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Archive for November, 2014

Chapter Sixteen

 

“Women often change their minds, mad is the man who relies on them.”

-Francis I of France

 

He drove to the Lido and swam out into the sea. He strolled along the shore past the Capanni. He met a number of acquaintances and chatted here and there, uttering a few indifferent words. Late in the afternoon he drove back to the city. He went to the Danieli and sent in his card; the ladies were out but he met with the Councilor of Commerce. They sat in the smoking-room and talked. The Councilor told him that he had founded a new company for the manufacture of monoplanes.

“I thought you were connected with the Aero Plane Motor Company?” asked Frank Braun.

Old Levi laughed:

“Once, yes, I’m rid of all that now—very profitably! Nowadays I’m an enthusiast about aviation.”

“Are all the arrangements complete?” asked Frank Braun.

“If you have some small director’s job, please think of me. I collect such positions. I am a born director; I have a thoroughly representative personality, am discreet, never interfere and sign any document without reading it.”

“We might think about it,” said the Councilor. “There may be a vacancy. And then, too, there is the Karamin Company which I am founding; I need a couple of good names for it. Or do you insist on aviation, Doctor?”

“Not in the least—I’ll take either. Karamin? What is that?”

Mr. Levi noisily exhaled through his nose and struck his thigh with his rather stout fingers.

“I haven’t any idea, dear Doctor, not the least! It must be something like Mondamin or Palmin. But it’s a thoroughly sound proposition; we have fabulously good expert opinions!”

“I don’t doubt it. But in spite of that—I’d come rather high for that business, no offense meant!”

He took his leave; drove to his hotel, met some acquaintances and dined with them. It was a quarter past nine when he went to St. Mark’s Place.

“I can’t bear waiting today,” he thought, “so let her do it.”

Lotte came to meet him with long strides.

“I know,” he called out to her. “Furthermore, it was intentional and not by way of neglect. I was with people all day today. I didn’t want to be alone, not even for a few minutes. That was it.”

She offered him her arm.

“Fear?”

He shrugged his shoulder.

“As you please. Perhaps it was fear. Yesterday, to be sure, it was a bit worse than that.”

He put his arm through hers.

“Now this is better. Talk, please.”

“Thank you, you’re exceedingly kind. So you think I’m just good enough to drive away your bad mood?”

He pressed her arm gently.

“Oh, Lotte, we two needn’t pretend to each other. It is just as you think. But isn’t it also a whim of yours that makes you want to float through Venice with me tonight? You’re right, Lotte; there is something I don’t want to think of. And for this purpose some kind Providence sent Lotte Levi here who is well able to hold the attention of any man who walks beside her. That’s a compliment, my clever young lady. I’d like to think of something else and push my yesterday back into the farthest past: so I am the possible object of your passing wishes.

You must have some notion that allures you. I don’t know what it is, but I know very well that to you I seem most suitable for it. You have a hundred acquaintances here and you couldn’t use any one of them—for this particular purpose. But you can use me very well—and for that reason you were glad when you met me this morning. So I am the little beast on which you can test your poison. And since the little beast is ill and imagines that Lotte’s poison might help it, it’s willing to be friendly and to eat out of her hand. There you have our agreement, Lotte!”

She looked squarely at him and said, “Very well—yes.”

“And therefore, Lotte,” he continued, “the little animal must be caressed and very nicely treated. Save up all your malice for your little fiancé.”

She pulled up her lips.

“You seem to think more of him than I do. To tell you the truth, now, I almost don’t feel like it anymore.”

“Like marrying?” he asked.

“Nonsense!—like executing my plan for this evening. You’ve almost disgusted me with my own wish.”

“Disgusted?”

“Oh, you must not weigh every word. Not disgusted—then. But you’ve cut it off at the very root.”

“Wait a bit, Lotte, it will sprout again. Where shall we go?”

“I don’t care,” she sighed. “Propose something.”

They went under the arbors of the Procurator’s Palace.

He pointed to a sign:

“Novelli is playing at the Goldoni Theater, tonight.”

She nodded:

“As you please.”

He read the signs—Hamlet.

“No,” he said. “No! That’s a frightful piece.”

“Hamlet?”

She looked at him in astonishment. He drew her away.

“Yes,” he said, “today—for me.”

They went through the Merceria. They were silent and watched the crowd that thronged in front of them. Or looked into the bright show windows stuffed with cheap wares for strangers.

“Do talk, Lotte,” he begged.

He stood still and looked steadily at a gaily colored poster. It showed the Count of Monte Cristo as he was thrown into the sea in a sack.

“A picture show!” he cried good humoredly. “Shall we go in, Lotte? Oh, I haven’t seen a film in a long time.”

She said, “As you please.”

It sounded infinitely indifferent. And yet it seemed to him as if there were some intention in this indifference. He looked at her but she did not respond. They entered and sat down in a box near the front. They saw Blériot, how he flew over the canal with his aero plane.

“Oh, magnificent,” whispered Frank Braun. “Magnificent! By the way we must bring your father here. He is interested in aviation.”

She didn’t answer. During the intermission she asked him to bring her a program and read through it carefully. Then came the feature, The Story of the Count of Monte Cristo, made after Dumas father. It was a giant film by Gaumont that ran for two hours. A bit sentimental and middle class romantic, but magnificently played as to location and time and with thrilling particulars, which no stage in the world could even come close to achieving. The landing at Château d’If—

He was happy, was expressive as a boy. He told her of his visit with Gaumont and Pathé, spoke charmingly of these powerful establishments, told her how they  made the films and explained a hundred good tricks to her.

“Ah, the Kientopp!” he cried enthusiastically.

“It is majestic what our time can create! I don’t know who discovered it—let’s say he is Thomas Alva Edison in double! But he is dearer to me than Marconi, Zeppelin, Röntgen, Koch, Cook and a hundred others!

The cinema lets us travel to all lands. It is the best historian, a fanatic about reality and one that knows no error. And at the same time cinema is the genuine alchemist, it breaks into pieces, what the reason preaches, and is the only magician in the world. It goes into the past and from the past into the future; it makes the imagination into reality and reality into imagination. Isn’t that wonderful? Have you ever seen a film run backwards? Just wait, I will speak to the projector operator later! Let’s take the simplest example!

You, Lotte, sit there and smoke a cigarette: I will be the little film producer. You will then see on the film the Lotte who takes a match, lights it on the box, lights the cigarette and then throws the match away. Then she smokes and knocks the ashes into the ash tray. The cigarette becomes shorter and shorter. Finally she puts it out and shows her empty hand.

But now Lotte, lets run the film backwards. What happens? Lotte puts her empty hand over the ash tray, takes the cigarette out, not in and puts it to her mouth. She smokes,—that is— pretty little smoke rings fly back into Lotte’s round mouth. The ash flies out of the ash tray to the glowing tip of the cigarette and the cigarette becomes longer and longer . . . Finally it is its original size, then a burning match flies up from the floor and ignites itself. But Lotte puts the match against the box and rubs it so that the flame goes out. Then the cigarette goes into her cigarette case and the match goes into its box and it is all over!—Now clever Lotte, isn’t that magic?”

She sat silently but he didn’t notice. Laughing, he chatted on.

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Ah,—it would never be any different! No matter how cleverly he donned the mask or how proudly he strode along like a Danton, a Caesar Borgia—his mask still fell. He stood there naked and desperate, a Hamlet. And Cain’s frightful mark of knowledge gleamed on his forehead—then his will fled. Reason and intellect—ah yes, they recognized what was happening, but they had no power to conquer. They dragged the heavy, leaden weight of reflection on their feet which bound them through their entire life.

Thus his strength was broken in a mere game, his power was shattered in a purposeless, phantasmal battle. But his will raced along, stupid and happy, shattering worlds and creating them anew, leaping lightly from deed to deed. Oh, this beautiful mask of his will! Now it lay blood stained, soiled and tattered in the torrid dusk of Val di Scodra.

He cried out after his will and every fiber of his body thirsted avidly and grew faint in a wild yearning for action. But his thoughts laughed aloud and said, “Whoever preaches the will, he is a weakling!”

Zarathustra had never been as soft and weak as when he cried, “Grow hard!”

Nietzsche had clearly felt that this was true and from his recognition of this truth arose the tragedy that drove him into madness. Nietzsche was an apprentice, only an apprentice, and no sorcerer like he was.

A fly crept across his face. He put out his hand and seized it between two fingers.

“Grow hard!”

He laughed bitterly and a hundred thoughts chased each other at once. What for? Let it fly! What do you want to do with its wretched bit of life? He opened the window and threw the insect out.

“Grow hard!” He sobbed.

The man of will would have destroyed it without a thought. It would have died between his fingers and the event of its death would scarcely have penetrated to that man’s brain. But he had to think and to reflect— He was incurable; his longing would never be fulfilled, his passionate longing for this mask which he loved so well.

And yet—perhaps? Some day—it would end—in madness? Then, then at last, his thoughts would be free from the terror of knowledge. Then the chains which his reason had forged would be broken. Then his will would range, free and glad, to shatter worlds and create them— yes, then! Wouldn’t it be best to be mad?

He leaned against the window and stared out into the night. He saw the names of stations, read letters and words without realizing what they meant. He threw himself on the bed, buried his head in the pillows and bit his teeth into them.

“O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us!”

He got up and dressed again. He ran through the train from end to end. Then he came back and sat down with his head in his hands. Day came and the train raced across the lagoons. Over Venice lay the first, old, poisonous glimmer of morning that he hated so. He entered a gondola, and with closed eyes he floated over the canals. When he mounted the stairs of his hotel he faltered, and fell. The porter caught him in his arms.

“You are ill, sir!” he said.

He led him to his room and helped him undress. He ran down and brought a bottle of vermouth. Greedily Frank Braun drank three large glassfuls. Then he fell on the bed. He slept, slept heavily for hours. When he awoke he lay still for a moment; then he pulled himself together, jumped up, rang, and ordered a cold bath. Only not to think, not to think! Only to be doing something—He shaved himself carefully and then entered the bath. The cold water refreshed him; he felt as if he were rinsing off a five month’s accumulation of thick dust. He dressed himself, took his hat and went out.

He walked across the square of St. Mark’s, sat down at a little table of the Café Quadri and breakfasted. The waiter brought him a newspaper; he read eagerly and was as interested in every stupid detail as if he had followed the events from day to day. After he had read every line, he put the paper away, and looked across the square which gleamed in the warm sun of a late September day. It was almost empty, only far across near the wooden structure of the Campanile; fresh looking English children were feeding the doves. He looked toward St. Mark’s and toward the Procurator’s Palace. Strange! He had sat here a hundred times and knew every stone. And yet it all seemed strange to him today. So dreamlike and unreal—He hung his head and stared at the paving stones.

And from somewhere the wind carried to him these words:

“Then you will flee and eternal death will drive you onward, over seas and hills, through long valleys and broad plains. I see you sitting in a great square and the sun shining upon white marble. Round about arise tall palaces, but you are looking silently at the ground—”

“The saint’s words,” he thought.

But all excitement had died and he was almost surprised at the heavy calm of his soul.

“Now someone will call me,” he murmured.

And someone did call his name. He did not look up and was not astonished. That was how it had to be.

“Frank Braun!” cried the voice. “Frank Braun!”

He knew the voice well—who was it? It was not the voice of the saint—and yet her voice sounded from this strange one.

And he whispered her words:

“Someone calls your name—but you hear my voice.”

He arose and said aloud:

“And the clouds cover the sun—”

The lady laughed:

“You’ve made a profound observation, Frank Braun, and an astrologer would envy you! A shadow passes over St. Mark’s Square and, without looking up, your philosophical mind draws the remarkable conclusion that a cloud is passing over the sun! It’s astonishing!”

He turned to the beautiful woman who stretched out her hand.

“Lotti Levi?” he said. “Lotti Levi, the Phoenician lady.”

“Am I still a Phoenician?” she laughed.

“Still,” he repeated. “Red hair, green eyes with thin black lines under them. Slender as Baaltis and nails stained with henna. Virginal breasts that know all vices and yearn to invent new ones.”

He turned his head and looked around.

“Aren’t those your parents over there?”

She nodded.

“Yes, they’re over there at the jeweler’s. I hope they’ll buy me the string of pearls that I like.”

She laughed again.

“Just keep still,” she continued, “I know very well what you’re thinking—Papa Levi: a little knock-kneed, short, thick lips, heavy nose and clever eyes. Mama Levi—but no, she’d be too horrified—and so Frau Privy Counselor of Commerce Levi—sorry! Born Ludmilla, Baroness von Kühbeck—emphasized, if you please—tall, large-boned, and still handsome and a trifle stupid. And finally: Lotti—type: Zoo animal. Is that right?”

“Yes,” said he. “That’s right, the best kind of mixed blood. You ought to put wild cherries in your hair.”

She laughed lightly:

“Or myrtles and orange blossoms. I have been the fiancée of a count for three weeks. Mama is charmed.”

He said, “It’s a pity! It’ll spoil the strain.”

She came close to him and looked at him sharply:

“I’m twenty-five years old. Twenty-five! For whom shall I wait? Do you expect me to marry you?”

“Heaven forbid!” he laughed.

“Marry your count by all means. But don’t have any children—at least not by him.”

She was vexed.

“You are unbearable!”

He gave her a chair and sat down himself.

“Oh, Lotte, you don’t even believe that yourself.”

She leaned both elbows on the table and looked straight at him.

“Very well, I don’t believe it. I’ll let you have it your way! But you must promise to go out with me this evening.”

“Where to?”

Her glance lay in wait, ready to leap upon its prey.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I don’t know yet. I’ll lead you.”

“Good!” he said. “Besides—I might as well tell you—I’m delighted. I’m glad we met.”

“You are?” She spoke lightly, almost indifferently.

“Well so am I! I was bored here.”

He took her hand and kissed it.

“That is your hand, Lotte, unmistakably yours—clever and cruel.”

She laughed aloud.

“Oh, you’re the last one to say that—does anyone have crueler or more brutal claws than you have?”

He fell silent and a bitter expression came upon his lips.

“The mask!” he thought. “That wretched mask!”

She took a long look at him.

After a while she asked, “What are you doing here—at this time? The season is beginning in Berlin. Your friends expect you.”

He nodded wearily.

“Yes,” he said in a worn voice, “I’ll go there.”

Again she was silent for a while.

Then she said, “You seem to have been wiped out of existence—for six months. In what part of the earth have you been? What have you been doing? And where do you come from?”

He got up quickly. But he felt faint and had to grasp the edge of the table. His face was pale and his eyes stared into space.

“Where do I come from? From the mountains, from a hole in the mountains. What did I do there? Oh,—I looked into the bowels of the earth.”

She touched his arm.

“And did you dance on the Witches’ Mountain? And did you celebrate a Sabbath with Satan?”

She laughed ironically.

“Confess now!”

He shook his head wearily.

“Perhaps I’ve only been writing a novel.”

She gave him her hand.

“There are my parents! Call at the hotel, if you want to. It’s the Danieli. Tonight at nine,—don’t make me wait!”

“All right!” he nodded.

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Angelo grinned, pulled out his ten crown note and waved it. Frank Braun threw another bill at him without looking at it. It fluttered in the air and fell into the dust. Angelo picked it up and glanced at it swiftly. Then he jumped toward the car with a frightened face and held it up again.

“Sir,” said the chauffeur, “you have given the fellow a hundred crowns.”

“Keep it!” Frank Braun cried. “Keep it!”

He pressed the chauffeur’s arm.

“For heaven’s sake drive on!”

Shrugging his shoulders, the chauffeur jumped down and cranked the engine. Involuntarily Frank Braun turned his head and cast a last glance into the valley. And across the bushes he saw the promontory by the lake—with its four tall, mighty crosses.

“Drive on!” he cried in his mad fear. “Drive on.”

The chauffeur jumped up. At last the wheels were turning. At last. At last! Now he breathed more freely.

After a while he asked, “Will we get to the city in time to catch the evening steamer?” “No,” said the chauffeur. “Quite certainly not. I had a little accident behind Monte Almego—that is why the delay. And it doesn’t matter anyhow; all the passengers are guests of our hotel; they are staying and would not leave tonight anyway.”

“But I must leave!” said Frank Braun.

A new terror overcame him. The peasants would miss him, they would search for him. They would ask Angelo and Sibylla Madruzzo. Then they would hear that he had gone to the city. And they would start after him. And march—all night long. And next morning they would be standing guard under his window. Or they might make their way into the hotel, into his very room. And seize him, and drag him back. Back to Val di Scodra. To the promontory of the crosses. To the saint who hung up there. Oh, he was not safe in the city! He had to get away from there, too, that very evening—they must lose all trace of him. He wiped the sweat from his forehead; he forced himself to talk calmly.

“Do you hear?” he said to the chauffeur. “I must reach the steamer this very evening, at any price! Get all the speed out of your machine you can. You saw me give that fellow a hundred crowns, didn’t you? You’ll get three times as much if you arrive in time!”

The chauffeur thought a moment, sighed and shook his head.

“I’m sorry enough,” he answered. “God knows I’d like to earn the money. But it’s impossible. Unless the steamer has suffered as long a delay as I have, it can’t be done.”

Frank Braun whispered, “Drive on, then, drive on. Perhaps it was delayed!”

Then another thought came to him.

“Wouldn’t it be possible to drive to the next station at which the steamer stops? We might diminish the distance that way and succeed in reaching it!”

The other shook his head:

“No, sir. There’s no road in that direction.”

They fell silent. Feverishly Frank Braun sought for a way out. Nothing, nothing! Oh, they would catch him in the end! It was as if Scuro’s red goiter were already quivering above his face. Then a postilion’s horn was heard. The chauffeur steered to the left and they passed the stage coach which came toward them. He looked into it—there sat the innkeeper next to a strong, ugly woman.

Frank Braun ducked—had Raimondi seen him? Ah, now they would surely come to fetch him from the city! They would tell the landlord that it was he who had given that final stab. They would come with him, all of them, all. Venier’s wife would strike her claws into his flesh and the dirty Alvassi would seize his hands. The prophet would lead them, and Ratti and Ronchi would stride in front of him when they brought him back in their triumphal procession—what would they do with him? First they would wait for three days for the saint to arise as she had predicted. And for three days and three long nights he would have to lie by her open grave.

But then? Then, when she did not arise from her grave? When the great hope was shattered, when the frightful light of common day with its terrible clearness wiped out all their holy madness? Ah, then he would fare just as young Ulpo had said: they would seize him in their raging madness and hurl him alive into the sulfurous sea of flame! They would rend him with their teeth and strew—about the fragments of his body and feed the birds with his flesh! A fever shook him. His teeth rattled; in blind fear he hid his head in his hands.

After a while the chauffeur said softly:

“Perhaps we could drive to Tremosino. That isn’t far. It’s the next station.”

“Drive on!” the German whispered.

The chauffeur hesitated.

“Even then we’ll only catch the steamer if she has been delayed. Besides, Tremosino lies at the top of the mountain; to be sure there’s a cable car down to the lake. But it’s not without danger. Only the people of the place use it, and not all of them. And then I could get you to Tremosino, but I’m not able to tell whether you’ll meet the steamer.”

Frank Braun said, “Try it. You’ll get your money in any event!” The chauffeur turned the car back.

“Where now?” Frank Braun asked.

“The road to Tremosino leads to the right from the main road; we’ve already passed it. But it’s a loss of hardly four minutes.”

“Scarcely four minutes!” cried Frank Braun. “Four minutes! Drive on, man, as hard as your motor car can go!”

They raced through the twilight and up a miserable road. The car jumped like a ball over stones and hard furrows, and threw the scolding, passengers from their seats and shook them up. It was entirely dark when they reached the place. The chauffeur jumped down and hailed the peasants loudly; he asked whether the steamer had passed.

“It’s just coming,” someone answered.

He jerked out the handbag and threw it to the people.

“Take the gentleman down!” he cried.

Frank Braun gave him his money and ran with the peasants to the cliff. The cable car was old and in wretched condition, meant only to carry provisions up and down; the iron vehicles were scarcely larger than a strong basket. He jumped into one, a peasant with his bag into another. A whistle sounded and the small cars moved and crept with infinite slowness almost vertically down the mountainside. He saw the steamer—it was making good speed and seemed to have no intention of stopping.

Above, he heard both the chauffeur and the peasants calling. They beckoned with lights and howled out into the night to the captain to stand by. Then they cried to those below to get a boat in readiness. Now the cable car went faster; it seemed as if the iron car were suddenly dropping. It bumped hard against the ground; Frank Braun toppled over forward and hit his forehead against the hard edge.

Stout arms lifted him out, hurried him to the shore, and threw him into the boat. They seized the oars and pulled out into the lake toward the steamer—the lights of which were slowly withdrawing into the darkness. The boatmen cried and roared; finally the steamer stopped. Frank Braun climbed on board. But he found no rest and no sense of security. His thoughts became confused. Had the people from Val di Scodra already reached the city? Were they already waiting, ready to fall upon him on the ship’s arrival? With long strides he ran across the deck, back and forth, from one railing to the other.

Then they reached the city and the steamer stopped. The landing pier was almost empty, and on shore, too, there only stood a few people. He peered carefully around—no, no one was there. On the pier, in an open shed, he saw his trunks standing. He released them and had them brought on board. Every moment he peered down the dark valleys to look for one of the devil hunters. Someone came running from the square toward the pier. He was frightened again. Didn’t it look like Ulpo, like young Giovanni Ulpo? Then he remembered that young Ulpo was dead. And now he saw that it was the porter of some hotel. The steam whistle shrieked. Once—twice—thrice—

The gang plank was pulled in and the railing closed. The engines started and the side wheels dipped into the water. He stood aft and looked back, and saw the city disappear with its last lights. Now they might come, now he had fled! They might throw themselves into the lake and swim after him like dogs—they would never reach him now! His terror had disappeared but there remained a passionate restlessness. He knew very well that he was safe now, even if his fear had had more foundation than mere fancy. And yet he still gazed sharply toward the shore and watched the deep blue waters of Lake Garda closely as if at any moment the huge goiter of Girolamo Scuro might emerge from it. The steamer reached its final landing; but it had missed connection with the train that went on the great northward road.

The travelers climbed into carriages, chattered with the boat men and scattered in all directions. But Frank Braun didn’t want to stay, not even here. He wanted to go as far as possible. A last train was leaving on the narrow gauge road; he took it. He sat wedged in among vintners and forest peasants and held his handbag firmly on his knees. He stared straight ahead and sank into a dull, apathetic brooding. His thoughts were unable to grasp anything any longer.

His lips moved softly and formed over and over again the same disconsolate words:

“O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world—”

A conductor roused him.

“Do you intend to keep sitting here?” he asked roughly.

Frank Braun looked around him distraught. He was alone.

“No,” he stammered.

He was at Mori. He went to the ticket office of the main road and asked for a ticket. He was told that the next train didn’t leave till morning.

“And there’s no train through here tonight?” he asked.

“No,” said the agent. “Only an express train going south.”

“How far?”

“Through to Venice.”

“When is it due?”

The agent looked at the clock.

“Immediately,” he answered. “It ought to be here in five minutes.”

Frank Braun sighed with relief.

“Give me a ticket.”

He boarded the train. With some trouble he succeeded in getting a stateroom. He closed the door. Heavily he let himself fall on the bed. Then the conductor came, then the inspector, then the sleeping car official—every minute another interruption. The tears almost came into his eyes.

“Why do they torment me?” he whispered.

Alas he had to get out to have his luggage examined. He opened his trunks and stood silently while the customs officials turned his things over.

“Anything subject to duty?”

He shook his head. At last he was back in the train. He undressed and lay down. Only to sleep—to sleep! But he did not sleep. He counted every quiver of the car and every beat of his heart. It beat slowly enough, but heavily and deeply and seemed to come up in his throat. He listened to the bumps of the rolling train.

“Now I am back where I was,” he thought. “Conquered, beaten, and trodden under foot. Once again!”

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Chapter Fifteen

 

“Out—out are the lights—out all! And over each quivering form The Curtain, a funeral pall, Comes down with the rush of a Storm.”

 

-E.A. Poe, The Conqueror Worm

 

He hit his head hit against a hard stone. Now his face, too, was stained with blood. He lay there unconscious. He was in their way; they seized him, carried him aside and threw him among the tangled bushes of the slope. Then they knelt and prayed.

“O Lamb of God—”

There he lay and did not stir. But his ears rang with the saint’s piercing cry. Her cry, her fearful, horrible cry of death—the cry that tore all veils and pierced all fogs and brought the heavens down in ruins and hurled them into the ultimate abysses of hell. That cry annihilated him. He crept down through the bushes carefully on all fours, like a beast wounded to death.

Only away, away—wasn’t there some hole he could bury himself in? He seized stones and blackberry bushes, and beneath him the loose pebbles rattled down into the crevasse. Away—away— Then he came to a place where the land jutted out a little. He could go no farther; the cliff fell steeply into the lake. He stood up and thought—something sounded above him—ah, her voice, her voice—once again.

His ears listened intently and in the awful silence he heard the low words of her who was dying:

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Away! Away! Everything disappeared. He saw nothing, heard nothing. Only one thing raced through his fevered nerves: away, away! So he leaped down the mountainside. Oh, it was good to fly through the air. He fell, fell; he fell for many hours. And the lake received him—softly and gently, and did him no harm: he dipped down almost to the bottom.

He thought:

“Now I am at home.”

And it seemed such a sweet thought to him to lie on the moist bottom. But the lake raised him up and gave him no refuge; spat him forth again as if he were unclean. He gasped for air, instinctively, like an animal; he divided the water and swam diagonally across the lake. He climbed on shore close to Raimondi’s house; thoughtlessly he approached it. Then, at the steps, he stood still—what did he want here? He looked upward—ah, the sun was far behind the hills! Val di Scodra lay in deep shadow. But perhaps the car which could carry him away was not yet gone! Up then, up the mountains to the road!

He dared not turn his head back towards the promontory of the crosses. He ran, ran. He saw the goat path on his right. He fled up it. His breath came in gasps, his garments dried upon his body and were then drenched again in his sweat. Suppose they were after him? Suppose they had seen him leap down from the promontory and swim across the lake? Suppose they were to catch him? Him—who had given the saint her death blow on the cross? A humiliating fear drove him, a dread as if death were upon him, weren’t they just emerging from the arbor? Didn’t he hear the heavy steps and the gurgling voice of Scuro? Suppose the giant seized him with his claws; suppose he spat upon him, as upon the sweet saint? Ah, he would not be able to lift a hand to defend himself!

He heard a crackling in the bushes! He heard it, unmistakably—he dragged himself and leaped—He saw the road—ten paces ahead of him—and even now, now! In his terror he fell upon his knees. He crept to one side and hid in the bushes—perhaps they would rush past him. It came nearer, nearer, up the path. He closed his eyes and pressed his hot head into the grass. But he knew very well that it would be useless, and his heart seemed to throb in his very mouth.

It was Marfa, the goat. She came nearer and licked his face tenderly with her rough tongue.

“Is it you, you?” he whispered.

Painfully he raised himself up. He clung to the animal’s tether and let her drag him upward. Thus he arrived upon the road. Angelo was sitting on his handbag.

“Has the motor car passed?” he asked hastily.

The fellow answered, “No, sir, not yet.”

He drew a deep breath. He was saved. He waited. He walked up and down the road and peered with all his might toward Monte Almego where, like a bright stripe, a stretch of road was visible. That was where the car would first come into sight. And yet it did not come—did not come. He listened—as if with a hundred ears; listened up the street for the noise of the motor car and listened down toward Val di Scodra whether there was some noise from the devil hunters pursuing him.

Would it not be better to follow the road? Then he would gain upon the car—but he knew that he could not go a hundred paces. He was wearied to death; his limbs felt broken. He stood at the edge of the road, held fast to a hazelnut branch and peered toward the west. Then something crept toward his feet and seemed to pass by his legs. He started violently; then he remembered.

“Go away, Marfa!”

But it was not the goat. It was a human being. Sibylla Madruzzo. He clung to the young tree so as not to fall. There crept the old beggar woman—as on the first day when he had set foot in the valley. Her back was bent; she was thrust forward, as taut as a bow, so that her tangled gray hair and head were scarcely above the level of her hips. She turned her face to the left, moved her dumb lips and squinted strangely upward. She leaned on her short staff and held out her right hand begging for alms. He dared not question her. He gave her a handful of silver coins and retreated shyly to one side.

“Go away,” he whispered. “Go away!”

Was she not healed after all? Had it all been only a wild dream? Had he never left this road and fared down into the magic valley of Scodra? No, no! Vividly the image stood before him of the first devil’s fight—in all its immediacy, almost able to be grasped. He stood in the prophet’s hall, far at the end, near the long bench. And Teresa stood next to him and her arm was around his neck and she held his hands and nestled close to him. Teresa—in those days she was still Teresa.

And the red torches glowed through the hall and Pietro stood under the image of Christ and his first disciples flourished their scourges. He saw once more how painfully the old beggar woman tried to make her way through the crowd. How she tugged at her dress and her wrap, how she thrust with her cane in order to get through. How she crouched before the prophet, how she scrawled her wish on a slip of paper. How the wild wife of Venier loosened her skirts and how the thorny rod descended upon her aged shoulders. And how she had raised herself up—first knelt—Then drew herself up to her full height. How her body, which had been bent in a horrible cramp for thirty long years, drew itself up and towered above all the bystanders by a full head—, she was healed! And it had been a miracle, a miracle! And now she crept around again pitifully contorted, writhing on the ground like a trodden worm.

And it seemed to him as if she were more bent, stiffer and more wretched than ever. He recalled that he had not seen her any longer at the meetings of the devil hunters since he had returned from Cimego. Her happiness had been so brief, so pitifully brief!

Then he thought: perhaps she was lying; perhaps she only played the part of the paralyzed beggar and was well and sound—sounder than he himself. Perhaps she had been stationed here by the peasants to watch him, to hold him fast, to jump at his throat at the last moment. Was she not calling? Was she not making a sign down the hill with her staff?

He turned around in horror and looked after her. But she limped to her stone with infinite pains and slowness. She sat down and he could see her face. Weather—beaten, ruined, as if carved of brown worm-eaten wood. No, no, she was not lying. She was paralyzed and bent—and only the miracle was a great lie. She was Sibylla Madruzzo, the old beggar woman. And he thought: The saint—? Oh, the saint—

“Never!” he cried aloud. “Never, never! She hangs on the cross. And I stabbed—”

He held both hands to his face.

“Never, never!” he cried.

And the steep walls of Monte Almego caught the sound and threw it back:

“Never—never—”

He bit his lips. Why was he shouting so? Did he want to summon the pursuers? Breathlessly he peered toward the west. Would the motor car never come? Never? He went to Angelo. He wanted to ask him to help him when the enemies came. But he did not speak; he could not speak. He looked at the man as he sat there in his broad contentedness. He had put his right arm around the goat’s neck, his left hand played with her udders.

“You are happy!” he thought. “You alone.”

He asked, “How long have you been here?”

“All afternoon.”

“Do you know what happened down there?”

Angelo shook his head. “No, sir.”

“Didn’t you hear any noise?”

Angelo grinned slowly.

“Oh, yes, I heard a kind of screaming. Does it concern me, sir?”

Frank Braun said, “No, no, it doesn’t concern you—you are not from hereabouts.”

He left him standing and ran into the middle of the road.

“There it comes!” he cried. “There it comes!”

On the top of Monte Almego the car came into view, raced swiftly across the narrow strip of road which one could a see and hid itself in a cloud of white dust. Then he heard the hard hum of the motor and now it came nearer and nearer, like an arrow. The chauffeur blew his short horn. But Frank Braun stood still, stretched out his arms and forced him to stop.

“What do you want?” the chauffeur asked angrily.

“I want to go with you!” Frank Braun answered.

“I can’t take you. You see that all the places are occupied.”

Frank Braun came close up to him and seized his arm.

“You must take me away!” he cried. “I’ll throw myself under the wheels if you don’t.”

The chauffeur looked at him in surprise; he felt that this man was serious, “Sir,” he said to his neighbor, “would you mind moving over a little?”

The gentleman did so grumbling and shaking his head. Frank Braun climbed up and wedged himself in next to the chauffeur. Angelo shoved the bag between the knees of the passengers and stretched out his hand.

“What do you want?” Frank Braun asked him.

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He stammered:

“Holy Mistress”

She said, “Give him a drink of the Blood of the Lord!”

They handed him a vessel and he emptied it at one avid draught.

“Do you feel strong enough, Brother Girolamo?”

On his knee he slid to where her head lay.

“Mistress, Holy Sister, will you forgive me?”

She nodded:

“Brother, what you are to do is the will of God. It is a sacrifice that He demands of you—so that you may attain the forgiveness of your sins!”

He drank once more, and then kissed the holy wounds upon her feet. He sighed heavily and set the nail. He raised the hammer and struck—Frank Braun heard the hammer fall. Scuro’s back hid the feet of the saint from him, but he saw her face. She smiled humbly and her lips moved softly. Nevertheless she was feeling the pain: her hands clutched the wood convulsively and her fingernails dug themselves into it—they all knelt and prayed and dared not look up. And only the clear blows of the hammer screamed through the air.

Girolamo Scuro arose and with a white cloth wiped the dirty sweat from his forehead.

“It is done,” he croaked.

She thanked him. “Now the left hand,” she commanded.

He obeyed. Frank Braun saw how he pressed the hammer upon the stigmata, drove it through with one powerful blow and fastened it to the wood.

“The right hand,” she said.

The man hesitated.

“Holy Sister—it isn’t fast enough yet—it might tear off—”

Frank Braun writhed and a thick lump rose high in his throat. Oh, this was the most unspeakable thought of all: her hand might rip off, she might fall over forward and hang only by her bleeding feet—but the saint smiled:

“Have no care, brother, but do as I bid you!”

He went to her other side, knelt down and grasped her hand. He set the nail in the wound and swung the hammer.

She said, “Brother, I thank you. Now give the hammer to the prophet.

“Scuro obeyed. The prophet took the hammer.

“What am I to do?” he asked.

“Strike a blow on the nail in my left hand!”

He knelt and did as she demanded.

“Now you, brother Ronchi.”

And Ronchi gave a blow. And then she called old Ulpo.

Frank Braun thought:

“It is well so. Now you won’t be torn off.”

She called to her women.

“Linda Vuoto, take the hammer.”

The girl lifted it but it slipped from her hand:

“Holy Sister, I cannot do it!”

“You must do it, you must all do it. God wills it. Strike, and give the hammer to Carmelina.”

Each took the hammer. Carmelina used it lightly; it scarcely touched the nail. But Matilda Venier evidently felt that here was a good work that would open the gate of heaven to her.

And she cried:

“Save us, O Lamb of God, who barest the sins of the world!”

And she raised her arm and struck so vigorously that the nail bent.

The saint asked, “Has each given a stroke?”

And Ronchi said, “Yes, Holy Sister.”

“Then set the cross up!”

Scuro and Cornaro raised the cross from behind and five others helped them. They carried it carefully to the hole and lowered it so that its end touched the mouth of the cavity. Then they hesitated as if awaiting a new command from the saint.

“Set it up!” she repeated.

Ratti and Alvassi pressed the end into the hole; the others lifted the cross. Then the crown of thorns slipped from her head. “Stop!” cried the prophet. He lifted the crown and replaced it on her forehead.

“Press it more firmly—more firmly!” said the saint. “I dare not lose the Redeemer’s crown. With it I shall arise in three days and enter into the Kingdom of the Lord.”

The prophet did as she bade him, pressed firmly upon the thorns, and lifted her head a little so that the crown was wedged between it and the cross. They lifted the cross again until its position was vertical. They held it over the hole and lowered it slowly, inch by inch, so that it might not fall. They drove wooden wedges between the trunk and the shaft in order to support it, rolled up heavy stones and filled in the interstices with earth. And the cross stood fast and projected high above that of the Son of Man and above those of the thieves. They looked up, they thronged and crowded and a deep unrest impelled them. The prophet approached the cross:

“Holy Sister, what are we to do?”

Her lips whispered, “Pray!”

They all knelt; the prophet repeated the Good Friday prayer.

Frank Braun raised his eyes. She was beautiful—she had never been so beautiful. Her head inclined toward her left shoulder, her long, black locks fell down at both sides. The crown of thorns adorned her forehead and threw coral drops upon it. Her white breasts, drawn up by extended arms, gleamed in the sun like ripe fruits upon a golden salver. The cloth around her middle lay in ample folds, as in one of Cranach’s pictures, and left her thighs free and showed her nobly beautiful legs. The wounds in her hands and feet were tearing and poured out thin trickles of her red blood.

He thought:

“How long will she have to hang this way until death sets her free? Jesus of Nazareth hung for six hours. But the thieves at his side were still alive and their legs had to be broken when the sun sank and the Sabbath approached. Would they have to break Teresa’s legs, too? But the quiet smile died upon her lips; her features grew hard and rigid. One small drop of blood issued from her mouth and fell.

“If only she were dead!” he whispered.

She did not stir; she hung silent and motionless upon the cross. Then a trembling went through the muscles of her arms and raced convulsively through her body which was lifted and then fell back against the wood. Her mouth fell open; her chin hung low upon her breast. The minutes passed—or were they hours? Ah—they were eternities for him. His eyes clung to her face; breathlessly he watched for the slightest motion.

“She speaks!” he whispered.

The prophet drew himself up.

“Holy Sister, what are you saying to us?”

Softly, almost inaudibly, the Savior’s words came from her lips:

“I thirst.”

“Give her something to drink!” he cried. “Quickly, quickly!”

Tullio Tramonte seized a kettle; Scuro went up to the cross and put his two arms around it.

“Climb on my back!”

Tullio climbed up and stood on the giant’s shoulders. They gave him the kettle and he raised it up. But his arm was not long enough; it reached scarcely half the way. Ronchi tore a piece from his linen cloth, rolled it up and dipped it into the wine. Then he stuck it on Ratti’s saber, slowly and carefully, so that it might keep the moisture. He gave the saber to the lad:

“Put the cloth to her lips, brother!”

Tullio raised the saber high and pressed the cloth to her open mouth. She seized it with her teeth and sucked the drops greedily.

“She drinks, the saint drinks,” the prophet whispered.

They all looked up. Scuro loosened his left arm and stepped to one side in order to be able to see; he pushed against a loose stone and stumbled a little. He did not fall but supported himself against the cross. But Tullio Tramonte, standing without support, lost his equilibrium and fell down. Involuntarily he grasped for something and seized the cloth around the saint’s middle. The rope gave way and was loosened and Tullio fell. Alvassi caught him in his arms.

Frank Braun gave a soft cry. He had feared for a moment that the lad would pull down the crucified saint with him. But he barely touched her—and only tore the white cloth from her body. Only the cloth—she was still hanging on the cross—and he saw how her body was rounded. He stared at her—she was pregnant. She carried a child in her womb. A child—His child! His child! He cried out. He thrust back those who stood before him and made his way to the cross.

“Teresa!” he cried. “Teresa!”

But she gave no answer. Her eyes were closed and her fainting head hung down upon her breast. Horrified, he stared upon her rounded form. He saw the holy stigmata upon her left side; the wound was open and from it flowed a thin stream of bright blood.

“It is the child’s blood,” he thought.

He grasped the cross with both hands and shook it. They tore him away, but, blind with rage, he beat around him in all directions with unnatural strength. He hurled them aside and grasped the cross, as if he would lift it and tear it up and throw it to the ground.

“Teresa!” he cried. “Teresa!”

He saw how her body trembled and so he let the cross go. She awakened from her swoon and her eyes opened slowly.

“Who called me?” she asked.

“Brother Pietro, who called me back to earth?”

The prophet raised his arm and pointed to Frank Braun.

“It was he, Holy Sister.”

She looked at him.

And she said, “What does the stranger want?”

“Teresa—” he besought her. “Teresa—”

But she did not listen. With a mighty effort she raised her eyes to heaven. Her lips moved silently. She prayed and spoke with God. Then she lowered her eyes and looked upon him once more.

She said, “The Lord sent you here in order that His will be fulfilled. Take the lance and do as He commands.”

He did not understand her.

“What?” he stammered. “What?”

But she called down:

“Brothers, don’t you hear me? The Lord sent him—even as He did the strange soldier who pierced the Savior’s side with a thrust of his lance, so shall he do. That is the Lord’s will. Hurry brothers, hurry!”

They seized him. He struck out wildly and kicked and bit. But they grasped him and threw him to the ground. They entangled his legs and his body; they held fast his hands and his arms and then stood him up. And Girolamo Scuro took Alvassi’s mighty pitchfork and forced it into his hand.

“Do as she commands!” Scuro cried hoarsely.

“No!” he cried. “No!”

He roared and howled but they would not let him go; they gagged him with a piece of cloth and silenced him. Scuro’s heavy hand enclosed his, which held the shaft, and pressed it as if in a vise so that he could not let go. They raised him upright and placed the sharp, curved spikes of the pitchfork against the saint’s body.

“The saint wills it!” the prophet cried. “Push on!”

With all his might he tried to get free, to loosen his hand, to drag the shaft downward. But they held him—eight powerful men—with wild, fanatical strength. And the will of her who hung upon the cross made their muscles as of iron. He was her puppet now. Then, with a mighty jerk, Girolamo Scuro pushed his elbow from below and forced his arm up high. And the spike entered the saint’s body and was buried in it to the very hilt—deep in—through mother and child—just where the stigmata gleamed. The saint cried out. A single, wild and fearful cry. They released him and he fell to the earth.

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Then Linda Vuoto tore off a piece of the linen that wrapped her and gave it to the saint. The latter pressed her face into it as Jesus did in the picture and handed it back to the girl.

“Take it, dearest sister,” she said, “and keep it well in memory of me.”

They proceeded and the people thrust and tugged her forward, just as she commanded. The mighty cross pressed her heavily, despite Scuro’s help; she stumbled and fell down again, as the Savior did in the picture at the seventh station. But she arose quickly and went farther on the bitter way to the cross.

At the eighth picture she showed the people how Jesus comforted the weeping daughters of Jerusalem. And she beckoned her women and kissed their weeping eyes and said:

“Weep not for me! I go to prepare a place for you with the Bridegroom. And in a little while you will be with me in the bosom of the Lord.”

The saint’s steps grew weaker and weaker, and her poor body was bent lower under the weight of the cross. And as Jesus of Nazareth fell for a third time upon his path of suffering, so she fell too—under the picture at the ninth station. She arose and dragged herself on, painfully gasping, to the tenth picture, where Jesus was robbed of His garments and refused the gall which the soldiers offered Him.

The saint regarded the picture with a low moan; but her tears flowed for the sufferings of the Savior and not for her own. Then she turned to the congregation.

“Do your duty,” she said resignedly. “Do as the soldiers did.”

The women loosened the robe from her loins and from her shoulders and gently pulled off the garment which adhered with blood to the skin. They surrounded her; stripped her and wound a linen cloth around her middle which they gathered high and fastened with a rope. Thus she stood, naked from the knees down and from the waist up. Her soft flesh gleamed in the sun.

“Rend my garment,” she said, “and throw lots for it!”

Ronchi rent it with a sharp knife. He threw the rags into a copper kettle and let them all approach. Each drew one out with closed eyes. They pressed them to their lips. And those whose rag held a drop of blood rejoiced loudly. And they went farther up the hill of Calvary. Then Scuro carried the cross together with Venier, and the saint went by their side. They came to the eleventh picture.

“Behold,” she said, “how they nailed Jesus to the cross. And mark it well.”

They knelt and prayed and proceeded to the twelfth station, the picture of the death on the cross. The saint regarded it long, as if she would impress upon herself deeply what she must do in her heavy hour.

The prophet spoke again:

“We adore Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, and praise Thee!”

And the congregation answered:

“For by Thy holy cross didst Thou redeem the world.”

The saint said, “He was obedient even unto death.”

And they said, “Yes, even unto death on the cross.”

At the thirteenth picture, which shows the removal from the cross, the prophet said, “Holy Sister, we promise to do even as the friends of Christ did—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene.”

Carmelina pressed close to her:

“And your head shall rest in my lap.”

The saint said, “I thank you, dear sisters and brothers. Do everything as the Lord commands.”

They came to the last station where the picture showed the burial.

And she said, “Thus will it come to pass!”

The prophet repeated the prayer to the five sacred wounds of Jesus, and they went farther the last little piece of the way—up to Golgotha. The saint knelt before the image of the Son of Man. Then she arose and pointed to a spot before the Savior’s cross.

“Set it up here!” she commanded.

Ratti and five young men seized a shovel and hoes. They worked quickly and the hole became deeper and deeper. They threw the earth aside and lifted out the heavy stones with their hands.

“Put the cross in!” the saint commanded.

Scuro and Venier obeyed. Then she kissed her women. She lay down on the cross, folded her feet and stretched her arms far out upon the crossbeam. Scuro looked at her, and then he examined the picture of Christ.

“We can’t nail her feet,” he said.

Cornaro said, “We ought to bind her. That is better.

But the saint looked at him:

“Would you execute me like the robbers? Make a support for my feet!”

Scuro took his axe and hewed a piece from the crossbeam which extended too far on each side. He carved it with his eye on the image of Christ as if to get the right measure. Then he nailed the narrow board to the trunk of the cross under her feet.

“Is this right, Holy Sister?” he asked.

Lightly she propped her feet against it and nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “I am resting softly in the Bridegroom’s arms.”

She closed her eyes and folded her hands in prayer. And the peasants dug the hole. A lad jumped in and loosened the stones with a pick and handed them up. When the hole was deep enough, they built a narrow shaft of crude masonry to give the cross support. Frank Braun still stood close by them; Cornaro and ugly Alvassi still held him fast. There was no possibility of escape; the people stood densely crowded on the broad platform and far down along the path of the cross—they spoke the litany of the bitter Sorrows of Jesus; the prophet cried upon the Son of God and the congregation joined in:

“Have mercy upon us! Have mercy upon us!”

His ear heard the hoarse invocations, caught them up and cried them into his brain:

“Jesus, bathed in bloody sweat—Jesus,—spat upon—Jesus, scourged with rods—Jesus, crowned with thorns—Jesus, led like a lamb to the slaughter—Jesus, cruelly robbed of His garments—

Ah, it was the saint, it was Teresa! She was the Son even as she was the Mother! And his lips formed the words which came from the mouths of all:

“Have mercy upon us!”

He felt as if he were shriveling up, as if he were getting smaller and shorter. But the saint developed into the infinite. He turned his eyes away from that calm face which smiled toward death as toward a gentle kiss. He could have hidden himself in the hole which the lads were digging. He could not even cry out. He felt as if a cry would liberate him—but his lips stuck together.

He closed his eyes; with a wild and terrible exertion he forced his thoughts to leave this platform, to quench this terrible flame of emotion in cool weighing and reflection. It was a last desperate effort of his civilized self, a terrible struggle for a last possibility of raising himself above all that was taking place, of attaining the stature of a mere cool observer of the wild tragedy of this madwoman. He clenched his fists tightly and bit his tongue. The veins in his temples were near bursting. He struggled. Could he not succeed? What was it? Could he no longer bear to see a human being put to death? It was not the first time! He recalled that there was a time in his life when he had never missed an opportunity to see such a spectacle, and ran to an execution as if it were a bullfight.

He recalled each occasion in his mind. He had seen the guillotine work four times. And he had been present when the executioner had beheaded Josefa Kreuter. He had seen more than one swing from the gallows and knew how the garrote worked and the big chair in Sing Sing. And he had joked about it! And what was left in the end? Not much more than a slightly bad taste on the tongue—a bitter-sweet taste of blood.

He had seen how they dragged Joe Whiting to the stake .The Negro scoundrel who had violated and killed an alderman’s wife. The lynchers had fetched him from prison and led him in the torch lit night with crying and howling under an ash tree in the field. It was a genuine picture of such a Southern scene—three thousand black scamps and a handful of men on horses. They built the wooden pile, drenched it with coal oil and put the Negro on it. They fastened a noose around his neck and slung the rope over a branch. The sheriff spoke a few words and the alderman put the torch to the wood. It flamed high in a moment but at the same time thirty reports rang out and thirty good Winchester bullets riddled the black body. It was a farce! It only looked cruel. It was a fantastic comedy calculated to impress the Negroes. Now they would keep the peace for a few years and the wives and daughters of white men could breathe more freely.

All that was not so bad. The first time—certainly, the first time it was quite exciting. Just as a boy’s heart beats the first time he goes swimming, or a student’s when facing his opponent, each with his foil. But after a while the essentials were obliterated and only the details, the technique, remained interesting. Just like at a bullfight when it became the main point of interest that the Espada should thrust his sword at the first blow deep between the shoulders of the animal, so that it would rise like a cross between the horns; as, at a cockfight, when one ended up merely observing whether the cock aimed well at the eyes of its opponent—just so at an execution when the interest was finally centered upon the executioner’s skill, and this was good if it were swift and clever. This was the positive element and the emotions were submerged.

But here they stepped forth in sultry terror and subtle oppressions and throttled him. And why?—was there nothing that could divert him? He looked for Girolamo Scuro. He was nailing the support for her feet fast to the Cross and measuring it by the one in the picture—just like the carpenter did in his workshop. Or Ratti and his men who dug the hole? No, they were not executioners—not one of them.

None had his own will; they were tools, nothing else. They were axes, ropes, guillotines— but not executioners. They obeyed the commands of the saint. The executioner did not obey. He was a free man who attended to his business. He took his wage and, in return, obligated himself to kill the murderer. It was his strong will to kill him. But none of these people wanted to kill the saint. Each, on the contrary, would gladly have given his own life to save her.

Only her will demanded the execution: therefore she was the executioner, she alone. And her work was awkward and slow—she was a wretched executioner. But good or bad, how could this executioner withdraw the attention to herself—from the victim—this executioner who was herself the victim? He grasped his head with both hands; his brain seemed to swell and to press toward all sides as if to burst his skull. No, no, it was not possible to liberate himself—he was a part, some part of this bestial crowd.

The saint raised her eyes.

“Are you done?” she asked softly.

Ratti nodded:

“Yes, Holy Sister.”

She smiled gently. “Then begin.”

She beckoned to Scuro.

“How shall I begin?” he asked.

She said, “Fasten my feet to the wood.”

The man knelt down, he selected a nail that was very long and had a large head and tested its point with his teeth.

“Shall I drive it into the wounds?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the saint, “that is the place which the Lord himself has designated!”

He placed the nail and lifted the hammer. But he let it drop again for his arm trembled.

“What are you waiting for?” asked the saint.

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Chapter Fourteen

 

“The Crucifix is my love.”

-St. Ignatius

 

Ronchi ordered the procession. Meanwhile the prophet caused the copper vessels to be filled with wine and transformed it. Ratti marched with the musicians at the head of the procession, and behind them paced old Ulpo and the other aged men and women. The prophet followed with four other men who carried scourges, then Girolamo Scuro and Venier, who bore the heavy cross on their shoulders, and the saint walked behind the cross, surrounded by her women. Then came Ronchi himself, swinging his whip high through the air. The smith Alvassi and Cornaro conducted the stranger and behind them strode the lads with their candles. The people followed in a dense crowd.

To the right and to the left, however, on both sides of the procession, ten girls and ten boys hurried up and down; they carried the kettles and gave them to any that wanted to be refreshed by the blood of the Lord. In this manner they proceeded along the broad road which first led down to the lake and then rose slowly to the promontory of the crosses.

Ronchi did not turn his face away from the saint; his black eyes gleamed in pious love and ardent rapture. And suddenly, as the music fell silent, he intoned in an unnaturally loud voice the great litany which is called the Lauretanian. He called upon the Lord God, the Father in Heaven, upon His Son, the Redeemer of the World, the Holy Ghost and the Trinity. But his voice rose in fanatical transports of love when he reached the invocations to the Madonna.

“Holy Mary pray for us! Holy Mother of God—Holy Virgin of all Virgins—Mother of Christ—Mother of divine grace—Thou purest Mother—Thou most virginal Mother—Thou immaculate Mother—Thou sweet Mother—Thou Mother of the Creator—Thou Mother of the Redeemer—Thou wisest Virgin—Thou revered Virgin—Thou laudable Virgin—Thou gracious Virgin—Thou faithful Virgin—Thou mirror of righteousness—Thou seat of wisdom, Pray for us.”

The congregation joined in and from all throats rang out, after each invocation:

“Pray for us!”

First it sounded softly, almost like a whisper, and then it took on volume and grew louder and more insistent, like a just demand that is conscious of certain fulfillment.

“Thou source of our salvation—Pray for us! Thou reverend vessel—Pray for us! Thou excellent vessel of devotion—Pray for us! Thou rose of the spirit—Pray for us! Thou tower of David! Pray for us!”

But Ronchi’s eyes were not raised above to where the Madonna sat enthroned in the blue heavens. They rested only upon the saint. And it seemed as if the invocations were meant for her and for her alone. She it was, she alone, whom he praised.

“Thou tower of ivory—Thou golden house—Thou Ark of the Covenant—Thou gate of heaven—Thou morning star—Thou morning star!” he cried out to her jubilantly. “Thou morning star!”

And the congregation joined in:

“Pray for us—Pray for us. Thou salvation of the sick—Thou refuge of sinners—Thou consoler of the afflicted—Thou helper of Christians—Thou queen of the angels—”

He ran to her, threw himself on the ground and kissed the hem of her garment.

“Thou queen of the angels!” he stammered.

“Thou queen of the patriarchs—Thou queen of the prophets—Thou queen of the apostles—Thou queen of the martyrs—Thou queen of the confessors—Thou queen of the virgins—“

“Pray for us!” the people cried.

And it seemed as if the spirit of worship that animated Ronchi extended itself and took possession of them all. Those behind her crowded closer; those who preceded her turned around to see her. But her women gathered close around her, happy if they might touch an edge of her garment. They cried out aloud to her and all joined in:

“Thou queen of the holy rosary, pray for us! O Thou Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us!”

They repeated the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, and it was the saint to whom they prayed. She, who was now going in unto the Father, was to be the messenger of their pious wishes. She was to be their mediatrix at the throne of God. She was the bride of the Redeemer.

She remained standing. The prophet turned to the saint and said the Salve Regina.

“Hail, O Queen, Mother of Mercies, the sweetness of life and our hope, hail! To Thee we cry, miserable children of Eve, to Thee we sigh, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Hail, O Mother, our mediatrix, turn thy merciful eyes unto us in our wretchedness, show us to Jesus, the blessed fruit of thy womb, O gracious, mild, sweet Virgin Mary!”

They spoke five Paternosters and five Ave Marias; then the prophet blessed them. And they proceeded up the hill of Calvary. To the right, in the mountain wall, was the picture of the first station of the cross; Ronchi raised his hand and they halted.

The prophet said:

“We adore Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, and praise Thee!”

And they responded:

“For through Thy holy cross didst Thou redeem the world.”

Frank Braun looked upon the picture. It showed Christ before Pilate. The proconsul sat on his chair, he had just pronounced judgment. Then the men-at-arms seized the Nazarene, pressed the crown of thorns upon his head and scourged him. The saint knelt and prayed. Then she arose with a quiet and resigned smile.

“Loosen my garment,” she commanded her women. “And you, brother Ronchi, fetch a crown of thorns.”

The tailor thought for a moment, and then he departed with swift steps. The women went hesitatingly to their work; slowly they loosened her garments at her shoulders so that her neck was free. Ronchi returned and brought a piece of barbed wire. He cut off a thorny twig and wound it around the twisted wire. He pricked himself and his finger bled.

“Give it to me, brother!” said the saint.

She took off the golden cross and the bloody stigmata gleamed on her forehead. She kissed the crown of thorns and set it firmly on her head.

“It is the crown of the Lord!” she said. “It hurts, but these are the sweet pains of the Redeemer!”

Then she pointed to the picture.

“Behold, my brothers, how Christ suffered under the hands of the Jews. This I must now suffer. Take your scourges and scourge me!”

They hesitated again and she had to repeat her command. But the blows were feeble and hesitant.

“You must strike me even as they struck Christ,” she said. “May God strengthen your arms!”

And they obeyed and struck her—but she did not complain. She smiled quietly and said:

“They are the pains of the Redeemer.”

Then she turned to the prophet.

“Spit upon me,” she begged. “Even as the Jews spat upon the Savior.”

The prophet answered:

“Do not demand that, sister! How dare I spit upon your holy face?”

But she insisted.

“You must do it,” she said. “You must all do it in order that the will of the Lord be fulfilled. Girolamo and Scuro—spit upon me.”

The man spat and his black, horrible spittle clung to her sweet cheek. She thanked him humbly; then she turned to Carmelina:

“Spit upon me!”

But the girl cried out and sank down sobbing and kissed her naked, bloody feet. The saint caressed the girl and raised her up.

“Dear sister, you must do it; the Lord demands it.”

The poor girl threw herself into her arms and obeyed. But it was more of a kiss. They all approached and all spat upon her face. And the saint thanked each one humbly.

“Let us proceed farther,” she said.

They came to the second station where the picture showed Christ taking up the cross.

“We pray unto Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, and praise Thee!” said the prophet.

And the congregation responded:

“For by Thy holy cross didst Thou redeem the world.”

The saint turned to Scuro and Venier.

“Lay down the cross,” she commanded.

She stretched out both her arms toward it and lifted it.

“You will not be able to carry it, Holy Sister,” said Ronchi.

She answered:

“I must carry it. Did not the Lord also carry His cross?”

She waved away those who would help her. She took the heavy wood and laid it across her bleeding shoulder. Her back bent and the sharp edge pressed deeply into her flesh.

“Beat me,” she demanded. “Drive me on, as the soldiers drove the Lord to Golgotha.”

They obeyed and whipped her; step by step she stumbled under the frightful load. Then, at the third station, she broke down—as Christ did in the picture. She lay there fainting while the congregation spoke prayers. She arose with the help of her women, took up the cross anew and dragged it on, sighing and moaning under the strokes of the scourges.

At the fourth station she stopped again and knelt down and laid the cross on the earth. With eyes full of tears she saw how the Savior, bending under the burden of the cross, meets His sad Mother.

“Lord, Father in heaven, increase my strength!” she prayed. And they proceeded to the fifth picture. Her shoulders seemed to be laid open, so deeply had the sharp wood cut into the flesh. And only the scourging drove her on; she dragged herself wearily, stopping every moment, like an animal led to slaughter. The picture showed how the soldiers seized Simon of Cyrene and forced him to help the exhausted Savior drag the cross. Scuro leaped forward, grasped the cross and loaded the lower part of his broad shoulders. Thus he went behind the saint and vigorously helped her bear the cross which, nevertheless, still burdened her grievously. They came to the sixth station, which represented Veronica kneeling before the Lord and handing Him her handkerchief to wipe away the sweat and blood. The prophet spoke a prayer and the congregation responded at each picture.

“Give me a cloth,” the saint said to her women.

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