University of Virginia Library


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The reader, if a person of any common knowledge of
human nature, will easily see the direction in which a young,
inexperienced, and impressible girl would naturally be tending
under all the influences which we perceive to have come
upon her.

But in the religious faith which Agnes professed there was
a modifying force, whose power both for good and evil can
scarcely be estimated.

The simple Apostolic direction, “Confess your faults one
to another,” and the very natural need of personal pastoral
guidance and assistance to a soul in its heavenward journey,
had in common with many other religious ideas been forced
by the volcanic fervor of the Italian nature into a certain
exaggerated proposition. Instead of brotherly confession
one to another, or the pastoral sympathy of a fatherly elder,
the religious mind of the day was instructed in an awful
mysterious sacrament of confession, which gave to some
human being a divine right to unlock the most secret chambers
of the soul, to scrutinize and direct its most veiled and
intimate thoughts, and, standing in God's stead, to direct the
current of its most sensitive and most mysterious emotions.

Every young aspirant for perfection in the religious life
had to commence by an unreserved surrender of the whole
being in blind faith at the feet of some such spiritual director,


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all whose questions must be answered, and all whose injunctions
obeyed, as from God himself. Thenceforward was to
be no soul-privacy, no retirement, nothing too sacred to be
expressed, too delicate to be handled and analyzed. In reading
the lives of those ethereally made and moulded women
who have come down to our day canonized as saints in the
Roman Catholic communion, one too frequently gets the
impression of most regal natures, gifted with all the most
divine elements of humanity, but subjected to a constant
unnatural pressure from the ceaseless scrutiny and ungenial
pertinacity of some inferior and uncomprehending person
invested with the authority of a Spiritual Director.

That there are advantages attending this species of intimate
direction, when wisely and skilfully managed, cannot be
doubted. Grovelling and imperfect natures have often thus
been lifted up and carried in the arms of superior wisdom
and purity. The confession administered by a Fénelon or a
Francis de Sales was doubtless a beautiful and most invigorating
ordinance; but the difficulty in its actual working is
the rarity of such superior natures, — the fact, that the most
ignorant and most incapable may be invested with precisely
the same authority as the most intelligent and skilful.

He to whom the faith of Agnes obliged her to lay open
her whole soul, who had a right with probing-knife and
lancet to dissect all the finest nerves and fibres of her
womanly nature, was a man who had been through all the
wild and desolating experiences incident to a dissipated and
irregular life in those turbulent days.

It is true, that he was now with most stringent and earnest
solemnity striving to bring every thought and passion into
captivity to the spirit of his sacred vows; but still, when a
man has once lost that unconscious soul-purity which exists


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in a mind unscathed by the fires of passion, no after-tears
can weep it back again. No penance, no prayer, no anguish
of remorse can give back the simplicity of a soul that has
never been stained.

Il Padre Francesco had not failed to make those inquiries
into the character of Agnes's mysterious lover which he
assumed to be necessary as a matter of pastoral faithfulness.

It was not difficult for one possessing the secrets of the
confessional to learn the real character of any person in the
neighborhood, and it was with a kind of bitter satisfaction
which rather surprised himself that the father learned
enough ill of the cavalier to justify his using every possible
measure to prevent his forming any acquaintance with
Agnes. He was captain of a band of brigands, and, of
course, in array against the State; he was excommunicated,
and, of course, an enemy of the Church. What but the
vilest designs could be attributed to such a man? Was he
not a wolf prowling round the green, secluded pastures
where as yet the Lord's lamb had been folded in unconscious

Father Francesco, when he next met Agnes at the confessional,
put such questions as drew from her the whole
account of all that had passed between her and the stranger.
The recital on Agnes's part was perfectly translucent and
pure, for she had said no word and had had no thought that
brought the slightest stain upon her soul. Love and prayer
had been the prevailing habit of her life, and in promising
to love and pray, she had had no worldly or earthly thought.
The language of gallantry, or even of sincere passion, had
never reached her ear; but it had always been as natural to
her to love every human being as for a plant with tendrils to


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throw them round the next plant, and therefore she entertained
the gentle guest who had lately found room in her
heart without a question or a scruple.

As Agnes related her childlike story of unconscious faith
and love, her listener felt himself strangely and bitterly agitated.
It was a vision of ignorant purity and unconsciousness
rising before him, airy and glowing as a child's soap-bubble,
which one touch might annihilate; but he felt a
strange remorseful tenderness, a yearning admiration, at its
unsubstantial purity. There is something pleading and
pitiful in the simplicity of perfect ignorance, — a rare and
delicate beauty in its freshness, like the morning-glory cup,
which, once withered by the heat, no second morning can
restore. Agnes had imparted to her confessor, by a mysterious
sympathy, something like the morning freshness of her
own soul; she had redeemed the idea of womanhood from
gross associations, and set before him a fair ideal of all that
female tenderness and purity may teach to man. Her
prayers, — well he believed in them, — but he set his teeth
with a strange spasm of inward passion, when he thought of
her prayers and love being given to another. He tried to
persuade himself that this was only the fervor of pastoral
zeal against a vile robber who had seized the fairest lamb
of the sheepfold; but there was an intensely bitter, miserable
feeling connected with it, that scorched and burned his
higher aspirations like a stream of lava running among
fresh leaves and flowers.

The conflict of his soul communicated a severity of
earnestness to his voice and manner which made Agnes
tremble, as he put one probing question after another,
designed to awaken some consciousness of sin in her soul.
Still, though troubled and distressed by his apparent disapprobation,


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her answers came always clear, honest, unfaltering,
like those of one who could not form an idea of

When the confession was over, he came out of his recess
to speak with Agnes a few words face to face. His eyes
had a wild and haggard earnestness, and a vivid hectic flush
on either cheek told how extreme was his emotion. Agnes
lifted her eyes to his with an innocent wondering trouble and
an appealing confidence that for a moment wholly unnerved
him. He felt a wild impulse to clasp her in his arms; and
for a moment it seemed to him he would sacrifice heaven and
brave hell, if he could for one moment hold her to his heart,
and say that he loved her, — her, the purest, fairest, sweetest
revelation of God's love that had ever shone on his soul,
— her, the only star, the only flower, the only dew-drop of
a burning, barren, weary life. It seemed to him that it was
not the longing, gross passion, but the outcry of his whole
nature for something noble, sweet, and divine.

But he turned suddenly away with a sort of groan, and,
folding his robe over his face, seemed engaged in earnest
prayer. Agnes looked at him awe-struck and breathless.

“Oh, my father!” she faltered, “what have I done?”

“Nothing, my poor child,” said the father, suddenly turning
toward her with recovered calmness and dignity; “but
I behold in thee a fair lamb whom the roaring lion is seeking
to devour. Know, my daughter, that I have made
inquiries concerning this man of whom you speak, and find
that he is an outlaw and a robber and a heretic, — a vile
wretch stained by crimes that have justly drawn down upon
him the sentence of excommunication from our Holy Father
the Pope.”

Agnes grew deadly pale at this announcement.


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“Can it be possible?” she gasped. “Alas! what dreadful
temptations have driven him to such sins?”

“Daughter, beware how you think too lightly of them, or
suffer his good looks and flattering words to blind you to
their horror. You must from your heart detest him as a
vile enemy.”

“Must I, my father?”

“Indeed you must.”

“But if the dear Lord loved us and died for us when we
were his enemies, may we not pity and pray for unbelievers?
Oh, say, my dear father, is it not allowed to us to pray for
all sinners, even the vilest?”

“I do not say that you may not, my daughter,” said the
monk, too conscientious to resist the force of this direct
appeal; “but, daughter,” he added, with an energy that
alarmed Agnes, “you must watch your heart; you must not
suffer your interest to become a worldly love: remember
that you are chosen to be the espoused of Christ alone.”

While the monk was speaking thus, Agnes fixed on him
her eyes with an innocent mixture of surprise and perplexity,
which gradually deepened into a strong gravity of gaze,
as if she were looking through him, through all visible things
into some far-off depth of mysterious knowledge.

“My Lord will keep me,” she said; “my soul is safe in
His heart as a little bird in its nest; but while I love Him,
I cannot help loving everybody whom He loves, even His
enemies: and, father, my heart prays within me for this
poor sinner, whether I will or no; something within me
continually intercedes for him.”

“Oh, Agnes! Agnes! blessed child, pray for me also,” said
the monk, with a sudden burst of emotion which perfectly
confounded his disciple. He hid his face with his hands.


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“My blessed father!” said Agnes, “how could I deem
that holiness like yours had any need of my prayers?”

“Child! child! you know nothing of me. I am a miserable
sinner, tempted of devils, in danger of damnation.”

Agnes stood appalled at this sudden burst, so different
from the rigid and restrained severity of tone in which the
greater part of the conversation had been conducted. She
stood silent and troubled; while he, whom she had always
regarded with such awful veneration, seemed shaken by
some internal whirlwind of emotion whose nature she could
not comprehend.

At length Father Francesco raised his head, and recovered
his wonted calm severity of expression.

“My daughter,” he said, “little do the innocent lambs of
the flock know of the dangers and conflicts through which
the shepherds must pass who keep the Lord's fold. We
have the labors of angels laid upon us, and we are but men.
Often we stumble, often we faint, and Satan takes advantage
of our weakness. I cannot confer with you now as I would;
but, my child, listen to my directions. Shun this young
man; let nothing ever lead you to listen to another word
from him; you must not even look at him, should you meet,
but turn away your head and repeat a prayer. I do not
forbid you to practise the holy work of intercession for his
soul, but it must be on these conditions.”

“My father,” said Agnes, “you may rely on my obedience”;
and, kneeling, she kissed his hand.

He drew it suddenly away, with a gesture of pain and

“Pardon a sinful child this liberty,” said Agnes.

“You know not what you do,” said the father, hastily.
“Go, my daughter, — go at once; I will confer with you


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some other time;” and hastily raising his hand in an attitude
of benediction, he turned and went into the confessional.

“Wretch! hypocrite! whited sepulchre!” he said to himself,
— “to warn this innocent child against a sin that is all
the while burning in my own bosom! Yes, I do love her,
— I do! I, that warn her against earthly love, I would
plunge into hell itself to win hers! And yet, when I know
that the care of her soul is only a temptation and a snare to
me, I cannot, will not give her up! No, I cannot! — no, I
will not! Why should I not love her? Is she not pure as
Mary herself? Ah, blessed is he whom such a woman
leads! And I — I — have condemned myself to the society
of swinish, ignorant, stupid monks, — I must know no such
divine souls, no such sweet communion! Help me, blessed
Mary! — help a miserable sinner!”

Agnes left the confessional perplexed and sorrowful. The
pale, proud, serious face of the cavalier seemed to look at
her imploringly, and she thought of him now with the pathetic
interest we give to something noble and great exposed
to some fatal danger. “Could the sacrifice of my whole
life,” she thought, “rescue this noble soul from perdition,
then I shall not have lived in vain. I am a poor little girl;
nobody knows whether I live or die. He is a strong and
powerful man, and many must stand or fall with him. Blessed
be the Lord that gives to his lowly ones a power to work
in secret places! How blessed should I be to meet him in
Paradise, all splendid as I saw him in my dream! Oh, that
would be worth living for, — worth dying for!”