Part 5 out of 7
those of the present. They will one day take arms as knights of the Holy
Spirit, banding together for the united defence of God and of Christian
morality in the scientific, artistic, civil, and social fields; for the
united defence of legitimate liberty in the religious field. They shall
be under certain special obligations, not however of community of
living, or of celibacy, integrating the office of the Catholic clergy,
to which they will not belong as an Order but only as persons, in the
individual practice of Catholicism. Pray that God's will may be made
manifest concerning this work in the souls of those who contemplate it.
Pray that these souls may willingly strip themselves of all pride
in having conceived this work, and of all hope of witnessing its
completion, should God manifest disapproval of it. If God manifest His
approval of it, then pray that men may be taught to organise its every
detail to His greater glory, and to the greater glory of the Church.
He had finished, but no one moved. All eyes were fixed upon him, anxious
and eager for other words to follow these last, unexpected ones, which
had sounded so mysterious and grand. Many would have liked to break the
silence, but no one ventured to do so. When Benedetto rose, and all
gathered round him in a respectful circle, the old gentleman with the
red face and the white hair rose also, and said, his voice shaking with
"You will suffer insult and blows; you will be crowned with thorns
and given gall to drink; you will be derided by the Pharisees and the
heathen; you will not see the future you long for, but the future is
yours; the disciples of your disciples will see it!"
He embraced Benedetto and kissed him on the brow. Two or three of those
nearest him clapped their hands timidly, and then a burst of applause
swept through the room. Benedetto, greatly agitated, signed to a
fair-haired young man, who had come to the house with him, and who now
hastened to his side, his face radiant with emotion and joy. Some one
Some one else added, softly:
"Yes, and the favourite!"
The master of the house almost prostrated himself before Benedetto,
pouring out words of deference and gratitude. Then one of the priests
ventured to come forward, and said in a tremulous voice:
"Master, have you no word of counsel for us?"
"Do not call me master!" Benedetto replied, still much agitated. "Pray
that light may be shed upon these young men, upon our shepherds, and
also upon me!"
When he had left the room, a crackle of voices arose, some resonant,
others short and hoarse, for astonishment still held these agitated
minds in check. Presently, here and there, the intense excitement burst
forth, and spread in every direction. Exclamations of admiration broke
from all lips, some praising this or that expression the speaker had
used, this or that thought he had uttered, while others remarked upon
his glance, his accent, or marvelled at the spirit of holiness which
shone in his face, and which seemed to emanate from his very hands.
Soon, however, the master of the house dismissed the guests, and though
his apologies were profuse, and his words very gracious, still his
haste was such as to be almost discourteous. As soon as he was alone he
unlocked the door, and, pushing it open, stood bowing on the threshold.
"Ladies!" said he, and threw the door wide open.
A swarm of ladies fluttered into the empty hall. A middle-aged spinster
literally flung herself towards the young man, and, clasping her hands,
"Oh! how grateful we are to you! Oh! what a saint! I don't know what
prevented us from rushing in and embracing him!"
"_Cara!_ My good creature!" said another with the quiet irony of the
Venetian, her fine large eyes sparkling. "It was probably because the
door was locked, fortunately for him!"
The ladies were twelve in number. The master of the house, Professor
Guarnacci, son of the general-agent of one of them--the Marchesa Fermi,
a Roman--had spoken to her about the meeting which was to take place
at his house, and had mentioned the discourse to be pronounced by that
strange personage about whom all Rome was already talking, knowing him
as an enthusiastic religious agitator and miracle worker, most popular
in the Testaccio district. The Marchesa was determined to hear him
without being seen. She had arranged everything with Guarnacci, and had
admitted three or four friends into the conspiracy, each in her turn
obtaining permission to introduce others. They appeared a strangely
assorted company. Many were in evening _toilettes_, two were dressed
precisely like Friends, while only one lady wore black.
The two Friends, who were foreigners, seemed quite beside themselves
with enthusiasm, and were highly incensed against the Marchesa, a
sceptical, very sarcastic old woman, who remarked calmly:
"Yes, yes, he spoke very well; but I should have liked to see his face
while he was speaking."
Declaring she could judge men far better by their faces than by their
words, the old Marchesa reproached Guarnacci for not having made a hole
in the door, or at least left the key in the lock.
"You are too holy," she said. "You do not understand women!"
Guarnacci laughed, apologising with all the consideration due to his
father's employer, and assured her that Benedetto was as beautiful as an
angel. A rather insipid young woman who had come, "Goodness only knows
why!" the two Friends thought angrily, announced, in quiet tones, that
she had seen him twice, and that he was ugly.
"That is, of course, according to _your_ idea of beauty, signora!" one
of the Friends remarked sourly, while the other added in a low tone,
intended to enhance its sting, a poisonous _"Naturellement!"_
The insipid young woman, her colour deepening with embarrassment and
vexation, replied that he was pale and thin, and the two Friends
exchanged glances and smiles of tacit contempt. But where had she seen
him? Two other insipid young women were curious to know this.
"Why, on both occasions in my sister-in-law's garden," she answered.
"He is always in the garden!" the Marchesa exclaimed. "Does the angel
grow in a flower-bed or in a pot?"
The insipid young woman laughed, and the Friends shot furious glances at
Tea, which had been included in Guarnacci's invitation, was then brought
"A delightful conversation, is it not?" Signora Albacina, wife of the
Honourable Albacina, Undersecretary of the Home Office, said softly to
the lady in black, who had not once spoken. She now smiled sadly without
Tea was served by the Professor and his sister, and put an end to
conversation for a few moments. It soon burst forth again, however, the
topic being Benedetto's discourse. There ensued such a confusion of
senseless remarks, of worthless opinions, of would-be wise sayings
devoid of wisdom that the lady in black proposed to Signora Albacina, in
whose company she had come, that they should take their departure. But
at that point the Marchesa Fermi, having discovered a small bell on the
mantel-shelf, began ringing it, to obtain silence. "I should like to
hear about this garden," she said.
The Friends and the middle-aged spinster, engaged in a warm discussion
of Benedetto's Catholic orthodoxy, would not have left off for ten
bells, had not the spinster's curiosity been roused by the word
"garden." It now burst forth unchecked! Garden indeed! The Professor
must tell them all he knew about this Father Hecker, who was an
Italian and a layman. Partly to display her knowledge, partly from
thoughtlessness, she had already bestowed this title upon Benedetto. The
insipid young woman consulted her watch. Her carriage must be at the
door. Little Signorina Guarnacci said there were already four or five
carriages at the door. The insipid young woman was anxious to reach the
Valle in time for the third act of the comedy, and two other ladies, who
had engagements, left at the same time. The Marchesa Fermi remained.
"Make haste, Professor," she said, "for my daughter is expecting me this
evening, with those other ladies whose shoulders are on view!"
"Do make haste, then!" said the middle-aged spinster, contemptuously.
"Afterwards you can speak for the benefit of the poor creatures who do
not show their shoulders!"
A fair-haired, extremely handsome foreigner, in a very low gown, cast a
withering glance at the poor, lean, carefully covered little shoulders
of the contemptuous spinster, who, greatly vexed, grew as red as a
"Well, then," the Professor began, "as the Marchesa, and probably the
other ladies who are in such a hurry, already know as much as I do
myself about the Saint of Jenne, before he left Jenne, I will omit
that part of the story. A month ago, then, in October, I did not
even remember having read in the papers, in June or July, about this
Benedetto, who was preaching and performing miracles at Jenne. Well, one
day, coming out of San Marcello, I met a certain Porretti, who used to
write for the _Osservatore_, but does so no longer. This Porretti walked
on with me, and we spoke of the condemnation of Giovanni Selva's works
which is expected from day to day, and which--by the way--has not yet
been pronounced. Porretti told me there was a friend of Selva's in Rome
at present who would be even more talked of than Selva himself. 'Who is
he?' I inquired. 'The Saint of Jenne,' he replied, and proceeded to tell
me the following story. Two priests, well known in Rome as terrible
Pharisees, caused this man to be driven away from Jenne. He retired to
Subiaco, stayed with the Selvas, who were spending the summer there, and
fell seriously ill. Upon his recovery he came to Rome--about the middle
of July. Professor Mayda, another friend of Selva's, engaged him
as under-gardener at the villa which he built two years ago on the
Aventine, below Sant' Anselmo. The new under-gardener, who wished to be
called simply Benedetto, as at Jenne, soon became popular in the whole
Testaccio quarter. He distributes his bread among the poor, comforts the
sick, and, it seems, has really healed one or two by the laying on of
hands and by prayer. He has, in fact, become so popular that Professor
Mayda's daughter-in-law, notwithstanding her faith and piety, would
gladly dismiss him, on account of the annoyance his many visitors cause.
But her father-in-law treats him with the greatest consideration. If he
allows him to rake the paths and water the flowers, it is only because
he respects his saintly ideals, and he limits the hours of work, making
them as short as possible. He wishes to leave him perfectly free to
fulfil his religious mission. Mayda himself often goes into the garden
to talk of religion with his under-gardener. To please him Benedetto has
abandoned the diet he observed at Jenne, where he ate nothing but bread
and herbs, and drank only water; he now eats meat and drinks wine.
To please Benedetto, the Professor distributes these things in large
quantities among the sick of the district. Many people laugh at
Benedetto and insult him, but the populace venerates him as did the
people of Jenne in the beginning. His deeds of charity to the soul are
even greater than his deeds of charity to the body. He has freed certain
families from moral disorders, and for this his life was threatened by a
woman of evil repute; he has persuaded some to go to church who, since
their childhood, have never set foot inside a church. The Benedictines
of Sant' Anselmo are well aware of these things. Then, two or three
times a week, in the evening, he speaks in the Catacombs."
The middle-aged spinister gasped!
"In the Catacombs?"
She leaned, shuddering, towards the speaker, while one of the Friends
murmured: "_Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu_!" and another voice, laden with reverent
"Well," the young man continued, smiling, "Porretti said 'in the
Catacombs,' but he meant in a secret place, known to few. At present I
myself know its whereabouts."
"Ah!" ejaculated the spinister. "You know? Where is it?"
Guarnacci did not answer, and, perceiving her indiscretion, she added
"I beg your pardon! I beg your pardon!"
"We shall find out, we shall find out!" said the Marchesa. "But tell me,
my dear boy, is not this saint of yours, who preaches in secret, a kind
of heresiarch? What do the priests say to him?"
"To-night you might have seen three or four here who went away perfectly
"They must be very unpriestly priests, badly baked priests, counterfeit
priests. But what do the others say? Mark my words, sooner or later, the
others will apply the _torcibudella_, the 'entrail twister,' to him."
With this pleasing prophecy the Marchesa departed, followed by all the
The middle-aged spinister and the Friends, glad to be rid of that
contemptible, mundane bevy, assailed the Professor with questions. Must
he really not tell where the modern Catacombs were? How many people met
there? Women also? What were the subjects of his discourses? What did
the monks of Sant' Anselmo say? And was anything known concerning this
man's previous career? The Professor parried the questions as best he
might, and simply repeated to them the words of one of the fathers at
Sant' Anselmo: "If there were a Benedetto for every parish in Rome, Rome
would indeed become the Holy City." But when--all the others having
left--he found himself alone with Signora Albacina and the silent lady,
who were waiting for their carriage, he intimated to the former--to whom
he was bound by ties of friendship--that he would willingly tell more,
but that he was embarrassed by the presence of a stranger, and he begged
to be presented to her. Signora Albacina had forgotten to perform this
ceremony. "Professor Guarnacci," said she, "Signora Dessalle, a dear
friend of mine."
The "Catacombs" meant the very hall theywere in at the present moment.
At first the meetings had been held at the Selvas' apartment, in Via
Arenula. There were several reasons why that place had not seemed quite
suitable. Guarnacci, becoming a disciple, had offered his own house. The
meetings were held there twice a week. Among those who attended them
were the Selvas, Signora Selva's sister, a few priests, the Venetian
lady who had just left, some young men--among these he might mention a
certain Alberti, a favourite with the Master, who this evening had come
and gone with him, and a Jew, whose name was Viterbo, and who was soon
to become a Catholic; of him the Master expected great things. Besides
these a journeyman printer, several artists, and even two members of
Parliament came regularly. The object of these meetings was to acquaint
such as are drawn to Christ, but who shrink from Catholicism, with what
Catholicism really is, the vital and indestructible essence of the
Catholic religion, and to show the purely human character of those
different forms, which are what render it repugnant to many, but which
are changeable, are changing, and will continue to change, through the
elaboration of the inner, divine element, combined with the external
influences, the influences of science and of the public conscience.
Benedetto was very particular about granting admission to the meetings,
for no one was more skilled than he in the delicate task of dealing with
souls, respecting their purity, bringing himself down to the small ones,
soaring with the high ones, and using with timid souls that careful
language which instructs without troubling.
"The Marchesa," continued the Professor, "says he must be an heresiarch,
and the priests who follow him heretics. No, With Benedetto there is no
danger of heresies or schisms. At the very last meeting he demonstrated
that schisms and heresies, besides being blameworthy in themselves, are
fatal to the Church, not only because they deprive her of souls, but
because they deprive her of elements of progress as well; for if the
innovators remained subject to the Church, their errors would perish,
and that element of truth, that element of goodness, which--in a certain
measure--is nearly always united to error would become vital in the body
of the Church."
Signora Albacina observed that all this was very beautiful, and if that
was how matters really stood, certainly the Marchesa's prophecy would
not be fulfilled.
"The prophecy about the _tordbudella_, the 'entraii twister?' Ah no!"
said the Professor, laughing. "Such things are not done now, and I do
not believe they ever were done. It is all calumny! Only the Marchesa
and certain others like her in Rome believe these things. A Roman
priest, a _priest_, you understand, dared to warn Benedetto, to advise
him to be cautious. But Benedetto let him see he must not speak to him
of caution again. Therefore it will not be the _torcibudella_--no--but
persecution it will be! Yes, indeed!--Those two Roman priests who were
at Jenne have not been asleep. I did not wish to say so before, because
the Marchesa is not the person to tell such things to, but there is much
trouble brewing. Benedetto's every step has been watched; Professor
Mayda's daughter-in-law has been made use of, through the confessional,
to obtain information concerning his language, and they have found out
about the meetings. The presence of Selva is enough to give them the
character these people abhor, and as they are powerless against a
layman, it seems they are trying to obtain the help of the civil law
against Benedetto; they are appealing to the police and to the judges.
You are surprised? But it is so. As yet nothing has been decided,
nothing has been done, but they are plotting. We were informed of this
by a foreign ecclesiastic, who chattered foolishly on a former occasion;
but this time he has chattered to good purpose. Materials for a penal
action are being prepared and invented."
The silent lady shuddered, and opened her lips at last.
"How can that be possible?" she said.
"My dear lady," said the Professor, "you little know of what some of
these _intransigenti_, these non-concessionists in priestly robes, are
capable. The secular non-concessionists are lambs compared to them. They
are going to make use of an unfortunate accident which took place at
Jenne. Now, however, we are greatly encouraged by a fresh incident, of
which it would not be wise to speak to many, without discriminating, but
which is most important."
The Professor paused a moment, enjoying the lively curiosity he had
awakened, and which, though they did not speak, shone in the eager eyes
of the two ladies.
"The other day," he continued, "Cardinal----'s secretary, a young
German priest, went to Sant' Anselmo to confer with the monks. In
consequence of this visit Benedetto was summoned to Sant' Anselmo, where
the Benedictines hold him in great affection and esteem. He was asked
if he did not intend to pay homage to His Holiness, and beg for an
audience. He replied that he had come to Rome with this desire in his
heart; that he had waited for a sign from Divine Providence, and that
now the sign had come. Then he was informed that His Holiness would
certainly receive him most willingly, and he asked for an audience. This
was disclosed to Giovanni Selva by a German Benedictine."
"And when is he to go?" Signora Albacina asked.
"The day after to-morrow in the evening."
The Professor added that the Vatican was maintaining the strictest
secrecy in regard to this matter, that Benedetto had been forbidden to
mention it to any one, and that nothing would have transpired had it not
been for the German monk's indiscretion. Benedetto's friends hoped much
good would come of this visit. Signora Albacina asked what Benedetto
intended to say to the Pontiff. The Professor smiled. Benedetto had not
taken any one into his confidence, and no one had ventured to question
him. The Professor fancied he would speak in favour of Selva, would beg
that his books might not be placed on the Index.
"That would be very little," said Signora Albacina in a low tone.
Jeanne uttered a low murmur of assent.
"Very little indeed!" she exclaimed, almost as if the Professor were to
blame. He appeared much surprised at this sudden outburst, after such a
long silence. He apologised, saying he had not intended to assert that
Benedetto would not speak to the Pope of other matters. He had simply
meant to say that he believed he would certainly mention that subject.
Signora Albacina could not understand this desire of the Pope's to see
Benedetto. How did his friends explain it? What did Selva think about
it? Ah! no one could explain it, neither Selva nor any one else.
"I can explain it!" said Jeanne eagerly, pleased to be able to
understand what puzzled all others. "Was not the Pope once Bishop of
Guarnacci's smile was half admiring, half ironical, as he answered. Ah!
the Signora was well informed concerning Benedetto's past. The Signora
knew certain things to be facts, things which were whispered in Rome,
but which nevertheless, were doubted by many. Of one fact, however, she
was ignorant. The Pope had never been Bishop of Brescia. He had occupied
two episcopal chairs in the south. Jeanne did not answer; she was vexed
with herself, and mortified at having so nearly betrayed her secret.
Signora Albacina wished to know what opinion Benedetto had of the Pope.
"Oh, in the Pope he sees and venerates the office alone," said the
Professor. "At least, I believe so. I have never heard him speak of the
man, but I have heard him speak of the office. He made it the subject
of a magnificent discourse one evening, comparing Catholicism and
Protestantism, and exposing his ideal of the government of the Church:
a principality and just liberty. As to the new Pope, little is known of
him as yet. He is said to be saintly, intelligent, sickly, and weak."
While accompanying the ladies down the dark stairs to their carriage,
the Professor remarked:
"What is greatly feared is that Benedetto will not live. Mayda at least
Signora Albacina, who was descending the stairs leaning on the
Professor's arm, exclaimed, without pausing:
"Oh! poor fellow! What is the matter with him?" "_Ma_! Who can say?"
the Professor replied. "Some incurable disease, it would seem, the
consequence of typhoid fever, which he had at Subiaco, but above all, of
the life of hardship he led, a life of penance and fasting."
And they continued their long descent in silence.
It was only on reaching the foot of the stairs that they perceived their
companion had remained behind. The Professor hastily retraced his
steps, and found Jeanne standing on the second landing, clinging to
the banisters. At first she neither spoke nor moved; but presently she
"I cannot see!"
Guarnacci, not knowing, did not notice that moment of silence, or the
low and uncertain tone of her voice. He offered her his arm, and led her
down, apologising for the darkness, and explaining that the proprietor's
avarice was to blame for it. Jeanne entered Signora Albacina's carriage,
which was to take her to the Grand Hotel. On the way Signora Albacina
spoke with regret of what Guarnacci had just told her. Jeanne did not
open her lips. Her silence troubled her friend.
"Were you not pleased with the discourse?" she said. She was in complete
ignorance of Jeanne's religious opinions.
"Yes," her companion answered. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing! I thought you seemed dissatisfied. Then you are not sorry
Signora Albacina was greatly astonished when Jeanne seized her hand and
replied: "I am so grateful to you!"
The voice was low and quiet, the pressure of the hand almost violent.
"Indeed! indeed!" thought Signora Albacina. "This is one of the future
'Ladies of the Holy Spirit'!"
"For my part," she said aloud, "I am sure I shall keep to my old
religion, the religion of the non-concessionists. They may be Pharisees
or anything else you like, but I fear that if this old religion is
subjected to so much retouching and restoring, it will tumble down, and
nothing will be left standing. Besides, if we followed these Benedettos,
too many things would have to be changed. No, no! However, the man
interests me extremely. Now we must try to see him. We must see him!
Especially as he seems doomed to speedy death. Don't you think so? How
can we manage it? Let us think!"
"I have no wish to see him," Jeanne said hastily.
"Really?" her friend exclaimed. "But how is that? Explain this riddle!"
"It is quite simple. I have no desire to see him."
"Curious!" thought Signora Albacina. The carriage drew up before the
entrance to the Grand Hotel.
In the hall Jeanne met Noemi and her brother-in-law, who were coming
out. "At last!" said Noemi. "Run, make haste, Your brother is furious
with this Jeanne, who stays away so long! We have just left him, because
the doctor has arrived."
The Dessalles had been in Rome a fortnight. Cold, damp weather at the
beginning of October, a projected essay on Bernini, which had succeeded
the projected novel, had persuaded Carlino to satisfy Signora Albacina
sooner than he had intended, by leaving Villa Diedo before winter set in
for the milder climate of Rome. This to the great joy of his sister. Two
or three days after his arrival he had a slight attack of bronchitis. He
declared he was in consumption, shut himself up in his room, with the
intention of remaining there all winter, wished to see the doctor twice
a day, and tyrannised over Jeanne with merciless egotism, even numbering
her moments of freedom. She made herself his slave; she seemed to
delight in this unreasonable extra burden, of sacrifice which overflowed
the measure of her sisterly affection. In her heart she offered it, with
sweet eagerness, to Benedetto. She often saw the Selvas and Noemi;
not at their home, but at the Grand Hotel. The Selvas themselves were
captivated by the fascination of this woman, so superior, so beautiful,
so gentle and sad. All she had heard from Guarnacci concerning Benedetto
she had already heard from Noemi. But she had not been aware of
Professor Mayda's sad opinion. Partly from kindness, but partly also
that her own emotion might not be revealed, Noemi had hidden it from
* * * * *
Carlino received her unkindly. The doctor, who had found his pulse
rather frequent, concluded at once that it was an angry pulse. He jested
a few minutes about the serious nature of the illness, and then took his
departure. Carlino inquired roughly where Jeanne had been, so long,
and she did not hesitate to tell him. She did not, however, mention
Benedetto's real name.
"Were you not ashamed," said he, "to be eavesdropping like that?"
Without giving her time to answer, he began protesting against the new
tendencies he had discovered in her.
"Tomorrow you will be going to confession, and the day after you will be
reciting the rosary!"
Underneath his usually tolerant and courteous language, and the liking
he displayed for not a few priests, lurked a real anti-religious mania.
The idea that his sister might, some day, draw near to the priests, to
faith, to acts of piety, nearly drove him out of his senses.
Jeanne did not answer, but meekly asked if she should read to him, as
she was in the habit of doing in the evening. Carlino declared shortly
that he did not wish to be read to, and, pretending to feel draughts,
kept her for at least a quarter of an hour, inspecting the doors, the
windows, the walls, and the floor itself, with a lighted candle in her
hand. Then he sent her to bed.
But when Jeanne reached her own room she thought neither of sleeping nor
of undressing. She put out the light, and sat down on the bed.
Carriages rumbled in the street, steps sounded, and women's dresses
rustled in the corridor; sitting motionless there in the dark she did
not hear. She had put out the light that she might think, that she might
see only her own thoughts, only that idea which had taken possession
of her while coming down-stairs at Casa Guarnacci leaning on the
Professor's arm, after she had heard those terrible words: "We fear he
will not live!" and had almost lost consciousness. In the carriage with
Signora Albacina, in the room with her brother, even while obliged
to talk with one or the other, to pay attention to so many different
things, this idea, this proposal, which the burning heart was making to
the will, had been continually flashing within her. Now it flashed no
longer. Jeanne contemplated it lying quiet within her. In that figure
sitting motionless on the bed, in the darkness, two souls were
confronting each other in silence. A humble Jeanne, passionate, sure of
being able to sacrifice all to love, was measuring her strength against
a Jeanne unconsciously haughty, and sure of possessing a hard and cold
truth. The rumbling of the carriages was dying out in the street; the
steps and the rustlings were less frequent in the corridor. Suddenly the
two Jeannes seemed to mingle once more and become one, who thought:
"When they announce his death to me, I shall be able to say to myself:
At least, you did that!"
She rose, turned on the light, seated herself at the writing-table,
chose a sheet of paper, and wrote:
"To Piero Maironi, the night of October 29,----
When she had written, she gazed a long, long time at the solemn words.
The longer she gazed, the farther the two Jeannes seemed to draw apart.
The unconsciously proud Jeanne overpowered and crushed the other almost
without a struggle. Filled with a mortal bitterness, she tore the sheet,
stained with the word it was impossible to maintain, impossible even
to write honestly. The light once more extinguished, she accused the
Almighty--if, indeed, He existed--of cruelty, and wept in this darkness
of her own making, wept unrestrainedly.
The clock of St. Peter's struck eight. Benedetto left a little group of
people at the corner of Via di Porta Angelica, and turned, alone, into
Bernini's colonnade, his steps directed towards the bronze portal. He
paused to listen to the roar of the fountains, to gaze at the clustered
lights of the four candelabra round the obelisk, and--tremulous, opaque
against the moon's face--the mighty jet of the fountain on the left. In
five minutes, or, perhaps, in fifteen minutes, he would find himself in
the presence of the Pope. His mind was concentrated on this culminating
point, and vibrated there as did the sparkling, ever-rising water at the
apex of the mighty jet. The square was empty. No one would see him enter
the Vatican save that spectral diadem of saints standing rigid over
there on the summit of the opposite colonnade. The saints and the
fountains were saying to him with one voice, that he believed he was
passing through a solemn hour, but that this atom of time, he himself
and the Pontiff, would soon pass away, would be lost for ever in the
kingdom of forgetfulness, while the fountains continued their monotonous
lament, and the saints their silent contemplation. But he, on the
contrary, felt that the word of truth is the word of eternal life, and,
concentrating his thoughts once more within himself, he closed his eyes
and prayed with intense fervour, as for two days he had prayed that the
Spirit might awaken this word in his breast, might bring it to his lips
when he should stand before the Pope.
He had expected some one between eight o'clock and a quarter past. The
quarter had already struck, and no one had appeared. He turned and gazed
at the bronze portal. Only one wing of it was open, and he could see
lights beyond. From time to time small groups of dwarfish figures passed
into it, as tiny, heedless moths might fly into the yawning jaws of a
lion. At last a priest approached the portal from within and beckoned.
Benedetto drew near. The priest said:
"You have come about Sant' Anselmo?"
That was the question which had been agreed upon. When Benedetto had
assented, the priest signed to him to enter.
"Please come this way," said he.
Benedetto followed him. They passed between the pontifical guards, who
gave the priest the military salute. Turning to the right they mounted
the Scala Pia. At the entrance to the courtyard of San Damaso there were
other guards, other salutes, and an order given by the priest in a low
tone; Benedetto did not hear it. They crossed the courtyard, leaving the
entrance to the library on their left and on their right the door by
which the Pope's apartments are reached. High above them the glass of
the Logge shone in the moonlight. Benedetto, recalling an audience the
late Pontiff had granted him, was astonished at being conducted by this
strange way. Having crossed the courtyard in a straight line, the priest
entered the narrow passage leading to the small stairway called "dei
Mosaici," and stopped before the door opening on the right, where the
stairway called "del Triangolo" descends. "Are you acquainted with the
Vatican?" he inquired.
"I am acquainted with the Museums and the Logge," Benedetto replied.
"The predecessor of the present Pontiff once received me in his private
apartment; but I am not acquainted with any other parts."
"You have never been here?"
The priest preceded him up the stair, which was dimly illuminated by
small electric lights. Suddenly, where the first flight reaches a
landing, the lights went out. Benedetto, pausing with one foot on the
landing, heard his guide run rapidly up some stairs on the right. Then
all was silence. He supposed the light had gone out by accident, and
that the priest had gone to turn it on again. He waited. No light, no
footfall, no voice. He stepped on to the landing; stretching out his
hands in the darkness, he touched a wall on the left; he went forward
towards the right, feeling his way. By touching them with his foot he
became aware of two flights of stairs which branched from the landing.
He waited again, never doubting the priest would return.
Five minutes, ten minutes passed and the priest did not come. What could
have happened. Had they wished to deceive him, to make sport of him? But
why? Benedetto would not allow himself to dwell upon a suspicion about
which it was useless to speculate. He reflected rather upon what it was
best to do. It did not seem reasonable to wait any longer. Had he better
turn back? Had he better go up still higher? In that case, which stair
should be choose? He looked into himself, questioning the Ever-Present
No, he would not turn back. The idea was displeasing to him. He started
up one of the flights, without choosing--the one leading to the
servants' rooms. It was short; presently Benedetto found himself on
another landing. Now, he had heard the priest run up many stairs rapidly
and without stopping, and the noise of his steps had been lost far, far
above. He came down again, and tried the other flight. It was longer.
The priest must have mounted this one. He decided to follow the priest.
On reaching the top he passed through a low door, and found himself upon
the Loggia, illumined by the moon. He looked about him. Near at hand,
on the right, a gateway divided this Loggia from another one, the two
meeting there and forming a right angle. Far away, on the left, the
Loggia terminated at a closed door. The full moon shone through the
great, glazed spaces, upon the pavement; showed the sides of the
courtyard of San Damaso: and in the background, between the two enormous
black wings of the Palace, humble roofs, the trees of Villa Cesi and the
lights of Sant' Onofrio were visible. Both the door on the left, and the
gateway on the right appeared to be closed. Again and again Benedetto
looked from right to left. Little by little he began to recall former
impressions. Yes, he had been in that Loggia before, he had seen that
gateway when on his way to visit the Gallery of Inscriptions--the Via
Appia of the Vatican--with an acquaintance of his, a reader in the
"Vaticana." Yes, now he remembered quite well. The door on the left
at the end of the Loggia, must lead to the apartments of the Cardinal
Secretary of State. The Loggia beyond the gateway was that of Giovanni
da Udine; the great barred windows opening on to it were the windows of
the Borgia apartment, and the entrance to the Gallery of Inscriptions
must be precisely in the angle. On that former occasion a Swiss guard
had stood by the gate. Now there was no one there. The place was quite
deserted; on the right and on the left silence reigned.
To try the door of the Cardinal Secretary of State's apartment was not
to be thought of. Benedetto pushed the gate. It was open. He paused,
rinding himself before the entrance to the Gallery of Inscriptions.
Again he listened. Profound silence. An inward voice seemed to say to
him: "Mount the steps. Enter!" Fearlessly he mounted the five steps.
The Via Appia of the Vatican, as broad, perhaps, as the ancient way,
contained not a single lamp. At regular intervals pale streaks of light
lay across the pavement, falling through the windows, which, from among
the tombstones, the cippi, and the pagan sarcophagi, look down upon
Rome. No light fell through the windows of the Christian wall, which
overlook the courtyard of the Belvedere. The distant end of the Gallery,
towards the Chiaramonti Museum, was shrouded in complete darkness.
Then, realising that he was in the very heart of the immense Vatican,
Benedetto was seized with a terror mingled with awe. He approached a
great window, from whence he could see Castel Sant' Angelo and the
innumerable tiny lights dotted over the lower city, while higher up, and
more brilliant, those of the Quirinal shone against the horizon. Not
the sight of illumined Rome, but the sight of a low and narrow bench,
running along below the cippi and the sarcophagi, calmed his spirit.
Then, in the dim light, he distinguished a canopy, which was already
half demolished. What could it mean? Along the opposite wall ran a
second bench, exactly like the first. Proceeding, he stumbled against
something which proved to be a large armchair. Now terror had given
place to a fixed purpose. The imperious, inward voice, which had already
commanded him to enter, said to him, "Go forward!" The voice was so
clear, so loud, that a sudden flash illumined his memory.
He smote his forehead. In the Vision he had seen himself in conversation
with the Pope. This he had never been able to forget. But he had
forgotten--and now the memory of it had flashed back to him--that a
spirit had led him through the Vatican to the Pope. He moved along the
left-hand wall, near which he had stumbled against the great chair. He
was convinced that at the end of the Gallery he should find an exit, and
light at last. He did remember that, at the end, was the gateway leading
to the Chiaramonti Museum. He went on, often pressing his hand against
the wall, against the tombstones. Suddenly he became aware that what he
was touching was neither marble nor stone. Gently, he beat upon the wall
with his fist. It was wood--a door! Involuntarily he stopped and waited.
He heard a step behind the door; a key turned in the lock; a blade of
light slanted across the Gallery and broadened; a black figure appeared;
the priest who had abandoned Benedetto on the stairs! He came out,
moving rapidly, closed the door behind him, and said to Benedetto, as if
nothing strange had taken place:
"You are about to find yourself in the presence of His Holiness."
He signed to Benedetto to enter, and again closed the door, he himself
On entering, Benedetto could distinguish only a small table, a little
lamp with a green shade, and a white figure seated behind the table,
and, facing him. He sank upon his knees.
The white figure stretched out its arm, and said: "Rise. How did you
The singularly sweet face, framed in grey hair, wore an expression of
astonishment. The voice, with its southern ring, betrayed emotion:
Benedetto rose, and answered:
"From the bronze portal as far as a spot which I cannot locate, I was
accompanied by the priest who was here with Your Holiness; from thence I
"Were you familiar with the Vatican? Did they tell you, you would find
When Benedetto had answered that, years ago, he had paid a single
visit to the museums of the Vatican, the Logge, and the Gallery of
Inscriptions; that on that occasion he had not reached the Logge from
the courtyard of San Damaso; that he had had no idea where he should
find the Sovereign Pontiff, the Pope was silent for a moment; absorbed
in thought. Presently he said, tenderly, affectionately, pointing to a
chair opposite him:
"Be seated, my son."
Had Benedetto not been absorbed in contemplation of the Pope's ascetic
and gentle face, he would have looked about him not without surprise,
while his august interlocutor was engaged in gathering together some
papers which were scattered upon the little table. This was indeed a
strange reception-room, a dusty chaos of old pictures, old books, old
furniture. One would have pronounced it the ante-room of some library,
of some museum, which was being rearranged. But he was lost in
contemplation of the Pope's face, that thin, waxen face, which wore an
ineffable expression of purity and of kindliness. He drew nearer, bent
his knee, and kissed the hand which the Holy Father extended to him,
saying, with sweet dignity:
"_Non mihi, sed Petro._"
Then Benedetto sat down. The Pope passed him a sheet of paper, and
pushed the little lamp nearer to him.
"Look," said he. "Do you know that writing?"
Benedetto looked and shuddered, and could not check an exclamation of
"Yes," he replied. "It is the writing of a holy priest, whom I dearly
loved, who is dead, and whose name was Don Giuseppe Flores."
His Holiness continued:
"Now read. Read aloud."
"I entrust to my Bishop the sealed packet enclosed, with this note, in
an envelope bearing your address. It was left with me, to be opened
after his death, by Signor Piero Maironi, who was well known to you
before his disappearance from the world. I know not if he be still
alive or if he no longer be among the living, and I have no means of
ascertaining. I believe the packet contains an account of a vision of a
supernatural nature which visited Maironi when he returned to God out of
the fire of a sinful passion. I hoped at that time that the Almighty had
chosen him as the instrument of some special work of His own. I hoped
that the holiness of the work would be confirmed, after Maironi's death,
by the perusal of this document, which might come to be looked upon in
the light of a prophecy. I hoped this, although I was at great pains to
prudently hide my secret hopes from Maironi.
"Two years have elapsed since the day of his disappearance, and nothing
has since been heard of him. Monsignore, when you read these words, I
also shall have disappeared. I beg you to take my place in this pious
stewardship. You will act as your conscience may dictate, as you may
"And pray for the soul of
DON GIUSEPPE FLORES."
Benedetto laid the paper down, and gazed into the Pontiff's face,
"Are you Piero Maironi?" he said.
"Yes, your Holiness."
The Pontiff smiled pleasantly.
"First of all, I am glad you are alive," he said. "That Bishop believed
you were dead; he opened the packet, and deemed it his duty to entrust
it to the Vicar of Christ. This happened about six months ago, while
my saintly predecessor was still living. He mentioned it to several
cardinals and to me also. Then it was discovered that you were still
alive, and we knew where you lived and how. Now I must ask you a few
questions, and I exhort you to answer with perfect truth."
The Pontiff looked with serious eyes into Benedetto's eyes; Benedetto
bowed his head slightly. "You have written here," the Pontiff began,
"that when you were in that little church in the Veneto, you had a
vision of yourself in the Vatican, conversing with the Pope. What can
you recall concerning that part of your vision?"
"My vision," Benedetto answered, "grew more and more indistinct in
my memory during the time I spent at Santa Scolastica--about three
years--partly because my spiritual director there, as well as poor Don
Giuseppe Flores, always counselled me not to dwell upon it. Certain
parts remained clear to me, others became indistinct. The fact that I
had seen myself in the Vatican, face to face with the Sovereign Pontiff,
remained fixed in my mind; but only the bare fact. A few moments ago,
however, there in the dark gallery from whence I entered this room, I
suddenly remembered that in the vision I was guided to the Pontiff by a
spirit. I recalled this when I found myself alone in the night, in the
darkness, in a place unknown to me, or practically unknown, for I had
been there only once, many years before, when, having no idea what
direction to take, I was about to retrace my steps, and an inward voice,
very clear, very loud, commanded me to press forward."
"And when you knocked at the door," the Pope inquired, "did you know you
would find me here? Did you know you were knocking at the door of the
"No, Your Holiness. I did not even intend to knock. I was in the dark; I
could see nothing, I was simply touching, the wall with my hand."
The Pope was silent for some time, lost in thought; then he remarked
that the manuscript contained the words: "At first a man dressed in
black guided me." Benedetto did not remember this.
"You know," the Pope continued, "that prophecy alone is not sufficient
proof of saintliness. You know there are such things (such cases have
been met with) as prophetic visions which were the work of-well, perhaps
not of malign spirits, we know too little of these matters to assert
that--but of occult powers, of powers innate in human nature, or of
powers superior to human nature, but which most certainly have nothing
to do with holiness. Can you describe to me the state of your soul when
you had the vision?"
"I was feeling most bitter sorrow at having drawn away from God, at
having been deaf to His calls, an infinite gratitude for His patient
kindness, and an infinite desire of Christ. In my mind I had just seen,
really seen, shining clear and white against a dark background, those
words of the Gospel, which long ago, in the time of goodness had been
so dear to me: _'Magister adest et vocat te.'_ Don Giuseppe Flores was
officiating, and Mass was nearly over, when, as I prayed, my face buried
in my hands, the vision came to me. It was instantaneous; like a flash!"
Benedetto's chest heaved, so violent was this revulsion of memory.
"It may have been a delusion," he said; "but it was not the work of
"The evil spirits," the Pontiff said, "do sometimes masquerade as angels
of light. Perhaps, at that time, they were striving against the spirit
of goodness which was within you. Did you take pride in this vision,
Benedetto bowed his head, and reflected for some time.
"Perhaps--on one occasion," said he, "for one moment, at Santa
Scolastica, when my master, in the Abbot's name, offered me the habit of
a lay-brother, that habit which was afterwards taken from me at Jenne.
Then I thought for a moment that this unexpected offer confirmed the
last part of my vision, and I felt a wave of satisfaction, deeming
myself the object of divine favour. I immediately entreated God to
pardon me, as I now entreat Your Holiness to pardon me."
The Pontiff did not speak, but he raised his hand with wide-spread
fingers, and lowered it again, in an act of absolution.
Then he began to examine the different papers lying on the little table,
seeming to consult more than one attentively, as he turned them over. He
laid them down, arranged them in a packet, which he pushed aside, and
once more broke the silence:
"My son," he said, "I must ask you other questions. You have mentioned
Jenne. I was not even aware of the existence of this Jenne. It has been
described to me. To tell the truth, I cannot understand why you ever
went to Jenne."
Benedetto smiled quietly, but did not attempt to justify himself, not
wishing to interrupt the Pope, who continued:
"It was an unfortunate idea, for who can say what is really going on at
Jenne? Do you know there are those up there, who look on you with little
In reply Benedetto only prayed His Holiness not to oblige him to answer.
"I understand," the Pope said, "and, I must confess, your prayer is most
Christian. You need not speak; but I cannot hide the fact that you have
been accused of many things. Are you aware of this?"
Benedetto was aware of, or rather suspected, one accusation only. The
Pope seemed the more embarrassed. He himself was calm.
"You are accused of having pretended at Jenne to be a miracle-worker,
and by this boasting of yours, to have caused the death in your own
house of an unfortunate man. They even assert that he died of certain
drinks you gave him. You are accused of having preached to the people
more as a Protestant than as a Catholic, and also----"
The Holy Father hesitated. His virginal purity recoiled from alluding to
"Of having been over-intimate with the village schoolmistress. What can
you answer, my son?"
"Holy Father," Benedetto said calmly, "the Spirit is answering for me in
The Pontiff fixed his eyes on him, in great astonishment; but he was not
only astonished, he was also much troubled; for it was as if Benedetto
had read in his soul. A slight flush coloured his face.
"Explain your meaning," he said.
"God has allowed me to read in your heart that you do not believe any of
At these words of Benedetto's, the Pope knit his brows slightly.
"Now Your Holiness is thinking that I arrogate to myself a miraculous
clairvoyance. No. It I is something which I see in your face, which I
hear in your voice; poor, common, man that I am!"
"Perhaps you know who has recently visited me?" the Pope exclaimed.
He had summoned to Rome the parish priest of Jenne, and had questioned
him concerning Benedetto. The priest, finding a Pope to his liking, a
Pope who differed vastly from those two zealots who had intimidated him
at Jenne, had seized the opportunity of thus easily making his peace
with his own conscience, and had shown his remorse by praising and
re-praising. Benedetto knew naught of this.
"No," he answered, "I do not know."
The Pontiff was silent; but his face, his hands, his whole person
betrayed lively anxiety. Presently he leaned back in his great chair,
let his head sink upon his breast, stretched out his arms, and rested
his hands, side by side, on the little table. He was reflecting.
While he reflected, sitting motionless there, his eyes staring into
space, the flame of the tiny petroleum lamp rose, red and smoky, in the
tube. He did not notice it at once. When he did, he regulated it, and
then broke the silence.
"Do you believe," said he, "that you really have a mission?"
Benedetto answered with, an expression of humble fervour.
"Yes, I do believe it."
"And why do you believe it?"
"Holy Father, because every one comes into the world with a mission
written in his nature. Had I never had this vision, or received other
extraordinary signs, my nature, which is eminently religious, would
still have made religious action incumbent upon me. How can I say it?
But I will say it"--here Benedetto's voice trembled with emotion--"as I
have said it to no one else, I believe, I know that God is the Father of
us all; but I feel His paternity in my nature. Mine is hardly a sense of
duty, it is a sense of sonship."
"And do you believe it is your duty to exercise the religious action
here and now?"
Benedetto clasped his hands, as if already imploring attention.
"Yes," said he, "here also, and now."
When he had spoken he fell upon his knees, his hands still clasped.
"Rise," said the Holy Father. "Utter freely what the Spirit shall
Benedetto did not rise.
"Forgive me," he said, "my message is to the Pontiff alone, and here I
am not heard by the Pontiff only."
The Pope started, and gave him a questioning glance, full of severity.
Benedetto, looking towards a door behind the Pope, raised his eyebrows,
and slightly lifted his chin.
His Holiness seized a silver bell which stood on the table, commanded
Benedetto by a gesture to rise, and then rang the bell. The same priest
as before appeared at the door of the Gallery. The Pope ordered him to
summon Don Teofilo to the Gallery; Don Teofilo was the faithful valet
whom he had brought with him from his archbishopric in the South. Upon
his arrival the priest himself was to await His Holiness in the halls
of the Library. "You will pass through this room, on your way back," he
Several minutes elapsed. They awaited the priest's return in silence.
The Pontiff, lost in thought, never raised his eyes from the little
table. Benedetto, standing, kept his eyes closed. He opened them when
the priest reappeared. When he had passed out through the suspicious
door, the Pope made a sign with his hand, and Benedetto spoke in a low
voice. The Pontiff listened, grasping the arms of his chair, his body
bent forward, his head bowed.
"Holy Father," Benedetto said, "the Church is diseased. Four evil
spirits have entered into her body, to wage war against the Holy
Spirit. One is the spirit of falsehood. And the spirit of falsehood has
transformed itself into an angel of light, and many shepherds, many
teachers in the Church, many pious and virtuous ones among the faithful,
listen devoutly to this spirit of falsehood, believing they are
listening to an angel. Christ said: 'I am the Truth.' But many in the
Church, even good and pious souls, separate truth in their hearts, have
no reverence for that truth which they do not call 'religious,' fear
that truth will destroy truth; they oppose God to God, prefer darkness
to light, and thus also do they train men. They call themselves the
faithful, and do not understand how weak, how cowardly is their faith,
how foreign to them is the spirit of the apostle, which probes all
things. Worshippers of the letter, they wish to force grown men to exist
upon a diet fit for infants, which diet grown men refuse. They do
not understand that though God be infinite and unchangeable, man's
conception, of Him grows ever grander from century to century, and that
the same may be said of all Divine Truth. They are responsible for a
fatal perversion of the Faith which corrupts the entire religious life;
for the Christian, who by an effort, has bent his will to accept what
they accept, to refuse what they refuse, believes he has accomplished
the greatest thing in God's service, whereas he has I accomplished less
than nothing, and it remains for him to live his faith in the word of
Christ, in the teachings of Christ; it remains for him to live the
_'fiat voluntas tua'_ which is everything. Holy Father, to-day few
Christians know that religion does not consist chiefly in the clinging
of the intellect to formulas of truth, but rather in actions, and a
manner of life in conformity with this truth, and that the fulfilment of
negative religious duties, and the recognition of obligations towards
the ecclesiastical authority, do not alone correspond to true Faith. And
those who know this, those who do not separate truth in their hearts,
those who worship the God of truth, who are on fire with a fearless
faith in Christ, in the Church and in truth--I know such men, Holy
Father--those are striven against with acrimony, are branded as
heretics, are forced to remain silent, and all this is the work of
the spirit of falsehood, which for centuries has been weaving, in the
Church, a web of traditional deceit, by means of which those who to-day
are its servants believe they are serving God, as did those who first
persecuted the Christians. Your Holiness--"
Here Benedetto sank upon one knee. The Pope did not move. His head
seemed to have drooped still lower. The white skull-cap was almost
entirely within the radius of the little lamp.
"I have read this very day, great words you spoke to your former
parishioners concerning the many revelations of the God of truth in
Faith, and in Science and also directly and mysteriously in the human
soul. Holy Father the hearts of many, of very many, priests and laymen
belong to the Holy Spirit; the spirit of falsehood has not been able to
enter into them, not even in the garb of an angel. Speak one word, Holy
Father, perform one action which shall lift up those hearts, devoted to
the Holy See of the Roman Pontiff! Before the whole Church honour some
of these men, some of these ecclesiastics, against whom the spirit of
falsehood is striving. Raise some to the episcopal chair, some to the
Holy College! This also, Holy Father! If it be necessary, counsel
expounders and theologians to advance prudently, for science, in order
to progress, must be prudent; but do not allow the Index or the Holy
Office to condemn, because they are bold to excess, men who are an
honour to the Church, whose minds are full of truth, whose hearts are
full of Christ, who fight in defence of the Catholic faith! And as Your
Holiness has said that God reveals His truths even in the secret souls
of men, do not allow external devotions to multiply, their numger is
already sufficient, but recommend to the pastors the practice and
teaching of inward prayer!"
Benedetto paused a moment, exhausted. The Pope raised his head,
and looked at the kneeling man, who was gazing fixedly at him with
sorrowful, luminous eyes, under knitted brows, the trembling of his
hands betraying the effort of the spirit. The Pope's face bore traces of
intense emotion. He wished to tell Benedetto to rise; but he would not
speak, fearing his very voice would reveal his emotion. He insisted by
gestures, and at last Benedetto rose. Drawing the chair towards him,
he rested his hands, still tightly clasped, on its back, and once more
began to speak.
"If the clergy neglect to teach the people to pray inwardly--and this is
as salutary to the soul as certain superstitions are contaminating to
it--it is the work of the second spirit of evil, disguised as an angel
of light, which infests the Church. This is the spirit of domination
of the clergy. Those priests who have the spirit of domination are
ill-pleased when souls communicate directly and in the natural way with
God, going to Him for counsel and direction. Their aim is righteous!
Thus does the evil one deceive their conscience, which in its turn
deceives; their aim is righteous. But they themselves wish to direct
these souls, in the character of mediator, and the souls grow weary,
timid, servile. Perhaps there are not many such; the worst crimes of the
spirit of domination are of a different nature. It has suppressed the
ancient and holy Catholic liberty. It seeks to place obedience first
among the virtues, even where it is not exacted by the laws. It desires
to impose submission even where it is not obligatory, retractions which
offend the conscience; wherever a group of men assemble for good works,
it wishes to take the command, and if they decline to submit to this
command, all support is withdrawn from them. It even strives to carry
religious authority outside the sphere of religion. Holy Father, Italy
knows this! But what is Italy? It is not for her that I speak, but for
the whole Catholic world. Holy Father, you may not yet have experienced
it, but this spirit of domination will strive to exert its influence
over you, yourself. Do not yield, Holy Father! You are the Governor of
the Church; do not allow others to govern you; do not allow your power
to become as a glove for the invisible hands of others. Have public
counsellors; let the bishops be summoned often to national councils; let
the people take part in the elections of bishops, choosing men who are
beloved and respected by the people; and let the bishops mingle with
the masses, not only to pass tinder triumphal arches, to be saluted by
clanging bells, but to become acquainted with the masses, to encourage
them in the imitation of Christ. Let them do these things rather than
shut themselves up in the episcopal palaces, like princes of the Orient,
as so many now do. And give them all the authority which is compatible
with that of Peter.
"May I continue, Your Holiness?"
The Pope, who while Benedetto had been speaking had kept his eyes fixed
on his face, now bowed his head slightly, in answer.
"The third evil spirit which is corrupting the Church does not disguise
itself as an angel of light, for it well knows it cannot deceive; it is
satisfied with the garb of common, human honesty. This is the spirit of
avarice. The Vicar of Christ dwells in this royal palace as he dwelt in
his episcopal palace, with the pure heart of poverty. Many venerable
pastors dwell in the Church with the same heart, but the spirit of
poverty is not preached sufficiently, not preached as Christ preached
it. The lips of Christ's ministers are too often over-complaisant to
those who seek riches. There are those among them who bow the head
respectfully before the man who has much, simply because he has much;
there are those who let their tongues flatter the greedy, and too many
preachers of the word and of the example of Christ deem it just for them
to revel in the pomp and honours attending on riches, to cleave with
their souls to the luxury riches bring. Father, exhort the clergy to
show those greedy for gain, be they rich or poor, more of that charity
which admonishes, which threatens, which rebukes. Holy Father!----"
Benedetto ceased speaking. There was an expression, of fervent appeal in
the gaze fixed upon the Pope.
"Well?" the Pontiff murmured.
Benedetto spread wide his arms, and continued:
"The Spirit urges me to say more. It is not the work of a day, but let
us prepare for the day--not leaving this task to the enemies of God and
of the Church--let us prepare for the day on which the priests of Christ
shall set the example of true poverty; when it shall be their duty to
live in poverty, as it is their duty to live in chastity; and let the
words of Christ to the Seventy-two serve them as a guide in this. Then
the Lord will surround the least of them with such honours, with such
reverence as does not to-day exist in the hearts of the people for the
princes of the Church. They will be few in number, but they will be the
light of the world. Holy Father, are they that to-day? Some among them
are, but the majority shed neither light nor darkness."
At this point the Pontiff for the first time bowed his head in sorrowful
"The fourth spirit of evil," Benedetto continued "is the spirit of
immobility. This is disguised as an angel of light. Catholics, both
ecclesiastics and laymen, who are dominated by the spirit of immobility
believe they are pleasing God, as did those zealous Jews who caused
Christ to be crucified. All the clericals, Your Holiness, all the
religious men even, who to-day oppose progressive Catholicism, would, in
all good faith, have caused Christ to be crucified in Moses' name. They
are worshippers of the past; they wish everything to remain unalterable
in the Church, even to the style of the pontifical language, even to the
great fans of peacocks' feathers which offend Your Holiness' priestly
heart, even to those senseless traditions which forbid a cardinal to go
out on foot, and make it scandalous for him to visit the poor in their
houses. It is the spirit of immobility which, by straining to preserve
what it is impossible to preserve, exposes us to the derision of
unbelievers; and this is a great sin in the eyes of God."
The oil in the lamp was almost exhausted, the ring of shadows was
closing in, was growing deeper around and above the small circle of
light in which the two figures were outlined, confronting each other:
the white figure of the Pontiff in his chair, and Benedetto's dark
figure standing erect.
"In opposition to this spirit of immobility," said Benedetto, "I entreat
you not to allow Giovanni Selva's books to be placed on the Index."
Then, pushing the chair aside, he once more fell upon his knees, and
stretching out his hands towards the Pontiff, spoke more eagerly, more
"Vicar of Christ, I ask for something else. I am a sinner, unworthy to
be compared to the saints, but the Spirit of God may speak even through
the vilest mouth. As a woman once conjured the Pope to come to Rome, so
I now conjure Your Holiness to come forth from the Vatican. Come forth,
Holy Father; but the first time, at least the first time, come forth on
an errand connected with your office. Lazarus suffers and dies day by
day; go and visit Lazarus! Christ calls out for succour in all poor,
suffering human beings. From the Gallery of Inscriptions I saw the
lights shining before another palace here in Rome. If human suffering
call out in the name of Christ, there they may perhaps answer: 'nay,'
but they go. From the Vatican the answer to Christ is: 'yea,' but they
do not go. What will Christ say at the terrible hour, Holy Father? These
words of mine, could the world hear them, would bring vituperation upon
me, from those who profess the greatest devotion to the Vatican; but
though they hurl vituperation and thunderbolts against me, not until the
hour of my death will I cease crying aloud: What will Christ say? What
will Christ say? To Him I appeal!"
The lamp's tiny flame grew smaller and smaller; in the narrow circle of
pale light upon which the shadows were creeping little of Benedetto was
visible save his outstretched hands, little of the Pope was visible save
his right hand grasping the silver bell. As soon as Benedetto ceased,
the Holy Father ordered him to rise; then he rang the bell twice. The
door of the Gallery was thrown open; the trusted valet entered who had
already become popular in the Vatican, and was known as Don Teofilo.
"Teofilo," said the Pope, "is the light turned on once more in the
"Yes, Your Holiness."
"Then go into the library, where you will find Monsignore. Request him
to come in here, and wait for me. And see that another lamp is brought."
When he had finished speaking, His Holiness rose. He moved towards the
door of the Gallery, signing to Benedetto to follow him. Don Teofilo
passed out by the opposite door. Sad omen! In the dark room, where so
many flaming words, inspired by the Spirit, had flashed, only the little
dying lamp remained.
That part of the Gallery of Inscriptions where the Pope and Benedetto
now found themselves was in semi-darkness. But at one end a great lamp,
with a reflector, shed its light upon the commemorative inscription
on the right of the door leading to the Loggia of Giovanni da Udine.
Between the long lines of inscriptions, which ran from one end of the
gallery to the other, and watched this dark conflict of two living
souls, like dumb witnesses well acquainted with the mysteries of that
which is beyond the grave and of the last judgment, the Pope advanced
slowly, silently, Benedetto following on his left, but a few paces
behind him. He paused a moment near the torso representing the river
Orontes, and gazed out of the window. Benedetto wondered if he were
looking at the lights of the Quirinal, and his heart beat faster as he
waited for a word. The word did not come. The Pope continued his slow,
silent walk, his hands clasped behind his back and his chin resting on
his breast. He paused again near the end of the gallery, in the light of
the great lamp, and seemed undecided whether to turn back or to proceed.
On the left of the lamp the door of the gallery opened upon a background
of night, of moonlight, columns, glass, and marble pavement. The Pope
turned in this direction, and descended the five steps. The moonlight
fell slanting upon the pavement, streaked with the black shadows of the
columns, and upon the end of the Loggia, cut off by the oblique profile
of the deeper shadow, within which the bust of Giovanni was barely
The Pope walked on till he reached this shadow and paused in it, while
Benedetto, who had stopped several paces behind that he might not seem
to press him irreverently in his anxiety for an answer, was gazing at
the moon, sailing midst the great clouds above Rome. As he gazed thus
at the orb he asked himself, asked some Invisible One who might be near
him, asked even the grave, sad face of the moon herself, whether he had
dared too much, dared in the wrong way. But he repented of this doubt
immediately. Was it he himself who had spoken? No, the words had come
unsought to his lips, the Spirit had spoken. He closed his eyes in an
effort of silent prayer, his face still raised towards the moon, as
a blind man lifts his sightless eyes towards the silver splendour he
A hand touched him gently on the shoulder. He started and opened his
eyes. It was the Pope, and the expression of his face told him that at
last words had matured in his mind which satisfied it. Benedetto bent
his head respectfully, ready to listen.
"My son," His Holiness began, "many of these things the Lord had spoken
of in my heart long ago. You--God bless you--have to deal with the Lord
alone; I have to deal also with the men the Lord has placed around me,
among whom I have to steer my course according to charity and prudence,
and above all, I must adapt my counsels, my commands, to the different
capacities, the different states of mind, of so many millions of men. I
am like a poor schoolmaster who, out of seventy scholars, has twenty who
are below the average, forty of ordinary ability, and only ten who are
really brilliant. He cannot carry on the school for the benefit of the
ten brilliant pupils alone, and I cannot govern the Church for you alone
and for those who are like you. Consider this for instance. Christ paid
tribute to the State, and I--not as the Pontiff, but as a citizen--would
gladly pay my tribute of homage, there in that palace whose lights you
saw shining, did I not fear by so doing to offend the sixty scholars, to
lose even one of those souls which are as precious to me as the others.
And it would be the same if I caused certain books to be removed from
the Index, if I called to the Sacred College certain men who have the
reputation of not being strictly orthodox, if, during an epidemic, I
should go--_ex abrupto_--to visit the hospitals of Rome."
"Oh, Your Holiness!" Benedetto exclaimed, "forgive me, but it is not
certain that those souls, so ready to be scandalised by the Vicar of
Christ for such causes as these, will be saved at last, whereas it is
certain that very many other souls would be secured which otherwise
cannot be won over."
"And then," the Pope continued, as if he had not heard him, "I am old;
I am weary; the cardinals do not know whom they have placed here. I did
not wish it. I am ill also, and I know by certain signs that I must soon
appear before my Judge. I feel, my son, that you are moved by the right
spirit; but the Lord cannot exact of a poor old man like me the things
you have spoken of, things which even a young and vigorous Pontiff could
not accomplish! Still, there are some which even I, with His help, may
be able to bring about; if not the great things, at least the lesser
ones. Let us pray God to raise up at the right moment one capable of
dealing with the weightier matters, and those who may be able to help
him in the work. My son, if I were to begin to-night to transform and
rebuild the Vatican, where should I find a Raphael to adorn it with his
paintings? or even a Giovanni? Still, I do not say I can do nothing."
Benedetto was about to reply, but the Pontiff, perhaps not wishing to
give any further explanations, afforded him neither time nor opportunity
to do so, and at once asked him a very welcome question.
"You know Selva?" said he. "What manner of man is he in private life?"
"He is a just man!" Benedetto hastened to answer. "A most just man. His
books have been denounced to the Congregation of the Index. They may,
perhaps, contain some bold opinions, but there is no comparison between
the deep, burning piety of Selva's works and the cold and meagre
formalism of certain other books, which are more often found in the
hands of the clergy than the Gospels themselves. Holy Father, the
condemnation of Selva would be a blow directed against the most active
and vital energies of Catholicism. The Church tolerates thousands of
stupid, ascetic books which unworthily diminish the idea of God in the
human mind; let her not condemn those which magnify it!" The hour struck
in the distance; half-past nine. Silently His Holiness took Benedetto's
hand, held it between his own, and communicated to him through that mute
pressure an understanding and approval which his prudent lips might not
He pressed the hand, shook it, caressed it, and pressed it again. At
last he said, in a stifled voice:
"Pray for me, pray that the Lord may enlighten me!"
A tear trembled in each of the beautiful, gentle eyes of the old man,
who had never wilfully soiled himself with an impure thought, who was
full of the sweetness of charity. Benedetto was so deeply moved that he
could not speak.
"Come again," the Pope said, "We must converse together again."
"When, Your Holiness?"
"Soon, I will summon you."
Meanwhile the advancing shadows had engulfed the white figure and the
black one. His Holiness placed his hand on Benedetto's shoulder and
asked him softly, almost hesitatingly:
"Do you remember the end of your vision?"
Benedetto, bowing his head, answered, also in a low tone:
"_Nescio diem, neque horam_."
"The words are not in the manuscript," His Holiness continued; "but do
"In the Benedictine habit, on the bare earth, in the shade of a tree."
"Should it happen thus," the Holy Father said gently, "I would wish to
bless you in that moment. Then I shall be awaiting you in Heaven."
Benedetto knelt down. The Pope's voice sounded very solemn in the
"_Benedico te in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti_."
The Pontiff rapidly ascended the five steps, and disappeared.
Benedetto remained upon his knees, wrapt in that benediction which, it
seemed to him, had come from Christ Himself. On hearing steps in the
gallery he rose. A few moments later he was returning to the bronze
portal, accompanied by Don Teofilo.
The room on the fourth floor was hardly decent. An iron bedstead, a
pedestal, a writing-desk, with a few torn and dilapidated books, a deal
chest of drawers, an iron washstand, and a few straw-bottomed chairs,
were all it contained. A suit of grey clothes was hanging from one nail,
a broad-brimmed black hat from another. Frequent flashes of lightning
could be seen through the open window; breaths of the dark, stormy night
blew in, causing the flame of the petroleum lamp on the pedestal to
flare and the light and the shadows to tremble, as they fell upon the
not too clean sheets, the two fleshless hands, the cluster of roses
lying loose between them, on the flannel shirt of the sick man, who had
pulled himself up into a sitting position, and on his deeply lined, thin
face, greyish with a month-old beard. On the other side of the poor bed
in the gloaming stood Benedetto. The sick man gazed at the flowers in
silence. His hands and his lips trembled.
He had been a monk. At thirty he had thrown off the cowl and married.
A man of little culture, of few talents, he had managed to make a poor
living for his wife and two daughters, working as a copyist. The wife
was dead, the daughters had been led astray, and now he himself was
dying slowly, there in that fourth-floor room, in Via della Marmorata,
near the corner of Via Manuzio, wasted by misery, by disease, by the
bitterness of his soul.
A sob he could not check broke from his lips. He opened his arms,
encircled Benedetto's neck, and drew his head towards him in an embrace.
Then, suddenly, he pushed him away, and covered his face with his hands.
"I am not worthy! I am not worthy!" said he.
But now Benedetto in his turn encircled the man's neck, kissed him, and
"Nor am I worthy of this blessing the Lord has sent me!"
"What blessing?" the sufferer inquired.
"That you weep with me!"
Having spoken these words, Benedetto drew away from the embrace, but
his gaze lingered affectionately on the old man, who stared at him
in astonishment as if asking the question: "You know all?" Benedetto
silently and gently bowed his head in assent.
The man had no suspicion that the story of his past life was known. He
had lived here three years. A neighbour, older than he, a poor little
hunchbacked woman, very charitable and pious, rendered him many
services, tended him in illness, and managed to assist him out of the
pension of two lire a day which was all she possessed. She had learned
from the concierge that the man was an unfrocked monk, and seeing how
sad, humble, and grateful he was, she prayed night and morning to the
Madonna and to all the Saints of Paradise, that they might intercede
with Jesus on his behalf, that this man might be pardoned and brought
back into the fold of the Church. She told her hopes and her fears to
other pious old women, saying:
"I myself do not dare to pray to Jesus for him; that unhappy man has
committed too great a sin against Him. He needs the prayers of some
That day the old man had said to her several times that he would be
so happy if he could have a few roses. Then the little hunchback had
"There is the holy man of whom every one is talking,--he works as a
gardener. I will go to him and tell him the whole story. I will ask him
to bring some roses, and who knows what may come of it!" Such were her
thoughts, but at once she said to herself:
"If that thought did not come to me from the Madonna, it certainly came
from St. Anthony!"
In her simple, pure heart she had felt a wave of sweetness and joy.
Without losing any time she had started for Villa Mayda, the elegant
Pompeian villa, standing out white on the Aventine, among the beautiful
palms, almost opposite the window of the old unfrocked monk. Benedetto
was about to go to bed, in obedience to the orders of the Professor,
who had found him feverish. It was the low, insidious fever which, for
several weeks, had been consuming his strength without otherwise causing
any suffering. When he had heard what the cripple had to tell, he had
come at once with the roses.
* * * * *
The old man still kept his face hidden, for he was ashamed. Presently,
without looking at Benedetto, he spoke of the roses, and explained his
longing for them. He was the son of a gardener and had himself intended
to become a gardener; but he was also fond of going to church, and all
his toys had been copies of sacred objects: little altars, candelabra,
small busts of bishops wearing mitres. His employers--very religious
people--had intimated to his parents that, if he showed a vocation for
the ecclesiastical career, they would have him educated at their own
expense. Thereupon his parents had promptly determined that he should
adopt that career. He soon discovered that his strength was not
sufficient to enable him to remain faithful to the priestly vows, but he
lacked the courage to take a step which would have caused his family the
greatest distress. Instead of that he imagined he might be safe if he
withdrew completely from the world, and so, listening to imprudent
counsellors, he entered the monastery from which he was to come forth
again later in disgrace. In after years he would sometimes allude to his
order, when jesting covertly with his friends, and say "When I was in
the regiment!" but he did not repeat that now. As a boy he had loved
flowers, but, after entering the seminary, he had thought no more about
them--thought no more about them for forty years. The night before
Benedetto's visit he had dreamed of the big rose garden in which his
childhood had been spent. The white roses were all bending towards him,
and gazing at him in the dream-world, as pious souls gaze with curiosity
on a pilgrim in the world of shadows. They said to him: "Where are yon
going? where are you going, poor friend? Why do you not return to us?"
On waking he had felt a longing for roses, a tender longing that moved
him to tears. And how many roses now lay on his bed, all through the
kindness of a saintly person, how many beautiful, sweet-smelling roses!
He was silent, gazing fixedly at Benedetto, his lips parted, his eyes
shining with a painful question: "You know, you understand, what do you
think of me? Do you believe there is hope of pardon for me?"
Benedetto, bending over the sick man, began to talk to him and caress
him. The stream of gentle words flowed on and on in a varying tone,
sometimes of joy, sometimes of pain. Now the old man seemed comforted,
now anxious questions broke from his lips; then, all of a sudden, the
gentle stream of words restored the happy look to his face. Meanwhile,
the little crippled woman came and went between her own room and her
neighbour's door, clasping her rosary, and divided between her anxiety
at that decisive moment to get in as many _Ave Marias_ as possible, and
the desire to hear if they were talking in there and what they were
But down below, in the street, a crowd had begun to gather of people
who, regardless of the bad weather, were anxious to see the Saint of
Jenne. A woman who kept a little shop had seen him enter with his roses,
accompanied by the little hunchback. In an instant about fifty persons
were standing around the door, women for the most part, some wishing
only to see him, others eager for a word from him. They waited
patiently, speaking in low tones as if they had been in church; speaking
of Benedetto, of the miracles he performed, of the blessings they were
going to implore him to grant. A cyclist rode up, got off his machine,
and, having inquired why these people were assembled there, made them
tell him exactly where the Saint of Jenne was. Then he mounted his
bicycle once more and started off at full speed. Shortly afterwards a
close carriage--a so-called "_botte_"--followed by the same cyclist,
stopped before the door. A gentleman got out, pushed his way through the
crowd, and entered the house. The cyclist remained near the carriage.
The gentleman exchanged a few words with the concierge, whom he desired
to accompany him as far as the door, where the little hunchback stood,
trembling, and clasping her rosary. He knocked, regardless of her silent
gesticulations, as she implored the Madonna to send this intruder away.
It was Benedetto who came to open the door.
"I beg your pardon," said the stranger, politely, "are you Signor
"I no longer bear that name," Benedetto replied, quietly, "but I once
"I am sorry to trouble you. I should be greatly obliged if you would
kindly come with me. I will tell you where presently."
The sick man heard the stranger's words, and groaned:
"No, holy man, for the love of God, do not go away!"
"Please tell me your name, and why you wish me to go with you."
The other seemed embarrassed.
"Well," said he, "I am a _delegato_, an officer of the police." The
invalid exclaimed _"Gesummaria!"_ while the terrified hunchback dropped
her rosary and stared at Benedetto, who had not been able to check a
movement of surprise.
The police officer hastened to add, smiling, that his visit was not of a
terrible nature, that he was not come to arrest any one, that he was not
giving an order, but simply an invitation.
The invitations of the police being of a special nature, Benedetto did
not think of refusing this one. He asked to be allowed to remain alone
with the sick man and the woman for five minutes, whispered something
to the man, who appeared to consent with tears in his voice, and then
taking the little hunchback aside, he told her the invalid was now
willing to see a priest, but that he could not tell when he himself
would be free to bring one to him. The poor little creature was
trembling from head to foot, partly with fear, partly with joy, and she
could only repeat over and over again: "Blessed Jesus! Holy Virgin!"
Benedetto sought to reassure her, promised to return as soon as
possible, and, having said good-bye, went down-stairs with the
In the street the crowd had increased in size, and the people were
pressing noisily and threateningly round the cyclist, who had remained
near the carriage, and in whom they had recognised a policeman in
plain clothes. He would not tell them why he had come first to gather
information, and had then returned with the other individual. They tried
to force the cabman to drive away, and even talked of unharnessing the
horse. When the _delegato_ appeared with Benedetto they surrounded him,
crying: "Away with the ruffian!--Away with him!--Down with him!--Leave
that man alone!--Look out for the thieves, _per Dio!_ You take God's
servants, and let the thieves run free!--Away with you!--Down with you!"
Benedetto came forward, motioned to them with both hands to be quiet,
and begged them over and over again to go away peacefully, for no one
wished to hurt him; he had not been arrested, but was going with this
gentleman of his own free-will. At the same moment thunder pealed in the
sky, a heavy shower began to beat on the pavement. The crowd swayed,
and rapidly dispersed. The _delegato_ gave an order to the cyclist, and
entered the carriage with Benedetto.
They started in the direction of the Tiber, in the midst of thunder,
lightning, and heavy rain. Very quietly Benedetto asked the _delegato_
what was wanted of him at the police station. He replied that it was not
a question of the station. The person who wished to speak with Signor
Maironi was a far more important functionary than the chief of police.
"Perhaps I should not have told you that," he added, "but at any rate he
himself will tell you so."
Then he informed Benedetto that he had sought for him in vain at Villa
Mayda, and said how vexed he would have been not to have found him soon.
Benedetto ventured to inquire if he knew the reason of this call. In
reality the delegate did not know, but he feigned a diplomatic silence,
and drew back into his corner as if to avoid the gusts of rain. A street
lamp showed Benedetto the yellow river, the great black barges of
Ripagrande; another showed him the temple of Vesta. Beyond that he could
no longer see where they were going; it seemed as if they were passing
through an unknown necropolis, a maze of funereal streets, where
sepulchral lamps were burning. At last the carriage rattled into a
courtyard, and drew up at the foot of a broad and dark stairway, flanked
with columns. Benedetto went up with the _delegato_ as far as the second
landing, on to which two doors opened. The one on the left was closed,
the one on the right looked down on the stairs through a shining
bull's-eye window. The _delegato_ pushed it open, and he and Benedetto
entered a stuffy den, evidently a sort of anteroom. An usher, who was
dozing there, rose wearily. The _delegato_ left Benedetto, and went into
the next room. Then the usher bent down as if to pick up something, and
said to Benedetto, offering him a letter:
"See! you have dropped this paper!"
Benedetto was astonished and the usher insisted:
"You have come from the Testaccio, have you not? Well, you will find
that this belongs to you. Make haste."
Make haste? Benedetto stared at the man, who had resumed his seat. He
stared back and confirmed his advice with a short nod which meant: You
suspect there is a mystery here, and indeed there is!
Benedetto examined the envelope. It bore the following address:
"For the Under-Gardener at Villa Mayda." And below, in larger letters:
It was in a woman's hand, but Benedetto did not recognize it. He opened
the letter and read:
"This is to inform you that the Director-General of Police will do his
best to induce you to leave Rome of your own free-will. Refuse. You can
read what follows at your leisure."
Benedetto hurriedly replaced the letter, but as no one appeared, and
everything around him seemed to be asleep, he took it out again and read
on. It ran thus:
"Since your visits to the Vatican there has been much dissatisfaction
with the Holy Father. Among other things, he has withdrawn the Selva
affair from the Congregation of the Index. You can have no idea of the
intrigues which are being set on foot against you, of the calumnies
concerning you which are communicated even to your friends, and all
with the object of compelling you to leave Rome and preventing you from
seeing the Pontiff again. This conspiracy has obtained the support of
the Government by means of a promise, in return, not to ratify the
proposed nomination to the Archiepiscopal See of Turin of a person very
obnoxious to the Quirinal. Do not yield. Do not abandon the Holy Father
and your mission. The threat concerning the affair at Jenne is not
serious; it would not be possible to proceed against you, and they know
it. The person who may not write to you discovered all this, and has
asked me to write this note; she will make sure that it reaches you.
Involuntarily Benedetto looked towards the usher, as if he had suspected
him of knowing the contents of this letter which had passed through his
hands. But the usher was dozing again, and was only roused by the return
of the _delegato_, who ordered him to conduct Benedetto to the Signor
Commendatore. [Footnote: Commendatore: a title borne by those upon whom
certain Italian orders have been conferred.--_Translator's Note_.]
Benedetto was introduced into a spacious apartment, all dark save in
one corner, where a gentleman about fifty years of age sat reading the
_Tribuna_ by the light of an electric lamp, which shone upon his bald
head, upon the newspaper, and upon the table, littered with documents.
Above him, in the dim light, a large portrait of the King was dimly
He did not at once raise his head--heavy with conscious power--from
the newspaper. He raised it when he felt inclined to do so, and looked
carelessly at this atom of the people who stood before him.
"Be seated," he said in a frigid tone.
"You are Signor Maironi?"
"I am sorry to have troubled you, but it was necessary."
There was harshness and sarcasm underlying the Signor Commendatore's
"By the way," he said, "why are you not called by your real name?"
Benedetto did not answer this unexpected question at once.
"Well, well," his interlocutor continued. "It is not of much importance
at present. We are not in a court of justice. I hold that if one is
going to do good, it is best to do it in one's own name. But then I do
not go to church, and my views differ from yours. However, as I said
before, it is of no importance. Do you know who I am? Did the _delegato_
"Very well, then; I am a functionary of the State, who takes some
interest in the public security, and who has a certain amount of power--
yes, a certain amount of power. Now I am going to prove to you that I
take an interest in you also. I regret to say, you are in a critical
position, my dear Signor Maironi, or Signor Benedetto, at your choice.
An accusation of a really serious nature has been lodged against you
with the judicial authorities, and I see that not only your reputation
for saintliness is in danger, but also your personal liberty, and hence
your preaching, at least for several years."
A flame spread over Benedetto's face, and his eyes flashed.
"Leave the saintliness and the reputation alone," said he.
The august functionary of the State continued, unmoved:
"I have wounded you. But you must know that your reputation for
saintliness is threatened by other dangers. Other things are said about
you which have nothing to do with the penal code,--you may be quite
easy on that score--but which are not in perfect harmony with Catholic
morals. I assure you these things are believed by many. I am simply
stating the facts; it is really no business of mine. After all,
saintliness is never a reality; it is always more or less an
idealisation of the image by the mirror. If there is saintliness
anywhere, it is in the mirror, in the people who believe in the saints.
I myself do not believe in them. But let us come to serious matters. I
was obliged to say some unpleasant things to you, I even wounded you;
now I will apply the remedy. I am not a believer, but, nevertheless, I
appreciate the religious principle as an element of public order, and
this is also the view taken by my superiors and the view taken by
the Government itself. Therefore the Government cannot approve of
proceedings of such a scandalous nature against one whom the people
regard as a saint, proceedings which might possibly stir up disorder.
But that is not all! We know that you stand in high favour with the
Pope, who sees you often. Now the 'powers that be' have no desire to
cause the Pope any personal annoyance. They have the good intention to
spare him this unpleasantness if possible. And it will be possible on
one condition. Here in Rome you have active enemies--not on our side,
not on the Liberal side, you know!--who are scheming to ruin you
completely, to rob you of your reputation and everything. If you wish to
know my opinion exactly, I will tell you that I think, from a Catholic
point of view, they are right. I modify somewhat, for my use and for
theirs, the famous motto of the Jesuits, _'Aut sint ut sunt,'_ and I
make it, _'Aut non erunt.'_ They tell me you are a Liberal Catholic.
That simply means that you are not a Catholic. But let us proceed. Your
enemies have denounced you to the Public Prosecutor, and it would be
our duty to send the _carabinieri_ to arrest Signer Pietro Maironi,
condemned, in his absence, by the Assize Court at Brescia, for having
failed to serve on a jury when summoned. But that is a slight matter.
You imagine you healed some people at Jenne, and you are accused not
only of practising medicine unlawfully, but even of having poisoned a
patient--nothing less! Now we have the means of saving you. We will
manage to hush up this accusation. But if you remain in Rome, your
enemies here will make so much noise that it will be impossible for us
to feign deafness. You must go away to some distant place, and go at
once! It would be better to go out of Italy. Try France, where there is
a famine of saintliness. Or, at least--do you not own a house on Lake
Lugano? There are some sisters in it now, are there not? Sisters and
saints go extremely well together. Join the sisters, and let this storm
The Commendatore spoke very slowly, very seriously, hiding his irony
under an indifference which was even more insolent.
Benedetto rose, resolute and severe.
"I was with a sick man," he said, "who needed my illegal medicine. It
would have been better to leave me at my post. You and the Government
are my worst enemies if you offer me the means to fly from justice.
Perform your duty by sending the _carabinieri_ to arrest me for not
serving on the jury. I will prove that it was impossible for me to
have received the summons. Let the Public Prosecutor do his duty by
proceeding against me on the strength of the affair at Jenne; you will
always find me at Villa Mayda. Tell your superiors this: tell them that
I shall not stir from Rome, that I fear only one Judge, and let them
fear Him also in their false hearts, for He will be more terrible
against falseness of heart than against honest violence!"
The Commendatore, who had not been prepared for this blow, grew livid
with impotent rage, and was about to burst into a torrent of angry words
when the dull rumble of a carriage was heard entering the courtyard. He
looked away from Benedetto and listened. Benedetto grasped the back of
his chair that he might not be tempted to turn his back on him. The
other man roused himself; the angry light, which for a moment had died
down, blazed forth again in his eyes. He threw aside the newspaper which
he had held in his hand all the time, and bringing his fist down heavily
upon the table, he exclaimed:
"What are you doing? Do not dare to move!"
The two men looked at each other fixedly for a few seconds in silence,
one with a look of majestic authority, the other stern and forbidding.
The official continued violently:
"Shall I have you arrested here?"
Benedetto was still looking at him in silence; at length he answered:
"I am waiting. Do as you please."
An usher, who had knocked several times in vain, now appeared on
the threshold and bowed to the Commendatore without speaking. The
Commendatore answered at once: "I am coming," and, rising hastily,
left the room with a strange expression on his face, where anger was
disappearing, and obsequiousness was dawning.
The usher returned immediately, and told Benedetto to wait.
A quarter of an hour passed. Benedetto, shivering, his heart in a
tumult, his head on fire, excited and exhausted by fever, had once
more sunk upon his chair, while the most disconnected thoughts whirled
through his brain. May God forgive this man! Forgive them all! What joy
if the Pontiff should forbid the condemnation of Selva! How does the
person who may not write to me know? And now, why are they keeping me
waiting? What more can they want with me? Oh! what if with this fever I
should no longer be master of my thoughts or of my words? How terrible!
My God, my God, do not permit that! But what horrible baseness there is
in the world, what shameful, hidden fornication between these people
of the Church and of the State, who hate each other, who despise each
other! Why, why dost Thou permit it, Lord? Still no one comes! This
fever! My God, my God! let me remain master of my thoughts, of my words.
God of Truth! Thy servant is in the hands of his conspiring enemies:
give him strength to glorify Thee, even in the burning fire! Those two
persons are thinking of me now. I must not think of them! They are not
sleeping, but thinking of me! I am not ungrateful, not ungrateful; but
I must not think of them! I will think of thee, venerable Saint of the
Vatican, who sleepest and knowest not! Ah! those narrow stairs which I
shall never more ascend! That sweet face, full of the Holy Spirit, I
shall never see again! Still--God be praised!--I did not behold it in
vain! What am I doing here? Why do I not go away? But could I go away?
Oh! this fever!
He rose, and tried to read the hour on the round face of a clock which
showed white in the darkness. It was five minutes to eleven. Outside,
the thunder-storm still raged. The power of the maddened elements, the
power of time which was pushing the tiny hands there on the face of the
clock, seemed friendly to Benedetto, in their indifferent predominance
over the human power, in whose stronghold he was, and which held him at
its mercy. But the fever, the ever-increasing fever! He was burning with
thirst. If only he could open a window, hold out his mouth to the waters
An electric bell sounded, and at last he hears steps in the anteroom.
Here is the Commendatore, in his hat and overcoat. He closes the door
behind him, gathers up the papers lying on the table, and says to
Benedetto, with a disdainful air:
"Mark this. We give you three days in which to leave Rome. Do you
understand?" Without even waiting for an answer, he pressed a bell. The
usher entered, and he commanded:
"Show him out!"
* * * * *
On reaching the great stairway with his guide, Benedetto, believing
himself free to descend, begged for a little water.
"Water?" the usher replied. "I cannot go for it now. His Excellency is
waiting. Please step this way."
To Benedetto's' great astonishment, he invited him to enter the lift.
"Both their Excellencies," said the usher, correcting himself, and, as
the lift ascended to the second floor, he looked at Benedetto as at one
about to receive a great honour which he does not appear to deserve.
When they reached the second floor, the two traversed an immense hall
dimly lighted. From this hall Benedetto was shown into an apartment so
brilliantly illumined as to cause him discomfort and suffering, and he
was nearly blinded.
Two men, seated in the two corners of a large sofa, were waiting for
him, each in a different attitude, the younger with his hands in his
pockets, his legs crossed, and his head leaning against the back of the
couch; the elder with his body bent forward, and continuously stroking
his grey beard, first with one hand and then with the other. The
first individual had a sarcastic expression, the second a searching,
melancholy, kindly one. The latter, who evidently possessed the greater
authority of the two, invited Benedetto to be seated in an easy-chair,
opposite to him.
"You must not think, dear Signor Maironi," said he in a voice both
harmonious and deep, and which seemed, in a way, to correspond with the
melancholy look in his eyes, "you must not think that we are here as two
powerful arms of the State. We are here, at the present moment, as
two individuals of a very rare species, two statesmen who know their
business well, and who despise it still more. We are two great
idealists, who know how to lie in a most ideal manner to those who
deserve nothing better, and who also know how to adore Truth; two
democrats, but nevertheless two adorers of that recondite Truth which
has never been touched by the dirty hands of old Demos."
Having spoken thus, the man of the flowing grey beard once more began to
stroke it, first with one hand, then with the other, and, puckering his
eyes, which sparkled with a shrewd smile, for he was pleased with his
own words, watched for surprise on Benedetto's face.
"We are, moreover, believers also," he continued.
The other personage, without raising his head from the back of the
couch, lifted his open hands, and said, almost solemnly:
"Steady!" "Let the word pass, my dear friend," the first speaker said,
without looking towards him. "We are both believers, but in different
ways. I believe in God with all my might, and my might is great, and
I shall have Him with me always, You believe in God. with all your
weaknesses, and they are few, and you will not have Him with you until
you are upon your death-bed."
Another shrewd and self-complacent smile, another pause. The friend
shook his head, raising his eyebrows as if he had heard a jest deserving
only of commiseration, but not of an answer.
"I, for my part," the deep and harmonious voice went on, "am also a
Christian. Not a Catholic, but a Christian. Indeed, because I am a
Christian am an anti-Catholic. My heart is Christian, and my brain is
Protestant. It is with joy that I see in Catholicism signs, not of
decrepitude, but of putrefaction. Charity is being dissolved in the most
sincerely Catholic hearts into a dark mud, full of the worms of hatred.
I see Catholicism cracking in many places, and I see the ancient
idolatry upon which it has raised itself bursting forth through the
cracks. What few youthful, healthy, and vital energies appear within it,
all tend to separate from it. I know that you are a radical Catholic,
that you are the friend of a man who is really sound and strong, and
who calls himself a Catholic, but who is pronounced a heretic by true
Catholics; and a heretic he certainly is. I have been told you are a
pupil of this noble heretic, who labours for reforms and who, at the
same time, tries to influence the Pontiff. Now, I myself am looking
for a great reformer, but he must be an antipope; not antipope in the
narrow, historical sense, but an antipope in the Lutheran sense of the
word. Curiosity pricks us to know in what way you believe it possible to
rejuvenate this poor old Papacy, of which we laymen are ahead not only
in the conquest of civilisation, but also in the science of God, even in
the science of Christ, this Papacy which follows us at a great distance,
panting and stopping by the way every now and then, hanging back like an
animal which smells the shambles, and then, when it is pulled very hard,
jumping forward, only to stop again until the rope is twitched once
more. Explain your idea of Catholic reform to us. Let us hear it."
Benedetto remained silent.
"Speak," continued the unknown deity who appeared to reign in that
place. "My friend is not Herod, nor am I Pilate. We might perhaps both
become apostles of your idea."
His friend once more extended his wide-open hands, without raising his
head from the sofa-back, and said again, with a stronger accent on the
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