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A short story by Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen


Title:     Annunciata
Author: Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen [More Titles by Boyesen]


In the gallery of one of the famous Roman villas which commands a splendid view of the city, Mr. Henry Vincent, a young American, was lounging. Judging by his appearance he was a college graduate, or, to speak more definitely, a graduate of Harvard; for he had that jaunty walk and general trimness of attire which are the traditional attributes of the academical denizens of Cambridge. He swung his arms rather more than was needed to assist locomotion, and betrayed in an unobtrusive manner a consciousness of being well dressed. His face, which was not without fine possibilities, had an air of well-bred neutrality; you could see that he assumed a defensive attitude against aesthetic impressions,--that even the Sistine Madonna or the Venus of Milo would not have surprised him into anything like enthusiasm or abject approval. It was evident, too, that he was a little bit ashamed of his Baedeker, which he consulted only in a semi-surreptitious way, and plunged into the pocket of his overcoat whenever he believed himself to be observed. Such a contingency, however, seemed remote; for the silence that reigned about him was as heavy and profound as if it had been unbroken since creation's day. The large marble halls had a grave and inhospitable air, and their severe magnificence compelled even from our apathetic traveller a shy and reluctant veneration. He tried to fix his attention upon a certain famous Guido which was attached by hinges to the wall, and which, as he had just learned from Baedeker, was a marvel of color and fine characterization; he stood for a few moments staring with a blank and helpless air, as if, for the first time in his life, he was beginning to question the finality of his own judgment. Then his eyes wandered off to the cornice of the wall, whose florid rococo upholstery won his sincere approval.

"Hang it!" he murmured impatiently, pulling a gold watch from his waistcoat pocket. "That loon Jack--he never does keep an engagement."

At this moment, distant footsteps were heard, which, as they approached, resounded with a sepulchral distinctness on the marble pavement. Presently a young man entered breathlessly, holding his hat in one hand and a white handkerchief in the other.

"Harry," he cried, excitedly, "I have found the goddess of the place. Come quick, before she vanishes. It is a rare chance, I tell you."

He seized his companion's arm and, ignoring his remonstrances, almost dragged him through the door by which he had entered.

"What sort of lunacy is it you are up to now, Jack?" the other was heard to grumble. "I'll bet ten to one you have been making an ass of yourself."

"I dare say I have," retorted Jack, good-naturedly; "a man who has not the faculty of making a fool of himself occasionally is only half a man. You would be a better fellow, too, Harry, if you were not so deucedly respectable; a slight admixture of folly would give tone and color to your demure and rigid propriety. For a man so splendidly equipped by fortune, you have made a poor job of existence, Harry. When I see you bestowing your sullen patronage upon the great masterpieces of the past, I am ashamed of you--yes, by Jove, I am."

"Don't you bother about me," was the ungracious response of his comrade. "I cut my eye-teeth a good while before you did, even though you may be a few years older. I'll take care of myself, you may depend upon it, and of you, too, if you get yourself into a scrape, which you seem bent upon doing."

"Now, do be amiable, Harry," urged the other with gentle persuasiveness. "I can't take it upon my conscience to introduce you to a lady, and far less to a goddess, unless you promise to put on your best behavior. You know from your mythology that goddesses are capable of taking a terrible vengeance upon mortals who unwittingly offend them."

Mr. John Cranbrook--for that was the name of the demonstrative tourist--was a small, neat-looking man, with an eager face and a pair of dark, vivid eyes. His features, though not in themselves handsome, were finely, almost tenderly, modelled. His nose was not of the classical type, but nevertheless of a clear and delicate cut, and his nostrils of extreme sensitiveness. On the whole, it was a pleasant, open, and enthusiastic face,--a face in which there was no guile. By the side of his robust and stalwart friend, Cranbrook looked almost frail, and it was evident that Vincent, who felt the advantages of his superior avoirdupois, was in the habit of patronizing him. They had been together in college and had struck up an accidental friendship, which, to their mutual surprise, had survived a number of misunderstandings, and even extended beyond graduation. Cranbrook, who was of a restless and impetuous temperament, found Vincent's quiet self-confidence very refreshing; there was a massive repose about him, an unquestioning acceptance of the world as it was and an utter absence of intellectual effort, which afforded his friend a refuge from his own self-consuming ambition. Cranbrook had always prophesied that Harry would some day wake up and commit a grand and monumental piece of folly, but he hoped that that day was yet remote; at present it was his rich commonplaceness and his grave and comfortable dulness which made him the charming fellow he was, and it would be a pity to forfeit such rare qualities.

Cranbrook's own accomplishments were not of the kind which is highly appreciated among undergraduates. His verses, which appeared anonymously in the weekly college paper, enjoyed much popularity in certain young ladies' clubs, but were by the professor of rhetoric pronounced unsound in sentiment, though undeniably clever in expression. Vincent, on the other hand, had virtues which paved him an easy road to popularity; he could discuss base-ball and rowing matters with a gravity as if the fate of the republic depended upon them; he was moreover himself an excellent "catcher," and subscribed liberally for the promotion of athletic sports. He did not, like his friend, care for "honors," nor had he the slightest desire to excel in Greek; he always reflected the average undergraduate opinion on all college affairs, and was not above playing an occasional trick on a freshman or a professor. As for Cranbrook, he rather prided himself on being a little exceptional, and cherished with special fondness those of his tastes and proclivities which distinguished him from the average humanity. He had therefore no serious scruples in accepting Vincent's offer to pay his expenses for a year's trip abroad. Vincent, he reasoned, would hardly benefit much by his foreign experiences, if he went alone. His glance would never penetrate beneath the surface of things, and he therefore needed a companion, whose aesthetic culture was superior to his own. Cranbrook flattered himself that he was such a companion, and vowed in his heart to give Harry full returns in intellectual capital for what he expended on him in sordid metals. Moreover, Harry had a clear income of fifteen to twenty thousand a year, while he, Cranbrook, had scarcely anything which he could call his own. I dare say that if Vincent had known all the benevolent plans which his friend had formed for his mental improvement, he would have thought twice before engaging him as his travelling companion; but fortunately he was so well satisfied with his own mental condition, and so utterly unconscious of his short-comings in point of intellect, that he could not have treated an educational scheme of which he was himself to be the subject as anything but an amiable lunacy on Jack's part, or at the worst, as a practical joke. Jack was good company; that was with him the chief consideration; his madness was harmless and had the advantage of being entertaining; he was moreover at heart a good fellow, and the stanchest and most loyal of friends. Harry was often heard to express the most cheerful confidence in Jack's future; he would be sure to come out right in the end, as soon as he had cut his eye-teeth, and very likely Europe might be just the thing for a complaint like his.


After having marched over nearly half a mile of marble flag-stones, interrupted here and there by strips of precious mosaic, the two young men paused at the entrance to a long, vaulted corridor. White, silent gods stood gazing gravely from their niches in the wall, and the pale November sun was struggling feebly to penetrate through the dusty windows. It did not dispel the dusk, but gave it just the tenderest suffusion of sunshine.

"Stop," whispered Cranbrook. "I want you to take in the total impression of this scene before you examine the details. Only listen to this primeval stillness; feel, if you can, the stately monotony of this corridor, the divine repose and dignity of these marble forms, the chill immobility of this light. It seems to me that, if a full, majestic organ-tone could be architecturally expressed, it must of necessity assume a shape resembling the broad, cold masses of this aisle. I should call this an architectonic fugue,--a pure and lofty meditation--"

"Now, do give us a rest, Jack," interrupted Vincent mercilessly. "I thought you said something about a nymph or a goddess. Trot her out, if you please, and let me have a look at her."

Cranbrook turned sharply about and gave his comrade a look of undisguised disgust.

"Harry," he said gravely, "really you don't deserve the good fortune of being in Italy. I thought I knew you well; but I am afraid I shall have to revise my judgment of you. You are hopelessly and incorrigibly frivolous. I know, it is ungracious in me to tell you so,--I, who have accepted your bounty; but, by Jove, Harry, I don't want to buy my pleasure at the price you seem to demand. I have enough to get home, at all events, and I shall repay you what I owe you."

Vincent colored to the edge of his hair; he bit his lip, and was about to yield to the first impulse of his wrath. A moment's reflection, however, sobered him; he gave his leg two energetic cuts with his slender cane, then turned slowly on his heel and sauntered away. Cranbrook stood long gazing sadly after him; he would have liked to call him back, but the aimless, leisurely gait irritated him, and the word died on his lips. Every step seemed to hint a vague defiance. "What does it matter to me," it seemed to say, "what you think of me? You are of too little account to have the power to ruffle my temper." As the last echo of the retiring footsteps was lost in the great marble silence, Cranbrook heaved a sigh, and, suddenly remembering his errand, walked rapidly down the corridor. He paused before a round-arched, doorless portal, which led into a large sunny room. In the embrazure of one of the windows, a young girl was sitting, with a drawing-board in her lap, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of a marble relief which was suspended upon the wall. From where Cranbrook stood, he could see her noble profile clearly outlined against the white wall; a thick coil of black hair was wound about the back of her head, and a dark, tight-fitting dress fell in simple folds about her magnificent form. There was a simplicity and an unstudied grace in her attitude which appealed directly to Cranbrook's aesthetic nature. Ever since he entered Italy he had been on the alert for romantic impressions, and his eager fancy instinctively lifted every commonplace incident that appeared to have poetic possibilities in it into the region of romance. He remembered having seen somewhere a statue of Clio whose features bore a remote resemblance to those of the young girl before him--the same massive, boldly sculptured chin, the same splendid, columnar throat, the same grave immobility of vision. It seemed sacrilege to approach such a divine creature with a trivial remark about the weather or the sights of Rome, and yet some commonplace was evidently required to pave the way to further acquaintance. Cranbrook pondered for a moment, and then advanced boldly toward the window where the goddess was sitting. She turned her head and flashed a pair of brilliant black eyes upon him.

"Pardon me, signorina," he said, with an apologetic cough. "I see you are drawing. Perhaps you could kindly tell me where one can obtain permission to copy in this gallery."

"I do not know, signore," she answered, in a low, rich voice. "No one ever copies here. The prince is never, here, and his major-domo comes only twice a year. He was here two weeks ago, so it will be a long time before he will return."

"But you seem to be copying," the young man ventured to remonstrate.

"Ah, sanctissima!" she; cried, with a vivid gesture of deprecation. "No, signore, I am not copying. I am a poor, ignorant thing, signore, not an artist. There was once a kind foreigner who lodged with us; he was an artist, a most famous artist, and he amused himself with me while I was a child, and taught me to draw a little."

"And perhaps you would kindly allow me to look at your drawing?"

Cranbrook was all in a flutter; he was amazed at his own temerity, but the situation filled him with a delicious sense of adventure, and an irresistible impulse within him urged him on. The girl had risen, and, without the slightest embarrassment or coquettish reluctance handed him her drawing-board. He saw at a glance that she was sincere in disclaiming the name of an artist. The drawing was a mere simple outline of a group, representing Briseis being led away from her lover by the messengers of Agamemnon. The king stood on one side ready to receive her, and on the other, Achilles, with averted face, in an attitude of deep dejection. The natural centre of the group, however, was the figure of Briseis. The poise of her classic head as she looked back over her shoulder at her beloved hero was full of the tenderest suggestions. She seemed to offer no resistance to the messengers, but her reluctant, lingering steps were more expressive than any violent demonstration. Cranbrook saw all this in the antique relief, but found it but feebly, and, as it were, stammeringly rendered in the girl's drawing. The lines were firmly and accurately traced and the proportions were approximately correct; but the deeper sentiment of the group had evidently escaped her, and the exquisite delicacy of modelling she had not even attempted to imitate. Cranbrook had in his heart to admit that he was disappointed. He feared that it was rude to return the board without a word of favorable comment, but he disdained to resort to any of those ingenious evasions which serve so conveniently as substitutes for definite judgments. The girl, in the meanwhile, stood looking into his face with an air of frank curiosity. It was not his opinion of her work, however, which puzzled her. She had never been accustomed to flattery, and had no idea of claiming a merit which she was well aware did not belong to her. She seemed rather to be wondering what manner of man her critic might be, and whether it would be safe to appeal to him for information on some subjects which lay beyond the reach of her own faculties.

"Signore," she began at last, a little hesitatingly, "I suppose you are a learned man who has read many books. Perhaps you know who that man is with the big helmet. And the maiden there with the bare feet, standing between the men--who is she? She looks sad, I think, and yet the large man who seems to be waiting for her is well made and handsome, and his garments appear to be precious. His shield is finely wrought, and I am sure he must be a man of great dignity."

"You are right," responded Cranbrook, to whom her guileless talk was highly entertaining.

"He is a king, and his name is Agamemnon. By nationality he is a Greek--"

"Ah, then I know why the girl is sad," she interrupted, eagerly. "The Greeks are all thieves, Padre Gregorio says; they all steal and lie, and they are not of the true faith. The padre has been in the Greek land and he knows their bad ways."

"The padre probably means the modern Greeks. I know very little about them. But the ancient Greeks were the noblest nation the world has ever seen."

"Is it possible? And what did they do that was so great and noble? Sanctissima! the greatest nation the world has ever seen!"

These exclamations were uttered in a tone of sincere surprise which to Cranbrook was very amusing. The conversation was now fairly started. The American told with much expenditure of eloquence the story of "the wrath of Achilles, the son of Peleus," and of the dire misfortunes which fell upon the house of Priamus and Atreus in consequence of one woman's fatal beauty. The girl sat listening with a rapt, far-away expression; now and then a breeze of emotion flitted across her features and a tear glittered in her eye and coursed slowly down over her cheek. Cranbrook, too, as he was gradually tuned into sympathy with his own tale, felt a strange, shuddering intoxication of happiness. He did not perceive how the time slipped by; he began to shiver, and saw that the sun was gone. The girl woke up with a start as his voice ceased and looked about her with a bewildered air. They both rose and walked together through the long, empty halls and corridors. He noticed wonderingly that she carried a heavy bunch of keys in her hand and locked each door after they had passed through it. This then led to some personal explanations. He learned that her name was Annunciata, and that she was the daughter of Antonio Caesarelli, the gardener of the villa, who lived in the house with the loggias which he could see at the end of the steep plane tree avenue. If he would like to pick some oranges, there were plenty of them in the garden, and as the prince never asked for them, her father allowed her to eat as many as she liked. Would he not come and see her father? He was a very good and kind man. At present he was trimming the hedge up on the terrace.

During this colloquy they had entered the garden, which seemed at first glance a great luxuriant wilderness. On the right hand of the gate was a huge jungle of blooming rose-bushes whose intertwisted branches climbed the tall stuccoed wall, for the possession of which it struggled bravely with an equally ambitious and vigorous ivy. Enormous bearded cacti of fantastic forms spread their fat prickly leaves out over both sides of the pavement, leaving only a narrow aisle in the middle where locomotion was practicable. A long flight of green and slippery stone steps led up to a lofty terrace which was raised above the rest of the garden by a high wall, surmounted by a low marble balustrade. Here the palms spread their fan-like crowns against the blue sky, and the golden fruit shone among the dark leaves of the orange-trees. A large sculptured Triton with inflated cheeks blew a column of water high up into the air, and half a dozen dolphins, ridden by chubby water-sprites, spouted demurely along the edges of a wide marble basin. A noseless Roman senator stood at the top of the stairs, wrapping his mossy toga about him, with a splendid gesture, and the grave images of the Caesars, all time-stained and more or less seriously maimed, gazed forth with severe dignity from their green, leafy niches.

The upper garden showed signs of human supervision. A considerable area was occupied by flower-beds, laid out with geometrical regularity and stiffness; and the low box-wood hedges along their borders had a density and preciseness of outline which showed that they had been recently trimmed. Stone vases of magnificent design were placed at regular intervals along the balustrade; and in the middle projection of the terrace stood a hoary table with a broken porphyry plate, suggestive of coffee and old-time costumes, and the ponderous gossip of Roman grandees.

Cranbrook had walked for a while silently at Annunciata's side. He was deeply impressed with all he saw, and yet a dreamy sense of their unreality was gradually stealing over him. He imagined himself some wonderful personage in an Eastern fairy-tale, and felt for the moment as if he were moving in an animated chapter of the "Arabian Nights." He had had little hesitation in asking Annunciata questions about herself; they seemed both, somehow, raised above the petty etiquette of mundane intercourse. She had confessed to him with an unthinking directness which was extremely becoming to her, that her artistic aspirations which he had found so mysterious were utterly destitute of the ideal afflatus. She had, as a child, learned lace-making and embroidery, and had earned many a lira by adorning the precious vestments of archbishops and cardinals. She was now making a design for a tapestry, in which she meant to introduce the group from the antique relief. Her father allowed her to save all she earned for her dowry; because then, he said, she might be able to make a good match. This latter statement grated a little on Cranbrook's sensitive ears; but a glance at Annunciata's face soon reassured him. She had the air of stating a universally recognized fact concerning which she had never had occasion to reflect. She kept prattling away very much like a spoiled child, who is confident that its voice is pleasant, and its little experiences as absorbing to its listener as they are to itself.

At length, by many devious paths, they reached a house on a sunny elevation, at the western extremity of the garden. It was a house such as one sees only in Rome,--a wide expanse of stuccoed wall with six or seven windows of different sizes scattered at random over its surface. Long tufts of fine grass depended from the gutters of the roof, and the plain pillars supporting the round arches of the loggias had a humid and weather-beaten look. The whole edifice, instead of asserting itself glaringly as a product of human art, blended with soft gradations into the surrounding landscape. Even the rude fresco of the Mother of Sorrows over the door was half overgrown with a greenish, semi-visible moss which allowed the original colors to shine faintly through, and the coarse lines of the dial in the middle of the wall were almost obliterated by sun and rain. But what especially attracted Cranbrook's attention was a card, hung out under one of the windows, upon which was written, with big, scrawling letters,--"Appartamento Mobiliato d'Affitarsi." He determined on the spot to become the occupant of this apartment whatever its deficiencies might be; therefore, without further delay, he introduced himself to Annunciata's mother, Monna Nina, as a forestiero in search of lodgings; and, after having gone through the formality of inspecting the room, he accepted Monna Nina's price and terms with an eagerness which made the excellent woman repent in her heart that she had not asked more.

The next day Cranbrook parted amicably from Vincent, who, it must be admitted, was beginning to have serious doubts of his sanity. They had had many a quarrel in days past, but Jack had always come to his senses again and been the first to make up. Vincent had the comfortable certainty of being himself always in the right, and it therefore never occurred to him that it might be his place to apologize. He had invariably accepted Jack's apologies good-naturedly and consented gracefully to let by-gones be by-gones, even though he were himself the offender; and the glow of conscious virtue which at such times pervaded him well rewarded him for his self-sacrifice. But this time, it seemed, Jack had taken some mysterious resolution, and his reason had hopelessly forsaken him. He even refused all offers of money, and talked about remaining in Rome and making his living by writing for the newspapers. He cherished no ill-will against Harry, he said, but had simply made up his mind that their tastes and temperaments were too dissimilar, and that they would both be happier if they parted company. They would see each other frequently and remain on friendly terms. No one was blamable for the separation, except Nature, who had made them so different. With these, and many similar assurances Cranbrook shook Vincent's hand and repaired to his new abode among the palms and cypresses. And yet his ears burned uncomfortably as he drove away in the fiacre. It was the first time he had been insincere to Harry, even by implication; but after what had happened, it was impossible to mention Annunciata's name.


It was the afternoon of Christmas-day, six weeks after Cranbrook's arrival at the villa. The air was soft and balmy and the blooming rose-bushes under the windows sent up from time to time delicious whiffs of fragrance. The sky was strangely clear, and long, cool vistas opened to the sight among the cloud-banks that hung over the tops of the Alban Mountains. Cranbrook was sitting out on the loggia reading the scene in the Odyssey where the shipwrecked Ulysses steps out from the copse where he has been sleeping and interrupts the ball-play of Nausicaa and her maidens. How pure and sweet the air that breathed from these pages! What a noble and dignified maiden was this Nausicaa! At this moment the merry voice of Annunciata was heard in the garden below. The young man let his book drop and leaned out over the wall. There she stood, tall and stately, receiving, with the manner of a good-natured empress, a white-haired priest who came waddling briskly toward her.

"Bona festa, Padre Gregorio," she cried, seizing the old man's hand. "Mother is going to have macaroni for supper and she was just going to send Pietro after you. For you know you promised to be with us this blessed day."

"Bona festa, child," responded the priest, smiling all over his large, benevolent face. "Padre Gregorio never forgets his promises, and least of all on a holy Christmas-day."

"No, I knew you would not forget us, padre; but you are all out of breath. You have been mounting the stairs to the terrace again instead of going round by the vineyard. Come and sit down here in the sun, for I wish to speak to you about something important."

And she led the priest by the hand to a stone bench by the door and seated herself at his side.

"Padre," she began, with a great earnestness in her manner, "is it true that the Holy Virgin hates heretics and that they can never go to heaven?"

The good padre was evidently not prepared for such a question. He gazed at Annunciata for a moment in helpless bewilderment, then coughed in his red bandanna handkerchief, took a deliberate pinch of snuff and began:

"The Holy Virgin is gracious, child, and she hates no one. But little girls should not trouble their heads with things that do not concern them."

"But this does concern me, padre," retorted the girl eagerly. "I went this morning with Signore Giovanni, the stranger who is lodging with us,--for he is a very good and kind man, padre; I went with him to the Aracoeli to see the blessed Bambino and the shepherds and the Holy Virgin. But he did not kneel, and when I told him of the wonderful things which the Bambino had done, he would not believe me, padre, and he even once laughed in my face."

"Then he is not a good man," said the padre emphatically, "and he will not go to heaven, unless he changes his faith and his conduct before God takes him away."

Cranbrook, who had made several vain attempts to call attention to his presence, now rose and through the window re-entered his room. The snatch of the conversation which he had overheard had made him uneasy and had spoiled his happy Homeric mood. He was only too willing to put the most flattering construction upon Annunciata's solicitude for his fate in the hereafter, but he had to admit to himself, that there was something in her tone and in the frank directness of her manner which precluded such an interpretation. He had floated along, as it were, in a state of delicious semi-consciousness during the six weeks since he first entered this house. He had established himself firmly, as he believed, in the favor of every member of the family, from Antonio himself to the two-year-old baby, Babetta, who spent her days contentedly in running from one end to the other of a large marble sarcophagus, situated under a tall stone pine, a dozen steps from the house. Monna Nina could then keep watch over her from the window while at work, and the high, sculptured sides of the sarcophagus prevented Babetta from indulging her propensity for running away. Pietro, a picturesque vagabond of twelve, who sold patriotic match-boxes with the portraits of Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele, had been bribed into the stanchest partisanship for the foreigner by a ticket to the monkey theatre in the Piazza delle Terme, and had excited his sister's curiosity to a painful pitch by his vivid descriptions of the wonderful performance he had witnessed. Antonio, who was a quiet and laborious man, listened with devout attention to Cranbrook's accounts of the foreign countries he had visited, while Monna Nina sometimes betrayed an invincible scepticism regarding facts which belonged to the A B C of transatlantic existence, and unhesitatingly acquiesced in statements which to an Italian mind might be supposed to border on the miraculous. She would not believe, for instance, that hot and cold water could be conducted through pipes to the fifth and sixth story of a house and drawn ad libitum by the turning of a crank; but her lodger's descriptions of the travelling palaces in which you slept and had your dinner prepared while speeding at a furious rate across the continent, were listened to with the liveliest interest and without the slightest misgiving. She had, moreover, well-settled convictions of her own concerning a number of things which lay beyond Cranbrook's horizon. She had a great dread of the evil eye and knew exactly what remedies to apply in order to counteract its direful effects; she wore around her neck a charm which had been blessed by the pope and which was a sure preventive of rheumatism; and under the ceiling of her kitchen were suspended bunches of medicinal herbs which had all been gathered during the new moon and which, in certain decoctions, were warranted to cure nearly all the ailments to which flesh is heir.

To Cranbrook the daily companionship with these kind-hearted, primitive people had been a most refreshing experience. As he wrote to a friend at home, he had shaken off the unwholesome dust which had accumulated upon his soul, and had for the first time in his life breathed the undiluted air of healthful human intercourse. Annunciata was to him a living poem, a simple and stately epic, whose continuation from day to day filled his life with sonorous echoes. She was a modern Nausicaa, with the same child-like grandeur and unconscious dignity as her Homeric prototype. It was not until to-day that he had become aware of the distance which separated him from her. They had visited together the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, where a crude tableau of the Nativity of Christ is exhibited during Christmas week. Her devoutness in the presence of the jewelled doll, representing the infant Saviour, had made a painful impression upon him, and when, with the evident intention of compelling his reverence, she had told him of the miracles performed by the "Bambino," he had only responded with an incredulous smile. She had sent him a long, reproachful glance; then, as the tears rose to her eyes, she had hurried away and he had not dared to follow her.

While pursuing these sombre meditations, Cranbrook was seated--or rather buried--in a deep Roman easy-chair, whose faded tapestries would have been esteemed a precious find by a relic-hunter. Judging by the baroque style of its decorations, its tarnished gilding, and its general air a la Pompadour, it was evident that it had spent its youthful days in some princely palace of the last century, and had by slow and gradual stages descended to its present lowly condition. A curious sense of the evanescence of all earthly things stole over the young man's mind, as his thoughts wandered from his own fortunes to those of the venerable piece of furniture which was holding him in its ample embrace. What did it matter in the end, he reasoned, whether he married his Nausicaa or not? To marry a Nausicaa with grace was a feat for the performance of which exceptional qualities were required. The conjugal complement to a Nausicaa must be a man of ponderous presence and statuesque demeanor--not a shrill and nervous modern like himself, with second-rate physique, and a morbidly active intellect. No, it mattered little what he did or left undone. The world would be no better and no worse for anything he could do. Very likely, in the arms of this chair where he was now sitting, a dozen Roman Romeos, in powdered wigs and silk stockings, had pined for twice that number of Roman Juliets; and now they were all dust, and the world was moving on exactly as before. And yet in the depth of his being there was a voice which protested against this hollow reasoning; he felt to himself insincere and hypocritical; he dallied and played with his own emotions. Every mood carried in itself a sub-consciousness of its transitoriness.

The daylight had faded, and the first faint flush of the invisible moon was pervading the air. The undulating ridge of the Sabine mountains stood softly denned against the horizon, and here and there a great, flat-topped stone pine was seen looming up along the edges of the landscape. Cranbrook ate hurriedly the frugal dinner which was served him from a neighboring trattoria, then lighted a cigar, and walked out into the garden. He sat for a while on the balustrade of the terrace, looking out over the green campagna, over which the moon now rose large and red, while the towers and domes of the city stood, dark and solemn, in the foreground. The bells of Santa Maria Maggiore were tolling slowly and pensively, and the sound lingered with long vibrations in the still air. A mighty, shapeless longing, remotely aroused or intensified by the sound of the bells, shook his soul; and the glorious sight before him seemed to weigh upon him like an oppressive burden. "Annunciata," came in heavy, rhythmic pulses through the air; it was impossible not to hear it. The bells were tolling her name: "Annun-ciata, Annun-ciata." Even the water that was blown from the Triton's mouth whispered softly, as it fell, "Annunciata, Annunciata."

Cranbrook was awakened from his reverie by the sound of approaching footsteps. He turned his head and recognized, by the conspicuous shovel-hat, the old priest who had prophesied such a cheerful future for him in the hereafter. And was that not Annunciata who was walking at his side? Surely, that was her voice; for what voice was there in all the world with such a rich, alluring cadence? And that firm and splendidly unconscious walk--who, with less than five generations' practice could even remotely imitate it? Beloved Annunciata! Wondrous and glorious Annunciata! In thy humble disguise thou art nevertheless a goddess, and thy majestic simplicity shames the shrill and artificial graces of thy sisters of the so-called good society. But surely, child, thou art agitated. Do not waste those magnificent gestures on the aged and callous priest!

"Thou art hard-hearted and cruel, Padre Gregorio!" were the words that reached Cranbrook's ears. "The Holy Virgin would not allow any one to suffer forever who is good and kind. How could he help that his father and his mother were not of the right faith?"

The padre's answer he could not distinguish; he heard only an eager murmur and some detached words, from which he concluded that the priest was expostulating earnestly with her. They passed down the long staircase into the lower garden, and, though their forms remained visible, their voices were soon lost among the whispering leaves and the plashing waters. Cranbrook followed them steadily with his eyes, and a thrill of ineffable joy rippled through his frame. He had at last, he thought, the assurance for which he had yearned so long. Presently he saw Annunciata stop, plunge her hands into a side-pocket, and pull out something which he imagined to be a key; then she and the padre disappeared for a few moments in the gloom of a deep portal, and when Annunciata re-appeared she was alone. She walked rapidly back through the garden, without being apparently in the least impressed by the splendor of the night, mounted the stairs to the terrace, and again passed within a dozen yards of where Cranbrook was sitting, without observing him.

"Annunciata," he called softly, rising to follow her.

"Signore Giovanni," she exclaimed wonderingly but without the slightest trace of the emotion which had so recently agitated her. "You should not sit here in the garden so late. The air of the night is not good for the foreigner."

"The air is good for me wherever you are, Annunciata," he answered warmly. "Come and walk with me here down the long plane tree avenue. Take my arm. I have much to say to you:

'* * * In such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,' etc.
'In such a night,
Troilus, methinks, mounter! the Trojan walls,
And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents
Where Cressid lay that night.'"

She took the arm which he offered her silently, but with a simple dignity which a princess might have envied her.

"I cannot stay out long," she said. "My mother would miss me."

"I shall not detain you long. I have only a confession to make to you. I was sitting on the loggia this afternoon when Padre Gregorio came, and I heard what you said to him."

He had expected her to blush or show some sign of embarrassment. But she only lifted her calm, clear countenance toward him and said:

"You were kinder and better than all the men I had known, and it gave me trouble to think that you should be unhappy when you die. Therefore I asked the padre; but I do not believe any more that the padre is always right. God is better and wiser than he, and God will find a way where a priest would find none."

There was something inexpressibly touching in the way she uttered these simple words. Cranbrook, although he was, for reasons of his own, disappointed at her perfect composure, felt the tears mounting to his eyes, and his voice shook as he answered:

"I am not afraid of my lot in the next world, Annunciata; and although it is kind of you to be troubled about it, I fear you can do nothing to improve it. But my fate in this world I yearn to lay in your hands. I love you very dearly, Annunciata, and all I need to make me what I aspire to be is to have you give me a little affection in return. What do you say, Annunciata? do you think you could? Would you be my wife, and go with me to my own country and share my life, whatever it may be."

"But signore," she replied, after a moment's deliberation; "my mother would not like it, and Babetta would cry the whole day long when I was gone."

"I am speaking seriously, Annunciata, and you must not evade my question. It all depends upon you."

"No, it also depends upon mother and Babetta. But I know you would be good and kind to me, Signore Giovanni, and you would always treat me well; for you are a good and kind man. I should like to be your wife, I think, but I do not know whether I should like to go with you across the great sea."

Cranbrook was hopelessly perplexed, and for an instant even inclined to question whether she might not be ridiculing him; but a glance at her puzzled face showed him that she was grappling earnestly with the great problem, and apparently endeavoring to gain time by uttering the first thought that suggested itself to her mind. The gloom of the plane-trees now enveloped them, and only here and there a quivering ray of moonlight pierced through the dense roof of leaves. The marble phantoms of the Caesars gazed sternly at the daring intruders who had come to disturb their centuries' repose, and the Roman senator at the end of the avenue held his outstretched hand toward them, as if warning them back from the life that lay beyond the moment's great resolution. And yet, before the moon had faded out of the sky, the great resolution was irrevocably taken. When they parted in the hall, leading up to Cranbrook's room, Annunciata consented with the faintest show of resistance to being kissed, and she even responded, though vaguely and doubtingly, to his vehement caresses. "Felicissima notte, Signore Giovanni," she murmured, as she slowly disengaged herself from his embrace. "You are a dear, good man, and I will go with you across the great sea."


Since their first parting, Vincent and Cranbrook had seen little of each other. They had met occasionally in the Vatican galleries, in the palace of the Caesars, and on the Monte Pincio, and had then stopped to shake hands and to exchange a few friendly inquiries, but Cranbrook, for a reason which he strove hard to embellish, had hitherto refrained from inviting Harry to visit him in his dwelling. The latter had of course noticed this omission, but had attributed it to a very pardonable desire on Jack's part to keep him in ignorance as to the real state of his finances. "He is probably living in some cheap hovel," he thought, "and he is too proud to wish me to know it. But he needn't be afraid of my intruding upon his privacy until he himself opens his door to me." Unfortunately for both, Harry was not destined to carry out this amiable intention. A hostile fate led him to encroach upon his friend's territory when he was least suspecting it.

It was a sunny day early in February. Antonio Caesarelli had saddled an uncommonly hoary and wise-looking donkey, named Abraham, and, as was his wont every Saturday, had repaired with it to the Piazza del Fiori, where he sold broccoli and other vegetables of the cabbage species. About noon, Annunciata came to bring him his dinner, and after having enjoyed for a while the sensation she made among the cabbage-dealers, betook herself on a journey of exploration through the city. Pietro's tale of the miracles performed at the monkey theatre had given a lively impetus to her imagination, and being unable to endure any longer his irritating airs of superior knowledge, she had formed the daring resolution to put his veracity to the test. She arrived quite breathless in the Piazza delle Terme, and with much flutter and palpitation inquired the price of a ticket. The door-keeper paused in his stentorian address to the multitude that was gathered about him, and informed her that ten soldi would admit her to the enchanted realm within. Poor Annunciata's countenance fell; she pulled her seven soldi from her pocket, counted them three or four times deliberately in her hand, and cast appealing glances at the stony-hearted Cerberus. At this moment she discovered a handsome young gentleman who, with his eyes fixed on her face, was elbowing his way through the crowd.

"Come along, my pretty lass," he said, in doubtful Italian. "Put those coppers in your pocket and let me get your ticket for you."

Annunciata was well aware that it was a dangerous thing to accept favors from unknown gentlemen, but just then her conscience refused to assert itself. Nevertheless, she summoned courage to answer, though in a voice which betrayed inward wavering:

"No, I thank you, signore; I would rather not."

"Oh, stuff, my child! I won't harm you, and your mother need never know."

He seized her gently by the arm and pointed toward the canvas door which was drawn aside to admit another spectator. A gorgeously attired monkey, riding on a poodle, became visible for an instant through the aperture. That was too much for Annunciata's conscience.

"But really, signore, I ought not!" she murmured, feebly.

"But we all do so many things that we ought not to do," answered he, with a brusque laugh. "However, I won't bite you; you needn't be afraid of me."

And before she knew it he had pushed her in through the door, and she found herself standing in a large tent, with long circular rows of benches which rose ampitheatrically from the arena toward the canvas walls. It was not quite to her taste that he conducted her to a seat near the roof, but she did not feel at liberty to remonstrate. She sat staring rigidly at the performances of the poodles and the monkeys, which were, no doubt, very wonderful, but which, somehow, failed to impress her as such, for she felt all the while that the gentleman at her side was regarding her with unaverted gaze. The thought of Signore Giovanni shot through her mind, and she feared she should never dare to look into his honest eyes again. Her heart kept hammering against her side, her blood burned in her cheeks, and she felt guilty and miserable. And yet she saw, in a sort of blind and unconscious way, that her escort was a very dazzling phenomenon, and in external finish much superior to her plain and unassuming lover. Gradually, as she accustomed herself to her novel situation, she began to bestow her furtive admiration upon the various ornaments which he carried about his person in the shape of scarf-pin and sleeve-buttons, and she also found time to observe that his linen and his handkerchief were immaculate and of exceeding fineness. The tout ensemble of his personality made the impression of costliness which, to her unsophisticated soul, was synonymous with high birth and an exalted social position.

"If only Signore Giovanni would dress like that," she thought, "how much more I should love him!"

That was a very disloyal thought, and her conscience immediately smote her. She arose, thanked her companion tremulously for his kindness, and hastened toward the door. When she was once more under the open sky, she drew a full breath of relief, and then hurried away as if the earth burned under her feet. It was nearly five o'clock when she reached the garden-gate of the villa; she paused for a moment to collect her thoughts, to arrange her excuses, and to prepare for the scolding which she knew was in store for her. She was just about to turn the key when, to her horror, she saw her unknown companion stepping out of a fiacre, and fearlessly approaching her.

"Surely, child, you didn't imagine you could run away from me in that style," he said smilingly. "Our acquaintance is not to come to such an untimely end. You must tell me your name, and, I was going to say, where you live, but that key will relieve you from the latter necessity. But, in order to prove to you that I am an honest fellow and mean no harm to you, here is my card. My name is Henry Vincent, I am an American, and--and--I should like to meet you again, if you have no objection."

Annunciata was now seriously alarmed.

"Signore," she faltered, "I am an honest girl, and you must not speak to me thus."

"By Jove! So am I an honest fellow, and no one need be ashamed of my acquaintance. If you had anything to fear from me, do you suppose I would offer you my card, and give you my name? But I must meet you again; if you don't give me the opportunity, I shall make my opportunity myself, and that might get you into a scrape and be unpleasant for both of us. Well, what do you say?"

The young girl stood for a while pondering. Her first impulse was to cut short the interview by mentioning Cranbrook's name and revealing her own relation to him. She had an idea that Cranbrook was a sort of national character and that all Americans must have heard of him. A second glance at Vincent's splendid attire, however, turned the scale in his favor.

"About noon next Saturday," she said, scarcely audibly, "I shall be in the Piazza del Fiori. My father will be there, too."

With a swift movement she tore the garden-gate open, slammed it behind her and ran up the path toward the terrace.


March, the very name of which makes a New Englander shiver, is a glorious month in Rome. Then a warmer tone steals into the sky, the clouds become airier and more buoyant in color and outline, and the Sabine Mountains display, with the varying moods of the day, tints of the most exquisite softness and delicacy. Cranbrook, from his lofty hermitage, had an excellent opportunity to observe this ever-changing panorama of earth and sky; but it had lost its charm to him. The long, cool vistas between the cloud-banks no more lifted the mind above itself, pointing the way into a great and glorious future. A vague dread was perpetually haunting him; he feared that Annunciata did not love him as he wished to be loved; that she regretted, perhaps, having bound herself to him and was not unwilling to break loose from him. But what was life to him without Annunciata? He must bide his time, and by daily kindness teach her to love him. That she was not happy might have other causes, unknown to him. Her vehement self-accusations and tearful protestations that she was not true to him might be merely the manifestations of a morbidly sensitive conscience.

Vincent in the meanwhile had changed his attitude completely toward the old masters. After his first meeting with Annunciata, his artistic sense had been singularly quickened. He might be seen almost daily wending his way, with a red-covered Baedeker under his arm, to the gate of a certain villa, where he would breathe the musty air of the deserted gallery for hours together, gaze abstractedly out of the windows, and sometimes, when he was observed, even make a pretence of sketching. Usually it was Monna Nina or Pietro who came to open the gate for him on such occasions, but, at rare intervals, it happened that Annunciata was sent to be his cicerone. She always met him with fear and trembling, but so irresistible was the fascination which he exerted over her, that he seemed to be able to change her mood at will. When he greeted her with his lazy smile her heart gave a great thump, and she laughed responsively, almost in spite of herself. If he scowled, which he was sometimes pleased to do when Monna Nina or Pietro had taken her place for several successive days, she looked apprehensive and inquired about his health. The costly presents of jewelry which he had given her, she hid guiltily in the most secret drawer of her chest, and then sat up late into the night and rejoiced and wept over them.

As for Vincent, it must be admitted that his own infatuation was no less complete. He had a feeling as if some new force had entered his life and filled it with a great, though dimly apprehended, meaning. His thought had gained a sweep and a width of wing which were a perpetual surprise to him. Not that he reasoned much about if he only felt strong and young and mightily aroused. He had firmly resolved to make Annunciata his wife, and he was utterly at a loss, and even secretly irritated at her reluctance to have their relation revealed to her parents. He could brook no obstacle in his march of conquest, and was constantly chafing at the necessity of concealment. He had frequently thought of anticipating Annunciata's decision, by presenting himself to her parents as a Croesus from beyond the sea, who entertained the laudable intention of marrying their fair daughter; but somehow the character of Cophetua was ridiculously melodramatic, and Annunciata, with her imperial air, would have made a poor job of the beggar-maid.

It was on the tenth of March, 186--, a memorable date in the lives of the three persons concerned in this narrative. Cranbrook had just finished a semi-aesthetic and semi-political letter to a transatlantic journal, in which he figured twice a month as "our own correspondent." It was already late in the night; but the excitement of writing had made him abnormally wakeful, and knowing that it was of no use to go to bed, he blew out his lamp, lit a cigar and walked out upon the loggia. There was a warm and fitful spring wind blowing, and the unceasing rustling of the ilex leaves seemed cool and soothing to his hot and overwrought senses. In the upper strata of the air, a stronger gale was chasing dense masses and torn shreds of cloud with a fierce speed before the lunar crescent; and the broad terrace beyond the trees was alternately illuminated and plunged in gloom. In one of these sudden illuminations, Cranbrook thought he saw a man leaning against the marble balustrade; something appeared to be unwinding itself slowly from his arms, and presently there stood a woman at his side. Then the moon vanished behind a cloud, and all was darkness. Cranbrook began to tremble; a strange numbness stole over him. He stood for a while motionless, then lifted his hand to his forehead; but he hardly felt its touch; he only felt that it was cold and wet. Several minutes passed; a damp gust of wind swept through the tree-tops and a night-hawk screamed somewhere in the darkness. Presently the moon sailed out into the blue space, and he saw again the two figures locked in a close embrace. The wind bore toward him a dear familiar voice which sounded tender and appealing; his blood swept like fire through his veins. Hardly knowing what he did, he leaped down the stairs which led from the loggia into the court rushed through the garden toward the terrace, grappled for a moment with somebody, thrust against something hard which suddenly yielded, and then fell down--down into a deep and dark abyss.

When he awoke he felt a pair of cold hands fumbling with his shirt-collar; trees were all about him and the blue moonlit sky above him. He arose, not without difficulty, and recognized Annunciata's face close to his; she looked frightened and strove to avoid his glance.

"The Holy Virgin be praised, Signore Giovanni!" she whispered. "But Signore Enrico, he seems to be badly hurt."

He suddenly remembered what had happened; but he could bring forth no sound; he had a choking sensation in his throat and his lips seemed numb and lifeless. He saw Annunciata stooping down over a form that lay outstretched on the ground, but the sight of her was repulsive to him and he turned away.

"Help me, Signore Giovanni," she begged in a hoarse whisper. "He may be dead and there is no one to help him."

Half mechanically he stooped down--gracious heavens! It was Vincent! In an instant all his anger and misery were forgotten.

"Hurry, Annunciata," he cried; "run for a doctor. Great God! what have you done?"


Six weeks later two young Americans were sitting on the deck of the Cunarder Siberia, which had that morning left the Queenstown harbor.

"Jack," said the one, laying his hand on the other's shoulder in a way that expressed an untold amount of friendliness, "I don't think it is good policy to keep silence any longer. I know I have committed my monumental piece of folly, as you prophesied, but I need hardly tell you, Jack, that I didn't know at the time what--what I know now," he finished, hurriedly.

"I never doubted that, Harry," answered the other with a certain solemn impressiveness. "But don't let us talk. I have not reached the stage yet when I can mention her name without a pang; and I fear--I fear I never shall."

They sat for a long while smoking in silence and gazing pensively toward the dim coast-line of Europe, which was gradually fading away upon the eastern horizon.

"Jack," began Vincent abruptly, "I feel as if I had passed through a severe illness."

"So you have, Harry," retorted Cranbrook.

"Oh, pshaw! I don't mean that. That little physical suffering was nothing more than I deserved. But a fever, they say, sometimes purifies the blood, and mine, I think, has left me a cleaner and a wiser fellow than it found me."

The steamer kept ploughing its broad pathway of foam through the billows; a huge cloud of fantastic shape loomed up in the east, and the vanishing land blended with and melted away among its fleecy embankments.

"Are you perfectly sure, Jack," said Vincent, throwing the burning stump of his cigar over the gunwale, "that the experiences of the past year have not been all an excursion into the 'Arabian Nights'? If it were not for that fine marble relief in my trunk which I bought of that miserable buffoon in the Via Sistina, I should easily persuade myself that the actual world were bounded on the east by the Atlantic and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. I was just considering whether I should try to smuggle it through the custom-house, or whether, perhaps, it would be wiser to give Uncle Sam his due."

"And what does the relief represent?" asked Cranbrook, half indifferently.

"It is a copy from an antique one. Agamemnon robbing Achilles of his--"

Cranbrook gave a start, and walked rapidly toward the other end of the boat. In half an hour he returned, stopped in front of Vincent, grasped his hand warmly and said:

"Harry, let us agree never to refer to that which is passed. In your life it was an episode, in mine it was a catastrophe."

Since that day, Annunciata's name has never passed their lips.

There is, however, an epilogue to this tale which cannot well be left untold. In the winter of 187-, ten years after their first Italian sojourn, the two friends again visited Rome together. One beautiful day in February, they found themselves, perhaps not quite by accident, in the neighborhood of the well-remembered villa. They rang the bell at the garden gate and were admitted by a robust young man who seemed to be lounging among the overgrown hedges in some official capacity. The mossy Triton was still prosecuting his thankless task in the midst of his marble basin; the long stairs to the terrace were yet as damp and slippery as of old, and the noseless Roman senator was still persevering in his majestic attitude, although a sprig of maiden-hair was supporting its slender existence in the recess of his countenance which had once been occupied by his stately nose. Vincent and Cranbrook both regarded these familiar objects with peculiar emotions, but faithful to their agreement, they made no comment. At last they stopped before the sarcophagus--and verily Babetta was still there. A clean and chubby-faced Italian baby with large black eyes rose out of its marble depth and hailed them with simple, inarticulate delight. Cranbrook gazed long at the child, then lifted it up in his arms and kissed it. The young man who had opened the gate for them stood by observing the scene with a doubtful expression of suspicion and wonder. As the stranger again deposited the child on the blanket in the bottom of the sarcophagus, he stepped up before the door and called:


A tall, comely matron appeared in the door--and the strangers hastened away.

[The end]
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen's short story: Annunciata