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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 09, No. 54, April, 1862 online

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The sun went down, and all the wide plain seemed like the sea at
twilight, lying in rosy and lilac and purple shadowy bands, out of
which rose the old city, solemn and lonely as some enchanted island of
dream-land, with a flush of radiance behind it and a tolling of weird
music filling all the air around. Now they are chanting the Ave Maria in
hundreds of churches, and the Princess worships in distant accord, and
tries to still the anxieties of her heart with many a prayer. Twilight
fades and fades, the Campagna becomes a black sea, and the distant city
looms up like a dark rock against the glimmering sky, and the Princess
goes within and walks restlessly through the wide halls, stopping first
at one open window and then at another to listen. Beneath her feet she
treads a cool mosaic pavement where laughing Cupids are dancing. Above,
from the ceiling, Aurora and the Hours look down in many-colored clouds
of brightness. The sound of the fountains without is so clear in the
intense stillness that the peculiar voice of each one can be told. That
is the swaying noise of the great jet that rises from marble shells and
falls into a wide basin, where silvery swans swim round and round in
enchanted circles; and the other slenderer sound is the smaller jet that
rains down its spray into the violet-borders deep in the shrubbery; and
that other, the shallow babble of the waters that go down the marble
steps to the lake. How dreamlike and plaintive they all sound in the
night stillness! The nightingale sings from the dark shadows of the
wilderness; and the musky odors of the cyclamen come floating ever
and anon through the casement, in that strange, cloudy way in which
flower-scents seem to come and go in the air in the night season.

At last the Princess fancies she hears the distant tramp of horses'
feet, and her heart beats so that she can scarcely listen: now she hears
it, - and now a rising wind, sweeping across the Campagna, seems to bear
it moaning away. She goes to a door and looks out into the darkness.
Yes, she hears it now, quick and regular, - the beat of many horses' feet
coming in hot haste along the road. Surely the few servants whom she has
sent cannot make all this noise! and she trembles with vague affright.
Perhaps it is a tyrannical message, bringing imprisonment and death. She
calls a maid, and bids her bring lights into the reception-hall. A
few moments more, and there is a confused stamping of horses' feet
approaching the house, and she hears the voices of her servants. She
runs into the piazza, and sees dismounting a knight who carries Agnes in
his arms pale and fainting. Old Elsie and Monica, too, dismount, with
the Princess's men-servants; but, wonderful to tell, there seems besides
them to be a train of some hundred armed horsemen.

The timid Princess was so fluttered and bewildered that she lost all
presence of mind, and stood in uncomprehending wonder, while Monica
pushed authoritatively into the house, and beckoned the knight to bring
Agnes and lay her on a sofa, when she and old Elsie busied themselves
vigorously with restoratives.

The Lady Paulina, as soon as she could collect her scattered senses,
recognized in Agostino the banished lord of the Sarelli family, a race
who had shared with her own the hatred and cruelty of the Borgia tribe;
and he in turn had recognized a daughter of the Colonnas.

He drew her aside into a small boudoir adjoining the apartment.

"Noble lady," he said, "we are companions in misfortune, and so, I
trust, you will pardon what seems a tumultuous intrusion on your
privacy. I and my men came to Rome in disguise, that we might watch over
and protect this poor innocent, who now finds asylum with you."

"My Lord," said the Princess, "I see in this event the wonderful working
of the good God. I have but just learned that this young person is my
near kinswoman; it was only this morning that the fact was certified to
me on the dying confession of a holy Capuchin, who privately united my
brother to her mother. The marriage was an indiscretion of his youth;
but afterwards he fell into more grievous sin in denying the holy
sacrament, and leaving his wife to die in misery and dishonor, and
perhaps for this fault such great judgments fell upon him. I wish to
make atonement in such sort as is yet possible by acting as a mother to
this child."

"The times are so troublous and uncertain," said Agostino, "that she
must have stronger protection than that of any woman. She is of a most
holy and religious nature, but as ignorant of sin as an angel who never
has seen anything out of heaven; and so the Borgias enticed her into
their impure den, from which, God helping, I have saved her. I tried
all I could to prevent her coming to Rome, and to convince her of the
vileness that ruled here; but the poor little one could not believe me,
and thought me a heretic only for saying what she now knows from her own
senses."

The Lady Paulina shuddered with fear.

"Is it possible that you have come into collision with the dreadful
Borgias? What will become of us?"

"I brought a hundred men into Rome in different disguises," said
Agostino, "and we gained over a servant in their household, through whom
I entered and carried her off. Their men pursued us, and we had a fight
in the streets, but for the moment we mustered more than they. Some of
them chased us a good distance. But it will not do for us to remain
here. As soon as she is revived enough, we must retreat towards one
of our fastnesses in the mountains, whence, when rested, we shall go
northward to Florence, where I have powerful friends, and she has also
an uncle, a holy man, by whose counsels she is much guided."

"You must take me with you," said the Princess, in a tremor of anxiety.

"Not for the world would I stay, if it be known you have taken refuge
here. For a long time their spies have been watching about me; they
only wait for some occasion to seize upon my villa, as they have on the
possessions of all my father's house. Let me flee with you. I have a
brother-in-law in Florence who hath often urged me to escape to him till
times mend, - for, surely, God will not allow the wicked to bear rule
forever."

"Willingly, noble lady, will we give you our escort, - the more so that
this poor child will then have a friend with her beseeming her father's
rank. Believe me, lady, she will do no discredit to her lineage. She was
trained in a convent, and her soul is a flower of marvellous beauty. I
must declare to you here that I have wooed her honorably to be my wife,
and she would willingly be so, had not some scruples of a religious
vocation taken hold on her, to dispel which I look for the aid of the
holy father, her uncle."

"It would be a most fit and proper thing," said the Princess, "thus to
ally our houses, in hope of some good time to come which shall restore
their former standing and possessions. Of course some holy man must
judge of the obstacle interposed by her vocation; but I doubt not the
Church will be an indulgent mother in a case where the issue seems so
desirable."

"If I be married to her," said Agostino, "I can take her out of all
these strifes and confusions which now agitate our Italy to the court of
France, where I have an uncle high in favor with the King, and who will
use all his influence to compose these troubles in Italy, and bring
about a better day."

While this conversation was going on, bountiful refreshments had been
provided for the whole party, and the attendants of the Princess
received orders to pack all her jewels and valuable effects for a sudden
journey.

As soon as preparations could be made, the whole party left the villa of
the Princess for a retreat in the Alban Mountains, where Agostino
and his band had one of their rendezvous. Only the immediate female
attendants of the Princess, and one or two men-servants, left with her.
The silver plate, and all objects of particular value, were buried in
the garden. This being done, the keys of the house were intrusted to a
gray-headed servant, who with his wife had grown old in the family.

It was midnight before everything was ready for starting. The moon cast
silver gleams through the ilex-avenues, and caused the jet of the great
fountain to look like a wavering pillar of cloudy brightness, when the
Princess led forth Agnes upon the wide veranda. Two gentle, yet spirited
little animals from the Princess's stables were there awaiting them, and
they were lifted into their saddles by Agostino.

"Fear nothing, Madam," he said, observing how the hands of the Princess
trembled; "a few hours will put us in perfect safety, and I shall be at
your side constantly."

Then lifting Agnes to her seat, he placed the reins in her hand.

"Are you rested?" he asked.

It was the first time since her rescue that he had spoken to Agnes. The
words were brief, but no expressions of endearment could convey more
than the manner in which they were spoken.

"Yes, my Lord," said Agnes, firmly, "I am rested."

"You think you can bear the ride?"

"I can bear anything, so I escape," she said.

The company were now all mounted, and were marshalled in regular order.
A body of armed men rode in front; then came Agnes and the Princess,
with Agostino between them, while two or three troopers rode on either
side; Elsie, Monica, and the servants of the Princess followed close
behind, and the rear was brought up in like manner by armed men.

The path wound first through the grounds of the villa, with its plats
of light and shade, its solemn groves of stone-pines rising like
palm-trees high in air above the tops of all other trees, its terraces
and statues and fountains, - all seeming so lovely in the midnight
stillness.

"Perhaps I am leaving all this forever," said the Princess.

"Let us hope for the best," said Agostino. "It cannot be that God will
suffer the seat of the Apostles to be subjected to such ignominy
and disgrace much longer. I am amazed that no Christian kings have
interfered before for the honor of Christendom. I have it from the best
authority that the King of Naples burst into tears when he heard of the
election of this wretch to be Pope. He said that it was a scandal which
threatened the very existence of Christianity. He has sent me secret
messages divers times expressive of sympathy, but he is not of himself
strong enough. Our hope must lie either in the King of France or the
Emperor of Germany: perhaps both will engage. There is now a most holy
monk in Florence who has been stirring all hearts in a wonderful way. It
is said that the very gifts of miracles and prophecy are revived in him,
as among the holy Apostles, and he has been bestirring himself to have
a General Council of the Church to look into these matters. When I left
Florence, a short time ago, the faction opposed to him broke into the
convent and took him away. I myself was there."

"What!" said Agnes, "did they break into the convent of the San Marco?
My uncle is there."

"Yes, and he and I fought side by side with the mob who were rushing
in."

"Uncle Antonio fight!" said Agnes, in astonishment.

"Even women will fight, when what they love most is attacked," said the
knight.

He turned to her, as he spoke, and saw in the moonlight a flash from her
eye, and an heroic expression on her face, such as he had never remarked
before; but she said nothing. The veil had been rudely torn from her
eyes; she had seen with horror the defilement and impurity of what she
had ignorantly adored in holy places, and the revelation seemed to have
wrought a change in her whole nature.

"Even you could fight, Agnes," said the knight, "to save your religion
from disgrace."

"No," said she; "but," she added, with gathering firmness, "I could die.
I should be glad to die with and for the holy men who would save the
honor of the true faith. I should like to go to Florence to my uncle. If
he dies for his religion, I should like to die with him."

"Ah, live to teach it to me!" said the knight, bending towards her, as
if to adjust her bridle-rein, and speaking in a voice scarcely audible.
In a moment he was turned again towards the Princess, listening to her.

"So it seems," she said, "that we shall be running into the thick of the
conflict in Florence."

"Yes, but my uncle hath promised that the King of France shall
interfere. I have hope something may even now have been done. I hope to
effect something myself."

Agostino spoke with the cheerful courage of youth. Agnes glanced timidly
up at him. How great the change in her ideas! No longer looking on him
as a wanderer from the fold, an enemy of the Church, he seemed now in
the attitude of a champion of the faith, a defender of holy men and
things against a base usurpation. What injustice had she done him, and
how patiently had he borne that injustice! Had he not sought to warn
her against the danger of venturing into that corrupt city? Those words
which so much shocked her, against which she had shut her ears, were all
true; she had found them so; she could doubt no longer. And yet he had
followed her, and saved her at the risk of his life. Could she help
loving one who had loved her so much, one so noble and heroic? Would
it be a sin to love him? She pondered the dark warnings of Father
Francesco, and then thought of the cheerful, fervent piety of her old
uncle. How warm, how tender, how life-giving had been his presence
always! how full of faith and prayer, how fruitful of heavenly words and
thoughts had been all his ministrations! - and yet it was for him and
with him and his master that Agostino Sarelli was fighting, and against
him the usurping head of the Christian Church. Then there was another
subject for pondering during this night-ride. The secret of her birth
had been told her by the Princess, who claimed her as kinswoman. It had
seemed to her at first like the revelations of a dream; but as she rode
and reflected, gradually the idea shaped itself in her mind. She was, in
birth and blood, the equal of her lover, and henceforth her life would
no more be in that lowly plane where it had always moved. She thought of
the little orange-garden at Sorrento, of the gorge with its old bridge,
the Convent, the sisters, with a sort of tender, wondering pain. Perhaps
she should see them no more. In this new situation she longed once more
to see and talk with her old uncle, and to have him tell her what were
her duties.

Their path soon began to be a wild clamber among the mountains, now lost
in the shadow of groves of gray, rustling olives, whose knotted, serpent
roots coiled round the rocks, and whose leaves silvered in the moonlight
whenever the wind swayed them. Whatever might be the roughness and
difficulties of the way, Agnes found her knight ever at her bridle-rein,
guiding and upholding, steadying her in her saddle when the horse
plunged down short and sudden descents, and wrapping her in his mantle
to protect her from the chill mountain-air. When the day was just
reddening in the sky, the whole troop made a sudden halt before a square
stone tower which seemed to be a portion of a ruined building, and here
some of the men dismounting knocked at an arched door. It was soon swung
open by a woman with a lamp in her hand, the light of which revealed
very black hair and eyes, and heavy gold earrings.

"Have my directions been attended to?" said Agostino, in a tone of
command. "Are there places made ready for these ladies to sleep?"

"There are, my Lord," said the woman, obsequiously, - "the best we could
get ready on so short a notice."

Agostino came up to the Princess. "Noble Madam," he said, "you will
value safety before all things; doubtless the best that can be done here
is but poor, but it will give you a few hours for repose where you may
be sure of being in perfect safety."

So saying, he assisted her and Agnes to dismount, and Elsie and Monica
also alighting, they followed the woman into a dark stone passage and up
some rude stone steps. She opened at last the door of a brick-floored
room, where beds appeared to have been hastily prepared. There was no
furniture of any sort except the beds. The walls were dusty and hung
with cobwebs. A smaller apartment opening into this had beds for Elsie
and Monica.

The travellers, however, were too much exhausted with their night-ride
to be critical, the services of disrobing and preparing for rest were
quickly concluded, and in less than an hour all were asleep, while
Agostino was busy concerting the means for an immediate journey to
Florence.


CHAPTER XXX.

"LET US ALSO GO, THAT WE MAY DIE WITH HIM."


Father Antonio sat alone in his cell in the San Marco in an attitude of
deep dejection. The open window looked into the garden of the convent,
from which steamed up the fragrance of violet, jasmine, and rose, and
the sunshine lay fair on all that was without. On a table beside him
were many loose and scattered sketches, and an unfinished page of
the Breviary he was executing, rich in quaint tracery of gold and
arabesques, seemed to have recently occupied his attention, for his
palette was wet and many loose brushes lay strewed around. Upon the
table stood a Venetian glass with a narrow neck and a bulb clear
and thin as a soap-bubble, containing vines and blossoms of the
passion-flower, which he had evidently been using as models in his work.

The page he was illuminating was the prophetic Psalm which describes the
ignominy and sufferings of the Redeemer. It was surrounded by a wreathed
border of thorn-branches interwoven with the blossoms and tendrils of
the passion-flower, and the initial letters of the first two words were
formed by a curious combination of the hammer, the nails, the spear, the
crown of thorns, the cross, and other instruments of the Passion; and
clear, in red letter, gleamed out those wonderful, mysterious words,
consecrated by the remembrance of a more than mortal anguish, - "My God,
my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The artist-monk had perhaps fled to his palette to assuage the
throbbings of his heart, as a mourning mother flies to the cradle of her
child; but even there his grief appeared to have overtaken him, for the
work lay as if pushed from him in an access of anguish such as comes
from the sudden recurrence of some overwhelming recollection. He was
leaning forward with his face buried in his hands, sobbing convulsively.

The door opened, and a man advancing stealthily behind laid a hand
kindly on his shoulder, saying softly, "So, so, brother!"

Father Antonio looked up, and, dashing his hand hastily across his
eyes, grasped that of the new-comer convulsively, and saying only, "Oh,
Baccio! Baccio!" hid his face again.

The eyes of the other filled with tears, as he answered gently, -

"Nay, but, my brother, you are killing yourself. They tell me that you
have eaten nothing for three days, and slept not for weeks; you will die
of this grief."

"Would that I might! Why could not I die with him as well as Fra
Domenico? Oh, my master! my dear master!"

"It is indeed a most heavy day to us all," said Baccio della Porta,
the amiable and pure-minded artist better known to our times by his
conventual name of Fra Bartolommeo. "Never have we had among us such a
man; and if there be any light of grace in my soul, his preaching first
awakened it, brother. I only wait to see him enter Paradise, and then
I take farewell of the world forever. I am going to Prato to take the
Dominican habit, and follow him as near as I may."

"It is well, Baccio, it is well," said Father Antonio; "but you must not
put out the light of your genius in those shadows, - you must still paint
for the glory of God."

"I have no heart for painting now," said Baccio, dejectedly. "He was my
inspiration, he taught me the holier way, and he is gone."

At this moment the conference of the two was interrupted by a knocking
at the door, and Agostino Sarelli entered, pale and disordered.

"How is this?" he said, hastily. "What devils' carnival is this which
hath broken loose in Florence? Every good thing is gone into dens and
holes, and every vile thing that can hiss and spit and sting is crawling
abroad. What do the princes of Europe mean to let such things be?"

"Only the old story," said Father Antonio, - "_Principes convenerunt in
unum adversus Dominum, adversus Christum ejus_."

So much were all three absorbed in the subject of their thoughts, that
no kind of greeting or mark of recognition passed among them, such as is
common when people meet after temporary separation. Each spoke out from
the fulness of his soul, as from an overflowing bitter fountain.

"Was there no one to speak for him, - no one to stand up for the pride of
Italy, - the man of his age?" said Agostino.

"There was one voice raised for him in the council," said Father
Antonio. "There was Agnolo Niccolini: a grave man is this Agnolo, and of
great experience in public affairs, and he spoke out his mind boldly. He
told them flatly, that, if they looked through the present time or the
past ages, they would not meet a man of such a high and noble order as
this, and that to lay at our door the blood of a man the like of whom
might not be born for centuries was too impious and execrable a thing to
be thought of. I'll warrant me, he made a rustling among them when he
said that, and the Pope's commissary - old Romalino - then whispered
and frowned; but Agnolo is a stiff old fellow when he once begins a
thing, - he never minded it, and went through with his say. It seems to
me he said that it was not for us to quench a light like this, capable
of giving lustre to the faith even when it had grown dim in other parts
of the world, - and not to the faith alone, but to all the arts and
sciences connected with it. If it were needed to put restraint on him,
he said, why not put him into some fortress, and give him commodious
apartments, with abundance of books, and pen, ink, and paper, where he
would write books to the honor of God and the exaltation of the holy
faith? He told them that this might be a good to the world, whereas
consigning him to death without use of any kind would bring on our
republic perpetual dishonor."

"Well said for him!" said Baccio, with warmth; "but I'll warrant me, he
might as well have preached to the north wind in March, his enemies are
in such a fury."

"Yes, yes," said Antonio, "it is just as it was of old: the chief
priests and Scribes and Pharisees were instant with loud voices,
requiring he should be put to death; and the easy Pilates, for fear of
the tumult, washed their hands of it."

"And now," said Agostino, "they are putting up a great gibbet in the
shape of a cross in the public square, where they will hang the three
holiest and best men of Florence!"

"I came through there this morning," said Baccio, "and there were young
men and boys shouting, and howling, and singing indecent songs, and
putting up indecent pictures, such as those he used to preach against.
It is just as you say. All things vile have crept out of their lair, and
triumph that the man who made them afraid is put down; and every house
is full of the most horrible lies about him, - things that they said he
confessed."

"Confessed!" said Father Antonio, - "was it not enough that they tore
and tortured him seven times, but they must garble and twist the very
words that he said in his agony? The process they have published is
foully falsified, - stuffed full of improbable lies; for I myself have
read the first draught of all he did say, just as Signor Ceccone took it
down as they were torturing him. I had it from Jacopo Manelli, canon of
our Duomo here, and he got it from Ceccone's wife herself. They not only
can torture and slay him, but they torture and slay his memory with
lies."

"Would I were in God's place for one day!" said Agostino, speaking
through his clenched teeth. "May I be forgiven for saying so."

"We are hot and hasty," said Father Antonio, "ever ready to call down
fire from heaven, - but, after all, 'the Lord reigneth, let the earth
rejoice.' 'Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness.' Our
dear father is sustained in spirit and full of love. Even when they
let him go from the torture, he fell on his knees, praying for his
tormentors."

"Good God! this passes me!" said Agostino, striking his hands together.
"Oh, wherefore hath a strong man arms and hands, and a sword, if he
must stand still and see such things done? If I had only my hundred
mountaineers here, I would make one charge for him to-morrow. If I could
only _do_ something!" he added, striding impetuously up and down the


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 09, No. 54, April, 1862 → online text (page 14 of 21)