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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVIII - THE OWL TOWER
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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVIII - THE OWL TOWER Post by :Pinky Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :1719

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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVIII - THE OWL TOWER

"Will you not show me your tower?" said the sculptor one day to his

"It is plainly enough to be seen, methinks," answered the Count, with
a kind of sulkiness that often appeared in him, as one of the little
symptoms of inward trouble.

"Yes; its exterior is visible far and wide," said Kenyon. "But such a
gray, moss-grown tower as this, however valuable as an object of
scenery, will certainly be quite as interesting inside as out. It
cannot be less than six hundred years old; the foundations and lower
story are much older than that, I should judge; and traditions
probably cling to the walls within quite as plentifully as the gray
and yellow lichens cluster on its face without."

"No doubt," replied Donatello,--"but I know little of such things, and
never could comprehend the interest which some of you Forestieri take
in them. A year or two ago an English signore, with a venerable white
beard--they say he was a magician, too--came hither from as far off as
Florence, just to see my tower."

"Ah, I have seen him at Florence," observed Kenyon. "He is a
necromancer, as you say, and dwells in an old mansion of the Knights
Templars, close by the Ponte Vecchio, with a great many ghostly books,
pictures, and antiquities, to make the house gloomy, and one
bright-eyed little girl, to keep it cheerful!"

"I know him only by his white beard," said Donatello; "but he could
have told you a great deal about the tower, and the sieges which it
has stood, and the prisoners who have been confined in it. And he
gathered up all the traditions of the Monte Beni family, and, among
the rest, the sad one which I told you at the fountain the other day.
He had known mighty poets, he said, in his earlier life; and the most
illustrious of them would have rejoiced to preserve such a legend in
immortal rhyme,--especially if he could have had some of our wine of
Sunshine to help out his inspiration!"

"Any man might be a poet, as well as Byron, with such wine and such a
theme," rejoined the sculptor. "But shall we climb your tower The
thunder-storm gathering yonder among the hills will be a spectacle
worth witnessing."

"Come, then," said the Count, adding, with a sigh, "it has a weary
staircase, and dismal chambers, and it is very lonesome at the summit!"

"Like a man's life, when he has climbed to eminence," remarked the
sculptor; "or, let us rather say, with its difficult steps, and the
dark prison cells you speak of, your tower resembles the spiritual
experience of many a sinful soul, which, nevertheless, may struggle
upward into the pure air and light of Heaven at last!"

Donatello sighed again, and led the way up into the tower.

Mounting the broad staircase that ascended from the entrance hall,
they traversed the great wilderness of a house, through some obscure
passages, and came to a low, ancient doorway. It admitted them to a
narrow turret stair which zigzagged upward, lighted in its progress by
loopholes and iron-barred windows. Reaching the top of the first
flight, the Count threw open a door of worm-eaten oak, and disclosed a
chamber that occupied the whole area of the tower. It was most
pitiably forlorn of aspect, with a brick-paved floor, bare holes
through the massive walls, grated with iron, instead of windows, and
for furniture an old stool, which increased the dreariness of the
place tenfold, by suggesting an idea of its having once been tenanted.

"This was a prisoner's cell in the old days," said Donatello; "the
white-bearded necromancer, of whom I told you, found out that a
certain famous monk was confined here, about five hundred years ago.
He was a very holy man, and was afterwards burned at the stake in the
Grand-ducal Square at Firenze. There have always been stories, Tomaso
says, of a hooded monk creeping up and down these stairs, or standing
in the doorway of this chamber. It must needs be the ghost of the
ancient prisoner. Do you believe in ghosts?"

"I can hardly tell," replied Kenyon; "on the whole, I think not."

"Neither do I," responded the Count; "for, if spirits ever come back,
I should surely have met one within these two months past. Ghosts
never rise! So much I know, and am glad to know it!"

Following the narrow staircase still higher, they came to another room
of similar size and equally forlorn, but inhabited by two personages
of a race which from time immemorial have held proprietorship and
occupancy in ruined towers. These were a pair of owls, who, being
doubtless acquainted with Donatello, showed little sign of alarm at
the entrance of visitors. They gave a dismal croak or two, and hopped
aside into the darkest corner, since it was not yet their hour to flap
duskily abroad.

"They do not desert me, like my other feathered acquaintances,"
observed the young Count, with a sad smile, alluding to the scene
which Kenyon had witnessed at the fountain-side. "When I was a wild,
playful boy, the owls did not love me half so well."

He made no further pause here, but led his friend up another flight of
steps--while, at every stage, the windows and narrow loopholes
afforded Kenyon more extensive eye-shots over hill and valley, and
allowed him to taste the cool purity of mid-atmosphere. At length
they reached the topmost chamber, directly beneath the roof of the

"This is my own abode," said Donatello; "my own owl's nest."

In fact, the room was fitted up as a bedchamber, though in a style of
the utmost simplicity. It likewise served as an oratory; there being
a crucifix in one corner, and a multitude of holy emblems, such as
Catholics judge it necessary to help their devotion withal. Several
ugly little prints, representing the sufferings of the Saviour, and
the martyrdoms of saints, hung on the wall; and behind the crucifix
there was a good copy of Titian's Magdalen of the Pitti Palace, clad
only in the flow of her golden ringlets. She had a confident look
(but it was Titian's fault, not the penitent woman's), as if expecting
to win heaven by the free display of her earthly charms. Inside of a
glass case appeared an image of the sacred Bambino, in the guise of a
little waxen boy, very prettily made, reclining among flowers, like a
Cupid, and holding up a heart that resembled a bit of red sealing-wax.
A small vase of precious marble was full of holy water.

Beneath the crucifix, on a table, lay a human skull, which looked as
if it might have been dug up out of some old grave. But, examining it
more closely, Kenyon saw that it was carved in gray alabaster; most
skillfully done to the death, with accurate imitation of the teeth, the
sutures, the empty eye-caverns, and the fragile little bones of the
nose. This hideous emblem rested on a cushion of white marble, so
nicely wrought that you seemed to see the impression of the heavy
skull in a silken and downy substance.

Donatello dipped his fingers into the holy-water vase, and crossed
himself. After doing so he trembled.

"I have no right to make the sacred symbol on a sinful breast!" he

"On what mortal breast can it be made, then?" asked the sculptor. "Is
there one that hides no sin?"

"But these blessed emblems make you smile, I fear," resumed the Count,
looking askance at his friend. "You heretics, I know, attempt to pray
without even a crucifix to kneel at."

"I, at least, whom you call a heretic, reverence that holy symbol,"
answered Kenyon. "What I am most inclined to murmur at is this
death's head. I could laugh, moreover, in its ugly face! It is
absurdly monstrous, my dear friend, thus to fling the dead weight of
our mortality upon our immortal hopes. While we live on earth, 't is
true, we must needs carry our skeletons about with us; but, for
Heaven's sake, do not let us burden our spirits with them, in our
feeble efforts to soar upward! Believe me, it will change the whole
aspect of death, if you can once disconnect it, in your idea, with
that corruption from which it disengages our higher part."

"I do not well understand you," said Donatello; and he took up the
alabaster skull, shuddering, and evidently feeling it a kind of
penance to touch it. "I only know that this skull has been in my
family for centuries. Old Tomaso has a story that it was copied by a
famous sculptor from the skull of that same unhappy knight who loved
the fountain lady, and lost her by a blood-stain. He lived and died
with a deep sense of sin upon him, and on his death-bed he ordained
that this token of him should go down to his posterity. And my
forefathers, being a cheerful race of men in their natural disposition,
found it needful to have the skull often before their eyes, because
they dearly loved life and its enjoyments, and hated the very thought
of death."

"I am afraid," said Kenyon, "they liked it none the better, for seeing
its face under this abominable mask."

Without further discussion, the Count led the way up one more flight
of stairs, at the end of which they emerged upon the summit of the
tower. The sculptor felt as if his being were suddenly magnified a
hundredfold; so wide was the Umbrian valley that suddenly opened
before him, set in its grand framework of nearer and more distant
hills. It seemed as if all Italy lay under his eyes in that one
picture. For there was the broad, sunny smile of God, which we fancy
to be spread over that favored land more abundantly than on other
regions, and beneath it glowed a most rich and varied fertility. The
trim vineyards were there, and the fig-trees, and the mulberries, and
the smoky-hued tracts of the olive orchards; there, too, were fields of
every kind of grain, among which, waved the Indian corn, putting
Kenyon in mind of the fondly remembered acres of his father's
homestead. White villas, gray convents, church spires, villages,
towns, each with its battlemented walls and towered gateway, were
scattered upon this spacious map; a river gleamed across it; and lakes
opened their blue eyes in its face, reflecting heaven, lest mortals
should forget that better land when they beheld the earth so beautiful.

What made the valley look still wider was the two or three varieties
of weather that were visible on its surface, all at the same instant
of time. Here lay the quiet sunshine; there fell the great black
patches of ominous shadow from the clouds; and behind them, like a
giant of league-long strides, came hurrying the thunderstorm, which
had already swept midway across the plain. In the rear of the
approaching tempest, brightened forth again the sunny splendor, which
its progress had darkened with so terrible a frown.

All round this majestic landscape, the bald-peaked or forest-crowned
mountains descended boldly upon the plain. On many of their spurs and
midway declivities, and even on their summits, stood cities, some of
them famous of old; for these had been the seats and nurseries of
early art, where the flower of beauty sprang out of a rocky soil, and
in a high, keen atmosphere, when the richest and most sheltered
gardens failed to nourish it.

"Thank God for letting me again behold this scene!" Said the sculptor,
a devout man in his way, reverently taking off his hat. "I have
viewed it from many points, and never without as full a sensation of
gratitude as my heart seems capable of feeling. How it strengthens
the poor human spirit in its reliance on His providence, to ascend but
this little way above the common level, and so attain a somewhat wider
glimpse of His dealings with mankind! He doeth all things right! His
will be done!"

"You discern something that is hidden from me," observed Donatello
gloomily, yet striving with unwonted grasp to catch the analogies
which so cheered his friend. "I see sunshine on one spot, and cloud
in another, and no reason for it in either ease. The sun on you; the
cloud on me! What comfort can I draw from this?"

"Nay; I cannot preach," said Kenyon, "with a page of heaven and a page
of earth spread wide open before us! Only begin to read it, and you
will find it interpreting itself without the aid of words. It is a
great mistake to try to put our best thoughts into human language.
When we ascend into the higher regions of emotion and spiritual
enjoyment, they are only expressible by such grand hieroglyphics as
these around us."

They stood awhile, contemplating the scene; but, as inevitably happens
after a spiritual flight, it was not long before the sculptor felt his
wings flagging in the rarity of the upper atmosphere. He was glad to
let himself quietly downward out of the mid-sky, as it were, and
alight on the solid platform of the battlemented tower. He looked
about him, and beheld growing out of the stone pavement, which formed
the roof, a little shrub, with green and glossy leaves. It was the
only green thing there; and Heaven knows how its seeds had ever been
planted, at that airy height, or how it had found nourishment for its
small life in the chinks of the stones; for it had no earth, and
nothing more like soil than the crumbling mortar, which had been
crammed into the crevices in a long-past age.

Yet the plant seemed fond of its native site; and Donatello said it
had always grown there from his earliest remembrance, and never, he
believed, any smaller or any larger than they saw it now.

"I wonder if the shrub teaches you any good lesson," said he,
observing the interest with which Kenyon examined it. "If the wide
valley has a great meaning, the plant ought to have at least a little
one; and it has been growing on our tower long enough to have learned
how to speak it."

"O, certainly!" answered the sculptor; "the shrub has its moral, or it
would have perished long ago. And, no doubt, it is for your use and
edification, since you have had it before your eyes all your lifetime,
and now are moved to ask what may be its lesson."

"It teaches me nothing," said the simple Donatello, stooping over the
plant, and perplexing himself with a minute scrutiny. "But here was a
worm that would have killed it; an ugly creature, which I will fling
over the battlements."

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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXIX - ON THE BATTLEMENTS The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXIX - ON THE BATTLEMENTS

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXIX - ON THE BATTLEMENTS
The sculptor now looked through art embrasure, and threw down a bit oflime, watching its fall, till it struck upon a stone bench at therocky foundation of the tower, and flew into many fragments."Pray pardon me for helping Time to crumble away your ancestral walls,"said he. "But I am one of those persons who have a natural tendencyto climb heights, and to stand on the verge of them, measuring thedepth below. If I were to do just as I like, at this moment, I shouldfling myself down after that bit of lime. It is a very singulartemptation, and

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS
After the sculptor's arrival, however, the young Count sometimes camedown from his forlorn elevation, and rambled with him among theneighboring woods and hills. He led his friend to many enchantingnooks, with which he himself had been familiar in his childhood. Butof late, as he remarked to Kenyon, a sort of strangeness had overgrownthem, like clusters of dark shrubbery, so that he hardly recognizedthe places which he had known and loved so well.To the sculptor's eye, nevertheless, they were still rich with beauty.They were picturesque in that sweetly impressive way where wildness,in a long lapse of years, has crept over