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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXIV - THE TOWER AMONG THE APENNINES
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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXIV - THE TOWER AMONG THE APENNINES Post by :calljian Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :1314

Click below to download : The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXIV - THE TOWER AMONG THE APENNINES (Format : PDF)

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXIV - THE TOWER AMONG THE APENNINES

It was in June that the sculptor, Kenyon, arrived on horseback at the
gate of an ancient country house (which, from some of its features,
might almost be called a castle) situated in a part of Tuscany
somewhat remote from the ordinary track of tourists. Thither we must
now accompany him, and endeavor to make our story flow onward, like a
streamlet, past a gray tower that rises on the hillside, overlooking a
spacious valley, which is set in the grand framework of the Apennines.

The sculptor had left Rome with the retreating tide of foreign
residents. For, as summer approaches, the Niobe of Nations is made to
bewail anew, and doubtless with sincerity, the loss of that large part
of her population which she derives from other lands, and on whom
depends much of whatever remnant of prosperity she still enjoys. Rome,
at this season, is pervaded and overhung with atmospheric terrors,
and insulated within a charmed and deadly circle. The crowd of
wandering tourists betake themselves to Switzerland, to the Rhine, or,
from this central home of the world, to their native homes in England
or America, which they are apt thenceforward to look upon as
provincial, after once having yielded to the spell of the Eternal City.
The artist, who contemplates an indefinite succession of winters in
this home of art (though his first thought was merely to improve
himself by a brief visit), goes forth, in the summer time, to sketch
scenery and costume among the Tuscan hills, and pour, if he can, the
purple air of Italy over his canvas. He studies the old schools of
art in the mountain towns where they were born, and where they are
still to be seen in the faded frescos of Giotto and Cimabue, on the
walls of many a church, or in the dark chapels, in which the sacristan
draws aside the veil from a treasured picture of Perugino. Thence,
the happy painter goes to walk the long, bright galleries of Florence,
or to steal glowing colors from the miraculous works, which he finds
in a score of Venetian palaces. Such summers as these, spent amid
whatever is exquisite in art, or wild and picturesque in nature, may
not inadequately repay him for the chill neglect and disappointment
through which he has probably languished, in his Roman winter. This
sunny, shadowy, breezy, wandering life, in which he seeks for beauty
as his treasure, and gathers for his winter's honey what is but a
passing fragrance to all other men, is worth living for, come
afterwards what may. Even if he die unrecognized, the artist has had
his share of enjoyment and success.

Kenyon had seen, at a distance of many miles, the old villa or castle
towards which his journey lay, looking from its height over a broad
expanse of valley. As he drew nearer, however, it had been hidden
among the inequalities of the hillside, until the winding road brought
him almost to the iron gateway. The sculptor found this substantial
barrier fastened with lock and bolt. There was no bell, nor other
instrument of sound; and, after summoning the invisible garrison with
his voice, instead of a trumpet, he had leisure to take a glance at
the exterior of the fortress.

About thirty yards within the gateway rose a square tower, lofty
enough to be a very prominent object in the landscape, and more than
sufficiently massive in proportion to its height. Its antiquity was
evidently such that, in a climate of more abundant moisture, the ivy
would have mantled it from head to foot in a garment that might, by
this time, have been centuries old, though ever new. In the dry
Italian air, however, Nature had only so far adopted this old pile of
stonework as to cover almost every hand's-breadth of it with
close-clinging lichens and yellow moss; and the immemorial growth of
these kindly productions rendered the general hue of the tower soft
and venerable, and took away the aspect of nakedness which would have
made its age drearier than now.

Up and down the height of the tower were scattered three or four
windows, the lower ones grated with iron bars, the upper ones vacant
both of window frames and glass. Besides these larger openings, there
were several loopholes and little square apertures, which might be
supposed to light the staircase, that doubtless climbed the interior
towards the battlemented and machicolated summit. With this
last-mentioned warlike garniture upon its stern old head and brow, the
tower seemed evidently a stronghold of times long past. Many a
crossbowman had shot his shafts from those windows and loop-holes, and
from the vantage height of those gray battlements; many a flight of
arrows, too, had hit all round about the embrasures above, or the
apertures below, where the helmet of a defender had momentarily
glimmered. On festal nights, moreover, a hundred lamps had often
gleamed afar over the valley, suspended from the iron hooks that were
ranged for the purpose beneath the battlements and every window.

Connected with the tower, and extending behind it, there seemed to be
a very spacious residence, chiefly of more modern date. It perhaps
owed much of its fresher appearance, however, to a coat of stucco and
yellow wash, which is a sort of renovation very much in vogue with the
Italians. Kenyon noticed over a doorway, in the portion of the
edifice immediately adjacent to the tower, a cross, which, with a bell
suspended above the roof, indicated that this was a consecrated
precinct, and the chapel of the mansion.

Meanwhile, the hot sun so incommoded the unsheltered traveller, that
he shouted forth another impatient summons. Happening, at the same
moment, to look upward, he saw a figure leaning from an embrasure of
the battlements, and gazing down at him.

"Ho, Signore Count!" cried the sculptor, waving his straw hat, for he
recognized the face, after a moment's doubt. "This is a warm
reception, truly! Pray bid your porter let me in, before the sun
shrivels me quite into a cinder."

"I will come myself," responded Donatello, flinging down his voice out
of the clouds, as it were; "old Tomaso and old Stella are both asleep,
no doubt, and the rest of the people are in the vineyard. But I have
expected you, and you are welcome!"

The young Count--as perhaps we had better designate him in his
ancestral tower--vanished from the battlements; and Kenyon saw his
figure appear successively at each of the windows, as he descended.
On every reappearance, he turned his face towards the sculptor and
gave a nod and smile; for a kindly impulse prompted him thus to assure
his visitor of a welcome, after keeping him so long at an inhospitable
threshold.

Kenyon, however (naturally and professionally expert at reading the
expression of the human countenance), had a vague sense that this was
not the young friend whom he had known so familiarly in Rome; not the
sylvan and untutored youth, whom Miriam, Hilda, and himself had liked,
laughed at, and sported with; not the Donatello whose identity they
had so playfully mixed up with that of the Faun of Praxiteles.

Finally, when his host had emerged from a side portal of the mansion,
and approached the gateway, the traveller still felt that there was
something lost, or something gained (he hardly knew which), that set
the Donatello of to-day irreconcilably at odds with him of yesterday.
His very gait showed it, in a certain gravity, a weight and measure of
step, that had nothing in common with the irregular buoyancy which
used to distinguish him. His face was paler and thinner, and the lips
less full and less apart.

"I have looked for you a long while," said Donatello; and, though his
voice sounded differently, and cut out its words more sharply than had
been its wont, still there was a smile shining on his face, that, for
the moment, quite brought back the Faun. "I shall be more cheerful,
perhaps, now that you have come. It is very solitary here."

"I have come slowly along, often lingering, often turning aside,"
replied Kenyon; "for I found a great deal to interest me in the
mediaeval sculpture hidden away in the churches hereabouts. An artist,
whether painter or sculptor, may be pardoned for loitering through
such a region. But what a fine old tower! Its tall front is like a
page of black letter, taken from the history of the Italian republics."

"I know little or nothing of its history," said the Count, glancing
upward at the battlements, where he had just been standing. "But I
thank my forefathers for building it so high. I like the windy summit
better than the world below, and spend much of my time there, nowadays."

"It is a pity you are not a star-gazer," observed Kenyon, also looking
up. "It is higher than Galileo's tower, which I saw, a week or two
ago, outside of the walls of Florence."

"A star-gazer? I am one," replied Donatello. "I sleep in the tower,
and often watch very late on the battlements. There is a dismal old
staircase to climb, however, before reaching the top, and a succession
of dismal chambers, from story to story. Some of them were prison
chambers in times past, as old Tomaso will tell you."

The repugnance intimated in his tone at the idea of this gloomy
staircase and these ghostly, dimly lighted rooms, reminded Kenyon of
the original Donatello, much more than his present custom of midnight
vigils on the battlements.

"I shall be glad to share your watch," said the guest; "especially by
moonlight. The prospect of this broad valley must be very fine. But
I was not aware, my friend, that these were your country habits. I
have fancied you in a sort of Arcadian life, tasting rich figs, and
squeezing the juice out of the sunniest grapes, and sleeping soundly
all night, after a day of simple pleasures."

"I may have known such a life, when I was younger," answered the Count
gravely. "I am not a boy now. Time flies over us, but leaves its
shadow behind."

The sculptor could not but smile at the triteness of the remark, which,
nevertheless, had a kind of originality as coming from Donatello. He
had thought it out from his own experience, and perhaps considered
himself as communicating a new truth to mankind.

They were now advancing up the courtyard; and the long extent of the
villa, with its ironbarred lower windows and balconied upper ones,
became visible, stretching back towards a grove of trees.

"At some period of your family history," observed Kenyon, "the Counts
of Monte Beni must have led a patriarchal life in this vast house. A
great-grandsire and all his descendants might find ample verge here,
and with space, too, for each separate brood of little ones to play
within its own precincts. Is your present household a large one?"

"Only myself," answered Donatello, "and Tomaso, who has been butler
since my grandfather's time, and old Stella, who goes sweeping and
dusting about the chambers, and Girolamo, the cook, who has but an
idle life of it. He shall send you up a chicken forthwith. But,
first of all, I must summon one of the contadini from the farmhouse
yonder, to take your horse to the stable."

Accordingly, the young Count shouted again, and with such effect that,
after several repetitions of the outcry, an old gray woman protruded
her head and a broom-handle from a chamber window; the venerable
butler emerged from a recess in the side of the house, where was a
well, or reservoir, in which he had been cleansing a small wine cask;
and a sunburnt contadino, in his shirt-sleeves, showed himself on the
outskirts of the vineyard, with some kind of a farming tool in his
hand. Donatello found employment for all these retainers in providing
accommodation for his guest and steed, and then ushered the sculptor
into the vestibule of the house.

It was a square and lofty entrance-room, which, by the solidity of its
construction, might have been an Etruscan tomb, being paved and walled
with heavy blocks of stone, and vaulted almost as massively overhead.
On two sides there were doors, opening into long suites of anterooms
and saloons; on the third side, a stone staircase of spacious breadth,
ascending, by dignified degrees and with wide resting-places, to
another floor of similar extent. Through one of the doors, which was
ajar, Kenyon beheld an almost interminable vista of apartments,
opening one beyond the other, and reminding him of the hundred rooms
in Blue Beard's castle, or the countless halls in some palace of the
Arabian Nights.

It must have been a numerous family, indeed, that could ever have
sufficed to people with human life so large an abode as this, and
impart social warmth to such a wide world within doors. The sculptor
confessed to himself, that Donatello could allege reason enough for
growing melancholy, having only his own personality to vivify it all.

"How a woman's face would brighten it up!" he ejaculated, not
intending to be overheard.

But, glancing at Donatello, he saw a stern and sorrowful look in his
eyes, which altered his youthful face as if it had seen thirty years
of trouble; and, at the same moment, old Stella showed herself through
one of the doorways, as the only representative of her sex at Monte
Beni.

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