University of Virginia Library


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Agnes entered the city of Rome in a trance of enthusiastic
emotion, almost such as one might imagine in a soul
entering the heavenly Jerusalem above. To her exalted
ideas she was approaching not only the ground hallowed by
the blood of apostles and martyrs, not merely the tombs of
the faithful, but the visible “general assembly and church
of the first-born which are written in heaven.” Here
reigned the appointed representative of Jesus, — and she
imagined a benignant image of a prince clothed with honor
and splendor, who was yet the righter of all wrongs, the
redresser of all injuries, the friend and succorer of the poor
and needy; and she was firm in a secret purpose to go to
this great and benignant father, and on her knees entreat
him to forgive the sins of her lover, and remove the excommunication
that threatened at every moment his eternal
salvation. For she trembled to think of it, — a sudden
accident, a thrust of a dagger, a fall from his horse, might
put him forever beyond the pale of repentance, — he might
die unforgiven, and sink to eternal pain.

If any should wonder that a Christian soul could preserve
within itself an image so ignorantly fair, in such an age,
when the worldliness and corruption in the Papal chair were
obtruded by a thousand incidental manifestations, and were
alluded to in all the calculations of simple common people,
who looked at facts with a mere view to the guidance of


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their daily conduct, it is necessary to remember the nature
of Agnes's religious training, and the absolute renunciation
of all individual reasoning which from infancy had been laid
down before her as the first and indispensable prerequisite
of spiritual progress. To believe, — to believe utterly and
blindly, — not only without evidence, but against evidence,
— to reject the testimony even of her senses, when set
against the simple affirmation of her superiors, — had been
the beginning, middle, and end of her religious instruction.
When a doubt assailed her mind on any point, she had been
taught to retire within herself and repeat a prayer; and in
this way her mental eye had formed the habit of closing to
anything that might shake her faith as quickly as the physical
eye closes at a threatened blow. Then, as she was of a
poetic and ideal nature, entirely differing from the mass of
those with whom she associated, she had formed that habit
of abstraction and mental revery which prevented her hearing
or perceiving the true sense of a great deal that went on
around her. The conversations that commonly were carried
on in her presence had for her so little interest that she
scarcely heard them. The world in which she moved was a
glorified world, — wherein, to be sure, the forms of every-day
life appeared, but appeared as different from what
they were in reality as the old mouldering daylight view of
Rome is from the warm translucent glory of its evening

So in her quiet, silent heart she nursed this beautiful hope
of finding in Rome the earthly image of her Saviour's home
above, of finding in the head of the Church the real image
of her Redeemer, — the friend to whom the poorest and
lowliest may pour out their souls with as much freedom as
the highest and noblest. The spiritual directors who had


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formed the mind of Agnes in her early days had been persons
in the same manner taught to move in an ideal world
of faith. The Mother Theresa had never seen the realities
of life, and supposed the Church on earth to be all that the
fondest visions of human longing could paint it. The hard,
energetic, prose experience of old Jocunda, and the downright
way with which she sometimes spoke of things as a
trooper's wife must have seen them, were repressed and
hushed down, as the imperfect faith of a half-reclaimed
worldling, — they could not be allowed to awaken her from
the sweetness of so blissful a dream. In like manner,
when Lorenzo Sforza became Father Francesco, he strove
with earnest prayer to bury his gift of individual reason in
the same grave with his family name and worldly experience.
As to all that transpired in the real world, he wrapped himself
in a mantle of imperturbable silence; the intrigues of
popes and cardinals, once well known to him, sank away as
a forbidden dream; and by some metaphysical process of
imaginative devotion, he enthroned God in the place of the
dominant powers, and taught himself to receive all that came
from them in uninquiring submission, as proceeding from
unerring wisdom. Though he had begun his spiritual life
under the impulse of Savonarola, yet so perfect had been his
isolation from all tidings of what transpired in the external
world that the conflict which was going on between that
distinguished man and the Papal hierarchy never reached
his ear. He sought and aimed as much as possible to make
his soul like the soul of one dead, which adores and worships
in ideal space, and forgets forever the scenes and relations
of earth; and he had so long contemplated Rome
under the celestial aspects of his faith, that, though the
shock of his first confession there had been painful, still it


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was insufficient to shake his faith. It has been God's will,
he thought, that where he looked for aid he should meet
only confusion, and he bowed to the inscrutable will, and
blindly adored the mysterious revelation. If such could be
the submission and the faith of a strong and experienced
man, who can wonder at the enthusiastic illusions of an innocent,
trustful child?

Agnes and her grandmother entered the city of Rome just
as the twilight had faded into night; and though Agnes, full
of faith and enthusiasm, was longing to begin immediately
the ecstatic vision of shrines and holy places, old Elsie commanded
her not to think of anything further that night.
They proceeded, therefore, with several other pilgrims who
had entered the city, to a church specially set apart for their
reception, connected with which were large dormitories and
a religious order whose business was to receive and wait
upon them, and to see that all their wants were supplied.
This religious foundation is one of the oldest in Rome; and
it is esteemed a work of especial merit and sanctity among
the citizens to associate themselves temporarily in these
labors in Holy Week. Even princes and princesses come,
humble and lowly, mingling with those of common degree,
and all, calling each other brother and sister, vie in kind
attentions to these guests of the Church.

When Agnes and Elsie arrived, several of these volunteer
assistants were in waiting. Agnes was remarked among all
the rest of the company for her peculiar beauty and the rapt
enthusiastic expression of her face.

Almost immediately on their entrance into the reception-hall
connected with the church, they seemed to attract the
attention of a tall lady dressed in deep mourning, and accompanied
by a female servant, with whom she was conversing


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on those terms of intimacy which showed confidential relations
between the two.

“See!” she said, “my Mona, what a heavenly face is
there! — that sweet child has certainly the light of grace
shining through her. My heart warms to her.”

“Indeed,” said the old servant, looking across, “and well
it may, — dear lamb come so far! But, Holy Virgin, how
my head swims! How strange! — that child reminds me
of some one. My Lady, perhaps, may think of some one
whom she looks like.”

“Mona, you say true. I have the same strange impression
that I have seen a face like hers, but who or where I
cannot say.”

“What would my Lady say, if I said it was our dear
Prince? — God rest his soul!”

“Mona, it is so, — yes,” added the lady, looking more
intently, — “how singular! — the very traits of our house
in a peasant-girl! She is of Sorrento, I judge, by her costume,
— what a pretty one it is! That old woman is her
mother, perhaps. I must choose her for my care, — and,
Mona, you shall wait on her mother.”

So saying, the Princess Paulina crossed the hall, and,
bending affably over Agnes, took her hand and kissed her,
saying, —

“Welcome, my dear little sister, to the house of our

Agnes looked up with strange, wondering eyes into the
face that was bent to hers. It was sallow and sunken, with
deep lines of ill-health and sorrow, but the features were
noble, and must once have been beautiful; the whole action,
voice, and manner were dignified and impressive. Instinctively
she felt that the lady was of superior birth and


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breeding to any with whom she had been in the habit of

“Come with me,” said the lady; “and this — your mother”
— she added.

“She is my grandmother,” said Agnes.

“Well, then, your grandmother, sweet child, shall be
attended to by my good sister Mona here.”

The Princess Paulina drew the hand of Agnes through
her arm, and, laying her hand affectionately on it, looked
down and smiled tenderly on her.

“Are you very tired, my dear?”

“Oh, no! no!” said Agnes, — “I am so happy, so blessed
to be here!”

“You have travelled a long way?”

“Yes, from Sorrento; but I am used to walking, — I did
not feel it to be long, — my heart kept me up, — I wanted
to come home so much.”

“Home?” said the Princess.

“Yes, to my soul's home, — the house of our dear Father
the Pope.”

The Princess started, and looked incredulously down for a
moment; then noticing the confiding, whole-hearted air of
the child, she sighed and was silent.

“Come with me above,” she said, “and let me attend a
little to your comfort.”

“How good you are, dear lady!” said Agnes.

“I am not good, my child, — I am only your unworthy
sister in Christ;” and as the lady spoke, she opened the
door into a room where were a number of other female
pilgrims seated around the wall, each attended by a person
whose peculiar care she seemed to be.

At the feet of each was a vessel of water, and when the


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seats were all full, a cardinal in robes of office entered, and
began reading prayers. Each lady present, kneeling at the
feet of her chosen pilgrim, divested them carefully of their
worn and travel-soiled shoes and stockings, and proceeded to
wash them. It was not a mere rose-water ceremony, but a
good hearty washing of feet that for the most part had great
need of the ablution. While this service was going on, the
cardinal read from the Gospel how a Greater than they all
had washed the feet of His disciples, and said, “If I, your
Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to
wash one another's feet.” Then all repeated in concert the
Lord's Prayer, while each humbly kissed the feet she had
washed, and proceeded to replace the worn and travel-soiled
shoes and stockings with new and strong ones, the gift of
Christian love. Each lady then led her charge into a room
where tables were spread with a plain and wholesome repast
of all such articles of food as the season of Lent allowed.
Each placed her protégée at table, and carefully attended to
all her wants at the supper, and afterwards dormitories were
opened for their repose.

The Princess Paulina performed all these offices for Agnes
with a tender earnestness which won upon her heart.
The young girl thought herself indeed in that blessed society
of which she had dreamed, where the high-born and the
rich become through Christ's love the servants of the poor
and lowly, — and through all the services she sat in a sort
of dream of rapture. How lovely this reception into the
Holy City! how sweet thus to be taken to the arms of the
great Christian family, bound together in the charity which
is the bond of perfectness!

“Please tell me, dear lady,” said Agnes, after supper,
“who is that holy man that prayed with us?”


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“Oh, he — he is the Cardinal Capello,” said the Princess.

“I should like to have spoken with him,” said Agnes.

“Why, my child?”

“I wanted to ask him when and how I could get speech
with our dear Father the Pope, — for there is somewhat on
my mind that I would lay before him.”

“My poor little sister,” said the Princess, much perplexed,
“you do not understand things. What you speak of is impossible.
The Pope is a great king.”

“I know he is,” said Agnes, — “and so is our Lord
Jesus, — but every soul may come to him.”

“I cannot explain to you now,” said the Princess, —
“there is not time to-night. But I shall see you again. I
will send for you to come to my house, and there talk with
you about many things which you need to know. Meanwhile,
promise me, dear child, not to try to do anything of
the kind you spoke of until I have talked with you.”

“Well, I will not,” said Agnes, with a glance of docile
affection, kissing the hand of the Princess.

The action was so pretty, — the great, soft, dark eyes
looked so fawn-like and confiding in their innocent tenderness,
that the lady seemed much moved.

“Our dear Mother bless thee, child!” she said, laying
her hand on her head, and stooping to kiss her forehead.

She left her at the door of the dormitory.

The Princess and her attendant went out of the church-door,
where her litter stood in waiting. The two took their
seats in silence, and silently pursued their way through the
streets of the old dimly-lighted city and out of one of its
principal gates to the wide Campagna beyond. The villa
of the Princess was situated on an eminence at some distance
from the city, and the night-ride to it was solemn and


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solitary. They passed along the old Appian Way over
pavements that had rumbled under the chariot-wheels of the
emperors and nobles of a by-gone age, while along their
way, glooming up against the clear of the sky, were vast
shadowy piles, — the tombs of the dead of other days. All
mouldering and lonely, shaggy and fringed with bushes and
streaming wild vines through which the night-wind sighed
and rustled, they might seem to be pervaded by the restless
spirits of the dead; and as the lady passed them, she
shivered, and, crossing herself, repeated an inward prayer
against wandering demons that walk in desolate places.

Timid and solitary, the high-born lady shrank and cowered
within herself with a distressing feeling of loneliness. A
childless widow in delicate health, whose paternal family
had been for the most part cruelly robbed, exiled, or destroyed
by the reigning Pope and his family, she felt her
own situation a most unprotected and precarious one, since
the least jealousy or misunderstanding might bring upon her,
too, the ill-will of the Borgias, which had proved so fatal to
the rest of her race. No comfort in life remained to her
but her religion, to whose practice she clung as to her all;
but even in this her life was embittered by facts to which,
with the best disposition in the world, she could not shut her
eyes. Her own family had been too near the seat of power
not to see all the base intrigues by which that sacred and
solemn position of Head of the Christian Church had been
traded for as a marketable commodity. The pride, the indecency,
the cruelty of those who now reigned in the name
of Christ came over her mind in contrast with the picture
painted by the artless, trusting faith of the peasant-girl with
whom she had just parted. Her mind had been too thoroughly
drilled in the non-reflective practice of her faith to


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dare to put forth any act of reasoning upon facts so visible
and so tremendous, — she rather trembled at herself for
seeing what she saw and for knowing what she knew, and
feared somehow that this very knowledge might endanger
her salvation; and so she rode homeward cowering and
praying like a frightened child.

“Does my Lady feel ill?” said the old servant, anxiously.

“No, Mona, no, — not in body.”

“And what is on my Lady's mind now?”

“Oh, Mona, it is only what is always there. To-morrow
is Palm Sunday, and how can I go to see the murderers and
robbers of our house in holy places? Oh, Mona, what can
Christians do, when such men handle holy things? It was
a comfort to wash the feet of those poor simple pilgrims, who
tread in the steps of the saints of old; but how I felt when
that poor child spoke of wanting to see the Pope!”

“Yes,” said Mona, “it 's like sending the lamb to get
spiritual counsel of the wolf.”

“See what sweet belief the poor infant has! Should not
the head of the Christian Church be such as she thinks?
Ah, in the old days, when the Church here in Rome was
poor and persecuted, there were popes who were loving
fathers and not haughty princes.”

“My dear Lady,” said the servant, “pray, consider, the
very stones have ears. We don't know what day we may
be turned out, neck and heels, to make room for some of
their creatures.”

“Well, Mona,” said the lady, with some spirit, “I 'm sure
I have n't said any more than you have.”

“Holy Mother! and so you have n't, but somehow things
look more dangerous when other people say them. — A
pretty child that was, as you say; but that old thing, her


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grandmother, is a sharp piece. She is a Roman, and lived
here in her early days. She says the little one was born
hereabouts; but she shuts up her mouth like a vice, when
one would get more out of her.”

“Mona, I shall not go out to-morrow; but you go to the
services, and find the girl and her grandmother, and bring
them out to me. I want to counsel the child.”

“You may be sure,” said Mona, “that her grandmother
knows the ins and outs of Rome as well as any of us, for all
she has learned to screw up her lips so tight.”

“At any rate, bring her to me, because she interests me.”

“Well, well, it shall be so,” said Mona.