By E. L. Voynich
"What have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth?"
MY most cordial thanks are due to the many persons who helped me to collect, in Italy, the materials for this story. I am especially indebted to the officials of the Marucelliana Library of Florence, and of the State Archives and Civic Museum of Bologna, for their courtesy and kindness.
Arthur sat in the library of the theological seminary at Pisa, looking through a pile of manuscript sermons. It was a hot evening in June, and the windows stood wide open, with the shutters half closed for coolness. The Father Director, Canon Montanelli, paused a moment in his writing to glance lovingly at the black head bent over the papers.
"Can't you find it, carino? Never mind; I must rewrite the passage. Possibly it has got torn up, and I have kept you all this time for nothing."
Montanelli's voice was rather low, but full and resonant, with a silvery purity of tone that gave to his speech a peculiar charm. It was the voice of a born orator, rich in possible modulations. When he spoke to Arthur its note was always that of a caress.
"No, Padre, I must find it; I'm sure you put it here. You will never make it the same by rewriting."
Montanelli went on with his work. A sleepy cockchafer hummed drowsily outside the window, and the long, melancholy call of a fruitseller echoed down the street: "Fragola! fragola!"
"'On the Healing of the Leper'; here it is." Arthur came across the room with the velvet tread that always exasperated the good folk at home. He was a slender little creature, more like an Italian in a sixteenth-century portrait than a middle-class English lad of the thirties. From the long eyebrows and sensitive mouth to the small hands and feet, everything about him was too much chiseled, overdelicate. Sitting still, he might have been taken for a very pretty girl masquerading in male attire; but when he moved, his lithe agility suggested a tame panther without the claws.
"Is that really it? What should I do without you, Arthur? I should always be losing my things. No, I am not going to write any more now. Come out into the garden, and I will help you with your work. What is the bit you couldn't understand?"
They went out into the still, shadowy cloister garden. The seminary occupied the buildings of an old Dominican monastery, and two hundred years ago the square courtyard had been stiff and trim, and the rosemary and lavender had grown in close-cut bushes between the straight box edgings. Now the white-robed monks who had tended them were laid away and forgotten; but the scented herbs flowered still in the gracious mid-summer evening, though no man gathered their blossoms for simples any more. Tufts of wild parsley and columbine filled the cracks between the flagged footways, and the well in the middle of the courtyard was given up to ferns and matted stone-crop. The roses had run wild, and their straggling suckers trailed across the paths; in the box borders flared great red poppies; tall foxgloves drooped above the tangled grasses; and the old vine, untrained and barren of fruit, swayed from the branches of the neglected medlar-tree, shaking a leafy head with slow and sad persistence.
In one corner stood a huge summer-flowering magnolia, a tower of dark foliage, splashed here and there with milk-white blossoms. A rough wooden bench had been placed against the trunk; and on this Montanelli sat down. Arthur was studying philosophy at the university; and, coming to a difficulty with a book, had applied to "the Padre" for an explanation of the point. Montanelli was a universal encyclopaedia to him, though he had never been a pupil of the seminary.
"I had better go now," he said when the passage had been cleared up; "unless you want me for anything."
"I don't want to work any more, but I should like you to stay a bit if you have time."
"Oh, yes!" He leaned back against the tree-trunk and looked up through the dusky branches at the first faint stars glimmering in a quiet sky. The dreamy, mystical eyes, deep blue under black lashes, were an inheritance from his Cornish mother, and Montanelli turned his head away, that he might not see them.
"You are looking tired, carino," he said.
"I can't help it." There was a weary sound in Arthur's voice, and the Padre noticed it at once.
"You should not have gone up to college so soon; you were tired out with sick-nursing and being up at night. I ought to have insisted on your taking a thorough rest before you left Leghorn."
"Oh, Padre, what's the use of that? I couldn't stop in that miserable house after mother died. Julia would have driven me mad!"
Julia was his eldest step-brother's wife, and a thorn in his side.
"I should not have wished you to stay with your relatives," Montanelli answered gently. "I am sure it would have been the worst possible thing for you. But I wish you could have accepted the invitation of your English doctor friend; if you had spent a month in his house you would have been more fit to study."
"No, Padre, I shouldn't indeed! The Warrens are very good and kind, but they don't understand; and then they are sorry for me,—I can see it in all their faces,—and they would try to console me, and talk about mother. Gemma wouldn't, of course; she always knew what not to say, even when we were babies; but the others would. And it isn't only that——"
"What is it then, my son?"
Arthur pulled off some blossoms from a drooping foxglove stem and crushed them nervously in his hand.
"I can't bear the town," he began after a moment's pause. "There are the shops where she used to buy me toys when I was a little thing, and the walk along the shore where I used to take her until she got too ill. Wherever I go it's the same thing; every market-girl comes up to me with bunches of flowers—as if I wanted them now! And there's the church-yard—I had to get away; it made me sick to see the place——"
He broke off and sat tearing the foxglove bells to pieces. The silence was so long and deep that he looked up, wondering why the Padre did not speak. It was growing dark under the branches of the magnolia, and everything seemed dim and indistinct; but there was light enough to show the ghastly paleness of Montanelli's face. He was bending his head down, his right hand tightly clenched upon the edge of the bench. Arthur looked away with a sense of awe-struck wonder. It was as though he had stepped unwittingly on to holy ground.
"My God!" he thought; "how small and selfish I am beside him! If my trouble were his own he couldn't feel it more."
Presently Montanelli raised his head and looked round. "I won't press you to go back there; at all events, just now," he said in his most caressing tone; "but you must promise me to take a thorough rest when your vacation begins this summer. I think you had better get a holiday right away from the neighborhood of Leghorn. I can't have you breaking down in health."
"Where shall you go when the seminary closes, Padre?"
"I shall have to take the pupils into the hills, as usual, and see them settled there. But by the middle of August the subdirector will be back from his holiday. I shall try to get up into the Alps for a little change. Will you come with me? I could take you for some long mountain rambles, and you would like to study the Alpine mosses and lichens. But perhaps it would be rather dull for you alone with me?"
"Padre!" Arthur clasped his hands in what Julia called his "demonstrative foreign way." "I would give anything on earth to go away with you. Only—I am not sure——" He stopped.
"You don't think Mr. Burton would allow it?"
"He wouldn't like it, of course, but he could hardly interfere. I am eighteen now and can do what I choose. After all, he's only my step-brother; I don't see that I owe him obedience. He was always unkind to mother."
"But if he seriously objects, I think you had better not defy his wishes; you may find your position at home made much harder if——"
"Not a bit harder!" Arthur broke in passionately. "They always did hate me and always will—it doesn't matter what I do. Besides, how can James seriously object to my going away with you—with my father confessor?"
"He is a Protestant, remember. However, you had better write to him, and we will wait to hear what he thinks. But you must not be impatient, my son; it matters just as much what you do, whether people hate you or love you."
The rebuke was so gently given that Arthur hardly coloured under it. "Yes, I know," he answered, sighing; "but it is so difficult——"
"I was sorry you could not come to me on Tuesday evening," Montanelli said, abruptly introducing a new subject. "The Bishop of Arezzo was here, and I should have liked you to meet him."
"I had promised one of the students to go to a meeting at his lodgings, and they would have been expecting me."
"What sort of meeting?"
Arthur seemed embarrassed by the question. "It—it was n-not a r-regular meeting," he said with a nervous little stammer. "A student had come from Genoa, and he made a speech to us—a-a sort of—lecture."
"What did he lecture about?"
Arthur hesitated. "You won't ask me his name, Padre, will you? Because I promised——"
"I will ask you no questions at all, and if you have promised secrecy of course you must not tell me; but I think you can almost trust me by this time."
"Padre, of course I can. He spoke about—us and our duty to the people—and to—our own selves; and about—what we might do to help——"
"To help whom?"
There was a long silence.
"Tell me, Arthur," said Montanelli, turning to him and speaking very gravely, "how long have you been thinking about this?"
"Before your mother's death? And did she know of it?"
"N-no. I—I didn't care about it then."
"And now you—care about it?"
Arthur pulled another handful of bells off the foxglove.
"It was this way, Padre," he began, with his eyes on the ground. "When I was preparing for the entrance examination last autumn, I got to know a good many of the students; you remember? Well, some of them began to talk to me about—all these things, and lent me books. But I didn't care much about it; I always wanted to get home quick to mother. You see, she was quite alone among them all in that dungeon of a house; and Julia's tongue was enough to kill her. Then, in the winter, when she got so ill, I forgot all about the students and their books; and then, you know, I left off coming to Pisa altogether. I should have talked to mother if I had thought of it; but it went right out of my head. Then I found out that she was going to die——You know, I was almost constantly with her towards the end; often I would sit up the night, and Gemma Warren would come in the day to let me get to sleep. Well, it was in those long nights; I got thinking about the books and about what the students had said—and wondering—whether they were right and—what—Our Lord would have said about it all."
"Did you ask Him?" Montanelli's voice was not quite steady.
"Often, Padre. Sometimes I have prayed to Him to tell me what I must do, or to let me die with mother. But I couldn't find any answer."
"And you never said a word to me. Arthur, I hoped you could have trusted me."
"Padre, you know I trust you! But there are some things you can't talk about to anyone. I—it seemed to me that no one could help me—not even you or mother; I must have my own answer straight from God. You see, it is for all my life and all my soul."
Montanelli turned away and stared into the dusky gloom of the magnolia branches. The twilight was so dim that his figure had a shadowy look, like a dark ghost among the darker boughs.
"And then?" he asked slowly.
"And then—she died. You know, I had been up the last three nights with her——"
He broke off and paused a moment, but Montanelli did not move.
"All those two days before they buried her," Arthur went on in a lower voice, "I couldn't think about anything. Then, after the funeral, I was ill; you remember, I couldn't come to confession."
"Yes; I remember."
"Well, in the night I got up and went into mother's room. It was all empty; there was only the great crucifix in the alcove. And I thought perhaps God would help me. I knelt down and waited—all night. And in the morning when I came to my senses—Padre, it isn't any use; I can't explain. I can't tell you what I saw—I hardly know myself. But I know that God has answered me, and that I dare not disobey Him."
For a moment they sat quite silent in the darkness. Then Montanelli turned and laid his hand on Arthur's shoulder.
"My son," he said, "God forbid that I should say He has not spoken to your soul. But remember your condition when this thing happened, and do not take the fancies of grief or illness for His solemn call. And if, indeed, it has been His will to answer you out of the shadow of death, be sure that you put no false construction on His word. What is this thing you have it in your heart to do?"
Arthur stood up and answered slowly, as though repeating a catechism:
"To give up my life to Italy, to help in freeing her from all this slavery and wretchedness, and in driving out the Austrians, that she may be a free republic, with no king but Christ."
"Arthur, think a moment what you are saying! You are not even an Italian."
"That makes no difference; I am myself. I have seen this thing, and I belong to it."
There was silence again.
"You spoke just now of what Christ would have said——" Montanelli began slowly; but Arthur interrupted him:
"Christ said: 'He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.'"
Montanelli leaned his arm against a branch, and shaded his eyes with one hand.
"Sit down a moment, my son," he said at last.
Arthur sat down, and the Padre took both his hands in a strong and steady clasp.
"I cannot argue with you to-night," he said; "this has come upon me so suddenly—I had not thought—I must have time to think it over. Later on we will talk more definitely. But, for just now, I want you to remember one thing. If you get into trouble over this, if you—die, you will break my heart."
"No; let me finish what I have to say. I told you once that I have no one in the world but you. I think you do not fully understand what that means. It is difficult when one is so young; at your age I should not have understood. Arthur, you are as my—as my—own son to me. Do you see? You are the light of my eyes and the desire of my heart. I would die to keep you from making a false step and ruining your life. But there is nothing I can do. I don't ask you to make any promises to me; I only ask you to remember this, and to be careful. Think well before you take an irrevocable step, for my sake, if not for the sake of your mother in heaven."
"I will think—and—Padre, pray for me, and for Italy."
He knelt down in silence, and in silence Montanelli laid his hand on the bent head. A moment later Arthur rose, kissed the hand, and went softly away across the dewy grass. Montanelli sat alone under the magnolia tree, looking straight before him into the blackness.
"It is the vengeance of God that has fallen upon me," he thought, "as it fell upon David. I, that have defiled His sanctuary, and taken the Body of the Lord into polluted hands,—He has been very patient with me, and now it is come. 'For thou didst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun; THE CHILD THAT IS BORN UNTO THEE SHALL SURELY DIE.'"
MR. JAMES BURTON did not at all like the idea of his young step-brother "careering about Switzerland" with Montanelli. But positively to forbid a harmless botanizing tour with an elderly professor of theology would seem to Arthur, who knew nothing of the reason for the prohibition, absurdly tyrannical. He would immediately attribute it to religious or racial prejudice; and the Burtons prided themselves on their enlightened tolerance. The whole family had been staunch Protestants and Conservatives ever since Burton & Sons, ship-owners, of London and Leghorn, had first set up in business, more than a century back. But they held that English gentlemen must deal fairly, even with Papists; and when the head of the house, finding it dull to remain a widower, had married the pretty Catholic governess of his younger children, the two elder sons, James and Thomas, much as they resented the presence of a step-mother hardly older than themselves, had submitted with sulky resignation to the will of Providence. Since the father's death the eldest brother's marriage had further complicated an already difficult position; but both brothers had honestly tried to protect Gladys, as long as she lived, from Julia's merciless tongue, and to do their duty, as they understood it, by Arthur. They did not even pretend to like the lad, and their generosity towards him showed itself chiefly in providing him with lavish supplies of pocket money and allowing him to go his own way.
In answer to his letter, accordingly, Arthur received a cheque to cover his expenses and a cold permission to do as he pleased about his holidays. He expended half his spare cash on botanical books and pressing-cases, and started off with the Padre for his first Alpine ramble.
Montanelli was in lighter spirits than Arthur had seen him in for a long while. After the first shock of the conversation in the garden he had gradually recovered his mental balance, and now looked upon the case more calmly. Arthur was very young and inexperienced; his decision could hardly be, as yet, irrevocable. Surely there was still time to win him back by gentle persuasion and reasoning from the dangerous path upon which he had barely entered.
They had intended to stay a few days at Geneva; but at the first sight of the glaring white streets and dusty, tourist-crammed promenades, a little frown appeared on Arthur's face. Montanelli watched him with quiet amusement.
"You don't like it, carino?"
"I hardly know. It's so different from what I expected. Yes, the lake is beautiful, and I like the shape of those hills." They were standing on Rousseau's Island, and he pointed to the long, severe outlines of the Savoy side. "But the town looks so stiff and tidy, somehow—so Protestant; it has a self-satisfied air. No, I don't like it; it reminds me of Julia."
Montanelli laughed. "Poor boy, what a misfortune! Well, we are here for our own amusement, so there is no reason why we should stop. Suppose we take a sail on the lake to-day, and go up into the mountains to-morrow morning?"
"But, Padre, you wanted to stay here?"
"My dear boy, I have seen all these places a dozen times. My holiday is to see your pleasure. Where would you like to go?"
"If it is really the same to you, I should like to follow the river back to its source."
"No, the Arve; it runs so fast."
"Then we will go to Chamonix."
They spent the afternoon drifting about in a little sailing boat. The beautiful lake produced far less impression upon Arthur than the gray and muddy Arve. He had grown up beside the Mediterranean, and was accustomed to blue ripples; but he had a positive passion for swiftly moving water, and the hurried rushing of the glacier stream delighted him beyond measure. "It is so much in earnest," he said.
Early on the following morning they started for Chamonix. Arthur was in very high spirits while driving through the fertile valley country; but when they entered upon the winding road near Cluses, and the great, jagged hills closed in around them, he became serious and silent. From St. Martin they walked slowly up the valley, stopping to sleep at wayside chalets or tiny mountain villages, and wandering on again as their fancy directed. Arthur was peculiarly sensitive to the influence of scenery, and the first waterfall that they passed threw him into an ecstacy which was delightful to see; but as they drew nearer to the snow-peaks he passed out of this rapturous mood into one of dreamy exaltation that Montanelli had not seen before. There seemed to be a kind of mystical relationship between him and the mountains. He would lie for hours motionless in the dark, secret, echoing pine-forests, looking out between the straight, tall trunks into the sunlit outer world of flashing peaks and barren cliffs. Montanelli watched him with a kind of sad envy.
"I wish you could show me what you see, carino," he said one day as he looked up from his book, and saw Arthur stretched beside him on the moss in the same attitude as an hour before, gazing out with wide, dilated eyes into the glittering expanse of blue and white. They had turned aside from the high-road to sleep at a quiet village near the falls of the Diosaz, and, the sun being already low in a cloudless sky, had mounted a point of pine-clad rock to wait for the Alpine glow over the dome and needles of the Mont Blanc chain. Arthur raised his head with eyes full of wonder and mystery.
"What I see, Padre? I see a great, white being in a blue void that has no beginning and no end. I see it waiting, age after age, for the coming of the Spirit of God. I see it through a glass darkly."
"I used to see those things once."
"Do you never see them now?"
"Never. I shall not see them any more. They are there, I know; but I have not the eyes to see them. I see quite other things."
"What do you see?"
"I, carino? I see a blue sky and a snow-mountain—that is all when I look up into the heights. But down there it is different."
He pointed to the valley below them. Arthur knelt down and bent over the sheer edge of the precipice. The great pine trees, dusky in the gathering shades of evening, stood like sentinels along the narrow banks confining the river. Presently the sun, red as a glowing coal, dipped behind a jagged mountain peak, and all the life and light deserted the face of nature. Straightway there came upon the valley something dark and threatening—sullen, terrible, full of spectral weapons. The perpendicular cliffs of the barren western mountains seemed like the teeth of a monster lurking to snatch a victim and drag him down into the maw of the deep valley, black with its moaning forests. The pine trees were rows of knife-blades whispering: "Fall upon us!" and in the gathering darkness the torrent roared and howled, beating against its rocky prison walls with the frenzy of an everlasting despair.
"Padre!" Arthur rose, shuddering, and drew back from the precipice. "It is like hell."
"No, my son," Montanelli answered softly, "it is only like a human soul."
"The souls of them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death?"
"The souls of them that pass you day by day in the street."
Arthur shivered, looking down into the shadows. A dim white mist was hovering among the pine trees, clinging faintly about the desperate agony of the torrent, like a miserable ghost that had no consolation to give.
"Look!" Arthur said suddenly. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light."
Eastwards the snow-peaks burned in the afterglow. When the red light had faded from the summits Montanelli turned and roused Arthur with a touch on the shoulder.
"Come in, carino; all the light is gone. We shall lose our way in the dark if we stay any longer."
"It is like a corpse," Arthur said as he turned away from the spectral face of the great snow-peak glimmering through the twilight.
They descended cautiously among the black trees to the chalet where they were to sleep.
As Montanelli entered the room where Arthur was waiting for him at the supper table, he saw that the lad seemed to have shaken off the ghostly fancies of the dark, and to have changed into quite another creature.
"Oh, Padre, do come and look at this absurd dog! It can dance on its hind legs."
He was as much absorbed in the dog and its accomplishments as he had been in the after-glow. The woman of the chalet, red-faced and white-aproned, with sturdy arms akimbo, stood by smiling, while he put the animal through its tricks. "One can see there's not much on his mind if he can carry on that way," she said in patois to her daughter. "And what a handsome lad!"
Arthur coloured like a schoolgirl, and the woman, seeing that he had understood, went away laughing at his confusion. At supper he talked of nothing but plans for excursions, mountain ascents, and botanizing expeditions. Evidently his dreamy fancies had not interfered with either his spirits or his appetite.
When Montanelli awoke the next morning Arthur had disappeared. He had started before daybreak for the higher pastures "to help Gaspard drive up the goats."
Breakfast had not long been on the table, however, when he came tearing into the room, hatless, with a tiny peasant girl of three years old perched on his shoulder, and a great bunch of wild flowers in his hand.
Montanelli looked up, smiling. This was a curious contrast to the grave and silent Arthur of Pisa or Leghorn.
"Where have you been, you madcap? Scampering all over the mountains without any breakfast?"
"Oh, Padre, it was so jolly! The mountains look perfectly glorious at sunrise; and the dew is so thick! Just look!"
He lifted for inspection a wet and muddy boot.
"We took some bread and cheese with us, and got some goat's milk up there on the pasture; oh, it was nasty! But I'm hungry again, now; and I want something for this little person, too. Annette, won't you have some honey?"
He had sat down with the child on his knee, and was helping her to put the flowers in order.
"No, no!" Montanelli interposed. "I can't have you catching cold. Run and change your wet things. Come to me, Annette. Where did you pick her up?"
"At the top of the village. She belongs to the man we saw yesterday—the man that cobbles the commune's boots. Hasn't she lovely eyes? She's got a tortoise in her pocket, and she calls it 'Caroline.'"
When Arthur had changed his wet socks and came down to breakfast he found the child seated on the Padre's knee, chattering volubly to him about her tortoise, which she was holding upside down in a chubby hand, that "monsieur" might admire the wriggling legs.
"Look, monsieur!" she was saying gravely in her half-intelligible patois: "Look at Caroline's boots!"
Montanelli sat playing with the child, stroking her hair, admiring her darling tortoise, and telling her wonderful stories. The woman of the chalet, coming in to clear the table, stared in amazement at the sight of Annette turning out the pockets of the grave gentleman in clerical dress.
"God teaches the little ones to know a good man," she said. "Annette is always afraid of strangers; and see, she is not shy with his reverence at all. The wonderful thing! Kneel down, Annette, and ask the good monsieur's blessing before he goes; it will bring thee luck."
"I didn't know you could play with children that way, Padre," Arthur said an hour later, as they walked through the sunlit pasture-land. "That child never took her eyes off you all the time. Do you know, I think——"
"I was only going to say—it seems to me almost a pity that the Church should forbid priests to marry. I cannot quite understand why. You see, the training of children is such a serious thing, and it means so much to them to be surrounded from the very beginning with good influences, that I should have thought the holier a man's vocation and the purer his life, the more fit he is to be a father. I am sure, Padre, if you had not been under a vow,—if you had married,—your children would have been the very——"
The word was uttered in a hasty whisper that seemed to deepen the ensuing silence.
"Padre," Arthur began again, distressed by the other's sombre look, "do you think there is anything wrong in what I said? Of course I may be mistaken; but I must think as it comes natural to me to think."
"Perhaps," Montanelli answered gently, "you do not quite realize the meaning of what you just said. You will see differently in a few years. Meanwhile we had better talk about something else."
It was the first break in the perfect ease and harmony that reigned between them on this ideal holiday.
From Chamonix they went on by the Tete-Noire to Martigny, where they stopped to rest, as the weather was stiflingly hot. After dinner they sat on the terrace of the hotel, which was sheltered from the sun and commanded a good view of the mountains. Arthur brought out his specimen box and plunged into an earnest botanical discussion in Italian.
Two English artists were sitting on the terrace; one sketching, the other lazily chatting. It did not seem to have occurred to him that the strangers might understand English.
"Leave off daubing at the landscape, Willie," he said; "and draw that glorious Italian boy going into ecstasies over those bits of ferns. Just look at the line of his eyebrows! You only need to put a crucifix for the magnifying-glass and a Roman toga for the jacket and knickerbockers, and there's your Early Christian complete, expression and all."
"Early Christian be hanged! I sat beside that youth at dinner; he was just as ecstatic over the roast fowl as over those grubby little weeds. He's pretty enough; that olive colouring is beautiful; but he's not half so picturesque as his father."
"His father, sitting there straight in front of you. Do you mean to say you've passed him over? It's a perfectly magnificent face."
"Why, you dunder-headed, go-to-meeting Methodist! Don't you know a Catholic priest when you see one?"
"A priest? By Jove, so he is! Yes, I forgot; vow of chastity, and all that sort of thing. Well then, we'll be charitable and suppose the boy's his nephew."
"What idiotic people!" Arthur whispered, looking up with dancing eyes. "Still, it is kind of them to think me like you; I wish I were really your nephew——Padre, what is the matter? How white you are!"
Montanelli was standing up, pressing one hand to his forehead. "I am a little giddy," he said in a curiously faint, dull tone. "Perhaps I was too much in the sun this morning. I will go and lie down, carino; it's nothing but the heat."
After a fortnight beside the Lake of Lucerne Arthur and Montanelli returned to Italy by the St. Gothard Pass. They had been fortunate as to weather and had made several very pleasant excursions; but the first charm was gone out of their enjoyment. Montanelli was continually haunted by an uneasy thought of the "more definite talk" for which this holiday was to have been the opportunity. In the Arve valley he had purposely put off all reference to the subject of which they had spoken under the magnolia tree; it would be cruel, he thought, to spoil the first delights of Alpine scenery for a nature so artistic as Arthur's by associating them with a conversation which must necessarily be painful. Ever since the day at Martigny he had said to himself each morning; "I will speak to-day," and each evening: "I will speak to-morrow;" and now the holiday was over, and he still repeated again and again: "To-morrow, to-morrow." A chill, indefinable sense of something not quite the same as it had been, of an invisible veil falling between himself and Arthur, kept him silent, until, on the last evening of their holiday, he realized suddenly that he must speak now if he would speak at all. They were stopping for the night at Lugano, and were to start for Pisa next morning. He would at least find out how far his darling had been drawn into the fatal quicksand of Italian politics.
"The rain has stopped, carino," he said after sunset; "and this is the only chance we shall have to see the lake. Come out; I want to have a talk with you."
They walked along the water's edge to a quiet spot and sat down on a low stone wall. Close beside them grew a rose-bush, covered with scarlet hips; one or two belated clusters of creamy blossom still hung from an upper branch, swaying mournfully and heavy with raindrops. On the green surface of the lake a little boat, with white wings faintly fluttering, rocked in the dewy breeze. It looked as light and frail as a tuft of silvery dandelion seed flung upon the water. High up on Monte Salvatore the window of some shepherd's hut opened a golden eye. The roses hung their heads and dreamed under the still September clouds, and the water plashed and murmured softly among the pebbles of the shore.
"This will be my only chance of a quiet talk with you for a long time," Montanelli began. "You will go back to your college work and friends; and I, too, shall be very busy this winter. I want to understand quite clearly what our position as regards each other is to be; and so, if you——" He stopped for a moment and then continued more slowly: "If you feel that you can still trust me as you used to do, I want you to tell me more definitely than that night in the seminary garden, how far you have gone."
Arthur looked out across the water, listened quietly, and said nothing.
"I want to know, if you will tell me," Montanelli went on; "whether you have bound yourself by a vow, or—in any way."
"There is nothing to tell, dear Padre; I have not bound myself, but I am bound."
"I don't understand———"
"What is the use of vows? They are not what binds people. If you feel in a certain way about a thing, that binds you to it; if you don't feel that way, nothing else can bind you."
"Do you mean, then, that this thing—this—feeling is quite irrevocable? Arthur, have you thought what you are saying?"
Arthur turned round and looked straight into Montanelli's eyes.
"Padre, you asked me if I could trust you. Can you not trust me, too? Indeed, if there were anything to tell, I would tell it to you; but there is no use in talking about these things. I have not forgotten what you said to me that night; I shall never forget it. But I must go my way and follow the light that I see."
Montanelli picked a rose from the bush, pulled off the petals one by one, and tossed them into the water.
"You are right, carino. Yes, we will say no more about these things; it seems there is indeed no help in many words——Well, well, let us go in."
THE autumn and winter passed uneventfully. Arthur was reading hard and had little spare time. He contrived to get a glimpse of Montanelli once or oftener in every week, if only for a few minutes. From time to time he would come in to ask for help with some difficult book; but on these occasions the subject of study was strictly adhered to. Montanelli, feeling, rather than observing, the slight, impalpable barrier that had come between them, shrank from everything which might seem like an attempt to retain the old close relationship. Arthur's visits now caused him more distress than pleasure, so trying was the constant effort to appear at ease and to behave as if nothing were altered. Arthur, for his part, noticed, hardly understanding it, the subtle change in the Padre's manner; and, vaguely feeling that it had some connection with the vexed question of the "new ideas," avoided all mention of the subject with which his thoughts were constantly filled. Yet he had never loved Montanelli so deeply as now. The dim, persistent sense of dissatisfaction, of spiritual emptiness, which he had tried so hard to stifle under a load of theology and ritual, had vanished into nothing at the touch of Young Italy. All the unhealthy fancies born of loneliness and sick-room watching had passed away, and the doubts against which he used to pray had gone without the need of exorcism. With the awakening of a new enthusiasm, a clearer, fresher religious ideal (for it was more in this light than in that of a political development that the students' movement had appeared to him), had come a sense of rest and completeness, of peace on earth and good will towards men; and in this mood of solemn and tender exaltation all the world seemed to him full of light. He found a new element of something lovable in the persons whom he had most disliked; and Montanelli, who for five years had been his ideal hero, was now in his eyes surrounded with an additional halo, as a potential prophet of the new faith. He listened with passionate eagerness to the Padre's sermons, trying to find in them some trace of inner kinship with the republican ideal; and pored over the Gospels, rejoicing in the democratic tendencies of Christianity at its origin.
One day in January he called at the seminary to return a book which he had borrowed. Hearing that the Father Director was out, he went up to Montanelli's private study, placed the volume on its shelf, and was about to leave the room when the title of a book lying on the table caught his eyes. It was Dante's "De Monarchia." He began to read it and soon became so absorbed that when the door opened and shut he did not hear. He was aroused from his preoccupation by Montanelli's voice behind him.
"I did not expect you to-day," said the Padre, glancing at the title of the book. "I was just going to send and ask if you could come to me this evening."
"Is it anything important? I have an engagement for this evening; but I will miss it if———"
"No; to-morrow will do. I want to see you because I am going away on Tuesday. I have been sent for to Rome."
"To Rome? For long?"
"The letter says, 'till after Easter.' It is from the Vatican. I would have let you know at once, but have been very busy settling up things about the seminary and making arrangements for the new Director."
"But, Padre, surely you are not giving up the seminary?"
"It will have to be so; but I shall probably come back to Pisa, for some time at least."
"But why are you giving it up?"
"Well, it is not yet officially announced; but I am offered a bishopric."
"That is the point about which I have to go to Rome. It is not yet decided whether I am to take a see in the Apennines, or to remain here as Suffragan."
"And is the new Director chosen yet?"
"Father Cardi has been nominated and arrives here to-morrow."
"Is not that rather sudden?"
"Yes; but——The decisions of the Vatican are sometimes not communicated till the last moment."
"Do you know the new Director?"
"Not personally; but he is very highly spoken of. Monsignor Belloni, who writes, says that he is a man of great erudition."
"The seminary will miss you terribly."
"I don't know about the seminary, but I am sure you will miss me, carino; perhaps almost as much as I shall miss you."
"I shall indeed; but I am very glad, for all that."
"Are you? I don't know that I am." He sat down at the table with a weary look on his face; not the look of a man who is expecting high promotion.
"Are you busy this afternoon, Arthur?" he said after a moment. "If not, I wish you would stay with me for a while, as you can't come to-night. I am a little out of sorts, I think; and I want to see as much of you as possible before leaving."
"Yes, I can stay a bit. I am due at six."
"One of your meetings?"
Arthur nodded; and Montanelli changed the subject hastily.
"I want to speak to you about yourself," he said. "You will need another confessor in my absence."
"When you come back I may go on confessing to you, may I not?"
"My dear boy, how can you ask? Of course I am speaking only of the three or four months that I shall be away. Will you go to one of the Fathers of Santa Caterina?"
They talked of other matters for a little while; then Arthur rose.
"I must go, Padre; the students will be waiting for me."
The haggard look came back to Montanelli's face.
"Already? You had almost charmed away my black mood. Well, good-bye."
"Good-bye. I will be sure to come to-morrow."
"Try to come early, so that I may have time to see you alone. Father Cardi will be here. Arthur, my dear boy, be careful while I am gone; don't be led into doing anything rash, at least before I come back. You cannot think how anxious I feel about leaving you."
"There is no need, Padre; everything is quite quiet. It will be a long time yet."
"Good-bye," Montanelli said abruptly, and sat down to his writing.
The first person upon whom Arthur's eyes fell, as he entered the room where the students' little gatherings were held, was his old playmate, Dr. Warren's daughter. She was sitting in a corner by the window, listening with an absorbed and earnest face to what one of the "initiators," a tall young Lombard in a threadbare coat, was saying to her. During the last few months she had changed and developed greatly, and now looked a grown-up young woman, though the dense black plaits still hung down her back in school-girl fashion. She was dressed all in black, and had thrown a black scarf over her head, as the room was cold and draughty. At her breast was a spray of cypress, the emblem of Young Italy. The initiator was passionately describing to her the misery of the Calabrian peasantry; and she sat listening silently, her chin resting on one hand and her eyes on the ground. To Arthur she seemed a melancholy vision of Liberty mourning for the lost Republic. (Julia would have seen in her only an overgrown hoyden, with a sallow complexion, an irregular nose, and an old stuff frock that was too short for her.)
"You here, Jim!" he said, coming up to her when the initiator had been called to the other end of the room. "Jim" was a childish corruption of her curious baptismal name: Jennifer. Her Italian schoolmates called her "Gemma."
She raised her head with a start.
"Arthur! Oh, I didn't know you—belonged here!"
"And I had no idea about you. Jim, since when have you——?"
"You don't understand!" she interposed quickly. "I am not a member. It is only that I have done one or two little things. You see, I met Bini—you know Carlo Bini?"
"Yes, of course." Bini was the organizer of the Leghorn branch; and all Young Italy knew him.
"Well, he began talking to me about these things; and I asked him to let me go to a students' meeting. The other day he wrote to me to Florence———Didn't you know I had been to Florence for the Christmas holidays?"
"I don't often hear from home now."
"Ah, yes! Anyhow, I went to stay with the Wrights." (The Wrights were old schoolfellows of hers who had moved to Florence.) "Then Bini wrote and told me to pass through Pisa to-day on my way home, so that I could come here. Ah! they're going to begin."
The lecture was upon the ideal Republic and the duty of the young to fit themselves for it. The lecturer's comprehension of his subject was somewhat vague; but Arthur listened with devout admiration. His mind at this period was curiously uncritical; when he accepted a moral ideal he swallowed it whole without stopping to think whether it was quite digestible. When the lecture and the long discussion which followed it were finished and the students began to disperse, he went up to Gemma, who was still sitting in the corner of the room.
"Let me walk with you, Jim. Where are you staying?"
"Your father's old housekeeper?"
"Yes; she lives a good way from here."
They walked for some time in silence. Then Arthur said suddenly:
"You are seventeen, now, aren't you?"
"I was seventeen in October."
"I always knew you would not grow up like other girls and begin wanting to go to balls and all that sort of thing. Jim, dear, I have so often wondered whether you would ever come to be one of us."
"So have I."
"You said you had done things for Bini; I didn't know you even knew him."
"It wasn't for Bini; it was for the other one"
"Which other one?"
"The one that was talking to me to-night—Bolla."
"Do you know him well?" Arthur put in with a little touch of jealousy. Bolla was a sore subject with him; there had been a rivalry between them about some work which the committee of Young Italy had finally intrusted to Bolla, declaring Arthur too young and inexperienced.
"I know him pretty well; and I like him very much. He has been staying in Leghorn."
"I know; he went there in November———"
"Because of the steamers. Arthur, don't you think your house would be safer than ours for that work? Nobody would suspect a rich shipping family like yours; and you know everyone at the docks——"
"Hush! not so loud, dear! So it was in your house the books from Marseilles were hidden?"
"Only for one day. Oh! perhaps I oughtn't to have told you."
"Why not? You know I belong to the society. Gemma, dear, there is nothing in all the world that would make me so happy as for you to join us—you and the Padre."
"Your Padre! Surely he——"
"No; he thinks differently. But I have sometimes fancied—that is—hoped—I don't know——"
"But, Arthur! he's a priest."
"What of that? There are priests in the society—two of them write in the paper. And why not? It is the mission of the priesthood to lead the world to higher ideals and aims, and what else does the society try to do? It is, after all, more a religious and moral question than a political one. If people are fit to be free and responsible citizens, no one can keep them enslaved."
Gemma knit her brows. "It seems to me, Arthur," she said, "that there's a muddle somewhere in your logic. A priest teaches religious doctrine. I don't see what that has to do with getting rid of the Austrians."
"A priest is a teacher of Christianity, and the greatest of all revolutionists was Christ."
"Do you know, I was talking about priests to father the other day, and he said——"
"Gemma, your father is a Protestant."
After a little pause she looked round at him frankly.
"Look here, we had better leave this subject alone. You are always intolerant when you talk about Protestants."
"I didn't mean to be intolerant. But I think Protestants are generally intolerant when they talk about priests."
"I dare say. Anyhow, we have so often quarreled over this subject that it is not worth while to begin again. What did you think of the lecture?"
"I liked it very much—especially the last part. I was glad he spoke so strongly about the need of living the Republic, not dreaming of it. It is as Christ said: 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.'"
"It was just that part that I didn't like. He talked so much of the wonderful things we ought to think and feel and be, but he never told us practically what we ought to do."
"When the time of crisis comes there will be plenty for us to do; but we must be patient; these great changes are not made in a day."
"The longer a thing is to take doing, the more reason to begin at once. You talk about being fit for freedom—did you ever know anyone so fit for it as your mother? Wasn't she the most perfectly angelic woman you ever saw? And what use was all her goodness? She was a slave till the day she died—bullied and worried and insulted by your brother James and his wife. It would have been much better for her if she had not been so sweet and patient; they would never have treated her so. That's just the way with Italy; it's not patience that's wanted—it's for somebody to get up and defend themselves———"
"Jim, dear, if anger and passion could have saved Italy she would have been free long ago; it is not hatred that she needs, it is love."
As he said the word a sudden flush went up to his forehead and died out again. Gemma did not see it; she was looking straight before her with knitted brows and set mouth.
"You think I am wrong, Arthur," she said after a pause; "but I am right, and you will grow to see it some day. This is the house. Will you come in?"
"No; it's late. Good-night, dear!"
He was standing on the doorstep, clasping her hand in both of his.
"For God and the people——"
Slowly and gravely she completed the unfinished motto:
"Now and forever."
Then she pulled away her hand and ran into the house. When the door had closed behind her he stooped and picked up the spray of cypress which had fallen from her breast.
ARTHUR went back to his lodgings feeling as though he had wings. He was absolutely, cloudlessly happy. At the meeting there had been hints of preparations for armed insurrection; and now Gemma was a comrade, and he loved her. They could work together, possibly even die together, for the Republic that was to be. The blossoming time of their hope was come, and the Padre would see it and believe.
The next morning, however, he awoke in a soberer mood and remembered that Gemma was going to Leghorn and the Padre to Rome. January, February, March—three long months to Easter! And if Gemma should fall under "Protestant" influences at home (in Arthur's vocabulary "Protestant" stood for "Philistine")———No, Gemma would never learn to flirt and simper and captivate tourists and bald-headed shipowners, like the other English girls in Leghorn; she was made of different stuff. But she might be very miserable; she was so young, so friendless, so utterly alone among all those wooden people. If only mother had lived——
In the evening he went to the seminary, where he found Montanelli entertaining the new Director and looking both tired and bored. Instead of lighting up, as usual, at the sight of Arthur, the Padre's face grew darker.
"This is the student I spoke to you about," he said, introducing Arthur stiffly. "I shall be much obliged if you will allow him to continue using the library."
Father Cardi, a benevolent-looking elderly priest, at once began talking to Arthur about the Sapienza, with an ease and familiarity which showed him to be well acquainted with college life. The conversation soon drifted into a discussion of university regulations, a burning question of that day. To Arthur's great delight, the new Director spoke strongly against the custom adopted by the university authorities of constantly worrying the students by senseless and vexatious restrictions.
"I have had a good deal of experience in guiding young people," he said; "and I make it a rule never to prohibit anything without a good reason. There are very few young men who will give much trouble if proper consideration and respect for their personality are shown to them. But, of course, the most docile horse will kick if you are always jerking at the rein."
Arthur opened his eyes wide; he had not expected to hear the students' cause pleaded by the new Director. Montanelli took no part in the discussion; its subject, apparently, did not interest him. The expression of his face was so unutterably hopeless and weary that Father Cardi broke off suddenly.
"I am afraid I have overtired you, Canon. You must forgive my talkativeness; I am hot upon this subject and forget that others may grow weary of it."
"On the contrary, I was much interested." Montanelli was not given to stereotyped politeness, and his tone jarred uncomfortably upon Arthur.
When Father Cardi went to his own room Montanelli turned to Arthur with the intent and brooding look that his face had worn all the evening.
"Arthur, my dear boy," he began slowly; "I have something to tell you."
"He must have had bad news," flashed through Arthur's mind, as he looked anxiously at the haggard face. There was a long pause.
"How do you like the new Director?" Montanelli asked suddenly.
The question was so unexpected that, for a moment, Arthur was at a loss how to reply to it.
"I—I like him very much, I think—at least—no, I am not quite sure that I do. But it is difficult to say, after seeing a person once."
Montanelli sat beating his hand gently on the arm of his chair; a habit with him when anxious or perplexed.
"About this journey to Rome," he began again; "if you think there is any—well—if you wish it, Arthur, I will write and say I cannot go."
"Padre! But the Vatican———"
"The Vatican will find someone else. I can send apologies."
"But why? I can't understand."
Montanelli drew one hand across his forehead.
"I am anxious about you. Things keep coming into my head—and after all, there is no need for me to go———"
"But the bishopric——"
"Oh, Arthur! what shall it profit me if I gain a bishopric and lose——"
He broke off. Arthur had never seen him like this before, and was greatly troubled.
"I can't understand," he said. "Padre, if you could explain to me more—more definitely, what it is you think———"
"I think nothing; I am haunted with a horrible fear. Tell me, is there any special danger?"
"He has heard something," Arthur thought, remembering the whispers of a projected revolt. But the secret was not his to tell; and he merely answered: "What special danger should there be?"
"Don't question me—answer me!" Montanelli's voice was almost harsh in its eagerness. "Are you in danger? I don't want to know your secrets; only tell me that!"
"We are all in God's hands, Padre; anything may always happen. But I know of no reason why I should not be here alive and safe when you come back."
"When I come back——Listen, carino; I will leave it in your hands. You need give me no reason; only say to me, 'Stay,' and I will give up this journey. There will be no injury to anyone, and I shall feel you are safer if I have you beside me."
This kind of morbid fancifulness was so foreign to Montanelli's character that Arthur looked at him with grave anxiety.
"Padre, I am sure you are not well. Of course you must go to Rome, and try to have a thorough rest and get rid of your sleeplessness and headaches."
"Very well," Montanelli interrupted, as if tired of the subject; "I will start by the early coach to-morrow morning."
Arthur looked at him, wondering.
"You had something to tell me?" he said.
"No, no; nothing more—nothing of any consequence." There was a startled, almost terrified look in his face.
A few days after Montanelli's departure Arthur went to fetch a book from the seminary library, and met Father Cardi on the stairs.
"Ah, Mr. Burton!" exclaimed the Director; "the very person I wanted. Please come in and help me out of a difficulty."
He opened the study door, and Arthur followed him into the room with a foolish, secret sense of resentment. It seemed hard to see this dear study, the Padre's own private sanctum, invaded by a stranger.
"I am a terrible book-worm," said the Director; "and my first act when I got here was to examine the library. It seems very interesting, but I do not understand the system by which it is catalogued."
"The catalogue is imperfect; many of the best books have been added to the collection lately."
"Can you spare half an hour to explain the arrangement to me?"
They went into the library, and Arthur carefully explained the catalogue. When he rose to take his hat, the Director interfered, laughing.
"No, no! I can't have you rushing off in that way. It is Saturday, and quite time for you to leave off work till Monday morning. Stop and have supper with me, now I have kept you so late. I am quite alone, and shall be glad of company."
His manner was so bright and pleasant that Arthur felt at ease with him at once. After some desultory conversation, the Director inquired how long he had known Montanelli.
"For about seven years. He came back from China when I was twelve years old."
"Ah, yes! It was there that he gained his reputation as a missionary preacher. Have you been his pupil ever since?"
"He began teaching me a year later, about the time when I first confessed to him. Since I have been at the Sapienza he has still gone on helping me with anything I wanted to study that was not in the regular course. He has been very kind to me—you can hardly imagine how kind."
"I can well believe it; he is a man whom no one can fail to admire—a most noble and beautiful nature. I have met priests who were out in China with him; and they had no words high enough to praise his energy and courage under all hardships, and his unfailing devotion. You are fortunate to have had in your youth the help and guidance of such a man. I understood from him that you have lost both parents."
"Yes; my father died when I was a child, and my mother a year ago."
"Have you brothers and sisters?"
"No; I have step-brothers; but they were business men when I was in the nursery."
"You must have had a lonely childhood; perhaps you value Canon Montanelli's kindness the more for that. By the way, have you chosen a confessor for the time of his absence?"
"I thought of going to one of the fathers of Santa Caterina, if they have not too many penitents."
"Will you confess to me?"
Arthur opened his eyes in wonder.
"Reverend Father, of course I—should be glad; only——"
"Only the Director of a theological seminary does not usually receive lay penitents? That is quite true. But I know Canon Montanelli takes a great interest in you, and I fancy he is a little anxious on your behalf—just as I should be if I were leaving a favourite pupil—and would like to know you were under the spiritual guidance of his colleague. And, to be quite frank with you, my son, I like you, and should be glad to give you any help I can."
"If you put it that way, of course I shall be very grateful for your guidance."
"Then you will come to me next month? That's right. And run in to see me, my lad, when you have time any evening."
Shortly before Easter Montanelli's appointment to the little see of Brisighella, in the Etruscan Apennines, was officially announced. He wrote to Arthur from Rome in a cheerful and tranquil spirit; evidently his depression was passing over. "You must come to see me every vacation," he wrote; "and I shall often be coming to Pisa; so I hope to see a good deal of you, if not so much as I should wish."
Dr. Warren had invited Arthur to spend the Easter holidays with him and his children, instead of in the dreary, rat-ridden old place where Julia now reigned supreme. Enclosed in the letter was a short note, scrawled in Gemma's childish, irregular handwriting, begging him to come if possible, "as I want to talk to you about something." Still more encouraging was the whispered communication passing around from student to student in the university; everyone was to be prepared for great things after Easter.
All this had put Arthur into a state of rapturous anticipation, in which the wildest improbabilities hinted at among the students seemed to him natural and likely to be realized within the next two months.
He arranged to go home on Thursday in Passion week, and to spend the first days of the vacation there, that the pleasure of visiting the Warrens and the delight of seeing Gemma might not unfit him for the solemn religious meditation demanded by the Church from all her children at this season. He wrote to Gemma, promising to come on Easter Monday; and went up to his bedroom on Wednesday night with a soul at peace.
He knelt down before the crucifix. Father Cardi had promised to receive him in the morning; and for this, his last confession before the Easter communion, he must prepare himself by long and earnest prayer. Kneeling with clasped hands and bent head, he looked back over the month, and reckoned up the miniature sins of impatience, carelessness, hastiness of temper, which had left their faint, small spots upon the whiteness of his soul. Beyond these he could find nothing; in this month he had been too happy to sin much. He crossed himself, and, rising, began to undress.
As he unfastened his shirt a scrap of paper slipped from it and fluttered to the floor. It was Gemma's letter, which he had worn all day upon his neck. He picked it up, unfolded it, and kissed the dear scribble; then began folding the paper up again, with a dim consciousness of having done something very ridiculous, when he noticed on the back of the sheet a postscript which he had not read before. "Be sure and come as soon as possible," it ran, "for I want you to meet Bolla. He has been staying here, and we have read together every day."
The hot colour went up to Arthur's forehead as he read.
Always Bolla! What was he doing in Leghorn again? And why should Gemma want to read with him? Had he bewitched her with his smuggling? It had been quite easy to see at the meeting in January that he was in love with her; that was why he had been so earnest over his propaganda. And now he was close to her—reading with her every day.
Arthur suddenly threw the letter aside and knelt down again before the crucifix. And this was the soul that was preparing for absolution, for the Easter sacrament—the soul at peace with God and itself and all the world! A soul capable of sordid jealousies and suspicions; of selfish animosities and ungenerous hatred—and against a comrade! He covered his face with both hands in bitter humiliation. Only five minutes ago he had been dreaming of martyrdom; and now he had been guilty of a mean and petty thought like this!
When he entered the seminary chapel on Thursday morning he found Father Cardi alone. After repeating the Confiteor, he plunged at once into the subject of his last night's backsliding.
"My father, I accuse myself of the sins of jealousy and anger, and of unworthy thoughts against one who has done me no wrong."
Farther Cardi knew quite well with what kind of penitent he had to deal. He only said softly:
"You have not told me all, my son."
"Father, the man against whom I have thought an unchristian thought is one whom I am especially bound to love and honour."
"One to whom you are bound by ties of blood?"
"By a still closer tie."
"By what tie, my son?"
"By that of comradeship."
"Comradeship in what?"
"In a great and holy work."
A little pause.
"And your anger against this—comrade, your jealousy of him, was called forth by his success in that work being greater than yours?"
"I—yes, partly. I envied him his experience—his usefulness. And then—I thought—I feared—that he would take from me the heart of the girl I—love."
"And this girl that you love, is she a daughter of the Holy Church?"
"No; she is a Protestant."
Arthur clasped his hands in great distress. "Yes, a heretic," he repeated. "We were brought up together; our mothers were friends—and I—envied him, because I saw that he loves her, too, and because—because——"
"My son," said Father Cardi, speaking after a moment's silence, slowly and gravely, "you have still not told me all; there is more than this upon your soul."
"Father, I——" He faltered and broke off again.
The priest waited silently.
"I envied him because the society—the Young Italy—that I belong to———"
"Intrusted him with a work that I had hoped—would be given to me, that I had thought myself—specially adapted for."
"The taking in of books—political books—from the steamers that bring them—and finding a hiding place for them—in the town———"
"And this work was given by the party to your rival?"
"To Bolla—and I envied him."
"And he gave you no cause for this feeling? You do not accuse him of having neglected the mission intrusted to him?"
"No, father; he has worked bravely and devotedly; he is a true patriot and has deserved nothing but love and respect from me."
Father Cardi pondered.
"My son, if there is within you a new light, a dream of some great work to be accomplished for your fellow-men, a hope that shall lighten the burdens of the weary and oppressed, take heed how you deal with the most precious blessing of God. All good things are of His giving; and of His giving is the new birth. If you have found the way of sacrifice, the way that leads to peace; if you have joined with loving comrades to bring deliverance to them that weep and mourn in secret; then see to it that your soul be free from envy and passion and your heart as an altar where the sacred fire burns eternally. Remember that this is a high and holy thing, and that the heart which would receive it must be purified from every selfish thought. This vocation is as the vocation of a priest; it is not for the love of a woman, nor for the moment of a fleeting passion; it is FOR GOD AND THE PEOPLE; it is NOW AND FOREVER."
"Ah!" Arthur started and clasped his hands; he had almost burst out sobbing at the motto. "Father, you give us the sanction of the Church! Christ is on our side——"
"My son," the priest answered solemnly, "Christ drove the moneychangers out of the Temple, for His House shall be called a House of Prayer, and they had made it a den of thieves."
After a long silence, Arthur whispered tremulously:
"And Italy shall be His Temple when they are driven out——"
He stopped; and the soft answer came back:
"'The earth and the fulness thereof are mine, saith the Lord.'"
THAT afternoon Arthur felt the need of a long walk. He intrusted his luggage to a fellow-student and went to Leghorn on foot.
The day was damp and cloudy, but not cold; and the low, level country seemed to him fairer than he had ever known it to look before. He had a sense of delight in the soft elasticity of the wet grass under his feet and in the shy, wondering eyes of the wild spring flowers by the roadside. In a thorn-acacia bush at the edge of a little strip of wood a bird was building a nest, and flew up as he passed with a startled cry and a quick fluttering of brown wings.
He tried to keep his mind fixed upon the devout meditations proper to the eve of Good Friday. But thoughts of Montanelli and Gemma got so much in the way of this devotional exercise that at last he gave up the attempt and allowed his fancy to drift away to the wonders and glories of the coming insurrection, and to the part in it that he had allotted to his two idols. The Padre was to be the leader, the apostle, the prophet before whose sacred wrath the powers of darkness were to flee, and at whose feet the young defenders of Liberty were to learn afresh the old doctrines, the old truths in their new and unimagined significance.
And Gemma? Oh, Gemma would fight at the barricades. She was made of the clay from which heroines are moulded; she would be the perfect comrade, the maiden undefiled and unafraid, of whom so many poets have dreamed. She would stand beside him, shoulder to shoulder, rejoicing under the winged death-storm; and they would die together, perhaps in the moment of victory—without doubt there would be a victory. Of his love he would tell her nothing; he would say no word that might disturb her peace or spoil her tranquil sense of comradeship. She was to him a holy thing, a spotless victim to be laid upon the altar as a burnt-offering for the deliverance of the people; and who was he that he should enter into the white sanctuary of a soul that knew no other love than God and Italy?
God and Italy——Then came a sudden drop from the clouds as he entered the great, dreary house in the "Street of Palaces," and Julia's butler, immaculate, calm, and politely disapproving as ever, confronted him upon the stairs.
"Good-evening, Gibbons; are my brothers in?"
"Mr. Thomas is in, sir; and Mrs. Burton. They are in the drawing room."
Arthur went in with a dull sense of oppression. What a dismal house it was! The flood of life seemed to roll past and leave it always just above high-water mark. Nothing in it ever changed—neither the people, nor the family portraits, nor the heavy furniture and ugly plate, nor the vulgar ostentation of riches, nor the lifeless aspect of everything. Even the flowers on the brass stands looked like painted metal flowers that had never known the stirring of young sap within them in the warm spring days. Julia, dressed for dinner, and waiting for visitors in the drawing room which was to her the centre of existence, might have sat for a fashion-plate just as she was, with her wooden smile and flaxen ringlets, and the lap-dog on her knee.
"How do you do, Arthur?" she said stiffly, giving him the tips of her fingers for a moment, and then transferring them to the more congenial contact of the lap-dog's silken coat. "I hope you are quite well and have made satisfactory progress at college."
Arthur murmured the first commonplace that he could think of at the moment, and relapsed into uncomfortable silence. The arrival of James, in his most pompous mood and accompanied by a stiff, elderly shipping-agent, did not improve matters; and when Gibbons announced that dinner was served, Arthur rose with a little sigh of relief.
"I won't come to dinner, Julia. If you'll excuse me I will go to my room."
"You're overdoing that fasting, my boy," said Thomas; "I am sure you'll make yourself ill."
"Oh, no! Good-night."
In the corridor Arthur met the under housemaid and asked her to knock at his door at six in the morning.
"The signorino is going to church?"
"Yes. Good-night, Teresa."
He went into his room. It had belonged to his mother, and the alcove opposite the window had been fitted up during her long illness as an oratory. A great crucifix on a black pedestal occupied the middle of the altar; and before it hung a little Roman lamp. This was the room where she had died. Her portrait was on the wall beside the bed; and on the table stood a china bowl which had been hers, filled with a great bunch of her favourite violets. It was just a year since her death; and the Italian servants had not forgotten her.
He took out of his portmanteau a framed picture, carefully wrapped up. It was a crayon portrait of Montanelli, which had come from Rome only a few days before. He was unwrapping this precious treasure when Julia's page brought in a supper-tray on which the old Italian cook, who had served Gladys before the harsh, new mistress came, had placed such little delicacies as she considered her dear signorino might permit himself to eat without infringing the rules of the Church. Arthur refused everything but a piece of bread; and the page, a nephew of Gibbons, lately arrived from England, grinned significantly as he carried out the tray. He had already joined the Protestant camp in the servants' hall.
Arthur went into the alcove and knelt down before the crucifix, trying to compose his mind to the proper attitude for prayer and meditation. But this he found difficult to accomplish. He had, as Thomas said, rather overdone the Lenten privations, and they had gone to his head like strong wine. Little quivers of excitement went down his back, and the crucifix swam in a misty cloud before his eyes. It was only after a long litany, mechanically repeated, that he succeeded in recalling his wandering imagination to the mystery of the Atonement. At last sheer physical weariness conquered the feverish agitation of his nerves, and he lay down to sleep in a calm and peaceful mood, free from all unquiet or disturbing thoughts.
He was fast asleep when a sharp, impatient knock came at his door. "Ah, Teresa!" he thought, turning over lazily. The knock was repeated, and he awoke with a violent start.
"Signorino! signorino!" cried a man's voice in Italian; "get up for the love of God!"
Arthur jumped out of bed.
"What is the matter? Who is it?"
"It's I, Gian Battista. Get up, quick, for Our Lady's sake!"
Arthur hurriedly dressed and opened the door. As he stared in perplexity at the coachman's pale, terrified face, the sound of tramping feet and clanking metal came along the corridor, and he suddenly realized the truth.
"For me?" he asked coolly.
"For you! Oh, signorino, make haste! What have you to hide? See, I can put——"
"I have nothing to hide. Do my brothers know?"
The first uniform appeared at the turn of the passage.
"The signor has been called; all the house is awake. Alas! what a misfortune—what a terrible misfortune! And on Good Friday! Holy Saints, have pity!"
Gian Battista burst into tears. Arthur moved a few steps forward and waited for the gendarmes, who came clattering along, followed by a shivering crowd of servants in various impromptu costumes. As the soldiers surrounded Arthur, the master and mistress of the house brought up the rear of this strange procession; he in dressing gown and slippers, she in a long peignoir, with her hair in curlpapers.
"There is, sure, another flood toward, and these couples are coming to the ark! Here comes a pair of very strange beasts!"
The quotation flashed across Arthur's mind as he looked at the grotesque figures. He checked a laugh with a sense of its jarring incongruity—this was a time for worthier thoughts. "Ave Maria, Regina Coeli!" he whispered, and turned his eyes away, that the bobbing of Julia's curlpapers might not again tempt him to levity.
"Kindly explain to me," said Mr. Burton, approaching the officer of gendarmerie, "what is the meaning of this violent intrusion into a private house? I warn you that, unless you are prepared to furnish me with a satisfactory explanation, I shall feel bound to complain to the English Ambassador."
"I presume," replied the officer stiffly, "that you will recognize this as a sufficient explanation; the English Ambassador certainly will." He pulled out a warrant for the arrest of Arthur Burton, student of philosophy, and, handing it to James, added coldly: "If you wish for any further explanation, you had better apply in person to the chief of police."
Julia snatched the paper from her husband, glanced over it, and flew at Arthur like nothing else in the world but a fashionable lady in a rage.
"So it's you that have disgraced the family!" she screamed; "setting all the rabble in the town gaping and staring as if the thing were a show? So you have turned jail-bird, now, with all your piety! It's what we might have expected from that Popish woman's child——"
"You must not speak to a prisoner in a foreign language, madam," the officer interrupted; but his remonstrance was hardly audible under the torrent of Julia's vociferous English.
"Just what we might have expected! Fasting and prayer and saintly meditation; and this is what was underneath it all! I thought that would be the end of it."
Dr. Warren had once compared Julia to a salad into which the cook had upset the vinegar cruet. The sound of her thin, hard voice set Arthur's teeth on edge, and the simile suddenly popped up in his memory.
"There's no use in this kind of talk," he said. "You need not be afraid of any unpleasantness; everyone will understand that you are all quite innocent. I suppose, gentlemen, you want to search my things. I have nothing to hide."
While the gendarmes ransacked the room, reading his letters, examining his college papers, and turning out drawers and boxes, he sat waiting on the edge of the bed, a little flushed with excitement, but in no way distressed. The search did not disquiet him. He had always burned letters which could possibly compromise anyone, and beyond a few manuscript verses, half revolutionary, half mystical, and two or three numbers of Young Italy, the gendarmes found nothing to repay them for their trouble. Julia, after a long resistance, yielded to the entreaties of her brother-in-law and went back to bed, sweeping past Arthur with magnificent disdain, James meekly following.
When they had left the room, Thomas, who all this while had been tramping up and down, trying to look indifferent, approached the officer and asked permission to speak to the prisoner. Receiving a nod in answer, he went up to Arthur and muttered in a rather husky voice:
"I say; this is an infernally awkward business. I'm very sorry about it."
Arthur looked up with a face as serene as a summer morning. "You have always been good to me," he said. "There's nothing to be sorry about. I shall be safe enough."
"Look here, Arthur!" Thomas gave his moustache a hard pull and plunged head first into the awkward question. "Is—all this anything to do with—money? Because, if it is, I——"
"With money! Why, no! What could it have to do——"
"Then it's some political tomfoolery? I thought so. Well, don't you get down in the mouth—and never mind all the stuff Julia talks. It's only her spiteful tongue; and if you want help,—cash, or anything,—let me know, will you?"
Arthur held out his hand in silence, and Thomas left the room with a carefully made-up expression of unconcern that rendered his face more stolid than ever.
The gendarmes, meanwhile, had finished their search, and the officer in charge requested Arthur to put on his outdoor clothes. He obeyed at once and turned to leave the room; then stopped with sudden hesitation. It seemed hard to take leave of his mother's oratory in the presence of these officials.
"Have you any objection to leaving the room for a moment?" he asked. "You see that I cannot escape and that there is nothing to conceal."
"I am sorry, but it is forbidden to leave a prisoner alone."
"Very well, it doesn't matter."
He went into the alcove, and, kneeling down, kissed the feet and pedestal of the crucifix, whispering softly: "Lord, keep me faithful unto death."
When he rose, the officer was standing by the table, examining Montanelli's portrait. "Is this a relative of yours?" he asked.
"No; it is my confessor, the new Bishop of Brisighella."
On the staircase the Italian servants were waiting, anxious and sorrowful. They all loved Arthur for his own sake and his mother's, and crowded round him, kissing his hands and dress with passionate grief. Gian Battista stood by, the tears dripping down his gray moustache. None of the Burtons came out to take leave of him. Their coldness accentuated the tenderness and sympathy of the servants, and Arthur was near to breaking down as he pressed the hands held out to him.
"Good-bye, Gian Battista. Kiss the little ones for me. Good-bye, Teresa. Pray for me, all of you; and God keep you! Good-bye, good-bye!"
He ran hastily downstairs to the front door. A moment later only a little group of silent men and sobbing women stood on the doorstep watching the carriage as it drove away.
ARTHUR was taken to the huge mediaeval fortress at the harbour's mouth. He found prison life fairly endurable. His cell was unpleasantly damp and dark; but he had been brought up in a palace in the Via Borra, and neither close air, rats, nor foul smells were novelties to him. The food, also, was both bad and insufficient; but James soon obtained permission to send him all the necessaries of life from home. He was kept in solitary confinement, and, though the vigilance of the warders was less strict than he had expected, he failed to obtain any explanation of the cause of his arrest. Nevertheless, the tranquil frame of mind in which he had entered the fortress did not change. Not being allowed books, he spent his time in prayer and devout meditation, and waited without impatience or anxiety for the further course of events.
One day a soldier unlocked the door of his cell and called to him: "This way, please!" After two or three questions, to which he got no answer but, "Talking is forbidden," Arthur resigned himself to the inevitable and followed the soldier through a labyrinth of courtyards, corridors, and stairs, all more or less musty-smelling, into a large, light room in which three persons in military uniform sat at a long table covered with green baize and littered with papers, chatting in a languid, desultory way. They put on a stiff, business air as he came in, and the oldest of them, a foppish-looking man with gray whiskers and a colonel's uniform, pointed to a chair on the other side of the table and began the preliminary interrogation.
Arthur had expected to be threatened, abused, and sworn at, and had prepared himself to answer with dignity and patience; but he was pleasantly disappointed. The colonel was stiff, cold and formal, but perfectly courteous. The usual questions as to his name, age, nationality, and social position were put and answered, and the replies written down in monotonous succession. He was beginning to feel bored and impatient, when the colonel asked:
"And now, Mr. Burton, what do you know about Young Italy?"
"I know that it is a society which publishes a newspaper in Marseilles and circulates it in Italy, with the object of inducing people to revolt and drive the Austrian army out of the country."
"You have read this paper, I think?"
"Yes; I am interested in the subject."
"When you read it you realized that you were committing an illegal action?"
"Where did you get the copies which were found in your room?"
"That I cannot tell you."
"Mr. Burton, you must not say 'I cannot tell' here; you are bound to answer my questions."
"I will not, then, if you object to 'cannot.'"
"You will regret it if you permit yourself to use such expressions," remarked the colonel. As Arthur made no reply, he went on:
"I may as well tell you that evidence has come into our hands proving your connection with this society to be much more intimate than is implied by the mere reading of forbidden literature. It will be to your advantage to confess frankly. In any case the truth will be sure to come out, and you will find it useless to screen yourself behind evasion and denials."
"I have no desire to screen myself. What is it you want to know?"
"Firstly, how did you, a foreigner, come to be implicated in matters of this kind?"
"I thought about the subject and read everything I could get hold of, and formed my own conclusions."
"Who persuaded you to join this society?"
"No one; I wished to join it."
"You are shilly-shallying with me," said the colonel, sharply; his patience was evidently beginning to give out. "No one can join a society by himself. To whom did you communicate your wish to join it?"
"Will you have the kindness to answer me?"
"Not when you ask questions of that kind."
Arthur spoke sullenly; a curious, nervous irritability was taking possession of him. He knew by this time that many arrests had been made in both Leghorn and Pisa; and, though still ignorant of the extent of the calamity, he had already heard enough to put him into a fever of anxiety for the safety of Gemma and his other friends. The studied politeness of the officers, the dull game of fencing and parrying, of insidious questions and evasive answers, worried and annoyed him, and the clumsy tramping backward and forward of the sentinel outside the door jarred detestably upon his ear.
"Oh, by the bye, when did you last meet Giovanni Bolla?" asked the colonel, after a little more bandying of words. "Just before you left Pisa, was it?"
"I know no one of that name."
"What! Giovanni Bolla? Surely you know him—a tall young fellow, closely shaven. Why, he is one of your fellow-students."
"There are many students in the university whom I don't know."
"Oh, but you must know Bolla, surely! Look, this is his handwriting. You see, he knows you well enough."
The colonel carelessly handed him a paper headed: "Protocol," and signed: "Giovanni Bolla." Glancing down it Arthur came upon his own name. He looked up in surprise. "Am I to read it?"
"Yes, you may as well; it concerns you."
He began to read, while the officers sat silently watching his face. The document appeared to consist of depositions in answer to a long string of questions. Evidently Bolla, too, must have been arrested. The first depositions were of the usual stereotyped character; then followed a short account of Bolla's connection with the society, of the dissemination of prohibited literature in Leghorn, and of the students' meetings. Next came "Among those who joined us was a young Englishman, Arthur Burton, who belongs to one of the rich shipowning families."
The blood rushed into Arthur's face. Bolla had betrayed him! Bolla, who had taken upon himself the solemn duties of an initiator—Bolla, who had converted Gemma—who was in love with her! He laid down the paper and stared at the floor.
"I hope that little document has refreshed your memory?" hinted the colonel politely.
Arthur shook his head. "I know no one of that name," he repeated in a dull, hard voice. "There must be some mistake."
"Mistake? Oh, nonsense! Come, Mr. Burton, chivalry and quixotism are very fine things in their way; but there's no use in overdoing them. It's an error all you young people fall into at first. Come, think! What good is it for you to compromise yourself and spoil your prospects in life over a simple formality about a man that has betrayed you? You see yourself, he wasn't so particular as to what he said about you."
A faint shade of something like mockery had crept into the colonel's voice. Arthur looked up with a start; a sudden light flashed upon his mind.
"It's a lie!" he cried out. "It's a forgery! I can see it in your face, you cowardly——You've got some prisoner there you want to compromise, or a trap you want to drag me into. You are a forger, and a liar, and a scoundrel——"
"Silence!" shouted the colonel, starting up in a rage; his two colleagues were already on their feet. "Captain Tommasi," he went on, turning to one of them, "ring for the guard, if you please, and have this young gentleman put in the punishment cell for a few days. He wants a lesson, I see, to bring him to reason."
The punishment cell was a dark, damp, filthy hole under ground. Instead of bringing Arthur "to reason," it thoroughly exasperated him. His luxurious home had rendered him daintily fastidious about personal cleanliness, and the first effect of the slimy, vermin-covered walls, the floor heaped with accumulations of filth and garbage, the fearful stench of fungi and sewage and rotting wood, was strong enough to have satisfied the offended officer. When he was pushed in and the door locked behind him he took three cautious steps forward with outstretched hands, shuddering with disgust as his fingers came into contact with the slippery wall, and groped in the dense blackness for some spot less filthy than the rest in which to sit down.
The long day passed in unbroken blackness and silence, and the night brought no change. In the utter void and absence of all external impressions, he gradually lost the consciousness of time; and when, on the following morning, a key was turned in the door lock, and the frightened rats scurried past him squeaking, he started up in a sudden panic, his heart throbbing furiously and a roaring noise in his ears, as though he had been shut away from light and sound for months instead of hours.
The door opened, letting in a feeble lantern gleam—a flood of blinding light, it seemed to him—and the head warder entered, carrying a piece of bread and a mug of water. Arthur made a step forward; he was quite convinced that the man had come to let him out. Before he had time to speak, the warder put the bread and mug into his hands, turned round and went away without a word, locking the door again.
Arthur stamped his foot upon the ground. For the first time in his life he was savagely angry. But as the hours went by, the consciousness of time and place gradually slipped further and further away. The blackness seemed an illimitable thing, with no beginning and no end, and life had, as it were, stopped for him. On the evening of the third day, when the door was opened and the head warder appeared on the threshold with a soldier, he looked up, dazed and bewildered, shading his eyes from the unaccustomed light, and vaguely wondering how many hours or weeks he had been in this grave.
"This way, please," said the cool business voice of the warder. Arthur rose and moved forward mechanically, with a strange unsteadiness, swaying and stumbling like a drunkard. He resented the warder's attempt to help him up the steep, narrow steps leading to the courtyard; but as he reached the highest step a sudden giddiness came over him, so that he staggered and would have fallen backwards had the warder not caught him by the shoulder.