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After her light supper was over, Agnes took her distaff,
wound with shining white flax, and went and seated herself
in her favorite place, on the low parapet that overlooked
the gorge.

This ravine, with its dizzy depths, its waving foliage, its
dripping springs, and the low murmur of the little stream
that pursued its way far down at the bottom, was one of
those things which stimulated her impressible imagination,
and filled her with a solemn and vague delight. The ancient
Italian tradition made it the home of fauns and dryads,
wild woodland creatures, intermediate links between
vegetable life and that of sentient and reasoning humanity.
The more earnest faith that came in with Christianity,
if it had its brighter lights in an immortality of
blessedness, had also its deeper shadows in the intenser
perceptions it awakened of sin and evil, and of the mortal
struggle by which the human spirit must avoid endless woe
and rise to endless felicity. The myths with which the
colored Italian air was filled in mediæval ages no longer
resembled those graceful, floating, cloud-like figures one
sees in the ancient chambers of Pompeii, — the bubbles
and rainbows of human fancy, rising aimless and buoyant,
with a mere freshness of animal life, against a black background
of utter and hopeless ignorance as to man's past
or future. They were rather expressed by solemn images


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of mournful, majestic angels and of triumphant saints, or
fearful, warning presentations of loathsome fiends. Each
lonesome gorge and sombre dell had tales no more of
tricky fauns and dryads, but of those restless, wandering
demons who, having lost their own immortality of blessedness,
constantly lie in wait to betray frail humanity, and
cheat it of that glorious inheritance bought by the Great

The education of Agnes had been one which rendered
her whole system peculiarly sensitive and impressible to
all influences from the invisible and unseen. Of this education
we shall speak more particularly hereafter. At
present we see her sitting in the twilight on the moss-grown
marble parapet, her distaff, with its silvery flax,
lying idly in her hands, and her widening dark eyes gazing
intently into the gloomy gorge below, from which arose
the far-off complaining babble of the brook at the bottom
and the shiver and sigh of evening winds through the
trailing ivy. The white mist was slowly rising, wavering,
undulating, and creeping its slow way up the sides of the
gorge. Now it hid a tuft of foliage, and now it wreathed
itself around a horned clump of aloes, and, streaming far
down below it in the dimness, made it seem like the goblin
robe of some strange, supernatural being.

The evening light had almost burned out in the sky:
only a band of vivid red lay low in the horizon out to sea,
and the round full moon was just rising like a great silver
lamp, while Vesuvius with its smoky top began in the obscurity
to show its faintly flickering fires. A vague agitation
seemed to oppress the child; for she sighed deeply, and
often repeated with fervor the Ave Maria.

At this moment there began to rise from the very depths


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of the gorge below her the sound of a rich tenor voice,
with a slow, sad modulation, and seeming to pulsate upward
through the filmy, shifting mists. It was one of those voices
which seem fit to be the outpouring of some spirit denied all
other gifts of expression, and rushing with passionate fervor
through this one gate of utterance. So distinctly were the
words spoken, that they seemed each one to rise as with a
separate intelligence out of the mist, and to knock at the
door of the heart.

Sad is my life, and lonely!
No hope for me,
Save thou, my love, my only,
I see!
Where art thou, O my fairest?
Where art thou gone?
Dove of the rock, I languish
They say thou art so saintly,
Who dare love thee?
Yet bend thine eyelids holy
On me!
Though heaven alone possess thee,
Thou dwell'st above,
Yet heaven, didst thou but know it,
Is love.

There was such an intense earnestness in these sounds,
that large tears gathered in the wide dark eyes, and fell one
after another upon the sweet alyssum and maiden's-hair that
grew in the crevices of the marble wall. She shivered and
drew away from the parapet, and thought of stories she had
heard the nuns tell of wandering spirits who sometimes in
lonesome places pour forth such entrancing music as bewilders
the brain of the unwary listener, and leads him to
some fearful destruction.


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“Agnes!” said the sharp voice of old Elsie, appearing at
the door, — “here! where are you!”

“Here, grandmamma.”

“Who 's that singing this time o' night?”

“I don't know, grandmamma.”

Somehow the child felt as if that singing were strangely
sacred to her, — a rapport between her and something
vague and invisible which might yet become dear.

“Is 't down in the gorge?” said the old woman, coming
with her heavy, decided step to the parapet, and looking
over, her keen black eyes gleaming like dagger-blades into
the mist. “If there 's anybody there,” she said, “let them
go away, and not be troubling honest women with any of
their caterwauling. Come, Agnes,” she said, pulling the
girl by the sleeve, “you must be tired, my lamb! and your
evening-prayers are always so long, best be about them, girl,
so that old grandmamma may put you to bed. What ails
the girl? Been crying! Your hand is cold as a stone.”

“Grandmamma, what if that might be a spirit?” she
said. “Sister Rosa told me stories of singing spirits that
have been in this very gorge.”

“Likely enough,” said Dame Elsie; “but what 's that to
us? Let 'em sing! — so long as we don't listen, where 's
the harm done? We will sprinkle holy water all round
the parapet, and say the office of Saint Agnes, and let them
sing till they are hoarse.”

Such was the triumphant view which this energetic good
woman took of the power of the means of grace which her
church placed at her disposal.

Nevertheless, while Agnes was kneeling at her evening-prayers,
the old dame consoled herself with a soliloquy, as
with a brush she vigorously besprinkled the premises with
holy water.


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“Now, here 's the plague of a girl! If she 's handsome,
— and nobody wants one that is n't, — why, then, it 's a
purgatory to look after her. This one is good enough, —
none of your hussies, like Giulietta: but the better they
are, the more sure to have fellows after them. A murrain
on that cavalier, — king's brother, or what not! — it
was he serenading, I 'll be bound. I must tell Antonio, and
have the girl married, for aught I see: and I don't want to
give her to him either; he did n't bring her up. There 's
no peace for us mothers. Maybe I 'll tell Father Francesco
about it. That 's the way poor little Isella was carried
away. Singing is of the Devil, I believe; it always bewitches
girls. I 'd like to have poured some hot oil down
the rocks: I 'd have made him squeak in another tone, I
reckon. Well, well! I hope I shall come in for a good seat
in paradise for all the trouble I 've had with her mother, and
am like to have with her, — that 's all!”

In an hour more, the large, round, sober moon was shining
fixedly on the little mansion in the rocks, silvering the
glossy darkness of the orange-leaves, while the scent of the
blossoms arose like clouds about the cottage. The moonlight
streamed through the unglazed casement, and made a
square of light on the little bed where Agnes was sleeping,
in which square her delicate face was framed, with its tremulous
and spiritual expression most resembling in its sweet
plaintive purity some of the Madonna faces of Frà Angelico,
— those tender wild-flowers of Italian religion and

By her side lay her grandmother, with those sharp, hard,
clearly cut features, so worn and bronzed by time, so lined
with labor and care, as to resemble one of the Fates in the
picture of Michel Angelo; and even in her sleep she held


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the delicate lily hand of the child in her own hard, brown
one, with a strong and determined clasp.

While they sleep, we must tell something more of the story
of the little Agnes, — of what she is, and what are the causes
which have made her such.