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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XVI - A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE
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The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XVI - A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE Post by :andrewb Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :1772

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The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XVI - A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE

The proposal for a moonlight ramble was received with acclamation by all
the younger portion of the company. They immediately set forth and
descended from story to story, dimly lighting their way by waxen tapers,
which are a necessary equipment to those whose thoroughfare, in the
night-time, lies up and down a Roman staircase. Emerging from the
courtyard of the edifice, they looked upward and saw the sky full of light,
which seemed to have a delicate purple or crimson lustre, or, at least
some richer tinge than the cold, white moonshine of other skies. It
gleamed over the front of the opposite palace, showing the architectural
ornaments of its cornice and pillared portal, as well as the ironbarred
basement windows, that gave such a prison-like aspect to the structure,
and the shabbiness and Squalor that lay along its base. A cobbler was
just shutting up his little shop, in the basement of the palace; a cigar
vender's lantern flared in the blast that came through the archway; a
French sentinel paced to and fro before the portal; a homeless dog, that
haunted thereabouts, barked as obstreperously at the party as if he were
the domestic guardian of the precincts.

The air was quietly full of the noise of falling water, the cause of which
was nowhere visible, though apparently near at hand. This pleasant,
natural sound, not unlike that of a distant cascade in the forest, may be
heard in many of the Roman streets and piazzas, when the tumult of the
city is hushed; for consuls, emperors, and popes, the great men of every
age, have found no better way of immortalizing their memories than by the
shifting, indestructible, ever new, yet unchanging, upgush and downfall of
water. They have written their names in that unstable.element, and proved
it a more durable record than brass or marble.

"Donatello, you had better take one of those gay, boyish artists for your
companion," said Miriam, when she found the Italian youth at her side. "I
am not now in a merry mood, as when we set all the world a-dancing the
other afternoon, in the Borghese grounds."

"I never wish to dance any more," answered Donatello.

"What a melancholy was in that tone!" exclaimed Miriam. "You are getting
spoilt in this dreary Rome, and will be as wise and as wretched as all the
rest of mankind, unless you go back soon to your Tuscan vineyards. Well;
give me your arm, then! But take care that no friskiness comes over you.
We must walk evenly and heavily to-night!"

The party arranged itself according to its natural affinities or casual
likings; a sculptor generally choosing a painter, and a painter a
sculp--tor, for his companion, in preference to brethren of their own art.
Kenyon would gladly have taken Hilda to himself, and have drawn her a
little aside from the throng of merry wayfarers. But she kept near
Miriam, and seemed, in her gentle and quiet way, to decline a separate
alliance either with him or any other of her acquaintances.

So they set forth, and had gone but a little way, when the narrow street
emerged into a piazza, on one side of which, glistening and dimpling in
the moonlight, was the most famous fountain in Rome. Its murmur--not to
say its uproar--had been in the ears of the company, ever since they came
into the open air. It was the Fountain of Trevi, which draws its
precious water from a source far beyond the walls, whence it flows
hitherward through old subterranean aqueducts, and sparkles forth as pure
as the virgin who first led Agrippa to its well-spring, by her father's
door.

"I shall sip as much of this water as the hollow of my hand will hold,"
said Miriam.

"I am leaving Rome in a few days; and the tradition goes, that a parting
draught at the Fountain of Trevi insures the traveller's return, whatever
obstacles and improbabilities may seem to beset him. Will you drink,
Donatello?"

"Signorina, what you drink, I drink," said the youth.

They and the rest of the party descended some steps to the water's brim,
and, after a sip or two, stood gazing at the absurd design of the fountain,
where some sculptor of Bernini's school had gone absolutely mad in marble.
It was a great palace front, with niches and many bas-reliefs, out of
which looked Agrippa's legendary virgin, and several of the allegoric
sisterhood; while, at the base, appeared Neptune, with his floundering
steeds, and Tritons blowing their horns about him, and twenty other
artificial fantasies, which the calm moonlight soothed into better taste
than was native to them.

And, after all, it was as magnificent a piece of work as ever human skill
contrived. At the foot of the palatial facade was strewn, with careful
art and ordered irregularity, a broad and broken heap of massive rock,
looking is if it might have lain there since the deluge. Over a central
precipice fell the water, in a semicircular cascade; and from a hundred
crevices, on all sides, snowy jets gushed up, and streams spouted out of
the mouths and nostrils of stone monsters, and fell in glistening drops;
while other rivulets, that had run wild, came leaping from one rude step
to another, over stones that were mossy, slimy, and green with sedge,
because, in a Century of their wild play, Nature had adopted the Fountain
of Trevi, with all its elaborate devices, for her own. Finally, the water,
tumbling, sparkling, and dashing, with joyous haste and never-ceasing
murmur, poured itself into a great marble-brimmed reservoir, and filled it
with a quivering tide; on which was seen, continually, a snowy semicircle
of momentary foam from the principal cascade, as well as a multitude of
snow points from smaller jets. The basin occupied the whole breadth of
the piazza, whence flights of steps descended to its border. A boat
might float, and make voyages from one shore to another in this mimic lake.


In the daytime, there is hardly a livelier scene in Rome than the
neighborhood of the Fountain of Trevi; for the piazza is then filled with
the stalls of vegetable and fruit dealers, chestnut roasters, cigar
venders, and other people, whose petty and wandering traffic is transacted
in the open air. It is likewise thronged with idlers, lounging over the
iron railing, and with Forestieri, who came hither to see the famous
fountain. Here, also, are seen men with buckets, urchins with cans, and
maidens (a picture as old as the patriarchal times) bearing their pitchers
upon their heads. For the water of Trevi is in request, far and wide, as
the most refreshing draught for feverish lips, the pleasantest to mingle
with wine, and the wholesomest to drink, in its native purity, that can
anywhere be found. But now, at early midnight, the piazza was a solitude;
and it was a delight to behold this untamable water, sporting by itself in
the moonshine, and compelling all the elaborate trivialities of art to
assume a natural aspect, in accordance with its own powerful simplicity.

"What would be done with this water power," suggested an artist, "if we
had it in one of our American cities? Would they employ it to turn the
machinery of a cotton mill, I wonder?"

"The good people would pull down those rampant marble deities," said
Kenyon, "and, possibly, they would give me a commission to carve the
one-and-thirty (is that the number?) sister States, each pouring a silver
stream from a separate can into one vast basin, which should represent the
grand reservoir of national prosperity."

"Or, if they wanted a bit of satire," remarked an English artist, "you
could set those same one-and-thirty States to cleansing the national flag
of any stains that it may have incurred. The Roman washerwomen at the
lavatory yonder, plying their labor in the open air, would serve admirably
as models."

"I have often intended to visit this fountain by moonlight,", said Miriam,
"because it was here that the interview took place between Corinne and
Lord Neville, after their separation and temporary estrangement. Pray
come behind me, one of you, and let me try whether the face can be
recognized in the water."

Leaning over the stone brim of the basin, she heard footsteps stealing
behind her, and knew that somebody was looking over her shoulder. The
moonshine fell directly behind Miriam, illuminating the palace front and
the whole scene of statues and rocks, and filling the basin, as it were,
with tremulous and palpable light. Corinne, it will be remembered, knew
Lord Neville by the reflection of his face in the water. In Miriam's case,
however (owing to the agitation of the water, its transparency, and the
angle at which she was compelled to lean over), no reflected image
appeared; nor, from the same causes, would it have been possible for the
recognition between Corinne and her lover to take place. The moon, indeed,
flung Miriam's shadow at the bottom of the basin, as well as two more
shadows of persons who had followed her, on either side,

"Three shadows!" exclaimed Miriam--"three separate shadows, all so black
and heavy that they sink in the water! There they lie on the bottom, as
if all three were drowned together. This shadow on my right is Donatello;
I know him by his curls, and the turn of his head. My left-hand
companion puzzles me; a shapeless mass, as indistinct as the premonition
of calamity! Which of you can it be? Ah!"

She had turned round, while speaking, and saw beside her the strange
creature whose attendance on her was already familiar, as a marvel and a
jest; to the whole company of artists. A general burst of laughter
followed the recognition; while the model leaned towards Miriam, as she
shrank from him, and muttered something that was inaudible to those who
witnessed the scene. By his gestures, however, they concluded that he was
inviting her to bathe her hands.

"He cannot be an Italian; at least not a Roman," observed an artist. "I
never knew one of them to care about ablution. See him now! It is as if
he were trying to wash off' the time-stains and earthly soil of a thousand
years!"

Dipping his hands into the capacious washbowl before him, the model rubbed
them together with the utmost vehemence. Ever and anon, too, he peeped
into the water, as if expecting to see the whole Fountain of Trevi turbid
with the results of his ablution. Miriam looked at him, some little time,
with an aspect of real terror, and even imitated him by leaning over to
peep into the basin. Recovering herself, she took up some of the water in
the hollow of her hand, and practised an old form of exorcism by flinging
it in her persecutor's face.

"In the name of all the Saints," cried she, "vanish, Demon, and let me be
free of you now and forever!"

"It will not suffice," said some of the mirthful party, "unless the
Fountain of Trevi gushes with holy water."

In fact, the exorcism was quite ineffectual upon the pertinacious demon,
or whatever the apparition might be. Still he washed his brown, bony
talons; still he peered into the vast basin, as if all the water of that
great drinking-cup of Rome must needs be stained black or sanguine; and
still he gesticulated to Miriam to follow his example. The spectators
laughed loudly, but yet with a kind of constraint; for the creature's
aspect was strangely repulsive and hideous.

Miriam felt her arm seized violently by Donatello. She looked at him, and
beheld a tigerlike fury gleaming from his wild eyes.

"Bid me drown him!" whispered he, shuddering between rage and horrible
disgust. "You shall hear his death gurgle in another instant!"

"Peace, peace, Donatello!" said Miriam soothingly, for this naturally
gentle and sportive being seemed all aflame with animal rage. "Do him no
mischief! He is mad; and we are as mad as he, if we suffer ourselves to
be disquieted by his antics. Let us leave him to bathe his hands till the
fountain run dry, if he find solace and pastime in it. What is it to you
or me, Donatello? There, there! Be quiet, foolish boy!"

Her tone and gesture were such as she might have used in taming down the
wrath of a faithful hound, that had taken upon himself to avenge some
supposed affront to his mistress. She smoothed the young man's curls
(for his fierce and sudden fury seemed to bristle among his hair), and
touched his cheek with her soft palm, till his angry mood was a little
assuaged.

"Signorina, do I look as when you first knew me?" asked he, with a heavy,
tremulous sigh, as they went onward, somewhat apart from their companions.
"Methinks there has been a change upon me, these many months; and more
and more, these last few days. The joy is gone out of my life; all gone!
all gone! Feel my hand! Is it not very hot? Ah; and my heart burns
hotter still!"

"My poor Donatello, you are ill!" said Miriam, with deep sympathy and
pity. "This melancholy and sickly Rome is stealing away the rich, joyous
life that belongs to you. Go back, my dear friend, to your home among the
hills, where (as I gather from what you have told me) your days were
filled with simple and blameless delights. Have you found aught in the
world that is worth' what you there enjoyed? Tell me truly, Donatello!"

"Yes!" replied the young man.

"And what, in Heaven's name?" asked she.

"This burning pain in my heart," said Donatello; "for you are in the midst
of it."

By this time, they had left the Fountain of Trevi considerably behind them.
Little further allusion was made to the scene at its margin; for the
party regarded Miriam's persecutor as diseased in his wits, and were
hardly to be surprised by any eccentricity in his deportment.

Threading several narrow streets, they passed through the Piazza of the
Holy Apostles, and soon came to Trajan's Forum. All over the surface of
what once was Rome, it seems to be the effort of Time to bury up the
ancient city, as if it were a corpse, and he the sexton; so that, in
eighteen centuries, the soil over its grave has grown very deep, by the
slow scattering of dust, and the accumulation of more modern decay upon
older ruin.

This was the fate, also, of Trajan's Forum, until some papal antiquary, a
few hundred years ago, began to hollow it out again, and disclosed the
full height of the gigantic column wreathed round with bas-reliefs of the
old emperor's warlike deeds. In the area before it stands a grove of
stone, consisting of the broken and unequal shafts of a vanished temple,
still keeping a majestic order, and apparently incapable of further
demolition. The modern edifices of the piazza (wholly built, no doubt,
out of the spoil of its old magnificence) look down into the hollow space
whence these pillars rise.

One of the immense gray granite shafts lay in the piazza, on the verge of
the area. It was a great, solid fact of the Past, making old Rome
actually sensible to the touch and eye; and no study of history, nor force
of thought, nor magic of song, could so vitally assure us that Rome once
existed, as this sturdy specimen of what its rulers and people wrought.

"And see!" said Kenyon, laying his hand upon it, "there is still a polish
remaining on the hard substance of the pillar; and even now, late as it is,
I can feel very sensibly the warmth of the noonday sun, which did its
best to heat it through. This shaft will endure forever. The polish of
eighteen centuries ago, as yet but half rubbed off, and the heat of
to-day's sunshine, lingering into the night, seem almost equally ephemeral
in relation to it."

"There is comfort to be found in the pillar," remarked Miriam, "hard and
heavy as it is. Lying here forever, as it will, it makes all human
trouble appear but a momentary annoyance."

"And human happiness as evanescent too," observed Hilda, sighing; "and
beautiful art hardly less so! I do not love to think that this dull stone,
merely by its massiveness, will last infinitely longer than any picture,
in spite of the spiritual life that ought to give it immortality!"

"My poor little Hilda," said Miriam, kissing her compassionately, "would
you sacrifice this greatest mortal consolation, which we derive from the
transitoriness of all things, from the right of saying, in every
conjecture, 'This, too, will pass away,' would you give up this
unspeakable boon, for the sake of making a picture eternal?"

Their moralizing strain was interrupted by a demonstration from the rest
of the party, who, after talking and laughing together, suddenly joined
their voices, and shouted at full pitch,

"Trajan! Trajan!"

"Why do you deafen us with such an uproar?" inquired Miriam.

In truth, the whole piazza had been filled with their idle vociferation;
the echoes from the surrounding houses reverberating the cry of "Trajan,"
on all sides; as if there was a great search for that imperial personage,
and not so much as a handful of his ashes to be found.

"Why, it was a good opportunity to air our voices in this resounding
piazza," replied one of the artists. "Besides, we had really some hopes
of summoning Trajan to look at his column, which, you know, he never saw
in his lifetime. Here is your model (who, they say, lived and sinned
before Trajan's death) still wandering about Rome; and why not the Emperor
Trajan?"

"Dead emperors have very little delight in their columns, I am afraid,"
observed Kenyon. "All that rich sculpture of Trajan's bloody warfare,
twining from the base of the pillar to its capital, may be but an ugly
spectacle for his ghostly eyes, if he considers that this huge, storied
shaft must be laid before the judgment-seat, as a piece of the evidence of
what he did in the flesh. If ever I am employed to sculpture a hero's
monument, I shall think of this, as I put in the bas-reliefs of the
pedestal!"

"There are sermons in stones," said Hilda thoughtfully, smiling at
Kenyon's morality; "and especially in the stones of Rome."

The party moved on, but deviated a little from the straight way, in order
to glance at the ponderous remains of the temple of Mars Ultot, within
which a convent of nuns is now established,--a dove-cote, in the war-god's
mansion. At only a little distance, they passed the portico of a Temple
of Minerva, most rich and beautiful in architecture, but woefully gnawed
by time and shattered by violence, besides being buried midway in the
accumulation of soil, that rises over dead Rome like a flood tide. Within
this edifice of antique sanctity, a baker's shop was now established, with
an entrance on one side; for, everywhere, the remnants of old grandeur and
divinity have been made available for the meanest necessities of today.

"The baker is just drawing his loaves out of the oven," remarked Kenyon.
"Do you smell how sour they are? I should fancy that Minerva (in revenge
for the desecration of her temple) had slyly poured vinegar into the batch,
if I did not know that the modern Romans prefer their bread in the
acetous fermentation."

They turned into the Via Alessandria, and thus gained the rear of the
Temple of Peace, and, passing beneath its great arches, pursued their way
along a hedge-bordered lane. In all probability, a stately Roman street
lay buried beneath that rustic-looking pathway; for they had now emerged
from the close and narrow avenues of the modern city, and were treading on
a soil where the seeds of antique grandeur had not yet produced the
squalid crop that elsewhere sprouts from them. Grassy as the lane was, it
skirted along heaps of shapeless ruin, and the bare site of the vast
temple that Hadrian planned and built. It terminated on the edge of a
somewhat abrupt descent, at the foot of which, with a muddy ditch between,
rose, in the bright moonlight, the great curving wall and multitudinous
arches of the Coliseum.

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As usual of a moonlight evening, several carriages stood at the entranceof this famous ruin, and the precincts and interior were anything but asolitude. The French sentinel on duty beneath the principal archway eyedour party curiously, but offered no obstacle to their admission. Within,the moonlight filled and flooded the great empty space; it glowed upontier above tier of ruined, grass-grown arches, and made them even toodistinctly visible. The splendor of the revelation took away thatinestimable effect of dimness and mystery by which the imagination mightbe assisted to build a grander structure than the Coliseum, and to shatterit with
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On the evening after Miriam's visit to Kenyon's studio, there was anassemblage composed almost entirely of Anglo-Saxons, and chiefly ofAmerican artists, with a sprinkling of their English brethren; and somefew of the tourists who still lingered in Rome, now that Holy Week waspast. Miriam, Hilda, and the sculptor were all three present, and withthem Donatello, whose life was so far turned from fits natural bent that,like a pet spaniel, he followed his beloved mistress wherever he couldgain admittance.The place of meeting was in the palatial, but somewhat faded and gloomyapartment of an eminent member of the aesthetic body. It
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