The Marble Faun Volume 1 (Chapter 12)

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Chapter 12

Hilda, after giving the last touches to the picture of Beatrice Cenci,
had flown down from her dove-cote, late in the afternoon, and gone to
the Pincian Hill, in the hope of hearing a strain or two of exhilarating
music. There, as it happened, she met the sculptor, for, to say the
truth, Kenyon had well noted the fair artist's ordinary way of life,
and was accustomed to shape his own movements so as to bring him often
within her sphere.

The Pincian Hill is the favorite promenade of the Roman aristocracy. At
the present day, however, like most other Roman possessions, it belongs
less to the native inhabitants than to the barbarians from Gaul, Great
Britain, anti beyond the sea, who have established a peaceful usurpation
over whatever is enjoyable or memorable in the Eternal City. These
foreign guests are indeed ungrateful, if they do not breathe a prayer
for Pope Clement, or whatever Holy Father it may have been, who levelled
the summit of the mount so skilfully, and bounded it with the parapet of
the city wall; who laid out those broad walks and drives, and overhung
them with the deepening shade of many kinds of tree; who scattered the
flowers, of all seasons and of every clime, abundantly over those green,
central lawns; who scooped out hollows in fit places, and, setting great
basins of marble in them, caused ever-gushing fountains to fill them to
the brim; who reared up the immemorial obelisk out of the soil that had
long hidden it; who placed pedestals along the borders of the avenues,
and crowned them with busts of that multitude of worthies--statesmen,
heroes, artists, men of letters and of song--whom the whole world claims
as its chief ornaments, though Italy produced them all. In a word, the
Pincian garden is one of the things that reconcile the stranger (since
he fully appreciates the enjoyment, and feels nothing of the cost) to
the rule of an irresponsible dynasty of Holy Fathers, who seem to have
aimed at making life as agreeable an affair as it can well be.

In this pleasant spot, the red-trousered French soldiers are always to
be seen; bearded and grizzled veterans, perhaps with medals of Algiers
or the Crimea on their breasts. To them is assigned the peaceful duty of
seeing that children do not trample on the flower beds, nor any youthful
lover rifle them of their fragrant blossoms to stick in the beloved
one's hair. Here sits (drooping upon some marble bench, in the
treacherous sunshine) the consumptive girl, whose friends have brought
her, for cure, to a climate that instils poison into its very purest
breath. Here, all day, come nursery-maids, burdened with rosy English
babies, or guiding the footsteps of little travellers from the far
Western world. Here, in the sunny afternoons, roll and rumble all kinds
of equipages, from the cardinal's old-fashioned and gorgeous purple
carriage to the gay barouche of modern date. Here horsemen gallop on
thoroughbred steeds. Here, in short, all the transitory population of
Rome, the world's great watering-place, rides, drives, or promenades!
Here are beautiful sunsets; and here, whichever way you turn your eyes,
are scenes as well worth gazing at, both in themselves and for their
historic interest, as any that the sun ever rose and set upon. Here,
too, on certain afternoons of the week, a French military band flings
out rich music over the poor old city, floating her with strains as loud
as those of her own echoless triumphs.

Hilda and the sculptor (by the contrivance of the latter, who loved best
to be alone with his young countrywoman) had wandered beyond the throng
of promenaders, whom they left in a dense cluster around the music. They
strayed, indeed, to the farthest point of the Pincian Hill, and leaned
over the parapet, looking down upon the Muro Torto, a massive fragment
of the oldest Roman wall, which juts over, as if ready to tumble down
by its own weight, yet seems still the most indestructible piece of work
that men's hands ever piled together. In the blue distance rose Soracte,
and other heights, which have gleamed afar, to our imaginations, but
look scarcely real to our bodily eyes, because, being dreamed about so
much, they have taken the aerial tints which belong only to a dream.
These, nevertheless, are the solid framework of hills that shut in Rome,
and its wide surrounding Campagna,--no land of dreams, but the broadest
page of history, crowded so full with memorable events that one
obliterates another; as if Time had crossed and recrossed his own
records till they grew illegible.

But, not to meddle with history,--with which our narrative is no
otherwise concerned, than that the very dust of Rome is historic, and
inevitably settles on our page and mingles with our ink,--we will return
to our two friends, who were still leaning over the wall. Beneath them
lay the broad sweep of the Borghese grounds, covered with trees, amid
which appeared the white gleam of pillars and statues, and the flash of
an upspringing fountain, all to be overshadowed at a later period of the
year by the thicker growth of foliage.

The advance of vegetation, in this softer climate, is less abrupt than
the inhabitant of the cold North is accustomed to observe. Beginning
earlier,--even in February,--Spring is not compelled to burst into
Summer with such headlong haste; there is time to dwell upon each
opening beauty, and to enjoy the budding leaf, the tender green, the
sweet youth and freshness of the year; it gives us its maiden charm,
before, settling into the married Summer, which, again, does not so soon
sober itself into matronly Autumn. In our own country, the virgin Spring
hastens to its bridal too abruptly. But here, after a month or two of
kindly growth, the leaves of the young trees, which cover that portion
of the Borghese grounds nearest the city wall, were still in their
tender half-development.

In the remoter depths, among the old groves of ilex-trees, Hilda and
Kenyon heard the faint sound of music, laughter, and mingling voices. It
was probably the uproar--spreading even so far as the walls of Rome,
and growing faded and melancholy in its passage--of that wild sylvan
merriment, which we have already attempted to describe. By and by it
ceased--although the two listeners still tried to distinguish it between
the bursts of nearer music from the military band. But there was no
renewal of that distant mirth. Soon afterwards they saw a solitary
figure advancing along one of the paths that lead from the obscurer part
of the ground towards the gateway.

"Look! is it not Donatello?" said Hilda.

"He it is, beyond a doubt," replied the sculptor. "But how gravely he
walks, and with what long looks behind him! He seems either very weary,
or very sad. I should not hesitate to call it sadness, if Donatello were
a creature capable of the sin and folly of low spirits. In all these
hundred paces, while we have been watching him, he has not made one
of those little caprioles in the air which are characteristic of his
natural gait. I begin to doubt whether he is a veritable Faun."

"Then," said Hilda, with perfect simplicity, "you have thought him--and
do think him--one of that strange, wild, happy race of creatures, that
used to laugh and sport in the woods, in the old, old times? So do
I, indeed! But I never quite believed, till now, that fauns existed
anywhere but in poetry."

The sculptor at first merely smiled. Then, as the idea took further
possession of his mind, he laughed outright, and wished from the bottom
of his heart (being in love with Hilda, though he had never told her
so) that he could have rewarded or punished her for its pretty absurdity
with a kiss.

"O Hilda, what a treasure of sweet faith and pure imagination you hide
under that little straw hat!" cried he, at length. "A Faun! a Faun!
Great Pan is not dead, then, after all! The whole tribe of mythical
creatures yet live in the moonlit seclusion of a young girl's fancy,
and find it a lovelier abode and play-place, I doubt not, than their
Arcadian haunts of yore. What bliss, if a man of marble, like myself,
could stray thither, too!"

"Why do you laugh so?" asked Hilda, reddening; for she was a little
disturbed at Kenyon's ridicule, however kindly expressed. "What can I
have said, that you think so very foolish?"

"Well, not foolish, then," rejoined the sculptor, "but wiser, it may
be, than I can fathom. Really, however, the idea does strike one as
delightfully fresh, when we consider Donatello's position and external
environment. Why, my dear Hilda, he is a Tuscan born, of an old noble
race in that part of Italy; and he has a moss-grown tower among the
Apennines, where he and his forefathers have dwelt, under their own
vines and fig-trees, from an unknown antiquity. His boyish passion
for Miriam has introduced him familiarly to our little circle; and our
republican and artistic simplicity of intercourse has included this
young Italian, on the same terms as one of ourselves. But, if we
paid due respect to rank and title, we should bend reverentially to
Donatello, and salute him as his Excellency the Count di Monte Beni."

"That is a droll idea, much droller than his being a Faun!" said
Hilda, laughing in her turn. "This does not quite satisfy me, however,
especially as you yourself recognized and acknowledged his wonderful
resemblance to the statue."

"Except as regards the pointed ears," said Kenyon; adding, aside, "and
one other little peculiarity, generally observable in the statues of

"As for his Excellency the Count di Monte Beni's ears," replied Hilda,
smiling again at the dignity with which this title invested their
playful friend, "you know we could never see their shape, on account of
his clustering curls. Nay, I remember, he once started back, as shyly as
a wild deer, when Miriam made a pretence of examining them. How do you
explain that?"

"O, I certainly shall not contend against such a weight of evidence,
the fact of his faunship being otherwise so probable," answered the
sculptor, still hardly retaining his gravity. "Faun or not, Donatello or
the Count di Monte Beni--is a singularly wild creature, and, as I have
remarked on other occasions, though very gentle, does not love to be
touched. Speaking in no harsh sense, there is a great deal of animal
nature in him, as if he had been born in the woods, and had run wild all
his childhood, and were as yet but imperfectly domesticated. Life, even
in our day, is very simple and unsophisticated in some of the shaggy
nooks of the Apennines."

"It annoys me very much," said Hilda, "this inclination, which
most people have, to explain away the wonder and the mystery out
of everything. Why could not you allow me--and yourself, too--the
satisfaction of thinking him a Faun?"

"Pray keep your belief, dear Hilda, if it makes you any happier," said
the sculptor; "and I shall do my best to become a convert. Donatello has
asked me to spend the summer with him, in his ancestral tower, where
I purpose investigating the pedigree of these sylvan counts, his
forefathers; and if their shadows beckon me into dreamland, I shall
willingly follow. By the bye, speaking of Donatello, there is a point on
which I should like to be enlightened."

"Can I help you, then?" said Hilda, in answer to his look.

"Is there the slightest chance of his winning Miriam's affections?"
suggested Kenyon.

"Miriam! she, so accomplished and gifted!" exclaimed Hilda; "and he, a
rude, uncultivated boy! No, no, no!"

"It would seem impossible," said the sculptor. "But, on the other hand,
a gifted woman flings away her affections so unaccountably, sometimes!
Miriam of late has been very morbid and miserable, as we both know.
Young as she is, the morning light seems already to have faded out of
her life; and now comes Donatello, with natural sunshine enough for
himself and her, and offers her the opportunity of making her heart and
life all new and cheery again. People of high intellectual endowments do
not require similar ones in those they love. They are just the persons
to appreciate the wholesome gush of natural feeling, the honest
affection, the simple joy, the fulness of contentment with what
he loves, which Miriam sees in Donatello. True; she may call him a
simpleton. It is a necessity of the case; for a man loses the capacity
for this kind of affection, in proportion as he cultivates and refines

"Dear me!" said Hilda, drawing imperceptibly away from her companion.
"Is this the penalty of refinement? Pardon me; I do not believe it.
It is because you are a sculptor, that you think nothing can be finely
wrought except it be cold and hard, like the marble in which your ideas
take shape. I am a painter, and know that the most delicate beauty may
be softened and warmed throughout."

"I said a foolish thing, indeed," answered the sculptor. "It surprises
me, for I might have drawn a wiser knowledge out of my own experience.
It is the surest test of genuine love, that it brings back our early
simplicity to the worldliest of us."

Thus talking, they loitered slowly along beside the parapet which
borders the level summit of the Pincian with its irregular sweep. At
intervals they looked through the lattice-work of their thoughts at the
varied prospects that lay before and beneath them.

From the terrace where they now stood there is an abrupt descent towards
the Piazza del Popolo; and looking down into its broad space they
beheld the tall palatial edifices, the church domes, and the ornamented
gateway, which grew and were consolidated out of the thought of Michael
Angelo. They saw, too, the red granite obelisk, oldest of things,
even in Rome, which rises in the centre of the piazza, with a fourfold
fountain at its base. All Roman works and ruins (whether of the
empire, the far-off republic, or the still more distant kings) assume a
transient, visionary, and impalpable character when we think that this
indestructible monument supplied one of the recollections which Moses
and the Israelites bore from Egypt into the desert. Perchance, on
beholding the cloudy pillar and the fiery column, they whispered
awestricken to one another, "In its shape it is like that old obelisk
which we and our fathers have so often seen on the borders of the Nile."
And now that very obelisk, with hardly a trace of decay upon it, is the
first thing that the modern traveller sees after entering the Flaminian

Lifting their eyes, Hilda and her companion gazed westward, and saw
beyond the invisible Tiber the Castle of St. Angelo; that immense tomb
of a pagan emperor, with the archangel at its summit.

Still farther off appeared a mighty pile of buildings, surmounted by the
vast dome, which all of us have shaped and swelled outward, like a huge
bubble, to the utmost Scope of our imaginations, long before we see it
floating over the worship of the city. It may be most worthily seen
from precisely the point where our two friends were now standing. At
any nearer view the grandeur of St. Peter's hides itself behind the
immensity of its separate parts,--so that we see only the front, only
the sides, only the pillared length and loftiness of the portico, and
not the mighty whole. But at this distance the entire outline of the
world's cathedral, as well as that of the palace of the world's
chief priest, is taken in at once. In such remoteness, moreover, the
imagination is not debarred from lending its assistance, even while
we have the reality before our eyes, and helping the weakness of human
sense to do justice to so grand an object. It requires both faith and
fancy to enable us to feel, what is nevertheless so true, that yonder,
in front of the purple outline of hills, is the grandest edifice ever
built by man, painted against God's loveliest sky.

After contemplating a little while a scene which their long residence in
Rome had made familiar to them, Kenyon and Hilda again let their glances
fall into the piazza at their feet. They there beheld Miriam, who had
just entered the Porta del Popolo, and was standing by the obelisk and
fountain. With a gesture that impressed Kenyon as at once suppliant and
imperious, she seemed to intimate to a figure which had attended her
thus far, that it was now her desire to be left alone. The pertinacious
model, however, remained immovable.

And the sculptor here noted a circumstance, which, according to the
interpretation he might put upon it, was either too trivial to be
mentioned, or else so mysteriously significant that he found it
difficult to believe his eyes. Miriam knelt down on the steps of the
fountain; so far there could be no question of the fact. To other
observers, if any there were, she probably appeared to take this
attitude merely for the convenience of dipping her fingers into the gush
of water from the mouth of one of the stone lions. But as she clasped
her hands together after thus bathing them, and glanced upward at the
model, an idea took strong possession of Kenyon's mind that Miriam was
kneeling to this dark follower there in the world's face!

"Do you see it?" he said to Hilda.

"See what?" asked she, surprised at the emotion of his tone. "I see
Miriam, who has just bathed her hands in that delightfully cool water. I
often dip my fingers into a Roman fountain, and think of the brook that
used to be one of my playmates in my New England village."

"I fancied I saw something else," said Kenyon; "but it was doubtless a

But, allowing that he had caught a true glimpse into the hidden
significance of Miriam's gesture, what a terrible thraldom did it
suggest! Free as she seemed to be,--beggar as he looked,--the nameless
vagrant must then be dragging the beautiful Miriam through the streets
of Rome, fettered and shackled more cruelly than any captive queen of
yore following in an emperor's triumph. And was it conceivable that
she would have been thus enthralled unless some great error--how great
Kenyon dared not think--or some fatal weakness had given this dark
adversary a vantage ground?

"Hilda," said he abruptly, "who and what is Miriam? Pardon me; but are
you sure of her?"

"Sure of her!" repeated Hilda, with an angry blush, for her friend's
sake. "I am sure that she is kind, good, and generous; a true and
faithful friend, whom I love dearly, and who loves me as well! What more
than this need I be sure of?"

"And your delicate instincts say all this in her favor?--nothing against
her?" continued the sculptor, without heeding the irritation of Hilda's
tone. "These are my own impressions, too. But she is such a mystery!
We do not even know whether she is a countrywoman of ours, or an
Englishwoman, or a German. There is Anglo-Saxon blood in her veins, one
would say, and a right English accent on her tongue, but much that is
not English breeding, nor American. Nowhere else but in Rome, and as an
artist, could she hold a place in society without giving some clew to
her past life."

"I love her dearly," said Hilda, still with displeasure in her tone,
"and trust her most entirely."

"My heart trusts her at least, whatever my head may do," replied Kenyon;
"and Rome is not like one of our New England villages, where we need the
permission of each individual neighbor for every act that we do, every
word that we utter, and every friend that we make or keep. In these
particulars the papal despotism allows us freer breath than our native
air; and if we like to take generous views of our associates, we can do
so, to a reasonable extent, without ruining ourselves."

"The music has ceased," said Hilda; "I am going now."

There are three streets that, beginning close beside each other, diverge
from the Piazza del Popolo towards the heart of Rome: on the left, the
Via del Babuino; on the right, the Via della Ripetta; and between these
two that world-famous avenue, the Corso. It appeared that Miriam and her
strange companion were passing up the first mentioned of these three,
and were soon hidden from Hilda and the sculptor.

The two latter left the Pincian by the broad and stately walk that
skirts along its brow. Beneath them, from the base of the abrupt
descent, the city spread wide away in a close contiguity of red-earthen
roofs, above which rose eminent the domes of a hundred churches, beside
here and there a tower, and the upper windows of some taller or higher
situated palace, looking down on a multitude of palatial abodes. At a
distance, ascending out of the central mass of edifices, they could see
the top of the Antonine column, and near it the circular roof of the
Pantheon looking heavenward with its ever-open eye.

Except these two objects, almost everything that they beheld was
mediaeval, though built, indeed, of the massive old stones and
indestructible bricks of imperial Rome; for the ruins of the Coliseum,
the Golden House, and innumerable temples of Roman gods, and mansions of
Caesars and senators, had supplied the material for all those gigantic
hovels, and their walls were cemented with mortar of inestimable cost,
being made of precious antique statues, burnt long ago for this petty

Rome, as it now exists, has grown up under the Popes, and seems like
nothing but a heap of broken rubbish, thrown into the great chasm
between our own days and the Empire, merely to fill it up; and, for the
better part of two thousand years, its annals of obscure policies,
and wars, and continually recurring misfortunes, seem also but broken
rubbish, as compared with its classic history.

If we consider the present city as at all connected with the famous one
of old, it is only because we find it built over its grave. A depth of
thirty feet of soil has covered up the Rome of ancient days, so that it
lies like the dead corpse of a giant, decaying for centuries, with no
survivor mighty enough even to bury it, until the dust of all those
years has gathered slowly over its recumbent form and made a casual

We know not how to characterize, in any accordant and compatible
terms, the Rome that lies before us; its sunless alleys, and streets
of palaces; its churches, lined with the gorgeous marbles that were
originally polished for the adornment of pagan temples; its thousands of
evil smells, mixed up with fragrance of rich incense, diffused from as
many censers; its little life, deriving feeble nutriment from what
has long been dead. Everywhere, some fragment of ruin suggesting the
magnificence of a former epoch; everywhere, moreover, a Cross,--and
nastiness at the foot of it. As the sum of all, there are recollections
that kindle the soul, and a gloom and languor that depress it beyond any
depth of melancholic sentiment that can be elsewhere known.

Yet how is it possible to say an unkind or irreverential word of Rome?
The city of all time, and of all the world! The spot for which man's
great life and deeds have done so much, and for which decay has done
whatever glory and dominion could not do! At this moment, the evening
sunshine is flinging its golden mantle over it, making all that we
thought mean magnificent; the bells of all the churches suddenly ring
out, as if it were a peal of triumph because Rome is still imperial.

"I sometimes fancy," said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene
always made a strong impression, "that Rome--mere Rome--will crowd
everything else out of my heart."

"Heaven forbid!" ejaculated the sculptor. They had now reached the grand
stairs that ascend from the Piazza di Spagna to the hither brow of the
Pincian Hill. Old Beppo, the millionnaire of his ragged fraternity,
it is a wonder that no artist paints him as the cripple whom St. Peter
heals at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple,--was just mounting his donkey
to depart, laden with the rich spoil of the day's beggary.

Up the stairs, drawing his tattered cloak about his face, came the
model, at whom Beppo looked askance, jealous of an encroacher on his
rightful domain. The figure passed away, however, up the Via Sistina. In
the piazza below, near the foot of the magnificent steps, stood Miriam,
with her eyes bent on the ground, as if she were counting those
little, square, uncomfortable paving-stones, that make it a penitential
pilgrimage to walk in Rome. She kept this attitude for several minutes,
and when, at last, the importunities of a beggar disturbed her from it,
she seemed bewildered and pressed her hand upon her brow.

"She has been in some sad dream or other, poor thing!" said Kenyon
sympathizingly; "and even now she is imprisoned there in a kind of cage,
the iron bars of which are made of her own thoughts."

"I fear she is not well," said Hilda. "I am going down the stairs, and
will join Miriam."

"Farewell, then," said the sculptor. "Dear Hilda, this is a perplexed
and troubled world! It soothes me inexpressibly to think of you in your
tower, with white doves and white thoughts for your companions, so high
above us all, and With the Virgin for your household friend. You know
not how far it throws its light, that lamp which you keep burning at her
shrine! I passed beneath the tower last night, and the ray cheered me,
because you lighted it."

"It has for me a religious significance," replied Hilda quietly, "and
yet I am no Catholic."

They parted, and Kenyon made haste along the Via Sistina, in the hope
of overtaking the model, whose haunts and character he was anxious to
investigate, for Miriam's sake. He fancied that he saw him a long way
in advance, but before he reached the Fountain of the Triton the dusky
figure had vanished.

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