University of Virginia Library


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The morning sun rose clear and lovely on the old red
rocks of Sorrento, and danced in a thousand golden scales
and ripples on the wide Mediterranean. The shadows of
the gorge were pierced by long golden shafts of light, here
falling on some moist bed of crimson cyclamen, there shining
through a waving tuft of gladiolus, or making the abundant
yellow fringes of the broom more vivid in their brightness.
The velvet-mossy old bridge, in the far shadows at the bottom,
was lit up by a chance beam, and seemed as if it might
be something belonging to fairy-land.

There had been a bustle and stir betimes in the little
dove-cot, for to-morrow the inmates were to leave it for a
long, adventurous journey.

To old Elsie, the journey back to Rome, the city of her
former days of prosperity, the place which had witnessed
her ambitious hopes, her disgrace and downfall, was full of
painful ideas. There arose to her memory, like a picture,
those princely halls, with their slippery, cold mosaic floors,
their long galleries of statues and paintings, their enchanting
gardens, musical with the voice of mossy fountains, fragrant
with the breath of roses and jasmines, where the mother
of Agnes had spent the hours of her youth and beauty.
She seemed to see her flitting hither and thither down the
stately ilex-avenues, like some gay singing-bird, to whom
were given gilded cages and a constant round of caresses


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and sweets, or like the flowers in the parterres, which lived
and died only as the graceful accessories of the grandeur of
an old princely family.

She compared, mentally, the shaded and secluded life
which Agnes had led with the specious and fatal brilliancy
which had been the lot of her mother, — her simple peasant
garb with those remembered visions of jewelry and silk
and embroideries with which the partial patronage of the
Duchess or the ephemeral passion of her son had decked
out the poor Isella; and then came swelling at her heart a
tumultuous thought, one which she had repressed and kept
down for years with all the force of pride and hatred. Agnes,
peasant-girl though she seemed, had yet the blood of
that proud old family in her veins; the marriage had been a
true one; she herself had witnessed it.

“Yes, indeed,” she said to herself, “were justice done, she
would now be a princess, — a fit mate for the nobles of the
land; and here I ask no more than to mate her to an honest
smith, — I that have seen a prince kneel to kiss her mother's
hand, — yes, he did, — entreat her on his knees to be
his wife, — I saw it. But then, what came of it? Was
there ever one of these nobles that kept oath or promise to
us of the people, or that cared for us longer than the few
moments we could serve his pleasure? Old Elsie, you have
done wisely! keep your dove out of the eagle's nest: it is
foul with the blood of poor innocents whom he has torn to
pieces in his cruel pride!”

These thoughts swelled in silence in the mind of Elsie,
while she was busy sorting and arranging her household
stores, and making those thousand-and-one preparations
known to every householder, whether of much or little, who
meditates a long journey.


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To Agnes she seemed more than ever severe and hard;
yet probably there never was a time when every pulse of
her heart was beating more warmly for the child, and every
thought of the future was more entirely regulated with reference
to her welfare. It is no sinecure to have the entire
devotion of a strong, enterprising, self-willed friend, as Agnes
had all her life found. One cannot gather grapes of
thorns or figs of thistles, and the affection of thorny and
thistly natures has often as sharp an acid and as long prickers
as wild gooseberries, — yet it is their best, and must be
so accepted.

Agnes tried several times to offer her help to her grandmother,
but was refused so roughly that she dared not offer
again, and therefore went to her favorite station by the parapet
in the garden, whence she could look up and down the
gorge, and through the arches of the old mossy Roman
bridge that spanned it far down by the city-wall. All these
things had become dear to her by years of familiar silent
converse. The little garden, with its old sculptured basin,
and the ever-lulling dash of falling water, — the tremulous
draperies of maiden's-hair, always beaded with shining drops,
— the old shrine, with its picture, its lamp, and flower-vase,
— the tall, dusky orange-trees, so full of blossoms and fruit,
so smooth and shining in their healthy bark, — all seemed
to her as so many dear old friends whom she was about to
leave, perhaps forever.

What this pilgrimage would be like, she scarcely knew:
days and weeks of wandering, — over mountain-passes, —
in deep, solitary valleys, — as years ago, when her grandmother
brought her, a little child, from Rome.

In the last few weeks, Agnes seemed to herself to have
become wholly another being. Silently, insensibly, her feet


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had crossed the enchanted river that divides childhood from
womanhood, and all the sweet ignorant joys of that first
early paradise lay behind her. Up to this time her life had
seemed to her a charming dream, full of blessed visions and
images: legends of saints, and hymns, and prayers had
blended with flower-gatherings in the gorge, and light daily

Now, a new, strange life had been born within her, —
a life full of passions, contradictions, and conflicts. A love
had sprung up in her heart, strange and wonderful, for one
who till within these few weeks had been entirely unknown
to her, who had never toiled for, or housed, or clothed, or
cared for her as her grandmother had, and yet whom a few
short interviews, a few looks, a few words, had made to
seem nearer and dearer than the old, tried friends of her
childhood. In vain she confessed it as a sin, — in vain she
strove against it; it came back to her in every hymn, in
every prayer. Then she would press the sharp cross to her
breast, till a thousand stings of pain would send the blood in
momentary rushes to her pale cheek, and cause her delicate
lips to contract with an expression of stern endurance, and
pray that by any penance and anguish she might secure his

To save one such glorious soul, she said to herself, was
work enough for one little life. She was willing to spend it
all in endurance, unseen by him, unknown to him, so that at
last he should be received into that Paradise which her ardent
imagination conceived so vividly. Surely, there she
should meet him, radiant as the angel of her dream; and
then she would tell him that it was all for his sake that she
had refused to listen to him here. And these sinful longings
to see him once more, these involuntary reachings of


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her soul after an earthly companionship, she should find
strength to overcome in this pilgrimage. She should go to
Rome, — the very city where the blessed Paul poured out
his blood for the Lord Jesus, — where Peter fed the flock,
till his time, too, came to follow his Lord in the way of
the cross. She should even come near to her blessed Redeemer;
she should go up, on her knees, those very steps
to Pilate's hall where He stood bleeding, crowned with
thorns, — His blood, perhaps, dropping on the very stones.
Ah, could any mortal love distract her there? Should she
not there find her soul made free of every earthly thrall to
love her Lord alone, — as she had loved Him in the artless
and ignorant days of her childhood, — but better, a thousand

“Good-morning to you, pretty dove!” said a voice from
without the garden-wall; and Agnes, roused from her revery,
saw old Jocunda.

“I came down to help you off,” she said, as she came into
the little garden. “Why, my dear little saint! you are
looking white as a sheet, and with those tears! What 's it
all for, baby?”

“Ah, Jocunda! grandmamma is angry with me all the
time now. I wish I could go once more to the convent and
see my dear Mother Theresa. She is angry, if I but name
it; and yet she will not let me do anything here to help her,
and so I don't know what to do.”

“Well, at any rate, don't cry, pretty one! Your grandmamma
is worked with hard thoughts. We old folks are
twisted and crabbed and full of knots with disappointment
and trouble, like the mulberry-trees that they keep for vines
to run on. But I 'll speak to her; I know her ways; she
shall let you go; I 'll bring her round.”


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“So-ho, sister!” said the old soul, hobbling to the door,
and looking in at Elsie, who was sitting flat on the stone
floor of her cottage, sorting a quantity of flax that lay around
her. The severe Roman profile was thrown out by the
deep shadows of the interior, — and the piercing black eyes,
the silver-white hair, and the strong, compressed lines of the
mouth, as she worked, and struggled with the ghosts of her
former life, made her look like no unapt personification of
one of the Fates reviewing her flax before she commenced
the spinning of some new web of destiny.

“Good-morning to you, sister!” said Jocunda. “I heard
you were off to-morrow, and I came to see what I could do
to help you.”

“There 's nothing to be done for me, but to kill me,” said
Elsie. “I am weary of living.”

“Oh, never say that! Shake the dice again, my old man
used to say, — God rest his soul! Please Saint Agnes,
you 'll have a brave pilgrimage.”

“Saint Agnes be hanged!” said Elsie, gruffly. “I 'm
out with her. It was she put all these notions into my girl's
head. Because she did n't get married herself, she don't
want any one else to. She has no consideration. I 've
done with her: I told her so this morning. The candles
I 've burned and the prayers I 've gone through with, that
she might prosper me in this one thing! and it 's all gone
against me. She 's a baggage, and shall never see another
penny of mine, — that 's flat!”

Such vituperation of saints and sacred images may be
heard to this day in Italy, and is a common feature of idol-worship
in all lands; for, however the invocation of the
saints could be vitalized in the hearts of the few spiritual,
there is no doubt that in the mass of the common people it


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had all the well-defined symptoms of the grossest idolatry,
among which fits of passionate irreverence are one. The
feeling, which tempts the enlightened Christian in sore disappointment
and vexation to rise in rebellion against a wise
Providence, in the childish twilight of uncultured natures
finds its full expression unawed by reverence or fear.

“Oh, hush, now!” said Jocunda. “What is the use of
making her angry just as you are going to Rome, where she
has the most power? All sorts of ill-luck will befall you.
Make up with her before you start, or you may get the fever
in the marshes and die, and then who will take care of poor

“Let Saint Agnes look after her; the girl loves her better
than she does me or anybody else,” said Elsie. “If she
cared anything about me, she 'd marry and settle down, as I
want her to.”

“Oh, there you are wrong,” said Jocunda. “Marrying is
like your dinner: one is not always in stomach for it, and
one's meat is another's poison. Now who knows but this
pilgrimage may be the very thing to bring the girl round?
I 've seen people cured of too much religion by going to
Rome. You know things a'n't there as our little saint fancies.
Why, between you and me, the priests themselves
have their jokes on those who come so far to so little purpose.
More shame for 'em, say I, too; but we common
people must n't look into such things too closely. Now take
it cheerfully, and you 'll see the girl will come back tired
of tramping and able to settle down in a good home with a
likely husband. I have a brother in Naples who is turning
a pretty penny in the fisheries; I will give you directions to
find him; his wife is a wholesome Christian woman; and
if the little one be tired by the time you get there, you


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might do worse than stop two or three days with them. It 's
a brave city; seems made to have a good time in. Come,
you let her just run up to the convent to bid good-by to
the Mother Theresa and the sisters.”

“I don't care where she goes,” said Elsie, ungraciously.

“There, now!” said Jocunda, coming out, — “Agnes,
your grandmother bids you go to the convent to say good-by
to the sisters; so run along, there 's a little dear. The
Mother Theresa talks of nothing else but you since she heard
that you meditated this; and she has broken in two her own
piece of the True Cross which she 's carried in the gold and
pearl reliquary that the Queen sent her, and means to give
it to you. One does n't halve such gifts, without one's whole
heart goes with them.”

“Dear mother!” said Agnes, her eyes filling with tears.
“I will take her some flowers and oranges for the last time.
Do you know, Jocunda, I feel that I never shall come back
here to this dear little home where I have been so happy?
— everything sounds so mournful and looks so mournful! —
I love everything here so much!”

“Oh, dear child, never give in to such fancies, but pluck
up heart. You will be sure to have luck, wherever you go,
— especially since the mother will give you that holy relic.
I myself had a piece of Saint John Baptist's thumb-nail
sewed up in a leather bag, which I wore day and night all
the years I was tramping up and down with my old man;
but when he died, I had it buried with him to ease his soul.
For you see, dear, he was a trooper, and led such a rackety,
up-and-down life, that I doubt but his confessions were but
slipshod, and he needed all the help he could get, poor old
soul! It 's a comfort to think he has it.”

“Ah, Jocunda, seems to me it were better to trust to the


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free love of our dear Lord who died for us, and pray to
Him, without ceasing, for his soul.”

“Like enough, dearie; but then, one can't be too sure,
you know. And there is n't the least doubt in my mind that
that was a true relic, for I got it in the sack of the city of
Volterra, out of the private cabinet of a noble lady, with a
lot of jewels and other matters that made quite a little purse
for us. Ah, that was a time, when that city was sacked!
It was hell upon earth for three days, and all our men acted
like devils incarnate; but then they always will in such
cases. But go your ways now, dearie, and I 'll stay with
your grandmamma; for, please God, you must be up and
away with the sun to-morrow.”

Agnes hastily arranged a little basket of fruit and flowers,
and took her way down through the gorge, under the Roman
bridge, through an orange-orchard, and finally came
out upon the sea-shore, and so along the sands below the
cliffs on which the old town of Sorrento is situated.

So cheating and inconsistent is the human heart, especially
in the feminine subject, that she had more than
once occasion to chide herself for the thrill with which she
remembered passing the cavalier once in this orange-garden,
and the sort of vague hope which she detected that somewhere
along this road he might appear again.

“How perfectly wicked and depraved I must be,” she
said to herself, “to find any pleasure in such a thought of
one I should pray never to meet again!”

And so the little soul went on condemning herself in those
exaggerated terms which the religious vocabulary of conventual
life furnished ready-made for the use of penitents
of every degree, till by the time she arrived at the convent
she could scarcely have been more oppressed with a sense


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of sin, if she had murdered her grandmother and eloped with
the cavalier.

On her arrival in the convent court, the peaceful and
dreamy stillness contrasted strangely with the gorgeous
brightness of the day outside. The splendid sunshine, the
sparkling sea, the songs of the boatmen, the brisk passage of
gliding sails, the bright hues of the flowers that garlanded
the rocks, all seemed as if the earth had been arrayed for
some gala-day; but the moment she had passed the portal,
the silent, mossy court, with its pale marble nymph, its
lull of falling water, its turf snow-dropt with daisies and
fragrant with blue and white violets, and the surrounding
cloistered walks, with their pictured figures of pious
history, all came with a sad and soothing influence on her

The nuns, who had heard the news of the projected pilgrimage,
and regarded it as the commencement of that
saintly career which they had always predicted for her,
crowded around her, kissing her hands and her robe, and
entreating her prayers at different shrines of especial sanctity
that she might visit.

The Mother Theresa took her to her cell, and there hung
round her neck, by a golden chain, the relic which she designed
for her, and of whose genuineness she appeared to
possess no manner of doubt.

“But how pale you are, my sweet child!” she said.
“What has happened to alter you so much? Your cheeks
look so thin, and there are deep, dark circles round your

“Ah, my mother, it is because of my sins.”

“Your sins, dear little one! What sins can you be
guilty of?”


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“Ah, my dear mother, I have been false to my Lord, and
let the love of an earthly creature into my heart.”

“What can you mean?” said the mother.

“Alas, dear mother, the cavalier who sent that ring!”
said Agnes, covering her face with her hands.

Now the Mother Theresa had never left the walls of that
convent since she was ten years old, — had seen no men
except her father and uncle, who once or twice made her a
short call, and an old hunchback who took care of their
garden, safe in his armor of deformity. Her ideas on the
subject of masculine attractions were, therefore, as vague as
might be the conceptions of the eyeless fishes in the Mammoth
Cave of Kentucky with regard to the fruits and flowers
above ground. All that portion of her womanly nature
which might have throbbed lay in a dead calm. Still there
was a faint flutter of curiosity, as she pressed Agnes to tell
her story, which she did with many pauses and sobs and

“And is he so very handsome, my little heart?” she said,
after listening. “What makes you love him so much in so
little time?”

“Yes, — he is beautiful as an angel.”

“I never saw a young man, really,” said the Mother Theresa.
“Uncle Angelo was lame, and had gray hair; and
papa was very fat, and had a red face. Perhaps he looks
like our picture of Saint Sebastian; — I have often thought
that I might be in danger of loving a young man that looked
like him.”

“Oh, he is more beautiful than that picture or any picture!”
said Agnes, fervently; “and, mother, though he is
excommunicated, I can't help feeling that he is as good as
he is beautiful. My uncle had strong hopes that he should


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restore him to the True Church; and to pray for his soul I
am going on this pilgrimage. Father Francesco says, if I
will tear away and overcome this love, I shall gain so much
merit that my prayers will have power to save his soul.
Promise me, dear mother, that you and all the sisters will
help me with your prayers; — help me to work out this
great salvation, and then I shall be so glad to come back
here and spend all my life in prayer!”