The Image of San Donato

by Virginia W. Johnson

I.

“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 side.

“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 purchaser.

“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 little statue?”

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 rosary.

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 count.”

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 charming to-day!”

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 recital.”

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, even deprecating.

Cecilia did not smile.

“Why does not papa live here with us?” she pursued, steadily, after a pause.

Mrs. Denvil was a weak woman; she moved uneasily, then took refuge in maternal dignity.

“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 her.

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 clouds.

“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 you afraid?”

“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 eyes.

“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—.

II.

“The house rests not on the earth, but on the wife.”—Servian Proverb.

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 some way.

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 more money.

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 case?

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 Robin’s sympathy.

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 her.

III.

“The nest of the blind bird is made by God.”—Armenian Proverb.

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 with icicles.

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 world.

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 arrival.

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 stronger tones:

“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 Foundryville.

There was another lapse into stillness before Cecilia’s voice became again audible.

“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?”

“Yes.”

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.