University of Virginia Library


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And so on a bright spring morning our pilgrims started.
Whoever has traversed the road from Sorrento to Naples,
that wonderful path along the high rocky shores of the
Mediterranean, must remember it only as a wild dream of
enchantment. On one side lies the sea, shimmering in bands
of blue, purple, and green to the swaying of gentle winds,
exhibiting those magical shiftings and changes of color peculiar
to these waves. Near the land its waters are of pale,
transparent emerald, while farther out they deepen into blue
and thence into a violet-purple, which again, towards the
horizon-line, fades into misty pearl-color. The shores rise
above the sea in wild, bold precipices, grottoed into fantastic
caverns by the action of the waves, and presenting every
moment some new variety of outline. As the path of the
traveller winds round promontories whose mountain-heights
are capped by white villages and silvery with olive-groves,
he catches the enchanting sea-view, now at this point, and
now at another, with Naples glimmering through the mists in
the distance, and the purple sides of Vesuvius ever changing
with streaks and veins of cloud-shadows, while silver vapors
crown the summit. Above the road the steep hills seem
piled up to the sky, — every spot terraced, and cultivated
with some form of vegetable wealth, and the wild, untamable
rocks garlanded over with golden broom, crimson gilly-flowers,
and a thousand other bright adornments. The road


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lies through villages whose gardens and orange-orchards fill
the air with sweet scents, and whose rose-hedges sometimes
pour a perfect cascade of bloom and fragrance over
the walls.

Our travellers started in the dewy freshness of one of
those gorgeous days which seem to cast an illuminating
charm over everything. Even old Elsie's stern features
relaxed somewhat under the balmy influences of sun and
sky, and Agnes's young, pale face was lit up with a brighter
color than for many a day before. Their pilgrimage through
this beautiful country had few incidents. They walked in
the earlier and latter parts of the day, reposing a few hours
at noon near some fountain or shrine by the wayside, —
often experiencing the kindly veneration of the simple
peasantry, who cheerfully offered them refreshments, and
begged their prayers at the holy places whither they
were going.

In a few days they reached Naples, where they made a
little stop with the hospitable family to whom Jocunda had
recommended them. From Naples their path lay through
the Pontine Marshes; and though the malaria makes this
region a word of fear, yet it is no less one of strange, soft,
enchanting beauty. A wide, sea-like expanse, clothed with
an abundance of soft, rich grass, painted with golden bands
and streaks of bright yellow flowers, stretches away to a
purple curtain of mountains, whose romantic outline rises
constantly in a thousand new forms of beauty. The upland
at the foot of these mountains is beautifully diversified with
tufts of trees, and the contrast of the purple softness of the
distant hills with the dazzling gold and emerald of the wide
meadow-tracts they enclose is a striking feature in the landscape.
Droves of silver-haired oxen, with their great,


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dreamy, dark eyes and polished black horns, were tranquilly
feeding knee-deep in the lush, juicy grass, and herds
of buffaloes, uncouth, but harmless, might be seen pasturing
or reposing in the distance. On either side of the way
were waving tracts of yellow fleur-de-lis, and beds of arum,
with its arrowy leaves and white blossoms. It was a
wild luxuriance of growth, a dreamy stillness of solitude,
so lovely that one could scarce remember that it was

Elsie was so impressed with the fear of the malaria, that
she trafficked with an honest peasant, who had been hired
to take back to Rome the horses which had been used to
convey part of the suite of a nobleman travelling to Naples,
to give them a quicker passage across than they could have
made on foot. It is true that this was quite contrary to the
wishes of Agnes, who felt that the journey ought to be performed
in the most toilsome and self-renouncing way, and
that they should trust solely to prayer and spiritual protection
to ward off the pestilential exhalations.

In vain she quoted the Psalm, “Thou shalt not be afraid
for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day,
nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the
destruction that wasteth at noon-day,” and adduced cases
of saints who had walked unhurt through all sorts of

“There 's no use talking, child,” said Elsie. “I 'm older
than you, and have seen more of real men and women; and
whatever they did in old times, I know that nowadays the
saints don't help those that don't take care of themselves;
and the long and the short of it is, we must ride across
those marshes, and get out of them as quick as possible,
or we shall get into Paradise quicker than we want to.”


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In common with many other professing Christians, Elsie
felt that going to Paradise was the very dismallest of alternatives,
— a thing to be staved off as long as possible.

After many days of journeying, the travellers, somewhat
weary and foot-sore, found themselves in a sombre and
lonely dell of the mountains, about an hour before the going
down of the sun. The slanting yellow beams turned to silvery
brightness the ashy foliage of the gnarled old olives,
which gaunt and weird clung with their great, knotty, straggling
roots to the rocky mountain-sides. Before them, the
path, stony, steep, and winding, was rising upward and still
upward, and no shelter for the night appeared, except in a
distant mountain-town, which, perched airily as an eagle's
nest on its hazy height, reflected from the dome of its church
and its half-ruined old feudal tower the golden light of sunset.
A drowsy-toned bell was ringing out the Ave Maria
over the wide purple solitude of mountains, whose varying
outlines were rising around.

“You are tired, my little heart,” said old Elsie to Agnes,
who had drooped during a longer walk than usual.

“No, grandmamma,” said Agnes, sinking on her knees
to repeat her evening prayer, which she did, covering her
face with her hands.

Old Elsie kneeled too; but, as she was praying, — being
a thrifty old body in the use of her time, — she cast an eye
up the steep mountain-path and calculated the distance of
the little airy village. Just at that moment she saw two
or three horsemen, who appeared to be stealthily observing
them from behind the shadow of some large rocks.

When their devotions were finished, she hurried on her
grandchild, saying, —

“Come, dearie! it must be we shall find a shelter


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The horsemen now rode up behind them.

“Good-evening, mother!” said one of them, speaking
from under the shadow of a deeply slouched hat.

Elsie made no reply, but hurried forward.

“Good-evening, pretty maid!” he said again, riding still

“Go your ways in the name of God,” said Elsie. “We
are pilgrims, going for our souls to Rome; and whoever hinders
us will have the saints to deal with.”

“Who talks of hindering you, mother?” responded the
other. “On the contrary, we come for the express purpose
of helping you along.”

“We want none of your help,” said Elsie, gruffly.

“See, now, how foolish you are!” said the horseman.
“Don't you see that that town is a good seven miles off, and
not a bit of bed or supper to be had till you get there, and
the sun will be down soon? So mount up behind me, and
here is a horse for the little one.”

In fact, the horsemen at this moment opening disclosed to
view a palfrey with a lady's saddle, richly caparisoned, as if
for a person of condition. With a sudden movement, two
of the men dismounted, confronted the travellers, and the
one who had acted as spokesman, approaching Agnes, said,
in a tone somewhat imperative, —

“Come, young lady, it is our master's will that your poor
little feet should have some rest.”

And before Agnes could remonstrate, he raised her into
the saddle as easily as if she had been a puff of thistle-down,
and then turning to Elsie, he said, —

“For you, good mother, if you wish to keep up, you must
e'en be content with a seat behind me.”

“Who are you? and how dare you?” said Elsie, indignantly.


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“Good mother,” said the man, “you see God's will is that
you should submit, because we are four to you two, and there
are fifty more within call. So get up without more words,
and I swear by the Holy Virgin no harm shall be done

Elsie looked and saw Agnes already some distance before
her, the bridle of her palfrey being held by one of the horsemen,
who rode by her side and seemed to look after her
carefully; and so, without more ado, she accepted the services
of the man, and, placing her foot on the toe of his
riding-boot, mounted to the crupper behind him.

“That is right,” said he. “Now hold on to me lustily,
and be not afraid.”

So saying, the whole troop began winding as rapidly as
possible up the steep, rocky path to the mountain-town.

Notwithstanding the surprise and alarm of this most unexpected
adventure, Agnes, who had been at the very point of
exhaustion from fatigue, could not but feel the sensation of
relief and repose which the seat in an easy saddle gave her.
The mountain air, as they arose, breathed fresh and cold on
her brow, and a prospect of such wondrous beauty unrolled
beneath her feet that her alarm soon became lost in admiration.
The mountains that rose everywhere around them
seemed to float in a transparent sea of luminous vapor, with
olive-orchards and well-tilled fields lying in far, dreamy distances
below, while out towards the horizon silver gleams of
the Mediterranean gradually widened to the view. Soothed
by the hour, refreshed by the air, and filled with admiration
for the beauty of all she saw, she surrendered herself to her
situation with a feeling of solemn religious calm, as to some
unfolding of the Divine Will, which might unroll like the
landscape beneath her. They pursued their way in silence,


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rising higher and higher out of the shadows of the deep
valleys below, the man who conducted them observing a
strict reserve, but seeming to have a care for their welfare.

The twilight yet burned red in the sky, and painted with
solemn lights the mossy walls of the little old town, as they
plunged under a sombre antique gate-way, and entered on a
street as damp and dark as a cellar, which went up almost
perpendicularly between tall, black stone walls that seemed
to have neither windows nor doors. Agnes could only
remember clambering upward, turning short corners, clattering
down steep stone steps, under low archways, along
narrow, ill-smelling passages, where the light that seemed so
clear without the town was almost extinguished in utter

At last they entered the damp court of a huge, irregular
pile of stone buildings. Here the men suddenly drew up,
and Agnes's conductor, dismounting, came and took her
silently from her saddle, saying briefly, “Come this way.”

Elsie sprang from her seat in a moment, and placed
herself at the side of her child.

“No, good mother,” said the man with whom she had
ridden, seizing her powerfully by the shoulders, and turning
her round.

“What do you mean?” said Elsie, fiercely. “Are you
going to keep me from my own child?”

“Patience!” replied the man. “You can't help yourself,
so recommend yourself to God, and no harm shall come to

Agnes looked back at her grandmother.

“Fear not, dear grandmamma,” she said, “the blessed
angels will watch over us.”


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As she spoke, she followed her conductor through long,
damp, mouldering passages, and up flights of stone steps, and
again through other long passages, smelling of mould and
damp, till at last he opened the door of an apartment from
which streamed a light so dazzling to the eyes of Agnes that
at first she could form no distinct conception as to where
she was.

As soon as her eyesight cleared, she found herself in an
apartment which to her simplicity seemed furnished with an
unheard-of luxury. The walls were richly frescoed and
gilded, and from a chandelier of Venetian glass the light fell
upon a foot-cloth of brilliant tapestry which covered the
marble floor. Gilded chairs and couches, covered with the
softest Genoese velvet, invited to repose; while tables inlaid
with choice mosaics stood here and there, sustaining rare
vases, musical instruments, and many of the light, fanciful
ornaments with which, in those days, the halls of women of
condition were graced. At one end of the apartment was
an alcove, where the rich velvet curtains were looped away
with heavy cords and tassels of gold, displaying a smaller
room, where was a bed with hangings of crimson satin
embroidered with gold.

Agnes stood petrified with amazement, and put her hand
to her head, as if to assure herself by the sense of touch
that she was not dreaming, and then, with an impulse of
curious wonder, began examining the apartment. The rich
furniture and the many adornments, though only such as
were common in the daily life of the great at that period,
had for her simple eyes all the marvellousness of the most
incredible illusion. She touched the velvet couches almost
with fear, and passed from object to object in a sort of maze.
When she arrived at the alcove, she thought she heard a


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suasion of removing a barrier that was so vitally interwoven
with the most sensitive religious nerves of her being. He
saw in her terrified looks, in the deadly paleness of her face,
how real and unaffected was the anguish which his words
gave her; he saw that the very consciousness of her own
love to him produced a sense of weakness which made her
shrink in utter terror from his arguments.

“There is no remedy,” he said, “but to let her go to
Rome and see with her own eyes how utterly false and vain
is the vision which she draws from the purity of her own
believing soul. What Christian would not wish that these
fair dreams had any earthly reality? But this gentle dove
must not be left unprotected to fly into that foul, unclean
cage of vultures and harpies. Deadly as the peril may be
to me to breathe the air of Rome, I will be around her invisibly
to watch over her.”