Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, David Widger
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
Since the condemnation of _The Saint_ by the Congregation of the Index,
the publishers of the authorized translation of this novel feel that, in
justice to its author, Senator Antonio Fogazzaro, they owe to the public
a word of explanation by way of making plain (what the author has in
more than one letter made plain to them) how it comes about that, in
spite of the decree of the Index, the Senator sanctions the appearance
of the book in America. The explanation is found in the fact that the
American publishers secured, before the sentence of the Congregation had
been passed, the sanction for the publication of their translation--a
sanction which the author, as a loyal Catholic, could not have given
later, but which, once it was given, he did not feel justified in
NEW YORK, July, 1906.
By ANTONIO FOGAZZARO
_The Saint_, though it is independent of Fogazzaro's earlier romances,
and though it explains itself completely when read in its entirety,
will perhaps be more readily understood and enjoyed, especially in the
opening chapters, if a few words are said with regard to certain of its
characters who have made an appearance in preceding stories by the
same author. All needful information of this kind is conveyed in the
following paragraph, for which we are indebted to Mrs. Crawford's
article, "The Saint in Fiction," which appeared in _The Fortnightly
Review_ for April, 1906:
"Readers of Fogazzaro's earlier novels will recognise in Piero Maironi,
the Saint, the son of the Don Franco Maironi who, in the _Piccolo Mondo
Antico_, gives his life for the cause of freedom, while he himself is
the hero of the _Piccolo Mondo Moderno_. For those who have not read
the preceding volumes it should be explained that his wife being in a
lunatic asylum, Maironi, artist and dreamer, had fallen in love with
a beautiful woman separated from her husband, Jeanne Dessalle, who
professed agnostic opinions. Recalled to a sense of his faith and his
honour by an interview with his wife, who sent for him on her death-bed,
he was plunged in remorse, and disappeared wholly from the knowledge
of friends and relatives after depositing in the hands of a venerable
priest, Don Giuseppe Flores, a sealed paper describing a prophetic
vision concerning his life that had largely contributed to his
conversion. Three years are supposed to have passed between the close of
the _Piccolo Mondo Moderno_ and the opening of _Il Santo_, when Maironi
is revealed under the name of Benedetto, purified of his sins by a life
of prayer and emaciated by the severity of his mortifications, while
Jeanne Dessalle, listless and miserable, is wandering around Europe
with Noemi d'Arxel, sister to Maria Selva, hoping against hope for the
reappearance of her former lover."
INTRODUCTION (BY WILLIAM ROSCOE THAYER)
III.--A NIGHT OF STORMS
IV.--FACE TO FACE
VII.--IN THE WHIRLPOOL OF THE WORLD
IX.--IN THE WHIRLWIND OF GOD
By William Roscoe Thayer
Author of "The Dawn of Italian Independence"
ANTONIO FOGAZZARO AND HIS MASTERPIECE
Senator Fogazzaro, in _The Saint_, has confirmed the impression of
his five and twenty years' career as a novelist, and now, through
the extraordinary power and pertinence of this crowning work, he has
suddenly become an international celebrity. The myopic censors of the
_Index_ have assured the widest circulation of his book by condemning it
as heretical. In the few months since its publication, it has been
read by hundreds of thousands of Italians; it has appeared in French
translation in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_ and in German in the
_Hochland_; and it has been the storm centre of religious and literary
debate. Now it will be sought by a still wider circle, eager to see what
the doctrines are, written by the leading Catholic layman in Italy, at
which the Papal advisers have taken fright. Time was when it was the
books of the avowed enemies of the Church--of some mocking Voltaire,
some learned Renan, some impassioned Michelet--which they thrust on the
_Index_; now they pillory the Catholic layman with the largest following
in Italy, one who has never wavered in his devotion to the Church.
Whatever the political result of their action may be, they have made the
fortune of the book they hoped to suppress; and this is good, for _The
Saint_ is a real addition to literature.
Lovers of Italy have regretted that foreigners should judge her
contemporary ideals and literary achievements by the brilliant, but
obscene and degenerate books of Gabriele d'Annunzio. Such books, the
products of disease no matter what language they may be written in,
quickly circulate from country to country. Like epidemics they sweep up
and down the world, requiring no passports, respecting no frontiers,
while benefits travel slowly from people to people, and often lose much
in the passage. D'Annunzio, speaking the universal language--Sin,--has
been accepted as the typical Italian by foreigners who know Carducci
merely as a name and have perhaps never heard of Fogazzaro. Yet it is in
these men that the better genius of modern Italy has recently expressed
itself. Carducci's international reputation as the foremost living poet
in Europe and a literary critic of the first class gains slowly, but its
future is secure. Thanks to the wider circulating medium of fiction,
Fogaz-* *zaro's name is a household word in thousands of Italian
families, and he combines in his genius so many rare and important
strands that the durability of his literary renown cannot be questioned.
Antonio Fogazzaro, the most eminent Italian novelist since Manzoni, was
born at Vicenza on March 25th, 1842. He was happy in his parents, his
father, Mariano Fogazzaro, being a man of refined tastes and sound
learning, while his mother, Teresa Barrera, united feminine sweetness
with wit and a warm heart. From childhood they influenced all sides of
his nature, and when the proper time came they put him in charge of a
wise tutor, Professor Zanella, who seems to have divined his pupil's
talents and the best way to cultivate them. Young Fogazzaro, having
completed his course in the classics went on to the study of the law,
which he pursued first in the University of Padua and then at Turin,
where his father had taken up a voluntary exile. For Vicenza, during the
forties and fifties, lay under Austrian subjection, and any Italian
who desired to breathe freely in Italy had to seek the liberal air of
Fogazzaro received his diploma in due season, and began to practise as
advocate, but in that casual way common to young men who know that their
real leader is not Themis but Apollo. Erelong he abandoned the bar and
devoted himself with equal enthusiasm to music and poetry, for both of
which he had unusual aptitude. Down to 1881 he printed chiefly volumes
of verse which gave him a genuine, if not popular reputation. In that
year he brought out his first romance, _Malombra_, and from time to time
during the past quarter of a century he has followed it with _Daniele
Cortis_, _Il Mistero del Poeta_, _Piccolo Mondo Antico_, _Piccolo Mondo
Moderno_, and finally, in the autumn of 1905, _Il Santo_. This list by
no means exhausts his productivity, for he has worked in many fields,
but it includes the books by which, gradually at first, and with
triumphant strides of late, he has come into great fame in Italy and
has risen into the small group of living authors who write for a
For many years past Signer Fogazzaro has dwelt in his native Vicenza,
the most honoured of her citizens, round whom has grown up a band of
eager disciples, who look to him for guidance not merely in matters
intellectual or aesthetic, but in the conduct of life. He has conceived
of the career of man of letters as a great opportunity, not as a mere
trade. Nothing could show better his high seriousness than his waiting
until the age of thirty-nine before publishing his first novel, unless
it be the restraint which led him, after having embarked on the career
of novelist to devote four or five years on the average to his studies
in fiction. So his books are ripe, the fruits of a deliberate and rich
nature, and not the windfalls of a mere literary trick. And now the
publication of _The Saint_ confirms all his previous work, and entitles
him, at a little more than threescore years, to rank among the few
literary masters of the time.
Many elements in _The Saint_ testify to its importance; but these would
not make it a work of art. And after all it is as a work of art that it
first appeals to readers, who may care little for its religious purport.
It is a great novel--so great, that, after living with its characters,
we cease to regard it as a novel at all. It keeps our suspense on the
stretch through nearly five hundred pages. Will the Saint triumph--will
love victoriously claim its own? We hurry on, at the first reading,
for the solution; then we go back and discover in it another world of
profound interest. That is the true sign of a masterpiece.
In English we have only _John Inglesant_ and _Robert Elsmere_ to compare
it with; but such a comparison, though obviously imperfect, proves at
once how easily _The Saint_ surpasses them both, not merely by
the greater significance of its central theme, but by its subtler
psychology, its wider horizon, its more various contacts with life.
Benedetto, the Saint, is a new character in fiction, a mingling of St.
Francis and Dr. Dollinger, a man of to-day in intelligence, a medieval
in faith. Nothing could be finer than the way in which Signer Fogazzaro
depicts his zeal, his ecstasies, his visions, his depressions, his
doubts; shows the physical and mental reactions; gives us, in a word,
a study in religious morbid psychology--for, say what we will,
such abnormalities are morbid--without rival in fiction. We follow
Benedetto's spiritual fortunes with as much eagerness as if they were a
And then there is the love story. Where shall one turn to find another
like it? Jeanne seldom appears in the foreground, but we feel from first
to last the magnetism of her presence. There is always the possibility
that at sight or thought of her Benedetto may be swept back from
his ascetic vows to the life of passion. Their first meeting in the
monastery chapel is a masterpiece of dramatic climax, and Benedetto's
temptation in her carriage, after the feverish interview with the
cabinet officer, is a marvel of psychological subtlety. Both scenes
illustrate Signor Fogazzaro's power to achieve the highest artistic
results without exaggeration. This naturalness is the more remarkable
because the character of a saint is unnatural according to our modern
point of view. We have a healthy distrust of ascetics, whose anxiety
over their soul's condition we properly regard as a form of egotism;
and we know how easily the unco' guid become prigs. Fogazzaro's hero is
neither an egotist of the ordinary cloister variety, nor a prig.
That our sympathy goes out to Jeanne and not to him shows that we
instinctively resent the sacrifice of the deepest human cravings to
sacerdotal prescriptions. The highest ideal of holiness which medievals
could conceive does not satisfy us.
Why did Signer Fogazzaro in choosing his hero revert to that outworn
type? He sees very clearly how many of the Catholic practices are what
he calls "ossified organisms." Why did he set up a lay monk as a model
for 20th century Christians who long to devote their lives to uplifting
their fellow-men? Did he not note the artificiality of asceticism--the
waste of energy that comes with fasts and mortification of the flesh and
morbidly pious excitement? When asked these questions by his followers
he replied that he did not mean to preach asceticism as a rule for all;
but that in individual cases like Benedetto's, for instance, it was a
psychological necessity. Herein Signer Fogazzaro certainly discloses his
profound knowledge of the Italian heart--of that heart from which in its
early medieval vigour sprang the Roman religion, with its message
of renunciation. Even the Renaissance and the subsequent period of
scepticism have not blotted out those tendencies that date back more
than a thousand years: so that today, if an Italian is engulfed in a
passion of self-sacrifice, he naturally thinks first of asceticism as
the method. Among Northern races a similar religious experience does
not suggest hair shirts and debilitating pious orgies (except among
Puseyites and similar survivals from a different epoch); it suggests
active work, like that of General Booth of the Salvation Army.
No one can gainsay, however, the superb artistic effects which Signor
Fogazzaro attains through his Saint's varied experiences. He causes to
pass before you all classes of society,--from the poorest peasant of the
Subiaco hills, to duchesses and the Pope himself,--some incredulous,
some mocking, some devout, some hesitating, some spell-bound, in the
presence of a holy man. The fashionable ladies wish to take him up and
make a lion of him; the superstitious kiss the hem of his garment and
believe that he can work miracles, or, in a sudden revulsion, they
jeer him and drive him away with stones. And what a panorama of
ecclesiastical life in Italy! What a collection of priests and monks and
prelates, and with what inevitableness one after another turns the cold
shoulder on the volunteer who dares to assert that the test of religion
is conduct! There is an air of mystery, of intrigue, of secret messages
passing to and fro--the atmosphere of craft which has hung round the
ecclesiastical institution so many, many centuries. Few scenes in modern
romance can match Benedetto's interview with the Pope--he pathetic
figure who, you feel, is in sad truth a prisoner, not of the Italian
Government, but of the crafty, able, remorseless cabal of cardinals who
surround him, dog him with eavesdroppers, edit his briefs, check his
benign impulses, and effectually prevent the truth from penetrating to
his lonely study. Benedetto's appeal to the Pope to heal the four wounds
from which the Church is languishing is a model of impassioned argument.
The four wounds, be it noted, are the "spirit of falsehood," "the spirit
of clerical domination," "the spirit of avarice," and "the spirit of
immobility." The Pope replies in a tone of resignation; he does not
disguise his powerlessness; he hopes to meet Benedetto again--in heaven!
_The Saint_ may be considered under many aspects--indeed, the critics,
in their efforts to classify it, have already fallen out over its real
character. Some regard it as a thinly disguised statement of a creed;
others, as a novel pure and simple; others, as a campaign document (in
the broadest sense); others, as no novel at all, but a dramatic sort of
confession. The Jesuits have had it put on the _Index_; the Christian
Democrats have accepted it as their gospel: yet Jesuits and Christian
Democrats both profess to be Catholics. Such a divergence of opinion
proves conclusively that the book possesses unusual power and that it
is many-sided. Instead of pitching upon one of these views as right and
declaring all the rest to be wrong, it is more profitable to try to
discover in the book itself what grounds each class of critics finds to
justify its particular and exclusive verdict.
On the face of it what does the book say? This is what it says: That
Piero Maironi, a man of the world, cultivated far beyond his kind, after
having had a vehement love-affair is stricken with remorse, "experiences
religion," becomes penitent, is filled with a strange zeal--an ineffable
comfort--and devotes himself, body, heart, and soul to the worship of
God and the succour of his fellow-men. As Benedetto, the lay brother, he
serves the peasant populations among the Sabine hills, or moves on his
errands of hope and mercy among the poor of Rome. Everybody recognises
him as a holy man--"a saint." Perhaps, if he had restricted himself to
taking only soup or simple medicines to the hungry and sick, he would
have been unmolested in his philanthropy; but after his conversion, he
had devoured the Scriptures and studied the books of the Fathers, until
the spirit of the early, simple, untheological Church had poured into
him. It brought a message the truth of which so stirred him that
he could not rest until he imparted it to his fellows. He preached
righteousness,--the supremacy of conduct over ritual,--love as the test
and goal of life; but always with full acknowledgment of Mother Church
as the way of salvation. Indeed, he seems neither to doubt the
impregnability of the foundations of Christianity, nor the validity of
the Petrine corner-stone; taking these for granted he aims to live the
Christian life in every act, in every thought. The superstructure--the
practices of the Catholic Church to-day, the failures and sins of
clerical society, the rigid ecclesiasticism--these he must in loyalty
to fundamental truth, criticise, and if need be, condemn, where they
interfere with the exercise of pure religion. But Benedetto engages very
little in controversy; his method is to glorify the good, sure that the
good requires only to be revealed in all its beauty and charm in order
to draw irresistibly to itself souls that, for lack of vision, have been
pursuing the mediocre or the bad.
Yet these utterances, so natural to Benedetto, awaken the suspicions of
his superiors, who--we cannot say without cause--scent heresy in them.
Good works, righteous conduct--what are these in comparison with blind
subscription to orthodox formulas? Benedetto is persecuted not by an
obviously brutal or sanguinary persecution,--although it might have
come to that except for a catastrophe of another sort,--but by the
very finesse of persecution. The sagacious politicians of the Vatican,
inheritors of the accumulated craft of a thousand years, know too much
to break a butterfly on a wheel, to make a martyr of an inconvenient
person whom they can be rid of quietly. Therein lies the tragedy of
Benedetto's experience, so far at least as we regard him, or as he
thought himself, an instrument for the regeneration of the Church.
On the face of it, therefore, _The Saint_ is the story of a man with a
passion for doing good, in the most direct and human way, who found the
Church in which he believed, the Church which existed ostensibly to do
good according to the direct and human ways of Jesus Christ, thwarting
him at every step. Here is a conflict, let us remark in passing, worthy
to be the theme of a great tragedy. Does not _Antigone_ rest on a
similar conflict between Antigone's simple human way of showing her
sisterly affection and the rigid formalism of the orthodoxy of her day?
Or, look next at _The Saint_ as a campaign document, the aspect under
which it has been most hotly discussed in Italy. It has been accepted
as the platform, or even the gospel of the Christian Democrats. Who are
they? They are a body of the younger generation of Italians, among them
being a considerable number of religious, who yearn to put into practice
the concrete exhortations of the Evangelists. They are really carried
forward by that ethical wave which has swept over Western Europe and
America during the past generation, and has resulted in "slumming,"
in practical social service, in all kinds of efforts to improve the
material and moral condition of the poor, quite irrespective of
sectarian or even Christian initiative. This great movement began,
indeed, outside of the churches, among men and women who felt grievously
the misery of their fellow-creatures and their own obligation to do what
they could to relieve it. From them, it has reached the churches, and,
last of all, the Catholic Church in Italy. No doubt the spread of
Socialism, with its superficial resemblance to some of the features of
primitive Christianity, has somewhat modified the character of this
ethical movement; so far, in fact, that the Italian Christian Democrats
have been confounded, by persons with only a blurred sense of outlines,
with the Socialists themselves. Whatever they may become, however,
they now profess views in regard to property which separate them by an
unbridgeable chasm from the Socialists.
In their zeal for their fellow-men, and especially for the poor
and down-trodden classes, they find the old agencies of charity
insufficient. To visit the sick, to comfort the dying, to dole out broth
at the convent gate, is well, but it offers no remedy for the cause
behind poverty and blind remediable suffering. Only through better
laws, strictly administered, can effectual help come. So the Christian
Democrats deemed it indispensable that they should be free to influence
legislation. At this point, however, the stubborn prohibition of the
Vatican confronted them. Since 1870, when the Italians entered Rome and
established there the capital of United Italy, the Vatican had forbidden
faithful Catholics to take part, either as electors or as candidates, in
any of the national elections, the fiction being that, were they to go
to the polls or to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies, they would
thereby recognise the Royal Government which had destroyed the temporal
power of the Pope. Then what would become of that other fiction--the
Pope's prisonership in the Vatican--which was to prove for thirty years
the best paying asset among the Papal investments? So long as the Curia
maintained an irreconcilable attitude towards the Kingdom, it could
count on kindling by irritation the sympathy and zeal of Catholics all
over the world. In Italy itself many devout Catholics had long protested
that, as it was through the acquisition of temporal power that the
Church had become worldly and corrupt, so through the loss of temporal
power it would regain its spiritual health and efficiency. They urged
that the Holy Father could perform his religious functions best if he
were not involved in political intrigues and governmental perplexities.
No one would assert that Jesus could have better fulfilled his mission
if he had been king of Judea; why, then, should the Pope, the Vicar of
Jesus, require worldly pomp and power that his Master disdained?
Neither Pius IX nor Leo XIII, however, was open to arguments of this
kind. Incidentally, it was clear that if Catholics as such were kept
away from the polls, nobody could say precisely just how many they
numbered. The Vatican constantly asserted that its adherents were in a
majority--a claim which, if true, meant that the Kingdom of Italy rested
on a very precarious basis. But other Catholics sincerely deplored the
harm which the irreconcilable attitude of the Curia caused to religion.
They regretted to see an affair purely political treated as religious;
to have the belief in the Pope's temporal power virtually set up as a
part of their creed. The Lord's work was waiting to be done; yet they
who ought to be foremost in it were handicapped. Other agencies had
stepped in ahead of them. The Socialists were making converts by
myriads; skeptics and cynics were sowing hatred not of the Church
merely but of all religion. It was time to abandon "the prisoner of the
Vatican" humbug, time to permit zealous Catholics, whose orthodoxy no
one could question, to serve God and their fellow-men according to the
needs and methods of the present age.
At last, in the autumn of 1905, the new Pope, Pius X, gave the faithful
tacit permission, if he did not officially command them, to take part in
the elections. Various motives were assigned for this change of front.
Did even the Ultra-montanes realise that, since France had repealed the
Concordat, they could find their best support in Italy? Or were they
driven by the instinct of self-preservation to accept the constitutional
government as a bulwark against the incoming tide of Anarchism,
Socialism, and the other subversive forces? The Church is the most
conservative element in Christendom; in a new upheaval it will surely
rally to the side of any other element which promises to save society
from chaos. These motives have been cited to explain the recent action
of the Holy See, but there were high-minded Catholics who liked to
think that the controlling reason was religious--that the Pope and his
counsellors had at last been persuaded that the old policy of abstention
wrought irreparable harm to the religious life of millions of the
faithful in Italy.
However this may be, Senator Fogazzaro's book, filled with the Liberal
and Christian spirit, has been eagerly caught up as the mouthpiece of
the Christian Democrats, and indeed of all intelligent Catholics in
Italy, who have always held that religion and patriotism are not
incompatible, and that the Church has most injured itself in prolonging
the antagonism. In this respect, _The Saint_, like _Uncle Tom's Cabin_
and similar books which crystallise an entire series of ideals or sum
up a crisis, leaped immediately into importance, and seems certain to
enjoy, for a long time to come, the prestige that crowns such works.
Putting it on the _Index_ can only add to its power.
But readers who imagine that this aspect measures the significance of
_The Saint_ have read the surface only. The probability of restoring
friendly relations between Church and State is a matter of concern to
everybody in Italy; but of even greater concern are the implications
which issue from Signor Fogazzaro's thought. He is an evolutionist; he
respects the higher criticism; he knows that religions, like states and
secular institutions, have their birth and growth and inevitable decay.
So Catholicism must take its course in the human circuit, and expect
sooner or later to pass away. This would be the natural deduction to
draw from the premise of evolution. Signor Fogazzaro, however, does not
draw it. He conceives that Catholicism contains a final deposit of truth
which can neither be superseded, wasted, nor destroyed.
"My friends," says Benedetto, "you say, 'We have reposed in the shade of
this tree but now its bark cracks and dries; the tree will die; let us
go in search of other shade.' The tree will not die. If you had ears,
you would hear the movement of the new bark forming, which will have its
period of life, will crack, will dry in its turn, because another bark
shall replace it. The tree does not die, the tree grows."
Through this parable, Signor Fogazzaro reveals his attitude, which it
appears, does not differ from that proposed by many Anglicans and other
Protestants towards their respective churches. Herein his Saint takes on
the largest significance. He is a religious man who constantly praises
Reason, and urges his hearers to trust Reason; but who, at a given
moment, falls back on Faith, cleaves to Faith, insists that Faith alone
brings its own warrant. Hence arise paradoxes, hence contradictions
which elude a reasonable solution. For instance, in one discourse
Benedetto says: "The Catholic Church, which proclaims itself the
fountain of truth, opposes to-day the search for Truth when it is
carried on on its own foundations, on the holy books, on the dogmas,
on its asserted infallibility. For us this means that it has no longer
faith in itself. The Catholic Church which proclaims itself the minister
of Life, to-day shackles and stifles whatever lives youthfully within
it, and to-day it props itself on all its decadent and antiquated
usages." Yet a little farther on he exclaims: "But what sort of faith
is yours, if you talk of leaving the Church because certain antiquated
doctrines of its heads, certain decrees of the Roman congregations,
certain ways in a pontiff's government offend you? What sort of sons are
you who talk of renouncing your mother because she wears a garment which
does not please you? Is the mother's heart changed by a garment? When,
bowed over her, weeping, you tell your infirmities to Christ and Christ
heals you, do you think about the authenticity of a passage in _St.
John_, about the real author of the Fourth Gospel or about the two
Isaiahs? When you commune with Christ in the sacrament do the decrees of
the _Index_ or the Holy Office disturb you? When, giving yourself up to
Mother Church, you enter the shadows of death, is the peace she breathes
in you less sweet because a Pope is opposed to Christian Democracy?"
So far, therefore, as Fogazzaro is the spokesman of loyal yet
intelligent Catholics, he shows that among them also the process of
theological solution has been going on. Like Protestants who still
profess creeds which they do not believe, these intelligent Catholics
have to resort to strange devices--to devices which to a looker-on
appear uncandid if not insincere,--in order to patch up a truce between
their reason and their faith. This insincerity is the blight of the
present age. It is far more serious than indifferentism, or than the
open mockery of the 18th century philosophers. So long as it lasts, no
deep, general religious regeneration will be possible. Be it remarked,
however, that Signer Fogazzaro himself is unaware of his ambiguous
position; being still many removes from Jowett, the typical Mr.
Facing-both-Ways of the epoch.
In conclusion, we go back to the book as a work of art, meaning by art
not mere artifice, but that power which takes the fleeting facts of life
and endues them with permanence, with deeper purports, with order and
beauty. In this sense, Signor Fogazzaro is a great artist. He has the
gift of the masters which enables him to rise without effort to the
level of the tragic crises. He has also a vein of humour, without which
such a theme as his could hardly be successfully handled. And although
there is, by measure, much serious talk, yet so skilfully does he bring
in minor characters, with their transient sidelights, that the total
impression is that of a book in which much happens. No realist could
exceed the fidelity with which Signor Fogazzaro outlines a landscape, or
fixes a passing scene; yet being an idealist through and through, he has
produced a masterpiece in which the imagination is sovereign.
Such a book, sprung from "no vain or shallow thought," holding in
solution the hopes of many earnest souls, spreading before us the mighty
spiritual conflict between Medievalism still triumphant and the young
undaunted Powers of Light, showing us with wonderful lifelikeness the
tragedy of man's baffled endeavour to establish the Kingdom of God
on earth, and of woman's unquenchable love, is a great fact in the
world-literature of our time.
April 25, 1906.
Jeanne was seated by the window with the book which she had been reading
open upon her lap. She gazed pensively into the oval sheet of leaden
water slumbering at her feet, at the passing clouds, casting their
ever-changing shadows on the little villa, on the deserted garden, the
trees of the opposite bank, the distant fields, on the bridge to
the left, and on the quiet roads, which lost themselves behind the
Beguinage, and on the slanting roofs of Bruges, grand, mysterious, dead.
Could it be that _l'Intruse_ of whom she had just been reading, that
fatal, unseen visitor, was even now crossing the sepulchral city; could
it be that the short ripples upon the face of the dark water were her
shadow, while she herself had reached the threshold of the villa,
bringing with her the coveted gift of eternal sleep! The church bells
chimed the hour of five. High, high up, near the white clouds, magic
voices of innumerable bells sang over the houses, the squares, the
streets of Bruges that melancholy incantation which renders its rest
eternal. Jeanne felt two cool hands upon her eyes, a wave of perfume
touched her cheek, a breath stirred her hair, whispering "_encore une
intruse_," and then soft lips kissed her. She did not seem surprised;
and, raising her hand, caressed the face bending over her, saying:
"Welcome, Noemi. _Magari fossi tu l'Intruse_," (Would that you were
Noemi failed to understand.
"_Magari_," she said. "Is that Italian? It sounds like Arabic. Explain
at once, please."
Jeanne rose. "You would not understand any better if I did," she said
with a smile. "Shall we have our Italian conversation lesson now?"
"Yes, with pleasure," answered Noemi.
"Where did you go with my brother?"
"To the Hospital of St. John, to call on Memling."
"That's all right; let us talk about Memling. But first tell me whether
Carlino made you a declaration?"
The girl laughed. "Yes, he made me a declaration of war, and I did
likewise _to he_."
"To him, you should say. I wish he would fall in love with you," added
Jeanne seriously. The girl frowned.
"I do not," she said.
"Why? Is he not charming, brilliant, cultured, and distinguished? He is
very wealthy too, you know. We may despise riches, but after all they
are very good in their way."
Noemi d'Arxel placed her hands on her friend's shoulders, and gazed
steadily into her eyes. The blue questioning eyes were grave and sad;
the brown eyes, thus scrutinised, bore the gaze with firmness, flashing
in turn defiance, embarrassment, and mirth.
"Well," said the girl, "I enjoy seeing Memling with Signor Carlino,
playing classical music with him, discussing a Kempis with him,
although this affection he has recently developed for a Kempis seems a
profanation, when you consider that he believes in nothing. _Je suis
catholique autant qu'on peut l'etre lorsqu'on ne l'est pas_, but when I
hear an unbeliever like your brother read a Kempis so feelingly, I very
nearly lose my faith in Christianity as well. I like him for one other
reason, dear, because he is your brother. But that is all! Oh! Jeanne
Dessalle says such strange things sometimes--such strange things! I do
not understand--I really do not understand. But _warte nur, du Raethsel_,
as my governess used to say."
"What am I to wait for?"
Noemi threw her arm round her friend's neck, "I will drag your soul with
so fine a net that it will bring beautiful great pearls to the surface,
perhaps some sea-weed as well, and a little mud from the bottom, or even
a very tiny _pioeuvre_." "You do not know me," answered Jeanne. "You are
the only one of my friends who does not know me."
"Of course. You imagine that only those who adore you really know you?
Indeed, this belief that everybody adores you is a craze of yours."
Jeanne made the little pouting grimace with which all her friends were
"What a foolish girl," she said; but at once softened the expression
with a kiss and a half-sad, half-quizzical smile.
"Women, as I have always told you, do adore me. Do you mean to say that
you do not?"
"_Mais point du tout_," exclaimed Noemi. Jeanne's eyes sparkled with
mischief and kindness.
"In Italian we say: _Si, di tutto cuore_," she answered.
The Dessalles, brother and sister, had spent the preceding summer at
Maloja. Jeanne striving to make herself a pleasant companion, and hiding
as best she could her incurable wound; Carlino searching out traces
of Nietzsche in mystic hours round Sils Maria or in worldly moments
flitting like a butterfly from one woman to another, frequently dining
at St. Moritz, or at Pontresina, making music with a military attache
of the German Embassy at Rome, or with Noemi d'Arxel, and discussing
religious questions with Noemi's sister and brother-in-law. The two
d'Arxel sisters, orphans, were Belgian by birth, but of Dutch and
Protestant ancestry. The elder, Maria, after a peculiar and romantic
courtship, had married the old Italian philosopher Giovanni Selva, who
would be famous in his own country, did Italians take a deeper interest
in theological questions; for Selva is perhaps the truest representative
of progressive Catholicism in Italy. Maria had become a Roman Catholic
before her marriage. The Selvas spent the winter in Rome, the rest of
the year at Subiaco. Noemi, who had remained true to the faith of her
fathers, divided her time between Brussels and Italy. Only a month
before, at the end of March, at Brussels, death had claimed the old
governess, with whom she had lived. Neither Giovanni Selva nor his wife
had been able to come to Noemi at this great crisis, for Selva was
seriously ill at the time. Jeanne Dessalle, who had become much attached
to Noemi, persuaded her brother to undertake the journey to Belgium, a
country with which he was hitherto unacquainted, and then offered to
take the Selvas' place in Brussels. It thus happened that towards the
end of April Noemi was with the Dessalles at Bruges. They occupied a
small villa on the shore of the little mirror of water called "Lac
d'Amour." Carlino had fallen in love with Bruges and especially with the
Lac d'Amour, the name of which he contemplated giving to the novel he
dreamed of writing. As yet, however, the novel existed only in
his brain, while he lived in the pleasant anticipation of one day
astonishing the world with an exquisite and original work of art.
"_En tout cas_," Noemi replied--"not with all my heart."
"Because I am thinking of giving my heart to another person."
"To a monk."
Jeanne shuddered, and Noemi, to whom her friend had confided the story
of her hopeless love for the man who had disappeared, buried in the
hidden solitude of a cloister, trembled lest she had erred in thus
lightly introducing a subject with which her mind was much occupied.
"By the way, what about Memling," she said, colouring violently, "we
were going to talk about Memling."
She spoke in French, and Jeanne answered gently:
"You know you must speak Italian."
Her eyes were so sad and despairing that Noemi took no notice of her
reproof, and continued in French, saying many endearing things, and
begging for a loving word and a kiss. Both were willingly bestowed.
Noemi did not at once succeed in restoring her friend to her usual calm;
but Jeanne, smoothing back Noemi's hair from her brow with both hands,
and following the caressing gesture with her eyes, begged her gently not
to be afraid that she had wounded her. Sad she was indeed, but that was
no new thing. True she was never gay. This Noemi admitted, but to-day
the cloud of sorrow seemed heavier than ever. Perhaps it was the fault
of _l'Intruse_. Jeanne said, "Indeed it must be so," but with a look and
an accent that implied that _l'Intruse_ who had made her so sad was not
the imaginary being in Maeterlinck's book but the terrible Reaper in
"I have had a letter from Italy," she said, after gently waving aside
Noemi's pressing inquiries. "Don Giuseppe Flores is dead."
"Flores? Who is he?" Noemi did not remember him, and Jeanne chided her
sharply, as if such forgetfulness rendered her unworthy of her position
of confidante. Don Giuseppe Flores was the old Venetian priest who had
brought a last message from Piero Maironi to Villa Diedo. Jeanne had
then believed that his counsels had decided her lover to renounce the
world, and, not satisfied with giving him an icy reception, had wounded
him with ironical allusions to his supposed attitude, which she
pronounced truly worthy of a servant of the Father of infinite mercy.
The old man had answered with such clear understanding, in language so
solemn and gentle and so full of spiritual wisdom--his fine face glowing
with a radiance from above--that she had ended by begging him not only
to forgive her, but to visit her from time to time. He had, in fact,
come twice, but on neither occasion had she been at home. She had
then sought him out In his solitary villa, and of this visit, of this
conversation with the old man so lofty of soul, so humble in heart,
so ardent in spirit, so modest and reticent, she had retained an
ineffaceable memory. He was dead, they wrote. He had passed away, bowing
gently and humbly to the Divine Will. Shortly before his death he had
dreamed continually during a long night, of the words addressed to the
faithful servant in the parable of the talents: _"Ecce superlucratus sum
alia quinque,"_ and his last words had been: _"Non fiat voluntas mea sed
tua."_ Her correspondent was unaware that, in spite of many misgivings,
of certain yearning towards religion, Jeanne, stubborn as ever, still
denied God and immortality as eternal illusions, and if from time to
time she went to Mass, it was only to avoid acquiring the undesirable
reputation of being a free-thinker.
She did not relate the particulars of Don Giuseppe's death to Noemi, but
pondered them herself with a vague, deeply bitter consciousness of how
different her destiny might have been, had she been able to believe;
for at the bottom of Piero Maironi's soul there had always lurked a
hereditary tendency to religion, and to-day she was convinced that when,
on the night of the eclipse, she had confessed her unbelief, she had
written her own condemnation in the book of destiny. Then her thoughts
dwelt on another painful passage in the letter from Italy which she had
not mentioned. But, in spite of her silence, her misery was evident.
Noemi pressed her lips to Jeanne's forehead, and letting them rest there
in silence, touched by the secret sorrow which accepted her sympathy.
Then she slowly drew away from the long embrace as if fearful of
severing some delicate thread which bound their two souls together.
"Perhaps that good old man knew where--Do you think he was in
communication with ----" she murmured.
Jeanne shook her head in denial. During the September following that
sad July, Jeanne's unfortunate husband had died in Venice of delirium
tremens. She had gone to the Villa Flores in October, and there in that
same garden where the Marchesa Scremin had once laid bare her poor,
suffering old heart to Don Giuseppe, had expressed a desire that Piero
should be told of her husband's death, should realise that he might
henceforth think of her without a shadow of guilt, if indeed he still
wished to think of her at all. Don Giuseppe first gently urged her
not to abandon herself to this dream, and then avowed to her in all
sincerity that no tidings of Piero had reached him since the day of his
Fearing other questions, and unwilling any longer to expose her wound
to the touch of unskilled fingers, Jeanne sought to change the subject.
"Tell me about your monk," she said. But just at that moment Carlino's
voice was heard in the hall.
"Not now," replied Noemi. "To-night."
Carlino came in, a white silk muffler round his neck, grumbling at the
Lac d'Armour, which he pronounced a huge fraud, which only filled the
air with odious, poisonous, little creatures. "To be sure." said he,
"love itself is no better." Noemi would not allow him to talk of love.
Why should he discuss a subject which he did not understand? Carlino
thanked her. He had been on the point of falling in love with her; had
greatly feared such a catastrophe. Her words, coming as they did so soon
after her appearance in a certain offensive hat, with an ungraceful
feather, and after some rather bourgeois expressions of admiration for
that poor, tiresome devil Mendelssohn, had saved him _a jamais._ The
two sparred gaily for some time, and, in spite of his poisoned tonsils,
Carlino was in such high spirits that Noemi congratulated him on the
subject of his novel. "It must be making rapid progress," she said.
"Nonsense," answered the author. "It is not progressing at all." He
was making no headway, but was, in fact, floundering hopelessly in the
shallows of a desperate situation. Two personages had stuck in the
author's throat, and could move neither up nor down; one fat and
good-natured, the other thin and sarcastic, like Mademoiselle d'Arxel.
He felt like a certain unfortunate Tuscan peasant, who had lately
swallowed a fig with a bee upon it, and had died in consequence. The
"bee" understood that he really wanted to talk of his book; she stung
him again and again to such a degree that he actually did talk about it.
His story was founded on a curious case of spiritual infection. The hero
was a French priest, an octogenarian, pious, pure, and learned. French?
Why French? Simply because the character must be possessed of a certain
tinge of poetic fancy, a certain elasticity of sentiment, and according
to Carlino, not one Italian priest in a thousand was likely to possess
these exalted attributes. It happened one day that this priest received
the confession of a man of great intellect whose faith was assailed
by terrible doubts. His confession over, the penitent went his way
completely reassured, leaving the confessor shaken in his own faith.
Here would follow a long and minute analysis of the different phases
through which the old man's conscience passed. He lived in daily
expectation of death with a feeling of dismay akin to that of the
schoolboy who waits his turn for examination in the ante-room, conscious
only of his empty head. The priest comes to Bruges. At this point the
hostile critic exclaimed:
"To Bruges? Why?"
"Because," answered Carlino, "I send him wherever I wish. Because at
Bruges there is the silence of the ante-chamber of Eternity, and that
_carillon_ (which honestly is beginning to exasperate me) may pass for
the voices of summoning angels. Finally, because at Bruges there is a
dark young lady slight, tall, and whom we may also call intelligent,
although she speaks Italian badly, and does not understand music."
Noemi pursed her lips and wrinkled her nose.
"What nonsense," she said.
Carlino continued, saying he did not yet know how, but in some way or
another the brunette would become the penitent of the old priest. Noemi
protested, laughing. How? The girl could not be herself. A heretic go to
Confession? Carlino shrugged his shoulders, One Comedy of Errors more
or less, what did it matter? Protestantism and Roman Catholicisnt were,
after all, much the same thing. The priest would then regain his old
faith through contact with the simple, steadfast belief of the girl.
Here Carlino interrupted his story, avowing, in parenthesis, that he
really did not know what kind of belief Noemi held. She flushed,
and replied that she was a Protestant. Protestant, certainly; but a
Protestant pure and simple? Noemi lost her patience. "I am a Protestant,
that is enough," she exclaimed; "and you need not trouble yourself about
Noemi was, in fact, true to her own faith, not so much from conviction
as from her reverent affection for the memory of her parents; and in her
heart she had disapproved of her sister's conversion.
Carlino continued. A mystic, sexual influence induced the old man to
seek for a union of souls with the girl. "What rubbish!" said Noemi,
with her familiar pout. Carlino went on unmoved. The most subtle, the
most exquisite part of his book was the analysis of this recondite
influence of sex operating alike on the old priest and the girl.
"Carlino," exclaimed Jeanne, "what are you thinking of? An old man of
eighty!" Carlino looked up as though he would exclaim to some superior,
invisible friend, "How dense they are!"
He had even thought of making his hero older still--say ninety; of
creating a sort of intermediary being between man and spirit, who should
have in his eyes the nebulous depths of the fast approaching things
of eternity. And the girl should have in her blood that mysterious
inclination towards old men, not unusual in her sex, which is the truest
mark of real feminine nobility, and by which the woman is differentiated
from the female. Carlino had in his mind some inspired thoughts to which
he would give utterance, concerning this mystic sense which attracts the
girl of four and twenty to the man of ninety; a priest, on the verge of
the grave, but upheld by an indomitable spirit--unconquered as often
happens by the ravages of time. But how is all this to end? Neither
Noemi nor Jeanne could imagine. Well, Carlino had said from the first
that the fig and the bee could neither get up nor down. One consolation,
however, there was--the idea that a book must have a fitting end was a
mere vulgar prejudice. What is there in the world that really has an
end? That is all very well, said the girls, but the book must certainly
have some ending. The last scene, one of ineffable beauty, should
describe a walk at night and by moonlight through the streets of Bruges,
when the souls of the priest and the maiden should be revealed to one
another, and they should commune half as lovers, half dreaming like
prophets. The two should find themselves at midnight beside the sleeping
waters of the Lac d'Amour, listening in silence to the weird notes of
the _carillon_ under the clouds, and then should come to them the vague
revelation of a sexuality of their souls, of a future of love in the
"But why especially in Fomalhaut?" exclaimed Noemi.
"You are really intolerable," answered Carlino. "Because the name is so
delightful, it has the ring of a word congealed by German frost and then
melted by the Eastern sun."
"Nonsense! You are talking chemistry! I prefer Algol."
"You and your pastor may go to Algol."
Noemi laughed, and Carlino appealed to Jeanne. Which star would she
prefer? Jeanne did not know; she had not been listening. Carlino was
greatly annoyed; he seemed to want to reprove her, not so much for her
inattention, as for the hidden thoughts which had caused it; and then,
fearing to say too much, he sent her away to meditate, to dream, to
write the philosophy of smoke and clouds. But when she, not in the least
annoyed, was about to leave the room, he called her back to inquire
whether she had heard how his novel was to end. Yes! she had heard; a
moonlight walk of the hero and heroine through the streets of Bruges.
"Well," said Carlino, "as there will be a moon to-night, I should like
to walk with you and Noemi from ten to twelve and take some notes."
"Shall I dress myself as a priest?" asked Jeanne as she went out. Noemi
wished to follow her, but Jeanne herself begged her to remain. She
stayed behind to tell Carlino that he was unworthy of such a sister.
Carlino went to the music portfolio to search for a small volume of
Bach, grumbling the while that she knew nothing--absolutely nothing.
They kept up their skirmish for some time, Bach himself failing to
soothe their ruffled feelings, and even while playing they continued
joking, first concerning Jeanne, and then about one another's false
notes. At last, however, the clear stream of sound, which had been
ruffled by the eddies of their angry outbursts, conquered their
ill-humour, and flowed on smoothly, reflecting the heavens and idyllic
banks. Jeanne carried _"l'Intruse"_ to her room, but did not continue her
reading. The room looked out on the Lac d'Amour. She sat down by the
window. Beyond the bridge, beyond the rolling hilltops--destitute of
trees--which loomed between intervening houses, she could see the summit
of a lofty tower, shrouded fantastically in azure mists. She heard the
continuous peaceful flow of Bach, and thought of Don Giuseppe with that
feeling of melancholy which we experience when we catch a last glimpse
of some beloved home, turning at every step to look back until at length
some bend in the road hides the last corner, the last window from sight.
There was an element of anxiety in Jeanne's grief. The letter told her
that among the papers of the dead man, a sealed packet had been found
with the following superscription In Don Giuseppe's hand: "To be
consigned by my executor to Monsignor the Bishop." The order had been
executed, and according to a rumour coming straight from the Episcopal
Palace, the packet contained a letter from Don Giuseppe to the Bishop,
and a sealed envelope bearing in another hand the words: "To be opened
after Piero Maironi's death." The Bishop was reported to have said: "Let
us hope that Piero Malroni, of whose abode we are ignorant, may reappear
to let us know of his death."
Jeanne was unaware that previous to the night when he fled from home,
leaving no trace, Piero had entrusted to Don Giuseppe a written account
of a vision of his own life in the future and his death; a vision of
which she was ignorant, and which had come to Piero in the little church
adjoining the asylum where his wife lay dying. What did that sealed
envelope contain? Surely something he himself had written; but what? A
confession, probably of his sins. The conception of such an action, the
manner in which it had been carried out, would be in harmony with his
innate mysticism, with the predominance in him of imagination over
reason, with his intellectual physiognomy. Three years had passed since
the day at Vena di Fonte Alta, when Jeanne in despair had sworn to
herself to love Piero no longer, feeling that henceforward she could
love nothing else in the world. Nevertheless she always loved him;
still, as in the past, she judged him with her intellect independent
of her heart, an independence dear to her pride. She judged him with
severity in all his actions, all his attitudes, from the moment when he
had conquered her by sheer strength in the monastery of Praglia to the
moment when their lips had met near the basin of the Acqua Barbarena.
He had shown himself incapable of loving, incapable of decisive action,
irresolute, effeminate in the instability of his mind. Yes, he had been
effeminate until the last; effeminate, unfit to form any virile judgment
of his own hysterical mysticism. In this judgment there was perhaps an
imperfect sincerity, an excess of bitterness, a futile act of rebellion
against this all-powerful, invincible love.
If he had actually become a monk, Jeanne foresaw that he would regret
it. He was too sensual. The first period of sorrow and fervour passed,
his sensuality would reawaken, and lead him to rebel against a faith
that appeals rather to the sentiments and habits of youth than to the
intellect. But had he really become a monk? Jeanne imagined that the
colossal tower of Notre _Dame_, with its slender spire piercing the sky,
the gloomy walls of the Beguinage, the poor stagnant Lac d'Amour, and
even the solemn silence of the dead city, answered "Yes." But it would
be superstitious to hearken to their voices.
"Where are we going?" asked Jeanne, at ten o'clock, putting on her
gloves, while Carlino, who had given Noemi an end of his interminable
muffler to hold, the other being fastened behind his neck, revolved like
a spindle on its axis, until his neck was bigger in circumference than
his head. "And am I really to be the priest of ninety?"
Carlino was annoyed because Noemi laughed, and did not hold the scarf
"You or she, no matter which," he answered, when Noemi, having fastened
the muffler with a pin, at last set the swathed novelist at liberty. "Go
wherever you like, provided you go towards the centre of the town, and
return by the other side of the Lac d'Amour, and talk of something that
interests you particularly."
"With you present?" said Noemi. "How can that be possible?"
Carlino explained that he would not walk with them, but would follow,
note-book and pencil in hand. They would be obliged to halt from time to
time according to his pleasure, and must be prepared to obey any other
orders he might see fit to issue. "Very well," said Noemi, "first let us
go to the Quai du Rosaire to see the swans."
They set forth in the direction of Notre Dame. Carlino twenty yards
behind his sister and Noemi. At first a lively altercation was kept up
through the deserted streets between the van and rearguard. The vanguard
walked too fast, and Carlino shouted: "At ninety? at ninety?" or they
laughed, and Carlino exclaimed: "What are you laughing at? Hush!" or
stopped to gaze at an ancient church, its gables, and pinnacles looming
weird in the moonlight, the cemetery nestling close by; Carlino, again
interrupting, would beg them to talk, converse, gesticulate. "Don't
stare into space," said he. A mutiny broke out in the vanguard, Noemi
being the more petulant. She turned on the _Dyver_, and stamping her
foot, protested that she would go home if this most tiresome novelist in
a muffler did not cease ordering and complaining. Jeanne then whispered:
"Tell me about your monk." "The monk, oh yes," answered Noemi, and
called to Carlino that they would try to satisfy him, but that he must
keep farther off.
From the Quai du Rosaire the swans were no longer visible. Noemi had
watched them in the morning, disporting themselves on the water,
blurring with their stately movements the still reflection of that pile
of houses and cottages that raise their long, big-eared faces out of
the water, like weird, glutted beasts, staring stupidly, some in one
direction, some in another, all herded together by the dominating tower
of the Halles. The moon shone across the houses, throwing shadows on
some glorifying roof-tree and pinnacle, the peaked cap of a Chaldean
magician which crowned a little turret, and above it all, stood out the
sublime octagonal diadem of the mighty tower. But no beam fell on the
dark waters. Nevertheless Jeanne and Noerni leaned for some time against
the parapet, gazing into the gloomy depths; Noemi talked incessantly.
They lingered so long that Carlino had time to fill three or four pages
of his note-book, and to sketch the frieze with which an ambitious
Bruges merchant had adorned his house, even introducing the memorable
date 1716, the year in which the sun, the moon, and the stars had first
The monk, said Noemi, was a Benedictine, by name Don Clemente, belonging
to the monastery of Santa Scolastica at Subiaco. He was an acquaintance
of the Selvas, and Giovanni had first met him near some ruins on the
path leading to Spello, and after having inquired the way, had entered
into conversation with him. He looked little over thirty, and was
of refined manner and bearing. They began to talk of the ruins; the
conversation then drifted on to monasteries and monastic rules, and
finally to religion. The very voice of the Benedictine seemed to breathe
an odour of sanctity; nevertheless it was evident at the same time that
his was a mind that hungered after knowledge and modern thought. They
had parted with a mutual desire for, and the promise of, another
meeting. The atmosphere surrounding the youthful monk, whose face seemed
illumined by the beauty of his soul, was a stimulus to Giovanni, and
the Benedictine had felt the fascination of his companion's religious
culture, and of the horizons of thought which this brief conversation
had opened up to his faith, eager for rational light. Giovanni had heard
them speak, at Subiaco, of a young man of noble birth who had taken the
habit of the Benedictines at Santa Scolastica after the death of the
woman he loved. He had no doubt that this was he. He had questioned
other monks about him without gaining any information; but he and Don
Clemente had since met repeatedly and had had long talks together.
Giovanni had lent the young man books, and Don Clemente had been to
Selva's house and made Maria's acquaintance. He had shown himself a
musician, and had once played a _Psalm of the Dawn_ to them, which he
had composed for organ and voices after having heard Giovanni liken the
sun in its slow progress from the first mist-enveloped gleam to the
triumphal glory of noonday, to the manifestation of God, as displayed in
the lightning-torn cloud on the rocky summit of Sinai, to the triumphal
glory--not even yet perfectly developed--in the mind of man. On another
occasion Giovanni propounded a question to him which he had already
discussed with Noemi; whether, on leaving this world, human souls at
once acquire knowledge of their future destiny, Don Clemente's answer
had been, that after death--
At this point in Noemi's narrative, Carlino inquired whether he should
set up three tents that they might pass the night on the spot? His
sister and Noemi aroused themselves and started in the direction of the
Rue des Laines. "The answer," continued Noemi, "was, that probably human
souls found themselves in a state and in surroundings regulated, as in
this life, by natural laws; where, as also in this life, the future can
be divined only by indications, and without certainty."
A wayfarer, whom they met at the entrance of the narrow, dark street,
turned back, and on passing the ladies, scrutinised them closely. Jeanne
pretended to be afraid of the man; she stopped, and calling Carlino,
proposed to return home. Her voice really sounded different, but Carlino
could not believe she was afraid. Afraid of what? Did she not see there
before them only a few steps away, the lights of the Grande Place?
Moreover he knew the man, and was going to put him into his book. He was
the brother of the swan-necked Edith, a spirit of darkness, condemned
to wander at night in the streets of Bruges, as a penance for having
attempted to seduce St. Gunhild, sister of King Harold. Each time that
Carlino had ventured at night into the more lonely parts of Bruges he
had seen this sinister figure, wandering, as it seemed, aimlessly.
"That is a nice way to reassure people," said Noemi.
Carlino shrugged his shoulders, and declared the meeting to have been
most fortunate, since it had suggested the name of Gunhild for his
heroine, Noemi being that of a mother-in-law.
In the black shadow of the enormous Halles, towering on the right of the
street, the sinister-looking man, who had retraced his steps, almost
brushed Jeanne's side in passing, and this time she really shuddered.
At this moment, however, the innumerable bells rang out amid the clouds
above her head.
She pressed Noemi's arm convulsively without speaking. In silence they
crossed the square. Carlino directed them to take a lonely street on the
left, brightly illumined by the moon, which hung just above the dark,
serrated house-tops. Jeanne whispered to her companion:
"Let us make haste and get home quickly."
But Carlino, hearing the sound of dance-music issuing from the Hotel de
Flandre, ordered them to stop and began writing in his note-book. Noemi
was saying something about the Hotel de Flandre, where she had stayed
some years before, when Jeanne suddenly interrupted her:
"Did Maria write you that long story?"
Noemi answered, apprehensive rather than surprised.
"Yes, it was Maria."
"I do not understand," replied Jeanne, "why she should have taken all
Noemi did not answer. Jeanne shook her arm which she still held. "Will
you not speak? What do you think?"
Although both now were silent, they did not hear Carlino call to them to
turn to the left. He came up angrily, and taking them by the shoulders,
turned them, fuming the while, in another direction. They obeyed without
noticing his voice or manner.
"Will you not answer?" Jeanne repeated, half aggrieved and half amazed.
Noemi in her turn pressed her friend's arm.
"Wait until we get home," she said.
"Stop under those trees."
But Jeanne, having reached an open space filled with small trees and
bathed in moonlight, under the great wall of the ancient cathedral,
stopped at once, and stretching out her arm, which had rested on
Noemi's, seized her friend's hand and said, trembling with agitation:
"Noemi, answer me at once; have you told your sister anything?"
Carlino called to them to stop there if they liked, but to pretend to be
engaged in an interesting conversation.
Noemi answered her friend with a "yes" so timid and soft that Jeanne
understood all. Maria Selva believed that her monk, this Don Clemente,
was Piero Maironi.
"Oh, God!" she exclaimed, tightly pressing Noemi's hand. "But did she
really say so?"
Good heavens! How difficult it was to make the girl speak out. Jeanne
freed herself from her, but Noemi, alarmed, at once seized her arm
"Capital!" cried Carlino. "But don't overdo it."
"Forgive me," Noemi pleaded. "It is only a supposition after all; only a
conjecture. She herself says so."
"No," Jeanne burst out, sweeping away doubt and conjecture. "No, it is
not he, it is not possible. He was never a musician."
"No, no, it is not he, it is not," Noemi hastened to reassure her,
speaking under her breath, for Carlino was approaching. He came, praised
their acting, and expressed a desire that they should move on slowly
among the trees.
In the shadow of the trees Jeanne complained almost indignantly, that
her friend had waited until then to make such a disclosure; she ought to
have spoken sooner, and at home. And once more she protested that this
Benedictine monk could not be Maironi, because Maironi had never been a
musician. Noemi tried to justify herself. She had intended to speak on
her return from the Hospital of St. John, from the visit to Memling, but
Jeanne had been so sad! Still she would have spoken had Carlino not come
in. And now while they had been walking she had not known how to parry
Jeanne's questions. If, when they were standing near the Hotel de
Flandre, Jeanne had not returned to the subject, she would not have
referred to it again; and she, Noemi, would not have made her disclosure
until they reached home.
"And your sister really believes?" said Jeanne.
Well, Maria was in doubt. It would seem that Giovanni was the more
certain. Giovanni was sure; at least Maria said so in her letter. At
receiving this reply Jeanne flared up. How could he be sure? what did he
know about it? Maironi could not play a single chord on the piano. Good
grounds for certainty indeed! Noemi observed submissively that he might
have learned in three years; that the monks had their reasons for
training brothers to play the organ.
"Then you believe it too?" exclaimed Jeanne. Noemi stammered "I do not
know" so hesitatingly that Jeanne, in great agitation, declared she must
leave at once for Subiaco, that she must know the truth. She had already
promised Maria Selva to bring her sister back. She would find some means
of persuading Carlino to start immediately. Noemi was frightened. For
her own peace of mind, as well as for Don Clemente's, her brother-in-law
would not wish Jeanne Dessalle to return to Subiaco. It was Noemi's
mission to convince her of the propriety of such a renunciation. Selva
was restored to health, and had himself offered to come and meet his
sister-in-law, would even come to Belgium, were it necessary. She now
tried to oppose the idea of immediate departure; but only succeeded
in irritating Jeanne, who repeatedly protested that the Selvas were
mistaken, but was unable to give any other reason for her violent
resistance. Carlino, having caught a sharp "That is enough" uttered by
his sister, drew nearer. Were they quarrelling, the priest and the girl?
Now, when the mystical tenderness ought to begin? "Do leave us alone,"
said Noemi. "By this time your old priest of ninety would be dead ten
times over of fatigue. Don't give us any more orders. I will lead
the way. I know Bruges better than you, and you keep a hundred paces
behind." Carlino could find nothing to say but "Oh, oh--oh, oh--oh, oh!"
and Noemi carried Jeanne off with her, following the railing of the
little cemetery of Saint-Sauveur. It seemed the right moment for her
"I really believe Giovanni is right, you know," said she. "This Don
Clemente comes from Brescia."
Jeanne, overcome by an excess of misery, threw her arms round her
friend's neck and burst into tears. Noemi, dismayed, implored her to
"For God's sake, Jeanne!"
Between her sobs, she asked Noemi whether Carlino knew. Oh, no, but what
would he think now?
"He cannot see us here," sobbed Jeanne. They were in the shadow of the
church. Noemi was surprised that Jeanne, in spite of her emotion, had
noticed the fact.
"For mercy's sake, do not let him find out. For mercy's sake!"
Noemi promised to be silent. Jeanne grew calmer little by little, and
was the first to move. Oh, to be alone! Alone in her own room! The sight
of the tower of Notre Dame piercing the sky with its pointed spire hurt
her, like the sight of some victorious and implacable foe. She now saw
clearly that for three years she had been deceiving herself in thinking
that she no longer hoped. This hope which she had thought dead, how it
still struggled and suffered, how it persisted in assailing her heart.
No, no, he has not become a monk, it is not he! In an access of longing,
she pressed Noemi's arm. The reassuring voice was growing weaker, was
fading away. Probably it was he, probably all was really over for ever.
The silence of the night, the sadness of the moon, the gloom of the dead
streets, an icy breeze which had sprung up, were in harmony with her
Just a little beyond Notre Dame they again saw the sinister-looking
wayfarer gliding along close to the wall, on the dark side of the
street. Noemi hastened her steps, herself anxious to reach home.
Carlino, perceiving that his companions were going straight to the villa
instead of crossing the bridge, which leads to the opposite shore of the
Lac d'Amour, protested loudly. How was this? What about the last scene?
Had they forgotten? Noemi showed signs of rebellion, but Jeanne, fearing
lest Carlino should discover aught of her secret, begged her to yield.
"Stop a minute or two on the bridge," Carlino called out.
They leaned against the parapet, gazing into the oval mirror of
motionless water. The moon was hidden behind the clouds.
"This absence of the moon is perfect for me," said Carlino. "But now I
would give half my future glory if a little window could be opened in
the clouds with a tiny star shining in the middle and reflected in the
water. You cannot imagine what a success this last chapter is going to
be. Listen, on the Quai de Rosaire you looked at the swans."
"But they were not there," said Noemi, interrupting him.
"Never mind," Carlino went on. "You looked at the swans in the
"But the moon did not touch the water," retorted Noemi.
"What does it matter?" replied Carlino, vexed. Noemi, having observed
that in that case it was useless to drag them about Bruges at such
an hour, he poetically compared his preparatory study, his almost
photographic notes, to the garlic which is useful in the kitchen, but
is not brought to table, and he continued to talk of the swans and the
"You compared the living purity with the dead purity. The old priest
utters this exquisite sentiment, that perhaps the living whiteness of
the girl's soul irradiates his thoughts, bleached, like his hair, by
approaching death, while he now feels in his soul the dawn of a warm
purity. Then he murmurs to himself almost involuntarily: 'Abishag.' The
girl asks: 'Who is Abishag?' because she is ignorant like you two, who
do not know Abishag, my first love. The priest does not answer, but
proceeds with the girl down the Rue des Laines. She asks again who may
be Abishag, and still the old man is silent. Then appears that horrible
black shadow, which comes and goes and at last vanishes at the sound of
the twenty-four bells."
"That is not correct," murmured Noemi. Carlino was on the point of
"The priest," he continued, "likens the black shadow to an evil spirit,
which comes and goes round pure spirits (you do not understand the
connection, but there is a connection), eager to enter into them, to
dwell in them, he, with others worse than himself. Then--and here I have
not yet found the connection, but I shall find it--they are led to talk
of love. You have crossed the Grande Place. To-night there was no music,
but usually there is, and we will suppose that many amorous glances are
exchanged, as is everywhere the case. The old tower and the old priest
show a certain indulgence; the maiden, on the contrary, finds this phase
of love stupid. She scorns it. It is the love of the world, says the
priest; and here is the Hotel de Flandre and the wedding dance-music."
"What?" exclaimed Noemi. "Was there really a wedding dance?"
Carlino shrugged his shoulders and clenched his fists, gasping with
impatience. After a deep sigh he continued:
"The girl asks, 'But is there a heavenly love?' It was then I told you
to stop under the trees of Saint-Sauveur, and you, instead, stopped at
the entrance to the square. It makes no difference; the cathedral was in
sight, and that is enough. The priest answers: 'Yes, there is a heavenly
love,' The majesty of the ancient cathedral, of the night, of the
silence, inspires him. He speaks, I cannot now repeat his discourse,
it is rather confused in my mind; but at any rate the essence of it is
this, that even heavenly love has its birth, but never reaches maturity
on earth. The old man almost allows himself to be led into making a
confession. With, bursting heart and burning tongue he does confess
to not having felt any inclination towards individuals nor indeed any
inclination which could cause him shame, but an intellectual and moral
aspiration to unite himself with some incorporeal feminine spirit, that
should belong completely to his incorporeal being, at the same time
remaining sufficiently distant from it, to admit of the intervention of
love between the two."
"Gracious!" murmured Noemi. Carlino was so excited, that he did not hear
"The old man," said he, "seems to perceive in this union a human trinity
similar to the Divine Trinity, and therefore finds it just, finds it a
holy thing, that man should aspire to it. At last he is silent, overcome
by the things he has said; and walks towards Notre Dame. The maiden
takes his arm. Here behold the evil one, the spirit of temptation. You
yourselves have seen him! Tell me now, is not all this well thought out,
is it not well arranged? The old man and the girl flee from the evil
spirit, but like the sky, so their hearts grow dark. Now I need the
little window in the clouds, with the tiny star in the centre. The old
priest and the girl should silently watch the star quivering in the Lac
d'Amour, and many secret workings of their minds should culminate in
this idea; perhaps, beyond the clouds of the earth, there in that
Jeanne had not spoken a single word, nor shown in any way that she was
listening to her brother's story. Leaning over the parapet, she looked
into the dark water. At this point she started impetuously.
"But surely you do not believe this," she exclaimed. "You know that
these are delusions--dreams. You would never wish me to believe such
things. You would be the first to drive me away from you if I did."
"No," protested Carlino.
"Yes! And for the sake of producing something beautiful in literature
you, also, take to nurturing these dreams, which are already enervating
humanity to such a degree, already diverting people from the actualities
of life! I do not like it at all. An unbeliever like you! One who is
convinced, as I myself am convinced, that we are merely soap-bubbles
which sparkle for a moment, and then return not into nothing, but into
"I, convinced?" answered Carlino, in astonishment. "I am not
convinced of anything. I am a doubter. It is my system; you know that.
If now some one were to tell me that the true religion was that of the
Kaffirs, or that of the Redskins, I should say, It may well be! I do not
know them, I see the falsity of those I do know, and for that reason
I should certainly not wish you to become a believing Catholic. As to
driving you from home--"
"Perhaps I had better leave before being driven away?"
So saying, Jeanne took Noemi's arm. Carlino begged them to walk round
the Lac d'Amour. Who knows, perhaps the little window in heaven would
open. He wished it would. Noemi, recalling the conversation of a few
hours before, expressed a doubt that Fomalhaut would be the star to
appear at the window.
"To be sure," said Carlino thoughtfully. "I had forgotten Fomalhaut. If
it is not Fomalhaut now, it will be Fomalhaut then."
But Noemi had other difficulties to suggest. What if no star appeared at
the window, either large or small? For this difficulty Carlino promptly
found a remedy. The star will be there. It may be minute, lost in an
immense profundity, but it will be there. The girl does not see it, but
the priest sees it with the long-sightedness of decrepitude. Later,
through faith, the girl discerns it also."
"And so the poor girl," said Jeanne bitterly, "relying on the faith of
an old, dim-sighted priest, will see stars where there are none, will
lose her common-sense, her youth, her life, her all. I suppose you will
end by having her buried at the Beguinage?"
And she went on with Noemi without waiting for an answer.
They had now walked round the Lac d'Amour, and the two friends paused
for some time on the other bridge. But no little window opened in the
heavens. The great distant tower of the Halles, the enormous campanile
of Notre Dame, a squat tower near the pond, the pointed roofs of the
Beguinage stood outlined against the milky clouds, like a venerable
assembly of old men. Carlino, not knowing what better to do, began
discoursing in a loud voice on the most appropriate position for his
"What day is this?" Jeanne asked her friend under her breath.
"To-morrow I will speak to Carlino, Monday and Tuesday we will settle
our affairs, Wednesday we will pack our boxes, and Thursday we will
start. You can write to your sister that we shall be at Subiaco the week
"Don't decide so suddenly. Think about it."
"I have decided. I must know. If it is he, I will not be a hindrance in
his path. But I wish to see him." "We will talk it over again to morrow,
Jeanne. Do not decide yet,"
"I have thought it over, and I have made up my mind."
Midnight sounded from the great tower of the Halles. High up in the
clouds rang out the long solemn melancholy song of the innumerable
bells. Noemi, who had intended to have her own way, was silent, her
heart full of despondency. It was as if those melancholy voices from the
darkening sky were proclaiming her friend's destiny; a destiny of love
and suffering, which must be accomplished.
The light was fading in Giovanni Selva's study, and on the little table
covered with books and papers. Giovanni rose and opened the west window.
The horizon was on fire behind Subiaco, along the oblique line of the
Sabine hills, which stretch from Rocca di Canterano and Rocca di Mezzo
to Rocca San Stefano. Subiaco, that pointed pile of houses large and
small which culminates in the Rocca del Cardinale, was veiled in shadow;
not a branch stirred on the olives clustered behind the small, red villa
with green blinds, rising on the summit of the circular cliff, round
whose base winds the public road; not a branch stirred on the great oak
beside it, overhanging the little ancient oratory of Santa Maria della
Febbre. The air, laden with the odours of wild herbs and recent rain,
came fresh from Monte Calvo. It was a quarter past seven. In the
shell-shaped tract watered by the Anio the bells were ringing; first the
big bell of Sant' Andrea, then the querulous bells of Santa Maria della
Valle; high up on the right, from the little white church near the great
wood, the bells of the Capuchins, and others in the far-away distance. A
woman's voice, submissive and sweet, the voice of five and twenty, came
from the half-open, door behind Giovanni, saying almost timidly In
"May I come in?"
Giovanni, smiling, turned half round, and stretching out his arm,
encircled the young woman pressing her to his side without answering,
She felt she must not speak; that her husband's soul was following the
dying night, and the mystic song of the bells. She rested her head on
his shoulder, and only after a moment of religious silence did she ask
"Shall we say our prayer?"
A pressure of the arm encircling her was the answer. Neither her lips
nor his moved. Only the eyes of both dilated, straining towards the
Infinite, and assumed that look of reverence and sadness which mirrors
the thoughts that remain unspoken, the uncertain future, the dark
portals which lead to God. The bells became silent, and Signora Selva,
fixing her blue eyes on her husband's eager gaze, offered him her lips.
The man's snowy head and the woman's fair face met in a long kiss which
would have filled the world with astonishment. Maria d'Arxel, at one and
twenty, had fallen In love with Giovanni Selva. after having read one of
his books on religious philosophy, translated into French. She wrote to
the unknown author in such ardent words of admiration, that Selva, in
answering, alluded to his fifty-six years and his white hair. The girl
replied that she was aware of both, that she neither offered nor asked
for love, she only craved a few lines from time to time. Her letters
sparkled with brilliant intellect. They came to Selva when he was
passing through a dark crisis, a bitter struggle, which need not be
related here. He thought this Maria d'Arxel might prove his saving star.
He wrote to her again.
"Do you know what anniversary this is?" asked Maria. "Do you remember?"
Giovanni remembered; it was the anniversary of their first meeting.
During the correspondence the two had bared the very depths of their
souls to one another in an inexpressible fervour of sincerity, while as
yet unacquainted save by means of portraits. After they had exchanged
four or five letters, Giovanni asked his unknown correspondent for her
likeness; a request she had expected and dreaded. The girl consented on
condition of a speedy restitution of the photograph, and was in agony
until it was returned, accompanied by some very tender words from her
friend. He was charmed with the intellectual, passionate, and youthful
face, with the sweetness of the great eyes, with the symmetry of the
figure. Then when they had arranged to meet, he coming from the Lake of
Como, she from Brussels to Hergyswyl near Lucerne, both had been in a
fever of apprehension. She reflected:
"The portrait pleased him, but the bearing of the real person, a line,
the colour of the garments, the manner of meeting, the first words, the
tone of voice, may perhaps destroy his love at one blow,"
"She knows my face, ravaged by time, my white hair, and she loves them
in the picture, but I am ageing day by day; perhaps when she sees me
this incredible love will be killed at a blow."
He had reached Hergyswyl by boat some hours before her; she, leaving
Basel in the morning, arrived by the Bruenigbahn in the afternoon.
"Do you know," Maria continued, "when I did not see you at the station,
my first sensation was one of relief; I trembled so! The second
sensation was different, was one of fright,"
"You never told me that," said he.
The young wife looked up at him and smiled in her turn.
"Perhaps you yourself have never told me quite everything about those
Giovanni placed his hands on her shoulders and whispered in her ear:
"That is true."
She started, and then laughed at herself for starting, and Giovanni
laughed with her.
"What, what?" she cried, her face aglow, vexed but still laughing. Her
husband whispered again, in a tone of great mystery:
"That your hat was in disorder!"
"Oh, that is not true! Really not true!"
Sparkling with mirth, and at the same time trembling at the idea of the
great danger she had encountered unawares, she protested that it was
impossible; she had looked in the mirror of her _necessaire_ so many
times before reaching Hergyswyl.
Every moment of that hour passed two years before, they recalled
together jestingly; she often kissing his breast, and he her hair.
Giovanni had not waited for her at the station, where there was a crowd
of holiday-makers, but a few yards distant, on the road leading to the
hotel. He had seen her coming, tall, slender, with a tiny sprig of _Olea
fragrans_, the sign they had chosen, at her breast. He had approached
her, his head bared, and they had pressed one another's hands in
silence. He had signed to the porter, who was following with her
travelling bag, to precede them. They had followed slowly, their throats
contracted by a nameless emotion. She had been the first to murmur, in
her sweet refined voice: "_Mon ami_."
Then he had spoken in subdued tones, in broken sentences, of his
infatuation, of his love, of his ecstasy, and had not noticed when they
passed the hotel. Twice the porter called after them:
"_Monsieur! Madame! C'est ici!_" and neither had heard. Then the girl
had gone to her room smiling, but pale with fatigue, and with aching
head. Giovanni went out again to wander among the level gardens and
orchards of Hergyswyl, breathing hard like a man exhausted by excess of
feeling, blessing every stone and every leaf of this verdant corner of
a foreign land, the lake, sleeping in its bosom, the crowd of great
religious mountains; blessing God, who at his time of life had sent him
such a love. And he had returned soon, too soon, to the hotel. The only
other guests there on that May day, an old German professor and his
daughter, had gone up Mount Pilatus. There was no one in the little
reading-room. In that reading-room Maria and Giovanni had spent two
happy hours, hand in hand, talking with hushed voices, often trembling
in fear lest some one should come in.
"Do you remember," said Maria, "that there was a fireplace in the room,
near the sofa where we sat?"
"And that it was cold, although it was May; so cold that the waiter came
in to light the fire?"
"Yes, and it was then I made you cry."
"Could you repeat those same words to-day?"
So saying, Giovanni kissed his wife's white forehead reverently, as if
it were a holy thing. When the waiter came in to light the fire in the
little salon at Hergyswyl, Giovanni had dropped the beloved hand, and
had said, while the servant still lingered:
"The old log will surely burn on to the end, but who can tell how long
the youthful flame will last?" Maria had not answered, but had looked
at him, her eyes dilating, and dimmed by the cold touch of the unjust
suspicion, as the glass of a hothouse is dimmed by the touch of a frost
No, Giovanni had never again harboured such a thought. He and Maria
often said to each other that perhaps there was no other union on earth
like theirs, so penetrated with, so full of peace derived from the
solemnly sweet and grave certainty that, no matter how God might order
their existence after death, their spirits would surely be united in the
love of the Divine Will. Nevertheless, they did not neglect to lay the
desire of their souls before the Almighty. The prayer they had just
prayed together, both wrapt in inward contemplation, had been composed
by Giovanni, and ran as follows:
"Father, let it be with us as Jesus prayed that last night; life with
Him in Thee, for all eternity."
Even in the present they were two in one, in the narrowest, the most
accurate sense of the phrase, for their duality was also perceptible
in their spiritual union; as, when a green current mingles with a blue
current, it sometimes happens, at the beginning of their united course,
that broken waves flash here and there--some the colour of the woods,
some as blue as the sky. Giovanni was a mystic, who harmonised all
human affections with Divine love, in his heart. His wife, who had come
through him from Protestantism to a Catholicism thirsting for reason,
had entered into his mystic soul as far as was possible; but love for
Giovanni predominated in her over every other sentiment. She was rich
and he comfortably off, but they lived almost poorly, that they might
have greater means for their broad charities. They lived in Rome in the
winter, in Subiaco from April to November, in the modest villa of
which they had hired the second floor. Only on books and on their
correspondence did they spend freely. Giovanni was preparing a work on
reason in Christian morality. His wife read for him, made extracts, took
"I should so much like to go to Hergyswyl next summer," said she, "that
you might write the last chapter of the book there, the chapter on
So saying, she clasped her hands, happy in the vision of the little
village, nestling among the apple trees at the head of the tiny bay, the
calm lake, the great religious mountains, the quiet days, spent in work
and peaceful contemplation. She was acquainted with the entire plan of
her husband's work, with the subject of each chapter, with the principal
The chapter on Purity was her favourite because of its rational trend.
In it her husband intended to propose and to solve the following
problem: "Why does Christianity exalt, as an element of human
perfection, that renunciation which subjects man to fierce struggles, is
of no benefit to any one, and closes the door of existence to possible
human lives?" The answer was to be deduced from, the study of the moral
phenomenon in its historical origins, and its development; to this study
the first two chapters of the work were dedicated. Selva showed by the
example of the brutes, who sacrifice themselves for their young, or for
companions of their own kind, and are sometimes capable of strictly
monogamous unions, that in inferior animal nature the moral instinct
becomes manifest and develops in proportion as the carnal instinct
diminishes. He maintained the hypothesis that the human conscience was
thus being progressively developed in the inferior species. He now
proposed to return to this conclusion, and to lay down the general
principle that the renunciation of carnal pleasures for a satisfaction
of a higher order signifies the striving of the species towards a
superior form of existence. He would then examine the exceptional cases
of individuals who, with no other end in view than that of honouring the
Divinity, oppose to the carnal instincts--greatly stimulated in them
by intellect and sensual imagination--a still stronger instinct of
renunciation. He would show that many creeds furnish such examples
and extol renunciation, but that It must, however, always remain a
spontaneous action on the part of the individual. He was willing to
admit that it would be both a blameworthy and foolish action, did it not
correspond to a mysterious impulse of Nature herself--to that so-called
spiritual element--which persists in its eternal antagonism to the
carnal instinct, in obedience to a cosmic law. Unconscious collaborators
of Him who governs the universe, these heroes of supreme renunciation
imagine that only through their sacrifice are they honouring Him,
while in reality they incarnate, according to the Divine design, the
progressive energy of the species, strengthening their own spiritual
element, that it may have the power to create for itself a superior
corporeal form, more in the likeness of the Master; thus their purity is
human perfection, is the elevation on which our human nature culminates,
and touches the nebulous beginnings of an unknown superhuman nature.
"When I think of incarnate purity," said Giovanni, "I see! Don Clemente
before me. Did I tell you he is coming to the meeting to-night? He will
come down directly after supper."
Maria started. "Oh!" said she, "I almost forgot to tell you Noemi has
written to me. She was to leave Milan yesterday with the Dessalles, They
are going to stay in Rome a day or two, and then they are coming here."
"You recalled this because I mentioned Don Clemente," said Giovanni
smiling. "Yes," replied his wife; "nevertheless, you know I do not
How could Don Clemente's lofty forehead, his blue eyes, so serene and
pure, have known passion? In the soft, submissive, almost timid voice
of the young Benedictine there was--to Maria's mind--a chastity too
delicate, a purity too virginal.
"You do not believe," Giovanni answered, "and perhaps, after all, you
are right; perhaps, after all, he is not Maironi. Still it will be
better to let him know to-night, in some way, that Signora Dessalle is
coming to Subiaco, and that she will, of course, visit the convents.
Especially as he would be obliged to accompany her, being the Father who
There could be no doubt about this. Maria herself would warn him. As she
did not believe him to have been Jeanne's lover it would be easier for
her to speak naturally to him of her. But what a terrible thing it would
be if he really were Maironi, and if they should meet face to face,
quite unprepared, in front of the monastery, he and the woman! Was
Giovanni quite sure the monk was coming to the meeting? Yes, quite sure.
Don Clemente had obtained the abbot's permission while Giovanni was at
the convent, and had at once told him. He was coming, and would
bring with him, and introduce to them, the man who helped the
kitchen-gardener, of whom he had already spoken to Giovanni. Thus,
another time, the gardener could come alone, and would teach him to bank
up the potatoes in the little piece of ground he had hired behind the
villa, intending to cultivate it with his own hands. Manual labour, to
which he had recently taken, was a pet hobby of Giovanni's of which
Maria did not altogether approve, deeming it incompatible with his
habits and with his age. However, she respected his whim and held her
peace. At that moment the girl from Affile, who served them, came to
tell them that their guests were on their way upstairs, and that supper
would be ready shortly.
Three people, in fact, were ascending the narrow winding stair of the
little villa, Giovanni went down to meet them. First came his young
friend Leyni, who, on greeting Giovanni, begged to be excused for
preceding the two ecclesiastics who were his companions.
"I am master of ceremonies," he explained, and proceeded to introduce
them there on the stairs.
"The Abbe" Marinier of Geneva. Don Paolo Fare of Varese, with whose name
you are already acquainted."
Selva was slightly perplexed; nevertheless he at once invited his guests
to follow him, and conducted them to the terrace, where some chairs had
"And Dane?" said he anxiously to Leyni, taking his arm, "And Professor
Minucci, and Father Salvati."
"They have arrived," the young man replied, smiling. "They are at the
Aniene. I must tell you about it--but it is a long story! They will be
Meanwhile the Abbe Marinier had gone out on the terrace, and now
"_Oh, c'est admirable!_"
Don Paolo Fare, always loyal to his native Como, murmured, "Beautiful,
beautiful indeed!" as if he would have liked to add, "but if you could
only see my country!"
Maria joined them, and the introductions were repeated; then Leyni told
his story while Marinier let his little sparkling eyes wander over the
landscape, from the pyramid-shaped Subiaco, standing out with a dark
scenic effect against the bright background in the west, to the wild
hornbeams close by, which shut out the east.
Don Fare was devouring Selva with his eyes, Selva, the author of
critical essays on the Old and New Testament, and especially of a
book on the basis of future Catholic theology, which had elevated and
transfigured his faith. Baron Leyni was telling his story. At the
station of Mandela it had been very windy, and Professor Dane greatly
feared he had taken cold; suspecting that there would be no cognac in
the house of such an alcohol hater as Selva, and, moreover, the hour
having arrived at which it was his daily custom to take two eggs, he
had stopped at the Albergo dell' Aniene for the eggs and cognac. On the
terrace of the restaurant, which faced the river, there was too much
air, and in the small adjacent rooms there was too little, so he had
ordered his repast served in a room at the hotel, and had sent the eggs
back twice. Then the others had walked on, leaving him in the company of
Professor Minucci and Father Salvati.
As Professor Dane, who was so delicate and sensitive to the cold, was
not of the party, Giovanni. proposed having supper on the terrace. He at
once abandoned the idea, however, on perceiving that it did not suit the
Abbe from Geneva. The elegant, worldly Marinier took as great care of
his own person as did his friend Dane, but with more dissimulation and
without the excuse of ill-health. He had not, stayed to supper at the
Aniene with his friend, because, on a previous visit to Subiaco, he had
found the cuisine of that hotel too simple to suit his taste, and he had
hopes of a French supper from Signora Selva. Baron Leyni knew well how
fallacious such hopes were; but in a spirit of mischief he refrained
from enlightening him. There was barely: room for the five people in the
tiny dining-room. It was fortunate the other two had not come. In fact,
neither the Abbe Marinier nor Don Fare was expected, but others who
had been expected were absent. A monk and a priest, men of repute from
northern Italy, who should have been present, had both written to
apologise for their absence, to the lively regret of Selva, of Fare,
and of Leyni. Marinier, on the other hand, proffered his apologies for
having intruded. Dane was responsible for his presence, as Leyni was for
the presence of Don Paolo Fare. Selva protested. Friends of his friends
were, of course, always welcome. Leyni and Dane both knew they were free
to bring any one in whom they had confidence, any one who shared their
views. Maria was silent; she was not greatly pleased with Abbe Marinier.
She also felt that Leyni and Dane would have done well had they
abstained from introducing strangers without notifying Giovanni.
Marinier spoke, with slightly knitted brows, after a close scrutiny of
his bean soup.
"I fear," said he, "we shall weary Signora Selva if we talk now of the
subject to be discussed at the meeting."
Maria reassured him. She should not be present at the meeting, but she
took the liveliest interest in its objects.
"Very well, then," Marinier continued. "It will be a great advantage to
me to become better acquainted with those objects, for Dane has spoken
of them only in rather vague terms, and I do not feel sure that I
entirely share your views."
Don Paole could not restrain a movement of impatience. Selva himself
seemed slightly annoyed, because unanimity of opinion on certain
fundamental principles was surely necessary. Without this unanimity the
meeting might prove worse than useless, even dangerous. "Well," said he,
"there are many Catholics in Italy and outside of Italy who, with us,
desire certain reforms in the Church. We wish them to be brought about
without rebellion, to be the work of the legitimate authorities. We
desire reforms in religious instruction, in the ceremonies, in the
discipline of the clergy, reforms even in the highest sphere of
ecclesiastical government. To obtain these ends it is necessary to
create a current of opinion strong enough to induce the legitimate
authorities to act in conformity with our views, be it twenty, thirty,
or even fifty years hence. Now we who hold these opinions are widely
dispersed, and, save in the case of those who publish articles or books,
are ignorant of one another's views. Very probably a large number of
pious and cultured people in the Catholic world feel as we do; and I
believe it would afford the greatest assistance in the spreading of our
opinions if we could, at least, know one another. To-night a few of us
are to meet together for a first discussion."
While Giovanni spoke, the others kept their eyes fixed on the Genevese.
The Abbe gazed steadily as his plate. A brief silence followed, and
Giovanni was the first to break it.
"Has Professor Dane not told you this?" he asked.
"Yes, yes," replied the Abbe, raising his eyes from his plate at last;
"he has told me something similar." The tone was that of one who only
half approves. But, why, then, had he come? Don Paolo looked displeased;
the others were silent. An embarrassing pause ensued. At last Marinier
"We will discuss this again to-night."
"Yes," answered Selva quietly; "we will discuss it again to-night."
He felt he had found an adversary in this abbe, and he thought Dane had
committed an error both of judgment and of tact in inviting him to the
meeting. At the same time he comforted himself with the tacit reflection
that it would be an advantage to hear all possible objections set
forth; and that a friend of Professor Dane was, at least, sure to be
trustworthy, and would not divulge names and speeches it were better to
keep secret for the present. Young di Leyni, on the other hand, was very
apprehensive of this danger knowing how many and how various were the
Abbe Marinier's acquaintances in Rome, where he had lived for five
years, pursuing certain historical studies; and he was also annoyed at
not having known of his coming in time to write to Selva, suggesting the
advisability of seeking to propitiate him, beginning through his palate.
The table at the Selvas', always exquisitely neat, and decorated with
flowers, was most frugal, and very simple as regards food. The Selvas
never drank wine, and the pale, acid wine of Subiaco could only have a
souring effect on a man accustomed to French vintages. The girl from
Affile had already served the coffee, when, at the same moment, Don
Clemente arrived on foot from Santa Scolastica, and Dane, Professor
Salvati, and Professor Minucci, in a two-horse carriage, from Subiaco.
But Don Clemente, who was followed by his gardener, seeing the carriage
approaching the gate of the villa, and understanding that it brought
guests for the Selvas, hastened his steps, that Giovanni might see the
gardener and speak with him a few moments before the meeting.
The Selvas and their three companions had risen from the table, and
Maria, coming out to the terrace on the arm of the gallant Abbe
Marinier, saw, in spite of the growing darkness, the Benedictine on the
steep path leading up from the gate which opened upon the public road.
She greeted him from above, and begged him to wait for a light at the
foot of the stairs. She herself descended the winding stairs with the
light, and signed to Don Clemente that she wished to speak to him,
casting a significant glance in the direction of the man standing behind
him. Don Clemente turned, and requested him to wait outside under
the acacias. Then, having ascended a few steps at the lady's silent
invitation, he stopped to listen to what she had to tell him.
She spoke hastily of her three guests, particularly of the Abbe
Marinier, saying she was much annoyed on account of her husband, who had
such faith in this cherished idea of a Catholic association, and who
would now find himself confronted with an unexpected opposition. She
wished Don Clemente to know this that he might be prepared. She herself
had come to explain to him, because her husband could not leave his
guests at that moment. At the same time she would say good-night to Don
Clemente, as she did not intend to be present at the meeting, being a
woman and so ignorant. Perhaps she should meet him at the monastery in a
few days. Was not he the Padre who received visitors? She would probably
be going to Santa Scolastica in three or four days, with her sister--
At this point Signora Selva involuntarily raised the light to observe
her companion's face more narrowly, but she at once repented of the
action, as if she had failed in respect towards that soul which was
surely holy, surely in harmony with the manly and virginal beauty of
the tall slender person, with the head habitually held erect, in a pose
almost military in its frank modesty; with the face so noble in its
spacious forehead, in its clear blue eyes, expressing at the same time
womanly sweetness and manly fire.
"There will also be an intimate friend of my sister's, a certain Signora
Dessalle," she added, in a low voice, as if ashamed.
Don Clemente turned his head away, starting violently, and Maria,
feeling the counter-shock, trembled. Then it was he? He at once turned
towards her again, his face slightly flushed, but composed.
"Pardon me," said he, "what is the lady's name?"
"Whose, Signora Dessalle's?"
"Her name is Jeanne."
"About what age is she?"
"I do not know. I should say from thirty to thirty-five."
Maria was now completely at a loss to understand. The Padre put these
questions with such indifference, such calmness! She herself risked a
"Do you know her, Padre?"
Don Clemente made no answer. At this point poor, gouty Dane arrived,
having dragged himself up from the gate with great difficulty, leaning
on Professor Minucci's arm. They were both intimate friends, and Signora
Selva welcomed them kindly, but in a somewhat absent manner.
* * * * *
The meeting was held in Giovanni's little study. It was very small and
as--out of regard for Dane and his rheums--the windows could not be
opened, the fiery Don Fare felt he should stifle, and said as much, in
his outspoken Lombard fashion. The others pretended not to have heard,
except Leyni who signed to him not to insist, and Giovanni, who opened
the door leading to the corridor, and the one beyond opening upon the
terrace. Dane at once perceived an odour of damp woods, and the doors
had to be closed again. An old petroleum lamp was burning on the
writing-desk. Professor Minucci, who had weak eyes, asked timidly for a
shade; which was looked for, found, and put in place. Don Paolo grumbled
under his breath: "This is an infirmary!" His friend Leyni, who also
thought these numerous petty cares should be set aside at such a moment,
experienced an unpleasant sensation of coldness. Giovanni experienced
the same sensation, but in a reflex manner, for he knew the impression
that those present, who were strangers to them, must receive of Dane and
perhaps also of Minucci. He himself knew them well. Dane, with all his
colds and his nerves and his sixty-two years, possessed, besides great
learning, an indomitable vigour of mind and a steadfast moral courage.
Andrea Minucci, in spite of his disordered fair hair, his spectacles,
and a certain awkwardness in his movements, which gave him the
appearance of a learned German, was a youthful and most ardent soul,
tried in the fire of life, not sparkling on the surface like the soul
of the Lombard, but enveloped in its own flame, severe, and, probably,
Giovanni began speaking in a frank, open way. He thanked those present
for coming, and excused the absent ones, the monk and the priest, at the
same time expressing regret for their absence. He said that in any case
their adherence was insured, and he insisted upon the importance of
their adherence. He added, speaking louder and more slowly, and fixing
his eyes on the Abbe Marinier, that for the time being he deemed it
prudent not to divulge anything regarding either the meeting, or
Back to Full Books