Part 6 out of 7
Benedetto was silent.
"It appears to me, _caro mio_," said the friend, turning his head alone
towards his colleague, "that this promises to be the first time your
eloquence has failed you. Here the model of the _nihil respondit_ is
taken very seriously."
Benedetto shuddered, horrified at this allusion to the Divine Master,
and the fear of seeming a presumptuous imitator. At that moment he
ceased to feel his illness--the fever, the thirst, the heaviness of his
"Oh, no!" he exclaimed, "now I will answer! You say you are not Pilate.
But the truth is that I am the least of Christ's servants, because
I have been unfaithful to Him, and you repeat to me Pilate's very
words:--_Quid est veritas?_ Now you are not disposed to receive truth,
as Pilate was not disposed to receive it."
"Oh!" his interlocutor exclaimed. "And why not?"
His friend laughed noisily.
"Because," Benedetto replied, "he who performs deeds of darkness is
surrounded by darkness, and the light cannot reach him. You perform
deeds of darkness. It is not difficult to understand; you are the
Minister of the Interior--I know you by reputation. You were not born
to perform deeds of darkness; there has been much light in some of your
deeds, there is much light in your soul, much light of truth and of
kindness; but at this moment you are performing a deed of darkness. I am
here to-night because you have entered into a shameful bargain. You say
you adore Truth, and you ask a brother if he possess Truth, while you
hide the fact that you have already sold him!"
During Benedetto's speech, the Minister's friend--himself an Excellency,
but of lower rank--had raised his head from the couch at last. He seemed
to be only now beginning to consider the man and what he was saying
worthy of attention. He also seemed amused at the lesson his chief had
received. He admired his friend's great genius, but scoffed in his heart
at his passing fits of idealism. The chief was at first amazed; then he
started to his feet, shouting like a madman:
"You are a liar! You are insolent! You do not deserve my kindness! I
have not sold you, you are not worth anything; I will give you away! Go!
He looked for the button of the electric bell, and not finding it in the
blindness of his rage, he shrieked:
The Under-Secretary of State, who was used to these scenes--they were
nothing worse than "fires of straw," for the Minister had a heart of
gold--at first laughed in his sleeve. When, however, he heard his friend
call the usher in that tone, knowing well the indiscretion of ushers and
how much dangerous gossip might arise from this incident, reflecting
ridicule also on himself, he resolutely restrained the Minister, almost
commanding him to calm himself. Then he said sharply to Benedetto:
"Go, at once!" The Minister began to walk up and down the room in
silence, his head bowed, with short, hurried steps, struggling to
conquer the child in him, which would have liked to stamp its feet.
Benedetto did not obey. Erect and severe, glowing with the invisible
rays of a dominating spirit, which kept the Under-Secretary of State at
a distance, he forced the other, through this magnetic power, to turn
towards him, to stop and to look him in the face.
"_Signor Ministro_," he said. "I am about to leave not only this palace,
but very soon, I believe, this world also. I shall not see you again;
listen to me for the last time. You are not now disposed to receive
the Truth; nevertheless, the Truth is at your door, and the hour will
come--it is not far distant, for your life is on the wane--when night
will fall upon you, upon all your power, all your honours, all your
ambitions. Then you will hear Truth calling out in the night. You can
answer 'Begone'--and you will never meet her again. You can answer
'Enter'--and you will see her appear, veiled, and breathing sweetness
through her veil. You do not now know what you will answer, nor do I
know, nor does any one in the world. Prepare yourself, by good works, to
give the right answer. Whatever your errors may be there is religion in
your soul. God has given you much power in this world; use it to good
purpose. You who were born a Catholic say you are a Protestant.
Perhaps you do not know Catholicism well enough to understand that
Protestantism is being shattered upon the dead Christ, while Catholicism
evolves by virtue of the living Christ. But now I speak to the
statesman, not, indeed, to implore him to protect the Catholic Church,
which would be a misfortune, but to tell him that though the State may
not be either Catholic or Protestant, neither may it ignore God, and you
dare to ignore Him in more than one of your schools, in those you call
high, and this in the name of freedom of science, which you confound
with freedom of thought and of speech; for thought and speech are free
to deny God, but the negation of God neither partakes nor can partake of
the nature of science, and you are bound to teach science alone. You
are well acquainted with that petty statesmanship which forces you to a
private compromise with your conscience, in order to obtain in secret
some favour from the Vatican, in which you do not believe, but you are
ill acquainted with that grand statesmanship which upholds the authority
of Him who is the eternal principle of all justice. You work harder to
destroy it than the atheistic professors themselves; for, after all, the
atheistic professors have but little power; you statesmen, who sometimes
talk of your belief in God, you undermine His authority far more deeply
than those professors, by the bad example of your practical atheism.
You who imagine you believe in the Godhead of Christ are, in reality,
prophets and priests of the false gods. You serve them, as the
idolatrous Hebrew princes served them, in high places, in the presence
of the people. You serve, in the high places, the gods of all earthly
"_Bravo_!" interrupted the Minister, who was well known for the
austerity of his life, his domestic virtues, and his carelessness
concerning money. "You amuse me!"
And he added, turning to his friend:
"It was really not worth while."
"Understand me well!" Benedetto continued. "Yes, you also are one of
these priests. Do I then speak of ordinary revellers? I speak of you and
of others like you, who esteem yourselves honest men because you do not
plunge your hands into the coffers of the State, who esteem yourselves
moral men because you do not give yourselves up to the pleasures of the
senses. I will tell you two things: All the while you are worshipping
pleasures which are still more sinful. You make false gods of yourselves
unto yourselves; you worship the pleasure of contemplating yourselves in
all your power, in all your honours, in the admiration of the world.
To your false gods you wickedly sacrifice many human victims, and the
integrity of your own character. There is a compact among you by which
each is bound to respect his colleague's false god, and promote its
worship. The purest among you are at least guilty of this complicity.
You look away when there is a suggestion of foul conspiracies with vile
aims, or of the shameful intrigues of factions which crawl in the dark,
letting them go by in silence. You regard yourselves as incorrupt, and
you corrupt others! You distribute the public money regularly to people
who sell you their honour and the probity of their consciences. You
despise and you nurture this infamy, which goes on under the shadow of
your authority. It is more sinful to buy votes and flattery than to
sell them! You are the most corrupt of all! Your second sin is that you
consider lying a necessity of your position; you lie as you would drink
water. You lie to the people, lie to the Parliament, lie to the Crown,
lie to your adversaries, lie to your friends. I know--some of you do not
personally indulge in the general prevarication, but you tolerate it in
your colleagues. Many of you shrink from assuming this on entering the
seat of government, as, upon entering a mine, we put on a dirty dress to
protect our own and, on coming out, lay it down joyfully. But can these,
who are the best, call themselves faithful servants of Truth? You
believe in God, and perhaps on your death-bed you will believe you have
offended God most seriously, as statesmen, by your acts of violence
against the Church, in the name of the State. No, these will not be your
greatest sins. If men go into Parliament, and through Parliament into
the Government, who profess, as philosophers, not to know God, but who
rise up in the name of Truth against this arbitrary tyranny of Untruth,
they are serving God better than you and will be more pleasing to God
than you, who believe in Him as an idol and not as the Spirit of Truth,
than you who dare to talk of the putrefaction of Catholicism, you who
stink of falsity. Yes, who stink of it! You make the air of the heights
so impure, so contrary to what it should be, that it is difficult to
breathe it. You have a devout heart, _Signor Ministro_; do not tell me
that in this palace one cannot serve God."
"Do you know--" the Minister exclaimed angrily, crossing his arms
upon his breast, while the Under-Secretary of State extended his hand
graciously towards him to check the indignant words.
"Gently, gently, gently!" said he. "Allow me. I find this most
The Under-Secretary of State was short and round, and full of respect
for his own secretaryship, like an egg in the conscious possession of
a sacred chick. As a man he was far inferior to the Minister, and very
unlike him. He had none of the intellectual curiosity of his superior,
and had consented to be present at this interview simply to please him.
His superior, possessed of a keen wit, was in the habit of throwing his
own light now on one, now on another of the persons who revolved around
him, and, at such moments, lie was apt to believe that they shone of
themselves, as perhaps the sun may believe is the case with the orbs
that pay their court to it. The Under-Secretary of State reflected
light upon the Minister, and the Minister reflected admiration upon the
Under-Secretary of State. The Minister had desired his presence at this
interview, not comprehending that this little Mercury of his planetary
system, having resolved in his youth to free himself from the
supernatural, which hampered the most spontaneous movements of his
selfish nature, had come to hate the supernatural with much the same
hatred which the sick conceive for the man who, they know, has gloomily
diagnosed their illness. As these unfortunates seek to persuade
themselves that the prophet is not worthy of faith, and, whilst his
prophecy is gradually being fulfilled, become more and more impatient,
and struggle ever harder to overthrow that threatening authority,
so this man, the more he felt his youthful vigour declining, felt
materialistic dogmas losing credit, and from time to time perceived in
his heart certain stabbing apprehensions of a formidable truth which,
wakened by degrees, became the more embittered in his hatred hidden
beneath careless irony.
"Look here, my good sir," said he, when he had, by his words and
gesture, made room for himself in the conversation. "You talk a great
deal about false and true gods. I don't know whether yours be false or
true. He may be true, but He is certainly unreasonable. A God who made
the world as he chose, in such a way that it must wag as it does,
and then comes and tells us that we must make it wag in a different
way--well now, you know! He is certainly not a reasonable God! You have
taken the liberty to empty out a whole bagful of abuse, a bagful of
accusations against statesmen; they are calumnies, especially if you
apply them to that gentleman over there, or to me; but I am willing to
admit that politics are not a suitable business for saints. He who made
the world did not intend that they should be! He is to blame for that.
Nevertheless, some one must attend to politics. At present we are doing
this, and if we ourselves be not saints, at least you see how patiently
we deal with saints. And listen,"
The Under-Secretary looked at his watch.
"It is getting late," he said, "and saintliness may encounter some
dangers, at such a late hour, in the streets of Rome. You had better go,
He stretched out his hand towards the electric bell, meaning to summon
"_Signor Ministro!_" Benedetto exclaimed, with such vehemence that the
Under-Secretary remained motionless, his arm extended, as though frozen
in the act. "You fear for the State, for the Monarchy, for liberty,
you fear the socialists and the anarchists, but you should be far more
afraid of your colleagues, who scoff at God! for socialism and anarchism
are merely fevers, while scoffing is even as gangrene! As for you," he
added, turning to the Under-Secretary, "you deride One who is silent.
Fear His silence!"
Before either of the two potentates could speak a word, or move,
Benedetto had left the room.
* * * * *
He descended the great stairway, all quivering with the reflex action of
the words which had burst from his heart, and with the feverish fire
in his blood. His legs shook and bent under him. He was once or twice
obliged to seize the banisters and stop. On reaching the last column,
he leaned his throbbing forehead against it, seeking its coolness. But
immediately he drew away, with a feeling of repugnance for the very
stones of this palace, as if they were infected by treason, were
accomplices of the atrociously vile bargain which had been struck there
between ministers of Christ and ministers of the State. He sat down on
one of the lower steps, quite exhausted, without noticing the lighted
lamps of a carriage which was waiting close to him, doubtless the
Minister's carriage, and not caring who might see him. He breathed more
freely; his indignation was beginning to cool down and turn to sorrow,
and a desire to weep for the sad blindness of the world. Then he began
to feel so lonely, so bitterly lonely. Only she, the partner of his past
errors, had watched, had discovered, had acted. Only through her had
he been able to hold his own with the Minister, knowing what manner of
language to use with him. His other friends, the friends devoted to his
religious ideas, had slept, and were still sleeping. The bitter thought
that they no longer cared for him was pleasing to him. It was pleasant
to give himself up, for once at least, to pity for his own fate, for
once to drain the cup to the dregs, to picture his fate even more
painful and bitter than it really was. All were against him, all were
in league against him! Alone, alone, alone! And was he really strong
at heart? That man up there, that Minister who possessed genius
and personal kindliness--what if he were right, after all? What if
Catholicism were really past healing? Lo! the Lord Himself, the Lord he
had served, the Lord who had struck down his body, and delivered him
into the power of his enemies, now was abandoning his soul. Anguish,
mortal anguish! He longed to die on that very spot and to be at peace.
Above him he heard the voices of the Minister and the Under-Secretary,
who were coming down. Benedetto rose with an effort, and dragged himself
into the street. On the left, a few paces beyond the door, he saw
another carriage waiting. A servant in livery stood on the sidewalk
talking with the coachman. When Benedetto appeared the servant hastened
towards him. In the gaslight, Benedetto recognised the old Roman from
Villa Diedo, the footman of the Dessalles. It suddenly flashed across
his troubled brain that Jeanne was there in the carriage, waiting for
him, and he started back a step.
"No," said he. Meanwhile the carriage had moved forward; Benedetto
imagined he saw Jeanne, that he was being forced to get into the
carriage with her, and that he had not the strength to resist. Seized
with giddiness he staggered back again, and would have fallen had the
footman not caught him in his arms. He found himself in the carriage
without knowing how he had got there, with an unpleasant bright light
opposite to him, and a loud buzzing in his ears. Little by little he
understood. He was alone; an acetylene lamp was shining in his face. The
door on his right was open and the footman was speaking to him. What was
he saying? Where should they drive? To Villa Mayda? Yes, certainly, to
Villa Mayda. Could not that light be extinguished? The servant put it
out, and spoke of a paper. What paper? A paper the Signora had placed
in the inside pocket of the _coupe_, ordering him to give it to the
gentleman. Benedetto did not understand, or see. The footman took the
paper and slipped it into Benedetto's pocket. Then he inquired about the
gentleman's health, as his masters--this time he said 'his masters'--had
ordered him to do. If he had seen him lying dead this scrupulous
individual would have carried out the order just the same. Instead of
answering, Benedetto begged that a little water might be brought to him.
The footman fetched some from a neighbouring _cafe_ and Benedetto drank
it eagerly, experiencing great relief. As he took the empty cup from
him, the footman thought it best to complete his message:
"The Signora ordered me to tell you, if you inquired, that they sent the
carriage because they knew you were not well, and they thought that in
this place and at this hour it would be impossible for you to find one."
* * * * *
The _coupe_ had excellent springs and rubber tires. What a rest it
was for Benedetto to roll along thus, silently, alone in a dark soft
carriage, in the heart of the night! From time to time vistas of bright
streets loomed on the right and on the left, and this was painful
to him, as if those long rows of lights had been his enemies. But
immediately there came back the darkness of the narrow streets and the
flight, on footpaths and houses, of the unsteady lights of the _coupe_.
The coachman set the horse to a walking pace, and Benedetto looked out
into the darkness. It seemed to him they had just begun to ascend the
Aventine Hill. He felt better; the fever, intensified by the physical
and moral strain of that night of strife, was now rapidly decreasing.
Then, for the first time, he perceived the subtle perfume of the
_coupe_, the perfume Jeanne always used, and there rushed upon him the
vivid memory of the return from Praglia with her, of the moment when,
having left her at the foot of the hill leading to Villa Diedo, he had
gone on alone in the victoria which was still filled with her warmth and
her perfume, alone, and intoxicated with his love secret. Terrified at
the vividness of these memories he pressed his arms to his breast, and
strove to withdraw himself from his senses and his memory, into the very
centre of his being. He gasped, with parted lips, unable to banish
that image from his inner vision. And others flashed through his mind,
leaving his unyielding will unconquered, but causing it to tremble like
a tightly drawn rope. Now it was the idea that only Jeanne really loved
him, that only Jeanne suffered through his suffering. Now it was her
voice, complaining that her love was not returned, her voice asking for
love, in the tones of a little song by Saint-Saens, so sweet, so sad,
and familiar to them both, and concerning which he had once said to her
at Villa Diedo that he could never refuse anything to one who prayed
thus. Now it was the idea of fleeing far, far away and for ever, from
this pagan and pharisaical Rome. Again it was a vision of peace and pure
converse with the woman whom he would win over to the faith at last. It
was an ardent desire to say to the Lord:--"The world is too sad, let me
adore Thee thus." Then there came the thought that in all this there was
no sin, there was no sin in abandoning his mission in the presence of
so many enemies. He began to doubt whether he really had any mission
at all, whether he had not rather yielded to deceitful suggestions,
believed in the reality of phantoms, and been deceived by chance
appearances. He saw the spiritual and moral features of his friends
and disciples, deformed as in a convex mirror; he felt a disheartening
certainty that all he had hoped of them was vain. Then again that sad,
tender little song returned, no longer beseeching but full of pity, of a
pity comprehending all his bitter struggle, the sorrowing pity of some
unknown spirit that was also suffering and complaining of God, but
humbly, gently, pleading for all that suffers and loves in the world.
The carriage stopped at a cross-way, and the footman got down from
the box and approached the window. It seemed that neither he nor the
coachman knew exactly where this Villa Mayda was. On the right, a narrow
lane sloped down between two walls. Behind the higher one, on the left,
huge black trees rustled loudly in the west wind, which had torn the
clouds asunder. In the background, the Janiculum and St. Peter's loomed
black in the pale starlight. It was a narrow footpath. Was that where
the Signore must get out to go to Villa Mayda? No, but the Signore was
determined to get out at any cost, to quit that poisoned carriage. He
dragged himself as far as Sant' Anselmo, struggling with his poor weak
body and with the wind. Exhausted once more, he thought of asking the
monks for hospitality, but did not do so. He went down, skirting the
great silent refuge of peace belonging to the Benedictines, passed,
sighing, before the closed door, which said in vain _quieti et amicis_,
and at last reached the gate of Villa Mayda.
The gardener came, half dressed, to open the gate, and was greatly
astonished to see him. He said he had believed he was in prison, because
a _delegato_ and a policeman had been there to look for him at about
nine o'clock. Indeed the _Signora_, the Professor's daughter-in-law, had
at once ordered the servants not to admit him if he returned, but the
order had been angrily countermanded by the Professor himself, to the
great joy of the gardener, who was as fond of Benedetto and of the
master as he was averse to the _Signora_. Upon hearing this Benedetto
would have departed at once had his strength allowed him. But he was not
in a condition to go a hundred paces.
"It will be for this one night only," he said.
He occupied a small room in the gardener's little house. He had hoped,
on entering it, to find the peace of the heart, but it was not to be.
They were driving him away even from here: that was what he said in his
heart to his poor little bed, to the poor furniture, to the few books,
to the smoky tallow-candle. Fixing his eyes on the Crucifix, which hung
above a footstool at the side of the bed, he groaned, with an effort of
his will: "How can I complain so bitterly of my crosses, Lord?"
In vain; his spirit had no living sense either of Christ or of the
Cross. He sat down in despair, not wishing to go to bed in this mood,
waiting for a drop of sweetness, which did not come. A gust of wind made
him turn his head towards the window, which had burst open. He saw a
great planet tip there in the brilliant sky, above the black battlements
of Porta San Paolo, and. the black summit of the pyramid of Cestio,
above the tops of the cypresses which surround the tomb of Shelley. The
wind howled around the little house. Oh! that night in the asylum, where
his wife was dying, and the shrieks of the violent patients, and the
Bending his head, heavy with grief, he happened to notice the paper
which the footman had placed in his pocket. It was a large black-edged
envelope. He opened it, and read the name and titles of his poor old
mother-in-law, the Marchesa Nene Seremin, and the simple words that
He was as one turned to stone, holding the open, sheet in his hand, his
eyes fixed on the words. Then his hands began to tremble, and from his
hands trembling rose to his breast, growing more and more violent till a
storm of tears burst from his eyes.
He wept as many memories came to his mind, some sad, some sweet, brought
back to him by the poor dead woman. He wept with his eyes fixed upon the
crucifix, upon Christ, to whom in her last moments she surely yielded
herself up with the fullest confidence, like that other dear one, like
his Elisa; he wept in gratitude to her, who even from that unknown world
was kind to him, and softened his heart. He recalled the last words he
had heard her speak: "Then shall we never meet again?" In his prophetic
soul he smiled, turned to the open window, and gazed upon the great
A small band of workmen was coming towards Via della Marmorata, It
was about noon, and they had been at work on a house in course of
construction in Via Galvani. Seeing little groups of people standing
under the trees, other little groups at the doors, and people also at
the windows of the two last houses on the right and left, a workman, who
was following the others at a short distance, called out in a loud voice
to his companions:
"What a lot of fools for one knave!"
A big, bearded man, who was standing on the threshold of a small shop,
heard this, and, coming forward, accosted him threateningly."
"What's that you say?"
The other stopped and stared at him, answering mockingly:
"Get out! Just what I please!"
The big man struck him a blow, and then the other workmen fell upon
the big man in defence of their comrade. Cries, oaths, the flashing of
knives, the shrieks of women from the windows, people rushing up from
the avenue, policemen and guards hurrying to the spot; in an instant the
whole street was in a black ferment, while the surging, howling mob was
pitching from right to left and from left to right, as if the street
were a ship in an angry sea. Two yards from the spot where the guards
and the workmen were struggling, it would have been difficult to
ascertain what had happened. The crowd was blind in its fury against
those who had insulted the Saint. Who these were they did not know; a
hundred discordant voices called for the blood of the big man, of the
workmen, of the guards, of one who had laughed, of one who had tried to
make peace, and of one who was using his elbows to work his way forward,
as well as of one who was trying to elbow his way out. The driver of a
tram on the San Paolo line, passing Via Galvani, saw the tumult, and
amused himself by calling out to a group of women, a hundred yards
beyond, that the Saint of Jenne had been discovered in Via Galvani. The
rumour ran along the avenues, full of chattering groups and isolated
onlookers, as fire along a trail of powder. The groups broke up, the
people rushed towards Via Galvani, questioning one another as they
ran. The isolated onlookers followed more slowly, more cautiously, and
presently saw many vexed faces returning. The Saint indeed! It was only
one of the usual false alarms. Some one saw people coming down in haste
from Sant' Anselmo. Another report went round: they are from Villa
Mayda, they are sure to know! And people come from right and left, all
hastening towards the mouth of Via di Santa Sabina, as pigeons hasten
towards a handful of corn. The isolated onlookers follow, more slowly,
more cautiously. _Che_! Nonsense! At Villa Mayda nothing is known, and
they will not even answer any more questions, for they are exasperated
by the procession of people ringing the bell. A squad of _carabinieri_
comes upon the scene, and charges down Via Galvani in serried ranks.
Hisses are heard, and angry cries: "They know! They took him away!" "No"
shouts a woman who sells fruit, and who was one of a group on the corner
of Via Alessandro Volta. "It was a _delegato_! It was the police!" The
members of that group are less enraged with the _delegato_ and the
policemen than with the stupid bystanders, who might easily have thrown
_delegato_, policemen, cab, horse and driver into the river, and,
instead, had allowed themselves to be dispersed by a few words and a few
drops of water! The little old woman who had brought Benedetto to the
unfrocked monk was there also. They stop her as she is coming out of the
bakers' shop, and now she is telling for the hundredth time the story of
the arrest, and crying, also for the hundredth time, as she tells of the
roses, of the pious words, and describes how very ill the Saint looked.
Her audience is moved also, and mumbles praises of the Saint. One
relates a miraculous cure he has effected, another tells of a second
cure; one mentions his way of speaking, which goes to the heart; another
praises his face, which is as good as a sermon; one speaks of his
poverty, and another tells of his charities, which are many, in spite of
his poverty. There they come from Via Galvani, _carabinieri_, policemen,
prisoners, and the crowd. One of the solitary onlookers, moved by
curiosity, approaches another spectator, and inquired what has occurred
in the district. The other is in complete ignorance. The two join
company, and question a citizen, who appears to have had enough of it;
to be about to leave. The citizen replies that up there at a villa near
Sant' Anselmo lives a holy man, who is adored by the whole quarter,
because he visits the sick, healing many, and talking of religion better
than the priests themselves: so they call him "the Saint"; or rather,
"the Saint of Jenne," because he performed many miracles in a town in
the hills, called Jenne. Why, even the newspapers talked of him! Last
night, while he was ministering to a poor sick man, the police carried
him off, no one knows why. It was reported that he had been set free
again, and had returned to the villa, where he was gardener, but at the
villa they deny that he is still there, and will give no explanation.
The people are excited, they want----
A tram was approaching. Some of the passengers made signs to the people,
who shouted and rushed towards the next stopping-place. The citizen
forsook his two questioners and also ran towards the spot, where a
crowd was rapidly gathering round the tram. The slow train of curious
spectators moved forward in the wake of the crowd; the two learned
that the tram had brought six citizens of the district, who--_motu
proprio_--had been to see the Chief of Police. The six alighted among
the crowd, which was impatient to hear, to know. They did not seem
happy, and answered the storm of questions by recommending the people to
be calm. They promised to speak presently, to tell all, but not there in
the open street. Many were already protesting, insults trembled on many
lips. He who appeared to be the leader of the six--a tobacconist--had
himself raised on the shoulders of his colleagues, and briefly harangued
"We have brought news," he said. "We can assure you at once that the
Saint is not in prison."
Applause burst forth, and cries of _viva_ and _bravo_.
"But we do not know exactly where he is," the orator continued.
Howls and hisses! The orator was much dismayed, and, after a weak
attempt to speak, bent before the storm, and slid down from his living
rostrum. But another of the six, braver and more daring, climbed up and
retorted with violence. Then the howls and invectives were redoubled,
"They have fooled you!" the people shouted. "Idiots that you are! They
have put him in prison! In prison!" The cry spread; those at a distance
heard it, who had heard nothing else, and those who could hear neither
the cry nor anything else felt the dark, magnetic waves of wrath pierce
their breasts. Many howled "_Abbasso_! Down with him!" without knowing
whose fall they desired. And here are the _carabinieri's_ big hats
again, and the policemen. In vain the six protest, shouting themselves
hoarse; the yells of "Down with him!" and "Death to him!" drown their
voices. A _delegato_ orders the bugler to sound the "disperse." At the
third blast there is a general stampede. The deputation, led by the
tobacconist, flees also; but each member manages to drag after him in
his flight one or other of the less violent citizens, promising further
information, impossible to give in the open street, when they shall have
reached a fitting place. They take refuge in a yard, where building
material is stored, and which is surrounded by a wooden fence. Several
people follow them, filtering, one by one, through the opening in the
fence. Then the tobacconist, conscious that he hides in his breast
things fit to cause the downfall of the world, speaks, in the presence
of the pyramid of Caio Cestio, rising there indifferent, and waiting
for silence, for ruin, for the coming of the wild forests, when the
centuries shall have rolled away. The tobacconist speaks in measured
tones, surrounded by some thirty eager faces. He says the Saint of Jenne
Is certainly not in prison, that they do not know where he is, but that
they do, alas! know other things! Then he relates the other things! If
he had told them to the mob on leaving the tram, they would have torn
him to pieces. At the police-station they laugh at the Saint, and at
those who believe in him. They say he has a mistress, a very wealthy
lady; that he was examined by the Director-General of Police during the
night on some not over-pleasant matters, and that after the interview he
drove away from the ministry with his mistress, who was waiting for him
in a carriage.
"I would not believe this," the tobacconist concluded, "but then--well,
now let him tell Ms story!"
One of the six, a man who kept a tavern at Santa Sabina, immediately
began to relate that his wife had heard a carriage stop near the tavern,
in the middle of the night; she had gone to the window, and had seen a
private carriage, with coachman and footman in tall hats. The footman,
standing at the carriage door, was helping some one to alight. The
person who got out had then walked past the window, going towards
Sant' Anselmo, and she had recognised in him the Saint of Jenne. The
tavern-keeper added that he had not believed she had really recognised
him, for there was no moon, and it had rained until after eleven
o'clock, so the night must have been quite dark; therefore he had not
spoken. But when he had heard this story at the police-station, he had
been convinced. Besides, his wife could tell something more. She had
risen at six. Between seven and eight a cab had passed, going in the
direction of Sant' Anselmo. Shortly afterwards the cab had returned, and
this time his wife had seen the Saint of Jenne inside it. She was ready
to swear to this.
At this point several of those present slipped out of the enclosure,
and hastened to whisper the news in the district. Thus it happened that
while the tobacconist, the tavern-keeper, and their friends were still
in the enclosure, people began to gather on the road to Santa Sabina,
and a large group started in the direction of the tavern, two policemen
They entered the courtyard. The hostess was gossiping with a client,
under the pergola. They questioned her, and she related the story she
had told her husband. They cross-examined her, wishing to know this and
that, with many details. The woman ended by saying she did not remember
anything more. She would go and fetch something to drink, something to
refresh their throats and her memory. _Che_! Nonsense! They had not come
to drink, and they told her so, rudely. Two railway men, sitting at
a table under the neighbouring pergola, were annoyed by this
cross-examination. One of them called the hostess, and said to her, in a
"What is it they want to know? I myself saw the man they are after. He
left this morning at eight o'clock, with a girl, by the Pisa line."
The crowd turned to him, questioning him now, and he swore, angrily,
that he was telling the truth. Their Saint had started at eight o'clock,
in a second-class carriage, with a handsome fair girl, who was very well
known! Then the people slowly slunk away. When they were all gone, a
policeman in plain clothes approached the railway man, and, in his turn,
asked him if he were quite sure of what he had said.
"I?" the man replied. "Sure? Curse them! I know nothing about it, but I
have quieted them, anyway; and they may go to the devil for all I care,
the silly fools! Now they will run as far as Civitavecchia at least, and
may the sea swallow them and their Saint too!"
"But then, where has he gone?" the hostess exclaimed.
"Go and look for him in the cellar," the man answered. "The flask is
empty, and we are still thirsty."
"If you go on like this," Carlino exclaimed, hearing Jeanne order her
maid to bring her hat, gloves, and fur, "if you leave me alone all day
long, I swear to you we will return to Villa Diedo. There, at least, you
will not know where to go." "I have arranged to send Chieco to you," she
said. "To-day at two he is to play for the Queen, and then he will come
to you. Good-bye."
And she went out without giving her brother time to reply. Her
_coupe_ was waiting for her. She gave the footman the address of the
Under-Secretary of the Interior, and entered the carriage.
It was Saturday. For several days Jeanne had not slept and had eaten
little. On Tuesday evening she had learned from Signora Albacina of the
plot against Piero, and how her husband, the Under-Secretary of State,
had been invited by the Minister to join him at the Ministry of the
Interior, where an interview was to take place with this man so greatly
feared and hated at the court of the Sovereign Pontiff, by that
non-concessionist faction which wished to rule at the Vatican. She
hastened to Noemi, got her to write the letter, and then telephoned to
a young secretary, her friend and admirer, begging him to come to the
Grand Hotel. She charged him to find some one to deliver the letter, for
it was probably too late to send it to Villa Mayda. She knew also, for
Noemi had told her so, that Piero was feverish. She determined to
send her carriage to wait for him at the door of the Ministry of the
Interior, with the footman who had known Maironi at Villa Diedo. It was
imprudent, but what did it matter? Nothing mattered save that dear life.
The announcement of the death of Marchesa Nene had reached her that very
evening by the last post. She wished Piero to have it immediately, that
he might at once pray for the poor dead woman. It was strange, but
nevertheless true, that she could merge herself in him, forget herself,
her own incredulity, could feel that which he with his faith must feel
and desire. That same night the footman gave her an account of his
errand. He described Maironi as a ghost, a corpse. She was in
despair. She knew of the conflict between Professor Mayda and his
daughter-in-law, knew the Professor was often called away from Rome; she
considered him a great surgeon, but not a great doctor; she believed
that daring these absences the young lady would take no care of the sick
man, would show him no attentions. And she also knew about the three
days the Director-General had allowed him. Oh! it was not possible to
leave Piero at Villa Mayda! He must be removed! A hiding-place must be
found, where neither the police nor the _carabinieri_ would be able to
unearth him; where he would be well nursed, have every attention, and be
in the hands of a skilful physician.
She did not think of consulting the Selvas. Neither did she communicate
to Noemi her intention of sending the carriage to the Ministry of the
Interior. It did occur to her to propose that they take Piero to their
house, but the idea did not please her; the terms upon which Piero and
Giovanni Selva stood were too well known for his house to be a safe
hiding-place. Within this prudent consideration lurked a secret jealousy
of Noemi, a jealousy of a special nature, neither violent nor burning,
for Noemi did not love Piero with a love like hers, but perhaps--for
this very reason--even more painful, because she understood that Piero
might accept Noemi's mystic sentiment; because she herself was incapable
of such a sentiment, and because she had no just cause of complaint
against her friend, no reason to reproach her, to give way to this
Another possible hiding-place occurred to her, the house of an elderly
senator with whom she was acquainted, and who had been an intimate
friend of her father's. He was very religious, and full of affectionate
admiration for Maironi. She held fast to this idea. But if she intended
appealing to the Senator, asking of him no less a favour than to take
into his house a sick man threatened with arrest, she must at least
offer some explanation of her zeal. She did not figure among Piero's
disciples, and the Senator was in complete ignorance of the past. But he
knew Noemi, for he was the old gentleman with the white hair and the red
face who had been present at the meeting in Via della Vite, and Noemi
and he often met in the "Catacombs." Jeanne wrote to him at once,
stating that she did so in the name of her friend Noemi, who did not
dare to come forward. She described the state of Maironi's health, and
the circumstances which, for this reason, rendered it advisable to
remove him from Villa Mayda; she did not, however, allude to the danger
of arrest. She explained her friend's request to him, and added that the
invalid's condition rendered the matter most urgent. Should the Senator
consent, she begged him to give the bearer of her note his card, with a
word or two of invitation for Maironi. She ended by asking him to
grant her an interview at the Senate sometime during the day, and by
requesting him, in the meantime, not to mention the matter to any one.
Then she wrote to Noemi, informing her of what she had done in her name,
and charging her to persuade her brother-in-law--in case the Senator
sent his card--to take a carriage and carry the invitation to Villa
Mayda at once. He must persuade Maironi to accept the offer, and the
Professor to allow him to go, laying before them the political reasons
for taking this step. When she had written these two letters she had an
attack of prostration, with symptoms of such a serious nature that the
maid was alarmed. She did not, however, call Carlino, for Jeanne found
strength to forbid this absolutely, but she sent for the doctor without
telling her mistress she had done so. The doctor himself was alarmed.
During his visits to Carlino he had noticed that she was highly strung,
but he had never before seen her in such a condition. She was livid,
perfectly stiff, and unable to speak. The attack lasted until six
o'clock in the morning, the first sign of improvement being when Jeanne
inquired what time it was. The maid, accustomed to these attacks
whispered to the doctor: "It is passing," and then said aloud:
"Six o'clock, Signora."
The words seemed to have a miraculous effect. Jeanne, whom they had
placed on the bed without undressing her, sat up, rather dazed it is
true, but quite mistress of her limbs and her voice. She inquired for
Carlino immediately and anxiously. Carlino was asleep; he had not heard
anything, and knew nothing of the attack. She breathed more freely, and
said to the doctor, with a smile:
"Now I shall drive you away."
She was not satisfied until the doctor had departed. Then the maid
prepared to undress her, whereupon Jeanne first called her a stupid, and
then apologised almost tearfully.
"Oh!" said the girl. "You wish to send off those letters first! Yes,
yes, do send them off, those horrid letters which did you so much harm!"
Jeanne gave her a kiss. The girl adored her, and she herself was fond of
her, treating her sometimes like a dear, silly little sister.
She sealed the two letters, sent the maid to call the footman, and gave
him his instructions. He was to take a cab and drive to senator----'s
house, 40 Via della Polveriera, present the letter addressed to the
Senator, and wait for an answer. If they told him there was no answer he
was to return to the Grand Hotel and report; but if the Senator gave him
a note, he was to take it to Casa Selva, in Via Arenula, with the other
letter. An hour later the servant returned, and reported that he had
executed the orders. Two hours later a note from the Senator announced
to Jeanne that Benedetto was already at his house. Later on in the
forenoon Noemi came. Jeanne was sleeping at last. Noemi waited for her
to awake, and then told her that her brother-in-law had gone to Villa
Mayda without delay. He had not found the Professor, who had left for
Naples the night before at half-past twelve. Maironi had accepted the
Senator's invitation at once. Knowing her temperament, Giovanni had
judged it wiser not to let young Signora Mayda know what was going on.
He had found Maironi very weak, not feverish, however, so he felt sure
the drive from the Aventine to Via della Polveriera had not harmed him.
Besides, that kind gardener, his eyes full of tears, had wrapped him up
warmly in a heavy blanket. Perhaps Jeanne was mistaken, but it seemed to
her that although Noemi displayed much interest in speaking of Piero,
much consideration for Jeanne's feelings, she spoke to her in a tone
differing from her former tone; as a friend who has not changed her
language, but whose heart has become estranged. Had she perhaps wished
Piero to go to Casa Selva? Probably.
Ever since that Wednesday morning she had been constantly rushing about.
At Palazza Madama they smiled at a certain much respected colleague with
white hair and a red face, who received daily visits in the _sala dei
telegrammi_ from a lady, both handsome and fashionable. From the Senate
Jeanne would rush to the Grand Hotel to give Carlino his medicine; from
the Grand Hotel she would hasten to Via Arenula to give or receive news,
or to Via Tre Pile to see the Senator's doctor, who was attending Piero.
Errands in the daytime, and tears at night! Tears of anguish for him who
was being wasted by a hidden incurable disease, and again consumed by
fever after four-and-twenty hours of perfect freedom from it. Other
tears also, other bitter tears for the accusations which had been spread
among Piero's friends and disciples, and which not all of them had
rejected. Noemi told her these things. The accusations concerning the
presumed love affairs of Piero at Jenne were not credited, but on the
other hand there were many who believed he had secret relations with a
married woman in Rome, with whose name, however, no one was acquainted.
It was not believed that these relations were of the guilty nature
implied by the slanderers. The most faithful--and they were few in
number, did not even credit the existence of an ideal bond. Once when
Noemi was relating to Jeanne certain defections, certain acts of
coldness, she suddenly burst into tears. Jeanne shuddered and frowned;
but presently she saw in her friend's eyes a look so full of despair, of
supplication, that, passing from angry jealousy to an impulse of unheard
of affection, she opened her arms to her, and clasped her to her heart.
This had happened on the Friday evening the last of the three days by
the end of which Maironi was to leave Rome. Towards noon on Saturday
Jeanne received a note from Signora Albacina. The wife of the
Under-Secretary of State was expecting Jeanne at her own home at two
o'clock. It was in consequence of this invitation that Jeanne drove away
shortly before two, regardless of Carlino's protests.
As soon as the carriage had started Jeanne raised her veil and took the
note from her muff, bending her lovely pale face over it, gazing at it,
but not reading it or studying the sense, clear and simple enough, of
the words it contained. She was wondering what Signora Albacina could
have to tell her; imagining all sorts of impossible things. Had they
decided to leave Maironi alone? Or had the police discovered his
dwelling-place and were they about to arrest him?
"It will surely be the worst!" Jeanne said to herself. "_Ah, Dio!_"
And, forgetting herself for a moment, she raised her muff to her face,
and pressed it to her forehead. Ah, perhaps not! Perhaps not! Raising
her head quickly she looked out to see if any one had noticed her. The
carriage was moving rapidly, silently, on its rubber tires. She returned
to her conjectures, losing herself in them to such an extent that she
did not notice that the carnage had stopped until the footman opened the
Signora Albacina met her on the stairs, ready to go out. Jeanne must
come with her at once. At once? And where were they to go? Yes, at once,
at once, and in Jeanne's carriage, because Signora Albacina could not
have her own at the present moment. She herself gave the address to
the coachman, an address with which Jeanne was not familiar. She would
explain on the way. The carriage started off once more.
Ah! Signora Albacina had forgotten her visiting-cards! She stopped the
carriage, but, looking at her watch, saw they would lose too much time.
Drive on! Jeanne was trembling with impatience. Well? Well? Where
were they going? _Ecco!_ They were going to see Cardinal----! Jeanne
shuddered. To see Cardinal----? This Cardinal had the reputation of
being one of the fiercest non-concessionists. Signora Albacina really
must see him, and a quarter of an hour later she might not find him. Ah,
what a complicated affair! She could not explain everything in a few
words. The object of the visit was, of course, still that for which
Donna Rosetta Albacina had laboured for three days, her ostensible
reason for so doing being the interest she took in the ideas and the
person of the Saint of Jenne; her real reason being the pleasure she
took in managing an intrigue, without scruples of conscience. She had
taken a fancy to Jeanne at Vena di Fonte Alta, but knew nothing of her
past. She suspected her of being in love with the Saint, but believed
hers to be a mystic love, born on hearing him speak in the "Catacombs"
of Via della Vite. She was convinced that Jeanne had had a hand in his
disappearance from Villa Mayda, that she knew his hiding-place, and did
not wish to disclose it, having promised secrecy to his friends. But
Jeanne had little confidence in the lady, who seemed to her frivolous,
and who was--this she could not forget--the wife of a powerful enemy,
and she had repeatedly assured her that she did not know. Jeanne's want
of confidence offended her a little because really she, Donna Rosetta,
wife of an Excellency, was risking much; but after all her vanity was
staked on this game, in which the winnings were the permanent freedom of
the Saint of Jenne in Rome, and she was determined to go on with it.
A truly complicated affair then! In the meantime, up to Friday night the
police had not discovered the Saint's place of refuge. Ah, yes! they
believed he was in Rome. Here Donna Rosetta paused, hoping Jeanne would
speak. Not a word. She admitted, continuing her discourse, that her
husband might have some suspicion of the intrigue which she was
concealing from him, that, perhaps, he was not perfectly sincere with
her. This, however, was not likely. When her husband was not speaking
quite sincerely to her, she, Donna Rosetta, could feel it in the air.
As to that, she understood the others also. Donna Rosetta was for once
mistaken concerning her husband. Ever since Wednesday night they had
known at Palazzo Braschi where Maironi was, but he would not tell her
so, for the Under-Secretary of State had still less confidence in his
wife than Jeanne herself.
But the most important news came from the Vatican. The Pope had been
informed of what had taken place in Via della Marmorata, and His
Holiness was much irritated against the Government, for they had given
him to understand that the Government had lent itself, in this matter,
to the hatred of the Freemasons against a man esteemed by the Pope
himself. There was disunion among those about the Pope. The more
fanatical of the non-concessionists, opponents of the Cardinal Secretary
of State, warmly supported the nomination to the archepiscopal see of
Turin, so displeasing to the Quirinal, and disapproved of the secret
intrigues with the Italian Government. According to their leader, who
was the very eminent personage Donna Rosetta now proposed calling upon,
other measures should be adopted to liberate the Holy Father from the
pestiferous influence of a rationalist varnished over with mysticism.
These things Donna Rosetta had learned from the Abbe Marinier, who
smiled knowingly about them in her salon. It was inconceivable how
many poisonous accusations were being sown broadcast with the greatest
cunning by the non-concessionists all united against this poor devil
of a mystical rationalist, at whom the Abbe smiled no less than at his
There was news also from the Ministry of the Interior. What news? Donna
Rosetta was about to answer when the carriage stopped before a large
convent, The Cardinal lived here. Donna Rosetta alighted alone. Jeanne's
presence was not necessary at this interview; indeed, it would be
inopportune. It would be necessary somewhere else. Jeanne waited in the
carriage, distressed at not having as yet discovered the object of this
visit, in spite of Donna Rosetta's flow of words. Five minutes, ten
minutes, passed. Jeanne drew herself up out of the corner where she
had leaned, absorbed in her thoughts. She watched the entrance to the
convent to see if Donna Rosetta were not coming. Rare wayfarers, passing
slowly along the quiet street, looked into the carriage. It seemed to
Jeanne almost an offence that there were people who could be so calm.
Ah, God! The doctor had promised to send her a bulletin to the Grand
Hotel at seven o'clock. It was not yet three. More than four hours to
wait. And what would the bulletin say? She bit her lips, stifling a sob
in her throat. Ah! here is Donna Rosetta at last. The footman opens the
door, she gives him an order:
"Palazzo Braschi!" As she enters the carriage she casts a little book at
her feet, and, instead of speaking, rubs her lips vehemently with her
perfumed handkerchief. Finally she says, with a shudder, that she was
obliged to kiss the Cardinal's hand, and that it was anything but clean.
But at any rate the visit was successful. Ah, if her husband only knew!
She had played a really horrible part. The Cardinal was the very one
who had once met Giovanni Selva in the library of Santa Scolastica at
Subiaco, and had assailed him, telling him he was a profaner of the
sacred walls, and promising him that he would most certainly go to hell,
or even further down! Donna Rosetta had fanned his fire, in order to
break up the secret accord between the Vatican and Palazzo Braschi. She
had told him that the religious _haute_ of Turin much desired the
man chosen by the Vatican, and obnoxious to the Quirinal. The wily
Cardinal--whom she had once met in the salon of a French prelate--had
at first answered only, with that accent of his, neither French nor
_"C'est vous qui me dites ca? C'est vous qui me dites ca?"_
In fact, Donna Rosetta had replied, laughing:
_"Oh c'est enorme, je le sais!"_
It was a speech which might cost her husband his title of Excellency.
But then "the most eminent one" had as good as promised her that the
desires of the Turin _haute_ should be satisfied.
_"Ce sera lui, ce sera lui!"_ Finally he had said to her:
_"Comment donc, madame, avez-vous epouse un francmacon? Un des pires,
aussi! Un des pires! Faites lui lire cela!"_
And he had given her a little book on the doctrines of hell and the
inevitable damnation of Freemasons. It was this little book she had cast
at her feet on entering the carriage.
"Fancy my husband reading that rubbish!" she said.
But what was all this to Jeanne? Jeanne was impatient to hear the news
from the Ministry of the Interior. And now, whom were they going to see?
The Minister, or the Under-Secretary of State?
They were going to see the Under-Secretary of State, going to see Donna
Rosetta's husband. Up to the present moment Donna Rosetta had kept
silent concerning the purpose and object of this visit, in order that
Jeanne might not have time to draw back or to prepare herself too
carefully. The Right Honourable Albacina was aware of his wife's
friendship for Signora Dessalle as well as of Signora Dessalle's
friendship for the Selvas, who in their turn were so devoted to Maironi.
He had told his wife that he wished to speak with this lady, for reasons
of his own, which he did not intend to reveal. He should expect her at
the Ministry of the Interior soon after three o'clock. She, his wife,
might come with her if she liked, but she could not be present at the
interview. Jeanne's first movement on hearing this was an exclamation of
refusal. Donna Rosetta, however, had little difficulty in persuading her
to change her mind. She could not tell what projects her husband had in
his mind, she did not know; but in her opinion it would be madness not
to go, not to listen, because there could be no danger, and Jeanne need
not commit herself in any way. Jeanne yielded, although the silence
Signora Albacina had maintained up to the last moment in a matter of
such importance made her tremble. She felt like an invalid to whom after
much frivolous talk the visit of a celebrated surgeon is announced, who
is coming to examine the patient.
"I would not advise you to go alone," Signora Albacina concluded,
smiling. "The ushers saw many things in the times of certain ministers
and their deputies! But I am going with you, and I am well known at the
Ministry of the Interior! Besides, the things that used to happen do not
The Right Honourable Albacina was with the Minister. A deputy, who had
just been requested to enter, recognised Donna Rosetta, and offered to
announce her to her husband. He had only a word or two to say, and would
come out at once. Indeed, in about five minutes the deputy reappeared
with Albacina, who begged Jeanne to enter the Minister's room with
him. The two ladies had not expected this, and Donna Rosetta asked her
husband if it were not he himself who wished to speak with Jeanne. His
Excellency did not allow himself to be disturbed for so little; he
dismissed his wife in a summary manner, and hurried Signora Dessalle,
taken by surprise, into the Minister's presence. When he presented her
to his superior, she was embarrassed and almost angry.
The Minister received her with the most respectful courtesy, with the
manner of a stern man, who honours woman, but keeps her at a distance.
He had known the banker Dessalle, Jeanne's father, and immediately spoke
"A man," he said, "who had much gold in his coffers, but the purest gold
of all in his conscience!" He added that the memory of this man had
encouraged him to speak with her about a very delicate matter. When he
had spoken those words, or rather while he was speaking them, Jeanne
felt sure that this man knew the past. She could not refrain from
glancing stealthily at the Under-Secretary. She read the same knowledge
in his eyes, but the Under-Secretary's expression troubled her and
irritated her, while the Minister's gaze seemed to open a paternal heart
to her. The Minister introduced the topic by speaking of Giovanni Selva,
whom he freely praised. He expressed regret that he had no personal
acquaintance with him. He said he was aware that Jeanne was a friend of
the Selvas. He must beg her to persuade her friends to undertake a most
important mission to another person. And then he spoke of Maironi,
always careful to place the Selvas between Maironi and Jeanne, and
careful to avoid allusion to any possible direct communication between
them. Jeanne listened, striving to pay close attention to his words,
to prepare a prudent and pertinent answer, and ever conscious of the
discomfort the presence of this little Mephistopheles of an Albacina
caused her. The Minister's discourse did not prove to be what she had
expected; more favourable perhaps, but more embarrassing. He told her he
was not speaking as the Minister, but as a friend; that he did not wish
to hide things from her; that certain shadows had had absolutely no
substance; that neither ministers, nor magistrates, nor police-agents,
had any right to interfere with Signor Maironi, who was perfectly free
to do as he liked, and had nothing to fear from the laws of his country.
He was, he said, convinced of the inanity of certain accusations which
had been brought against him out of religious animosity. He felt much
sympathy for Signor Maironi's religious views, and much esteem for his
proposed apostolate, but Signor Selva must really convince him of the
wisdom of leaving Rome for some time at least, and this in the interest
of his apostolate itself; for his religious antagonists in Rome were
waging war against him so violently, dealing him such slanderous
blows, that very soon he must inevitably find himself entirely without
disciples. Here the Minister, thinking to please Jeanne, assured her
of his own interest in religion. What a tragic illusion! she thought,
bitterly. He trusted that in the near future Signer Maironi would be
able to exert his influence freely in a very high place; there were many
signs of an imminent transformation, of an imminent misfortune to befall
the non-concessionists; but, for the moment, it would be more prudent
for him to disappear. This was the friendly but pressing advice which
they desired to convey to him through his distinguished friend. Would
Signora Dessalle consent to speak to that distinguished friend?
Jeanne trembled. Could she trust him? Would she be revealing things
which perhaps these two did not know, and were trying to find out from
her? Involuntarily she glanced at the Undersecretary, and her eyes spoke
so plainly that he could not avoid taking a decisive step.
"Signora," he said, with his habitual sarcastic smile, "I see that you
do not want rue here. My presence is not necessary, and I will go, in
obedience to your wish; it is a just wish, and one easily explained."
Jeanne blushed, and he noticed it, and was pleased at having succeeded
in wounding her by the covert allusion contained in his last words, and,
above all, in his malicious smile.
"Nevertheless," he added, still smiling in the same way, "I cannot leave
without assuring you, on my honour, that my wife is a most loyal friend
to you; that she has never uttered an indiscreet word to me concerning
you, as I myself have never been guilty of indiscretion when discussing
the same subject with my wife."
Having thus taken his revenge, the little man departed, leaving Jeanne
greatly agitated. Good God! Did they really intend to oblige her to
speak to Piero? Did they suppose she saw him? Did these men also believe
that Piero's saintliness was a lie? By an effort she composed herself,
seeking help in the Minister's grave, sad, and respectful gaze.
"I will speak to Signer Giovanni" she said. "But I believe," she added
hesitatingly, "that Signor Maironi is ill, and not able to travel."
When she uttered Maironi's name flames rushed to her face. She felt them
far hotter than they appeared, but the Minister noticed them, and came
to her aid.
"Perhaps, Signora," he said, "you fear to compromise your friends the
Selvas. Do not fear this. I once more repeat that Signor Maironi has
nothing to fear from any quarter, and I will add that we know all about
him. We know he is in Rome, that he is staying--but only for a few hours
longer--in the house of a senator in Via della Polveriera. We know he is
ill, but that he is able to travel. You may even tell Signor Selva that,
if he desire it, I will request my colleague, the Minister of Public
Works, to place a reserved compartment at Signor Maironi's service."
Jeanne, trembling violently, was about to interrupt him, to exclaim,
"Only for a few hours longer?" but, controlling herself with difficulty,
she took leave of the Minister, anxious to hasten to the Senate, to
As he accompanied her to the door the Minister said:
"Perhaps Signor Selva is unaware that the Senator is expecting visitors,
relations I believe, and so will not be able to keep Signor Maironi
any longer. He much regrets this. What a fine man he is! We are old
Jeanne shuddered, fearing to have guessed the truth. They had been
scheming to oblige the Senator to send Piero away; they were indeed
pushing him out of Rome! But was it possible the Senator had allowed
himself to be persuaded? To drive out an invalid in his condition! She
entered her _coupe_ and drove to Palazza Madama, where she inquired
for the Senator. He was not there. The usher who gave her this answer
appeared rather embarrassed. Was he acting under orders? Not daring to
insist, she left her card, with a request that the Senator would call at
the Grand Hotel before dinner. She herself started for the Grand Hotel,
her heart quivering and groaning, the point of her shoe beating upon the
little book against Freemasonry, which Donna Rosetta had forgotten. She
would have liked the two sorrels to fly. It was a quarter to five, and
at half-past four it was daily her duty to prepare Carlino's medicine.
Half an hour before she reached the Grand Hotel Giovanni and Maria Selva
arrived there. Young di Leyni arrived at the same time. He also had come
to inquire for Signora Dessalle, and expressed his satisfaction at this
meeting; but he was far from cheerful.
Upon learning that Signora Dessalle was out, the three visitors asked to
be allowed to wait for her in the parlour. The Selvas seemed even less
cheerful than di Leyni.
After a brief silence Maria observed that it was already a quarter past
four, therefore Jeanne would not be long, for every day at half-past
four she was engaged with her brother. Di Leyni begged that they would
present him to her on her arrival. He had a message for her, but was not
acquainted with her. The message, indeed, concerned all of Benedetto's
friends, therefore concerned the Selvas also. Maria trembled.
"A message from him?" she asked eagerly. "A message from Benedetto?"
Di Leyni looked at her, astonished at her eagerness, and hesitated
slightly before answering. No, it was not from Benedetto, but it
concerned him. As Signora Dessalle might come in at any moment, and as
the matter was rather lengthy, rather complicated, he judged it as
well not to begin discussing it until she arrived. Then he inquired,
innocently, how this Signora Dessalle had come to take such an interest
in Benedetto's fate. She had never been seen at the meetings in Via
della Vite, and he had never even heard her name mentioned.
"But what makes you think she does take an interest in his fate?" said
"Because, you see," di Leyni answered, "I have a message for her which
is about him."
Di Leyni, whose devotion to Benedetto was boundless, had never credited
the scandalous rumours which had been spread concerning him; he had
repulsed them with passionate indignation. He would not admit that his
master could habour either a guilty or an ideal love. In asking that
question, he could have had no idea that a relation of a shameful nature
had existed between Jeanne and Benedetto. Giovanni changed the subject
by remarking that Signora Dessalle might not come in for some time, and
that, therefore, di Leyni had better speak.
Di Leyni spoke.
He had been to see Benedetto. On reaching Via della Polveriera from San
Pietro in Vincoli, he had recognised two policemen in plain clothes, who
were walking up and down. He might have been mistaken, or this might
have happened by chance. At any rate it was something to take note of.
As soon as he entered the house the Senator had sent to beg him to come
into his study. There, speaking with much affability but with manifest
embarrassment, he had told him that he was glad to see a friend of his
dear guest's at that special moment; that Benedetto was fortunately free
from fever, and, in his opinion, on the road to recovery. A telegram, he
said, had just announced to him that his old sister was to arrive very
shortly, that his apartment contained only one bedroom besides his own
and the one occupied by the servant; that he could not possibly send his
sister to an hotel, neither could he telegraph her to delay her visit,
for she had already started; therefore--
The Senator had allowed di Leyni to complete the sentence for himself.
Di Leyni who, with a few other faithful ones, was aware of the secret
plots against Benedetto, was amazed. What should he answer? That the
Senator alone was master in his own house? That was, perhaps, the only
answer possible. Di Leyni had ventured, with much circumspection, to
express his fear that a move might prove fatal to the sick man. The
Senator was convinced of the contrary. He believed a change of air would
greatly benefit him. He had not as yet been able to consult the doctor,
but he had no doubt of this. He suggested Sorrento. As di Leyni did
not know what to say, and did not move, the Senator had dismissed him,
begging him to go, in his name, to the Grand Hotel, and see Signora
Dessalle, at whose request he had received Benedetto into his house, and
desire her to arrange matters, for his sister would arrive that same
evening before eleven o'clock.
Then di Leyni had gone in to see Benedetto. Good God! in what a state
he had found him! Without fever, perhaps, but with the appearance of a
The young man's eyes were full of tears as he told of it. Benedetto did
not know he would be obliged to leave. He had spoken of it to him as of
something not yet certain but possible. Benedetto had looked at him in
silence, as if to read in his soul, and then had questioned, with a
smile: "Must I go to prison?" Then di Leyni repented of not having at
once told the whole truth to a man so strong and serene in God, and he
repeated to him all the Senator had said.
"He took my hand," the young man continued, his voice broken with
emotion, "and while he held it and caressed it, he said these precise
words: 'I will not leave Rome. Do you wish me to come and die in your
house?' I was so deeply moved that I had not the strength to answer, for
indeed I am not sure that he is not really in danger of arrest; perhaps
this incredible act of the Senator's may be a pretext to prevent the
arrest taking place in his house. And how could he be carried to another
place of safety, with the police watching for him? I embraced him,
murmured a few meaningless words, and hastened away; hastened here to
speak to this Signora Dessalle. Perhaps she will come and persuade the
The Selvas had often interrupted di Leyni with exclamations of surprise
and indignation. When he had finished his recital, they were speechless
and amazed. The first to break the silence was Signora Maria.
"If Jeanne would only come!" she said softly.
She made an imperceptible sign to her husband, and proposed that they
both go and see if by any chance she had returned and they had not been
informed. While they were crossing the Jardin d'Hiver she said she
thought di Leyni should be told who Jeanne really was. Signora Dessalle
had not yet returned. Giovanni took the young man aside, and spoke to
him in a low tone. Maria, who was watching him, saw him tremble and turn
pale, his eyes dilate; saw him, in his turn, speak, asking something.
Jeanne Dessalle entered hurriedly, smiling.
The porter had given her a note from a doctor. It said:
"I do not expect to be able to come back. This morning he was without
fever. Let us hope the attack may not return."
Jeanne saw at once that there was no question of removing the patient.
She embraced Maria and shook hands with Selva, who presented di Leyni.
Then she apologised to them all because she was obliged to leave them
for five minutes. Her brother was waiting for her. As soon as she had
left the room, promising to return at once, di Leyni drew Selva aside
once more. Maria saw the look of anxiety he had worn before reappear on
his face, saw that he was asking many questions, and that her husband's
answers seemed to be calming him. At last she saw her husband place
his hands on the young man's shoulders, and say something to him, she
believed she knew what; it was something secret, not yet known to
Jeanne. She saw emotion and profound reverence in the young man's eyes.
A waiter came to say that Signora Dessalle was waiting for them in her
apartment. There was much movement in the hotel. The rustling of long
skirts, the muffled beat of footsteps mingled on the carpets of the
corridors; subdued foreign voices, gay, plaintive, flattering or
indifferent, came and went; the lifts were being taken by storm. Each
member of the little silent group experienced the same bitter sense
of all this indifferent worldliness. Jeanne was in her salon next to
Carlino's room, where he was accompanying Chieco's violoncello on the
piano. She came forward to meet her friends with a smile that, combined
with the music--antique Italian music, simple and peaceful--made their
hearts ache. She seemed rather surprised to see di Leyni, from whom she
had not expected a visit. She had really asked them to come up stairs
that they might speak more freely, but she told them she had wished to
offer them a little of Chieco's music, and now he would not allow the
door to remain open. However, one could hear very well with the door
closed. Giovanni at once informed her that the Cavaliere di Leyni had a
message for her from, the Senator.
"While you are speaking together we will listen to the music," he said.
He and his wife stepped aside from Jeanne, who had turned pale, and who,
in spite of her violent effort to do so, could not entirely conceal her
impatience to hear this message. Di Leyni sat down beside her, and began
to speak in a low tone.
The violoncello and the piano were jesting together on a pastoral theme,
full of caresses and of simple and lively tenderness. Maria could not
refrain from murmuring, "_Dio!_ Poor woman!" and her husband could
not refrain from following, on Jeanne's face, the painful words her
companion was speaking to the sound of this tender and lively music.
He watched the young man's face also, who, while speaking to the lady,
often looked towards him as if to express his grief and to ask for
advice. Jeanne listened to him, her eyes fixed on the ground. When he
had finished she raised to the Selvas those great eyes of hers, so full
of pitiful distress. She looked from one to the other saying mutely,
involuntarily, "You know?" The sad eyes of both husband and wife
replied, "Yes, we know!" There came a loud outburst of joyous music.
Maria took advantage of this to murmur to her husband:
"Do you think he told her what he said about wishing to die in Rome?"
Her husband answered that it would be best for her to know, that he
hoped he had told her. Jeanne let her gaze rest on the door whence came
the sound of the music. She waited a moment, and then signed to the
Selvas to approach. She said, her voice quite firm, that she felt the
Senator should have informed them, that she did not understand why he
had appealed to her. They must now arrange what was to be done.
The music ceased. They could hear Carlino and Chieco talking. Di Leyni,
who occupied bachelor's quarters on the Sant' Onofrio hillside, offered
them eagerly. But what about the warrant? What if they were only waiting
to serve it until Benedetto should have left the Senator's house?
Jeanne calmly denied the possibility of an arrest. The Selvas looked at
her, full of admiration for that forced calm. For some time past Jeanne
had suspected that they were acquainted with Benedetto's real name. Was
it then possible that Noemi (though, indeed, she had admonished her
often enough) should never have allowed a word to escape her? A moment
before, when they had exchanged those silent and sorrowful glances, the
Selvas and Jeanne had understood one another, Giovanni and his wife saw
that if Jeanne were thus heroically controlling herself it was not on
their account, but on di Leyni's account. And now, after Giovanni's
words, di Leyni himself knew everything! It seemed to them they had
almost been guilty of treason.
They were convinced that Jeanne must have reasons of which they were
ignorant for saying she did not believe in the possibility of an
arrest. They remarked that Benedetto might now accept their proffered
hospitality. Jeanne was quick to remind them that Benedetto himself had
expressed a desire, and that the Sant' Onofrio hillside would seem more
suitable than the Via Arenula as the residence of an invalid who needed
quiet. Nevertheless, it was her opinion that they could not possibly
allow him to be moved without the doctor's express permission. All were
of one mind on this point. The Selvas charged di Leyni to inform the
Senator that Benedetto's friends would find him another place of refuge,
but only on condition that the physician in attendance gave a written
permission to remove him. While Giovanni was talking, a noisy _allegro_
burst from the piano in the next room, an _allegro_ all sobs and cries.
He ceased speaking, not wishing to raise his voice too high, and let
the rush of sad music pass. And sad was the word which his eyes and the
young man's eyes uttered to each other, while their lips were silent.
Di Leyni had no time to lose, and so took his leave. He disliked going
alone; he could have wished to appear before the Senator with some one
of Benedetto's friends whose presence would intimidate him a little, for
his conduct was inexplicable.
Giovanni muttered something about the vice-presidency of the Senate,
to which that old man aspired, and which he would not obtain. It is
a bitter grief to discover such sordid motives where they are least
expected! Maria rose and offered to accompany di Leyni.
"You will stay?" Jeanne asked Giovanni anxiously. Her tone said, "You
must stay!" Selva said that he had, indeed, intended to remain, and the
expression of his voice, of his face, was such as to acquaint Jeanne
with the fact that sad words, not yet spoken, were weighing on his
heart. Oh! thought Jeanne, what if Chieco should leave now, and Carlino
call? Then it would not be possible for us to speak together! For she
also had something to say to Selva. She must repeat the Minister's
discourse to him. The two musicians had once more ceased playing, and
were talking. Jeanne knocked softly on the door, and blew a few gay
words against it:
"_Bravi!_ Have you finished already?"
"No, pretty one," Chieco answered from the other side. "So much the
worse for you if you are bored!"
He sent forth a fiendish whistle, fit to pierce a hole in the door.
Jeanne clapped her hands. The piano and the violoncello attacked a
She turned to Selva, who was coming in again after having accompanied
his wife into the corridor, in order to tell her to telegraph to Don
Clemente. She went towards him with clasped hands, her eyes full of
"Selva," she murmured in a stifled voice, "you know everything now. I
cannot hide my feelings from you. Is there something worse? Tell me the
Selva took her hands and pressed them in silence, while the violoncello
answered for him, bitterly and sadly: "Weep, weep, for there is no fate
like thy fate of love and of grief." He pressed the poor icy hands,
unable to speak. He saw clearly di Leyni had not dared to repeat the
terrible words to her--"I will come and die in your house." It was his
lot to deal her the first blow.
"My dear," he said, gently and paternally, "did he not tell you at the
Sacro Speco that he would call you to him in a solemn hour? The hour is
come, he calls you."
Jeanne started violently. She did not believe she had heard aright.
"Oh, how is this? No!" she exclaimed.
Then, as Selva continued silent, with the same pity in his eyes, a flash
shot through her heart. "Ah!" she cried, and her whole being went out in
mute and agonized questioning. Selva pressed her hands still harder, his
tightly closed lips twitched, and a suppressed sob wrung his breast. She
said never a word, but would have fallen had not his hands upheld her.
He supported her, and then led her to a seat,
"At once?" she said. "At once? Is it imminent?"
"No. no. He wishes to see you to-morrow. He believes it will be
to-morrow, but he may be mistaken. Let us hope he is mistaken,"
"My God, Selva! But the doctor writes that he has no fever!"
Selva made the gesture of one who is obliged to admit the presence of a
misfortune without understanding it. The music was silent, he spoke in
subdued tones. Benedetto had written to him. The doctor had found him
free from fever, but he himself foresaw a fresh attack, after which
the end would come. God was granting him the blessing of a sweet and
peaceful respite. He had a favour to ask of Selva. He was aware that
Signora Dessalle, a friend of Signorina Noemi's, was in Rome. He had
promised this lady, before an alter at the Sacro Speco, to call her to
him before his death, that they might speak together. Probably Signorina
Noemi would be able to explain the reason of this to him.
Selva paused; he had the letter in his pocket, and began searching for
it. Jeanne saw his movement, and was seized with convulsive shuddering.
"No, no," said he. "I repeat he may be mistaken."
He waited for her to become calm, and then, instead of taking the letter
from his pocket, he repeated the last part of it by heart:
"The attack will return this evening or in the night; to-morrow night,
or the day after to-morrow in the morning, the end will come. I wish to
see Signora Dessalle to-morrow, to speak a word to her in the name of
the Lord, to whom I am going. I asked the Senator, a few moments ago,
to arrange this meeting for me, but he found excuses for not doing so.
Therefore I appeal to you."
Jeanne had covered her face with her hands and was speechless. Selva
thought it best to say something hopeful. Perhaps the attack would not
return; perhaps the fever was checked. She shook her head violently, and
he did not dare to insist. Suddenly she fancied she heard Chieco saying
good-bye. She shuddered, and removed her hands from her face, which was
ghostly, under her disordered hair. But, instead, the first gay notes of
the _Curricolo Napoletano_ burst forth; that was the piece Chieco
always played last. She started to her feet, and spoke convulsively,
"Selva, I know Piero is dying, I know he is not mistaken. If possible
make him stay where he is. Bring his friends to him--swear to me that
you will bring his friends to him, that he may have that comfort! Tell
them about me, all about me; tell them the truth. Tell them how pure,
how holy Piero really is! I will wait here, I will not stir. When he
calls me I will come, as you shall direct me. I am strong. See, I am no
longer crying! Telegraph to Don Clemente that his disciple is dying, and
that he must come. Let us do all we can. It is late. Go now. You, in one
way or another, will see Piero to-night. Tell him----"
At this point a spasm of grief checked her words. Chieco came in,
whistling, and beating one hand against the other in his own peculiar
fashion, Selva slipped out through the door. Jeanne ran after him into
the dark corridor. She seized one of his hands and pressed a wild kiss
* * * * *
A few hours later, towards ten o'clock, Jeanne was reading the Figaro to
Carlino, who was--buried in an easy-chair, his legs enveloped in a rug,
a large cup of milk, which he was holding with both hands, resting
upon his knee. Jeanne read so badly, was so heedless of commas and of
full-stops, that her brother was continually interrupting her, and was
growing impatient. She had been reading about five minutes when her maid
entered and announced that Signorina Noemi was there. Jeanne threw
the paper aside, and was out of the room in a flash. Noemi related
hurriedly, standing the while--for she was anxious to leave again on
account of the lateness of the hour--that while Giovanni and Maria were
at the Grand Hotel, Professor Mayda, just back from Naples, had come
to their house, perfectly furious, and demanding an explanation of
Benedetto's disappearance from his house. Then she had told him
everything, and Mayda had gone directly to Via della Polveriera. There
he had found Maria, di Leyni, the Senator, and the doctor, whose opinion
was that Benedetto could be moved. A discussion had arisen between Mayda
and the doctor on this point, to which Mayda had finally put an end by
saying: "Well, rather than leave him here, I will carry him away again
myself!" In an hour's time he was back again with a carriage full of
pillows and rugs, and had indeed carried him off. It seemed the journey
had been accomplished successfully.
When she had heard the story, Jeanne embraced her friend in silence,
clasping her close. And her friend, trembling and full of tears,
whispered to her:
"Listen, Jeanne! Will you pray for tomorrow?"
"Yes," Jeanne replied.
She was silent, struggling against a rising tempest of tears. When she
had conquered it she went on, in a low tone:
"I do not know how to pray to God. Do you know to whom I pray? To Don
Noemi buried her face on Jeanne's shoulder, and said in a stifled voice:
"How I wish that, afterwards, he might see us working together for his
Jeanne did not answer, and Noemi went away.
* * * * *
Jeanne returned to Carlino to continue the reading, but he received her
roughly. He declared he was tired of this sort of life, and that she was
to prepare to leave with him to-morrow for Naples, Jeanne replied that
this was folly, and that she would not leave. Then Carlino fired up,
caught, her wrists, and shook her so that he really hurt her. She must
absolutely go! Now that she tried to resist, the moment had come to
tell her that he was acquainted with the reasons of her windings and
twistings, of her mysteries, her red eyes, her bad reading, and also of
her not wishing to leave Rome. He had been informed of these things by
anonymous letters. Woe to her if she did not break with that madman! Woe
to her if she sacrificed her convictions to him, if she allowed herself
to be won over to superstition, to bigotry, to the religion of the
priests! He would never look on her face again. He would disown her as a
sister, he who wished to live and die a free-thinker. No, no, she
must break, break! They would go to Naples, to Palermo, to Africa if
"A free-thinker? Certainly. And what about my liberty?" Jeanne said
without anger, simply reminding him of a right, but without the
intention of taking advantage of it. Carlino thought, on the contrary,
that she intended taking advantage of it in the way he feared, and
lost his head completely. Jeanne grew faint as she listened to the abuse
which this man poured forth with so much bitterness, this man whom she
had known to be nervous, but had believed to be good and kind. She spoke
no word in reply, but withdrew to her own room, trembling violently. She
wrote him a few lines telling him that her dignity would not permit her
to remain with him unless he apologised for his insults; that she was
going away, and that if he wished to send her a word, he would find her
at Casa Selva. She took only a small bag with her, and, leaving the
letter on the writing-desk, went out accompanied by her maid.
She could not see any cabs near the hotel, so she started towards the
Esedro intending to take the tram there. The west wind was blowing. The
evergreen oaks along the avenue were writhing and groaning. It was dark,
and hard walking on the uneven soil. The frightened maid exclaimed:
_"Gesummaria, Signora! Where are we going?"_
Jeanne, her head aflame, her heart and her pulse in a tumult, went on
without answering. It seemed to her she was being borne through the
darkness towards him, on the tide of an unknown sea.
Towards him, towards him. Towards his God also? The mighty wind confused
her, roaring above and around her. Noemi's words, Carlino's words were
rending her soul in a violent struggle. Towards his God also? Ah! how
could she tell? In the meantime, towards him!
IN THE WHIRLWIND OF GOD
At two o'clock on the following day Jeanne, with Maria and Noemi, was
waiting at Casa Selva for news from Villa Mayda, her thoughts dwelling,
from time to time, on the persistent silence at the Grand Hotel.
Giovanni had gone to Villa Mayda before seven o'clock. He had returned
at nine. He had not been able to see Benedetto. Professor Mayda would
not allow him or any one else to enter. He knew that the sick man had
received the Sacraments, but more as an act of devotion than because
he was in immediate danger. However, in the night a trace of fever had
reappeared. It was hoped the attack might be conquered or checked.
Perhaps, in making this report to Jeanne, Giovanni had slightly coloured
it with optimism. Benedetto was in the Professor's own room. Giovanni
said it would not be possible to describe how full of exquisite, womanly
tenderness were the attentions lavished upon him by this terrible Mayda,
who was believed by many to be harsh and proud. Giovanni had gone back
again after lunch about mid-day. From Carlino nothing had come, neither
a written word, nor a message. Notwithstanding her other great sorrow,
Jeanne could not help thinking of him also. What if his grief, his
anger, had really made him ill? Her friends reassured her. Either
the maid or the footman would have come to tell her. She had little
confidence in the intelligence of these servants. What was to be done?
Jeanne was about to beg that some one might be sent to inquire, when, at
a quarter-past two, hurried steps were heard in the hall, and Giovanni
entered, in his great-coat, his hat in his hand. Jeanne glanced at his
face, and understood that the moment was come. She rose, as white
as death. Silently and immediately Maria and Noemi rose also, Maria
watching Jeanne, while Noemi gazed at her brother-in-law, who,
confronted by Jeanne's ghostly face, could find no words. Five or six
terrible seconds passed, but not more. Then Maria said, in a hushed
"Are we to go?"
Her husband answered:
"We had better go."
Nothing more was said.
The three ladies went to put on their cloaks and hats, Jeanne into one
room, Maria and Noemi into another. Giovanni followed his wife and
Noemi. Well? The fever had greatly increased, and the Professor no
longer hoped. Noemi, hearing this, put on her hat quickly, and went to
the other room, where Jeanne was dressing. She turned, saw that Noemi
was coming to kiss her, and checked her, with a gesture placing her
finger on her lips. Noemi understood. It was a time for fortitude;
Jeanne would have neither kisses, nor words, nor tears. She did not ask
for particulars, asked no questions. They all met presently, and Maria
told her husband, in a low tone, to send for two closed cabs, for the
sky had become overcast, and one of the thunderstorms of the Roman
winter was threatening. No cabs would be necessary, for Giovanni had
come in the landau, belonging to Casa Mayda. They entered the landau,
which was closed. Then Jeanne noticed that her companions had on
dark dresses, while she was wearing a gray dress, too light and too
fashionable. She started slightly, and the others looked at her
questioningly. She hesitated a moment, but reflected that she had
neither the time nor the means to make a change, and answered:
"It is nothing."
The carriage moved on. No one spoke again.
Upon turning into Via del Pianto the carriage was stopped by an
obstruction. It had grown darker still and was thundering. The horses
were frightened, and Maria looked anxiously out of the window. Jeanne,
seated opposite Giovanni, asked him in a low tone if he had telegraphed
to Don Clemente. Giovanni answered that Don Clemente had been at Villa
Mayda ever since half-past ten. The carriage started forward. When they
reached Piazza Montanara it began to rain. The horses were trotting
rapidly. When at last the coachman brought them down to a walk Maria
looked at her husband--Is not this the Aventine? We must be near. This
was said with the eyes, not with the lips. Jeanne had never passed that
way, but she also felt that they would soon reach their destination.
Holding herself very straight, she stared at the wall, which passed
before her eyes. She stared at it attentively, as if striving to count
the chinks between the stones. The horses broke into a trot. Beyond
Sant' Anselmo the road leads downwards. People standing on the right
and on the left looked into the carriage. Involuntarily Giovanni Selva
"Here we are."
Then Jeanne started violently, and covered her face with her hands.
Maria, who sat next to her, put her arm round her neck, and, bending
close to her, whispered:
But Jeanne drew back, avoiding her as much as possible, while Noemi
shook her head, signing to her sister not to insist. Maria sighed, and
the carriage, turning to the left, between two dense lines of people,
passed through a gateway. The wheels grated on the gravel and then
stopped. A servant came to the door. The Professor desired them to come
into the villa. Not until then did Giovanni Selva tell his companions
that Benedetto was no longer in the villa, that he had begged to be
carried to his little old room in the gardener's house. The carriage
moved forward a few yards, and the four friends alighted before a
flight of white marble steps, between two groups of palms. It was still
raining, but not heavily, and no one thought about it, neither the
populace crowding round the gate, nor a group of people who were
watching the new arrivals, from the avenue bordered by orange trees,
which ran parallel with the inclosing wall down to the gardener's little
house. Some one left the group. It was di Leyni, who mounted the marble
steps behind Selva, and, stopping him under the arch of the Pompeian
vestibule, spoke to him in a low tone, without so much as a glance at
the magnificent scene which was spread out before them between the two
groups of palms: the river of begonias, tumbling down the slope of
the Aventine, between two banks of _musae_; the black and stormy sky,
striped with white down above the battlements of Porta San Paolo, above
the pyramid of Caio Cestio, and above the little grove of cypress which
springs from the heart of Shelley.
* * * * *
Selva entered the vestibule, and reappeared a moment later with his
wife. They went down the steps with di Leyni, and turned in the
direction of the people, who seemed to be expecting them in the avenue
of orange-trees. At that moment a volley of angry voices rang out at the
gate. The road was full of people. They had been waiting for hours, ever
since the rumour spread in the Testaccio quarter that the Saint of Jenne
had returned to Villa Mayda, but was ill. So far they had asked only for
news. Now they demanded that a deputation be allowed to enter, and to
see him. The servants refused to take the message, and an exchange of
angry words was the result, which, however, suddenly stopped as
the tall, dark figure of Professor Mayda appeared, coming from the
orange-grove. The men took off their hats. He ordered the gate to be
opened, told the people that all should see Benedetto later, but not
now. In the meantime they might come into the garden. "Of course, poor
And the people entered, slowly, respectfully, some gathering around the
Professor and asking, with tears in their eyes:
"Is it true, _Signor Professore_? Is it true he is dying? Tell us!"
And behind them others pressed, anxiously awaiting the answer. The
answer was only:
"Alas! What can I say to you?"
But the sad, manly face said more than the words and the crowd moved
away mournfully, along the green slopes, which had taken on a livid hue
under the black sky streaked with white and formed a mystic symbol of
death, of the dark passage from terrestrial shadows to the upper regions
of infinite brightness.
Benedetto loved Professor Mayda. When, at the Senator's house, he heard
that the Professor had decided to carry him away to Villa Mayda, he
showed great pleasure, He loved this man, who was perhaps, as yet,
incapable of faith, but was profoundly convinced that there are enigmas
which science cannot solve; who was generous, haughty with the great,
but gentle with the humble. He loved the garden also, the trees, the
flowers, and the grass, whose friend and servant he had been, as he had
been the friend and servant of the Professor. Everything in this garden
was full of sweet, innocent souls, in whose company he had adored God
in certain moments of spiritual ecstasy, placing his lips on the
tiny beings, on a flower, on a leaf, on a stem, in a breath of green
coolness. He was happy in the thought of dying amidst them. Sometimes,
under one of those pine-trees, its canopy, full of wind and of sound,
turned towards the Coelian Hill, he had thought of the last scene in his
vision, and had imagined himself stretched there on the grass, in the
Benedictine habit, pale and calm, and surrounded by mournful faces,
while the pine-tree above him sang the mysterious song of Heaven. Each
time he had stifled in his heart this sense of pleasure, which was not
unmixed with selfish, human vanity, and not entirely controlled and
suppressed in submission to the Divine Will. But he had not been able to
tear out its roots. Therefore he stretched out his arms gratefully
to the Professor. But immediately he was assailed by scruples.
His intelligence and his Christian sentiment were in a state of
contradiction. He was aware that he was not liked by the lady who had
married the Professor's son, a naval officer, now in the East; he saw
that his return to Villa Mayda would be displeasing to her, and a source
of discord between her father-in-law and herself. But how could he say
so now, without implying a want of justice and of charity in a person
whom, from the very fact that she was his enemy, he was especially bound
to love? He entreated the Professor to let him go to Sant' Onofrio.
The change was so sudden that it surprised Mayda. He thought a moment,
understood, and then said, knitting his brows:
"Do you wish me never to forgive some one for something?"
Benedetto offered no further opposition. Only when that night the moment
came to go down to the carriage, and he realised that he could not stand
alone, he said to the Professor, smiling, and placing his hand on his
"You know that, if I continue thus, you will have a dead man in your
house to-morrow or the day after?"
The Professor replied that he would not lie to him, that this was
possible, but not certain.
"You know," Benedetto continued, no longer smiling, "that first you will
"I understand what you mean," the Professor interrupted him. "Come in
peace, dear friend. I am not a believer, as you are, but I wish I were;
and I will throw my doors open respectfully to all whom you may wish me
to see. Meanwhile shall we not take this with us?"
From the wall he took the Crucifix which Benedetto had brought with him,
and then lifted the sick man in his powerful arms.
The journey was accomplished without accident. Stretched across the
landau, upon a bank of cushions, Benedetto, who seemed to have shrunk in
stature, answered the Professor's frequent questions more often with
a smile than with his feeble voice. The Professor kept his finger
continually on Benedetto's pulse, and from time to time gave him a
cordial. At the entrance to the villa, either from emotion or from
fatigue, the sick man's poor, fleshless face blanched, and was covered
with sweat, and he closed his great, shining eyes. Mayda carried him
to his own bed, and thus it happened that when Benedetto regained
consciousness he was quite bewildered.
In his state of extreme weakness he did not regain consciousness without
passing through shadows of vain imaginings. He thought he was dead, and
lying on the ever-dark face of the moon, in the centre of a funnel,
formed by the solar rays, which streaked away to the infinite; and at
the dark bottom of this funnel he saw the flaming eyes of the stars.
Little by little be realised he was on an enormous bed which stood in
darkness, but was surrounded by a pale light, so dim that the walls were
hardly visible. Great shadows were moving about him. Opposite him was
a blue, open space, all strewn with specks of light. His heart beat
faster. Were they not, indeed, stars? He was obliged to remind himself
of the feeling of the bed, and that he was alive, in order to convince
himself that they were stars, but that he was not lying on the moon.
Where was he, then? He gave himself up to a sense of sweetness which was
coming over him, the sweetness of hardly feeling his body any longer,
but of feeling God in his soul, so near, so tender, so warm. He was
where God wished him to be.
A hand was laid on his forehead, an electric light dazzled his eyes, and
an affectionate, strong voice said:
"Well, how do you feel?"
He recognised Mayda. Then he asked him where he was, why he was not in
his little old room? Before the Professor could answer, Benedetto was
assailed by a painful doubt. The Crucifix? The dear Crucifix? Had it
been left at the Senator's house? The Crucifix was standing on the table
by his side. The Professor showed it to him.
"Do you not remember," he said, using the affectionate "thou", "that we
brought it with us?"
Benedetto looked at him, pleased at the new word of affection, and
stretched out his hand in search of Mayda's; the Professor took it
tenderly between his own.
At the same time he felt humiliated by his own forgetfulness. Was he
about to lose his reason? All the previous day he had thought about the
words he should speak to his friends, and to the person who had made
her invisible presence so keenly felt. But if he lost his reason?
The Professor began to saturate him with quinine. At first Benedetto
accepted these painful injections and bitter doses willingly, in his
desire to grow a little stronger, and thus to ward off the darkening of
his spirit, and also because he wished to suffer. Oh yes! to suffer, to
suffer! During the preceding days he had suffered greatly, not from
any local pain, not from any acute pain, but his was an inexpressible
suffering, which extended from the roots of his hair to the soles of his
feet. It had been a beatitude for his soul to be able, in such moments,
to associate his own will with the Divine Will, to accept from this Love
all the pain which he was destined to suffer, without revealing to him
the mysterious reason, a reason hidden in the designs of the Universe,
certainly a reason bringing good; bringing good not only to him who
suffered, but universal good; a good radiating from his poor body, and
without known limits, like the movement of a vibrating atom of the
world. Oh! to suffer great things, like Christ, humbly, to continue the
redemption, as a sinner may, making amends by his own pain for the ills
of others. There on that lonely path leading to the Sacro Speco, In
the roaring of the Anio, among the everlasting hills, Don Clemente had
spoken thus to him.
And now that mortal suffering was past. When the quinine began to ring
in his head, he felt discouraged. These remedies were stupefying him.
He called the Professor; a sister answered him. He begged that a priest
might be sent for from Bocca della Verita.
The Professor, who had gone to rest for an hour, came to reassure
him, and judged it best to tell him what he had before concealed. Don
Clemente had telegraphed to Selva that he would reach Rome the next
morning at ten o'clock. This was a great joy to Benedetto.
"But will it not be too late?" he said. "Will it not be too late?"
No, it would not be too late. At present he was not in immediate danger.
It would be a question of life and death if the fever should return, but
even in the worst event many hours would elapse. Mayda feared he had
spoken too plainly, and whispered to him.
"But you will recover."
He left the room. Benedetto, thinking of Don Clemente, passed from the
quiet of his contentment into a light sleep, into dreams, whither the
spirits of evil descended, and conjured up for him a deceitful vision,
suggested by the Professor's last words. He saw himself confronted by a
colossal marble wall, crowned with rich balustrades, which shone white
in the moonlight. Up there, behind the balustrades, a dense forest
swayed in the wind. Six flights of stairs, these also flanked by
balustrades, slanted down, across the face of the great wall, three on
the left, and three on the right, and terminated upon six landings,
jutting out from the wall. The upper balustrades were divided by small
pilasters, supporting urns. And now, between the urns, six beautiful
maidens appeared; they seemed to be dancing and all came forward at the
same time, with the same graceful motion of the head. They were all
dressed alike, in pale blue robes, which left their shoulders bare. With
the same harmonious movement of their bare arms, bending their bodies
forward, they offered him from their elevation, six shining silver
goblets. Then, at the same moment, all withdrew from the balustrade, to
reappear again simultaneously, on the six flights of stairs, down which
they came with uniform swiftness, and reaching the landings they again
offered him the six shining goblets, bending their bodies forward
gracefully, and gazing at him with a strange gravity. No word fell from
their lips, but nevertheless he knew that the six maidens were offering
him, in those six silver goblets, an elixir of life, of health, of
He felt a distressing, mortal fear of them; still he could not remove
his glance from the shining goblets, from the lovely, grave faces
bending over them. He strove to close his eyes, and could not; strove to
cry out to God, and could not. At last the six dancing-girls inclined
the goblets towards him, and six flowing ribbons of liquor streamed
through the air. "Just as I did, at Praglia!" the sleeper thought,
confusing persons in his clouded, mind. Then everything disappeared, and
he saw Jeanne before him. Holding herself erect, wrapped in her green
cloak lined with fur, her face shadowed by the great black hat, she
gazed at him as she had done at Praglia, at the moment of their first
meeting. But this time the sleeper perceived a resemblance between the
gravity of that look and the gravity of the dancing-girls' faces. In his
spirit he read the silent word of the seven souls: Unhappy man, you now
recognise your grievous error; you now know that God is not! The gravity
of the glances was only the sadness of pity. The goblets of life, of
health, of pleasure, were offered him discreetly, and without joy, as to
one in mourning, who has lost all he held dearest; offered as the only
poor comfort left him. Thus Jeanne offered her love. And the sleeper was
filled with what seemed to him fresh evidence that God is not! It was,
indeed, a real physical sensation, a chill creeping over all his limbs,
moving slowly to the heart. He began to tremble violently, and awoke.
Mayda was bending over him, the thermometer in his hand. Benedetto
murmured, with straining eyes: "Father!--Father!--Father!" The sister
suggested, "Our Father who art in Heaven," and would have gone on in
her unfortunately colourless voice, had not the Professor checked her
sharply. He applied the thermometer to Benedetto, who hardly noticed
what was being done. He was absorbed in the effort to detach from his
innermost self the images of those tempting figures, and of their
horrible words; in the effort to cast himself, soul and conscience,
upon the Father's breast, to cling to Him with his whole being, to
lose himself in the Father. Slowly the images began to give way, their
assaults becoming each time more brief, less violent. His face was so
transfigured in this mystic tension of the soul, that Mayda, watching
him, was as one turned to stone, and forgot to look at his watch, until
the features, which had been contracted in that anxious prayer, finally
began to relax into a peaceful composure. Then he remembered, and
removed the thermometer. The sister, standing behind him, held up the
electric lamp, trying to see also. He could not at first distinguish the
points, and during those few seconds of fixed attention neither of them
noticed that the invalid had turned upon his side, and was looking at
the Professor. At last Mayda gave the instrument a shake. How many
points had it marked? The sister did not dare to inquire, and the
Professor's face was impenetrable. Without his noticing the motion, the
sick man stretched out his hand and touched him gently on the arm, Mayda
turned towards him, and read in his smiling eyes the question, "Well?"
He did not speak, but answered with that undulating movement of open
hands which meant neither good, nor bad. Then he sat down beside the
bed, still silent, impenetrable, looking at Benedetto, who had sunk upon
his back once more, and no longer looked at him, but was gazing at the
specks of light in the immense expanse of blue.
"Professor," he said, "what time is it?"
"At five you must send for the priest from Bocca della Verita."
"Will it be too late?"
This last question the Professor answered with a loud and ringing "No."
After a moment of silence he added, in a lower tone, another "no" as
if in answer to his own thoughts. The thermometer had gone up to
thirty-seven point five; more than one degree since the evening before.
Should the fever increase, should there be danger of delirium, he would
send at once, to Bocca della Verita, even before five o'clock. It did
not seem probable the fever would increase rapidly, although that
thirty-seven point five had a black look.
He asked the invalid if the electric light troubled him. Benedetto
replied that materially it did not trouble him, but that spiritually
it did, because it prevented his seeing the sky, the starry night.
"_Illuminatio mea,_" said he, softly.
The Professor did not understand, and made him repeat the words. Then he
asked him what his light was, and the feeble voice murmured,
Mayda was not familiar with the Psalms, with the profound word of that
ancient Hebrew, to whom our little sun seemed dark, the sun which
conceals the higher world. He understood, without understanding. He
remained reverently silent.
Benedetto sought the stars with his eyes. His own conscience was passing
in those stars, which gazed upon him so austerely, knowing he was about
to review--before the threatening hour of death--the whole moral history
of his life, to tell it in words which would be a first judgment,
pronounced in the name of the God of Justice, impelled by the God of
Love; in words that would not be lost, because no movement is lost;
which would appear--who knows how, who knows where, who knows when?--to
the glory of Christ, as the supreme testimony of a spirit to moral
Truth, directed against itself. Thus the silent stars spoke to him,
animated by his own thoughts. And his life was pictured in his mind from
beginning to end, the external, salient outline less strongly marked
than the inner moral substance. He saw all the first part of it
dominated by a religious conception in which egotism prevailed, and so
ordered as to make the love of God and the love of man converge into an
individual well-being, the aim being personal perfection, and reward. He
was grieved that he had thus obeyed in words only the law which places
the love of God before the love of self; and it was a gentle grief, not
because it was easy to find excuses for this error, to impute it to
teachers, but because it was sweet to feel his own minuteness in the
wave of grace which enveloped him. And he felt his own minuteness in
that past, spoiled by imperfect beliefs, influenced by the uprising of
the senses, in the central depression of his life, which had been one
vast tissue of sensuality, of weakness, of contradictions, of lies. He
felt his own minuteness in his life after his conversion, the impulse
and work of an inner Will, which had prevailed against his own will, and
during this last period it seemed to him, he himself had weighted the
scales against the good impulse. He longed to drop off this "self" which
held him back like a heavy garment. He saw that the affection for the
Vision was part of this burdensome "self." He aspired to Divine Truth in
all its mystery, whatever it might be, and gave himself to Divine Truth
with such violence of desire that the spasm of it nearly rent him
asunder. And the stars shone forth upon him such a lively sense of the
immeasurable vastness of Divine Truth as compared with his own and his
friends' religious conceptions, and at the same time such a firm faith
that he was travelling towards that vastness, that he suddenly raised
his head from the pillow exclaiming:
The sister was dozing, not so the Professor.
"What is it?" said he. "Do you see something?"
Benedetto did not reply immediately. The Professor raised the lamp, and
bent over him. Then Benedetto turned his face and looked at Mayda with
an expression of intense desire, and after gazing at him a long time,
"Ah, Professor! Indeed you must come where I am going!"
"But do you know where you are going?" Mayda said.
"I know," Benedetto replied, "that I am parting with all that is
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