Edith Wharton.

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She had meant to wait for him on the Terra






5 {) .1 8




3\ (P

v. \


j The Duchess at Prayer 1


The Angel at the Grave 35


1 The Recovery 65


f'Copy " : A Dialogue 99


* The Rembrandt 123


, The Moving Finger 153


\The Confessional 181






HAVE you ever questioned the long shuttered
front of an old Italian house, that motionless
mask, smooth, mute, equivocal as the face of
a priest behind which buzz the secrets of the confes-
sional ? Other houses declare the activities they shelter ;
they are the clear expressive cuticle of a life flowing
close to the surface; but the old palace in its narrow
street, the villa on its cypress-hooded hill, are as im-
penetrable as death. The tall windows are like blind
eyes, the great door is a shut mouth. Inside there may
be sunshine, the scent of myrtles, and a pulse of life
through all the arteries of the huge frame ; or a mortal
solitude, where bats lodge in the disjointed stones and
the keys rust in unused doors. . .


FROM the loggia, with its vanishing frescoes, I
looked down an avenue barred by a ladder of cy-
press-shadows to the ducal escutcheon and mutilated
vases of the gate. Flat noon lay on the gardens, on
fountains, porticoes and grottoes. Below the terrace,
where a chrome-colored lichen had sheeted the balus-
trade as with fine laminae of gold, vineyards stooped to
the rich valley clasped in hills. The lower slopes were



strewn with white villages like stars spangling a sum-
mer dusk; and beyond these, fold on fold of blue
mountain, clear as gauze against the sky. The August
air was lifeless, but it seemed light and vivifying after
the atmosphere of the shrouded rooms through which
I had been led. Their chill was on me and I hugged
the sunshine.

"The Duchess's apartments are beyond," said the
old man.

He was the oldest man I had ever seen; so sucked
back into the past that he seemed more like a memory
than a living being. The one trait linking him with the
actual was the fixity with which his small saurian eye
held the pocket that, as I entered, had yielded a lira
to the gate-keeper's child. He went on, without remov-
ing his eye:

"For two hundred years nothing has been changed
in the apartments of the Duchess."

"And no one lives here now?"

"No one, sir. The Duke goes to Como for the sum-
mer season."

I had moved to the other end of the loggia. Below
me, through hanging groves, white roofs and domes
flashed like a smile.

"And that's Vicenza?"

"ProprioJ" The old man extended fingers as lean as
the hands fading from the walls behind us. "You see


the palace roof over there, just to the left of the Ba-
silica? The one with the row of statues like birds tak-
ing flight? That's the Duke's town palace, built by

"And does the Duke come there?"

"Never. In winter he goes to Rome."

"And the palace and the villa are always closed?"

" As you see always."

"How long has this been?"

"Since I can remember."

I looked into his eyes : they were like tarnished metal
mirrors reflecting nothing. "That must be a long time,"
I said involuntarily.

"A long time/' he assented.

I looked down on the gardens. An opulence of dah-
lias overran the box-borders, between cypresses that cut
the sunshine like basalt shafts. Bees hung above the
lavender; lizards sunned themselves on the benches and
slipped through the cracks of the dry basins. Every-
where were vanishing traces of that fantastic horticul-
ture of which our dull age has lost the art. Down the
alleys maimed statues stretched their arms like rows
of whining beggars; faun-eared terms grinned in the
thickets, and above the laurustinus walls rose the mock
ruin of a temple, falling into real ruin in the bright
disintegrating air. The glare was blinding.

"Let us go in," I said.

[3 ]


The old man pushed open a heavy door, behind
which the cold lurked like a knife.

"The Duchess's apartments," he said.

Overhead and around us the same evanescent frescoes,
under foot the same scagliola volutes, unrolled themselves
interminably. Ebony cabinets, with inlay of precious mar-
bles in cunning perspective, alternated down the room
with the tarnished efflorescence of gilt consoles support-
ing Chinese monsters; and from the chimney-panel a
gentleman in the Spanish habit haughtily ignored us.

"Duke Ercole II.," the old man explained, "by the
Genoese Priest."

It was a narrow-browed lace, sallow as a wax effigy,
high-nosed and cautious-lidded, as though modelled by
priestly hands; the lips weak and vain rather than
cruel; a quibbling mouth that would have snapped at
verbal errors like a lizard catching flies, but had never
learned the shape of a round yes or no. One of the
Duke's hands rested on the head of a dwarf, a simian
creature with pearl ear-rings and fantastic dress; the
other turned the pages of a folio propped on a skull.

"Beyond is the Duchess's bedroom," the old man
reminded me.

Here the shutters admitted but two narrow shafts of
light, gold bars deepening the subaqueous gloom. On a
dais the bedstead, grim, nuptial, official, lifted its bal-
dachin; a yellow Christ agonized between the curtains,


and across the room a lady smiled at us from the chim-

The old man unbarred a shutter and the light touched
her face. Such a face it was, with a flicker of laughter
over it like the wind on a June meadow, and a singular
tender pliancy of mien, as though one of Tiepolo's len-
ient goddesses had been busked into the stiff sheath of
a seventeenth century dress!

"No one has slept here," said the old man, "since
the Duchess Violante."

"And she was ?"

"The lady there first Duchess of Duke Ercole II."

He drew a key from his pocket and unlocked a door
at the farther end of the room. "The chapel," he said.
"This is the Duchess's balcony." As I turned to follow
him the Duchess tossed me a sidelong smile.

I stepped into a grated tribune above a chapel fes-
tooned with stucco. Pictures of bituminous saints moul-
dered between the pilasters; the artificial roses in the
altar-vases were gray with dust and age, and under the
cobwebby rosettes of the vaulting a bird's nest clung.
Before the altar stood a row of tattered arm-chairs, and
I drew back at sight of a figure kneeling near them.

"The Duchess," the old man whispered. "By the
Cavaliere Bernini."

It was the image of a woman in furred robes and
spreading fraise, her hand lifted, her face addressed to
[5] '

the tabernacle. There was a strangeness in the sight of
that immovable presence locked in prayer before an.
abandoned shrine. Her face was hidden, and I won-
dered whether it were grief or gratitude that raised
her hands and drew her eyes to the altar, where no
living prayer joined her marble invocation. I followed
my guide down the tribune steps, impatient to see
what mystic version of such terrestrial graces the in-
genious artist had found the Cavaliere was master of
such arts. The Duchess's attitude was one of transport,
as though heavenly airs fluttered her laces and the
love-locks escaping from her coif. I saw how admirably
the sculptor had caught the poise of her head, the
tender slope of the shoulder; then I crossed over and
looked into her face it was a frozen horror. Never
have hate, revolt and agony so possessed a human
countenance. . .

The old man crossed himself and shuffled his feet on
the marble.

"The Duchess Violante," he repeated.

"The same as in the picture?"

"Eh the same."

"But the face what does it mean?"

He shrugged his shoulders and turned deaf eyes on
me. Then he shot a glance round the sepulchral place,
clutched my sleeve and said, close to my ear: "It was
not always so."



"What was not?"

"The face so terrible."

"The Duchess's face?"

"The statue's. It changed after "


"It was put here."

"The statue's face changed ?"

He mistook my bewilderment for incredulity and his
confidential finger dropped from my sleeve. "Eh, that 's
the story. I tell what I've heard. What do I know?"
He resumed his senile shuffle across the marble. "This
is a bad place to stay in no one comes here. It's too
cold. But the gentleman said, / must see everything!"

I let the lire sound. "So I must and hear every-
thing. This story, now from whom did you have it?"

His hand stole back. "One that saw it, by God!"

"That saw it?"

"My grandmother, then. I'm a very old man."

"Your grandmother? Your grandmother was ?"

"The Duchess's serving girl, with respect to you."

"Your grandmother? Two hundred years ago?"

"Is it too long ago? That's as God pleases. I am a
very old man and she was a very old woman when I
was born. When she died she was as black as a miracu-
lous Virgin and her breath whistled like the wind in a
keyhole. She told me the story when I was a little boy.
She told it to me out there in the garden, on a bench


by the fish-pond, one summer night of the year she
died. It must be true, for I can show you the very bench
we sat on. . ."


NOON lay heavier on the gardens; not our live
humming warmth but the stale exhalation of
dead summers. The very statues seemed to drowse like
watchers by a death-bed. Lizards shot out of the
cracked soil like flames and the bench in the laurusti-
nus-niche was strewn with the blue varnished bodies of
dead flies. Before us lay the fish-pond, a yellow marble
slab above rotting secrets. The villa looked across it,
composed as a dead face, with the cypresses flanking it
for candles. . .


"TMPOSSIBLE, you say, that my mother's mother
JL should have been the Duchess's maid? What do I
know? It is so long since anything has happened here
that the old things seem nearer, perhaps, than to
those who live in cities. . . But how else did she
know about the statue then? Answer me that, sir!
That she saw with her eyes, I can swear to, and
never smiled again, so she told me, till they put her
first child in her arms ... for she was taken to wife


by the steward's son, Antonio, the same who had car-
ried the letters. . . But where am I? Ah, well . . .
she was a mere slip, you understand, my grandmother,
when the Duchess died, a niece of the upper maid,
Nencia, and suffered about the Duchess because of
her pranks and the funny songs she knew. It 's pos-
sible, you think, she may have heard from others what
she afterward fancied she had seen herself? How that
is, it's not for an unlettered man to say; though in-
deed I myself seem to have seen many of the things
she told me. This is a strange place. No one comes
here, nothing changes, and the old memories stand up
as distinct as the statues in the garden. . .

"It began the summer after they came back from
the Brenta. Duke Ercole had married the lady from
Venice, you must know ; it was a gay city, then, I 'm
told, with laughter and music on the water, and the
days slipped by like boats running with the tide. Well,
to humor her he took her back the first autumn to the
Brenta. Her father, it appears, had a grand palace
there, with such gardens, bowling-alleys, grottoes and
casinos as never were; gondolas bobbing at the water-
gates, a stable full of gilt coaches, a theatre full of
players, and kitchens and offices full of cooks and
lackeys to serve up chocolate all day long to the fine
ladies in masks and furbelows, with their pet dogs and
their blackamoors and their abates. Eh! I know it all



as if I 'd been there, for Nencia, you see, my grand-
mother's aunt, travelled with the Duchess, and came
back with her eyes round as platters, and not a word
to say for the rest of the year to any of the lads who 'd
courted her here in Vicenza.

"What happened there I don't know my grand-
mother could never get at the rights of it, for Nencia
was mute as a fish where her lady was concerned but
when they came back to Vicenza the Duke ordered
the villa set in order; and in the spring he brought the
Duchess here and left her. She looked happy enough,
my grandmother said, and seemed no object for pity.
Perhaps, after all, it was better than being shut up in
Vicenza, in the tall painted rooms where priests came
and went as softly as cats prowling for birds, and the
Duke was forever closeted in his library, talking with
learned men. The Duke was a scholar; you noticed he
was painted with a book? Well, those that can read
'em make out that they 're full of wonderful things ; as
a man that 's been to a fair across the mountains will
always tell his people at home it was beyond anything
they 'II ever see. As for the Duchess, she was all for
music, play-acting and young company. The Duke was
a silent man, stepping quietly, with his eyes down, as
though he'd just come from confession; when the
Duchess's lap-dog yapped at his heels he danced like
a man in a swarm of hornets; when the Duchess


laughed he winced as if you 'd drawn a diamond across
a window-pane. And the Duchess was always laughing.

"When she first came to the villa she was very busy
laying out the gardens, designing grottoes, planting
groves and planning all manner of agreeable surprises
in the way of water-jets that drenched you unexpect-
edly, and hermits in caves, and wild men that jumped
at you out of thickets. She had a very pretty taste in
such matters, but after a while she tired of it, and there
being no one for her to talk to but her maids and the
chaplain a clumsy man deep in his books why, she
would have strolling players out from Vicenza, moun-
tebanks and fortune-tellers from the market-place,
travelling doctors and astrologers, and all manner of
trained animals. Still it could be seen that the poor
lady pined for company, and her waiting women, who
loved her, were glad when the Cavaliere Ascanio, the
Duke's cousin, came to live at the vineyard across
the valley you see the pinkish house over there in
the mulberries, with a red roof and a pigeon-cote?

"The Cavaliere Ascanio was a cadet of one of the
great Venetian houses, pezzi grossi of the Golden Book.
He had been meant for the Church, I believe, but
what! he set fighting above praying and cast in his
lot with the captain of the Duke of Mantua's bravi,
himself a Venetian of good standing, but a little at
odds with the law. Well, the next I know, the Cava-



Here was in Venice again, perhaps not in good odor on
account of his connection with the gentleman I speak
of. Some say he tried to carry off a nun from the con-
vent of Santa Croce; how that may be I can't say; but
my grandmother declared he had enemies there, and
the end of it was that on some pretext or other the
Ten banished him to Vicenza. There, of course, the
Duke, being his kinsman, had to show him a civil face ;
and that was how he first came to the villa.

"He was a fine young man, beautiful as a Saint
Sebastian, a rare musician, who sang his own songs to
the lute in a way that used to make my grandmother's
heart melt and run through her body like mulled wine.
He had a good word for everybody, too, and was always
dressed in the French fashion, and smelt as sweet as a
bean-field; and every soul about the place welcomed
the sight of him.

"Well, the Duchess, it seemed, welcomed it too;
youth will have youth, and laughter turns to laughter;
and the two matched each other like the candlesticks

on an altar. The Duchess you've seen her portrait

but to hear my grandmother, sir, it no more approached
her than a weed comes up to a rose. The Cavaliere, in-
deed, as became a poet, paragoned her in his song to
all the pagan goddesses of antiquity; and doubtless
these were finer to look at than mere women; but so,
it seemed, was she; for, to believe my grandmother,


she made other women look no more than the big
French fashion-doll that used to be shown on Ascen-
sion days in the Piazza. She was one, at any rate, that
needed no outlandish finery to beautify her; whatever
dress she wore became her as feathers fit the bird; and
her hair did n't get its color by bleaching on the house-
top. It glittered of itself like the threads in an Easter
chasuble, and her skin was whiter than fine wheaten
bread and her mouth as sweet as a ripe fig. . .

"Well, sir, you could no more keep them apart than
the bees and the lavender. They were always together,
singing, bowling, playing cup and ball, walking in the
gardens, visiting the aviaries and petting her grace's
trick-dogs and monkeys. The Duchess was as gay as a
foal, always playing pranks and laughing, tricking out
her animals like comedians, disguising herself as a
peasant or a nun (you should have seen her one day
pass herself off to the chaplain as a mendicant sister),
or teaching the lads and girls of the vineyards to dance
and sing madrigals together. The Cavaliere had a sin-
gular ingenuity in planning such entertainments and
the days were hardly long enough for their diversions.
But toward the end of the summer the Duchess fell
quiet and would hear only sad music, and the two sat
much together in the gazebo at the end of the garden.
It was there the Duke found them one day when he
drove out from Vicenza in his gilt coach. He came but


once or twice a year to the villa, and it was, as my
grandmother said, just a part of her poor lady's ill-
luck to be wearing that day the Venetian habit, which
uncovered the shoulders in a way the Duke always
scowled at, and her curls loose and powdered with gold.
Well, the three drank chocolate in the gazebo, and
what happened no one knew, except that the Duke,
on taking leave, gave his cousin a seat in his carriage;
but the Cavaliere never returned.

" Winter approaching, and the poor lady thus finding
herself once more alone, it was surmised among her
women that she must fall into a deeper depression of
spirits. But far from this being the case, she displayed
such cheerfulness and equanimity of humor that my
grandmother, for one, was half-vexed with her for giv-
ing no more thought to the poor young man who, all
this time, was eating his heart out in the house across
the valley. It is true she quitted her gold-laced gowns
and wore a veil over her head; but Nencia would have
it she looked the lovelier for the change and so gave
the Duke greater displeasure. Certain it is that the
Duke drove out oftener to the villa, and though he
found his lady always engaged in some innocent pur-
suit, such as embroidery or music, or playing games
with her young women, yet he always went away with
a sour look and a whispered word to the chaplain. Now
as to the chaplain, my grandmother owned there had


been a time when her grace had not handled him over-
wisely. For, according to Nencia, it seems that his rev-
erence, who seldom approached the Duchess, being
buried in his library like a mouse in a cheese well,
one day he made bold to appeal to her for a sum of
money, a large suni, Nencia said, to buy certain tall
books, a chest full of them, that a foreign pedlar had
brought him; whereupon the Duchess, who could never
abide a book, breaks out at him with a laugh and a
flash of her old spirit 'Holy Mother of God, must I
have more books about me? I was nearly smothered
with them in the first year of my marriage;' and the
chaplain turning red at the affront, she added: 'You
may buy them and welcome, my good chaplain, if you
can find the money; but as for me, I am yet seeking a
way to pay for my turquoise necklace, and the statue
of Daphne at the end of the bowling-green, and the
Indian parrot that my black boy brought me last
Michaelmas from the Bohemians so you see I 've no
money to waste on trifles;' and as he backs out awk-
wardly she tosses at him over her shoulder: 'You
should pray to Saint Blandina to open the Duke's
pocket!' to which he returned, very quietly, 'Your
excellency's suggestion is an admirable one, and I have
already entreated that blessed martyr to open the
Duke's understanding.'

"Thereat, Nencia said (who was standing by), the


Duchess flushed wonderfully red and waved him out of
the room; and then 'Quick!' she cried to my grand-
mother (who was too glad to run on such errands),
'Call me Antonio, the gardener's boy, to the box-gar-
den ; I 've a word to say to him about the new clove-
carnations. . .'

"Now I may not have told you, sir, that in the crypt
under the chapel there has stood, for more generations
than a man can count, a stone coffin containing a thigh-
bone of the blessed Saint Blandina of Lyons, a relic
offered, I 've been told, by some great Duke of France
to one of our own dukes when they fought the Turk
together ; and the object, ever since, of particular ven-
eration in this illustrious family. Now, since the Duch-
ess had been left to herself, it was observed she affected
a fervent devotion to this relic, praying often in the
chapel and even causing the stone slab that covered the
entrance to the crypt to be replaced by a wooden one,
that she might at will descend and kneel by the coffin.
This was matter of edification to all the household and
should have been peculiarly pleasing to the chaplain ;
but, with respect to you, he was the kind of man who
brings a sour mouth to the eating of the sweetest apple.

"However that may be, the Duchess, when she dis-
missed him, was seen running to the garden, where she
talked earnestly with the boy Antonio about the new
clove-carnations ; and the rest of the day she sat in-


doors and played sweetly on the virginal. Now Nencia
always had it in mind that her grace had made a mis-
take in refusing that request of the chaplain's ; but she
said nothing, for to talk reason to the Duchess was of
no more use than praying for rain in a drought.

"Winter came early that year, there was snow on the
hills by All Souls, the wind stripped the gardens, and
the lemon-trees were nipped in the lemon-house. The
Duchess kept her room in this black season, sitting
over the fire, embroidering, reading books of devotion
(which was a thing she had never done) and praying
frequently in the chapel. As for the chaplain, it was a
place he never set foot in but to say mass in the morn-
ing, with the Duchess overhead in the tribune, and the
servants aching with rheumatism on the marble floor.
The chaplain himself hated the cold, and galloped
through the mass like a man with witches after him.
The rest of the day he spent in his library, over a bra-
zier, with his eternal books. . .

"You'll wonder, sir, if I'm ever to get to the gist
of the story ; and I 've gone slowly, I own, for fear of
what 's coming. Well, the winter was long and hard.
When it fell cold the Duke ceased to come out from
Vicenza, and not a soul had the Duchess to speak to
but her maid-servants and the gardeners about the
place. Yet it was wonderful, my grandmother said, how
she kept her brave colors and her spirits ; only it was


remarked that she prayed longer in the chapel, where
a brazier was kept burning for her all day. When the
young are denied their natural pleasures they turn
often enough to religion ; and it was a mercy, as my
grandmother said, that she, who had scarce a live sinner
to speak to, should take such comfort in a dead saint.

"My grandmother seldom saw her that winter, for
though she showed a brave front to all she kept more
and more to herself, choosing to have only Nencia about
her and dismissing even her when she went to pray.
For her devotion had that mark of true piety, that she
wished it not to be observed ; so that Nencia had strict
orders, on the chaplain's approach, to warn her mistress
if she happened to be in prayer.

"Well, the winter passed, and spring was well for-
ward, when my grandmother one evening had a bad
fright. That it was her own fault I won't deny, for she 'd
been down the lime-walk with Antonio when her aunt
fancied her to be stitching in her chamber ; and seeing

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