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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXV - THE BRONZE PONTIFF'S BENEDICTION
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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXV - THE BRONZE PONTIFF'S BENEDICTION Post by :atlanti2 Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :1036

Click below to download : The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXV - THE BRONZE PONTIFF'S BENEDICTION (Format : PDF)

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXV - THE BRONZE PONTIFF'S BENEDICTION

When the last of the twelve strokes had fallen from the cathedral
clock, Kenyon threw his eyes over the busy scene of the market place,
expecting to discern Miriam somewhere in the 'crowd. He looked next
towards the cathedral itself, where it was reasonable to imagine that
she might have taken shelter, while awaiting her appointed time.
Seeing no trace of her in either direction, his eyes came back from
their quest somewhat disappointed, and rested on a figure which was
leaning, like Donatello and himself, on the iron balustrade that
surrounded the statue. Only a moment before, they two had been alone.

It was the figure of a woman, with her head bowed on her hands, as if
she deeply felt--what we have been endeavoring to convey into our
feeble description--the benign and awe-inspiring influence which the
pontiff's statue exercises upon a sensitive spectator. No matter
though it were modelled for a Catholic chief priest, the desolate
heart, whatever be its religion, recognizes in that image the likeness
of a father.

"Miriam," said the sculptor, with a tremor in his voice, "is it
yourself?"

"It is I," she replied; "I am faithful to my engagement, though with
many fears." She lifted her head, and revealed to Kenyon--revealed to
Donatello likewise--the well-remembered features of Miriam. They were
pale and worn, but distinguished even now, though less gorgeously, by
a beauty that might be imagined bright enough to glimmer with its own
light in a dim cathedral aisle, and had no need to shrink from the
severer test of the mid-day sun. But she seemed tremulous, and hardly
able to go through with a scene which at a distance she had found
courage to undertake.

"You are most welcome, Miriam!" said the sculptor, seeking to afford
her the encouragement which he saw she so greatly required. "I have a
hopeful trust that the result of this interview will be propitious.
Come; let me lead you to Donatello."

"No, Kenyon, no!" whispered Miriam, shrinking back; "unless of his own
accord he speaks my name,--unless he bids me stay,--no word shall ever
pass between him and me. It is not that I take upon me to be proud at
this late hour. Among other feminine qualities, I threw away my pride
when Hilda cast me off."

"If not pride, what else restrains you?" Kenyon asked, a little angry
at her unseasonable scruples, and also at this half-complaining
reference to Hilda's just severity. "After daring so much, it is no
time for fear! If we let him part from you without a word, your
opportunity of doing him inestimable good is lost forever."

"True; it will be lost forever!" repeated Miriam sadly. "But, dear
friend, will it be my fault? I willingly fling my woman's pride at
his feet. But--do you not see?--his heart must be left freely to its
own decision whether to recognize me, because on his voluntary choice
depends the whole question whether my devotion will do him good or
harm. Except he feel an infinite need of me, I am a burden and fatal
obstruction to him!"

"Take your own course, then, Miriam," said Kenyon; "and, doubtless,
the crisis being what it is, your spirit is better instructed for its
emergencies than mine."

While the foregoing words passed between them they had withdrawn a
little from the immediate vicinity of the statue, so as to be out of
Donatello's hearing. Still, however, they were beneath the pontiff's
outstretched hand; and Miriam, with her beauty and her sorrow, looked
up into his benignant face, as if she had come thither for his pardon
and paternal affection, and despaired of so vast a boon.

Meanwhile, she had not stood thus long in the public square of Perugia,
without attracting the observation of many eyes. With their quick
sense of beauty, these Italians had recognized her loveliness, and
spared not to take their fill of gazing at it; though their native
gentleness and courtesy made their homage far less obtrusive than that
of Germans, French, or Anglo-Saxons might have been. It is not
improbable that Miriam had planned this momentous interview, on so
public a spot and at high noon, with an eye to the sort of protection
that would be thrown over it by a multitude of eye-witnesses. In
circumstances of profound feeling and passion, there is often a sense
that too great a seclusion cannot be endured; there is an indefinite
dread of being quite alone with the object of our deepest interest.
The species of solitude that a crowd harbors within itself is felt to
be preferable, in certain conditions of the heart, to the remoteness
of a desert or the depths of an untrodden wood. Hatred, love, or
whatever kind of too intense emotion, or even indifference, where
emotion has once been, instinctively seeks to interpose some barrier
between itself and the corresponding passion in another breast. This,
we suspect, was what Miriam had thought of, in coming to the thronged
piazza; partly this, and partly, as she said, her superstition that
the benign statue held good influences in store.

But Donatello remained leaning against the balustrade. She dared not
glance towards him, to see whether he were pale and agitated, or calm
as ice. Only, she knew that the moments were fleetly lapsing away,
and that his heart must call her soon, or the voice would never reach
her. She turned quite away from him and spoke again to the sculptor.

"I have wished to meet you," said she, "for more than one reason.
News has come to me respecting a dear friend of ours. Nay, not of
mine! I dare not call her a friend of mine, though once the dearest."

"Do you speak of Hilda?" exclaimed Kenyon, with quick alarm. "Has
anything befallen her? When I last heard of her, she was still in
Rome, and well."

"Hilda remains in Rome," replied Miriam, "nor is she ill as regards
physical health, though much depressed in spirits. She lives quite
alone in her dove-cote; not a friend near her, not one in Rome, which,
you know, is deserted by all but its native inhabitants. I fear for
her health, if she continue long in such solitude, with despondency
preying on her mind. I tell you this, knowing the interest which the
rare beauty of her character has awakened in you."

"I will go to Rome!" said the sculptor, in great emotion. "Hilda has
never allowed me to manifest more than a friendly regard; but, at
least, she cannot prevent my watching over her at a humble distance.
I will set out this very hour."

"Do not leave us now!" whispered Miriam imploringly, and laying her
hand on his arm. "One moment more! Ah; he has no word for me!"

"Miriam!" said Donatello.

Though but a single word, and the first that he had spoken, its tone
was a warrant of the sad and tender depth from which it came. It told
Miriam things of infinite importance, and, first of all, that he still
loved her. The sense of their mutual crime had stunned, but not
destroyed, the vitality of his affection; it was therefore
indestructible. That tone, too, bespoke an altered and deepened
character; it told of a vivified intellect, and of spiritual
instruction that had come through sorrow and remorse; so that instead
of the wild boy, the thing of sportive, animal nature, the sylvan Faun,
here was now the man of feeling and intelligence.

She turned towards him, while his voice still reverberated in the
depths of her soul.

"You have called me!" said she.

"Because my deepest heart has need of you!" he replied. "Forgive,
Miriam, the coldness, the hardness with which I parted from you! I
was bewildered with strange horror and gloom."

"Alas! and it was I that brought it on you," said she. "What
repentance, what self-sacrifice, can atone for that infinite wrong?
There was something so sacred in the innocent and joyous life which
you were leading! A happy person is such an unaccustomed and holy
creature in this sad world! And, encountering so rare a being, and
gifted with the power of sympathy with his sunny life, it was my doom,
mine, to bring him within the limits of sinful, sorrowful mortality!
Bid me depart, Donatello! Fling me off! No good, through my agency,
can follow upon such a mighty evil!"

"Miriam," said he, "our lot lies together. Is it not so? Tell me, in
Heaven's name, if it be otherwise."

Donatello's conscience was evidently perplexed with doubt, whether the
communion of a crime, such as they two were jointly stained with,
ought not to stifle all the instinctive motions of their hearts,
impelling them one towards the other. Miriam, on the other hand,
remorsefully questioned with herself whether the misery, already
accruing from her influence, should not warn her to withdraw from his
path. In this momentous interview, therefore, two souls were groping
for each other in the darkness of guilt and sorrow, and hardly were
bold enough to grasp the cold hands that they found.

The sculptor stood watching the scene with earnest sympathy.

"It seems irreverent," said he, at length; "intrusive, if not
irreverent, for a third person to thrust himself between the two
solely concerned in a crisis like the present. Yet, possibly as a
bystander, though a deeply interested one, I may discern somewhat of
truth that is hidden from you both; nay, at least interpret or suggest
some ideas which you might not so readily convey to each other."

"Speak!" said Miriam. "We confide in you." "Speak!" said Donatello.
"You are true and upright."

"I well know," rejoined Kenyon, "that I shall not succeed in uttering
the few, deep words which, in this matter, as in all others, include
the absolute truth. But here, Miriam, is one whom a terrible
misfortune has begun to educate; it has taken him, and through your
agency, out of a wild and happy state, which, within circumscribed
limits, gave him joys that he cannot elsewhere find on earth. On his
behalf, you have incurred a responsibility which you cannot fling
aside. And here, Donatello, is one whom Providence marks out as
intimately connected with your destiny. The mysterious process, by
which our earthly life instructs us for another state of being, was
begun for you by her. She has rich gifts of heart and mind, a
suggestive power, a magnetic influence, a sympathetic knowledge, which,
wisely and religiously exercised, are what your condition needs. She
possesses what you require, and, with utter self devotion, will use it
for your good. The bond betwixt you, therefore, is a true one, and
never--except by Heaven's own act--should be rent asunder."

"Ah; he has spoken the truth!" cried Donatello, grasping Miriam's hand.


"The very truth, dear friend," cried Miriam.

"But take heed," resumed the sculptor, anxious not to violate the
integrity of his own conscience, "take heed; for you love one another,
and yet your bond is twined with such black threads that you must
never look upon it as identical with the ties that unite other loving
souls. It is for mutual support; it is for one another's final good;
it is for effort, for sacrifice, but not for earthly happiness. If
such be your motive, believe me, friends, it were better to relinquish
each other's hands at this sad moment. There would be no holy
sanction on your wedded life."

"None," said Donatello, shuddering. "We know it well."

"None," repeated Miriam, also shuddering. "United--miserably
entangled with me, rather--by a bond of guilt, our union might be for
eternity, indeed, and most intimate;--but, through all that endless
duration, I should be conscious of his horror."

"Not for earthly bliss, therefore," said Kenyon, "but for mutual
elevation, and encouragement towards a severe and painful life, you
take each other's hands. And if, out of toil, sacrifice, prayer,
penitence, and earnest effort towards right things, there comes at
length a sombre and thoughtful, happiness, taste it, and thank Heaven!
So that you live not for it,--so that it be a wayside flower,
springing along a path that leads to higher ends,--it will be Heaven's
gracious gift, and a token that it recognizes your union here below."

"Have you no more to say?" asked Miriam earnestly. "There is matter
of sorrow and lofty consolation strangely mingled in your words."

"Only this, dear Miriam," said the sculptor; "if ever in your lives
the highest duty should require from either of you the sacrifice of
the other, meet the occasion without shrinking. This is all."

While Kenyon spoke, Donatello had evidently taken in the ideas which
he propounded, and had ennobled them by the sincerity of his reception.
His aspect unconsciously assumed a dignity, which, elevating his
former beauty, accorded with the change that had long been taking
place in his interior self. He was a man, revolving grave and deep
thoughts in his breast. He still held Miriam's hand; and there they
stood, the beautiful man, the beautiful woman, united forever, as they
felt, in the presence of these thousand eye-witnesses, who gazed so
curiously at the unintelligible scene. Doubtless the crowd recognized
them as lovers, and fancied this a betrothal that was destined to
result in lifelong happiness. And possibly it might be so. Who can
tell where happiness may come; or where, though an expected guest, it
may never show its face? Perhaps--shy, subtle thing--it had crept
into this sad marriage bond, when the partners would have trembled at
its presence as a crime.

"Farewell!" said Kenyon; "I go to Rome."

"Farewell, true friend!" said Miriam.

"Farewell!" said Donatello too. "May you be happy. You have no guilt
to make you shrink from happiness."

At this moment it so chanced that all the three friends by one impulse
glanced upward at the statue of Pope Julius; and there was the
majestic figure stretching out the hand of benediction over them, and
bending down upon this guilty and repentant pair its visage of grand
benignity. There is a singular effect oftentimes when, out

of the midst of engrossing thought and deep absorption, we suddenly
look up, and catch a glimpse of external objects. We seem at such
moments to look farther and deeper into them, than by any premeditated
observation; it is as if they met our eyes alive, and with all their
hidden meaning on the surface, but grew again inanimate and
inscrutable the instant that they became aware of our glances. So now,
at that unexpected glimpse, Miriam, Donatello, and the sculptor, all
three imagined that they beheld the bronze pontiff endowed with
spiritual life. A blessing was felt descending upon them from his
outstretched hand; he approved by look and gesture the pledge of a
deep union that had passed under his auspices.

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