"Santo Dio!" cried Francesca, "all this for a letter?"
"Never mind, godmother," said Roma. "Give the money to the good man and let him go."
"It's from Mr. Rossi, isn't it? Yes? I thought it was. You've only to say three Ave Marias when you wake in the morning and you get anything you want. I knew the Signora was dying for a letter, so...."
"Yes, yes, but the poor man is waiting, and I must get on with my work, and...."
"Work? Ah, Signora, in paradise you won't have to waste your time working. A lady like you will have violins and celestial bread and...."
"The man will be gone, godmother," said Roma, hustling the deaf old woman out of the room.
But even when Roma was alone she could not at first find courage to open the envelope. There was a certain physical thrill in handling it, in turning it over, and in looking at the stamps and the postmark. The stamps were French and the postmark was of Paris. That fact brought a vague gleam of joy. Rossi had been travelling, and perhaps he had not yet received her letter.
With a trembling kiss and a little choking prayer she broke the seal at last, and as the letter came rustling out of the envelope she glanced at the closing lines:
"Your Faithful Husband."
She caught her breath and waited a moment, tingling all over. Then she unfolded the paper and read:—
"DEAREST,—A telegram from Rome, published in the Paris newspapers this morning, reports the trial and death of Bruno. To say that I am shocked is to say little. I am shaken to my foundations. My heart is bursting and my hand can with difficulty hold the pen.
"The news first reached me last evening, when I was in a restaurant with a group of journalists. We were at dinner, but I was compelled to rise and return to my lodgings. I must have been almost in delirium the whole night long. More than once I started from my sleep with the certainty that I heard Bruno's voice calling to me. Once I went to the window and looked out into the silent street. And yet I knew all the time that my poor friend lay dead in prison.
"Poor Bruno! I do not hold with suicide under any circumstances. A man's life does not belong to himself. Each of us is a soldier, and no sentinel ought to kill himself at his post. Who knows what the next turn of the battle will be? It is our duty to the General to see the fight out. But when the sentinel dies rather than pass a false watchword, suicide is sacrifice, death is victory, and God takes His martyr under the wings of His mercy.
"The poor fellow died believing I had been false to him! I knew him for eight years, and during that time he was more faithful to me than my shadow. He was the bravest, staunchest friend man ever had. And now he has left me, thinking I have wronged him at the last. Oh, my brother, do you not know the truth at last? In the world to which you are gone, does no heavenly voice tell you? Does not death reveal everything? Can you not look down and see all, tearing away the veil that clouded your vision here below? Is it only vouchsafed to him who remains on earth to know that he was true to the love you bore him? God forbid it! It cannot, cannot be.
"Dearest, I came to Paris unexpectedly ten days ago...."
Roma lifted her swimming eyes. "Then he hasn't received it," she thought.
"Called in haste, not only to organise our Italian people for the new crusade, but to compose by a general principle the many groups of Frenchmen who, under different names, have the same aspirations—Marxists, Possibilists, Boulangists, Guesdists, and Central Revolutionists, with their varying propaganda, co-operative, trade-unionist, anti-semite, national, and I know not what—I had almost despaired of any union of interests so pitifully subdivided when the news of Bruno's death came like a trumpet-blast, and the walls of the social Jericho fell before it. Everybody feels that the moment of action has arrived, and what I thought would be an Italian movement is likely to become an international one. A great outrage on the spirit of Justice breaks down all barriers of race and nationality.
"God guide us now. What did our Master say? 'The dagger of the conspirator is never so terrible as when sharpened on the tombstone of a martyr.' With all the heat of my own blood I tremble when I think what may be the effect of these tyrannies. Of course the ruling classes at home will wash their hands of this affair. When a Minister wants to play Macbeth he has no lack of grooms to dabble with Duncan's blood. But the people will make no nice distinctions. I wouldn't give two straws for the life of the King when this crime has touched the conscience of the people. He didn't do it? No, he does nothing, but he stands for all. Anarchists did not invent regicide. It has been used in all ages by people who think the spirit of Justice violated. And the names of some who practised it are written on marble monuments in letters of gold."
Roma began to tremble. Had the Pope been right after all? Was it really revolution and regicide which Rossi contemplated?
"Dearest, don't think that because I am so moved by all this that other and dearer things are not with me always. Never a day or an hour passes but my heart speaks to you as if you could answer. I have been anxious at not hearing from you for ten days, although I left my Paris address in London for your letters to be sent on. Sometimes I think my enemies may be tormenting you, and then I blame myself for not bringing you with me, in spite of every disadvantage. Sometimes I think you may be ill, and then I have an impulse to take the first train and fly back to Rome. I know I cannot be with you always, but this absence is cruel. Happily it will soon be over, and we shall see an end of all sadness. Don't suffer for me. Don't let my cares distress you. Whatever happens, nothing can divide us, because love has united our hearts for ever.
"That's why I'm sure of you, Roma, sure of your love and sure of your loyalty. Otherwise how could I stay an hour longer after this awful event, tortured by the fear of a double martyrdom—the martyrdom of myself and of the one who is dearest to me in the world?
"The spring is coming to take me home to you, darling. Don't you smell the violets? Adieu! "YOUR FAITHFUL HUSBAND."
Roma slept little that night. Joy, relief, disappointment, but, above all, fear for Rossi, apprehension about his plans, and overpowering dread of the consequences kept her awake for hours. Early next day a man in a blue uniform brought a letter from the Braschi Palace. It ran:—
"DEAR ROMA,—I must ask you to come across to my office this morning, and as soon as convenient. You will not hesitate to do so when I tell you that by this friendly message I am saving you the humiliation of a summons from the police. Yours, as always, affectionately, BONELLI."
The Minister of the Interior sat in his cabinet before a table covered with blue-books and the square sheets of his "projects of law," and the Commendatore Angelelli, with his usual extravagant politeness, was standing and bowing by his side.
"And what is this about proclamations issued by Rossi?" said the Baron, fixing his eye-glasses and looking up.
"We have traced the printer who published them," said Angelelli. "After he was arrested he gave the name of the person who paid him and provided the copy."
The Baron bowed without speaking.
"It was a certain lady, Excellency," said Angelelli in his thin voice, "so we thought it well to wait for your instructions."
"You did right, Commendatore. Leave that part of the matter to me. And Rossi himself—he is still in England?"
"In France, your Excellency, but we have letters from both London and Paris detailing all his movements."
"The Chief Commissioner writes that during his stay in London Rossi lodged in Soho, and received visits from nearly all the representatives of revolutionary parties. Apparently he united many conflicting forces, and not only the Democratic Federations and the Socialist and Labour Leagues, but also the Radical organisations and various religious guilds and unions gathered about him."
The Baron made a gesture of impatience. "It's a case of birds of a feather. London has always been the central home of anarchy under various big surnames. What does the Commissioner understand to be Rossi's plan?"
"Rossi's plan, the Commissioner thinks, is to send back the Italian exiles, and to disperse them, with money and literature gathered abroad, among the excited millions at home."
"Wonderful!" said the Baron.
Angelelli laughed his thin laugh, like a hen cackling over its nest. Then he said:
"But the Prefect of Paris has formed a more serious opinion, your Excellency."
"What is it?"
"That Rossi is conspiring to assassinate the King."
The Baron blinked the glasses from his nose and sat upright.
"Apparently he was having less success in Paris, where the moral plea has been overdone, when reports of the Rocco incident...."
"A most unlucky affair, Commendatore."
"Meeting at cafes in order to avoid the control of the police ... In short, although he has no exact information, the Prefect warns us to keep double guard over the person of his Majesty."
The Baron rose and perambulated the hearthrug. "A pretty century, truly, for fools who pass for wise men, and for weaklings who threaten when the distance is great enough!... Commendatore, have you mentioned this matter to anybody else?"
"To nobody whatever, Excellency."
"Then think no more about it. It's nothing. The public mind must not be alarmed. Tighten the cord about our man in Paris. Adieu!"
The Baron's next visitor was the Prefect of the Province, who looked more solemn and soldierly than ever.
"Senator," said the Baron, "I sent for you to say that the Council has determined to put an end to the state of siege."
The Prefect bowed again severely.
"The insurrection has been suppressed, the city is quiet, and the severities of military rule begin to oppress the people."
The Prefect bowed again and assented.
"The Council has also resolved, dear Senator, that the country shall celebrate the anniversary of the King's accession with general rejoicings."
"Excellent idea, sir," said the Prefect. "To wipe out the depression of the late unhappy times by a public festival is excellent policy. But the time is short."
"Very short. The anniversary falls on Easter Monday. That is to say, a week from to-day. You will therefore take the matter in hand immediately and push it on without further delay. The details we will discuss later, and arrange all programmes of presentations and processions. Meantime I have written a proclamation announcing the event. Here it is. You can take it with you."
"The King will also sign a decree of amnesty to all the authors and accomplices of the late acts and attempts at rebellion who were not the organising and directing minds. That is also written. Here it is. But his Majesty has not yet signed it."
The Prefect took a second paper from the Baron's hand, glanced his eyes over it, and read certain passages. "'Seeing that on a day of public rejoicing we could not restrain an emotion of grief ... turning a pitying eye upon the inexperienced youths drawn into a vortex of political disorder ... we therefore decree and command the following acts of sovereign clemency....' May I expect to receive this in the course of the day, your Excellency?"
"Yes. And now for your own part of the enterprise, dear Senator. You will order all mayors of towns to assemble in Rome to complete the preparations. You will arrange a procession to the Quirinal, when the people will call the King on to the balcony and sing the National Hymn. You will order banners to be made bearing suitable watchwords, such as 'Long live the King,' 'May he govern as well as reign,' 'Long live the Crown,' the 'Flag,' and (perhaps) the 'Army.' You will oppose these generating ideas to 'Atheism' and 'Anarchy.' The essential point is that the people must be caused by festivals, songs, bands of music, and processions to think of the throne as their bulwark and the King as their saviour, and to take advantage of every opportunity to attest their gratitude to both. You follow me?"
"Then lose no time, Senator.... One moment."
The Prefect had risen and reached the door.
"If you can double the King's guard and change the company every day until the festival is over...."
"Easily, your Excellency. But wait; the Vatican Chief of Police has asked for help on Holy Thursday."
"Give it him. Let the timid old man of the Sacred College have no excuse for saying we take more care of the King than of the Pope."
The Minister of Justice was the next of the Baron's visitors. He was a short man with a smiling and rubicund face, and he wore yellow kid gloves.
"All goes well and wisdom is justified of her children," said the Baron, rising again and promenading the hearthrug. "The national sentiment, dear colleague, is a sword, and either we must use it on behalf of the Government and the King, or stand by and see it used by the hostile factions."
"Men like Rossi are not slow to use it, sir," said the little Minister.
"Tut! It's not Rossi I'm thinking of now. It's the Church, the clergy, rich in money and in the faith of the populace. That's why I wanted to do something as set-off against those mourning demonstrations which the Pope has appointed."
"Yes, the old gentleman of the Vatican knows the instincts and cravings of our people, doesn't he, sir? He knows they like a show, and the seasoning of their pleasures with a little religion."
"It's the rustiest old weapon in the Pope's arsenal, dear colleague, but it may serve unless we do something. If the people can be persuaded that the Pope is their one friend in adversity, there couldn't be a better feather in the Papal cap. Happily our people love to sing and to dance as well as to weep and to pray. So we needn't throw up the sponge yet."
Both laughed, and the little Minister said, "Besides, it is so easy to change religious processions into political ones. And then the Vatican is always intriguing with the powers of rebellion and preaching obedience to the Pope alone."
The creaking of the Baron's patent-leather boots stopped, and he drew up before his colleague.
"Watch that sharply," he said, "and if you see any sign on the part of the Vatican of intriguing with men like Rossi, any complicity with conspiracy, or any knowledge of plots pointing to revolution and regicide, let the Council hear of it immediately."
The Baron's face had suddenly whitened with passion, and his little colleague looked at him in alarm. A secretary entered the room and handed the Baron a card. The Baron fixed his eye-glasses and read: "MONSIGNOR MARIO, Cameriere Segreto Partecipante di Sua Santita Pio X. Vaticano."
"St. Anthony! Talk of the angels...." muttered the little Minister.
"Will you perhaps...."
"Certainly," said the Minister, and he left the room.
"Show the Monsignor in," said the Baron.
The Monsignor was young, tall, slight, almost fragile, and had thin black hair and large spiritual eyes. As he entered in the long black overcoat, which covered his cassock, he bowed and looked slowly round the room. His subdued expression was that of a sheep going through a gate where the dogs may be, and his manner suggested that he would fly at the first alarm.
The Baron looked over his eye-glasses and measured his man in a moment. "Pray sit," he said, and at the next moment the young Monsignor and the Baron were seated at opposite sides of the table.
"I am sent to you by a venerable and illustrious personage...."
"Let us say the Pope," said the Baron.
The young Monsignor bowed and continued, "to offer on his behalf a word of counsel and of warning."
"It is an unusual and distinguished honour," said the Baron.
"I am instructed to inform you that the Holy Father has reason to believe a further and more serious insurrection is preparing, and to warn you to take the necessary steps to secure public order and to prevent bloodshed."
The Baron did not move a muscle. "If the Holy Father has special knowledge of a plot that is impending...."
"Not special, only general, but sufficient to enable him to tell you to hold yourself in readiness."
"How long has the Holy Father been aware of this?"
"Not long. In fact, only since yesterday morning," said the Monsignor, and fearing he had said too much he added, "I only mention this to show you that the Holy Father has lost no time."
"But if the Holy Father knows that a conspiracy is afoot, he can no doubt help us to further information."
The Monsignor shook his head.
"You mean that he will not do so?"
"Am I, then, to understand that the information with which his Holiness honours me came to him secretly?"
"Yes, sir, secretly, and it is, therefore, not open to further explanation."
"So it reached him by the medium of the confessional?"
The Monsignor rose from his seat. "Your Excellency cannot be in earnest."
"You mean that it did not reach him by the medium of the confessional?"
"Then he is able to tell me everything, if he will?"
The Monsignor became agitated. "The Holy Father's information came through a channel that is assimilated to the confessional, and is almost as sacred and inviolate."
"But obedience to the Pope obliterates from all other responsibility. His Holiness has only to say 'Speak,' and his faithful child must obey."
The Monsignor became confused. "His informant is not even a Catholic, and he has, therefore, no right to command her."
"So it is a woman," said the Baron, and the young ecclesiastic dropped his head.
"It is a woman and a non-Catholic, and she visited the Holy Father at the Vatican yesterday morning; is that so?"
"I do not assert it, sir, and I do not deny it."
The Baron did not speak for a moment, but he looked steadily over his eye-glasses at the flushed young face before him. Then he said in a quiet tone:
"Monsignor, the relations of the Pope and the Government are delicate, and if anything occurred to carry the disagreement further it might result in a serious fratricidal struggle."
The Monsignor was trying to regain his self-possession, and he remained silent.
"But whatever those relations, it cannot be the wish of the Holy Father to cover with his mantle the upsetters of order who are cutting at the roots of the Church as well as the State."
"Therefore I am here now, sir, thus early and thus openly," said the Monsignor.
"Monsignor," said the Baron, "if anything should occur to—for example—the person of the King, it cannot be the wish of his Holiness that anybody—myself, for instance—should be in a position to say to Parliament and to the Governments of Europe, 'The Pope knew everything beforehand, and therefore, not having revealed the particulars of the plot, the venerable Father of the Vatican is an accomplice of murderers.'"
The young ecclesiastic lost himself utterly. "The Pope," he said, "knows nothing more than I have told you."
"Yes, Monsignor, the Pope knows one thing more. He knows who was his informant and authority. It is necessary that the Government should know that also, in order that it may judge for itself of the nature of the conspiracy and the source from which it may be expected."
The Monsignor was quivering like a limed bird. "I have delivered my message, and have only to add that in sending me here his Holiness desired to prevent crime, not to help you to apprehend criminals."
The Baron's eye-glasses dropped from his nose, and he spoke sharply and incisively. "The Government must at least know who the lady was who visited his Holiness at the Vatican yesterday morning, and led him to believe that a serious insurrection was impending."
"That your Excellency never will, or can, or shall know."
The Monsignor was bowing himself out of the room when the Baron's secretary opened the door and announced another visitor.
"Donna Roma, your Excellency."
The Monsignor betrayed fresh agitation, and tried to go.
"Bring her in," said the Baron. "One moment, Monsignor."
"I have said all I am authorised to say, sir, and I feel warned that I must say no more."
"Don't say that, Monsignor.... Ah, Donna Roma!"
Roma, who had entered the room, replied with reserve and dignity.
"Allow me, Donna Roma, to present Monsignor Mario of the Vatican," said the Baron.
"It is unnecessary," said Roma. "I met the Monsignor yesterday morning."
The young ecclesiastic was overwhelmed with confusion.
"My respectful reverence to his Holiness," said the Baron, smiling, "and pray tell him that the Government will do its duty to the country and to the civilised world, and count on the support of the Pope."
Monsignor Mario left the room without a word.
The Baron pushed out an easy-chair for Roma and twisted his own to face it.
"How are you, my child?"
"One lives," said Roma, with a sigh.
"What is the matter, my dear? You are ill and unhappy."
She eluded the question and said, "You sent for me—what do you wish to say?"
He told her the printer of certain seditious proclamations had been arrested, and in the judicial inquiry preparatory to his trial he had mentioned the name of the person who had employed and paid him.
"You cannot but be aware, my dear, that you have rendered yourself liable to prosecution, and that nothing—nothing whatever—could have saved you from public exposure but the good offices of a powerful friend."
Roma drew her lips tightly together and made no answer.
"But what a situation for a Minister! To find himself ruled by his feelings for a friend, and thus weakened in the eyes of his servants, who ought to have no possible hold on him."
Roma's gloomy face began to be compressed with scorn.
"You have perhaps not realised the full measure of the indignity that might have befallen you. For instance—a cruel necessity—the police would have been making a domiciliary visitation in your apartment at this moment."
Roma made a faint, involuntary cry, and half rose from her seat.
"Your letters and most secret papers would by this time be exposed to the eyes of the police.... No, no, my child; calm yourself, be seated; thanks to my intervention, this will not occur."
Roma looked at him, and found him more repulsive to her at that moment than he had ever been before. Even his daintiness repelled her—the modified perfume about his clothes, his waxed moustache, his rounded finger-nails, and all the other refinements of the man who loves himself and sets out to please the senses of women.
"You will allow, my dear, that I have had sufficient to humiliate me without this further experience. A ward who persistently disregards the laws of propriety and exposes herself to criticism in the most ordinary acts of life was surely a sufficient trial. But that was not enough. Almost as soon as you have passed out of my legal control you join with those who are talking and conspiring against me."
Roma continued to sit with a gloomy and defiant face.
"How am I to defend myself against the humiliations you put upon me in your own mind? You give me no chance to defend myself. I cannot know what others have told you. I know no more than you repeat to me, and that is nothing at all."
Roma was biting her compressed lips and breathing audibly.
"How am I to defend myself against the humiliations I suffer in the minds of the public? There is only one way, and that is to allow it to be believed that, in spite of all appearances, you are still playing a part, that you are going to all lengths to punish the enemy who traduced you and publicly degraded you."
Roma tried to laugh, but the laugh was broken in her throat by a rising sob.
"I have only to whisper that, dear friend, and society, at all events, will credit it. Already it knows the very minute details of your life, and it will believe that when you threw away every shred of propriety and went to live in that man's apartment, it was only in order to play the old part—shall I say the Scriptural part?—of possessing yourself of the inmost secrets of his soul."
The clear, sharp whisper in which the Baron spoke his last words cut Roma like a knife. She threw up her head with scorn.
"Let it believe what it likes," she said. "If society cares to think that I have allowed my life to be turned upside down for the sake of hatred, let it do so."
The Baron's secretary interrupted by opening the door.
"Nazzareno, Excellency," said the secretary.
"Ah! Let him come in," said the Baron. "You remember Nazzareno, Roma? My steward at Albano?"
An elderly man with a bronzed face and shaggy eyebrows, bringing an odour of the fields and the farmyard, was ushered into the room.
"Come in, Nazzareno! You've not forgotten Donna Roma? You planted a rosebush on her first Roman birthday, you remember. It's a great tree by this time, perhaps."
"It is, Excellency," said the steward, bowing and smiling, "and nearly as full of bloom as the Signorina herself."
"Well, what news from Albano?"
The steward told a long story of operations on the estates—planting birch in the top fields, and eucalyptus in the low meadow, fencing, draining, and sowing.
"And ... and the Baroness?" said the Baron, turning over some papers.
"Ah! her Excellency is worse," said the old man. "The nurse and the doctor thought you had better be told exactly, and that is the object of my errand."
"Yes?" The papers rustled in the Baron's fingers as he shuffled and sorted them.
The steward told another long story. Her Excellency was weaker, or she would be quite ungovernable. And so changed! When he was called in yesterday she was so much altered that he would not have known her. It was a question of days, and all the servants were saying prayers to Mary Magdalene.
"Have some dinner downstairs before you return, Nazzareno," said the Baron. "And when you see the doctor this evening, say I'll come out some time this week if I can. Good-morning!"
The repulsion the Baron had inspired in Roma deepened to loathing when he began to speak affectionately the moment the door had closed on the steward.
"Look at this, dearest. It's from his Majesty."
She did not look at the letter he put before her, so he told her what it contained. It offered him the Collar of the Annunziata, the highest order in Italy, making him a cousin to the King.
She could not contain herself any longer. "I want to tell you something," she said, "so that you may know once for all that it is useless to waste further thought on me."
He looked at her with an indulgent smile.
"I am married to Mr. Rossi," she said.
"But that is impossible. There was no time."
"We were married religiously, in the parish church, on the morning he left Rome."
The indulgent smile gave way to a sarcastic one.
"Then why did he leave you behind? If he thought that was a good marriage, why didn't he take you with him? But perhaps he had his own reason, and the denunciation of the poor man in prison was not so far amiss."
"That was an official lie, a cowardly lie," said Roma, and her eyes burned with anger.
"Was it? Perhaps it was. But I have just heard something else about Mr. Rossi that is undoubtedly true. I have heard from the Prefect of Paris that he is organising a conspiracy for the assassination of the King."
A look of fear which she could not restrain crossed Roma's face.
"More than that, and stranger than that, I have just heard also that the Pope has some knowledge of the plot."
Roma felt terror seizing her, and she said in a constrained voice, "Why? What has the Pope told you?"
"Only that an insurrection is impending. It seems that his informant is a woman.... Who can she be, I wonder?"
The Baron was fixing his eyes on her and she tried to elude his gaze.
"Whoever she is she must know more," he said in a severe voice, "and whatever it is she must reveal it."
Roma got up, looking very pale, and feeling very feeble. When she reached the door the Baron was smiling and holding out his hand.
"Will you not shake hands with me?" he said.
"What is the use?" she answered. "When people shake hands it means that they wish each other well. You do not wish me well. You are trying to force me to betray my husband.... But I'll die first," she said, and then turned and fled.
When Roma was gone the Baron wrote a letter to the Pope:
"YOUR HOLINESS,—Providential accident, as your chamberlain would tell you, has enabled his Majesty's Government to judge for itself of that source of your Holiness's information which your Holiness very properly refused to reveal. At the same time official channels have disclosed to his Majesty's Government the nature of the conspiracy of which your Holiness so patriotically forewarned them. This conspiracy appears to be no less serious than an attempt to assassinate the King, but as detailed knowledge of so vile a plot is necessary in order to save the life of our august sovereign, his Majesty's Government asks you to grant the Prime Minister the honour of an audience with your Holiness in the cause of order and public security. Hoping to hear of your Holiness's convenience, and trusting that your Holiness will not disappoint the hopes of those who are dreaming even yet of a reconciliation of Church and State, I am, with all reverence, your Holiness's faithful son and servant, BONELLI."
Roma went home full of uncertainty, and wrote in a nervous and straggling hand a hasty letter to Rossi.
"My dearest," she said, "your letter reached me safely last evening, and though I cannot answer it properly at the present moment, I must send a brief reply by mid-day's mail, because there are two or three things it is imperative I should say immediately.
"The first is that I wrote you a very important letter to London twelve days ago, and it is clear that you have not yet received it. The contents were of the greatest seriousness and also of the greatest secrecy, and I should die if any other eye than yours were to read them; therefore do not lose a moment until you ask for the letter to be sent after you to Paris. Write to London by the first post, and when the letter has come to your hand, do telegraph to me saying so. 'Received,' that will be sufficient, but if you can add one other little word expressing your feeling on reading what I wrote—'Forgiven,' for instance—my feeling will not be happiness, it will be delirium.
"The next thing I have to say, dearest, is about your letters. You know they are more precious to me than my heart's blood, and there is not a word or a line of them I would sacrifice for a queen's crown. But they are so full of perilous opinions and of hints of programmes for dangerous enterprises, that for your sake I am afraid. It is so good of you to tell me what you are thinking and doing, and I am so proud to be the woman who has the confidence as well as the love of the most-talked-of man in Europe, that it cuts at my heart to ask you to tell me no more about your political plans. Nevertheless, I must. Think what would happen if the police took it into their heads to make a domiciliary visitation in this house. And then think of what a fearful weapon it puts into the hands of your enemies, if, hearing that I know so much, they put pressure upon me that I cannot withstand! Of course, that is impossible. I would die first. But still....
"My last point, dearest...."
Her pen stopped. How was she to put what she wished to say next? David Rossi was in danger—a double danger—danger from within as well as danger from without. His last letter showed plainly that he was engaged in an enterprise which his adversaries would call a plot. Roma remembered her father, doomed to a life-long exile and a lonely death, and asked herself if it was not always the case that the reformer partly reformed his age, and was partly corrupted by it.
If she could only draw David Rossi away from associations that were always reeking of revolution, if she could bring him back to Rome before he was too far involved in plots and with plotters! But how could she do it? To tell him the plain truth that he was going headlong to domicilio coatto was useless. She must resort to artifice. A light shot through her brain, her eyes gleamed, and she began again:
"My last point, dearest, is that I am growing jealous. Yes, indeed, jealous! I know you love me, but knowing it doesn't help me to forget that you are always meeting women who must admire and love you. I tremble to think you may be happy with them. I want you to be happy, yet I feel as if it would be treason for you to be happy without me. What an illogical thing love is! But where Love reigns jealousy is always the Prime Minister, and in order to banish my jealousy you must come back immediately...."
Her pen stopped again. The artifice was too trivial, too palpable, and he would certainly see through it. She tore up the sheet and began afresh.
"My last point, dearest, is that I fear you are forgetting me in your work. While thinking of the revolution you are making in Europe, you forget the revolution you have already made in this poor little heart. Of course I love your glory more than I love myself, yet I am afraid it is taking you away from me, and will end by leading you up, up, up, out of a woman's reach. Why didn't I give you my portrait to put in your watch-case when you went away? Don't let this folly disgust you, dearest. A woman is a foolish thing, isn't she? But if you don't want me to make a torment of everything you will hasten back in time to...."
She threw down the pen and began to cry. Hadn't she promised him that, come what would, her love for him should never stand in his way? In the midst of her tears a little stab at her heart made her think of something else, and she took up the pen again.
"My last point, dearest, is that I am ill, and very, very anxious to see you soon. My health has been failing ever since you left Rome. Perhaps the anxieties I have gone through have been partly the cause of this, but I am sure that your absence is chiefly responsible, and that no doctor and no medicine would be so good for me as one rush into your arms. Therefore come and give me back all my health and happiness. Come, I beg of you. Leave it to others to do your work abroad. Come at once before things have gone too far; come, come, come!"
She hesitated, wanting to say, "Not that I am very ill...." And then, "You mustn't come if there is any risk to yourself...." And again, "I would never forgive myself if...." But she crushed down her qualms, sealed her letter, and sent the Garibaldian to post it.
Then she gathered up the entire body of David Rossi's letters, and putting some light firewood into the stove she sat on the ground to burn them. It was necessary to remove all evidence that could be used against him in the event of a domiciliary visitation. One by one as the letters, were passed into the fire she read parts of them, and some of the passages seemed to stand out afresh in the flames. "Your friend must be a true woman, and it was very sweet of you to be so tender with her." ... "There is always a little twinge when I read between the lines of your letters. Are you not dissimulating?... to keep up my spirits?" ... "You shall smile and recover all your girlish spirits.... I shall hear your silvery laugh again as I did on that glorious day in the Campagna." ... "It shows how rightly I judged the moral elevation of your soul, your impeccability, your spirit of fire and your heart of gold."
While the letters were burning she felt herself to be under the influence of a kind of delirium. It was almost as though she were committing murder.
The Pope had begun the day with the long task of administering the sacrament to the lay members of his household, yet at eight o'clock he was back in his library in the midst of his morning receptions surrounded by a bevy of camerieri, monsignori, and messengers. First came a Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda to report the doings of his congregation; then an ambassador from Spain to tell of the suppression of religious orders; and finally the majordomo to recite the official programme for the public ceremonies which the Pope had ordered for Holy Thursday.
It was now ten o'clock, and Cortis, the valet, brought the usual plate of soup. Then came a large man with bold features and dark complexion, wearing a purple robe edged with red and a red biretta. It was the Cardinal Secretary of State.
"What news this morning, your Eminence?" said the Pope.
"The Government," said the Cardinal Secretary, "has just published a proclamation announcing a jubilee in honour of the King's accession. It is to begin on Monday next, and there are to be great feasts and rejoicings."
"A jubilee at a time like this! What a wild mockery of the people's woes! How many poor women and children must go hungry before this royal orgy has been paid for! God be with us! Such injustice and tyranny in the Satanic guise of clemency and indulgence is almost enough to explain the homicidal theories of the demagogues and to justify men like Rossi.... Any further news of him?"
"Yes. He is at present in Paris, in close intercourse with the leaders of every abominable sect."
"You have seen this man Rossi, your Eminence?"
"Once. I saw him on the morning of the jubilee of your Holiness, when he attempted to present a petition."
"What is he like to look upon—the typical demagogue; no?"
"No. I am bound to say no, your Holiness. And his conversation, though it is full of the jargon of modern Liberalism, has none of the obscenities of Voltaire."
"Some one said ... who was it, I wonder?... some one said he resembled the Holy Father."
"Now that you mention it, your Holiness, there is perhaps a remote resemblance."
"Ah! who knows what service for God and humanity even such a man might have done if in early life his lines had been cast in better places."
"They say he was an orphan from his infancy, your Holiness."
"Then he never knew a father's care and guidance! Unhappy son! Unhappy father!"
"Monsignor Mario," said the low voice of a chamberlain, and at the next moment the Pope's messenger to the Prime Minister was kneeling in the middle of the floor.
In nervous tones and broken sentences the Monsignor told his story. The Pope listened intently, the vertical lines on his forehead deepening and darkening every moment, until at length he burst out impatiently:
"But, my son, you do not say that you said all this in addition to your message?"
"I was drawn into doing so in defence of your Holiness."
"You told the Minister that my information came through the channel of a simple confidence?"
"He insinuated that the Holy Father was perhaps breaking the seal of the confessional...."
"That my informant was a non-Catholic and a woman?"
"He implied that your Holiness had only to command her to reveal the conspiracy to the civil authorities, and therefore...."
"And you said she was here on Saturday morning?"
"He hinted that the Holy Father was an accomplice of criminals if he had known this without revealing it before, and that was why...."
"And she came in at that moment, you say?"
"At that very moment, your Holiness, and said she had met me on Saturday morning."
"Man, man, what have you done?" cried the Pope, rising from his seat and pacing the room.
The chamberlain continued to kneel in utter humility, until the Pope, recovering his composure, put both hands on his shoulders and raised him to his feet.
"Forgive me, my son. I was more to blame than you were. It was wrong to trust any one with a verbal message in the cabinet of a fox. The Holy Father should have no intercourse with such persons. But this is God's hand. Let us leave everything to the Holy Spirit."
At that moment the Papal Majordomo returned with a letter. It was the Baron's letter to the Pope. After the Pope had read it he stepped into a little adjoining room which contained nothing but a lounge and an easy-chair. There he lay on the lounge and turned his face to the wall.
At four o'clock in the afternoon the Pope and Father Pifferi were again walking in the garden. The groves of Judas trees were shedding their crimson blossoms and the path had a covering of bloom; the atmosphere was full of the odour of honey-suckle and violet, and through the sunlit air the swallows were darting with shrill cries and the glitter of wings.
"And what does your Holiness intend to do?" asked the Capuchin.
"Providence will direct us," said the Pope with a sigh.
"But your Holiness will refuse the request of the Government?"
"How can I do so without exposing myself to misunderstanding? Suppose the King is assassinated, what then? The Government will tell the world that the Pope knew all and did nothing."
"Let them. It will not be an incident without parallel in the history of the Church. And the world will only honour your Holiness the more for standing firm on your sanctity of the human soul."
"Yes, if the confessional were in question. The world knows that the seal of the confessional is sacred, and must be observed at all costs. But this is not a case of the confessional."
"Didn't your Holiness say you would observe it as such?"
"And I shall. But what about the public? Accident has told the Government that this is not a case of the confessional, and the Government will tell the world. What follows? If I refuse to do anything the enemies of the Church will give it out that the Holy Father is an accomplice of a regicide, ready and willing to intrigue with the agents of rebellion to regain the temporal power."
"Then you will receive the Prime Minister?"
"No! Or if so, only in the company of his superior."
The Capuchin removed his skull-cap with an uneasy hand, and walked some paces without speaking.
"Will he come, your Holiness?"
"If he thinks I hold the secret on which his life depends, assuredly he will come."
"But you are sovereign as well as Pope—is it possible for you to receive him?"
"I will receive him as the King of Sardinia, the King of Italy, if you will, but not as the King of Rome."
The Capuchin took his coloured handkerchief from his sleeve and rolled it in his palms, which were hot and perspiring.
"But, Holy Father," he said, "what will be the good? Say that all difficulties of etiquette can be removed, and you can meet as man to man, as David Leone and Albert Charles—why will the King come? Only to ask you to put pressure upon your informant to give more information."
The Pope drew himself up on the gravel path and smote his breast with indignation. "Never! It would be an insult to the Church," he said. "It is one thing to expect the Holy Father to do his duty as a Christian even to his enemy, it is another thing to ask him to invade the sanctity of a private confidence."
The Capuchin did not reply, and the two old men walked on in silence. As the light softened the swallows increased their clamour, and song-birds began to call from neighbouring trees. Suddenly a startled cry burst from the foliage, and, turning quickly, the Pope lifted up the cat which, as usual, was picking its way at his heels.
"Ah, Meesh, Meesh! I've got you safely this time.... It was the poor mother-bird again, I suppose. Where is her nest, I wonder?"
They found it in the old sarcophagus, which was now almost lost in leaves. The eggs had been hatched, and the fledglings, with eyes not yet opened, stretched their featherless necks and opened their beaks when the Pope put down his hand to touch them.
"Monsignor," said the Pope over his shoulder, "remind me to-morrow to ask the gardener for some worms."
The cat, from his prison under the Pope's arm, was watching the squirming nest with hungry eyes.
"Naughty Meesh! Naughty!" said the Pope, shaking one finger in the cat's face. "But Meesh is only following the ways of his kind, and perhaps I was wrong to let him see the quarry."
The Pope and the Capuchin walked back to the Vatican for joy of the sweet spring evening with its scent of flowers and song of birds.
"You are sad to-day, Father Pifferi," said the Pope.
"I'm still thinking of that poor lady," said the Capuchin.
At the first hour of night the Pope attended the recitation of the rosary in his private chapel, and then returning to his private study, a room furnished with a table and two chairs, he took a light supper, served by Cortis in the evening dress of a civilian. His only other company was the cat, which sat on a chair on the opposite side of the table. After supper he wrote a letter. It ran:
"SIRE,—Your Minister informs us that through official channels he has received warning of a plot against your life, and believing that we can give information that will help him to defeat so vile a conspiracy, he asks us for a special audience. It is not within our power to promise more assistance than we have already given; but this is to say that if your Majesty yourself should wish to see us, we shall be pleased to receive you, with or without your Minister, if you will come in private and otherwise unattended, at the hour of 21-1/2 on Holy Thursday, to the door of the Canons' House of St. Peter's, where the bearer of this message will be waiting to conduct you to the Sacristy.
"Nil timendum nisi a Deo. Pius P.P.X."
The ceremonies in St. Peter's on Maundy Thursday exceeded in pomp and magnificence anything that could be remembered in Rome.
It was a great triumph for the Church. In the face of the anti-religious Governments of Europe she had proved that the mightiest sentiment of the people was the sentiment of religion.
The Papal Court was proud of itself. Some of its members made no effort to conceal their delight at the blow they had struck at the ruling classes. But there was one man in Rome who felt no joy in his triumph. It was the Pope.
At nine o'clock at night he visited the "urn" called the "Sepulchre." Borne amid the light of torches on his sedia with his flabelli waving on either hand, under a white canopy upheld by prelates, he passed through the glittering rooms of his own palace, along the dark corridors of the Vatican and down the marble stairs, accompanied by his guards in helmets and preceded by the papal cross covered with a violet veil, into the great Basilica, lit only by large candles in iron stands, and looking plain and barn-like and full of shadows in the gloom and the smoky air. But after he had visited the Sepulchre, gorgeously illuminated, while the cantors sang the Verbum Caro, after he had knelt in silence and had risen, and the torches of his procession had been put out, and he had returned to his chair to be borne into the Sacristy, and the poor people, lifted to a height of emotion not often reached by the human soul, had broken again into a last delirious shout of affection, he dropped his head and wept.
At that moment the Sacristy was empty save for the custodian in black cassock and biretta, who was warming his hands over a large bronze scaldino; but in the Archpriest's room adjoining, with its gilt arm-chair and stools of red plush, Father Pifferi in his ordinary brown habit was waiting for the Pope. The bearers put down the chair, knelt and kissed the Pope's feet in spite of his protest, backed themselves out with deep obeisance, and left the two old men together.
"Have they arrived?" asked the Pope.
"Not yet, your Holiness," said the Capuchin.
"Father, have you any faith in presentiments?"
"Sometimes, your Holiness. When they continue and are persistent..."
"I have had a presentiment which has been with me all my life—all my life as Pope, at all events. The blessed God who abases and lifts up has thought fit to raise my lowliness to the most sublime dignity that exists on earth, but I have always lived in the fear that some day I should be torn down from it, and the Church would suffer."
"God forbid, your Holiness!"
"That was why I refused every place and every honour. You know how I refused them, Father!"
"Yes, but God knew better, your Holiness, and He preserved you to be a blessing and a comfort to His people."
"His holy will be done! But the shadow which has been over me will not be lifted. Cause prayers to be said for me. Pray for me yourself, Father."
"Your Holiness is in low spirits. And to-day of all days! Ah, how happy is the Church which has seen the hand of God place in the chair of St. Peter a soul capable of comprehending the necessities of His children and a heart desirous of satisfying them!"
"I hardly know what is to come of this interview, Father, but I must leave myself in the hands of the Holy Spirit."
"There is no help for it now, your Holiness."
"Perhaps I should not have gone so far but for this wave of anarchy which is sweeping over the world.... You believe the man Rossi is secretly an anarchist?"
"I am afraid he is, your Holiness, and one of the worst enemies of the Church and the Holy Father."
"They say he was an orphan from his infancy, and never knew father, or mother, or home."
"Pitiful, very pitiful!"
"I have heard that his public life is not without a certain perverted nobility, and that his private life is pure and good."
"His relation to the lady would seem to say so, your Holiness."
"But the Holy Father may be sorry for a wayward son, and yet be forced to condemn him for all that. He must cut himself off from all such men, lest his adversaries should say that, while preaching peace and the moral law, he is secretly encouraging the devilish agents of atheism, anarchy, and rebellion."
"Perhaps so, your Holiness."
"Father, do you think the care of temporal things is ever a danger and temptation?"
"Sometimes I think it is, your Holiness, and that the Holy Father would be better without lands or fleshly armies."
"How late they are!" said the Pope; but at the same moment the door opened, and a Noble Guard knelt on the threshold.
"The personages you expect have come, your Holiness."
"Bring them in," said the Pope.
The young King, who wore the uniform of a cavalry officer, with sword and long blue cloak, knelt to the Pope and kissed his ring, while the Prime Minister, who was in ordinary civilian costume, bowed deeply, but remained standing.
"Pray sit," said the Pope, seating himself in the gilded arm-chair, with the Capuchin on his left.
The King sat on one of the wooden stools in front of the Pope, but the Baron continued to stand by his side. Between the Pope and the King was a wooden table on which two large candles were burning. The young King was pale, and the expression of his twitching face was one of pain.
"It was good of your Holiness to see us," he said, "and perhaps the gravity of our errand may excuse the informality of our visit."
The Pope, who was leaning forward on the arms of his chair, only bent his head.
"His Excellency," said the King, indicating the Baron, "tells me he has gained proof of an organised conspiracy against my life, and he says that your Holiness holds the secret of the conspirators."
The Pope, without responding, looked steadily into the face of the young King, who became nervous and embarrassed.
"Not that I'm afraid," he said, "personally afraid. But naturally I must think of others—my family—my people—even of Italy—and if your Holiness...if your...your Holiness..."
The Baron, who had been standing with one arm across his breast, and the other supporting his chin, intervened at this moment.
"Your Majesty," he said, "with your Majesty's permission, and that of his Holiness," he bowed to both sovereigns, "it may be convenient if I state shortly the object of our visit."
The young King drew a breath of relief, and the Pope, who was still silent, bent his head again.
"Some days ago your Holiness was good enough to warn his Majesty's Government that from private sources of information you had reason to fear that an assault against the public peace was to be attempted."
The Pope once more assented.
"Since then the Government has received corroboration of the gracious message of your Holiness, coupled with very definite predictions of the nature of the revolt intended. In short, we have been told by our correspondents abroad that a conspiracy of European proportions, involving the subversive elements of England, France, and Germany, is to be directed against Rome as a centre of revolution, and that an attempt is to be made to assail constituted society by striking at our King."
"Your Holiness may have heard that it is the intention of the Government and the nation to honour the anniversary of his Majesty's accession by a festival. The anniversary falls on Monday next, and we have reason to fear that Monday is the day intended for the outbreak of this vile conspiracy."
"Your Holiness may have differences with his Majesty, but you cannot desire that the cry of suffering should mingle with the strains of the royal march."
"If your Government knows all this, it has its remedy—let it alter the King's plans."
"The advice with which your Holiness honours us is scarcely practicable. For the Government to alter the King's plans would be to alarm the populace, demoralise the services, and to add to the unhappy excitement which it is the object of the festival allay."
"But why do you come to me?"
"Because, your Holiness, our information, although conclusive, is too indefinite for effective action, and we believe your Holiness can supply the means by which we may preserve public order, and"—with an apologetic gesture—"save the life of the King."
The Pope was moving uneasily in his chair. "I will ask you to be good enough to speak more plainly," he said.
The Baron's heavy moustache rose at one corner to a fleeting smile. "Your Holiness," he said, "is already aware that accident disclosed to us the source of your information. It was a lady. This knowledge enabled us to judge who was the subject of her communication. It was the lady's lover. Official channels give us proof that he is engaged abroad in plots against public order, and thus..."
"If you know all this, sir, what do you want with me?"
"Your Holiness may not be aware that the person in question is a Deputy, and that a Deputy cannot be arrested without the fulfilment of various conditions prescribed by law. One of those conditions is that some one should be in a position to denounce him."
The Pope half rose from his chair. "You ask me to denounce him?"
The Baron bowed very low. "The Government does not presume so far," he said. "It only hopes that your Holiness will require your informant to do so."
"Then you want me to outrage a confidence?"
"It was not a confession, your Holiness, and even if it had been, as your Holiness knows better than we do, it would not be without precedent to reveal the facts which are necessary to be known in order to prevent crime."
The Capuchin's sandals were scraping on the floor, but the Pope raised his left hand, and the friar fell back.
"You are aware," said the Pope, "that the lady you speak of as my informant is married to the Deputy?"
"We are aware that she thinks she is."
"Thinks?" said the indignant voice of the Capuchin, but the Pope's left hand was raised again.
"In short, sir, you ask me to require the wife to sacrifice her husband."
"If your Holiness calls it so,—to perform an act that will preserve the public peace...."
"I do call it so."
The Baron bowed, the young King was restless, and there was a moment's silence. Then the Pope said:
"Putting aside the extreme unlikelihood that the lady knows more than she has said, and we have already communicated, what possible inducement do you expect us to offer her that she should sacrifice her husband?"
"Her husband's life," said the Baron.
"Your Holiness may not know that the Governments of Europe, having ascertained the existence of a widespread plot against civil society, have joined in measures of repression. One of these is the extension to all countries of what is called the Belgian clause in treaties, whereby persons guilty of regicide or of plots directed against the lives of sovereigns are made liable to extradition."
"The Deputy Rossi is now in Berlin. If he were denounced with the conditions required by law as conspiring against the life of the King, we might have him arrested to-night and brought back as a common murderer."
"Your Holiness may not have heard that since the late unhappy riots the Parliament, in spite of the protests of his Majesty, has re-established capital punishment for all forms of high treason."
"Therefore," said the Pope, "if the wife were to denounce her husband for participation in this conspiracy he would be sentenced to death."
"For this conspiracy—yes," said the Baron. "But the present is not the only conspiracy the man Rossi has engaged in. Eighteen years ago he was condemned in contumacy for conspiracy against the life of the late King. He has not yet suffered for his crime, because of the difficulty of bringing it home. In that case, as in this, there is only one person known to the authorities who can fulfil the conditions required by law. That person is the informant of your Holiness."
"If your Holiness can prevail upon the lady to identify her lover as the man condemned for the former conspiracy, you will be helping her to save her husband's life from the penalty due for the present one."
"His Majesty is willing to promise your Holiness that, whatever the result of a new trial in assize to follow the old one in contumacy, he will grant a complete pardon."
"Then the Deputy Rossi will be banished, the threatened conspiracy will be crushed, the public peace will be preserved, and the King's life will be saved."
The Pope leaned forward on the arms of his chair, but he did not speak, and there was silence for some moments.
"Thus your Holiness must see," said the Baron suavely, "that, in asking you to obtain the denunciation of the man Rossi, the Government is only looking to your Holiness to fulfil the mission of mercy to which your venerated position has destined you."
"And if I refused to exercise this mission of mercy?"
The Baron bowed gravely. "Your Holiness will not refuse," he said.
"But if I do—what then?"
"Then ... your Holiness.... I was about to say something."
"I am listening."
"The man we speak of is the bitterest enemy of the Church. Whatever his hypocrisies, he is at once an atheist and a freemason, sworn to allow no private interests or feelings, no bonds of patriotism or blood, to turn him aside from his purpose, which is to overthrow Society and the Church."
"He is also a bitter personal enemy of the Holy Father, and knows no object so dear as that of tearing him from his place and shaking the throne of St. Peter."
"The police and the army of the Government are the only forces by which the Holy Father can be protected, and without them the bad elements which lurk in every community would break out, the Holy Father would be driven from Rome, and his priests assaulted in the streets."
"But what will happen if I refuse to outrage the sanctity of an immortal soul in spite of all this danger?"
"Your Holiness asks me what will happen if you refuse to obtain the denunciation of a man whom your Holiness knows to be conspiring against public order?"
"What will happen will be ... your Holiness, I am speaking...."
"That, if the crime is committed and the King is killed, I, the Minister of his Majesty, will be in a position to say—and to call upon this friar to witness—that the Pope knew of it beforehand, and under the most noble sentiments about the sanctity of an immortal soul gave a supreme encouragement of regicide."
"And then, sir?"
"The world draws no nice distinctions, your Holiness, and the Vatican is now at war with nearly all the powers and peoples of Europe. In the presence of a monstrous crime against the most innocent and the most highly placed, the world would say that what the Pope did not prevent the Pope desired, what the Pope desired the Pope designed, and that the Vicar of the Prince of Peace attempted to rebuild his temporal power by means of the plots of conspirators and the daggers of assassins."
The sandals of the Capuchin were scraping the floor again, and once more the Pope put up his hand.
"You come to me, sir, when you have exhausted all other means of obtaining your end?"
"Naturally the Government wishes if possible to spare your Holiness an unusual and painful ordeal."
"The lady has resisted all other influences?"
"She has resisted all influences which can be brought to bear upon her by the proper authorities."
"I have heard of it, sir. I have heard what your 'authorities' have done to humble a helpless woman. She had been the victim of a heartless man, and by knowledge of that fact your 'authorities' have tempted and tried her. They tried her with poverty, with humiliation, with jealousy and the shadow of shame. But the blessed God upheld her in the love which had awakened her soul, and she withstood them to the last."
The Baron, for the first time, looked confused.
"I have also heard that in order to achieve the same end one of your gaols has been the scene of a scandal which has outraged every divine and human law."
"Your Holiness must not accept for truth all that is printed in the halfpenny papers."
"Is it true that in the cell where a helpless unfortunate was paying the penalty of his crime your 'authorities' introduced a police agent in disguise to draw him into a denunciation of his accomplice?"
"These are matters of state, your Holiness. I do not assert them and I do not deny."
"In the name of humanity I ask you are such 'authorities' punished, or do they sit in the cabinets of your Ministers of the Interior?"
"No doubt the officials went too far, your Holiness; but shall we, for the sake of a miserable malefactor who told one story to-day and another to-morrow, drag our public service through courts of law? Pity for such persons is morbid sentimentality, your Holiness, unworthy of a strong and enlightened Government."
"Then God destroy all such Governments, sir, and the bad and unchristian system which supports them! Allow that the man was a miserable malefactor, it was not he alone that was offended, but in his poor, degraded person the spirit of Justice. What did your 'authorities' do? They tortured the man by his love for his wife, by the memory of his murdered child, by all that was true and noble and divine in him. They crucified the Christ in that helpless man, and you stand here in the presence of the Vicar of Christ to excuse and defend them."
The Pope had risen in his chair and lifted one hand over his head with a majestic gesture. Involuntarily the young King, who had been ashen pale for some moments, dropped to his knees, but the Baron only folded his arms and stiffened his legs.
"Have you ever thought, sir, of the end of the unjust Minister? Think of his dying hour, tortured with the memory of young lives dissolved, mothers dead, widows desolate, and orphans in tears. Think of the day after his death, when he who has passed through the world like the scourge of God lies at its feet, and no one so mean but he may spurn the dishonoured carcass. You are aiming high, your Excellency, but beware, beware!"
The Pope sat, and the King rose to his feet.
"Your Majesty," said the Pope, "the day will come when we must both present ourselves before God to render to Him an account of our deeds, and I, being far more advanced in years, will assuredly be the first. But I would not dare to meet the eye of my Judge if I did not this day warn you of the dangers in which you stand. Only God knows by what inscrutable decree of Providence one man is made a Pope or a King, while another man, his equal or superior, is made a beggar or a slave. But God who made Popes and Kings meant them to be the fathers, not the seducers of their subjects. A sovereign may be a man of good intentions, but if he is weak, and allows himself to fall into the hands of despotic Ministers, he is a worse affliction than the cruellest tyrant. Think well, your Majesty! A throne may be a quagmire, and a man may be buried in it, and buried alive."
The young King began to falter some incoherent words, but without listening the Pope rose to end the audience.
"You promise me," said the Pope, "that if—I say if—in order to avoid bloodshed and to prevent a crime, I obtain from this lady the identification of her husband as the person condemned for the former conspiracy, you will spare and pardon him whatever happens?"
"Holy Father, I give you my solemn word for it."
"Then leave me! Let me think!... Wait! If she consents, where must she go to?"
"To the Procura by the Ponte Ripetta, and, as time presses, at ten o'clock on Saturday morning," said the Baron.
"Leave me! Leave me!"
The King knelt again and kissed the Pope's hand, but the Baron only bowed as he passed out behind his sovereign.
The opening of the doors let in a wave of sound that was like the roll of a great wind in a cave. Tenebrae had been going on for some time in the Basilica, and the people were singing the Miserere.
"Did you hear him, Father?" said the Pope. "Isn't it almost enough to justify a man like Rossi that he has to meet a despot like that?"
"We'll talk of it to-morrow," said the Capuchin.
The friar touched a bell, and the palfrenieri returned with the chair.
Next day, being Good Friday, was passed by the Pope in religious retreat, which was interrupted by indispensable business only. After Mass of the Presanctified he sat in his study with his confessor, while his chaplain in black passed through on tiptoe from the private chapel, and his chamberlains, tired out by the ceremonies of yesterday, dozed on their stools in the outer hall.
The day was bright but the room was darkened, and the hearts of the two old men were heavy. Over the face of the Pope there was a cloud of trouble, and the countenance of the Capuchin was solemn to the point of sternness. The friar sat in the old-fashioned easy-chair with his bare feet showing from under the edge of his brown habit; the Pope lay on the lounge with both hands in the vertical pockets of his white woollen cassock.
"Your Holiness is not well this morning?"
"Not very well, Father Pifferi."
"Your Holiness was disturbed by the interview in the Sacristy. But you should think no more about it. In any case, what the Minister proposed was impossible, therefore you must dismiss it from your mind. To ask a wife to reveal the secrets of her husband would be tyranny worse than the rack. Besides, it would be uncanonical, and your Holiness could never consider it."
"Didn't your Holiness promise that whatever the nature of this poor lady's confidence you would hold it as sacred as the confessional?"
"What is the confessional, your Holiness? It is a tribunal in which the priest is judge and the penitent a prisoner who pleads guilty. Is the priest to call witnesses to prove other crimes? He has no right and no power to do so."
"But where the penitent wittingly or unwittingly is in the position of an accomplice, what then, Father Pifferi?"
"Even then it is expressly forbidden to demand the names of others upon the plea of preventing evil. How can you hold this lady's confidence as sacred and yet ask her to denounce her husband?"
The Pope rose with a face full of pain, walked to the bookcase, and took down a book. "Listen, Father," he said, and he began to read:—
"If the penitent was obliged under pain of mortal sin to reveal his accomplices to repair a common injury, I have maintained against other theologians that even then the confessor cannot oblige him to do so."
"There!" cried the Capuchin. "What did I say? Gaume is wise, and the other theologians, who are they?"
"Only," continued the Pope, turning a page and holding up one finger, "he can and must oblige him to make known his accomplices to other persons who can arrest the scandal."
The Capuchin took a long breath. "Is that what the Holy Father intends to do in this instance?"
"He can and must."
The Capuchin dropped his head, and there was a long pause, in which the Pope walked nervously about the room.
"Poor child!" said the Capuchin. "But perhaps her heart has been too much set on human love."
The Pope sighed.
"Yet who are we, whose hearts are closed to earthly affection, to prescribe a limit to human love?"
"Who indeed?" said the Pope.
"Do you recall her resemblance to any one, your Holiness?"
The Pope stopped in his walk and looked towards the curtained window.
"The same soft voice and radiant smile, the same attitude of idolatry towards the husband she is devoted to, the same...."
"The Sisters of the Sacred Heart will take her when all is over," said the Pope.
"And the man, too, whatever his errors, has a certain grandeur of soul, that lifts him far above these chief gaolers and detectives who call themselves statesmen and diplomatists, these scavengers of civilisation."
"He must go back to America and begin life again," said the Pope.
Two hours later Father Pifferi went off to fetch Roma, and the Pope sat down to his mid-day meal. The room was very quiet, and in the absence of the church bells the city seemed to sit in silence. Cortis stood behind the Pope's chair, and the cat sat on a stool at the opposite side of the table.
The chamberlains, lay and ecclesiastical, waited in the ante-camera, and the Swiss and Noble Guards, the Palatine Guards, and the palfrenieri dotted the decorated halls that led to the royal stairs.
But the saintly old man, who had a palace yet no home, servants yet no family, an army yet no empire, who was the father of all men, yet knew no longer the ordinary joys and sorrows of human life, sat alone in his little plain apartment and ate his simple dish of spinach and beans.
Good Friday's Ministerial paper announced in its official column that late the night before the King, attended by the Minister of the Interior, had paid a surprise visit to the Mint, which was in the Via Fondamenta, a lane approached by way of the silent passage which leads to the lodging of the Canons of St. Peter's. Roma was puzzling over the inexplicable announcement, when old John, one of Rossi's pensioners, knocked at her door. His face and his lips were white, and when Roma offered him money he put it aside impatiently.
"You mustn't think a gold hammer can break the gate of heaven, Eccellenza," the old man said.
Then he told his story. The King had seen the Pope in secret the night before, and there was something going on about the Honourable Rossi. John knew it because his grandson had left Rome that morning for Chiasso, and another member of the secret police had started for Modane. If Donna Roma knew where the Honourable was to be found, she had better tell him not to return to Italy.
"Better be a wood-bird than a cage-bird, you know," the old man whispered.
Roma thanked him for his news, and then warned him of the risk he ran, being dependent on his grandson and his grandson's wife.
"That's nothing," he said, "nothing at all now."
Last night he had dreamed a dream. He thought he was a strong man again, with his children about him, and beholden to no one. How happy he had been! But when he awoke, and found it was not true, and that he was old and feeble, he felt that he could hear it no longer.
"I'm in the way and taking the food of the children, so it can't last long, Eccellenza," he said in a tremulous voice, smiling with his toothless mouth, and nodding slightly as he went away.
In the uneasy depths of Roma's soul only one thing was now certain. Her husband was in danger, and he must not attempt to cross the frontier. Yet how was he to be prevented? The difficulty was enormous. If only Rossi had replied to her letter by telegram, as she had asked him to do, she might have found some means of communication. At length an idea occurred to her, and she sat down to write a letter.
"Dearest," she wrote, while her eyes shone with a kind of delirium and tears trickled down her cheeks, "I am very ill, and as you cannot come to me I must go to you. Don't think me too weak and womanish, after all my solemn promises to be so strong and brave. But I can only live by love, dearest, and your absence is more than I can bear. You will think I ought to be content with your letters, and certainly they have been very sweet and dear to me; but they are so few, and they come at such long intervals, and now they seem to have stopped altogether. Perhaps at the bottom of my selfish heart, too, I think your letters might be a wee bit more lover-like, but then men don't write real love letters, and nearly every woman would confess, if she told the truth, and she is a little disappointed in that regard.
"I know my husband has other things to think about, great things, high and noble aims and objects, but I am only a woman in spite of my loud pretences, and I must be loved, or I shall die. Not that I am afraid of dying, because I know that if I die I shall be with you in a moment, and this cruel separation will be at an end. But I want to live, and I'm certain I shall begin to feel better after I have passed a few moments at your side. So I shall pack up immediately and start away on the wings of the morning.
"Don't be alarmed if you find me looking pale and thin and old and ugly. How could I be anything else when the particular world I live in has been sunless all these weeks? I know your work is very pressing, especially now when so many things are happening; but you will put it aside for a little while, won't you, and take me up into the Alps somewhere, and nurse me back to health and happiness? Fancy! We shall be boy and girl again, as in the days when you used to catch butterflies for me, and then look sad when, like a naughty child, I scrunched them!
"Au revoir, dearest. I shall fall into your hands nearly as soon as this letter. I tremble to think you may be angry with me for following you and interrupting your work. If you show it in your face I shall certainly expire. But you will be good to your poor pilgrim of love and comfort and strengthen her. All the time you have been away she has never forgotten you for a moment—no, not one waking moment. An ordinary woman who loved an ordinary man would not tell him this, but you are not ordinary, and if I am I don't care a pin to pretend.
"Expect me, then, by the fastest train leaving Rome to-morrow morning, and don't budge from Paris until I arrive.
The strain of this letter, with its conscious subterfuge and its unconscious truth, put Roma into a state of fever; and when she had finished it and sent it to the post, her head was light, and she was aware for the first time that she was really ill.
The deaf old woman, who helped her to pack, talked without ceasing of Rossi and Bruno and Elena and little Joseph, and finally of the King and his intended jubilee.
"I don't take no notice of Governments, Signora. It's the same as it used to be in the old days. One Pope died, and his soul went into the next. First an ugly Pope, then a handsome one, but the soul was the same in all. Wet soup or dry—that's all I trouble about now; and I don't care who gets the taxes so long as I can pay.... What do you say, Tommaso?"
The Garibaldian had come upstairs smiling and winking, and holding out a letter. "From Trinita de' Monti," he whispered. Flushing crimson and trembling visibly, Roma took the letter out of the old man's hands with as much apprehension as if he had tried to deal her a blow, and went off to her room.
"What do I say, Francesca? I say it's a good thing to be a Christian in these days, and that's why I always carry a sharp knife and a rosary."
The letter bore the Berlin postmark.
"MY DEAR WIFE,—I left Paris rather unexpectedly three days ago and arrived here on Tuesday. The reason of this sudden flight was the announcement in the Paris papers of the festivities intended in Rome in honour of the King's accession. Such a shameless outrage on the people's sufferings in the hour of their greatest need seemed to call for immediate and effectual protest, and it was thought wise to push on the work of organisation with every possible despatch...."
"There is a train north at 9.30," thought Roma. "I must leave to-night, not in the morning."
"Oh, Roma, Roma, my dear Roma, I understand your father now, and can sympathise with him at last. He held that even regicide might become a necessary weapon in the warfare of humanity, and though I knew that some of the greatest spirits had recourse to it, I always thought this belief the defect of your father's quality as a prophet and the limit of his vision. But now I see that the only difference between us was that his heart was bigger than mine, and that in those cruel crises where the people are helpless and can do nothing by constitutional means, revolution, not evolution, may seem to be their only hope...."
Roma felt hysterical. There could no longer be any doubt of Rossi's intention.
"I don't tell you anything definite about our plans, dearest, partly because of the danger of this letter going astray, and partly because I don't think it right to saddle my wife with the responsibility of knowing a programme that is weighted with issues of such immense importance to so many. I know there is not a drop of blood in her veins that isn't ready to flow for me, but that is no reason for exposing her to the danger of even the prick of her little finger.
"Briefly our cry is 'Unite! Unite! Unite!' As soon as our scheme is complete, and associates all over Europe receive the word to commence concerted movement, the tyrants at the heads of the States will find the old edifices riddled and honeycombed, and ready to fall."
Roma imagined she could see everything as it was intended to be—the signal, the rising, the regicide. "There is a train at 2.30; I must catch that one," she thought.
"Dearest, don't attempt to reply to this letter, for I may leave Berlin at any moment, but whether for Geneva or Zuerich I don't yet know. I can give you no address for letter or telegram, and perhaps it is best that at the critical moment I should cut myself off from all connection with Rome. Before many days I shall be with you; my absence will be over, and, God willing, I shall never leave your side again...."
Roma was growing dizzy. Rossi was rushing on his death, and there was no help for him. It was like the awful hand of the Almighty driving him blindly on.
"Adieu, my darling. Keep well. A friend writes that letters from Rome are following me from London. They must be yours, but before they overtake me I shall be holding you in my arms. How I long for it! I am more than ever full of love for you, and if I have filled my letter with business I have other things to say to you the very moment that we meet. Don't expect me until you see me in your room. Be brave! Now is the moment for all your courage. Remember you promised to be my soldier as well as my wife—'ready and waiting when her captain calls.' D."
Roma was standing with Rossi's letter in her hand—her face and lips white, and her head full of a roaring noise—when a knock came to the bedroom door. Before answering she thrust the letter into the stove and set a match to it.
"Donna Roma! Are you there, Signora?"
"Wait ... come in."
The old woman's head, in its coloured handkerchief, appeared through the half-opened door.
"A Frate in the sitting-room to see you, Signora."
It was Father Pifferi. The old man's gentle face looked troubled. Roma gave him a rapid, penetrating, and fearful glance.
"The Holy Father wishes to see you again," he said.
Roma thought for a moment; then she said, "Very well, let us go," and she went back to her room to make ready. The last of the letter was burning in the stove.
Roma returned to the Vatican with the Capuchin. There were the same gorgeous staircases and halls, the same soldiers, chamberlains, Bussolanti and Monsignori, the same atmosphere of the palace of an emperor. But in the little plain apartment which they entered, not as before by way of the throne room, but by a secret corridor with cocoanut matting and narrow frosted windows, the Pope stood waiting, like a simple priest, in a white woollen cassock.
He smiled as Roma approached, a sad smile, and his weary eyes, when she looked timidly into his face, were full of the measureless pity that is in the eyes of the surgeon who is about to vivisect a dumb creature because it is necessary for the welfare of the human race.
She knelt and kissed his ring. He raised her and put her to sit on the lounge, sitting in the arm-chair himself, and continuing to hold her hand. The Capuchin stood by the window, holding the curtain aside as if looking out on the piazza.
"You believe the Holy Father would not send for you to injure you?" he said.
"I am sure he would not, your Holiness," she answered.
"And though I disapprove of your husband's doings, you know I would not willingly do him any harm?"
"The Holy Father would not do harm to any one; and my husband is so good, and his aims are so noble, that nobody who really knew him could ever try to injure him."
He looked into her face; it shone with a frightened joy, and pity grew upon him.
"Your devotion to your husband is very sweet and beautiful, my daughter, and it grieves the Holy Father's heart to trouble it. But it seems to be his duty to do so, and he must do his duty."
Again she looked up timidly, and again the sense came to him of dumb eyes full of entreaty.
"My daughter, your husband's motives may not be bad. They may even be good and noble. It is often so with men of his sympathies. They see the disparity of wealth and poverty, and their hearts are torn with anger and with pity. But, my child, they do not know that true and lasting reforms, such as affect the whole human family, can only be accomplished by God and by the authority of His Holy Church and Pontificate, and that it must be the bell of St. Peter's which announces them to the world."
As the Pope was speaking the colour ran up Roma's face like a flag of distress. She looked helplessly round at the Capuchin. The dumb eyes seemed to ask when the blow would fall.
"As a consequence, what is he doing, my daughter? Ignoring the Church, which like a true mother is ever anxious to bear the burden of human weakness and suffering; he is setting up a new gospel, such as would reduce mankind to a worse barbarism than that from which Christ freed us. Is this conduct worthy of your devotion, my child?"
Roma fixed her timid eyes on the Pope's face and answered:
"I have nothing to do with my husband's opinions, your Holiness. I have only to be true to the friendship he gives me and the love I bear him."
"My child," said the Pope, "ask yourself what your husband is doing at this moment. Not content with sowing the seeds of discord in Parliament and by the press, he is wandering through Europe, gathering up the adventurers who work in darkness in every country, and hatching a conspiracy which would lead to a state of anarchy throughout the world."
Roma withdrew her hand from the hand of the Pope and made an exclamation of dissent.
"Ah, I know what you would say, my daughter. He did not set out to produce anarchy. Such men never do. They begin with evolution and end with revolution. They begin with peace and end with violence. And the only sequel to your husband's aims must be the destruction of civil society, of Government, and of the Church."
Roma's fingers were clasped convulsively in her lap. She lifted her timid but passionate face and said:
"I know nothing about that, your Holiness. I only know that whatever he is doing his heart laid it upon him as a duty, and his heart is pure and noble."
"My daughter, your husband may be the greatest of patriots in spirit and intention, but nevertheless he is one of the criminal and visionary teachers of this unhappy time who are deluding the ignorant crowd with promises that can never be realised. Anarchy, chaos, the uprooting of religion and morality, of justice, human dignity, and the purity of domestic life—these are the only possible fruits of the seed he is sowing."
The timid eyes began to flash. "I did not come here to hear this, your Holiness." The Pope put his hand tenderly on her hands.
"Remember, my child, what you said yourself on your former visit."
Roma dropped her head.
"The authorities know all about it."
"It was necessary."
"Then ... then somebody must have told them."
"I told them. The Holy Father revealed no more than was necessary to relieve his conscience and to prevent crime. It was your own tongue that told the rest, my daughter."
He recalled what had passed in the cabinet of the Prime Minister, and Roma felt as if something choked her. "No matter!" she said, with the same frightened but passionate face. "David Rossi is prepared for anything, and he will be prepared for this."
"The authorities already knew more than I could tell them," said the Pope. "They knew where your husband was and what he was doing. They know where he is now, and they are preparing to arrest him."
Roma's nerves grew more and more excited, the timid look gave place to a look of defiance.
"They tell me that he is in Berlin at this moment. Is it true?"
Roma did not reply.
"They say their advices from official sources leave no doubt that he is engaged in conspiracy."
Still Roma did not reply.
"They say confidently that the conspiracy points to rebellion, and is intended to include regicide. Is it so?"
Roma bit her lip and remained silent.
"Can't you trust me, my child? Don't you know the Holy Father? Only give me some hope that these statements are untrue, and the Holy Father is ready to withstand all evil influences against you, and face the world in your defence."
Roma felt as if something would snap within her brain. "I cannot say ... I do not know," she faltered.
"But have you any uncertainty, my daughter? If you have the least reason to believe that these statements are slanders of malicious imaginations, tell me so, and I will give your husband the benefit of the doubt."
Roma rose to her feet, but she held on to the edge of the table that stood by her side, rigid, quivering, frail and silent. The Pope looked up at her with weary eyes, and continued in a caressing tone:
"If unhappily you have no doubt that your husband is engaged in dangerous enterprises, can you not dissuade him from them?"
"No," said Roma, struggling with her tears, "that is impossible. Whether he is right or wrong, it is not for me to sit in judgment upon him. Besides, long ago, before we were married, I promised that I would never stand between him and his work, and I never can—never."
"But if he loves you, my child, would he not wish for your sake to avoid the danger?"
"I can't ask him. I told him to go on without thinking of me, and I would take care of myself whatever happened."
Her eyes were now shining with her tears. The Pope patted the hand on the table.
"Can you not at least go to him and warn him, and thus leave him to judge for himself, my daughter?"
"Yes ... no, that is impossible also."
"Why so, my child?"
"Because I don't know where he is, and I shouldn't know where to find him. In his last letter he said it was better I should not know."
"Then he has cut himself off from you entirely?"
"Entirely. I am to see him next in Rome."
"And meantime, that he may not run the risk of being traced by his enemies, he has stopped all channels of communication with his friends?"