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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXVI - HILDA'S TOWER
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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXVI - HILDA'S TOWER Post by :MrFlint Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :1907

Click below to download : The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXVI - HILDA'S TOWER (Format : PDF)

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXXVI - HILDA'S TOWER

When we have once known Rome, and left her where she lies, like a
long-decaying corpse, retaining a trace of the noble shape it was, but
with accumulated dust and a fungous growth overspreading all its more
admirable features, left her in utter weariness, no doubt, of her
narrow, crooked, intricate streets, so uncomfortably paved with little
squares of lava that to tread over them is a penitential pilgrimage,
so indescribably ugly, moreover, so cold, so alley-like, into which
the sun never falls, and where a chill wind forces its deadly breath
into our lungs,--left her, tired of the sight of those immense
seven-storied, yellow-washed hovels, or call them palaces, where all
that is dreary in domestic life seems magnified and multiplied, and
weary of climbing those staircases, which ascend from a ground-floor
of cook shops, cobblers' stalls, stables, and regiments of cavalry, to
a middle region of princes, cardinals, and ambassadors, and an upper
tier of artists, just beneath the unattainable sky,--left her, worn
out with shivering at the cheerless and smoky fireside by day, and
feasting with our own substance the ravenous little populace of a
Roman bed at night,--left her, sick at heart of Italian trickery,
which has uprooted whatever faith in man's integrity had endured till
now, and sick at stomach of sour bread, sour wine, rancid butter, and
bad cookery, needlessly bestowed on evil meats,--left her, disgusted
with the pretence of holiness and the reality of nastiness, each
equally omnipresent,--left her, half lifeless from the languid
atmosphere, the vital principle of which has been used up long ago, or
corrupted by myriads of slaughters,--left her, crushed down in spirit
with the desolation of her ruin, and the hopelessness of her future,
--left her, in short, hating her with all our might, and adding our
individual curse to the infinite anathema which her old crimes have
unmistakably brought down,--when we have left Rome in such mood as
this, we are astonished by the discovery, by and by, that our
heart-strings have mysteriously attached themselves to the Eternal
City, and are drawing us thitherward again, as if it were more
familiar, more intimately our home, than even the spot where we were
born.

It is with a kindred sentiment, that we now follow the course of our
story back through the Flaminian Gate, and, treading our way to the
Via Portoghese, climb the staircase to the upper chamber of the tower
where we last saw Hilda.

Hilda all along intended to pass the summer in Rome; for she had laid
out many high and delightful tasks, which she could the better
complete while her favorite haunts were deserted by the multitude that
thronged them throughout the winter and early spring. Nor did she
dread the summer atmosphere, although generally held to be so
pestilential. She had already made trial of it, two years before, and
found no worse effect than a kind of dreamy languor, which was
dissipated by the first cool breezes that came with autumn. The
thickly populated centre of the city, indeed, is never affected by the
feverish influence that lies in wait in the Campagna, like a besieging
foe, and nightly haunts those beautiful lawns and woodlands, around
the suburban villas, just at the season when they most resemble
Paradise. What the flaming sword was to the first Eden, such is the
malaria to these sweet gardens and grove. We may wander through them,
of an afternoon, it is true, but they cannot be made a home and a
reality, and to sleep among them is death. They are but illusions,
therefore, like the show of gleaming waters and shadowy foliage in a
desert.

But Rome, within the walls, at this dreaded season, enjoys its festal
days, and makes itself merry with characteristic and hereditary
pas-times, for which its broad piazzas afford abundant room. It leads
its own life with a freer spirit, now that the artists and foreign
visitors are scattered abroad. No bloom, perhaps, would be visible in
a cheek that should be unvisited, throughout the summer, by more
invigorating winds than any within fifty miles of the city; no bloom,
but yet, if the mind kept its healthy energy, a subdued and colorless
well-being. There was consequently little risk in Hilda's purpose to
pass the summer days in the galleries of Roman palaces, and her nights
in that aerial chamber, whither the heavy breath of the city and its
suburbs could not aspire. It would probably harm her no more than it
did the white doves, who sought the same high atmosphere at sunset,
and, when morning came, flew down into the narrow streets, about their
daily business, as Hilda likewise did.

With the Virgin's aid and blessing, which might be hoped for even by a
heretic, who so religiously lit the lamp before her shrine, the New
England girl would sleep securely in her old Roman tower, and go forth
on her pictorial pilgrimages without dread or peril. In view of such
a summer, Hilda had anticipated many months of lonely, but unalloyed
enjoyment. Not that she had a churlish disinclination to society, or
needed to be told that we taste one intellectual pleasure twice, and
with double the result, when we taste it with a friend. But, keeping
a maiden heart within her bosom, she rejoiced in the freedom that
enabled her still to choose her own sphere, and dwell in it, if she
pleased, without another inmate.

Her expectation, however, of a delightful summer was woefully
disappointed. Even had she formed no previous plan of remaining there,
it is improbable that Hilda would have gathered energy to stir from
Rome. A torpor, heretofore unknown to her vivacious though quiet
temperament, had possessed itself of the poor girl, like a half-dead
serpent knotting its cold, inextricable wreaths about her limbs. It
was that peculiar despair, that chill and heavy misery, which only the
innocent can experience, although it possesses many of the gloomy
characteristics that mark a sense of guilt. It was that heartsickness,
which, it is to be hoped, we may all of us have been pure enough to
feel, once in our lives, but the capacity for which is usually
exhausted early, and perhaps with a single agony. It was that dismal
certainty of the existence of evil in the world, which, though we may
fancy ourselves fully assured of the sad mystery long before, never
becomes a portion of our practical belief until it takes substance and
reality from the sin of some guide, whom we have deeply trusted and
revered, or some friend whom we have dearly loved.

When that knowledge comes, it is as if a cloud had suddenly gathered
over the morning light; so dark a cloud, that there seems to be no
longer any sunshine behind it or above it. The character of our
individual beloved one having invested itself with all the attributes
of right,--that one friend being to us the symbol and representative
of whatever is good and true,--when he falls, the effect is almost as
if the sky fell with him, bringing down in chaotic ruin the columns
that upheld our faith. We struggle forth again, no doubt, bruised and
bewildered. We stare wildly about us, and discover--or, it may be, we
never make the discovery--that it was not actually the sky that has
tumbled down, but merely a frail structure of our own rearing, which
never rose higher than the housetops, and has fallen because we
founded it on nothing. But the crash, and the affright and trouble,
are as overwhelming, for the time, as if the catastrophe involved the
whole moral world. Remembering these things, let them suggest one
generous motive for walking heedfully amid the defilement of earthly
ways! Let us reflect, that the highest path is pointed out by the
pure Ideal of those who look up to us, and who, if we tread less
loftily, may never look so high again.

Hilda's situation was made infinitely more wretched by the necessity
of Confining all her trouble within her own consciousness. To this
innocent girl, holding the knowledge of Miriam's crime within her
tender and delicate soul, the effect was almost the same as if she
herself had participated in the guilt. Indeed, partaking the human
nature of those who could perpetrate such deeds, she felt her own
spotlessness impugnent.

Had there been but a single friend,--or not a friend, since friends
were no longer to be confided in, after Miriam had betrayed her trust,
--but, had there been any calm, wise mind, any sympathizing
intelligence; or, if not these, any dull, half-listening ear into
which she might have flung the dreadful secret, as into an echoless
cavern, what a relief would have ensued! But this awful loneliness!
It enveloped her whithersoever she went. It was a shadow in the
sunshine of festal days; a mist between her eyes and the pictures at
which she strove to look; a chill dungeon, which kept her in its gray
twilight and fed her with its unwholesome air, fit only for a criminal
to breathe and pine in! She could not escape from it. In the effort
to do so, straying farther into the intricate passages of our nature,
she stumbled, ever and again, over this deadly idea of mortal guilt.

Poor sufferer for another's sin! Poor wellspring of a virgin's heart,
into which a murdered corpse had casually fallen, and whence it could
not be drawn forth again, but lay there, day after day, night after
night, tainting its sweet atmosphere with the scent of crime and ugly
death!

The strange sorrow that had befallen Hilda did not fail to impress its
mysterious seal upon her face, and to make itself perceptible to
sensitive observers in her manner and carriage. A young Italian
artist, who frequented the same galleries which Hilda haunted, grew
deeply interested in her expression. One day, while she stood before
Leonardo da Vinci's picture of Joanna of Aragon, but evidently without
seeing it,--for, though it had attracted her eyes, a fancied
resemblance to Miriam had immediately drawn away her thoughts,--this
artist drew a hasty sketch which he afterwards elaborated into a
finished portrait. It represented Hilda as gazing with sad and
earnest horror at a bloodspot which she seemed just then to have
discovered on her white robe. The picture attracted considerable
notice. Copies of an engraving from it may still be found in the
print shops along the Corso. By many connoisseurs, the idea of the
face was supposed to have been suggested by the portrait of Beatrice
Cenci; and, in fact, there was a look somewhat similar to poor
Beatrice's forlorn gaze out of the dreary isolation and remoteness, in
which a terrible doom had involved a tender soul. But the modern
artist strenuously upheld the originality of his own picture, as well
as the stainless purity its subject, and chose to call it--and was
laughed at for his pains--"Innocence, dying of a Blood-stain!"

"Your picture, Signore Panini, does you credit," remarked the picture
dealer, who had bought it of the young man for fifteen scudi, and
afterwards sold it for ten times the sum; "but it would be worth a
better price if you had given it a more intelligible title. Looking
at the face and expression of this fair signorina, we seem to
comprehend readily enough, that she is undergoing one or another of
those troubles of the heart to which young ladies are but too liable.
But what is this blood-stain? And what has innocence to do with it?
Has she stabbed her perfidious lover with a bodkin?"

"She! she commit a crime!" cried the young artist. "Can you look at
the innocent anguish in her face, and ask that question? No; but, as
I read the mystery, a man has been slain in her presence, and the
blood, spurting accidentally on her white robe, has made a stain which
eats into her life."

"Then, in the name of her patron saint," exclaimed the picture dealer,
"why don't she get the robe made white again at the expense of a few
baiocchi to her washerwoman? No, no, my dear Panini. The picture
being now my property, I shall call it 'The Signorina's Vengeance.'
She has stabbed her lover overnight, and is repenting it betimes the
next morning. So interpreted, the picture becomes an intelligible and
very natural representation of a not uncommon fact."

Thus coarsely does the world translate all finer griefs that meet its
eye. It is more a coarse world than an unkind one.

But Hilda sought nothing either from the world's delicacy or its pity,
and never dreamed of its misinterpretations. Her doves often flew in
through the windows of the tower, winged messengers, bringing her what
sympathy they could, and uttering soft, tender, and complaining sounds,
deep in their bosoms, which soothed the girl more than a distincter
utterance might. And sometimes Hilda moaned quietly among the doves,
teaching her voice to accord with theirs, and thus finding a temporary
relief from the burden of her incommunicable sorrow, as if a little
portion of it, at least, had been told to these innocent friends, and
been understood and pitied.

When she trimmed the lamp before the Virgin's shrine, Hilda gazed at
the sacred image, and, rude as was the workmanship, beheld, or fancied,
expressed with the quaint, powerful simplicity which sculptors
sometimes had five hundred years ago, a woman's tenderness responding
to her gaze. If she knelt, if she prayed, if her oppressed heart
besought the sympathy of divine womanhood afar in bliss, but not
remote, because forever humanized by the memory of mortal griefs, was
Hilda to be blamed? It was not a Catholic kneeling at an idolatrous
shrine, but a child lifting its tear-stained face to seek comfort from
a mother.

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