University of Virginia Library


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The golden sunshine of the spring morning was deadened
to a sombre tone in the shadowy courts of the Capuchin
convent. The reddish brown of the walls was flecked with
gold and orange spots of lichen; and here and there, in
crevices, tufts of grass, or even a little bunch of gold-blooming
flowers, looked hardily forth into the shadowy air. A
covered walk, with stone arches, enclosed a square filled
with dusky shrubbery. There were tall funereal cypresses,
whose immense height and scraggy profusion of decaying
branches showed their extreme old age. There were gaunt,
gnarled olives, with trunks twisted in immense serpent folds,
and bows wreathed and knotted into wild, unnatural contractions,
as if their growth had been a series of spasmodic
convulsions, instead of a calm and gentle development of
Nature. There were overgrown clumps of aloes, with the
bare skeletons of former flower-stalks standing erect among
their dusky horns or lying rotting on the ground beside them.
The place had evidently been intended for the culture of
shrubbery and flowers, but the growth of the trees had long
since so intercepted the sunlight and fresh air that not even
grass could find root beneath their branches. The ground
was covered with a damp green mould, strewn here and
there with dead boughs, or patched with tufts of fern and
lycopodium, throwing out their green hairy roots into the


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moist soil. A few half-dead roses and jasmines, remnants
of former days of flowers, still maintained a struggling existence,
but looked wan and discouraged in the effort, and
seemed to stretch and pine vaguely for a freer air. In fact,
the whole garden might be looked upon as a sort of symbol
of the life by which it was surrounded, — a life stagnant,
unnatural, and unhealthy, cut off from all those thousand
stimulants to wholesome development which are afforded by
the open plain of human existence, where strong natures
grow distorted in unnatural efforts, though weaker ones find
in its lowly shadows a congenial refuge.

We have given the brighter side of conventual life in the
days we are describing: we have shown it as often a needed
shelter of woman's helplessness during ages of political uncertainty
and revolution; we have shown it as the congenial
retreat where the artist, the poet, the student, and the man
devoted to ideas found leisure undisturbed to develop themselves
under the consecrating protection of religion. The
picture would be unjust to truth, did we not recognize, what,
from our knowledge of human nature, we must expect, a
conventual life of far less elevated and refined order. We
should expect that institutions which guarantied to each individual
a livelihood, without the necessity of physical labor
or the responsibility of supporting a family, might in time
come to be incumbered with many votaries in whom indolence
and improvidence were the only impelling motives.
In all ages of the world the unspiritual are the majority, —
the spiritual the exceptions. It was to the multitude that
Jesus said, “Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles,
but because ye did eat and were filled,” — and the multitude
has been much of the same mind from that day to this.

The convent of which we speak had been for some years


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under the lenient rule of the jolly Brother Girolamo, — an
easy, wide-spread, loosely organized body, whose views of
the purpose of human existence were decidedly Anacreontic.
Fasts he abominated, — night-prayers he found unfavorable
to his constitution; but he was a judge of olives and good
wine, and often threw out valuable hints in his pastoral
visits on the cooking of maccaroni, for which he had himself
elaborated a savory recipe; and the cellar and larder of the
convent, during his pastorate, presented so many urgent
solicitations to conventual repose, as to threaten an inconvenient
increase in the number of brothers. The monks in
his time lounged in all the sunny places of the convent like
so many loose sacks of meal, enjoying to the full the dolce
far niente
which seems to be the universal rule of Southern
climates. They ate and drank and slept and snored; they
made pastoral visits through the surrounding community
which were far from edifying; they gambled, and tippled,
and sang most unspiritual songs; and keeping all the while
their own private pass-key to Paradise tucked under their
girdles, were about as jolly a set of sailors to Eternity as
the world had to show. In fact, the climate of Southern
Italy and its gorgeous scenery are more favorable to voluptuous
ecstasy than to the severe and grave warfare of the
true Christian soldier. The sunny plains of Capua demoralized
the soldiers of Hannibal, and it was not without a
reason that ancient poets made those lovely regions the
abode of Sirens whose song maddened by its sweetness, and
of a Circe who made men drunk with her sensual fascinations,
till they became sunk to the form of brutes. Here,
if anywhere, is the lotos-eather's paradise, — the purple skies,
the enchanted shores, the soothing gales, the dreamy mists,
which all conspire to melt the energy of the will, and to


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make existence either a half doze of dreamy apathy or an
awaking of mad delirium.

It was not from dreamy, voluptuous Southern Italy that
the religious progress of the Italian race received any vigorous
impulses. These came from more northern and more
mountainous regions, from the severe, clear heights of Florence,
Perugia, and Assisi, where the intellectual and the
moral both had somewhat of the old Etruscan earnestness
and gloom.

One may easily imagine the stupid alarm and helpless
confusion of these easy-going monks, when their new Superior
came down among them hissing with a white heat from
the very hottest furnace-fires of a new religious experience,
burning and quivering with the terrors of the world to come,
— pale, thin, eager, tremulous, and yet with all the martial
vigor of the former warrior, and all the habits of command
of a former princely station. His reforms gave no quarter to
right or left; sleepy monks were dragged out to midnight-prayers,
and their devotions enlivened with vivid pictures of
hell-fire and ingenuities of eternal torment enough to stir the
blood of the most torpid. There was to be no more gormandizing,
no more wine-bibbing; the choice old wines were
placed under lock and key for the use of the sick and poor
in the vicinity; and every fast of the Church, and every
obsolete rule of the order, were revived with unsparing
rigor. It is true, they hated their new Superior with all
the energy which laziness and good-living had left them, but
they every soul of them shook in their sandals before him;
for there is a true and established order of mastery among
human beings, and when a man of enkindled energy and
intense will comes among a flock of irresolute commonplace
individuals, he subjects them to himself by a sort of moral


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paralysis similar to what a great, vigorous gymnotus distributes
among a fry of inferior fishes. The bolder ones, who
made motions of rebellion, were so energetically swooped
upon, and consigned to the discipline of dungeon and bread-and-water,
that less courageous natures made a merit of
siding with the more powerful party, mentally resolving to
carry by fraud the points which they despaired of accomplishing
by force.

On the morning we speak of, two monks might have
been seen lounging on a stone bench by one of the arches,
looking listlessly into the sombre garden-patch we have
described. The first of these, Father Anselmo, was a corpulent
fellow, with an easy swing of gait, heavy animal
features, and an eye of shrewd and stealthy cunning: the
whole air of the man expressed the cautious, careful voluptuary.
The other, Father Johannes, was thin, wiry, and
elastic, with hands like birds' claws, and an eye that reminded
one of the crafty cunning of a serpent. His smile
was a curious blending of shrewdness and malignity. He
regarded his companion from time to time obliquely from
the corners of his eyes, to see what impression his words
were making, and had a habit of jerking himself up in the
middle of a sentence and looking warily round to see if any
one were listening, which indicated habitual distrust.

“Our holy Superior is out a good while this morning,” he
said, at length.

The observation was made in the smoothest and most
silken tones, but they carried with them such a singular
suggestion of doubt and inquiry that they seemed like an

“Ah?” replied the other, perceiving evidently some intended
undertone of suspicion lurking in the words, but


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apparently resolved not to commit himself to his companion.

“Yes,” said the first; “the zeal of the house of the Lord
consumes him, the blessed man!”

“Blessed man!” echoed the second, rolling up his eyes,
and giving a deep sigh, which shook his portly proportions
so that they quivered like jelly.

“If he goes on in this way much longer,” continued Father
Johannes, “there will soon be very little mortal left of him;
the saints will claim him.”

Father Anselmo gave something resembling a pious groan,
but darted meanwhile a shrewd observant glance at the

“What would become of the convent, were he gone?”
said Father Johannes. “All these blessed reforms which he
has brought about would fall back; for our nature is fearfully
corrupt, and ever tends to wallow in the mire of sin
and pollution. What changes hath he wrought in us all!
To be sure, the means were sometimes severe. I remember,
brother, when he had you under ground for more than
ten days. My heart was pained for you; but I suppose
you know that it was necessary, in order to bring you to that
eminent state of sanctity where you now stand.”

The heavy, sensual features of Father Anselmo flushed
up with some emotion, whether of anger or of fear it was
hard to tell; but he gave one hasty glance at his companion,
which, if a glance could kill, would have struck him dead,
and then there fell over his countenance, like a veil, an expression
of sanctimonious humility, as he replied, —

“Thank you for your sympathy, dearest brother. I remember,
too, how I felt for you that week when you were
fed only on bread and water, and had to take it on your


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knees off the floor, while the rest of us sat at table. How
blessed it must be to have one's pride brought down in that
way! When our dear, blessed Superior first came, brother,
you were as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, but now
what a blessed change! It must give you so much peace!
How you must love him!”

“I think we love him about equally,” said Father Johannes,
his dark, thin features expressing the concentration of
malignity. “His labors have been blessed among us. Not
often does a faithful shepherd meet so loving a flock. I
have been told that the great Peter Abelard found far
less gratitude. They tried to poison him in the most holy

“How absurd!” interrupted Father Anselmo, hastily;
“as if the blood of the Lord, as if our Lord himself could
be made poison!”

“Brother, it is a fact,” insisted the former, in tones silvery
with humility and sweetness.

“A fact that the most holy blood can be poisoned?” replied
the other, with horror evidently genuine.

“I grieve to say, brother,” said Father Johannes, “that
in my profane and worldly days I tried that experiment on a
dog, and the poor brute died in five minutes. Ah, brother,”
he added, observing that his obese companion was now
thoroughly roused, “you see before you the chief of sinners!
Judas was nothing to me; and yet, such are the triumphs of
grace, I am an unworthy member of this most blessed and
pious brotherhood; but I do penance daily in sackcloth and
ashes for my offence.”

“But, Brother Johannes, was it really so? did it really
happen?” inquired Father Anselmo, looking puzzled.
“Where, then, is our faith?”


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“Doth our faith rest on human reason, or on the evidence
of our senses, Brother Anselmo? I bless God that I have
arrived at that state where I can adoringly say, `I believe,
because it is impossible.' Yea, brother, I know it to be a
fact that the ungodly have sometimes destroyed holy men,
like our Superior, who could not be induced to taste wine
for any worldly purpose, by drugging the blessed cup; so
dreadful are the ragings of Satan in our corrupt nature!”

“I can't see into that,” said Father Anselmo, still looking

“Brother,” answered Father Johannes, “permit an unworthy
sinner to remind you that you must not try to see
into anything; all that is wanted of you in our most holy
religion is to shut your eyes and believe; all things are
possible to the eye of faith. Now, humanly speaking,” he
added, with a peculiarly meaning look, “who would believe
that you kept all the fasts of our order, and all the extraordinary
ones which it hath pleased our blessed Superior to
lay upon us, as you surely do? A worldling might swear,
to look at you, that such flesh and color must come in some
way from good meat and good wine; but we remember how
the three children throve on the pulse and rejected the meat
from the king's table.”

The countenance of Father Anselmo expressed both anger
and alarm at this home-thrust, and the changes did not escape
the keen eye of Father Johannes, who went on.

“I directed the eyes of our holy father upon you as a
striking example of the benefits of abstemious living, showing
that the days of miracles are not yet past in the Church,
as some sceptics would have us believe. He seemed to study
you attentively. I have no doubt he will honor you with
some more particular inquiries, — the blessed saint!”


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Father Anselmo turned uneasily on his seat and stealthily
eyed his companion, to see, if possible, how much real knowledge
was expressed by his words, and then answered on
quite another topic.

“How this garden has fallen to decay! We miss old
Father Angelo sorely, who was always trimming and cleansing
it. Our Superior is too heavenly-minded to have much
thought for earthly things, and so it goes.”

Father Johannes watched this attempt at diversion with a
glitter of stealthy malice, and, seeming to be absorbed in
contemplation, broke out again exactly where he had left off
on the unwelcome subject.

“I mind me now, Brother Anselmo, that, when you came
out of your cell to prayers, the other night, your utterance
was thick, and your eyes heavy and watery, and your gait uncertain.
One would swear that you had been drunken with
new wine; but we knew it was all the effect of fasting and
devout contemplation, which inebriates the soul with holy
raptures, as happened to the blessed Apostles on the day of
Pentecost. I remarked the same to our holy father, and he
seemed to give it earnest heed, for I saw him watching you
through all the services. How blessed is such watchfulness!”

“The Devil take him!” said Father Anselmo, suddenly
thrown off his guard; but checking himself, he added, confusedly,
— “I mean” —

“I understand you, brother,” said Father Johannes; “it
is a motion of the old nature not yet entirely subdued. A
little more of the discipline of the lower vaults, which you
have found so precious, will set all that right.”

“You would not inform against me?” said Father Anselmo,
with an expression of alarm.


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“It would be my duty, I suppose,” said Father Johannes,
with a sigh; “but, sinner that I am, I never could bring
my mind to such proceedings with the vigor of our blessed
father. Had I been Superior of the convent, as was talked
of, how differently might things have proceeded! I should
have erred by a sinful laxness. How fortunate that it was
he, instead of such a miserable sinner as myself!”

“Well, tell me, then, Father Johannes, — for your eyes
are shrewd as a lynx's, — is our good Superior so perfect as
he seems? or does he have his little private comforts sometimes,
like the rest of us? Nobody, you know, can stand it
to be always on the top round of the ladder to Paradise.
For my part, between you and me, I never believed all that
story they read to us so often about Saint Simeon Stylites,
who passed so many years on the top of a pillar and never
came down. Trust me, the old boy found his way down
sometimes, when all the world was asleep, and got somebody
to do duty for him meantime, while he took a little something
comfortable. Is it not so?”

“I am told to believe, and I do believe,” said Father Johannes,
casting down his eyes, piously; “and, dear brother,
it ill befits a sinner like me to reprove; but it seemeth to
me as if you make too much use of the eyes of carnal inquiry.
Touching the life of our holy father, I cannot believe
the most scrupulous watch can detect anything in his walk
or conversation other than appears in his profession. His
food is next to nothing, — a little chopped spinach or some
bitter herb cooked without salt for ordinary days, and on
fast days he mingles this with ashes, according to a saintly
rule. As for sleep, I believe he does without it; for at no
time of the night, when I have knocked at the door of his
cell, have I found him sleeping. He is always at his prayers


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or breviary. His cell hath only a rough, hard board for a
bed, with a log of rough wood for a pillow; yet he complains
of that as tempting to indolence.”

Father Anselmo shrugged his fat shoulders, ruefully.

“It 's all well enough,” he said, “for those that want to
take this hard road to Paradise; but why need they drive
the flock up with them?”

“True enough, Brother Anselmo,” said Father Johannes;
“but the flock will rejoice in it in the end, doubtless. I
understand he is purposing to draw yet stricter the reins of
discipline. We ought to be thankful.”

“Thankful? We can't wink but six times a week now,”
said Father Anselmo; “and by and by he won't let us wink
at all.”

“Hist! hush! here he comes,” said Father Johannes.
“What ails him? he looks wild, like a man distraught.”

In a moment more, in fact, Father Francesco strode hastily
through the corridor, with his deep-set eyes dilated and glittering,
and a vivid hectic flush on his hollow cheeks. He
paid no regard to the salutation of the obsequious monks; in
fact, he seemed scarcely to see them, but hurried in a disordered
manner through the passages and gained the room
of his cell, which he shut and locked with a violent clang.

“What has come over him now?” said Father Anselmo.

Father Johannes stealthily followed some distance, and
then stood with his lean neck outstretched and his head
turned in the direction where the Superior had disappeared.
The whole attitude of the man, with his acute glittering eye,
might remind one of a serpent making an observation before
darting after his prey.

“Something is working him,” he said to himself; “what
may it be?”


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Meanwhile that heavy oaken door had closed on a narrow
cell, — bare of everything which could be supposed to be a
matter of convenience in the abode of a human being. A
table of the rudest and most primitive construction was garnished
with a skull, whose empty eye-holes and grinning
teeth were the most conspicuous objects in the room. Behind
this stood a large crucifix, manifestly the work of no
common master, and bearing evident traces in its workmanship
of Florentine art: it was, perhaps, one of the relics of
the former wealth of the nobleman who had buried his name
and worldly possessions in this living sepulchre. A splendid
manuscript breviary, richly illuminated, lay open on the
table; and the fair fancy of its flowery letters, the lustre of
gold and silver on its pages, formed a singular contrast to
the squalid nakedness of everything else in the room. This
book, too, had been a family heirloom; some lingering shred
of human and domestic affection sheltered itself under the
protection of religion in making it the companion of his self-imposed
life of penance and renunciation.

Father Francesco had just returned from the scene in
the confessional we have already described. That day had
brought to him one of those pungent and vivid inward revelations
which sometimes overset in a moment some delusion
that has been the cherished growth of years. Henceforth
the reign of self-deception was past, — there was no more
self-concealment, no more evasion. He loved Agnes, — he
knew it, — he said it over and over again to himself with a
stormy intensity of energy; and in this hour the whole of his
nature seemed to rise in rebellion against the awful barriers
which hemmed in and threatened this passion. He now saw
clearly that all that he had been calling fatherly tenderness,
pastoral zeal, Christian unity, and a thousand other evangelical


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names, was nothing more nor less than a passion that
had gone to the roots of existence and absorbed into itself all
that there was of him. Where was he to look for refuge?
What hymn, what prayer had he not blent with her image?
It was this that he had given to her as a holy lesson, — it
was that that she had spoken of to him as the best expression
of her feelings. This prayer he had explained to her,
— he remembered just the beautiful light in her eyes, which
were fixed on his so trustingly. How dear to him had been
that unquestioning devotion, that tender, innocent humility!
— how dear, and how dangerous!

We have read of flowing rivulets, wandering peacefully
without ripple or commotion, so long as no barrier stayed
their course, suddenly chafing in angry fury when an impassable
dam was thrown across their waters. So any
affection, however genial and gentle in its own nature, may
become an ungovernable, ferocious passion, by the intervention
of fatal obstacles in its course. In the case of Father
Francesco, the sense of guilt and degradation fell like a
blight over all the past that had been so ignorantly happy.
He thought he had been living on manna, but found it
poison. Satan had been fooling him, leading him on blindfold,
and laughing at his simplicity, and now mocked at his
captivity. And how nearly had he been hurried by a sudden
and overwhelming influence to the very brink of disgrace!
He felt himself shiver and grow cold to think of it.
A moment more and he had blasted that pure ear with forbidden
words of passion; and even now he remembered,
with horror, the look of grave and troubled surprise in
those confiding eyes, that had always looked up to him
trustingly, as to God. A moment more and he had betrayed
the faith he taught her, shattered her trust in the


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holy ministry, and perhaps imperilled her salvation. He
breathed a sigh of relief when he thought of it, — he had
not betrayed himself, he had not fallen in her esteem, he still
stood on that sacred vantage-ground where his power over
her was so great, and where at least he possessed her confidence
and veneration. There was still time for recollection,
for self-control, for a vehement struggle which should set all
right again: but, alas! how shall a man struggle who finds
his whole inner nature boiling in furious rebellion against
the dictates of his conscience, — self against self?

It is true, also, that no passions are deeper in their hold,
more pervading and more vital to the whole human being,
than those that make their first entrance through the higher
nature, and, beginning with a religious and poetic ideality,
gradually work their way through the whole fabric of the
human existence. From grosser passions, whose roots lie in
the senses, there is always a refuge in man's loftier nature.
He can cast them aside with contempt, and leave them as
one whose lower story is flooded can remove to a higher loft,
and live serenely with a purer air and wider prospect. But
to love that is born of ideality, of intellectual sympathy, of
harmonies of the spiritual and immortal nature, of the very
poetry and purity of the soul, if it be placed where reason
and religion forbid its exercise and expression, what refuge
but the grave, — what hope but that wide eternity where all
human barriers fall, all human relations end, and love ceases
to be a crime? A man of the world may struggle by change
of scene, place, and employment. He may put oceans between
himself and the things that speak of what he desires
to forget. He may fill the void in his life with the stirring
excitement of the battle-field, or the whirl of travel from
city to city, or the press of business and care. But what


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help is there for him whose life is tied down to the narrow
sphere of the convent, — to the monotony of a bare cell, to
the endless repetition of the same prayers, the same chants,
the same prostrations, especially when all that ever redeemed
it from monotony has been that image and that sympathy
which conscience now bids him forget?

When Father Francesco precipitated himself into his cell
and locked the door, it was with the desperation of a man
who flies from a mortal enemy. It seemed to him that all
eyes saw just what was boiling within him, — that the wild
thoughts that seemed to scream their turbulent importunities
in his ears were speaking so loud that all the world would
hear. He should disgrace himself before the brethren whom
he had so long been striving to bring to order and to teach
the lessons of holy self-control. He saw himself pointed at,
hissed at, degraded, by the very men who had quailed before
his own reproofs; and scarcely, when he had bolted the door
behind him, did he feel himself safe. Panting and breathless,
he fell on his knees before the crucifix, and, bowing his
head in his hands, fell forward upon the floor. As a spent
wave melts at the foot of a rock, so all his strength passed
away, and he lay awhile in a kind of insensibility, — a state
in which, though consciously existing, he had no further
control over his thoughts and feelings. In that state of
dreamy exhaustion his mind seemed like a mirror, which,
without vitality or will of its own, simply lies still and
reflects the objects that may pass over it. As clouds sailing
in the heavens cast their images, one after another, on
the glassy floor of a waveless sea, so the scenes of his former
life drifted in vivid pictures athwart his memory. He saw
his father's palace, — the wide, cool, marble halls, — the
gardens resounding with the voices of falling waters. He


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saw the fair face of his mother, and played with the jewels
upon her hands. He saw again the picture of himself, in all
the flush of youth and health, clattering on horseback through
the streets of Florence with troops of gay young friends, now
dead to him as he to them. He saw himself in the bowers
of gay ladies, whose golden hair, lustrous eyes, and siren
wiles came back shivering and trembling in the waters of
memory in a thousand undulating reflections. There were
wild revels, — orgies such as Florence remembers with
shame to this day. There was intermingled the turbulent
din of arms, — the haughty passion, the sudden provocation,
the swift revenge. And then came the awful hour of conviction,
the face of that wonderful man whose preaching had
stirred all souls, — and then those fearful days of penance,
— that darkness of the tomb, — that dying to the world, —
those solemn vows, and the fearful struggles by which they
had been followed.

“Oh, my God!” he cried, “is it all in vain? — so many
prayers? so many struggles? — and shall I fail of salvation
at last?”

He seemed to himself as a swimmer, who, having exhausted
his last gasp of strength in reaching the shore, is
suddenly lifted up on a cruel wave and drawn back into the
deep. There seemed nothing for him but to fold his arms
and sink.

For he felt no strength now to resist, — he felt no wish
to conquer, — he only prayed that he might lie there and die.
It seemed to him that the love which possessed him and
tyrannized over his very being was a doom, — a curse sent
upon him by some malignant fate with whose power it was
vain to struggle. He detested his work, — he detested his
duties, — he loathed his vows, — and there was not a thing


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in his whole future to which he looked forward otherwise
than with the extreme of aversion, except one to which he
clung with a bitter and defiant tenacity, — the spiritual guidance
of Agnes. Guidance! — he laughed aloud, in the
bitterness of his soul, as he thought of this. He was her
guide, — her confessor, — to him she was bound to reveal
every change of feeling; and this love that he too well
perceived rising in her heart for another, — he would wring
from her own confessions the means to repress and circumvent
it. If she could not be his, he might at least prevent
her from belonging to any other, — he might at least keep
her always within the sphere of his spiritual authority. Had
he not a right to do this? — had he not a right to cherish an
evident vocation, — a right to reclaim her from the embrace
of an excommunicated infidel, and present her as a chaste
bride at the altar of the Lord? Perhaps, when that was
done, when an irrevocable barrier should separate her from
all possibility of earthly love, when the awful marriage-vow
should have been spoken which should seal her heart for
heaven alone, he might recover some of the blessed calm
which her influence once brought over him, and these wild
desires might cease, and these feverish pulses be still.

Such were the vague images and dreams of the past and
future that floated over his mind, as he lay in a heavy sort
of lethargy on the floor of his cell, and hour after hour
passed away. It grew afternoon, and the radiance of evening
came on. The window of the cell overlooked the broad
Mediterranean, all one blue glitter of smiles and sparkles.
The white-winged boats were flitting lightly to and fro, like
gauzy-winged insects in the summer air, — the song of the
fishermen drawing their nets on the beach floated cheerily
upward. Capri lay like a half-dissolved opal in shimmering


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clouds of mist, and Naples gleamed out pearly clear in the
purple distance. Vesuvius, with its cloud-spotted sides, its
garlanded villas and villages, its silvery crown of vapor,
seemed a warm-hearted and genial old giant lying down in
his gorgeous repose, and holding all things on his heaving
bosom in a kindly embrace.

So was the earth flooded with light and glory, that the tide
poured into the cell, giving the richness of an old Venetian
painting to its bare and squalid furniture. The crucifix
glowed along all its sculptured lines with rich golden hues.
The breviary, whose many-colored leaves fluttered as the
wind from the sea drew inward, was yet brighter in its gorgeous
tints. It seemed a sort of devotional butterfly perched
before the grinning skull, which was bronzed by the enchanted
light into warmer tones of color, as if some remembrance
of what once it saw and felt came back upon it. So
also the bare, miserable board which served for the bed, and
its rude pillow, were glorified. A stray sunbeam, too, fluttered
down on the floor like a pitying spirit, to light up that
pale, thin face, whose classic outlines had now a sharp,
yellow setness, like that of swooning or death; it seemed to
linger compassionately on the sunken, wasted cheeks, on the
long black lashes that fell over the deep hollows beneath the
eyes like a funereal veil. Poor man! lying crushed and torn,
like a piece of rockweed wrenched from its rock by a storm,
and thrown up withered upon the beach!

From the leaves of the breviary there depends, by a fragment
of gold braid, a sparkling something that wavers and
glitters in the evening light. It is a cross of the cheapest
and simplest material, that once belonged to Agnes. She
lost it from her rosary at the confessional, and Father Francesco
saw it fall, yet would not warn her of the loss, for he


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longed to possess something that had belonged to her. He
made it a mark to one of her favorite hymns; but she never
knew where it had gone. Little could she dream, in her
simplicity, what a power she held over the man who seemed
to her an object of such awful veneration. Little did she
dream that the poor little tinsel cross had such a mighty
charm with it, and that she herself, in her childlike simplicity,
her ignorant innocence, her peaceful tenderness and
trust, was raising such a turbulent storm of passion in the
heart which she supposed to be above the reach of all human

And now, through the golden air, the Ave Maria is sounding
from the convent-bells, and answered by a thousand tones
and echoes from the churches of the old town, and all Christendom
gives a moment's adoring pause to celebrate the
moment when an angel addressed to a mortal maiden words
that had been wept and prayed for during thousands of years.
Dimly they sounded through his ear, in that half-deadly
trance, — not with plaintive sweetness and motherly tenderness,
but like notes of doom and vengeance. He felt rebellious
impulses within, which rose up in hatred against them,
and all that recalled to his mind the faith which seemed a
tyranny, and the vows which appeared to him such a hopeless
and miserable failure.

But now there came other sounds nearer and more earthly.
His quickened senses perceive a busy patter of sandalled
feet outside his cell, and a whispering of consultation, — and
then the silvery, snaky tones of Father Johannes, which had
that oily, penetrative quality which passes through all substances
with such distinctness.

“Brethren,” he said, “I feel bound in conscience to knock.
Our blessed Superior carries his mortifications altogether


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too far. His faithful sons must beset him with filial inquiries.”

The condition in which Father Francesco was lying, like
many abnormal states of extreme exhaustion, seemed to be
attended with a mysterious quickening of the magnetic
forces and intuitive perceptions. He felt the hypocrisy of
those tones, and they sounded in his ear like the suppressed
hiss of a deadly serpent. He had always suspected that this
man hated him to the death; and he felt now that he was
come with his stealthy tread and his almost supernatural
power of prying observation, to read the very inmost secrets
of his heart. He knew that he longed for nothing so much
as the power to hurl him from his place and to reign in his
stead; and the instinct of self-defence roused him. He
started up as one starts from a dream, waked by a whisper
in the ear, and, raising himself on his elbow, looked towards
the door.

A cautious rap was heard, and then a pause. Father
Francesco smiled with a peculiar and bitter expression. The
rap became louder, more energetic, stormy at last, intermingled
with vehement calls on his name.

Father Francesco rose at length, settled his garments,
passed his hands over his brow, and then, composing himself
to an expression of deliberate gravity, opened the door and
stood before them.

“Holy father,” said Father Johannes, “the hearts of your
sons have been saddened. A whole day have you withdrawn
your presence from our devotions. We feared you might
have fainted, your pious austerities so often transcend the
powers of Nature.”

“I grieve to have saddened the hearts of such affectionate
sons,” said the Superior, fixing his eye keenly on Father


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Johannes; “but I have been performing a peculiar office of
prayer to-day for a soul in deadly peril, and have been so
absorbed therein that I have known nothing that passed.
There is a soul among us, brethren,” he added, “that stands
at this moment so near to damnation that even the most
blessed Mother of God is in doubt for its salvation, and
whether it can be saved at all God only knows.”

These words, rising up from a tremendous groundswell of
repressed feeling, had a fearful, almost supernatural earnestness
that made the body of the monks tremble. Most of
them were conscious of living but a shabby, shambling, dissembling
life, evading in very possible way the efforts of
their Superior to bring them up to the requirements of their
profession; and therefore, when these words were bolted
out among them with such a glowing intensity, every one of
them began mentally feeling for the key of his own private
and interior skeleton-closet, and wondering which of their
ghastly occupants was coming to light now.

Father Johannes alone was unmoved, because he had
long since ceased to have a conscience. A throb of moral
pulsation had for years been an impossibility to the dried
and hardened fibre of his inner nature. He was one of
those real, genuine, thorough unbelievers in all religion and
all faith and all spirituality, whose unbelief grows only more
callous by the constant handling of sacred things. Ambition
was the ruling motive of his life, and every faculty
was sharpened into such acuteness under its action that his
penetration seemed at times almost preternatural.

While he stood with downcast eyes and hands crossed
upon his breast, listening to the burning words which remorse
and despair wrung from his Superior, he was calmly
and warily studying to see what could be made of the evident


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interior conflict that convulsed him. Was there some
secret sin? Had that sanctity at last found the temptation
that was more than a match for it? And what could
it be?

To a nature with any strong combative force there is no
tonic like the presence of a secret and powerful enemy, and
the stealthy glances of Father Johannes's serpent eye did
more towards restoring Father Francesco to self-mastery
than the most conscientious struggles could have done. He
grew calm, resolved, determined. Self-respect was dear to
him, — and dear to him no less that reflection of self-respect
which a man reads in other eyes. He would not forfeit his
conventual honor, or bring a stain on his order, or, least
of all, expose himself to the scoffing eye of a triumphant
enemy. Such were the motives that now came to his aid,
while as yet the whole of his inner nature rebelled at the
thought that he must tear up by the roots and wholly extirpate
this love that seemed to have sent its fine fibres
through every nerve of his being. “No!” he said to himself,
with a fierce interior rebellion, “that I will not do!
Right or wrong, come heaven, come hell, I will love her:
and if lost I must be, lost I will be!” And while this
determination lasted, prayer seemed to him a mockery. He
dared not pray alone now, when most he needed prayer;
but he moved forward with dignity towards the convent-chapel
to lead the vesper devotions of his brethren. Outwardly
he was calm and rigid as a statue; but as he commenced
the service, his utterance had a terrible meaning
and earnestness that were felt even by the most drowsy and
leaden of his flock. It is singular how the dumb, imprisoned
soul, locked within the walls of the body, sometimes gives
such a piercing power to the tones of the voice during the


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access of a great agony. The effect is entirely involuntary,
and often against the most strenuous opposition of the will;
but one sometimes hears another reading or repeating words
with an intense vitality, a living force, which tells of some
inward anguish or conflict of which the language itself gives
no expression.

Never were the long-drawn intonations of the chants and
prayers of the Church pervaded by a more terrible, wild
fervor than the Superior that night breathed into them.
They seemed to wail, to supplicate, to combat, to menace,
to sink in despairing pauses of helpless anguish, and anon to
rise in stormy agonies of passionate importunity; and the
monks quailed and trembled, they sacre knew why, with
forebodings of coming wrath and judgment.

In the evening exhortation, which it had been the Superior's
custom to add to the prayers of the vesper-hour, he
dwelt with a terrible and ghastly eloquence on the loss of
the soul.

“Brethren,” he said, “believe me, the very first hour of
a damned spirit in hell will outweigh all the prosperities
of the most prosperous life. If you could gain the whole
world, that one hour of hell would outweigh it all; how
much more such miserable, pitiful scraps and fragments of
the world as they gain who for the sake of a little fleshly
ease neglect the duties of a holy profession! There is a
broad way to hell through a convent, my brothers, where
miserable wretches go who have neither the spirit to serve
the Devil wholly, nor the patience to serve God; there be
many shaven crowns that gnash their teeth in hell to-night,
— many a monk's robe is burning on its owner in living
fire, and the devils call him a fool for choosing to be damned
in so hard a way. `Could you not come here by some


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easier road than a cloister?' they ask. `If you must sell
your soul, why did you not get something for it?' Brethren,
there be devils waiting for some of us; they are laughing
at your paltry shifts and evasions, at your efforts to
make things easy, — for they know how it will all end at
last. Rouse yourselves! Awake! Salvation is no easy
matter, — nothing to be got between sleeping and waking.
Watch, pray, scourge the flesh, fast, weep, bow down in
sackcloth, mingle your bread with ashes, if by any means
ye may escape the everlasting fire!”

“Bless me!” said Father Anselmo, when the services
were over, casting a half-scared glance after the retreating
figure of the Superior as he left the chapel, and drawing a
long breath; “it 's enough to make one sweat to hear him
go on. What has come over him? Anyhow, I 'll give
myself a hundred lashes this very night: something must
be done.”

“Well,” said another, “I confess I did hide a cold wing
of fowl in the sleeve of my gown last fast-day. My old
aunt gave it to me, and I was forced to take it for relation's
sake; but I 'll do so no more, as I 'm a living sinner. I 'll
do a penance this very night.”

Father Johannes stood under one of the arches that
looked into the gloomy garden, and, with his hands crossed
upon his breast, and his cold, glittering eye fixed stealthily
now on one and now on another, listened with an ill-disguised
sneer to these hasty evidences of fear and remorse in
the monks, as they thronged the corridor on the way to their
cells. Suddenly turning to a young brother who had lately
joined the convent, he said to him, —

“And what of the pretty Clarice, my brother?”

The blood flushed deep into the pale cheek of the young


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monk, and his frame shook with some interior emotion as
he answered, —

“She is recovering.”

“And she sent for thee to shrive her?”

“My God!” said the young man, with an imploring,
wild expression in his dark eyes, “she did; but I would
not go.”

“Then Nature is still strong,” said Father Johannes, pitilessly
eying the young man.

“When will it ever die?” said the stripling, with a despairing
gesture; “it heeds neither heaven nor hell.”

“Well, patience, boy! if you have lost an earthly bride,
you have gained a heavenly one. The Church is our espoused
in white linen. Bless the Lord, without ceasing, for
the exchange.”

There was an inexpressible mocking irony in the tones in
which this was said, that made itself felt to the finely vitalized
spirit of the youth, though to all the rest it sounded like
the accredited average pious talk which is more or less the
current coin of religious organizations.

Now no one knows through what wanton deviltry Father
Johannes broached this painful topic with the poor youth;
but he had a peculiar faculty, with his smooth tones and his
sanctimonious smiles, of thrusting red-hot needles into any
wounds which he either knew or suspected under the coarse
woollen robes of his brethren. He appeared to do it in all
coolness, in a way of psychological investigation.

He smiled, as the youth turned away, and a moment after
started as if a thought had suddenly struck him.

“I have it!” he said to himself. “There may be a
woman at the bottom of this discomposure of our holy
father; for he is wrought upon by something to the very


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bottom of his soul. I have not studied human nature so
many years for nothing. Father Francesco hath been much
in the guidance of women. His preaching hath wrought
upon them, and perchance among them. — Aha!” he said to
himself, as he paced up and down. “I have it! I 'll try
an experiment upon him!”