Marzio's Crucifix and Zoroaster
by F. Marion Crawford
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Marzio moved again, and this time he rose to his feet and remained standing, so that the crucifix was completely hidden from her view. She knocked at the door. Her father turned suddenly round, and faced the entrance, still hiding the crucifix by his figure.

"Who is it?" he asked in a tone that sounded as though he were startled.

"Lucia," answered the girl timidly. "May I come in, papa?"

"Wait a minute," he answered. She drew back, and, still watching him, saw that he laid the cross down upon the table, and covered it with a towel—the same one in which it had been wrapped.

"Come in," he called out "What is the matter?"

"I only came for a moment, papa," answered Lucia, entering the room and glancing about her as she came forward. "Mamma sent me in to ask you about the chickens—there are chickens for dinner—she wanted to know whether you would like them roasted or boiled with rice."

"Roasted," replied Marzio, taking up a chisel and pretending to be busy. "It is Gianbattista who likes them boiled."

"Thank you, I will go home and tell her. Papa—" the girl hesitated.

"What is the matter?"

"Papa, you are not angry any more as you were last night?"

"Angry? No. What makes you ask such a question? I was not angry last night, and I am not angry now. Who put the idea into your head?"

"I am so glad," answered Lucia. "Not with me, not with Tista? I am so glad! Where is Tista, papa?"

"I have not the slightest idea. You will probably not see Tista any more, nor Gianbattista, nor his excellency the Signorino Bordogni"

Lucia turned suddenly pale, and rested her hand upon the old straw chair on which Don Paolo had sat during his visit.

"What is this? What do you tell me? Not see Tista?" she asked quickly.

"Gianbattista had the bad taste to attack me this morning—here—in my own studio," said Marzio, turning round and facing his daughter. "He put his hands upon my face, do you understand? He would have stabbed me with a chisel if Paolo had not interfered. Do you understand that? Out of deference for your affections I did not kill him, as I might have done. I dismissed him from my service, and gave him an hour to take his effects out of my house. Is that clear? I offered him his money. He threw it in my face and spat at me as he went out. Is that enough? If I find him at home when I come to dinner I will have him turned out by the police. You see, you are not likely to set eyes on him for a day or two. You may go home and tell your mother the news, if she has not heard it already. It will be sauce for her chickens."

Lucia leaned upon the chair during this speech, her black eyes growing wider and wider, and her face turning whiter at every word. To her it seemed, in this first moment, like a hopeless separation from the man she loved. With a sudden movement she sprang forward, and fell on her knees at Marzio's feet.

"Oh, my father, I beseech you, in the name of heaven," she cried wildly.

"It is not of the slightest use," answered Marzio, drawing back. Lucia knelt for one moment before him, with upturned face, an expression of imploring despair on her features. Then she sank down in a heap upon the floor against the three-legged stool, which tottered, lost its balance under her weight, and fell over upon the bricks with a loud crash. The poor girl had fainted away.

Marzio was startled by the sight and the sound, and then, seeing what had happened, he was very much frightened. He knelt down beside his daughter's prostrate body and bent over her face. He raised her up in his long, nervous arms, and lifted her to the old chair till she sat upon it, and he supported her head and body, kneeling on the floor beside her. A sharp pain shot through his heart, the faint indication of a love not wholly extinguished.

"Lucia, dear Lucia!" he said, in a voice so tender that it sounded strangely in his own ears. But the gill gave no sign. Her head would have fallen forward if he had not supported it with his hands.

"My daughter! Little Lucia! You are not dead—tell me you are not dead!" he cried. In his fright and sudden affection he pressed his lips to her face, kissing her again and again. "I did not mean to hurt you, darling child," he repeated, as though she could hear him speak.

At last her eyes opened. A shiver ran through her body and she raised her head. She was very pale as she leaned back in the chair. Marzio took her hands and robbed them between his dark fingers, still looking into her eyes.

"Ah!" she gasped, "I thought I was dead." Then, as Marzio seemed about to speak, she added faintly: "Don't say it again!"

"Lucia—dear Lucia! I knew you were not dead I knew you would come back to me," he said, still in very tender tones. "Forgive me, child—I did not mean to hurt you."

"No? Oh, papa! Then why did you say it?" she cried, suddenly bursting into tears and weeping upon his shoulder. "Tell me it is not true—tell me so!" she sobbed.

Marzio was almost as much disconcerted by Lucia's return to consciousness as he had been by her fainting away. His nature had unbent, momentarily, under the influence of his strong fear for his daughter's life. Now that she had recovered so quickly, he remembered Gianbattista's violence and scornful words, and he seemed to feel the young man's strong hand upon his mouth, stifling his speech. He hesitated, rose to his feet, and began to pace the floor. Lucia watched him with intense anxiety. There was a conflict in his mind between the resentment which was not half an hour old, and the love for his child, which had been so quickly roused during the last five minutes.

"Well—Lucia, my dear—I do not know—" he stopped short in his walk and looked at her. She leaned forward as though to catch his words.

"Do you think you could not—that you would be so very unhappy, I mean, if he lived out of the house—I mean to say, if he had lodgings, somewhere, and came back to work?"

"Oh, papa—I should faint away again—and I should die. I am quite sure of it."

Marzio looked anxiously at her, as though he expected to see her fall to the ground a second time. It went against the grain of his nature to take Gianbattista back, although he had discharged him hastily in the anger of the moment. He turned away and glanced at the bench. There were the young man's tools, the hammer as he had left it, the piece of work on the leathern pad. The old impulse of foresight for the future acted in Marzio's mind. He could never find such another workman. In the uncertainty of the moment, as often happens, details rose to his remembrance and produced their effect. He recollected the particular way in which Gianbattista used to hold the blunt chisel in first tracing over the drawing on a silver plate. He had never seen any one do it in the same way.

"Well, Lucia—don't faint away. If you can make him stay, I will take him back. But I am afraid you will have hard work. He will make difficulties. He threw the money in my face, Lucia—in your father's face, girl! Think of that. Well, well, do what you like. He is a good workman. Go away, child, and leave me to myself. What will you say to him?"

Lucia threw her arms round her father's neck and kissed him in her sudden joy. Then she stood a moment in thought.

"Give me his money," she said. "If he will take the money he will come back."

Marzio hesitated, slowly drew out his purse, and began to take out the notes.

"Well—if you will have it so," he grumbled. "After all, as he threw it away, I do not see that he has much right to it. There it is. If he says anything about that ten-franc note being torn, tell him he tore it himself. Go home, Lucia, and manage things as you can."

Lucia put the money in her glove, and busied herself for a moment in brushing the dust from her clothes. Mechanically, her father helped her.

"You are quite sure you did not hurt yourself?" he asked. The whole occurrence seemed indistinct, as though some one had told something which he had not understood—as we sometimes listen to a person reading aloud, and, missing by inattention the verb of the sentence, remain confused, and ask ourselves what the words mean.

"No—not at all. It is nothing," answered Lucia, and in a moment she was at the door.

Opening it to go out, she saw the tall figure of Don Paolo at the other end of the passage coming rapidly towards her. She raised her finger to her lips and nodded, as though to explain that everything was settled, and that the priest should not speak to Marzio. She, of course, did not know that he had been talking with Gianbattista and her mother, nor that he knew anything about the apprentice's dismissal. She only feared fresh trouble, now that the prospect looked so much clearer, in case Don Paolo should again attack her father upon the subject of the marriage. But her uncle came forward and made as though he would enter the workshop.

"It is all settled," she said quietly. Don Paolo looked at her in astonishment. At that moment Marzio caught sight of him over the girl's shoulder, in the dusky entrance.

"Come in, Paolo," he called out "I have something to show you. Go home, Lucia, my child."

Not knowing what to expect, and marvelling at the softened tone of his brother's voice, Don Paolo entered the room, waited till Lucia was out of the passage, and then closed the door behind him. He stood in the middle of the floor, grasping his umbrella in his hand and wondering upon what new phase the business was entering.

"I have something to show you," Marzio repeated, as though to check any question which the priest might be going to put to him. "You asked me for a crucifix last night. I have one here. Will it do! Look at it."

While speaking, Marzio had uncovered the cross and lifted it up, so that it stood on the bench where he had at first placed it to examine it himself. Then he stepped back and made way for Don Paolo. The priest stood for a moment speechless before the masterpiece, erect, his hands folded before him. Then, as though recollecting himself, he took off his hat, which he had forgotten to remove on entering the workshop.

"What a miracle!" he exclaimed, in a low voice.

Marzio stood a little behind him, his hands in the pockets of his woollen blouse. A long silence followed. Don Paolo could not find words to express his admiration, and his wonder was mixed with a profound feeling of devotion. The amazing reality of the figure, clothed at the same time in a sort of divine glory, impressed itself upon him as he gazed, and roused that mystical train of religious contemplation which is both familiar and dear to devout persons. He lost himself in his thoughts, and his refined features showed as in a mirror the current of his meditation. The agony of the Saviour of mankind was renewed before him, culminating in the sacrifice upon the cross. Involuntarily Paolo bent his head and repeated in low tones the words of the Creed, "Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram, salutem descendit de coelis," and then, "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis."

Marzio stood looking on, his hands in his pockets. His fingers grasped the long sharp punch he had taken from the table after Gianbattista's departure. His eyes fixed themselves upon the smooth tonsure at the back of Paolo's head, and slowly his right hand issued from his pocket with the sharp instrument firmly clenched in it. He raised it to the level of his head, just above that smooth shaven circle in the dark hair. His eyes dilated and his mouth worked nervously as the pale lips stretched themselves across the yellow teeth.

Don Paolo moved, and turned to speak to his brother concerning the work of art. Seeing Marzio's attitude, he started with a short cry and stretched out his arm as though to parry a blow.


The artist had quickly brought his hand to his forehead, and the ghastly affectation of a smile wreathed about his white lips. His voice was thick.

"I was only shading my eyes from the sun. Don't you see how it dazzles me, reflected from the silver? What did you imagine, Paolo? You look frightened."

"Oh, nothing," answered the priest bravely. "Perhaps I am a little nervous to-day."

"Bacchus! It looks like it," said Marzio, with an attempt to laugh. Then he tossed the tool upon the table among the rest with an impatient gesture. "What do you think of the crucifix?"

"It is very wonderful," said Paolo, controlling himself by an effort. "When did you make it, Marzio? You have not had time—"

"I made it years ago," answered the chiseller, turning his face away to hide his pallor. "I made it for myself. I never meant to show it, but I believe I cannot do anything better. Will it do for your cardinal? Look at the work. It is as fine as anything of the kind in the world, though I say it. Yes—it is cast. Of course, you do not understand the art, Paolo, but I will explain it all to you in a few minutes—"

Marzio talked very fast, almost incoherently, and he was evidently struggling with an emotion. Paolo, standing back a little from the bench, nodded his head from time to time.

"It is all very simple," continued the artist, as though he dared not pause for breath. "You see one sometimes makes little figures of real repousse, half and half, done in cement and then soldered together so that they look like one piece, but it is impossible to do them well unless you have dies to press the plate into the first shape—and the die always makes the same figure, though you can vary the face and twist the arms and legs about. Cheap silver crucifixes and angels and those things are all made in that way, and with care a great deal can be done, of course, to give them an artistic look."

"Of course," assented Don Paolo, in a low voice. He thought he understood the cause of his brother's eloquence.

"Yes, of course," continued Marzio, as rapidly as before. "But to make a really good thing like this, is a different matter. A very different matter. Here you must model your figure in wax, and make moulds of the parts of it, and chisel each part separately, copying the model. And then you must join all the parts together with silver-soldering, and go over the lines carefully. It needs the most delicate handling, for although the casting is very heavy it is not like working on a chalice that is filled with cement and all arranged for you, that can be put in the fire, melted out, softened, cooled, and worked over as often as you please. There is no putting in the fire here—not more than once after you have joined the pieces. Do you understand me? Why do you look at me in that way, Paolo? You look as though you did not follow me."

"On the contrary," said the priest, "I think I understand it very well—as well as an outsider can understand such a process. No—I merely look at the finished work. It is superb, Marzio—magnificent! I have never seen anything like it."

"Well, you may have it to-night," said Marzio, turning away, and walking about the room. "I will touch it over. I can improve it a little. I have learned something in ten years. I will work all to-day, and I will bring it home this evening to show Maria Luisa. Then you may take it away."

"And the price? I must be able to tell the Cardinal."

"Oh, never mind the price. I will be content to take whatever he gives me, since it is going. No price would represent the labour. Indeed, Paolo, if it were any one but you, I would not let it go. Nothing but my affection for you would make me give it to you. It is the gem of my studio. Ah, how I worked at it ten years ago!"

"Thank you. I think I understand," answered the priest. "I am very much obliged to you, Marzio, and I assure you it will be appreciated. I must be going. Thank you for showing it to me. I will come and get it to-night."

"Well, good-bye, Paolo," said Marzio. "Here is your umbrella."

As Don Paolo turned away to leave the room, the artist looked curiously at the tonsure on his head, and his eyes followed it until Paolo had covered it with his hat. Then he closed the door and went back to the bench.


Lucia hastened homewards with the good news she bore. Her young nature was elastic, and, in the sudden happiness of having secured Gianbattista's recall, she quickly recovered from the shock she had received. She did not reflect very much, for she had not the time. It had all happened so quickly that her senses were confused, and she only knew that the man she loved must be in despair, and that the sooner she reached him the sooner she would be able to relieve him from what he must be suffering. Her breath came fast as she reached the top of the stairs, and she panted as she rang the bell of the lodging. Apparently she had rung so loud in her excitement as to rouse the suspicions of old Assunta, who cautiously peered through the little square that opened behind a grating in the door, before she raised the latch. On seeing Lucia she began to laugh, and opened quickly.

"So loud!" chuckled the old thing. "I thought it was the police or Sor Marzio in a rage."

Lucia did not heed her, but ran quickly on to the sitting-room, where the Signora Pandolfi was alone, seated on her straight chair and holding her bonnet in her hand, the bonnet with the purple glass grapes; she was the picture of despair. Lucia made haste to comfort her.

"Do not cry, mamma," she said quickly. "I have arranged it all. I have seen papa. I have brought Tista's money. Papa wants him to stay after all. Yes—I know you cannot guess how it all happened. I went in to ask about the chickens, and then I asked about Tista, and he told me that I should not see him any more, and then—then I felt this passion—here in the chest, and everything went round and round and round like a whirligig at the Termini, and I fell right down, mamma, down upon the bricks—I know, my frock is all dusty still, here, look, and here, but what does it matter? Patience! I fell down like a sack of flour—pata tunfate!"

"T-t-t-t!" exclaimed the Signora Pandolfi, holding up her hands and drawing in her breath as she clacked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "T-t-t-t! What a pity!"

"And when I came to my senses—I had fainted, you understand—I was sitting on the old straw chair and papa was holding my hands in his and calling me his angel! Capperi! But it was worth while. You can imagine the situation when he called me an angel! It is the first time I have ever fainted, mamma—you have no idea—it was so curious!"

"Ah, my dear, it must have softened his heart!" cried Maria Luisa. "If I could only faint away like that once in a while! Who knows? He might be converted. But what would you have?" The signora glanced down sadly at her figure, which certainly suggested no such weakness as she seemed to desire. "Well, Lucia," she continued, "and then?"

"Yes, I talked to him, I implored him, I told him I should probably faint again, and, indeed, I felt like it. So he said I might have my way, and he told me to come home and tell Tista at once. Where is Tista?"

"Eh! He is in his room, packing up his things. I will go and call him. Oh dear! What a wonderful day this is, my child! To think that it is not yet eleven o'clock, and all that has happened! It is enough to make a woman crazy, fit to send to Santo Spirito. First you are to be married, and then you are not to be married! Then Gianbattista is sent away—after all these years, and such a good boy! And then he is taken back! And then—but the chickens, Lucia, you forgot to ask about the chickens—"

"Not a bit of it," answered the young girl. "I asked first, before he told me. Afterwards, I don't know—I should not have had the strength to speak of chickens. He said roasted, mamma. Poor Tista! He likes them with rice. Well, one cannot have everything in this world."

The Signora Pandolfi had reached the door, and called out at the top of her voice to the young man.

"Tista! Tista!" She could have been heard in the street.

"Eh, Sora Luisa! We are not in the Piazza Navona," said Gianbattista, appearing at the door of his little room. "What has happened?"

"Go and talk to Lucia," answered the good lady, hurrying off in search of Assunta to tell her the decision concerning the dinner.

Gianbattista entered the sitting-room, and, from the young girl's radiant expression, he guessed that some favourable change had taken place in his position, or in the positions of them both. Lucia began to tell him what had passed, and gave much the same account as she had given to her mother, though some of the intonations were softer, and accompanied by looks which told her happiness. When she had explained the situation she paused for an answer. Gianbattista stood beside her and held her hand, but he looked out of the window, as though uncertain what to say.

"Here is the money," said Lucia. "You will take it, won't you? Then it will be all settled. What is the matter, Tista? Are you not glad?"

"I do not trust him," answered the young man. "It is not like him to change his mind like that, all in a minute. He means some mischief."

"What can he do?"

"I do not know. I feel as if some evil were coming. Patience! Who knows? You are an angel, Lucia, darling."

"Everybody is telling me so to-day," answered the young girl. "Papa, you—"

"Of course. It is quite true, my heart, and so every one repeats it. What do you think? Will he come home to dinner? It is only eleven o'clock—perhaps I ought to go back and work at the ewer. Somehow I do not want to see him just now—"

"Stay with me, Tista. Besides, you were packing up your belongings to go away. You have a right to take an hour to unpack them. Tell me, what is this idea you have that papa is not in earnest? I want to understand it. He was quite in earnest just now—so good, so good, like sugar! Is it because you are still angry with him, that you do not want to see him?"

"No—why should I still be angry? He has made reparation. After all, I took a certain liberty with him."

"That is all the more reason. If he is willing to forget it—but I could tell you something, Tista, something that would persuade you."

"What is it, my treasure?" asked Gianbattista with a smile, bending down to look into her eyes.

"Oh, something very wonderful, something of which you would never dream. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Imagine, when I went to find him just now, the door was open. I looked through before I went in, to see if you were there. Do you know what papa was doing? He was kneeling on the floor before a beautiful crucifix, such a beautiful one. I think he was saying prayers, but I could not see his face. He stayed a long time, and then when I knocked he covered it up, was not that strange? That is the reason why I persuaded him so easily to change his mind."

Gianbattista smiled incredulously. He had often seen Marzio kneel on the floor to get a different view of a large piece of work.

"He was only looking at the work," he answered. "I have seen him do it very often. He would laugh if he could hear you, Lucia. Do you imagine he is such a man as that? Perhaps it would not do him any harm—a little praying. But it is a kind of medicine he does not relish. No, Lucia, you have been deceived, believe me."

The girl's expression changed. She had quite persuaded herself that a great moral change had taken place in her father that morning, and had built many hopes upon it. To her sanguine imagination it seemed as though his whole nature must have changed. She had seen visions of him as she had always wished he might be, and the visions had seemed likely to be realised. She had doubted whether she should tell any one the story of what she regarded as Marzio's conversion, but she had made an exception in favour of Gianbattista. Gianbattista simply laughed, and explained the matter away in half a dozen words. Lucia was more deeply disappointed than any one, listening to her light talk, could have believed possible. Her face expressed the pain she felt, and she protested against the apprentice's explanation.

"It is too bad of you, Tista," she said in hurt tones. "But I do not think you are right. You have no idea how quietly he knelt, and his hands were folded on the bench. He bent his head once, and I believe he kissed the feet—I wish you could have seen it, you would not doubt me. You think I have invented a silly tale, I am sure you do."

The tears filled her eyes as she turned away and stared vacantly out of the window at the dark houses opposite. The sun, which had been shining until that moment, disappeared behind a mass of driving clouds, and a few drops of rain began to beat against the panes of glass. The world seemed suddenly more dreary to Lucia. Gianbattista, who was sensitive where she was concerned, looked at her, and understood that he had destroyed something in which she had wished to believe.

"Well, well, my heart, perhaps you are right," he said softly, putting his arm round her.

"No, you do not believe it," she answered.

"For you, I will believe in anything, in everything—even in Sor Marzio's devotions," he said, pressing her to his side. "Only—you see, darling, he was talking in such a way a few moments before—that it seemed impossible—"

"Nothing is quite impossible," replied Lucia. "The heart beats fast. There may be a whole world between one beat and the next."

"Yes, my love," assented Gianbattista, looking tenderly into her eyes. "But do you think that between all the beatings of our two hearts there could ever be a world of change?"

"Ah—that is different, Tista. Why should we change? We could only change for worse if we began to love each other less, and that is impossible. But papa! Why should he not change for the better? Who can tell you, Tista, dear, that in a moment, in a second, after you were gone, he was not sorry for all he had done? It may have been in an instant. Why not?"

"Things done so very quickly are not done well," answered the young man. "I know that from my art. You may stamp a thing in a moment with the die—it is rough, unfinished. It takes weeks to chisel it—"

"The good God is not a chiseller, Tista."

The words fell very simply from the young girl's lips, and the expression of her face did not change. Only the tone of her voice was grave and quiet, and there was a depth of conviction in it which struck Gianbattista forcibly. In a short sentence she had defined the difference between his mode of thought and her own. To her mind omnipotence was a reality. To him, it was an inconceivable power, the absurdity of which he sought to demonstrate by comparing the magnitude claimed for it with the capacities of man. He remained silent for a moment, as though seeking an answer. He found none, and what he said expressed an aspiration and not a retort.

"I sometimes wish that I could believe as you do," he said. "I am sure I could do much greater things, make much more beautiful angels, if I were quite sure that they existed."

"Of course you could," answered Lucia. Then, with a tact beyond her years, she changed the subject of their talk. She would not endanger the durability of his aspiration by discussing it. "To go back to what we were speaking of," she said, "you will go to the workshop this afternoon, Tista, won't you?"

"Yes," he said mechanically. "What else should I do? Oh, Lucia, my darling, I cannot bear this uncertainty," he cried, suddenly giving vent to his feelings. "Where will it end? He may have changed, he may be all you say he is to-day, all that he was not yesterday, but do you really believe he has given up his wild idea? It is not all as it should be, and that is not his nature. It will come upon us suddenly with something we do not expect. He will do something—I cannot tell what, but I know him better than you do. He is cruel, he plots over his work, and then, when all seems calm, the storm breaks. It will not end well."

"We must love each other, Tista. Then all will end well. Who can divide us?"

"No one," answered the young maid firmly. "But many things may happen before we are united for ever."

He was not subject to presentiments, and his self-confident nature abhorred the prospect of trouble. He had arrived at his conclusion by a logical process, and there seemed no escape from it. As he had told Lucia, he knew the character of the chiseller better than the women of the household could know it, for he had been his constant companion for years, and was not to be deceived in his estimate of Marzio's temper. A man's natural disposition shows itself most clearly when he is in his natural element, at his work, busied in the ordinary occupations of his life. To such a man as Marzio, the workshop is more sympathetic than the house. Disagreeing on most points with his family, obliged to be absent during the whole day, wholly absorbed in the production of works which the women of his household could not thoroughly appreciate, because they did not thoroughly understand the ideas which originated them, nor the methods employed in their execution—under these combined circumstances it was to be expected that the artist's real feelings would find expression at the work-bench rather than in the society of his wife and daughter. Seated by Marzio's side, and learning from him all that could be learned, Gianbattista had acquired at the same time a thorough knowledge of his instincts and emotions, which neither Maria Luisa nor Lucia was able to comprehend.

Marzio was tenacious of his ideas and of his schemes. Deficient in power of initiative and in physical courage, he was obstinate beyond all belief in his adherence to his theories. That he should suddenly yield to a devotional impulse, fall upon his knees before a crucifix and cry mea culpa over his whole past life, was altogether out of the question. In Gianbattista's opinion it was almost as impossible that he should abandon in a moment the plan which he had announced with so much resolution on the previous evening. It was certain that before declaring his determination to marry his daughter to the lawyer he must have ruminated and planned during many days, as it was his habit to do in all the matters of his life, without consulting any one, or giving the slightest hint of his intention. Some part of his remarkable talent depended upon this faculty of thoroughly considering a resolution before proceeding to carry it out; and it is a part of every really great talent in every branch of creative art, for it is the result of a great continuity in the action of the mind combined with the power of concentration and the virtue of reticence. Many a work has appeared to the world to be the spontaneous creation of transcendent genius, which has, in reality, been conceived, studied, and elaborated during years of silence. Reticence, concentration, and continuity, are characteristics which cannot influence one part of a man's life without influencing the rest as well. The habit of studying before proceeding is co-existent with the necessity of considering before acting; and a man who is reticent concerning one half of his thoughts is not communicative about the other half. Nature does not do things by halves, and the nerves which animate the gesture at the table are the same which guide the chisel at the work-bench.

Gianbattista understood Marzio's character, and in his mind tried to construct the future out of the present. He endeavoured to follow out what he supposed to be the chiseller's train of thought to its inevitable conclusion, and the more he reflected on the situation the more certain he became that Lucia's hypothesis was untenable. It was not conceivable, under any circumstances whatever, that Marzio should suddenly turn into a gentle, forgiving creature, anxious only for the welfare of others, and willing to sacrifice his own inclinations and schemes to that laudable end.

At twelve o'clock, Marzio appeared, cold, silent, and preoccupied. His manner did not encourage the idea entertained by Lucia, though the girl explained it to herself on the ground that her father was ashamed of having yielded so easily, and was unwilling to have it thought that he was too good-natured. There was truth in her idea, and it showed a good deal of common sense and appreciation of character. But it was not the whole truth. Marzio not only felt humiliated at having suffered himself to be overcome by his daughter's entreaties; he regretted it, and wished he could undo what he had done. It was too late, however. To change his mind a second time would be to show such weakness as his family had never witnessed in his actions.

He ate his food in silence, and the rest of the party ventured but few remarks. They inwardly congratulated themselves upon the favourable issue of the affair, in so far as it could be said to have reached a conclusion, and they all dreaded equally some fresh outburst of anger, should Marzio's temper be ruffled. Gianbattista himself set the example of discretion. As for the Signora Pandolfi, she had ready in her pocket the money her husband had given her in the morning for the purchase of Lucia's outfit, and she hoped at every moment that Marzio would ask for it, which would have been a sign that he had abandoned the idea of the marriage with Carnesecchi. But Marzio never mentioned the subject. He ate as quickly as he could, swallowed a draught of weak wine and water, and rose from the table without a word. With a significant nod to Maria Luisa and Lucia, Gianbattista left his seat and followed the artist towards the door. Marzio looked round sharply as he heard the steps behind him.

"Lucia told me," said the young man simply. "If you wish it, I will come and work."

Marzio hesitated a moment, beating his soft felt hat over his arm to remove the dust.

"You can go with the men and put up the prince's grating," he said at last. "The right hand side is ready fitted. If you work hard you can finish it before night."

"Very well," answered Gianbattista. "I will see to it. I have the keys here. In fire minutes I will come across."

Marzio nodded and went out. Gianbattista returned to the room where the women were finishing their dinner.

"It is all right," he said. "I am to put up the grating this afternoon. Will you come and see it, Sora Luisa?" He spoke to the mother, but he included the daughter by his look.

"It is very far," objected the Signora Pandolfi, "and we have been walking so much this morning. I think this day will never end!"

"Courage, mamma," said Lucia, "it will do you good to walk. Besides, there is the omnibus. What did he say, Tista? Am I not right?"

"Who knows? He is very quiet," replied the apprentice.

"What is it? What are you right about, my heart?" asked Maria Luisa.

"She thinks Sor Marzio has suddenly turned into a sugar doll," answered Gianbattista, with a laugh. "It may be. They say they make sugar out of all sorts of things nowadays."

"Capperi! It would be hard!" exclaimed Maria Luisa. "If there is enough sugar in him to sweeten a teaspoonful of coffee, write to me," she added ironically.

"Well—I shall be at the church in an hour, but it will be time enough if you come at twenty-three o'clock—between twenty-two and twenty-three." This means between one hour and two hours before sunset. "The light is good then, for there is a big west window," added Gianbattista in explanation.

"We will come before that," said Lucia. "Good-bye, Tista, and take care not to catch cold in that damp place."

"And you too," he answered, "cover yourselves carefully."

With this injunction, and a parting wave of the hand, he left the house, affecting a gay humour he did not really feel. His invitation to the two women to join him in the church had another object besides that of showing them the magnificent gilded grating which was to be put in place. Gianbattista feared that Marzio had sent him upon this business for the sake of getting him out of the way, and he did not know what might happen in his absence. The artist might perhaps choose that time for going in search of Gasparo Carnesecchi in order to bring him to the house and precipitate the catastrophe which the apprentice still feared, in spite of the last events of the morning. It was not unusual for Maria Luisa and her daughter to accompany him and Marzio when a finished work was to be set up, and Gianbattista knew that there could be no reasonable objection to such, a proceeding.

With an anxious heart he left the house and crossed the street to the workshop where the men were already waiting for the carts which were to convey the heavy grating to its destination. The pieces were standing against the walls, wrapped in tow and brown paper, and immense parcels lay tied up upon the benches. It was a great piece of work of the decorative kind, but of the sort for which Marzio cared little. Great brass castings were chiselled and finished according to his designs without his touching them with his hands. Huge twining arabesques of solid metal were prepared in pieces and fitted together with screws that ran easily in the thread, and then were taken apart again. Then came the laborious work of gilding by the mercury process, smearing every piece very carefully with an amalgam of mercury and gold, and putting it into a gentle, steady fire, until the mercury had evaporated, tearing only the dull gold in an even deposit on the surfaces. Then the finishing, the burnishing of the high lights, and the cleaning of the portions which were to remain dull. Sometimes the gilding of a piece failed, and had to be begun again, and there was endless trouble in saving the gold, as well as in preventing the workmen from stealing the amalgam. It was slow and troublesome work, and Marzio cared little for it, though his artistic instinct restrained him from allowing it to leave the workshop until it had been perfected to the highest degree.

At present the artist stood in the outer room among the wrapped pieces, his pipe in his mouth and his hands in his pockets. A moment after Gianhattista had entered, two carts rolled up to the door and the loading began.

"Take the drills and some screws to spare," said Marzio, looking into the bag of tools the foreman had prepared. "One can never tell in these monstrous things."

"It will be the first time, if we have to drill a new hole after you have fitted a piece of work, Maestro Marzio," answered the foreman, who had an unlimited admiration for his master's genius and foresight.

"Never mind; do as I tell you. We may all make mistakes in this world," returned the artist, giving utterance to a moral sentiment which did not influence him beyond the precincts of the workshop. The workman obeyed, and added the requisite instruments to the furnishing of his leather bag.

"And be careful, Tista," added Marzio, turning to the apprentice. "Look to the sockets in the marble when you place the large pieces. Measure them with your compass, you know; if they are too loose you have the thin plates of brass to pack them; if they are tight, file away, but finish and smooth it well Don't leave anything rough."

Gianbattista nodded as he lent a helping hand to the workmen who were carrying the heavy pieces to the carts.

"Will you come to the church before night?" he asked.

"Perhaps. I cannot tell. I am very busy."

In ten minutes the pieces were all piled upon the two vehicles, and Gianbattista strode away on foot with the workmen. He had not thought of changing his dress, and had merely thrown an old overcoat over his grey woollen blouse. For the time, he was an artisan at work. When working hours were over, and on Sundays, he loved to put on the stiff high collar and the cheeked clothes which suggested the garments of the English tourist. He was then a different person, and, in accordance with the change, he would smoke a cigarette and pull his cuffs over his hands, like a real gentleman, adjusting the angle of his hat from time to time, and glancing at his reflection in the shop windows as he passed along. But work was work; it was a pity to spoil good clothes with handling tools and castings, and jostling against the men, and, moreover, the change affected his nature. He could not handle a hammer or a chisel when he felt like a real gentleman, and when he felt like an artisan he must enjoy the liberty of being able to tuck up his sleeves and work with a will. At the present moment, too, he was proud of being in sole charge of the work, and he could not help thinking what a fine thing it would be to be married to Lucia and to be the master of the workshop. With the sanguine enthusiasm of a very young man who loves his occupation, he put his whole soul into what he was to do, assured that every skilful stroke of the hammer, every difficulty overcome, brought him nearer to the woman he loved.

Marzio entered the inner studio when Gianbattista was gone, leaving a boy who was learning to cut little files—the preliminary to the chiseller's profession—in charge of the outer workshop. The artist shut himself in and bolted the door, glad to be alone with the prospect of not being disturbed during the whole afternoon. He seemed not to hesitate about the work he intended to do, for he immediately took in hand the crucifix, laid it upon the table, and began to study it, using a lens from time to time as he scrutinised each detail. His rough hair fell forward over his forehead, and his shoulders rounded themselves till he looked almost deformed.

He had suffered very strong emotions during the last twenty-four hours—enough to have destroyed the steadiness of an ordinary man's hand; but with Marzio manual skill was the first habit of nature, and it would have been hard to find a mental impression which could shake his physical nerves. His mind, however, worked rapidly and almost fiercely, while his eyes searched the minute lines of the work he was examining.

Uppermost in his thoughts was a confused sense of humiliation and of exasperation against his brother. The anger he felt had nearly been expressed in a murderous deed not more than two or three hours earlier, and the wish to strike was still present in his mind. He twisted his lips into an ugly smile as he recalled the scene in every detail; but the determination was different from the reality and more in accordance with his feelings. He realised again that moment during which he had held the sharp instrument over his brother's head, and the thought which had then passed so rapidly through his brain recurred again with increased clearness. He remembered that beneath the iron-bound box in the corner there was a trap-door which descended to the unused cellar, for his workshop had in former times been a wine-shop, and he had hired the cellar with it. One sharp blow would have done the business. A few quick movements and Paolo's body would have been thrown down the dark steps beneath, the trap closed again, the safe replaced in its position. It was eleven o'clock then, or thereabouts. He would have sent the workmen to their dinner, and would have returned to the inner studio. They would have supposed afterwards that Don Paolo had left the place with him. He would have gone home and would have said that Paolo had left him—or, no—he would have said that Paolo had not been there, for some one might see him leave the workshop alone. In the night he would have returned, his family thinking he had gone to meet his friends, as he often did. When the streets were quiet he would have carried the body away upon the hand-cart that stood in the entry of the outer room. It was not far—scarcely three hundred yards, allowing for the turnings—to the place where the Via Montella ends in a mud bank by the dark river. A deserted neighbourhood, too—a turn to the left, the low trees of the Piazza de' Branca, the dark, short, straight street to the water. At one o'clock after midnight who was stirring? It would all have been so simple, so terribly effectual.

And then there would have been no more Paolo, no more domestic annoyances, no more of the priest's smooth-faced disapprobation and perpetual opposition in the house. He would have soon brought Maria Luisa and Lucia to reason. What could they do without the support of Paolo? They were only women after all. As for Gianbattista, if once the poisonous influence of Paolo were removed—and how surely removed!—Marzio's lips twisted as though he were tasting the sourness of failure, like an acid fruit—if once the priest were gone, Gianbattista would come back to his old ways, to his old scorn of priests in general, of churches, of oppression, of everything that Marzio hated. He might marry Lucia then, and be welcome. After all, he was a finer fellow for the pretty girl than Gasparo Carnesecchi, with his claw fingers and his vinegar salad. That was only a farce, that proposal about the lawyer—the real thing was to get rid of Paolo. There could be no healthy liberty of thought in the house while this fellow was sneaking in and out at all hours. Tumble Paolo into a quiet grave—into the river with a sackful of old castings at his neck—there would be peace then, and freedom. Marzio ground his teeth as he thought how nearly he had done the thing, and how miserably he had failed. It had been the inspiration of the moment, and the details had appeared clear at once to his mind. Going over them he found that he had not been mistaken. If Paolo came again, and he had the chance, he would do it. It was perhaps all the better that he had found time to weigh the matter.

But would Paolo come again? Would he ever trust himself alone in the workshop? Had he guessed, when he turned so suddenly and saw the weapon in the air, that the blow was on the very point of descending? Or had he been deceived by the clumsy excuse Marzio had made about the sum shining in his eyes?

He had remained calm, or Marzio tried to think so. But the artist himself had been so much moved during the minutes that followed that he could hardly feel sure of Paolo's behaviour. It was a chilling thought, that Paolo might have understood and might have gone away feeling that his life had been saved almost by a miracle. He would not come back, the cunning priest, in that case; he would not risk his precious skin in such company. It was not to be expected—a priest was only human, after all, like any other man. Marzio cursed his ill luck again as he bent over his work. What a moment this would be if Paolo would take it into his head to make another visit! Even the men were gone. He would send the one boy who remained to the church where Gianbattista was working, with a message. They would be alone then, he and Paolo. The priest might scream and call for help—the thick walls would not let any sound through them. It would be even better than in the morning, when he had lost his opportunity by a moment, by the twinkling of an eye.

"They say hell is paved with good intentions—or lost opportunities," muttered Marzio. "I will send Paolo with the next opportunity to help in the paving."

He laughed softly at his grim joke, and bent lower over the crucifix. By this time he had determined what to do, for his reflections had not interfered with his occupation. Removing two tiny silver screws which fitted with the utmost exactness in the threads, he loosened the figure from the cross, removed the latter to a shelf on the wall, and returning laid the statue on a soft leathern pad, surrounding it with sand-bags till it was propped securely in the position he required. Then he took a very small chisel, adjusted it with the greatest care, and tapped upon it with the round wooden handle of his little hammer. At each touch he examined the surface with his lens to assure himself that he was making the improvement he contemplated. It was very delicate work, and as he did it he felt a certain pride in the reflection that he could not have detected the place where improvement was possible when he had worked upon the piece ten years ago. He found it now, in the infinitesimal touches upon the expression of the face, in the minute increase in the depressions and accentuated lines in the anatomy of the figure. As he went over each portion he became more and more certain that though he could not at present do better in the way of idea and general execution, he had nevertheless gained in subtle knowledge of effects and in skill of handling the chisel upon very delicate points. The certainty gave him the real satisfaction of legitimate pride. He knew that he had reached the zenith of his capacities. His old wish to keep the crucifix for himself began to return.

If he disposed of Paolo he might keep his work. Only Paolo had seen it. The absurd want of logic in the conclusion did not strike him. He had not pledged himself to his brother to give this particular crucifix to the Cardinal, and if he had, he could easily have found a reason for keeping it back. But he was too much accustomed to think that Paolo was always in the way of his wishes, to look at so simple a matter in such a simple light.

"It is strange," he said to himself. "The smallest things seem to point to it. If he would only come!"

Again his mind returned to the contemplation of the deed, and again he reviewed all the circumstances necessary for its safe execution. What an inspiration, he thought, and what a pity it had not found shape in fact at the very moment when it had presented itself! He considered why he had never thought of it before, in all the years, as a means of freeing himself effectually from the despotism he detested. It was a despotism, he reflected, and no other word expressed it. He recalled many scenes in his home, in which Paolo had interfered. He remembered how one Sunday, in the afternoon, they had all been together before going to walk in the Corso, and how he had undertaken to demonstrate to Maria Luisa and Lucia the folly of wasting time in going to church on Sundays. He had argued gently and reasonably, he thought. But suddenly Paolo had interrupted him, saying that he would not allow Marzio to compare a church to a circus, nor priests to mountebanks and tight-rope dancers. Why not? Then the women had begun to scream and cry, and to talk of his blasphemous language until he could not hear himself speak. It was Paolo's fault. If Paolo had not been there the women would have listened patiently enough, and would doubtless have reaped some good from his reasonable discourse. On another occasion Marzio had declared that Lucia should never be taught anything about Christianity, that the definition of God was reason, that Garibaldi had baptized one child in the name of Reason and that he, Marzio, could baptize another quite as effectually. Paolo had interfered, and Maria Luisa had screamed. The contest had lasted nearly a month, at the end of which tune, Marzio had been obliged to abandon the uneven contest, vowing vengeance in some shape for the future.

Many and many such scenes rose to his memory, and in every one Paolo was the opposer, the enemy of his peace, the champion of all that he hated and despised. In great things and small his brother had been his antagonist from his early manhood, through eighteen years of married life to the present day. And yet, without Paolo, he could hardly have hoped to find himself in his present state of fortune.

This was one of the chief sources of his humiliation in his own eyes. With such a character as his, it is eminently true that it is harder to forgive a benefit than an injury. He might have felt less bitterly against his brother if he had not received at his hands the orders and commissions which had turned into solid money in the bank. It was hard to face Paolo, knowing that he owed two-thirds of his fortune to such a source. If he could get rid of the priest he would be relieved at once from the burden of this annoyance, of this financial subjection, as well of all that embittered his life. He pictured to himself his wife and daughter listening respectfully to his harangues and beginning to practise his principles, Gianbattista, an eloquent member of the society in the inner room of the old inn, reformed, purged from his sneaking fondness for Paolo—since Paolo would not be in the world any longer—and ultimately married to Lucia, the father of children who should all be baptized in the name of Reason, and the worthy successor of himself, Marzio Pandolfi.

Scrutinising the statue under his lens, he detected a slight imperfection in the place where one of the sharp thorns touched the silver forehead of the beautiful, tortured head. He looked about for a tool fine enough for the work, but none suited his wants. He took up the long fine-pointed punch he had thrown back upon the table after the scene in the morning. It was too long, and over sharp, but by turning it sideways it would do the work under his dexterous fingers.

"Strange!" he muttered, as he tapped upon the tool. "It is like a consecration!"

When he had made the stroke he dropped the instrument into the pocket of his blouse, as though fearing to lose it. He had no occasion to use it again, though he went on with his work during several hours.

The thoughts which had passed through his brain recurred, and did not diminish in clearness. On the contrary, it was as though the passing impulse of the morning had grown during those short hours into a settled and unchangeable resolution. Once he rose from his stool, and going to the corner, dragged away the iron-bound safe from its place. A rusty ring lay flat in a little hollow in the surface of the trap-door. Marzio bent over it with a pale face and gleaming eyes. It seemed to him as though, if he looked round, he should see Paolo's body lying on the floor, ready to be dropped into the space below. He raised the wood and set the trap back against the wall, peering down into the black depths. A damp smell came up to his nostrils from the moist staircase. He struck a match, and held it into the opening, to see in what direction the stairs led down.

Something moved behind him and made a little noise. With a short cry of horror Marzio sprang back from the opening and looked round. It was as though the body of the murdered man had stirred upon the floor. His overstrained imagination terrified him, and his eyes started from his head. He examined the bench and saw the cause of the sound in a moment. The silver Christ, unsteadily propped in the position in which he had just placed it, had fallen upon one side of the pad by its own weight.

Marzio's heart still beat desperately as he went back to the hole and carefully reclosed the trap-door, dragging the heavy safe to its position over the ring. Trembling violently, he sat down upon his stool and wiped the cold perspiration from his forehead. Then, as he laid the figure upon the cushion, he glanced uneasily behind him and at the corner.


When Don Paolo had shut the door of the studio and found himself once more in the open street, he felt a strangely unpleasant sensation about the heart, and for a few moments he was very pale. He had suffered a shock, and in spite of his best efforts to explain away what had occurred, he knew that he had been in danger. Any one who, being himself defenceless, has suddenly seen a pistol pointed at him in earnest, or a sharp weapon raised in the air to strike him, knows the feeling well enough. Probably he has afterwards tried to reason upon what he felt in that moment, and has failed to come to any conclusion except the very simple one, that he was badly frightened. Hector was no coward, but he let Achilles chase him three times round Troy before he could make up his mind to stand and fight, and but for Athena he might have run even further. And yet Hector was armed at all points for battle. He was badly frightened, brave man as he was.

But when the first impression was gone, and Paolo was walking quickly in the direction of the palace where the Cardinal lived, he stoutly denied to himself that Marzio had meant to harm him. In the first place, he could find no adequate reason for such an attempt upon his life. It was true that his relations with his brother had not been very amicable for some time; but between quarrelling and doing murder, Paolo saw a gulf too wide to be easily overstepped, even by such a person as Marzio. Then, too, the good man was unwilling to suspect any one of bad intentions, still less of meditating a crime. This consideration, however, was not, logically speaking, in Marzio's favour; for since Paolo was less suspicious than other men, it must necessarily have needed a severe shock to shake his faith in his brother's innocence. He had seem the weapon in the air, and had seen also the murderous look in the artist's eyes.

"I had better not think anything more about it," he said to himself, fearing lest he should think anything unjust.

So he went on his way towards the palace, and tried to think about Gianbattista and Lucia, their marriage and their future life. The two young faces came up before him as he walked, and he smiled calmly, forgetting what he had so recently passed through, in the pleasant contemplation of a happiness not his own. He reached his rooms, high up at the top of the ancient building, and he sighed with a sense of relief as he sat down upon the battered old chair before his writing-table.

Presently the Cardinal sent for him. Don Paolo rose and carefully brushed the dust from his cassock and mantle, and smoothed the long silk nap of his hat. He was a very neat man and scrupulous as to his appearance. Moreover, he regarded the Cardinal with a certain awe, as being far removed beyond the sphere of ordinary humanity, even though he had known him intimately for years. This idea of the great importance of the princes of the Church is inherent in the Roman mind. There is no particular reason why it should be eradicated, since it exists, and does no harm to any one, but it is a singular fact and worthy of remark. It is one of those many relics of old times, which no amount of outward change has been able to obliterate. A cardinal in Rome occupies a position wholly distinct from that of any other dignitary or hereditary noble. It is not so elsewhere, except perhaps in some parts of the south. The Piedmontese scoffs at cardinals, because he scoffs at the church and at all religion in general. The Florentine shrugs his shoulders because cardinals represent Rome, and Rome, with all that is in it, is hateful to Florence, and always was. But the true Roman, even when he has adopted the ideas of the new school, still feels an unaccountable reverence for the scarlet mantle. There is a dignity—often, now, very far from magnificent—about the household of a cardinal, which is not found elsewhere. The servants are more grave and tread more softly, the rooms are darker and more severe, the atmosphere is more still and the silence more intense, than in the houses of lay princes. A man feels in the very air the presence of a far-reaching power, noiselessly working to produce great results.

Don Paolo descended the stairs and entered the apartments through the usual green baize door, which swung upon its hinges by its own weight behind him. He passed through several large halls, scantily and sombrely furnished, in the last of which stood the throne chair, turned to the wall, beneath a red canopy. Beyond this great reception-chamber, and communicating with it by a low masked door, was the Cardinal's study, a small room, very high and lighted by a single tall window which opened upon an inner court of the palace. The furniture was very simple, consisting of a large writing-table, a few high-backed chairs, and the Cardinal's own easy-chair, covered with dingy leather and well worn by use. On the dark green walls hung two engravings, one a portrait of Pius IX., the other a likeness of Leo XIII. The Cardinal himself sat in the arm-chair, holding a newspaper spread out upon his knees.

"Good-day, Don Paolo," he said, in a pleasant, but not very musical voice.

His Eminence was a man about sixty years of age, hale and strong in appearance, but below the middle height and somewhat inclining to stoutness. His face was round, and the complexion very clear, which, with his small and bright brown eyes, gave him a look of cheerful vitality. Short white hair fringed his head where it was not covered by the small scarlet skull-cap. He wore a purple cassock with scarlet buttons and a scarlet silk mantle, which fell in graceful folds over one arm of the chair.

"Good-day, Eminence," answered Don Paolo, touching the great ruby ring with his lips. Then, in obedience to a gesture, the priest sat down upon one of the high-backed chairs.

"What weather have we to-day?" asked the Cardinal after a pause.

"Scirocco, Eminence."

"Ah, I thought so—especially this morning, very early. It is very disagreeable. Since Padre Secchi found that the scirocco really brings the sand of the desert with it, I dislike it more than ever. And what have you been doing, Don Paolo? Have you been to see about the crucifix?"

"I spoke to my brother about it last night, Eminence. He said he would do his best to make it in the time, but that he would have preferred to have a little longer."

"He is a good artist, your brother," said the Cardinal, nodding his head slowly and joining his hands, while the newspaper slipped to the floor.

"A good artist," repeated Don Paolo, stooping to pick up the sheet. "I have just seen his best work—a crucifix such as your Eminence wishes. Indeed, he proposed that you should take it, for he says he can make nothing better."

"Let us see, let us see," answered the prelate, in a tone which showed that he did not altogether like the proposal. "You say he has it already made. Tell me, has your brother much work to do just now?"

"Not much, Eminence. He has just finished the grating of a chapel for some church or other. I think I saw a silver ewer begun upon his table."

"I thought that perhaps he had not time for my crucifix."

"But he is an artist, my brother!" cried the priest, who resented the idea that Marzio might wish to palm off an ill-made object in order to save time. "He is a good artist, he loves the work, he always does his best! When he says he can do nothing better than what he has already finished, I believe him."

"So much the better," replied the Cardinal. "But we must see the work before deciding. You seem to have great faith in your brother's good intentions, Don Paolo. Is it not true? Dear me! You were almost angry with me for suggesting that he might be too busy to undertake my commission."

"Angry! I angry? Your Eminence is unjust. Marzio puts much conscience into his work. That is all."

"Ah, he is a man of conscience? I did not know. But, being your brother, he should be, Don Paolo." The prelate's bright brown eyes twinkled.

Paolo was silent, though he bowed his head in acknowledgment of the indirect praise.

"You do not say anything," observed the Cardinal, looking at his secretary with a smile.

"He is a man of convictions," answered Paolo, at last.

"That is better than nothing, better than being lukewarm. 'Because thou art lukewarm,' you know the rest."

"Incipiam te evomere," replied the priest mechanically. "Marzio is not lukewarm."

"Frigidusne?" asked the Cardinal.

"Hardly that."

"An calidus?"

"Not very, Eminence. That is, not exactly."

"But then, in heaven's name, what is he?" laughed the prelate. "If he is not cold, nor hot, nor lukewarm, what is he? He interests me. He is a singular case."

"He is a man who has his opinions," answered Don Paolo. "What shall I say? He is so good an artist that he is a little crazy about other things."

"His opinions are not ours, I suppose. I have sometimes thought as much from the way you speak of him. Well, well—he is not old; his opinions will change. You are very much attached to your brother, Don Paolo, are you not?"

"We are brothers, Eminence."

"So were Cain and Abel, if I am not mistaken," observed the Cardinal. Paolo looked about the room uneasily. "I only mean to say," continued the prelate, "that men may be brothers and yet not love each other."

"Come si fa? What can one do about it?" ejaculated Paolo.

"You must try and influence him. You must do your best to make him change his views. You must make an effort to bring him to a better state of mind."

"Eh! I know," answered the priest. "I do my best, but I do not succeed. He thinks I interfere. I am not San Filippo Neri. Why should I conceal the matter? Marzio is not a bad man, but he is crazy about what he calls politics. He believes in a new state of things. He thinks that everything is bad and ought to be destroyed. Then he and his friends would build up the ideal state."

"There would soon be nothing but equality to eat—fried, roast and boiled. I have heard that there are socialists even here in Rome. I cannot imagine what they want."

"They want to divide the wealth of the country among themselves," answered Don Paolo. "What strange ideas men have!"

"To divide the wealth of the country they have only to subtract a paper currency from an inflated national debt. There would be more unrighteousness than mammon left after such a proceeding. It reminds me of a story I heard last year. A deputation of socialists waited upon a high personage in Vienna. Who knows what for? But they went. They told him that it was his duty to divide his wealth amongst the inhabitants of the city. And he said they were quite right. 'Look here,' said he, 'I possess about seven hundred thousand florins. It chances that Vienna has about seven hundred thousand inhabitants. Here, you have each one florin. It is your share. Good-morning.' You see he was quite just. So, perhaps, if your brother had his way, and destroyed everything, and divided the proceeds equally, he would have less afterwards than he had before. What do you think?"

"It is quite true, Eminence. But I am afraid he will never understand that. He has very unchangeable opinions."

"They will change all the more suddenly when he is tired of them. Those ideas are morbid, like the ravings of a man in a fever. When the fever has worn itself out, there comes a great sense of lassitude, and a desire for peace."

"Provided it ever really does wear itself out," said Don Paolo, sadly.

"Eh! it will, some day. With such political ideas, I suppose your brother is an atheist, is he not?"

"I hope he believes in something," replied the priest evasively.

"And yet he makes a good living by manufacturing vessels for the service of the Church," continued the Cardinal, with a smile. "Why did you never tell me about your brother's peculiar views, Don Paolo?"

"Why should I trouble you with such matters? I am sorry I have said so much, for no one can understand exactly what Marzio is, who does not know him. It is an injury to him to let your Eminence know that he is a freethinker. And yet he is not a bad man, I believe. He has no vices that I know of, except a sharp tongue. He is sober and works hard. That is much in these days. Though he is mistaken, he will doubtless come to his senses, as you say. I do not hate him; I would not injure him."

"Why do you think it can harm him to let me about him? Do you think that I, or others, would not employ him if we knew all about him?"

"It would seem natural that your Eminence should hesitate to do so."

"Let us see, Don Paolo. There are some bad priests in the world, I suppose; are there not?"

"It is to be feared—"

"Yes, there are. There are bad priests in all forms of religion. Yet they say mass. Of course, very often the people know that they are bad. Do you think that the mass is less efficacious for the salvation of those who attend it, provided that they themselves pray with the same earnestness?"

"No; certainly not. For otherwise it would be necessary that the people should ascertain whether the priest is in a state of grace every time he celebrates; and since their salvation would then, depend upon that, they would be committing a sin if they did not examine the relative morality of different priests and select the most saintly one."

"Well then, so much the more is it indifferent whether the inanimate vessels we use are chiselled by a saint or an unbeliever. Their use sanctifies them, not the moral goodness of the artist. For, by your own argument, we should otherwise he committing a sin if we did not find out the most saintly men and set them to silver-chiselling instead of ordaining them bishops and archbishops. It would take a long time to build a church if you only employed masons who were in a state of grace."

"Well, but would you not prefer that the artist should be a good man?"

"For his own sake, Don Paolo, for his own sake. The thing he makes is not at all less worthy if he is bad. Are there not in many of our churches pillars that stood in Roman temples? Is not the canopy over the high altar in Saint Peter's made of the bronze roof of the Pantheon? And besides, what is goodness? We are all bad, but some are worse than others. It is not our business to judge, or to distribute commissions for works of art to those whom we think the best among men, as one gives medals and prizes to industrious and well-behaved children."

"That is very clear, and very true," answered the priest.

He did not really want to discuss the question of Marzio's belief or unbelief. Perhaps, if he had not been disturbed in mind by the events of the morning he would have avoided the subject, as he had often done before when the Cardinal had questioned him. But to-day he was not quite himself, and being unable to tell a falsehood of any kind he had spoken more of idle truth than he had wished. He felt that he had perhaps been unjust to his brother. He looked ill at ease, and the Cardinal noticed it, for he was a kindly man and very fond of his secretary.

"You must not let the matter trouble you," said the prelate, after a pause. "I am an inquisitive old man, as you know, and I like to be acquainted with my friends' affairs. But I am afraid I have annoyed you—"

"Oh! Your Eminence could never—"

"Never intentionally," interrupted the Cardinal. "But it is human to err, and it is especially human to bore one's fellow-creatures with inquisitive questions. We all have our troubles, Don Paolo, and I am yours. Some day, perhaps, you will be a cardinal yourself—who knows? I hope so. And then you will have an excellent secretary, who will be much too good, even for you, and whom you can torture by the hour together with inquiries about his relations. Well, if it is only for your sake, Sor Marzio shall never have any fewer commissions, even if he turn out more in earnest with his socialism than most of those fellows."

"You are too kind," said Paolo simply.

He was very grateful for the kindly words, for he knew that they were meant and not said merely in jest. The idea that he had perhaps injured Marzio in the Cardinal's estimation was very painful to him, in spite of what he had felt that morning. Moreover, the prelate's plain, common-sense view of the case reassured him, and removed a doubt that had long ago disturbed his peace of mind. On reflection it seemed true enough, and altogether reasonable, but Paolo knew in his heart what a sensation of repulsion, not to say loathing, he would experience if he should ever be called upon to use in the sacred services a vessel of his brother's making. The thought that those long, cruel fingers of Marzio's had hammered and worked out the delicate design would pursue him and disturb his thoughts. The sound of Marzio's voice, mocking at all the priest held holy, would be in his ears and would mingle with the very words of the canon.

But then, provided that he himself were not obliged to use his brother's chalices, what could it matter? The Cardinal did not know the artist, and whatever picture he might make to himself of the man would be shadowy and indistinct. The feeling, then, was his own and quite personal. It would be the height of superstitious folly to suppose that any evil principle could be attached to the silver and gold because they were chiselled by impious hands. A simple matter this, but one which had many a time distressed Don Paolo.

There was a long pause after the priest's last words, during which the prelate looked at him from time to time, examined his own white hands, and turned his great ruby ring round his finger.

"Let us go to work," he said at length, as though dismissing the subject of the conversation from his mind.

Paolo fetched a large portfolio of papers and established himself at the writing-table, while the Cardinal examined the documents one by one, and dictated what he had to say about them to his secretary. During two hours or more the two men remained steadily at their task. When the last paper was read and the last note upon it written out, the Cardinal rose from his arm-chair and went to the window. There was no sound in the room but that of the sand rattling upon the stiff surface, as Paolo poured it over the wet ink in the old-fashioned way, shook it about and returned it to the little sandbox by the inkstand. Suddenly the old churchman turned round and faced the priest.

"One of these days, when you and I are asleep out there at San Lorenzo, there will be a fight, my friend," he said.

"About what, Eminence?" asked the other.

"About silver chalices, perhaps. About many things. It will be a great fight, such as the world has never seen before."

"I do not understand," said Don Paolo.

"Your brother represents an idea," answered the Cardinal. "That idea is the subversion of all social principle. It is an idea which must spread, because there is an enormous number of depraved men in the world who have a very great interest in the destruction of law. The watchword of that party will always be 'there is no God,' because God is order, and they desire disorder. They will, it is true, always be a minority, because the greater part of mankind are determined that order shall not be destroyed. But those fellows will fight to the death, because they know that in that battle there will be no quarter for the vanquished. It will be a mighty struggle and will last long, but it will be decisive, and will perhaps never be revived when it is once over. Men will kill each other where-ever they meet, during months and years, before the end comes, for all men who say that there is a God in Heaven will be upon the one side, and all those who say there is no God will be upon the other."

"May we not be alive to see anything so dreadful!" exclaimed Don Paolo devoutly.

"No, you and I shall not see it. But those little children who are playing with chestnuts down there in the court—they will see it. The world is uneasy and dreads the very name of war, lest war should become universal if it once breaks out. Tell your brother that."

"It is what he longs for. He is always speaking of it."

"Then it is inevitable. When many millions like him have determined that there shall be evil done, it cannot long be warded off. Their blood be on their own heads."

When Don Paolo had climbed again to his lonely lodging, half an hour later, he pondered long upon what the Cardinal had said to him, and the longer he thought of it, the more truth there seemed to be in the prediction.


Gianbattista reached the church in which he was to do his work, and superintended the unloading of the carts. It was but a little after one o'clock, and he expected to succeed in putting up the grating before night. The pieces were carefully carried to the chapel where they were to be placed, and laid down in the order in which they would be needed. It took a long time to arrange them, and the apprentice was glad he had advised Maria Luisa and Lucia to come late. It would have wearied them, he reflected, to assist at the endless fitting and screwing of the joints, and they would have had no impression of the whole until they were tired of looking at the details.

For hours he laboured with the men, not allowing anything to be done without his supervision, and doing more himself than any of the workmen. He grew hot and interested as the time went on, and he began to doubt whether the work could be finished before sunset. The workmen themselves, who preferred a job of this kind to the regular occupation of the studio, seemed in no hurry, though they did what was expected of them quietly and methodically. Each one of them was calculating, as nearly as possible, the length of time needed to drive a screw, to lift a piece into position, to finish off a shank till it fitted closely in the prepared socket. Half an hour wasted by driblets to-day, would ensure them for the morrow the diversion of an hour or two in coming to the church and returning from it.

From time to time Gianbattista glanced towards the door, and as the hours advanced his look took the same direction more often. At last, as the rays of the evening sun fell through the western window, he heard steps, and was presently rewarded by the appearance of the Signora Pandolfi, followed closely by Lucia. They greeted Gianbattista from a distance, for the church being under repairs was closed to the public, and had not been in use for years, so that the sound of voices did not seem unnatural nor irreverent.

"It is not finished," said Gianbattista, coming forward to meet them; "but you can see what it will be like. Another hour will be enough."

At that moment Don Paolo suddenly appeared, walking fast up the aisle in pursuit of the two women. They all greeted him with an exclamation of surprise.

"Eh!" he exclaimed, "you are astonished to see me? I was passing and saw you go in, and as I knew about the grating, I guessed what you came for and followed you. Is Marzio here?"

"No," answered Gianbattista. "He said he might perhaps come, but I doubt it. I fancy he wants to be alone."

"Yes," replied Don Paolo thoughtfully, "I daresay he wants to be alone."

"He has had a good many emotions to-day," remarked Gianbattista. "We shall see how he will be this evening. Of course, you have heard the news, Don Paolo? Besides, you see I am at work, so that the first great difference has been settled. Lucia managed it—she has an eloquence, that young lady! She could preach better than you, Don Paolo."

"She is a little angel," exclaimed the priest, tapping his niece's dark cheek with his white hand.

"That is four to-day!" cried Lucia, laughing. "First mamma, then papa—figure to yourself papa!—then Tista, and now Uncle Paolo. Eh! if the wings don't grow before the Ave Maria—"

She broke off with a pretty motion of her shoulders, showing her white teeth and turning to look at Gianbattista. Then the young man took them to see the grating. A good portion of it was put up, and it produced a good effect. The whole thing was about ten or twelve feet high, consisting of widely-set gilt bars, between which were fastened large arabesques and scrolls. On each side of the gate, in the middle, an angel supported a metal drapery, of which the folds were in reality of separate pieces, but which, as it now appeared, all screwed together in its place, had a very free and light effect. It was work of a conventional kind and of a conventional school, but even here Marzio's great talent had shown itself in his rare knowledge of effects and free modelling; the high lights were carefully chosen and followed out, and the deep shadows of the folds in dull gold gave a richness to the drapery not often found in this species of decoration. The figures of the angels, too, were done by an artist's hand—conventional, like the rest, but free from heaviness or anatomical defects.

"It is not bad," said Don Paolo, in a tone which surprised every one. He was not often slow to praise his brother's work.

"How, not bad? Is that all you say?" asked Gianbattista, in considerable astonishment. He felt, too, that as Marzio and he worked together, he deserved acme part of the credit. "It is church decoration of course, and not a 'piece,' as we say, but I would like to see anybody do better."

"Well, well, Tista, forgive me," he answered, "The fact is, Marzio showed me something to-day so wonderful, that I see no beauty in anything else—or, at least, not so much beauty as I ought to see. I went in to find him again, you know, just as Lucia was leaving, and he showed me a crucifix—a marvel, a wonder!—he said he had had it a long time, put away in a box."

"I never saw it," said Tista.

"I did!" exclaimed Lucia. She regretted the words as soon as she had spoken them, and bit her lip. She had not told her mother what she had told Gianbattista.

"When did you see it? Is it so very beautiful?" asked the Signora Pandolfi.

"Oh, I only saw it through the door, when I went," she answered quickly. "The door was open, but I knocked and I saw him hide it. But I think it was very fine—splendid! What did you talk about, Uncle Paolo? You have not told us about your visit. I whispered to you that everything was settled, but you looked as though you did not understand. What did you say to each other?"

"Oh, nothing—nothing of any importance," said Don Paolo in some embarrassment. He suddenly recollected that, owing to his brother's strange conduct, he had left the studio without saying a word about the errand which had brought him. "Nothing," he repeated. "We talked about the crucifix, and Marzio gave a very long explanation of the way it was made. Besides, as Lucia says, she had told me that everything was settled, and Marzio spoke very quietly."

This was literally true. Marzio's words had been gentle enough. It was his action that had at first startled Don Paolo, and had afterwards set him thinking and reflecting on the events of those few minutes. But he would not for anything in the world have allowed any of his three companions to know what had happened. He was himself not sure. Marzio had excused the position of his hand by saying that the sun was in his eyes. There was something else in his eyes, thought Paolo; a look of hatred and of eager desire for blood which it was horrible to remember. Perhaps he ought not to remember it, for he might, be mistaken, after all, and it was a great sin to suspect any one of wishing to commit such a crime; but nevertheless; and in spite of his desire that it might not have been true, Don Paolo was conscious of having received the impression, and he was sure that it had not been the result of any foolish fright. He was not a cowardly, man, and although his physical courage had rarely been put to the test, no one who knew him would have charged him with the contemptible timidity which imagines danger gratuitously, and is afraid where no fear is. He was of a better temper than Marzio, who had been startled so terribly by a slight noise when his back was turned. And yet he had been profoundly affected by the scene of the morning, and had not yet entirely recovered his serenity.

Lucia noticed the tone of his answer, and suspected that something had happened, though her suspicion took a direction exactly opposed to the fact. She remembered what she had seen herself, and recalling the fact that Paolo had entered the workshop just as she was leaving it, she saw nothing unnatural in the supposition that her father's conversation with her uncle had taken a religious tone. She used the word religion to express to herself what she meant. She thought it quite possible that after Marzio had been so suddenly softened, and evidently affected, by her own fainting fit, and after having been absorbed in some sort of devotional meditation, he might have spoken of his feelings to Don Paolo, who in his turn would have seized the opportunity for working upon his brother's mind. Paolo, she thought, would naturally not care to speak lightly of such an occurrence, and his somewhat constrained manner at the present moment might be attributed to this cause. To prevent any further questions from her mother or Gianbattista, Lucia interposed.

"Yes," she said, "he seemed very quiet. He hardly spoke at dinner. But Tista says he may perhaps be here before long, and then we shall know."

It was not very clear what was to be known, and Lucia hastened to direct their attention to the new grating. Gianbattista returned to work with the men, and the two women and Don Paolo stood looking on, occasionally shifting their position to get a better view of the work. Gianbattista was mounted upon a ladder which leaned against one of the marble pillars at the entrance of the side chapel closed by the grating. A heavy piece of arabesque work had just been got into its place, and was tied with cords while the young man ran a screw through the prepared holes to fasten one side of the fragment to the bar. He was awkwardly placed, but he had sent the men to uncover and clean the last pieces, at a little distance from where he was at work. The three visitors observed him with interest, probably remarking to themselves that it must need good nerves to maintain one's self in such a position. Don Paolo, especially, was more nervous than the rest, owing, perhaps, to what had occurred in the morning. All at once, as he watched Gianbattista's twisted attitude, as the apprentice strained himself and turned so as to drive the screw effectually, the foot of the ladder seemed to move a little on the smooth marble pavement. With a quick movement Don Paolo stepped forward, with the intention of grasping the ladder.

Hearing the sound of rapid steps, Gianbattista turned his head and a part of his body to see what had happened. The sudden movement shifted the weight, and definitely destroyed the balance of the ladder. With a sharp screech, like that of a bad pencil scratching on a slate, the lower ends of the uprights slipped outward from the pillar. Gianbattista clutched at the metal bars desperately, but the long screw-driver in his hands impeded him, and he missed his hold.

Don Paolo, the sound of whose step had at first made the young man turn, and had thus probably precipitated the accident, sprang forward, threw himself under the falling ladder, and grasped it with all his might. But it was too late. Gianbattista was heavy, and the whole ladder with his weight upon it had gained too much impetus to be easily stopped by one man. With a loud crash he fell with the wooden frame upon the smooth marble floor. Rolling to one side, Gianbattista leapt to his feet, dazed but apparently unhurt.

The priest lay motionless in a distorted position under the ladder, his head bent almost beneath his body, and one arm projecting upon the pavement, seemingly twisted in its socket, the palm upwards. The long white fingers twitched convulsively once or twice, and then were still. It was all the affair of a moment. Maria Luisa screamed and leaned against the pillar for support, while Lucia ran forward and knelt beside the injured man. Gianbattista, whose life had probably been saved by Don Paolo's quick action, was dragging away the great ladder, and the workmen came running up in confusion to see what had happened.

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