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 a fruit-stall.

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 narrow lane.

"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 riotously playing.

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 as star-light.

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 departure.

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 interests.

"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 evidence.

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 now?"

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 seeing him.

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 me was——"

"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 iniquity."

"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 definite conclusion.

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 with Rachel."

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.