University of Virginia Library


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The villa of the Princess Paulina was one of those soft,
idyllic paradises which lie like so many fairy-lands around
the dreamy solitudes of Rome. They are so fair, so wild, so
still, these villas! Nature in them seems to run in such
gentle sympathy with Art, that one feels as if they had not
been so much the product of human skill as some indigenous
growth of Arcadian ages. There are quaint terraces shadowed
by clipped ilex-trees, whose branches make twilight
even in the sultriest noon; there are long-drawn paths,
through wildernesses where cyclamens blossom in crimson
clouds among crushed fragments of sculptured marble green
with the moss of ages, and glossy-leaved myrtles put forth
their pale blue stars in constellations under the leafy shadows.
Everywhere is the voice of water, ever lulling, ever
babbling, and taught by Art to run in many a quaint caprice,
— here to rush down marble steps slippery with sedgy green,
there to spout up in silvery spray, and anon to spread into a
cool, waveless lake, whose mirror reflects trees and flowers
far down in some visionary underworld. Then there are
wide lawns, where the grass in spring is a perfect rainbow
of anemones, white, rose, crimson, purple, mottled, streaked,
and dappled with ever varying shade of sunset clouds.
There are soft, moist banks where purple and white violets
grow large and fair, and trees all interlaced with ivy, which
runs and twines everywhere, intermingling its dark, graceful


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leaves and vivid young shoots with the bloom and leafage of
all shadowy places.

In our day, these lovely places have their dark shadow
ever haunting their loveliness: the malaria, like an unseen
demon, lies hid in their sweetness. And in the time we are
speaking of, a curse not less deadly poisoned the beauties
of the Princess's villa, — the malaria of fear.

The gravelled terrace in front of the villa commanded,
through the clipped arches of the ilex-trees, the Campagna
with its soft, undulating bands of many-colored green, and
the distant city of Rome, whose bells were always filling the
air between with a tremulous vibration. Here, during the
long sunny afternoon while Elsie and Monica were crooning
together on the steps of the church, the Princess Paulina
walked restlessly up and down, looking forth on the way
towards the city for the travellers whom she expected.

Father Francesco had been there that morning and communicated
to her the dying message of the aged Capuchin,
from which it appeared that the child who had so much interested
her was her near kinswoman. Perhaps, had her
house remained at the height of its power and splendor, she
might have rejected with scorn the idea of a kinswoman
whose existence had been owing to a mésalliance; but a
member of an exiled and disinherited family, deriving her
only comfort from unworldly sources, she regarded this
event as an opportunity afforded her to make expiation for
one of the sins of her house. The beauty and winning
graces of her young kinswoman were not without their influence
in attracting a lonely heart deprived of the support
of natural ties. The Princess longed for something to love,
and the discovery of a legitimate object of family affection
was an event in the weary monotony of her life; and therefore


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it was that the hours of the afternoon seemed long while
she looked forth towards Rome, listening to the ceaseless
chiming of its bells, and wondering why no one appeared
along the road.

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


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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

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.


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He drew her aside into a small boudoir adjoining the

“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

“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?”


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“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.


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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

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

“Fear nothing, Madam,” he said, observing how the


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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 stonepines
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


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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 prophesy 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

“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,


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“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


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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 ear-rings.


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“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.