University of Virginia Library


Page 380


The morning after her arrival in Rome, Agnes was
awakened from sleep by a solemn dropping of bell-tones
which seemed to fill the whole air, intermingled dimly at
intervals with long-drawn plaintive sounds of chanting.
She had slept profoundly, overwearied with her pilgrimage,
and soothed by that deep lulling sense of quiet which comes
over one, when, after long and weary toils, some auspicious
goal is at length reached. She had come to Rome, and
been received with open arms into the household of the
saints, and seen even those of highest degree imitating the
simplicity of the Lord in serving the poor. Surely, this
was indeed the house of God and the gate of heaven; and
so the bell-tones and chants, mingling with her dreams,
seemed naturally enough angel-harpings and distant echoes
of the perpetual adoration of the blessed. She rose and
dressed herself with a tremulous joy. She felt full of hope
that somehow — in what way she could not say — this
auspicious beginning would end in a full fruition of all her
wishes, an answer to all her prayers.

“Well, child,” said old Elsie, “you must have slept well;
you look fresh as a lark.”

“The air of this holy place revives me,” said Agnes, with

“I wish I could say as much,” said Elsie. “My bones


Page 381
ache yet with the tramp, and I suppose nothing will do but
we must go out now to all the holy places, up and down and
hither and yon, to everything that goes on. I saw enough
of it all years ago when I lived here.”

“Dear grandmother, if you are tired, why should you
not rest? I can go forth alone in this holy city. No
harm can possibly befall me here. I can join any of the
pilgrims who are going to the holy places where I long
to worship.”

“A likely story!” said Elsie. “I know more about old
Rome than you do, and I tell you, child, that you do not stir
out a step without me; so if you must go, I must go too, —
and like enough it 's for my soul's health. I suppose it is,”
she added, after a reflective pause.

“How beautiful it was that we were welcomed so last
night!” said Agnes, — “that dear lady was so kind to

“Ay, ay, and well she might be!” said Elsie, nodding her
head. “But there 's no truth in the kindness of the nobles
to us, child. They don't do it because they love us, but because
they expect to buy heaven by washing our feet and
giving us what little they can clip and snip off from their

“Oh, grandmother,” said Agnes, “how can you say so?
Certainly, if any one ever spoke and looked lovingly, it was
that dear lady.”

“Yes, and she rolls away in her carriage, well content,
and leaves you with a pair of new shoes and stockings, —
you, as worthy of a carriage and a palace as she.”

“No, grandmamma; she said she should send for me to
talk more with her.”

She said she should send for you?” said Elsie. “Well,


Page 382
well, that is strange, to be sure! — that is wonderful!” she
added, reflectively. “But come, child, we must hasten
through our breakfast and prayers, and go to see the
Pope, and all the great birds with fine feathers that fly
after him.”

“Yes, indeed!” said Agnes, joyfully. “Oh, grandmamma,
what a blessed sight it will be!”

“Yes, child, and a fine sight enough he makes with his
great canopy and his plumes and his servants and his trumpeters;
— there is n't a king in Christendom that goes so
proudly as he.”

“No other king is worthy of it,” said Agnes. “The Lord
reigns in him.”

“Much you know about it!” said Elsie, between her
teeth, as they started out.

The streets of Rome through which they walked were
damp and cellar-like, filthy and ill-paved; but Agnes neither
saw nor felt anything of inconvenience in this: had they
been floored, like those of the New Jerusalem, with translucent
gold, her faith could not have been more fervent.

Rome is at all times a forest of quaint costumes, a pantomime
of shifting scenic effects of religious ceremonies.
Nothing there, however singular, strikes the eye as out-of-the-way
or unexpected, since no one knows precisely to
what religious order it may belong, or what individual vow
or purpose it may represent. Neither Agnes nor Elsie,
therefore, was surprised, when they passed through the door-way
to the street, at the apparition of a man covered from
head to foot in a long robe of white serge, with a high-peaked
cap of the same material drawn completely down
over his head and face. Two round holes cut in this ghostly
head-gear revealed simply two black glittering eyes, which


Page 383
shone with that singular elfish effect which belongs to the
human eye when removed from its appropriate and natural
accessories. As they passed out, the figure rattled a box on
which was painted an image of despairing souls raising imploring
hands from very red tongues of flame, by which it
was understood at once that he sought aid for souls in Purgatory.
Agnes and her grandmother each dropped therein
a small coin and went on their way; but the figure followed
them at a little distance behind, keeping carefully within
sight of them.

By means of energetic pushing and striving, Elsie contrived
to secure for herself and her grandchild stations in
the piazza in front of the church, in the very front rank,
where the procession was to pass. A motley assemblage it
was, this crowd, comprising every variety of costume of
rank and station and ecclesiastical profession, — cowls and
hoods of Franciscan and Dominican, — picturesque headdresses
of peasant-women of different districts, — plumes
and ruffs of more aspiring gentility, — mixed with every
quaint phase of foreign costume belonging to the strangers
from different parts of the earth; — for, like the old Jewish
Passover, this celebration of Holy Week had its assemblage
of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia,
Cretes, and Arabians, all blending in one common memorial.

Amid the strange variety of persons among whom they
were crowded, Elsie remarked the stranger in the white
sack, who had followed them, and who had stationed himself
behind them, — but it did not occur to her that his
presence there was other than merely accidental.

And now came sweeping up the grand procession, brilliant
with scarlet and gold, waving with plumes, sparkling with
gems, — it seemed as if earth had been ransacked and human


Page 384
invention taxed to express the ultimatum of all that
could dazzle and bewilder, — and, with a rustle like that
of ripe grain before a swaying wind, all the multitude
went down on their knees as the cortege passed. Agnes
knelt, too, with clasped hands, adoring the sacred vision
enshrined in her soul; and as she knelt with upraised eyes,
her cheeks flushed with enthusiasm, her beauty attracted
the attention of more than one in the procession.

“There is the model which our master has been looking
for,” said a young and handsome man in a rich dress of
black velvet, who, by his costume, appeared to hold the rank
of first chamberlain in the Papal suite.

The young man to whom he spoke gave a bold glance at
Agnes and answered, —

“Pretty little rogue, how well she does the saint!”

“One can see, that, with judicious arrangement, she might
make a nymph as well as a saint,” said the first speaker.

“A Daphne, for example,” said the other, laughing.

“And she would n't turn into a laurel, either,” said the
first. “Well, we must keep our eye on her.” And as they
were passing into the church-door, he beckoned to a servant
in waiting and whispered something, indicating Agnes with
a backward movement of his hand.

The servant, after this, kept cautiously within observing
distance of her, as she with the crowd pressed into the church
to assist at the devotions.

Long and dazzling were those ceremonies, when, raised
on high like an enthroned God, Pope Alexander VI. received
the homage of bended knee from the ambassadors of
every Christian nation, from heads of all ecclesiastical orders,
and from generals and chiefs and princes and nobles, who,
robed and plumed and gemmed in all the brightest and


Page 385
proudest that earth could give, bowed the knee humbly and
kissed his foot in return for the palm-branch which he presented.
Meanwhile, voices of invisible singers chanted the
simple event which all this splendor was commemorating, —
how of old Jesus came into Jerusalem meek and lowly, riding
on an ass, — how His disciples cast their garments in
the way, and the multitude took branches of palm-trees to
come forth and meet Him, — how He was seized, tried, condemned
to a cruel death, — and the crowd, with dazzled and
wondering eyes following the gorgeous ceremonial, reflected
little how great was the satire of the contrast, how different
the coming of that meek and lowly One to suffer and to die
from this triumphant display of worldly pomp and splendor
in His professed representative.

But to the pure all things are pure, and Agnes thought
only of the enthronement of all virtues, of all celestial charities
and unworldly purities in that splendid ceremonial, and
longed within herself to approach so near as to touch the
hem of those wondrous and sacred garments. It was to her
enthusiastic imagination like the unclosing of celestial doors,
where the kings and priests of an eternal and heavenly
temple move to and fro in music, with the many-colored
glories of rainbows and sunset clouds. Her whole nature
was wrought upon by the sights and sounds of that gorgeous
worship, — she seemed to burn and brighten like an altar-coal,
her figure appeared to dilate, her eyes grew deeper and
shone with a starry light, and the color of her cheeks flushed
up with a vivid glow, — nor was she aware how often eyes
were turned upon her, nor how murmurs of admiration followed
all her absorbed, unconscious movements. “Ecco!
” was often repeated from mouth to mouth around
her, but she heard it not.


Page 386

When at last the ceremony was finished, the crowd rushed
again out of the church to see the departure of various dignitaries.
There was a perfect whirl of dazzling equipages,
and glittering lackeys, and prancing horses, crusted with
gold, flaming in scarlet and purple, retinues of cardinals and
princes and nobles and ambassadors all in one splendid confused
jostle of noise and brightness.

Suddenly a servant in a gorgeous scarlet livery touched
Agnes on the shoulder, and said, in a tone of authority,

“Young maiden, your presence is commanded.”

“Who commands it?” said Elsie, laying her hand on her
grandchild's shoulder fiercely.

“Are you mad?” whispered two or three women of the
lower orders to Elsie at once; “don't you know who that is?
Hush, for your life!”

“I shall go with you, Agnes,” said Elsie, resolutely.

“No, you will not,” said the attendant, insolently. “This
maiden is commanded, and none else.”

“He belongs to the Pope's nephew,” whispered a voice in
Elsie's ear. “You had better have your tongue torn out
than say another word.” Whereupon, Elsie found herself
actually borne backward by three or four stout women.

Agnes looked round and smiled on her, — a smile full of
innocent trust, — and then, turning, followed the servant
into the finest of the equipages, where she was lost to

Elsie was almost wild with fear and impotent rage; but a
low, impressive voice now spoke in her ear. It came from
the white figure which had followed them in the morning.

“Listen,” it said, “and be quiet; don't turn your head,
but hear what I tell you. Your child is followed by those


Page 387
who will save her. Go your ways whence you came. Wait
till the hour after the Ave Maria, then come to the Porta
San Sebastiano, and all will be well.”

When Elsie turned to look she saw no one, but caught a
distant glimpse of a white figure vanishing in the crowd.

She returned to her asylum, wondering and disconsolate,
and the first person whom she saw was old Mona.

“Well, good-morrow, sister!” she said. “Know that I
am here on a strange errand. The Princess has taken such
a liking to you that nothing will do but we must fetch you
and your little one out to her villa. I looked everywhere
for you in church this morning. Where have you hid yourselves?”

“We were there,” said Elsie, confused, and hesitating
whether to speak of what had happened.

“Well, where is the little one? Get her ready; we
have horses in waiting. It is a good bit out of the

“Alack!” said Elsie, “I know not where she is.”

“Holy Virgin!” said Mona, “how is this?”

Elsie, moved by the necessity which makes it a relief to
open the heart to some one, sat down on the steps of the
church and poured forth the whole story into the listening
ear of Mona.

“Well, well, well!” said the old servant, “in our days,
one does not wonder at anything, — one never knows one
day what may come the next, — but this is bad enough!”

“Do you think,” said Elsie, “there is any hope in that
strange promise?”

“One can but try it,” said Mona.

“If you could but be there then,” said Elsie, “and take
us to your mistress.”


Page 388

“Well, I will wait, for my mistress has taken an especial
fancy to your little one, more particularly since this morning,
when a holy Capuchin came to our house and held a long
conference with her, and after he was gone I found my lady
almost in a faint, and she would have it that we should start
directly to bring her out here, and I had much ado to let her
see that the child would do quite as well after services were
over. I tired myself looking about for you in the crowd.”

The two women then digressed upon various gossiping
particulars, as they sat on the old mossy, grass-grown steps,
looking up over house-tops yellow with lichen, into the blue
spring air, where flocks of white pigeons were soaring and
careering in the soft, warm sunshine. Brightness and
warmth and flowers seemed to be the only idea natural to
that charming weather, and Elsie, sad-hearted and foreboding
as she was, felt the benign influence. Rome, which had
been so fatal a place to her peace, yet had for her, as it has
for every one, potent spells of a lulling and soothing power.
Where is the grief or anxiety that can resist the enchantment
of one of Rome's bright, soft, spring days?