Chapter 10: An Exorcism
“You walk apart from them, Miriam.” The voice from behind her seemed to emerge out of the shadows, bearing their same weightless but oppressive force. “You know that this artistic existence of yours must soon come to an end. Come with me now, and they will not miss you.”
Miriam buried her head in her hands so that the shadow might not see her face, or she its. “You are wrong,” she uttered with only the barest conviction.
“Signorina, this is too terrible!” The voice was not his, but the Faun’s, that mystical creature who braved the city in the moonlight for her, despite his natural love of the bright sun and fresh woodland.
“How dare you look at us?” exclaimed the satyr. “Men have been struck dead for lesser offences!”
“If Miriam desires it, I shall not be loath to die, but I shall die with you!”
“Donatello, if you desire the blessings of your homeland, your olive orchards and your Tuscan vines, you must leave us now. This spectre is mine; it is not you he haunts,” Miriam pleaded. “Get you gone, without another word or look!”
“That is right. Leave us. She is mine. You do not know her, or by what rights I make my claim upon her,” the satyr sneered.
“Make the sign of the cross, Donatello, as your faith has taught you, and follow Kenyon and the others!” Miriam urged her friend.
“I will never quit you, Miriam. You cannot drive me from you. Bid me drive this ghost from you, instead!” There was a look on Donatello’s face such as she had never seen before, as he stepped forward to take her arm. Her follower intervened, blocking Donatello’s grasp.
“Go. She calls you the Faun. You are made for other climes, and know not for whom you are risking yourself.”
Donatello swore a minor oath in his native tongue. “You are speaking to the Count of Monte Beni. Unhand me and explain the cause of your punishment of this woman!”
The satyr laughed. “I used to think, Miriam, that you might bring the whole world to your feet, should you have need. But look, your beauty and gifts have brought you only this simple boy. And you accept his aid.”
“You insult me so freely?” Donatello cried.
“You are wrong! The whole world may come to my aid if only I bid it.” Miriam glanced down at the rest of their party, now far below at the foot of the Coliseum, beyond calls or shouts. “Donatello, come!” she exclaimed, and so turning her back, began the descent. In so fleeing, she felt released, and she heard footsteps above her as she made her way down the hill, reckless as to whether she kept her feet or no. She heard her name, but whether it came from behind or before her, she could not tell, as two of the group below—Hilda and Kenyon it must be—separated and moved towards the hill.
“Hilda!” she called as she nearly stumbled. “Do not go without me,” she added, in case her words could be heard by the group beyond. In a rush, she was joined with Hilda, almost at the bottom of the descent, and she found herself suddenly at a halt amid the ancient dust, which settled upon her dress and seemed to weigh her down. Hilda held her arms very tight, keeping her own eyes fixed upon the top of the hill, but Miriam’s upon the Coliseum.
“Donatello! Do come,” Kenyon shouted, his tone light but a strain in his voice as he moved on beyond them, striding up the hill. “You will miss the pleasure of the Coliseum in the moonlight if we wait too long for you.”
Were we, at that moment, to consider matters from the point of view of Kenyon, or dear sweet Hilda, we might question whether or friends had suddenly gone mad, infected by the moonlight or the feverish air of Rome’s spring. We must satisfy ourselves, however, with Miriam’s sense of gentle relief at having found the arms of Hilda in which to rest, and of having loosed herself from her spectre and left it instead to burden another.
Staring up the hill a moment longer, Hilda shook her head and met her friend’s eye. “Come, Miriam. It is all over. Kenyon and Donatello will be with us in but a moment. Arthur, there is no need, we come directly,” she added, calling out to the painter who was now advancing towards them. “Come, Miriam,” she repeated quietly, leading her friend by the hand down the remainder of the ascent, and across the muddy ditch below.
They had just rejoined the group when the footsteps of Kenyon echoed behind them. “Donatello has taken ill, the dust and heat too much for his constitution, raised on the wooded mountains of Tuscany.”
“Ah, a shame,” Hilda replied, her voice a little strained, “but quite understandable. Few there are who remain in Rome now without some influence of its close atmosphere.”
“We will press on into the Coliseum, then?” Arthur asked. The remainder of the group were restless, and had been about to break into a song when Hilda and Miriam had rejoined them.
“We will,” Kenyon said firmly, and he held his arm out for Miriam, whose face was clearly pale despite the wan moonlight that was their only illumination. She glanced nervously up at the hill which she had just descended, but there was no hint either of Donatello or of her follower. Kenyon led her on a pace or two until she fell into an easy step with him and Hilda.
“Doubtless,” he said casually to Arthur, who followed alongside them, “all the blood that the Romans shed here in the Coliseum remains in the dust beneath our feet today. Do you wonder whether at times it may spring back to life, at a spell or some hallowed anniversary, and repeat its past form in present day?”
“Well, surely, there are some whose appearance is so alike that of Roman sculpture or Renaissance art that that may be a natural conclusion,” Arthur began to hypothesise.
“Miriam,” Hilda said softly to her friend, “you need not stay. Shall we walk home together, you and I?”
“There is no need,” Miriam replied, quite composed again now, her posture wonderfully straight and her stride almost as long as Kenyon’s. “I am quite alright again now. It was but a moment’s distress that moved me to dash towards you so, headlong and without due care. But that distress is now all exorcised from me.” It was true, her heart felt lighter now, for the moment of crisis had come and passed, and still she was amongst her friends, safe in their esteem and under their protection. Hilda was to her, at that moment, talismanic, and her sisterly love for her friend stronger than before. As Arthur and Kenyon spoke beside them, so other singing and chattering voices reached them on the air from other parties strolling through the moonlight. The world that had seemed so very empty a few moments ago was full again of society and vigour.
“Very well. I am glad. We shall go on,” Hilda replied, her voice a little grave.
In a moment, as they passed the French sentinel, who eyed their party cautiously but let them pass inside unhindered, a song struck up from the front of the group, ‘Hail, Columbia!’, a song to which even Miriam lent the sweetness of her note. The song broke up into scattered laughs as the group splintered into twos and threes, settling upon the rocky plinths to continue their fine talk. To Miriam, the niches called most insistently, and she slipped from the group to make her devotions, to give thanks for the new lightness of her heart and relief at having shared her burden with Donatello.
Watching her friend with melancholy eyes, Hilda turned to the sculptor who remained at her side, having yielded Arthur, with a generous smile, to another interlocutor.
“Kenyon,” she said seriously. “I am ordinarily so sure of my sight—”
“Hilda.” He brought her to a stop with an insistent tone. “I know not what you saw, but it would be best to put it aside. Our friend Donatello would be much ashamed to have his violent temper so exposed, after having been so much praised for his gentle Sylvan nature.”
“Kenyon.” Hilda stopped. “In the dark it is so impossible to see clearly, be the moon however so bright. Things take on a different shape and character, the sight of which afterwards one might be ashamed to own. I can not think badly of Donatello.”
“That is quite right, Hilda. And we must not allow Miriam to think badly of him either, he has dedicated himself to her with such fixity.”
“But not she to him,” Hilda reminded him, an echo of their conversation in Palazzo Cenci before the Beatrice.
“No, not she to him. She is not committed, and might free herself from him whenever she chose. But for his sake, then, if not for hers, let us not hasten that inevitable sundering. He may have done her a great service, or may do so still.”
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