The Image of San Donato
by Virginia W. Johnson
“Buy the respect of the insolent.”—Turkish Proverb.
Down in the old Trastevere quarter of Rome the festa of St. Cecilia
was being celebrated in her church and convent.
The day was in harmony with the memory of the noble Roman lady—a sky
serenely blue, sunshine on fountain and temple ruin, the atmosphere
golden with autumn’s richness of coloring. The adjacent narrow streets
were deserted, swept by one of those waves of popular impulse so
characteristic of Italian cities; files of priestly students from the
colleges passed through the gateway, this band clad in black, that one
in scarlet or purple, and formed lines of wavering color in their
transition across the court to the shadowy portico, flanked by the
high, grim, convent wall—that modern reading of St. Cecilia’s
martyrdom. High above the surging crowd of devotees and beggars the
campanile soared into the sunny air, outlined against that azure Roman
sky, and sent forth its tinkling peal of summons to vespers, like the
silvery intonation of a benediction.
Two strangers entered the gate, the elder sombre and quiet, the
younger eager and delighted by the spectacle. Their respective
positions were apparent at a glance. Mademoiselle Durand, in her neat
black dress, with her thin sallow face and repressed expression, was a
French governess; the young American girl beside her, richly attired
in blue velvet, was her charge.
“I am a Cecilia, although far from a saint,” said the latter, gayly.
“Ah! how one loves to hear about her—the beautiful martyr of
Raphael’s pictures! Do you believe she is now singing among the
heavenly choirs up there, mademoiselle?” She paused a moment to gaze
at the sky, the sun-bathed campanile, with a wistfulness not
unfamiliar to her companion, and which she attributed to an
imaginative childhood. “Perhaps the evening bells of Rome are the
echoes of her voice in another world,” she added, musingly.
“Come,” said mademoiselle, dryly.
“When I am grown up perhaps I will build a convent of St. Cecilia in
America with my own money,” continued the girl, meditatively.
Mademoiselle’s eyes sparkled; she caressed the hand within her arm.
“Chère enfant! But I forget; it is not your faith.”
“My faith? I always go to mass with you; I am not only devout, je suis
bigote,” rejoined her pupil.
Then they entered the church. St. Cecilia’s statue, wrought in purest
marble, lay revealed beneath the altar on this one day of the year,
when her crypt in the catacomb also blooms with flowers. Transfigured
by the radiance of silver lamps and myriads of tapers, enshrined in
garlands of roses, veiled in clouds of incense, the statue in its
niche lent a charm to the gaudy ornaments of the high altar, and all
the tinsel draperies extending from column to column along the aisle.
On the right a star of light was visible in the miraculous bath-room,
with its dim frescoes and ancient pillars; the nuns flitted behind the
lattice of their gallery.
Mademoiselle, a devout Catholic, knelt at different shrines. Her pupil
also knelt. The music, the chant, the glow of those gilded and crimson
draperies overhead, seen through the wreaths of incense, all blended.
She closed her eyes. She also must pray. For what boon? She smiled
suddenly as she murmured:
“O God, please send my papa to Rome for Christmas-day.”
Then she rose to her feet, threaded her way among the ranks of
kneeling students, and mademoiselle found her in the court thrusting
money into the hands of a group of little boys, the true Trasteverini,
with large, liquid eyes.
“We shall be late, I fear,” admonished the governess, as they finally
quitted the church.
The young girl, Cecilia Denvil, had insisted on walking to this
particular sanctuary in the Trastevere quarter instead of on the
Pincian Hill. She was both winning and perverse.
At an angle of the crooked streets the window of a shop attracted her
attention. Instantly the shrine of St. Cecilia, with its flowers and
silver lamps, vanished from her mind. The shop was a mere niche in an
old palace wall, brimming over, as it were, into the street, with such
odds and ends as a bit of tapestry, a dark picture, a heap of ancient
books, a tray of coins and medals, an idol fashioned by Chinese skill.
“What is it?” cried Cecilia.
“Only an image,” replied mademoiselle.
The object of Cecilia’s interest was a figure on a bracket in the shop
window. She darted into the shop, her governess following with a
patient smile. What harm could result from her pupil’s chatting with
the old shop-keeper clad in shabby black, with a rusty satin stock
about his neck, and a face tinged yellow by age, as were those of the
dilapidated marble busts ranged above his head in the obscurity of the
shop? Ay, what harm indeed, mademoiselle? If one could read futurity!
The old man, without surprise at the advent of a young girl in blue
velvet, took down the image, and explained to her its history in his
slow, musical, Roman tongue. Even mademoiselle lent an ear of
unwilling fascination to the tale. The little wooden figure, a foot in
height, was San Donato. Behold, signorina mia, the beauty of the face,
the robes tinted a soft rose, with ample gold margin, the aureole and
palm of martyrdom in the hand. In the great Demidoff villa of San
Donato a patron saint was placed in a niche above the portal of
certain suites of apartments, as guardian spirit, by the builder. That
brought good luck. The Russian prince is dead, signorina, and the
nephew heir cast out the saints with quantities of other valuables for
sale. For this reason poor San Donato, patron of the whole place, is
now perched on a shelf in a little shop at Rome.
Cecilia listened with sparkling eyes, and her head a trifle on one
“San Donato shall be my saint,” she cried, extending her hands. “Two
hundred francs? I have more in my purse. You need not frown,
mademoiselle; it is my pocket-money from my papa in America, to spend
as I choose. Good-by, signor; I will come to see you again some time.”
The old shop-keeper looked after her a moment, then drew from under a
chair a repast of dry bread and an onion, interrupted by the
“After all, San Donato might have brought me luck had I kept him
longer,” he muttered, draining the little flask of wine as he sat on
the door-step, and musing with that curious mixture of avarice and
regret at losing a treasure peculiar to the connoisseur.
San Donato was carried along the street by his happy possessor
somewhat in the fashion of a new doll. Mademoiselle hid his light
under a bushel by laying a fold of shawl over his head and aureole.
Cecilia’s fancy was captivated by his history even more than by his
pensive face and gorgeous robes. San Donato, deposed from his lofty
estate in the palace of a Russian prince, should preside as guardian
spirit of her home. The image was invested with the gifts of the good
fairy as much as he embodied any religious symbol. His mission was to
avert evil. The saint passed to a new shrine without attendant
priests, acolytes, and banners, the swinging of censers, the tinkling
of bells, as in the fine old days before Rome was a modern European
capital. It was not even borne aloft on sailors’ shoulders, like the
silver statue of Our Lady at Marseilles, or the miracle-working black
Madonna of Montenero at Leghorn. Instead, San Donato moved under the
arm of a young girl, muffled in a shawl, skirting the bridge, the
quay, the square, now in sunshine, now in shadow, and finally gained
the Piazza di SS. Apostoli. Here he was conducted across a court
adorned with mouldy statues, and vanished up a broad stairway.
On the third story of the palazzo, shorn of its former papal glories,
and yet not degenerated to shabbiness, a door bore the card of Mrs.
Henry Denvil. Governess and pupil entered this apartment, and each
sought her respective chamber. Cecilia tossed aside her hat, placed
the image on the table, and, resting her chin on her hand, gazed at it
steadfastly. San Donato, with his aureole glistening, and holding his
palm branch, seemed to return her scrutiny mildly—even to interpret
her thought. She had never possessed a confidante other than a company
of dolls, now banished as too juvenile companions. “Do you see how it
will be?” she said aloud to the image. “You shall be placed in the
salon, and look down on us all. Nobody will ever banish you again to a
dirty little shop. Perhaps my papa will come over for Christmas. Do
not tell—I begged him to come in my last letter after mademoiselle
had corrected. I do not spell very well in English, you know, while
Jack has forgotten it altogether, mamma says. Jack is at school in
Switzerland, and I have not seen him for two years. He is my brother.”
She took up her saint again, and went along the corridor. Her head was
erect, and a soft smile played about her mouth. She peeped into the
salon, drew back, reflected a moment, and entered. This salon
possessed the charm for her of forbidden ground. She was rigidly
banished from it by her mother, who received here much company. Hence
the delight of seeking some niche up high, where San Donato could be
placed. Possibly a gay lady would peer at him through her lorgnette, and inquire, “Pray, my dear Mrs. Denvil, where did you get that
Mamma would seek her lorgnette, and reply: “A little statue? I rent
the apartment, furnished, of Monsignor N——. The count may know.”
Clearly, San Donato deserved a place of honor, and the salon alone was
sufficiently good for him. Cecilia traversed the room slowly, seeking
a shrine. The place was dark and silent; draperies of sombre damask
shrouded the windows and doorways; chandeliers of Venetian glass
swayed down from the vaulted ceiling like garlands of pale, frozen
flowers; the floor was of polished, inlaid woods; the bronze and green
tints of the wall were relieved by gilded cornices and columns bearing
the shield of the count’s ancestors. All was stately, impressive, if a
trifle tarnished; and the effect of patrician elegance, everywhere
apparent, was heightened by an occasional portrait—a Martellini in
cavalier hat, with an angel bearing heavenward the family emblem, a
hammer; a Martellini as a nun, with long, pale fingers clasped over a
Cecilia had not completed her survey when she was startled by the
tinkle of a bell and the approach of visitors. One glance assured her
that egress by means of the door was cut off. She darted behind a sofa
in the corner beside the window. Here she crouched on the floor,
holding San Donato in her arms, and laughed silently. She did not fear
to confront these guests. Who then? She dreaded the flash of her own
mother’s eye. Yes, indeed, her pretty mamma had ceased to love her,
banished her more and more from her presence, made sharp or dry
responses to her prattle. Cecilia sighed inaudibly as she crouched
there. Hark! The visitors approached the window; she could touch one
by extending her arm from her hiding-place. Who were they? Oh, some of
her mamma’s gentlemen friends lounging in for an afternoon call. They
spoke in a low, rapid tone, and their conversation only reached her
because of her propinquity.
Birds of prey sometimes pass over the blooming valleys, the waving
grain sown with wild flowers, the dove-cote beneath the cottage eaves,
uttering their harsh, discordant cries while on the wing.
The English voice, hoarse and deep: “It promises to be a slow
season—awfully dull. No English coming out this year, I hear. Have
you recently made the acquaintance of—la belle Américaine?”
The French voice, clear and crisp in utterance: “Yes, last week, at
the Spanish Embassy. She is really chic, mon ami.”
The English voice: “Her dinners are not at all bad. Lots of money, you
know, and the count manages the whole establishment, from renting her
the apartment of his uncle the Monsignor N—— to selecting the
governess of the daughter and the chef. Ha! ha! ha!”
The French voice: “Ah, the Count Martellini! And monsieur the husband
is at home in America making the money, I suppose. Mon Dieu! How those
men over yonder trust their wives! A charming arrangement for the
The English voice: “Have you heard the latest rumor? They are actually
going off together to the Nile after Christmas. A party is proposed,
and that sort of thing, but every one knows that it will result in a
dahabéeh to the cataract. Vive l’amour!”
The French voice, changing to a louder key: “Ah, madame is looking so
Then a soft rustling of silken draperies over the polished floor
announced the entrance of Mrs. Denvil, amiable greetings were
exchanged, and the gentlemen became deferential and courteous in
manner. Buy the respect of the insolent, by all means!
All the same, two birds of prey had wheeled in heavy and sluggish
flight over the valley where the grain ripened and the poppies
bloomed, uttering their discordant, mocking cry.
Cecilia crouched behind the sofa, bewildered and astonished. What did
they mean? She grew hot and cold, her heart throbbed violently, she
clinched her little hand. Why had these wicked creatures come here to
sing their dreary duet? How their tone changed when the hostess
appeared! She experienced the swift, intense indignation of youth at
hypocrisy, ignorant that these voices would sound the same notes in
every house to which they gained admission, after the manner of
society. Instinct taught her they alluded to her own mother, before
the allusion to the Nile voyage, of which she had already heard. Her
mamma and the count were going, with some friends, up the Nile after
Christmas. Why might not she go also? Her lips quivered resentfully.
Only that morning she had found the count in the aviary, petting the
birds; she had wound her arms about his neck, and said, “Oh, how
beautiful you are! When I have grown as tall and handsome as a woman
can be I shall marry you.”
The count had showered kisses on her fair hair, and pinched her cheek
in his caressing way.
“We need not wait long, carina,” he had replied.
Then mamma had appeared on the threshold, a bright spot on each cheek,
and that new flash in her eye.
“You are too old for such nonsense, Cecilia. Go back to mademoiselle
directly,” she had said, in her dry tones.
Cecilia had departed, crest-fallen, mortified, with some vague
remembrance of a father who had not thus dismissed her. To be sure,
the count had sent her, later in the day, a gift of bonbons as
atonement for mamma’s snubbing—one of those white satin boots,
mounted on a gilded rink skate, from Spillman’s, in the Via Condotti.
He was never cross, only a big playfellow, all amiability, little
clever tricks, frolic, easily tyrannized over, and serenely content
to spin balls or sift cards all day long for a child’s amusement. They
had known him two or three years; he was their oldest friend abroad;
he came and went at all hours. The count was a great gentleman, too,
of princely lineage, easy, graceful, and elegant. How kind he was to
interest himself in the Denvils, when they were strangers in a foreign
land! The young girl had ample leisure for these reflections in her
hiding-place. She whispered to the image, demanding what it thought of
these croakers. The world was so beautiful, and people so kind. Then
the two visitors were replaced by a bevy of ladies, and amid the
rustlings of more silken draperies on the floor and the taps of heeled
shoes, Cecilia heard her mother exclaim:
“What a horrid man! I am always relieved when he departs, and yet one
meets him everywhere. He told me that frightful scandal about Lady
B—— (and no doubt it is true, unfortunately) as if he enjoyed the
A moment before Mrs. Denvil had said:
“Going so soon, Major Kettledrum? I am always delighted to see you.”
Now the sofa creaked beneath the weight of two dowagers.
“How soon they lose their republican simplicity over here!” said one,
sipping a cup of tea.
“Oh, and they say the husband in America would not be presentable—a
common sort of man; a carpenter, I believe,” retorted the other.
“Hush! A little more sugar, dear Mrs. Denvil. Thanks.”
Finally the rustling of dresses and murmur of voices ceased; Cecilia
crept out of her retreat unperceived. She no longer sought a niche for
San Donato in the salon. It seemed to her that the statue did not
belong there. Mademoiselle had a headache; Cecilia ate her supper
alone. Heaven had given her the precious gift of a thoughtful
consideration for others. She took her own cologne flask to
mademoiselle’s room and bathed the sufferer’s temples.
“Mademoiselle, did St. Cecilia despise the world?”
“Surely. She was a holy woman.”
“Are there any living like her now?”
“God knows,” said mademoiselle, with a little bitterness.
Cecilia kissed her governess, and closed the door softly. Her mood was
a strange one. She no longer feared her mother. Something had escaped
from her nature, as if she had been touched by fire. It was that
subtle, perishable essence of being—childhood.
“I will play that I am a ghost, and walk through all the rooms,” she
said to herself.
Mrs. Denvil found her standing in her dressing-room, calmly regarding
her, as she made her toilet for a ball at the Quirinal Palace.
“Why are you not in bed? It is ten o’clock,” she said.
Cecilia made no reply. She was gazing at the picture reflected in the
cheval-glass of a very pretty woman in cream-tinted satin robe
scarcely retained on her dimpled shoulders by a strap, diamonds and
pearls twinkling about her throat and in her hair. The face of the
mother, round, soft, with small weak chin and bright eyes, appeared
more youthful than that of her child at the moment. The dressing-room
was littered with a rainbow of colors, wraps, dresses, cashmere,
laces, and jewelry. It smelled of mingled perfumes and singed hair.
Beauty, the poodle, lay coiled up in a tiny white ball on a velvet
cushion. How fashionable had Mrs. Denvil become! She never drove out
or received company without Beauty tucked under her left arm. At
length the daughter inquired in an odd, abrupt way: “Is it very
delightful to attend so many balls?”
Mrs. Denvil laughed nervously and adjusted a bracelet.
“I attend very few balls, my dear. You will like the dancing, I dare
say, when you come out as a young lady.” Her tone was propitiatory,
Cecilia did not smile.
“Why does not papa live here with us?” she pursued, steadily, after a
Mrs. Denvil was a weak woman; she moved uneasily, then took refuge in
“I am in Europe to educate Jack and yourself. Papa and I make the
sacrifice of being separated for your good, and that you may acquire
the foreign languages,” she explained, in an injured tone.
Cecilia’s eyebrows contracted.
“Are there no good schools or governesses, then, in America?”
“Go to bed, you impertinent child!” said Mrs. Denvil, sharply.
She was ruffled, embarrassed, strangely disturbed, by the curious
scrutiny of her daughter. She would have kissed her but for that last
question. Really it was too much to be asked if there were no schools
in America! She gave Cecilia a little tap with her fan, and floated
away, a lovely vision of glistening satin and jewels, enveloped in an
opera cloak, to be presented to the Princess Margherita.
The self-elected ghost was free to roam through the whole apartment,
to shed a few tears, and finally return to the small chamber
containing San Donato. She had intended to tell her mother about the
image, but the confidence had remained frozen on her lips. She did not
go to bed. She was lonely, miserable, and disquieted. What would her
mother have said if she knew of the hiding behind the sofa in the
salon? Cecilia now rested her arms on the table, and gazed at the
little wooden figure. Never had any toy possessed equal interest to
Suddenly a great light filled the room, and San Donato vanished. She
searched for the lost treasure in dismay, and beheld him enter the
door. O, great and glorious San Donato! O, serene and holy San
Donato! spurning the guise of the old shop, a thing of wood, and
appearing to a lonely, neglected child as a swift, strong angel, with
unfolded wings, in all thy wondrous celestial beauty! Cecilia fell on
her knees, not daring to lift her eyes to the golden pinions, the head
crowned with its aureole of martyrdom; but the glorious shape raised
her, the door and walls of her chamber vanished, and with a giddy rush
through the dark night, which deprived her of breath, she found
herself standing on a globe, a world, upheld by her guardian, as the
soul stands in Guido Reni’s picture of the Capitol. Her raiment was
also white and glistening; great pearls clasped her throat and wrists.
She was gravely chidden for touching these in wonder, and then she saw
other shapes, resembling San Donato, passing rank behind rank in the
“These through great affliction came, but they never swerved from
duty. Are you afraid?” His voice was like the chimes up in St.
Cecilia’s campanile ringing for vespers.
“Duty? What does it mean?” cried Cecilia, opening her eyes.
The image stood on the table, and the candle was flaring low in the
socket. Her arms were stiff, her body cold—hours must have elapsed.
She shivered, a sob burst from her throat, and she sought her bed.
Mrs. Denvil returned from her ball at that moment. The dressing-room
had been restored to order by the sleepy maid. The lady drew a slip
of perfumed note-paper from her glove. Her eyes were very bright, her
lips parched. The note implored her, in the most flowery Italian, to
consent to the Nile voyage, as the Countess di Moccoli would also go
in that case. Mrs. Denvil laughed her carefully acquired little laugh
of studied indifference, and glanced at herself in the mirror. She was
not too old to be admired, although her daughter was fifteen. The
dream of Alfredo, Count Martellini, was to make a Nile voyage in her
company. People would talk, of course. People always talk scandal
about somebody. The pretty woman, with her insatiable vanity, was
already drifting on a rapid current from which there was no escape.
Well, she was not alone. All the gay ladies and men of her
acquaintance were also afloat on the same perilous stream. By and by
they would reach the Niagara brink; then, with a dash and a plunge,
all would be over. The end? They would have lived, drained the goblet,
and flung it away. When it is fashionable to exaggerate sentiment in
every phase, women of Mrs. Denvil’s type, fond of luxury and
extravagance, intoxicated with dissipation in foreign cities, do not
place themselves in the rear ranks.
She tore the note into bits, and smiled again in the mirror. A pale
light passed over the glass surface, blue and ghostly; the reflected
face grew haggard; patches of rouge stood out on the cheeks; dark
shadows gathered beneath the eyes; even the careful coiffure was
dishevelled; a stain of wine was visible on the satin gown; powder
became glaringly apparent on the dimpled shoulder. The enemy was dawn
of a day destined to mark the crisis in Augusta Denvil’s life. She
shrank from it, without knowing why, and drew the heavy curtains.
Five o’clock on the Pincian Hill, with the setting sun casting its
ruddy rays over the city spires and roofs. The band was playing, the
carriages wending slowly up the drive, the children darting about the
flower beds, where the fountain sparkled. Mrs. Denvil’s maroon
liveries and spirited horses had already made the circuit, the lady in
pale turquoise blue betraying none of the fatigue of dawn, and
receiving complacently that homage of admiration which Italy never
fails to bestow on an attractive woman in a fine equipage. The
Countess di Moccoli had left her own phaeton for a seat beside Mrs.
Denvil—an attention the most gratifying in public—to discuss the
Nile voyage. Also the Count Martellini, in faultless attire, a jasmine
blossom in his buttonhole, and yellow gloves, having assisted at this
exchange, had consented to take a seat opposite the two ladies. He
seldom drove with Mrs. Denvil. The count punctiliously observed
appearances. He did not dislike the circulation of a rumor which
elected him as the devoted cavalier of the rich American lady—a
position which kept other men at a distance.
Cecilia darted forward from a sheltered path and laid her hand on the
carriage door. Her look was troubled and perplexed. Suspicion had
taken no positive form in her mind; she was merely striving to read
San Donato’s message, which had haunted her memory all day: “These
through great affliction came, but they never swerved from duty. Are
“Mamma, come home with me!” she cried, clinging to the door.
“You here, Cecilia!” the mother exclaimed.
“Yes; come home,” she reiterated.
“You must sit beside me and take a drive instead,” interposed the
count, quick to avert a scene.
“No; do not touch me,” said Cecilia, her large eyes flashing.
“Jealousy,” thought the Countess di Moccoli.
Mrs. Denvil shook her finger playfully at the intruder, and resumed
her conversation. She supposed mademoiselle was back among the trees.
Mademoiselle was at home; Cecilia had run away from her to follow her
mamma. This was the girl’s reading of San Donato’s message. She drew
back, hurt and offended. She had failed. The slight childish form
crossed to the parapet, and stood there, looking down on the Piazza
del Popolo, where the pedestrians were dwarfed to pigmies. She thought
of her absent father, who represented ever an earthly providence to
her, by reason of mademoiselle’s admonition, the supply of pin-money,
and the letters she wrote under dictation. She idealized this distant
yet benign influence. Behind her the crowd increased, the music rose
and fell, the carriages moved rapidly past each other in a maze of
wheels. On the horizon the red ball of a sun dipped, shedding a
tremulous rosy mist over St. Peter’s dome.
Cecilia turned, saw her mother’s landau again approaching, yielded to
a childish impulse, and ran toward it, repenting of her rudeness to
the count. He had always been so gentle, so tender with her, from the
first. Her eyes were fixed on the maroon liveries; she strove to
attract the count’s notice, approached the brink of gliding vehicles,
then her foot slipped on the freshly sprinkled gravel; she fell, and
the carriage passed over her.
A little heap lay in the road; other horses were reined in furiously,
not to trample on it as well. The American lady had run over her own
child. That blood-curdling shriek of horror! that jolt on a soft
yielding substance was the passage of her wheels on her flesh, the
additional weight of stout Countess di Moccoli and of Count Martellini
aiding, if possible, in crushing out a fragile existence.
Later the count was confronted by a white stricken woman. He was full
of sympathy and pity for his playmate; tears stood in his beautiful
“Leave us alone!” she said, fiercely, even wildly.
The count shrugged his shoulders, frowned, and departed. Palpable
injustice in the capricious creature woman. He was a philosopher, and
appeared at a diplomatic reception that evening. Matters might have
been worse. As a sentimentalist he had made as much love as he dared
to a pretty married woman whose husband was absent, while she was
manifestly flattered by his attentions. Practically speaking, he as an
impoverished noble had reaped advantage from his place as habitué of
the circle of a rich American in a land where a nice percentage exists
on custom. He had directed the money of Henry Denvil into those
channels of expenditure which would benefit himself by skilful advice.
The Nile voyage would set the world wholly at defiance.
Stout, good-natured Countess di Moccoli also appeared at the
diplomatic reception that evening, and we may rest assured no mention
was made of a young girl having been run over at the Pincio in the
gilded salons where both moved. One does not mention illness and death
in gilded salons, amid the ripple of music and laughter. One frequents
these resorts to forget, if possible, such grim and ghastly realities.
Thus closed the 23d of November, 18—.
“The house rests not on the earth, but on the
Mr. Henry Denvil arose at ten o’clock on the morning of the 24th of
November. His head ached; his recollections of the previous evening
were confused, further than a conviction that he had partaken of a
champagne supper at the hotel, and played cards for money afterward
with Jacques Robin and his wife. A man must occupy his evenings in
The habits of earlier life were still sufficiently strong to render
him ashamed of having slept until ten o’clock. He drank his coffee
hastily, pressed his slouch hat down over his brow, and did not glance
at the hotel as he walked along the village street to the foundry.
Eyes were watching him from a window of that same hotel, however—keen
eyes, given to studying the world for their own ends, and which now
observed the figure and gait of Henry Denvil as he passed with a
certain speculative interest. These eyes belonged to a woman, plain,
no longer young, her sole attractions a soft voice and pleasing
manner; and a small, meagre man, wiry as a grasshopper, with gray
hair, a yellow skin, large nose, and a peevish mouth. In the faces of
both husband and wife was a hungry, pinched look. Years of poverty
sometimes sets such a seal on the human countenance.
This couple were Monsieur Jacques Robin and his wife, emigrants from
Heaven knows what past life in their native land, and now dwelling
drearily, it must be confessed, in the one tavern of Foundryville—a
mere hamlet back among the mountains of Pennsylvania. A year
previously Monsieur Robin had applied for the post of clerk in the
foundry, and obtaining the modest situation, madame had subsequently
appeared on the scene. If existence had been dull for Mrs. Denvil up
here among the hills, how much more so was it likely to prove for a
woman of Madame Robin’s abilities! She took to studying Henry Denvil,
and her sky cleared. She knew every particular of his history and
family before he even saw her. When he did observe her, Madame Robin
made no impression on him beyond being genteel and modest in
appearance. Wait! A foreigner soured by poverty, endowed by nature
with artfulness, knowledge of humanity in its baser aspects, a certain
feline patience, may achieve much in a hamlet among the hills.
On this morning Monsieur Robin had run up from the foundry with a
letter for his wife. She read it eagerly.
“It is as I thought!” she exclaimed. “Gustave was always clever at
discovery. He has managed to communicate with Mrs. Denvil’s own maid
at Rome, and learned enough. She will always make excuse to live in
Europe, the people flatter her, and she is already much talked about
as having fallen in love with the Roman Count Martellini.”
“Well?” said the husband, doubtfully, irritably.
“I tell you I have them all here in the palm of my hand,” retorted
madame, with kindling excitement. “In another year I shall be
installed as housekeeper in the proprietor’s house. You will not only
amuse him with cards in the evening, but gain his confidence. Chut!
There are secrets to be sold in business to rival houses if necessary.
He is a stupid man, without intimate friends, and wholly unsuspicious.
He is no match for us. If madame deserts her home for Paris and Rome,
ma foi! it is our opportunity.”
The speaker’s dark face flushed, and her eyes glittered. Monsieur
Robin returned to the foundry with his figure rather more erect than
usual. Feminine enthusiasm is frequently contagious.
In the mean while Henry Denvil had reached his place of business. The
European mail also brought him a letter from his wife, inclosing
another from his little Cecilia. In this home correspondence Mrs.
Denvil always dwelt on the development of her children. Was she not
living abroad to educate them? Was she not wintering in Rome to
benefit Cecilia’s delicate throat? For this end she required more and
Mr. Denvil read his daughter’s note first, and smiled at the request
that he should come to Rome for Christmas-day. Then he leaned his head
on his hand, and tapped his desk with his penknife, absently. How the
years slipped away! What had he to anticipate in the clouded future?
Would these children, now receiving a foreign education, ever return
contentedly to live at Foundryville? Well, they were Augusta’s
children, and she was an ambitious mother. He made no complaint at
the prolonged absence of his family; he was used to it. He never
failed to send the required remittances. “The money belongs to
Augusta,” he always said to himself. Besides, his own expenses were
small. One by one the rooms of his large house had been closed through
disuse, and a half-grown boy waited on him in the wing. Dust had
settled on the rich furniture ordered years ago with such pride to
make a fitting nest for his bride; rust gnawed the mute strings of his
daughter’s piano; the conservatory had been abandoned; the garden was
neglected. Henry Denvil had never been an epicure; now he lived from
hand to mouth.
Seventeen years before, he had arrived at Foundryville, a man of
forty, who had worked hard for the money he was prepared to invest in
the foundry. The death of the previous owner compelled his widow to
sell out at a sacrifice. Henry Denvil made a good bargain, instituted
energetic reforms in the works, lived altogether at Foundryville,
gained the confidence of his miners and “hands” by being one of them,
and prospered. His predecessor’s widow adjusted the exchange of
property in the presence of her daughter Augusta, a beautiful girl of
eighteen. Plain Henry Denvil, accustomed to toil-worn women in calico
gowns, was dazzled by the graceful manners, white hands, and elegance
of these two fashionable ladies. He fell in love for the first time,
was encouraged to pay his addresses, married Augusta, and built the
large house at Foundryville. His wife was above him in birth,
education, and social position; his mother-in-law, during her
lifetime, never permitted him to forget this circumstance.
Augusta accepted his devotion at first very sweetly, as a matter of
course, then a little wearily. The climate of Foundryville gave her
neuralgia. She spent whole winters at Washington and in Florida. He
could not leave his business for a day without anxiety. The master’s
hand must never relax its hold of the helm. He was a proud husband and
father; his own nature, sound to the core, accepted without thought of
self-sacrifice the enjoyment of his wife in travel. He knew nothing of
society, or of the world in which she lived at present. That he placed
his family in the peril of evil association in Europe, without himself
there as the natural protector, had not once occurred to his mind.
Like all men who have earned their own fortune, his first aim had been
to bestow on his son and daughter those advantages of study in which
his own youth had been deficient. Hence his acquiescence in the plan
of sending Jack to Switzerland and Cecilia to Paris, Dresden, or Rome.
Mrs. Denvil’s arguments in favor of this arrangement had prevailed.
Would not the children have been sent away from Foundryville in any
The foundry absorbed his day as the great furnace devoured its fuel.
As for his evenings? He was not a reading man; his home was silent and
dull. He had acquired the habit of dropping in at the tavern and
playing cards with his clerk, M. Jacques Robin. He learned many new
games, écarté, baccarat, rouge et noir, among the number. The
diversion amused him. Often he found himself speculating as to a
mistake made the previous evening in the midst of daily business, or a
different plan of playing a winning card the ensuing night.
When the hearthstone is cold, a man seeks forgetfulness elsewhere.
The character of Henry Denvil was on the verge of rapid deterioration.
He failed to perceive it. He was puzzled to account for having lost so
much money in so short a space of time. That was all. Instinct was at
work in the little community, the foundry, where swarthy creatures
with bared arms flitted like demons about the great furnace, moulding
the fused metal into shapes. These found leisure to curse the
“sneaking Frenchman” at the hotel; but the imprecations were gathered
up in the whirl and clash of machinery, the din of bells, the hoarse
shouting of many voices, and went no further. Outside, the hills
towered high above the little hamlet, and the river foamed along the
valley. The world was very remote.
“Come to Rome for Christmas,” mused Henry Denvil, still resting his
head on his hand, and idly scrawling figures on the back of the letter
with a pencil.
The request stung him to the quick. He was not needed to complete the
happiness of a Roman Christmas. Was not Madame Robin always so
interested to hear about Cecilia? This poor mother had once possessed
such a daughter. From these conversations invariably resulted doubt,
cynicism, depression. Would his family dwell in peace at dull
Foundryville? Alas! no. The coming years were as blank in prospect as
was the present in reality, under the subtle suggestions of Madame
M. Jacques Robin quitted his desk in the corner of the office and
approached on tip-toe. Henry Denvil had drawn a card, the ace of
diamonds, on the back of his daughter’s letter. M. Robin smirked.
“If you are disengaged at eight o’clock, I should like to show you
another game,” he said, in a discreet and respectful tone.
“Yes,” assented the master, moodily.
The November night settled gloomily on Foundryville. Mist swathed the
hill-tops and rolled along the slopes, the rain fell monotonously, and
the river, invisible in the darkness, mingled its melancholy music
with the fitful soughing of the wind. Lights gleamed in the windows of
the houses; occasionally a great glare illuminated the whole village;
the withered foliage glowed in the shaft of crimson fire; far below,
the water twinkled and rippled as if reflecting a conflagration: it
was the hour of casting at the foundry, when the chimney belched its
volumes of smoke, and the molten iron poured forth in rivulets, like a
lava torrent, in the black void of the vast building.
Up in the master’s home a single feeble ray was visible in the
inhabited wing. Henry Denvil had fallen asleep in his chair. He awoke,
looked at his watch, and rose. Eight o’clock. He caught a glimpse of
his own face in the glass; it was pale and worn. He resumed his chair.
The clock ticked in-doors; the rain fell steadily out-of-doors. The
lamp had been so placed that its rays fell on a portrait opposite his
chair. This portrait represented his daughter Cecilia at the age of
ten—a charming blonde head, skilfully treated by the artist, and the
large eyes were turned full upon him with a frank intelligence. Henry
Denvil was not of an imaginative temperament; his prime had been too
fully occupied for idle reveries; but now solitude was rendering him
sensitive to morbid influences. When he awoke he became vividly,
intensely conscious of the gaze of this picture fixed on himself. He
sat motionless, and studied it, instead of going out. Nine o’clock. A
tap at the door, and M. Jacques Robin stood on the threshold,
deferential in manner, wet as to garments, having awaited his guest
for an hour. Henry Denvil laughed loudly, almost roughly, seized his
hat, and sought the village tavern.
The play was reckless that night. The visitor was in the mood for high
stakes. Monsieur Robin lost and won without the quiver of an eyelash
or a change of hue in the dull opacity of his complexion. Henry Denvil
lost and won with the veins growing knotted and prominent in forehead
and temple, and his color deepening from red to crimson. Madame
Robin, cool and quiet, crocheted little threads of silk together into
a golden mesh with a sharp and slender needle, and from time to time
served the gentlemen with wine.
Eleven o’clock. Some person tapped Henry Denvil on the shoulder. He
glanced up impatiently, with bloodshot eyes. The landlord of the
tavern gave him a telegram, while the official who had brought it
waited at the door. He read:
“Come to us immediately. Cecilia has been run over. Tell me
what to do.—Augusta Denvil.”
Then he was standing outside in the dark night, the rain, chill and
dreary as destiny, beating on his bare head, while the clouds rolled
low, and the river sent up its murmur from the valley below. His
little girl would be dead, he felt convinced, before he could reach
“The nest of the blind bird is made by God.”—Armenian
Christmas-day at Rome, as cold and crisp as any Northern festival,
with a piercing Tramontane wind sweeping across the piazza, the Alban
Hills snow-crested, as if cut in alabaster, and the fountains fringed
A gay and brilliant Christmas for a holiday world, with roses blooming
still in sheltered nooks; a devout Christmas for those prepared to
read its beautiful meaning in ancient churches, each of which had
found a voice in full choral harmonies on this day; a Christmas of
silent and devout thankfulness for those escaped the shadow of death.
Cecilia Denvil had been hovering on the borderland of feverish
delirium, where all is unreal, for weeks. Since the afternoon when the
carriage-wheels of her mother had passed over her, the present had
been blotted out. She was in her own home once more, she raved of her
father, her pet birds, the garden. When fever consumed her she was in
the foundry, the lava torrent of metal from the furnace mouth creeping
nearer and nearer, threatening to ingulf her. Gradually this tumult of
restless imagery subsided to a great calm. She wandered with San
Donato, the mighty angel, in fields of lilies so vast that they seemed
a sea of bloom. Then she became painfully aware of other shapes that
bent over her, touched her. A man and a woman met at her side and
clasped hands; their faces were vaguely familiar. Rome had vanished,
been obliterated; she only wandered among the lilies, guided by a
glorious angel, his robe rose-colored, with margin of gold, and a palm
branch in his hand. Certainly she must have passed away to another
Henry Denvil, on receipt of that telegram, had left Foundryville by
the first train, overtaken an outward-bound steamer by means of a
small boat, and traversed England and France without delay. Arrived at
the apartment in Rome which bore his wife’s name, he was met by her, a
pale, distraught creature, who clung to him with hysterical sobs, and
searched his face with anxious, terrified eyes.
“Is she dead?” he faltered, hoarsely.
“Oh no; but the surgeons think her limbs will be always useless, and
she a cripple.”
He soothed, but put her aside to seek his child instead. Augusta
Denvil was conscious, for the first time, of a dull pang of jealousy.
In the long and painful days which ensued Henry Denvil had eyes and
thoughts only for Cecilia, while the latter, by one of those curious
instincts of illness, would accept nothing from another hand after his
The mother’s ordeal began earlier, and her waning youth had shrivelled
in the anguish she was then compelled to endure. Cecilia, from the
first, had been deaf to her mother’s most tender tones, winced and
screamed at the touch of her fingers, even when lying with closed
eyes. Mrs. Denvil, in the awful and solemn watches of the night, read
in this aversion the doom of retribution. Her spirit succumbed in the
trial. The girl’s foot might indeed have slipped and she been run over
anywhere. True, but by her own mother’s wheels!
Christmas morning, so glorious and bright without, was gray and sober
within this apartment of a family of strangers, where each face bore
evidence of watching, care, grief.
Cecilia opened her eyes and glanced about her. She was lying on her
own bed in her little chamber at Rome, only some sharp sword-thrust of
circumstance had wholly severed her from the past. Her face was calm,
almost solemn in expression. It seemed natural that her father should
be sitting beside her holding her hand and striving to speak
cheerfully. She was not startled by the fact that brother Jack stood
at the foot of the bed. She noticed, entirely without responsive
emotion, that her mother had concealed her face on father’s shoulder,
shaken by uncontrollable sobs. Her first words were:
“Where is San Donato?”
Her family failed to understand her. Mademoiselle Durand, also
tremulous and in tears, heard and hastened away to her own room. She
returned with the little image.
“It is her fancy,” murmured the governess.
Cecilia indicated by a gesture that it was to be placed in her
father’s hands. Mr. Denvil held it carefully, while the invalid gazed
steadfastly at her saint. They waited for her next words in silence
and suspense. The joy of a convalescent is seldom demonstrative. She
did not speak again for an hour. Then she exclaimed suddenly, in
“It is Christmas-day and papa has come.”
Henry Denvil bent over and kissed the wasted little face, praying in
his heart it might only be spared to him.
Jack looked on, stiff and ill at ease, after the manner of boys in a
sick-chamber. He answered his father’s inquiries in constrained and
difficult English, with frequent lapses into French. Four years in a
Swiss school had wrought wonders for Jack, especially as his mother
had left him to take walking tours with his tutors during the summer
vacations. A foreign education had been Mrs. Denvil’s idea of
preparation for life as an American citizen, especially at
There was another lapse into stillness before Cecilia’s voice became
“If I had not—met with the accident on the Pincio, would you have
come to Rome for Christmas?”
“I fear not, my child.”
“Are we to go home with you now?”
Cecilia smiled and closed her eyes. Did she thus understand San
Donato’s message at last?
Madame Robin will not be installed as housekeeper in the master’s
house. In the future, Mrs. Denvil, with the reaction of a shallow
nature, may make trips to better climates for her neuralgia, or Jack
be absent at college; but Henry Denvil—nay, the very foundry—cannot
be more constant to the spot than his daughter. There will be no balls
for her, clad in satin, pearls and diamonds twinkling in her hair and
about her throat, no dancing days, no début in society as an heiress.
Instead, Cecilia will flit from room to room of the long silent home
in a wheel-chair, a presence bright, cheerful, watchful, now pausing
in the sunny conservatory where each unfolding flower seems aware of
her presence, now awaiting the father’s return from work.
Above the entrance door will be enshrined the image of San Donato,
guardian of the home, whose mission is to avert evil.