Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 7 out of 9
the Jesuits please--that's another affair.'
Each combatant smiled, and drew a long breath.
'These are our old battles,' said the Contessa, shaking her head. '_Scusi!_
I must go and give an order.'
And to Eleanor's alarm, she rose and left the room.
The young priest showed a momentary embarrassment at being left alone with
the strange lady. But it soon passed. He sat a moment, quieting down, with
his eyes dropped, his finger-tips lightly joined upon his knee. Then he
'You are perhaps not acquainted with the pictures in the Palazzo, Madame.
May I offer you my services? I believe that I know the names of the
Eleanor was grateful to him, and they wandered through the bare rooms,
looking at the very doubtful works of art that they contained.
Presently, as they returned to the _salone_ from which they had started,
Eleanor caught sight of a fine old copy of the Raphael St. Cecilia at
Bologna. The original has been much injured, and the excellence of the copy
struck her. She was seized, too, with a stabbing memory of a day in the
Bologna Gallery with Manisty!
She hurried across the room to look at the picture. The priest followed
'Ah! that, Madame,' he said with enthusiasm--that is a _capolavoro_. It is
by Michael Angelo.'
Eleanor looked at him in astonishment. 'This one? It is a copy, Padre, of
Raphael's St. Cecilia at Bologna--a very interesting and early copy.'
Don Teodoro frowned. He went up to look at it doubtfully, pushing out his
'Oh! no, Madame,' he said, returning to her, and speaking with a soft
yet obstinate complacency. 'Pardon me--but you are mistaken. That is an
original work of the great Michael Angelo.'
Eleanor said no more.
When the Contessa returned, Eleanor took up a volume of French translations
from the Greek Anthology that the Contessa had lent her the day before. She
restored the dainty little book to its mistress, pointing to some of her
The _parroco's_ face fell as he listened.
'Ah!--these are from the Greek!' he said, looking down modestly, as the
Contessa handed him the book. 'I spent five years, _Eccellenza_, in
learning Greek, but--!' He shrugged his shoulders gently.
Then glancing from one lady to the other, he said with a deprecating smile:
'I could tell you some things. I could explain what some of the Greek words
in Italian come from--"mathematics," for instance.'
He gave the Greek word with a proud humility, emphasising each syllable.
The Greek came out like a child's lesson. He was not always sure; he
corrected himself once or twice; and at the end he threw back his head with
a little natural pride.
But the ladies avoided looking either at him or each other.
Eleanor thought of Father Benecke; of the weight of learning on that silver
head. Yet Benecke was an outcast, and this youth was already on the ladder
When he departed the Contessa threw up her hands.
'And that man is just appointed Advent Preacher at one of the greatest
churches in Rome!'
Then she checked herself.
'At the same time, Madame,' she said, looking a little stiffly at Eleanor,
'we have learned priests--many of them.'
Eleanor hastened to assent. With what heat had Manisty schooled her
during the winter to the recognition of Catholic learning, within its own
'It is this deplorable Seminary education!' sighed the Contessa. 'How
is one half of the nation ever to understand the other? They speak a
different language. Imagine all our scientific education on the one side,
and this--this dangerous innocent on the other! And yet we all want
religion--we all want some hope beyond this life.'
Her strong voice broke. She turned away, and Eleanor could only see the
massive outline of head and bust, and the coils of grey hair.
Mrs. Burgoyne drew her chair nearer to the Contessa. Silently and timidly
she laid a hand upon her knee.
'I can't understand,' she said in a low voice, 'how you have had the
patience to be kind to us, these last weeks!'
'Do you know why?' said the Contessa, turning round upon her, and no longer
attempting to conceal the tears upon her fine old face.
'It was because Emilio loved the English. He once spent a very happy summer
in England. I--I don't know whether he was in love with anyone. But, at
any rate, he looked back to it with deep feeling. He always did everything
that he could for any English person--and especially in these wilds. I have
known him often take trouble that seemed to me extravagant or quixotic.
But he always would. And when I saw you in the _Sassetto_ that day, I knew
exactly what he would have done. You looked so delicate--and I remembered
how rough the convent was. I had hardly spoken to anybody but Teresa since
the news came, but I could not help speaking to you.'
Eleanor pressed her hand. After a pause she said gently:
'He was with General Da Bormida?'
'Yes--he was with Da Bormida. There were three columns, you remember.
He was with the column that seemed for a time to be successful. I only
got the full account last week from a brother-officer, who was a prisoner
till the end of June. Emilio, like all the rest, thought the position was
carried--that it was a victory. He raised his helmet and shouted, _Viva il
Re! Viva l'Italia!_ And then all in a moment the Scioans were on them like
a flood. They were all carried away. Emilio rallied his men again and again
under a hail of bullets. Several heard him say: "Courage, lads--courage!
Your Captain dies with you! _Avanti! avanti! Viva l'Italia!_" Then at
last he was frightfully wounded, and perhaps you may have heard in
the village'--again the mother turned her face away--' that he said
to a _caporale_ beside him, who came from this district, whom he knew
at home--"Federigo, take your gun and finish it." He was afraid--my
beloved!--of falling into the hands of the enemy. Already they had passed
some wounded, horribly mutilated. The _caporale_ refused. "I can't do that,
_Eccellenza_," he said; "but we will transport you or die with you!" Then
again there was a gleam of victory. He thought the enemy were repulsed. A
brother-officer saw him being carried along by two soldiers, and Emilio
beckoned to him. "You must be my Confessor!" he said, smiling. And he gave
him some messages for me and Teresa--some directions about his affairs.
Then he asked: "It is victory--isn't it? We have won, after all?" And the
other--who knew--couldn't bear to tell him the truth. He said, "Yes." And
Emilio said, "You swear it?" "I swear." And the boy made the sign of the
cross--said again, _Viva l'Italia!_--and died.... They buried him that
night under a little thicket. My God! I thank Thee that he did not lie on
that accursed plain!'
She raised her handkerchief to hide her trembling lips. Eleanor said
nothing. Her face was bowed upon her hands, which lay on the Contessa's
'His was not a very happy temperament,' said the poor mother presently.' He
was always anxious and scrupulous. I sometimes thought he had been too much
influenced by Leopardi; he was always quoting him. That is the way with
many of our young men. Yet Emilio was a Christian--a sincere believer. It
would have been better if he had married. But he gave all his affection
to me and Teresa--and to this place and the people. I was to carry on his
work--but I am an old woman--and very tired. Why should the young go before
their time?... Yet I have no bitterness about the war. It was a ghastly
mistake--and it has humiliated us as a nation. But nations are made by
their blunderings as much as by their successes. Emilio would not have
grudged his life. He always thought that Italy had been "made too quick,"
as they say--that our day of trial and weakness was not done.... But, _Gesu
mio!_--if he had not left me so much of life.'
Eleanor raised her head.
'I, too,' she said, almost in a whisper--'I, too, have lost a son. But he
was a little fellow.'
The Contessa looked at her in astonishment and burst into tears.
'Then we are two miserable women!' she said, wildly.
Eleanor clung to her--but with a sharp sense of unfitness and unworthiness.
She felt herself a hypocrite. In thought and imagination her boy now
was but a hovering shadow compared to Manisty. It was not this sacred
mother-love that was destroying her own life.
* * * * *
As they drove home through the evening freshness, Eleanor's mind pursued
its endless and solitary struggle.
Lucy sat beside her. Every now and then Eleanor's furtive guilty look
sought the girl's face. Sometimes a flying terror would grip her by the
heart. Was Lucy graver--paler? Were there some new lines round the sweet
eyes? That serene and virgin beauty--had it suffered the first withering
touch since Eleanor had known it first? And if so, whose hand? whose fault?
Once or twice her heart failed within her; foreseeing a remorse that was no
sooner imagined than it was denied, scouted, hurried out of sight.
That brave, large-brained woman with whom she had just been talking; there
was something in the atmosphere which the Contessa's personality shed round
it, that made Eleanor doubly conscious of the fever in her own blood. As in
Father Benecke's case, so here; she could only feel herself humiliated and
dumb before these highest griefs--the griefs that ennoble and enthrone.
That night she woke from a troubled sleep with a stifled cry of horror. In
her dreams she had been wrestling with Manisty, trying to thrust him back
with all the frenzied force of her weak hands. But he had wrenched himself
from her hold. She saw him striding past her--aglow, triumphant. And that
dim white form awaiting him--and the young arms outstretched!
'No, no! False! She doesn't--doesn't love him!' her heart cried, throwing
all its fiercest life into the cry. She sat up in bed trembling and
haggard. Then she stole into the next room. Lucy lay deeply, peacefully
asleep. Eleanor sank down beside her, hungrily watching her. 'How could
she sleep like that--if--if she cared?' asked her wild thoughts, and she
comforted herself, smiling at her own remorse. Once she touched the girl's
hand with her lips, feeling towards her a rush of tenderness that came like
dew on the heat of the soul. Then she crept back to bed, and cried, and
cried--through the golden mounting of the dawn.
The days passed on. Between Eleanor and Lucy there had grown up a close,
intense, and yet most painful affection. Neither gave the other her full
confidence, and on Eleanor's side the consciousness both of the futility
and the enormity of what she had done only increased with time, embittering
the resistance of a will which was still fierce and unbroken.
Meanwhile she often observed her companion with a quick and torturing
curiosity. What was it that Manisty had found so irresistible, when all her
own subtler arts had failed?
Lucy was in some ways very simple, primitive even, as Manisty had called
her. Eleanor knew that her type was no longer common in a modern America
that sends all its girls to college, and ransacks the world for an
experience. But at the same time the depth and force of her nature promised
rich developments in the future. She was still a daughter of New England,
with many traits now fast disappearing; but for her, too, there was
beginning that cosmopolitan transformation to which the women of her race
lend themselves so readily.
And it was Manisty's influence that was at work! Eleanor's miserable eyes
discerned it in a hundred ways. Half the interests and questions on which
Manisty's mind had been fixed for so long were becoming familiar to Lucy.
They got books regularly from Rome, and Eleanor had been often puzzled by
Lucy's selections--till one day the key to them flashed across her.
The girl indeed was making her way, fast and silently, into quite new
regions of thought and feeling. She read, and she thought. She observed the
people of the village; she even frequented their humble church, though she
would never go with Eleanor to Sunday Mass. There some deep, unconquerable
instinct held her back.
All through, indeed, her personal beliefs and habits--Evangelical,
unselfish, strong, and a little stern--seemed to be quite unchanged. But
they were differently tinged, and would be in time differently presented.
Nor would they ever, of themselves, divide her from Manisty. Eleanor saw
that clearly enough. Lucy could hold opinion passionately, unreasonably
even; but she was not of the sort that makes life depend upon opinion. Her
true nature was large, tolerant, patient. The deepest forces in it were
forces of feeling, and no intellectual difference would ever be able to
deny them their natural outlet.
Meanwhile Lucy seemed to herself the most hopelessly backward and ignorant
person, particularly in Eleanor's company.
'Oh! I am just a dunce,' she said one day to Eleanor, with a smile and
sigh, after some questions as to her childhood and bringing up. 'They ought
to have sent me to college. All the girls I knew went. But then Uncle Ben
would have been quite alone. So I just had to get along.'
'But you know what many girls don't know.'
Lucy gave a shrug.
'I know some Latin and Greek, and other things that Uncle Ben could teach
me. But oh! what a simpleton I used to feel in Boston!'
'You were behind the age?
'I didn't seem to have anything to do with the age, or the age with me. You
see, I was slow, and everybody else was quick. But an American that isn't
quick's got no right to exist. You're bound to have heard the last thing,
and read the last book, or people just want to know why you're there!'
'Why should people call you slow?' said Eleanor, in that voice which Lucy
often found so difficult to understand, because of the strange note of
hostility which, for no reason at all, would sometimes penetrate through
the sweetness. 'It's absurd. How quickly you've picked up Italian--and
frocks!--and a hundred things.'
She smiled, and stroked the brown head beside her.
Lucy coloured, bent over her work, and did not reply.
Generally they passed their mornings in the _loggia_ reading and working.
Lucy was a dexterous needle-woman, and a fine piece of embroidery had made
much progress since their arrival at Torre Amiata. Secretly she wondered
whether she was to finish it there. Eleanor now shrank from the least
mention of change; and Lucy, having opened her generous arms to this
burden, did not know when she would be allowed to put it down. She carried
it, indeed, very tenderly--with a love that was half eager remorse. Still,
before long Uncle Ben must remonstrate in earnest. And the Porters, whom
she had treated so strangely? They were certainly going back to America in
September, if not before. And must she not go with them?
And would the heat at Torre Amiata be bearable for the sensitive Northerner
after July? Already they spent many hours of the day in their shuttered and
closed rooms, and Eleanor was whiter than the convolvulus which covered the
What a darling--what a kind and chivalrous darling was Uncle Ben! She had
asked him to trust her, and he had done it nobly, though it was evident
from his letters that he was anxious and disturbed. 'I cannot tell you
everything,' she had written, 'or I should be betraying a confidence; but
I am doing what I feel to be right--what I am sure you would consent to my
doing if you knew. Mrs. Burgoyne is _very_ frail--and she clings to me. I
can't explain to you how or why--but so it is. For the present I must look
after her. This place is beautiful; the heat not yet too great; and you
shall hear every week. Only, please, tell other people that I wish you to
forward letters, and cannot long be certain of my address.'
'Dear child, this is very mysterious. I don't like it. It would be absurd
to pretend that I did. But I haven't trusted my Lucy for fourteen years in
order to begin to persecute her now because she can't tell me a secret.
Only I give you warning that if you don't write to me every week, my
generosity, as you call it, will break down--and I shall be for sending out
a search party right away.... Do you want money? I must say that I hope
July will see the end of your adventure.'
Would it? Lucy found her mind full of anxious thoughts as Eleanor read
aloud to her.
Presently she discovered that a skein of silk she wanted for her work was
not in her basket. She turned to look also in her old inlaid workbox, which
stood on a small table beside her. But it was not there.
'Please wait a moment,' she said to her companion. 'I am afraid I must get
She stood up hastily, and her movement upset the rickety cane table. With a
crash her workbox fell to the ground, and its contents rolled all over the
_loggia_. She gave a cry of dismay.
'Oh! my terra-cottas!--my poor terra-cottas!'
Eleanor started, and rose too, involuntarily, to her feet. There on the
ground lay all the little Nemi fragments which Manisty had given to Lucy,
and which had been stowed away, each carefully wrapped in tissue paper, in
the well of her old workbox.
Eleanor assisted to pick them up, rather silently. The note of keen
distress in Lucy's voice rang in her ears.
'They are not much hurt, luckily,' she said.
And indeed, thanks to the tissue paper, there were only a few small chips
and bruises to bemoan when Lucy at last had gathered them all safely into
her lap. Still, chips and bruises in the case of delicate Graeco-Roman
terra-cottas are more than enough to make their owner smart, and Lucy bent
over them with a very flushed and rueful face, examining and wrapping them
'Cotton-wool would be better,' she said anxiously. 'How have you put your
Directly the words were out of her mouth she felt that they had been better
A deep flush stained Eleanor's thin face.
'I am afraid I haven't taken much care of them,' she said hurriedly.
They were both silent for a little. But while Lucy still had her lap full
of her treasures, Eleanor again stood up.
'I will go in and rest for an hour before _dejeuner_. I _think_ I might go
She had passed a very broken night, and Lucy looked at her with tender
concern. She quickly but carefully laid aside her terra-cottas, that she
might go in with Eleanor and 'settle her' comfortably.
But when she was left to rest in her carefully darkened room, and Lucy had
gone back to the _loggia_, Eleanor got no wink of sleep. She lay in an
anguish of memory, living over again that last night at the villa--thinking
of Manisty in the dark garden and her own ungovernable impulse.
Presently a slight sound reached her from the _loggia_. She turned her head
quickly. A sob?--from Lucy?
Her heart stood still. Noiselessly she slipped to her feet. The door
between her and the _loggia_ had been left ajar for air. It was partially
glazed, with shutters of plain green wood outside, and inside a muslin
blind. Eleanor approached it.
Through the chink of the door she saw Lucy plainly. The girl had been
sitting almost with her back to the door, but she had turned so that her
profile and hands were visible.
How quiet she was! Yet never was there an attitude more eloquent. She held
in her hands, which lay upon her knee, one of the little terra-cottas.
Eleanor could see it perfectly. It was the head of a statuette, not unlike
her own which she had destroyed,--a smaller and ruder Artemis with the
Cybele crown. There flashed into her mind the memory of Manisty explaining
it to the girl, sitting on the bench behind the strawberry hut; his black
brows bent in the eagerness of his talk; her sweet eyes, her pure pleasure.
And now Lucy had no companion--but thought. Her face was raised, the eyes
were shut, the beautiful mouth quivered in the effort to be still. She was
mistress of herself, yet not for the moment wholly mistress of longing and
of sorrow. A quick struggle passed over the face. There was another slight
sob. Then Eleanor saw her raise the terra-cotta, bow her face upon it,
press it long and lingeringly to her lips. It was like a gesture of eternal
farewell; the gesture of a child expressing the heart of a woman.
Eleanor tottered back. She sat on the edge of her bed, motionless in the
darkness, till the sounds of Cecco bringing up the _pranzo_ in the corridor
outside warned her that her time of solitude was over.
* * * * *
In the evening Eleanor was sitting in the Sassetto. Lucy with her young
need of exercise had set off to walk down through the wood to the first
bridge over the Paglia. Eleanor had been very weary all day, and for the
first time irritable. It was almost with a secret relief that Lucy started,
and Eleanor saw her depart.
Mrs. Burgoyne was left stretched on her long canvas chair, in the green
shade of the Sassetto. All about her was a chaos of moss-grown rocks
crowned with trees young and old; a gap in the branches showed her a
distant peachy sky suffused with gold above the ethereal heights of the
Amiata range; a little wind crept through the trees; the birds were silent,
but the large green lizards slipped in and out, and made a friendly life in
the cool shadowed place.
The Contessa was to have joined Eleanor here at six o'clock. But a note had
arrived excusing her. The visit of some relations detained her.
Nevertheless a little after six a step was heard approaching along the
winding path which while it was still distant Eleanor knew to be Father
Benecke. For his sake, she was glad that the Contessa was not with her.
As for Donna Teresa, when she met the priest in the village or on the road
she shrank out of his path as though his mere shadow brought malediction.
Her pinched face, her thin figure seemed to contract still further under an
impulse of fear and repulsion. Eleanor had seen it, and wondered.
But even the Contessa would have nothing to say to him.
'_Non, Madame; c'est plus fort que moi!_' she had said to Eleanor one day
that she had come across Mrs. Burgoyne and Father Benecke together in the
Sassetto--in after-excuse for her behaviour to him. 'For you and me--_bien
entendu!_--we think what we please. Heaven knows I am not bigoted. Teresa
makes herself unhappy about me.' The stout, imperious woman stifled a
sigh that betrayed much. 'I take what I want from our religion--and I
don't trouble about the rest. Emilio was the same. But a priest that
disobeys--that deserts--! No! that is another matter. I can't argue; it
seizes me by the throat.' She made an expressive movement. 'It is an
instinct--an inheritance--call it what you like. But I feel like Teresa; I
could run at the sight of him.'
Certainly Father Benecke gave her no occasion to run. Since his recovery
from the first shock and agitation of his suspension he had moved about the
roads and tracks of Torre Amiata with the 'recollected' dignity of the pale
and meditative recluse. He asked nothing; he spoke to no one, except to
the ladies at the convent, and to the old woman who served him unwillingly
in the little tumble-down house by the river's edge to which he had now
transferred himself and his books, for greater solitude. Eleanor understood
that he shrank from facing his German life and friends again till he had
completed the revision of his book, and the evolution of his thought; and
she had some reason to believe that he regarded his isolation and the
enmity of this Italian neighbourhood as a necessary trial and testing, to
be borne without a murmur.
As his step came nearer, she sat up and threw off her languor. It might
have been divined, even, that she heard it with a secret excitement.
When he appeared he greeted her with the manner at once reticent and
cordial that was natural to him. He had brought her an article in a German
newspaper of the 'Centre' on himself and his case, the violence of which
had provoked him to a reply, whereof the manuscript was also in his pocket.
Eleanor took the article and turned it over. But some inward voice told her
that her _role_, of counsellor and critic was--again--played out. Suddenly
Father Benecke said:
'I have submitted my reply to Mr. Manisty. I would like to show you what he
Eleanor fell back in her chair. 'You know where he is?' she cried.
Her surprise was so great that she could not at once disguise her emotion.
Father Benecke was also taken aback. He lifted his eyes from the papers he
'I wrote to him through his bankers the other day, Madame. I have always
found that letters so addressed to him are forwarded.'
Then he stopped in distress and perturbation. Mrs. Burgoyne was still
apparently struggling for breath and composure. His absent, seer's eyes at
last took note of her as a human being. He understood, all at once, that
he had before him a woman very ill, apparently very unhappy, and that what
he had just said had thrown her into an anguish with which her physical
weakness was hardly able to cope.
The colour rose in his own cheeks.
'Madame! let me hasten to say that I have done your bidding precisely.
You were so good as to tell me that you wished no information to be given
to anyone as to your stay here. I have not breathed a word of it to Mr.
Manisty or to any other of my correspondents. Let me show you his letter.'
He held it out to her. Eleanor took it with uncertain fingers.
'Your mention of him took me by surprise,' she said, after a moment. 'Miss
Foster and I--have been--so long--without hearing of our friends.'
Then she stooped over the letter. It seemed to her the ink was hardly dry
on it--that it was still warm from Manisty's hand. The date of it was only
three days old. And the place from which it came? Cosenza?--Cosenza in
Calabria? Then he was still in Italy?
She put the letter back into Father Benecke's hands.
'Would you read it for me? I have rather a headache to-day.'
He read it with a somewhat embarrassed voice. She lay listening, with her
eyes closed under her large hat, each hand trying to prevent the trembling
of the other.
A strange pride swelled in her. It was a kind and manly letter, expressing
far more personal sympathy with Benecke than Manisty had ever yet allowed
himself--a letter wholly creditable indeed to the writer, and marked with
a free and flowing beauty of phrase that brought home to Eleanor at every
turn his voice, his movements, the ideas and sympathies of the writer.
Towards the end came the familiar Manisty-ism:
'All the same, their answer to you is still as good as ever. The system
must either break up or go on. They naturally prefer that it should go on.
But if it is worked by men like you, it cannot go on. Their instinct never
wavers; and it is a true one.'
'I don't know how I have managed to write this letter--poor stuff as it is.
My mind at this moment is busy neither with speculation nor politics. I am
perched for the night on the side of a mountain thickly covered with beech
woods, in a remote Calabrian hamlet, where however last year some pushing
person built a small 'health resort,' to which a few visitors come from
Naples and even from Rome. The woods are vast, the people savage. The
brigands are gone, or going; of electric light there is plenty. I came
this morning, and shall be gone to-morrow. I am a pilgrim on the face of
Italy. For six weeks I have wandered like this, from the Northern Abruzzi
downwards. Wherever holiday folk go to escape from the heat of the plains,
I go. But my object is not theirs.... Nor is it yours, Padre. There are
many quests in the world. Mine is one of the oldest that man knows. My
heart pursues it, untired. And in the end I shall win to my goal.'
The old priest read the last paragraph in a hurried, unsteady voice. At
every sentence he became aware of some electrical effect upon the delicate
frame and face beside him; but he read on--not knowing how to save
himself--lest she should think that he had omitted anything.
When he dropped the letter his hands, too, shook. There was a silence.
Slowly Eleanor dragged herself higher in her chair; she pushed her hat back
from her forehead; she turned her white drawn face upon the priest.
'Father,' she said, bending towards him, 'you are a priest--and a
His face changed. He waited an instant before replying.
'Yes, Madame--I am!' he said at last, with a firm and passionate dignity.
'Yet now you cannot act as a priest. And I am not a Catholic. Still, I am
a human being--with a soul, I suppose--if there are such things!--and you
are old enough to be my father, and have had great experience. I am in
trouble--and probably dying. Will you hear my case--as though it were a
confession--under the same seal?'
She fixed her eyes upon him. Insensibly the priest's expression had
changed; the priestly caution, the priestly instinct had returned. He
looked at her steadily and compassionately.
'Is there no one, Madame, to whom you might more profitably make this
confession--no one who has more claim to it than I?'
'I cannot refuse,' he said, uneasily. 'I cannot refuse to hear anyone in
trouble and--if I can--to help them. But let me remind you that this could
not be in any sense a true confession. It could only be a conversation
She drew her hand across her eyes.
'I must treat it as a confession, or I cannot speak. I shall not ask you
to absolve me. That--that would do me no good,' she said, with a little
wild laugh, 'What I want is direction--from some one accustomed to look at
people as they are--and--and to speak the truth to them. Say "yes," Padre.
You--you may have the fate of three lives in your hands.'
Her entreating eyes hung upon him. His consideration took a few moments
longer. Then he dropped his own look upon the ground, and clasped his
'Say, my daughter, all that you wish to say.'
The priestly phrase gave her courage.
She drew a long breath, and paused a little to collect her thoughts. When
she began, it was in a low, dragging voice full of effort.
'What I want to know, Father, is--how far one may fight--how far one
_should_ fight--for oneself. The facts are these. I will not mention any
names. Last winter, Father, I had reason to think that life had changed for
me--after many years of unhappiness. I gave my whole, whole heart away.'
The words came out in a gasp, as though a large part of the physical power
of the speaker escaped with them. 'I thought that--in return--I was held
in high value, in true affection--that--that my friend cared for me more
than for anyone else--that in time he would be mine altogether. It was a
great hope, you understand--I don't put it at more. But I had done much
to deserve his kindness--he owed me a great deal. Not, I mean, for the
miserable work I had done for him; but for all the love, the thought by day
and night that I had given him.'
She bowed her head on her hands for a moment. The priest sat motionless and
she resumed, torn and excited by her strange task.
'I was not alone in thinking and hoping--as I did. Other people thought it.
It was not merely presumptuous or foolish on my part. But--ah! it is an old
story, Padre. I don't know why I inflict it on you!'
She stopped, wringing her hands.
The priest did not raise his eyes, but sat quietly--in an attitude a little
cold and stern, which seemed to rebuke her agitation. She composed herself,
'There was of course some one else, Father--you understood that from the
beginning--some one younger, and far more attractive than I. It took five
weeks--hardly so much. There was no affinity of nature and mind to go
upon--or I thought so. It seemed to me all done in a moment by a beautiful
face. I could not be expected to bear it--to resign myself at once to the
loss of everything that made life worth living--could I, Father?' she said
The priest still did not look up.
'You resisted?' he said.
'I resisted--successfully,' she said with fluttering breath. 'I separated
them. The girl who supplanted me was most tender, dear, and good. She
pitied me, and I worked upon her pity. I took her away from--from my
friend. And why should I not? Why are we called upon perpetually to give
up--give up? It seemed to me such a cruel, cold, un-human creed. I knew my
own life was broken--beyond mending; but I couldn't bear the unkindness--I
couldn't forgive the injury--I couldn't--couldn't! I took her away; and my
power is still great enough, and will be always great enough, if I choose,
to part these two from each other!'
Her hands were on her breast, as though she were trying to still the heart
that threatened to silence her. When she spoke of giving up, her voice had
taken a note of scorn, almost of hatred, that brought a momentary furrow to
the priest's brow.
For a little while after she had ceased to speak he sat bowed, and
apparently deep in thought. When he looked up she braced herself, as though
she already felt the shock of judgment. But he only asked a question.
'Your girl-friend, Madame--her happiness was not involved?'
Eleanor shrank and turned away.
'I thought not--at first.' It was a mere murmur.
'I don't know--I suspect,' she said miserably. 'But, Father, if it were so
she is young; she has all her powers and chances before her. What would
kill me would only--anticipate--for her--a day that must come. She is born
to be loved.'
Again she let him see her face, convulsed by the effort for composure, the
eyes shining with large tears. It was like the pleading of a wilful child.
A veil descended also on the pure intense gaze of the priest, yet he bent
it steadily upon her.
'Madame--God has done you a great honour.'
The words were just breathed, but they did not falter. Mutely, with parted
lips, she seemed to search for his meaning.
'There are very few of whom God condescends to ask, as plainly, as
generously, as He now asks of you. What does it matter, Madame, whether God
speaks to us amid the thorns or the flowers? But I do not remember that
He ever spoke among the flowers, but often--often, amongst deserts and
wildernesses. And when He speaks--Madame! the condescension, the gift is
that He should speak at all; that He, our Maker and Lord, should plead
with, should as it were humble Himself to, our souls. Oh! how we should
hasten to answer, how we should hurry to throw ourselves and all that we
have into His hands!'
Eleanor turned away. Unconsciously she began to strip the moss from a tree
beside her. The tears dropped upon her lap.
But the appeal was to religious emotion, not to the moral judgment, and she
rallied her forces.
'You speak, Father, as a priest--as a Christian. I understand of course
that that is the Christian language, the Christian point of view.'
'My daughter,' he said simply, 'I can speak no other language.'
There was a pause. Then he resumed: 'But consider it for a moment from
another point of view. You say that for yourself you have renounced the
expectation of happiness. What, then, do you desire? Merely the pain,
the humiliation of others? But is that an end that any man or woman may
lawfully pursue--Pagan or Christian? It was not a Christian who said, "Men
exist for the sake of one another." Yet when two other human beings--your
friends--have innocently--unwittingly--done you a wrong--'
She shook her head silently.
The priest observed her.
'One at least, you said, was kind and good--showed you a compassionate
spirit--and intended you no harm. Yet you will punish her--for the sake of
your own pride. And she is young. You who are older, and better able to
control passion, ought you not to feel towards her as a tender elder
sister--a mother--rather than a rival?'
He spoke with a calm and even power, the protesting force of his own soul
mounting all the time like a tide.
Eleanor rose again in revolt.
'It is no use,' she said despairingly. 'Do you understand, Father, what
I said to you at first?--that I have probably not many months--a year
perhaps--to live? And that to give these two to each other would embitter
all my last days and hours--would make it impossible for me to believe, to
'No, no, poor soul!' he said, deeply moved. 'It would be with you as with
St. John: "Now we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we
love the brethren."'
She shrugged her shoulders.
'I have no faith--and no hope.'
His look kindled, took a new aspect almost of command.
'You do yourself wrong. Could you have brought yourself to ask this counsel
of me, if God had not been already at work in your soul--if your sin were
not already half conquered?'
She recoiled as though from a blow. Her cheek burnt.
'Sin!' she repeated bitterly, with a kind of scorn, not able to bear the
But he did not quail.
'All selfish desire is sin--desire that defies God and wills the hurt of
man. But you will cast it out. The travail is already begun in you that
will form the Christ.'
'Father, creeds and dogmas mean nothing to me!'
'Perhaps,' he said calmly. 'Does religion also mean nothing to you?'
'Oh! I am a weak woman,' she said with a quivering lip. 'I throw myself on
all that promises consolation. When I see the nuns from down below pass up
and down this road, I often think that theirs is the only way out; that
the Catholic Church and a convent are perhaps the solution to which I must
come--for the little while that remains.'
'In other words,' he said after a pause, 'God offers you one discipline,
and you would choose another. Well, the Lord gave the choice to David of
what rod he would be scourged with; but it always has seemed to me that the
choice was an added punishment. I would not have chosen. I would have left
all to His Divine Majesty! This cross is not of your own making; it comes
to you from God. Is it not the most signal proof of His love? He asks of
you what only the strongest can bear; gives you just time to serve Him with
the best. As I said before, is it not His way of honouring His creature?'
Eleanor sat without speaking, her delicate head drooping.
'And, Madame,' the priest continued with a changed voice, 'you say that
creeds and dogmas mean nothing to you. How can I, who am now cast out
from the Visible Church, uphold them to you--attempt to bind them on your
conscience? But one thing I can do, whether as man or priest; I can bid you
ask yourself whether in truth _Christ_ means nothing to you--and Calvary
He paused, staring at her with his bright and yet unseeing eyes, the wave
of feeling rising within him to a force and power born of recent storm, of
the personal wrestling with a personal anguish.
'Why is it'--he resumed, each word low and pleading,--'that this divine
figure is enshrined, if not in all our affections--at least in all our
imaginations? Why is it that at the heart of this modern world, with all
its love of gold, its thirst for knowledge, its desire for pleasure, there
still lives and burns '--
--He held out his two strong clenched hands, quivering, as though he held
in them the vibrating heart of man--
--'this strange madness of sacrifice, this foolishness of the Cross? Why
is it that in these polite and civilised races which lead the world, while
creeds and Churches divide us, what still touches us most deeply, what
still binds us together most surely, is this story of a hideous death,
which the spectators said was voluntary--which the innocent Victim embraced
with joy as the ransom of His brethren--from which those who saw it
received in very truth the communication of a new life--a life, a Divine
Mystery, renewed amongst us now, day after day, in thousands of human
beings? What does it mean, Madame? Ask yourself! How has our world of lust
and iron produced such a thing? How, except as the clue to the world's
secret, is man to explain it to himself? Ah! my daughter, think what you
will of the nature and dignity of the Crucified--but turn your eyes to the
Cross! Trouble yourself with no creeds--I speak this to your weakness--but
sink yourself in the story of the Passion and its work upon the world!
Then bring it to bear upon your own case. There is in you a root of evil
mind--an angry desire--a _cupido_ which keeps you from God. Lay it down
before the Crucified, and rejoice--rejoice!--that you have something to
give to your God--before He gives you Himself!'
The old man's voice sank and trembled.
Eleanor made no reply. Her capacity for emotion was suddenly exhausted.
Nerve and brain were tired out.
After a minute or two she rose to her feet and held out her hand.
'I thank you with all my heart. Your words touch me very much, but they
seem to me somehow remote--impossible. Let me think of them. I am not
strong enough to talk more now.'
She bade him good-night, and left him. With her feeble step she slowly
mounted the Sassetto path, and it was some little time before her slender
form and white dress disappeared among the trees.
Father Benecke remained alone--a prey to many conflicting currents of
* * * * *
For him too the hour had been strangely troubling and revolutionary. On the
recognised lines of Catholic confession and direction, all that had been
asked of him would have been easy to give. As it was, he had been obliged
to deal with the moral emergency as he best could; by methods which, now
that the crisis was over, filled him with a sudden load of scrupulous
The support of a great system had been withdrawn from him. He still felt
himself neither man nor priest--wavering in the dark.
This poor woman! He was conscious that her statement of her case had roused
in him a kind of anger; so passionate and unblushing had been the egotism
of her manner. Even after his long experience he felt in it something
monstrous. Had he been tender, patient enough?
What troubled him was this consciousness of the _woman_, as apart from
the penitent, which had overtaken him; the woman with her frail physical
health, possibly her terror of death, her broken heart. New perplexities
and compunctions, not to be felt within the strong dykes of Catholic
practice, rushed upon him as he sat thinking under the falling night. The
human fate became more bewildering, more torturing. The clear landscape
of Catholic thought upon which he had once looked out was wrapping itself
in clouds, falling into new aspects and relations. How marvellous are the
chances of human history! The outward ministry had been withdrawn; in its
stead this purely spiritual ministry had been offered to him. '_Domine, in
caelo misericordia tua--judicia tua abyssus multa!_'
* * * * *
Recalling what he knew of Mrs. Burgoyne's history and of Manisty's, his
mind trained in the subtleties of moral divination soon reconstructed the
whole story. Clearly the American lady now staying with Mrs. Burgoyne--who
had showed towards himself such a young and graceful pity--was the other
He felt instinctively that Mrs. Burgoyne would approach him again, coldly
as she had parted from him. She had betrayed to him all the sick confusion
of soul that existed beneath her intellectual competence and vigour. The
situation between them, indeed, had radically changed. He laid aside
deference and humility; he took up the natural mastery of the priest as the
moral expert. She had no faith; and faith would save her. She was wandering
in darkness, making shipwreck of herself and others. And she had appealed
to him. With an extraordinary eagerness the old man threw himself into
the task she had so strangely set him. He longed to conquer and heal her;
to bring her to faith, to sacrifice, to God. The mingled innocence and
despotism of his nature were both concerned. And was there something
else?--the eagerness of the soldier who retrieves disobedience by some
special and arduous service? To be allowed to attempt it is a grace; to
succeed in it is pardon.
Was she dying--poor lady!--or was it a delusion on her part, one of the
devices of self-pity? Yet he recalled the emaciated face and form, the
cough, the trailing step, Miss Foster's anxiety, some comments overheard in
And if she died unreconciled, unhappy? Could nothing be done to help her,
from outside,--to brace her to action--and in time?
He pondered the matter with all the keenness of the casuist, all the
_naivete_ of the recluse. In the tragical uprooting of established habit
through which he was passing, even those ways of thinking and acting which
become the second nature of the priest were somewhat shaken. Had Eleanor's
confidence been given him in Catholic confession he might not even by word
or look have ever reminded herself of what had passed between them; still
less have acted upon it in any way. Nor under the weight of tradition
which binds the Catholic priest, would he ever have been conscious of the
remotest temptation to what his Church regards as one of the deadliest of
And further. If as his penitent, yet outside confession,--in a letter or
conversation--Eleanor had told him her story, his passionately scrupulous
sense of the priestly function would have bound him precisely in the same
way. Here, all Catholic opinion would not have agreed with him; but his own
conviction would have been clear.
But now in the general shifting of his life from the standpoint of
authority, to the standpoint of conscience, new aspects of the case
appeared to him. He recalled certain questions of moral theology,
with which as a student he was familiar. The modern discipline of the
confessional 'seal' is generally more stringent than that of the middle
ages. Benecke remembered that in the view of St. Thomas, it is sometimes
lawful for a confessor to take account of what he hears in confession so
far as to endeavour afterwards to remove some obstacle to the spiritual
progress of his penitent, which has been revealed to him under the seal.
The modern theologian denies altogether the legitimacy of such an act,
which for him is a violation of the Sacrament.
But for Benecke, at this moment, the tender argument of St. Thomas suddenly
attained a new beauty and compulsion.
He considered it long. He thought of Manisty, his friend, to whom his
affectionate heart owed a debt of gratitude, wandering about Italy, in a
blind quest of the girl who had been snatched away from him. He thought of
the girl herself, and the love that not all Mrs. Burgoyne's jealous anguish
had been able to deny. And then his mind returned to Mrs. Burgoyne, and the
arid misery of her struggle.--
The darkness was falling. As he reached the last of the many windings of
the road, he saw his tiny house by the riverside, with a light in the
He leant upon his stick, conscious of inward excitement, feeling suddenly
on his old shoulders the burden of those three lives of which Mrs. Burgoyne
'My God, give them to me!'--he cried, with a sudden leap of the heart that
was at once humble and audacious. Not a word to Mr. Manisty, or to any
other human being, clearly, as to Mrs. Burgoyne's presence at Torre Amiata.
To that he was bound.
'May I not entertain a wayfarer, a guest?'--he thought, trembling, 'like
any other solitary?'
The hot evening was passing into night. Eleanor and Lucy were on the
Through the opening in the parapet wall made by the stairway to what had
once been the enclosed monastery garden, Eleanor could see the fire-flies
flashing against the distant trees; further, above the darkness of the
forest, ethereal terraces of dimmest azure lost in the starlight; and where
the mountains dropped to the south-west a heaven still fiery and streaked
with threats of storm. Had she raised herself a little she could have
traced far away, beyond the forest slopes, the course of those white mists
that rise at night out of the wide bosom of Bolsena.
Outside, the country-folk were streaming home from their work; the men
riding their donkeys or mules, the women walking, often with burdens on
their heads, and children dragging at their hands; dim purplish figures, in
the evening blue, charged with the eternal grace of the old Virgilian life
of Italy, the life of corn and vine, of chestnut and olive. Lucy hung over
the balcony, looking at the cavalcades, sometimes waving her hand to a
child or a mother that she recognised through the gathering darkness. It
was an evening spectacle of which she never tired. Her feeling clung to
these labouring people, whom she idealised with the optimism of her clean
youth. Secretly her young strength envied them their primal, necessary
toils. She would not have shrunk from their hardships; their fare would
have been no grievance to her. Sickness, old age, sin, cruelty, violence,
death,--that these dark things entered into their lives, she knew vaguely.
Her heart shrank from what her mind sometimes divined; all the more perhaps
that there was in her the promise of a wide and rare human sympathy, which
must some day find its appointed tasks and suffer much in the finding. Now,
when she stumbled on the horrors of the world, she would cry to herself,
'God knows!'--with a catching breath, and the feeling of a child that runs
from darkness to protecting arms; and so escape her pain.
Presently she came to sit by Eleanor again, trying to amuse her by
the account of a talk on the roadside, with an old _spaccapietre_, or
stone-breaker, who had fought at Mentana.
Eleanor listened vaguely, hardly replying. But she watched the girl in her
simple white dress, her fine head, her grave and graceful movements; she
noticed the voice, so expressive of an inner self-mastery through all its
gaiety. And suddenly the thought flamed through her--
'If I told her!--if she knew that I had seen a letter from him this
afternoon?--that he is in Italy?--that he is looking for _her_, day and
night! If I just blurted it out--what would she say?--how would she take
But not a word passed her lips. She began again to try and unravel the
meaning of his letter. Why had he gone in search of them to the Abruzzi of
Then, suddenly, she remembered.
One day at the villa, some Italian friends--a deputy and his wife--had
described to them a summer spent in a wild nook of the Abruzzi. The young
husband had possessed a fine gift of phrase. The mingled savagery and
innocence of the people; the vast untrodden woods of chestnut and beech;
the slowly advancing civilisation; the new railway line that seemed to
the peasants a living and hostile thing, a kind of greedy fire-monster,
carrying away their potatoes to market and their sons to the army; the
contrasts of the old and new Italy; the joys of summer on the heights,
of an unbroken Italian sunshine steeping a fresh and almost northern
air: he had drawn it all, with the facility of the Italian, the broken,
impressionist strokes of the modern. Why must Italians nowadays always rush
north, to the lakes, or Switzerland or the Tyrol? Here in their own land,
in the Abruzzi, and further south, in the Volscian and Calabrian mountains,
were cool heights waiting to be explored, the savour of a primitive life,
the traces of old cities, old strongholds, old faiths, a peasant world
moreover, unknown to most Italians of the west and north, to be observed,
to be made friends with.
They had all listened in fascination. Lucy especially. The thought of
scenes so rarely seen, so little visited, existing so near to them, in this
old old Italy, seemed to touch the girl's imagination--to mingle as it were
a breath from her own New World with the land of the Caesars.
'One can ride everywhere?' she had asked, looking up at the traveller.
'I shall come,' she had said, drawing pencil circles on a bit of paper
before her, with pleased intent eyes, like one planning.
And the Italian, amused by her enthusiasm, had given her a list of places
where accommodation could be got, where hotels of a simple sort were
beginning to develop, whence this new land that was so old could be
explored by the stranger.
And Manisty had stood by, smoking and looking down at the girl's graceful
head, and the charming hand that was writing down the names.
Another pang of the past recalled,--a fresh one added!
For Torre Amiata had been forgotten, while Lucy's momentary whim had
furnished the clue which had sent him on his vain quest through the
* * * * *
'I do think '--said Lucy, presently, taking Eleanor's hand,--'you haven't
coughed so much to-day?'
Her tone was full of anxiety, of tenderness.
Eleanor smiled. 'I am very well,' she said, dryly. But Lucy's frown did not
relax. This cough was a new trouble. Eleanor made light of it. But Marie
sometimes spoke of it to Lucy with expressions which terrified one who had
never known illness except in her mother.
Meanwhile Eleanor was thinking--'Something will bring him here. He is
writing to Father Benecke--Father Benecke to him. Some accident will
happen--any day, any hour. Well--let him come!'
Her hands stiffened under her shawl that Lucy had thrown round her. A
fierce consciousness of power thrilled through her weak frame. Lucy was
hers! The pitiful spectacle of these six weeks had done its work. Let him
His letter was not unhappy!--far from it. She felt herself flooded with
bitterness as she remembered the ardour that it breathed; the ardour of
a lover to whom effort and pursuit are joys only second to the joys of
But some day no doubt he would be unhappy--in earnest; if her will held.
But it would hold.
After all, it was not much she asked. She might live till the winter;
possibly a year. Not long, after all, in Lucy's life or Manisty's. Let them
only wait a little.
Her hand burnt in Lucy's cool clasp. Restlessly, she asked the girl some
further questions about her walk.
'I met the Sisters--the nuns--from Selvapendente, on the hill,' said Lucy.
'Such sweet faces some of them have.'
'I don't agree,' said Eleanor petulantly. 'I saw two of them yesterday.
They smile at you, but they have the narrowest, stoniest eyes. Their pity
would be very difficult to bear.'
A few minutes later Lucy left her for a moment, to give a message to Marie.
'These Christians are hard--_hard_!' thought Eleanor sharply, closing her
Had Father Benecke ever truly weighed her case, her plea at all? Never! It
had been the stereotyped answer of the priest and the preacher. Her secret
sense resented the fact that he had been so little moved, apparently, by
her physical state. It humiliated her that she should have brought so big a
word as death into their debate--to no effect. Her thin cheek flushed with
shame and anger.
The cracked bell which announced their meals tinkled from the sitting-room.
Eleanor dragged herself to her feet, and stood a moment by the parapet
looking into the night.
'I cough less?' she thought. 'Why?--for I get worse every day. That I may
make less noise in dying? Well! one would like to go without ugliness and
fuss. I might as well be dead now, I am so broken--so full of suffering.
How I hide it all from that child! And what is the use of it--of living a
single day or hour more?'
* * * * *
She was angry with Father Benecke; but she took care to see him again.
By means of a little note about a point in the article he was just
completing, she recalled him.
They met without the smallest reference to the scene which had passed
between them. He asked for her literary opinion with the same simplicity,
the same outward deference as before. She was once more the elegant and
languid woman, no writer herself, but born to be the friend and muse of
writers. She made him feel just as clearly as before the clumsiness of a
phrase, the _naivete_ of a point of view.
And yet in truth all was changed between them. Their talk ranged further,
sank deeper. From the controversy of science with the Vatican, from the
position of the Old Catholics, or the triumph of Ultramontanism in France,
it would drop of a sudden, neither knew how, and light upon some small
matter of conduct or feeling, some 'flower in the crannied wall,' charged
with the profoundest things--things most intimate, most searching,
concerned with the eternal passion and trouble of the human will, the 'body
of this death,' the 'burden' of the 'Pilgrim's Progress.'
Then the priest's gentle insistent look would steal on hers; he would speak
from his heart; he would reveal in a shrinking word or two the secrets of
his own spiritual life, of that long inner discipline, which was now his
only support in rebellion, the plank between him and the abyss.
She felt herself pursued; felt it with a mixture of fear and attraction.
She had asked him to be her director; and then refused his advice. She had
tried to persuade him that she was a sceptic and unbeliever. But he had
not done with her. She divined the ardour of the Christian; perhaps the
acuteness of the ecclesiastic. Often she was not strong enough to talk to
him, and then he read to her--the books that she allowed him to choose.
Through a number of indirect and gradual approaches he laid siege to her,
and again and again did she feel her heart fluttering in his grasp, only to
draw it back in fear, to stand once more on a bitter unspoken defence of
herself that would not yield. Yet he recognised in her the approach of some
crisis of feeling. She seemed herself to suspect it, and to be trying to
ward it off, in a kind of blind anguish. Nothing meanwhile could be more
touching than the love between her and Lucy. The old man looked on and
Day after day he hesitated. Then one evening, in Lucy's absence, he found
her so pale, and racked with misery--so powerless either to ask help, or to
help herself, so resolute not to speak again, so clearly tortured by her
own coercing will, that his hesitation gave way.
He walked down the hill, in a trance of prayer. When he emerged from it his
mind was made up.
* * * * *
In the days that followed he seemed to Eleanor often agitated and ill
at ease. She was puzzled, too, by his manner towards Lucy. In truth,
he watched Miss Foster with a timid anxiety, trying to penetrate her
character, to divine how presently she might feel towards him. He was not
afraid of Mrs. Burgoyne, but he was sometimes afraid of this girl with her
clear, candid eyes. Her fresh youth, and many of her American ways and
feelings were hard for him to understand. She showed him friendship in a
hundred pretty ways; and he met her sometimes eagerly, sometimes with a
kind of shame-facedness.
Soon he began to neglect his work of a morning that he might wander out to
meet the postman beyond the bridge. And when the man passed him by with
a short 'Non c' e niente,' the priest would turn homeward, glad almost
that for one day more he was not called upon to face the judgment in Lucy
Foster's face on what he had done.
* * * * *
The middle of July was past. The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel had
come and gone, bringing processions and music, with a Madonna under a gold
baldacchino, to glorify the little deserted chapel on the height.
Eleanor had watched the crowds and banners, the red-robed Compagni di Gesu,
the white priests, and veiled girls, with a cold averted eye. Lucy looked
back with a pang to Marinata, and to the indulgent pleasure that Eleanor
had once taken in all the many-coloured show of Catholicism. Now she was
always weary, and often fretful. It struck Lucy too that she was more
restless than ever. She seemed to take no notice of the present--to be
always living in the future--expecting, listening, waiting. The gestures
and sudden looks that expressed this attitude of mind were often of the
weirdest effect. Lucy could have thought her haunted by some unseen
presence. Physically she was not, perhaps, substantially worse. But her
state was more appealing, and the girl's mind towards her more pitiful day
One thing, however, she was determined on. They would not spend August at
Torre Amiata. It would need stubbornness with Eleanor to bring her to the
point of change. But stubbornness there should be.
One morning, a day or two after the festa, Lucy left Eleanor on the
_loggia_, while she herself ran out for a turn before their midday meal.
There had been fierce rain in the morning, and the sky was still thick with
thunder clouds promising more.
She escaped into a washed and cooled world. But the thirsty earth had drunk
the rain at a gulp. The hill which had been running with water was almost
dry, the woods had ceased to patter; on all sides could be felt the fresh
restoring impulse of the storm. Nature seemed to be breathing from a deeper
chest--shaking her free locks in a wilder, keener air--to a long-silent
music from the quickened river below.
Lucy almost ran down the hill, so great was the physical relief of the rain
and the cloudy morning. She needed it. Her spirits, too, had been uneven,
her cheek paler of late.
She wore a blue cotton dress, fitting simply and closely to the young
rounded form. Round her shapely throat and the lace collar that showed
Eleanor's fancy and seemed to herself a little too elaborate for the
morning, she wore a child's coral necklace--a gleam of red between the
abundant black of her hair and the soft blue of her dress. Her hat, a large
Leghorn, with a rose in it, framed the sweet gravity of her face. She was
more beautiful than when she had said good-bye to Uncle Ben on the Boston
platform. But it was a beauty that for his adoring old heart would have
given new meaning to 'that sad word, Joy.'
She turned into the Sassetto and pushed upwards through its tumbled rocks
and trees to the seat commanding the river and the mountains.
As she approached it, she was thinking of Eleanor and the future, and her
eyes were absently bent on the ground.
But a scent familiar and yet strange distracted her. Suddenly, on the path
in front of the seat, she saw a still burning cigarette, and on the seat a
She stopped short; then sank upon the seat, her eyes fixed upon the book.
It was a yellow-bound French novel, and on the outside was written in a
hand she knew, a name that startled every pulse in her young body.
_His_ book? And that cigarette? Father Benecke neither smoked nor did he
read French novels.
Beyond the seat the path branched, upwards to the Palazzo, and downwards to
the river. She rose and looked eagerly over its steep edge into the medley
of rock and tree below. She saw nothing, but it seemed to her that in the
distance she heard voices talking--receding.
They had left the seat only just in time to escape her. Mr. Manisty had
forgotten his book! Careless and hasty--how well she knew the trait! But he
would miss it--he would come back.
She stood up and tried to collect her thoughts. If he was here, he was with
Father Benecke. So the priest had betrayed the secret he had promised Mrs.
Burgoyne to keep?
No, no!--that was impossible! It was chance--unkind, unfriendly chance.
And yet?--as she bit her lip in fear or bewilderment, her heart was rising
like the Paglia after the storm--swelling, thundering within her.
'What shall I--what shall I do?' she cried under her breath, pressing her
hands to her eyes.
Then she turned and walked swiftly homewards. Eleanor must not know--must
not see him. The girl was seized with panic terror at the thought of what
might be the effect of any sudden shock upon Mrs. Burgoyne.
Halfway up the hill, she stopped involuntarily, wringing her hands in front
of her. It was the thought of Manisty not half a mile away, of his warm,
living self so close to her that had swept upon her, like a tempest wind on
a young oak.
'Oh! I mustn't--_mustn't_--be glad!'--she cried, gulping down a sob,
hating, despising herself.
Then she hurried on. With every step, she grew more angry with Father
Benecke. At best, he must have been careless, inconsiderate. A man of true
delicacy would have done more than keep his promise, would have actively
That he had kept the letter of his promise was almost proved by the fact
that Mr. Manisty had not yet descended upon the convent. For what could it
mean--his lingering in Italy--but a search, a pursuit? Her cheek flamed
guiltily over the certainty thus borne in upon her. But if so, what could
hold back his impetuous will--but ignorance? He could not know they were
there. That was clear.
So there was time--a chance. Perhaps Father Benecke was taken by surprise
too--puzzled to know what to do with him? Should she write to the priest;
or simply keep Eleanor indoors and watch?
At thought of her, the girl lashed herself into an indignation, an anguish
that sustained her. After devotion so boundless, service so measureless--so
lightly, meagrely repaid--were Mrs. Burgoyne's peace and health to be again
in peril at her cousin's hands?
* * * * *
Luckily Eleanor showed that day no wish to move from her sofa. The storm
had shaken her, given her a headache, and she was inclined to shiver in the
After luncheon Lucy coaxed her to stay in one of the inner rooms, where
there was a fire-place; out of sight and sound of the road. Marie made a
fire on the disused hearth of what had once been an infirmary cell. The
logs crackled merrily; and presently the rain streamed down again across
the open window.
Lucy sat sewing and reading through the afternoon in a secret anguish
of listening. Every sound in the corridor, every sound from downstairs,
excited the tumult in the blood. 'What is the matter with you?' Eleanor
would say, reaching out first to pinch, then to kiss the girl's cheek. 'It
is all very well that thunder should set a poor wretch like me on edge--but
you! Anyway it has given you back your colour. You look superbly well this
And then she would fall to gazing at the girl under her eyebrows with that
little trick of the bitten lip, and that piteous silent look, that Lucy
could hardly bear.
The rain fell fast and furious. They dined by the fire, and the night fell.
'Clearing--at last,' said Eleanor, as they pushed back their little table,
and she stood by the open window, while Cecco was taking away the meal;
'but too late and too wet for me.'
An hour later indeed the storm had rolled away, and a bright and rather
cold starlight shone above the woods.
'Now I understand Aunt Pattie's tales of fires at Sorrento in August,' said
Eleanor, crouching over the hearth. 'This blazing Italy can touch you when
she likes with the chilliest fingers. Poor peasants!--are their hearts
lighter to-night? The rain was fierce, but mercifully there was no hail.
Down below they say the harvest is over. Here they begin next week.
The storm has been rude--but not ruinous. Last year the hail-storms in
September stripped the grape; destroyed half their receipts--and pinched
their whole winter. They will think it all comes of their litanies and
banners the other day. If the vintage goes well too, perhaps they will give
the Madonna a new frock. How simple!--how satisfying!'
She hung over the blaze, with her little pensive smile, cheered physically
by the warmth, more ready to talk, more at ease than she had been for days.
Lucy looked at her with a fast beating heart. How fragile she was, how
lovely still, in the half light!
Suddenly Eleanor turned to her, and held out her arms. Lucy knelt down
beside her, trembling lest any look or word should betray the secret in her
heart. But Eleanor drew the girl to her, resting her cheek tenderly on the
'Do you miss your mother very much?' she said softly, turning her lips to
kiss the girl's hair. 'I know you do. I see it in you, often.'
Lucy's eyes filled with tears. She pressed Eleanor's hand without speaking.
They clung together in silence each mind full of thoughts unknown to the
other. But Eleanor's features relaxed; for a little while she rested, body
and mind. And as Lucy lingered in the clasp thrown round her, she seemed
for the first time since the old days at the villa to be the cherished, and
not the cherisher.
* * * * *
Eleanor went early to bed, and then Lucy took a warm shawl and paced up and
down the _loggia_ in a torment of indecision. Presently she was attracted
by the little wooden stair which led down from the _loggia_ to what had
once been the small walled garden of the convent, where the monks of this
austere order had taken their exercise in sickness, or rested in the sun,
when extreme old age debarred them from the field labour of their comrades.
The garden was now a desolation, save for a tangle of oleanders and myrtle
in its midst. But the high walls were still intact, and an old wooden door
on the side nearest to the forest. Beneath the garden was a triangular
piece of open grass land sloping down towards the entrance of the Sassetto
and bounded on one side by the road.
Lucy wandered up and down, in a wild trance of feeling. Half a mile away
was he sitting with Father Benecke?--winning perhaps their poor secret from
the priest's incautious lips'? With what eagle-quickness could he pounce on
a sign, an indication! And then the flash of those triumphant eyes, and the
onslaught of his will on theirs!
Hark! She caught her breath.
Voices! Two men were descending the road. She hurried to hide her white
dress, close, under the wall--she strained every sense.
The sputter of a match--the trail of its scent in the heavy air--an
'Father!--wait a moment! Let me light up. These matches are damp. Besides I
want to have another look at this old place--'
The steps diverged from the road; approached the lower wall of the garden.
She pressed herself against its inner surface, trembling in every limb.
Only the old door between her and them! She dared not move--but it was not
only fear of discovery that held her. It was a mad uncontrollable joy, that
like a wind on warm embers, kindled all her being into flame.
'One more crime--that!--of your Parliamentary Italy! What harm had the poor
things done that they should be turned out? You heard what that carabiniere
said?--that they farmed half the plateau. And now look at that! I feel as I
do when I see a blackbird's nest on the ground, that some beastly boy has
been robbing and destroying. I want to get at the boy.'
'The boy would plead perhaps that the blackbirds were too many--and the
fruit too scant. Is it wise, my dear sir, to stand there in the damp?'
The voice was pitched low. Lucy detected the uneasiness of the speaker.
'One moment. You remember, I was here before in November. This summer night
is a new impression. What a pure and exquisite air!'--Lucy could hear the
long inhalation that followed the words. 'I recollect a vague notion of
coming to read here. The _massaja_ told us they took in people for the
summer. Ah! There are some lights, I see, in those upper windows.'
'There are rooms in several parts of the building. Mine were in that
further wing. They were hardly watertight,' said the priest hastily, and in
the same subdued voice.
'It is a place that one might easily rest in--or hide in,' said Manisty
with a new accent on the last words. 'To-morrow morning I will ask the
woman to let me walk through it again.--And to-morrow midday, I must be
'So soon? My old Francesca will owe you a grudge. She is almost reconciled
to me because you eat--because you praised her omelet.'
'Ah! Francesca is an artist. But--as I told you--I am at present a wanderer
and a pilgrim. We have had our talk--you and I--grasped hands, cheered each
other, "passed the time of day," _undweiter noch--noch weiter--mein treuer
The words fell from the deep voice with a rich significant note. Lucy heard
the sigh, the impatient, despondent sigh, that followed.
They moved away. The whiffs of tobacco still came back to her on the light
westerly wind; the sound of their voices still reached her covetous ear.
Suddenly all was silent.
She spread her hands on the door in a wild groping gesture.
'Gone! gone!' she said under her breath. Then her hands dropped, and she
stood motionless, with bent head, till the moment was over, and her blood
'Maso! look here!' said Lucy, addressing a small boy, who with his brother
was driving some goats along the road.
She took from a basket on her arm, first some _pasticceria_, then a square
of chocolate, lastly a handful of _soldi_.
'You know the _casetta_ by the river where Mamma Brigitta lives?'
'Yes.' The boy looked at her with his sharp stealthy eyes.
'Take down this letter to Mamma Brigitta. If you wait a little, she'll give
you another letter in exchange, and if you bring it up to me, you shall
have all those!'
And she spread out her bribes.
The boys' faces were sulky. The house by the river was unpopular, owing
to its tenant. But the temptation was of a devilish force. They took the
letter and scampered down the hill driving their goats before them.
Lucy also walked down some three or four of the innumerable zig-zags of the
road. Presently she found a rocky knoll to the left of it. A gap in the
trees opened a vision of the Amiata range, radiantly blue under a superb
sky, a few shreds of moving mist still wrapped about its topmost peaks.
She took her seat upon a moss-covered stone facing the road which mounted
towards her. But some bushes of tall heath and straggling arbutus made a
light screen in front of her. She saw, but she could hardly be seen, till
the passer-by coming from the river was close upon her.
She sat there with her hands lightly crossed upon her knees, holding
herself a little stiffly--waiting.
The phrases of her letter ran in her head. It had been short and
simple.--'Dear Father Benecke,--I have reason to know that Mr. Manisty is
here--is indeed staying with you. Mrs. Burgoyne is not aware of it and I am
anxious that she should not be told. She wishes--as I think she made clear
to you--to be quite alone here, and if she desired to see her cousins she
would of course have written to them herself. She is too ill to be startled
or troubled in any way. Will you do us a great kindness? Will you persuade
Mr. Manisty to go quietly away without letting Mrs. Burgoyne know that he
has been here? Please ask him to tell Miss Manisty that we shall not be
here much longer, that we have a good doctor, and that as Torre Amiata is
on the hills the heat is not often oppressive.'
... The minutes passed away. Presently her thoughts began to escape the
control she had put upon them; and she felt herself yielding to a sense of
excitement. She resolutely took a book of Italian stories from the bottom
of her basket, and began to read.
At last! the patter of the goats and the shouts of the boys.
They rushed upon her with the letter. She handed over their reward and
broke the seal.
'It is true that Mr. Manisty is here. I too am most anxious that Mrs.
Burgoyne should not be startled or disturbed. But I distrust my own
diplomacy; nor have I yet mentioned your presence here to my guest. I am
not at liberty to do so, having given my promise to Mrs. Burgoyne. Will
you not see and speak to Mr. Manisty yourself? He talks of going up this
morning to see the old convent. I cannot prevent him, without betraying
what I have no right to betray. At present he is smoking in my garden. But
his carriage is ordered from Selvapendente two hours hence. If he does go
up the hill, it would surely be easy for you to intercept him. If not, you
may he sure that he has left for Orvieto.'
Lucy read the letter with a flush and a frown. It struck her that it was
not quite simple; that the priest knew more, and was more concerned in the
new turn of events than he avowed.
She was well aware that he and Eleanor had had much conversation; that
Eleanor was still possessed by the same morbid forces of grief and anger
which, at the villa, had broken down all her natural reticence and
self-control. Was it possible--?
Her cheek flamed. She felt none of that spell in the priestly office which
affected Eleanor. The mere bare notion of being 'managed' by this kind old
priest was enough to rouse all her young spirit and defiance.
But the danger was imminent. She saw what she must do, and prepared herself
to do it--simply, without any further struggle.
The little goatherds left her, munching their cakes and looking back at her
from time to time in a childish curiosity. The pretty blue lady had seated
herself again as they had found her--a few paces from the roadside, under
the thick shadow of an oak.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, Manisty was rejoined by Father Benecke--who had left him for
a few minutes to write his letter--beside the Paglia, which was rushing
down in a brown flood, after the rain of the day before. Around and above
them, on either side of the river, and far up the flanks of the mountains
opposite, stretched the great oak woods, which are still to-day the lineal
progeny of that vast Ciminian forest where lurked the earliest enemies of
'But for the sun, it might be Wales!' said Manisty, looking round him, as
he took out another cigarette.
Father Benecke made no reply. He sat on a rock by the water's side, in what
seemed to be a reverie. His fine white head was uncovered. His attitude was
gentle, dignified, abstracted.
'It is a marvellous country this!' Manisty resumed. 'I thought I knew it
pretty well. But the last five weeks have given one's mind a new hold upon
it. The forests have been wasted--but by George!--what forests there are
still!--and what a superb mountain region, half of which is only known to
a few peasants and shepherds. What rivers--what fertility--what a climate!
And the industry of the people. Catch a few English farmers and set them to
do what the Italian peasant does, year in and year out, without a murmur!
Look at all the coast south of Naples. There is not a yard of it, scarcely,
that hasn't been _made_ by human hands. Look at the hill-towns; and think
of the human toil that has gone to the making and maintaining of them since
the world began.'
And swaying backwards and forwards he fell into the golden lines:
Adde tot egregias urbes, operumque laborem,
Tot congesta manu praeruptis oppida saxis,
Fluminaque antiquos subterlabentia muros.
'_Congesta manu! Ecco!_--there they are'--and he pointed down the river to
the three or four distant towns, each on its mountain spur, that held the
valley between them and Orvieto--pale jewels on the purple robe of rock and
'So Virgil saw them. So the latest sons of time shall see them--the homes
of a race that we chatter about without understanding--the most laborious
race in the wide world.'
And again he rolled out under his breath, for the sheer joy of the verse:
Salve, magna parens frugum, Saturnia tellus,
The priest looked at him with a smile; preoccupied yet shrewd.
'I follow you with some astonishment. Surely--I remember other sentiments
on your part?'
Manisty coloured a little, and shook his black head, protesting.
'I never said uncivil things, that I remember, about Italy or the Italians
as such. My quarrel was with the men that run them, the governments that
exploit them. My point was that Piedmont and the North had been too greedy,
had laid hands too rapidly on the South and had risked this damnable
quarrel with the Church, without knowing what they were running their
heads into. And in consequence they found themselves--in spite of rivers
of corrupt expenditure--without men, or money, or credit to work their big
new machine with; while the Church was always there, stronger than ever for
the grievance they had presented her with, and turned into an enemy with
whom it was no longer possible to parley. Well!--that struck me as a good
object lesson. I wanted to say to the secularising folk everywhere--England
included--just come here, and look what your policy comes to, when it's
carried out to the bitter end, and not in the gingerly, tinkering fashion
you affect at home! Just understand what it means to separate Church from
State, to dig a gulf between the religious and the civil life.--Here's a
country where nobody can be at once a patriot and a good Christian--where
the Catholics don't vote for Parliament, and the State schools teach
no religion--where the nation is divided into two vast camps, hating
and thrusting at each other with every weapon they can tear from life.
Examine it! That's what the thing looks like when it's full grown. Is it
profitable--does it make for good times? In your own small degree, are you
going to drive England that way too?--You'll admit, Father--you always did
admit--that it was a good theme.'
The priest smiled--a little sadly.
'Excellent. Only--you seemed to me--a little irresponsible.'
Manisty nodded, and laughed.
'An outsider, with no stakes on? Well--that's true. But being a Romantic
and an artist I sided with the Church. The new machine, and the men that
were running it, seemed to me an ugly jerry-built affair, compared with the
Papacy and all that it stood for. But then--'
--He leant back in his chair, one hand snatching and tearing at the bushes
round him, in his absent, destructive way.--
'Well then--as usual--facts began to play the mischief with one's ideas.
In the first place, as one lives on in Italy you discover the antiquity of
this quarrel; that it is only the Guelf and Ghibelline quarrel over again,
under new names. And in the next--presently one begins to divine an Italy
behind the Italy we know, or history knows!--Voices come to one, as Goethe
would say, from the caves where dwell "Die Muetter"--the creative generative
forces of the country.'--
He turned his flashing look on Benecke, pleased now as always with the mere
task of speech.
'Anyway, as I have been going up and down their country, especially during
the last six weeks; prating about their poverty, and their taxes, their
corruption, the incompetence of their leaders, the folly of their quarrel
with the Church; I have been finding myself caught in the grip of things
older and deeper--incredibly, primevally old!--that still dominate
everything, shape everything here. There are forces in Italy, forces of
land and soil and race--only now fully let loose--that will remake Church
no less than State, as the generations go by. Sometimes I have felt as
though this country were the youngest in Europe; with a future as fresh and
teeming as the future of America. And yet one thinks of it at other times
as one vast graveyard; so thick it is with the ashes and the bones of men!
The Pope--and Crispi!--waves, both of them, on a sea of life that gave them
birth, "with equal mind"; and that with equal mind will sweep them both to
its own goal--not theirs.'
He smiled at his own eloquence, and returned to his cigarette.
The priest had listened to him all through with the same subtle embarrassed
'This must have some cause,' he said slowly, when Manisty ceased to speak.
'Surely?--this change? I recall language so different--forecasts so
'Gracious!--I can give you books-full of them,' said Manisty, reddening,
'if you care to read them. I came out with a _parti-pris_--I don't deny it.
Catholicism had a great glamour for me; it has still, so long as you don't
ask me to put my own neck under the yoke! But Rome itself is disenchanting.
And outside Rome!--During the last six weeks I have been talking to every
priest I could come across in these remote country districts where I
have been wandering. _Per Dio!_--Marcello used to talk--I didn't believe
him. But upon my word, the young fellows whom the seminaries are now
sending out in shoals represent a fact to give one pause!--Little black
devils!--_Scusi!_ Father,--the word escaped me. Broadly speaking, they
are a political militia,--little else. Their hatred of Italy is a venom
in their bones, and they themselves are mad for a spiritual tyranny which
no modern State could tolerate for a week. When one thinks of the older
men--of Rosmini, of Gioberti, of the priests who died on the Milan
barricades in '48!'
His companion made a slow movement of assent.
Manisty smoked on, till presently he launched the _mot_ for which he had
been feeling. 'The truth of the matter seems to be that Italy is Catholic,
because she hasn't faith enough to make a heresy; and anti-clerical,
because it is her destiny to be a nation!'
The priest smiled, but with a certain languor, turning his head once or
twice as though to listen for sounds behind him, and taking out his watch.
His eyes meanwhile--and their observation of Manisty--were not languid;
seldom had the mild and spiritual face been so personal, so keen.
'Well, it is a great game,' said Manisty again--'and we shan't see the end.
Tell me--how have they treated _you_--the priests in these parts?'
Benecke started and shrank.
'I have no complaint to make,' he said mildly. 'They seem to me good men.'
Manisty smoked in silence.
Then he said, as though summing up his own thoughts,--
'No,--there are plenty of dangers ahead. This war has shaken the
_Sabaudisti_--for the moment. Socialism is serious.--Sicily is
serious.--The economic difficulties are serious.--The House of Savoy will
have a rough task, perhaps, to ride the seas that may come.--But _Italy_
is safe. You can no more undo what has been done than you can replace the
child in the womb. The birth is over. The organism is still weak, but it
lives. And the forces behind it are indefinitely, mysteriously stronger
than the Vatican thinks.'
'A great recantation,' said the priest quickly.
Manisty winced, but for a while said nothing. All at once he jerked away
'Do you suspect some other reason for it, than the force of evidence?'--he
said, in another manner.
The priest, smiling, looked him full in the face without replying.
'You may,' said Manisty, coolly. 'I shan't play the hypocrite. Father, I
told you that I had been wandering about Italy on a quest that was not
health, nor piety, nor archaeology. How much did you guess?'
'Naturally, something--_lieber Herr_.'
'Do you know that I should have been at Torre Amiata weeks ago but for
'For me! You talk in riddles.'
'Very simple. Your letters might have contained a piece of news--and did
not. Yet if it had been there to give, you would have given it. So I
crossed Torre Amiata off my list. No need to go _there_! I said to myself.'
The priest was silent.
Manisty looked up. His eyes sparkled; his lips trembled as though they
could hardly bring themselves to launch the words behind them.
'Father--you remember a girl--at the Villa?'
The priest made a sign of assent.
'Well--I have been through Italy--with that girl's voice in my ears--and,
as it were, her eyes rather than my own. I have been searching for her
for weeks. She has hidden herself from me. But I shall find her!--now or
later--here or elsewhere.'
'Well, then,--I shall know some "eventful living"!'
He drew a long breath.
'And you hope for success?'
'Hope?' said Manisty, passionately. 'I live on something more nourishing
The priest lifted his eyebrows.
'You are so certain?'
'I must be certain'--said Manisty, in a low voice,--'or in torment! I
prefer the certainty.'
His face darkened. In its frowning disorganisation his companion saw for
the first time a man hitherto unknown to him, a man who spoke with the
dignity, the concentration, the simplicity of true passion.
Dignity! The priest recalled the voice, the looks of Eleanor Burgoyne.
Not a word for her--not a thought! His old heart began to shrink from his
visitor, from his own scheme.
'Then how do you explain the young lady's disappearance?' he asked, after a
Manisty laughed. But the note was bitter.
'Father!--I shall make her explain it herself.'
'She is not alone?'
'No--my cousin Mrs. Burgoyne is with her.'
Benecke observed him, appreciated the stiffening of the massive shoulders.
'I heard from some friends in Rome,' said the priest, after a
moment--'distressing accounts of Mrs. Burgoyne's health.'
Manisty's look was vague and irresponsive.
'She was always delicate,' he said abruptly,--not kindly.
'What makes you look for them in Italy?'
'Various causes. They would think themselves better hidden from their
English friends, in Italy than elsewhere, at this time of year. Beside, I
remember one or two indications--'
There was a short silence. Then Manisty sprang up.
'How long, did you say, before the trap came? An hour and a half?'
'Hardly,' said the priest, unwillingly, as he drew out his watch.--'And you
must give yourself three hours to Orvieto--'
'Time enough. I'll go and have a look at those frescoes again--and a chat
with the woman. Don't interrupt yourself. I shall be back in half an hour.'
'Unfortunately I must write a letter,' said the priest.
And he stood at the door of his little bandbox of a house, watching the
departure of his guest.
Manisty breasted the hill, humming as he walked. The irregular vigorous
form, the nobility and animation of his carriage drew the gaze of the
priest after him.
'At what point'--he said to himself,--'will he find her?'
Eleanor did not rise now, as a rule, till half way through the morning.
Lucy had left her in bed.
It was barely nine o'clock. Every eastern or southern window was already
fast closed and shuttered, but her door stood open to the _loggia_ into
which no sun penetrated till the afternoon.
A fresh breeze, which seemed the legacy of the storm, blew through the
doorway. Framed in the yellow arches of the _loggia_ she saw two cypresses
glowing black upon the azure blaze of the sky. And in front of them,
springing from a pot on the _loggia_, the straggly stem and rosy bunches
of an oleander. From a distance the songs of harvesters at their work; and
close by, the green nose of a lizard peeping round the edge of the door.
Eleanor seemed to herself to have just awakened from sleep; yet not from
unconsciousness. She had a confused memory of things which had passed in
sleep--of emotions and experiences. Her heart was beating fast, and as
she sat up, she caught her own reflection in the cracked glass on the
dressing-table. Startled, she put up her hand to her flushed cheek. It was
'Crying!' she said, in wonder--'what have I been dreaming about? And why do
I feel like this? What is the matter with me?'
After a minute or two, she rang a handbell beside her, and her maid
'Marie, I am so well--so strong! It is extraordinary! Bring everything. I
should like to get up.'
The maid, in fear of Lucy, remonstrated. But her mistress prevailed.
'Do my hair as usual to-day,' she said, as soon as that stage of her
toilette was reached, and she was sitting in her white wrapper before the
'It will tire you, madame.'
'No, it won't. _Mais faites vite!_'
Ever since their arrival at Torre Amiata Eleanor had abandoned the various
elaborate _coiffures_ in which she had been wont to appear at the villa.
She would allow nothing but the simplest and rapidest methods; and Marie
had been secretly alarmed lest her hand should lose her cunning.
So that to-day she coiled, crimped, curled with a will. When she had
finished, Eleanor surveyed herself and laughed.
'_Ah! mais vraiment, Marie, tu es merveilleuse!_ What is certain is that
neither that glass nor Torre Amiata is worthy of it. _N'importe._ One must
keep up standards.'
'Certainly, madame, you look better to-day.'
'I slept. Why did I sleep? I can't imagine. After all, Torre Amiata is not
such a bad place--is it Marie?'
And with a laugh, she lightly touched her maid's cheek.
Marie looked a little sullen.
'It seems that madame would like to live and die here.'
She had no sooner said the words than she could have bitten her tongue out.
She was genuinely attached to her mistress; and she knew well that Eleanor
was no _malade imaginaire_.
Eleanor's face changed a little.
'Oh! you foolish girl--we shall soon be gone. No, not that old frock. Look,
please, at that head you've made me--and consider! _Noblesse oblige._'
So presently, she stood before her table in a cream walking
dress--perfect--but of the utmost simplicity; with her soft black hat tied
round the ripples and clouds of her fair hair.
'How it hangs on me!' she said, gathering up the front of her dress in her
Marie made a little face of pity and concern.
'_Mais oui, Madame. Il faudrait le cacher un peu._'
'Padding? _Tiens! j'en ai deja._ But if Mathilde were to put any more,
there would be nothing else. One day, Marie, you see, there will be only my
clothes left to walk about--by their little selves!'
She smiled. The maid said nothing. She was on her knees buttoning her
'Now then--_fini!_ Take all those books on to the _loggia_ and arrange my
chair. I shall be there directly.'
The maid departed. Eleanor sat down to rest from the fatigue of dressing.
'How weak I am!--weaker than last month. And next month it will be a little
more--and a little more--then pain perhaps--horrid pain--and one day it
will be impossible to get up--and all one's poor body will fail one like a
broken vessel. And then--relief perhaps--if dying is as easy as it looks.
No more pangs or regrets--and at the end, either a sudden puff that blows
out the light--or a quiet drowning in deep waters--without pain....And
to-day how little I fear it!'
A _prie-dieu_ chair, old and battered like everything else in the convent,
was beside her, and above it her child's portrait. She dropped upon her
knees, as she always did for a minute or two morning and evening, mostly
out of childish habit.
But her thoughts fell into no articulate words. Her physical weakness
rested against the chair; but the weakness of the soul seemed also to rest
on some invisible support.
'What is the matter with me to-day?'--she asked herself again, in
bewilderment. 'Is it an omen--a sign? All bonds seem loosened--the air
lighter. What made me so miserable yesterday? I wanted him to come--and yet
dreaded--dreaded it so! And now to-day I don't care--I don't care!'
She slipped into a sitting position and looked at the picture. A tiny
garland of heath and myrtle was hung round it. The little fellow seemed to
be tottering towards her, the eyes a little frightened, yet trusting, the
'Childie!'--she said in a whisper, smiling at him--'Childie!'
Then with a long sigh, she rose, and feebly made her way to the _loggia_.
Her maid was waiting for her. But Eleanor refused her sofa. She would
sit, looking out through the arches of the _loggia_, to the road, and the
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