Agnes of Sorrento



AGNES returned from the confessional ■with more sadness than her simple life had ever known before. The agitation of her confessor, the tremulous eagerness of his words, the alternations of severity and tenderness in his manner to her, all struck her only as indications of the very grave danger in which she was placed, and the awfulness of the sin and condemnation which oppressed the soul of one for whom she was conscious of a deep and strange interest.

She had the undoubting, uninqniring reverence which a Christianly educated child of those times might entertain for the visible head of the Christian Church, all whose doings were to be regarded with an awful veneration which never even raised a question.

That the Papal throne was now filled by a man who had bought his election with the wages of iniquity, and dispensed its powers and offices with sole reference to the aggrandizement of a family proverbial for brutality and obscenity, was a fact well known to the reasoning and enlightened orders of society at this time; but it did not penetrate into those lowly valleys where the sheep of the Lord humbly pastured, innocently unconscious of the frauds and violence by which their dearest interests were bought and sold.

The Christian faith we now hold, who boast our enlightened Protestantism, has been transmitted to us through the hearts and hands of such, — who, while princes wrangled with Pope, and Pope with princes, knew nothing of it all, but, in lowly ways of prayer and patient labor, were one with us of modern times in the great central belief of the Christian heart, “ Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.”

As Agnes came slowly up the path towards the little garden, she was conscious of a burden and weariness of spirit she had never known before. She passed the little moist grotto, which in former times she never failed to visit to see if there were any new-blown cyclamen, without giving it even a thought. A crimson spray of gladiolus leaned from the rock and seemed softly to kiss her cheek, yet she regarded it not; and once stopping and gazing abstractedly upward on the flower-tapestried walls of the gorge, as they rose in wreath and garland and festoon above her, she felt as if the brilliant yellow of the broom and the crimson of the gillyflowers, and all the fluttering, nodding armies of brightness that were dancing in the sunlight, were too gay for such a world as this, where mortal sins and sorrows made such havoc with all that seemed brightest and best, and she longed to fly away and be at rest.

Just then she heard the cheerful voice of her uncle in the little garden above, as he was singing at his painting. The words were those of that old Latin hymn of Saint Bernard, which, in its English dress, has thrilled many a Methodist class-meeting and many a Puritan conference, telling, in the welcome they meet in each Christian soul, that there is a unity in Christ’s Church which is not outward, — a secret, invisible bond, by which, under warring names and badges of opposition, His true followers have yet been one in Him, even though they discerned it not.

“ Jesu dulcis memoria,
Dans vera cordi gaudia:
Sed super mol et omnia
Ejus dulcis praesentia.
“Nil canitur suavius,
Nil auditur jocundius,
Nil cogitatur dulcius,
Quam Jesus Dei Eilius.
“Jesu, spes pænitentibus,
Quam pius es petentibus,
Quam bonus te quærentibus,
Sed quis invenientibus!
“ Nec lingua valet dicere,
Nec littera exprimere:
Expertus potest credere
Quid sit Jesum diligere.” 1

The old monk sang with all his heart; and his voice, which had been a fine one in its day, had still that power which comes from the expression of deep feeling. One often hears this peculiarity in the voices of persons of genius and sensibility, even when destitute of any real critical merit. They seem to be so interfused with the emotions of the soul, that they strike upon the heart almost like the living touch of a spirit.

Agnes was soothed in listening to him. The Latin words, the sentiment of which had been traditional in the Church from time immemorial, had to her a sacred fragrance and odor; they were words apart from all common usage, a sacramental language, never heard but in moments of devotion and aspiration, — and they stilled the child’s heart in its tossings and tempest, as when of old the Jesus they spake of walked forth on the stormy sea.

“ Yes, He gave His life for us ! ” she said; “ He is ever reigning for us!

“ ‘ Jesu dulcissime, e throno gloriæ
Ovem deperditam venisti quærere!
Jesu suaviBsime, pastor fidissime,
Ad te O trahe me, ut semper sequar te! ‘''2

“ What, my little one !” said the monk, looking over the wall; “ I thought I heard angels singing. Is it not a beautiful morning ? ”

“ Dear uncle, it is,” said Agnes. “ And I have been so glad to bear your beautiful hymn ! — it comforted me.”

“ Comforted you, little heart ? What a word is that! When you get as far along on your journey as your old uncle, then you may talk of comfort. But who thinks of comforting birds or butterflies or young lambs ? ”

“ Ah, dear uncle, I am not so very happy,” said Agnes, the tears starting into her eyes.

“Not happy?” said the monk, looking up from his drawing. “ Pray, what ’s the matter now ? Has a bee stung your finger ? or have you lost your nosegay over a rock ? or what dreadful affliction has come upon you?—hey, my little heart?”

Agnes sat down on the corner of the marble fountain, and, covering her face with her apron, sobbed as if her heart would break.

“ What has that old priest been saying to her in the confession?” said Father Antonio to himself. “ I dare say he cannot understand her. She is as pure as a dew-drop on a cobweb, and as delicate; and these priests, half of them don’t know how to handle the Lord’s lambs. — Come now, little Agnes,” he said, with a coaxing tone, “what is its trouble? — tell its old uncle, — there’s a dear! ”

“ Ah, uncle, I can’t! ” said Agnes, between her sobs.

“ Can’t tell its uncle! — there’s a pretty go! Perhaps you will tell grandmamma ? ”

“ Oh, no, no, no! not for the world ! ” said Agnes, sobbing still more bitterly.

“ Why, really, little heart of mine, this is getting serious,” said the monk; “let your old uncle try to help you.”

“ It is n’t for myself,” said Agnes, en deavoring to check her feelings,'—“it is not for myself, — it is for another, — for a soul lost. Ah, my Jesus, have mercy! ”

“A soul lost? Our Mother forbid !” said the monk, crossing himself. “ Lost in this Christian land, so overflowing with the beauty of the Lord ? — lost out of this fair sheepfold of Paradise ? ”

“ Yes, lost,” said Agnes, despairingly,— “ and if somebody do not save him, lost forever; and it is a brave and noble soul, too, — like one of the angels that fell.”

“ Who is it, dear ? — tell me about it,” said the monk. “ I am one of the shepherds whose place it is to go after that which is lost, even till I find it.”

“ Dear uncle, you remember the youth who suddenly appeared to us in the moonlight here a few evenings ago ? ”

“ Ah, indeed! ” said the monk, — “ what of him ?

“ Father Francesco has told me dreadful things of him this morning.”

“ What things ? ”

“ Uncle, he is excommunicated by our Holy Father the Pope.”

Father Antonio, as a member of one of the most enlightened and cultivated religious orders of the times, and as an intimate companion and disciple of Savonarola, had a full understanding of the character of the reigning Pope, and therefore had his own private opinion of how much his excommunication was likely to be worth in the invisible world. He knew that the same doom had been threatened towards his saintly master, for opposing and exposing the scandalous vices which disgraced the high places of the Church; so that, on the whole, when he heard that this young man was excommunicated, so far from being impressed with horror towards him, he conceived the idea that he might be a particularly honest fellow and good Christian. But then he did not hold it wise to disturb the faith of the simple-hearted by revealing to them the truth about the head of the Church on earth.

While the disorders in those elevated regions filled the minds of the intelligent classes with apprehension and alarm, they held it unwise to disturb the trustful simplicity of the lower orders, whose faith in Christianity itself they supposed might thus be shaken. In fact, they were themselves somewhat puzzled how to reconcile the patent and manifest fact, that the actual incumbent of the Holy See was not under the guidance of any spirit, unless it were a diabolical one, with the theory which supposed an infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit to attend as a matter of course on that position. Some of the boldest of them did not hesitate to declare that the Holy City had suffered a foul invasion, and that a false usurper reigned in her sacred palaces in place of the Father of Chriristendom. The greater part did as people now do with the mysteries and discrepancies of a faith which on the whole they revere: they turned their attention from the vexed question, and sighed and longed for better days.

Father Antonio did not, therefore, tell Agnes that the announcement which had filled her with such distress was far less conclusive with himself of the ill desert of the individual to whom it related,

“My little heart,” he answered, gravely, “ did you learn the sin for which this young man was excommunicated ? ”

“ Ah, me! my dear uncle, I fear he is an infidel, — an unbeliever. Indeed, now I remember it, he confessed as much to me the other day.”

“ Where did he tell you this ? ”

“You remember, my uncle, when you were sent for to the dying man ? When you were gone, I kneeled down to pray for his soul; and when I rose from prayer, this young cavalier was sitting right here, on this end of the fountain. He was looking fixedly at me, with such sad eyes, so full of longing and pain, that it was quite piteous; and he spoke to me so sadly, I could not but pity him.”

“ What did he say to you, child ? ”

“ Ah, father, he said that he was all alone in the. world, without friends, and utterly desolate, with no one to love him; but worse than that, he said he had lost his faith, that he could not believe.”

“ What did you say to him ? ”

“ Uncle, I tried, as a poor girl might, to do him some good. I prayed him to confess and take the sacrament; but he looked almost fierce when I said so. And yet I cannot but think, after all, that he has not lost all grace, because he begged me so earnestly to pray for him ; he said his prayers could do no good, and wanted mine. And then I began to tell him about you, dear uncle, and how you came from that blessed convent in Florence, and about your master Savonarola; and that seemed to interest him, for he looked quite excited, and spoke the name over, as if it were one he had heard before. I wanted to urge him to come and open his case to you; and I think perhaps I might have succeeded, but that just then you and grandmamma came up the path; and when I heard you coming, I begged him to go, because you know grandmamma would be very angry, if she knew that I had given speech to a man, even for a few moments; she thinks men are so dreadful.”

“ I must seek this youth,” said the monk, in a musing tone; “perhaps I may find out what inward temptation hath driven him away from the fold.”

“ Oh, do, dear uncle ! do! ” said Agnes, earnestly. “ I am sure that he has been grievously tempted and misled, for he seems to have a noble and gentle nature ; and he spoke so feelingly of his mother, who is a saint in heaven; and he seemed so earnestly to long to return to the bosom of the Church.”

“ The Church is a tender mother to all her erring children,” said the monk.

“ And don’t you think that our dear Holy Father the Pope will forgive him ? ” said Agnes. “ Surely, he will have all the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who would rejoice in one sheep found more than in all the ninety-and-nine who went not astray.”

The monk could scarcely repress a smile at imagining Alexander the Sixth in this character of a good shepherd, as Agnes’s enthusiastic imagination painted the head of the Church ; and then he gave an inward sigh, and said, softly, “ Lord, how long ? ”

“I think,” said Agnes, “ that this young man is of noble birth, for his words and his bearing and his tones of voice are not those of common men; even though he speaks so humbly and gently, there is yet something princely that looks out of his eyes, as if he were born to command; and be wears strange jewels, the like of which I never saw, on his hands and at the hilt of his dagger, — yet he seems to make nothing of them. But yet, I know not why, he spoke of himself as one utterly desolate and forlorn. Father Francesco told me that he was captain of a band of robbers who live in the mountains. One cannot think it is so.”

“ Little heart,” said the monk, tenderly, “ you can scarcely know what things befall men in these distracted times, when faction wages war with faction, and men pillage and burn and imprison, first on this side, then on that. Many a son of a noble house may find himself homeless and landless, and, chased by the enemy, may have no refuge but the fastnesses of the mountains. Thank God, our lovely Italy hath a noble backbone of these same mountains, which afford shelter to her children in their straits.”

“ Then you think it possible, dear uncle, that this may not be a bad man, after all ? ”

“ Let us hope so, child. I will myself seek him out; and if his mind have been chafed by violence or injustice, I will strive to bring him back into the good ways of the Lord. Take heart, my little one, — all will yet be well. Come now, little darling, wipe your bright eyes, and look at these plans I have been making for the shrine we were talking of, in the gorge. See here, I have drawn a goodly arch with a pinnacle. Under the arch, you see, shall he the picture of our Lady with the blessed Babe. The arch shall be cunningly sculptured with vines of ivy and passion-flower; and on one side of it shall stand Saint Agnes with her lamb,—and on the other, Saint Cecilia, crowned with roses; and on this pinnacle, above all, Saint Michael, all in armor, shall stand leaning, — one hand on his sword, and holding a shield with the cross upon it.”

“ Ah, that will be beautiful! ” said Agnes.

“ You can scarcely tell,” pursued the monk, “ from this faint drawing, what the picture of our Lady is to be; but I shall paint her to the highest of my art, and with many prayers that I may work worthily. You see, she shall be standing on a cloud with a background all of burnished gold, like the streets of the New Jerusalem ; and she shall be clothed in a mantle of purest blue from head to foot, to represent the unclouded sky of summer; and on her forehead she shall wear the evening star, which ever shineth when we say the Ave Maria; and all the borders of her blue vesture shall be cunningly wrought with fringes of stars; and the dear Babe shall lean his little cheek to hers so peacefully, and there shall be a clear shining of love through her face, and a heavenly restfulness, that it shall do one’s heart good to look at her. Many a blessed hour shall I have over this picture,— many a hymn shall I sing as my work goes on. I must go about to prepare the panels forthwith; and it were well, if there be that young man who works in stone, to have him summoned to our conference.”

“ I think,” said Agnes, “ that you will find him in the town ; he dwells next to the cathedral.”

“ I trust he is a youth of pious life and conversation,” said the monk. “ I must call on him this afternoon; for he ought to be stirring himself up by hymns and prayers, and by meditations on the beauty of saints and angels, for so goodly a work. What higher honor or grace can befall a creature than to be called upon to make visible to men that beauty of invisible things which is divine and eternal ? How many holy men have given themselves to this work in Italy, till, from being overrun with heathen temples, it is now full of most curious and wonderful churches, shrines, and cathedrals, every stone of which is a miracle of beauty! I would, dear daughter, you could see our great Duomo in Florence, which is a mountain of precious marbles and many-colored mosaics; and the Campanile that riseth thereby is like a lily of Paradise,— so tall, so stately, with such an infinite grace, and adorned all the way up with holy emblems and images of saints and angels; nor is there any part of it, within or without, that is not finished sacredly with care, as an offering to the most perfect God. Truly, our fair Florence, though she be little, is worthy, by her sacred adornments, to be worn as the lily of our Lady’s girdle, even as she hath been dedicated to her.”

Agnes seemed pleased with the enthusiastic discourse of her uncle. The tears gradually dried from her eyes as she listened to him, and the hope so natural to the young and untried heart began to reassert itself. God was merciful, the world beautiful; there was a tender Mother, a reigning Saviour, protecting angels and guardian saints: surely, then, there was no need to despair of the recall of any wanderer; and the softest supplication of the most ignorant and unworthy would he taken up by so many sympathetic voices in the invisible world, and borne on in so many waves of brightness to the heavenly throne, that the most timid must have hope in prayer.

In the afternoon, the monk went to the town to seek the young artist, and also to inquire for the stranger for whom his pastoral offices were in requisition, and Agnes remained alone in the little solitary garden.

It was one of those rich slumberous afternoons of spring that seem to bathe earth and heaven with an Elysian softness; and from her little lonely nook shrouded In dusky shadows by its orange-trees, Agnes looked down the sombre gorge to where the open sea lay panting and palpitating in blue and violet waves, while the little white sails of fishing-boats drifted hither and thither, now silvered in the sunshine, now fading away like a dream into the violet vapor bands that mantled the horizon. The weather would have been oppressively sultry but for the gentle breeze which constantly drifted landward with coolness in its wings. The hum of the old town came to her ear softened by distance and mingled with the patter of the fountain and the music of birds singing in the trees overhead. Agnes tried to busy herself with her spinning; but her mind constantly wandered away, and stirred and undulated with a thousand dim and unshaped thoughts and emotions, of which she vaguely questioned in her own mind. Why did Father Francesco warn her so solemnly against an earthly love ? Did he not know her vocation ? But still he was wisest and must know best; there must be danger, if he said so. But then, this knight had spoken so modestly, so humbly, — so differently from Giulietta’s lovers! — for Giulietta had sometimes found a chance to recount to Agnes some of her triumphs. How could it be that a knight so brave and gentle, and so piously brought up, should become an infidel? Ah, uncle Antonio was right,— he must have had some foul wrong, some dreadful injury! When Agnes was a child, in travelling with her grandmother through one of the highest passes of the Apennines, she had chanced to discover a wounded eagle, whom an arrow had pierced, sitting all alone by himself on a rock, with his feathers ruffled, and a film coming over his great, clear, bright eye, — and, ever full of compassion, she had taken him to nurse, and had travelled for a day with him in her arms; and the mournful look of his regal eyes now came into her memory. “ Yes,” she said to herself, “he is like my poor eagle! The archers have wounded him, so that he is glad to find shelter even with a poor maid like me; but it was easy to see my eagle had been king among birds, even as this knight is among men. Certainly, God must love him, — he is so beautiful and noble! I hope dear uncle will find him this afternoon ; he knows how to teach him; — as for me, I can only pray.”

Such were the thoughts that Agnes twisted into the shining white flax, while her eyes wandered dreamily over the soft hazy landscape. At last, lulled by the shivering sound of leaves, and the bird-songs, and wearied with the agitations of the morning, her head lay back against the end of the sculptured fountain, the spindle slowly dropped from her hand, and her eyes were closed in sleep, the murmur of the fountain still sounding in her dreams. In her dreams she seemed to be wandering far away among the purple passes of the Apennines, where she had come years ago when she was a little girl; with her grandmother she pushed through old olive-groves, weird and twisted with many a quaint gnarl, and rustling their pale silvery leaves in noonday twilight. Sometimes she seemed to carry in her bosom a wounded eagle, and often she sat down to stroke it and to try to give it food from her hand, and as often it looked upon her with a proud, patient eye, and then her grandmother seemed to shake her roughly by the arm and bid her throw the silly bird away; — but then again the dream changed, and she saw a knight lie bleeding and dying in a lonely hollow,—his garments torn, his sword broken, and his face pale and faintly streaked with blood; and she kneeled by him, trying in vain to stanch a deadly wound in his side, while he said reproachful]y, “ Agnes, dear Agnes, why would you not save me ? ” and then she thought he kissed her hand with his cold dying lips; and she shivered and awoke, — to find that her hand was indeed held in that of the cavalier, whose eyes met her own when first she unclosed them, and the same voice that spoke in her dreams said, “ Agnes, dear Agnes ! ”

For a moment she seemed stupefied and confounded, and sat passively regarding the knight, who kneeled at her feet and repeatedly kissed her hand, calling her his saint, his star, his life, and whatever other fair name poetry lends to love. All at once, however, her face flushed crimson red, she drew her hand quickly away, and, rising up, made a motion to retreat, saying, in a voice of alarm,—

“ Oh, my Lord, this must not be ! I am committing deadly sin to hear you. Please, please go! please leave a poor girl! ”

“ Agnes, what does this mean ? ” said the cavalier. “ Only two days since, in this place, you promised to love me; and that promise has brought me from utter despair to love of life, Nay, since you told me that, I have been able to pray once more; the whole world seems changed for me: and now will you take it all away, — you, who are all I have on earth ? ”

“ My Lord, I did not know then that I was sinning. Our dear Mother knows I said only what I thought was true and right, but I find it was a sin.”

“ A sin to love, Agnes ? Heaven must be full of sin, then ; for there they do nothing else.”

“ Oh, my Lord, I must not argue with you ; I am forbidden to listen even for a moment. Please go. I will never forget you, Sir, — never forget to pray for you, and to love you as they love in heaven ; but I am forbidden to speak with you. I fear I have sinned in hearing and saying even this much.”

“ Who forbids you, Agnes ? Who has the right to forbid your good, kind heart to love, where love is so deeply needed and so gratefully received?”

“ My holy father, whom I am bound to obey as my soul’s director,” said Agnes ; “ he has forbidden me so much as to listen to a word, and yet I have listened to many. How could I help it ? ”

“ Ever these priests! ” said the cavalier, his brow darkening with an impatient frown; “wolves in sheep’s clothing ! ”

“ Alas! ” said Agues, sorrowfully, “ why will you ”-

“ Why will I what ? ” he said, facing suddenly toward her, and looking down with a fierce, scornful determination.

“ Why will you be at war with the Holy Church ? Why will you peril your eternal salvation ? ”

“ Is there a Holy Church ? Where is it ? Would there were one ! I am blind and cannot see it. Little Agnes, you promised to lead me; but you drop my hand in the darkness. Who will guide me, if you will not ? ”

“ My Lord, I am most unfit to be your guide. I am a poor girl, without any learning; but there is my uncle I spoke to you of. Oh, my Lord, if you only would go to him, he is wise and gentle both. I must go in now, my Lord, — indeed, I must. I must not sin further. I must do a heavy penance for having listened and spoken to you, after the holy father had forbidden me.”

“ No, Agnes, you shall not go in,” said the cavalier, suddenly stepping before her and placing himself across the doorway ; “ you shall see me, and hear me too. I take the sin on myself ; you cannot help it. How will you avoid me ? Will you fly now down the path of the gorge ? I will follow you, — I am desperate. I had but one comfort on earth, but one hope of heaven, and that through you; and you, cruel, are so ready to give me up at the first word of your priest! ”

“ God knows if I do it willingly,” said Agnes; “ but I know it is best; for I feel I should love you too well, if I saw more of you. My Lord, you are strong and can compel me, but I beg you to leave me.”

“ Dear Agnes, could yon really feel it possible that you might love me too well ? ” said the cavalier, his whole manner changing. “ Ah ! could I carry you far away to my home in the mountains, far up in the beautiful blue mountains, where the air is so clear, and the weary, wrangling world lies so far below that one forgets it entirely, you should be my wife, my queen, my empress. You should lead me where you would ; your word should be my law. I will go with you wherever you will, — to confession, to sacrament, to prayers, never so often; never will I rebel against your word; if you decree, I will bend my neck to king or priest; I will reconcile me with anybody or anything only for your sweet sake; you shall lead me all my life; and when we die, I ask only that you may lead me to our Mother’s throne in heaven, and pray her to tolerate me for your sake. Come, now, dear, is not even one unworthy soul worth saving ? ”

“ My Lord, you have taught me how wise my hoiy father was in forbidding me to listen to you. He knew better than I how weak was my heart, and how I might be drawn on from step to step till— My Lord, I must be no man’s wife. I follow the blessed Saint Agnes. May God give me grace to keep my vows without wavering!—for then I shall gain power to intercede for you and bring down blessings on your soul. Oh, never, never speak to me so again, my Lord! — you will make me very, very unhappy. If there is any truth in your words, my Lord, if you really love me, you will go, and you will never try to speak to me again.”

“ Never, Agnes ? never ? Think what you are saying ! ”

“ Oh, I do think ! I know it must be best,” said Agnes, much agitated; “ for, if I should sec you often and hear your voice, I should lose all my strength. I could never resist, and I should lose heaven for you and me too. Leave me, and I will never, never forget to pray for you; and go quickly too, for it is time for my grandmother to come home, and she would be so angry, — she would never believe I had not been doing wrong, and perhaps she would make me marry somebody that I do not wish to. She has threatened that many times ; but I beg her to leave me free to go to my sweet home in the convent and my dear Mother Theresa.”

“ They shall never marry you against your will, little Agnes, I pledge you my knightly word. I will protect you from that. Promise me, dear, that, if ever you be man’s wife, you will be mine. Only promise me that, and I will go.”

“ Will you ? ” said Agnes, in an ecstasy of fear and apprehension, in which there mingled some strange troubled gleams of happiness. “ Well, then, I will. Ah! I hope it is no sin ! ”

“ Believe me, dearest, it is not,” said the knight. “ Say it again, —say, that I may hear it, — say, ‘ If ever I am man’s wife, I will be thine,’—say it, and I will go.”

“ Well, then, my Lord, if ever I am man’s wife, I will be thine,” said Agnes. “ But I will be no man’s wife. My heart and hand are promised elsewhere. Come, now, my Lord, your word must be kept.”

“ Let me put this ring on your finger, lest you forget,” said the cavalier. “ It was my mother’s ring, and never during her lifetime heard anything but prayers and hymns. It is saintly, and worthy of thee.”

“ No, my Lord, I may not. Grandmother would inquire about it. I cannot keep it; but fear not my forgetting: I shall never forget you.”

“ Will you ever want to see me, Agnes ? ”

“ I hope not, since it is not best. But you do not go.”

“ Well, then, farewell, my little wife ! farewell, till I claim thee! ” said the cavalier, as he kissed her hand, and vaulted over the wall.

“ How strange that I cannot make him understand!” said Agnes, when he was gone. “ I must have sinned, I must have done wrong; but I have been trying all the while to do right. Why would he stay so and look at me so with those deep eyes ? I was very hard with him, — very ! I trembled for him, I was so severe; and yet it has not discouraged him enough. How strange that he would call me so, after all, when I explained to him I never could marry!—Must I tell all this to Father Francesco ? How dreadful! How he looked at me before ! How he trembled and turned away from me ! What will he think now ? Ah, me ! why must I tell him ? If I could only confess to my mother Theresa, that would be easier. We have a mother in heaven to hear us; why should we not have a mother on earth ? Father Francesco frightens me so! His eyes burn me ! They seem to burn into my soul, and he seems angry with me sometimes, and sometimes looks at me so strangely ! Dear, blessed Mother,” she said, kneeling at the shrine, " help thy little child! I do not want to do wrong: I want to do right. Oh that I could come and live with thee ! ”

Poor Agnes! a new experience had opened in her heretofore tranquil life, and her day was one of conflict. Do what she would, the words that had been spoken to her in the morning would return to her mind, and sometimes she awoke with a shock of guilty surprise at finding she had been dreaming over what the cavalier said to her of living with him alone, in some clear, high, purple solitude of those beautiful mountains which she remembered as an enchanted dream of her childhood. Would he really always love her, then, always go with her to prayers and mass and sacrament, and be reconciled to the Church, and should she indeed have the joy of feeling that this noble soul was led back to heavenly peace through her ? Was not this better than a barren life of hymns and prayers in a cold convent ? Then the very voice that said these words, that voice of veiled strength and manly daring, that spoke with such a gentle pleading, and yet such an undertone of authority, as if he had a right to claim her for himself, — she seemed to feel the tones of that voice in every nerve ; — and then the strange thrilling pleasure of thinking that he loved her so. Why should he, this strange, beautiful knight ? Doubtless he had seen splendid high-born ladies,—he had seen even queens and princesses, — and what could he find to like in her, a poor little peasant ? Nobody ever thought so much of her before, and he was so unhappy without her; — it was strange he should be; but he said so, and it must be true. After all, Father Francesco might be mistaken about his being wicked. On the whole, she felt sure he was mistaken, at least in part. Uncle Antonio did not seem to be so much shocked at what she told him; he knew the temptations of men better, perhaps, because he did not stay shut up in one convent, but travelled all about, preaching and teaching. If only he could see him, and talk with him, and make him a good Christian,— why, then, there would be no further need of her; — and Agnes was surprised to find what a dreadful, dreary blank appeared before her when she thought of this. Why should she wish him to remember her, since she never could be his ? — and yet nothing seemed so dreadful as that he should forget her. So the poor little innocent fly beat and fluttered in the mazes of that enchanted web, where thousands of her frail sex have beat and fluttered before her.



FATHER ANTONIO had been down through the streets of the old town of Sorrento, searching for the young stonecutter, and, finding him, had spent some time in enlightening him as to the details of the work he wished him to execute.

He found him not so easily kindled into devotional fervors as he had fondly imagined, nor could all his most devout exhortations produce one-quarter of the effect upon him that resulted from the discovery that it was the fair Agnes who originated the design and was interested in its execution. Then did the large black eyes of the youth kindle into something of sympathetic fervor, and he willingly promised to do his very best at the carving.

“ I used to know the fair Agnes well, years ago,” he said, “ but of late she will not even look at me ; yet I worship her none the less. Who can help it that sees her ? I don’t think she is so hard-hearted as she seems; but her grandmother and the priests won’t so much as allow her to lift up her eyes when one of us young fellows goes by. Twice these five years past have I seen her eyes, and then it was when I contrived to get near the holy water when there was a press round it of a saint’s day, and I reached some to her on my finger, and then she smiled upon me and thanked me. Those two smiles are all I have had to live on for all this time. Perhaps, if I work very well, she will give me another, and perhaps she will say, ‘ Thank you, my good Pietro! ’ as she used to, when I brought her birds’ eggs or helped her across the ravine, years ago.”

“ Well, my brave boy, do your best,” said the monk, “ and let the shrine be of the fairest white marble. I will be answerable for the expense; I will beg it of those who have substance.”

“ So please you, holy father,” said Pietro, “I know of a spot, a little below here on the coast, where was a heathen temple in the old days; and one can dig therefrom long pieces of fair white marble, all covered with heathen images. I know not whether your Reverence would think them fit for Christian purposes.”

“ So much the better, boy ! so much the better ! ” said the monk, heartily. Only let the marble be fine and white, and it is as good as converting a heathen any time to baptize it to Christian uses. A few strokes of the chisel will soon demolish their naked nymphs and other such rubbish, and we can carve holy virgins, robed from head to foot in all modesty, as becometh saints.”

“ I wail get my boat and go down this very afternoon,” said Pietro ; “ and, Sir, I hope I am not making too bold in asking you, when you see the fair Agnes, to present unto her this lily, in memorial of her old playfellow.”

“ That I will, my boy ! And now I think of it, she spoke kindly of you as one that had been a companion in her childhood, but said her grandmother would not allow her to speak to you now.”

“ Ah, that is it! ” said Pietro. Old Elsie is a fierce old kite, with strong beak and long claws, and will not let the poor girl have any good of her youth. Some say she means to marry her to some rich old man, and some say she will shut her up in a convent, which I should say was a sore hurt and loss to the world. There are a plenty of women, Whom nobody wants to look at, for that sort of work ; and a beautiful face is a kind of psalm which makes one want to be good.”

“ Well, well, my boy, work well and faithfully for the saints on this shrine, and I dare promise you many a smile from this fair maiden; for her heart is set upon the glory of God and his saints, and she will smile on any one who helps on the good work. I shall look in on you daily for a time, till I see the work well started.”

So saying, the old monk took his leave. Just as he was passing out of the house, some one brushed rapidly by him, going down the street. As he passed, the quick eye of the monk recognized the cavalier whom he had seen in the garden but a few evenings before. It was not a face and form easily forgotten, and the monk followed him at a little distance behind, resolving, if he saw him turn in anywhere, to follow and crave an audience of him.

Accordingly, as he saw the cavalier entering under the low arch that led to his hotel, he stepped up and addressed him with a gesture of benediction.

“ God bless you, my son ! ”

“ What would you with me, father ? ” said the cavalier, with a hasty and somewhat suspicious glance.

“ I would that you would give me an audience of a few moments on some matters of importance,” said the monk, mildly.

The tones of his voice seemed to have excited some vague remembrance in the mind of the cavalier ; for he eyed him narrowly, and seemed trying to recollect where he had seen him before. Suddenly a light appeared to flash upon his mind; for his whole manner became at once more cordial.

“ My good father,” he said, “ my poor lodging and leisure are at your service for any communication you may see fit to make.”

So saying, he led the way up the damp, ill-smelling stone staircase, and opened the door of the deserted room where we have seen him Once before. Closing the door, and seating himself at the one rickety table which the room afforded, he motioned to the monk to be seated also ; then taking off his plumed hat, he threw it negligently on the table beside him, and passing his white, finely formed hand through the black curls of his hair, he tossed them carelessly from his forehead, and, leaning his chin in the hollow of his hand, fixed his glittering eyes on the monk in a manner that seemed to demand his errand.

“ My Lord,” said the monk, in those gentle, conciliating tones which were natural to him, “ I would ask a little help of you in regard of a Christian undertaking which I have here in hand. The dear Lord hath put it into the heart of a pious young maid of this vicinity to erect a shrine to the honor of our Lady and her dear Son in this gorge of Sorrento, hard by. It is a gloomy place in the night, and hath been said to be haunted by evil spirits; and my fair niece, who is full of all holy thoughts, desired me to draw the plan for this shrine, and, so far as my poor skill may go, I have done so. See here, my Lord, are the drawings.”

The monk laid them down on the table, his pale cheek flushing with a faint glow of artistic enthusiasm and pride, as he explained to the young man the plan and drawings.

The cavalier listened courteously, but without much apparent interest, till the monk drew from his portfolio a paper and said,—

“ This, my Lord, is my poor and feeble conception of the most sacred form of our Lady, which I am to paint for the centre of the shrine.”

He laid down the paper, and the cavalier, with a sudden exclamation, snatched it up, looking at it eagerly.

“ It is she ! ” he said ; “ it is her very self! — the divine Agnes,— the lily flower, — the sweet star, — the only one among women ! ”

“ I see you have recognized the likeness,” said the monk, blushing. “I know it hath been thought a practice of doubtful edification to represent holy things under the image of aught earthly; but when any mortal seems especially gifted with a heavenly spirit outshining in the face, it may be that our Lady chooses that person to reveal herself in.”

The cavalier was gazing so intently on the picture that he scarcely heard the apology of the monk; he held it up, and seemed to study it with a long admiring gaze.

“ You have great skill with your pencil, my father,” he said; “ one would not look for such things from under a monk’s hood.”

“ I belong to the San Marco in Florence, of which you may have heard,” said Father Antonio, “and am an unworthy disciple of the traditions of the blessed Angelico, whose visions of heavenly things are ever before us; and no less am I a disciple of the renowned Savonarola, of whose fame all Italy hath heard before now.”

“ Savonarola ? ” said the other, with eagerness, — “he that makes these vile miscreants that call themselves Pope and Cardinals tremble ? All Italy, all Christendom, is groaning and stretching out the hand to him to free them from these abominations. My father, tell me of Savonarola: how goes he, and what success hath he ? ”

“ My son, it is now many months since I left Florence; since which time I have been sojourning in by-places, repairing shrines and teaching the poor of the Lord’s flock, who are scattered and neglected by the idle shepherds, who think only to cat the flesh and warm themselves with the fleece of the sheep for whom the Good Shepherd gave his life. My duties have been humble and quiet; for it is not given to me to wield the sword of rebuke and controversy, like my great master.”

“ And you have not heard, then,” said the cavalier, eagerly, “ that they have excommuniicated him ? ”

“ I knew that was threatened,” said the monk, “ but I did not think it possible that it could befall a man of such shining holiness of life, so signally and openly owned of God that the very gifts of the first Apostles seem revived in him.”

“ Does not Satan always hate the Lord,” said the cavalier. “ Alexander and his councils are possessed of the Devil, if ever men were,— and are sealed as his children by every abominable wickedness. The Devil sits in Christ’s seat, and hath stolen his signet-ring, to seal decrees against the Lord's own followers. What are Christian men to do in such case ? ”

The monk sighed and looked troubled.

“ It is hard to say,” he answered. “ So much I know, — that before I left Florence our master wrote to the King of France touching the dreadful state of things at Rome, and tried to stir him up to call a general council of the Church. I much fear me this letter may have fallen into the hands of the Pope.”

“ I tell you, father,” said the young man, starting up and laying his hand on his sword, “ we must fight ! It is the sword that must decide this matter ! Was not the Holy Sepulchre saved from the Infidels by the sword ? — and once more the sword must save the Holy City from worse infidels than the Turks. If such doings as these are allowed in the Holy City, another generation there will be no Christians left on earth. Alexander and Cæsar Borgia and the Lady Lucrezia are enough to drive religion from the world. They make us long to go back to the traditions of our Roman fathers,— who were men of cleanly and honorable lives and of heroic deeds, scorning bribery and deceit. They honored God by noble lives, little as they knew of Him. But these men are a shame to the mothers that bore them.”

“ You speak too truly, my son,” said the monk. “ Alas! the creation groaneth and travaileth in pain with these things. Many a time and oft have I seen our master groaning and wrestling with God on this account. For it is to small purpose that we have gone through Italy preaching and stirring up the people to more holy lives, when from the very hill of Zion, the height of the sanctuary, come down these streams of pollution. It seems as if the time had come that the world could bear it no longer.”

“ Well, if it Come to the trial of the sword, as come it must,” said the cavalier, “ say to your master that Agostino Sarelli has a band of one hundred tried men and an impregnable fastness in the mountains, where he may take refuge, and where they will gladly hear the Word of God from pure lips. They call us robbers,— us who have gone out from the assembly of robbers, that we might lead honest and cleanly lives. There is not one among us that hath not lost houses, lands, brothers, parents, children, or friends, through their treacherous cruelty. There be those whose wives and sisters have been forced into the Borgia harem; there be those whose children have been tortured before their eyes, — those who have seen the fairest and dearest slaughtered by these hell-hounds, who yet sit in the seat of the Lord and give decrees in the name of Christ. Is there a God? If there be, why is He silent ? ”

“ Yea, my son, there is a God,” said the monk; “ but His ways are not as ours. A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday, as a watch in the night. He shall come, and shall not keep silence.”

“ Perhaps you do not know, father,” said the young man, " that I, too, am excommunicated. I am excommunicated, because, Cæsar Borgia having killed my oldest brother, and dishonored and slain my sister, and seized on all our possessions, and the Pope having protected and confirmed him therein, I declare the Pope to be not of God, but of the Devil. I will not submit to him, nor be ruled by him; and I and my fellows will make good our mountains against him and his crow with such right arms as the good Lord hath given us.”

“ The Lord be with you, my son ! ” said the monk; “ and the Lord bring His Church out of these deep waters ! Surely, it is a lovely and beautiful Church, made dear and precious by innumerable saints and martyrs who have given their sweet lives up willingly for it; and it is full of records of righteousness, of prayers and alms and works of mercy that have made even the very dust of our Italy precious and holy. Why hast Thou abandoned this vine of Thy planting, O Lord ? The boar out of the wood doth waste it; the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech Thee, and visit this vine of Thy planting!”

The monk clasped his hands and looked upward pleadingly, the tears running down his wasted cheeks. Ah, many such strivings and prayers in those days went up from silent hearts in obscure solitudes, that wrestled and groaned under that mighty burden which Luther at last received strength to heave from the heart of the Church.

“ Then, father, you do admit that one may be banned by the Pope, and may utterly refuse and disown him, and yet be a Christian ? ”

“ How can I otherwise ? ” said the monk. “ Do I not see the greatest saint this age or any age has ever seen under the excommunication of the greatest sinner? Only, my son, let me warn you. Become not irreverent to the true Church, because of a false usurper. Reverence the sacraments, the hymns, the prayers all’ the more for this sad condition in which you stand. What teacher is more faithful in these respects than my master ? Who hath more zeal for our blessed Lord Jesus, and a more living faith in Him ? Who hath a more filial love and tenderness towards our blessed Mother ? Who hath more reverent communion with all the saints than he ? Truly, he sometimes seems to me to walk encompassed by all the armies of heaven, — such a power goes forth in his words, and such a holiness in his life.”

“ Ah,” said Agostino, “ would I had such a confessor ! The sacraments might once more have power for me, and I might cleanse my soul from unbelief.”

“ Dear son,” said the monk, “ accept a most unworthy, but sincere follower of this holy prophet, who yearns for thy salvation. Let me have the happiness of granting to thee the sacraments of the Church, which, doubtless, are thine by right as one of the flock of the Lord Jesus. Come to me some day this week in confession, and thereafter thou shalfc receive the Lord within thee, and be once more united to Him.”

“ My good father,” said the young man, grasping his hand, and much affected, “ I will come. Your words have done me good ; but I must think more of them. I will come soon; but these things cannot be done without pondering; it will take some time to bring my heart into charity with all men.”

The monk rose up to depart, and began to gather up his drawings.

“ For this matter, father,” said the cavalier, throwing several gold pieces upon the table, “ take these, and as many more as you need ask for your good work. I would willingly pay any sum,” he added, while a faint blush rose to his cheek, “ if you would give me a copy of this. Gold would be nothing in comparison with it.”

“ My son,” said the monk, smiling, “would it be to thee an image of an earthly or a heavenly love ? ”

« Of both, father,” said the young man. “ For that dear face has been more to me than prayer or hymn; it has been even as a sacrament to me, and through it I know not what of holy and heavenly influences have come to me.”

“ Said I not well,” said the monk, exulting, “ that there were those on whom our Mother shed such grace that their very beauty led heavenward ? Such are they whom the artist looks for, when he would adorn a shrine where the faithful shall worship. Well, my son, I must use my poor art for you; and as for gold, we of our convent take it not except for the adorning of holy things, such as this shrine.”

“ How soon shall it he done ? ” said the young man, eagerly.

“ Patience, patience, my Lord! Rome was not built in a day, and our art must work by slow touches; but I will do my best. But wherefore, my Lord, cherish this image ? ”

“ Father, are you of near kin to this maid ?”

“ I am her mother’s only brother.”

“ Then I say to you, as the nearest of her male kin, that I seek this maid in pure and honorable marriage; and she hath given me her promise, that, if ever she be wife of mortal man, she will be mine.”

“ But she looks not to be wife of any man,” said the monk; “ so, at least, I have heard her say; though her grandmother would fain marry her to a husband of her choosing. ’T is a wilful woman, is my sister Elsie, and a worldly, — not easy to persuade, and impossible to drive.”

“ And she hath chosen for this fair angel some base peasant churl who will have no sense of her exceeding loveliness ? By the saints, if it come to this, I will carry her away with the strong arm!”

“ That is not to be apprehended just at present. Sister Elsie is dotingly fond of the girl, which hath slept in her bosom since infancy.”

“ And why should I not demand her in marriage of your sister?” said the young man.

“ My Lord, you are an excommunicated man, and she would have horror of you. It is impossible ; it would not be to edification to make the common people judges in such matters. It is safest to let their faith rest undisturbed, and that they be not taught to despise ecclesiastical censures. This could not be explained to Elsie ; she would drive you from her doors with her distaff, and you would scarce wish to put your sword against it. Besides, my Lord, if you were not excommunicated, you are of noble blood, and this alone would be a fatal objection with my sister, who hath sworn on the holy cross that Agnes shall never love one of your race.”

“ What is the cause of this hatred ? ”

“ Some foul wrong which a noble did her mother,” said the monk ; “ for Agnes is of gentle blood on her father’s side.”

“ I might have known it,” said the cavalier to himself; “ her words and ways are unlike anything in her class. — Father,” he added, touching his sword, “we soldiers are fond of cutting all Gordian knots, whether of love or religion, with this. The sword, father, is the best theologian, the best casuist. The sword rights wrongs and punishes evil-doers, and some day the sword may cut the way out of this embarrass also.”

“Gently, my son! gently!” said the monk ; “ nothing is lost by patience. See how long it takes the good Lord to make a fair flower out of a little seed ; and He does all quietly, without bluster. Wait on Him a little in peacefulness and prayer, and sec what He will do for thee.”

“ Perhaps you are right, my father,” said the cavalier, cordially. “ Your counsels have done me good, and I shall seek them further. But do not let them terrify my poor Agnes with dreadful stories of the excommunication that hath befallen me. The dear saint is breaking her good little heart for my sins, and her confessor evidently hath forbidden her to speak to me or look at me. If her heart were left to itself, it would fly to me like a little tame bird, and I would cherish it forever; but now she sees sin in every innocent, womanly thought, — poor little dear child-angel that she is ! ”

“ Her confessor is a Franciscan,” said the monk, who, good as he was, could not escape entirely from the ruling prejudice of his order, — “ and, from what I know of him, I should think might be unskilful in what pertaineth to the nursing of so delicate a lamb. It is not every one to whom is given the gift of rightly directing souls.”

“ I’d like to carry her off from him ! ” said the cavalier, between his teeth. “ I will, too, if he is not careful! ” Then he added aloud, “ Father, Agnes is mine, — mine by the right of the truest worship and devotion that man could ever pay to woman, — mine because she loves me. For I know she loves me ; I know it far better than she knows it herself, the dear innocent child ! and I will not have her torn from me to waste her life in a lonely, barren convent, or to be the wife of a stolid peasant. I am a man of my word, and I will vindicate my right to her in the face of God and man.”

“ Well, well, my son, as I said before, patience, — one thing at a time. Let us say our prayers and sleep to-night, to begin with, and to-morrow will bring us fresh counsel.”

“ Well, my father, you will be for me in this matter?” said the young man.

“ My son, I wish you all happiness ; and if this be for your best good and that of my dear niece, I wish it. But, as I said, there must be time and patience. The way must be made clear. I will see how the case stands; and you may he sure, when I can in good conscience, I will befriend you.”

“ Thank you, my father, thank you!” said the young man, bending his knee to receive the monk’s parting benediction.

“ It seems to me not best,” said the monk, turning once more, as he was leaving the threshold, “ that you should come to me at present where I am,— it would only raise a storm that I could not allay ‘, and so great would be the power of the forces they might bring to bear on the child, that her little heart might break and the saints claim her too soon.”

“ Well, then, father, come hither to me to-morrow at this same hour, if I be not too unworthy of your pastoral care.”

“I shall be too happy, my son,” said the monk. “ So be it.”

And he turned from the door just as the hell of the cathedral struck the Ave Maria, and all in the street bowed in the evening act of worship.

  1. 3 Jesus, the very thought of thee With sweetness fills my breast; But sweeter far thy face to see, And in thy presence rest!
  2. Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, Nor can the memory find A sweeter sound than thy blest name, O Saviour of mankind!
  3. O hope of every contrite heart, O joy of all the meek, To those who fall how kind thou art, How good to those who seek!
  4. But what to those who find! Ah, this Nor tongue nor pen can show!
    The love of Jesus, what it is None but his loved ones know.
  5. 4 Jesus most beautiful, from thrones in glory, Seeking thy lost sheep, thou didst descend! Jesus most tender, shepherd most faithful, To thee, oh, draw thou me, that I may follow thee, Follow thee faithfully world without end!