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Out of the dark, stealing (it is no mercy for the coward, and none for him that serves false gods. Go forth, thou groper after vainglory, kennel with the swine!"
appeared) from the middle of the nave and floating down the church upon a bodily silence, came a cold voice. Like a wind from the snow-mountains it came in a thin stream, before which Fra Battista shrivelled visibly. "O thou craven!" it said, "thou wicked man! what sin can be greater than thine? If thou hadst done this thing thou ownest, it had gone better with thee than now, when thou standest a liar and boaster in a filthy cause. Wilt thou foul thyself, Battista, and think it honour? I tell thee that it was more tolerable for that stoned wretch than it shall be for thee; and it were better that men should go unsouled like the dogs, committing of fence with their bodies, than souled horribly like thee, thou sinner of the mind, idolater of thine own image! Dost thou yet make slippery the ways of Mount Carmel, Battista? Dost thou yet hang the pearls which are the tears of Mary about thy neck? It shall be in such case that Carmel will be her holy hill no more, and those same pearls turned to leaden bulls to seal thee in Tophet. There
The voice ceased. Fra Battista, who had been rocking under its chill breath, fell with a thud. The bishop adored the altar; the rest-priests, monks, people alike broke into "Salve Regina," so loud, so wild, the very church seemed to shake. At that time the west doors flung open of themselves, and a roaring wind swept round, round, disastrous to candles. A quick flicker of blue flame jagged across the nave; the thunder came instant, pealing, crackling, braying ruin, fading at last to a distant grumble; and then the rain. No one got home that night with a dry skin; but it was Madonna who had quenched the doubting of Fra Battista, and washed fragrant the memory of Vanna to whomsoever had loved her once. As her lovers in early days had been many, it follows that they all forgot in the delight of reminiscence any harsh judgments she had received.
IX. THE CROWNING PROOF.
out further miracle; but Verona had supped full of miracles, and had need to digest. The signs and wonders she had witnessed, as one soul, in the church of the Carmelites had been so astonishing that you will easily understand how all little differ
The week went its way with- ences between order and order were forgotten. The root of disturbance-Vanna and her baby, Fra Battista and his luxurious imaginings, Baldassare and his addition were also forgotten. Baldassare was at Mantua, Vanna had been stoned to death ("martyred "
The boys needed no second asking off they all set. : The curate went over every inch of the ground. Here lay Luca, Biagio, and Astorre; the belfry of San Zeno was in such and such a direction, the peach-trees in such and such. Good: there they were. What next? According to their account, Madonna had come thus and thus. The good curate bundled off to spy for footprints in the orchard. Marvel! there were none. This made him look very grave; for if she made no earthly footprints she could have no earthly feet. Next he must see by what way she had gone. She left them kneeling here, said they, went towards the peach-garden, stayed by a certain tree (which they pointed out), plucked a peach from the very top of it-this they swore to, though the tree was near fourteen feet highstood while she ate it, and went over the brow of the rising ground. Here was detail enough, it is to be hoped. The curate nosed it out like a slot-hound; he paced the track himself from the scrub to the peach-tree, and stood under this last gazing to its top, from there to its roots; he shook his head many times, stroked his chin a few: then with a broken cry he made a
pounce and picked up-a peachstone! After this to doubt would have been childish; as a fact he had no more than the boys. "My children," said he, "we are here face to face with a great mystery. It is plain
that Messer Domeneddio hath designs upon this hamlet, of which we, His worms, have no conception. You, my dear sons, He hath chosen to be workers for His purpose, which we cannot be very far wrong in supposing to be the building of an oratory or tabernacle to hold this unspeakable relic. That erection must be our immediate anxious care. Meantime I will place the relic in the pyx of our Lady's altar, and mark the day in our calendar for perpetual remembrance. I shall not fail to communicate with his holiness the bishop. Who knows what may be the end of this?"
He was as good as his word. A procession was formed in no time-children carrying their rosaries and bunches of flowers, three banners, the whole village with a candle apiece; next Luca, Biagio, and Astorre with larger candles-half a pound weight each at the least; then four men to hold up a canopy, below which came the good curate himself with the relic on a cushion.
It was deposited with great reverence in the place devoted, having been first drenched with incense. There was a solemn
After which things the curate thought himself at liberty to ruffle into Verona with his
VI. THE VISITATION OF THE GOLDEN FISH.
When a beast of chase-hartroyal, bear, or wolf-has been bayed and broken up, the least worthy parts are thrown to the curs which always come up at the heels of the pack. Soit is with a kingly seat: the best of the meats, after the great officers of the household have feasted, go to the dependants of these; the peelings and guttings, the very offal and scour of the broth, are flung farther, to the parasites of the parasites, the ticks on ticks' backs. Round about the Castle of Verona, where Can Grande II. misused the justice which his forefathers had set up, lay the houses of his courtiers; beyond them the lodgings of the grooms; beyond them again, down to the river's brink, were the stews and cabins and unholy dens whose office was to be lower than the lowest, that there might still be degrees for the gentlemen of gentlemen's gentlemen. And since even cockroaches must drink, in this fungus bed of misery there there flourished a rather infamous tavern by the sale of vino nostrano, black and sour, of certain sausages, black also and nameless, speckled with white lumps, and of other wares whom to name were to expose. This was the tavern of the Golden Fish.
On the evening of the day of the Translation of the Peachstone, this tavern was full to suffocation. Stefano, the purplefaced host, in shirt and breeches, stood dealing the liquor from a tub. Two outlaws lay under
the benches, partly for fear of a visit from the watch, partly because, having already fallen there once, they feared to fall there again if they rose. In one hand each held his knife, in the other his empty mug. Two ladies, intimates of theirs, Robaccia and Crucciacorda, sat immediately above them, with petticoats ready to make ambush the moment a staff should rattle at the door; round the table half-a-dozen shabby rogues bickered over their cards; Picagente, the hairy brigand, lay snoring across the threshold, and his dog on him; on a barrel in a corner a gigantic shepherd in leather, with bandaged legs and a patch over one eye, shut the other eye while he roared a hymn to Bacchus at the top stretch of his lungs. The oillamp flickered, flared, and gloomed, half drowned in the fumes of wine. A smell of wicked bodies, foul clothes, drink, and bad language made the air wellnigh solid. The hour was at the stroke of ten; outside the streets seemed asleep.
In the middle of the uproar Stefano the host looked up sharply, listening.
"Stop your devil's ferment, Malabocca!" he thundered at the shepherd; "stop it, or I'll split your crown."
Amante e spumante,
Evviva l' ubbriacchezza!
roared Malabocca, screwing up his eye. Stefano brought down
ANNO DOMINI, most fashionable of all the complaints that affect frail human nature, unsurmountable, inextirpable fate of the unloved of the gods! we may try to disguise you, we may temporarily delude ourselves and others into fancying that you have not touched us yet, but in our heart of hearts we are painfully conscious of your presence all the same. And even if the freshness of the spring of the year giving us a new lease of animal spirits, or the warmth of the summer sun relaxing our stiffened joints, cause us to forget your existence for a while, the 'World'—"this," as Mr Slurk would say, "is popularity"-or, worse degradation, the 'Sportsman,' not only wishes us many happy returns of the day, but with brutal and unnecessary candour blazons forth the intelligence that we were born on such and such a day of a very remote year.
Of course we fully recognise the fact that Anno Domini is essentially a masculine complaint. Any man with his wits about him knows more or less accurately how old each one of his male associates is. There are so many obvious ways of finding out, and friends are so cordially frank in the matter of betraying what they know, that for a male being to lie about his age is simply futile. But only women, or here and there a man to whom nature has imparted some of the foibles of the weaker sex, take the trouble to search
out the ages of their sisters in Debrett; and when by any chance one of the fair sex does SO far commit herself as to inscribe the year of her birth in our child's birthday-book, we accept the statement rather as a figure of speech than as a matter of fact. Even old-world Solomon, not at all times nor in all matters wholly complimentary to the fair sex, is careful to attribute that mortality "which befalleth beasts to the sons rather than to the daughters of men. We can well believe that the great sage, as husband of seven hundred wives, had learnt to measure his words on the delicate question of the age of womankind. From a more modern source we have, however, been given to know that woman, "lovely woman, " has a chartered right to be inaccurate, if it so pleases her, in statements as regards her age. For have we not been informed on the best authority in the worldthat, we mean, of the lady who for some years past has kindly poured out our tea in the morning-that when an expectant cook writes herself down as thirty years old, she really means that she is on the shady side of forty?
'But," we meekly inquired, "how old are they really, when they call themselves forty?"
"Oh, they never do that," was the answer, "or if they do, it means any age between fifty and a hundred."
We quite understood; for "forty" we must read "aged," and must handicap accordingly. We cannot for the moment recall whether sixty or seventy was Anthony Trollope's "Fixed Period" for retirement into his necropolis; but clearly thirty is the fixed period for self-respecting cooks and other domestic
In the absence of any incriminating evidence to the contrary, a slight inaccuracy as to dates may be held excusable, and, after all, curiosity on the part of a male being as to the number of years during which his fair vis-à-vis at the dinnertable may have graced the world with her presence is wholly impertinent and almost savours of sacrilege. Let the over - curious wight recall the fate of Peeping Tom, and the ignominy that pursued the intruder of the wrong sex who attempted to penetrate the mystery that shrouded the worship of Bona Dea.
"Women, gentlemen," said the enthusiastic Mr Snodgrass, are the great props and comforts of our existence." The right-minded man will echo the Pickwickian's sentiments, and think of woman as possessing many of the attributes of Anacreon's cicala, as "honoured by mortals, loved by the gods, shrill-voiced, unaffected by age, untouched by pain, almost divine."
Let it be prefaced, then, that in our remarks about Anno Domini we shall in no way refer to the fair sex, whom we prefer to regard as enjoying an
absolute immunity from such a reproach.
But how does Anno Domini affect those of our own sex? In ways sundry and divers! Some of us accept the inevitable with a good grace, others again resentfully. Men we have met who, wishing to be old men long, have in demeanour and all outward semblance become old men so early in life that they would almost have us imagine that they have realised Nicodemus's suggestion, and were born into the world at a mature age. Others are so preternaturally juvenile in their tastes, habits, and conversation, that we are sorely tempted to believe that grey hair is covering an infantile brain. "In much wisdom," the Preacher tells us, "is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
If, as in all charity we will hope, the converse of these propositions holds good, then in what an elysium of their own creation must a fair proportion of our elderly neighbours have been living! It would be difficult to imagine that Angelo Cyrus Bantam, "a charming young man of not much more than fifty, whose features were contracted into a perpetual smile,' had ever burnt the midnight oil in the pursuit of scientific discovery. "If," as a great thinker once said, "the wisest of our race often reserve the average stock of folly to be all expended upon some one flagrant absurdity," there are others who seem con