him intimations of the true state of matters that lay beyond his actual
vision. There was a whisper in his ear; it said, "Hush!" Without asking
himself wherefore, he resolved to be silent as regarded the mysterious
discovery which he had made, and to leave any remark or exclamation
to be voluntarily offered by Miriam. If she never spoke, then let the
riddle be unsolved.
And now occurred a circumstance that would seem too fantastic to be
told, if it had not actually happened, precisely as we set it down. As
the three friends stood by the bier, they saw that a little stream of
blood had begun to ooze from the dead monk's nostrils; it crept slowly
towards the thicket of his beard, where, in the course of a moment or
two, it hid itself.
"How strange!" ejaculated Kenyon. "The monk died of apoplexy, I suppose,
or by some sudden accident, and the blood has not yet congealed."
"Do you consider that a sufficient explanation?" asked Miriam, with a
smile from which the sculptor involuntarily turned away his eyes. "Does
it satisfy you?"
"And why not?" he inquired.
"Of course, you know the old superstition about this phenomenon of blood
flowing from a dead body," she rejoined. "How can we tell but that the
murderer of this monk (or, possibly, it may be only that privileged
murderer, his physician) may have just entered the church?"
"I cannot jest about it," said Kenyon. "It is an ugly sight!"
"True, true; horrible to see, or dream of!" she replied, with one of
those long, tremulous sighs, which so often betray a sick heart by
escaping unexpectedly. "We will not look at it any more. Come away,
Donatello. Let us escape from this dismal church. The sunshine will do
When had ever a woman such a trial to sustain as this! By no possible
supposition could Miriam explain the identity of the dead Capuchin,
quietly and decorously laid out in the nave of his convent church, with
that of her murdered persecutor, flung heedlessly at the foot of the
precipice. The effect upon her imagination was as if a strange and
unknown corpse had miraculously, while she was gazing at it, assumed the
likeness of that face, so terrible henceforth in her remembrance. It was
a symbol, perhaps, of the deadly iteration with which she was doomed
to behold the image of her crime reflected back upon her in a thousand
ways, and converting the great, calm face of Nature, in the whole, and
in its innumerable details, into a manifold reminiscence of that one
No sooner had Miriam turned away from the bier, and gone a few steps,
than she fancied the likeness altogether an illusion, which would vanish
at a closer and colder view. She must look at it again, therefore, and
at once; or else the grave would close over the face, and leave the
awful fantasy that had connected itself therewith fixed ineffaceably in
"Wait for me, one moment!" she said to her companions. "Only a moment!"
So she went back, and gazed once more at the corpse. Yes; these were
the features that Miriam had known so well; this was the visage that she
remembered from a far longer date than the most intimate of her friends
suspected; this form of clay had held the evil spirit which blasted her
sweet youth, and compelled her, as it were, to stain her womanhood
with crime. But, whether it were the majesty of death, or something
originally noble and lofty in the character of the dead, which the soul
had stamped upon the features, as it left them; so it was that Miriam
now quailed and shook, not for the vulgar horror of the spectacle, but
for the severe, reproachful glance that seemed to come from between
those half-closed lids. True, there had been nothing, in his lifetime,
viler than this man. She knew it; there was no other fact within her
consciousness that she felt to be so certain; and yet, because her
persecutor found himself safe and irrefutable in death, he frowned upon
his victim, and threw back the blame on her!
"Is it thou, indeed?" she murmured, under her breath. "Then thou hast
no right to scowl upon me so! But art thou real, or a vision?" She bent
down over the dead monk, till one of her rich curls brushed against his
forehead. She touched one of his folded hands with her finger.
"It is he," said Miriam. "There is the scar, that I know so well, on his
brow. And it is no vision; he is palpable to my touch! I will question
the fact no longer, but deal with it as I best can."
It was wonderful to see how the crisis developed in Miriam its own
proper strength, and the faculty of sustaining the demands which it made
upon her fortitude. She ceased to tremble; the beautiful woman gazed
sternly at her dead enemy, endeavoring to meet and quell the look of
accusation that he threw from between his half-closed eyelids.
"No; thou shalt not scowl me down!" said she. "Neither now, nor when
we stand together at the judgment-seat. I fear not to meet thee there.
Farewell, till that next encounter!"
Haughtily waving her hand, Miriam rejoined her friends, who were
awaiting her at the door of the church. As they went out, the sacristan
stopped them, and proposed to show the cemetery of the convent, where
the deceased members of the fraternity are laid to rest in sacred earth,
brought long ago from Jerusalem.
"And will yonder monk be buried there?" she asked.
"Brother Antonio?" exclaimed the sacristan.
"Surely, our good brother will be put to bed there! His grave is already
dug, and the last occupant has made room for him. Will you look at it,
"I will!" said Miriam.
"Then excuse me," observed Kenyon; "for I shall leave you. One dead monk
has more than sufficed me; and I am not bold enough to face the whole
mortality of the convent."
It was easy to see, by Donatello's looks, that he, as well as the
sculptor, would gladly have escaped a visit to the famous cemetery of
the Cappuccini. But Miriam's nerves were strained to such a pitch, that
she anticipated a certain solace and absolute relief in passing from
one ghastly spectacle to another of long-accumulated ugliness; and there
was, besides, a singular sense of duty which impelled her to look at
the final resting-place of the being whose fate had been so disastrously
involved with her own. She therefore followed the sacristan's guidance,
and drew her companion along with her, whispering encouragement as they
The cemetery is beneath the church, but entirely above ground, and
lighted by a row of iron-grated windows without glass. A corridor runs
along beside these windows, and gives access to three or four vaulted
recesses, or chapels, of considerable breadth and height, the floor of
which consists of the consecrated earth of Jerusalem. It is smoothed
decorously over the deceased brethren of the convent, and is kept
quite free from grass or weeds, such as would grow even in these gloomy
recesses, if pains were not bestowed to root them up. But, as the
cemetery is small, and it is a precious privilege to sleep in holy
ground, the brotherhood are immemorially accustomed, when one of their
number dies, to take the longest buried skeleton out of the oldest
grave, and lay the new slumberer there instead. Thus, each of the good
friars, in his turn, enjoys the luxury of a consecrated bed, attended
with the slight drawback of being forced to get up long before daybreak,
as it were, and make room for another lodger.
The arrangement of the unearthed skeletons is what makes the special
interest of the cemetery. The arched and vaulted walls of the burial
recesses are supported by massive pillars and pilasters made of
thigh-bones and skulls; the whole material of the structure appears
to be of a similar kind; and the knobs and embossed ornaments of this
strange architecture are represented by the joints of the spine, and
the more delicate tracery by the Smaller bones of the human frame. The
summits of the arches are adorned with entire skeletons, looking as if
they were wrought most skilfully in bas-relief. There is no possibility
of describing how ugly and grotesque is the effect, combined with a
certain artistic merit, nor how much perverted ingenuity has been shown
in this queer way, nor what a multitude of dead monks, through how many
hundred years, must have contributed their bony framework to build
up these great arches of mortality. On some of the skulls there are
inscriptions, purporting that such a monk, who formerly made use of
that particular headpiece, died on such a day and year; but vastly the
greater number are piled up indistinguishably into the architectural
design, like the many deaths that make up the one glory of a victory.
In the side walls of the vaults are niches where skeleton monks sit or
stand, clad in the brown habits that they wore in life, and labelled
with their names and the dates of their decease. Their skulls (some
quite bare, and others still covered with yellow skin, and hair that
has known the earth-damps) look out from beneath their hoods, grinning
hideously repulsive. One reverend father has his mouth wide open, as if
he had died in the midst of a howl of terror and remorse, which perhaps
is even now screeching through eternity. As a general thing, however,
these frocked and hooded skeletons seem to take a more cheerful view of
their position, and try with ghastly smiles to turn it into a jest. But
the cemetery of the Capuchins is no place to nourish celestial hopes:
the soul sinks forlorn and wretched under all this burden of dusty
death; the holy earth from Jerusalem, so imbued is it with mortality,
has grown as barren of the flowers of Paradise as it is of earthly weeds
and grass. Thank Heaven for its blue sky; it needs a long, upward gaze
to give us back our faith. Not here can we feel ourselves immortal,
where the very altars in these chapels of horrible consecration are
heaps of human bones.
Yet let us give the cemetery the praise that it deserves. There is no
disagreeable scent, such as might have been expected from the decay of
so many holy persons, in whatever odor of sanctity they may have taken
their departure. The same number of living monks would not smell half so
Miriam went gloomily along the corridor, from one vaulted Golgotha to
another, until in the farthest recess she beheld an open grave.
"Is that for him who lies yonder in the nave?" she asked.
"Yes, signorina, this is to be the resting-place of Brother Antonio, who
came to his death last night," answered the sacristan; "and in yonder
niche, you see, sits a brother who was buried thirty years ago, and has
risen to give him place."
"It is not a satisfactory idea," observed Miriam, "that you poor friars
cannot call even your graves permanently your own. You must lie down
in them, methinks, with a nervous anticipation of being disturbed, like
weary men who know that they shall be summoned out of bed at midnight.
Is it not possible (if money were to be paid for the privilege) to leave
Brother Antonio - if that be his name - in the occupancy of that narrow
grave till the last trumpet sounds?"
"By no means, signorina; neither is it needful or desirable," answered
the sacristan. "A quarter of a century's sleep in the sweet earth
of Jerusalem is better than a thousand years in any other soil. Our
brethren find good rest there. No ghost was ever known to steal out of
this blessed cemetery."
"That is well," responded Miriam; "may he whom you now lay to sleep
prove no exception to the rule!"
As they left the cemetery she put money into the sacristan's hand to an
amount that made his eyes open wide and glisten, and requested that it
might be expended in masses for the repose of Father Antonio's soul.
THE MEDICI GARDENS
"Donatello," said Miriam anxiously, as they came through the Piazza
Barberini, "what can I do for you, my beloved friend? You are shaking as
with the cold fit of the Roman fever." "Yes," said Donatello; "my heart
shivers." As soon as she could collect her thoughts, Miriam led the
young man to the gardens of the Villa Medici, hoping that the quiet
shade and sunshine of that delightful retreat would a little revive his
spirits. The grounds are there laid out in the old fashion of straight
paths, with borders of box, which form hedges of great height and
density, and are shorn and trimmed to the evenness of a wall of
stone, at the top and sides. There are green alleys, with long vistas
overshadowed by ilex-trees; and at each intersection of the paths, the
visitor finds seats of lichen-covered stone to repose upon, and marble
statues that look forlornly at him, regretful of their lost noses. In
the more open portions of the garden, before the sculptured front of
the villa, you see fountains and flower-beds, and in their season
a profusion of roses, from which the genial sun of Italy distils a
fragrance, to be scattered abroad by the no less genial breeze.
But Donatello drew no delight from these things. He walked onward in
silent apathy, and looked at Miriam with strangely half-awakened and
bewildered eyes, when she sought to bring his mind into sympathy with
hers, and so relieve his heart of the burden that lay lumpishly upon it.
She made him sit down on a stone bench, where two embowered alleys
crossed each other; so that they could discern the approach of any
casual intruder a long way down the path.
"My sweet friend," she said, taking one of his passive hands in both of
hers, "what can I say to comfort you?"
"Nothing!" replied Donatello, with sombre reserve. "Nothing will ever
"I accept my own misery," continued Miriam, "my own guilt, if guilt it
be; and, whether guilt or misery, I shall know how to deal with it. But
you, dearest friend, that were the rarest creature in all this world,
and seemed a being to whom sorrow could not cling, - you, whom I
half fancied to belong to a race that had vanished forever, you only
surviving, to show mankind how genial and how joyous life used to be, in
some long-gone age, - what had you to do with grief or crime?"
"They came to me as to other men," said Donatello broodingly. "Doubtless
I was born to them."
"No, no; they came with me," replied Miriam. "Mine is the
responsibility! Alas! wherefore was I born? Why did we ever meet? Why
did I not drive you from me, knowing for my heart foreboded it - that the
cloud in which I walked would likewise envelop you!"
Donatello stirred uneasily, with the irritable impatience that is often
combined With a mood of leaden despondency. A brown lizard with two
tails - a monster often engendered by the Roman sunshine - ran across his
foot, and made him start. Then he sat silent awhile, and so did Miriam,
trying to dissolve her whole heart into sympathy, and lavish it all upon
him, were it only for a moment's cordial.
The young man lifted his hand to his breast, and, unintentionally, as
Miriam's hand was within his, he lifted that along with it. "I have a
great weight here!" said he. The fancy struck Miriam (but she drove it
resolutely down) that Donatello almost imperceptibly shuddered, while,
in pressing his own hand against his heart, he pressed hers there too.
"Rest your heart on me, dearest one!" she resumed. "Let me bear all its
weight; I am well able to bear it; for I am a woman, and I love you! I
love you, Donatello! Is there no comfort for you in this avowal? Look
at me! Heretofore you have found me pleasant to your sight. Gaze into my
eyes! Gaze into my soul! Search as deeply as you may, you can never see
half the tenderness and devotion that I henceforth cherish for you. All
that I ask is your acceptance of the utter self-sacrifice (but it shall
be no sacrifice, to my great love) with which I seek to remedy the evil
you have incurred for my sake!"
All this fervor on Miriam's part; on Donatello's, a heavy silence.
"O, speak to me!" she exclaimed. "Only promise me to be, by and by, a
"Happy?" murmured Donatello. "Ah, never again! never again!"
"Never? Ah, that is a terrible word to say to me!" answered Miriam. "A
terrible word to let fall upon a woman's heart, when she loves you, and
is conscious of having caused your misery! If you love me, Donatello,
speak it not again. And surely you did love me?"
"I did," replied Donatello gloomily and absently.
Miriam released the young man's hand, but suffered one of her own to
lie close to his, and waited a moment to see whether he would make
any effort to retain it. There was much depending upon that simple
With a deep sigh - as when, sometimes, a slumberer turns over in a
troubled dream Donatello changed his position, and clasped both his
hands over his forehead. The genial warmth of a Roman April kindling
into May was in the atmosphere around them; but when Miriam saw
that involuntary movement and heard that sigh of relief (for so she
interpreted it), a shiver ran through her frame, as if the iciest wind
of the Apennines were blowing over her.
"He has done himself a greater wrong than I dreamed of," thought she,
with unutterable compassion. "Alas! it was a sad mistake! He might
have had a kind of bliss in the consequences of this deed, had he been
impelled to it by a love vital enough to survive the frenzy of that
terrible moment, mighty enough to make its own law, and justify itself
against the natural remorse. But to have perpetrated a dreadful murder
(and such was his crime, unless love, annihilating moral distinctions,
made it otherwise) on no better warrant than a boy's idle fantasy! I
pity him from the very depths of my soul! As for myself, I am past my
own or other's pity."
She arose from the young man's side, and stood before him with a sad,
commiserating aspect; it was the look of a ruined soul, bewailing,
in him, a grief less than what her profounder sympathies imposed upon
"Donatello, we must part," she said, with melancholy firmness. "Yes;
leave me! Go back to your old tower, which overlooks the green valley
you have told me of among the Apennines. Then, all that has passed will
be recognized as but an ugly dream. For in dreams the conscience sleeps,
and we often stain ourselves with guilt of which we should be incapable
in our waking moments. The deed you seemed to do, last night, was
no more than such a dream; there was as little substance in what you
fancied yourself doing. Go; and forget it all!"
"Ah, that terrible face!" said Donatello, pressing his hands over his
eyes. "Do you call that unreal?"
"Yes; for you beheld it with dreaming eyes," replied Miriam. "It was
unreal; and, that you may feel it so, it is requisite that you see this
face of mine no more. Once, you may have thought it beautiful; now, it
has lost its charm. Yet it would still retain a miserable potency' to
bring back the past illusion, and, in its train, the remorse and anguish
that would darken all your life. Leave me, therefore, and forget me."
"Forget you, Miriam!" said Donatello, roused somewhat from his apathy of
"If I could remember you, and behold you, apart from that frightful
visage which stares at me over your shoulder, that were a consolation,
at least, if not a joy."
"But since that visage haunts you along with mine," rejoined Miriam,
glancing behind her, "we needs must part. Farewell, then! But if
ever - in distress, peril, shame, poverty, or whatever anguish is most
poignant, whatever burden heaviest - you should require a life to be
given wholly, only to make your own a little easier, then summon me! As
the case now stands between us, you have bought me dear, and find me of
little worth. Fling me away, therefore! May you never need me more! But,
if otherwise, a wish - almost an unuttered wish will bring me to you!"
She stood a moment, expecting a reply. But Donatello's eyes had again
fallen on the ground, and he had not, in his bewildered mind and
overburdened heart, a word to respond.
"That hour I speak of may never come," said Miriam. "So
farewell - farewell forever."
"Farewell," said Donatello.
His voice hardly made its way through the environment of unaccustomed
thoughts and emotions which had settled over him like a dense and dark
cloud. Not improbably, he beheld Miriam through so dim a medium that she
looked visionary; heard her speak only in a thin, faint echo.
She turned from the young man, and, much as her heart yearned towards
him, she would not profane that heavy parting by an embrace, or even a
pressure of the hand. So soon after the semblance of such mighty love,
and after it had been the impulse to so terrible a deed, they parted,
in all outward show, as coldly as people part whose whole mutual
intercourse has been encircled within a single hour.
And Donatello, when Miriam had departed, stretched himself at full
length on the stone bench, and drew his hat over his eyes, as the idle
and light-hearted youths of dreamy Italy are accustomed to do, when they
lie down in the first convenient shade, and snatch a noonday slumber.
A stupor was upon him, which he mistook for such drowsiness as he had
known in his innocent past life. But, by and by, he raised himself
slowly and left the garden. Sometimes poor Donatello started, as if
he heard a shriek; sometimes he shrank back, as if a face, fearful to
behold, were thrust close to his own. In this dismal mood, bewildered
with the novelty of sin and grief, he had little left of that singular
resemblance, on account of which, and for their sport, his three friends
had fantastically recognized him as the veritable Faun of Praxiteles.
MIRIAM AND HILDA
On leaving the Medici Gardens Miriam felt herself astray in the world;
and having no special reason to seek one place more than another, she
suffered chance to direct her steps as it would. Thus it happened, that,
involving herself in the crookedness of Rome, she saw Hilda's tower
rising before her, and was put in mind to climb to the young girl's
eyry, and ask why she had broken her engagement at the church of the
Capuchins. People often do the idlest acts of their lifetime in their
heaviest and most anxious moments; so that it would have been no wonder
had Miriam been impelled only by so slight a motive of curiosity as we
have indicated. But she remembered, too, and with a quaking heart, what
the sculptor had mentioned of Hilda's retracing her steps towards the
courtyard of the Palazzo Caffarelli in quest of Miriam herself. Had she
been compelled to choose between infamy in the eyes of the whole world,
or in Hilda's eyes alone, she would unhesitatingly have accepted the
former, on condition of remaining spotless in the estimation of her
white-souled friend. This possibility, therefore, that Hilda had
witnessed the scene of the past night, was unquestionably the cause
that drew Miriam to the tower, and made her linger and falter as she
As she drew near, there were tokens to which her disturbed mind gave a
sinister interpretation. Some of her friend's airy family, the doves,
with their heads imbedded disconsolately in their bosoms, were huddled
in a corner of the piazza; others had alighted on the heads, wings,
shoulders, and trumpets of the marble angels which adorned the facade
of the neighboring church; two or three had betaken themselves to the
Virgin's shrine; and as many as could find room were sitting on Hilda's
window-sill. But all of them, so Miriam fancied, had a look of weary
expectation and disappointment, no flights, no flutterings, no cooing
murmur; something that ought to have made their day glad and bright
was evidently left out of this day's history. And, furthermore, Hilda's
white window-curtain was closely drawn, with only that one little
aperture at the side, which Miriam remembered noticing the night before.
"Be quiet," said Miriam to her own heart, pressing her hand hard upon
it. "Why shouldst thou throb now? Hast thou not endured more terrible
things than this?"
Whatever were her apprehensions, she would not turn back. It might
be - and the solace would be worth a world - that Hilda, knowing nothing
of the past night's calamity, would greet her friend with a sunny smile,
and so restore a portion of the vital warmth, for lack of which her soul
was frozen. But could Miriam, guilty as she was, permit Hilda to kiss
her cheek, to clasp her hand, and thus be no longer so unspotted from
the world as heretofore.
"I will never permit her sweet touch again," said Miriam, toiling up
the staircase, "if I can find strength of heart to forbid it. But, O! it
would be so soothing in this wintry fever-fit of my heart. There can be
no harm to my white Hilda in one parting kiss. That shall be all!"