The Ghetto of Rome,
From Frazer's Magazine
The Church of Rome has never been famed for her tolerance; her energy
and indomitable will have been too frequently manifested by the stern
behests of imperious authority. The sovereign pontiffs, with their
claims of infallibility, have left the Pagan far behind in the ardor of
persecution and the more than imperial character of their governments.
Julian published edicts of universal toleration; from time to time he
assumed the garb of each different sect, and claimed affinity with the
gods of each conquered race. At one moment the zealous supporter of
Christianity, then the ablest advocate of the Platonic philosophy: at
another, initiated into all the arcana of the Theurgic science and the
Eleusinian mysteries, terminating his checkered religious career by that
great edict of universal toleration which astonished the whole Roman
world, when all classes of all religions, Pagan and Christian, received
alike an express command to open the portals of their temples. Paganism
could afford to be tolerant, not so Christianity. One god, more or less,
in the Heathen Pantheon makes very little difference, but the worship of
the Christian Church is one and exclusive. The very ardor of its belief
renders it essentially intolerant. How is it possible to be indulgent to
error, when we are firmly persuaded that such error must lead to eternal
condemnation? But whatever apology may be made for intolerance by those
who do not suffer from its severities, it will not be approved of by the
thousands who find themselves deprived of their most prized social
rights for the sake of their faith. None suffer more from this Christian
spirit than the favored and exclusive race in Rome. While other nations
have been constantly relieving the Jews from the pains and penalties
which have been attached to their absence of faith, the Church of Rome
has stood over them stern, proud, and uncompromising. To be a Jew in the
Holy City, is at once to be deprived of half the social privileges of
citizenship. Among other grievances under which they suffer, they are
confined to a small district of the town called the Ghetto, where
formerly the gates were locked from sunset to sunrise, during which
period no one was permitted to pass out; on the slightest pretences they
used to be persecuted for any the least expression of irritation into
which they may have been betrayed: the poor people bear impressed on
their countenances the downcast dogged look of persecution. Confined to
such a small space, they have crowded their houses together until, in
some of the streets, or rather lanes, it is easy to step across from one
roof to another. The dark eye, the luxurious black hair, and a sensual
expression produced by a fulness of the lower lip are the
characteristics of the women. Long, dirty, scanty beards—thin, lank,
gray hair—frames which have grown decrepit through long
persecution—eyes piercing and crafty—sickly, wrinkled features, are
the characteristics of the men. Although, as I have remarked, the gates
and the pales of the Ghetto are now removed, a stranger can easily tell
when he enters what Catholic Rome considers its tainted circle, by the
miserable, poverty-stricken appearance of the whole district. The people
crowd around him, losing all sense of manly dignity or mental
degradation in the anxiety for gain. Skinny shrivelled hands touch his
clothes in the hope of arresting his progress; worn-out tawdry finery is
thrust before him, in the hope of tempting him to purchase. No shop, or
rather store, is devoted to any particular object of gain. Butter,
dates, olives, broken and pawned articles, are mixed up in the most
absurd confusion. With brocaded coats, valuable lace, and Eastern silks,
Jewish trade resembles the Jewish character and the Jewish faith,—much
that is low, mean, and sordid, combined with some elements of the
beautiful, the prized, and the good.
And yet this strange, fantastic, rococo district, if beyond the pale of
Christianity, is far from being without the pale of fashion. Ladies,
exhibiting the height of Parisian fashions, with dainty footsteps and
soft movement, may be seen of an afternoon endeavoring to thread their
way through the greasy throng, which jostle, elbow, and abuse each other
in these narrow lanes. The cunning Israelites must have scouts to tell
them whenever any particular connoisseur is approaching; for, strange
enough, the article which each is in search of is precisely that which
is displayed in all the shops. If the lady come to purchase lace, the
most valuable specimens of the pointe du roi are forced upon her; if
she require silks, by the strangest magnetism the finest dyes and
richest fabrics are unrolled as she draws near. From the constant and
invaluable habit of concealing their own impressions, the Jews appear to
be better enabled to read the sensations of others. They know, almost to
a nicety, the extent of their customers' means and intentions. Go
disguised as you choose, they will discover you. The Jewish origin,
grafted on the Roman craft, has produced a progeny which would astonish
the adroitness of our own peculiar tribe of Levis and Fagans.
I had, on two or three different occasions, visited the Ghetto in search
of old lace, and on each occasion had turned to admire perhaps one of
the most beautiful faces which could at that time have been found in
Rome. It was that of a young Jewish girl, who was always sitting at the
same corner of the street at the entrance of the Ghetto, where she kept
Hers was one of those faces in which the features, from their strongly
marked development, become at once impressed upon the memory. She was
tall, of a commanding appearance, her cheek was very pale, but lit up by
the blackest eyes. She wore a thick Indian-striped handkerchief, tied
cunningly round her head; and a large pair of massive gold ear-rings,
which fell almost to her neck. Even if plain, she would have been most
remarkable, from the perfect indifference which she evinced as to
whether she sold her goods or not. While all the rest of her tribe were
fawning, cringing, flattering, and importuning, she sat there like a
statue, but a statue of a most perfect order. Nor was this indifference
and apathy of her manner thrown away on the purchasers who crowded
towards the Ghetto. It stood her in better stead than the most manifest
anxiety could have done; it placed her apart from that detestable crowd.
I observed many persons stop and make purchases of her on whom all
importunity would have been thrown away. There was not one of the buyers
who did not look back with hurried gaze at that pale and glorious face,
which did not even glow with the least tinge of animation at the
admiration which she excited. She sold her stock in trade, changed her
money, with the same entire absence of interest in her occupation.
Carriages turning the corner suddenly where her fruit-stall was placed,
sometimes almost grazed it and overthrew all its contents; but even this
circumstance did not appear to awaken any interest in her mind; she only
stooped down to pick up one or two of the peaches which had been shaken
off by the jar, quietly moved her stall a little nearer the wall, and
then folded her arms again in the same contemptuous manner.
Strange, indeed, but it ever is so; the world cares most for those who
appear to treat it with contempt and to be indifferent to its petty
interests. Be a slave to the world, and it will impose the heaviest
burdens upon you; it will be the hardest of all taskmasters; but, on the
other hand, drive it before you, and it will obey almost every impulse
of the determined. In this country, where individualism and idiosyncracy
are now so rare, the very deference which the whole of constituted
society pays to the requirements of the majority, only renders the
exceptional case more rare and prized. We unconsciously admire those
who, instead of seeking to be guided by the opinions of others, endeavor
to direct them, and who, forming their own standard of judgment, keep
themselves aloof from all fluctuations of indecision and weakness.
I had been commissioned to purchase two flounces of the handsomest lace,
and had made two unsuccessful expeditions to the Ghetto in search of it,
ransacking all the shops and listening to an immeasurable amount of
falsehood; but as I was soon to leave Rome, I did not wish to do so with
my commission unfulfilled, and resolved to make another search: besides,
that beautiful pale statuette deeply interested me, without ever having
addressed a single word to her. I felt well assured that her mind must
be one of no ordinary stamp. One day I stopped near her for some time,
without attracting her observation, and then it was that I so greatly
admired and marvelled at the total absence of the two qualifications for
which her nation are remarkable—cunning and obtrusiveness.
I reached the stall, and turned after I had passed it a little way to
take a passing glance at her. To my astonishment, and almost sorrow, I
observed that her cheeks, and even her figure, had lost their admirable
fulness: there was a strange and wild expression in her eye. I turned
back involuntarily and stood for a moment opposite her stall. She
beckoned me towards her.
"I know what you want," she said, with a rapid utterance, as if anxious
to get rid of the subject; "you want to purchase some lace. I have a
piece which I am sure will suit you, and you shall have it very cheap.
It belonged to—." Here she hesitated, looked down, and, as I fixed my
eye on her countenance for the first time, the blood rose to the very
temples, and she appeared lovely. "No matter who it belonged to; some
great man, of course; but I have the lace, that is sufficient for you to
know. Tell me what sum you are willing to give, and then I shall know
whether mine is too expensive."
I named the amount which I was desired to lay out for the finest quality
of old lace. It was, I knew, a small sum for such an object, unless in
the case of some fortunate hit; but to my surprise she told me that her
piece of lace was much within that mark; and then I began to imagine
that it must be of inferior quality, but she assured me of the contrary.
She commissioned a boy to keep her stall for her for a few minutes, and
then walked on at a rapid pace, desiring me to follow her.
It was not until she rose from her seat that I had an opportunity of
observing the beautiful symmetry of her figure. Her footstep was firm,
like that of one who possesses a strong will. To have seen her as she
swept along the streets, you would have imagined that she was on a
mission, in which high resolve and great self-sacrifices were required,
so compressed was the lip and haughty the glance,—
Moving through the throng,
Like one who does, not suffers wrong.
No one would have imagined that it was the question of the sale of a
piece of lace as she passed down the streets, with the folds of her
dress almost sweeping the ground; while, with a scarf of beautiful
texture fastened round her waist, she resembled one of those maidens of
the sun which we see in Egyptian frescoes.
"Let me pass, Emmanuel," she said to a broken-backed, stunted broker,
who was hanging some filthy rags on a string which stretched across a
"Pass! so you shall, my love, my own bright eyes: but you shall give me
a kiss first," said the cadaverous-looking wretch; and he put his thin,
bleared, and hairy lips near her face; but in the act he turned his head
half round, and, for the first time, he saw me.
"Oh, I ask your pardon, Rachel!" he said; "the Christian, of course,
before one of our own tribe. I know you well, my darling, you never
deceived me in your brightest days. You are a great lady; but, after
all, we are both more or less in the same line. I sell old clothes, you
sell old kisses; the difference is, that I cannot get rid of my wares as
fast as you can of your kisses."
Suddenly she turned round in all her beauty; flushed with indignation
and trembling with anger, contempt, bitterness, and hatred, could not
have been more gloriously expressed. The sallow, sickly, hollow-eyed
impertinent was looking up at her face when, with one push, she hurled
him over a heap of rubbish, which in the centre of the street supplied
the place of a gutter; and shouts of laughter saluted him as he slunk,
downcast and defeated, back into his shop.
When I looked at him, I observed that his eyes, which before had only
expressed lust and sordid avarice, now gleamed wildly with a look of
intense and bitter hatred.
There are none whom we are so disposed to punish as the mean and sordid,
and yet there are none whom it is more dangerous to offend; they feel,
with tenfold virulence, the disgust which they engender; they go about
bearing with them a curse, which they are ever ready to transfer to any
who offend them. No man is ignorant of his possessing the lower
qualities; and no one, not even he who suffers from their action, can so
intensely hate and despise them as their possessor. They are the chains
on the galley-slaves, which clank at every step, but which they cannot
shake off, allowing them only that amount of liberty of action which
incessantly recalls their restraint.
My guide turned sharp round to the left, and the next moment we were at
the foot of the broken stair. Two or three dogs, which as usual had
taken possession of the small space allotted for the passage to the
primo piano, rushed, with frantic yells, down stairs. It could scarcely
be properly called a house; it was rather a collection of planks nailed
together, supporting the most rickety description of roof. It was quite
wonderful how the whole fabric held together at all; for between the
chinks of the rotten and creaking floor we could look into the shop
below, where, amid immense piles of bales and casks, children were
There was a curious expression of doubt and uneasiness in Rachel's
countenance, when, with some slight degree of impatience, I begged her
to be quick and show me the lace. She looked carefully round the room,
as though fearful of being observed. At last, after some hesitation, she
ransacked an old drawer, and drew forth the lace from beneath a heap of
rags and rubbish.
It was certainly the most magnificent specimen of old lace which I had
seen in Italy. A large and deep flounce of the pointe du roi; that
lace which was made solely for the Grand Monarque, and subsequently sold
at immense prices, a great portion of it coming into the possession of
the cardinals. It was in a most perfect state, and the only thing that
surprised me in the transaction was the excessively low price which she
asked for it: but, of course, it was not my business to tell her the
real value of her own property; so I eagerly wrote a check on Torlonia,
and requested her to pack it up.
My attention had latterly been so absorbed by the beauty of the fabric,
that it was not until I placed the check in her hand I observed how she
trembled. She endeavored, when she saw me observing her, to conceal her
agitation, but it soon defied even her dissimulation. She leant against
a small chest of drawers, and had barely strength enough to point to a
cup, which was half full of spirits, which I handed to her. She drank it
off with the energy of apparent despair, and then it was that she
commenced to revive slowly; but her forehead was still damp from
agitation, and her lips were as pale and colorless as her cheeks.
"What is the matter?" I asked. "Are you ill, Rachel?"
She clutched hold of my arm mechanically.
"Do not show the lace," she exclaimed, "to any one in Rome; at least
promise me solemnly that you will not allow a single person to know from
whom you purchased it."
"Just as you like," I answered, "but you ought, on the contrary, to be
very proud of having such a beautiful piece in your possession. I should
have thought that you would have wished me to tell every one of my
friends, so as to extend the reputation of your shop; but, of course, I
will do as you like, and lock it up until I leave Rome."
She seemed greatly relieved by this assurance; it must have restored or
confirmed her confidence in me, for after a long pause she said,—
"I will tell you the truth, for you are a friend. You saw that man," she
continued; "that miserable wretch, Emmanuel? Well, although I treated
him in so bold and harsh a manner, I must tell you that I am at heart
bitterly afraid of him. He is at once a coward to the strong, and a
tyrant to the weak; one of those despicable characters which get our
nation unjustly aspersed. He really does possess all those vices and
meannesses which are attributed to many who are as noble, true, and good
as you of the Christian race. You will consider me as unmerciful as my
faith, from the manner in which I speak of this abandoned villain; but
the truth is, that I am in the power of a guardian, who, if he knew that
I had this money, would be the first to take it from me; and Emmanuel,
who finds every thing out, will be certain to inform him. You saw the
look he gave when I pushed the foul creature from me. I know that he is
only waiting his opportunity to be revenged upon me. He had the
insolence to ask me to marry him two years since; and upon my refusing
to accept him, he swore that his hatred should some day or another find
me out; so I quite tremble when I see him, however bold I may pretend to
be. But, oh, my heart! Hush! he is standing there below."
She knelt down on the floor, and touched me gently to make me draw back
so as not to be seen by him; but it was too late, he had caught a
glimpse of her through the crevices of the floor. He did not attempt to
come up the stair, but he stood at the foot of it, heaping upon her the
coarsest and most brutal expressions. For a moment, all the fear that
had shortly before marked her countenance had given way to the most
intense hatred. It flashed from her eyes and dilated her nostrils. My
first impulse was to rush forward and turn the man out of the shop; but
the girl saw the movement, and placed her hand on my arm with a
significant look. The color had left her cheeks, and she was again pale
We waited there some minutes, when Emmanuel, after muttering sundry
curses, withdrew. We looked at him as he passed down the lane, with his
hands clenched and the muscles of his countenance trembling with
excitement. We heard him, as he passed by, telling every one of his
friends that Rachel was shut up in the room with a Christian. Some
treated the information with indifference, others only called him
jealous; but sundry boys crowded round the door, waiting for my
I took the lace and left the shop with her. The children in the street,
excited by that rascal, made use of some insulting expressions towards
her; but ran away whenever I made an attempt to approach them. I could,
however, see that the poor girl was, if not alarmed, very unhappy; for,
now that Emmanuel was no longer present, the tears ran down her cheeks.
I took her hand kindly and parted from her, but not without a vague and
uncomfortable feeling of doubt and mistrust.
"Ah, me!" I thought, when alone, "is this the freedom, the liberty, the
charity which suffereth long, the consideration for others, which the
gospel teaches? It is well for the great poet to write of the freedom of
the Roman citizen:—
But Rome, 'tis thine alone, with awful sway,
To rule mankind, and make the world obey;
Disposing peace and war, thine own majestic sway.
To tame the proud, the fettered slave to free:
These are imperial acts, and worthy thee.
The fettered slave is set free, but the citizen is enthralled; not
because he now proclaims another king than Cæsar, but simply because the
tenets of his faith are not precisely the same as our own. And this
beautiful girl, brought up in that worst of suffering—mental
suffering—keenly feeling the persecution to which her race is exposed,
however, she could bear children who would, in those moments of
tribulation to which Imperial Rome of all empires is most subject, stand
forth to defend her walls!"
I went away, however, well pleased with my purchase. Notwithstanding my
promise to the contrary, I could not avoid showing it to one or two
particular friends. Even in so slight a matter it is very easy to find
food for vanity. It gratified me to have purchased it so cheaply. When
it was pronounced quite beautiful, I accepted the expression as an
indirect tribute to my judgment, taste, and ability. It was, of course,
not the lace that I cared for, although most anxious to gratify her who
had charged me with the commission. What, to judge myself truly, I
delighted in, was the circumstance of my having gained a victory over
those who possess hereditary claims for depth and cunning.
Ah, it does not do to cast the lead too frequently into the depths of
the heart in search of motives.
I was at dinner the same day when a card was sent in to me; it had the
name of M. Narelli, the head of the police, printed upon it. I was at a
loss to imagine what business he could have with me; but as my servant
told me that it was a matter of the last moment, with some misgivings I
desired that he might be shown in. The moment he appeared, I could
detect at one glance that he was a man of official eminence, and also of
great ability. The eye always catches the resolution or indecision of
the mind. To judge from his expression, he must have been a man of the
coolest courage and most determined character. His manner was
deferential, without being obsequious; his voice, clear, sonorous, and
distinct, rang on the ear like a well-toned bell.
He commenced by apologizing for the intrusion, and then at once asked me
whether it was true that I had that morning purchased some lace of a
young Jewish girl in the Ghetto.
No sooner had he uttered the word lace, than the whole tragedy burst
upon me. I remembered Rachel's hesitation, her fears, her tremblings,
and excitement: all was explained. For one moment I felt tempted to deny
the whole transaction, and to refuse to show the lace: a second
consideration, however, proved to me that it would be at once absurd and
unjustifiable: but that moment showed me the poor girl, pale,
broken-hearted, and trembling under the weight of a terrible accusation.
I bitterly lamented the innocent part which I had taken in this
transaction, and regretted that I had ever visited the Ghetto in search
of lace. I thought of her as I first saw her standing at the
fruit-stall, with that haughty, contemptuous glance, that resolute and
open countenance; and it was bitter to picture her sinking in jail, in
such a prison as Italy boasts of in these enlightened days: but there
was not much time for reflection and consideration. M. Narelli, who saw
that I was hesitating, told me at once that the whole truth was known,
and that he must require the piece of lace to be given over to him; he
then suggested that it would be a kindness to the woman herself if I
would accompany him at once to St. Angelo, to be confronted with her.
As we drove rapidly down the streets, he told me that the lace had been
stolen some months since from one of the cardinals. The police had
suspected for a long time that it was concealed somewhere in the Ghetto;
but in consequence of the hostile feeling which had been apparent there
for many months, they did not like to commence an official search in
that district without sufficient evidence; this evidence had been
obtained that very day through one of those ill-conditioned, ill-omened
spies, who are to be found connected with the police of every country.
From the description which he gave of the man, I could not for a moment
doubt that it was Emmanuel. He told me very frankly the precise hour at
which the informer came to him, and I found that it was soon after I had
left the shop.
There was a slight stoppage caused by the carriages which were driving
up to the Teatro d'Apolion, the present Opera. People looked curiously
into ours, which was well-known as that of the chief of the police. How
wonderful are the circles into which the interests of society are
divided; how many currents are eddying and bubbling in their course
before the mighty river of human existence is formed; each stream so
perfect in itself, so separate from every other, yet ever flowing
towards the same wide fathomless sea. Of the gay and the happy whom I
passed, how few cared for this poor girl, or how few would have cared
had they even heard the tale! I felt myself almost criminal from the
circumstance of having been the cause of this misery to another. My
whole thoughts were fixed on this one object. Before the fulness of my
imagination the prison-walls disappeared, and I saw nothing but the
cells, and listened to the voices of the many to whom the voice of the
comforter is never heard. We were passing over the yellow Tiber, but I
heeded not its associations, either with history or with my early
schoolboy days, their studies and their struggles. When the mind is full
of one object, all others become invisible, even to the senses. The
light of the mind is greater than the light of the body.
We arrived at last at the gates of St. Angelo, the tomb of the dead
Pagan and of the living Christian. After certain stern, painful
formalities were gone through, in the most matter-of-fact way, between
my companion and the commander of the strong post which was on guard, we
entered the mighty precincts, and the gates closed behind us. I had then
time to marvel at the massiveness of the structure—the immense blocks
of stone, so typical of the colossal empire under which it was
constructed. Passing through a long series of narrow passages, gloomy
and sad, impervious to all sound, save that of low sighs and groans from
dungeons below and around us, we arrived at an open space in the centre,
above which the winged angel is poised in the act of sheathing his
sword. The moon shone around it, and the expanded wings, edged with a
silvery light, seemed almost to move in the light breeze: there were
guards on the battlements, who marched with solemn, measured tread; and
high above all floated the Pontifical banner, with the keys of St. Peter
in its huge folds flapping in the breeze,—the emblem of sovereignty,
spiritual and temporal. No one can judge of the immense extent of St.
Angelo from the interior. The ashes of the great Emperor, how small a
space could they have occupied in that vast circumference—the tomb of
the one day, the citadel of the morrow—the grave of the Pagan, the
fortress of Christianity! During the recent revolution at Rome the
people broke down the viaduct which connects it with the Vatican, and
the ruined wall still remains;—we may hope, as a good omen, to show
that the palace and the prison are no longer closely connected together,
and that safety does not depend on the battlements and armaments of that
stern old tower of other days, which stands surrounded with the
memorials and memories of imperial Rome.
In one of the darkest of these cells the poor girl had been thrown.
When the door was opened gently, we saw what seemed to be a heap of
clothes piled together in one corner; but the light from a small lamp
suspended from the ceiling was so weak that it was quite impossible to
distinguish any object distinctly. The cell, as far as I could judge
from a hasty glance, resembled those abodes of misery which have been so
frequently described, and which it would require the energies of ten
Howards to improve. There was a disagreeable, close, damp smell; the
pavement of the floor was sadly out of repair; there was a bracket
placed against the wall, with a few necessary articles of furniture for
ordinary use; but when my eyes became more accustomed to the light, I
discovered that what had appeared a mere heap of clothes was the poor
girl, almost rolled up in the corner. For some moments she continued to
lie there, apparently quite insensible; but at last, with a sharp cry,
she raised her head suddenly, and then I could not mistake the beautiful
countenance that had so struck me on that morning. But, sad to say, even
these few hours had made great ravages: sorrow, anxiety, and misery are
the most zealous accessories of age. She really looked years older: this
might have been partly the effect of the lurid, flickering light, and
the disorder of her dress; but sure I am that no one could have
recognized the haughty, dignified, imposing woman, who but a few hours
since had swept almost contemptuously through the streets.
"You are come to accuse me," she exclaimed, falling with both her hands
on the pavement, and striking it with violence; "now you come to accuse
me. It is like a Christian," she continued, with increased bitterness in
her voice and vehemence in her action. And then she sobbed violently,
and looked into my face with a piteous expression.
The police prevented the necessity of my reply, for one of the men
seized her at once by the arm, and dragged her up rudely, desiring her
to stand. And she did stand there—a picture of utter prostration,
mental and physical, to have melted any heart, save the stony, arid ones
of those men who were with me. Stand alone she could not, but she leaned
against the wall, and her head fell on her shoulder, her fingers were
intertwined together, and she moved them about with a kind of galvanic
agitation. All the anger and impetuosity of her character had passed
away: she was no longer the ideal of ruined greatness, but the simple,
broken-hearted woman. Violence in a woman is at all times so painful to
witness, even in moments of extreme sorrow, that it rather offends than
"You know this woman?" said the abrupt, uncouth examiner, in a voice
which echoed to the vaulted roof.
I scarcely dared look at her; but I felt that those large black eyes
were fixed supplicatingly upon me, and I, too, trembled.
The question was repeated in the same harsh manner, and this time I
nodded in the affirmative.
"She sold you this piece of lace?" was the next question.
He took the lace of exquisite texture, and unrolled it so roughly that
it tore in his hand. M. Narelli had left us for some minutes, or this
miserable subordinate would not have dared to behave in so rude a
manner; but I scarcely thought it worth while to notice it,—or rather,
I scarcely did notice it at the time, my attention was so absorbed by
the poor girl, whose happiness, whose every prospect, depended on my
I could not but repeat the affirmation; but how strange a thing is
justice, that it is sometimes difficult to reconcile it to humanity,
generosity, and all the nobler qualities of the heart! At the moment
that I was telling the truth my heart, and almost my conscience,
reproached me; it was impossible for me to deny the fact; even had it
been possible by a denial to have destroyed all the links of evidence,
could I so violate every received principle? But, nevertheless, however
irreconcilable with honor, dignity, and religion such a course would
have been, the features of that poor girl have frequently since appeared
to me wearing such a reproachful glance, that I have seemed to stand
before her abashed and self-convicted.
"And this piece of lace you stole?" continued the inquisitor, turning
sharply to Rachel,—a style of examination which would scarcely be
understood in England.
She made no reply, but looked at him with a calm, steady glance. Then a
sudden thought seemed to strike her.
"I ask you but one favor," she said, speaking to M. Narelli, who had
just returned. "Order these men away, and leave me alone for ten minutes
with this gentleman: if you mistrust me, you will, at least, have
confidence in an English gentleman. Besides, what chance is there of my
escaping from this place?" And she cast a melancholy glance around the
cell. "You can watch at the door, if you choose," she continued, with
additional animation; "do this, and I will give him some most important
information; if you remain, I will tell nothing at all."
The men whispered together, and appeared to hesitate about granting her
request. I looked on in great anxiety. I was most desirous of being of
some use to the poor girl, more especially as I felt myself to have been
the innocent, but still the original cause, of all her sufferings.
"Do this," she continued, with a heightened tone,—"do this, and I will
tell you much more: I will put you upon the track of a man who has
stolen countless wealth—who has done worse than steal, who has stained
his hands with blood. You know Flavio. Well, I know him also; and at the
present moment I can tell you where he is to be found. Do you believe me
Flavio had been well known some two years previously as one of those
bandits who was the terror of a whole province. He was accused of
several daring crimes, and a few months before these events a person had
been murdered in one of the narrow streets which skirt the city, and
the strongest circumstantial evidence pointed him out as the criminal.
Since then the police had been vigorously on the alert to discover his
hiding-place, but all their efforts up to this period had been
fruitless. I had often heard him spoken of, more especially in
connection with the republican movement then in progress in Italy; but I
was quite at a loss to imagine what connection could have subsisted
between this man and Rachel, or where she had had the opportunity of
The men left the cell, M. Narelli whispering me to curtail the interview
as much as possible, as they were anxious to terminate the first
inquiry. So soon as the door was closed, she threw herself at my feet,
took from her bosom a small packet, which I opened, and there I saw the
picture of a fair child—she might have been seven years of age; and
packed up with the picture was a lock of hair, and an address.
"As you are the cause of my misery," she said, "be also the source of my
happiness, even in this infliction. Give this to my child at the
inclosed address, and tell her to love me."
"Your child!" I exclaimed, with astonishment.
"My child, and by a man who you heard me mention so recently—Flavio!"
"And Flavio?" I said.
"I shall denounce him," she exclaimed,—"denounce him, as the one great
duty which I owe to society, as an atonement for my own sins. And does
he not deserve it? Is it but a light thing for a man to ruin me, in the
first instance,—to leave me afterwards to starve, and compel me to keep
a fruit-stall to gain the shadow of a subsistence,—condemning me to
misery and to humiliations which my soul abhorred and loathed? And was
that all? I said that you were the cause of my being here in this
wretched dungeon; you are the innocent cause, but the man who betrayed
"Was Emmanuel," I interrupted.
"Yes, Emmanuel, it is true," she continued; "but there was a traitor
prior to him, and greater than him; it was Flavio."
"It is scarcely credible, but true. He insisted upon my giving him all
my earnings; when I refused to do so,—not for my own sake, for I could
live just as happily on bread-and-water as you could surrounded by all
your luxuries, but for the sake of my child, who, at that time, was
almost starving, for I had to bestow all the pittance I could scrape
together to procure it a nurse and a lodging. It was Flavio induced me
to steal the lace. I did so in a moment of desperation, when I fully
believed he would have murdered me if I had refused to obey him. I had
it by me so long; for, in the first instance, I did not venture to offer
it for sale; and latterly, I thought it would be difficult to procure
the full price. At last I heard that you were searching for old lace,
and thought I was safe in your hands. Circumstances have turned out
differently. I sent to Flavio to tell him that I had found a customer
for it, and till the very moment I was arrested I was perfectly ignorant
that he and that scoundrel Emmanuel were in close communion together;
but when I was dragged out of my small, miserable lodging, like a
condemned criminal, rather than as a person only accused of a crime,
Emmanuel, who stood by, with a glow of triumph over his pale, miserable,
withered countenance, whispered to me, 'Thank Flavio for this; he
denounced you for the reward.'"
"He will escape you," I said; "of course he will imagine that you intend
to be revenged upon him."
"He will not escape me long, for I know that he imagines me ignorant of
the woman with whom he is now living, and who hates him with a
bitterness second only to my own. She will give him up to justice, and
deservedly so. A greater villain does not exist. I cannot tell you what
his whole conduct has been to me—his acts of barbarous cruelty. Even my
child, whom I dote on, cannot make me forgive the father all his
"And this poor child?" I said.
"Ah, that is the thought that lays next my heart with a weight which I
can scarce sustain!" And she clasped her hands to her bosom, as though
to express the greatness of her affliction. "What I ask you is to see
the child, to give her this lock of hair and likeness. And may I venture
one thing more,—may I ask you to take care that she is not left utterly
destitute?" And so saying, she put a small purse in my hand, saying, "It
is very light, but it contains all that I possess."
I returned her the purse, as she required every baiocchi to add to her
comforts in the prison; but I set her mind at rest by promising to see
her child the next morning, and to do all that lay in my power for its
support and protection.
She fell at my feet, bathing my hands with her tears. In her beauty, as
she knelt before me, I for the moment forgot in what spot we were
standing, and looked upon her with an interest which was only broken,
rudely enough, by the clanging of the chains of the door, and its
creaking movement on its rusty hinges. M. Narelli entered, and with the
rough, straightforward, practical conduct of a man in his position, he
came at once to the point.
"You confess, then, that you stole the lace?"
"I do," she answered, with a firm voice, which surprised me after the
scene I had just witnessed; "I do confess that I stole the lace; but it
was not for myself, but for one far greater, and far better capable of
making a defence—for that man Flavio."
I noticed the gleam of satisfaction that passed over M. Narelli's
countenance at the mention of his name; and when he felt well assured
that he was, at last, fairly on the track of the man who had evaded all
his efforts, and in pursuit of whom, as I afterwards learned, he was, on
one occasion, nearly losing his situation, on account of a robbery
which it was quite evident that Flavio had committed, but of which he
could not obtain the least trace, at once his whole manner changed
towards the unfortunate girl; he asked her to sit down, to be quite
calm, and to tell him all that she knew of the man's career.
I thought, for one moment, that even then she would have relented, but
it was far otherwise; she began at once, with the calmest voice, to give
a sketch of Flavio's life from the time when she first met him. The
story was one of intense interest. It seems that at one time he was
engaged in gaining an honest livelihood; but one unlucky day he
quarrelled with a man—struck him; this led to a tussle, and, in a fit
of exasperation, he took out a knife and killed him on the spot. From
that moment he was lost. The dead man's family vowed vengeance against
him. He had to take to the woods, where, for self-defence, and really
for his subsistence, he took to the brigand's life. His extreme courage,
and even generosity, soon brought a large number of followers together;
and, as I have already remarked, he became the terror of the whole
Neapolitan frontier. At one time two or three regiments were sent in
pursuit of him; and then it was he undertook the last and boldest step
of coming to Rome itself. He got into the city at night, and for a long
time nothing more was heard of Flavio. At last his old habits returned.
Some robberies committed with wondrous skill, and a murder of
extraordinary atrocity, made the police suspect that the man who thus
braved their vigilance was a criminal of no ordinary description; but do
what they would, they were baffled in every scheme which they planned
for his arrest. At one moment his extraordinary nerve saved him,—for
instance, when chased by the police, he sought shelter in one of the
very tribunals, which they might naturally imagine was about the last
place where he would have been found. Mingled with this wild and savage
character were some generous qualities; he had been known to assist
people in misfortune, and a vague kind of interest attached to him on
account of traits of self-denial that were attributed to him. But now,
when Rachel told me of his heartless conduct to her, I learned how
entirely visionary are all those tales of nobility of character among
men who are leading an abandoned and vicious life.
From her story it could not be doubted for a moment that he it was who
had instigated her to commit the act which had brought her to despair.
Nothing could equal the bitterness with which she inveighed against him.
She told all his hiding-places—the secret passages by which he evaded
all pursuit; and when the story was finished, and her vengeance
accomplished, she wept like a child.
Even the stern M. Narelli was touched at the painful tale. He gave
orders that every comfort should be shown her, and after some minutes
further delay, we left the prison.
We had been there almost three hours, but the time had seemed very
short. When we crossed the Ponte St. Angelo the people were leaving the
Opera, after three hours of fictitious sorrow, while I had been passing
that time in the presence of real affliction—side by side, as it were,
in the face of each other, the mockery of woe and its solemn reality.
And how often is it so! Unthought of—not, indeed, uncared for—but
unthought of by the happy, the carriage rolls along, passing the
hospital and the prison in its rapid progress; the golden youth,
listlessly reclining in happy indolence, hears not the voice of pain,
sees not the hectic glow of suffering on the cheek; nursed in the sweet
sorrows of romance, dreams not of living agonies more fearful than those
which the greatest actor can portray, and of death as a reality.
I determined to lose no time in fulfilling my mission. The directions of
the house where the child lived had been very carefully written, so I
had no difficulty in discovering it; but I had to pass through a
labyrinth of dirty streets, until at last, in a small, narrow lane, next
the Farnese Palace, I found the house. Evidently something had occurred
to excite the inmates, for people were bustling about the door, and
there was unusual excitement for that late hour of the night. I stood
aside for a few moments to learn, if possible, what was the cause of all
this movement; and then I overheard expressions which made me tremble
for the safety of the poor child, if it was quite certain that she lived
there. "Who did it? Where is the man? Poor child, how beautiful she
was!" At last, unable to restrain my feelings, I rushed through the
group, and asked whether a young girl of eight or ten years lived there.
"She did live here," said an old woman, with the tears trickling down
her cheek,—"she did live here, but she is dead."
"Dead!" I exclaimed; for however indifferent a person may be to us,
perhaps in the circle of events nothing is more fearful than to seek the
living and find the corpse; to expect joy, and tremble before despair.
"Dead! When did she die? How did she die?"
"Come up, and see for yourself," said the woman; "the room will explain
every thing." And the men made way for me, and I followed up a rickety
staircase to the third flat,—it was scarcely worth the name of a floor.
As we drew near the top I saw two or three myrmidons of the police; they
all, I observed, looked pale—almost alarmed: evidently some great
catastrophe had occurred, but I had yet to learn the worst.
The light which the old woman held in her hand shone upon something
sparkling on the ground. I touched her arm to point it out to her, and
then she threw the full blaze of light upon it, and I saw at once that
it was blood. A cold, creeping sensation passed over me; that terrible
conviction that in one moment we are going to be witnesses of the
effects of a great crime almost paralyzed my senses; but, strange to
say, at this moment of horror I felt as if I had witnessed the whole
scene before. When we entered the room, and I saw the body of a young
and lovely child lying on the floor, bathed in blood, I did not shrink
even then, although destitution and crime were both presented to me in
their most fearful aspect. My nerves appeared to have been braced for
some great necessity. The police were standing by perfectly irresolute,
and incapable of taking any decided course, when one of them picked up a
handkerchief from the floor.
"Rachel!" he exclaimed, looking at the corner.
I started at the name, and then a sudden idea flashed across me: it was
Flavio who had been here, and with that devilish spirit of revenge to
which Rachel alluded, he had killed his own child. I took the chief of
the police to one side, and asked him if he knew Flavio.
"Well," he replied. "I was one of the band who were sent in pursuit of
him for two or three months. We fell in with him several times, but
never were able to take him."
"You had better inquire about him," I said; "for I strongly suspect him
of having committed this murder."
He took my suggestion, and it appeared that a man, precisely resembling
Flavio, had been seen leaving the house at the time of the murder. When
once suspicion was directed into the right channel, numerous
corroborative circumstances were cited. It appeared that Flavio came
constantly to see the child: the only strange part of the case was that
he appeared very fond of it, and as tender and considerate towards it as
a man of his brutal nature could be. There clearly must have been some
ground for this sudden and unprovoked attack,—if, indeed, he committed
it; after exhausting every possible motive, we could not arrive at any
After a while the horror of the spectacle grew upon me: it presented
itself no longer as a picture to my imagination, but as a fearful fact.
The crowd of people who forced their way into the room—the blasphemous
and terrible expressions—the coarse jokes—the vulgar, obscene
language—the poor child, not fashioned tenderly, but lying like a
confused mass of clothes and gore upon the floor, perfectly sickened my
heart. And when I thought that I could not be of any further use, I was
too happy to turn away.
I returned home, but could not sleep. All the events of the day crowded
upon my mind. My dream had been dreamt before I laid my head upon the
pillow: it now filled my brain like a horrible vision. I rose early,
wearied with restlessness, and went immediately in search of M. Narelli.
To my great surprise I found that he was up, and in close communication
with the chief of the police, whom I had seen on the preceding night at
the poor child's room. I was immediately shown into his office, and I
observed that his countenance betrayed an anxiety and annoyance unusual
in persons of his nature under any circumstances.
I was beginning to tell him my story, when he interrupted me.
"My dear sir," he said, "pardon me, but we have no time to lose, and I
know it all. A murder has been committed, and there is no question that
Flavio is the murderer: and I will tell you something more that will
surprise you. I know the cause of the murder—the motives that
influenced him. What do you think?—he was present at the examination of
that girl, yesterday!"
"He!" I exclaimed, with an expression of astonishment.
"It is surprising what he can do," he said: "he was disguised like a
soldier on guard; and, if you remember, two or three of them were
listening when the door was opened, when I returned after your interview
The whole mystery was now explained: he had murdered the child to
revenge himself on Rachel.
"What I fear is," continued M. Narelli, "that we are three hours too
late, and the fellow has escaped; but we have sent off in all
directions, and all that can be will be done. I am now going to see the
poor girl, will you come with me?"
A strange fascination made me do so; besides, I wished to restore the
objects which she had given into my charge. When we arrived we found her
asleep: the jailer awoke her more gently and with more consideration
than before, for her sorrow had touched even his heart. When she saw me
she gave an exclamation of joy.
"And my child?" she said.
I could not answer a word, but put the packet into her hand.
She looked up with a kind of vague, incredulous smile, and passed her
hand across her forehead, as though to reflect more clearly.
"You have seen her, and you have not given it to her," she said. "What
does it mean?"
"It means," said M. Narelli, "that your child is the victim of an act of
fearful treachery, of a dreadful crime."
"My child! my child!" she shrieked aloud. "There is but one man who
could hurt a child, a sweet child like that—its own father!"
She bowed her head for a time, and raised it again only to utter the
most fearful ravings. Fit followed fit; her whole frame was convulsed,
and I withdrew in horror and anguish.
The result may be shortly stated. She went mad, and was confined in an
asylum,—one of those glorious charitable establishments of which modern
Rome can boast. Flavio escaped to the Campo Morto, where he is now
living,—an asylum for men guilty of the blackest crimes, where they
gradually fall victims to the pestilential vapors which they inhale, and
perish beneath the brightest sun while cultivating the soil so soon to
become their graves.