom of thought, by the loss of Christian
fellowship!--She, scorched and consumed by a passion that was perfectly
ready to feed itself on the pain and injury of the beloved, or the
innocent, as soon as its own selfish satisfaction was denied it! There was
a moment when she felt herself unworthy to breathe the same air with him.
She stared at him, frowning and pale, her hand clasping her breast, lest he
should hear the beating of her heart.
* * * * *
Then the hand dropped. The inner tumult passed. And at the same moment the
sound of steps was heard approaching.
Round the further corner of the path came two ladies, descending towards
them. They were both dressed in deep mourning. The first was an old woman,
powerfully and substantially built. Her grey hair, raised in a sort of
toupe under her plain black bonnet, framed a broad and noticeable brow,
black eyes, and other features that were both benevolent and strong. She
was very pale, and her face expressed a haunting and prevailing sorrow.
Eleanor noticed that she was walking alone, some distance ahead of her
companion, and that she had gathered up her black skirts in an ungloved
hand, with an absent disregard of appearances. Behind her came a younger
lady, a sallow and pinched woman of about thirty, very slight and tall.
As they passed Eleanor and her companion, the elder woman threw a lingering
glance at the strangers. The scrutiny of it was perhaps somewhat imperious.
The younger lady walked past stiffly with her eyes on the ground.
Eleanor and Father Benecke were naturally silent as they passed. Eleanor
had just begun to speak again when she heard herself suddenly addressed in
She looked up in astonishment and saw that the old lady had returned and
was standing before her.
'Madame--you allow me to address you?'
'You are staying at Santa Trinita, I believe!'
'_Oui, Madame_. We arrived yesterday.'
The Contessa's examining eye, whereof the keenness was but just duly
chastened by courtesy, took note of that delicate and frail refinement
which belonged both to Eleanor's person and dress.
'I fear, Madame, you are but roughly housed at the Trinita. They are not
accustomed to English ladies. If my daughter and I, who are residents here,
can be of any service to you, I beg that you will command us.'
Eleanor felt nothing but an angry impatience. Could even this remote place
give them no privacy? She answered however with her usual grace.
'You are very good, Madame. I suppose that I am speaking to the Contessa
The other lady made a sign of assent.
'We brought a few things from Orvieto--my friend and I,' Eleanor continued.
'We shall only stay a few weeks. I think we have all that is necessary. But
I am very grateful to you for your courtesy.'
Her manner, however, expressed no effusion, hardly even adequate response.
The Contessa understood. She talked for a few moments, gave a few
directions as to paths and points of view, pointed out a drive beyond
Selvapendente on the mountain side, bowed and departed.
Her bow did not include the priest. But he was not conscious of it. While
the ladies talked, he had stood apart, holding the hat that seemed to burn
him, in his finger-tips, his eyes, with their vague and troubled intensity,
expressing only that inward vision which is at once the paradise and the
torment of the prophet.
* * * * *
Three weeks passed away. Eleanor had said no more of further travelling.
For some days she lived in terror, startled by the least sound upon the
road. Then, as it seemed to Lucy, she resigned herself to trust in Father
Benecke's discretion, influenced also no doubt by the sense of her own
physical weakness, and piteous need of rest.
And now--in these first days of July--their risk was no doubt much less
than it had been. Manisty had not remembered Torre Amiata--another thorn in
Eleanor's heart! He must have left Italy. As each fresh morning dawned, she
assured herself drearily that they were safe enough.
As for the heat, the sun indeed was lord and master of this central Italy.
Yet on the high tableland of Torre Amiata the temperature was seldom
oppressive. Lucy, indeed, soon found out from her friend the Carabiniere
that while malaria haunted the valley, and scourged the region of Bolsena
to the south, the characteristic disease of their upland was pneumonia,
caused by the daily ascent of the labourers from the hot slopes below to
the sharp coolness of the night.
No, the heat was not overwhelming. Yet Eleanor grew paler and feebler. Lucy
hovered round her in a constantly increasing anxiety. And presently she
began to urge retreat, and change of plan. It was madness to stay in the
south. Why not more at once to Switzerland, or the Tyrol?
Eleanor shook her head.
'But I can't have you stay here,' cried Lucy in distress.
And coming closer, she chose her favourite seat on the floor of the
_loggia_ and laid her head against Eleanor's arm.
'Oughtn't you to go home?' she said, in a low urgent voice, caressing
Eleanor's hand. 'Send me back to Uncle Ben. I can go home any time. But you
ought to be in Scotland. Let me write to Miss Manisty!'
Eleanor laid her hand on her mouth. 'You promised!' she said, with her
sweet stubborn smile.
'But it isn't right that I should let you run these risks. It--it--isn't
kind to me.'
'I don't run risks. I am as well here as anywhere. The Orvieto doctor saw
no objection to my being here--for a month, at any rate.'
'Send me home,' murmured Lucy again, softly kissing the hand she held. 'I
don't know why I ever came.'
Eleanor started. Her lips grew pinched and bitter. But she only said:
'Give me our six weeks. All I want is you--and quiet.'
She held out both her hands very piteously, and Lucy took them, conquered,
though not convinced.
'If anything went really wrong,' said Eleanor, 'I am sure you could appeal
to that old Contessa. She has the face of a mother in Israel.'
'The people here seem to be pretty much in her hand,' said Lucy, as
she rose. 'She manages most of their affairs for them. But poor, poor
thing!--did you see that account in the _Tribuna_ this morning?'
The girl's voice dropped, as though it had touched a subject almost too
horrible to be spoken of.
Eleanor looked up with a sign of shuddering assent. Her daily _Tribuna_,
which the postman brought her, had in fact contained that morning a letter
describing the burial--after three months!--of the remains of the army
slain in the carnage of Adowa on March 1. For three months had those
thousands of Italian dead lain a prey to the African sun and the African
vultures, before Italy could get leave from her victorious foe to pay the
last offices to her sons.
That fine young fellow of whom the neighbourhood talked, who seemed to have
left behind him such memories of energy and goodness, his mother's idol,
had his bones too lain bleaching on that field of horror? It did not bear
Lucy went downstairs to attend to some household matters. It was about
ten o'clock in the morning, and presently Eleanor heard the postman from
Selvapendente knock at the outer door. Marie brought up the letters.
There were four or five for Lucy, who had never concealed her address from
her uncle, though she had asked that it might be kept for a while from
other people. He had accordingly forwarded some home-letters, and Marie
laid them on the table. Beside them were some letters that Lucy had just
written and addressed. The postman went his round through the village; then
returned to pick them up.
Marie went away, and suddenly Eleanor sprang from the sofa. With a flush
and a wild look she went to examine Lucy's letters.
Was all quite safe? Was Lucy not tampering with her, betraying her in any
way? The letters were all for America, except one, addressed to Paris. No
doubt an order to a tradesman? But Lucy had said nothing about it--and the
letter filled Eleanor with a mad suspicion that her weakness could hardly
'Why! by now--I am not even a lady!' she said to herself at last with
set teeth, as she dragged herself from the table, and began to pace the
But when Lucy returned, in one way or another Eleanor managed to inform
herself as to the destination of all the letters. And then she scourged and
humbled herself for her doubts, and became for the rest of the morning the
most winning and tender of companions.
As a rule they never spoke of Manisty. What Lucy's attitude implied was
that she had in some unwitting and unwilling way brought trouble on
Eleanor; that she was at Torre Amiata to repair it; and that in general she
was at Eleanor's orders.
Of herself she would not allow a word. Beyond and beneath her sweetness
Eleanor divined a just and indomitable pride. And beyond that Mrs. Burgoyne
could not penetrate.
Meanwhile Eleanor found some distraction in Father Benecke.
The poor priest was gradually recovering a certain measure of serenity. The
two ladies were undoubtedly of great assistance to him. They became popular
in the village, where they and their wants set flowing a stream of _lire_,
more abundant by far than had hitherto attended the summer guests, even the
Sindaco of Selvapendente. They were the innocent causes, indeed, of some
evil. Eleanor had been ordered goats' milk by the Orvieto doctor, and the
gentleman who had secured the order from the _massaja_ went in fear of his
life at the hands of two other gentlemen who had not been equally happy.
But in general they brought prosperity, and the popular smile was granted
So that when it was discovered that they were already acquainted with
the mysterious foreign priest, and stoutly disposed to befriend him,
the village showed the paralysing effect of a conflict of interests. At
the moment and for various reasons the clericals were masters. And the
clericals denounced Father Benecke as a traitor and a heretic. At the same
time the village could not openly assail the ladies' friend without running
the risk of driving the ladies themselves from Torre Amiata. And this
clearly would have been a mere wanton slight to a kind Providence. Even the
children understood the situation, and Father Benecke now took his walks
unmolested by anything sharper than sour looks and averted faces.
Meanwhile he was busy in revising a new edition of his book. This review
of his own position calmed him. Contact with all the mass of honest and
laborious knowledge of which it was a summary gave him back his dignity,
raised him from the pit of humiliation into which he seemed to have fallen,
and strengthened him to resist. The spiritual privations that his state
brought him could be sometimes forgotten. There were moments indeed when
the iron entered into his soul. When the bell of the little church rang at
half-past five in the morning, he was always there in his corner by the
door. The peasants brushed past him suspiciously as they went in and out.
He did not see them. He was absorbed in the function, or else in a bitter
envy of the officiating priest, and at such moments he suffered all that
any 'Vaticanist' could have wished him to suffer.
But when he was once more among his books, large gusts of a new and strange
freedom began, as it were, to blow about him. In writing the philosophical
book which had now brought him into conflict with the Church, he had
written in constraint and timidity. A perpetual dread, not only of
ecclesiastical censure but of the opinion of old and valued friends; a
perpetual uncertainty as to the limits of Catholic liberty; these things
had held him in bondage. What ought he say? What must he leave unsaid? He
understood perfectly that hypothesis must not be stated as truth. But the
vast accumulation of biological fact on the one hand, and of historical
criticism on the other, that has become the common property of the
scientific mind, how was it to be recapitulated--within Catholic limits? He
wrote in fear, like one walking on the burning ploughshares of the ordeal.
Religion was his life; but he had at once the keen intelligence and the
mystical temperament of the Suabian. He dreaded the collision which
ultimately came. Yet the mental process could not be stayed.
Now, with the final act of defiance, obscurely carried out, conditioned he
knew not how, there had arrived for him a marvellous liberation of soul.
Even at sixty-five he felt himself tragically new-born--naked and feeble
indeed, but still with unknown possibilities of growth and new life before
His book, instead of being revised, must be re-written. No need now to
tremble for a phrase! Let the truth be told. He plunged into his old
studies again, and the world of thought met him with a friendlier and
franker welcome. On all sides there was a rush and sparkle of new light.
How far he must follow and submit, his trembling soul did not yet know. But
for the moment there was an extraordinary though painful exhilaration--the
excitement of leading-strings withdrawn and walls thrown down.
This enfranchisement brought him, however, into strange conflict with
his own character. His temperament was that of the ascetic and visionary
religious. His intelligence had much the same acuteness and pliancy as that
of another and more pronounced doubter--a South German also, like Father
Benecke,--the author of the 'Leben Jesu.' But his _character_ was the joint
product of his temperament and his habits, and was often difficult to
reconcile with the quick play of his intelligence.
For instance, he was, in daily habit, an austere and most devout priest,
living alone with his old sister, as silent and yet fervent as himself, and
knowing almost nothing of other women, except through the Confessional. To
his own astonishment he was in great request as a director. But socially he
knew very little of his penitents; they were to him only 'souls,' spiritual
cases which he studied with the ardour of a doctor. Otherwise the small
benefice which he held in a South German town, his university class, and
the travail of his own research absorbed him wholly.
Hence a great innocence and unworldliness; but also an underlying sternness
towards himself and others. His wants were small, and for many years the
desires of the senses had been dead within him. Towards women he felt, if
the truth were known, with that strange unconscious arrogance which is a
most real and very primitive element in Catholicism, notwithstanding the
worship of Mary and the glories of St. Teresa and St. Catharine. The Church
does not allow any woman, even a 'religious,' to wash the corporal and
other linen which has been used in the Mass. There is a strain of thought
implied in that prohibition which goes deep and far--back to the dim dawn
of human things. It influences the priest in a hundred ways; it affected
even the tender and spiritual mind of Father Benecke. As a director of
women he showed them all that impersonal sweetness which is of the essence
of Catholic tradition; but they often shrank nevertheless from what they
felt to be a fundamental inflexibility mingled with pity.
Thus when he found himself brought into forced contact with the two ladies
who had invaded his retreat, when Lucy in a hundred pretty ways began to
show him a young and filial homage, when Eleanor would ask him to coffee
with them, and talk to him about his book and the subjects it discussed,
the old priest was both amazed and embarrassed.
How in the world did she know anything about such things? He understood
that she had been of assistance to Mr. Manisty: but that it had been the
assistance of a comrade and an equal--that had never entered his head.
So that at first Mrs. Burgoyne's talk silenced and repelled him. He was
conscious of the male revolt of St. Paul!--'I suffer not a woman to teach';
and for a time he hung back.
On his visit to the villa, and on her first meeting with him at Torre
Amiata, he had been under the influence of a shock which had crushed the
child in him and broken down his reserve. Yet that reserve was naturally
strong, together with certain despotic instincts which Eleanor perceived
with surprise beneath his exquisite gentleness. She sometimes despaired of
Nevertheless when Eleanor presently advised him to publish a statement of
his case in a German periodical; when the few quick things she said showed
a knowledge of the German situation and German current literature that
filled him with astonishment; when with a few smiles, hints, demurs, she
made plain to him that she perfectly understood where he had weakened his
book--which lay beside her--out of deference to authority, and where it
must be amended, if it was to produce any real influence upon European
cultivated opinion, the old priest was at first awkward or speechless.
Then slowly he rose to the bait. He began to talk; he became by degrees
combative, critical, argumentative. His intelligence took the field; his
character receded. Eleanor had won the day.
Presently, indeed, he began to haunt them. He brought to Eleanor each
article and letter as it arrived, consulting her on every phase of a
controversy, concerning him and his book, which was now sweeping through
certain Catholic circles and newspapers. He was eager, forgetful, exacting
even. Lucy began to dread the fatigue that he sometimes produced. While
for Lucy he was still the courteous and paternal priest, for Eleanor he
gradually became--like Manisty--the intellectual comrade, crossing swords
often in an equal contest, where he sometimes forgot the consideration due
to the woman in the provocation shown him by the critic.
And when she had tamed him, it was to Eleanor all ashes and emptiness!
'_This_ is the kind of thing I can always do,' she said to herself one day,
throwing out her hands in self-scorn, as he left her on the _loggia_, where
he had been taking coffee with herself and Lucy.
And meanwhile what attracted her was not in the least the controversialist
and the man of letters--it was the priest, the Christian, the ascetic.
Torn with passion and dread as she was, she divined in him the director;
she felt towards him as the woman so often feels towards that sexless
mystery, the priest. Other men are the potential lovers of herself or
other women; she knows herself their match. But in this man set apart, she
recognises the embodied conscience, the moral judge, who is indifferent
to her as a woman, observant of her as a soul. Round this attraction she
flutters, and has always fluttered since the beginning of things. It is
partly a yearning for guidance and submission; partly also a secret pride
that she who for other men is mere woman, is, for the priest, spirit, and
immortal. She prostrates herself; but at the same time she seems to herself
to enter through her submission upon a region of spiritual independence
where she is the slave, not of man but of God.
What she felt also, tortured as she was by jealousy and angry will, was the
sheer longing for human help that must always be felt by the lonely and the
weak. Confession, judgment, direction--it was on these tremendous things
that her inner mind was brooding all the time that she sat talking to
Father Benecke of the Jewish influence in Bavaria, or the last number of
the 'Civilta Cattolica.'
* * * * *
One evening at the beginning of July Eleanor and Lucy were caught in the
woods by a thunder-shower. The temperature dropped suddenly, and as they
mounted the hill towards the convent Eleanor in her thin white dress met a
blast of cold wind that followed the rain.
The result was chill and fever. Lucy and Marie tended her as best they
could, but her strength appeared to fail her with great rapidity, and there
came an evening when Lucy fell into a panic of anxiety.
Should she summon the local doctor--a man who was paid 80_l._ a year by the
Municipio of Selvapendente, and tended the Commune of Torre Amiata?
She had discovered, however, that he was not liked by the peasants. His
appearance was not attractive, and she doubted whether she could persuade
Eleanor to see him.
An idea struck her. Without consulting Mrs. Burgoyne, she took her hat and
boldly walked up to the Palazzo on the hill. Here she inquired for the
Contessa Guerrini. The Contessa, however, was out; Lucy left a little note
in French asking for advice. Could they get a good doctor at Selvapendente,
or must she send to Orvieto?
She had hardly reached home before an answer followed her from the
Contessa, who regretted extremely that Mademoiselle Foster should not
have found her at home. There was a good doctor at Selvapendente, and the
Contessa would have great pleasure in sending a mounted messenger to fetch
him. She regretted the illness of Madame. There was a fair _farmacia_ in
the village. Otherwise she was afraid that in illness the ladies would not
find themselves very well placed at Torre Amiata. Would Mademoiselle kindly
have her directions for the doctor ready, and the messenger would call
Lucy was sincerely grateful and perhaps a little astonished. She was
obliged to tell Eleanor, and Eleanor showed some restlessness, but was too
unwell to protest. The doctor came and proved to be competent. The fever
was subdued, and Eleanor was soon convalescent. Meanwhile flowers, fruit,
and delicacies were sent daily from the Palazzo, and twice did the Contessa
descend from her little victoria at the door of the convent courtyard, to
inquire for the patient.
On each occasion Lucy saw her, and received the impression of a dignified,
kind, and masterful woman, bowed by recent grief, but nevertheless
sensitively alive in a sort of old-fashioned stately way to the claims of
strangers on the protection of the local grandee. It seemed to attract her
that Lucy was American, and that Eleanor was English.
'I have twice visited England,' she said, in an English that was correct,
but a little rusty. 'My husband learnt many things from England--for the
estate. But I wonder, Mademoiselle, that you come to us at this time of
Lucy laughed and coloured. She said it was pleasant to see Italy without
the _forestieri_; that it was like surprising a bird on its nest. But
she stumbled a little, and the Contessa noticed both the blush and the
When Eleanor was able to go out, the little carriage was sent for her,
and neither she nor Lucy knew how to refuse it. They drove up and down
the miles of zig-zag road that Don Emilio had made through the forest on
either side of the river, connecting the Palazzo Guerrini with the _casa
di caccia_ on the mountain opposite. The roads were deserted; grass was
beginning to grow on them. The peasants scarcely ever used them. They clung
to the old steep paths and tracts that had been theirs for generations. But
the small smart horses, in their jingling harness, trotted briskly along;
and Eleanor beside her companion, more frail and languid than ever, looked
listlessly out upon a world of beauty that spoke to her no more.
And at last a note from the Contessa arrived, asking if the ladies would
honour her and her daughter by taking tea with them at the Palazzo. 'We are
in deep mourning and receiving no society,' said the note; 'but if Madame
and her friend will visit us in this quiet way it will give us pleasure,
and they will perhaps enjoy the high view from here over our beautiful
Eleanor winced and accepted.
* * * * *
The Palazzo, as they climbed up through the village towards it, showed
itself to be an imposing pile of the later seventeenth century, with
heavily-barred lower windows, and, above, a series of graceful _loggie_
on its northern and western fronts which gave it a delicate and habitable
air. On the north-eastern side the woods, broken by the stone-fall of the
Sassetto, sank sharply to the river; on the other the village and the
vineyards pressed upon its very doors. The great entrance gateway opened on
a squalid village street, alive with crawling babies and chatting mothers.
At this gateway, however--through which appeared a courtyard aglow with
oleanders and murmurous with running water--they were received with
some state. An old majordomo met them, accompanied by two footmen and a
carrying-chair. Eleanor was borne up a high flight of stone stairs, and
through a vast and bare 'apartment' of enormous rooms with tiled or brick
floors and wide stone _cheminees_, furnished with a few old chests and
cabinets, a collection of French engravings of the last century, and some
indifferent pictures. A few of the rooms were frescoed with scenes of
hunting or social life in a facile eighteenth-century style. Here and
there was a piece of old tapestry or a Persian carpet. But as a whole, the
Palazzo, in spite of its vastness, made very much the impression of an old
English manor house which has belonged to people of some taste and no great
wealth, and has grown threadbare and even ugly with age. Yet tradition and
the family remain. So here. A frugal and antique dignity, sure of itself
and needing no display, breathed in the great cool spaces.
The Contessa and her daughter were in a small and more modern _salone_
looking on the river and the woods. Eleanor was placed in a low chair
near the open window, and her hostess could not forbear a few curious and
pitying glances at the sharp, high-bred face of the Englishwoman, the
feverish lips, and the very evident emaciation, which the elegance of the
loose black dress tried in vain to hide.
'I understand, Madame,' she said, after Eleanor had expressed her thanks
with the pretty effusion that was natural to her, 'that you were at Torre
Amiata last autumn?'
Eleanor started. The _massaja_, she supposed, had been gossiping. It was
disagreeable, but good-breeding bade her be frank.
'Yes, I was here with some friends, and your agent gave us hospitality for
The Contessa looked astonished.
'Ah!' she said, 'you were here with the D----'s?'
'And you spent the winter in Rome?'
'Part of it. Madame, you have the most glorious view in the world!' And she
turned towards the great prospect at her feet.
The Contessa understood.
'How ill she is!' she thought; 'and how distinguished!'
And presently Eleanor on her side, while she was talking nervously and fast
on a good many disconnected subjects, found herself observing her hostess.
The Contessa's strong square face had been pale and grief-stricken when she
saw it first. But she noticed now that the eyelids were swollen and red, as
though from constant tears; and the little sallow daughter looked sadder
and shyer than ever. Eleanor presently gathered that they were living in
the strictest seclusion and saw no visitors. 'Then why'--she asked herself,
wondering--'did she speak to us in the Sassetto?--and why are we admitted
now? Ah! that is his portrait!'
For at the Contessa's elbow, on a table specially given up to it, she
perceived a large framed photograph draped in black. It represented a
tall young man in an Artillery uniform. The face was handsome, eager, and
yet melancholy. It seemed to express a character at once impatient and
despondent, but held in check by a strong will. With a shiver Eleanor again
recalled the ghastly incidents of the war; and the story they had heard
from the _massaja_ of the young man's wound and despair.
Her heart, in its natural lovingness, went out to his mother. She found
her tongue, and she and the Contessa talked till the twilight fell of the
country and the peasants, of the improvements in Italian farming, of the
old convent and its history.
Not a word of the war; and not a word, Eleanor noticed, of their
fellow-lodger, Father Benecke. From various indications she gathered that
the sallow daughter was _devote_ and a 'black.' The mother, however, seemed
to be of a different stamp. She was at any rate a person of cultivation.
That, the books lying about were enough to prove. But she had also the
shrewdness and sobriety, the large pleasant homeliness, of a good man of
business. It was evident that she, rather than her _fattore_, managed her
property, and that she perfectly understood what she was doing.
In truth, a secret and strong sympathy had arisen between the two women.
During the days that followed they met often.
The Contessa asked no further questions as to the past history or future
plans of the visitors. But indirectly, and without betraying her new
friends, she made inquiries in Rome. One of the D---- family wrote to her:
'The English people we brought with us last year to your delicious Torre
Amiata were three--a gentleman and two ladies. The gentleman was a Mr.
Manisty, a former member of the English Parliament, and very conspicuous
in Rome last winter for a kind of Brunetiere alliance with the Vatican and
hostility to the Italian _regime_. People mostly regarded it as a pose; and
as he and his aunt were rich and of old family, and Mr. Manisty was--when
he chose--a most brilliant talker, they were welcome everywhere, and Rome
certainly feted them a good deal. The lady staying with them was a Mrs.
Burgoyne, a very graceful and charming woman whom everybody liked. It was
quite plain that there was some close relation between her and Mr. Manisty.
By which I mean nothing scandalous! Heavens! nobody ever thought of such
a thing. But I believe that many people who knew them well felt that it
would be a very natural and right thing that he should marry her. She was
evidently touchingly devoted to him--acting as his secretary, and hanging
on his talk. In the spring they went out to the hills, and a young American
girl--quite a beauty, they say, though rather raw--went to stay with them.
I heard so much of her beauty from Madame Variani that I was anxious to see
her. Miss Manisty promised to bring her here before they left in June. But
apparently the party broke up suddenly, and we saw no more of them.
'Now I think I have told you the chief facts about them. I wonder what
makes you ask? I often think of poor Mrs. Burgoyne, and hope she may be
happy some day. I can't say, however, that Mr. Manisty ever seemed to me a
very desirable husband! And yet I was very sorry you were not at home in
the autumn. You might have disliked him heartily, but you would have found
him _piquant_ and stimulating. And of all the glorious heads on man's
shoulders he possesses the most glorious--the head of a god attached to a
rather awkward and clumsy body.'
Happy! Well, whatever else might have happened, the English lady was not
yet happy. Of that the Contessa Guerrini was tolerably certain after a
first conversation with her. Amid the gnawing pressure of her own grief
there was a certain distraction in the observance of this sad and delicate
creature, and in the very natural speculations she aroused. Clearly Miss
Foster was the young American girl. Why were they here together, in this
heat, away from all their friends?
* * * * *
One day Eleanor was sitting with the Contessa on a _loggia_ in the Palazzo,
looking north-west towards Radicofani. It was a cool and rather cloudy
evening, after a day of gasping heat. The majordomo suddenly announced;
'His reverence, Don Teodoro.'
The young _padre parroco_ appeared--a slim, engaging figure, as he stood
for an instant amid the curtains of the doorway, glancing at the two ladies
with an expression at once shy and confiding.
He received the Contessa's greeting with effusion, bowing low over
her hand. When she introduced him to the English lady, he bowed again
ceremoniously. But his blue eyes lost their smile. The gesture was formal,
the look constrained. Eleanor, remembering Father Benecke, understood.
In conversation with the Contessa however he recovered a boyish charm and
spontaneity that seemed to be characteristic. Eleanor watched him with
admiration, noticing also the subtle discernment of the Italian, which
showed through all his simplicity of manner. It was impossible to mistake,
for instance, that he felt himself in a house of mourning. The movements
of body and voice were all at first subdued and sympathetic. Yet the
mourning had passed into a second stage, and ordinary topics might now be
introduced. He glided into them with the most perfect tact.
He had come for two reasons. First, to announce his appointment as Select
Preacher for the coming Advent at a well-known church in Rome; secondly, to
bring to the Contessa's notice a local poet--gifted, but needy--an Orvieto
man, whose Muse the clergy had their own reasons for cultivating.
The Contessa congratulated him, and he bowed profoundly in a silent
Then he took up the poet, repeating stanza after stanza with a perfect
_naivete_, in his rich young voice, without a trace of display; ending at
last with a little sigh, and a sudden dropping of the eyes, like a child
Eleanor was delighted with him, and the Contessa, who seemed more difficult
to please, also smiled upon him. Teresa, the pious daughter, was with Lucy
in the Sassetto. No doubt she was the little priest's particular friend. He
had observed at once that she was not there, and had inquired for her.
'One or two of those lines remind me of Carducci, and that reminds me
that I saw Carducci for the first time this spring,' said the Contessa,
turning to Eleanor. 'It was at a meeting of the Accademia in Rome. A
great affair--the King and Queen--and a paper on Science and Religion, by
Mazzoli. Perhaps you don't remember his name? He was our Minister of the
Interior a few years ago.'
Eleanor did not hear. Her attention was diverted by the sudden change in
the aspect of the _padre parroco_. It was the dove turned hawk. The fresh
face seemed to have lost its youth in a moment, to have grown old, sharp,
'Mazzoli!'--he said, as the Contessa paused--'_Eccellenza, e un Ebreo!_'
The Contessa frowned. Yes, Mazzoli was a Jew, but an honest man; and his
address had been of great interest, as bearing witness to the revival of
religious ideas in circles that had once been wholly outside religion.
The _parroco's_ lips quivered with scorn. He remembered the affair--a
scandalous business! The King and Queen present, and a _Jew_ daring before
them, to plead the need of 'a new religion'--in Italy, where Catholicism,
Apostolic and Roman, was guaranteed as the national religion--by the first
article of the _Statuto_. The Contessa replied with some dryness that
Mazzoli spoke as a philosopher. Whereupon the _parroco_ insisted with heat
that there could be no true philosophy outside the Church. The Contessa
laughed and turned upon the young man a flashing and formidable eye.
'Let the Church add a little patriotism to her philosophy, Father,--she
will find it better appreciated.'
Don Teodoro straightened to the blow. 'I am a Roman, _Eccellenza_--you
'I am an Italian, Father--you also. But you hate your country.'
Both speakers had grown a little pale.
'I have nothing to do with the Italy of Venti Settembre,' said the priest,
twisting and untwisting his long fingers in a nervous passion. 'That Italy
has three marks of distinction before Europe--by which you may know her.'
'And those--?' said the Contessa, calm and challenging.
'Debt, _Eccellenza_--hunger!--crimes of blood! _Sono il suo
He threw at her a look sparkling and venomous. All the grace of his
youth had vanished. As he sat there, Eleanor in a flash saw in him the
conspirator and the firebrand that a few more years would make of him.
'Ah!' said the Contessa, flushing. 'There were none of these things in the
old Papal States?--under the Bourbons?--the Austrians? Well--we understand
perfectly that you would destroy us if you could!'
'_Eccellenza_, Jesus Christ and his Vicar come before the House of Savoy!'
'Ruin us, and see what you will gain!'
'_Eccellenza_, the Lord rules.
'Well--well. Break the eggs--that's easy. But whether the omelet will be as
Back to Full Books