Stories by American Authors, Volume 2
Author: Various
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"This venison is delicious; none was ever better served. The Roman Senators debated the question how a turbot should be cooked, and the author of this dish deserves a place among such.

"Montmaur is reported to have said that Easter and Christmas were the two best days in the year. Easter because it was farthest from Lent, and Christmas because then you breakfasted at midnight. Who says this is not equal to Montmaur's Christmas breakfast?"

This sort of banter, interspersed with songs and stories, was kept up till a late hour, when all of a sudden the keepers awoke to the fact that Malcolm had flown. The visitors laughed heartily. The company dispersed, not standing upon the order of their going. The table was cleared, and the office put in order. Only one of the keepers remained, who resembled in appearance a cat that had played with her mouse and lost it; the others were out looking for Malcolm. At an early hour in the morning he returned, and seating himself at Mr. Burchard's desk, wrote him this note:


I trust I did not disturb your repose. I found, this morning, in your safe in your house this pretty little casket sent you from your English namesake. I have seen it often before, but wanted another squint at it, and I have brought it to your office lest some burglar might steal it from your house. I noticed your wife's watch lying around loose in your sleeping-room, which is of no great value—to me,—and I contented myself with the charms, which I will put into your steel chest, here in the office, for safe keeping against the time of my need. The putting a yoke on the keys of your door, so I could not turn them with the nippers, was all useless. The chair poised against your sleeping-room door gave me a deal of trouble, and I could not put it back as I found it. Please excuse me. The thread on the stairs attached to an alarm-bell might as well have been omitted. The old-fashioned fork against the bolt I put back as I found it, and came out by the dining-room window. Your portfolio you will find between the beds on which you were sleeping. It took me half an hour to make you turn over so I could do it. George Waters is my counsel, to whom I have committed my case. He will arrange the evidence. Unless you eat your own words, you will sit beside him and ask the jury if they believe the case is made out beyond a reasonable doubt, for I know better than you the weight of your character. I shall be in jail by breakfast-time.


At the bottom of the note was a well-drawn hand with spread fingers at the end of a man's nose.

When all the officers had returned, dropping in one by one, towards morning, they were somewhat surprised and relieved upon beholding Malcolm. He informed them that it would be all right if they would all appear at his trial and laugh for him.

At the trial, Mr. Burchard, care-worn and nervous, made his appearance. Mr. Waters conducted the testimony for the defence. Mr. Burchard inquired of him what testimony Malcolm relied upon, and was answered that no testimony whatever was to be introduced, but he would rely altogether upon the lack of testimony on the part of the government. A cold shiver ran down Burchard's backbone. The question of guilty or not guilty turned upon the identity of the mat previously spoken of, which, it was asserted, Malcolm threw away as he ran. The watchman testified positively to the fact, but it was in the night, and he might have been mistaken. Mr. W. H. B. testified generally as to the robbery, and recognized the mat as probably the one made by his daughter, although he could not positively make oath to the fact. As the case turned upon the testimony of Miss B., I give the whole of the cross-examination.

Question by Mr. Waters. You have said that you know this mat to have been the work of your own hands, and that you made it for a particular purpose. If you please, what was that purpose?

Answer. I had presented me on Christmas a fine statuette of Samuel, which I admired so much that I worked this mat with great care upon which to place it.

Q. And did you work it from a pattern?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And have you ever seen others like it?

A. Yes, sir, three, but not in this city.

Q. And where did you get the pattern?

A. From a friend in Philadelphia.

Q. Now, if you have seen other mats like this, how do you know, of your own knowledge, that this is not some other lady's work?

A. I know it is my work because the centre portion of the mat was left plain, which centre is exactly the size of the base of my statuette.

Q. Is there any other reason which you can give?

A. I know it looks like my mat.

Q. Certainly, but would it not look like your mat if it had been wrought by another lady?

A. Perhaps so.

Q. You say perhaps so; would it not certainly so look?

A. I think it would.

Q. Have you the statuette now?

A. Yes, sir, it is at our house.

At this point of the trial the statuette was sent for and brought into court by the father of the witness. Mr. Waters took it into his possession. Considerable discussion arose when the prosecuting attorney insisted upon being allowed to examine it. Mr. Waters became almost violent, and declared he would smash the image rather than be so imposed upon. He was cross-examining the witness with no testimony for the accused, and he insisted upon his rights without interruption. The court ruled in Mr. Waters's favor. He, holding the statuette by the base, walked up to Miss B., and inquired of her if she recognized it as her own.

A. I certainly do.

Q. And how do you know it is certainly your own?

A. It is just like mine.

Q. But are there not other copies so like it as that you cannot tell the difference, nor one from the others?

A. Yes.

Q. How then can you say for a certainty that this is yours?

A. Because my father has just brought it from our house, and I saw him go for it and return with it. I can give no better reason.

Q. Can you say of your own knowledge, from an examination of the image, that it is yours?

A. No, sir.

Q. Have you any more reliable knowledge concerning the mat being yours?

A. Yes, for the space in the middle was made expressly to fit the base of the statuette.

Q. And are you willing to risk your testimony upon that fact alone?

A. I am.

The mat and the statuette were then shown the witness and the jury, and the base of the statuette overlapped the plain surface in the centre of the mat half an inch. The witness became faint, and was carried into the lobby. The jury, without leaving their seats, rendered a verdict of NOT GUILTY.

The captain feasted Malcolm that night, and obtained from him the secret of his defence. Maguire, as a woman, had procured the situation of cook in the house of Mr. W. H. B., and had substituted for the original Samuel another, altogether similar, except that its base was half an inch larger.

The captain further inquired what had been Malcolm's occupation in early life, and how he had acquired so much knowledge of the gourmands and feasts.

"I was cook at Baden Baden," said Malcolm, "at the B—— House. There I met Count S., who took a fancy to me. I served also at the tables, after that as waiter in the house, and keeping an eye open I was a great help to the Count. He knew everything about the table, kitchen, and the larder, and I remembered what he used to repeat night after night, when a year or two ago I found Dick Humelbergius's book upon the art of never breakfasting at home and always dining abroad. I found everything recorded there, and that is pretty much the only book I ever read. I can quote Latin, and know where to put it in, but what the —— the meaning of it is, I have no notion."

"Allow me further to inquire by what process or contrivance you can slide a bolt on the opposite side of the door?"

"I paid $3500 for that information, and don't propose to part with it."

"Then advise me what is best for me to do when I find a burglar in my sleeping-room in the night time?"

"Do nothing, sir, unless you are hunting up a graveyard. We never desire to maim or kill, but we can. I should be poorly provided or skilled if I was not ready for such emergencies. As soon as the burglar leaves your room, rise and light the gas, and he will trouble you no more."

"One other question. Did you rob and then burn the Jenks house?"

"That is not a question to be answered, but I will say that I have a drawing of the house and the location of every piece of furniture in it, which is perfect."

To this day, only two of the persons who were present at the dinner-party are aware of the history of the two worthies, the Reverend Mr. Malcolm of Oxford and Maguire the butler of Mr. Bernon Burchard.



Harper's Magazine, June, 1883.

Never did anything seem fresher and sweeter than the plateau on which we emerged in the early sunset, after defiling all day through the dark deep mountain-sides in the rain.

We had promised Rhoda to assault her winter fastness whenever she should summon us; and now, in obedience to her message, a gay party of us had left the railway, and had driven, sometimes in slushy snow and sometimes on bare ground, up the old mountain-road, laughing and singing and jangling our bells, till at length the great bare woods, lifting their line forever before us and above us, gave place to bald black mountain-sides, whose oppressive gloom and silence stifled everything but a longing to escape from between them, and from the possible dangers in crossing bridges, and fording streams swollen by the fortnight's thaws and rains. Now and then the stillness resolved itself into the murmuring of bare sprays, the rustling of rain, the dancing of innumerable unfettered brooks glittering with motion, but without light, from the dusky depths; now and then a ghastly lustre shot from the ice still hanging like a glacier upon some upper steep, or a strange gleam from the sodden snow on their floors lightened the roofs of the leafless forests that overlapped the chasms, and trailed their twisted roots like shapes of living horror. What was there, I wondered, so darkly familiar in it all? in what nightmare had I dreamed it all before? Long ere the journey's end our spirits became dead as last night's wine; we shared the depression of all nature, and felt as if we had come out of chaos and the end of all things when the huge mountain gates closed behind us, and we dashed out on the plateau where the grass, from which the wintry wrapping had been washed, had not lost all its greenness, and in the sudden lifting of the rain-cloud a red sparkle of sunset lighted the windows, as if a hundred flambeaux had been kindled to greet us.

A huge fire burned in the fireplace of the drawing-room when we had mounted the stairs and crossed the great hall, where other fires were blazing and sending ruddy flames to skim among the cedar rafters; and all that part of the house sacred to Colonel Vorse, and opened now the first time in many winters, was thoroughly warm and cheerful with lights and flowers and rugs and easy-chairs and books. We might easily have fancied ourselves, that night, in those spacious rooms, when, toilets made and dinner over, we re-assembled around the solid glow of the chimney logs, a modern party in some old mediaeval chamber, all the more for the spirit of the scene outside, where the storm was telling its rede again, rain changing to snow, and a cruel blast keening round the many gables and screaming down the chimneys. After all, Rhoda's and Merivale's plan of having us in the hills before late-lingering winter should be quite gone, and doing a little Sintram business with skates and wolves and hill visions, should have been carried out earlier. To them it was all but little less novel than it was to me, and Rhoda, who, although a year or two my junior, had been my intimate, so far as I ever had an intimate, would not rest till she had devised this party, without which she knew she could not have me, even persuading our good old Dr. Devens to leave his pulpit and people, and stamp the proceeding with his immaculate respectability. As it was, however, it looked as though we were simply to be shut in by a week of storm following the thaw. Well, there are compensations in all things: perhaps two people in whom I had some interest would know each other a trifle better before the week ended then.

The place was really the home of Rhoda and Merivale, or was now to become so. Colonel Vorse, their father, who had married so young that he felt but little older than they, and was quite their companion, was still the owner of the vast summer hostelry, although no longer its manager. After accumulating his fortune he had taken his children about the world, educating them and himself at the same time, with now an object lesson in Germany and now another in Peru, and finally returning to this place, which, so far as we could see, was absolute desolation, without a neighbor, but which to him was bristling with memories and associations and old friends across the intervale and over the mountain and round the spur. There was something weird to me, as I looked out at the flying whiteness of the moonlit storm, in those acquaintances of his among the hollows of these pallid hills; it seemed as though they must partake of the coldness and whiteness, and as if they were only dead people, when all was said. Perhaps Dr. Devens, who half the way up had been quoting,

"Pavilioned high, he sits In darkness from excessive splendor born,"

had another phase of the same feeling. I heard him saying, as I passed him five minutes before, where he sat astride a chair in front of the long oriel casement: "There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots. He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light." He is expecting a convulsion of nature, I remember thinking, as I went by and paused at another window myself. A convulsion of nature! I fancy that he found it.

"There is something eerie here," I said, as I still gazed at the scene; for the dim gigantic shapes of the hills rose round us like sheeted ghosts, while the flying scud of the storm, filled with the white diffusion of unseen light, every now and then opened to let the glimpses out. "And see the witch-fires," as the rosy reflections of our burning logs and lights danced on the whirling snow without. "Is there anything wanting to make us feel as if we had been caught here by some spell, and were to be held by some charm?"

"I wish I knew the charm," said Colonel Vorse, by my side, and half under his breath. And then I felt a little angrier with myself for coming than I had felt before.

"I often hear you talking of your belief in certain telluric forces that must have most power among the mountains where they first had play, and where earth is not only beneath, but is above you and around you. Well, we are here in the stronghold of these telluric forces. I am their old friend and ally: let me see what they will do for me."

It was true. And I half shivered with an indefinite fear that I might be compelled, in spite of all wish and prejudice, and birthright—I, the child of proud old colonial grandees of the South; he, the son of a mountain farmer, who had married a mate of his own degree, and had kept a mountain inn till fortune found him and death took her. My father at least was the child of those proud old colonials, and I had lived with his people and been reared on their traditions. Who my mother was I never knew; for my father had married her in some romantic fashion—a runaway match—and she had died at my birth, and he had shortly followed her. I had nothing that belonged to her but the half of a broken miniature my father had once painted of her, as I understood. I always wore it, with I know not what secret sentiment, but I showed it to nobody. I had sometimes wondered about the other half, but my life had not left me much time for sentiment or wonder—full of gayety till my grandfather's death left me homeless; full of gayety since his friend Mrs. Montresor had adopted me for child and companion, subject to her kind whims and tyrannies. But if she took me here and took me there, and clad me like a princess, I was none the less aware of the fact that I was without a penny—morbidly aware of it without doubt. But it disposed me to look with favor on no rich man's suit, and the lover as penniless as I and as fine as my ideal lover had not yet appeared. It made me almost hate the face and form, the color, the hair, that they dared to call Titianesque, speak of as if it were the free booty of pigment and canvas, and wish to drag captive in the golden chains of their wealth. When I had met Colonel Vorse, a year ago, twice my age though he was, he was the first one I had wished as poor as I—he the plebeian newly rich. Yet not so newly rich was he that he had not had time to become used to his riches, to see the kingdoms of the earth and weigh them in his balance, to serve his country on the battle-field, and his State in the council-chamber; and, for the rest, contact with the world is sadly educating.

"I often look at Colonel Vorse among the men born in the purple," said Mrs. Montresor once—she thought people born in the purple were simply those who had never earned their living—"and he is the superior of them all. What a country it is where a man keeping a common tavern in the first half of his life may make himself the equal of sovereigns in the other half! I don't understand it; he is the finest gentleman of them all. And he looks it. Don't you think so, Helena?"

But I never told Mrs. Montresor what I thought. It is all very well to generalize and to be glad that certain institutions produce certain effects; but of course you are superior to the institutions, or you wouldn't be generalizing so, and all the more, of course, superior to the effects, and so I don't see how it signifies to you personally.

"You ought to have your head carried on a pike," said Mrs. Montresor, again. "You will, if we ever have any bonnets rouges in America. You are the aristocrat pure and simple. The Princess Lamballe was nothing to you. You think humanity exists so that nous autres, by standing on it, may get the light and air. You are sure that you are made of different clay—the canaille of street mud, for instance, and you of the fine white stuff from which they mould Dresden china. You are quite a study to me, my love. I expect to see you marry a pavior yet, either one who lays down or one who tears up paving-stones." But I had only laughed again. She plumed herself on being cosmopolitan even to her principles.

"You give me credit for too much thinking on the subject," I said, "if it is credit. Indeed, I don't concern myself about such people; and as for marrying one of them, I could as soon marry into a different race, African or Mongolian. They are a different race."

And I remembered all this as Colonel Vorse stood leaning his hand above me on the jamb of the window-frame—for although I was tall, he was a son of Anak—with that air which, never vaunting strength, always made you aware of its repression. I could fancy hearing Mrs. Montresor say, "That air of his! it always fetches women!" for she loved a little slang, by some antipodal attraction of her refinement, and I instinctively stiffened myself, determined it should never fetch me. And here he was calling his allies, the spirits and powers of the dark and terrible mountain heights and depths, and openly giving battle. I don't know why it depressed me; I felt as if the very fact that it did was a half surrender; I looked up at him a moment; I forgot who he was; I wished he was as poor as I. But to become the mother of Rhoda, my friend, and of Merivale, that laughing young giant—what absurdity, if all the rest were equal! And that other, the dead woman, the first wife—should one not always be jealous of that sweet early love? Could one endure it? Here among these hills with all their ghostliness she would haunt me. And then I turned and swept away to the fireside, holding out my hands to the flame, and glad to sink into the chair that some one had left empty there.

I hardly knew what world I was living in when, perhaps a half-hour later, I heard Colonel Vorse's voice. "The trouble is that men are not born free and equal," he was saying. "Free? They are hampered by inheritance and circumstance from the moment of birth. Equal? It is a self-evident lie. And the world has rhapsodized for a hundred years over so clumsy a statement. All men are born with equal rights. That is the precise statement. My rights—rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—are equal to the rights of all the princelings of the earth; their rights equal only to mine. So far as they interfere with my rights they are public enemies, and are to be dealt with; and so far as I interfere with their rights, I am a trespasser to be punished. Otherwise, prince or peasant, each is a man, whether he wears a blouse or a star and garter; and if man was made in the image of God, let us do no indignity to that image in one or in another."

Did I understand him? Was Colonel Vorse proclaiming himself the equal of Prince San Sorcererino who had entertained us in his palaces last year? Well. And was he not? All at once something seemed to sift away from before my eyes—a veil that had hidden my kind from me. Was there no longer even that natural aristocracy in which Shakspeare or Homer or Dante was king? Was the world a brotherhood, and they the public enemy, the enemy of the great perfect race to come, who helped one brother take advantage of another? Were those ribbons in the buttonhole, the gifts of kings, of no more worth than the ribbons of cigars?

Mrs. Montresor was toying with her fan beside me, and talking in an undertone behind it. "What prince of all that you have seen or read of," said she, "if born on a meagre mountain farm, would have made his fortune and have educated himself, as this man has done? I think the kings who founded races of kings were like him. And what prince of them all alive looks so much the prince as he? This one as fat as Falstaff and as low, that one with a hump on his back, the other without brains, the next with brains awry, and none of them made as becomes a man. Tell me, Helena?"

"I think you are in love yourself," I said.

She laughed. "As tall as Saul, as dark, as lordly in all proportions, as gentle as Jonathan, and with a soul like David's—why shouldn't I be?" she said. "And he not the equal of the granddaughter of a South Carolina planter! Tell me again, Helena, what has she ever done to prove herself his equal?"

She had had a fancy—Heaven knows why—that her young mother, who had run away with her father, was the daughter of a noble foreign family; or else why should the match have been clandestine? She had had a fancy that she was therefore noble, as her mother was—the mother even whose name her child did not know other than as the slaves had told her the young bridegroom called her Pansy because of a pair of purple-dark eyes. That was about all. That was all the answer I could have made, had I spoken, to her gentle raillery, half mockery, in which she did not quite believe herself. But even were it so, and the daughter noble as the mother, could blood that had filtered through generations of oppressors lounging in laps of luxury be pure as this blood that had informed none but simple and innocent lives, and seemed just now as if it had come fresh from the hands of the Maker? I surveyed him from behind the hand-screen that failed to keep the ruddy flames from my face, and if I felt him in that glance to be one of the sons of God, and I but one of the daughters of men, again I did not tell Mrs. Montresor.

But the witch could always read my thoughts. "Still," she said, "he has kept a tavern. There is no getting round that fact by all the poetry in the world. Then why try to get round it? He has furnished food and shelter to the tired and roofless—as noble a way to make money, surely, as working the bones and muscles of slaves, and accepting the gold they earn."

"That is the last I have of such gold," I cried, in a stifled way; and I unclasped the old bracelet on my wrist and tossed it behind the back-log—people were too gayly engaged to observe us at the moment. "I think," I said then, turning upon her, "that you are employed as an advocate, unless—you are really weary of me."

"Weary of you!" she exclaimed, half under her breath though it was—"weary of you, when you are such unceasing variety to me that if you married ten thousand tavern-keepers I should always have a room in the inn!"

"Thank Heaven," I answered her, gayly, "it is an impossibility that I should ever marry one." And then there was a lull in the laughter and the snatches of song and conversation on the other side of the room; and while I was still gazing after my bracelet and into the chimney-place, where the flames wallowed about unhewn forest logs that took two men to cast to them, Colonel Vorse came over to us.

"You will turn into salamanders," he said.

"It is bad enough to be in hot water," said Mrs. Montresor, lightly. "I will leave the fire to you and Helena."

"Where you sit," said Colonel Vorse then to me, "if you turn your head slightly to the left, and shade your eyes, you can see the side of the darkest and sternest of our mountains. You know we do not call our hills by the names they have in maps and government surveys; the old settlers who first came here called this one, for unknown reasons of their own, the Mount of Sorrow. It has always been the Mount of Sorrow."

"An ominous name for so near a neighbor," I said.

"Ah! you think this region is oppressive, or perhaps dull and tame, without life or stir—desolate, in fact. What if I should tell you that it bubbles, like a caldron over the bottomless pit, with griefs and sins!—that in lives condemned to perpetual imprisonment on these bare rocks, feeding on themselves, traits intensifying, the loneliness, the labor, the negation, slowly extract the juices of humanity, and make crime a matter to be whispered of among them? If they feel they are forgotten by God, what matters the murder or the suicide more or less that gives release? It is hell here or hell there: they are sure of this—they have it; the other may not come to pass."

"What do you mean?" I said, with white lips; for as he spoke it seemed as if I had come into a land of lepers. "Here in this white solitude, among lives fed from the primitive sources of nature and the dew of the morning—"

"I mean," he said, "that I refuse to accept the factitious aid your thoughts have lately been bringing to me. You see I have preternatural senses. Because I was born in the snows of the mountains I am no whit whiter than those born in the purlieus of the police stations of the cities. We are simply of the same human nature. When I win regard, it must be for no idle fancy, but for my own identity."

"Well," I said, "I do not believe you."

"Ah!" he replied, "have I gained a point, and found an advocate in an ideal of me? That would be as romantic as any of the romance of the hills. And there is romance here, whether it is born of crime, or of joy, or of sorrow. There is romance enough on that old Mount of Sorrow that you see when the storm opens and strips it in that sudden white glory. Keep your eye, if you please, on a spot half-way up the sky, and when the apparition comes again you will find the dark outline of a dwelling there. It was a dwelling once; now it is only a ruin, hut and barn and byre. Why do you shudder? Do you see it? It is only a shadow. But a shadow with outlines black enough to defy the whitest blast that ever blew. Sometimes it seems to me as though that old ruin were itself a ghostly thing, a spectre of tragedies that will not down; for the avalanches divide and leave it, and the storms whistle over and beat against it, and it is always there when the sun rises. I don't know what it has to do with my fortunes; I don't know why it is a blotch upon the face of nature to me; but if ever I grow sad or sick at heart I feel as though I should be made whole again could that evil thing be removed."

"Why not remove it?"

"It does not belong to me. I can do nothing with it. I am not sure that it belongs to any one—which adds to the spectral, you see—although I suppose there is somewhere a nameless heir. How restless you are!" he said, gently. "Will you come out in the long hall where the great window gives an unobstructed view of the thing, and walk off this nervousness? The storm is lifting, I think; the moon is going to overcome. One may see by the way the fire burns that the temperature is mounting. Perhaps we shall have a snow-slide as we walk."

Rhoda and Merivale were singing some of the songs they had learned since they came into the hill country, Mrs. Montresor was nodding behind her fan an accompaniment to Dr. Devens's remarks, Adele was deep in her novel, and a flirtation and some portfolios of prints occupied the rest. To refuse was only to attract attention; besides, I should like to walk. I rose and went out with him into the hall that shut off the wing from the great empty caravansary.

"'And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor,'"

I quoted as we walked; and despite the fire burning on either side, he had brought me a fur for my shoulders.

"Yes," he said, "there comes the moon at last. Now you shall see the black and white of it."

"Oh!" I cried, clasping my hands, as all the silvery lights and immense shadows burst out in a terrible sort of radiance. "The world began to be made here! Poets should be born here!"

"Instead of tavern-keepers," said he, "which brings me to my story. I am forty-three years old. Of course I was younger twenty-three years ago. That must have been not long before you came into the world yourself. Do you insist upon thinking twenty years' difference in age makes any disparity, except in the case of him who has lost just that twenty years' sweetness out of his life?"

"I hardly see what that has to do with the story of the Mount of Sorrow," I said, as we turned from the window to measure the length of the hall again.

"I hope," said he, "that the suffrage reform, which is to admit women to the ballot, will never let them sit on the judicial bench, for mercy is foreign to the heart of a woman."

"Is it not a strange way of telling a story?" I exclaimed.

"Patience!" he laughed. "The story is so short it needs a little preface. As I was saying then, when I was twenty years old or so, the name of old Raynier, of the Mount of Sorrow, was a by-word of terror through the region round, as the name of his father was, and his father before him. He had no other property than the sterile farm half-way up the mountain, and almost inaccessible—in winter entirely inaccessible—where he raised not half a support on the slips of earth among the ledges; his few starved sheep and goats did what they could for him, and his rifle did the rest. The first Raynier of them all was possibly an escaped convict, who fortified his retreat by these mountain-sides. He had no money; the women spun and wove all that was worn. He had no education; no Raynier had ever had; no Raynier had ever had occasion to sign his mark, let alone his name. There had been one son in each generation; neither church nor school ever saw him; his existence was scarcely known till he was ready to marry, and then he came down, and by no one knows what other magic than a savage force of nature took the prettiest girl of the valley to his eyrie—sometimes his wife, sometimes not. When she died, and she always died, the Raynier of the day replaced her. He did not always wait for her to die before replacing her. But sudden deaths were no uncommon thing in that house; there was a burial-ground scooped in the hill-side. And who was there to interfere? Perhaps no one knew there had been a death till the year was out. What if a woman went mad? That happened anywhere. People below might prate of murder, or suicide, or slow poison; there was nobody to whom it was vital enough to open the question seriously; and then they feared the Raynier with an uncanny fear, as people fear a catamount in the woods, or the goblin of old wives' tales after dark. There were horrible stories of bouts and brawls, of tortures, gags, whips, and—oh, no matter! Nor was all the crime on the shoulders of the Raynier men. It was understood that more than one woman of the name found life too intolerable to endure its conditions when the fumes of a charcoal fire after a drunken feast, or a quick thrust over the edge of a precipice, or a bit of weed in the broth, made life easier, till remorse brought madness. And finally, if any Raynier died what may be called a natural death, it was either from starvation or from delirium tremens. You see they were a precious lot."

"A precious lot!" I said, trembling. "Ah, what is heaven made of? Poor wretches, they could not help it. From generation to generation the children of such people must needs be criminal."

"I don't know. If removed from such influence. To my mind environment is strong as heredity, quite as strong. It destroys the old and creates the new. However, environment and heredity worked together up there. In my day—to continue—the Raynier family was larger than usual. The last wife still lived, a miserable cowed creature, white as ashes, face and hair and bleached scared eyes, eyes that looked as if they saw phantoms rather than people. Her mind was partially gone. I was a famous mountaineer then, and climbing wherever foot of man had been before, I once in a while came upon some or other of that family, and sometimes paused at the door, where I had first to teach the bloodhounds a lesson. I never entered the filthy place but once. There were two sons and a daughter. Oh, how immortally beautiful that girl was! Such velvet darkness in the eye, such statuesque lines, such rose-leaf color, such hair—'hair like the thistle-down tinted with gold,' as John Mills, the Scotch poet-player, sang. The old man Raynier worshipped her, perhaps as a wild beast loves its whelp. But he had all sorts of fanciful names for her, Heart's-ease and Heart's Delight, and Violet and Rose and Lily. He grew almost gentle when he spoke to her; and he never knew that she was feeble-minded. She just missed being an imbecile. Perhaps you would not have known that all at once; you might not have found it out at all only meeting her casually. The old man Raynier sent her down to school—the first that had ever been there: she could never learn to read. She could not always tell her name. Still, her mind was innocent—perhaps because it was a blank. I have sometimes thought that blank mind of hers may have been a dead-wall through which the vices of her forebears could not pass, and so her children, if she had them, may have escaped the inheritance, and found a chance for good again, as if crime should at last estop itself. That may be."

"Oh, I think this is terrible!" I said, as we turned again in our walk. "Make haste, please, and be through."

"Yes, it is. But I would show you that life can be anything but commonplace in this wilderness. Well, blank or not, she had a lover, who had found her out in his sketching rambles, a young painter from some distant parts, and the first boarder I ever had, by the way. And all the Rayniers swore they would have his life sooner than he should have her. One day I had been hunting on old Mount Sorrow, as it happened; there had been a sudden frost following rain that had frozen the water in the cracks of the cliffs, and made the way not only slippery, but dangerous; for in the heat of the noon sun the ice was melting, and every now and then its expansion was rending some fragment of rock so that your footing might vanish from beneath, or some shower of stones come rattling down from above; and I was tired when I reached the Raynier place, led by a blaze of maple boughs that started out like torches to show the way, and stopped to rest. I looked up at an enormous shelf of rock, half clad with reddened vines that fluttered like pestilence flags—a shelf that, although some hundred feet or so away from it, yet overhung the place and cast a perpetual shadow there. I wondered then why Nature had no secret springs of feeling to thrill her and cause her to rend the rocks and cover such a den of iniquity as we all held the spot to be. But Nature was just as fair that ambrosial September day as if there was not a dissonance. Perhaps she knew the right of the Rayniers to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A delicious scent of the balsam from the pines filled the air, the sunshine swept over the hills below in waves of light, and the hills themselves were like waves of a golden green and purple sea where now and then a rainbow swam and broke. Peace and perfectness, I said, peace and perfectness. These people live and are happy. On the other side one looked into the dreary defile of the mountain gate, with its black depths hung with cloud, and remembered that if there was not a hell, there ought to be. I was thinking this as I sat there, when I heard a wild cry, an agonized shriek, blood-curdling, repeated and repeated from within. It was the girl's voice. I was on my feet, and, in spite of the bloodhounds, making for the spot and among the crew. The old woman cowered in the corner, the two brothers held the girl, the old man towered over her, his great eyes blazing in his ashen face. I can't tell you what they were doing. Sometimes I have thought old Raynier was burning her with a hot iron he held—"

"Oh, horrible! horrible!"

"Burning her with a hot iron to make her give up her lover! Sometimes I have thought he was only demolishing the little likenesses of him and of herself, which that lover had painted, and which she cherished, perhaps as his work, perhaps for the unwonted gewgaw of the slender golden frame, for the one picture was already in fragments, and although she clutched half of the other, the broken half had fallen and rolled away. I have it somewhere. I will show it to you. I had no time, indeed, to see what it was they were doing, for behind me bounded that lover like a whirlwind, thrust one brother and the other aside, seized the girl, darted over the door-sill with her, and down the crags of the mountain path. He should have what help I could give. I was after him, stooping to catch up the fragment of painting as I turned, down the cliff's edge, they following. And all at once I stopped as if paralyzed to the marrow by a clap of thunder, and turned my head to see the old man with his white hair streaming, and his arms uplifted in his cursing, as he came leaping on, and the next moment the shelf of overhanging rock had fallen, had cleft the house in twain, and mother and father and sons and hounds were dust with the dust flying over the precipices. I saw it."

"Oh!" I cried, with my hands over my eyes. "Why did it not strike you blind?"

"And here," said Colonel Vorse, leading my steps to an old cabinet in an alcove, "ought to be the half of that little likeness I picked up as I ran. I wonder what became of the other half—what became of the girl—if the lover married her—if she knew enough to know he didn't marry her—if she lived long enough for him to find out she was a fool—if she was the last of the Rayniers?" As he ceased, he put the half of the little miniature into my hands.

It was a broken bit of ivory, and on it the upper part of a face, sketchily done, with pansy-dark eyes and blush rose skin—without a frame. I had the frame.

A heart beat, a fluttering breath, a reeling sense of the world staggering away from me, and then my bewildered senses were at work again, and an agony like death was cutting me to the heart as we resumed our walking.

Should I tell him? Should I go on with my secret, my inheritance, my curse, and let no man know? If it ate out my heart, the sooner to end; my heart was broken now. Never, never now could fireside shine for me, could lover's lips be mine, could little faces sun themselves in my smile.

We paused before the great window, with those vague white shapes before us, for my feet would not obey me, and the light behind us shone on the bit of ivory. If I told him, it would be easier for him to bear; he would see the impossibility, he would desire my love no longer. My fearful inheritance would yawn like a gulf between us with its impassable darkness.

"And the ruin on the hill-side is an eye-sore," I said. "But it is easy to remove it. I suppose it belongs to me. For—look here—it is I who must be the last of the Rayniers." And I drew from my breast the broken thing, the halved miniature, that in my mock sentiment I had worn so long.

"You!" cried he. "You!" And his feet tottered, and he leaned against the casement for support—he who an hour or so ago had seemed so full of repressed strength that he could have pulled his house down about his ears. Well, had he not done so?

I moved to his side, and held the thing that he might see where the pieces matched, the line of the cheek flowing into the lovely curve of the chin, the flickering sweetness of the lovely mouth, the lambent glance of the lovely eye. "It is my mother, you see," I said. "And it needs no words to say it."

"It needs no words to say it," he repeated, hoarsely. "It is your image. Oh, my God! What have I done! what have I done! My darling, my darling, you must let me repair it by a lifetime of devotion." And he had his arms about me, and was drawing me to his heaving breast, his throbbing heart.

"No! no! no!" I sobbed. "It is impossible. I am wrecked; I am ruined; I can be no man's wife. You see yourself—I will never—" But his lips were silencing mine, and I lay there with those arms about me a moment; I lay there like one in heaven suspended over hell.

"What do I care," he whispered, "for all the Rayniers in Christendom or out of it, but you? I have learned in this moment that you love me! I will never give you up."

"You must," I groaned.

"I tell you I never will," he said, his voice husky and low and trembling, but his eye and his grasp firm. "I have assured you that environment, education, art, can supplement nature and heredity. They have done so with you. You are your father's child. You received from your mother only the vital spark, only this beauty, this fatal beauty. If you inherited all that the Rayniers ever had, then I love, I love, I love all that the Rayniers ever were, for I love you. I have your love, Helena, and I will never let you go." While speaking he had touched the bell at his hand, and now he sent the answering servant for Dr. Devens, who came at once, supposing some sight of the snow was in store.

"Bid them all out here, Doctor," cried Colonel Vorse. "Ah, here they come! In this part of the country we need no license for marriage. Here are a bride and groom awaiting your blessing. Perform your office, sir." And before I could summon heart or voice, making no response, bewildered and faint, I was the wife of Colonel Vorse, and my husband's arms were supporting me as the words of the prayer and benediction rolled over us.

"There is no time like the present," he cried, gayly, his tones no longer broken, "as I have always found." And suddenly, before he ceased, and while they all thronged round me, there came a sharp strange sigh singing through the air, that grew into the wild discordant music of multitudinous echoes, and we all turned and sprang intuitively to see, rent in the moonlight and sheathed in the glorious spray of a thousand ice-falls, the Mount of Sorrow bow its head and come down, and, while the whole earth shook and smoked back in hoar vapors, the great snow-slide in its swift sheeting splendor flash and wipe out before our eyes the last timber of the hut and barn and byre of the Rayniers.



Lippincott's Magazine, December, 1878.

Monte Compatri is one of the eastern outlying peaks of the Alban Mountains, and, like so many Italian mountains, has its road climbing to and fro in long loops to a gray little city at the top. This city of Monte Compatri is a full and busy hive, with solid blocks of houses, and the narrowest of streets that break now and then into stairs. For those old builders respected the features of a landscape as though they had been the features of a face, and no more thought of levelling inequalities of land than of shaving down or raising up noses. When a man had a house-lot in a hollow, he built his house there, and made steps to go down to it: his neighbor, who owned a rocky knoll, built his house at the top, and made stairs to go up to it. Moreover, if the land was a bit in the city, the house was made in the shape of it, and was as likely to have corners in obtuse or acute as in right angles.

The inhabitants of Monte Compatri have two streets of which they are immensely proud—the Lungara, which wriggles through the middle of the town, and the Giro, which makes the entire circuit of the town, leaving outside only the rim of houses that rise from the edge of the mountain, some of them founded on the natural rock, others stretching roots of masonry far down into the earth.

One of these houses on the Giro had for generations been in the possession of the Guai family. One after another had held it at an easy rent from Prince Borghese, the owner of the town. The vineyard and orchard below in the Campagna they owned, and from those their wealth was derived. For it was wealth for such people to have a house full of furniture, linen and porcelain—where, perhaps, a connoisseur might have found some rare bits of old china—besides having a thousand scudi in bank.

In this position was the head of the family when he died, leaving a grown-up son and daughter, and his wife about to become a mother for the third time.

"Pepina shall have her portion in money, since she is to marry soon," the father said. "Give her three hundred scudi in gold and a hundred in pearls. The rest of the money shall be for my wife to do as she likes with. For the little one, when it shall come, Matteo shall put in the bank every year thirty scudi, and when it shall be of age, be it girl or boy, he shall divide the land equally with it."

So said Giovanni Guai, and died, and his wife let him talk uncontradicted, since it was for the last time. They had lived a stormy life, his heavy fist opposed to her indefatigable tongue, and she contemplated with silent triumph the prospect of being left in possession of the field. Besides, would he not see afterward what she did—see and be helpless to oppose? So she let him die fancying that he had disposed of his property.

"The child is sure to be a girl," she said afterward, "and I mean her to be a nun. The land shall not be cut up. Matteo shall be a rich man and pile up a fortune. He shall be the richest man in Monte Compatri, and a girl shall not stand in his way."

Nature verified the mother's prophecy and sent a little girl. Silvia they called her, and, since she was surely to be a nun, she grew to be called Sister Silvia by everybody, even before she was old enough to recognize her own name.

The house of the Guai, on its inner wall, opened on the comparatively quiet Giro. From the windows and door could be heard the buzz and hum of the Lungara, where everybody—men, women, children, cats and dogs—were out with every species of work and play when the sun began to decline. This was the part of the house most frequented and liked by the family. They could see their neighbors even when they were at work in their houses, and could exchange gossip and stir the polenta at the same time. The other side of the house they avoided. It was lonely and it was sunny. For Italians would have the sun, like the Lord, to be for ever knocking at the door and for ever shut out. It must shine upon their outer walls, but not by any means enter their windows.

As years passed, however, there grew to be one exception in this regard. Sister Silvia loved not the town with its busy streets, nor the front windows with their gossiping heads thrust out or in. She had her own chamber on the Campagna side, and there she sat the livelong day with knitting or sewing, never going out, except at early morning to hear mass. There her mother accompanied her—a large, self-satisfied woman beside a pallid little maiden who never raised her eyes. Or, if her mother could not go, Matteo stalked along by her side, and with his black looks made everybody afraid to glance her way. Nobody liked to encounter the two black eyes of Matteo Guai. It was understood that the knife in his belt was sharp, and that no scruple of conscience would stand between him and any vengeance he might choose to take for any affront he might choose to imagine.

After mass, then, and the little work her mother permitted the girl to do for health's sake, Silvia sat alone by her window and looked out on the splendor which her eyes alone could appreciate. There lay the Campagna rolling and waving for miles and miles around, till the Sabines, all rose and amethyst, hemmed it in with their exquisite wall, and the sea curved a gleaming sickle to cut off its flowery passage, or the nearer mountains stood guard, almost covered by the green spray it threw up their rocky sides. She sat and stared at Rome while her busy fingers knit—at the wonderful city where she was one day to go and be a nun, where the pope lived and kings came to worship him. In the morning light the Holy City lay in the midst of the Campagna like her mother's wedding-pearls when dropped in a heap on their green cushion; and Silvia knelt with her face that way and prayed for a soul as white, for she was to be the spouse of Christ, and her purity was all that she could bring Him as a dowry. But when evening came, and that other airy sea of fine golden mist flowed in from the west, and made a gorgeous blur of all things, then the city seemed to float upward from the earth and rise toward heaven all stirring with the wings of its guardian angels, and Silvia would beg that the New Jerusalem might not be assumed till she should have the happiness of being in it.

But there was a lovely view nearer than this visionary one, though the little nun seldom looked at it. If she should lean from her window she would see the mountain-side dropping from the gray walls of her home, with clinging flowery vines and trees growing downward, while the olives and grapevines of the Campagna came to meet them, setting here and there a precarious little garden half-way up the steep. Just under her window an almost perpendicular path came up, crept round the walls and entered the town. But no one ever used this road now, for a far wider and better one had been constructed at the other side of the mountain, and all the people came up that way when the day's work was over in the Campagna.

One summer afternoon Silvia's reveries were broken by her mother's voice calling her: "Silvia, come and prepare the salad for Matteo."

It was an extraordinary request, but the girl went at once without question. She seized upon every opportunity to practise obedience in preparation for that time when her life would be made up of obedience and prayer.

Her mother was sitting by one of the windows talking with Matteo, who had just come up from the Campagna. He had an unsocial habit of eating alone, and, as he ate nothing when down in the vineyard, always wanted his supper as soon as he came up. The table was set for him with snow-white cloth and napkin, silver knife, fork and spoon, a loaf of bread and a decanter of golden-sparkling wine icy cold from the grotto hewn in the rock beneath the house; and he was just eating his minestra of vegetables when his sister came in. At the other end of the long table was a head of crisp white lettuce, lying on a clean linen towel, and two bottles—one of white vinegar, the other of oil as sweet as cream and as bright as sunshine. Monte Compatri had no need to send to Lucca for oil of olives while its own orchards dropped such streams of pure richness.

The room was large and dingy. The brick floor had never known other cleansing than sprinkling and sweeping, the yellow-washed walls had become with time a pale, mottled brown, the paint had disappeared under a fixed dinginess which the dusting-brush alone could not remove, and the glass of the windows had never been washed except by the rain. Yet, for all that, the place had an air of cleanliness. For though these people do not clean their houses more than they clean their yards, yet their clothing and tables and beds are clean. Plentiful white linen, stockings like snow, and bright dishes and metals give a look of freshness and show well on the dim background. Heavy walnut presses, carved and black with age, stood against the walls, drinking-glasses and candlesticks sparkled on a dark bureau-top, there was a bright picture or two, and the sunlighted tinware of a house at the other side of the street threw a cluster of tiny rays like a bouquet of light in at the window. Silvia received these sun-blossoms on her head when she placed herself at the lower end of the table. She pushed the sleeves of her white sack back from her slim white arms, and began washing the lettuce-leaves in a bowl of fresh water and breaking them in the towel. The leaves broke with a fine snap and dropped in pieces as stiff as paper into a large dark-blue plate of old Japanese ware. A connoisseur in porcelain would have set such a plate on his drawing-room wall as a picture.

"How does Claudio work?" the mother asked of her son.

"He works well," Matteo replied. "He is worth two of our common fellows, if he is educated."

"Nevertheless, I should not have employed him," the mother said. "He has disobeyed and disappointed his parents, and he should be punished. They meant him to be a priest, and raked and scraped every soldo to educate him. Now, just when he is at the point of being able to repay them, he makes up his mind that he has no vocation for the priesthood, and breaks their hearts by his ingratitude. It is nonsense to set one's will up so and have such scruples. Obedience is vocation enough for anything. There should be a prison where parents could put the children who disobey them."

The Sora Guai spoke sternly, and looked as if she would not have hesitated to put a refractory child in the deepest of dungeons.

"He was a fool, but he earns his money," Matteo responded, and, drawing a plate of deliciously fried frogs toward him, began to gnaw them and throw the bones on the floor.

Silvia gave him the salad, and poured wine and water into the tumbler for him, while his mother went to the kitchen for a dish of fricasseed pigeons.

"There's no onion in the salad," Matteo grumbled when she came back.

Silvia uttered an exclamation of dismay, ran for a silvery-white little onion and sliced it thinly into the salad.

"Forgive me, Matteo," she said. "I was distracted by the thought of Claudio. It seems such a terrible thing."

"It would be a much more terrible thing if it were a girl who disobeyed," Matteo growled. He did not like that girls should criticise men.

"So it would," the girl responded, with meek readiness.

"I don't know why I feel so tired to-day," the mother said, sinking into a chair again. "My bones ache as if I had been working in the vineyard all day."

"You are not ill, mamma?" exclaimed Silvia, blushing with alarm.

The answer was a hesitating one: "I don't see what can ail me. It wouldn't be anything, only that I am so tired without having done much."

"Perhaps it's the weather, mamma," Silvia suggested.

Gentle as she was, she had adopted the ruthless and ungrateful Italian custom of ascribing every ache and pain of the body to some almost imperceptible change in their too beautiful weather. The smallest cloud goes laden with more accusations than it holds drops of rain, and the ill winds that blow nobody any good blow through those shining skies from morning till night and from night till morning again.

The Sora Guai was sicker than she dreamed. It was not the summer sun that scorched her so, nor the scirocco that made her head so heavy. What malaria she had found to breathe on the mountain-top it would be hard to say; but the dreaded perniciosa had caught her in its grasp, and she was doomed. The fever burned fiercely for a few days, and when it was quenched there was nothing left but ashes.

And thus died the only earthly thing to which Sister Silvia's heart clung. The mother had been stern, but the daughter was too submissive to need correction. She had never had any will of her own, except to love and obey. Collision between them was therefore impossible, and the daughter felt as a frail plant growing under a shadowing tree might feel if the tree were cut down. She was bare to every wind that blew. She had no companions of her own age—she had no companion of any age, in fact—and she had not been accustomed to think for herself in the smallest thing.

She had got bent into a certain shape, however, and her brother and sister felt quite safe on her account. Everybody knew that she was to be a nun of the Perpetual Adoration; that she was soon to go to the convent of Santa Maria Maddalena on the Quirinal in Rome; and that, once entered there, she would never again see a person from outside. The town's-people were accustomed to the wall of silence and seclusion which had already grown up about her, and they did not even seek to salute her when they met her going to and from church in the morning. To these simple citizens, ignorant but reverential, Sister Silvia's lowered eyelids were as inviolate as the pearl gates of the New Jerusalem. Besides, to help their reverence, there were the fierce black eyes and strange reputation of Matteo. So when, a day or two after her mother's death, his sister begged him to accompany her to church in the early morning, and leave her in the care of some decent woman there, Matteo replied that she might go by herself.

She set out for the first time alone on what had ever been to her a via sacra, and was now become a via dolorosa, where her tears dropped as she walked. And going so once, she went again. Pepina, the elder sister, a widow now, had come home to keep house for Matteo, but she was too much taken up with work, the care of her two children and looking out for a second husband to have time to watch Silvia, and after a few weeks the young girl went as unheeded as a matron in her daily walk.

At home her life was nearly the same. She mended the clothes from the washing and knit stockings, and sat at her window and looked off over the Campagna toward Rome.

One evening she sat there before going to bed and watched the moonlight turn all the earth to black and silver under the purple sky—a black like velvet, so deep and soft was it, and a silver like white fire, clear and splendid, yet beautifully soft. She was feeling desolate, and her tears dropped down, now and then breaking into sobs. It had been pleasant to sit there alone when she knew that her mother was below stairs, strong, healthy and gay. All that life had been as the oil over which her little flame burned. Lacking it, she grew dim, just as the floating wick in her little blue vase before the Madonna grew dim when the oil was gone.

As she wept and heard unconsciously the nightingales, she grew conscious of another song that mingled with theirs. It was a human voice, clear and sweet as an angel's, and it sang a melody she knew in little snatches that seemed to begin and end in a sigh. The voice came nearer and paused beneath a fig tree, and the words grew distinct.

"Pieta, signore, di me dolente," it sang.

Silvia leaned out of the window and looked down at the singer. His face was lifted to the white moonlight, and seemed in its pallid beauty a concentration of the moonlight. Only his face was visible, for the shadow of the tree hid all his figure. One might almost have expected to catch a glimmer of two motionless wings bearing up that face, so fair it was.

To Silvia it was as if another self, who grieved also, but who could speak, were uttering all her pain, and lightening it so. She recognized Claudio's voice. He was the chief singer in the cathedral, and sang like an angel. She was afraid that Claudio had done very wrong in not being a priest, but, for all that, she had often found her devotion increased by his singing. The Christmas night would not have been half so joyful lacking his Adeste Fideles; the Stabat Mater sung by him in Holy Week made her tears of religious sorrow burst forth afresh; and when on Easter morning he sang the Gloria it had seemed to her that the heavens were opening.

For all that, however, he had been to her not a person, but a voice. That he should come here and express her sorrow made him seem different. For the first time she looked at his face. By daylight it was thin and finely featured, and of a clear darkness like shaded water, through which the faintest tinge of color is visible. In this transfigurating moonlight it became of a luminous whiteness.

The song ended, the singer turned his head slightly and looked up at Silvia's window. She did not draw back. There was no recognition of any human sympathy with him, and no slightest consciousness of that airy and silent friendship which had long been weaving itself over the tops of the mountains that separated them. How could she know that Claudio had sung for her, and that it had been the measure of his success to see her head droop or lift as he sang of sorrow and pain or of joy and triumph? The choir had their post over the door; and, besides, she never glanced up even in going out. Therefore she gazed down into his uplifted face with a sweet and sorrowful tranquillity, her soul pure and candid to its uttermost depths.

For Claudio, who had sung to express his sympathy for her, but had not dreamed of seeing her, it was as if the dark-blue sky above had opened and an angel had looked out when he saw her face. He could only stretch his clasped hands toward her.

The gesture made her weep anew, for it was like human kindness. She hid her face in her handkerchief, and he saw her wipe the tears away again and again.

Claudio remembered a note he carried. It had been written the night before—not with any hope of her ever seeing it, but, as he had written her hundreds of notes before, pouring out his heart into them because it was too full to bear without that relief. He took the note out, but how should he give it to her? The window was too far above for him to toss so light a thing unless it should be weighted with a stone; and he could not throw a stone at Silvia's window. He held it up, and, that she might see it more clearly, tore up a handful of red poppies and laid it white on the blossoms that were a deep red by night.

Silvia understood, and after a moment's study dropped him down the ball of her knitting; and soon the note came swaying up through the still air resting on its cushion of poppies, for Claudio had wound the thread about both flowers and letter.

He smiled with an almost incredulous delight as he saw the package arrive safely at its destination, and caught afterward the faint red light of the lamp that Silvia had taken down from before her Madonna to read the note by. Since she was a little thing only five or six years old his heart had turned toward her, and her small white face had been to him the one star in a dim life. He still kept two or three tiny flowers she had given him years before when his family and hers were coming together down from Monte San Silvestro at the other side of Monte Compatri. The two children, with others, had stopped to stick fresh flowers through the wire screen before the great crucifix half-way up the mountain, and Silvia had given Claudio these blossoms. He had laid them away with his treasures and relics—the bit of muslin from the veil of Our Lady of Loretto, the almost invisible speck from the cord of St. Francis of Assisi and the little paper of the ashes of Blessed Joseph Labre. In those days he was the little priest and she the little nun, and their companions stood respectfully back for them. Now he was no more the priest, and she was up there in her window against the sky reading the note he had written her.

This is what the note said:

"My heart is breaking for your sorrow. Why should such eyes as yours be permitted to weep? Who is there to wipe those tears away? Oh that I might catch them as they fall! Drop me down a handkerchief that has been wet with them, that I may keep it as a relic. Tell me of some way in which I can console you and spend my life to serve you."

She read with a mingling of consolation and astonishment. Why, this was more than her mother cared for her! But perhaps men were really more strongly loving than women. It would seem so, since God, who knows all, when He wanted to express His love to mankind, took the form of a man, not of a woman. Then she considered whether, and how, she should answer this note, and the result of her considering was this, written hastily on a bit of paper in which some Agnus Dei had been wrapped:

"I do not know what I ought to write to you, but I thank you for your kindness. It comforts me, and I have need of comfort. I think, though, that it may be wrong for you to speak of my handkerchief as if it were a relic. Relics are things which have belonged to the saints, and I am not a saint at all, though I hope to become one. I frequently do wrong. Spend your life in serving God, and pray for me. You pray in singing, and your singing is very sweet.


It seemed to her a simple and merely polite note. To him it was as the spark to a magazine of powder. All the possibilities of his life, only half hoped or half dreamed of, burst at once into a flame of certainty. She had need of comfort, and he comforted her! His voice was sweet to her, and his singing was a prayer!

Silvia should not be a nun. She should break the bond imposed by her mother, as he had broken that imposed by his parents. She should be his wife, and they would live in Rome. He knew that his voice would find bread for them.

All this flashed through his mind as he read, and pressed to his lips the handkerchief which she had dropped down to him, though it was not a relic. He lifted his arms upward toward her window with a rapturous joy, as if to embrace her, but she did not look out again. A little scruple for having deprived the Madonna for a moment of her lamp had made her resolve to say at once a decade of the rosary in expiation. He waited till the sound of closing doors and wandering voices told that the inhabitants gathered for the evening in the Lungara were separating to their homes, then went reluctantly away. Matteo would be at home, and Matteo's face might look down at him from that other window beside Silvia's. So he also went home, with the moonlight between his feet and the ground and stars sparkling in his brain. He felt as if his head were the sky.

This was an August night. One day in October, Matteo told his sister that she was to go to Rome with him the next morning to pass a month with a family they knew there, and afterward begin her novitiate in the convent of the Sacramentarians at Monte Cavallo. He had received a letter from the Signora Fantini, who would receive her and do everything for her. He and Pepina had no time, now that the vintage had begun, to attend to such affairs, even if they knew how.

Silvia grew pale. She had not expected to go before the spring, and now all was arranged without a word being said to her, and she was to go without saying good-bye to any one.

Matteo's sharp eyes were watching her. "You will be ready to start at seven o'clock," he said; "I must be back to-morrow night."

"Yes, Matteo," she faltered, hesitated a moment, then ventured to add, "I did not expect to go to soon."

"And what of that?" he demanded roughly. "You were to go at the proper time, and the proper time is to-morrow."

She trembled, but ventured another word: "I should like to see my confessor first."

"He will come here this evening to see you," her brother replied: "I have already talked with him. You have nothing else to do. Pepina will pack your trunk while you are talking with the priest."

Silvia had no more to say. She was bound hand and foot. Besides, she was willing to go, she assured herself. It was her duty to obey her parents, or the ones who stood in their place and had authority over her. Matteo said she must go; therefore it was her duty to go, and she was willing.

But the willing girl looked very pale and walked about with a very feeble step, and it was hard work to keep the tears that were every moment rising to her eyes from falling over her cheeks. It was such a pitiful face, indeed, that Father Teodoli, when he came just before Ave Maria, asked if Silvia were ill.

"She has had a toothache," Matteo said quickly, and gave his sister a glance.

"And what have you done for it, my child?" the priest asked kindly.

"Nothing," Silvia faltered out.

"I will leave you to give Silvia all the advice she needs," Matteo said after the compliments of welcome were over. "I have to go down the Lungara for men to work in the vineyard to-morrow. Silvia, come and shut the door after me: there is too much draught here."

Silvia followed her brother to the door, trembling for what he might say or do. Well she knew that his command was given only that he might have a chance to speak with her alone.

"Mind what you say to your confessor," he whispered, grasping her arm and speaking in her ear. "You are to be a nun: you wish to be, and you are willing to set out to-morrow. Tell him no nonsense—do you hear?—or it will be worse for you. I shall know every word you say. If he asks if you had a toothache, say Yes. Do you hear?"

"Yes, Matteo."

She went back half fainting, and did as she had been commanded. If there had been any little lurking impulse to beg for another week or month, it died of fear. If she had any confession to make of other wishes than those chosen for her, she postponed it. Matteo might be behind the door listening, or in the next room or at the window. It seemed to her that he could make himself invisible in order to keep guard over her.

So the priest talked a little, learned nothing, gave some advice, recommended himself to her prayers, gave her his benediction, and went. Then Pepina called her to see the trunk all packed with linen that had been laid by for her for years, and Matteo, who had really been lurking about the house, told her to go to bed, and himself really went off this time to the Lungara. Pepina's lover came for her to sit out on the doorstep with him, and Silvia was left alone. Nobody cared for her. All had other interests, and they forgot her the moment she was out of their sight. Worse, even: they wanted her to be for ever out of their sight, that they might never have to think of her.

But no: there was one who did not forget her—who would perhaps now have heard that she was going away, and be waiting in the mountain-path for her. She hastened to her room, locked the door and went to the window. He made a gesture of haste, and she dropped the ball down to him. This was not the second time that their conversation had been held by means of a thread. Indeed, they had come to talk so every night. At first it had been a few words only, and Silvia's unconsciousness and her sincerity in her intention to follow her mother's will had imposed silence on the young man. But little by little he had ventured, and she had understood; and within the last week there had been no concealments between them, though Silvia still resisted all his prayers to change her resolution and brave her brother.

His first note was in her hands in a moment:

"Is it possible that what I hear is true? I will not believe it: I will not let you go."

"Yes, and I must go," she wrote back. "I have to start at seven in the morning. Dear Claudio, be resigned: there is no help for it."

"Silvia, why will you persist in ruining your life and mine? It is a sin. Say that you are too sick to go to-morrow. Stay in bed all day, and by night I will have a rope-ladder for you to come down to me. We can run away and hide somewhere."

"I cannot. We could never hide from Matteo: he would find us out and kill us both."

"I will go to the Holy Father and tell him all. We could be in Rome early in the morning if we should walk all night."

"Matteo would hear us: he hears everything. We should never reach Rome. He would find us wherever we might be hidden. If we were dead and buried he would pull us out of the ground to stab us. I must go. I have sinned in having so much intercourse with you. Be resigned, Claudio. Be a good man, and we shall meet in heaven. The earth is a terrible place: I am afraid of it. I want to shut myself up in the convent and be at peace. I fear so much that I tremble all the time. Say addio."

"I cannot. Will you stay in bed to-morrow, and let me try if I cannot go to Rome?"

"Say addio, Claudio. I dare not stay here any longer: I hear some one outside my door. I say addio to you now. I shall not drop the ball again."

She did not even draw it up again, for the thread caught on a nail in the wall and broke. And at the same time there was a knock at her door.

"Silvia, why do you not go to bed?" Matteo called out: "I hear you up."

"I am going now," she made haste to answer, and in her terror threw herself on the bed without undressing. She wondered if Matteo could hear her heart beat through the wall or see how she was shaking.

The next morning at seven o'clock Silvia and her brother took their seats in the clumsy coach that goes from Monte Compatri to Rome whenever there are passengers enough to fill it, and after confused leavetakings from all but the one she wished most to see they set out. Claudio was invisible. In fact, he had lain on the ground all night beneath her window, and now, hidden in a tree, was watching the winding road for an occasional glimpse of the carriage as it bore his love away.

The peasants of Italy, when they see the Milky Way stretching its wavering, cloudy path across the sky, shining as if made up of the footprints of innumerable saints, say that it is the road to Jerusalem. The road to the New Jerusalem has no such pallid and spiritual glory: its colors are those of life. No death but that of martyrdom, with its rosy blood, waving palm-branch and golden crown, is figured there. Life, and the joy of life, beauty so profuse that it can afford to have a few blemishes like a slatternly Venus, and the dolce far niente of poverty that neither works nor starves,—they lie all along the road.

Silvia was young, and had all her life looked forward to this journey. She could not be quite indifferent. She looked and listened, though all the time her heart was heavy for Claudio. They reached the gate of St. John Lateran just as all the bells began to ring for the noon Angelus, and in fifteen minutes were at the Signora Fantini's door and Silvia in the kind lady's arms. It seemed to the girl that she had found her mother again. That this lady was more gracious, graceful, kind and beautiful than her mother had ever been she would not think. She was simply another mother. And when Matteo had gone away home again, not too soon, and when, after a few days' sightseeing, the signora, suspecting that the continued sadness of her young guest had some other cause than separation from her brother and sister, sought persistently and artfully to win her secret, Silvia told her all with many tears. She was going to be a nun because her mother had said that she must—and she was willing to be a nun—certainly she was willing. But, for all that, if it could have been so, she would have been so happy with Claudio, and she never should be quite happy without him.

"Then you must not be a nun," the signora said decidedly. "The thing is all wrong. You have no vocation. You should have said all this before."

For already the signora had taken Silvia to see the Superior at Monte Cavallo, who had promised to receive the young novice in three weeks, and had told her what work she could perform in the convent. "You are not strong, I think," she had said, "but you can knit the stockings. All have to work."

And Monsignor Catinari, whose business it was to examine all candidates for the conventual life, had held a long conversation with her and gone away perfectly satisfied.

But when the signora proposed to undo all this, Silvia was wild with terror. No, no, she would be a nun. Her mother had said so, she wished it, and Matteo would kill her if she should refuse.

"Leave it all to me," the signora said, and laid her motherly hand on the trembling little ones held out to her in entreaty. "We will look out for that. Matteo shall not hurt you or Claudio. I am going to send for Monsignor Catinari again, and you must tell him the truth this time. And then we will see what can be done in the case. Don't look so terrified, child. Do you think that Matteo rules the world?"

Poor little Silvia could not be reassured, for to her other terrors was now added Monsignor Catinari's possible wrath. To her, men were objects of terror. The doctrine of masculine supremacy, so pitilessly upheld in Italy, was exaggerated to her mind by her brother's character; and though she believed that help was sometimes possible, she also believed that it often came too late, as in the case of poor Beatrice Cenci. They might stand between her and Matteo, but if he had first killed her, what good would it do? She had a fixed idea that he would kill her.

Monsignor Catinari was indeed much provoked when the signora told him the true story of the little novice.

"Just see what creatures girls are!" he exclaimed. "How are we to know if they have a vocation or not? That girl professed herself both willing and desirous to be a nun."

He did not scold Silvia, however. When he saw her pretty frightened face his heart relented. "You have told me a good many lies, my child," he said, "but I forgive you, since they were not intended in malice. We will say no more about it. I learn from the signora that this Claudio is a good young man, so the sooner you are married the better. Cheer up: we will have you a bride by the first week of November; and if Claudio has such a wonderful voice, he can make his way in Rome." The reassurances of a man were more effectual than those of a woman.

"At last I believe! at last I fear no more!" Silvia cried, throwing herself into the arms of the Signora Fantini when the Monsignor was gone. "Oh how beautiful the earth is! how beautiful life is!"

"We will then begin immediately to enjoy life," the signora replied. "Collation is ready, and Nanna has bought us some of the most delicious grapes. See how large and rich they are! One could almost slice them. There! these black figs are like honey. Try one now, before your soup. The macaroni that will be brought in presently was made in the house—none of your Naples stuff, made nobody knows how or by whom. What else Nanna has for us I cannot say. She was very secret this morning, and I suspect that means rice-balls seasoned with mushrooms and hashed giblets of turkey. She always becomes mysterious when those are in preparation. Eat well, child, and get a little flesh and color before Claudio comes."

They made a merry breakfast, with the noon sun sending its golden arrows through every tiniest chink of the closed shutters and an almost summer heat reigning without. Then there was an hour of sleep, then a drive to the Pincio to see all the notable people who came up there to look at or speak to each other while the sun sank behind St. Peter's. And in the evening after dinner they went to the housetop to see the fireworks which were being displayed for some festa or other; and later there was music, and then to bed.

Life became an enchantment to the little bride-elect, as life in Italy will become to any one who has not too heavy a cross to bear. For peace in this beautiful land means delight, not merely the absence of pain. How the sun shone! and how the fountains danced! What roses bloomed everywhere! what fruits of Eden were everywhere piled! How soft the speech was! and how sweet the smiles! And when it was discovered that Silvia had a beautiful voice, so that she and Claudio would be like a pair of birds together, then it seemed to her that a nest of twigs on a tree-branch would be all that she could desire.

They took her to see the pope on one of those days. It was as if they had taken her to heaven. To her he was the soul of Rome, the reason why Rome was; and when she saw his white figure against the scarlet background of cardinals she remembered how Rome looked against the rosy Campagna at sunset from her far-away window in Monte Compatri.

"A little sposa, is she?" the pope said when Monsignor Catinari presented her.—"I bless you, my child: wear this in memory of me." He gave her a little gold medal from a tiny pocket at his side, laid his hand on her head, and passed on. It was too much: she had to weep for joy.

Then, when the audience was over, they took her through the museum and library, and some one gave her a bunch of roses out of the pope's private garden, and she was put into a carriage and driven home, her heart beating somewhere in her head, her feet winged and her eyes dazzled.

There was a rapturous letter from Claudio awaiting her, and by that she knew that it was not all a dream. She rattled the paper in her hands as she sat with her eyes shut, half dreaming, to make sure and keep sure that she was not to wake up presently to bitterness. Claudio would come to Rome in a week, and perhaps they would be married before he should go back. There was no letter from Matteo. So much the better.

One golden day succeeded another, and Silvia changed from a lily to a rose with marvellous rapidity. She was not a ruddy, full-leaved rose, though, but like one of those delicate ones with clouds of red on them and petals that only touch the calyx, as if they were wings and must be free to move. She was slim and frail, and her color wavered, and her head had a little droop, and her voice was low. She had always been the stillest creature alive; and now, full of happiness as she was, her feelings showed themselves in an uneasy stirring, like that of a flower in which a bee has hidden itself. After the first outburst she did not so much say that she was happy as breathe and look it.

One noonday, when life seemed too beautiful to last, and they all sat together after breakfast, the signora, her daughter and Silvia, too contented to say a word, the door opened, and Matteo Guai came in with a black, smileless face, and not the slightest salutation for his sister. He had come to take Silvia home, he replied briefly to the signora's compliments. She must be ready in an hour. The vintage was suffering by his absence, and it was necessary that he should return at once.

Signora Fantini poured out the most voluble exclamations, prayers and protests. She had forty engagements for Silvia. They had had only a few days' visit from her, and she was to have stayed a month. They would themselves accompany her to Monte Compatri later if it was necessary that she should go. But, in fine, Monsignor Catinari did not expect her to return.

"I am the head of the family, and my sister has to obey me till she is married," Matteo replied doggedly. "I suppose that Monsignor Catinari will not deny that. The Church always supports the authority of the master of the family."

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