Under the Arch of Titus, with the images of the golden candlesticks brought from plundered and overthrown Jerusalem, and then down a steep and stony road the distance of a rifle shot, and the man with the string of fire crackers stopped snapping his silk, looked back over his shoulder at Murietta, waved his hand towards a structure that towered there like a dome of Yosemite, and Murietta got out of the little basket trap, handed the silent man with the silk and fire-crackers a franc, and passing through an arch that a ship might sail under, stood in the Coliseum.
This entrance was at the west. The moon was just then trying hard to get up high enough in the east to look into the arena. There were many people passing slowly and silently around.
On the left hand a party was just arranging to go up with the guide and mount the topmost wall to the north. They were lighting torches and laughing and talking so loud that Murietta knew that the American was abroad and in Rome.
There was a great black cross in the centre of the little half a mile circle of levelled ground, and there were people coming and passing before it, and kneeling in circcles around it, and rising up in silence, and passing out, bowed and penitent and silent as they had entered.
All the time the moon to the east was sliding around and climbing up and peeping oveer the loftiest and strongest wall that now stands up to tell us of the mighty builders of old.
The party to the left began their ascent and now and then you could see their torches trough the the broken arches, and you would hear an owl beat his wings against the wall as he flew about blinded and awakened. You coul hear the American shout now and then in a sort of war whoop of triumph as he gained some great height and got a particularly good view of Rome and the Campagna outside the walls of the city.
The moon at last seemed to get her chin up over the edge of the wall, and peeped in like a great round-faced country girl full of curiosity.
A little party of priests in black came by, walked across the ground sacreed to the Christion Martyrs, and did not even whisper. Then a Capuchin monk, bareheaded and in sandals, with a rope around his thin and emaciated frame his on long brown garment, the only thing he is permitted to wear, walked slowly from station to station around the edge of the arena, and said a prayer at each as he passed.
What a pitiful face was his! He was literally starving to death. If these Capuchin monks in sandals and brown robes bound up with hempen cords do not get to heaven they will be losers indeed, for earth to them can only be a torment and cricifixion.
I have seen pictures of these pious men where they are made merry with wine, red faced and riotous with good living, fat from overfeeding, and sitting drunk at the wine tap in their cellars. These men have no wine cellars. Their cellar is a little wooden basket or box which they carry on the arm, and lifting the lid from door to door, they take home whatever men have left from their breakfasts or dinners or suppers. They eat what others refuse to eat. They have no store here. They are not permitted to lay in store. They live from day to day, depending on the charity of the world.
When these men rise at four o'clock in the morning and go shivering to prayers in this one brown garment, often two or three years old and threadbare and full of rents, they do not know what they are to have for breakfast, or where that breakfast is to come from.
You may listen all day and you will not hear one of these brown men speak. You may look a lifetime, perhaps, and you will not see one of them smile.
The mournful Capuchin kept on his silent and solitary round of penance, and the people came and went from under the shadow of the great black cross in the centre of the sacred ground, while away up yonder, almost against the stars, a Comanche savage in the garb of a Christian shouted his delight at having at last attained the topmost rock of the Coliseum.
Then through the eastern arch, looking out toward the gate of St. John Lateran, there came a party of peasants who had just entered here on their way to market. They had made a long journey on foot from the hills away out yonder twenty miles across the Campagna, and were very tired. They huddled up close together and seemed half afraid. Perhaps this was their first visit to Rome, for the peasants of the mountains had ever a terror of this city.
There were old men and young men, old women and young women, and they all bore loads on their backs in great baskets. precisely as do the Mexican peasants and the California Indians. These baskets are pointed at the bottom, and broaden out towards the top. You see these same baskets in Como, in the Tyrol, and in Switzerland.
There was something beautiful in the trust and faith and sense of security with which these half wild people of the mountains gathered about this cross, and bowed their heads and invoked their God.
The women had their hair in pretty braids, but the long, black, and bushy hair of the men fell down in gloomy folds about their shoulders and pushed up in great shocks about the brows, as if determined, to push the black and brigandish hat, feather and all, from the head of its proud and artistic owner.
The feet of all were bound in sandals made from the skins of the buffalo bull of the Pontine marshes, and the legs were wound up in some kind of cloth and bound in a plaid work of many coloured stripes. How beautiful were these women kneeling there, crouching close to husband, parent, or lover, as if in fear that the old story of Romulus and the Sabines might be repeated.
Go out yonder to Tivoli, an old town, old when Rome was young, that overlooks the Campagna and that overlooks Rome, that looks over Rome and on and into the Mediterranean Sea, although twenty miles to the east, and ask any peasant there, no matter how wild and savage he may be, how ignorant or stupid, about Rome and the people of Rome.
The hands of the peasant go up, and he prays for deliverance. Rome to him is a sort of purgatory. No, no, no, he would not go to Rome for the world! The men of Rome are robbers, the women have neither virtue nor beauty. And then if you have a little time and a very little money to spare to buy two cents worth of wine, he will sit with you till the bottle is finished and will tell you, word for word, of this Rape of the Sabines. He will tell it to you with all the earnestness and mystery and emphasis of a Hamlet. He will leave his marble bench at least a dozen times before the bottle or the story is finished, to play the piece, to show you just exactly how bad the people are in Rome, and how they do these things.
What is very remarkable about this, and most amusing, is the fact that he tells it as if it happened only within the last year or two.
No wonder these weary peasants kneeling before the cross, as the moon still kept climbing up and reaching out and peering over as if to get a good look at them, huddled up close together, and kept looking from under their dark brows at any strange footstep that came near, with all the look of a wild beast for the first time brought to look into the face of man.
Murietta kept close in the shadow of the mighty wall and out of the full of the moonlight, and yet stole up as close to these people as possible, for to him they had a strange interest. He looked on their picturesque dress and their savage beauty with something more than the interest of a painter. To him they were but a counterpart of the people with whom he had spent most of his life. They were to him in some sense brothers — men who knew not civilization or its sins, men who lived close to the earth, women who blossomed down in the lowliest fields, and he felt he loved them with all of a brother's affection.
The moon kept climbing and climbing, and peering in and peeping over, till it looked right straight down on the group of gathered worshippers kneeling under the shadow of the great black cross, and made a picture that any man might remember, carry with him around the world, hang on the walls of his heart, and wear it there! and though fire and flood might sweep away all that he possessed in the world, still that picture should remain and rest and refresh its possessor whenever he chose to open his heart and look in again.
Higher and higher the moon climbed up, till her great round face reached high over the wall, and she seemed to reach and lean and look and peer as if for something back in the shadow that she could not see. Higher and higher she climbed, and looked and leaned and reached her face above and over the walls, and down as if she would twist her neck from her shoulders. Up! up! up! over the wall and down. And then she saw her! and then she touched her with her fingers, and the lady rose up and came forth into the full light, and moved in silence on towards the cross, with her head held down in her hands, her maid following after, and a man back yonder in the corner of the Coliseum with his enormous chin just visible in a bar of moonlight that fell through a rent in the eternal wall. A little slender man stood beside him — a shadow, an echo.
Murietta started. He stepped back into the shadow of the wall, and the beautiful countess went on, slowly on, with her hands to her bended face, towards the cross and the supplicants before it. This woman did seem so beautiful, she seemed so sad, so weirdly beautiful and pitiful — the scene was so strange, so inspiring, so full of soul and sentiment, so complete — that Murietta leaned against a jutting spur of the wall and grew tranquil from the greatness and perfection and fulness of the occasion.
He heard a sob as the woman passed, and in the moonlight streaming full on her face he saw something glistening like diamonds from her fingers. She was weeping as if her heart would break.
The big man came out from the shadow, and the little man came also, and they stood there scowling on the scene before them.
"Come! enough of this nonsense to night."
The man with the big chin had tried to say this in a subdued voice, but the roar of the lion was only subdued to a growl, and his voice sounded as if it had been that of a lion of old lying there, waiting for the blood of a Christian, growling that he had been kept waiting a moment for his prey — and the peasants trembled.
"Come! enough of this nonsense tonight," said the echo.
But the count spoke in a kinder tone, a sort of softened echo, and he even lifted his hat as he spoke. The admiral frowned, and then the count took down his hand, and tried to frown also and look terrible.
"Come! Come away from among these beasts; you'll get fleas on you." The peasants, startled, huddled together a moment, prayed devoutly, and then began to rise and resume their loads.
"Come away, will you? You'll get fleas on you," said the little count, and the countess, also startled by the terrible voice, rose up, turned her face from the men without answering or even looking in their direction, and walked rapidly, with her head down and her face half concealed, towards the eastern portal.
"That's the way to do it," growled the admiral to the count as the two followed after her.
"That's the way to do it, I suppose," said the count, and they followed the countess through the archway, and the three were gone.
Murietta was full of emotion. Here was something to do better than go to battle. Here was a woman certainly suffering, certainly being persecuted to death; a sort of dreamer possibly who had not any practical sense, and so, perhaps, knew not how to proceed to extricate herself from the toils that held her in her prison.
All of the best part of Marietta's nature was being aroused again.
Here is a man to be punished — a woman to be avenged! But how? What will be the result? The result! He laughed at himself, and began to despise himself that he could stop to ask the result or weigh the danger when a lady needed his help. He walked on out, mechanically following the long line of peasants on their way to market.
All roads lead to Rome. The carters drove off in advance; the peasants followed, and then Murietta came on slowly after. He stopped as he came up to the Arch of Titus. There was an old woman on the left under the shadow of the arch, stretching a little tin cup with a few centimes in it, and calling out, "Blind! blind! blind!"
He stopped, after stepping up close to her with some pence in his hand, and stepped back. There was an old man on the other side of the arch who seemed not only to have his eyes, but to be very comfortable as well as something of a merchant, for he had roasted chestnuts and apples and almonds for sale.
Murietta turned and gave this man the pennies, and passed on almost cursing the wretched old woman with the tin box.
"No, no, no! I loved her in a grand proud way. I did not persecute her. I stood far off content to know that she lived and was happy. I did not even speak to her. I scattered roses in her path. And what came of it? " ,
He set his teeth together as he said this, and set his face and his heart against woman.Start reading Chapter 11 ofThe One Fair Lady