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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : XXXIV. Still the Countess Sylvie was silent.à

The Master-christian by Marie Corelli

XXXIV. Still the Countess Sylvie was silent.à

Still the Countess Sylvie was silent. Bending a quick scrutinising glance upon her, he saw that her eyes were lowered, and that the violets nestling near her bosom moved restlessly with her quickened breath, and he judged these little signs of agitation as the favourable hints of a weakening and hesitating will.

|Aubrey Leigh,| he went on slowly, |has long been an avowed enemy of our Church. In England especially, where many of the Protestant clergy, repenting of their recusancy -- for Protestantism is nothing more than a backsliding from the true faith -- are desirous of gradually, through the gentler forms of Ritualism, returning to the Original source of Divine Inspiration, he has taken a great deal too much upon himself in the freedom of his speeches to the people. But we are bound to remember that it is not against OUR Church only that he has armed himself at all points, but seemingly against all Churches; and when we examine, charitably and with patience, into the sum and substance of his work and aim, we find its chief object is to purify and maintain -- not to destroy or deny -- the Divine teaching of Christ. In this desire we are one with him -- we are even willing to assist him in the Cause he has espoused -- and we shall faithfully promise to do so, when we receive him as your husband. Nay, more -- we will endeavour to further his work among the poor, and carry out any scheme for their better care, which he may propose to us, and we may judge as devout and serviceable. The Church has wide arms, -- she stretches far, and holds fast! The very fact of a man like Aubrey Leigh voluntarily choosing as his wife the last scion of one of the most staunch Roman Catholic families in Europe, proves the salutary and welcome change which your good influence has brought about in his heart and mind and manner and judgment, -- wherefore it follows, my dear child, that in his marriage with you he becomes one of us, and is no longer outside us!|

With a swift and graceful imperiousness, Sylvie suddenly rose and faced him.

|It is time we understood each other, Monsignor,| she said quietly. |It is no good playing at cross purposes! With every respect for you, I must speak plainly. I am fully aware of all you tell me respecting my descent and the traditions of my ancestors. I know that the former Counts Hermenstein were faithful servants of the Church. But they were all merely half-educated soldiers; brave, yet superstitious. I know also that my father, the late Count, was apparently equally loyal to the Church, -- though really only so because it was too much trouble for him to think seriously about anything save hunting. But I -- Sylvie -- the last of the race, do not intend to be bound or commanded by the trammels of any Church, in the face of the great truths declared to the world to-day! My faith in God is as my betrothed husband's faith in God, -- my heart is his,- -my life is his! From henceforth we are together; and together we are content to go, after death, wherever God shall ordain, be it Hell or Heaven!|

|Wait!| said Gherardi in low fierce accents, his eyes glittering with mingled rage and the admiration of her beauty which he could ill conceal. |Wait! If you care nothing for yourself in this matter, is it possible that you care nothing for him? Have you thought of the results of such rashness as you meditate? Listen!| and he leaned forward in his chair, his dark brows bent and his whole attitude expressive of a relentless malice -- |Your marriage, without the blessing of the Church of your fathers, shall be declared illegal! -- your children pronounced bastards! Wherever the ramifications of the Church are spread (and they are everywhere) you, the brilliant, the courted, the admired Sylvie Hermenstein, shall find yourself not only outside the Church, but outside all Society! You will be considered as 'living in sin'; -- as no true wife, but merely the mistress of the man with whom you have elected to wander the world! And he, when he sees the finger of scorn pointed at you and at his children, he also will change -- as all men change when change is convenient or advantageous to themselves; -- he will in time weary of his miserable Christian-Democratic theories, -- and of you! -- yes, even of you!| And Gherardi suddenly sprang up and drew nearer to her. |Even of YOU, I say! He will weary of your beauty -- that delicate fine loveliness which makes me long to possess it! -- me, a priest of the Mother-Church, whose heart is supposed to beat only for two things -- Power and Revenge! Listen -- listen yet a moment!| and he drew a step nearer, while Sylvie held her ground where she stood, unflinchingly, and like a queen, though she was pale to the very lips -- |What of the friend you love so well, Angela Sovrani, who has dared to paint such a picture as should be burnt in the public market-place for its vile heresy! Do you think SHE will escape the wrath of the Church? Not she! We in our day use neither poison nor cold steel -- but we know how to poison a name and stab a reputation! What! You shrink at that? Listen yet -- listen a moment longer! And remember that nothing escapes the vigilant eye of Rome! At this very moment I can place my hand on Florian Varillo, concerning whom there is a rumour that he attempted the assassination of his betrothed wife, -- an inhuman deed that no sane man could ever have perpetrated| -- here Sylvie uttered a slight exclamation, and he paused, looking at her with a cold smile -- |Yes, I repeat it! -- a deed WHICH NO SANE MAN COULD HAVE PERPETRATED! The unfortunate, the deeply wronged Florian Varillo, is prepared to swear, and I AM PREPARED TO SWEAR WITH HIM, that he is guiltless of any such vile act or treachery -- and also that he painted more than half of the great picture this woman Sovrani claims as her own work! Whilst strongly protesting against its heresy and begging her to alter certain figures in the canvas, still he gave her for love's sake, all his masculine ability. The blasphemous idea is hers -- but the drawing, the colouring, the grouping, are HIS!|

|He is a liar!| cried Sylvie passionately. |Let him prove his lie!|

|He shall have every chance to prove it!| answered Gherardi calmly. |I will give him every chance! I will support what you call his lie! I SAY IT IS A TRUTH! No woman could have painted that picture! And mark you well -- the mere discussion will be sufficient to kill the Sovrani's fame!|

Heedless of his ecclesiastical dignity -- reckless of everything concerning herself-Sylvie rushed up to him and laid one hand on his arm.

|What! Are you a servant of Christ,| she said half-whisperingly, |or a slave of the devil?|

|Both,| he answered, looking down upon her fair beauty with a wicked light shining in his eyes. |Both!| and he grasped the little soft hand that lay on his arm and held it as in a vice. |You are not wanting in courage, Contessa, to come so close to me! -- to let me hold your hand! How pale you look! If you were like other women you would scream -- or summon your servants, and create a scandal! You know better! You know that no scandal would ever be believed of a priest attached to the Court of Rome! Stay there -- where you are -- I will not hurt you! No -- by all the raging fire of love for you in my heart, I will not touch more than this hand of yours! Good! -- Now you are quite still -- I say again, you have courage! Your eyes do not flinch -- they look straight into mine -- what brave eyes! You would search the very core of my intentions? You shall! Do you not think it enough for me -- who am human though priest -- to give you up to the possession of a man I hate! -- A man who has insulted me! Is it not enough, I say, to immolate my own passion thus, without having to confront the possibility of your deserting that Church for whose sake I thus resign you? For had this Aubrey Leigh never met you, I would have MADE you mine! Still silent? -- and your little hand still quiet in mine? -- I envy you your nerve! You stand torture well, but I will not keep you on the rack too long! You shall know the worst at once -- then you shall yourself judge the position. You shall prove for yourself the power of Rome! To escape that power you would have, as the Scripture says, to 'take the wings of the morning and fly into the uttermost parts of the sea.' Think well! -- the fame and reputation of Angela Sovrani can be ruined at my command, -- and equally, the sanctity and position of her uncle, Cardinal Bonpre!|

With a sudden movement Sylvie wrenched her hand away from his, and stood at bay, her eyes flashing, her cheeks crimsoning.

|Cardinal Bonpre!| she cried. |What evil have you in your mind against him? Are you so lost to every sense of common justice as to attempt to injure one who is greater than many of the Church's canonized saints in virtue and honesty? What has he done to you?|

Gherardi smiled.

|You excite yourself needlessly, Contessa,| he said. |He has done nothing to me personally, -- he is simply in my way. That is his sole offence! And whatever is in my way, I remove! Nothing is easier than to remove Cardinal Bonpre, for he has, by his very simplicity, fallen into a trap from which extrication will be difficult. He should have stopped in his career with the performance of his miracle at Rouen, -- then all would have been well; he should not have gone on to Paris, there to condone the crime of the Abbe Vergniaud, and THEN come on to Rome. To come to Rome under such circumstances, was like putting his head in the wolf's mouth! But the most unfortunate thing he has done on his ill-fated journey, is to have played protector to that boy he has with him.|

|Why?| demanded Sylvie, growing pale as before she had been flushed.

|Do not ask why!| said Gherardi. |For a true answer would only anger you. Suffice it for you to know that whatever is in the way of Rome must be removed, -- SHALL be removed at all costs! Cardinal Bonpre, as I said before, is in the way -- and unless he can account fully and frankly for his strange companionship with a mere child-wanderer picked out of the streets, he will lose his diocese. If he persists in denying all knowledge of the boy's origin he will lose his Cardinal's hat. There is nothing more to be said! But -- there is one remedy for all this mischief -- and it rests with YOU!|

|With me?| Sylvie trembled, -- her heart beat violently. She looked as though she were about to swoon, and Gherardi put out his arm to support her. She pushed him away indignantly.

|Do not touch me!| she said, her sweet voice shaken with something like the weakness of tears. |You tempt me to kill you, -- to kill you and rid the world of a human fiend!|

His eyes flashed, and narrowed at the corners in the strange snake- like way habitual to them.

|How beautiful you are!| he said indulgently, |There are some people in the world who do not admire slight little creatures like you, all fire and spirit enclosed in sweetness -- and in their ignorance they escape much danger! For when a man stoops to pick up a small flower half hidden in the long grass, he does not expect it to half-madden him with its sweetness -- or half-murder him by its sting! That is why you are irresistible to me, and to many. Yes -- no doubt you would like to kill me, bella Contessa! -- and many a man would like to be killed by you! If I were not Domenico Gherardi, servant of Mother- Church, I would willingly submit to death at your hands. But being what I am, I must live! And living, I must work -- to fulfil the commands of the Church. And so faithful am I in the work of our Lord's vineyard, that I care not how many grapes I press in the making of His wine! I tell you plainly that it rests with you to save your friend Angela Sovrani, and the saintly Cardinal likewise. Keep to the vows you have sworn to Holy Church, -- vows sworn for you in infancy at baptism, and renewed by yourself at your confirmation and first Communion, -- bring your husband to Us! And Florian Varillo's mouth shall be closed -- the Sovrani's reputation shall shine like the sun at noonday; even the rank heresy of her picture shall be forgiven, and the Cardinal and his waif shall go free!|

Sylvie clasped her hands passionately together and raised them in an attitude of entreaty.

|Oh, why are you so cruel!| she cried. |Why do you demand from me what you know to be impossible?|

|It is not impossible,| answered Gherardi, watching her closely as he spoke. |The Church is lenient, -- she demands nothing in haste -- nothing unreasonable! I do not even ask you to bring about Aubrey Leigh's conversion before your marriage. You are free to wed him in your own way and in his, -- provided that one ceremonial of the marriage takes place according to our Catholic rites. But after you are thus wedded, you must promise to bring him to Us! -- you must further promise that any children born of your union be baptized in the Catholic faith. With such a pledge from you, in writing, I will be satisfied; -- and out of all the entanglements and confusion at present existing, your friends shall escape unharmed. I swear it!|

He raised his hand with a lofty gesture, as though he were asserting the truth and grandeur of some specially noble cause. Sylvie, letting her clasped hands drop asunder with a movement of despair, stood gazing at him in fascinated horror.

|The Church!| he went on, warming with his own inward fervour. |The Rock, on which our Lord builds the real fabric of the Universe!| And his tall form dilated with the utterance of his blasphemy. |The learning, the science, the theoretical discussions of men, shall pass as dust blown by the breath of a storm-wind -- but the Church shall remain, the same, yesterday, to-day and forever! It shall crush down kings, governments and nations in its unmoving Majesty! The fluctuating wisdom of authors and reformers -- the struggle of conflicting creeds -- all these shall sink and die under the silent inflexibility of its authority! The whole world hurled against it shall not prevail, and were all its enemies to perish by the sword, by poison, by disease, by imprisonment, by stripes and torture, this would be but even justice! 'For many are called -- but few are chosen.'|

He turned his eyes, flashing with a sort of fierce ecstasy, upon the slight half-shrinking figure of Sylvie opposite to him. |Yes, bella Contessa! What the Church ordains, must be; what the Church desires, that same the Church will have! There is no room in the hearts or minds of its servants for love, for pity, for pardon, for anything human merely, -- its authority is Divine! -- and 'God will not be mocked'! Humanity is the mere food and wine of sacrifice to the Church's doctrine, -- nations may starve, but the Church must be fed. What are nations to the Church? Naught but children, -- docile or rebellious; -- children to be whipped, and coerced, and FORCED to obey! Thus for you, one unit out of the whole mass, to oppose yourself to the mighty force of Rome, is as though one daisy out of the millions in the grass should protest against the sweep of the mower's scythe! You do not know me yet! There is nothing I would hesitate to do in the service of the Church. I would consent to ruin even YOU, to prove the fire of my zeal, as well as the fire of my love!|

He made a step towards her, -- she drew herself to the utmost reach of her elfin height, and looked at him straightly. Pale, but with her dark blue eyes flashing like jewels, she in one sweeping glance, measured him with a scorn so intense that it seemed to radiate from her entire person, and pierce him with a thousand arrowy shafts of flame.

|You have stated your intentions,| she said. |Will you hear my answer?|

He bent his head gravely, with a kind of ironical tolerance in his manner.

|There is nothing I desire more!| he replied, |for I am sure that in the unselfish sweetness of your nature you will do all you can to serve -- and save -- your friends!|

|You are right!| she said, controlling the quickness of her breathing, and forcing herself to speak calmly. |I will! But not in your way! Not at your command! You have enlightened me on many points of which I was hitherto ignorant -- and for this I thank you! You have taught me that the Church, instead of being a brotherhood united in the Divine service of Christ, who was God-in-Man, is a mere secular system of avarice and tyranny! You pretend to save souls for God! What do you care for MY soul! You would have me wed a man with fraud in my heart, -- with the secret intent to push upon him the claims of a Church he abhors, -- and this after he has made me his wife! You would have me tell lies to him before the Eternal! And you call that the way to salvation? No, Monsignor! It is the wealth of the Hermensteins you desire! -- not the immortal rescue or heavenly benefit of the last of their children! You will support the murderer Varillo in his lie to ruin an innocent woman's reputation! You would destroy the honour and peace of an old man's life for the sake of furthering your own private interests and grudges! And you call yourself a servant of Christ! Monsignor, if you are a servant of Christ, then the Church you serve must be the shadow of a future hell! -- not the promise of a future heaven! I denounce it, -- I deny it! -- I swear by the Holy Name of our Redeemer that I am a Christian! -- not a slave of the Church of Rome!|

Such passion thrilled her, such high exaltation, that she looked like an inspired angel in her beauty and courage, and Gherardi, smothering a fierce oath, made one stride towards her and seized her hands.

|You defy me!| he said in a hoarse whisper. |You dare me to my worst?|

She looked up at his dark cruel face, his glittering eyes, and shuddered as with icy cold, -- but the spirit in that delicate little body of hers was strong as steel, and tempered to the grandest issues.

|I dare you to do your worst!| she said, half-sobbingly, -- half- closing her eyes in the nervous terror she could not altogether control. |You can but kill me -- I shall die true!|

With a sort of savage cry, Gherardi snatched her round the waist, but scarcely had he done so when he was flung aside with a force that made him reel back heavily against the wall, and Aubrey Leigh confronted him.

|Aubrey!| cried Sylvie. |Oh, Aubrey!|

He caught her as she sprang to him, and held her fast, -- and with perfect self-possession he eyed the priest disdainfully up and down.

|So this,| he said coldly, |is the way the followers of Saint Peter fulfil the commands of Christ! Or shall we say this is the way in which they go on denying their Master? It is a strange way of retaining disciples, -- a still stranger way of making converts! A brave way too, to intimidate a woman!|

Gherardi, recovering from the shock of Aubrey's blow, drew himself up haughtily.

|I serve the Church, Mr. Leigh!| he said proudly. |And in that high service all means are permitted to us for a righteous end!|

|Ah! -- the old Jesuitical hypocrisy!| And Aubrey smiled bitterly. |Lies are permitted in the Cause of Truth! One word, Monsignor! I have no wish to play at any game of double-dealing with you. I have heard the whole of your interview with this lady. It is the first time I have ever played the eavesdropper -- but my duty was to protect my promised wife, if she needed protection -- and I thought it was possible she might need it -- from YOU!|

Gherardi turned a livid paleness, and drew a quick breath.

|I know your moves,| went on Aubrey quietly, |and it will be my business as well as my pleasure to frustrate them. Moreover, I shall give your plot into the care of the public press -- |

|You will not dare!| cried Gherardi fiercely. |But -- after all, what matter if you do! -- no one will believe you!|

|Not in Rome, perhaps,| returned Aubrey coolly. |But in England, -- in America, -- things are different. There are many honest men who dislike to contemplate even a distant vision of the talons of Rome hovering over us -- we look upon such mischief as a sign of decay, -- for only where the carcasses of nations lie, does the vulture hover! We are not dead yet! And now, Monsignor, -- as your interview with the Countess is ended -- an interview to which I have been a witness -- may I suggest the removal of your presence? You have made a proposition- -she has rejected it -- the matter is ended!|

Civilly calm and cold he stood, holding Sylvie close to him with one embracing arm, and Gherardi, looking at the two together thus, impotently wished that the heavy sculptured and painted ceiling above them might fall and crush them into a pulp before him. No shame, no sense of compunction moved him, -- if anything, he raised his head more haughtily than before.

|Aubrey Leigh,| he said, |Socialist, reformer, revolutionist -- whatever you choose to call yourself! -- you have all the insolence of your race and class, -- and it is beneath my dignity to argue with you. But you will rue the day you ever crossed my path! Not one thing have I threatened, that shall not be performed! This unhappy lady whose mind has been perverted from Holy Church by your heretical teachings, shall be excommunicated. Henceforth we look upon her as a child of sin, and we shall publicly declare her marriage with you illegal. The rest can be left with confidence, to- -Society!|

And with a dark smile which made his face look like that of some malignant demon, he turned, and preserving his proud inflexibility of demeanour, without another look or gesture, left the apartment.

Then Aubrey, alone with his love, drew her closer, and lifted her fair face to his own, looking at it with passionate tenderness and admiration.

|You brave soul!| he said. |You true woman! You angel of the covenant of love! How shall I ever tell you how I worship you -- how I revere you -- for your truth and courage!|

She trembled under the ardour of his utterance, and her eyes filled with tears.

|I was not afraid!| she said. |I should have called Katrine, -- only I knew that if I once did so, she also would be involved, and he would be unscrupulous enough to ruin my name with a few words in order to defend himself from all suspicion. But you, Aubrey? -- how did it happen that you were here?|

|I was here from the first!| he replied triumphantly. |I followed on Gherardi's very heels. Your Arab boy admitted me -- he was in my secret. He showed me into the anteroom just outside, where by leaving a corner of the door ajar I could see and hear everything. And I listened to your every word! I saw every bright flash of the strong soul in your brave eyes! And now those eyes question me, sweetheart, -- almost reproachfully they seem to ask me why I did not interfere between you and Gherardi before? Ah, but you must forgive me for the delay! I wanted to drink all my cup of nectar to the dregs -- I could not lose one drop of such sweetness! To see you, slight fragile blossom of a woman, matching your truth and courage against the treachery and malice of the most unscrupulous priestly tool ever employed by the Vatican, was a sight to make me strong for all my days!| He kissed her passionately. |My love! My wife! How can I ever thank you!|

She raised her sweet eyes wonderingly.

|Did you doubt me, Aubrey?| |No! I never doubted you. But I wondered whether your force would hold out, whether you might not be intimidated, whether you might not temporize, which would have been natural enough -- whether you might not have used some little social art or grace to cover up and disguise the absoluteness of your resolve -- but no! You were a heroine in the fight, and you gave your blows straight from the hilt, without flinching. You have made me twice a man, Sylvie! With you beside me I shall win all I might otherwise have lost, and I thank God for you, dear! -- I thank God for you!|

He drew her close again into his arms, pressing her to his heart which beat tumultously with its deep rejoicing, -- no fear now that they two would ever cease to be one! No danger now of those miserable so-called |religious| disputes between husband and wife, which are so eminently anti-Christian, and which make many a home a hell upon earth, -- disputes which young children sometimes have to witness from their earliest years, when the mother talks |at| the father for not going to Church, or the father sneers at the mother for being |a rank Papist|! Nothing now, but absolute union in spirit and thought, in soul and intention -- the rarest union that can be consummated between man and woman, and yet the only one that can engender perfect peace and unchanging happiness.

And presently the lovers' trance of joy gave way to thought for others; to a realization of the dangers hovering over the good Cardinal, and the already ill-fated Angela Sovrani, and Aubrey, raising the golden head that nestled against his breast, kissed the sweet lips once more and said --

|Now, my Sylvie, we must take the law into our own hands! We must do all we can to save our friends. The Cardinal must be thought of first. If we are not quick to the rescue he will be sent 'into retreat,' which can be translated as forced detention, otherwise imprisonment. He must leave Rome to-night. Now listen!|

And sitting down beside her, still holding her hand, he gave her an account of his meeting with Cyrillon Vergniaud, otherwise |Gys Grandit,| and told her of the sudden passion for Angela that had fired the soul of that fiery writer of the fiercest polemics against priestcraft that had as yet startled France.

|Knowing now all the intended machinations of Gherardi,| continued Aubrey, |what I suggest is this, -- that you, my Sylvie, should confide in the Princesse D'Agramont, who is fortunately for us, an enemy of the Vatican. Arrange with her that she persuades Angela to return under her escort at once to Paris. Angela is well enough to travel if great care be taken of her, and the Princesse will not spare that. Cyrillon can go with them -- I should think that might be managed?|

He smiled as he put this question. Sylvie smiled in answer and replied demurely --

|I should think so!|

|But the Cardinal,| resumed Aubrey, |and -- and Manuel -- must go to- night. I will see Prince Sovrani and arrange it. And Sylvie -- will you marry me to-morrow morning?|

Her eyes opened wide and she laughed.

|Why yes, if you wish it!| she said. |But -- so soon?|

|Darling, the sooner the better! I mean to take every possible method of making our marriage binding in the sight of the world, before the Vatican has time to launch its thunders. If you are willing, we can be married at the American Consulate to-morrow morning. You must remember that though born of British parents, I do not resign my American citizenship, and would not forego being of the New World for all the old worlds ever made! The American Consul knows me well, and he will begin to make things legal for us to- morrow if you are ready.|

|BEGIN to make things legal?| echoed Sylvie smiling. |Will he do no more than begin?|

|My sweetheart, he cannot. He will make you mine according to American law. In England, you will again be made mine according to English law. And then afterwards we will have our religious ceremony!|

Sylvie looked at him perplexedly, then gave a pretty gesture of playful resignation.

|Let everything be as you wish and decide, Aubrey,| she said.| I give my life and love to you, and have no other will but yours!|

He kissed her.

|I accept the submission, only to put myself more thoroughly at your command,| he said tenderly, -- |You are my queen, -- but with powerful enemies against us, I must see that you are rightfully enthroned!|

A few minutes' more conversation, -- then a hurried consultation with Madame Bozier, and Sylvie, changing her lace gown for a simple travelling dress, walked out of the Casa D'Angeli with the faithful Katrine, and taking the first carriage she could find, was driven to the Palazzo where the Princesse D'Agramont had her apartments. Allowing from ten to fifteen minutes to elapse after her departure, Aubrey Leigh himself went out, and standing on the steps of the house, looked up and down carelessly, drawing on his gloves and humming a tune. His quick glance soon espied what he had been almost certain he should see, namely, the straight black-garmented figure of a priest, walking slowly along the street on the opposite side, his hands clasped behind his back, and his whole aspect indicative of devout meditation.

|I thought so!| said Aubrey to himself. |A spy set on already! No time to lose -- Cardinal Bonpre must leave Rome at nightfall.|

Leisurely he crossed the road, and walking with as slow a step as the priest he had noticed, came opposite to him face to face. With impenetrable solemnity the holy man meekly moved aside, -- with equally impenetrable coolness, Aubrey eyed him up and down, then the two passed each other, and Aubrey walked with the same unhasting pace, to the end of the street, -- then turned -- to see that the priest had paused in his holy musings to crane his neck after him and watch him with the most eager scrutiny. He did not therefore take a carriage at the moment he intended, but walked on into the Corso, -- there he sprang into a fiacre and drove straight to the Sovrani Palace. The first figure he saw there, strolling about in the front of the building, was another priest, absorbed in apparently profound thoughts on the sublimity of the sunset, which was just then casting its red glow over the Eternal City. And with the appearance of this second emissary of the Vatican police, he realised the full significance of the existing position of affairs.

Without a moment's loss of time he was ushered into the presence of the Cardinal, and there for a moment stood silent on the threshold of the apartment, overcome by the noble aspect of the venerable prelate, who, seated in his great oaken chair, was listening to a part of the Gospel of Saint Luke, read aloud in clear sweet accents by Manuel.

|A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

|And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

|Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like:

|He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.

|But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; AND THE RUIN OF THAT HOUSE WAS GREAT.|

And emphasizing the last line, Manuel closed the book; then at a kindly beckoning gesture from the Cardinal, Aubrey advanced into the room, bowing with deep reverence and honour over the worn old hand the prelate extended.

|My lord Cardinal,| he said without further preface, |you must leave Rome to-night!|

The Cardinal raised his gentle blue eyes in wondering protest.

|By whose order?|

|Surely by your own Master's will,| said Aubrey with deep earnestness. |For he would not have you be a victim to treachery!|

|Treachery!| And the Cardinal smiled. |My son, traitors harm themselves more than those they would betray. Treachery cannot touch me!|

Aubrey came a step nearer.

|Monsignor, if you do not care for yourself you will care for the boy,| he said in a lower tone, with a glance at Manuel, who had withdrawn, and was now standing at one of the windows, the light of the sunset appearing to brighten itself in his fair hair. |He will be separated from you!|

At this the Cardinal rose up, his whole form instinct with resolution and dignity.

|They cannot separate us against the boy's will or mine,| he said. |Manuel!|

Manuel came to his call, and the Cardinal placed one hand on his shoulder.

|Child,| he said softly, |they threaten to part me from you, if we stay longer here. Therefore we must leave Rome!|

Manuel looked up with a bright flashing glance of tenderness.

|Yes, dear friend, we must leave Rome!| he said. |Rome is no place for you -- or for me!|

There was a moment's silence. Something in the attitude of the old man and the young boy standing side by side, moved Aubrey deeply; a sense of awe as well as love overwhelmed him at the sight of these two beings, so pure in mind, so gentle of heart, and so widely removed in years and in life, -- the one a priest of the Church, the other a waif of the streets, yet drawn together as it seemed, by the simple spirit of Christ's teaching, in an almost supernatural bond of union. Recovering himself presently he said,

|To-night then, Monsignor?|

The Cardinal looked at Manuel, who answered for him.

|Yes, to-night! We will be ready! For the days are close upon the time when the birth of Christ was announced to a world that does not yet believe in Him! It will be well to leave Rome before then! For the riches of the Pope's palace have nothing to do with the poor babe born in a manger, -- and the curse of the Vatican would be a discord in the angels' singing -- 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE, GOODWILL TOWARDS MEN'!|

His young voice rang out, silver clear and sweet, and Aubrey gazed at him in wondering silence.

|To-night!| repeated Manuel, smiling and stretching out his hand with a gentle authoritative gesture. |To-night the Cardinal will leave Rome, and I will leave it too -- perchance for ever!|

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