The Marble Faun Volume 1 (Chapter 11)

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Chapter 11

In the Borghese Grove, so recently uproarious with merriment and music,
there remained only Miriam and her strange follower.

A solitude had suddenly spread itself around them. It perhaps symbolized
a peculiar character in the relation of these two, insulating them, and
building up an insuperable barrier between their life-streams and other
currents, which might seem to flow in close vicinity. For it is one of
the chief earthly incommodities of some species of misfortune, or of a
great crime, that it makes the actor in the one, or the sufferer of
the other, an alien in the world, by interposing a wholly unsympathetic
medium betwixt himself and those whom he yearns to meet.

Owing, it may be, to this moral estrangement,--this chill remoteness of
their position,--there have come to us but a few vague whisperings
of what passed in Miriam's interview that afternoon with the sinister
personage who had dogged her footsteps ever since the visit to the
catacomb. In weaving these mystic utterances into a continuous scene, we
undertake a task resembling in its perplexity that of gathering up
and piecing together the fragments ora letter which has been torn and
scattered to the winds. Many words of deep significance, many entire
sentences, and those possibly the most important ones, have flown
too far on the winged breeze to be recovered. If we insert our own
conjectural amendments, we perhaps give a purport utterly at variance
with the true one. Yet unless we attempt something in this way,
there must remain an unsightly gap, and a lack of continuousness
and dependence in our narrative; so that it would arrive at certain
inevitable catastrophes without due warning of their imminence.

Of so much we are sure, that there seemed to be a sadly mysterious
fascination in the influence of this ill-omened person over Miriam;
it was such as beasts and reptiles of subtle and evil nature sometimes
exercise upon their victims. Marvellous it was to see the hopelessness
with which being naturally of so courageous a spirit she resigned
herself to the thraldom in which he held her. That iron chain, of which
some of the massive links were round her feminine waist, and the others
in his ruthless hand,--or which, perhaps, bound the pair together by
a bond equally torturing to each,--must have been forged in some such
unhallowed furnace as is only kindled by evil passions, and fed by evil

Yet, let us trust, there may have been no crime in Miriam, but only
one of those fatalities which are among the most insoluble riddles
propounded to mortal comprehension; the fatal decree by which every
crime is made to be the agony of many innocent persons, as well as of
the single guilty one.

It was, at any rate, but a feeble and despairing kind of remonstrance
which she had now the energy to oppose against his persecution.

"You follow me too closely," she said, in low, faltering accents; "you
allow me too scanty room to draw my breath. Do you know what will be the
end of this?" "I know well what must be the end," he replied.

"Tell me, then," said Miriam, "that I may compare your foreboding with
my own. Mine is a very dark one."

"There can be but one result, and that soon," answered the model. "You
must throw off your present mask and assume another. You must vanish out
of the scene: quit Rome with me, and leave no trace whereby to follow
you. It is in my power, as you well know, to compel your acquiescence in
my bidding. You are aware of the penalty of a refusal."

"Not that penalty with which you would terrify me," said Miriam;
"another there may be, but not so grievous." "What is that other?"
he inquired. "Death! simply death!" she answered. "Death," said her
persecutor, "is not so simple and opportune a thing as you imagine. You
are strong and warm with life. Sensitive and irritable as your spirit
is, these many months of trouble, this latter thraldom in which I hold
you, have scarcely made your cheek paler than I saw it in your girlhood.
Miriam,--for I forbear to speak another name, at which these leaves
would shiver above our heads,--Miriam, you cannot die!"

"Might not a dagger find my heart?" said she, for the first time meeting
his eyes. "Would not poison make an end of me? Will not the Tiber drown

"It might," he answered; "for I allow that you are mortal. But, Miriam,
believe me, it is not your fate to die while there remains so much to be
sinned and suffered in the world. We have a destiny which we must needs
fulfil together. I, too, have struggled to escape it. I was as anxious
as yourself to break the tie between us,--to bury the past in a
fathomless grave,--to make it impossible that we should ever meet, until
you confront me at the bar of Judgment! You little can imagine what
steps I took to render all this secure; and what was the result?
Our strange interview in the bowels of the earth convinced me of the
futility of my design."

"Ah, fatal chance!" cried Miriam, covering her face with her hands.

"Yes, your heart trembled with horror when you recognized me," rejoined
he; "but you did not guess that there was an equal horror in my own!"

"Why would not the weight of earth above our heads have crumbled down
upon us both, forcing us apart, but burying us equally?" cried Miriam,
in a burst of vehement passion. "O, that we could have wandered in those
dismal passages till we both perished, taking opposite paths in the
darkness, so that when we lay down to die, our last breaths might not

"It were vain to wish it," said the model. "In all that labyrinth of
midnight paths, we should have found one another out to live or die
together. Our fates cross and are entangled. The threads are twisted
into a strong cord, which is dragging us to an evil doom. Could the
knots be severed, we might escape. But neither can your slender fingers
untie these knots, nor my masculine force break them. We must submit!"

"Pray for rescue, as I have," exclaimed Miriam. "Pray for deliverance
from me, since I am your evil genius, as you mine. Dark as your life has
been, I have known you to pray in times past!"

At these words of Miriam, a tremor and horror appeared to seize upon her
persecutor, insomuch that he shook and grew ashy pale before her eyes.
In this man's memory there was something that made it awful for him to
think of prayer; nor would any torture be more intolerable than to be
reminded of such divine comfort and succor as await pious souls
merely for the asking; This torment was perhaps the token of a native
temperament deeply susceptible of religious impressions, but which had
been wronged, violated, and debased, until, at length, it was capable
only of terror from the sources that were intended for our purest and
loftiest consolation. He looked so fearfully at her, and with such
intense pain struggling in his eyes, that Miriam felt pity.

And now, all at once, it struck her that he might be mad. It was an idea
that had never before seriously occurred to her mind, although, as soon
as suggested, it fitted marvellously into many circumstances that
lay within her knowledge. But, alas! such was her evil fortune, that,
whether mad or no, his power over her remained the same, and was likely
to be used only the more tyrannously, if exercised by a lunatic.

"I would not give you pain," she said, soothingly; "your faith allows you
the consolations of penance and absolution. Try what help there may be
in these, and leave me to myself."

"Do not think it, Miriam," said he; "we are bound together, and can
never part again." "Why should it seem so impossible?" she rejoined.
"Think how I had escaped from all the past! I had made for myself a
new sphere, and found new friends, new occupations, new hopes and
enjoyments. My heart, methinks, was almost as unburdened as if there had
been no miserable life behind me. The human spirit does not perish of a
single wound, nor exhaust itself in a single trial of life. Let us
but keep asunder, and all may go well for both." "We fancied ourselves
forever sundered," he replied. "Yet we met once, in the bowels of the
earth; and, were we to part now, our fates would fling us together again
in a desert, on a mountain-top, or in whatever spot seemed safest. You
speak in vain, therefore."

"You mistake your own will for an iron necessity," said Miriam;
"otherwise, you might have suffered me to glide past you like a ghost,
when we met among those ghosts of ancient days. Even now you might bid
me pass as freely."

"Never!" said he, with unmitigable will; "your reappearance has
destroyed the work of years. You know the power that I have over you.
Obey my bidding; or, within a short time, it shall be exercised: nor
will I cease to haunt you till the moment comes."

"Then," said Miriam more calmly, "I foresee the end, and have already
warned you of it. It will be death!"

"Your own death, Miriam,--or mine?" he asked, looking fixedly at her.

"Do you imagine me a murderess?" said she, shuddering; "you, at least,
have no right to think me so!"

"Yet," rejoined he, with a glance of dark meaning, "men have said that
this white hand had once a crimson stain." He took her hand as he spoke,
and held it in his own, in spite of the repugnance, amounting to nothing
short of agony, with which she struggled to regain it. Holding it up
to the fading light (for there was already dimness among the trees),
he appeared to examine it closely, as if to discover the imaginary
blood-stain with which he taunted her. He smiled as he let it go. "It
looks very white," said he; "but I have known hands as white, which all
the water in the ocean would not have washed clean."

"It had no stain," retorted Miriam bitterly, "until you grasped it in
your own."

The wind has blown away whatever else they may have spoken.

They went together towards the town, and, on their way, continued to
make reference, no doubt, to some strange and dreadful history of their
former life, belonging equally to this dark man and to the fair and
youthful woman whom he persecuted. In their words, or in the breath that
uttered them, there seemed to be an odor of guilt, and a scent of blood.
Yet, how can we imagine that a stain of ensanguined crime should attach
to Miriam! Or how, on the other hand, should spotless innocence be
subjected to a thraldom like that which she endured from the spectre,
whom she herself had evoked out of the darkness! Be this as it might,
Miriam, we have reason to believe, still continued to beseech him,
humbly, passionately, wildly, only to go his way, and leave her free to
follow her own sad path.

Thus they strayed onward through the green wilderness of the Borghese
grounds, and soon came near the city wall, where, had Miriam raised her
eyes, she might have seen Hilda and the sculptor leaning on the parapet.
But she walked in a mist of trouble, and could distinguish little beyond
its limits. As they came within public observation, her persecutor fell
behind, throwing off the imperious manner which he had assumed during
their solitary interview. The Porta del Popolo swarmed with life. The
merry-makers, who had spent the feast-day outside the walls, were now
thronging in; a party of horsemen were entering beneath the arch; a
travelling carriage had been drawn up just within the verge, and was
passing through the villainous ordeal of the papal custom-house. In the
broad piazza, too, there was a motley crowd.

But the stream of Miriam's trouble kept its way through this flood of
human life, and neither mingled with it nor was turned aside. With a sad
kind of feminine ingenuity, she found a way to kneel before her tyrant
undetected, though in full sight of all the people, still beseeching him
for freedom, and in vain.

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