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The setting sunbeams slant over the antique gateway of
Sorrento, fusing into a golden bronze the brown freestone
vestments of old Saint Antonio, who with his heavy stone
mitre and upraised hands has for centuries kept watch thereupon.

A quiet time he has of it up there in the golden Italian
air, in petrified act of blessing, while orange lichens and green
mosses from year to year embroider quaint patterns on the
seams of his sacerdotal vestments, and small tassels of grass
volunteer to ornament the folds of his priestly drapery, and
golden showers of blossoms from some more hardy plant fall
from his ample sleeve-cuffs. Little birds perch and chitter
and wipe their beaks unconcernedly, now on the tip of his
nose and now on the point of his mitre, while the world
below goes on its way pretty much as it did when the good
saint was alive, and, in despair of the human brotherhood,
took to preaching to the birds and the fishes.

Whoever passed beneath this old arched gateway, thus
saint-guarded, in the year of our Lord's grace —, might
have seen under its shadow, sitting opposite to a stand of
golden oranges, the little Agnes.


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A very pretty picture was she, reader, — with such a face
as you sometimes see painted in those wayside shrines of
sunny Italy, where the lamp burns pale at evening, and gilly-flower
and cyclamen are renewed with every morning.

She might have been fifteen or thereabouts, but was so
small of stature that she seemed yet a child. Her black
hair was parted in a white unbroken seam down to the high
forehead, whose serious arch, like that of a cathedral-door,
spoke of thought and prayer. Beneath the shadows of this
brow lay brown, translucent eyes, into whose thoughtful
depths one might look as pilgrims gaze into the waters of
some saintly well, cool and pure down to the unblemished
sand at the bottom. The small lips had a gentle compression,
which indicated a repressed strength of feeling; while
the straight line of the nose, and the flexible, delicate nostril,
were perfect as in those sculptured fragments of the antique
which the soil of Italy so often gives forth to the day from
the sepulchres of the past. The habitual pose of the head
and face had the shy uplooking grace of a violet; and yet
there was a grave tranquillity of expression, which gave a
peculiar degree of character to the whole figure.

At the moment at which we have called your attention,
the fair head is bent, the long eyelashes lie softly down on
the pale, smooth cheek; for the Ave Maria bell is sounding
from the Cathedral of Sorrento, and the child is busy with
her beads.

By her side sits a woman of some threescore years, tall,
stately, and squarely formed, with ample breadth of back
and size of chest, like the robust dames of Sorrento. Her
strong Roman nose, the firm, determined outline of her
mouth, and a certain energy in every motion, speak the
woman of will and purpose. There is a degree of vigor in


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the decision with which she lays down her spindle and bows
her head, as a good Christian of those days would, at the
swinging of the evening bell.

But while the soul of the child in its morning freshness,
free from pressure or conscience of earthly care, rose like
an illuminated mist to heaven, the words the white-haired
woman repeated were twined with threads of worldly prudence,
— thoughts of how many oranges she had sold, with a
rough guess at the probable amount for the day, — and her
fingers wandered from her beads a moment to see if the
last coin had been swept from the stand into her capacious
pocket, and her eyes wandering after them suddenly made
her aware of the fact that a handsome cavalier was standing
in the gate, regarding her pretty grandchild with looks of
undisguised admiration.

“Let him look!” she said to herself, with a grim clasp on
her rosary; — “a fair face draws buyers, and our oranges
must be turned into money; but he who does more than
look has an affair with me; — so gaze away, my master, and
take it out in buying oranges! — Ave Maria! ora pro nobis,
nunc et,
” etc., etc.

A few moments, and the wave of prayer which had flowed
down the quaint old shadowy street, bowing all heads as the
wind bowed the scarlet tassels of neighboring clover-fields,
was passed, and all the world resumed the work of earth
just where they left off when the bell began.

“Good even to you, pretty maiden!” said the cavalier,
approaching the stall of the orange-woman with the easy,
confident air of one secure of a ready welcome, and bending
down on the yet prayerful maiden the glances of a pair of
piercing hazel eyes that looked out on each side of his aquiline
nose with the keenness of a falcon's.


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“Good even to you, pretty one! We shall take you for a
saint, and worship you in right earnest, if you raise not those
eyelashes soon.”

“Sir! my lord!” said the girl, — a bright color flushing
into her smooth brown cheeks, and her large dreamy eyes
suddenly upraised with a flutter, as of a bird about to take

“Agnes, bethink yourself!” said the white-haired dame;
— “the gentleman asks the price of your oranges; — be
alive, child!”

“Ah, my lord,” said the young girl, “here are a dozen
fine ones.”

“Well, you shall give them me, pretty one,” said the
young man, throwing a gold piece down on the stand with a
careless ring.

“Here, Agnes, run to the stall of Raphael the poulterer
for change,” said the adroit dame, picking up the gold.

“Nay, good mother, by your leave,” said the unabashed
cavalier; “I make my change with youth and beauty thus!”
And with the word he stooped down and kissed the fair forehead
between the eyes.

“For shame, Sir!” said the elderly woman, raising her
distaff, — her great glittering eyes flashing beneath her
silver hair like tongues of lightning from a white cloud.
“Have a care! — this child is named for blessed Saint
Agnes, and is under her protection.”

“The saints must pray for us, when their beauty makes
us forget ourselves,” said the young cavalier, with a smile.
“Look me in the face, little one,” he added; — “say, wilt
thou pray for me?”

The maiden raised her large serious eyes, and surveyed
the haughty, handsome face with that look of sober inquiry


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which one sometimes sees in young children, and the
blush slowly faded from her cheek, as a cloud fades after

“Yes, my lord,” she answered, with a grave simplicity, —
“I will pray for you.”

“And hang this upon the shrine of Saint Agnes for my
sake,” he added, drawing from his finger a diamond ring,
which he dropped into her hand; and before mother or
daughter could add another word or recover from their surprise,
he had thrown the corner of his mantle over his
shoulder and was off down the narrow street, humming the
refrain of a gay song.

“You have struck a pretty dove with that bolt,” said another
cavalier, who appeared to have been observing the
proceeding, and now, stepping forward, joined him.

“Like enough,” said the first, carelessly.

“The old woman keeps her mewed up like a singing-bird,”
said the second; “and if a fellow wants speech
of her, it's as much as his crown is worth; for Dame
Elsie has a strong arm, and her distaff is known to be

“Upon my word,” said the first cavalier, stopping and
throwing a glance backward, — “where do they keep

“Oh, in a sort of pigeon's nest up above the Gorge;
but one never sees her, except under the fire of her grand-mother's
eyes. The little one is brought up for a saint, they
say, and goes nowhere but to mass, confession, and the

“Humph?” said the other, “she looks like some choice
old picture of Our Lady, — not a drop of human blood in
her. When I kissed her forehead, she looked into my face


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as grave and innocent as a babe. One is tempted to try
what one can do in such a case.”

“Beware the grandmother's distaff!” said the other,

“I've seen old women before,” said the cavalier, as they
turned down the street and were lost to view.

Meanwhile the grandmother and grand-daughter were
roused from the mute astonishment in which they were gazing
after the young cavalier by a tittering behind them; and
a pair of bright eyes looked out upon them from beneath
a bundle of long, crimson-headed clover, whose rich
carmine tints were touched to brighter life by setting sunbeams.

There stood Giulietta, the head coquette of the Sorrento
girls, with her broad shoulders, full chest, and great black
eyes, rich and heavy as those of the silver-haired ox for
whose benefit she had been cutting clover. Her bronzed
cheek was smooth as that of any statue, and showed a color
like that of an open pomegranate; and the opulent, lazy
abundance of her ample form, with her leisurely movements,
spoke an easy and comfortable nature, — that is to say, when
Giulietta was pleased; for it is to be remarked that there
lurked certain sparkles deep down in her great eyes, which
might, on occasion, blaze out into sheet-lightning, like her
own beautiful skies, which, lovely as they are, can thunder
and sulk with terrible earnestness when the fit takes them.
At present, however, her face was running over with mischievous
merriment, as she slyly pinched little Agnes by
the ear.

“So you know not yon gay cavalier, little sister?”
she said, looking askance at her from under her long


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“No, indeed! What has an honest girl to do with knowing
gay cavaliers?” said Dame Elsie, bestirring herself with
packing the remaining oranges into a basket, which she covered
trimly with a heavy linen towel of her own weaving.
“Girls never come to good who let their eyes go walking
through the earth, and have the names of all the wild gallants
on their tongues. Agnes knows no such nonsense, —
blessed be her gracious patroness, with Our Lady and Saint

“I hope there is no harm in knowing what is right before
one's eyes,” said Giulietta. “Anybody must be blind and
deaf not to know the Lord Adrian. All the girls in Sorrento
know him. They say he is even greater than he
appears, — that he is brother to the King himself; at any
rate, a handsomer and more gallant gentleman never wore

“Let him keep to his own kind,” said Elsie. “Eagles
make bad work in dove-cots. No good comes of such gallants
for us.”

“Nor any harm, that I ever heard of,” said Giulietta.
“But let me see, pretty one, — what did he give you? Holy
Mother! what a handsome ring!”

“It is to hang on the shrine of Saint Agnes,” said the
younger girl, looking up with simplicity.

A loud laugh was the first answer to this communication.
The scarlet clover-tops shook and quivered with the merriment.

“To hang on the shrine of Saint Agnes!” Giulietta repeated.
“That is a little too good!”

“Go, go, you baggage!” said Elsie, wrathfully brandishing
her spindle. “If ever you get a husband, I hope he'll
give you a good beating! You need it, I warrant! Always


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stopping on the bridge there, to have cracks with the young
men! Little enough you know of saints, I dare say! So
keep away from my child! — Come, Agnes,” she said, as she
lifted the orange-basket on to her head; and, straightening
her tall form, she seized the girl by the hand to lead her