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