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“It was vacation-time, and that gave me aloose from my business at the bar; for it was the season after the summer's heat, when autumn promised fair, and put on the face of temperate. We set out, therefore, in the morning early, and as we were walking upon the sea-shore, and a kindly breeze fanned and refreshed our limbs, and the yielding sand softly submitted to our feet and made it delicious travelling, Cæcilius on a sudden espied the statue of Serapis, and, according to the vulgar mode of superstition, raised his hand to his mouth, and paid his adoration in kisses. Upon which, Octavius, addressing himself to me, said, — . It is not well done, my brother Marcus, thus to leave your inseparable companion in the depth of vulgar darkness, and to suffer him, in so clear a day, to stumble upon stones ; stones, indeed, of figure, and anointed with oil, and crowned; but stones, however, still they
you cannot but be sensible that your permitting so foul an error in your friend redounds no less to your disgrace than his.' This discourse of his held us through half the city; and now we began to find ourselves upon the free and open shore. There the gently washing waves had spread the extremest sands into the order of an artificial walk; and as the sea always expresses some roughness in his looks, even when the winds are still, although he did not roll in foam and angry surges to the shore, yet were we much delighted, as we walked upon the edges of the water, to see the crisping, frizzly waves glide in snaky folds, one while playing against our feet, and then again retiring and lost in the devouring ocean. Softly then, and calmly as the sea about us, we travelled on, and kept upon the brim of the gently declining shore, beguiling the way with our stories."
Here the sound of the convent-bell interrupted the reading of the monk, and, closing the volume, he replaced it in his bosom, and bade me farewell, with a parting injunction to read the “ Octavius ” of Minutius Felix as soon as I should return to Rome.
During the summer months, La Riccia is a favorite resort of foreign artists who are pursuing their studies in the churches and galleries of Rome. Tired of copying the works of art,
they go forth to copy the works of nature; and you will find them perched on their campstools at every picturesque point of view, with white umbrellas to shield them from the sun, and paint-boxes upon their knees, sketching with busy hands the smiling features of the landscape. The peasantry, too, are fine models for their study. The women of Genzano are noted for their beauty, and almost every village in the neighborhood has something peculiar in its costume.
The sultry day was closing, and I had reached, in my accustomed evening's walk, the woodland gallery that looks down upon the Alban Lake. The setting sun seemed to melt away in the sky, dissolving into a golden rain, that bathed the whole Campagna with unearthly splendor; while Rome in the distance, half-hidden, half-revealed, lay floating like a mote in the broad and misty sunbeam. The woodland walk before me seemed roofed with gold and emerald ; and at intervals across its leafy arches shot the level rays of the sun, kindling, as they passed, like the burning shaft of Acestes. Beneath me the lake slept quietly. A blue, smoky vapor floated around its overhanging cliffs ; the tapering cone of Monte Cavo hung reflected in the water; a little boat skimmed along its glassy surface, and I could even hear the sound of the laboring oar, so motionless and silent was the air around me.
I soon reached the convent of Castel Gandolfo. Upon one of the stone benches of the esplanade sat a monk with a book in his hand. He saluted me, as I approached, and some trivial remarks upon the scene before us led us into conversation. I observed by his accent that he was not a native of Italy, though he spoke Italian with great fluency. In this opinion I was confirmed by his saying that he should soon bid farewell to Italy and return to his native lakes and mountains in the north of Ireland. I then said to him in English,
“How strange, that an Irishman and an Anglo-American should be conversing together in Italian upon the shores of Lake Albano ! ”
“ It is strange," said he, with a smile; “ though stranger things have happened. But I owe the pleasure of this meeting to a circumstance which changes that pleasure into pain. I have been detained here many weeks beyond the time I had fixed for my departure by the illness of a friend, who lies at the point of death within the walls of this convent."
“ Is he, too, a Capuchin friar like yourself ?”
“ He is. We came together from our native land, some six years ago, to study at the Jesuit College in Rome. This summer we were to have returned home again ; but I shall now make the journey alone.”
“Is there, then, no hope of his recovery?”
“None whatever," answered the monk, shaking his head. “He has been brought to this convent from Rome, for the benefit of a purer air ; but it is only to die, and be buried near the borders of this beautiful lake. He is a victim of consumption. But come with me to his cell. He will feel it a kindness to have you visit him. Such a mark of sympathy in a stranger will be grateful to him in this foreign land, where friends are so few.”
We entered the chapel together, and, ascending a flight of steps beside the altar, passed into the cloisters of the convent. Another flight of steps led us to the domitories above, in one of which the sick man lay. Here my guide left me for a moment, and softly entered a neighboring cell. He soon returned and beckoned me to come in. The room was dark and hot; for the window-shutters had been closed to keep out the rays of the sun, that in the after part of the day fell unobstructed upon the western wall of the convent. In one corner of the little room, upon a pallet of straw, lay the sick man, with his face towards the wall. As I entered, he raised himself upon his elbow, and, stretching out his hand to me, said, in a faint voice, — "I am glad to see you. It is kind in
to make me this visit.” Then speaking to his friend, he begged him to open the shutters and let in the light and air; and as the bright sunbeam through the wreathing vapors of evening played upon the wall and ceiling, he said, with a sigh, — " How beautiful is an Italian sunset! Its splendor is all around us, as if we stood in the horizon itself and could touch the sky. And yet, to a sick man's feeble and distempered sight, it has a wan and sickly hue. He turns away with an aching heart from the splendor he cannot en
joy. The cool air seems the only friendly thing that is left for him."
As he spake, a deeper shade of sadness stole over his pale countenance, sallow and attenuated by long illness. But it soon passed off: and as the conversation changed to other topies, he grew cheerful again. He spoke of his return to his native land with childish delight. This hope had not deserted him. It seemed never to have entered his mind that even this consolation would be denied him, — that death would thwart even these fond anticipations.
“ I shall soon be well enough,” said he, “ to undertake the journey; and, oh, with what delight shall I turn my back upon the Apennines! We shall cross the Alps into Switzerland, then go down the Rhine to England, and soon, soon we shall see the shores of the Emerald Isle, and once more embrace father, mother, sisters! By my profession, I have renounced the world, but not those holy emotions of love which are one of the highest attributes of the soul, and which, though sown in corruption here, shall hereafter be raised in incorruption. No; even he that died for us upon the cross, in the last hour, in the unutterable agony of death, was mindful of his mother; as if to teach us that this holy love should be our last worldly thought, the last point of earth from which the soul should take its flight for heaven.”
He ceased to speak. His eyes were fastened upon the sky with a fixed and steady gaze, though all unconsciously, for his thoughts were far away amid the scenes of his distant home. As I left his cell, he seemed sinking to sleep, and hardly noticed my departure. The gloom of twilight had already filled the cloisters; the monks were chanting their evening hymn in the chapel; and one unbroken shadow spread through the long cathedral aisle of forest-trees which led me homeward. There, in the silence of the hour, and amid the almost sepulchral gloom of the woodland scene, I tried to impress upon my careless heart the serious and affecting lesson I had learned.
I saw the sick monk no more; but a day or two afterward I heard in the village that he had departed, — not for an earthly, but for a heavenly bome.