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"I don't know. - But Rome that night... how can I ever tell you how
beautiful, how great, how marvellous it was! The night was perfectly
clear, and I don't believe such an illumination was ever seen since the
world began. The Corso was on fire; the churches were jammed with
people, and there was preaching in every one of them. The streets were
full of music, dancing, and singing; people harangued the crowds in the
cafes and the theatres.

"I wanted to see St. Peter's again. There had been a rumor that His
Holiness needed rest, and Borgo Pio was as still as it is on the
stillest night. The piazza was full of moonlight. A silent throng was
gathered about the two fountains and on the steps of the church. Many
were sitting down, many stretched at full length on the ground; the
greater number had fallen asleep, worn out by the fatigue and
excitement of the day; women, soldiers, children, lay huddled together
in a confused heap. Hundreds of others were on their knees, and
sentinels of all the different corps moved about here and there, with
little flags and crosses fastened to the barrels of their guns. The
ground was strewn with flags, foliage, flowers, and hats lost in the
crush; the windows of the Vatican were lit up; there was not a sound to
be heard, the crowd seemed to be holding its breath.

"I turned away, beside myself with the thought of all that I had seen,
of the effect that it would produce in Italy, and all over the world;
of what you would all say to it, and you most of all, father! I found
myself at the station without knowing how I had got there. It was full
of noise and confusion. I jumped on to the train, we started, and here
I am. The news reached Florence last night; they say the excitement was
indescribable; the King has left for Rome; the news is all over the
world by this time!"

He sank into a chair and sat silent, as though his breath had failed
him. Then he sprang up and rushed out to intercept the papers, which
usually reached the villa at eleven o'clock in the morning.

In this way he succeeded in maintaining the blissful delusion until
evening. The dinner was full of gayety, the lad continued to pour out
detail after detail, and his listeners to heap benediction upon
benediction.

Suddenly a hurried step was heard on the stairs, and the bell rang
violently. The door opened, and a tall, pale priest, with a drawn
mouth, appeared on the threshold. He was a recent acquaintance of the
family, who felt no great sympathy for him, but who received him
courteously more out of respect for his cloth than out of regard for
his merits.

As he entered, all but the son sprang up and surrounded him with
excited exclamations.

"Well, have you heard the news? Thank God, it's all ended! The hand of
God is in it! What do you think of it all? Tell us, let us hear your
opinion!"

"But what news?" asked the priest, looking from one to the other with
astonished eyes.

In wild haste, and all speaking at once, they poured out the story of
the festival, the forgiveness, the reconciliation.

The priest stared at them, with the look of a man who finds himself
unexpectedly surrounded by lunatics; then, with a withering glance at
the boy, and a smile of malignant triumph -

"Luckily," he said, "there is not a word of truth in it!"

"Not a word of truth in it?" they clamored, turning upon their
informant.

The boy, unmoved by their agitation, returned the priest's look
half-scornfully, half-sadly.

"Your reverence, don't say fortunately. Since you are an Italian, say
rather, 'Alas, that it is not so!'"

For a moment the others stood aghast; then, angered, as people will be,
rather against those who undeceive them than against those who delude
them, they turned towards the priest, involuntarily echoing the boy's
words: "He's right, your reverence! Say rather, 'Alas, that it is not
so!'"

The priest pointed to his own breast with a long knotty finger.

"I?" he exclaimed bitterly, "never!"

At these words, the boy's father, rudely roused from his mood of tender
exaltation, and bursting, after his wont, into sudden fury, stretched
his arm towards the priest, with a cry that rang through the room like
a pistol-shot: "Out of my house this instant!"

The priest stalked out, slamming the door. The lad's arms were about
his father's neck; and the old man, laying his hands on his son's head,
said gently: "I forgive you."






PEREAT ROCHUS

BY

ANTONIO FOGAZZARO

The Translation by A. L. Frothingham, Jr.


I.

"It is a fine case, Don Rocco," said Professor Marin, gathering up the
cards and smiling beatifically, while his neighbor on the right raved
furiously against poor Don Rocco. The professor continued to look at
him with a little laugh on his closed mouth, and with a glance
sparkling with benevolent hilarity; then he turned to the lady of the
house, who was napping in a corner of the sofa.

"It is a fine case, Countess Carlotta!"

"I understand that well enough," said she, "and it seems to me time to
end it; isn't that so, Don Rocco?"

"No, Don Rocco," said the professor seriously, "on reflection it
certainly is a case for the ecclesiastical court."

"I should say it was at least that," said his neighbor on the right.

Don Rocco, red as a poppy, with his two fingers in his snuff-box, kept
silence, his head bent forward and his brows knit in a certain contrite
way peculiar to him, facing the tempest with his bald spot, and looking
slyly between one wink and another at the unfortunate cards. When he
heard the words "ecclesiastical court" repeated by his companion, whom
he held in considerable fear, it seemed to him that matters were
becoming quite amusing, so he forced a little smile and took a pinch of
snuff between his fingers.

"Oh, you laugh!" returned the implacable professor. "I hardly know
whether, having played at terziglio and having brought such ill luck on
your partner, you can say Mass in peace to-morrow morning."

"Oh! I can, I can," muttered Don Rocco, knitting his brows still more
and raising a little his good-natured countryman's face. "We all make
mistakes, all of us. Even he, over there, not to mention yourself,
sometimes."

His voice had the tone of a peaceful animal badgered beyond all
patience. The professor was laughing with his eyes. "You are quite
right," said he.

The game was over, the players got up.

"Yes," said the professor with quizzical seriousness, "the case of
Sigismondo is more complicated."

Don Rocco closed his beady little eyes in a smile, bending his head
with a peculiar mixture of modesty, complacency, and confusion, and
mumbled:

"Even that case can be unravelled."

"You see," added the professor, "I am well informed. It is a case,
Countess, which Don Rocco must unravel at the next meeting of the
ecclesiastical court."

"There is no such meeting going on here," said the countess. "Let it
alone."

But it was not so easy to wrest a victim from the clutches of the
professor.

"Let us then say no more about it," said he quietly. "But listen, Don
Rocco; I am not of your opinion on that point. As for me, pereat
mundus."

Don Rocco frowned furiously.

"I haven't spoken with any one," said he.

"Don Rocco, you have gossiped, and I know it," answered the professor.
"Have patience, Countess, and give us your opinion."

Countess Carlotta did not care to enter upon the question, but the
professor continued imperturbably to set forth the case of Sigismondo
as it had been promulgated by the Episcopal tribunal.

A certain Sigismondo, fallen suddenly ill, asked for a confessor.
Hardly was he alone with the priest when he hastened to tell him that
some other person was on the point of committing a homicide, which he
had himself instigated.

Hardly had he said these words when he lost voice and consciousness.
The priest doubted whether Sigismondo had spoken in confession or not;
and he could not prevent the crime, could not save this human life in
peril, unless he made use of what he had heard in confidence. Should he
do this or should he let a man be killed?"

"It is Don Rocco's opinion," concluded the professor, "that the priest
should act as a policeman."

Poor Don Rocco, tortured in his conscience between the feeling that he
ought not to discuss the question in a secular conversation and a
feeling of reverence for his bantering friend who was an ecclesiastic
of mature age and a professor in the Episcopal seminary of P - -, was
twisting himself about and mumbling excuses.

"No...the fact is...I say...it seems to me..."

"I am surprised, Don Rocco, that you should think it worth while to
make excuses," said the lady. "It amazes me that you should take
seriously the jests of the professor."

But the professor protested, and with subtle questions pushed Don Rocco
to the wall and began to squeeze out of him, little by little, the
peculiar combination of right instincts and crooked arguments which he
had in his head, showing him with the greatest charm of manner the
fallacy of all his bad reasons and of all his good sense, and leaving
him in a stupor of contrite humility. But the game lasted only a short
while, because the countess dismissed the company with the excuse that
it was after eleven o'clock. However, she asked Don Rocco to remain.

It was the Countess Carlotta who had chosen him, a few years before, as
rector of the Church of St. Luke, which was her property. She took with
him a sort of Episcopal air which was peacefully accepted by the
thankful priest, as simple in spirit as he was humble-hearted.

"You would do better, my dear Don Rocco," said she when they were
alone, "to bother yourself less with such affairs as that of
Sigismondo, and a little more with your own."

"But why?" asked Don Rocco, surprised. "I do not know what you mean."

"Of course; the whole village knows it, but you are in complete
ignorance."

Her eyes added quite clearly, "Poor simpleton." Don Rocco remained
silent.

"When does Lucia return?" asked she. This Lucia was the servant of Don
Rocco, to whom he had given permission to go home for five days.

"On Sunday," he answered. "To-morrow evening. Oh!" he suddenly
exclaimed, smiling with satisfaction at his own keenness. "Now I
understand, now I see what you mean. But it is not so, it is not so at
all."

He had at last understood that it was a question of certain rumors
current in the village on a love affair of his servant with a certain
Moro, a bad specimen, well known at the police court, who combined
craft with malevolence and strength in a most diabolical manner. Some
believed that he was not entirely bad, but that necessity and the
ill-treatment of an unjust master had led him to wrongdoing; but every
one feared him.

"It is not true at all, is it?" answered she. "Then I don't know what
the village will say when certain novelties will happen to the servant
of the priest."

Don Rocco became red as fire and frowned most portentously.

"But it is not true at all," said he, brusquely and shortly. "I
questioned her myself as soon as I heard the gossip. It is nothing but
the maliciousness of people. Why, the man does not even see her!"

"Oh! Don Rocco," said the lady. "You are good, good, good. But as the
world is not made that way, and as there is a scandal, if you don't
make up your mind to send the creature away, I must decide on something
myself."

"You will do what you like," answered the priest dryly. "Have I not got
to consider what is right?"

The countess looked at him, and said, with a sudden solemnity, "Very
well. You will reflect on this to-night, and to-morrow you will give me
your final answer."

She rang the bell to have a lantern brought for Don Rocco, as the night
was very dark. But, to her great surprise, Don Rocco carefully
extracted one from the back pocket of his cloak.

"What made you do that?" exclaimed she. "You have probably got a spot
on my chair!"

She got up, notwithstanding the assurances of Don Rocco, and taking one
of the candles which still burned on the card table, she stooped down
to look at the chair.

"There!" she said, "put your nose over that! It is spotted and ruined!"

Don Rocco came also, and, knitting his brows, bent down over a large
spot of oil, a black island on the gray cloth, muttering most
seriously, "Oh, yes!" and remaining absorbed in his gaze.

"Now, go!" said the lady. "What is done is done."

It seemed in fact, as if he were awaiting her permission to raise his
nose from the repentant stool.

"Yes, I'll go now," he answered, lighting his lantern, "because I am
alone at home at present, and I am even afraid that I left the door
open."

Very suddenly he said "Good-night," and disappeared without even
looking at the countess.

She was astonished. "Dear me, what a boor!" she said.



II.

It was a damp, cloudy night in November. Little Don Rocco was limping
along towards his hermitage of St. Luke with awkward steps, his arms in
parentheses, and his back arched, knitting his brows at the road-bed as
he went along. He was ruminating over the dark words of Signora
Carlotta, and their importance was gradually piercing his obtuse brain.
He was also ruminating over the next assembly of the ecclesiastical
court, over the pereat mundus and the subtle reasonings of the
professor, of which he had understood so little; not to speak of the
exposition of the Gospels for the next day, which he had not yet fully
prepared. All this would often get inextricably confused in his mind.
Certainly poor innocent Lucia must not be condemned, pereat mundus.
Signora Carlotta was almost a padrona to him; but what about that other
great padrone? Nemo potest duobus dominis servire; thus, beloved
brethren, says the Gospel for the day.

Poor Don Rocco, as usual, had also lost at terziglio; and this gave a
somewhat gray cast to his ideas, notwithstanding his proverbial
carelessness of every mundane interest. That hole in his pocket, that
continuous dropping, made him reflect. Would it not have been better
for him to give the same amount in alms?

"There is this good thing about it," he thought, "that it is a terrible
bore, and that they all badger me. I certainly do not play for
pleasure."

He passed on the left of the road a dark clump of trees, ascending
slowly in the darkness towards three large cypresses of unequal height,
standing out black against the sky. There, between the old cypresses,
stood the little country church of St. Luke, attached to a small
convent which had had no inmates for a hundred years. The little
hillock garlanded with vines had no other structures. From the convent,
and from the grassy knoll, on which stood the little cypress-overhung
church, the main road could not be seen, but only other knolls gay with
vineyards, villas, and country houses, islands on an immense plain,
extending from the hills further away as far as the Alps and blending
eastward in the mists of the invisible sea. The simple chaplain of
Countess Carlotta lived alone in the convent, like a priest of silence,
content with his meagre prebend, content to preach with might and main
in the little church, to be called during the day to bless the beans,
and at night to assist the dying, to cultivate the vine with his own
hands; content with everything, in fine; even with his servant, an ugly
old maid of about forty, at whose discretion he ate, drank, and dressed
himself most resignedly, without exchanging more than a dozen words
with her throughout the year.

"If I send her away," he said to himself, as he passed between the high
hedges of the lane that led up from the main road to St. Luke, "it will
damage and dishonor her. I cannot conscientiously do it, because I am
sure that it isn't true. And with that Moro, of all men!"

The clock in the bell-tower struck eleven. Don Rocco began to think of
his sermon, of which only three-quarters was written, and he rushed
down from the church square to the door which led into his courtyard
under the bell-tower at the end of a steep and stony lane. As he opened
the gate and passed across the yard he was brought suddenly to a
standstill. A faint light was shining from the windows of his
sitting-room, the former refectory of the monks, on the lower floor.

Don Rocco had left at four o'clock to pay his visit to the Countess
Carlotta, and had not returned in the meanwhile. He could not have left
the lamps lighted. Therefore Lucia must have returned before the time
she had set; that must certainly be the reason. He did not fatigue his
brain by making any other suppositions, but entered.

"Is it you, Lucia?" he called. No answer. He passed through the
vestibule, approached the kitchen, and stood motionless on the doorsill.

A man was sitting under the chimney-cap with his hands stretched out
over the coals. He turned toward the priest and said, most
unconcernedly:

"Don Rocco, your humble servant."

By the light of the smoky petroleum lamp which stood on the table, Don
Rocco recognized the Moro. He was conscious of a feeling of weakness in
his heart and in his legs. He did not move nor answer.

"Make yourself at home, Don Rocco," continued the Moro imperturbably,
as if he were doing the honors of his own house. "You had better take a
seat here also, for it is cold to-night and damp."

"Yes, it is cold," answered Don Rocco, infusing a forced benevolence
into his tones; "it is damp."

And he put his lantern down on the table.

"Come here," said his companion. "Wait till I make you comfortable." He
got a chair and placed it on the hearthstone near his own.

"There now," said he.

Meanwhile Don Rocco was getting his breath again, and carrying on, with
a terrible knitting of his brows, most weighty reflections.

"Thanks," he answered, "I will go to put away my cloak and come back at
once."

"Lay your cloak down here," replied the Moro, not without some haste
and a new tone of imperiousness not at all pleasing to Don Rocco.

He silently placed his cloak and hat on the table and sat down under
the chimney-cap beside his host.

"You will excuse me if I have made a little fire," he continued. "I
have been here at least a half-hour. I thought you were at home
studying. Isn't to-day Saturday? And are you not obliged to say
to-morrow morning the few customary absurdities to the peasants?"

"You mean the exposition of the Gospel," answered Don Rocco with
warmth, for on that ground he knew no fear.

"A hint is all you need!" said the Moro. "Excuse me, I am a peasant
myself, and talk crudely, maybe, but respectfully. Will you give me a
pinch of snuff?"

Don Rocco held out the snuff-box to him.

"Is this da trozi?" said he with a wink. This word, as well as the
expression "by-paths tobacco," was used in speaking of the tobacco
which was smuggled into the State.

"No," answered Don Rocco, rising. "Perhaps I have a little of that
upstairs."

"Never mind, never mind," the Moro hastened to say. "Give here." And
sticking three fingers into the snuff-box he took up about a pound of
snuff and breathed it in little by little, as he gazed at the fire. The
dying flame illumined his black beard, his earthy complexion, and his
brilliant, intelligent eyes.

"Now that you are warmed," Don Rocco made bold to say after a moment's
silence, "you may go home."

"Hum!" said the man, shrugging his shoulders. "I have a little business
to transact before I leave."

Don Rocco squirmed in his chair, winking hard, and frowning heavily.

"I suggested it because it is so late," he mumbled, half churlishly,
half timidly. "I also have something to do."

"The sermon, eh? - the sermon, the sermon!" the Moro repeated
mechanically, looking at the fire, and ruminating. "See here," he
concluded, "suppose we do this. There are pens, paper, and inkstand in
the sitting-room. Sit down there and write your stuff. Meanwhile, if
you will allow me, I will take a mouthful, as it is sixteen hours since
I have eaten. When we have finished we will talk."

At first Don Rocco was not disposed to agree, but he was as halting in
his secular utterances as he was fiery in his sacred eloquence. He
could only squirm and give out a few low, doubtful grunts; after which,
as the other man kept silence, he got up from his chair with about as
much difficulty as if he had been glued to it.

"I will go to find out," said he, "but I am afraid I shall find very
little, the servant - "

"Don't trouble yourself," interrupted the Moro. "Let me attend to it.
You go and write." He left the hearth, lighted another lamp and carried
it into the neighboring sitting-room, which had windows facing the
south on the courtyard, while the kitchen windows were at the back of
the old convent on the north side, where the cellar and the well were
placed. Then he came back quickly, and under the eyes of the astonished
priest took down a key that was hanging in the darkest corner of the
kitchen, opened a closet against the wall, put up his hand without
hesitating and took down a cheese of goats' milk, the existence of
which Don Rocco had not even suspected; he took bread from a cupboard,
and a knife from a drawer in the table.

Now it happened for only the third or fourth time in the whole life of
Don Rocco that the famous frown entirely disappeared for a few moments.
Even the eyelids stopped winking.

"You look surprised, Don Rocco," said the Moro complacently, "because I
am at home in your house. But just keep on writing. You will understand
later. We must also keep the fire going," he added, when the priest,
having slowly recovered from his amazement, passed into the
sitting-room.

The Moro took the iron bellows, a sort of arquebuse barrel, turned one
end toward the coals, and blew into the other in so unusual a way as to
produce a strident whistle. Then he started on his supper.

What possessed him! At one moment he was devouring his food, at another
he would raise his head and remain transfixed, while at another he
would walk up and down the kitchen violently knocking the chairs and
table. He seemed like an imprisoned wild beast which every now and then
raises its fangs from the bone, listens and looks, seizes it again,
leaves it, rushes around its cage in a rage and goes back to gnaw.

Meanwhile, Don Rocco was leaning over his paper, wondering still at
what he had seen, unable in his unsuspiciousness to draw any
inferences, listening to the steps and the noises in the next room with
a torpid uneasiness that had about the same resemblance to fear as the
intelligence of Don Rocco himself had to understanding. "'You will
understand later,'" he repeated to himself. "What am I to understand?
That he knows where the money is?" He kept it in a box in his
bed-chamber, but there were only two ten-franc pieces, and Don Rocco
reflected with satisfaction that the new wine was not yet sold, and
that that money at least was safe from the clutches of the Moro.

It did not appear as if the latter threatened violence. "At the worst I
should lose twenty francs," concluded Don Rocco, seeking refuge in his
philosophical and Christian indifference to money. He mentally
abandoned the twenty francs to their destiny and sought to concentrate
his thoughts on the sacred text: Nemo potest duobus dominis servire. At
the same moment he seemed to hear, between the hasty steps of the Moro,
a heavy, dull thud from a greater distance, as of a door being broken
open; then the bang of a chair knocked down in the kitchen; then still
another distant noise. The Moro entered the sitting-room and violently
closed the door behind him.

"Here I am, Don Rocco," said he. "Have you also finished?"

"Now is the time," thought the priest, who immediately forgot
everything but the presence of this man.

"Not finished yet," he answered. "But I will finish after you have
gone. What do you wish?"

The Moro took a seat opposite him and crossed his arms on the table.

"I am living a bad life, sir," said he. "The life of a dog and not of a
man."

At this Don Rocco, although he had resigned himself to the worst, felt
his heart expand. He answered severely, and with his eyes cast down:
"You can change, my son, you can change."

"That's why I am here, Don Rocco," said the other. "I want to make
confession. Now, at once," he added when he saw that the priest
remained silent.

Don Rocco began to wink and to squirm somewhat.

"Very well," said he, still with his eyes cast down. "We can talk about
it now, but the confession can come later. You can return for it
to-morrow. It requires a little preparation. And it must be seen
whether you have received proper instruction."


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