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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XLIX - A FROLIC OF THE CARNIVAL
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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XLIX - A FROLIC OF THE CARNIVAL Post by :NiallR Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :3410

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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XLIX - A FROLIC OF THE CARNIVAL

The crowd and confusion, just at that moment, hindered the sculptor
from pursuing these figures,--the peasant and contadina,--who, indeed,
were but two of a numerous tribe that thronged the Corso, in similar
costume. As soon as he could squeeze a passage, Kenyon tried to
follow in their footsteps, but quickly lost sight of them, and was
thrown off the track by stopping to examine various groups of
masqueraders, in which he fancied the objects of his search to be
included. He found many a sallow peasant or herdsman of the Campagna,
in such a dress as Donatello wore; many a contadina, too, brown, broad,
and sturdy, in her finery of scarlet, and decked out with gold or
coral beads, a pair of heavy earrings, a curiously wrought cameo or
mosaic brooch, and a silver comb or long stiletto among her glossy
hair. But those shapes of grace and beauty which he sought had
vanished.

As soon as the procession of the Senator had passed, the merry-makers
resumed their antics with fresh spirit, and the artillery of bouquets
and sugar plums, suspended for a moment, began anew. The sculptor
himself, being probably the most anxious and unquiet spectator there,
was especially a mark for missiles from all quarters, and for the
practical jokes which the license of the Carnival permits. In fact,
his sad and contracted brow so ill accorded with the scene, that the
revellers might be pardoned for thus using him as the butt of their
idle mirth, since he evidently could not otherwise contribute to it.

Fantastic figures, with bulbous heads, the circumference of a bushel,
grinned enormously in his face. Harlequins struck him with their
wooden swords, and appeared to expect his immediate transformation
into some jollier shape. A little, long-tailed, horned fiend sidled
up to him and suddenly blew at him through a tube, enveloping our poor
friend in a whole harvest of winged seeds. A biped, with an ass's
snout, brayed close to his ear, ending his discordant uproar with a
peal of human laughter. Five strapping damsels--so, at least, their
petticoats bespoke them, in spite of an awful freedom in the flourish
of their legs--joined hands, and danced around him, inviting him by
their gestures to perform a hornpipe in the midst. Released from
these gay persecutors, a clown in motley rapped him on the back with a
blown bladder, in which a handful of dried peas rattled horribly.

Unquestionably, a care-stricken mortal has no business abroad, when
the rest of mankind are at high carnival; they must either pelt him
and absolutely martyr him with jests, and finally bury him beneath the
aggregate heap; or else the potency of his darker mood, because the
tissue of human life takes a sad dye more readily than a gay one, will
quell their holiday humors, like the aspect of a death's-head at a
banquet. Only that we know Kenyon's errand, we could hardly forgive
him for venturing into the Corso with that troubled face.

Even yet, his merry martyrdom was not half over. There came along a
gigantic female figure, seven feet high, at least, and taking up a
third of the street's breadth with the preposterously swelling sphere
of her crinoline skirts. Singling out the sculptor, she began to make
a ponderous assault upon his heart, throwing amorous glances at him
out of her great goggle eyes, offering him a vast bouquet of
sunflowers and nettles, and soliciting his pity by all sorts of
pathetic and passionate dumb-show. Her suit meeting no favor, the
rejected Titaness made a gesture of despair and rage; then suddenly
drawing a huge pistol, she took aim right at the obdurate sculptor's
breast, and pulled the trigger. The shot took effect, for the
abominable plaything went off by a spring, like a boy's popgun,
covering Kenyon with a cloud of lime dust, under shelter of which the
revengeful damsel strode away.

Hereupon, a whole host of absurd figures surrounded him, pretending to
sympathize in his mishap. Clowns and party-colored harlequins;
orang-outangs; bear-headed, bull-headed, and dog-headed individuals;
faces that would have been human, but for their enormous noses; one
terrific creature, with a visage right in the centre of his breast;
and all other imaginable kinds of monstrosity and exaggeration. These
apparitions appeared to be investigating the case, after the fashion
of a coroner's jury, poking their pasteboard countenances close to the
sculptor's with an unchangeable grin, that gave still more ludicrous
effect to the comic alarm and sorrow of their gestures. Just then, a
figure came by, in a gray wig and rusty gown, with an inkhorn at his
buttonhole and a pen behind his ear; he announced himself as a notary,
and offered to make the last will and testament of the assassinated
man. This solemn duty, however, was interrupted by a surgeon, who
brandished a lancet, three feet long, and proposed to him to let him
take blood.

The affair was so like a feverish dream, that Kenyon resigned himself
to let it take its course. Fortunately the humors of the Carnival
pass from one absurdity to another, without lingering long enough on
any, to wear out even the slightest of them. The passiveness of his
demeanor afforded too little scope for such broad merriment as the
masqueraders sought. In a few moments they vanished from him, as
dreams and spectres do, leaving him at liberty to pursue his quest,
with no impediment except the crowd that blocked up the footway.

He had not gone far when the peasant and the contadina met him. They
were still hand in hand, and appeared to be straying through the
grotesque and animated scene, taking as little part in it as himself.
It might be because he recognized them, and knew their solemn secret,
that the sculptor fancied a melancholy emotion to be expressed by the
very movement and attitudes of these two figures; and even the grasp
of their hands, uniting them so closely, seemed to set them in a sad
remoteness from the world at which they gazed.

"I rejoice to meet you," said Kenyon. But they looked at him through
the eye-holes of their black masks, without answering a word.

"Pray give me a little light on the matter which I have so much at
heart," said he; "if you know anything of Hilda, for Heaven's sake,
speak!"

Still they were silent; and the sculptor began to imagine that he must
have mistaken the identity of these figures, there being such a
multitude in similar costume. Yet there was no other Donatello, no
other Miriam. He felt, too, that spiritual certainty which impresses
us with the presence of our friends, apart from any testimony of the
senses.

"You are unkind," resumed he,--"knowing the anxiety which oppresses me,
--not to relieve it, if in your power."

The reproach evidently had its effect; for the contadina now spoke,
and it was Miriam's voice.

"We gave you all the light we could," said she. "You are yourself
unkind, though you little think how much so, to come between us at
this hour. There may be a sacred hour, even in carnival time."

In another state of mind, Kenyon could have been amused by the
impulsiveness of this response, and a sort of vivacity that he had
often noted in Miriam's conversation. But he was conscious of a
profound sadness in her tone, overpowering its momentary irritation,
and assuring him that a pale, tear-stained face was hidden behind her
mask.

"Forgive me!" said he.

Donatello here extended his hand,--not that which was clasping
Miriam's,--and she, too, put her free one into the sculptor's left; so
that they were a linked circle of three, with many reminiscences and
forebodings flashing through their hearts. Kenyon knew intuitively
that these once familiar friends were parting with him now.

"Farewell!" they all three said, in the same breath.

No sooner was the word spoken, than they loosed their hands; and the
uproar of the Carnival swept like a tempestuous sea over the spot
which they had included within their small circle of isolated feeling.

By this interview, the sculptor had learned nothing in reference to
Hilda; but he understood that he was to adhere to the instructions
already received, and await a solution of the mystery in some mode
that he could not yet anticipate. Passing his hands over his eyes,
and looking about him,--for the event just described had made the
scene even more dreamlike than before,--he now found himself
approaching that broad piazza bordering on the Corso, which has for
its central object the sculptured column of Antoninus. It was not far
from this vicinity that Miriam had bid him wait. Struggling onward as
fast as the tide of merrymakers, setting strong against him, would
permit, he was now beyond the Palazzo Colonna, and began to count the
houses. The fifth was a palace, with a long front upon the Corso, and
of stately height, but somewhat grim with age.

Over its arched and pillared entrance there was a balcony, richly hung
with tapestry and damask, and tenanted, for the time, by a gentleman
of venerable aspect and a group of ladies. The white hair and
whiskers of the former, and the winter roses in his cheeks, had an
English look; the ladies, too, showed a fair-haired Saxon bloom, and
seemed to taste the mirth of the Carnival with the freshness of
spectators to whom the scene was new. All the party, the old
gentleman with grave earnestness, as if he were defending a rampart,
and his young companions with exuberance of frolic, showered confetti
inexhaustibly upon the passers-by.

In the rear of the balcony, a broad-brimmed, ecclesiastical beaver was
visible. An abbate, probably an acquaintance and cicerone of the
English family, was sitting there, and enjoying the scene, though
partially withdrawn from view, as the decorum for his order dictated.

There seemed no better nor other course for Kenyon than to keep watch
at this appointed spot, waiting for whatever should happen next.
Clasping his arm round a lamp-post, to prevent being carried away by
the turbulent stream of wayfarers, he scrutinized every face, with the
idea that some one of them might meet his eyes with a glance of
intelligence. He looked at each mask,--harlequin, ape, bulbous-headed
monster, or anything that was absurdest,--not knowing but that the
messenger might come, even in such fantastic guise. Or perhaps one of
those quaint figures, in the stately ruff, the cloak, tunic, and
trunk-hose of three centuries ago, might bring him tidings of Hilda,
out of that long-past age. At times his disquietude took a hopeful
aspect; and he fancied that Hilda might come by, her own sweet self,
in some shy disguise which the instinct Of his love would be sure to
penetrate. Or, she might be borne past on a triumphal car, like the
one just now approaching, its slow-moving wheels encircled and spoked
with foliage, and drawn by horses, that were harnessed and wreathed
with flowers. Being, at best, so far beyond the bounds of reasonable
conjecture, he might anticipate the wildest event, or find either his
hopes or fears disappointed in what appeared most probable.

The old Englishman and his daughters, in the opposite balcony, must
have seen something unutterably absurd in the sculptor's deportment,
poring into this whirlpool of nonsense so earnestly, in quest of what
was to make his life dark or bright. Earnest people, who try to get a
reality out of human existence, are necessarily absurd in the view of
the revellers and masqueraders. At all events, after a good deal of
mirth at the expense of his melancholy visage, the fair occupants of
the balcony favored Kenyon with a salvo of confetti, which came
rattling about him like a hailstorm. Looking up instinctively, he was
surprised to see the abbate in the background lean forward and give a
courteous sign of recognition.

It was the same old priest with whom he had seen Hilda, at the
confessional; the same with whom he had talked of her disappearance on
meeting him in the street.

Yet, whatever might be the reason, Kenyon did not now associate this
ecclesiastical personage with the idea of Hilda. His eyes lighted on
the old man, just for an instant, and then returned to the eddying
throng of the Corso, on his minute scrutiny of which depended, for
aught he knew, the sole chance of ever finding any trace of her.
There was, about this moment, a bustle on the other side of the street,
the cause of which Kenyon did not see, nor exert himself to discover.
A small party of soldiers or gendarmes appeared to be concerned in it;
they were perhaps arresting some disorderly character, who, under the
influence of an extra flask of wine, might have reeled across the
mystic limitation of carnival proprieties.

The sculptor heard some people near him talking of the incident.

"That contadina, in a black mask, was a fine figure of a woman."

"She was not amiss," replied a female voice; "but her companion was
far the handsomer figure of the two. Could they be really a peasant
and a contadina, do you imagine?"

"No, no," said the other. "It is some frolic of the Carnival, carried
a little too far."

This conversation might have excited Kenyon's interest; only that,
just as the last words were spoken, he was hit by two missiles, both
of a kind that were flying abundantly on that gay battlefield. One,
we are ashamed to say, was a cauliflower, which, flung by a young man
from a passing carriage, came with a prodigious thump against his
shoulder; the other was a single rosebud, so fresh that it seemed that
moment gathered. It flew from the opposite balcony, smote gently on
his lips, and fell into his hand. He looked upward, and beheld the
face of his lost Hilda!

She was dressed in a white domino, and looked pale and bewildered, and
yet full of tender joy. Moreover, there was a gleam of delicate
mirthfulness in her eyes, which the sculptor had seen there only two
or three times in the course of their acquaintance, but thought it the
most bewitching and fairylike of all Hilda's expressions. That soft,
mirthful smile caused her to melt, as it were, into the wild frolic of
the Carnival, and become not so strange and alien to the scene, as her
unexpected apparition must otherwise have made her.

Meanwhile, the venerable Englishman and his daughters were staring at
poor Hilda in a way that proved them altogether astonished, as well as
inexpressibly shocked, by her sudden intrusion into their private
balcony. They looked,--as, indeed, English people of respectability
would, if an angel were to alight in their circle, without due
introduction from somebody whom they knew, in the court above,--they
looked as if an unpardonable liberty had been taken, and a suitable
apology must be made; after which, the intruder would be expected to
withdraw.

The abbate, however, drew the old gentleman aside, and whispered a few
words that served to mollify him; he bestowed on Hilda a sufficiently
benignant, though still a perplexed and questioning regard, and
invited her, in dumb-show, to put herself at her ease.

But, whoever was in fault, our shy and gentle Hilda had dreamed of no
intrusion. Whence she had come, or where she had been hidden, during
this mysterious interval, we can but imperfectly surmise, and do not
mean, at present, to make it a matter of formal explanation with the
reader. It is better, perhaps, to fancy that she had been snatched
away to a land of picture; that she had been straying with Claude in
the golden light which he used to shed over his landscapes, but which
he could never have beheld with his waking eyes till he awoke in the
better clime. We will imagine that, for the sake of the true
simplicity with which she loved them, Hilda had been permitted, for a
season, to converse with the great, departed masters of the pencil,
and behold the diviner works which they have painted in heavenly
colors. Guido had shown her another portrait of Beatrice Cenci, done
from the celestial life, in which that forlorn mystery of the earthly
countenance was exchanged for a radiant joy. Perugino had allowed her
a glimpse at his easel, on which she discerned what seemed a woman's
face, but so divine, by the very depth and softness of its womanhood,
that a gush of happy tears blinded the maiden's eyes before she had
time to look. Raphael had taken Hilda by the hand, that fine,
forcible hand which Kenyon sculptured,--and drawn aside the curtain of
gold-fringed cloud that hung before his latest masterpiece. On earth,
Raphael painted the Transfiguration. What higher scene may he have
since depicted, not from imagination, but as revealed to his actual
sight!

Neither will we retrace the steps by which she returned to the actual
world. For the present, be it enough to say that Hilda had been
summoned forth from a secret place, and led we know not through what
mysterious passages, to a point where the tumult of life burst
suddenly upon her ears. She heard the tramp of footsteps, the rattle
of wheels, and the mingled hum of a multitude of voices, with strains
of music and loud laughter breaking through. Emerging into a great,
gloomy hall, a curtain was drawn aside; she found herself gently
propelled into an open balcony, whence she looked out upon the festal
street, with gay tapestries flaunting over all the palace fronts, the
windows thronged with merry faces, and a crowd of maskers rioting upon
the pavement below.

Immediately she seemed to become a portion of the scene. Her pale,
large-eyed, fragile beauty, her wondering aspect and bewildered grace,
attracted the gaze of many; and there fell around her a shower of
bouquets and bonbons--freshest blossoms and sweetest sugar plums,
sweets to the sweet--such as the revellers of the Carnival reserve as
tributes to especial loveliness. Hilda pressed her hand across her
brow; she let her eyelids fall, and, lifting them again, looked
through the grotesque and gorgeous show, the chaos of mad jollity, in
quest of some object by which she might assure herself that the whole
spectacle was not an illusion.

Beneath the balcony, she recognized a familiar and fondly remembered
face. The spirit of the hour and the scene exercised its influence
over her quick and sensitive nature; she caught up one of the rosebuds
that had been showered upon her, and aimed it at the sculptor; It hit
the mark; he turned his sad eyes upward, and there was Hilda, in whose
gentle presence his own secret sorrow and the obtrusive uproar of the
Carnival alike died away from his perception.

That night, the lamp beneath the Virgin's shrine burned as brightly as
if it had never been extinguished; and though the one faithful dove
had gone to her melancholy perch, she greeted Hilda rapturously the
next morning, and summoned her less constant companions, whithersoever
they had flown, to renew their homage.

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On the appointed afternoon, Kenyon failed not to make his appearancein the Corso, and at an hour much earlier than Miriam had named.It was carnival time. The merriment of this famous festival was infull progress; and the stately avenue of the Corso was peopled withhundreds of fantastic shapes, some of which probably represented themirth of ancient times, surviving through all manner of calamity, eversince the days of the Roman Empire. For a few afternoons of earlyspring, this mouldy gayety strays into the sunshine; all the remainderof the year, it seems to be shut up in the catacombs or some
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