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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarzio's Crucifix - Chapter 9
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Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 9 Post by :tehtarik Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :3314

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Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

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.

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