Even here, however, Odo was aware of a certain disquietude. The Bishop's visitors, instead of engaging in animated disputations over his lordship's treasures, showed a disposition to walk apart, conversing in low tones; and he himself, presently complaining of the heat, invited Odo to accompany him to the grot beneath the terrace. In this shaded retreat, studded with shells and coral and cooled by an artificial wind forced through the conchs of marble Tritons, his lordship at once began to speak of the rumours of public disaffection.
"As you know," said he, "my duties and tastes alike seclude me from political intrigue, and the scandal of the day seldom travels beyond my kitchens. But as creaking signboards announce a storm, the hints and whispers of my household tell me there is mischief abroad. My position protects me from personal risk, and my lack of ambition from political enmity; for it is notorious I would barter the highest honours in the state for a Greek vase or a bronze of Herculanaeum—not to mention the famous Venus of Giorgione, which, if report be true, his Highness has burned at Father Ignazio's instigation. But yours, cavaliere, is a less sheltered walk, and perhaps a friendly warning may be of service. Yet," he added after a pause, "a warning I can scarce call it, since I know not from what quarter the danger impends. Proximus ardet Ucalegon; but there is no telling which way the flames may spread. I can only advise you that the Duke's growing infatuation for his German magician has bred the most violent discontent among his subjects, and that both parties appear resolved to use this disaffection to their advantage. It is said his Highness intends to subject the little prince to some mysterious treatment connected with the rites of the Egyptian priesthood, of whose secret doctrine Heiligenstern pretends to be an adept. Yesterday it was bruited that the Duchess loudly opposed the experiment; this afternoon it is given out that she has yielded. What the result may be, none can foresee; but whichever way the storm blows, the chief danger probably threatens those who have had any connection with the secret societies known to exist in the duchy."
Odo listened attentively, but without betraying any great surprise; and the Bishop, evidently reassured by his composure, suggested that, the heat of the day having declined, they should visit the new Indian pheasants in his volary.
The Bishop's hints had not helped his listener to a decision. Odo indeed gave Cantapresto orders to prepare as privately as possible for their departure; but rather to appear to be carrying out the Duke's instructions than with any fixed intention of so doing. How to find a pretext for remaining he was yet uncertain. To disobey the Duke was impossible; but in the general state of tension it seemed likely enough that both his Highness and the Duchess might change their minds within the next twenty-four hours. He was reluctant to appear that evening in the Duchess's circle; but the command was not to be evaded, and he went thither resolved to excuse himself early.
He found her Highness surrounded by the usual rout that attended her. She was herself in a mood of wild mirth, occasioned by the drolleries of an automatic female figure which a travelling showman introduced by Cantapresto had obtained leave to display at court. This lively puppet performed with surprising skill on the harpsichord, giving the company, among other novelties, selections from the maestro Piccini's latest opera and a concerto of the German composer Gluck.
Maria Clementina seemed at first unaware of her kinsman's presence, and he began to hope he might avoid any private talk with her; but when the automaton had been dismissed and the card-tables were preparing, one of her gentlemen summoned him to her side. As usual, she was highly rouged in the French fashion, and her cold blue eyes had a light which set off the extraordinary fairness of her skin.
"Cousin," said she at once, "have you your papers?" Her tone was haughty and yet eager, as though she scorned to show herself concerned, yet would not have had him believe in her indifference. Odo bowed without speaking.
"And when do you set out?" she continued. "My good uncle is impatient to receive you."
"At the earliest moment, madam," he replied with some hesitation.
The hesitation was not lost on her and he saw her flush through her rouge.
"Ah," said she in a low voice, "the earliest moment is none too early!—Do you go tomorrow?" she persisted; but just then Trescorre advanced toward them, and under a burst of assumed merriment she privately signed to Odo to withdraw.
He was glad to make his escape, for the sense of walking among hidden pitfalls was growing on him. That he had acquitted himself awkwardly with the Duchess he was well aware; but Trescorre's interruption had at least enabled him to gain time. An increasing unwillingness to leave Pianura had replaced his former impatience to be gone. The reluctance to desert his friends was coupled with a boyish desire to stay and see the game out; and behind all his other impulses lurked the instinctive resistance to any feminine influence save one.
The next morning he half-expected another message from the Duchess; but none came, and he judged her to be gravely offended. Cantapresto appeared early with the rumour that some kind of magical ceremony was to be performed that evening in the palace; and toward noon the Georgian boy again came privately to Odo and requested him to wait on the Duke when his Highness rose from supper. This increased Odo's fears for Gamba, Andreoni and the other reformers; yet he dared neither seek them out in person nor entrust a message to Cantapresto. As the day passed, however, he began to throw off his apprehensions. It was not the first time since he had come to Pianura that there had been ominous talk of political disturbances, and he knew that Gamba and his friends were not without means of getting under shelter. As to his own risk, he did not give it a thought. He was not of an age or a temper to weigh personal danger against the excitement of conflict; and as evening drew on he found himself wondering with some impatience if after all nothing unusual would happen.
He supped alone, and at the appointed hour proceeded to the Duke's apartments, taking no farther precaution than to carry his passport about him. The palace seemed deserted. Everywhere an air of apprehension and mystery hung over the long corridors and dimly-lit antechambers. The day had been sultry, with a low sky foreboding great heat, and not a breath of air entered at the windows. There were few persons about, but one or two beggars lurked as usual on the landings of the great staircase, and Odo, in passing, felt his sleeve touched by a woman cowering under the marble ramp in the shadow thrown by a colossal Caesar. Looking down, he heard a voice beg for alms, and as he gave it the woman pressed a paper into his hand and slipped away through the darkness.
Odo hastened on till he could assure himself of being unobserved; then he unfolded the paper and read these words in Gamba's hand: "Have no fear for any one's safety but your own." With a sense of relief he hid the message and entered the Duke's antechamber.
Here he was received by Heiligenstern's Oriental servant, who, with a mute salutation, led him into a large room where the Duke's pages usually waited. The walls of this apartment had been concealed under hangings of black silk worked with cabalistic devices. Oil-lamps set on tripods of antique design shed a faint light over the company seated at one end of the room, among whom Odo recognised the chief dignitaries of the court. The ladies looked pale but curious, the men for the most part indifferent or disapproving. Intense quietness prevailed, broken only by the soft opening and closing of the door through which the guests were admitted. Presently the Duke and Duchess emerged from his Highness's closet. They were followed by Prince Ferrante, supported by his governor and his dwarf, and robed in a silken dressing-gown which hung in voluminous folds about his little shrunken body. Their Highnesses seated themselves in two armchairs in front of the court, and the little prince reclined beside his mother.
No sooner had they taken their places than Heiligenstern stepped forth, wearing a doctor's gown and a quaintly-shaped bonnet or mitre. In his long robes and strange headdress he looked extraordinarily tall and pale, and his features had the glassy-eyed fixity of an ancient mask. He was followed by his two attendants, the Oriental carrying a frame-work of polished metal, not unlike a low narrow bed, which he set down in the middle of the room; while the Georgian lad, who had exchanged his fustanella and embroidered jacket for a flowing white robe, bore in his hands a crystal globe set in a gold stand. Having reverently placed it on a small table, the boy, at a signal from his master, drew forth a phial and dropped its contents into a bronze vat or brazier which stood at the far end of the room. Instantly clouds of perfumed vapour filled the air, and as these dispersed it was seen that the black hangings of the walls had vanished with them, and the spectators found themselves seated in a kind of open temple through which the eye travelled down colonnaded vistas set with statues and fountains. This magical prospect was bathed in sunlight, and Odo observed that, though the lamps had gone out, the same brightness suffused the room and illuminated the wondering faces of the audience. The little prince uttered a cry of delight, and the magician stepped forward, raising a long white wand in his hand.
"This," said he, in measured accents, "is an evocation of the Temple of Health, into whose blissful precincts the wisdom of the ancients was able to lead the sufferer who put his trust in them. This deceptio visus, or product of rhabdomancy, easily effected by an adept of the Egyptian mysteries, is designed but to prefigure the reality which awaits those who seek health through the ministry of the disciples of Iamblichus. It is no longer denied among men of learning that those who have been instructed in the secret doctrine of the ancients are able, by certain correspondences of nature, revealed only to the initiated, to act on the inanimate world about them, and on the animal economy, by means beyond the common capabilities of man." He paused a moment, and then, turning with a low bow to the Duke, enquired whether his Highness desired the rites to proceed.
The Duke signed his assent, and Heiligenstern, raising his wand, evoked another volume of mist. This time it was shot through with green flames, and as the wild light subsided the room was once more revealed with its black hangings, and the lamps flickered into life again.
After another pause, doubtless intended to increase the tension of the spectators, the magician bade his servant place the crystal before him. He then raised his hands as if in prayer, speaking in a strange chanting jargon, in which Odo detected fragments of Greek and Latin, and the recurring names of the Judaic demons and angels. As this ceased Heiligenstern beckoned to the Georgian boy, who approached him with bowed head and reverently folded hands.
"Your Highness," said Heiligenstern, "and this distinguished company, are doubtless familiar with the magic crystal of the ancients, in which the future may be deciphered by the pure in heart. This lad, whom I rescued from slavery and have bred to my service in the solemn rites of the priesthood of Isis, is as clear in spirit as the crystal which stands before you. The future lies open to him in this translucent sphere and he is prepared to disclose it at your bidding."
There was a moment's silence; but on the magician's repeating his enquiry the Duke said: "Let the boy tell me what he sees."
Heiligenstern at once laid his hands on his acolyte's head and murmured a few words over him; then the boy advanced and bent devoutly above the crystal. Almost immediately the globe was seen to cloud, as though suffused with milk; the cloud gradually faded and the boy began to speak in a low hesitating tone.
"I see," he said, "I see a face...a fair face..." He faltered and glanced up almost apprehensively at Heiligenstern, whose gaze remained impenetrable. The boy began to tremble. "I see nothing," he said in a whisper. "There is one here purer than I...the crystal will not speak for me in that other's presence..."
"Who is that other?" Heiligenstern asked.
The boy fixed his eyes on the little prince. An excited murmur ran through the company and Heiligenstern again advanced to the Duke. "Will your Highness," he asked, "permit the prince to look into the sacred sphere?"
Odo saw the Duchess extend her hand impulsively toward the child; but at a signal from the Duke the little prince's chair was carried to the table on which the crystal stood. Instantly the former phenomenon was repeated, the globe clouding and then clearing itself like a pool after rain.
"Speak, my son," said the Duke. "Tell us what the heavenly powers reveal to you."
The little prince continued to pore over the globe without speaking. Suddenly his thin face reddened and he clung more closely to his companion's arm.
"I see a beautiful place," he began, his small fluting voice rising like a bird's pipe in the stillness, "a place a thousand times more beautiful than this...like a garden...full of golden-haired children...with beautiful strange toys in their hands...they have wings like birds...they ARE birds...ah! they are flying away from me...I see them no more...they vanish through the trees..." He broke off sadly.
Heiligenstern smiled. "That, your Highness, is a vision of the prince's own future, when, restored to health, he is able to disport himself with his playmates in the gardens of the palace."
"But they were not the gardens of the palace!" the little boy exclaimed. "They were much more beautiful than our gardens."
Heiligenstern bowed. "They appeared so to your Highness," he deferentially suggested, "because all the world seems more beautiful to those who have regained their health."
"Enough, my son!" exclaimed the Duchess with a shaken voice. "Why will you weary the child?" she continued, turning to the Duke; and the latter, with evident reluctance, signed to Heiligenstern to cover the crystal. To the general surprise, however, Prince Ferrante pushed back the black velvet covering which the Georgian boy was preparing to throw over it.
"No, no," he exclaimed, in the high obstinate voice of the spoiled child, "let me look again...let me see some more beautiful things...I have never seen anything so beautiful, even in my sleep!" It was the plaintive cry of the child whose happiest hours are those spent in unconsciousness.
"Look again, then," said the Duke, "and ask the heavenly powers what more they have to show you."
The boy gazed in silence; then he broke out: "Ah, now we are in the palace...I see your Highness's cabinet...no, it is the bedchamber...it is night...and I see your Highness lying asleep...very still...very still...your Highness wears the scapular received last Easter from his Holiness...It is very dark...Oh, now a light begins to shine...where does it come from? Through the door? No, there is no door on that side of the room...It shines through the wall at the foot of the bed...ah! I see"—his voice mounted to a cry—"The old picture at the foot of the bed...the picture with the wicked people burning in it...has opened like a door...the light is shining through it...and now a lady steps out from the wall behind the picture...oh, so beautiful...she has yellow hair, as yellow as my mother's...but longer...oh, much longer...she carries a rose in her hand...and there are white doves flying about her shoulders...she is naked, quite naked, poor lady! but she does not seem to mind...she seems to be laughing about it...and your Highness..."
The Duke started up violently. "Enough—enough!" he stammered. "The fever is on the child...this agitation is...most pernicious...Cover the crystal, I say!"
He sank back, his forehead damp with perspiration. In an instant the crystal had been removed, and Prince Ferrante carried back to his mother's side. The boy seemed in nowise affected by his father's commotion. His eyes burned with excitement, and he sat up eagerly, as though not to miss a detail of what was going forward. Maria Clementina leaned over and clasped his hand, but he hardly noticed her. "I want to see some more beautiful things!" he insisted.
The Duke sat speechless, a fallen heap in his chair, and the courtiers looked at each other, their faces shifting spectrally in the faint light, like phantom travellers waiting to be ferried across some mysterious river. At length Heiligenstern advanced and with every mark of deference addressed himself to the Duke.
"Your Highness," said he quietly, "need be under no apprehension as to the effect produced upon the prince. The magic crystal, as your Highness is aware, is under the protection of the blessed spirits, and its revelations cannot harm those who are pure-minded enough to receive them. But the chief purpose of this assemblage was to witness the communication of vital force to the prince, by means of the electrical current. The crystal, by revealing its secrets to the prince, has testified to his perfect purity of mind, and thus declared him to be in a peculiarly fit state to receive what may be designated as the Sacrament of the new faith."
A murmur ran through the room, but Heiligenstern continued without wavering: "I mean thereby to describe that natural religion which, by instructing its adepts in the use of the hidden potencies of earth and air, testifies afresh to the power of the unseen Maker of the Universe."
The murmur subsided, and the Duke, regaining his voice, said with an assumption of authority: "Let the treatment begin."
Heiligenstern immediately spoke a word to the Oriental, who bent over the metal bed which had been set up in the middle of the room. As he did so the air again darkened and the figures of the magician and his assistants were discernible only as flitting shades in the obscurity. Suddenly a soft pure light overflowed the room, the perfume of flowers filled the air, and music seemed to steal out of the very walls. Heiligenstern whispered to the governor and between them they lifted the little prince from his chair and laid him gently on the bed. The magician then leaned over the boy with a slow weaving motion of the hands.
"If your Highness will be pleased to sleep," he said, "I promise your Highness the most beautiful dreams."
The boy smiled back at him and he continued to bend above the bed with flitting hands. Suddenly the little prince began to laugh.
"What does your Highness feel?" the magician asked.
"A prickling...such a soft warm prickling...as if my blood were sunshine with motes dancing in it...or as if that sparkling wine of France were running all over my body."
"It is an agreeable sensation, your Highness?"
The boy nodded.
"It is well with your Highness?"
Heiligenstern began a loud rhythmic chant, and gradually the air darkened, but with the mild dimness of a summer twilight, through which sparks could be seen flickering like fire-flies about the reclining prince. The hush grew deeper; but in the stillness Odo became aware of some unseen influence that seemed to envelope him in waves of exquisite sensation. It was as though the vast silence of the night had poured into the room and, like a dark tepid sea, was lapping about his body and rising to his lips. His thoughts, dissolved into emotion, seemed to waver and float on the stillness like sea-weed on the lift of the tide. He stood spell-bound, lulled, yielding himself to a blissful dissolution.
Suddenly he became aware that the hush was too intense, too complete; and a moment later, as though stretched to the cracking-point, it burst terrifically into sound. A huge uproar shook the room, crashing through it like a tangible mass. The sparks whirled in a menacing dance round the little prince's body, and, abruptly blotted, left a deeper darkness, in which the confused herding movements of startled figures were indistinguishably merged. A flash of silence followed; then the liberated forces of the night broke in rain and thunder on the rocking walls of the room.
"Light—light!" some one stammered; and at the same moment a door was flung open, admitting a burst of candle-light and a group of figures in ecclesiastical dress, against which the white gown and black hood of Father Ignazio detached themselves. The Dominican stepped toward the Duke.
"Your Highness," said he in a tone of quiet resolution, "must pardon this interruption; I act at the bidding of the Holy Office."
Even in that moment of profound disarray the name sent a deeper shudder through his hearers. The Duke, who stood grasping the arms of his chair, raised his head and tried to stare down the intruders; but no one heeded his look. At a signal from the Dominican a servant had brought in a pair of candelabra, and in their commonplace light the cabalistic hangings, the magician's appliances and his fantastically-dressed attendants looked as tawdry as the paraphernalia of a village quack. Heiligenstern alone survived the test. Erect, at bay as it were, his black robe falling in hieratic folds, the white wand raised in his hands, he might have personified the Prince of Darkness drawn up undaunted against the hosts of the Lord. Some one had snatched the little prince from his stretcher, and Maria Clementina, holding him to her breast, sat palely confronting the sorcerer. She alone seemed to measure her strength against his in some mysterious conflict of the will. But meanwhile the Duke had regained his voice.
"My father," said he, "on what information does the Holy Office act?"
The Dominican drew a parchment from his breast. "On that of the Inquisitor General, your Highness," he replied, handing the paper to the Duke, who unfolded it with trembling hands but was plainly unable to master its contents. Father Ignazio beckoned to an ecclesiastic who had entered the room in his train.
"This, your Highness," said he, "is the abate de Crucis of Innsbruck, who was lately commissioned by the Holy Office to enquire into the practises and doctrine of the order of the Illuminati, that corrupt and atheistical sect which has been the cause of so much scandal among the German principalities. In the course of his investigations he became aware that the order had secretly established a lodge in Pianura; and hastening hither from Rome to advise your Highness of the fact, has discovered in the so-called Count Heiligenstern one of the most notorious apostles of the order." He turned to the priest. "Signor abate," he said, "you confirm these facts?"
The abate de Crucis quietly advanced. He was a slight pale man of about thirty, with a thoughtful and indulgent cast of countenance.
"In every particular," said he, bowing profoundly to the Duke, and speaking in a low voice of singular sweetness. "It has been my duty to track this man's career from its ignoble beginning to its infamous culmination, and I have been able to place in the hands of the Holy Office the most complete proofs of his guilt. The so-called Count Heiligenstern is the son of a tailor in a small village of Pomerania. After passing through various vicissitudes with which I need not trouble your Highness, he obtained the confidence of the notorious Dr. Weishaupt, the founder of the German order of the Illuminati, and together this precious couple have indefatigably propagated their obscene and blasphemous doctrines. That they preach atheism and tyrannicide I need not tell your Highness; but it is less generally known that they have made these infamous doctrines the cloak of private vices from which even paganism would have recoiled. The man now before me, among other open offences against society, is known to have seduced a young girl of noble family in Ratisbon and to have murdered her child. His own wife and children he long since abandoned and disowned; and the youth yonder, whom he describes as a Georgian slave rescued from the Grand Signior's galleys, is in fact the wife of a Greek juggler of Ravenna, and has forsaken her husband to live in criminal intercourse with an atheist and assassin."
This indictment, pronounced with an absence of emotion which made each word cut the air like the separate stroke of a lash, was followed by a prolonged silence; then one of the Duchess's ladies cried out suddenly and burst into tears. This was the signal for a general outbreak. The room was filled with a confusion of voices, and among the groups surging about him Odo noticed a number of the Duke's sbirri making their way quietly through the crowd. The notary of the Holy Office advanced toward Heiligenstern, who had placed himself against the wall, with one arm flung about his trembling acolyte. The Duchess, her boy still clasped against her, remained proudly seated; but her eyes met Odo's in a glance of terrified entreaty, and at the same instant he felt a clutch on his sleeve and heard Cantapresto's whisper.
"Cavaliere, a boat waits at the landing below the tanners' lane. The shortest way to it is through the gardens and your excellency will find the gate beyond the Chinese pavilion unlocked."
He had vanished before Odo could look round. The latter still wavered; but as he did so he caught Trescorre's face through the crowd. The minister's eye was fixed on him; and the discovery was enough to make him plunge through the narrow wake left by Cantapresto's retreat.
Odo made his way unhindered to the ante-room, which was also thronged, ecclesiastics, servants and even beggars from the courtyard jostling each other in their struggle to see what was going forward. The confusion favoured his escape, and a moment later he was hastening down the tapestry gallery and through the vacant corridors of the palace. He was familiar with half-a-dozen short-cuts across this network of passages; but in his bewilderment he pressed on down the great stairs and across the echoing guard-room that opened on the terrace. A drowsy sentinel challenged him; and on Odo's explaining that he sought to leave, and not to enter, the palace, replied that he had his Highness's orders to let no one out that night. For a moment Odo was at a loss; then he remembered his passport. It seemed to him an interminable time before the sentinel had scrutinised it by the light of a guttering candle, and to his surprise he found himself in a cold sweat of fear. The rattle of the storm simulated footsteps at his heels and he felt the blind rage of a man within shot of invisible foes.
The passport restored, he plunged out into the night. It was pitch-black in the gardens and the rain drove down with the guttural rush of a midsummer storm. So fierce was its fall that it seemed to suck up the earth in its black eddies, and he felt himself swept along over a heaving hissing surface, with wet boughs lashing out at him as he fled. From one terrace to another he dropped to lower depths of buffeting dripping darkness, till he found his hand on the gate-latch and swung to the black lane below the wall. Thence on a run he wound to the tanners' quarter by the river: a district commonly as foul-tongued as it was ill-favoured, but tonight clean-purged of both evils by the vehement sweep of the storm. Here he groped his way among slippery places and past huddled out-buildings to the piles of the wharf. The rain was now subdued to a noiseless vertical descent, through which he could hear the tap of the river against the piles. Scarce knowing what he fled or whither he was flying, he let himself down the steps and found the flat of a boat's bottom underfoot. A boatman, distinguishable only as a black bulk in the stern, steadied his descent with outstretched hand; then the bow swung round, and after a labouring stroke or two they caught the current and were swept down through the rushing darkness.
The Vision touched him on the lips and said: Hereafter thou shalt eat me in thy bread, Drink me in all thy kisses, feel my hand Steal 'twixt thy palm and Joy's, and see me stand Watchful at every crossing of the ways, The insatiate lover of thy nights and days.
It was at Naples, some two years later, that the circumstances of his flight were recalled to Odo Valsecca by the sound of a voice which at once mysteriously connected itself with the incidents of that wild night.
He was seated with a party of gentlemen in the saloon of Sir William Hamilton's famous villa of Posilipo, where they were sipping the ambassador's iced sherbet and examining certain engraved gems and burial-urns recently taken from the excavations. The scene was such as always appealed to Odo's fancy: the spacious room, luxuriously fitted with carpets and curtains in the English style, and opening on a prospect of classical beauty and antique renown; in his hands the rarest specimens of that buried art which, like some belated golden harvest, was now everywhere thrusting itself through the Neapolitan soil; and about him men of taste and understanding, discussing the historic or mythological meaning of the objects before them, and quoting Homer or Horace in corroboration of their guesses.
Several visitors had joined the party since Odo's entrance; and it was from a group of these later arrivals that the voice had reached him. He looked round and saw a man of refined and scholarly appearance, dressed en abbe, as was the general habit in Rome and Naples, and holding in one hand the celebrated blue vase cut in cameo which Sir William had recently purchased from the Barberini family.
"These reliefs," the stranger was saying, "whether cut in the substance itself, or afterward affixed to the glass, certainly belong to the Grecian period of cameo-work, and recall by the purity of their design the finest carvings of Dioskorides." His beautifully-modulated Italian was tinged by a slight foreign accent, which seemed to connect him still more definitely with the episode his voice recalled. Odo turned to a gentleman at his side and asked the speaker's name.
"That," was the reply, "is the abate de Crucis, a scholar and cognoscente, as you perceive, and at present attached to the household of the Papal Nuncio."
Instantly Odo beheld the tumultuous scene in the Duke's apartments, and heard the indictment of Heiligenstern falling in tranquil accents from the very lips which were now, in the same tone, discussing the date of a Greek cameo vase. Even in that moment of disorder he had been struck by the voice and aspect of the agent of the Holy Office, and by a singular distinction that seemed to set the man himself above the coil of passions in which his action was involved. To Odo's spontaneous yet reflective temper there was something peculiarly impressive in the kind of detachment which implies, not obtuseness or indifference, but a higher sensitiveness disciplined by choice. Now he felt a renewed pang of regret that such qualities should be found in the service of the opposition; but the feeling was not incompatible with a wish to be more nearly acquainted with their possessor.
The two years elapsing since Odo's departure from Pianura had widened if they had not lifted his outlook. If he had lost something of his early enthusiasm he had exchanged it for a larger experience of cities and men, and for the self-command born of varied intercourse. He had reached a point where he was able to survey his past dispassionately and to disentangle the threads of the intrigue in which he had so nearly lost his footing. The actual circumstances of his escape were still wrapped in mystery: he could only conjecture that the Duchess, foreseeing the course events would take, had planned with Cantapresto to save him in spite of himself. His nocturnal flight down the river had carried him to Ponte di Po, the point where the Piana flows into the Po, the latter river forming for a few miles the southern frontier of the duchy. Here his passport had taken him safely past the customs-officer, and following the indications of the boatman, he had found, outside the miserable village clustered about the customs, a travelling-chaise which brought him before the next night-fall to Monte Alloro.
Of the real danger from which this timely retreat had removed him, Gamba's subsequent letters had brought ample proof. It was indeed mainly against himself that both parties, perhaps jointly, had directed their attack; designing to take him in the toils ostensibly prepared for the Illuminati. His evasion known, the Holy Office had contented itself with imprisoning Heiligenstern in one of the Papal fortresses near the Adriatic, while his mistress, though bred in the Greek confession, was confined in a convent of the Sepolte Vive and his Oriental servant sent to the Duke's galleys. As to those suspected of affiliations with the forbidden sect, fines and penances were imposed on a few of the least conspicuous, while the chief offenders, either from motives of policy or thanks to their superior adroitness, were suffered to escape without a reprimand. After this, Gamba's letters reported, the duchy had lapsed into its former state of quiescence. Prince Ferrante had been seriously ailing since the night of the electrical treatment, but the Pope having sent his private physician to Pianura, the boy had rallied under the latter's care. The Duke, as was natural, had suffered an acute relapse of piety, spending his time in expiatory pilgrimages to the various votive churches of the duchy, and declining to transact any public business till he should have compiled with his own hand a calendar of the lives of the saints, with the initial letters painted in miniature, which he designed to present to his Holiness at Easter.
Meanwhile Odo, at Monte Alloro, found himself in surroundings so different from those he had left that it seemed incredible they should exist in the same world. The Duke of Monte Alloro was that rare survival of a stronger age, a cynic. In a period of sentimental optimism, of fervid enthusiasms and tearful philanthropy, he represented the pleasure-loving prince of the Renaissance, crushing his people with taxes but dazzling them with festivities; infuriating them by his disregard of the public welfare, but fascinating them by his good looks, his tolerance of old abuses, his ridicule of the monks, and by the careless libertinage which had founded the fortunes of more than one middle-class husband and father—for the Duke always paid well for what he appropriated. He had grown old in his pleasant sins, and these, as such raiment will, had grown old and dingy with him; but if no longer splendid he was still splendour-loving, and drew to his court the most brilliant adventurers of Italy. Spite of his preference for such company, he had a nobler side, the ruins of a fine but uncultivated intelligence, and a taste for all that was young, generous and high in looks and courage. He was at once drawn to Odo, who instinctively addressed himself to these qualities, and whose conversation and manners threw into relief the vulgarity of the old Duke's cronies. The latter was the shrewd enough to enjoy the contrast at the expense of his sycophants' vanity; and the cavaliere Valsecca was for a while the reigning favourite. It would have been hard to say whether his patron was most tickled by his zeal for economic reforms, or by his faith in the perfectibility of man. Both these articles of Odo's creed drew tears of enjoyment from the old Duke's puffy eyes; and he was never tired of declaring that only his hatred for his nephew of Pianura induced him to accord his protection to so dangerous an enemy of society.
Odo at first fancied that it was in response to a mere whim of the Duke's that he had been despatched to Monte Alloro; but he soon perceived that the invitation had been inspired by Maria Clementina's wish. Some three months after Odo's arrival, Cantapresto suddenly appeared with a packet of letters from the Duchess. Among them her Highness had included a few lines to Odo, whom she briefly adjured not to return to Pianura, but to comply in all things with her uncle's desires. Soon after this the old Duke sent for Odo, and asked him how his present mode of life agreed with his tastes. Odo, who had learned that frankness was the surest way to the Duke's favour, replied that, while nothing could be more agreeable than the circumstances of his sojourn at Monte Alloro, he must own to a wish to travel when the occasion offered.
"Why, this is as I fancied," replied the Duke, who held in his hand an open letter on which Odo recognised Maria Clementina's seal. "We have always," he continued, "spoken plainly with each other, and I will not conceal from you that it is for your best interests that you should remain away from Pianura for the present. The Duke, as you doubtless divine, is anxious for your return, and her Highness, for that very reason, is urgent that you should prolong your absence. It is notorious that the Duke soon wearies of those about him, and that your best chance of regaining his favour is to keep out of his reach and let your enemies hang themselves in the noose they have prepared for you. For my part, I am always glad to do an ill-turn to that snivelling friar, my nephew, and the more so when I can seriously oblige a friend; and, as you have perhaps guessed, the Duke dares not ask for your return while I show a fancy for your company. But this," added he with an ironical twinkle, "is a tame place for a young man of your missionary temper, and I have a mind to send you on a visit to that arch-tyrant Ferdinand of Naples, in whose dominions a man may yet burn for heresy or be drawn and quartered for poaching on a nobleman's preserves. I am advised that some rare treasures have lately been taken from the excavations there and I should be glad if you would oblige me by acquiring a few for my gallery. I will give you letters to a cognoscente of my acquaintance, who will put his experience at the disposal of your excellent taste, and the funds at your service will, I hope, enable you to outbid the English brigands who, as the Romans say, would carry off the Colosseum if it were portable."
In all this Odo discerned Maria Clementina's hand, and an instinctive resistance made him hang back upon his patron's proposal. But the only alternative was to return to Pianura; and every letter from Gamba urged on him (for the very reasons the Duke had given) the duty of keeping out of reach as the surest means of saving himself and the cause to which he was pledged. Nothing remained but a graceful acquiescence; and early the next spring he started for Naples.
His first impulse had been to send Cantapresto back to the Duchess. He knew that he owed his escape me grave difficulties to the soprano's prompt action on the night of Heiligenstern's arrest; but he was equally sure that such action might not always be as favourable to his plans. It was plain that Cantapresto was paid to spy on him, and that whenever Odo's intentions clashed with those of his would-be protectors the soprano would side with the latter. But there was something in the air of Monte Alloro which dispelled such considerations, or at least weakened the impulse to act on them. Cantapresto as usual had attracted notice at court. His glibness and versatility amused the Duke, and to Odo he was as difficult to put off as a bad habit. He had become so accomplished a servant that he seemed a sixth sense of his master's; and when the latter prepared to start on his travels Cantapresto took his usual seat in the chaise.
To a traveller of Odo's temper there could be few more agreeable journeys than the one on which he was setting out, and the Duke being in no haste to have his commission executed, his messenger had full leisure to enjoy every stage of the way. He profited by this to visit several of the small principalities north of the Apennines before turning toward Genoa, whence he was to take ship for the South. When he left Monte Alloro the land had worn the bleached face of February, and it was amazing to his northern-bred eyes to find himself, on the sea-coast, in the full exuberance of summer. Seated by this halcyon shore, Genoa, in its carved and frescoed splendour, just then celebrating with the customary gorgeous ritual the accession of a new Doge, seemed to Odo like the richly-inlaid frame of some Renaissance "triumph." But the splendid houses with their marble peristyles, and the painted villas in their orange-groves along the shore, housed a dull and narrow-minded society, content to amass wealth and play biribi under the eyes of their ancestral Vandykes, without any concern as to the questions agitating the world. A kind of fat commercial dulness, a lack of that personal distinction which justifies magnificence, seemed to Odo the prevailing note of the place; nor was he sorry when his packet set sail for Naples.
Here indeed he found all the vivacity that Genoa lacked. Few cities could at first acquaintance be more engaging to the stranger. Dull and brown as it appeared after the rich tints of Genoa, yet so gloriously did sea and land embrace it, so lavishly the sun gild and the moon silver it, that it seemed steeped in the surrounding hues of nature. And what a nature to eyes subdued to the sober tints of the north! Its spectacular quality—that studied sequence of effects ranging from the translucent outline of Capri and the fantastically blue mountains of the coast, to Vesuvius lifting its torch above the plain—this prodigal response to fancy's claims suggested the boundless invention of some great scenic artist, some Olympian Veronese with sea and sky for a palette. And then the city itself, huddled between bay and mountains, and seething and bubbling like a Titan's cauldron! Here was life at its source, not checked, directed, utilised, but gushing forth uncontrollably through every fissure of the brown walls and reeking streets—love and hatred, mirth and folly, impudence and greed, going naked and unashamed as the lazzaroni on the quays. The variegated surface of it all was fascinating to Odo. It set free his powers of purely physical enjoyment, keeping all deeper sensations in abeyance. These, however, presently found satisfaction in that other hidden beauty of which city and plain were but the sumptuous drapery. It is hardly too much to say that to the trained eyes of the day the visible Naples hardly existed, so absorbed were they in the perusal of her buried past. The fever of excavation was on every one. No social or political problem could find a hearing while the subject of the last coin or bas-relief from Pompeii or Herculanaeum remained undecided. Odo, at first an amused spectator, gradually found himself engrossed in the fierce quarrels raging over the date of an intaglio or the myth represented on an amphora. The intrinsic beauty of the objects, and the light they shed on one of the most brilliant phases of human history, were in fact sufficient to justify the prevailing ardour; and the reconstructive habit he had acquired from Crescenti lent a living interest to the driest discussion between rival collectors.
Gradually other influences reasserted themselves. At the house of Sir William Hamilton, then the centre of the most polished society in Naples, he met not only artists and archeologists, but men of letters and of affairs. Among these, he was peculiarly drawn to the two distinguished economists, the abate Galiani and the cavaliere Filangieri, in whose company he enjoyed for the first time sound learning unhampered by pedantry. The lively Galiani proved that social tastes and a broad wit are not incompatible with more serious interests; and Filangieri threw the charm of a graceful personality over any topic he discussed. In the latter, indeed, courtly, young and romantic, a thinker whose intellectual acuteness was steeped in moral emotion, Odo beheld the type of the new chivalry, an ideal leader of the campaign against social injustice. Filangieri represented the extremest optimism of the day. His sense of existing abuses was only equalled by his faith in their speedy amendment. Love was to cure all evils: the love of man for man, the effusive all-embracing sympathy of the school of the Vicaire Savoyard, was to purge the emotions by tenderness and pity. In Gamba, the victim of the conditions he denounced, the sense of present hardship prevailed over the faith in future improvement; while Filangieri's social superiority mitigated his view of the evils and magnified the efficacy of the proposed remedies. Odo's days passed agreeably in such intercourse, or in the excitement of excursions to the ruined cities; and as the court and the higher society of Naples offered little to engage him, he gradually restricted himself to the small circle of chosen spirits gathered at the villa Hamilton. To these he fancied the abate de Crucis might prove an interesting addition; and the desire to learn something of this problematic person induced him to quit the villa at the moment when the abate took leave.
They found themselves together on the threshold; and Odo, recalling to the other the circumstances of their first meeting, proposed that they should dismiss their carriages and regain the city on foot. De Crucis readily consented; and they were soon descending the hill of Posilipo. Here and there a turn in the road brought them to an open space whence they commanded the bay from Procida to Sorrento, with Capri afloat in liquid gold and the long blue shadow of Vesuvius stretching like a menace toward the city. The spectacle was one of which Odo never wearied; but today it barely diverted him from the charms of his companion's talk. The abate de Crucis had that quality of repressed enthusiasm, of an intellectual sensibility tempered by self-possession, which exercises the strongest attraction over a mind not yet master of itself. Though all he said had a personal note he seemed to withhold himself even in the moment of greatest expansion: like some prince who should enrich his favourites from the public treasury but keep his private fortune unimpaired. In the course of their conversation Odo learned that though of Austrian birth his companion was of mingled English and Florentine parentage: a fact perhaps explaining the mixture of urbanity and reserve that lent such charm to his manner. He told Odo that his connection with the Holy Office had been only temporary, and that, having contracted a severe cold the previous winter in Germany, he had accepted a secretaryship in the service of the Papal Nuncio in order to enjoy the benefits of a mild climate. "By profession," he added, "I am a pedagogue, and shall soon travel to Rome, where I have been called by Prince Bracciano to act as governor to his son; and meanwhile I am taking advantage of my residence here to indulge my taste for antiquarian studies."
He went on to praise the company they had just left, declaring that he knew no better way for a young man to form his mind than by frequenting the society of men of conflicting views and equal capacity. "Nothing," said he, "is more injurious to the growth of character than to be secluded from argument and opposition; as nothing is healthier than to be obliged to find good reasons for one's beliefs on pain of surrendering them."
"But," said Odo, struck with this declaration, "to a man of your cloth there is one belief which never surrenders to reason."
The other smiled. "True," he agreed; "but I often marvel to see how little our opponents know of that belief. The wisest of them seem in the case of those children at our country fairs who gape at the incredible things depicted on the curtains of the booths, without asking themselves whether the reality matches its presentment. The weakness of human nature has compelled us to paint the outer curtain of the sanctuary in gaudy colours, and the malicious fancy of our enemies has given a monstrous outline to these pictures; but what are such vanities to one who has passed beyond, and beheld the beauty of the King's daughter, all glorious within?"
As though unwilling to linger on such grave topics, he turned the talk to the scene at their feet, questioning Odo as to the impression Naples had made on him. He listened courteously to the young man's comments on the wretched state of the peasantry, the extravagances of the court and nobility and the judicial corruption which made the lower classes submit to any injustice rather than seek redress through the courts. De Crucis agreed with him in the main, admitting that the monopoly of corn, the maintenance of feudal rights and the King's indifference to the graver duties of his rank placed the kingdom of Naples far below such states as Tuscany or Venetia; "though," he added, "I think our economists, in praising one state at the expense of another, too often overlook those differences of character and climate that must ever make it impossible to govern different races in the same manner. Our peasants have a blunt saying: Cut off the dog's tail and he is still a dog; and so I suspect the most enlightened rule would hardly bring this prompt and choleric people, living on a volcanic soil amid a teeming vegetation, into any resemblance with the clear-headed Tuscan or the gentle and dignified Roman."
As he spoke they emerged upon the Chiaia, where at that hour the quality took the air in their carriages, while the lower classes thronged the footway. A more vivacious scene no city of Europe could present. The gilt coaches drawn by six or eight of the lively Neapolitan horses, decked with plumes and artificial flowers and preceded by running footmen who beat the foot-passengers aside with long staves; the richly-dressed ladies seated in this never-ending file of carriages, bejewelled like miraculous images and languidly bowing to their friends; the throngs of citizens and their wives in holiday dress; the sellers of sherbet, ices and pastry bearing their trays and barrels through the crowd with strange cries and the jingling of bells; the friars of every order in their various habits, the street-musicians, the half-naked lazzaroni, cripples and beggars, who fringed the throng like the line of scum edging a fair lake;—this medley of sound and colour, which in fact resembled some sudden growth of the fiery soil, was an expressive comment on the abate's words.
"Look," he continued, as he and Odo drew aside to escape the mud from an emblazoned chariot, "at the gold-leaf on the panels of that coach and the gold-lace on the liveries of those lacqueys. Is there any other city in the world where gold is so prodigally used? Where the monks gild their relics, the nobility their servants, the apothecaries their pills, the very butchers their mutton? One might fancy their bright sun had set them the example! And how cold and grey all soberer tints must seem to these children of Apollo! Well—so it is with their religion and their daily life. I wager half those naked wretches yonder would rather attend a fine religious service, with abundance of gilt candles, music from gilt organ-pipes, and incense from gilt censers, than eat a good meal or sleep in a decent bed; as they would rather starve under a handsome merry King that has the name of being the best billiard-player in Europe than go full under one of your solemn reforming Austrian Archdukes!"
The words recalled to Odo Crescenti's theory of the influence of character and climate on the course of history; and this subject soon engrossing both speakers, they wandered on, inattentive to their surroundings, till they found themselves in the thickest concourse of the Toledo. Here for a moment the dense crowd hemmed them in; and as they stood observing the humours of the scene, Odo's eye fell on the thick-set figure of a man in doctor's dress, who was being led through the press by two agents of the Inquisition. The sight was too common to have fixed his attention, had he not recognised with a start the irascible red-faced professor who, on his first visit to Vivaldi, had defended the Diluvial theory of creation. The sight raised a host of memories from which Odo would gladly have beaten a retreat; but the crowd held him in check and a moment later he saw that the doctor's eyes were fixed on him with an air of recognition. A movement of pity succeeded his first impulse, and turning to de Crucis he exclaimed:—"I see yonder an old acquaintance who seems in an unlucky plight and with whom I should be glad to speak."
The other, following his glance, beckoned to one of the sbirri, who made his way through the throng with the alacrity of one summoned by a superior. De Crucis exchanged a few words with him, and then signed to him to return to his charge, who presently vanished in some fresh shifting of the crowd.
"Your friend," said de Crucis, "has been summoned before the Holy Office to answer a charge of heresy preferred by the authorities. He has lately been appointed to the chair of physical sciences in the University here, and has doubtless allowed himself to publish openly views that were better expounded in the closet. His offence, however, appears to be a mild one, and I make no doubt he will be set free in a few days."
This, however, did not satisfy Odo; and he asked de Crucis if there were no way of speaking with the doctor at once.
His companion hesitated. "It can easily be arranged," said he; "but—pardon me, cavaliere—are you well-advised in mixing yourself in such matters?"
"I am well-advised in seeking to serve a friend!" Odo somewhat hotly returned; and de Crucis, with a faint smile of approval, replied quietly: "In that case I will obtain permission for you to visit your friend in the morning."
He was true to his word; and the next forenoon Odo, accompanied by an officer of police, was taken to the prison of the Inquisition. Here he found his old acquaintance seated in a clean commodious room and reading Aristotle's "History of Animals," the only volume of his library that he had been permitted to carry with him. He welcomed Odo heartily, and on the latter's enquiring what had brought him to this plight, replied with some dignity that he had been led there in the fulfilment of his duty.
"Some months ago," he continued, "I was summoned hither to profess the natural sciences in the University; a summons I readily accepted, since I hoped, by the study of a volcanic soil, to enlarge my knowledge of the globe's formation. Such in fact was the case, but to my surprise my researches led me to adopt the views I had formerly combated, and I now find myself in the ranks of the Vulcanists, or believers in the secondary origin of the earth: a view you may remember I once opposed with all the zeal of inexperience. Having firmly established every point in my argument according to the Baconian method of investigation, I felt it my duty to enlighten my scholars; and in the course of my last lecture I announced the result of my investigations. I was of course aware of the inevitable result; but the servants of Truth have no choice but to follow where she calls, and many have joyfully traversed stonier places than I am likely to travel."
Nothing could exceed the respect with which Odo heard this simple confession of faith. It was as though the speaker had unconsciously convicted him of remissness, of cowardice even; so vain and windy his theorising seemed, judged by the other's deliberate act! Yet placed as he was, what could he do, how advance their common end, but by passively waiting on events? At least, he reflected, he could perform the trivial service of trying to better his friend's case; and this he eagerly offered to attempt. The doctor thanked him, but without any great appearance of emotion: Odo was struck by the change which had transformed a heady and intemperate speaker into a model of philosophic calm. The doctor, indeed, seemed far more concerned for the safety of his library and his cabinet of minerals than for his own. "Happily," said he, "I am not a man of family, and can therefore sacrifice my liberty with a clear conscience: a fact I am the more thankful for when I recall the moral distress of our poor friend Vivaldi, when compelled to desert his post rather than be separated from his daughter."
The name brought the colour to Odo's brow, and with an embarrassed air he asked what news the doctor had of their friend.
"Alas," said the other, "the last was of his death, which happened two years since in Pavia. The Sardinian government had, as you probably know, confiscated his small property on his leaving the state, and I am told he died in great poverty, and in sore anxiety for his daughter's future." He added that these events had taken place before his own departure from Turin, and that since then he had learned nothing of Fulvia's fate, save that she was said to have made her home with an aunt who lived in a town of the Veneto.
Odo listened in silence. The lapse of time, and the absence of any links of association, had dimmed the girl's image in his breast; but at the mere sound of her name it lived again, and he felt her interwoven with his deepest fibres. The picture of her father's death and of her own need filled him with an ineffectual pity, and for a moment he thought of seeking her out; but the other could recall neither the name of the town she had removed to nor that of the relative who had given her a home.
To aid the good doctor was a simpler business. The intervention of de Crucis and Odo's own influence sufficed to effect his release, and on the payment of a heavy fine (in which Odo privately assisted him) he was reinstated in his chair. The only promise exacted by the Holy Office was that he should in future avoid propounding his own views on questions already decided by Scripture, and to this he readily agreed, since, as he shrewdly remarked to Odo, his opinions were now well-known, and any who wished farther instruction had only to apply to him privately.
The old Duke having invited Odo to return to Monte Alloro with such treasures as he had collected for the ducal galleries, the young man resolved to visit Rome on his way to the North. His acquaintance with de Crucis had grown into something like friendship since their joint effort in behalf of the imprisoned sage, and the abate preparing to set out about the same time, the two agreed to travel together. The road leading from Naples to Rome was at that time one of the worst in Italy, and was besides so ill-provided with inns that there was no inducement to linger on the way. De Crucis, however, succeeded in enlivening even this tedious journey. He was a good linguist and a sound classical scholar, besides having, as he had told Odo, a pronounced taste for antiquarian research. In addition to this, he performed agreeably on the violin, and was well-acquainted with the history of music. His chief distinction, however, lay in the ease with which he wore his accomplishments, and in a breadth of view that made it possible to discuss with him many subjects distasteful to most men of his cloth. The sceptical or licentious ecclesiastic was common enough; but Odo had never before met a priest who united serious piety with this indulgent temper, or who had learning enough to do justice to the arguments of his opponents.
On his venturing one evening to compliment de Crucis on these qualities, the latter replied with a smile: "Whatever has been lately advanced against the Jesuits, it can hardly be denied that they were good school-masters; and it is to them I owe the talents you have been pleased to admire. Indeed," he continued, quietly fingering his violin, "I was myself bred in the order: a fact I do not often make known in the present heated state of public opinion, but which I never conceal when commended for any quality that I owe to the Society rather than to my own merit."
Surprise for the moment silenced Odo; for though it was known that Italy was full of former Jesuits who had been permitted to remain in the country as secular priests, and even to act as tutors or professors in private families, he had never thought of de Crucis in this connection. The latter, seeing his surprise, went on: "Once a Jesuit, always a Jesuit, I suppose. I at least owe the Society too much not to own my debt when the occasion offers. Nor could I ever see the force of the charge so often brought against us: that we sacrifice everything to the glory of the order. For what is the glory of the order? Our own motto has declared it: Ad majorem Dei gloriam—who works for the Society works for its Master. If our zeal has been sometimes misdirected, our blood has a thousand times witnessed to its sincerity. In the Indies, in America, in England during the great persecution, and lately on our own unnatural coasts, the Jesuits have died for Christ as joyfully as His first disciples died for Him. Yet these are but a small number in comparison with the countless servants of the order who, labouring in far countries among savage peoples, or surrounded by the heretical enemies of our faith, have died the far bitterer death of moral isolation: setting themselves to their task with the knowledge that their lives were but so much indistinguishable dust to be added to the sum of human effort. What association founded on human interests has ever commanded such devotion? And what merely human authority could count on such unquestioning obedience, not in a mob of poor illiterate monks, but in men chosen for their capacity and trained to the exercise of their highest faculties? Yet there have never lacked such men to serve the Order; and as one of our enemies has said—our noblest enemy, the great Pascal—'je crois volontiers aux histoires dont les temoins se font egorger.'"
He did not again revert to his connection with the Jesuits; but in the farther course of their acquaintance Odo was often struck by the firmness with which he testified to the faith that was in him, without using the jargon of piety, or seeming, by his own attitude, to cast a reflection on that of others. He was indeed master of that worldly science which the Jesuits excelled in imparting, and which, though it might sink to hypocrisy in smaller natures, became in a finely-tempered spirit, the very flower of Christian courtesy.
Odo had often spoken to de Crucis of the luxurious lives led by many of the monastic orders in Naples. It might be true enough that the monks themselves, and even their abbots, fared on fish and vegetables, and gave their time to charitable and educational work; but it was impossible to visit the famous monastery of San Martino, or that of the Carthusians at Camaldoli, without observing that the anchoret's cell had expanded into a delightful apartment, with bedchamber, library and private chapel, and his cabbage-plot into a princely garden. De Crucis admitted the truth of the charge, explaining it in part by the character of the Neapolitan people, and by the tendency of the northern traveller to forget that such apparent luxuries as spacious rooms, shady groves and the like are regarded as necessities in a hot climate. He urged, moreover, that the monastic life should not be judged by a few isolated instances; and on the way to Rome he proposed that Odo, by way of seeing the other side of the question, should visit the ancient foundation of the Benedictines on Monte Cassino.
The venerable monastery, raised on its height over the busy vale of Garigliano, like some contemplative spirit above the conflicting problems of life, might well be held to represent the nobler side of Christian celibacy. For nearly a thousand years its fortified walls had been the stronghold of the humanities, and generations of students had cherished and added to the treasures of the famous library. But the Benedictine rule was as famous for good works as for learning, and its comparative abstention from dogmatic controversy and from the mechanical devotion of some of the other orders had drawn to it men of superior mind, who sought in the monastic life the free exercise of the noblest activities rather than a sanctified refuge from action. This was especially true of the monastery of Monte Cassino, whither many scholars had been attracted and where the fathers had long had the highest name for learning and beneficence. The monastery, moreover, in addition to its charitable and educational work among the poor, maintained a school of theology to which students came from all parts of Italy; and their presence lent an unwonted life to the great labyrinth of courts and cloisters.
The abbot, with whom de Crucis was well-acquainted, welcomed the travellers warmly, making them free of the library and the archives and pressing them to prolong their visit. Under the spell of these influences they lingered on from day to day; and to Odo they were the pleasantest days he had known. To be waked before dawn by the bell ringing for lauds—to rise from the narrow bed in his white-washed cell, and opening his casement look forth over the haze-enveloped valley, the dark hills of the Abruzzi and the remote gleam of sea touched into being by the sunrise—to hasten through hushed echoing corridors to the church, where in a grey resurrection-light the fathers were intoning the solemn office of renewal—this morning ablution of the spirit, so like the bodily plunge into clear cold water, seemed to attune the mind to the fullest enjoyment of what was to follow: the hours of study, the talks with the monks, the strolls through cloister or garden, all punctuated by the recurring summons to devotion. Yet for all its latent significance it remained to him a purely sensuous impression, the vision of a golden leisure: not a solution of life's perplexities, but at best an honourable escape from them.
"To know Rome is to have assisted at the councils of destiny!" This cry of a more famous traveller must have struggled for expression in Odo's breast as the great city, the city of cities, laid her irresistible hold upon him. His first impression, as he drove in the clear evening light from the Porta del Popolo to his lodgings in the Via Sistina, was of a prodigious accumulation of architectural effects, a crowding of century on century, all fused in the crucible of the Roman sun, so that each style seemed linked to the other by some subtle affinity of colour. Nowhere else, surely, is the traveller's first sight so crowded with surprises, with conflicting challenges to eye and brain. Here, as he passed, was a fragment of the ancient Servian wall, there a new stucco shrine embedded in the bricks of a medieval palace; on one hand a lofty terrace crowned by a row of mouldering busts, on the other a tower with machicolated parapet, its flanks encrusted with bits of Roman sculpture and the escutcheons of seventeenth-century Popes. Opposite, perhaps, one of Fuga's golden-brown churches, with windy saints blowing out of their niches, overlooked the nereids of a barocco fountain, or an old house propped itself like a palsied beggar against a row of Corinthian columns; while everywhere flights of steps led up and down to hanging gardens or under archways, and each turn revealed some distant glimpse of convent-walls on the slope of a vineyard or of red-brown ruins profiled against the dim sea-like reaches of the Campagna.
Afterward, as order was born out of chaos, and he began to thread his way among the centuries, this first vision lost something of its intensity; yet it was always, to the last, through the eye that Rome possessed him. Her life, indeed, as though in obedience to such a setting, was an external, a spectacular business, from the wild animation of the cattle-market in the Forum or the hucksters' traffic among the fountains of the Piazza Navona, to the pompous entertainments in the cardinals' palaces and the ever-recurring religious ceremonies and processions. Pius VI., in the reaction from Ganganelli's democratic ways, had restored the pomp and ceremonial of the Vatican with the religious discipline of the Holy Office; and never perhaps had Rome been more splendid on the surface or more silent and empty within. Odo, at times, as he moved through some assemblage of cardinals and nobles, had the sensation of walking through a huge reverberating palace, decked out with all the splendours of art but long since abandoned of men. The superficial animation, the taste for music and antiquities, all the dilettantisms of an idle and irresponsible society, seemed to him to shrivel to dust in the glare of that great past that lit up every corner of the present.
Through his own connections, and the influence of de Crucis, he saw all that was best not only among the nobility, but in that ecclesiastical life now more than ever predominant in Rome. Here at last he was face to face with the mighty Sphinx, and with the bleaching bones of those who had tried to guess her riddle. Wherever he went these "lost adventurers" walked the streets with him, gliding between the Princes of the Church in the ceremonies of Saint Peter's and the Lateran, or mingling in the company that ascended the state staircase at some cardinal's levee.
He met indeed many accomplished and amiable ecclesiastics, but it seemed to him that the more thoughtful among them had either acquired their peace of mind at the cost of a certain sensitiveness, or had taken refuge in a study of the past, as the early hermits fled to the desert from the disorders of Antioch and Alexandria. None seemed disposed to face the actual problems of life, and this attitude of caution or indifference had produced a stagnation of thought that contrasted strongly with the animation of Sir William Hamilton's circle in Naples. The result in Odo's case was a reaction toward the pleasures of his age; and of these Rome had but few to offer. He spent some months in the study of the antique, purchasing a few good examples of sculpture for the Duke, and then, without great reluctance, set out for Monte Alloro.
Here he found a changed atmosphere. The Duke welcomed him handsomely, and bestowed the highest praise on the rarities he had collected; but for the moment the court was ruled by a new favourite, to whom Odo's coming was obviously unwelcome. This adroit adventurer, whose name was soon to become notorious throughout Europe, had taken the old prince by his darling weaknesses, and Odo, having no mind to share in the excesses of the precious couple, seized the first occasion to set out again on his travels.
His course had now become one of aimless wandering; for prudence still forbade his return to Pianura, and his patron's indifference left him free to come and go as he chose. He had brought from Rome—that albergo d'ira—a settled melancholy of spirit, which sought refuge in such distractions as the moment offered. In such a mood change of scene was a necessity, and he resolved to employ the next months in visiting several of the mid-Italian cities. Toward Florence he was specially drawn by the fact that Alfieri now lived there; but, as often happens after such separations, the reunion was a disappointment. Alfieri, indeed, warmly welcomed his friend; but he was engrossed in his dawning passion for the Countess of Albany, and that lady's pitiable situation excluded all other interests from his mind. To Odo, to whom the years had brought an increasing detachment, this self-absorption seemed an arrest in growth; for Alfieri's early worship of liberty had not yet found its destined channel of expression, and for the moment his enthusiasms had shrunk to the compass of a romantic adventure. The friends parted after a few days of unsatisfying intercourse; and it was under the influence of this final disenchantment that Odo set out for Venice.
It was the vintage season, and the travellers descended from the Apennines on a landscape diversified by the picturesque incidents of the grape-gathering. On every slope stood some villa with awnings spread, and merry parties were picnicking among the vines or watching the peasants at their work. Cantapresto, who had shown great reluctance at leaving Monte Alloro, where, as he declared, he found himself as snug as an eel in a pasty, was now all eagerness to press forward; and Odo was in the mood to allow any influence to decide his course. He had an invaluable courier in Cantapresto, whose enormous pretensions generally assured him the best lodging and the fastest conveyance to be obtained, and who was never happier than when outwitting a rival emissary, or bribing a landlord to serve up on Odo's table the repast ordered in advance for some distinguished traveller. His impatience to reach Venice, which he described as the scene of all conceivable delights, had on this occasion tripled his zeal, and they travelled rapidly to Padua, where he had engaged a burchiello for the passage down the Brenta. Here, however, he found he had been outdone at his own game; for the servant of an English Duke had captured the burchiello and embarked his noble party before Cantapresto reached the wharf. This being the season of the villeggiatura, when the Venetian nobility were exchanging visits on the mainland, every conveyance was in motion and no other boat to be had for a week; while as for the "bucentaur" or public bark, which was just then getting under way, it was already packed to the gunwale with Jews, pedlars and such vermin, and the captain swore by the three thousand relics of Saint Justina that he had no room on board for so much as a hungry flea.
Odo, who had accompanied Cantapresto to the water-side, was listening to these assurances and to the soprano's vain invectives, when a well-dressed young man stepped up to the group. This gentleman, whose accent and dress showed him to be a Frenchman of quality, told Odo that he was come from Vicenza, whither he had gone to engage a company of actors for his friend the Procuratore Bra, who was entertaining a distinguished company at his villa on the Brenta; that he was now returning with his players, and that he would be glad to convey Odo so far on his road to Venice. His friend's seat, he added, was near Oriago, but a few miles above Fusina, where a public conveyance might always be found; so that Odo would doubtless be able to proceed the same night to Venice.
This civil offer Odo at once accepted, and the Frenchman thereupon suggested that, as the party was to set out the next day at sunrise, the two should sup together and pass the intervening hours in such diversions as the city offered. They returned to the inn, where the actors were also lodged, and Odo's host having ordered a handsome supper, proposed, with his guest's permission, to invite the leading members of the company to partake of it. He departed on this errand; and great was Odo's wonder, when the door reopened, to discover, among the party it admitted, his old acquaintance of Vercelli, the Count of Castelrovinato. The latter, whose dress and person had been refurbished, and who now wore an air of rakish prosperity, greeted him with evident pleasure, and, while their entertainer was engaged in seating the ladies of the company, gave him a brief account of the situation.
The young French gentleman (whom he named as the Marquis de Coeur-Volant) had come to Italy some months previously on the grand tour, and having fallen a victim to the charms of Venice, had declared that, instead of continuing on his travels, he meant to complete his education in that famous school of pleasure. Being master of his own fortune, he had hired a palace on the Grand Canal, had dispatched his governor (a simple archaeologist) on a mission of exploration to Sicily and Greece, and had devoted himself to an assiduous study of Venetian manners. Among those contributing to his instruction was Mirandolina of Chioggia, who had just completed a successful engagement at the theatre of San Moise in Venice. Wishing to detain her in the neighbourhood, her adorer had prevailed on his friend the Procuratore to give a series of comedies at his villa of Bellocchio and had engaged to provide him with a good company of performers. Miranda was of course selected as prima amorosa; and the Marquess, under Castelrovinato's guidance, had then set out to collect the rest of the company. This he had succeeded in doing, and was now returning to Bellocchio, where Miranda was to meet them. Odo was the more diverted at the hazard which had brought him into such company, as the Procuratore Bra was one of the noblemen to whom the old Duke had specially recommended him. On learning this, the Marquess urged him to present his letter of introduction on arriving at Bellocchio, where the Procuratore, who was noted for hospitality to strangers, would doubtless insist on his joining the assembled party. This Odo declined to do; but his curiosity to see Mirandolina made him hope that chance would soon throw him in the Procuratore's way.
Meanwhile supper was succeeded by music and dancing, and the company broke up only in time to proceed to the landing-place where their barge awaited them. This was a private burchiello of the Procuratore's with a commodious antechamber for the servants, and a cabin cushioned in damask. Into this agreeable retreat the actresses were packed with all their bags and band-boxes; and their travelling-cloaks being rolled into pillows, they were soon asleep in a huddle of tumbled finery.
Odo and his host preferred to take the air on deck. The sun was rising above the willow-clad banks of the Brenta, and it was pleasant to glide in the clear early light past sleeping gardens and villas, and vineyards where the peasants were already at work. The wind setting from the sea, they travelled slowly and had full leisure to view the succession of splendid seats interspersed with gardens, the thriving villages, and the poplar-groves festooned with vines. Coeur-Volant spoke eloquently of the pleasures to be enjoyed in this delightful season of the villeggiatura. "Nowhere," said he, "do people take their pleasures so easily and naturally as in Venice. My countrymen claim a superiority in this art, and it may be they possessed it a generation ago. But what a morose place is France become since philosophy has dethroned enjoyment! If you go on a visit to one of our noblemen's seats, what do you find there, I ask? Cards, comedies, music, the opportunity for an agreeable intrigue in the society of your equals? No—but a hostess engaged in suckling and bathing her brats, or in studying chemistry and optics with some dirty school-master, who is given the seat of honour at table and a pavilion in the park to which he may retire when weary of the homage of the great; while as for the host, he is busy discussing education or political economy with his unfortunate guests, if, indeed, he is not dragging them through leagues of mud and dust to inspect his latest experiments in forestry and agriculture, or to hear a pack of snuffling school-children singing hymns to the God of Nature! And what," he continued, "is the result of it all? The peasants are starving, the taxes are increasing, the virtuous landlords are ruining themselves in farming on scientific principles, the tradespeople are grumbling because the nobility do not spend their money in Paris, the court is dull, the clergy are furious, the Queen mopes, the King is frightened, and the whole French people are yawning themselves to death from Normandy to Provence."
"Yes," said Castelrovinato with his melancholy smile, "the test of success is to have had one's money's worth; but experience, which is dried pleasure, is at best a dusty diet, as we know. Yonder, in a fold of those hills," he added, pointing to the cluster of Euganean mountains just faintly pencilled above the plain, "lies the little fief from which I take my name. Acre by acre, tree by tree, it has gone to pay for my experiments, not in agriculture but in pleasure; and whenever I look over at it from Venice and reflect on what each rood of ground or trunk of tree has purchased, I wonder to see my life as bare as ever for all that I have spent on it."
The young Marquess shrugged his shoulders. "And would your life," he exclaimed, "have been a whit less bare had you passed it in your ancestral keep among those windy hills, in the company of swineherds and charcoal-burners, with a milk-maid for your mistress and the village priest for your partner at picquet?"
"Perhaps not," the other agreed. "There is a tale of a man who spent his life in wishing he had lived differently; and when he died he was surrounded by a throng of spectral shapes, each one exactly like the other, who, on his asking what they were, replied: 'We are all the different lives you might have lived.'"
"If you are going to tell ghost-stories," cried Coeur-Volant, "I will call for a bottle of Canary!"
"And I," rejoined the Count good-humouredly, "will try to coax the ladies forth with a song;" and picking up his lute, which always lay within reach, he began to sing in the Venetian dialect:—
There's a villa on the Brenta Where the statues, white as snow, All along the water-terrace Perch like sea-gulls in a row.
There's a garden on the Brenta Where the fairest ladies meet, Picking roses from the trellis For the gallants at their feet.
There's an arbour on the Brenta Made of yews that screen the light, Where I kiss my girl at midday Close as lovers kiss at night.
The players soon emerged at this call and presently the deck resounded with song and laughter. All the company were familiar with the Venetian bacaroles, and Castelrovinato's lute was passed from hand to hand, as one after another, incited by the Marquess's Canary, tried to recall some favourite measure—"La biondina in gondoleta" or "Guarda, che bella luna."
Meanwhile life was stirring in the villages and gardens, and groups of people appearing on the terraces overhanging the water. Never had Odo beheld a livelier scene. The pillared houses with their rows of statues and vases, the flights of marble steps descending to the gilded river-gates, where boats bobbed against the landings and boatmen gasped in the shade of their awnings; the marble trellises hung with grapes, the gardens where parterres of flowers and parti-coloured gravel alternated with the dusk of tunnelled yew-walks; the company playing at bowls in the long alleys, or drinking chocolate in gazebos above the river; the boats darting hither and thither on the stream itself, the travelling-chaises, market-waggons and pannier-asses crowding the causeway along the bank—all were unrolled before him with as little effect of reality as the episodes woven in some gaily-tinted tapestry. Even the peasants in the vineyards seemed as merry and thoughtless as the quality in their gardens. The vintage-time is the holiday of the rural year and the day's work was interspersed with frequent intervals of relaxation. At the villages where the burchiello touched for refreshments, handsome young women in scarlet bodices came on board with baskets of melons, grapes, figs and peaches; and under the trellises on the landings, lads and girls with flowers in their hair were dancing the monferrina to the rattle of tambourines or the chant of some wandering ballad-singer. These scenes were so engaging to the comedians that they could not be restrained from going ashore and mingling in the village diversions; and the Marquess, though impatient to rejoin his divinity, was too volatile not to be drawn into the adventure. The whole party accordingly disembarked, and were presently giving an exhibition of their talents to the assembled idlers, the Pantaloon, Harlequin and Doctor enacting a comical intermezzo which Cantapresto had that morning composed for them, while Scaramouch and Columbine joined the dancers, and the rest of the company, seizing on a train of donkeys laden with vegetables for the Venetian market, stripped these patient animals of their panniers, and mounting them bareback started a Corso around the village square amid the invectives of the drivers and the applause of the crowd.