Read PART III - Venus And Hercules of Rome From the ''Three Cities'', free online book, by Emile Zola, on ReadCentral.com.

PIERRE had been in Rome for a fortnight, and yet the affair of his book was no nearer solution.  He was still possessed by an ardent desire to see the Pope, but could in no wise tell how to satisfy it, so frequent were the delays and so greatly had he been frightened by Monsignor Nani’s predictions of the dire consequences which might attend any imprudent action.  And so, foreseeing a prolonged sojourn, he at last betook himself to the Vicariate in order that his “celebret” might be stamped, and afterwards said his mass each morning at the Church of Santa Brigida, where he received a kindly greeting from Abbe Pisoni, Benedetta’s former confessor.

One Monday evening he resolved to repair early to Donna Serafina’s customary reception in the hope of learning some news and expediting his affairs.  Perhaps Monsignor Nani would look in; perhaps he might be lucky enough to come across some cardinal or domestic prelate willing to help him.  It was in vain that he had tried to extract any positive information from Don Vigilio, for, after a short spell of affability and willingness, Cardinal Pío’s secretary had relapsed into distrust and fear, and avoided Pierre as if he were resolved not to meddle in a business which, all considered, was decidedly suspicious and dangerous.  Moreover, for a couple of days past a violent attack of fever had compelled him to keep his room.

Thus the only person to whom Pierre could turn for comfort was Victorine Bosquet, the old Beauceronne servant who had been promoted to the rank of housekeeper, and who still retained a French heart after thirty years’ residence in Rome.  She often spoke to the young priest of Auneau, her native place, as if she had left it only the previous day; but on that particular Monday even she had lost her wonted gay vivacity, and when she heard that he meant to go down in the evening to see the ladies she wagged her head significantly.  “Ah! you won’t find them very cheerful,” said she.  “My poor Benedetta is greatly worried.  Her divorce suit is not progressing at all well.”

All Rome, indeed, was again talking of this affair.  An extraordinary revival of tittle-tattle had set both white and black worlds agog.  And so there was no need for reticence on Victorine’s part, especially in conversing with a compatriot.  It appeared, then, that, in reply to Advocate Morano’s memoir setting forth that the marriage had not been consummated, there had come another memoir, a terrible one, emanating from Monsignor Palma, a doctor in theology, whom the Congregation of the Council had selected to defend the marriage.  As a first point, Monsignor Palma flatly disputed the alleged non-consummation, questioned the certificate put forward on Benedetta’s behalf, and quoted instances recorded in scientific text-books which showed how deceptive appearances often were.  He strongly insisted, moreover, on the narrative which Count Prada supplied in another memoir, a narrative well calculated to inspire doubt; and, further, he so turned and twisted the evidence of Benedetta’s own maid as to make that evidence also serve against her.  Finally he argued in a decisive way that, even supposing the marriage had not been consummated, this could only be ascribed to the resistance of the Countess, who had thus set at defiance one of the elementary laws of married life, which was that a wife owed obedience to her husband.

Next had come a fourth memoir, drawn up by the reporter of the Congregation, who analysed and discussed the three others, and subsequently the Congregation itself had dealt with the matter, opining in favour of the dissolution of the marriage by a majority of one vote ­such a bare majority, indeed, that Monsignor Palma, exercising his rights, had hastened to demand further inquiry, a course which brought the whole procedure again into question, and rendered a fresh vote necessary.

“Ah! the poor Contessina!” exclaimed Victorine, “she’ll surely die of grief, for, calm as she may seem, there’s an inward fire consuming her.  It seems that Monsignor Palma is the master of the situation, and can make the affair drag on as long as he likes.  And then a deal of money had already been spent, and one will have to spend a lot more.  Abbe Pisoni, whom you know, was very badly inspired when he helped on that marriage; and though I certainly don’t want to soil the memory of my good mistress, Countess Ernesta, who was a real saint, it’s none the less true that she wrecked her daughter’s life when she gave her to Count Prada.”

The housekeeper paused.  Then, impelled by an instinctive sense of justice, she resumed.  “It’s only natural that Count Prada should be annoyed, for he’s really being made a fool of.  And, for my part, as there is no end to all the fuss, and this divorce is so hard to obtain, I really don’t see why the Contessina shouldn’t live with her Dario without troubling any further.  Haven’t they loved one another ever since they were children?  Aren’t they both young and handsome, and wouldn’t they be happy together, whatever the world might say?  Happiness, mon Dieu! one finds it so seldom that one can’t afford to let it pass.”

Then, seeing how greatly surprised Pierre was at hearing such language, she began to laugh with the quiet composure of one belonging to the humble classes of France, whose only desire is a quiet and happy life, irrespective of matrimonial ties.  Next, in more discreet language, she proceeded to lament another worry which had fallen on the household, another result of the divorce affair.  A rupture had come about between Donna Serafina and Advocate Morano, who was very displeased with the ill success of his memoir to the congregation, and accused Father Lorenza ­the confessor of the Boccanera ladies ­of having urged them into a deplorable lawsuit, whose only fruit could be a wretched scandal affecting everybody.  And so great had been Morano’s annoyance that he had not returned to the Boccanera mansion, but had severed a connection of thirty years’ standing, to the stupefaction of all the Roman drawing-rooms, which altogether disapproved of his conduct.  Donna Serafina was, for her part, the more grieved as she suspected the advocate of having purposely picked the quarrel in order to secure an excuse for leaving her; his real motive, in her estimation, being a sudden, disgraceful passion for a young and intriguing woman of the middle classes.

That Monday evening, when Pierre entered the drawing-room, hung with yellow brocatelle of a flowery Louis XIV pattern, he at once realised that melancholy reigned in the dim light radiating from the lace-veiled lamps.  Benedetta and Celia, seated on a sofa, were chatting with Dario, whilst Cardinal Sarno, ensconced in an arm-chair, listened to the ceaseless chatter of the old relative who conducted the little Princess to each Monday gathering.  And the only other person present was Donna Serafina, seated all alone in her wonted place on the right-hand side of the chimney-piece, and consumed with secret rage at seeing the chair on the left-hand side unoccupied ­that chair which Morano had always taken during the thirty years that he had been faithful to her.  Pierre noticed with what anxious and then despairing eyes she observed his entrance, her glance ever straying towards the door, as though she even yet hoped for the fickle one’s return.  Withal her bearing was erect and proud; she seemed to be more tightly laced than ever; and there was all the wonted haughtiness on her hard-featured face, with its jet-black eyebrows and snowy hair.

Pierre had no sooner paid his respects to her than he allowed his own worry to appear by inquiring whether they would not have the pleasure of seeing Monsignor Nani that evening.  Thereupon Donna Serafina could not refrain from answering:  “Oh!  Monsignor Nani is forsaking us like the others.  People always take themselves off when they can be of service.”

She harboured a spite against the prelate for having done so little to further the divorce in spite of his many promises.  Beneath his outward show of extreme willingness and caressing affability he doubtless concealed some scheme of his own which he was tenaciously pursuing.  However, Donna Serafina promptly regretted the confession which anger had wrung from her, and resumed:  “After all, he will perhaps come.  He is so good-natured, and so fond of us.”

In spite of the vivacity of her temperament she really wished to act diplomatically, so as to overcome the bad luck which had recently set in.  Her brother the Cardinal had told her how irritated he was by the attitude of the Congregation of the Council; he had little doubt that the frigid reception accorded to his niece’s suit had been due in part to the desire of some of his brother cardinals to be disagreeable to him.  Personally, he desired the divorce, as it seemed to him the only means of ensuring the perpetuation of the family; for Dario obstinately refused to marry any other woman than his cousin.  And thus there was an accumulation of disasters; the Cardinal was wounded in his pride, his sister shared his sufferings and on her own side was stricken in the heart, whilst both lovers were plunged in despair at finding their hopes yet again deferred.

As Pierre approached the sofa where the young folks were chatting he found that they were speaking of the catastrophe.  “Why should you be so despondent?” asked Celia in an undertone.  “After all, there was a majority of a vote in favour of annulling the marriage.  Your suit hasn’t been rejected; there is only a delay.”

But Benedetta shook her head.  “No, no!  If Monsignor Palma proves obstinate his Holiness will never consent.  It’s all over.”

“Ah! if one were only rich, very rich!” murmured Dario, with such an air of conviction that no one smiled.  And, turning to his cousin, he added in a whisper:  “I must really have a talk with you.  We cannot go on living like this.”

In a breath she responded:  “Yes, you are right.  Come down to-morrow evening at five.  I will be here alone.”

Then dreariness set in; the evening seemed to have no end.  Pierre was greatly touched by the evident despair of Benedetta, who as a rule was so calm and sensible.  The deep eyes which illumined her pure, delicate, infantile face were now blurred as by restrained tears.  He had already formed a sincere affection for her, pleased as he was with her equable if somewhat indolent disposition, the semblance of discreet good sense with which she veiled her soul of fire.  That Monday even she certainly tried to smile while listening to the pretty secrets confided to her by Celia, whose love affairs were prospering far more than her own.  There was only one brief interval of general conversation, and that was brought about by the little Princess’s aunt, who, suddenly raising her voice, began to speak of the infamous manner in which the Italian newspapers referred to the Holy Father.  Never, indeed, had there been so much bad feeling between the Vatican and the Quirinal.  Cardinal Sarno felt so strongly on the subject that he departed from his wonted silence to announce that on the occasion of the sacrilegious festivities of the Twentieth of September, celebrating the capture of Rome, the Pope intended to cast a fresh letter of protest in the face of all the Christian powers, whose indifference proved their complicity in the odious spoliation of the Church.

“Yes, indeed! what folly to try and marry the Pope and the King,” bitterly exclaimed Donna Serafina, alluding to her niece’s deplorable marriage.

The old maid now seemed quite beside herself; it was already so late that neither Monsignor Nani nor anybody else was expected.  However, at the unhoped-for sound of footsteps her eyes again brightened and turned feverishly towards the door.  But it was only to encounter a final disappointment.  The visitor proved to be Narcisse Habert, who stepped up to her, apologising for making so late a call.  It was Cardinal Sarno, his uncle by marriage, who had introduced him into this exclusive salon, where he had received a cordial reception on account of his religious views, which were said to be most uncompromising.  If, however, despite the lateness of the hour, he had ventured to call there that evening, it was solely on account of Pierre, whom he at once drew on one side.

“I felt sure I should find you here,” he said.  “Just now I managed to see my cousin, Monsignor Gamba del Zoppo, and I have some good news for you.  He will see us to-morrow at about eleven in his rooms at the Vatican.”  Then, lowering his voice:  “I think he will endeavour to conduct you to the Holy Father.  Briefly, the audience seems to me assured.”

Pierre was greatly delighted by this promised certainty, which came to him so suddenly in that dreary drawing-room, where for a couple of hours he had been gradually sinking into despair!  So at last a solution was at hand!

Meantime Narcisse, after shaking hands with Dario and bowing to Benedetta and Celia, approached his uncle the Cardinal, who, having rid himself of the old relation, made up his mind to talk.  But his conversation was confined to the state of his health, and the weather, and sundry insignificant anecdotes which he had lately heard.  Not a word escaped him respecting the thousand complicated matters with which he dealt at the Propaganda.  It was as though, once outside his office, he plunged into the commonplace and the unimportant by way of resting from the anxious task of governing the world.  And after he had spoken for a time every one got up, and the visitors took leave.

“Don’t forget,” Narcisse repeated to Pierre, “you will find me at the Sixtine Chapel to-morrow at ten.  And I will show you the Botticellis before we go to our appointment.”

At half-past nine on the following morning Pierre, who had come on foot, was already on the spacious Piazza of St. Peter’s; and before turning to the right, towards the bronze gate near one corner of Bernini’s colonnade, he raised his eyes and lingered, gazing at the Vatican.  Nothing to his mind could be less monumental than the jumble of buildings which, without semblance of architectural order or regularity of any kind, had grown up in the shadow cast by the dome of the basilica.  Roofs rose one above the other and broad, flat walls stretched out chance-wise, just as wings and storeys had been added.  The only symmetry observable above the colonnade was that of the three sides of the court of San Damaso, where the lofty glass-work which now encloses the old loggie sparkled in the sun between the ruddy columns and pilasters, suggesting, as it were, three huge conservatories.

And this was the most beautiful palace in the world, the largest of all palaces, comprising no fewer than eleven thousand apartments and containing the most admirable masterpieces of human genius!  But Pierre, disillusioned as he was, had eyes only for the lofty façade on the right, overlooking the piazza, for he knew that the second-floor windows there were those of the Pope’s private apartments.  And he contemplated those windows for a long time, and remembered having been told that the fifth one on the right was that of the Pope’s bed-room, and that a lamp could always be seen burning there far into the night.

What was there, too, behind that gate of bronze which he saw before him ­that sacred portal by which all the kingdoms of the world communicated with the kingdom of heaven, whose august vicar had secluded himself behind those lofty, silent walls?  From where he stood Pierre gazed on that gate with its metal panels studded with large square-headed nails, and wondered what it defended, what it concealed, what it shut off from the view, with its stern, forbidding air, recalling that of the gate of some ancient fortress.  What kind of world would he find behind it, what treasures of human charity jealously preserved in yonder gloom, what revivifying hope for the new nations hungering for fraternity and justice?  He took pleasure in fancying, in picturing the one holy pastor of humanity, ever watching in the depths of that closed palace, and, while the nations strayed into hatred, preparing all for the final reign of Jesus, and at last proclaiming the advent of that reign by transforming our democracies into the one great Christian community promised by the Saviour.  Assuredly the world’s future was being prepared behind that bronze portal; assuredly it was that future which would issue forth.

But all at once Pierre was amazed to find himself face to face with Monsignor Nani, who had just left the Vatican on his way to the neighbouring Palace of the Inquisition, where, as Assessor, he had his residence.

“Ah!  Monsignor,” said Pierre, “I am very pleased.  My friend Monsieur Habert is going to present me to his cousin, Monsignor Gamba del Zoppo, and I think I shall obtain the audience I so greatly desire.”

Monsignor Nani smiled with his usual amiable yet keen expression.  “Yes, yes, I know.”  But, correcting himself as it were, he added:  “I share your satisfaction, my dear son.  Only, you must be prudent.”  And then, as if fearing that the young priest might have understood by his first words that he had just seen Monsignor Gamba, the most easily terrified prelate of the whole prudent pontifical family, he related that he had been running about since an early hour on behalf of two French ladies, who likewise were dying of a desire to see the Pope.  However, he greatly feared that the help he was giving them would not prove successful.

“I will confess to you, Monsignor,” replied Pierre, “that I myself was getting very discouraged.  Yes, it is high time I should find a little comfort, for my sojourn here is hardly calculated to brace my soul.”

He went on in this strain, allowing it to be seen that the sights of Rome were finally destroying his faith.  Such days as those which he had spent on the Palatine and along the Appian Way, in the Catacombs and at St. Peter’s, grievously disturbed him, spoilt his dream of Christianity rejuvenated and triumphant.  He emerged from them full of doubt and growing lassitude, having already lost much of his usually rebellious enthusiasm.

Still smiling, Monsignor Nani listened and nodded approvingly.  Yes, no doubt that was the fatal result.  He seemed to have foreseen it, and to be well satisfied thereat.  “At all events, my dear son,” said he, “everything is going on well, since you are now certain that you will see his Holiness.”

“That is true, Monsignor; I have placed my only hope in the very just and perspicacious Leo XIII.  He alone can judge me, since he alone can recognise in my book his own ideas, which I think I have very faithfully set forth.  Ah! if he be willing he will, in Jesus’ name and by democracy and science, save this old world of ours!”

Pierre’s enthusiasm was returning again, and Nani, smiling more and more affably with his piercing eyes and thin lips, again expressed approval:  “Certainly; quite so, my dear son.  You will speak to him, you will see.”

Then as they both raised their heads and looked towards the Vatican, Nani carried his amiability so far as to undeceive Pierre with respect to the Pope’s bed-room.  No, the window where a light was seen every evening was simply that of a landing where the gas was kept burning almost all night.  The window of his Holiness’s bed-chamber was the second one farther on.  Then both relapsed into silence, equally grave as they continued to gaze at the façade.

“Well, till we meet again, my dear son,” said Nani at last.  “You will tell me of your interview, I hope.”

As soon as Pierre was alone he went in by the bronze portal, his heart beating violently, as if he were entering some redoubtable sanctuary where the future happiness of mankind was elaborated.  A sentry was on duty there, a Swiss guard, who walked slowly up and down in a grey-blue cloak, below which one only caught a glimpse of his baggy red, black, and yellow breeches; and it seemed as if this cloak of sober hue were purposely cast over a disguise in order to conceal its strangeness, which had become irksome.  Then, on the right-hand, came the covered stairway conducting to the Court of San Damaso; but to reach the Sixtine Chapel it was necessary to follow a long gallery, with columns on either hand, and ascend the royal staircase, the Scala Regia.  And in this realm of the gigantic, where every dimension is exaggerated and replete with overpowering majesty, Pierre’s breath came short as he ascended the broad steps.

He was much surprised on entering the Sixtine Chapel, for it at first seemed to him small, a sort of rectangular and lofty hall, with a delicate screen of white marble separating the part where guests congregate on the occasion of great ceremonies from the choir where the cardinals sit on simple oaken benches, while the inferior prelates remain standing behind them.  On a low platform to the right of the soberly adorned altar is the pontifical throne; while in the wall on the left opens the narrow singing gallery with its balcony of marble.  And for everything suddenly to spread out and soar into the infinite one must raise one’s head, allow one’s eyes to ascend from the huge fresco of the Last Judgment, occupying the whole of the end wall, to the paintings which cover the vaulted ceiling down to the cornice extending between the twelve windows of white glass, six on either hand.

Fortunately there were only three or four quiet tourists there; and Pierre at once perceived Narcisse Habert occupying one of the cardinals’ seats above the steps where the train-bearers crouch.  Motionless, and with his head somewhat thrown back, the young man seemed to be in ecstasy.  But it was not the work of Michael Angelo that he thus contemplated.  His eyes never strayed from one of the earlier frescoes below the cornice; and on recognising the priest he contented himself with murmuring:  “Ah! my friend, just look at the Botticelli.”  Then, with dreamy eyes, he relapsed into a state of rapture.

Pierre, for his part, had received a great shock both in heart and in mind, overpowered as he was by the superhuman genius of Michael Angelo.  The rest vanished; there only remained, up yonder, as in a limitless heaven, the extraordinary creations of the master’s art.  That which at first surprised one was that the painter should have been the sole artisan of the mighty work.  No marble cutters, no bronze workers, no gilders, no one of another calling had intervened.  The painter with his brush had sufficed for all ­for the pilasters, columns, and cornices of marble, for the statues and the ornaments of bronze, for the fleurons and roses of gold, for the whole of the wondrously rich decorative work which surrounded the frescoes.  And Pierre imagined Michael Angelo on the day when the bare vault was handed over to him, covered with plaster, offering only a flat white surface, hundreds of square yards to be adorned.  And he pictured him face to face with that huge white page, refusing all help, driving all inquisitive folks away, jealously, violently shutting himself up alone with his gigantic task, spending four and a half years in fierce solitude, and day by day adding to his colossal work of creation.  Ah! that mighty work, a task to fill a whole lifetime, a task which he must have begun with quiet confidence in his own will and power, drawing, as it were, an entire world from his brain and flinging it there with the ceaseless flow of creative virility in the full heyday of its omnipotence.

And Pierre was yet more overcome when he began to examine these presentments of humanity, magnified as by the eyes of a visionary, overflowing in mighty sympathetic pages of cyclopean symbolisation.  Royal grace and nobility, sovereign peacefulness and power ­every beauty shone out like natural florescence.  And there was perfect science, the most audacious foreshortening risked with the certainty of success ­an everlasting triumph of technique over the difficulty which an arched surface presented.  And, in particular, there was wonderful simplicity of medium; matter was reduced almost to nothingness; a few colours were used broadly without any studied search for effect or brilliancy.  Yet that sufficed, the blood seethed freely, the muscles projected, the figures became animated and stood out of their frames with such energy and dash that it seemed as if a flame were flashing by aloft, endowing all those beings with superhuman and immortal life.  Life, aye, it was life, which burst forth and triumphed ­mighty, swarming life, miraculous life, the creation of one sole hand possessed of the supreme gift ­simplicity blended with power.

That a philosophical system, a record of the whole of human destiny, should have been found therein, with the creation of the world, of man, and of woman, the fall, the chastisement, then the redemption, and finally God’s judgment on the last day ­this was a matter on which Pierre was unable to dwell, at this first visit, in the wondering stupor into which the paintings threw him.  But he could not help noticing how the human body, its beauty, its power, and its grace were exalted!  Ah! that regal Jéhovah, at once terrible and paternal, carried off amid the whirlwind of his creation, his arms outstretched and giving birth to worlds!  And that superb and nobly outlined Adam, with extended hand, whom Jéhovah, though he touch him not, animates with his finger ­a wondrous and admirable gesture, leaving a sacred space between the finger of the Creator and that of the created ­a tiny space, in which, nevertheless, abides all the infinite of the invisible and the mysterious.  And then that powerful yet adorable Eve, that Eve with the sturdy flanks fit for the bearing of humanity, that Eve with the proud, tender grace of a woman bent on being loved even to perdition, that Eve embodying the whole of woman with her fecundity, her seductiveness, her empire!  Moreover, even the decorative figures of the pilasters at the corners of the frescoes celebrate the triumph of the flesh:  there are the twenty young men radiant in their nakedness, with incomparable splendour of torso and of limb, and such intensity of life that a craze for motion seems to carry them off, bend them, throw them over in superb attitudes.  And between the windows are the giants, the prophets and the sibyls ­man and woman deified, with inordinate wealth of muscle and grandeur of intellectual expression.  There is Jeremiah with his elbow resting on his knee and his chin on his hand, plunged as he is in reflection ­in the very depths of his visions and his dreams; there is the Sibylla Erithraea, so pure of profile, so young despite the opulence of her form, and with one finger resting on the open book of destiny; there is Isaiah with the thick lips of truth, virile and haughty, his head half turned and his hand raised with a gesture of command; there is the Sibylla Cumaea, terrifying with her science and her old age, her wrinkled countenance, her vulture’s nose, her square protruding chin; there is Jonah cast forth by the whale, and wondrously foreshortened, his torso twisted, his arms bent, his head thrown back, and his mouth agape and shouting:  and there are the others, all of the same full-blown, majestic family, reigning with the sovereignty of eternal health and intelligence, and typifying the dream of a broader, loftier, and indestructible humanity.  Moreover, in the lunettes and the arches over the windows other figures of grace, power, and beauty appear and throng, the ancestors of the Christ, thoughtful mothers with lovely nude infants, men with wondering eyes peering into the future, representatives of the punished weary race longing for the promised Redeemer; while in the pendentives of the four corners various biblical episodes, the victories of Israel over the Spirit of Evil, spring into life.  And finally there is the gigantic fresco at the far end, the Last Judgment with its swarming multitude, so numerous that days and days are needed to see each figure aright, a distracted crowd, full of the hot breath of life, from the dead rising in response to the furious trumpeting of the angels, from the fearsome groups of the damned whom the demons fling into hell, even to Jesus the justiciar, surrounded by the saints and apostles, and to the radiant concourse of the blessed who ascend upheld by angels, whilst higher and still higher other angels, bearing the instruments of the Passion, triumph as in full glory.  And yet, above this gigantic composition, painted thirty years subsequently, in the full ripeness of age, the ceiling retains its ethereality, its unquestionable superiority, for on it the artist bestowed all his virgin power, his whole youth, the first great flare of his genius.

And Pierre found but one word to express his feelings:  Michael Angelo was the monster dominating and crushing all others.  Beneath his immense achievement you had only to glance at the works of Perugino, Pinturicchio, Roselli, Signorelli, and Botticelli, those earlier frescoes, admirable in their way, which below the cornice spread out around the chapel.

Narcisse for his part had not raised his eyes to the overpowering splendour of the ceiling.  Wrapt in ecstasy, he did not allow his gaze to stray from one of the three frescoes of Botticelli.  “Ah!  Botticelli,” he at last murmured; “in him you have the elegance and the grace of the mysterious; a profound feeling of sadness even in the midst of voluptuousness, a divination of the whole modern soul, with the most troublous charm that ever attended artist’s work.”

Pierre glanced at him in amazement, and then ventured to inquire:  “You come here to see the Botticellis?”

“Yes, certainly,” the young man quietly replied; “I only come here for him, and five hours every week I only look at his work.  There, just study that fresco, Moses and the daughters of Jethro.  Isn’t it the most penetrating work that human tenderness and melancholy have produced?”

Then, with a faint, devout quiver in his voice and the air of a priest initiating another into the delightful but perturbing atmosphere of a sanctuary, he went on repeating the praises of Botticelli’s art; his women with long, sensual, yet candid faces, supple bearing, and rounded forms showing from under light drapery; his young men, his angels of doubtful sex, blending stateliness of muscle with infinite delicacy of outline; next the mouths he painted, fleshy, fruit-like mouths, at times suggesting irony, at others pain, and often so enigmatical with their sinuous curves that one knew not whether the words they left unuttered were words of purity or filth; then, too, the eyes which he bestowed on his figures, eyes of languor and passion, of carnal or mystical rapture, their joy at times so instinct with grief as they peer into the nihility of human things that no eyes in the world could be more impenetrable.  And finally there were Botticelli’s hands, so carefully and delicately painted, so full of life, wantoning so to say in a free atmosphere, now joining, caressing, and even, as it were, speaking, the whole evincing such intense solicitude for gracefulness that at times there seems to be undue mannerism, though every hand has its particular expression, each varying expression of the enjoyment or pain which the sense of touch can bring.  And yet there was nothing effeminate or false about the painter’s work:  on all sides a sort of virile pride was apparent, an atmosphere of superb passionate motion, absolute concern for truth, direct study from life, conscientiousness, veritable realism, corrected and elevated by a genial strangeness of feeling and character that imparted a never-to-be-forgotten charm even to ugliness itself.

Pierre’s stupefaction, however, increased as he listened to Narcisse, whose somewhat studied elegance, whose curly hair cut in the Florentine fashion, and whose blue, mauvish eyes paling with enthusiasm he now for the first time remarked.  “Botticelli,” he at last said, “was no doubt a marvellous artist, only it seems to me that here, at any rate, Michael Angelo ­”

But Narcisse interrupted him almost with violence.  “No! no!  Don’t talk of him!  He spoilt everything, ruined everything!  A man who harnessed himself to his work like an ox, who laboured at his task like a navvy, at the rate of so many square yards a day!  And a man, too, with no sense of the mysterious and the unknown, who saw everything so huge as to disgust one with beauty, painting girls like the trunks of oak-trees, women like giant butchers, with heaps and heaps of stupid flesh, and never a gleam of a divine or infernal soul!  He was a mason ­a colossal mason, if you like ­but he was nothing more.”

Weary “modern” that Narcisse was, spoilt by the pursuit of the original and the rare, he thus unconsciously gave rein to his fated hate of health and power.  That Michael Angelo who brought forth without an effort, who had left behind him the most prodigious of all artistic creations, was the enemy.  And his crime precisely was that he had created life, produced life in such excess that all the petty creations of others, even the most delightful among them, vanished in presence of the overflowing torrent of human beings flung there all alive in the sunlight.

“Well, for my part,” Pierre courageously declared, “I’m not of your opinion.  I now realise that life is everything in art; that real immortality belongs only to those who create.  The case of Michael Angelo seems to me decisive, for he is the superhuman master, the monster who overwhelms all others, precisely because he brought forth that magnificent living flesh which offends your sense of delicacy.  Those who are inclined to the curious, those who have minds of a pretty turn, whose intellects are ever seeking to penetrate things, may try to improve on the equivocal and invisible, and set all the charm of art in some elaborate stroke or symbolisation; but, none the less, Michael Angelo remains the all-powerful, the maker of men, the master of clearness, simplicity, and health.”

At this Narcisse smiled with indulgent and courteous disdain.  And he anticipated further argument by remarking:  “It’s already eleven.  My cousin was to have sent a servant here as soon as he could receive us.  I am surprised to have seen nobody as yet.  Shall we go up to see the stanze of Raffaelle while we wait?”

Once in the rooms above, he showed himself perfect, both lucid in his remarks and just in his appreciations, having recovered all his easy intelligence as soon as he was no longer upset by his hatred of colossal labour and cheerful decoration.

It was unfortunate that Pierre should have first visited the Sixtine Chapel; for it was necessary he should forget what he had just seen and accustom himself to what he now beheld in order to enjoy its pure beauty.  It was as if some potent wine had confused him, and prevented any immediate relish of a lighter vintage of delicate fragrance.  Admiration did not here fall upon one with lightning speed; it was slowly, irresistibly that one grew charmed.  And the contrast was like that of Racine beside Corneille, Lamartine beside Hugo, the eternal pair, the masculine and feminine genius coupled through centuries of glory.  With Raffaelle it is nobility, grace, exquisiteness, and correctness of line, and divineness of harmony that triumph.  You do not find in him merely the materialist symbolism so superbly thrown off by Michael Angelo; he introduces psychological analysis of deep penetration into the painter’s art.  Man is shown more purified, idealised; one sees more of that which is within him.  And though one may be in presence of an artist of sentimental bent, a feminine genius whose quiver of tenderness one can feel, it is also certain that admirable firmness of workmanship confronts one, that the whole is very strong and very great.  Pierre gradually yielded to such sovereign masterliness, such virile elegance, such a vision of supreme beauty set in supreme perfection.  But if the “Dispute on the Sacrament” and the so-called “School of Athens,” both prior to the paintings of the Sixtine Chapel, seemed to him to be Raffaelle’s masterpieces, he felt that in the “Burning of the Borgo,” and particularly in the “Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple,” and “Pope St. Leo staying Attila at the Gates of Rome,” the artist had lost the flower of his divine grace, through the deep impression which the overwhelming grandeur of Michael Angelo had wrought upon him.  How crushing indeed had been the blow when the Sixtine Chapel was thrown open and the rivals entered!  The creations of the monster then appeared, and the greatest of the humanisers lost some of his soul at sight of them, thenceforward unable to rid himself of their influence.

From the stanze Narcisse took Pierre to the loggie, those glazed galleries which are so high and so delicately decorated.  But here you only find work which pupils executed after designs left by Raffaelle at his death.  The fall was sudden and complete, and never had Pierre better understood that genius is everything ­that when it disappears the school collapses.  The man of genius sums up his period; at a given hour he throws forth all the sap of the social soil, which afterwards remains exhausted often for centuries.  So Pierre became more particularly interested in the fine view that the loggie afford, and all at once he noticed that the papal apartments were in front of him, just across the Court of San Damaso.  This court, with its porticus, fountain, and white pavement, had an aspect of empty, airy, sunlit solemnity which surprised him.  There was none of the gloom or pent-up religious mystery that he had dreamt of with his mind full of the surroundings of the old northern cathedrals.  Right and left of the steps conducting to the rooms of the Pope and the Cardinal Secretary of State four or five carriages were ranged, the coachmen stiffly erect and the horses motionless in the brilliant light; and nothing else peopled that vast square desert of a court which, with its bareness gilded by the coruscations of its glass-work and the ruddiness of its stones, suggested a pagan temple dedicated to the sun.  But what more particularly struck Pierre was the splendid panorama of Rome, for he had not hitherto imagined that the Pope from his windows could thus behold the entire city spread out before him as if he merely had to stretch forth his hand to make it his own once more.

While Pierre contemplated the scene a sound of voices caused him to turn; and he perceived a servant in black livery who, after repeating a message to Narcisse, was retiring with a deep bow.  Looking much annoyed, the attache approached the young priest.  “Monsignor Gamba del Zoppo,” said he, “has sent word that he can’t see us this morning.  Some unexpected duties require his presence.”  However, Narcisse’s embarrassment showed that he did not believe in the excuse, but rather suspected some one of having so terrified his cousin that the latter was afraid of compromising himself.  Obliging and courageous as Habert himself was, this made him indignant.  Still he smiled and resumed:  “Listen, perhaps there’s a means of forcing an entry.  If your time is your own we can lunch together and then return to visit the Museum of Antiquities.  I shall certainly end by coming across my cousin and we may, perhaps, be lucky enough to meet the Pope should he go down to the gardens.”

At the news that his audience was yet again postponed Pierre had felt keenly disappointed.  However, as the whole day was at his disposal, he willingly accepted the attache’s offer.  They lunched in front of St. Peter’s, in a little restaurant of the Borgo, most of whose customers were pilgrims, and the fare, as it happened, was far from good.  Then at about two o’clock they set off for the museum, skirting the basilica by way of the Piazza della Sagrestia.  It was a bright, deserted, burning district; and again, but in a far greater degree, did the young priest experience that sensation of bare, tawny, sun-baked majesty which had come upon him while gazing into the Court of San Damaso.  Then, as he passed the apse of St. Peter’s, the enormity of the colossus was brought home to him more strongly than ever:  it rose like a giant bouquet of architecture edged by empty expanses of pavement sprinkled with fine weeds.  And in all the silent immensity there were only two children playing in the shadow of a wall.  The old papal mint, the Zecca, now an Italian possession, and guarded by soldiers of the royal army, is on the left of the passage leading to the museums, while on the right, just in front, is one of the entrances of honour to the Vatican where the papal Swiss Guard keeps watch and ward; and this is the entrance by which, according to etiquette, the pair-horse carriages convey the Pope’s visitors into the Court of San Damaso.

Following the long lane which ascends between a wing of the palace and its garden wall, Narcisse and Pierre at last reached the Museum of Antiquities.  Ah! what a museum it is, with galleries innumerable, a museum compounded of three museums, the Pio-Clementino, Chiaramonti, and the Braccio-Nuovo, and containing a whole world found beneath the soil, then exhumed, and now glorified in full sunlight.  For more than two hours Pierre went from one hall to another, dazzled by the masterpieces, bewildered by the accumulation of genius and beauty.  It was not only the celebrated examples of statuary, the Laocoon and the Apollo of the cabinets of the Belvedere, the Meleager, or even the torso of Hercules ­that astonished him.  He was yet more impressed by the ensemble, by the innumerable quantities of Venuses, Bacchuses, and deified emperors and empresses, by the whole superb growth of beautiful or August flesh celebrating the immortality of life.  Three days previously he had visited the Museum of the Capitol, where he had admired the Venus, the Dying Gaul, the marvellous Centaurs of black marble, and the extraordinary collection of busts, but here his admiration became intensified into stupor by the inexhaustible wealth of the galleries.  And, with more curiosity for life than for art, perhaps, he again lingered before the busts which so powerfully resuscitate the Rome of history ­the Rome which, whilst incapable of realising the ideal beauty of Greece, was certainly well able to create life.  The emperors, the philosophers, the learned men, the poets are all there, and live such as they really were, studied and portrayed in all scrupulousness with their deformities, their blemishes, the slightest peculiarities of their features.  And from this extreme solicitude for truth springs a wonderful wealth of character and an incomparable vision of the past.  Nothing, indeed, could be loftier:  the very men live once more, and retrace the history of their city, that history which has been so falsified that the teaching of it has caused generations of school-boys to hold antiquity in horror.  But on seeing the men, how well one understands, how fully one can sympathise!  And indeed the smallest bits of marble, the maimed statues, the bas-reliefs in fragments, even the isolated limbs ­whether the divine arm of a nymph or the sinewy, shaggy thigh of a satyr ­evoke the splendour of a civilisation full of light, grandeur, and strength.

   Best known in England, through Byron’s lines, as the
    Dying Gladiator, though that appellation is certainly
    erroneous. ­Trans.

At last Narcisse brought Pierre back into the Gallery of the Candelabra, three hundred feet in length and full of fine examples of sculpture.  “Listen, my dear Abbe,” said he.  “It is scarcely more than four o’clock, and we will sit down here for a while, as I am told that the Holy Father sometimes passes this way to go down to the gardens.  It would be really lucky if you could see him, perhaps even speak to him ­who can tell?  At all events, it will rest you, for you must be tired out.”

Narcisse was known to all the attendants, and his relationship to Monsignor Gamba gave him the run of almost the entire Vatican, where he was fond of spending his leisure time.  Finding two chairs, they sat down, and the attache again began to talk of art.

How astonishing had been the destiny of Rome, what a singular, borrowed royalty had been hers!  She seemed like a centre whither the whole world converged, but where nothing grew from the soil itself, which from the outset appeared to be stricken with sterility.  The arts required to be acclimatised there; it was necessary to transplant the genius of neighbouring nations, which, once there, however, flourished magnificently.  Under the emperors, when Rome was the queen of the earth, the beauty of her monuments and sculpture came to her from Greece.  Later, when Christianity arose in Rome, it there remained impregnated with paganism; it was on another soil that it produced Gothic art, the Christian Art par excellence.  Later still, at the Renascence, it was certainly at Rome that the age of Julius II and Leo X shone forth; but the artists of Tuscany and Umbria prepared the evolution, brought it to Rome that it might thence expand and soar.  For the second time, indeed, art came to Rome from without, and gave her the royalty of the world by blossoming so triumphantly within her walls.  Then occurred the extraordinary awakening of antiquity, Apollo and Venus resuscitated worshipped by the popes themselves, who from the time of Nicholas V dreamt of making papal Rome the equal of the imperial city.  After the precursors, so sincere, tender, and strong in their art ­Fra Angelico, Perugino, Botticelli, and so many others ­came the two sovereigns, Michael Angelo and Raffaelle, the superhuman and the divine.  Then the fall was sudden, years elapsed before the advent of Caravaggio with power of colour and modelling, all that the science of painting could achieve when bereft of genius.  And afterwards the decline continued until Bernini was reached ­Bernini, the real creator of the Rome of the present popes, the prodigal child who at twenty could already show a galaxy of colossal marble wenches, the universal architect who with fearful activity finished the façade, built the colonnade, decorated the interior of St. Peter’s, and raised fountains, churches, and palaces innumerable.  And that was the end of all, for since then Rome has little by little withdrawn from life, from the modern world, as though she, who always lived on what she derived from others, were dying of her inability to take anything more from them in order to convert it to her own glory.

“Ah!  Bernini, that delightful Bernini!” continued Narcisse with his rapturous air.  “He is both powerful and exquisite, his verve always ready, his ingenuity invariably awake, his fecundity full of grace and magnificence.  As for their Bramante with his masterpiece, that cold, correct Cancelleria, we’ll dub him the Michael Angelo and Raffaelle of architecture and say no more about it.  But Bernini, that exquisite Bernini, why, there is more delicacy and refinement in his pretended bad taste than in all the hugeness and perfection of the others!  Our own age ought to recognise itself in his art, at once so varied and so deep, so triumphant in its mannerisms, so full of a perturbing solicitude for the artificial and so free from the baseness of reality.  Just go to the Villa Borghese to see the group of Apollo and Daphne which Bernini executed when he was eighteen, and in particular see his statue of Santa Teresa in ecstasy at Santa Maria della Vittoria!  Ah! that Santa Teresa!  It is like heaven opening, with the quiver that only a purely divine enjoyment can set in woman’s flesh, the rapture of faith carried to the point of spasm, the creature losing breath and dying of pleasure in the arms of the Divinity!  I have spent hours and hours before that work without exhausting the infinite scope of its precious, burning symbolisation.”

   There is also at the Villa Borghese Bernini’s Anchises carried
    by Aeneas
, which he sculptured when only sixteen.  No doubt his
    faults were many; but it was his misfortune to belong to a
    decadent period. ­Trans.

Narcisse’s voice died away, and Pierre, no longer astonished at his covert, unconscious hatred of health, simplicity, and strength, scarcely listened to him.  The young priest himself was again becoming absorbed in the idea he had formed of pagan Rome resuscitating in Christian Rome and turning it into Catholic Rome, the new political, sacerdotal, domineering centre of earthly government.  Apart from the primitive age of the Catacombs, had Rome ever been Christian?  The thoughts that had come to him on the Palatine, in the Appian Way, and in St. Peter’s were gathering confirmation.  Genius that morning had brought him fresh proof.  No doubt the paganism which reappeared in the art of Michael Angelo and Raffaelle was tempered, transformed by the Christian spirit.  But did it not still remain the basis?  Had not the former master peered across Olympus when snatching his great nudities from the terrible heavens of Jéhovah?  Did not the ideal figures of Raffaelle reveal the superb, fascinating flesh of Venus beneath the chaste veil of the Virgin?  It seemed so to Pierre, and some embarrassment mingled with his despondency, for all those beautiful forms glorifying the ardent passions of life, were in opposition to his dream of rejuvenated Christianity giving peace to the world and reviving the simplicity and purity of the early ages.

All at once he was surprised to hear Narcisse, by what transition he could not tell, speaking to him of the daily life of Leo XIII.  “Yes, my dear Abbe, at eighty-four the Holy Father shows the activity of a young man and leads a life of determination and hard work such as neither you nor I would care for!  At six o’clock he is already up, says his mass in his private chapel, and drinks a little milk for breakfast.  Then, from eight o’clock till noon, there is a ceaseless procession of cardinals and prelates, all the affairs of the congregations passing under his eyes, and none could be more numerous or intricate.  At noon the public and collective audiences usually begin.  At two he dines.  Then comes the siesta which he has well earned, or else a promenade in the gardens until six o’clock.  The private audiences then sometimes keep him for an hour or two.  He sups at nine and scarcely eats, lives on nothing, in fact, and is always alone at his little table.  What do you think, eh, of the etiquette which compels him to such loneliness?  There you have a man who for eighteen years has never had a guest at his table, who day by day sits all alone in his grandeur!  And as soon as ten o’clock strikes, after saying the Rosary with his familiars, he shuts himself up in his room.  But, although he may go to bed, he sleeps very little; he is frequently troubled by insomnia, and gets up and sends for a secretary to dictate memoranda or letters to him.  When any interesting matter requires his attention he gives himself up to it heart and soul, never letting it escape his thoughts.  And his life, his health, lies in all this.  His mind is always busy; his will and strength must always be exerting themselves.  You may know that he long cultivated Latin verse with affection; and I believe that in his days of struggle he had a passion for journalism, inspired the articles of the newspapers he subsidised, and even dictated some of them when his most cherished ideas were in question.”

   The reader should remember that the period selected for this
    narrative is the year 1894.  Leo XIII was born in 1810. ­Trans.

Silence fell.  At every moment Narcisse craned his neck to see if the little papal cortege were not emerging from the Gallery of the Tapestries to pass them on its way to the gardens.  “You are perhaps aware,” he resumed, “that his Holiness is brought down on a low chair which is small enough to pass through every doorway.  It’s quite a journey, more than a mile, through the loggie, the stanze of Raffaelle, the painting and sculpture galleries, not to mention the numerous staircases, before he reaches the gardens, where a pair-horse carriage awaits him.  It’s quite fine this evening, so he will surely come.  We must have a little patience.”

Whilst Narcisse was giving these particulars Pierre again sank into a reverie and saw the whole extraordinary history pass before him.  First came the worldly, ostentatious popes of the Renascence, those who resuscitated antiquity with so much passion and dreamt of draping the Holy See with the purple of empire once more.  There was Paul II, the magnificent Venetian who built the Palazzo di Venezia; Sixtus IV, to whom one owes the Sixtine Chapel; and Julius II and Leo X, who made Rome a city of theatrical pomp, prodigious festivities, tournaments, ballets, hunts, masquerades, and banquets.  At that time the papacy had just rediscovered Olympus amidst the dust of buried ruins, and as though intoxicated by the torrent of life which arose from the ancient soil, it founded the museums, thus reviving the superb temples of the pagan age, and restoring them to the cult of universal admiration.  Never had the Church been in such peril of death, for if the Christ was still honoured at St. Peter’s, Jupiter and all the other gods and goddesses, with their beauteous, triumphant flesh, were enthroned in the halls of the Vatican.  Then, however, another vision passed before Pierre, one of the modern popes prior to the Italian occupation ­notably Pius IX, who, whilst yet free, often went into his good city of Rome.  His huge red and gold coach was drawn by six horses, surrounded by Swiss Guards and followed by Noble Guards; but now and again he would alight in the Corso, and continue his promenade on foot, and then the mounted men of the escort galloped forward to give warning and stop the traffic.  The carriages drew up, the gentlemen had to alight and kneel on the pavement, whilst the ladies simply rose and devoutly inclined their heads, as the Holy Father, attended by his Court, slowly wended his way to the Piazza del Popolo, smiling and blessing at every step.  And now had come Leo XIII, the voluntary prisoner, shut up in the Vatican for eighteen years, and he, behind the high, silent walls, in the unknown sphere where each of his days flowed by so quietly, had acquired a more exalted majesty, instinct with sacred and redoubtable mysteriousness.

Ah! that Pope whom you no longer meet or see, that Pope hidden from the common of mankind like some terrible divinity whom the priests alone dare to approach!  It is in that sumptuous Vatican which his forerunners of the Renascence built and adorned for giant festivities that he has secluded himself; it is there he lives, far from the crowd, in prison with the handsome men and the lovely women of Michael Angelo and Raffaelle, with the gods and goddesses of marble, with the whole of resplendent Olympus celebrating around him the religion of life and light.  With him the entire Papacy is there steeped in paganism.  What a spectacle when the slender, weak old man, all soul, so purely white, passes along the galleries of the Museum of Antiquities on his way to the gardens.  Right and left the statues behold him pass with all their bare flesh.  There is Jupiter, there is Apollo, there is Venus the dominatrix, there is Pan, the universal god in whose laugh the joys of earth ring out.  Nereids bathe in transparent water.  Bacchantes roll, unveiled, in the warm grass.  Centaurs gallop by carrying lovely girls, faint with rapture, on their steaming haunches.  Ariadne is surprised by Bacchus, Ganymede fondles the eagle, Adonis fires youth and maiden with his flame.  And on and on passes the weak, white old man, swaying on his low chair, amidst that splendid triumph, that display and glorification of the flesh, which shouts aloud the omnipotence of Nature, of everlasting matter!  Since they have found it again, exhumed it, and honoured it, that it is which once more reigns there imperishable; and in vain have they set vine leaves on the statues, even as they have swathed the huge figures of Michael Angelo; sex still flares on all sides, life overflows, its germs course in torrents through the veins of the world.  Near by, in that Vatican library of incomparable wealth, where all human science lies slumbering, there lurks a yet more terrible danger ­the danger of an explosion which would sweep away everything, Vatican and St. Peter’s also, if one day the books in their turn were to awake and speak aloud as speak the beauty of Venus and the manliness of Apollo.  But the white, diaphanous old man seems neither to see nor to hear, and the huge heads of Jupiter, the trunks of Hercules, the equivocal statues of Antinous continue to watch him as he passes on!

However, Narcisse had become impatient, and, going in search of an attendant, he learnt from him that his Holiness had already gone down.  To shorten the distance, indeed, the cortege often passes along a kind of open gallery leading towards the Mint.  “Well, let us go down as well,” said Narcisse to Pierre; “I will try to show you the gardens.”

Down below, in the vestibule, a door of which opened on to a broad path, he spoke to another attendant, a former pontifical soldier whom he personally knew.  The man at once let him pass with Pierre, but was unable to tell him whether Monsignor Gamba del Zoppo had accompanied his Holiness that day.

“No matter,” resumed Narcisse when he and his companion were alone in the path; “I don’t despair of meeting him ­and these, you see, are the famous gardens of the Vatican.”

They are very extensive grounds, and the Pope can go quite two and a half miles by passing along the paths of the wood, the vineyard, and the kitchen garden.  Occupying the plateau of the Vatican hill, which the medieval wall of Leo IV still girdles, the gardens are separated from the neighbouring valleys as by a fortified rampart.  The wall formerly stretched to the castle of Sant’ Angelo, thereby forming what was known as the Leonine City.  No inquisitive eyes can peer into the grounds excepting from the dome of St. Peter’s, which casts its huge shadow over them during the hot summer weather.  They are, too, quite a little world, which each pope has taken pleasure in embellishing.  There is a large parterre with lawns of geometrical patterns, planted with handsome palms and adorned with lemon and orange trees in pots; there is a less formal, a shadier garden, where, amidst deep plantations of yoke-elms, you find Giovanni Vesanzio’s fountain, the Aquilone, and Pius IV’s old Casino; then, too, there are the woods with their superb evergreen oaks, their thickets of plane-trees, acacias, and pines, intersected by broad avenues, which are delightfully pleasant for leisurely strolls; and finally, on turning to the left, beyond other clumps of trees, come the kitchen garden and the vineyard, the last well tended.

Whilst walking through the wood Narcisse told Pierre of the life led by the Holy Father in these gardens.  He strolls in them every second day when the weather allows.  Formerly the popes left the Vatican for the Quirinal, which is cooler and healthier, as soon as May arrived; and spent the dog days at Castle Gandolfo on the margins of the Lake of Albano.  But nowadays the only summer residence possessed by his Holiness is a virtually intact tower of the old rampart of Leo IV.  He here spends the hottest days, and has even erected a sort of pavilion beside it for the accommodation of his suite.  Narcisse, like one at home, went in and secured permission for Pierre to glance at the one room occupied by the Pope, a spacious round chamber with semispherical ceiling, on which are painted the heavens with symbolical figures of the constellations; one of the latter, the lion, having two stars for eyes ­stars which a system of lighting causes to sparkle during the night.  The walls of the tower are so thick that after blocking up a window, a kind of room, for the accommodation of a couch, has been contrived in the embrasure.  Beside this couch the only furniture is a large work-table, a dining-table with flaps, and a large regal arm-chair, a mass of gilding, one of the gifts of the Pope’s episcopal jubilee.  And you dream of the days of solitude and perfect silence, spent in that low donjon hall, where the coolness of a tomb prevails whilst the heavy suns of August are scorching overpowered Rome.

An astronomical observatory has been installed in another tower, surmounted by a little white cupola, which you espy amidst the greenery; and under the trees there is also a Swiss chalet, where Leo XIII is fond of resting.  He sometimes goes on foot to the kitchen garden, and takes much interest in the vineyard, visiting it to see if the grapes are ripening and if the vintage will be a good one.  What most astonished Pierre, however, was to learn that the Holy Father had been very fond of “sport” before age had weakened him.  He was indeed passionately addicted to bird snaring.  Broad-meshed nets were hung on either side of a path on the fringe of a plantation, and in the middle of the path were placed cages containing the decoys, whose songs soon attracted all the birds of the neighbourhood ­red-breasts, white-throats, black-caps, nightingales, fig-peckers of all sorts.  And when a numerous company of them was gathered together Leo XIII, seated out of sight and watching, would suddenly clap his hands and startle the birds, which flew up and were caught by the wings in the meshes of the nets.  All that then remained to be done was to take them out of the nets and stifle them by a touch of the thumb.  Roast fig-peckers are delicious.

   Perhaps so; but what a delightful pastime for the Vicar of the
    Divinity! ­Trans.

As Pierre came back through the wood he had another surprise.  He suddenly lighted on a “Grotto of Lourdes,” a miniature imitation of the original, built of rocks and blocks of cement.  And such was his emotion at the sight that he could not conceal it.  “It’s true, then!” said he.  “I was told of it, but I thought that the Holy Father was of loftier mind ­free from all such base superstitions!”

“Oh!” replied Narcisse, “I fancy that the grotto dates from Pius IX, who evinced especial gratitude to our Lady of Lourdes.  At all events, it must be a gift, and Leo XIII simply keeps it in repair.”

For a few moments Pierre remained motionless and silent before that imitation grotto, that childish plaything.  Some zealously devout visitors had left their visiting cards in the cracks of the cement-work!  For his part, he felt very sad, and followed his companion with bowed head, lamenting the wretched idiocy of the world.  Then, on emerging from the wood, on again reaching the parterre, he raised his eyes.

Ah! how exquisite in spite of everything was that decline of a lovely day, and what a victorious charm ascended from the soil in that part of the gardens.  There, in front of that bare, noble, burning parterre, far more than under the languishing foliage of the wood or among the fruitful vines, Pierre realised the strength of Nature.  Above the grass growing meagrely over the compartments of geometrical pattern which the pathways traced there were barely a few low shrubs, dwarf roses, aloes, rare tufts of withering flowers.  Some green bushes still described the escutcheon of Pius IX in accordance with the strange taste of former times.  And amidst the warm silence one only heard the faint crystalline murmur of the water trickling from the basin of the central fountain.  But all Rome, its ardent heavens, sovereign grace, and conquering voluptuousness, seemed with their own soul to animate this vast rectangular patch of decorative gardening, this mosaic of verdure, which in its semi-abandonment and scorched decay assumed an aspect of melancholy pride, instinct with the ever returning quiver of a passion of fire that could not die.  Some antique vases and statues, whitely nude under the setting sun, skirted the parterres.  And above the aroma of eucalyptus and of pine, stronger even than that of the ripening oranges, there rose the odour of the large, bitter box-shrubs, so laden with pungent life that it disturbed one as one passed as if indeed it were the very scent of the fecundity of that ancient soil saturated with the dust of generations.

“It’s very strange that we have not met his Holiness,” exclaimed Narcisse.  “Perhaps his carriage took the other path through the wood while we were in the tower.”

Then, reverting to Monsignor Gamba del Zoppo, the attache explained that the functions of Copiere, or papal cup-bearer, which his cousin should have discharged as one of the four Camerieri segreti partecipanti had become purely honorary since the dinners offered to diplomatists or in honour of newly consecrated bishops had been given by the Cardinal Secretary of State.  Monsignor Gamba, whose cowardice and nullity were legendary, seemed therefore to have no other rôle than that of enlivening Leo XIII, whose favour he had won by his incessant flattery and the anecdotes which he was ever relating about both the black and the white worlds.  Indeed this fat, amiable man, who could even be obliging when his interests were not in question, was a perfect newspaper, brimful of tittle-tattle, disdaining no item of gossip whatever, even if it came from the kitchens.  And thus he was quietly marching towards the cardinalate, certain of obtaining the hat without other exertion than that of bringing a budget of gossip to beguile the pleasant hours of the promenade.  And Heaven knew that he was always able to garner an abundant harvest of news in that closed Vatican swarming with prelates of every kind, in that womanless pontifical family of old begowned bachelors, all secretly exercised by vast ambitions, covert and revolting rivalries, and ferocious hatreds, which, it is said, are still sometimes carried as far as the good old poison of ancient days.

All at once Narcisse stopped.  “Ah!” he exclaimed, “I was certain of it.  There’s the Holy Father!  But we are not in luck.  He won’t even see us; he is about to get into his carriage again.”

As he spoke a carriage drew up at the verge of the wood, and a little cortege emerging from a narrow path, went towards it.

Pierre felt as if he had received a great blow in the heart.  Motionless beside his companion, and half hidden by a lofty vase containing a lemon-tree, it was only from a distance that he was able to see the white old man, looking so frail and slender in the wavy folds of his white cassock, and walking so very slowly with short, gliding steps.  The young priest could scarcely distinguish the emaciated face of old diaphanous ivory, emphasised by a large nose which jutted out above thin lips.  However, the Pontiff’s black eyes were glittering with an inquisitive smile, while his right ear was inclined towards Monsignor Gamba del Zoppo, who was doubtless finishing some story at once rich and short, flowery and dignified.  And on the left walked a Noble Guard; and two other prelates followed.

It was but a familiar apparition; Leo XIII was already climbing into the closed carriage.  And Pierre, in the midst of that large, odoriferous, burning garden, again experienced the singular emotion which had come upon him in the Gallery of the Candelabra while he was picturing the Pope on his way between the Apollos and Venuses radiant in their triumphant nudity.  There, however, it was only pagan art which had celebrated the eternity of life, the superb, almighty powers of Nature.  But here he had beheld the Pontiff steeped in Nature itself, in Nature clad in the most lovely, most voluptuous, most passionate guise.  Ah! that Pope, that old man strolling with his Divinity of grief, humility, and renunciation along the paths of those gardens of love, in the languid evenings of the hot summer days, beneath the caressing scents of pine and eucalyptus, ripe oranges, and tall, acrid box-shrubs!  The whole atmosphere around him proclaimed the powers of the great god Pan.  How pleasant was the thought of living there, amidst that magnificence of heaven and of earth, of loving the beauty of woman and of rejoicing in the fruitfulness of all!  And suddenly the decisive truth burst forth that from a land of such joy and light it was only possible for a temporal religion of conquest and political domination to rise; not the mystical, pain-fraught religion of the North ­the religion of the soul!

However, Narcisse led the young priest away, telling him other anecdotes as they went ­anecdotes of the occasional bonhomie of Leo XIII, who would stop to chat with the gardeners, and question them about the health of the trees and the sale of the oranges.  And he also mentioned the Pope’s former passion for a pair of gazelles, sent him from Africa, two graceful creatures which he had been fond of caressing, and at whose death he had shed tears.  But Pierre no longer listened.  When they found themselves on the Piazza of St. Peter’s, he turned round and gazed at the Vatican once more.

His eyes had fallen on the gate of bronze, and he remembered having wondered that morning what there might be behind these metal panels ornamented with big nails.  And he did not yet dare to answer the question, and decide if the new nations thirsting for fraternity and justice would really find there the religion necessary for the democracies of to-morrow; for he had not been able to probe things, and only carried a first impression away with him.  But how keen it was, and how ill it boded for his dreams!  A gate of bronze!  Yes, a hard, impregnable gate, so completely shutting the Vatican off from the rest of the world that nothing new had entered the palace for three hundred years.  Behind that portal the old centuries, as far as the sixteenth, remained immutable.  Time seemed to have stayed its course there for ever; nothing more stirred; the very costumes of the Swiss Guards, the Noble Guards, and the prelates themselves were unchanged; and you found yourself in the world of three hundred years ago, with its etiquette, its costumes, and its ideas.  That the popes in a spirit of haughty protest should for five and twenty years have voluntarily shut themselves up in their palace was already regrettable; but this imprisonment of centuries within the past, within the grooves of tradition, was far more serious and dangerous.  It was all Catholicism which was thus imprisoned, whose dogmas and sacerdotal organisation were obstinately immobilised.  Perhaps, in spite of its apparent flexibility, Catholicism was really unable to yield in anything, under peril of being swept away, and therein lay both its weakness and its strength.  And then what a terrible world was there, how great the pride and ambition, how numerous the hatreds and rivalries!  And how strange the prison, how singular the company assembled behind the bars ­the Crucified by the side of Jupiter Capitolinus, all pagan antiquity fraternising with the Apostles, all the splendours of the Renascence surrounding the pastor of the Gospel who reigns in the name of the humble and the poor!

The sun was sinking, the gentle, luscious sweetness of the Roman evenings was falling from the limpid heavens, and after that splendid day spent with Michael Angelo, Raffaelle, the ancients, and the Pope, in the finest palace of the world, the young priest lingered, distracted, on the Piazza of St. Peter’s.

“Well, you must excuse me, my dear Abbe,” concluded Narcisse.  “But I will now confess to you that I suspect my worthy cousin of a fear that he might compromise himself by meddling in your affair.  I shall certainly see him again, but you will do well not to put too much reliance on him.”

It was nearly six o’clock when Pierre got back to the Boccanera mansion.  As a rule, he passed in all modesty down the lane, and entered by the little side door, a key of which had been given him.  But he had that morning received a letter from M. de la Choue, and desired to communicate it to Benedetta.  So he ascended the grand staircase, and on reaching the anteroom was surprised to find nobody there.  As a rule, whenever the man-servant went out Victorine installed herself in his place and busied herself with some needlework.  Her chair was there, and Pierre even noticed some linen which she had left on a little table when probably summoned elsewhere.  Then, as the door of the first reception-room was ajar, he at last ventured in.  It was almost night there already, the twilight was softly dying away, and all at once the young priest stopped short, fearing to take another step, for, from the room beyond, the large yellow salon, there came a murmur of feverish, distracted words, ardent entreaties, fierce panting, a rustling and a shuffling of footsteps.  And suddenly Pierre no longer hesitated, urged on despite himself by the conviction that the sounds he heard were those of a struggle, and that some one was hard pressed.

And when he darted into the further room he was stupefied, for Dario was there, no longer showing the degenerate elegance of the last scion of an exhausted race, but maddened by the hot, frantic blood of the Boccaneras which had bubbled up within him.  He had clasped Benedetta by the shoulders in a frenzy of passion and was scorching her face with his hot, entreating words:  “But since you say, my darling, that it is all over, that your marriage will never be dissolved ­oh! why should we be wretched for ever!  Love me as you do love me, and let me love you ­let me love you!”

But the Contessina, with an indescribable expression of tenderness and suffering on her tearful face, repulsed him with her outstretched arms, she likewise evincing a fierce energy as she repeated:  “No, no; I love you, but it must not, it must not be.”

At that moment, amidst the roar of his despair, Dario became conscious that some one was entering the room.  He turned and gazed at Pierre with an expression of stupefied insanity, scarce able even to recognise him.  Then he carried his two hands to his face, to his bloodshot eyes and his cheeks wet with scalding tears, and fled, heaving a terrible, pain-fraught sigh in which baffled passion mingled with grief and repentance.

Benedetta seated herself, breathing hard, her strength and courage wellnigh exhausted.  But as Pierre, too much embarrassed to speak, turned towards the door, she addressed him in a calmer voice:  “No, no, Monsieur l’Abbe, do not go away ­sit down, I pray you; I should like to speak to you for a moment.”

He thereupon thought it his duty to account for his sudden entrance, and explained that he had found the door of the first salon ajar, and that Victorine was not in the ante-room, though he had seen her work lying on the table there.

“Yes,” exclaimed the Contessina, “Victorine ought to have been there; I saw her there but a short time ago.  And when my poor Dario lost his head I called her.  Why did she not come?” Then, with sudden expansion, leaning towards Pierre, she continued:  “Listen, Monsieur l’Abbe, I will tell you what happened, for I don’t want you to form too bad an opinion of my poor Dario.  It was all in some measure my fault.  Last night he asked me for an appointment here in order that we might have a quiet chat, and as I knew that my aunt would be absent at this time to-day I told him to come.  It was only natural ­wasn’t it? ­that we should want to see one another and come to an agreement after the grievous news that my marriage will probably never be annulled.  We suffer too much, and must form a decision.  And so when he came this evening we began to weep and embrace, mingling our tears together.  I kissed him again and again, telling him how I adored him, how bitterly grieved I was at being the cause of his sufferings, and how surely I should die of grief at seeing him so unhappy.  Ah! no doubt I did wrong; I ought not to have caught him to my heart and embraced him as I did, for it maddened him, Monsieur l’Abbe; he lost his head, and would have made me break my vow to the Blessed Virgin.”

She spoke these words in all tranquillity and simplicity, without sign of embarrassment, like a young and beautiful woman who is at once sensible and practical.  Then she resumed:  “Oh!  I know my poor Dario well, but it does not prevent me from loving him; perhaps, indeed, it only makes me love him the more.  He looks delicate, perhaps rather sickly, but in truth he is a man of passion.  Yes, the old blood of my people bubbles up in him.  I know something of it myself, for when I was a child I sometimes had fits of angry passion which left me exhausted on the floor, and even now, when the gusts arise within me, I have to fight against myself and torture myself in order that I may not act madly.  But my poor Dario does not know how to suffer.  He is like a child whose fancies must be gratified.  And yet at bottom he has a good deal of common sense; he waits for me because he knows that the only real happiness lies with the woman who adores him.”

As Pierre listened he was able to form a more precise idea of the young prince, of whose character he had hitherto had but a vague perception.  Whilst dying of love for his cousin, Dario had ever been a man of pleasure.  Though he was no doubt very amiable, the basis of his temperament was none the less egotism.  And, in particular, he was unable to endure suffering; he loathed suffering, ugliness, and poverty, whether they affected himself or others.  Both his flesh and his soul required gaiety, brilliancy, show, life in the full sunlight.  And withal he was exhausted, with no strength left him but for the idle life he led, so incapable of thought and will that the idea of joining the new regime had not even occurred to him.  Yet he had all the unbounded pride of a Roman; sagacity ­a keen, practical perception of the real ­was mingled with his indolence; while his inveterate love of woman, more frequently displayed in charm of manner, burst forth at times in attacks of frantic sensuality.

“After all he is a man,” concluded Benedetta in a low voice, “and I must not ask impossibilities of him.”  Then, as Pierre gazed at her, his notions of Italian jealousy quite upset, she exclaimed, aglow with passionate adoration:  “No, no.  Situated as we are, I am not jealous.  I know very well that he will always return to me, and that he will be mine alone whenever I please, whenever it may be possible.”

Silence followed; shadows were filling the room, the gilding of the large pier tables faded away, and infinite melancholy fell from the lofty, dim ceiling and the old hangings, yellow like autumn leaves.  But soon, by some chance play of the waning light, a painting stood out above the sofa on which the Contessina was seated.  It was the portrait of the beautiful young girl with the turban ­Cassia Boccanera the forerunner, the amorosa and avengeress.  Again was Pierre struck by the portrait’s resemblance to Benedetta, and, thinking aloud, he resumed:  “Passion always proves the stronger; there invariably comes a moment when one succumbs ­”

But Benedetta violently interrupted him:  “I!  I!  Ah! you do not know me; I would rather die!” And with extraordinary exaltation, all aglow with love, as if her superstitious faith had fired her passion to ecstasy, she continued:  “I have vowed to the Madonna that I will belong to none but the man I love, and to him only when he is my husband.  And hitherto I have kept that vow, at the cost of my happiness, and I will keep it still, even if it cost me my life!  Yes, we will die, my poor Dario and I, if it be necessary; but the holy Virgin has my vow, and the angels shall not weep in heaven!”

She was all in those words, her nature all simplicity, intricate, inexplicable though it might seem.  She was doubtless swayed by that idea of human nobility which Christianity has set in renunciation and purity; a protest, as it were, against eternal matter, against the forces of Nature, the everlasting fruitfulness of life.  But there was more than this; she reserved herself, like a divine and priceless gift, to be bestowed on the one being whom her heart had chosen, he who would be her lord and master when God should have united them in marriage.  For her everything lay in the blessing of the priest, in the religious solemnisation of matrimony.  And thus one understood her long resistance to Prada, whom she did not love, and her despairing, grievous resistance to Dario, whom she did love, but who was not her husband.  And how torturing it was for that soul of fire to have to resist her love; how continual was the combat waged by duty in the Virgin’s name against the wild, passionate blood of her race!  Ignorant, indolent though she might be, she was capable of great fidelity of heart, and, moreover, she was not given to dreaming:  love might have its immaterial charms, but she desired it complete.

As Pierre looked at her in the dying twilight he seemed to see and understand her for the first time.  The duality of her nature appeared in her somewhat full, fleshy lips, in her big black eyes, which suggested a dark, tempestuous night illumined by flashes of lightning, and in the calm, sensible expression of the rest of her gentle, infantile face.  And, withal, behind those eyes of flame, beneath that pure, candid skin, one divined the internal tension of a superstitious, proud, and self-willed woman, who was obstinately intent on reserving herself for her one love.  And Pierre could well understand that she should be adored, that she should fill the life of the man she chose with passion, and that to his own eyes she should appear like the younger sister of that lovely, tragic Cassia who, unwilling to survive the blow that had rendered self-bestowal impossible, had flung herself into the Tiber, dragging her brother Ercole and the corpse of her lover Flavio with her.

However, with a gesture of kindly affection Benedetta caught hold of Pierre’s hands.  “You have been here a fortnight, Monsieur l’Abbe,” said she, “and I have come to like you very much, for I feel you to be a friend.  If at first you do not understand us, at least pray do not judge us too severely.  Ignorant as I may be, I always strive to act for the best, I assure you.”

Pierre was greatly touched by her affectionate graciousness, and thanked her whilst for a moment retaining her beautiful hands in his own, for he also was becoming much attached to her.  A fresh dream was carrying him off, that of educating her, should he have the time, or, at all events, of not returning home before winning her soul over to his own ideas of future charity and fraternity.  Did not that adorable, unoccupied, indolent, ignorant creature, who only knew how to defend her love, personify the Italy of yesterday?  The Italy of yesterday, so lovely and so sleepy, instinct with a dying grace, charming one even in her drowsiness, and retaining so much mystery in the fathomless depths of her black, passionate eyes!  And what a rôle would be that of awakening her, instructing her, winning her over to truth, making her the rejuvenated Italy of to-morrow such as he had dreamt of!  Even in that disastrous marriage with Count Prada he tried to see merely a first attempt at revival which had failed, the modern Italy of the North being over-hasty, too brutal in its eagerness to love and transform that gentle, belated Rome which was yet so superb and indolent.  But might he not take up the task?  Had he not noticed that his book, after the astonishment of the first perusal, had remained a source of interest and reflection with Benedetta amidst the emptiness of her days given over to grief?  What! was it really possible that she might find some appeasement for her own wretchedness by interesting herself in the humble, in the happiness of the poor?  Emotion already thrilled her at the idea, and he, quivering at the thought of all the boundless love that was within her and that she might bestow, vowed to himself that he would draw tears of pity from her eyes.

But the night had now almost completely fallen, and Benedetta rose to ask for a lamp.  Then, as Pierre was about to take leave, she detained him for another moment in the gloom.  He could no longer see her; he only heard her grave voice:  “You will not go away with too bad an opinion of us, will you, Monsieur l’Abbe?  We love one another, Dario and I, and that is no sin when one behaves as one ought.  Ah! yes, I love him, and have loved him for years.  I was barely thirteen, he was eighteen, and we already loved one another wildly in those big gardens of the Villa Montefiori which are now all broken up.  Ah! what days we spent there, whole afternoons among the trees, hours in secret hiding-places, where we kissed like little angels.  When the oranges ripened their perfume intoxicated us.  And the large box-plants, ah, Dio! how they enveloped us, how their strong, acrid scent made our hearts beat!  I can never smell then nowadays without feeling faint!”

A man-servant brought in the lamp, and Pierre ascended to his room.  But when half-way up the little staircase he perceived Victorine, who started slightly, as if she had posted herself there to watch his departure from the salon.  And now, as she followed him up, talking and seeking for information, he suddenly realised what had happened.  “Why did you not go to your mistress instead of running off,” he asked, “when she called you, while you were sewing in the ante-room?”

At first she tried to feign astonishment and reply that she had heard nothing.  But her good-natured, frank face did not know how to lie, and she ended by confessing, with a gay, courageous air.  “Well,” she said, “it surely wasn’t for me to interfere between lovers!  Besides, my poor little Benedetta is simply torturing herself to death with those ideas of hers.  Why shouldn’t they be happy, since they love one another?  Life isn’t so amusing as some may think.  And how bitterly one regrets not having seized hold of happiness when the time for it has gone!”

Once alone in his room, Pierre suddenly staggered, quite overcome.  The great box-plants, the great box-plants with their acrid, perturbing perfume!  She, Benedetta, like himself, had quivered as she smelt them; and he saw them once more in a vision of the pontifical gardens, the voluptuous gardens of Rome, deserted, glowing under the August sun.  And now his whole day crystallised, assumed clear and full significance.  It spoke to him of the fruitful awakening, of the eternal protest of Nature and life, Venus and Hercules, whom one may bury for centuries beneath the soil, but who, nevertheless, one day arise from it, and though one may seek to wall them up within the domineering, stubborn, immutable Vatican, reign yet even there, and rule the whole, wide world with sovereign power!