University of Virginia Library


Page 236


The three inhabitants of the little dovecot were sitting
in their garden after supper, enjoying the cool freshness.
The place was perfumed with the smell of orange-blossoms,
brought out by gentle showers that had fallen during the
latter part of the afternoon, and all three felt the tranquillizing
effects of the sweet evening air. The monk sat bending
over his drawings, resting the frame on which they lay
on the mossy garden-wall, so as to get the latest advantage
of the rich golden twilight which now twinkled through the
sky. Agnes sat by him on the same wall, — now glancing
over his shoulder at his work, and now leaning thoughtfully
on her elbow, gazing pensively down into the deep shadows
of the gorge, or out where the golden light of evening
streamed under the arches of the old Roman bridge, to
the wide, bright sea beyond.

Old Elsie bustled about with unusual content in the lines
of her keen wrinkled face. Already her thoughts were running
on household furnishing and bridal finery. She unlocked
an old chest which from its heavy quaint carvings of
dark wood must have been some relic of the fortunes of her
better days, and, taking out of a little till of the same a
string of fine silvery pearls, held them up admiringly to the
evening light. A splendid pair of pearl ear-rings also was
produced from the same receptacle.

She sighed at first, as she looked at these things, and then


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smiled with rather an air of triumph, and, coming to where Agnes
reclined on the wall, held them up playfully before her.

“See here, little one!” she said.

“Oh, what pretty things! — where did they come from?”
said Agnes, innocently.

“Where did they? Sure enough! Little did you or any
one else know old Elsie had things like these! But she
meant her little Agnes should hold up her head with the
best. No girl in Sorrento will have such wedding finery
as this?”

“Wedding finery, grandmamma,” said Agnes, faintly, —
“what does that mean?”

“What does that mean, sly-boots? Ah, you know well
enough! What were you and Antonio talking about all the
time this morning? Did he not ask you to marry him?”

“Yes, grandmamma; but I told him I was not going to
marry. You promised me, dear grandmother, right here, the
other night, that I should not marry till I was willing; and
I told Antonio I was not willing.”

“The girl says but true, sister,” said the monk; “you
remember you gave her your word that she should not be
married till she gave her consent willingly.”

“But, Agnes, my pretty one, what can be the objection?”
said old Elsie, coaxingly. “Where will you find a bettermade
man, or more honest, or more kind? — and he is
handsome; — and you will have a home that all the girls
will envy.”

“Grandmamma, remember, you promised me, — you
promised me,” said Agnes, looking distressed, and speaking

“Well, well, child! but can't I ask a civil question, if I
did? What is your objection to Antonio?”


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“Only that I don't want to be married.”

“Now you know, child,” said Elsie, “I never will consent
to your going to a convent. You might as well put a knife
through my old heart as talk to me of that. And if you
don't go, you must marry somebody; and who could be better
than Antonio?”

“Oh, grandmamma, am I not a good girl? What have I
done, that you are so anxious to get me away from you?”
said Agnes. “I like Antonio well enough, but I like you
ten thousand times better. Why cannot we live together
just as we do now? I am strong. I can work a great deal
harder than I do. You ought to let me work more, so that
you need not work so hard and tire yourself, — let me carry
the heavy basket, and dig round the trees.”

“Pooh! a pretty story!” said Elsie. “We are two lone
women, and the times are unsettled; there are robbers and
loose fellows about, and we want a protector.”

“And is not the good Lord our protector? — has He not
always kept us, grandmother?” said Agnes.

“Oh, that 's well enough to say, but folks can't always get
along so; — it 's far better trusting the Lord with a good
strong man about, — like Antonio, for instance. I should
like to see the man that would dare be uncivil to his wife.
But go your ways, — it 's no use toiling away one's life for
children, who, after all, won't turn their little finger for

“Now, dear grandmother,” said Agnes, “have I not said
I would do everything for you, and work hard for you?
Ask me to do anything else in the world, grandmamma; I
will do anything to make you happy, except marry this man,
— that I cannot.”

“And that is the only thing I want you to do. Well, I


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suppose I may as well lock up these things; I see my gifts
are not cared for.”

And the old soul turned and went in quite testily, leaving
Agnes with a grieved heart, sitting still by her uncle.

“Never weep, little one,” said the kind old monk, when he
saw the silent tears falling one after another; “your grandmother
loves you, after all, and will come out of this, if we
are quiet.”

“This is such a beautiful world,” said Agnes, “who would
think it would be such a hard one to live in? — such battles
and conflicts as people have here!”

“You say well, little heart; but great is the glory to be
revealed; so let us have courage.”

“Dear uncle, have you heard any ill-tidings of late?”
asked Agnes. “I noticed this morning you were cast down,
and to-night you look so tired and sad.”

“Yes, dear child, — heavy tidings have indeed come. My
dear master at Florence is hard beset by wicked men, and
in great danger, — in danger, perhaps, of falling a martyr
to his holy zeal for the blessed Jesus and his Church.”

“But cannot our holy father, the Pope, protect him? You
should go to Rome directly and lay the case before him.”

“It is not always possible to be protected by the Pope,”
said Father Antonio, evasively. “But I grieve much, dear
child, that I can be with you no longer. I must gird up my
loins and set out for Florence, to see with my own eyes how
the battle is going for my holy master.”

“Ah, must I lose you, too, my dear, best friend?” said
Agnes. “What shall I do?”

“Thou hast the same Lord Jesus, and the same dear
Mother, when I am gone. Have faith in God, and cease not
to pray for His Church, — and for me, too.”


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“That I will, dear uncle! I will pray for you more than
ever, — for prayer now will be all my comfort. But,” she
added, with hesitation, “oh, uncle, you promised to visit

“Never fear, little Agnes, — I will do that. I go to him
this very night, — now even, — for the daylight waxes too
scant for me to work longer.”

“But you will come back and stay with us to-night, uncle?”

“Yes, I will, — but to-morrow morning I must be up and
away with the birds; and I have labored hard all day to
finish the drawings for the lad who shall carve the shrine,
that he may busy himself thereon in my absence.”

“Then you will come back?”

“Certainly, dear heart, I will come back; of that be assured.
Pray God it be before long, too.”

So saying, the good monk drew his cowl over his head,
and, putting his portfolio of drawings under his arm, began
to wend his way towards the old town.

Agnes watched him departing, her heart in a strange flutter
of eagerness and solicitude. What were these dreadful
troubles which were coming upon her good uncle? — who
those enemies of the Church that beset that saintly teacher
he so much looked up to? And why was lawless violence
allowed to run such riot in Italy, as it had in the case of the
unfortunate cavalier? As she thought things over, she was
burning with a repressed desire to do something herself to
abate these troubles.

“I am not a knight,” she said to herself, “and I cannot
fight for the good cause. I am not a priest, and I cannot
argue for it. I cannot preach and convert sinners. What,
then, can I do? I can pray. Suppose I should make a pilgrimage?


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Yes, — that would be a good work, and I will.
I will walk to Rome, praying at every shrine and holy place;
and then, when I come to the Holy City, whose very dust is
made precious with the blood of the martyrs and saints, I
will seek the house of our dear father, the Pope, and entreat
his forgiveness for this poor soul. He will not scorn me, for
he is in the place of the blessed Jesus, and the richest princess
and the poorest maiden are equal in his sight. Ah,
that will be beautiful! Holy Mother,” she said, falling on
her knees before the shrine, “here I vow and promise that
I will go praying to the Holy City. Smile on me and help

And by the twinkle of the flickering lamp which threw its
light upon the picture, Agnes thought surely the placid face
brightened to a tender maternal smile, and her enthusiastic
imagination saw in this an omen of success.

Old Elsie was moody and silent this evening, — vexed at
the thwarting of her schemes. It was the first time that the
idea had ever gained a foothold in her mind, that her docile
and tractable grandchild could really have for any serious
length of time a will opposed to her own, and she found it
even now difficult to believe it. Hitherto she had shaped
her life as easily as she could mould a biscuit, and it was all
plain sailing before her. The force and decision of this
young will rose as suddenly upon her as the one rock in the
middle of the ocean which a voyager unexpectedly discovered
by striking on it.

But Elsie by no means regarded the game as lost. She
mentally went over the field, considering here and there
what was yet to be done.

The subject had fairly been broached. Agnes had listened
to it, and parted in friendship from Antonio. Now


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his old mother must be soothed and pacified; and Antonio
must be made to persevere.

“What is a girl worth that can be won at the first asking?”
quoth Elsie. “Depend upon it, she will fall to thinking
of him, and the next time she sees him she will give
him a good look. The girl never knew what it was to have
a lover. No wonder she does n't take to it at first; there 's
where her bringing up comes in, so different from other
girls'. Courage, Elsie! Nature will speak in its own time.”

Thus soliloquizing, she prepared to go a few steps from
their dwelling, to the cottage of Meta and Antonio, which
was situated at no great distance.

“Nobody will think of coming here this time o' night,” she
said, “and the girl is in for a good hour at least with her
prayers, and so I think I may venture. I don't really like
to leave her, but it 's not a great way, and I shall be back in
a few moments. I want just to put a word into old Meta's
ear, that she may teach Antonio how to demean himself.”

And so the old soul took her spinning and away she went,
leaving Agnes absorbed in her devotions.

The solemn starry night looked down steadfastly on the
little garden. The evening wind creeping with gentle stir
among the orange-leaves, and the falling waters of the fountain
dripping their distant, solitary way down from rock to
rock through the lonely gorge, were the only sounds that
broke the stillness.

The monk was the first of the two to return; for those
accustomed to the habits of elderly cronies on a gossiping
expedition of any domestic importance will not be surprised
that Elsie's few moments of projected talk lengthened imperceptibly
into hours.

Agnes came forward anxiously to meet her uncle. He


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seemed wan and haggard, and trembling with some recent

“What is the matter with you, dear uncle?” she asked.
“Has anything happened?”

“Nothing, child, nothing. I have only been talking on
painful subjects, deep perplexities, out of which I can scarcely
see my way. Would to God this night of life were past,
and I could see morning on the mountains!”

“My uncle, have you not, then, succeeded in bringing this
young man to the bosom of the True Church?”

“Child, the way is hedged up, and made almost impassable
by difficulties you little wot of. They cannot be told
to you; they are enough to destroy the faith of the very

Agnes's heart sank within her; and the monk, sitting
down on the wall of the garden, clasped his hands over one
knee and gazed fixedly before him.

The sight of her uncle, — generally so cheerful, so elastic,
so full of bright thoughts and beautiful words, — so utterly
cast down, was both a mystery and a terror to Agnes.

“Oh, my uncle,” she said, “it is hard that I must not
know, and that I can do nothing, when I feel ready to die
for this cause! What is one little life? Ah, if I had a
thousand to give, I could melt them all into it, like little
drops of rain in the sea! Be not utterly cast down, good
uncle! Does not our dear Lord and Saviour reign in the
heavens yet?”

“Sweet little nightingale!” said the monk, stretching his
hand towards her. “Well did my master say that he gained
strength to his soul always by talking with Christ's little

“And all the dear saints and angels, they are not dead or


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idle either,” said Agnes, her face kindling; “they are busy
all around us. I know not what this trouble is you speak
of; but let us think what legions of bright angels and holy
men and women are caring for us.”

“Well said, well said, dear child! There is, thank God,
a Church Triumphant, — a crowned queen, a glorious bride;
and the poor, struggling Church Militant shall rise to join
her! What matter, then, though our way lie through dungeon
and chains, through fire and sword, if we may attain to
that glory at last?”

“Uncle, are there such dreadful things really before

“There may be, child. I say of my master, as did the
holy Apostles: `Let us also go, that we may die with him.'
I feel a heavy presage. But I must not trouble you, child.
Early in the morning I will be up and away. I go with
this youth, whose pathway lies a certain distance along
mine, and whose company I seek for his good as well as
my pleasure.”

“You go with him?” said Agnes, with a start of surprise.

“Yes; his refuge in the mountains lies between here and
Rome, and he hath kindly offered to bring me on my way
faster than I can go on foot; and I would fain see our beautiful
Florence as soon as may be. O Florence, Florence,
Lily of Italy! wilt thou let thy prophet perish?”

“But, uncle, if he die for the faith, he will be a blessed
martyr. That crown is worth dying for,” said Agnes.

“You say well, little one, — you say well! `Ex oribus
' But one shrinks from that in the person of a
friend which one could cheerfully welcome for one's self.
Oh, the blessed cross! never is it welcome to the flesh, and
yet how joyfully the spirit may walk under it!”


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“Dear uncle, I have made a solemn vow before our Holy
Mother this night,” said Agnes, “to go on a pilgrimage to
Rome, and at every shrine and holy place to pray that these
great afflictions which beset all of you may have a happy

“My sweet heart, what have you done? Have you
considered the unsettled roads, the wild, unruly men
that are abroad, the robbers with which the mountains are

“These are all Christ's children and my brothers,” said
Agnes; “for them was the most holy blood shed, as well as
for me. They cannot harm one who prays for them.”

“But, dear heart of mine, these ungodly brawlers think
little of prayer; and this beautiful, innocent little face will
but move the vilest and most brutal thoughts and deeds.”

“Saint Agnes still lives, dear uncle, — and He who kept
her in worse trial. I shall walk through them all pure as
snow, — I am assured I shall. The star which led the wise
men and stood over the young child and his mother will lead
me, too.”

“But your grandmother?”

“The Lord will incline her heart to go with me. Dear
uncle, it does not beseem a child to reflect on its elders, yet
I cannot but see that grandmamma loves this world and me
too well for her soul's good. This journey will be for her
eternal repose.”

“Well, well, dear one, I cannot now advise. Take advice
of your confessor, and the blessed Lord and his holy Mother
be with you! But come now, I would soothe myself to
sleep; for I have need of good rest to-night. Let us sing
together our dear master's hymn of the Cross.”

And the monk and the maiden sung together: —


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“Iesù, sommo conforto,
Tu sei tutto il mio amore
E 'l mio beato porto,
E santo Redentore.
O gran bontà,
Dolce pietà,
Felice quel che teco unito sta!
“Deh, quante volte offeso
T' ha l' alma e 'l cor meschino,
E tu sei in croce steso
Per salvar me, tapino!
“Iesù, fuss' io confitto
Sopra quel duro ligno,
Dove ti vedo afflitto,
Iesù, Signor benigno!
“O croce, fammi loco,
E le mie membra prendi,
Che del tuo dolce foco
Il cor e l' alma accendi!
“Infiamma il mio cor tanto
Dell' amor tuo divino,
Ch' io arda tutto quanto,
Che paia un serafino!
“La croce e 'l Crocifisso
Sia nel mio cor scolpito,
Ed io sia sempre affisso
In gloria ov' egli è ito!”[1]

As the monk sung, his soul seemed to fuse itself into the
sentiment with that natural grace peculiar to his nation. He


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walked up and down the little garden, apparently forgetful
of Agnes or of any earthly presence, and in the last verses
stretched his hands towards heaven with streaming tears and
a fervor of utterance indescribable.

The soft and passionate tenderness of the Italian words
must exhale in an English translation, but enough may
remain to show that the hymns with which Savonarola at
this time sowed the mind of Italy often mingled the Moravian
quaintness and energy with the Wesleyan purity and
tenderness. One of the great means of popular reform
which he proposed was the supplanting of the obscene and
licentious songs, which at that time so generally defiled the
minds of the young, by religious words and melodies. The


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children and young people brought up under his influence
were sedulously stored with treasures of sacred melody, as
the safest companions of leisure hours, and the surest guard
against temptation.

“Come now, my little one,” said the monk, after they had
ceased singing, as he laid his hand on Agnes's head. “I
am strong now; I know where I stand. And you, my little
one, you are one of my master's `Children of the Cross.'
You must sing the hymns of our dear master, that I have
taught you, when I am far away. A hymn is a singing
angel, and goes walking through the earth, scattering the
devils before it. Therefore he who creates hymns imitates
the most excellent and lovely works of our Lord God, who
made the angels. These hymns watch our chamber-door,
they sit upon our pillow, they sing to us when we awake;
and therefore our master was resolved to sow the minds of
his young people with them, as our lovely Italy is sown
with the seeds of all colored flowers. How lovely has it
often been to me, as I sat at my work in Florence, to hear
the little children go by, chanting of Jesus and Mary, — and
young men singing to young maidens, not vain flatteries of
their beauty, but the praises of the One only Beautiful,
whose smile sows heaven with stars like flowers! Ah, in
my day I have seen blessed times in Florence! Truly was
she worthy to be called the Lily City! — for all her care
seemed to be to make white her garments to receive her
Lord and Bridegroom. Yes, though she had sinned like the
Magdalen, yet she loved much, like her. She washed His
feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her
head. Oh, my beautiful Florence, be true to thy vows, be
true to thy Lord and Governor, Jesus Christ, and all shall
be well!”


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“Amen, dear uncle!” said Agnes. “I will not fail to
pray day and night, that thus it may be. And now, if you
must travel so far, you must go to rest. Grandmamma has
gone long ago. I saw her steal by as we were singing.”

“And is there any message from my little Agnes to this
young man?” asked the monk.

“Yes. Say to him that Agnes prays daily that he may
be a worthy son and soldier of the Lord Jesus.”

“Amen, sweet heart! Jesu and His sweet Mother bless


Jesus, best comfort of my soul,
Be thou my only love,
My sacred saviour from my sins,
My door to heaven above!
O lofty goodness, love divine,
Blest is the soul made one with thine!
Alas, how oft this sordid heart
Hath wounded thy pure eye!
Yet for this heart upon the cross
Thou gav'st thyself to die!
Ah, would I were extended there,
Upon that cold, hard tree,
Where I have seen thee, gracious Lord,
Breathe out thy life for me!
Cross of my Lord, give room! give room!
To thee my flesh be given!
Cleansed in thy fires of love and pain,
My soul rise pure to heaven!
Burn in my heart, celestial flame,
With memories of him,
Till, from earth's dross refined, I rise
To join the seraphim!
Ah, vanish each unworthy trace
Of earthly care or pride,
Leave only, graven on my heart,
The Cross, the Crucified!