Volume 1 of The Marble Faun Or The Romance of Monte Beni
Part 3 out of 4
them quite hitting the mark, and often striking where they were not aimed.
It may be allowable to say, however, that American art is much better
represented at Rome in the pictorial than in the sculpturesque department.
Yet the men of marble appear to have more weight with the public than the
men of canvas; perhaps on account of the greater density and solid
substance of the material in which they work, and the sort of physical
advantage which their labors thus acquire over the illusive unreality of
color. To be a sculptor seems a distinction in itself; whereas a painter
is nothing, unless individually eminent.
One sculptor there was, an Englishman, endowed with a beautiful fancy, and
possessing at his fingers' ends the capability of doing beautiful things.
He was a quiet, simple, elderly personage, with eyes brown and bright,
under a slightly impending brow, and a Grecian profile, such as he might
have cut with his own chisel. He had spent his life, for forty years, in
making Venuses, Cupids, Bacchuses, and a vast deal of other marble progeny
of dreamwork, or rather frostwork: it was all a vapory exhalation out of
the Grecian mythology, crystallizing on the dull window-panes of to-day.
Gifted with a more delicate power than any other man alive, he had
foregone to be a Christian reality, and perverted himself into a Pagan
idealist, whose business or efficacy, in our present world, it would be
exceedingly difficult to define. And, loving and reverencing the pure
material in which he wrought, as surely this admirable sculptor did, he
had nevertheless robbed the marble of its chastity, by giving it an
artificial warmth of hue. Thus it became a sin and shame to look at his
nude goddesses. They had revealed themselves to his imagination, no doubt,
with all their deity about them; but, bedaubed with buff color, they
stood forth to the eyes of the profane in the guise of naked women. But,
whatever criticism may be ventured on his style, it was good to meet a man
so modest and yet imbued with such thorough and simple conviction of his
own right principles and practice, and so quietly satisfied that his kind
of antique achievement was all that sculpture could effect for modern life.
This eminent person's weight and authority among his artistic brethren
were very evident; for beginning unobtrusively to utter himself on a topic
of art, he was soon the centre of a little crowd of younger sculptors.
They drank in his wisdom, as if it would serve all the purposes of
original inspiration; he, meanwhile, discoursing with gentle calmness, as
if there could possibly be no other side, and often ratifying, as it were,
his own conclusions by a mildly emphatic "Yes."
The veteran Sculptor's unsought audience was composed mostly of our own
countrymen. It is fair to say, that they were a body of very dexterous
and capable artists, each of whom had probably given the delighted public
a nude statue, or had won credit for even higher skill by the nice carving
of buttonholes, shoe-ties, coat-seams, shirt-bosoms, and other such
graceful peculiarities of modern costume. Smart, practical men they
doubtless were, and some of them far more than this, but still not
precisely what an uninitiated person looks for in a sculptor. A sculptor,
indeed, to meet the demands which our preconceptions make upon him, should
be even more indispensably a poet than those who deal in measured verse
and rhyme. His material, or instrument, which serves him in the stead of
shifting and transitory language, is a pure, white, undecaying substance.
It insures immortality to whatever is wrought in it, and therefore makes
it a religious obligation to commit no idea to its mighty guardianship,
save such as may repay the marble for its faithful care, its incorruptible
fidelity, by warming it with an ethereal life. Under this aspect, marble
assumes a sacred character; and no man should dare to touch it unless he
feels within himself a certain consecration and a priesthood, the only
evidence of which, for the public eye, will he the high treatment of
heroic subjects, or the delicate evolution of spiritual, through material
No ideas such as the foregoing--no misgivings suggested by them probably,
troubled the self-complacency of most of these clever sculptors. Marble,
in their view, had no such sanctity as we impute to it. It was merely a
sort of white limestone from Carrara, cut into convenient blocks, and
worth, in that state, about two or three dollars per pound; and it was
susceptible of being wrought into certain shapes (by their own mechanical
ingenuity, or that of artisans in their employment) which would enable
them to sell it again at a much higher figure. Such men, on the strength
of some small knack in handling clay, which might have been fitly employed
in making wax-work, are bold to call themselves sculptors. How terrible
should be the thought that the nude woman whom the modern artist patches
together, bit by bit, from a dozen heterogeneous models, meaning nothing
by her, shall last as long as the Venus of the Capitol!--that his group
of--no matter what, since it has no moral or intellectual existence will
not physically crumble any sooner than the immortal agony of the Laocoon!
Yet we love the artists, in every kind; even these, whose merits we are
not quite able to appreciate. Sculptors, painters, crayon sketchers, or
whatever branch of aesthetics they adopted, were certainly pleasanter
people, as we saw them that evening, than the average whom we meet in
ordinary society. They were not wholly confined within the sordid compass
of practical life; they had a pursuit which, if followed faithfully out,
would lead them to the beautiful, and always had a tendency thitherward,
even if they lingered to gather up golden dross by the wayside. Their
actual business (though they talked about it very much as other men talk
of cotton, politics, flour barrels, and sugar) necessarily illuminated
their conversation with something akin to the ideal. So, when the guests
collected themselves in little groups, here and there, in the wide saloon,
a cheerful and airy gossip began to be heard. The atmosphere ceased to be
precisely that of common life; a hint, mellow tinge, such as we see in
pictures, mingled itself with the lamplight.
This good effect was assisted by many curious little treasures of art,
which the host had taken care to strew upon his tables. They were
principally such bits of antiquity as the soil of Rome and its
neighborhood are still rich in; seals, gems, small figures of bronze,
mediaeval carvings in ivory; things which had been obtained at little cost,
yet might have borne no inconsiderable value in the museum of a virtuoso.
As interesting as any of these relics was a large portfolio of old
drawings, some of which, in the opinion of their possessor, bore evidence
on their faces of the touch of master-hands. Very ragged and ill
conditioned they mostly were, yellow with time, and tattered with rough
usage; and, in their best estate, the designs had been scratched rudely
with pen and ink, on coarse paper, or, if drawn with charcoal or a pencil,
were now half rubbed out. You would not anywhere see rougher and homelier
things than these. But this hasty rudeness made the sketches only the
more valuable; because the artist seemed to have bestirred himself at the
pinch of the moment, snatching up whatever material was nearest, so as to
seize the first glimpse of an idea that might vanish in the twinkling of
an eye. Thus, by the spell of a creased, soiled, and discolored scrap of
paper, you were enabled to steal close to an old master, and watch him in
the very effervescence of his genius.
According to the judgment of several con-, noisseurs, Raphael's own hand
had communidated its magnetism to one of these sketches; and, if genuine,
it was evidently his first conception of a favorite Madonna, now hanging
in the private apartment of the Grand Duke, at Florence. Another drawing
was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, and appeared to be a somewhat varied
design for his picture of Modesty and Vanity, in the Sciarra Palace.
There were at least half a dozen others, to which the owner assigned as
high an origin. It was delightful to believe in their authenticity, at
all events; for these things make the spectator more vividly sensible of a
great painter's power, than the final glow and perfected art of the most
consummate picture that may have been elaborated from them. There is an
effluence of divinity in the first sketch; and there, if anywhere, you
find the pure light of inspiration, which the subsequent toil of the
artist serves to bring out in stronger lustre, indeed, but likewise
adulterates it with what belongs to an inferior mood. The aroma and
fragrance of new thoughts were perceptible in these designs, after three
centuries of wear and tear. The charm lay partly in their very
imperfection; for this is suggestive, and sets the imagination at work;
whereas, the finished picture, if a good one, leaves the spectator nothing
to do, and, if bad, confuses, stupefies, disenchants, and disheartens him.
Hilda was greatly interested in this rich portfolio. She lingered so long
over one particular sketch, that Miriam asked her what discovery she had
"Look at it carefully," replied Hilda, putting the sketch into her hands.
"If you take pains to disentangle the design from those pencil~ marks that
seem to have been scrawled over it, I think you will see something very
"It is a hopeless affair, I am afraid," said Miriam. "I have neither your
faith, dear Hilda, nor your perceptive faculty. Fie! what a blurred
scrawl it is indeed!"
The drawing had originally been very slight, and had suffered more from
time and hard usage than almost any other in the collection; it appeared,
too, that there had been an attempt (perhaps by the very hand that drew
it) to obliterate the design. By Hilda's help, however, Miriam pretty
distinctly made out a winged figure with a drawn sword, and a dragon, or a
demon, prostrate at his feet.
"I am convinced," said Hilda in a low, reverential tone," that Guido's own
touches are on that ancient scrap of paper! If so, it must be his
original sketch for the picture of the Archangel Michael setting his foot
upon the demon, in the Church of the Cappuccini. The composition and
general arrangement of the sketch are the same with those of the picture;
the only difference being, that the demon has a more upturned face, and
scowls vindictively at the Archangel, who turns away his eyes in painful
"No wonder!" responded Miriam. "The expression suits the daintiness of
Michael's character, as Guido represents him. He never could have looked
the demon in the face!"
"Miriam!" exclaimed her friend reproachfully, "you grieve me, and you
know it, by pretending to speak contemptuously of the most beautiful and
the divinest figure that mortal painter ever drew."
"Forgive me, Hilda!" said Miriam. "You take these matters more
religiously than I can, for my life. Guido's Archangel is a fine picture,
of course, but it never impressed me as it does yOU."
"Well; we will not talk of that," answered Hilda. "What I wanted you to
notice, in this sketch, is the face of the demon. It is entirely unlike
the demon of the finished picture. Guido, you know, always affirmed that
the resemblance to Cardinal Pamfili was either casual or imaginary. Now,
here is the face as he first conceived it."
"And a more energetic demon, altogether, than that of the finished picture,"
said Kenyon, taking the sketch into his hand. "What a spirit is
conveyed into the ugliness of this strong, writhing, squirming dragon,
under the Archangel's foot! Neither is the face an impossible one. Upon
my word, I have seen it somewhere, and on the shoulders of a living man!"
"And so have I," said Hilda. "It was what struck me from the first."
"Donatello, look at this face!" cried Kenyon.
The young Italian, as may be supposed, took little interest in matters of
art, and seldom or never ventured an opinion respecting them. After
holding the sketch a single instant in his hand, he flung it from him with
a shudder of disgust and repugnance, and a frown that had all the
bitterness of hatred.
"I know the face well!" whispered he. "It is Miriam's model!"
It was acknowledged both by Kenyon and Hilda that they had detected, or
fancied, the resemblance which Donatello so strongly affirmed; and it
added not a little to the grotesque and weird character which, half
playfully, half seriously, they assigned to Miriam's attendant, to think
of him as personating the demon's part in a picture of more than two
centuries ago. Had Guido, in his effort to imagine the utmost of sin and
misery, which his pencil could represent, hit ideally upon just this face?
Or was it an actual portrait of somebody, that haunted the old master, as
Miriam was haunted now? Did the ominous shadow follow him through all the
sunshine of his earlier career, and into the gloom that gathered about its
close? And when Guido died, did the spectre betake himself to those
ancient sepulchres, there awaiting a new victim, till it was Miriam's
ill-hap to encounter him?
"I do not acknowledge the resemblance at all," said Miriam, looking
narrowly at the sketch; "and, as I have drawn the face twenty times, I
think you will own that I am the best judge."
A discussion here arose, in reference to Guido's Archangel, and it was
agreed that these four friends should visit the Church of the Cappuccini
the next morning, and critically examine the picture in question; the
similarity between it and the sketch being, at all events, a very curious
It was now a little past ten o'clock, when some of the company, who had
been standing in a balcony, declared the moonlight to be resplendent.
They proposed a ramble through the streets, taking in their way some of
those scenes of ruin which produced their best effects under the splendor
of the Italian moon.
A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE
The proposal for a moonlight ramble was received with acclamation by all
the younger portion of the company. They immediately set forth and
descended from story to story, dimly lighting their way by waxen tapers,
which are a necessary equipment to those whose thoroughfare, in the
night-time, lies up and down a Roman staircase. Emerging from the
courtyard of the edifice, they looked upward and saw the sky full of light,
which seemed to have a delicate purple or crimson lustre, or, at least
some richer tinge than the cold, white moonshine of other skies. It
gleamed over the front of the opposite palace, showing the architectural
ornaments of its cornice and pillared portal, as well as the ironbarred
basement windows, that gave such a prison-like aspect to the structure,
and the shabbiness and Squalor that lay along its base. A cobbler was
just shutting up his little shop, in the basement of the palace; a cigar
vender's lantern flared in the blast that came through the archway; a
French sentinel paced to and fro before the portal; a homeless dog, that
haunted thereabouts, barked as obstreperously at the party as if he were
the domestic guardian of the precincts.
The air was quietly full of the noise of falling water, the cause of which
was nowhere visible, though apparently near at hand. This pleasant,
natural sound, not unlike that of a distant cascade in the forest, may be
heard in many of the Roman streets and piazzas, when the tumult of the
city is hushed; for consuls, emperors, and popes, the great men of every
age, have found no better way of immortalizing their memories than by the
shifting, indestructible, ever new, yet unchanging, upgush and downfall of
water. They have written their names in that unstable.element, and proved
it a more durable record than brass or marble.
"Donatello, you had better take one of those gay, boyish artists for your
companion," said Miriam, when she found the Italian youth at her side. "I
am not now in a merry mood, as when we set all the world a-dancing the
other afternoon, in the Borghese grounds."
"I never wish to dance any more," answered Donatello.
"What a melancholy was in that tone!" exclaimed Miriam. "You are getting
spoilt in this dreary Rome, and will be as wise and as wretched as all the
rest of mankind, unless you go back soon to your Tuscan vineyards. Well;
give me your arm, then! But take care that no friskiness comes over you.
We must walk evenly and heavily to-night!"
The party arranged itself according to its natural affinities or casual
likings; a sculptor generally choosing a painter, and a painter a
sculp--tor, for his companion, in preference to brethren of their own art.
Kenyon would gladly have taken Hilda to himself, and have drawn her a
little aside from the throng of merry wayfarers. But she kept near
Miriam, and seemed, in her gentle and quiet way, to decline a separate
alliance either with him or any other of her acquaintances.
So they set forth, and had gone but a little way, when the narrow street
emerged into a piazza, on one side of which, glistening and dimpling in
the moonlight, was the most famous fountain in Rome. Its murmur--not to
say its uproar--had been in the ears of the company, ever since they came
into the open air. It was the Fountain of Trevi, which draws its
precious water from a source far beyond the walls, whence it flows
hitherward through old subterranean aqueducts, and sparkles forth as pure
as the virgin who first led Agrippa to its well-spring, by her father's
"I shall sip as much of this water as the hollow of my hand will hold,"
"I am leaving Rome in a few days; and the tradition goes, that a parting
draught at the Fountain of Trevi insures the traveller's return, whatever
obstacles and improbabilities may seem to beset him. Will you drink,
"Signorina, what you drink, I drink," said the youth.
They and the rest of the party descended some steps to the water's brim,
and, after a sip or two, stood gazing at the absurd design of the fountain,
where some sculptor of Bernini's school had gone absolutely mad in marble.
It was a great palace front, with niches and many bas-reliefs, out of
which looked Agrippa's legendary virgin, and several of the allegoric
sisterhood; while, at the base, appeared Neptune, with his floundering
steeds, and Tritons blowing their horns about him, and twenty other
artificial fantasies, which the calm moonlight soothed into better taste
than was native to them.
And, after all, it was as magnificent a piece of work as ever human skill
contrived. At the foot of the palatial facade was strewn, with careful
art and ordered irregularity, a broad and broken heap of massive rock,
looking is if it might have lain there since the deluge. Over a central
precipice fell the water, in a semicircular cascade; and from a hundred
crevices, on all sides, snowy jets gushed up, and streams spouted out of
the mouths and nostrils of stone monsters, and fell in glistening drops;
while other rivulets, that had run wild, came leaping from one rude step
to another, over stones that were mossy, slimy, and green with sedge,
because, in a Century of their wild play, Nature had adopted the Fountain
of Trevi, with all its elaborate devices, for her own. Finally, the water,
tumbling, sparkling, and dashing, with joyous haste and never-ceasing
murmur, poured itself into a great marble-brimmed reservoir, and filled it
with a quivering tide; on which was seen, continually, a snowy semicircle
of momentary foam from the principal cascade, as well as a multitude of
snow points from smaller jets. The basin occupied the whole breadth of
the piazza, whence flights of steps descended to its border. A boat
might float, and make voyages from one shore to another in this mimic lake.
In the daytime, there is hardly a livelier scene in Rome than the
neighborhood of the Fountain of Trevi; for the piazza is then filled with
the stalls of vegetable and fruit dealers, chestnut roasters, cigar
venders, and other people, whose petty and wandering traffic is transacted
in the open air. It is likewise thronged with idlers, lounging over the
iron railing, and with Forestieri, who came hither to see the famous
fountain. Here, also, are seen men with buckets, urchins with cans, and
maidens (a picture as old as the patriarchal times) bearing their pitchers
upon their heads. For the water of Trevi is in request, far and wide, as
the most refreshing draught for feverish lips, the pleasantest to mingle
with wine, and the wholesomest to drink, in its native purity, that can
anywhere be found. But now, at early midnight, the piazza was a solitude;
and it was a delight to behold this untamable water, sporting by itself in
the moonshine, and compelling all the elaborate trivialities of art to
assume a natural aspect, in accordance with its own powerful simplicity.
"What would be done with this water power," suggested an artist, "if we
had it in one of our American cities? Would they employ it to turn the
machinery of a cotton mill, I wonder?"
"The good people would pull down those rampant marble deities," said
Kenyon, "and, possibly, they would give me a commission to carve the
one-and-thirty (is that the number?) sister States, each pouring a silver
stream from a separate can into one vast basin, which should represent the
grand reservoir of national prosperity."
"Or, if they wanted a bit of satire," remarked an English artist, "you
could set those same one-and-thirty States to cleansing the national flag
of any stains that it may have incurred. The Roman washerwomen at the
lavatory yonder, plying their labor in the open air, would serve admirably
"I have often intended to visit this fountain by moonlight,", said Miriam,
"because it was here that the interview took place between Corinne and
Lord Neville, after their separation and temporary estrangement. Pray
come behind me, one of you, and let me try whether the face can be
recognized in the water."
Leaning over the stone brim of the basin, she heard footsteps stealing
behind her, and knew that somebody was looking over her shoulder. The
moonshine fell directly behind Miriam, illuminating the palace front and
the whole scene of statues and rocks, and filling the basin, as it were,
with tremulous and palpable light. Corinne, it will be remembered, knew
Lord Neville by the reflection of his face in the water. In Miriam's case,
however (owing to the agitation of the water, its transparency, and the
angle at which she was compelled to lean over), no reflected image
appeared; nor, from the same causes, would it have been possible for the
recognition between Corinne and her lover to take place. The moon, indeed,
flung Miriam's shadow at the bottom of the basin, as well as two more
shadows of persons who had followed her, on either side,
"Three shadows!" exclaimed Miriam--"three separate shadows, all so black
and heavy that they sink in the water! There they lie on the bottom, as
if all three were drowned together. This shadow on my right is Donatello;
I know him by his curls, and the turn of his head. My left-hand
companion puzzles me; a shapeless mass, as indistinct as the premonition
of calamity! Which of you can it be? Ah!"
She had turned round, while speaking, and saw beside her the strange
creature whose attendance on her was already familiar, as a marvel and a
jest; to the whole company of artists. A general burst of laughter
followed the recognition; while the model leaned towards Miriam, as she
shrank from him, and muttered something that was inaudible to those who
witnessed the scene. By his gestures, however, they concluded that he was
inviting her to bathe her hands.
"He cannot be an Italian; at least not a Roman," observed an artist. "I
never knew one of them to care about ablution. See him now! It is as if
he were trying to wash off' the time-stains and earthly soil of a thousand
Dipping his hands into the capacious washbowl before him, the model rubbed
them together with the utmost vehemence. Ever and anon, too, he peeped
into the water, as if expecting to see the whole Fountain of Trevi turbid
with the results of his ablution. Miriam looked at him, some little time,
with an aspect of real terror, and even imitated him by leaning over to
peep into the basin. Recovering herself, she took up some of the water in
the hollow of her hand, and practised an old form of exorcism by flinging
it in her persecutor's face.
"In the name of all the Saints," cried she, "vanish, Demon, and let me be
free of you now and forever!"
"It will not suffice," said some of the mirthful party, "unless the
Fountain of Trevi gushes with holy water."
In fact, the exorcism was quite ineffectual upon the pertinacious demon,
or whatever the apparition might be. Still he washed his brown, bony
talons; still he peered into the vast basin, as if all the water of that
great drinking-cup of Rome must needs be stained black or sanguine; and
still he gesticulated to Miriam to follow his example. The spectators
laughed loudly, but yet with a kind of constraint; for the creature's
aspect was strangely repulsive and hideous.
Miriam felt her arm seized violently by Donatello. She looked at him, and
beheld a tigerlike fury gleaming from his wild eyes.
"Bid me drown him!" whispered he, shuddering between rage and horrible
disgust. "You shall hear his death gurgle in another instant!"
"Peace, peace, Donatello!" said Miriam soothingly, for this naturally
gentle and sportive being seemed all aflame with animal rage. "Do him no
mischief! He is mad; and we are as mad as he, if we suffer ourselves to
be disquieted by his antics. Let us leave him to bathe his hands till the
fountain run dry, if he find solace and pastime in it. What is it to you
or me, Donatello? There, there! Be quiet, foolish boy!"
Her tone and gesture were such as she might have used in taming down the
wrath of a faithful hound, that had taken upon himself to avenge some
supposed affront to his mistress. She smoothed the young man's curls
(for his fierce and sudden fury seemed to bristle among his hair), and
touched his cheek with her soft palm, till his angry mood was a little
"Signorina, do I look as when you first knew me?" asked he, with a heavy,
tremulous sigh, as they went onward, somewhat apart from their companions.
"Methinks there has been a change upon me, these many months; and more
and more, these last few days. The joy is gone out of my life; all gone!
all gone! Feel my hand! Is it not very hot? Ah; and my heart burns
"My poor Donatello, you are ill!" said Miriam, with deep sympathy and
pity. "This melancholy and sickly Rome is stealing away the rich, joyous
life that belongs to you. Go back, my dear friend, to your home among the
hills, where (as I gather from what you have told me) your days were
filled with simple and blameless delights. Have you found aught in the
world that is worth' what you there enjoyed? Tell me truly, Donatello!"
"Yes!" replied the young man.
"And what, in Heaven's name?" asked she.
"This burning pain in my heart," said Donatello; "for you are in the midst
By this time, they had left the Fountain of Trevi considerably behind them.
Little further allusion was made to the scene at its margin; for the
party regarded Miriam's persecutor as diseased in his wits, and were
hardly to be surprised by any eccentricity in his deportment.
Threading several narrow streets, they passed through the Piazza of the
Holy Apostles, and soon came to Trajan's Forum. All over the surface of
what once was Rome, it seems to be the effort of Time to bury up the
ancient city, as if it were a corpse, and he the sexton; so that, in
eighteen centuries, the soil over its grave has grown very deep, by the
slow scattering of dust, and the accumulation of more modern decay upon
This was the fate, also, of Trajan's Forum, until some papal antiquary, a
few hundred years ago, began to hollow it out again, and disclosed the
full height of the gigantic column wreathed round with bas-reliefs of the
old emperor's warlike deeds. In the area before it stands a grove of
stone, consisting of the broken and unequal shafts of a vanished temple,
still keeping a majestic order, and apparently incapable of further
demolition. The modern edifices of the piazza (wholly built, no doubt,
out of the spoil of its old magnificence) look down into the hollow space
whence these pillars rise.
One of the immense gray granite shafts lay in the piazza, on the verge of
the area. It was a great, solid fact of the Past, making old Rome
actually sensible to the touch and eye; and no study of history, nor force
of thought, nor magic of song, could so vitally assure us that Rome once
existed, as this sturdy specimen of what its rulers and people wrought.
"And see!" said Kenyon, laying his hand upon it, "there is still a polish
remaining on the hard substance of the pillar; and even now, late as it is,
I can feel very sensibly the warmth of the noonday sun, which did its
best to heat it through. This shaft will endure forever. The polish of
eighteen centuries ago, as yet but half rubbed off, and the heat of
to-day's sunshine, lingering into the night, seem almost equally ephemeral
in relation to it."
"There is comfort to be found in the pillar," remarked Miriam, "hard and
heavy as it is. Lying here forever, as it will, it makes all human
trouble appear but a momentary annoyance."
"And human happiness as evanescent too," observed Hilda, sighing; "and
beautiful art hardly less so! I do not love to think that this dull stone,
merely by its massiveness, will last infinitely longer than any picture,
in spite of the spiritual life that ought to give it immortality!"
"My poor little Hilda," said Miriam, kissing her compassionately, "would
you sacrifice this greatest mortal consolation, which we derive from the
transitoriness of all things, from the right of saying, in every
conjecture, 'This, too, will pass away,' would you give up this
unspeakable boon, for the sake of making a picture eternal?"
Their moralizing strain was interrupted by a demonstration from the rest
of the party, who, after talking and laughing together, suddenly joined
their voices, and shouted at full pitch,
"Why do you deafen us with such an uproar?" inquired Miriam.
In truth, the whole piazza had been filled with their idle vociferation;
the echoes from the surrounding houses reverberating the cry of "Trajan,"
on all sides; as if there was a great search for that imperial personage,
and not so much as a handful of his ashes to be found.
"Why, it was a good opportunity to air our voices in this resounding
piazza," replied one of the artists. "Besides, we had really some hopes
of summoning Trajan to look at his column, which, you know, he never saw
in his lifetime. Here is your model (who, they say, lived and sinned
before Trajan's death) still wandering about Rome; and why not the Emperor
"Dead emperors have very little delight in their columns, I am afraid,"
observed Kenyon. "All that rich sculpture of Trajan's bloody warfare,
twining from the base of the pillar to its capital, may be but an ugly
spectacle for his ghostly eyes, if he considers that this huge, storied
shaft must be laid before the judgment-seat, as a piece of the evidence of
what he did in the flesh. If ever I am employed to sculpture a hero's
monument, I shall think of this, as I put in the bas-reliefs of the
"There are sermons in stones," said Hilda thoughtfully, smiling at
Kenyon's morality; "and especially in the stones of Rome."
The party moved on, but deviated a little from the straight way, in order
to glance at the ponderous remains of the temple of Mars Ultot, within
which a convent of nuns is now established,--a dove-cote, in the war-god's
mansion. At only a little distance, they passed the portico of a Temple
of Minerva, most rich and beautiful in architecture, but woefully gnawed
by time and shattered by violence, besides being buried midway in the
accumulation of soil, that rises over dead Rome like a flood tide. Within
this edifice of antique sanctity, a baker's shop was now established, with
an entrance on one side; for, everywhere, the remnants of old grandeur and
divinity have been made available for the meanest necessities of today.
"The baker is just drawing his loaves out of the oven," remarked Kenyon.
"Do you smell how sour they are? I should fancy that Minerva (in revenge
for the desecration of her temple) had slyly poured vinegar into the batch,
if I did not know that the modern Romans prefer their bread in the
They turned into the Via Alessandria, and thus gained the rear of the
Temple of Peace, and, passing beneath its great arches, pursued their way
along a hedge-bordered lane. In all probability, a stately Roman street
lay buried beneath that rustic-looking pathway; for they had now emerged
from the close and narrow avenues of the modern city, and were treading on
a soil where the seeds of antique grandeur had not yet produced the
squalid crop that elsewhere sprouts from them. Grassy as the lane was, it
skirted along heaps of shapeless ruin, and the bare site of the vast
temple that Hadrian planned and built. It terminated on the edge of a
somewhat abrupt descent, at the foot of which, with a muddy ditch between,
rose, in the bright moonlight, the great curving wall and multitudinous
arches of the Coliseum.
As usual of a moonlight evening, several carriages stood at the entrance
of this famous ruin, and the precincts and interior were anything but a
solitude. The French sentinel on duty beneath the principal archway eyed
our party curiously, but offered no obstacle to their admission. Within,
the moonlight filled and flooded the great empty space; it glowed upon
tier above tier of ruined, grass-grown arches, and made them even too
distinctly visible. The splendor of the revelation took away that
inestimable effect of dimness and mystery by which the imagination might
be assisted to build a grander structure than the Coliseum, and to shatter
it with a more picturesque decay. Byron's celebrated description is
better than the reality. He beheld the scene in his mind's eye, through
the witchery of many intervening years, and faintly illuminated it as if
with starlight instead of this broad glow of moonshine.
The party of our friends sat down, three or four of them on a prostrate
column, another on a shapeless lump of marble, once a Roman altar; others
on the steps of one of the Christian shrines. Goths and barbarians though
they were, they chatted as gayly together as if they belonged to the
gentle and pleasant race of people who now inhabit Italy. There was much
pastime and gayety just then in the area of the Coliseum, where so many
gladiators and Wild beasts had fought and died, and where so much blood of
Christian martyrs had been lapped up by that fiercest of wild beasts, the
Roman populace of yore. Some youths and maidens were running merry races
across the open space, and playing at hide and seek a little way within
the duskiness of the ground tier of arches, whence now and then you could
hear the half-shriek, halflaugh of a frolicsome girl, whom the shadow had
betrayed into a young man's arms. Elder groups were seated on the
fragments of pillars and blocks of marble that lay round the verge of the
arena, talking in the quick, short ripple of the Italian tongue. On the
steps of the great black cross in the centre of the Coliseum sat a party
singing scraps of songs, with much laughter and merriment between the
It was a strange place for song and mirth. That black cross marks one of
the special blood-spots of the earth where, thousands of times over, the
dying gladiator fell, and more of human agony has been endured for the
mere pastime of the multitude than on the breadth of many battlefields.
From all this crime and suffering, however, the spot has derived a more
than common sanctity. An inscription promises seven years' indulgence,
seven years of remission from the pains of purgatory, and earlier
enjoyment of heavenly bliss, for each separate kiss imprinted on the black
cross. What better use could be made of life, after middle age, when the
accumulated sins are many and the remaining temptations few, than to spend
it all in kissing the black cross of the Coliseum!
Besides its central consecration, the whole area has been made sacred by a
range of shrines, which are erected round the circle, each commemorating
some scene or circumstance of the Saviour's passion and suffering. In
accordance with an ordinary custom, a pilgrim was making his progress from
shrine to shrine upon his knees, and saying a penitential prayer at each.
Light-footed girls ran across the path along which he crept, or sported
with their friends close by the shrines where he was kneeling. The
pilgrim took no heed, and the girls meant no irreverence; for in Italy
religion jostles along side by side with business and sport, after a
fashion of its own, and people are accustomed to kneel down and pray, or
see others praying, between two fits of merriment, or between two sins.
To make an end of our description, a red twinkle of light was visible amid
the breadth of shadow that fell across the upper part of the Coliseum.
Now it glimmered through a line of arches, or threw a broader gleam as it
rose out of some profound abyss of ruin; now it was muffled by a heap of
shrubbery which had adventurously clambered to that dizzy height; and so
the red light kept ascending to loftier and loftier ranges of the
structure, until it stood like a star where the blue sky rested against
the Coliseum's topmost wall. It indicated a party of English or Americans
paying the inevitable visit by moonlight, and exalting themselves with
raptures that were Byron's, not their own.
Our company of artists sat on the fallen column, the pagan altar, and the
steps of the Christian shrine, enjoying the moonlight and shadow, the
present gayety and the gloomy reminiscences of the scene, in almost equal
share. Artists, indeed, are lifted by the ideality of their pursuits a
little way off the earth, and are therefore able to catch the evanescent
fragrance that floats in the atmosphere of life above the heads of the
ordinary crowd. Even if they seem endowed with little imagination
individually, yet there is a property, a gift, a talisman, common to their
class, entitling them to partake somewhat more bountifully than other
people in the thin delights of moonshine and romance.
"How delightful this is!" said Hilda; and she sighed for very pleasure.
"Yes," said Kenyon, who sat on the column, at her side. "The Coliseum is
far more delightful, as we enjoy it now, than when eighty thousand persons
sat squeezed together, row above row, to see their fellow creatures torn
by lions and tigers limb from limb. What a strange thought that the
Coliseum was really built for us, and has not come to its best uses till
almost two thousand years after it was finished!"
"The Emperor Vespasian scarcely had us in his mind," said Hilda, smiling;
"but I thank him none the less for building it."
"He gets small thanks, I fear, from the people whose bloody instincts he
pampered," rejoined Kenyon. "Fancy a nightly assemblage of eighty
thousand melancholy and remorseful ghosts, looking down from those tiers
of broken arches, striving to repent of the savage pleasures which they
once enjoyed, but still longing to enjoy them over again."
"You bring a Gothic horror into this peaceful moonlight scene," said Hilda.
"Nay, I have good authority for peopling the Coliseum with phantoms,"
replied the sculptor. "Do you remember that veritable scene in Benvenuto
Cellini's autobiography, in which a necromancer of his acquaintance draws
a magic circle--just where the black cross stands now, I suppose--and
raises myriads of demons? Benvenuto saw them with his own eyes,--giants,
pygmies, and other creatures of frightful aspect, capering and dancing on
yonder walls. Those spectres must have been Romans, in their lifetime,
and frequenters of this bloody amphitheatre."
"I see a spectre, now!" said Hilda, with a little thrill of uneasiness.
"Have you watched that pilgrim, who is going round the whole circle of
shrines, on his knees, and praying with such fervency at every one? Now
that he has revolved so far in his orbit, and has the moonshine on his
face as he turns towards us, methinks I recognize him!"
"And so do I," said Kenyon. "Poor Miriam! Do you think she sees him?"
They looked round, and perceived that Miriam had risen from the steps of
the shrine and disappeared. She had shrunk back, in fact, into the deep
obscurity of an arch that opened just behind them.
Donatello, whose faithful watch was no more to be eluded than that of a
hound, had stolen after her, and became the innocent witness of a
spectacle that had its own kind of horror. Unaware of his presence, and
fancying herself wholly unseen, the beautiful Miriam began to gesticulate
extravagantly, gnashing her teeth, flinging her arms wildly abroad,
stamping with her foot.
It was as if she had stepped aside for an instant, solely to snatch the
relief of a brief fit of madness. Persons in acute trouble, or laboring
under strong excitement, with a necessity for concealing it, are prone to
relieve their nerves in this wild way; although, when practicable, they
find a more effectual solace in shrieking aloud.
Thus, as soon as she threw off her self-control, under the dusky arches of
the Coliseum, we may consider Miriam as a mad woman, concentrating the
elements of a long insanity into that instant.
"Signorina! signorina! have pity on me!" cried Donatello, approaching
her; "this is too terrible!"
"How dare you look, at me!" exclaimed Miriam, with a start; then,
whispering below her breath, "men have been struck dead for a less offence!"
"If you desire it, or need it," said Donatello humbly, "I shall not be
loath to die."
"Donatello," said Miriam, coming close to the young man, and speaking low,
but still the almost insanity of the moment vibrating in her voice, "if
you love yourself; if you desire those earthly blessings, such as you, of
all men, were made for; if you would come to a good old age among your
olive orchards and your Tuscan vines, as your forefathers did; if you
would leave children to enjoy the same peaceful, happy, innocent life,
then flee from me. Look not behind you! Get you gone without another
word." He gazed sadly at her, but did not stir. "I tell you," Miriam
went on, "there is a great evil hanging over me! I know it; I see it in
the sky; I feel it in the air! It will overwhelm me as utterly as if this
arch should crumble down upon our heads! It will crush you, too, if you
stand at my side! Depart, then; and make the sign of the cross, as your
faith bids you, when an evil spirit is nigh. Cast me off, or you are lost
A higher sentiment brightened upon Donatello's face than had hitherto
seemed to belong to its simple expression and sensuous beauty.
"I will never quit you," he said; "you cannot drive me from you."
"Poor Donatello!" said Miriam in a changed tone, and rather to herself
than him. "Is there no other that seeks me out, follows me,--is obstinate
to share my affliction and my doom,--but only you! They call me
beautiful; and I used to fancy that, at my need, I could bring the whole
world to my feet. And lo! here is my utmost need; and my beauty and my
gifts have brought me only this poor, simple boy. Half-witted, they call
him; and surely fit for nothing but to be happy. And I accept his aid!
To-morrow, to-morrow, I will tell him all! Ah! what a sin to stain his
joyous nature with the blackness of a woe like mine!"
She held out her hand to him, and smiled sadly as Donatello pressed it to
his lips. They were now about to emerge from the depth of the arch; but
just then the kneeling pilgrim, in his revolution round the orbit of the
shrines, had reached the one on the steps of which Miriam had been sitting.
There, as at the other shrines, he prayed, or seemed to pray. It struck
Kenyon, however,--who sat close by, and saw his face distinctly, that the
suppliant was merely performing an enjoined penance, and without the
penitence that ought to have given it effectual life. Even as he knelt,
his eyes wandered, and Miriam soon felt that he had detected her, half
hidden as she was within the obscurity of the arch.
"He is evidently a good Catholic, however," whispered one of the party.
"After all, I fear we cannot identify him with the ancient pagan who
haunts the catacombs."
"The doctors of the Propaganda may have converted him," said another;
"they have had fifteen hundred years to perform the task."
The company now deemed it time to continue their ramble. Emerging from a
side entrance of the Coliseum, they had on their left the Arch of
Constantine, and above it the shapeless ruins of the Palace of the Caesars;
portions of which have taken shape anew, in mediaeval convents and modern
villas. They turned their faces cityward, and, treading over the broad
flagstones of the old Roman pavement, passed through the Arch of Titus.
The moon shone brightly enough within it to show the seven-branched Jewish
candlestick, cut in the marble of the interior. The original of that
awful trophy lies buried, at this moment, in the yellow mud of the Tiber;
and, could its gold of Ophir again be brought to light, it would be the
most precious relic of past ages, in the estimation of both Jew and
Standing amid so much ancient dust, it is difficult to spare the reader
the commonplaces of enthusiasm, on which hundreds of tourists have already
insisted. Over this half-worn pavement, and beneath this Arch of Titus,
the Roman armies had trodden in their outward march, to fight battles a
world's width away. Returning victorious, with royal captives and
inestimable spoil, a Roman triumph, that most gorgeous pageant of earthly
pride, had streamed and flaunted in hundred-fold succession over these
same flagstones, and through this yet stalwart archway. It is politic,
however, to make few allusions to such a past; nor, if we would create an
interest in the characters of our story, is it wise to suggest how
Cicero's foot may have stepped on yonder stone, or how Horace was wont to
stroll near by, making his footsteps chime with the measure of the ode
that was ringing in his mind. The very ghosts of that massive and stately
epoch have so much density that the actual people of to-day seem the
thinner of the two, and stand more ghost-like by the arches and columns,
letting the rich sculpture be discerned through their ill-compacted
The party kept onward, often meeting pairs and groups of midnight
strollers like themselves. On such a moonlight night as this, Rome keeps
itself awake and stirring, and is full of song and pastime, the noise of
which mingles with your dreams, if you have gone betimes to bed. But it
is better to be abroad, and take our own share of the enjoyable time; for
the languor that weighs so heavily in the Roman atmosphere by day is
lightened beneath the moon and stars.
They had now reached the precincts of the Forum.
ON THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE
"Let us settle it," said Kenyon, stamping his foot firmly down, "that this
is precisely the spot where the chasm opened, into which Curtius
precipitated his good steed and himself. Imagine the great, dusky gap,
impenetrably deep, and with half-shaped monsters and hideous faces looming
upward out of it, to the vast affright of the good citizens who peeped
over the brim! There, now, is a subject, hitherto unthought of, for a
grim and ghastly story, and, methinks, with a moral as deep as the gulf
itself. Within it, beyond a question, there were prophetic visions,
--intimations of all the future calamities of Rome,--shades of Goths, and
Gauls, and even of the French soldiers of to-day. It was a pity to close
it up so soon! I would give much for a peep into such a chasm."
"I fancy," remarked Miriam, "that every person takes a peep into it in
moments of gloom and despondency; that is to say, in his moments of
"Where is it, then?" asked Hilda. "I never peeped into it."
"Wait, and it will open for you," replied her friend. "The chasm was
merely one of the orifices of that pit of blackness that lies beneath us,
everywhere. The firmest substance of human happiness is but a thin crust
spread over it, with just reality enough to bear up the illusive stage
scenery amid which we tread. It needs no earthquake to open the chasm. A
footstep, a little heavier than ordinary, will serve; and we must step
very daintily, not to break through the crust at any moment. By and by,
we inevitably sink! It was a foolish piece of heroism in Curtius to
precipitate himself there, in advance; for all Rome, you see, has been
swallowed up in that gulf, in spite of him. The Palace of the Caesars has
gone down thither, with a hollow, rumbling sound of its fragments! All
the temples have tumbled into it; and thousands of statues have been
thrown after! All the armies and the triumphs have marched into the great
chasm, with their martial music playing, as they stepped over the brink.
All the heroes, the statesmen, and the poets! All piled upon poor Curtius,
who thought to have saved them all! I am loath to smile at the
self-conceit of that gallant horseman, but cannot well avoid it."
"It grieves me to hear you speak thus, Miriam," said Hilda, whose natural
and cheerful piety was shocked by her friend's gloomy view of human
destinies. "It seems to me that there is no chasm, nor any hideous
emptiness under our feet, except what the evil within us digs. If there
be such a chasm, let us bridge it over with good thoughts and deeds, and
we shall tread safely to the other side. It was the guilt of Rome, no
doubt, that caused this gulf to open; and Curtius filled it up with his
heroic self-sacrifice and patriotism, which was the best virtue that the
old Romans knew. Every wrong thing makes the gulf deeper; every right one
helps to fill it up. As the evil of Rome was far more than its good, the
whole commonwealth finally sank into it, indeed, but of no original
"Well, Hilda, it came to the same thing at last," answered Miriam
"Doubtless, too," resumed the sculptor (for his imagination was greatly
excited by the idea of this wondrous chasm), "all the blood that the
Romans shed, whether on battlefields, or in the Coliseum, or on the cross,
--in whatever public or private murder,--ran into this fatal gulf, and
formed a mighty subterranean lake of gore, right beneath our feet. The
blood from the thirty wounds in Caesar's breast flowed hitherward, and
that pure little rivulet from Virginia's bosom, too! Virginia, beyond all
question, was stabbed by her father, precisely where we are standing."
"Then the spot is hallowed forever!" said Hilda.
"Is there such blessed potency in bloodshed?" asked Miriam. "Nay, Hilda,
do not protest! I take your meaning rightly."
They again moved forward. And still, from the Forum and the Via Sacra,
from beneath the arches of the Temple of Peace on one side, and the
acclivity of the Palace of the Caesars on the other, there arose singing
voices of parties that were strolling through the moonlight. Thus, the
air was full of kindred melodies that encountered one.another, and twined
themselves into a broad, vague music, out of which no single strain could
be disentangled. These good examples, as well as the harmonious
influences of the hour, incited our artist friends to make proof of their
own vocal powers. With what skill and breath they had, they set up a
choral strain,--"Hail, Columbia!" we believe, which those old Roman
echoes must have found it exceeding difficult to repeat aright. Even
Hilda poured the slender sweetness of her note into her country's song.
Miriam was at first silent, being perhaps unfamiliar with the air and
burden. But suddenly she threw out such a swell and gush of sound, that
it seemed to pervade the whole choir of other voices, and then to rise
above them all, and become audible in what would else have been thee
silence of an upper region. That volume of melodious voice was one of the
tokens of a great trouble. There had long been an impulse upon
her--amounting, at last, to a necessity to shriek aloud; but she had
struggled against it, till the thunderous anthem gave her an opportunity
to relieve her heart by a great cry.
They passed the solitary Column of Phocas, and looked down into the
excavated space, where a confusion of pillars, arches, pavements, and
shattered blocks and shafts--the crumbs of various ruin dropped from the
devouring maw of Time stand, or lie, at the base of the Capitoline Hill.
That renowned hillock (for it is little more) now arose abruptly above
them. The ponderous masonry, with which the hillside is built up, is as
old as Rome itself, and looks likely to endure while the world retains any
substance or permanence. It once sustained the Capitol, and now bears up
the great pile which the mediaeval builders raised on the antique
foundation, and that still loftier tower, which looks abroad upon a larger
page of deeper historic interest than any other scene can show. On the
same pedestal of Roman masonry, other structures will doubtless rise, and
vanish like ephemeral things.
To a spectator on the spot, it is remarkable that the events of Roman
history, and Roman life itself, appear not so distant as the Gothic ages
which succeeded them. We stand in the Forum, or on the height of the
Capitol, and seem to see the Roman epoch close at hand. We forget that a
chasm extends between it and ourselves, in which lie all those dark, rude,
unlettered centuries, around the birth-time of Christianity, as well as
the age of chivalry and romance, the feudal system, and the infancy of a
better civilization than that of Rome. Or, if we remember these mediaeval
times, they look further off than the Augustan age. The reason may be,
that the old Roman literature survives, and creates for us an intimacy
with the classic ages, which we have no means of forming with the
The Italian climate, moreover, robs age of its reverence and makes it look
newer than it is. Not the Coliseum, nor the tombs of the Appian Way, nor
the oldest pillar in the Forum, nor any other Roman ruin, be it as
dilapidated as it may, ever give the impression of venerable antiquity
which we gather, along with the ivy, from the gray walls of an English
abbey or castle. And yet every brick or stone, which we pick up among the
former, had fallen ages before the foundation of the latter was begun.
This is owing to the kindliness with which Natures takes an English ruin
to her heart, covering it with ivy, as tenderly as Robin Redbreast covered
the dead babes with forest leaves. She strives to make it a part of
herself, gradually obliterating the handiwork of man, and supplanting it
with her own mosses and trailing verdure, till she has won the whole
structure back. But, in Italy, whenever man has once hewn a stone, Nature
forthwith relinquishes her right to it, and never lays her finger on it
again. Age after age finds it bare and naked, in the barren sunshine,
and leaves it so. Besides this natural disadvantage, too, each succeeding
century, in Rome, has done its best to ruin the very ruins, so far as
their picturesque effect is concerned, by stealing away the marble and
hewn stone, and leaving only yellow bricks, which never can look venerable.
The party ascended the winding way that leads from the Forum to the Piazza
of the Campidoglio on the summit of the Capitoline Hill. They stood
awhile to contemplate the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.
The moonlight glistened upon traces of the gilding which had once covered
both rider and steed; these were almost gone, but the aspect of dignity
was still perfect, clothing the figure as it were with an imperial robe of
light. It is the most majestic representation of the kingly character
that ever the world has seen. A sight of the old heathen emperor is
enough to create an evanescent sentiment of loyalty even in a democratic
bosom, so august does he look, so fit to rule, so worthy of man's
profoundest homage and obedience, so inevitably attractive of his love.
He stretches forth his hand with an air of grand beneficence and unlimited
authority, as if uttering a decree from which no appeal was permissible,
but in which the obedient subject would find his highest interests
consulted; a command that was in itself a benediction.
"The sculptor of this statue knew what a king should be," observed Kenyon,
"and knew, likewise, the heart of mankind, and how it craves a true ruler,
under whatever title, as a child its father"
"O, if there were but one such man as this?" exclaimed Miriam. "One such
man in an age, and one in all the world; then how speedily would the
strife, wickedness, and sorrow of us poor creatures be relieved. We would
come to him with our griefs, whatever they might be,--even a poor, frail
woman burdened with her heavy heart,--and lay them at his feet, and never
need to take them up again. The rightful king would see to all."
"What an idea of the regal office and duty!" said Kenyon, with a smile.
"It is a woman's idea of the whole matter to perfection. It is Hilda's,
too, no doubt?"
"No," answered the quiet Hilda; "I should never look for such assistance
from an earthly king."
"Hilda, my religious Hilda," whispered Miriam, suddenly drawing the girl
close to her, "do you know how it is with me? I would give all I have or
hope--my life, O how freely--for one instant of your trust in God! You
little guess my need of it. You really think, then, that He sees and
cares for us?"
"Miriam, you frighten me."
"Hush, hush? do not let them hear yet!" whispered Miriam. "I frighten
you, you say; for Heaven's sake, how? Am I strange? Is there anything
wild in my behavior?"
"Only for that moment," replied Hilda, "because you seemed to doubt God's
"We will talk of that another time," said her friend. "Just now it is
very dark to me."
On the left of the Piazza of the Campidoglio, as you face cityward, and at
the head of the long and stately flight of steps descending from the
Capitoline Hill to the level of lower Rome, there is a narrow lane or
passage. Into this the party of our friends now turned. The path
ascended a little, and ran along under the walls of a palace, but soon
passed through a gateway, and terminated in a small paved courtyard. It
was bordered by a low parapet.
The spot, for some reason or other, impressed them as exceedingly lonely.
On one side was the great height of the palace, with the moonshine falling
over it, and showing all the windows barred and shuttered. Not a human
eye could look down into the little courtyard, even if the seemingly
deserted palace had a tenant. On all other sides of its narrow compass
there was nothing but the parapet, which as it now appeared was built
right on the edge of a steep precipice. Gazing from its imminent brow,
the party beheld a crowded confusion of roofs spreading over the whole
space between them and the line of hills that lay beyond the Tiber. A
long, misty wreath, just dense enough to catch a little of the moonshine,
floated above the houses, midway towards the hilly line, and showed the
course of the unseen river. Far away on the right, the moon gleamed on
the dome of St. Peter's as well as on many lesser and nearer domes.
"What a beautiful view of the city!" exclaimed Hilda; "and I never saw
Rome from this point before."
"It ought to afford a good prospect," said the sculptor; "for it was from
this point--at least we are at liberty to think so, if we choose--that
many a famous Roman caught his last glimpse of his native city, and of all
other earthly things. This is one of the sides of the Tarpeian Rock.
Look over the parapet, and see what a sheer tumble there might still be
for a traitor, in spite of the thirty feet of soil that have accumulated
at the foot of the precipice."
They all bent over, and saw that the cliff fell perpendicularly downward
to about the depth, or rather more, at which the tall palace rose in
height above their heads. Not that it was still the natural, shaggy front
of the original precipice; for it appeared to be cased in ancient
stonework, through which the primeval rock showed its face here and there
grimly and doubtfully. Mosses grew on the slight projections, and little
shrubs sprouted out of the crevices, but could not much soften the stern
aspect of the cliff. Brightly as the Italian moonlight fell adown the
height, it scarcely showed what portion of it was man's work and what was
nature's, but left it all in very much the same kind of ambiguity and
half-knowledge in which antiquarians generally leave the identity of Roman
The roofs of some poor-looking houses, which had been built against the
base and sides of the cliff, rose nearly midway to the top; but from an
angle of the parapet there was a precipitous plunge straight downward into
a stonepaved court.
"I prefer this to any other site as having been veritably the Traitor's
Leap," said Kenyon, "because it was so convenient to the Capitol. It was
an admirable idea of those stern old fellows to fling their political
criminals down from the very summit on which stood the Senate House and
Jove's Temple, emblems of the institutions which they sought to violate.
It symbolizes how sudden was the fall in those days from the utmost height
of ambition to its profoundest ruin."
"Come, come; it is midnight," cried another artist, "too late to be
moralizing here. We are literally dreaming on the edge of a precipice.
Let us go home."
"It is time, indeed," said Hilda.
The sculptor was not without hopes that he might be favored with the sweet
charge of escorting Hilda to the foot of her tower. Accordingly, when the
party prepared to turn back, he offered her his arm. Hilda at first
accepted it; but when they had partly threaded the passage between the
little courtyard and the Piazza del Campidoglio, she discovered that
Miriam had remained behind.
"I must go back," said she, withdrawing her arm from Kenyon's; "but pray
do not come with me. Several times this evening I have had a fancy that
Miriam had something on her mind, some sorrow or perplexity, which,
perhaps, it would relieve her to tell me about. No, no; do not turn back!
Donatello will be a sufficient guardian for Miriam and me."
The sculptor was a good deal mortified, and perhaps a little angry: but he
knew Hilda's mood of gentle decision and independence too well not to obey
her. He therefore suffered the fearless maiden to return alone.
Meanwhile Miriam had not noticed the departure of the rest of the company;
she remained on the edge of the precipice and Donatello along with her.
"It would be a fatal fall, still," she said to herself, looking over the
parapet, and shuddering as her eye measured the depth. "Yes; surely yes!
Even without the weight of an overburdened heart, a human body would fall
heavily enough upon those stones to shake all its joints asunder. How
soon it would be over!"
Donatello, of whose presence she was possibly not aware, now pressed
closer to her side; and he, too, like Miriam, bent over the low parapet
and trembled violently. Yet he seemed to feel that perilous fascination
which haunts the brow of precipices, tempting the unwary one to fling
himself over for the very horror of the thing; for, after drawing hastily
back, he again looked down, thrusting himself out farther than before. He
then stood silent a brief space, struggling, perhaps, to make himself
conscious of the historic associations of the scene.
"What are you thinking of, Donatello?" asked Miriam.
"Who are they," said he, looking earnestly in her face, "who have been
flung over here in days gone by?"
"Men that cumbered the world," she replied. "Men whose lives were the
bane of their fellow creatures. Men who poisoned the air, which is the
common breath of all, for their own selfish purposes. There was short
work with such men in old Roman times. Just in the moment of their
triumph, a hand, as of an avenging giant, clutched them, and dashed the
wretches down this precipice."
"Was it well done?" asked the young man.
"It was well done," answered Miriam; "innocent persons were saved by the
destruction of a guilty one, who deserved his doom."
While this brief conversation passed, Donatello had once or twice glanced
aside with a watchful air, just as a hound may often be seen to take
sidelong note of some suspicious object, while he gives his more direct
attention to something nearer at, hand. Miriam seemed now first to become
aware of the silence that had followed upon the cheerful talk and laughter
of a few moments before.
Looking round, she perceived that all her company of merry friends had
retired, and Hilda, too, in whose soft and quiet presence she had always
an indescribable feeling of security. All gone; and only herself and
Donatello left hanging over the brow of the ominous precipice.
Not so, however; not entirely alone! In the basement wall of the palace,
shaded from the moon, there was a deep, empty niche, that had probably
once contained a statue; not empty, either; for a figure now came forth
from it and approached Miriam. She must have had cause to dread some
unspeakable evil from this strange persecutor, and to know that this was
the very crisis of her calamity; for as he drew near, such a cold, sick
despair crept over her that it impeded her breath, and benumbed her
natural promptitude of thought. Miriam seemed dreamily to remember
falling on her knees; but, in her whole recollection of that wild moment,
she beheld herself as in a dim show, and could not well distinguish what
was done and suffered; no, not even whether she were really an actor and
sufferer in the scene.
Hilda, meanwhile, had separated herself from the sculptor, and turned back
to rejoin her friend. At a distance, she still heard the mirth of her
late companions, who were going down the cityward descent of the
Capitoline Hill; they had set up a new stave of melody, in which her own
soft voice, as well as the powerful sweetness of Miriam's, was sadly
The door of the little courtyard had swung upon its hinges, and partly
closed itself. Hilda (whose native gentleness pervaded all her movements)
was quietly opening it, when she was startled, midway, by the noise of a
struggle within, beginning and ending all in one breathless instant.
Along with it, or closely succeeding it, was a loud, fearful cry, which
quivered upward through the air, and sank quivering downward to the earth.
Then, a silence! Poor Hilda had looked into the court-yard, and saw the
whole quick passage of a deed, which took but that little time to grave
itself in the eternal adamant.
THE FAUN'S TRANSFORMATION
The door of the courtyard swung slowly, and closed itself of its own
accord. Miriam and Donatello were now alone there. She clasped her hands,
and looked wildly at the young man, whose form seemed to have dilated,
and whose eyes blazed with the fierce energy that had suddenly inspired
him. It had kindled him into a man; it had developed within him an
intelligence which was no native characteristic of the Donatello whom we
have heretofore known. But that simple and joyous creature was gone
"What have you done?" said Miriam, in a horror-stricken whisper.
The glow of rage was still lurid on Donatello's face, and now flashed out
again from his eyes.
"I did what ought to be done to a traitor!" he replied. "I did what your
eyes bade me do, when I asked them with mine, as I held the wretch over
These last words struck Miriam like a bullet. Could it be so? Had her
eyes provoked or assented to this deed? She had not known it. But, alas!
looking back into the frenzy and turmoil of the scene just acted, she
could not deny--she was not sure whether it might be so, or no--that a
wild joy had flamed up in her heart, when she beheld her persecutor in his
mortal peril. Was it horror?--or ecstasy? or both in one? Be the emotion
what it might, it had blazed up more madly, when Donatello flung his
victim off the cliff, and more and more, while his shriek went quivering
downward. With the dead thump upon the stones below had come an
"And my eyes bade you do it!" repeated she.
They both leaned over the parapet, and gazed downward as earnestly as if
some inestimable treasure had fallen over, and were yet recoverable. On
the pavement below was a dark mass, lying in a heap, with little or
nothing human in its appearance, except that the hands were stretched out,
as if they might have clutched for a moment at the small square stones.
But there was no motion in them now. Miriam watched the heap of mortality
while she could count a hundred, which she took pains to do. No stir;
not a finger moved!
"You have killed him, Donatello! He is quite dead!" said she. "Stone
dead! Would I were so, too!"
"Did you not mean that he should die?" sternly asked Donatello, still in
the glow of that intelligence which passion had developed in him. "There
was short time to weigh the matter; but he had his trial in that breath or
two while I held him over the cliff, and his sentence in that one glance,
when your eyes responded to mine! Say that I have slain him against your
will,--say that he died without your whole consent,--and, in another
breath, you shall see me lying beside him."
"O, never!" cried Miriam. "My one, own friend! Never, never, never!"
She turned to him,--the guilty, bloodstained, lonely woman,--she turned to
her fellow criminal, the youth, so lately innocent, whom she had drawn
into her doom. She pressed him close, close to her bosom, with a clinging
embrace that brought their two hearts together, till the horror and agony
of each was combined into one emotion, and that a kind of rapture.
"Yes, Donatello, you speak the truth!" said she; "my heart consented to
what you did. We two slew yonder wretch. The deed knots us together,
for time and eternity, like the coil of a serpent!"
They threw one other glance at the heap of death below, to assure
themselves that it was there; so like a dream was the whole thing. Then
they turned from that fatal precipice, and came out of the courtyard, arm
in arm, heart in heart. Instinctively, they were heedful not to sever
themselves so much as a pace or two from one another, for fear of the
terror and deadly chill that would thenceforth wait for them m solitude.
Their deed--the crime which Donatello wrought, and Miriam accepted on the
instant--had wreathed itself, as she said, like a serpent, in inextricable
links about both their souls, and drew them into one, by its terrible
contractile power. It was closer than a marriage bond. So intimate, in
those first moments, was the union, that it seemed as if their new
sympathy annihilated all other ties, and that they were released from the
chain of humanity; a new sphere, a special law, had been created for them
alone. The world could not come near them; they were safe!
When they reached the flight of steps leading downward from the Capitol,
there was a faroff noise of singing and laughter. Swift, indeed, had been
the rush of the crisis that was come and gone! This was still the
merriment of the party that had so recently been their companions. They
recognized the voices which, a little while ago, had accorded and sung in
cadence with their own. But they were familiar voices no more; they
sounded strangely, and, as it were, out of the depths of space; so remote
was all that pertained to the past life of these guilty ones, in the moral
seclusion that had suddenly extended itself around them. But how close,
and ever closer, did the breath of the immeasurable waste, that lay
between them and all brotherhood or sisterhood, now press them one within
"O friend!" cried Miriam, so putting her soul into the word that it took
a heavy richness of meaning, and seemed never to have been spoken before,
"O friend, are you conscious, as I am, of this companionshiP that knits
our heart-strings together?"
"I feel it, Miriam," said Donatello. "We draw one breath; we live one
"Only yesterday," continued Miriam; "nay, only a short half-hour ago, I
shivered in an icy solitude. No friendship, no sisterhood, could come
near enough to keep the warmth within my heart. In an instant all is
changed! There can be no more loneliness!"
"None, Miriam!" said Donatello.
"None, my beautiful one!" responded Miriam, gazing in his face, which had
taken a higher, almost an heroic aspect, from the strength of passion.
"None, my innocent one! Surely, it is no crime that we have committed.
One wretched and worthless life has been sacrificed to cement two other
lives for evermore."
"For evermore, Miriam!" said Donatello; "cemented with his blood!"
The young man started at the word which he had himself spoken; it may be
that it brought home, to the simplicity of his imagination, what he had
not before dreamed of,--the ever-increasing loathsomeness of a union that
consists in guilt. Cemented with blood, which would corrupt and grow more
noisome forever and forever, but bind them none the less strictly for that.
"Forget it! Cast it all behind you!" said Miriam, detecting, by her
sympathy, the pang that was in his heart. "The deed has done its office,
and has no existence any more."
They flung the past behind them, as she counselled, or else distilled from
it a fiery, intoxication, which sufficed to carry them triumphantly
through those first moments of their doom. For guilt has its moment of
rapture too. The foremost result of a broken law is ever an ecstatic
sense of freedom. And thus there exhaled upward (out of their dark
sympathy, at the base of which lay a human corpse) a bliss, or an insanity,
which the unhappy pair imagined to be well worth the sleepy innocence
that was forever lost to them.
As their spirits rose to the solemn madness of the occasion, they went
onward, not stealthily, not fearfully, but with a stately gait and aspect.
Passion lent them (as it does to meaner shapes) its brief nobility of
carriage. They trod through the streets of Rome, as if they, too, were
among the majestic and guilty shadows, that, from ages long gone by, have
haunted the blood-stained city. And, at Miriam's suggestion, they turned
aside, for the sake of treading loftily past the old site of Pompey's
"For there was a great deed done here!" she said,--"a deed of blood like
ours! Who knows but we may meet the high and ever-sad fraternity of
Caesar's murderers, and exchange a salutation?"
"Are they our brethren, now?" asked Donatello.
"Yes; all of them," said Miriam,--" and many another, whom the world
little dreams of, has been made our brother or our sister, by what we have
done within this hour!"
And at the thought she shivered. Where then was the seclusion, the
remoteness, the strange, lonesome Paradise, into which she and her one
companion had been transported by their crime? Was there, indeed, no such
refuge, but only a crowded thoroughfare and jostling throng of criminals?
And was it true, that whatever hand had a blood-stain on it,--or had
poured out poison,--or strangled a babe at its birth,--or clutched a
grandsire's throat, he sleeping, and robbed him of his few last breaths,
--had now the right to offer itself in fellowship with their two hands?
Too certainly, that right existed. It is a terrible thought, that an
individual wrong-doing melts into the great mass of human crime, and makes
us, who dreamed only of our own little separate sin,--makes us guilty of
the whole. And thus Miriam and her lover were not an insulated pair, but
members of an innumerable confraternity of guilty ones, all shuddering at
"But not now; not yet," she murmured to herself. "To-night, at least,
there shall be no remorse!"
Wandering without a purpose, it so chanced that they turned into a street,
at one extremity of which stood Hilda's tower. There was a light in her
high chamber; a light, too, at the Virgin's shrine; and the glimmer of
these two was the loftiest light beneath the stars. Miriam drew
Donatello's arm, to make him stop, and while they stood at some distance
looking at Hilda's window, they beheld her approach and throw it open.
She leaned far forth, and extended her clasped hands towards the sky.
"The good, pure child! She is praying, Donatello," said Miriam, with a
kind of simple joy at witnessing the devoutness of her friend. Then her
own sin rushed upon her, and she shouted, with the rich strength of her
voice, "Pray for us, Hilda; we need it!"
Whether Hilda heard and recognized the voice we cannot tell. The window
was immediately closed, and her form disappeared from behind the snowy
curtain. Miriam felt this to be a token that the cry of her condemned
spirit was shut out of heaven.
THE BURIAL CHANT
The Church of the Capuchins (where, as the reader may remember, some of
our acquaintances had made an engagement to meet) stands a little aside
from the Piazza Barberini. Thither, at the hour agreed upon, on the
morning after the scenes last described, Miriam and Donatello directed
their steps. At no time are people so sedulously careful to keep their
trifling appointments, attend to their ordinary occupations, and thus put
a commonplace aspect on life, as when conscious of some secret that if
suspected would make them look monstrous in the general eye.
Yet how tame and wearisome is the impression of all ordinary things in the
contrast with such a fact! How sick and tremulous, the next morning, is
the spirit that has dared so much only the night before! How icy cold is
the heart, when the fervor, the wild ecstasy of passion has faded away,
and sunk down among the dead ashes of the fire that blazed so fiercely,
and was fed by the very substance of its life! How faintly does the
criminal stagger onward, lacking the impulse of that strong madness that
hurried him into guilt, and treacherously deserts him in the midst of it!
When Miriam and Donatello drew near the church, they found only Kenyon
awaiting them on the steps. Hilda had likewise promised to be of the
party, but had not yet appeared. Meeting the sculptor, Miriam put a force
upon herself and succeeded in creating an artificial flow of spirits,
which, to any but the nicest observation, was quite as effective as a
natural one. She spoke sympathizingly to the sculptor on the subject of
Hilda's absence, and somewhat annoyed him by alluding in Donatello's
hearing to an attachment which had never been openly avowed, though
perhaps plainly enough betrayed. He fancied that Miriam did not quite
recognize the limits of the strictest delicacy; he even went so far as to
generalize, and conclude within himself, that this deficiency is a more
general failing in woman than in man, the highest refinement being a
But the idea was unjust to the sex at large, and especially so to this
poor Miriam, who was hardly responsible for her frantic efforts to be gay.
Possibly, moreover, the nice action of the mind is set ajar by any
violent shock, as of great misfortune or great crime, so that the finer
perceptions may be blurred thenceforth, and the effect be traceable in all
the minutest conduct of life.
"Did you see anything of the dear child after you left us?" asked Miriam,
still keeping Hilda as her topic of conversation. "I missed her sadly on
my way homeward; for nothing insures me such delightful and innocent
dreams (I have experienced it twenty times)as a talk late in the evening
"So I should imagine," said the sculptor gravely; "but it is an advantage
that I have little or no opportunity of enjoying. I know not what became
of Hilda after my parting from you. She was not especially my companion
in any part of our walk. The last I saw of her she was hastening back to
rejoin you in the courtyard of the Palazzo Caffarelli."
"Impossible!" cried Miriam, starting.
"Then did you not see her again?" inquired Kenyon, in some alarm.
"Not there," answered Miriam quietly; "indeed, I followed pretty closely
on the heels of the rest of the party. But do not be alarmed on Hilda's
account; the Virgin is bound to watch over the good child, for the sake of
the piety with which she keeps the lamp alight at her shrine. And besides,
I have always felt that Hilda is just as safe in these evil streets of
Rome as her white doves when they fly downwards from the tower top, and
run to and fro among the horses' feet. There is certainly a providence on
purpose for Hilda, if for no other human creature."
"I religiously believe it," rejoined the sculptor; "and yet my mind would
be the easier, if I knew that she had returned safely to her tower."
"Then make yourself quite easy," answered Miriam. "I saw her (and it is
the last sweet sight that I remember) leaning from her window midway
between earth and sky!"
Kenyon now looked at Donatello.
"You seem out of spirits, my dear friend," he observed. "This languid
Roman atmosphere is not the airy wine that you were accustomed to breathe
at home. I have not forgotten your hospitable invitation to meet you this
summer at your castle among the Apennines. It is my fixed purpose to
come, I assure you. We shall both be the better for some deep draughts
of the mountain breezes."
"It may he," said Donatello, with unwonted sombreness; "the old house
seemed joyous when I was a child. But as I remember it now it was a grim
The sculptor looked more attentively at the young man, and was surprised
and alarmed to observe how entirely the fine, fresh glow of animal spirits
had departed out of his face. Hitherto, moreover, even while he was
standing perfectly still, there had been a kind of possible gambol
indicated in his aspect. It was quite gone now. All his youthful gayety,
and with it his simplicity of manner, was eclipsed, if not utterly extinct.
"You are surely ill, my dear fellow," exclaimed Kenyon.
"Am I? Perhaps so," said Donatello indifferently; "I never have been ill,
and know not what it may be."
"Do not make the poor lad fancy-sink," whispered Miriam, pulling the
sculptor's sleeve. "He is of a nature to lie down and die at once, if he
finds himself drawing such melancholy breaths as we ordinary people are
enforced to burden our lungs withal. But we must get him away from this
old, dreamy and dreary Rome, where nobody but himself ever thought of
being gay. Its influences are too heavy to sustain the life of such a
The above conversation had passed chiefly on the steps of the Cappuccini;
and, having said so much, Miriam lifted the leathern curtain that hangs
before all church-doors in italy.
Hilda has forgotten her appointment," she observed, "or else her maiden
slumbers are very sound this morning. We will wait for her no longer."
They entered the nave. The interior of the church was of moderate compass,
but of good architecture, with a vaulted roof over the nave, and a row of
dusky chapels on either side of it instead of the customary side-aisles.
Each chapel had its saintly shrine, hung round with offerings; its picture
above the altar, although closely veiled, if by any painter of renown; and
its hallowed tapers, burning continually, to set alight the devotion of
the worshippers. The pavement of the nave was chiefly of marble, and
looked old and broken, and was shabbily patched here and there with tiles
of brick; it was inlaid, moreover, with tombstones of the mediaeval taste,
on which were quaintly sculptured borders, figures, and portraits in
bas-relief, and Latin epitaphs, now grown illegible by the tread of
footsteps over them. The church appertains to a convent of Capuchin monks;
and, as usually happens when a reverend brotherhood have such an edifice
in charge, the floor seemed never to have been scrubbed or swept, and had
as little the aspect of sanctity as a kennel; whereas, in all churches of
nunneries, the maiden sisterhood invariably show the purity of their own
hearts by the virgin cleanliness and visible consecration of the walls and
As our friends entered the church, their eyes rested at once on a
remarkable object in the centre of the nave. It was either the actual
body, or, as might rather have been supposed at first glance, the
cunningly wrought waxen face and suitably draped figure of a dead monk.
This image of wax or clay-cold reality, whichever it might be, lay on a
slightly elevated bier, with three tall candles burning on each side,
another tall candle at the head, and another at the foot. There was music,
too; in harmony with so funereal a spectacle. From beneath the pavement
of the church came the deep, lugubrious strain of a De Profundis, which
sounded like an utterance of the tomb itself; so dismally did it rumble
through the burial vaults, and ooze up among the flat gravestones and sad
epitaphs, filling the church as with a gloomy mist.
"I must look more closely at that dead monk before we leave the church,"
remarked the sculptor. "In the study of my art, I have gained many a hint
from the dead which the living could never have given me."
"I can well imagine it," answered Miriam. "One clay image is readily
copied from another. But let us first see Guido's picture. The light is
Accordingly, they turned into the first chapel on the right hand, as you
enter the nave; and there they beheld,--not the picture, indeed,--but a
closely drawn curtain. The churchmen of Italy make no scruple of
sacrificing the very purpose for which a work of sacred art has been
created; that of opening the way; for religious sentiment through the
quick medium of sight, by bringing angels, saints, and martyrs down
visibly upon earth; of sacrificing this high purpose, and, for aught they
know, the welfare of many souls along with it, to the hope of a paltry fee.
Every work by an artist of celebrity is hidden behind a veil, and seldom
revealed, except to Protestants, who scorn it as an object of devotion,
and value it only for its artistic merit.
The sacristan was quickly found, however, and lost no time in disclosing
the youthful Archangel, setting his divine foot on the head of his fallen
adversary. It was an image of that greatest of future events, which we
hope for so ardently, at least, while we are young,--but find so very long
in coming, the triumph of goodness over the evil principle.
"Where can Hilda be?" exclaimed Kenyon. "It is not her custom ever to
fail in an engagement; and the present one was made entirely on her
account. Except herself, you know, we were all agreed in our recollection
of the picture."
"But we were wrong, and Hilda right, as you perceive," said Miriam,
directing his attention to the point on which their dispute of the night
before had arisen. "It is not easy to detect her astray as regards any
picture on which those clear, soft eyes of hers have ever rested."
"And she has studied and admired few pictures so much as this," observed
the sculptor. "No wonder; for there is hardly another so beautiful in
the world. What an expression of heavenly severity in the Archangel's
face! There is a degree of pain, trouble, and disgust at being brought in
contact with sin, even for the purpose of quelling and punishing it; and
yet a celestial tranquillity pervades his whole being."
"I have never been able," said Miriam, "to admire this picture nearly so
much as Hilda does, in its moral and intellectual aspect. If it cost her
more trouble to be good, if her soul were less white and pure, she would
be a more competent critic of this picture, and would estimate it not half
so high. I see its defects today more clearly than ever before."
"What are some of them?" asked Kenyon.
"That Archangel, now," Miriam continued; "how fair he looks, with his
unruffled wings, with his unhacked sword, and clad in his bright armor,
and that exquisitely fitting sky-blue tunic, cut in the latest
Paradisiacal mode! What a dainty air of the first celestial society!
With what half-scornful delicacy he sets his prettily sandalled foot on
the head of his prostrate foe! But, is it thus that virtue looks the
moment after its death struggle with evil? No, no; I could have told
Guido better. A full third of the Archangel's feathers should have been
torn from his wings; the rest all ruffled, till they looked like Satan's
own! His sword should be streaming with blood, and perhaps broken halfway
to the hilt; his armor crushed, his robes rent, his breast gory; a
bleeding gash on his brow, cutting right across the stern scowl of battle!
He should press his foot hard down upon the old serpent, as if his very
soul depended upon it, feeling him squirm mightily, and doubting whether
the fight were half over yet, and how the victory might turn! And, with
all this fierceness, this grimness, this unutterable horror, there should
still be something high, tender, and holy in Michael's eyes, and around
his mouth. But the battle never was such a child's play as Guido's dapper
Archangel seems to have found it."
"For Heaven's sake, Miriam," cried Kenyon, astonished at the wild energy
of her talk; "paint the picture of man's struggle against sin according to
your own idea! I think it will be a masterpiece."
"The picture would have its share of truth, I assure you," she answered;
"but I am sadly afraid the victory would fail on the wrong side. Just
fancy a smoke-blackened, fiery-eyed demon bestriding that nice young angel,
clutching his white throat with one of his hinder claws; and giving a
triumphant whisk of his scaly tail, with a poisonous dart at the end of it!
That is what they risk, poor souls, who do battle with Michael's enemy."
It now, perhaps, struck Miriam that her mental disquietude was impelling
her to an undue vivacity; for she paused, and turned away from the picture,
without saying a word more about it. All this while, moreover, Donatello
had been very ill at ease, casting awe-stricken and inquiring glances at
the dead monk; as if he could look nowhere but at that ghastly object,
merely because it shocked him. Death has probably a peculiar horror and
ugliness, when forced upon the contemplation of a person so naturally
joyous as Donatello, who lived with completeness in the present moment,
and was able to form but vague images of the future.
"What is the matter, Donatello?" whispered Miriam soothingly. "You are
quite in a tremble, my poor friend! What is it?"
"This awful chant from beneath the church,," answered Donatello; "it
oppresses me; the air is so heavy with it that I can scarcely draw my
breath. And yonder dead monk! I feel as if he were lying right across my
"Take courage!" whispered she again "come, we will approach close to the
dead monk. The only way, in such cases, is to stare the ugly horror
right in the face; never a sidelong glance, nor half-look, for those are
what show a frightfill thing in its frightfullest aspect. Lean on me,
dearest friend! My heart is very strong for both of us. Be brave; and
all is well."
Donatello hung back for a moment, but then pressed close to Miriam's side,
and suffered her to lead him up to the bier. The sculptor followed. A
number of persons, chiefly women, with several children among them, were
standing about the corpse; and as our three friends drew nigh, a mother
knelt down, and caused her little boy to kneel, both kissing the beads and
crucifix that hung from the monk's girdle. Possibly he had died in the
odor of sanctity; or, at all events, death and his brown frock and cowl
made a sacred image of this reverend father.
THE DEAD CAPUCHIN
The dead monk was clad, as when alive, in the brown woollen frock of the
Capuchins, with the hood drawn over his head, but so as to leave the
features and a portion of the beard uncovered. His rosary and cross hung
at his side; his hands were folded over his breast; his feet (he was of a
barefooted order in his lifetime, and continued so in death) protruded
from beneath his habit, stiff and stark, with a more waxen look than even
his face. They were tied together at the ankles with a black ribbon.
The countenance, as we have already said, was fully displayed. It had a
purplish hue upon it, unlike the paleness of an ordinary corpse, but as
little resembling the flush of natural life. The eyelids were but
partially drawn down, and showed the eyeballs beneath; as if the deceased
friar were stealing a glimpse at the bystanders, to watch whether they
were duly impressed with the solemnity of his obsequies. The shaggy
eyebrows gave sternness to the look. Miriam passed between two of the
lighted candles, and stood close beside the bier.
"My God!" murmured she. "What is this?"
She grasped Donatello's hand, and, at the same instant, felt him give a
convulsive shudder, which she knew to have been caused by a sudden and
terrible throb of the heart. His hand, by an instantaneous change, became
like ice within hers, which likewise grew so icy that their insensible
fingers might have rattled, one against the other. No wonder that their
blood curdled; no wonder that their hearts leaped and paused! The dead
face of the monk, gazing at them beneath its half-closed eyelids, was the
same visage that had glared upon their naked souls, the past midnight, as
Donatello flung him over the precipice.
The sculptor was standing at the foot of the bier, and had not yet seen
the monk's features.
"Those naked feet!" said he. "I know not why, but they affect me
strangely. They have walked to and fro over the hard pavements of Rome,
and through a hundred other rough ways of this life, where the monk went
begging for his brotherhood; along the cloisters and dreary corridors of
his convent, too, from his youth upward! It is a suggestive idea, to
track those worn feet backward through all the paths they have trodden,
ever since they were the tender and rosy little feet of a baby, and (cold
as they now are) were kept warm in his mother's hand."
As his companions, whom the sculptor supposed to be close by him, made no
response to his fanciful musing, he looked up, and saw them at the head of
the bier. He advanced thither himself.
"Ha!" exclaimed he.
He cast a horror-stricken and bewildered glance at Miriam, but withdrew it
immediately. Not that he had any definite suspicion, or, it may be, even
a remote idea, that she could be held responsible in the least degree for
this man's sudden death. In truth, it seemed too wild a thought to
connect, in reality, Miriam's persecutor of many past months and the
vagabond of the preceding night, with the dead Capuchin of to-day. It
resembled one of those unaccountable changes and interminglings of
identity, which so often occur among the personages of a dream. But
Kenyon, as befitted the professor of an imaginative art, was endowed with
an exceedingly quick sensibility, which was apt to give him intimations of
the true state of matters that lay beyond his actual vision. There was a
whisper in his ear; it said, "Hush!" Without asking himself wherefore, he
resolved to be silent as regarded the mysterious discovery which he had
made, and to leave any remark or exclamation to be voluntarily offered by
Miriam. If she never spoke, then let the riddle be unsolved.
And now occurred a circumstance that would seem too fantastic to be told,
if it had not actually happened, precisely as we set it down. As the
three friends stood by the bier, they saw that a little stream of blood
had begun to ooze from the dead monk's nostrils; it crept slowly towards
the thicket of his beard, where, in the course of a moment or two, it hid
"How strange!" ejaculated Kenyon. "The monk died of apoplexy, I suppose,
or by some sudden accident, and the blood has not yet congealed."
"Do you consider that a sufficient explanation?" asked Miriam, with a
smile from which the sculptor involuntarily turned away his eyes. "Does
it satisfy you?"
"And why not?" he inquired.
"Of course, you know the old superstition about this phenomenon of blood
flowing from a dead body," she rejoined. "How can we tell but that the
murderer of this monk (or, possibly, it may be only that privileged
murderer, his physician) may have just entered the church?"
"I cannot jest about it," said Kenyon. "It is an ugly sight!"
"True, true; horrible to see, or dream of!" she replied, with one of those
long, tremulous sighs, which so often betray a sick heart by escaping
unexpectedly. "We will not look at it any more. Come away, Donatello.
Let us escape from this dismal church. The sunshine will do you good."
When had ever a woman such a trial to sustain as this! By no possible
supposition could Miriam explain the identity of the dead Capuchin,
quietly and decorously laid out in the nave of his convent church, with
that of her murdered persecutor, flung heedlessly at the foot of the
precipice. The effect upon her imagination was as if a strange and
unknown corpse had miraculously, while she was gazing at it, assumed the
likeness of that face, so terrible henceforth in her remembrance. It was
a symbol, perhaps, of the deadly iteration with which she was doomed to
behold the image of her crime reflected back upon her in a thousand ways,
and converting the great, calm face of Nature, in the whole, and in its
innumerable details, into a manifold reminiscence of that one dead visage.
No sooner had Miriam turned away from the bier, and gone a few steps, than
she fancied the likeness altogether an illusion, which would vanish at a
closer and colder view. She must look at it again, therefore, and at once;
or else the grave would close over the face, and leave the awful fantasy
that had connected itself therewith fixed ineffaceably in her brain.
"Wait for me, one moment!" she said to her companions. "Only a moment!"
So she went back, and gazed once more at the corpse. Yes; these were the
features that Miriam had known so well; this was the visage that she
remembered from a far longer date than the most intimate of her friends
suspected; this form of clay had held the evil spirit which blasted her
sweet youth, and compelled her, as it were, to stain her womanhood with
crime. But, whether it were the majesty of death, or something originally
noble and lofty in the character of the dead, which the soul had stamped
upon the features, as it left them; so it was that Miriam now quailed and
shook, not for the vulgar horror of the spectacle, but for the severe,
reproachful glance that seemed to come from between those half-closed lids.
True, there had been nothing, in his lifetime, viler than this man.
She knew it; there was no other fact within her consciousness that she
felt to be so certain; and yet, because her persecutor found himself safe
and irrefutable in death, he frowned upon his victim, and threw back the
blame on her!
"Is it thou, indeed?" she murmured, under her breath. "Then thou hast no
right to scowl upon me so! But art thou real, or a vision?" She bent down
over the dead monk, till one of her rich curls brushed against his
forehead. She touched one of his folded hands with her finger.
"It is he," said Miriam. "There is the scar, that I know so well, on his
brow. And it is no vision; he is palpable to my touch! I will question
the fact no longer, but deal with it as I best can."
It was wonderful to see how the crisis developed in Miriam its own proper
strength, and the faculty of sustaining the demands which it made upon her
fortitude. She ceased to tremble; the beautiful woman gazed sternly at
her dead enemy, endeavoring to meet and quell the look of accusation that
he threw from between his half-closed eyelids.
"No; thou shalt not scowl me down!" said she. "Neither now, nor when we
stand together at the judgment-seat. I fear not to meet thee there.
Farewell, till that next encounter!"
Haughtily waving her hand, Miriam rejoined her friends, who were awaiting
her at the door of the church. As they went out, the sacristan stopped
them, and proposed to show the cemetery of the convent, where the deceased
members of the fraternity are laid to rest in sacred earth, brought long
ago from Jerusalem.
"And will yonder monk be buried there?" she asked.
"Brother Antonio?" exclaimed the sacristan.
"Surely, our good brother will be put to bed there! His grave is already
dug, and the last occupant has made room for him. Will you look at it,
"I will!" said Miriam.
"Then excuse me," observed Kenyon; "for I shall leave you. One dead monk
has more than sufficed me; and I am not bold enough to face the whole
mortality of the convent."
It was easy to see, by Donatello's looks, that he, as well as the sculptor,
would gladly have escaped a visit to the famous cemetery of the
Cappuccini. But Miriam's nerves were strained to such a pitch, that she
anticipated a certain solace and absolute relief in passing from one
ghastly spectacle to another of long-accumulated ugliness; and there was,
besides, a singular sense of duty which impelled her to look at the final
resting-place of the being whose fate had been so disastrously involved
with her own. She therefore followed the sacristan's guidance, and drew
her companion along with her, whispering encouragement as they went.
The cemetery is beneath the church, but entirely above ground, and lighted
by a row of iron-grated windows without glass. A corridor runs along
beside these windows, and gives access to three or four vaulted recesses,
or chapels, of considerable breadth and height, the floor of which
consists of the consecrated earth of Jerusalem. It is smoothed decorously
over the deceased brethren of the convent, and is kept quite free from
grass or weeds, such as would grow even in these gloomy recesses, if pains
were not bestowed to root them up. But, as the cemetery is small, and it
is a precious privilege to sleep in holy ground, the brotherhood are
immemorially accustomed, when one of their number dies, to take the
longest buried skeleton out of the oldest grave, and lay the new slumberer
there instead. Thus, each of the good friars, in his turn, enjoys the
luxury of a consecrated bed, attended with the slight drawback of being
forced to get up long before daybreak, as it were, and make room for
The arrangement of the unearthed skeletons is what makes the special
interest of the cemetery. The arched and vaulted walls of the burial
recesses are supported by massive pillars and pilasters made of
thigh-bones and skulls; the whole material of the structure appears to be
of a similar kind; and the knobs and embossed ornaments of this strange
architecture are represented by the joints of the spine, and the more
delicate tracery by the Smaller bones of the human frame. The summits of
the arches are adorned with entire skeletons, looking as if they were
wrought most skilfully in bas-relief. There is no possibility of
describing how ugly and grotesque is the effect, combined with a certain
artistic merit, nor how much perverted ingenuity has been shown in this
queer way, nor what a multitude of dead monks, through how many hundred
years, must have contributed their bony framework to build up. these
great arches of mortality. On some of the skulls there are inscriptions,
purporting that such a monk, who formerly made use of that particular
headpiece, died on such a day and year; but vastly the greater number are
piled up indistinguishably into the architectural design, like the many
deaths that make up the one glory of a victory.
In the side walls of the vaults are niches where skeleton monks sit or
stand, clad in the brown habits that they wore in life, and labelled with
their names and the dates of their decease. Their skulls (some quite
bare, and others still covered with yellow skin, and hair that has known
the earth-damps) look out from beneath their hoods, grinning hideously
repulsive. One reverend father has his mouth wide open, as if he had died
in the midst of a howl of terror and remorse, which perhaps is even now
screeching through eternity. As a general thing, however, these frocked
and hooded skeletons seem to take a more cheerful view of their position,
and try with ghastly smiles to turn it into a jest. But the cemetery of
the Capuchins is no place to nourish celestial hopes: the soul sinks
forlorn and wretched under all this burden of dusty death; the holy earth
from Jerusalem, so imbued is it with mortality, has grown as barren of the
flowers of Paradise as it is of earthly weeds and grass. Thank Heaven for
its blue sky; it needs a long, upward gaze to give us back our faith. Not
here can we feel ourselves immortal, where the very altars in these
chapels of horrible consecration are heaps of human bones.
Yet let us give the cemetery the praise that it deserves. There is no
disagreeable scent, such as might have been expected from the decay of so
many holy persons, in whatever odor of sanctity they may have taken their
departure. The same number of living monks would not smell half so
Miriam went gloomily along the corridor, from one vaulted Golgotha to
another, until in the farthest recess she beheld an open grave.
"Is that for him who lies yonder in the nave?" she asked.
"Yes, signorina, this is to be the resting-place of Brother Antonio, who
came to his death last night," answered the sacristan; "and in yonder
niche, you see, sits a brother who was buried thirty years ago, and has
risen to give him place."
"It is not a satisfactory idea," observed Miriam, "that you poor friars
cannot call even your graves permanently your own. You must lie down in
them, methinks, with a nervous anticipation of being disturbed, like weary
men who know that they shall be summoned out of bed at midnight. Is it
not possible (if money were to be paid for the privilege) to leave Brother
Antonio--if that be his name--in the occupancy of that narrow grave till
the last trumpet sounds?"
"By no means, signorina; neither is it needful or desirable," answered the
sacristan. "A quarter of a century's sleep in the sweet earth of
Jerusalem is better than a thousand years in any other soil. Our brethren
find good rest there. No ghost was ever known to steal out of this
"That is well," responded Miriam; "may he whom you now lay to sleep prove
no exception to the rule!"
As they left the cemetery she put money into the sacristan's hand to an
amount that made his eyes open wide and glisten, and requested that it
might be expended in masses for the repose of Father Antonio's soul.
THE MEDICI GARDENS
Donatello," said Miriam anxiously, as they came through the Piazza
Barberini, "what can I do for you, my beloved friend? You are shaking as
with the cold fit of the Roman fever." "Yes," said Donatello; "my heart
shivers." As soon as she could collect her thoughts, Miriam led the young
man to the gardens of the Villa Medici, hoping that the quiet shade and
sunshine of that delightful retreat would a little revive his spirits.
The grounds are there laid out in the old fashion of straight paths, with
borders of box, which form hedges of great height and density, and are
shorn and trimmed to the evenness of a wall of stone, at the top and sides.
There are green alleys, with long vistas overshadowed by ilex-trees; and
at each intersection of the paths, the visitor finds seats of
lichen-covered stone to repose upon, and marble statues that look
forlornly at him, regretful of their lost noses. In the more open
portions of the garden, before the sculptured front of the villa, you see
fountains and flower-beds, and in their season a profusion of roses, from
which the genial sun of Italy distils a fragrance, to be scattered abroad
by the no less genial breeze.
But Donatello drew no delight from these things. He walked onward in
silent apathy, and looked at Miriam with strangely half-awakened and
bewildered eyes, when she sought to bring his mind into sympathy with hers,
and so relieve his heart of the burden that lay lumpishly upon it.
She made him sit down on a stone bench, where two embowered alleys crossed
each other; so that they could discern the approach of any casual intruder
a long way down the path.
"My sweet friend," she said, taking one of his passive hands in both of
hers, "what can I say to comfort you?"
"Nothing!" replied Donatello, with sombre reserve. "Nothing will ever
"I accept my own misery," continued Miriam, "my own guilt, if guilt it be;
and, whether guilt or misery, I shall know how to deal with it. But you,
dearest friend, that were the rarest creature in all this world, and
seemed a being to whom sorrow could not cling,--you, whom I half fancied
to belong to a race that had vanished forever, you only surviving, to show
mankind how genial and how joyous life used to be, in some long-gone age,
--what had you to do with grief or crime?"
"They came to me as to other men," said Donatello broodingly. "Doubtless
I was born to them."
"No, no; they came with me," replied Miriam. "Mine is the responsibility!
Alas! wherefore was I born? Why did we ever meet? Why did I not drive
you from me, knowing for my heart foreboded it--that the cloud in which I
walked would likewise envelop you!"
Donatello stirred uneasily, with the irritable impatience that is often
combined With a mood of leaden despondency. A brown lizard with two
tails--a monster often engendered by the Roman sunshine--ran across his
foot, and made him start. Then he sat silent awhile, and so did Miriam,
trying to dissolve her whole heart into sympathy, and lavish it all upon
him, were it only for a moment's cordial.
The young man lifted his hand to his breast, and, unintentionally, as
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