Изображения страниц

down, and said: "I have not much left to show-yet stay! Here are still some little things of interest." He then opened the door into his bedroom, and took down from a nail above his bed a wooden Crucifix. Few things have fascinated me more than this Crucifix-produced without parade, half negligently, from the dregs of his collection by a dealer in old curiosities at Crema. The cross was, or is-for it is lying on the table now before me-twenty-one inches in length, made of strong wood, covered with coarse yellow parchment, and shod at the four ends with brass. The Christ is roughly hewn in reddish wood, coloured scarlet where the blood streams from the five wounds. Over the head an oval medallion, nailed into the cross, serves as framework to a minature of the Madonna, softly smiling with a Correggiesque simper. The whole Crucifix is not a work of art, but such as may be found in every convent. Its date cannot be earlier than the beginning of the eighteenth century. As I held it in my hand, I thought-perhaps this has been carried to the bedside of the sick and dying; preachers have brandished it from the pulpit over conscience-stricken congregations; monks have knelt before it on the brick floor of their cells, and novices have kissed it in the vain desire to drown their yearnings after the relinquished world; perhaps it has attended criminals to the scaffold, and heard the secrets of repentant murderers; but why should it be shown me as a thing of rarity? These thoughts passed through my mind, while Signor Folcioni quietly remarked: "I bought this Cross from the Frati when their convent was dissolved in Crema." Then he bade me turn it round, and showed a little steel knob fixed into the back between the arms. This was a spring. He pressed it, and the upper and lower parts of the cross came asunder; and holding the top like a handle, I drew out as from a scabbard a sharp steel blade, concealed in the thickness of the wood, behind the very body of the agonizing Christ. What had been a Crucifix became a deadly poniard in my grasp, and the rust upon it in the twilight looked like blood. "I have often wondered," said Signor Folcioni, "that the Frati cared to sell me this."

There is no need to raise the question of the genuineness of this strange relic, though I confess to having had my doubts about it, or to wonder for what nefarious purposes the impious weapon was designedwhether the blade was inserted by some rascal monk who never told the tale, or whether it was used on secret service by the friars. On its surface the infernal engine carries a dark certainty of treason, sacrilege, and violence. Yet it would be wrong to incriminate the Order of St. Francis by any suspicion, and idle to seek the actual history of this mysterious weapon. A writer of fiction could indeed produce some dark tale in the style of de Stendhal's Nouvelles, and christen it The Crucifix of Crema. And how delighted would Webster have been if he had chanced to hear of such a sword-sheath! He might have placed it in the hands of Bosola for the keener torment of his Duchess. Flamineo might have used it; or the disguised friars, who made the death-bed of

Bracciano hideous, might have plunged it in the Duke's heart after mocking his eyes with the figure of the suffering Christ. To imagine such an instrument of moral terror mingled with material violence, lay within the scope of Webster's sinister and powerful genius. But unless he had seen it with his eyes, what poet would have ventured to devise the thing and display it even in the dumb show of a tragedy? Fact is more wonderful than romance. No apocalypse of Antichrist matches what is told of Roderigo Borgia; and the crucifix of Crema exceeds the sombre fantasy of Webster.

Whatever may be the truth about this cross, it has at any rate the value of a symbol or a metaphor. The idea which it materialises, the historical events of which it is a sign, may well arrest attention. A sword concealed in the crucifix-what emblem brings more forcibly to mind than this that two-edged glaive of persecution which Dominic unsheathed to mow down the populations of Provence and to make Spain destitute of men? Looking upon the crucifix of Crema, we may seem to see pestilence-stricken multitudes of Moors and Jews dying on the coasts of Africa and Italy. The Spaniards enter Mexico; and this is the cross they carry in their hands. They take possession of Peru; and while the gentle people of the Incas come to kiss the bleeding brows of Christ, they plunge this dagger in their sides. What, again, was the temporal power of the Papacy but a sword embedded in a cross? Each Papa Re, when he ascended the Holy Chair, was forced to take the crucifix of Crema and to bear it till his death. A long procession of war-loving Pontiffs, levying armies and paying captains with the pence of St. Peter, in order to keep by arms the lands they had acquired by fraud, defiles before our eyes. First goes the terrible Sixtus IV., who died of grief when news was brought him that the Italian princes had made peace. He it was who sanctioned the conspiracy to murder the Medici in church, at the moment of the elevation of the Host. The brigands hired to do this work, refused at the last moment. The sacrilege appalled them. "Then," says the chronicler, was found a priest, who being used to churches, had no scruple." The poignard this priest carried was this crucifix of Crema. After Sixtus came the blood-stained Borgia; and after him Julius II., whom the Romans in triumphal songs proclaimed a second Mars, and who turned, as Michael Angelo expressed it, the chalices of Rome into swords and helms. Leo X., who dismembered Italy for his brother and nephew: and Clement VII., who broke the neck of Florence and delivered the Eternal City to the spoiler, follow. Of the antinomy between the Vicariate of Christ and an earthly kingdom, incarnated by these and other Holy Fathers, what symbol could be found more fitting than a dagger with a crucifix for case and covering


It is not easy to think or write of these matters without rhetoric. When I laid my head upon my pillow that night in the Albergo del Pozza at Crema, it was full of such thoughts; and when at last sleep came, it brought with it a dream begotten doubtless by the perturbation

of my fancy. For I thought that a brown Franciscan, with hollow cheeks, and eyes aflame beneath his heavy cowl, sat by my bed-side, and, as he raised the crucifix in his lean quivering hands, whispered a tale of deadly passion and of dastardly revenge. His confession carried me away to a convent garden of Palermo; and there was love in the story, and hate that is stronger than love, and, for the ending of the whole matter, remorse which dies not even in the grave. Each new possessor of the crucifix of Crema, he told me, was forced to hear from him in dreams his dreadful history. But, since it was a dream and nothing more, why should I repeat it! I have wandered far enough already from the vintage and the sunny churches of the little Lombard town.

J. A. S.

Lizzie's Bargain.



As the town clock struck three that afternoon, Ernest knocked at the door of a cottage where a jobbing gardener lived, who was employed at rare intervals by the Misses Fletcher. "Can your husband lend me a pickaxe?" he asked the woman who opened it.

The abrupt question confused her. "I don't know, sir, I'm sure," she said. "Won't you step in and speak to Clark? He's had a kind of a chill on him this last week, and to-day says I, 'Clark,' I says, 'you just stay at home and I'll get you some stuff from the doctor's, or you'll be reglar ill.'” Ernest strode past her to where Clark cowered over a black kettle, which indicated the spot where a fire was supposed to be, and repcated his request.

"Can I lend you a pick?" said Clark, laboriously turning the idea ver in his mind. "I don't know as how I can. Bill, you leave that poker alone." (Bill, who was thumping a saucepan-lid, kindly desisted for a moment, and sat on the floor, staring up at Ernest.) "Leastways

I must have it back afore night. I've got a job to do to-morrow. Us poor men can't afford holidays same as you gentlefolks can."

"I'll bring it by six," said Ernest, impatiently. "Will that do?" "I don't know but that'd do well enough. But whatever do you want a pick for, Mr. Ernest? The ground, it's like iron with the frost."

"That's why I want the pick, of course," said Ernest, quickly. He turned to Mrs. Clark, who had dusted a chair for him. "No, thank you; I won't sit down. I'll take it if you'll give it me, please. No, I won't have one of the boys bring it. I'd rather carry it myself, and I want it now."

He drew a long breath of relief when he stood once more under the leafless limes, where there was small fear of any intruder. The little maid had gone on an errand, Dorcas would not leave her warm kitchen, Aunt Caroline, too, would have hesitated for an hour before she ventured out in such bitter weather, Aunt Selina was nursing a swelled face over the parlour fire, and, most important fact of all, Theophilus had been summoned to town by a telegram, and would not return till the next day. Ernest might go fearlessly to work. A spade lay where he had flung it in anger at its uselessness, and pussy blinked sleepily in the most sheltered corner. Ernest began his task with vigorous, if unskilful strokes. Cold as it was, he was soon glad to strip off his coat, which made a nest for Sandy, while he resumed his work with redoubled

energy, striking fiercely at the hard earth. Since he parted with Lizzie he had weighed every word she had uttered. When she answered him indignantly, he had been sure of his own injustice. When she betrayed her sudden confusion, he had doubted. Since he had been left to himself he was sure of her guilt. "She saw I should never do any good,

and she's right-I never shall. There he was, paying her attentions; a rich man, who could make her mother and her safe and comfortable for life; and, naturally enough, she is ready to take him." Ernest stopped aghast. Was he thinking thus of Lizzie? "I'd have killed any fellow who hinted half as much a week ago!" he thought.

He judged Theophilus and acquitted him. "He acts after his kind -that's all. He doesn't know what she was to me, and he's just the man to amuse himself with a pretty girl. He's busy now; but he'll remember her as he comes from town to-morrow, and smile his sleek smile, and cross his legs, and think how well he sees through her, and how pretty she is, and-Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie, why weren't you true to me! I was a poor sulky brute, and I was rough to you often, but in my heart of hearts I worshipped you! Poor girl, she is sorry for me, I know. Perhaps she thinks that one of these days she will sit on Thorpe Fletcher's knee, and put her arm round his neck, and coax him to do something for poor Ernest. And poor Ernest will take whatever is given him, of course! No; I think we're neither of us quite so poorare we, Sandy ?—as to take anything from Lizzie Grey. I know a better way than that—don't I?”

He had planned his own future easily enough. Never again, if he could help it, would he see Lizzie or Thorpe. He would leave Lesborough that night, and enlist on the morrow. But he had not forgotten his poor old favourite. It should not be starved and stoned when he was gone; it should not even, in some groping way, miss the little kindness its dreary life had known. The air resounded with his ringing strokes as he toiled at his final provision for Sandy. It might be absurd to spend so much thought on his cat, just when he had lost his love and all his hope; but Ernest looked as tragic as if the grave were for Lizzie herself instead of the wretched animal which sat licking its paws and washing its ugly face. And in truth he meant to lay something of the past in it. He had always been sure that his cat would be petted for his sake, and the grave was to be a token for ever that he would rather trust aught that he loved to its keeping than to Lizzie's.

Presently Sandy drew himself up into a hideous arch, and mewed. "You're hungry, poor old fellow!" said Ernest, rubbing softly under the skinny chin, outstretched to court his caresses. "And I've nothing for you—nothing, Sandy! but very soon it won't matter; and I rather think you'll be the best off, after all. Only I don't like this murderous sort of mercy. If you could only understand! But to be in the dark, and to be helped so-oh, Sandy, poor old Sandy! I do hope I shall manage to do it so quickly that you won't have time to know that it is I!" A snowflake fell upon his hand, the herald of a multitude flickering

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »