Murietta did not enter St. Peter's the first day, as do most travellers. He stood before it. Nor did he enter the second day, nor the third, nor the fourth. No, not for many days. This magnificent temple had been to him a sort of Mecca. He hovered about it now; he feared almost to enter it. He looked at it from the Campagna. He admired its symmetry and airy proportions from the mountains of Tivoli twenty miles away. He looked down on the great dome from Monte Mario, and felt for a long time content to remain without.
At last he entered — and was disappointed. It seemed but a small affair after all. He had expected too much.
The walls and columns were hung in red, for it was a festal day, and the effect was anything but grand. The place was black with people moving through and through and there was a sound of voices as if it were a second Babel. He walked to the further end. It was like walking to church from your country seat The place began to look more as he had expected to find it. He walked back towards the great leather apron.
Murietta was a devout Christian, and had dipped his fingers in the bowl of holy water, which is supported by reclining cherubs against the pillars to the right and left as you enter. These cherubs at first sight seemed to be no bigger than your hand. Now, as he looked at them again, they began to grow and expand, and expand and grow, till they grew to be larger than a grown man.
He walked back and stood beneath the dome.
The people went and came, poured. past, talked loud, knelt and prayed in silence, stood up and prayed aloud, or admired, or condenmed, or disparaged. There were at least a hundred voices singing to the left, and many deep-throated instruments filled the place with melody.
"Do you see the angel that holds the pen?'' said one man with an eye-glass and long whiskers and black clothes, and a red covered guide book in his hand.
Another man — a tall, lean, hungry looking man, with a mournful face and a threadbare coat, with an umbrella under his arm — took off his spectacles, rubbed them, looked up, and then from under his spectacles said, "Do you see that pen in the hand of the angel away up yonder at the base of the dome?"
"Yes." said a tall bony woman in goldrimmed glasses.
The spectacles came down; the long neck relaxed; the long, lean figure that had reached and tiptoed and towered up above the crowd, came down, an umbrella went up, jammed tight up under the arm like an arrow in rest, and the bow bent as if it was about to shoot.
"Well, that pen looks just precisely the size of an ordinary goose-quill, in an ordinary hand, does it not? "
"Yes, doctor, yes," answered the tall, thin Special Correspondent, stretching her long neck up and above the mass of people.
"Well," answered the missionary of Naples, as he shot his arrow down into the floor and sprang up like a bow let loose, "well, that pen is just fifteen feet long, fifteen feet long! Just think of it! fifteen feet long!" and at every emphatic "fifteen" he shot his catapult against the floor till it trembled with the concussion.
"Such, madam, is St. Peter's! You see a column here that does not look so big after all. Good. Look at the man beside it: he does not stand knee high to the statue there that only looks to be life size. — Ah, my friend! delighted to see you."
The missionary had caught sight of Murietta, who had been thrown by the tide of people at his elbow.
"Ah, so delighted to see you!" The umbrella went up, and the tombstone face with its weeping willows came down, but not so far down as of old. And then the face did not look so much like a monument as it did before. The missionary had evidently been having some good fortune. The man had been dining; the new moon was filling up; the bow was a little stiff; even the umbrella did not seem so long and lean as before; it seemed to have got some meat on its ribs as well as the missionary.
If you want a man to bow right well, leave him a little hungry; don't let him be too fat; that will make him stiff. The politest man in the world, in the matter of bows at least, is a man who wants a dinner. Perhaps that is why certain Italian and French adventurers are so very civil.
"Yes," continued the tombstone, as it leaned on the umbrella like a man who feels that he is at last of some importance, "yes, I have been persuaded to leave for a season the onerous duties of my post, and journey through Southern Italy for my health. And," (here he bowed profoundly to the " Special,") " I am now in the hands of this gifted lady and her good friends from Boston; and I gather bones."
"Gather bones!" scowled Murietta.
"Yes, yes; bones and other antiquities; but bones is my speciality. You see, at Naples I had got together several very fine specimens, among which I may mention a thigh bone of Saint Thomas, the left radius of the elder Pliny, the os frontis of Saint Helena, once Empress of Constantinople; also a very well preserved cast of a baby found in the streets of Pompeii. Heaven raised me up a friend, a gentleman of fortune, who desired to finish this collection. That is now my mission. We hope to get among the Capuchins and carry off one of their best specimens of dried monks. As for the Catacombs, I shall be perfectly at home there, and trust me to get hold of a few bones of Saint Cecilia."
The umbrella shot down; the tombstone shot up; and the missionary again addressed himself to the Special Correspondent.
The music rose and rolled and sounded through the vast edifice, and then came softly back and died away as other notes followed, as wave follows wave upon the beach. The priests were passing here and there with lighted candles. A thousand people moved here and there with red books held up before them, and they read aloud as they walked, and looked up and about, and wondered and uttered exclamations as they went.
There were figures, men and women, who ran against each other, and talked in loud, harsh tones: they held these red covered books up before them as if they had been a sort of lamp to their feet.
Murietta wearied of this. To him it was revolting. Here were all things that ought to inspire devotion — that did inspire devotion in the Latin. In the Saxon it seemed to excite something half akin to contempt.
"Do you see those mighty twisted columns of bronze that support the canopy above the sacred relics, and the eternal lamps that lead down to the vault? " said one. " Well, those columns are made of the melted doors of the Pantheon."
"Ah yes," answered another, reading aloud from the guide-book as he bustled up against a fat man who was also reading aloud; "ah yes, and this floor, the very floor of St. Peter's, was plundered from the Baths of Caracalla."
Murietta had turned to go away and find the quiet of the great piazza. His mind was sad, fevered, excited. He had been thinking again of his ideal. Even now, as he walked towards the great leathern doors that kept constantly thundering their protest against the rude crowd that pushed and rushed, and went and came, he shook his hair as if to shake off this confusion and sacrilegious tumult. And then he sighed, and said, "I scattered roses in her path as she rode that morning up the fiery mountain. But then in the dusk by the sea she turned her face away, and she did not answer me."
He moved on toward the door, with his head held down, and his hat in his hand.
There were a hundred people — peasants, princes, merchants, pirates, brigands, priests, all kinds and all classes — kneeling before and praying to the statue of St. Peter.
The missionary had got the point of his umbrella in between the toes of a cherub weeping at a tomb, and was trying to split them off as a relic of St. Peter's. The passing stranger smiled at his efforts; but one good Samaritan from his own country came slyly up to him, slipped a hammer into his hand, and then as the organ pealed its deepest surge, he struck the little cherub on its marble toes with all his might, and the burglary was accomplished.
Murietta passed on towards the door disgusted. There was a row of people standing before the figure of St. Peter: they were waiting their turn to kiss his sacred toe. A devotee would step up to the toe, which is — or was before it was so much worn away by pious lips — set out a little way over the pedestal, and leaning, would wipe or hastily brush the toe with his handkerchief, and then touching the toe with his lips, would bend the head a little more and touch the foot with his forehead; then he would wipe the toe as he passed on, for the man or woman, the prince or peasant, who was waiting his turn behind him.
There were mothers with their little chil- dren. They had in some cases borne these children on their backs, hundreds of miles from out the mountains all the way to Rome on foot, only to touch their little lips to this sacred toe of St. Peter, and thus secure and insure an entrance into heaven. Sometimes a devotee would tiptoe up, reach over, and kiss the other foot; but as a rule they were content to touch the one which stood reached out and on a level with the lips.
Murietta turned to look at this as he passed. To him it had a meaning and a beauty. 'Twas Faith, and Hope, and Charity. A prince of the north was kneeling now, and with him was a bishop from South America, and an ex-king. They were gorgeously dressed, and were very pious and very penitent. As they approached to kiss the sacred toe, the crowd gave way, the peasants stepped back and left an open space and the place free to the pious pilgrims who had come so far to invoke the pity of St. Peter.
But there was one who did not give way.
She stood close up by the statue. She lifted up her face and looked, with her gold spectacles, right into the face of St. Peter. Then dipping into her pocket, she fumbled among guide-books, note-books, maps, relics, and antiquities, and brought forth a little carpenter's rule, and calmly proceeded to measure the foot of St. Peter, as if to calculate how much of it had been kissed away. Perhaps the ex-king thought this singular instrument in the hands of this singular woman was a kind of cross, or sacred symbol of worship. At all events, he bowed his head and reached his lips as the woman laid her rule along the foot and measured to the toe.
The lips of the ex-king touched and kissed the brass end of the carpenter's rule held in the hand of the ex-schoolmistress of Connecticut. Extremes meet. The world is round.
Murietta had almost reached the door when the great leathern apron fluttered and thundered louder than before.
He started back and stood leaning, almost falling, against the feet of the cherub that supports the bowl of holy water.
The beautiful Countess Edna, the lady in pink, had entered, and was standing there, with her great brown eyes wide open, and wandering in a sort of dreamy wonder about her.
How beautiful she was! Ah, how more than beautiful! The rose and sea-shell colour of her face and neck, the soft baby complexion, the sweet surprise on her face, the old expression of inquiry and longing, the lips pushed out and pouting full and longing for love, the mouth half opened as if to ask you the way into some great brave heart where she could enter in and sit down and rest as in some sacred temple.
She stood there like a fluttered bird. Her maid was near her. A man stood behind her. Murietta did not move. He did not dare to move for fear of disturbing the vision before him. He had thirsted for this sight all his life. It had been to him an ideal that he had despaired to see. It had never taken any real shape in his mind. Unlike Annette, he could never have painted this woman before he saw her. But now that he saw her standing thus, in this new light, he knew that he had seen her away down deep in the well of his soul, even from his cradle up.
She stood still as in a dream. Her face now began to grow more radiant as the organ rose and rolled and died away and swelled again, and a half smile played over the beautiful baby face. The lips whispered as if to things unseen. Her soul was like an opening rose.
Then the organ pealed again, and the woman moved. She stepped, she turned, she whirled. Her face was beaming, and her eyes were full of a new and uncommon lustre.
She whirled as in a dance. Her pink robes traHed and swept the glossy marble; her pink feet shot in and out and kept time to the music; and her pretty hands swayed as she spun, and whirled, and glided around and around; and the diamonds shone on her fingers as the little hands waved in the dreamy movement of the waltz.
Her faithful maid followed her in her giddy dance, and as she stopped, radiant, smiling, pushing out her pretty mouth, half opening her lips as if to take her breath, she lifted her black lace mantle about her, pushed back the golden fold of hair that had fallen about her face, but did not say a word.
People were all a-wonder. Priests were coming forward by the dozen. All this had been done in a moment, but it was not a thing to be tolerated or passed over.
A priest stood before her. She handed him some money.
"For your poor, father."
The priest bowed himself before the lady and melted away into the crowd.
Then came another, a sterner and an older priest. She looked at him and smiled. He was melted away even without a bow. There was a little consultation among the priests as they stood behind a massive column under the monument of the Queen of Sweden.
Then three priests, headed by one of dignity and authority, came to the beautiful Countess Edna as she walked on slowly toward the statue of St. Peter.
The priests moved on in a circuit and came up before her.
"I have brought you some money" said this wonderful woman in a voice low and soft and sweet as the far-off sound of the silver trumpets that are heard no more from the mighty dome above the sacred statue which she was approaching.
She stretched out her hand, smiled, and the angry priests were angry no longer, but they too melted away, and were no more seen.
Murietta had followed her without knowing it. He followed her as he would have followed any other most beautiful thing in all the world. If it had been possible for that most beautiful thing to come in any other form than that of woman, he would have followed that also just the same. He felt that the beautiful was to him a sort of special property to look upon. He knew how very, very few there are in the world who know what beauty is. He knew perfectly well how rare was perfect beauty. He knew the rareness of this occasion, and knew it would never happen again in the world to him. Yet he did not know he followed her. If he had asked himself where he was standing, and had not taken heed to look about him, he would have answered that he was resting still against the chubby little cherub that puffed its fat cheeks above the bowl of holy water.
The lady stopped before the image of St. Peter; but it was evident that her feelmgs, as she contemplated it, were not those of devotion. There was a touch of pity, a touch of tenderness in her face as she saw the poor, ragged, ignorant wretches from the fields bow before this image, and rise and kiss the cold and unanswering metal.
A rough hand touched her arm. She started as if she had been stung by a snake, and uttered a cry of pain.
Murietta sprang forward and almost caught her in his arms.
"I am a man," thundered a voice that came from out the crowd close by, "I am a man who carries his heart in his hand." The great chin thrust itself in between the lady and Murietta, just as she was reaching her hand in grateful recognition.
"I am a man, sir,' continued the admiral, "who carries his heart in his hand. You know me. You know me to be a blunt but honest sailor; and I tell you candidly, madam, that this levity in this holy temple will not do."
"My dear, it will not do," echoed the count, who came in behind the admiral.
The lady was overcome with embarrassment and mortification.
Then she laughed like an Apennine cascade.
"What! this holy temple! This great hideous, hollow piece of architecture that is only fit to be seen ten miles away on the Campagna. This sacred temple built of other temples plundered for the purpose — this temple with every stone wet with blood and tears wrung from the poor — from Christ's poor! "
The admiral had taken a book from his pocket and was writing as fast as he could.
"What are you doing there? "
"I am writing down all this, madam; all that you have done and said against the holy religion."
"Holy religion! Holy indeed it must be that can harbour such monsters as you! "
She tried to pass as she spoke. The admiral caught her by the arm and wrenched it as he set his teeth with rage.
The lady screamed with fright and pain. The count timidly remonstrated, and the ruffian swore as if he had been a pirate.
A crowd was gathering, and priests came forward. The admiral knew too much to create a scene there, and fell back.
"Come with me, Murietta," cried the lady.
"I am a man, Murietta, who carries his heart in his hand. How do you do? How do you do? I am your friend, believe me. I am your friend. A rough but honest sailor."
The count, with his old politeness, bowed and smiled as was his custom.
"Come," cried the lady, " I shall die here. I cannot breathe this atmosphere."
"Murietta," growled the admiral, " mind what you do; this is not your affiair."
"This is not your affair, Signor Murietta. Please to be careful what you do," said the count as he bowed and smiled once more.
"Will you not come with me? I need you."
"He will not come, madam," thundered the admiral.
"I need you — I need you. Are you a man? O, is there one man in Rome? "
Murietta was by her side. He took her hand, passed it under his arm, and almost lifted her as he elbowed his way to the door.
His face was red with anger. He had suddenly grown blind with rage.
"Two men against one woman!" He ground his teeth as he said this to himself, and turned on the edge of the crowd to look back and see if he was followed.
He almost wished he had been followed. He would perhaps have left the lady standing there with her maid beside the bowl of holy water and— devout Christian as he was — would have sprung like a tiger at the throat of her enemy.
They were not followed. The count and admiral were perhaps lost in the crowd. Yet had they truly sought to find the lady in pink, it had certainly been no task to find her.
He dipped his fingers in the holy water, drew a long breath, and his sudden impulse and passion had passed.
"You will pardon me, sir. Some time I may tell you all. I meant no harm, you see. But whenever I enter St. Peter's, I am always seized with a desire to dance. It looks so much like a great ball-room hung ready for the dancers. See! how gay! how bright! how many-coloured and fantastic! Why, is it not a ballroom? Do you not hear the music playdng yonder? Do you not see the dancers moving up and down? Why, that old monk there in that fustian dress is already drunk with wine, and the ball is only just begun!"
Murietta looked at her in pity. "Surely, surely she is mad," he said to himself as he again dipped his fingers in the holy water and piously crossed himself as he bowed his head.
She suddenly grew very grave. "I am by nature a devotee. I should have made a good Catholic, a good fire worshipper, a good anything that demands a whole and an undivided heart. But I will not be led. I will not be blindfolded, or at least I will not hold up the scales to my own eyes. Look here! Do you see this?"
The peasants were still filing past, bowing before and kissing the foot of St. Peter.
"Is that religion? No! Yes! I will answer for you. It is on the part of the peasant. On the part of the priest, who knows better, it is blasphemy. Not one of those poor toilers can read. Not one of them knows what the true religion is. They are the poorest, the lowest, the most miserable beings on earth. And who made them so? The men who built St. Peter's. What keeps them so? St. Peter's. I would blow St. Peter's to the moon! "
Murietta was more embarrassed and puzzled than before. They were moving towards the door. He did not answer her, but lifted the edge of the great leathern apron, handed the priest a few coppers, and the two passed out, followed by the maid, and descended to the carriages at the foot of the great circular steps.Start reading Chapter 17 ofThe One Fair Lady