Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  In the Hall of Cypresses

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In the Hall of Cypresses

By Mary Agnes Tincker (1831–1907)

[Born in Ellsworth, Me. Died in Boston, Mass., 1907. Signor Monaldini’s Niece. 1879.]

THE STEAMING horses were urged to their utmost; and Don Filippo, leaning from the carriage every moment to see if the mountain city grew nearer, fancied that it receded instead of advancing.

It was already twilight when he reached the villa; and, on entering the garden, he saw Camilla’s white figure on the terrace, looking pale and spirit-like in that dim light, for the moon had not yet risen.

She turned at sound of his step, and he knew that even at a distance he was recognized; but she stood immovable, and waited for him. She had always before come to meet him, and her failure to do so was significant. He could not know, nor even suspect, what had happened since the day of their parting; but he perceived at once that an entire change had taken place. The pallor which he noted was no longer radiant, the drooping no longer that of a flower over-full of dew. Yet she was more than friendly. The soft hand she gave him immediately, the low-voiced welcome, the serious regard, all were full of tenderness; but it was a tenderness that made him tremble, for it spoke of parting. She appeared like one who looks her last on the thing she best loves.

“What has happened, Camilla?” he exclaimed. “Something is the matter with you.”

She gazed at him a moment, her eyes searching though tearful, her lips trembling.

“Yes, something has happened,” she said, with that fainting of the voice which tells how the heart faints. “My uncle is angry with me for a fault which exists only in his imagination, and we have separated forever. Madame von Klenze is disappointed and dissatisfied with me to a degree which makes it unpleasant for me to stay with her longer; and some one on whom I depended has failed me utterly. I am friendless, Don Filippo!”

“Not while you have me! You shall never be friendless while I live!” He had not released her hand. He held it closer, and stood nearer to her. “Camilla, you must tell all, and trust all to me,” he said. “This hour was sure to come, and it has come sooner than I expected.”

She did not withdraw her hand nor herself. She stood still, and looked up into his face. But there was no joy nor relief in her own. Sorrow and tenderness alone were there.

The voice of Madame von Klenze interrupted them. “Camilla, it is very imprudent for you to be in the garden at this hour,” she called out from the window. “You are taking in malaria with every breath.”

“We must see each other without interruption,” Don Filippo said hastily. “We will go to her now. Will you meet me, as soon as she frees you, in the Hall of Cypresses?”

Camilla assented, and they went toward the window. “Don Filippo is come,” she said.

Madame was astonished, and asked a hundred questions, which he answered or parried with a gayety which jarred upon Camilla’s mood. She forgot that, while she was bent under the heaviness of a painful certainty, he was excited by suspense.

After a little while, she excused herself, and hurried out into the dewy garden again. The way was dark, under trees and crowding shrubs; but she had learned every step, and she followed a clue of varied perfumes. Where the roses made the air delicious with their breath, she was to turn to the right; where the odor of heliotrope met her in a fragrant sigh, she must go straight on, till the sigh became a full breath, and the breath a heaviness too rich to be borne. Then the darkness cleared a little for a pine grove with its fine perfumes, then came a cloud of jasmine. And, after the jasmine, she had to stretch her hands out to right and left, and walk carefully, touching the thick hedge at either side, and turning with it, till there came one turn where a little gate barred the way. The gardener had given her the key to this gate. When it was opened, she entered the semicircular green behind the great hall, went up the stair, and stepped into the Hall of Cypresses. As she entered, all the pointed tips around were catching fire from the risen moon, which looked over with a white face, shining in a mist of illuminated dewy air, like an Eastern bride in her saffron veil. The upper end of the fountain-basin was like trembling quicksilver, the rest a live black, and so polished that the tree-tops were reflected in it with every shining spire. Underneath the trees, an absolutely opaque darkness reigned. Anything or anybody might have lurked there without fear of being seen. For if a white face had leaned out to look at Camilla as she passed, it would have hidden itself quickly when her eyes turned that way. If a stealthy step had followed her, it would have timed itself carefully with her step. And, besides, the ground under the cypresses was as smooth as a floor, and slippery with fallen needles from the trees above. So that a footfall there would sound like a breath, or like a rustle of leaf to leaf in the chestnuts beyond.

Camilla glanced about the fairy-like place, and the weight lifted a little from her heart. It was impossible in such a scene to find the hard facts of every-day life all-important. The interests which were catching and crushing her in their cruel grasp appeared contemptible amid this splendor of fairy-land. Besides, in another moment she was to see Don Filippo!

For the first time in her life, she tasted the wild sweetness of a stolen pleasure. There was delight in hiding from jealous eyes, in walking softly, in speaking low. She began to feel temptation in its utmost force, when what is desired seems more beautiful, more noble, and more holy than any other earthly thing, and when all else is as ashes.

The gate below shut with a faint click, there was a step on the stair, and Don Filippo was at her side.

It may seem strange to some when I say that her temptation grew weaker with the presence of him who caused it, but it was so. She had the delicate shrinking of a woman who has never had an accepted lover; and, while she could stretch her arms out to him afar off, she shrank from him when near.

“Tell me at once what has happened!” he exclaimed. “I have been in an agony about you. I felt that something was the matter.”

“I have been troubled by my relatives,” she said gently, “and not for the first time; but now I am forced to feel that for the future I must depend upon myself. I must do something to earn money, and shall try to get pupils in the languages. I hope to succeed in the end; but it is not easy at first, and that has made me rather sad.”

“Have you friends?” he asked, after a moment’s pause.

“I have acquaintances,” she replied hesitatingly.

“Have you any influential friend, whose word is a shield in itself,—any woman friend?”

The question was like an arrow through her heart, though it did not surprise her. It showed that he considered a woman friend necessary.

“I have no one,” she replied. “At present Madame von Klenze is too much disappointed, because I do not take her advice, to be willing to assist me. Maybe she will later.”

“You have just given her a disappointment?” he asked quickly, thinking of Carlisle.


Don Filippo took her hand, pressed it, then released it instantly. “Courage!” he said, and there was a breath of joy in his voice. “I know two distinguished ladies who will befriend you. They may advise you, perhaps, to adopt some other mode of freeing yourself; but they will help you in whatever course you choose. Courage, Camilla mia! You have, at least, one friend. No harm shall touch you. You are not alone and deserted. Leave all care to me. To-morrow morning I will go to these ladies. I have already spoken of you to them, and they have promised to aid you in case you should need it. Are you content?”

He spoke rapidly, warmly, and with a caressing softness in the concluding question. As he uttered it, he again took her hand. “Are you content?” he repeated.

She tried to speak, but could not. She had been sure that he would help her; yet his quick generosity almost broke her heart. It made him so much more dear, so much harder to lose.

Her head had drooped, and her face was in shadow. He could not see what emotion kept her silent. It might be disappointment.

“There is another way,” he said in a lower voice. “I love you. If you consent, I will marry you, in spite of obstacles.”

She drew quickly back, and raised her hand to silence him. “You have a wife, Don Filippo,” she said; “and you have vowed to be true to her till death shall part you. She is not dead. There can be no talk of marriage between us. We could not be happy, remembering her. And the world would blame you, would think hardly of you. It would seem cruel to desert utterly one so feeble and unfortunate as she. True, she might never know. But, if a friend we loved were dying, we could not leave him till the last breath, though our going might not be perceived. You must not stain your noble name, which all the world sees.”

Don Filippo was silent. He had not expected so decisive a refusal. The firmness of pain sounded to him like that of coldness.

“I thank and bless you for your goodness to me,” she resumed in a trembling voice. “It will be a great charity if you assist me, as you first proposed. If those ladies would enable me to go to France, and to go soon, recommending me to some one there, I shall be very grateful.

Her emotion touched him again with tenderness. He saw that she still suffered, in spite of the refuge he offered her.

“Why should you go away?” he asked eagerly. “You can stay here in a circle so different from that of your relatives that you need never meet them. Stay, Camilla! Have you no thought for me? I will not disturb you. I could not let you go. Have you no idea what you have become to me, dear love? Rome would be dust and ashes without you. Remain with friends of mine, where I can see you, and can know that you are well and content.”

“I could not be contented so,” she said. “I could not stop there. Once I thought that it would be enough for me to be near you, and to know that you wished me well; but now I have learned that I should desire more.”

“Camilla!” he exclaimed, and blushed crimson all over his face.

She did not blush, but went on in the same tone of deep sadness.

“I thought it all over last night: I had thought of it before, but last night I freed myself from all illusions. There was no one near of whom I could ask advice; but I am not uninstructed, and, besides, God is always near. I was wishing that I could see some one like Saint Francis of Assisi. I thought of him, because he was poor and pure, and because he and Saint Clara were so fond of each other and so holy in their affection. It seemed to me that he would have told me how the spirits of two friends can embrace joyfully, and the flesh remain divided. I did understand, indeed, that with two saints it could be so. But I am not a saint, and am not ready to lead the life which subjects the human affections so utterly. I would, indeed, willingly have forsaken the world, if you had done the same; but that could not be. Well, I studied it all over, and tried to see my way clear. First, I said a prayer to the Holy Ghost, because he is the enlightener. Then I sat down by the window, with the moon shining over me, and no lamp in the room. I thought that the moonlight was like the Holy Ghost shining on me. It was necessary to have some rule to think by, and I remembered that of our Lord, that we should do by others what we would wish them to do by us. Then I imagined myself somebody’s wife, as that poor lady is yours. I am smitten and ruined, I said. Well, so be it! He cannot take pleasure in me, and he only pities and shrinks from me. I am resigned to that. I cannot love him with a living love, because I am strange to myself, and lost, and dead in a way. Well, again. It was sad, but I could only submit. Then I said, there is another who is healthy, and has a clear will, and can guide herself, and rejoice in life, and she stands beside him, and pleases him, and they call each other friends. Then it began to trouble me; but still I said, I am resigned. It pains me, but it is not wrong. We cannot live without human sympathies. But then I thought of the things this happier woman would wish to do, one by one; and I looked and imagined her doing them, and before I had finished them all. I cried out: ‘She is a wicked woman! She has no such right. Her talk of friendship is a mask. That is love!’”

Camilla raised her eyes and looked at him. “It was all clear in the light of the Holy Ghost, Don Filippo. The only thing allowed was what I could no longer be content to be confined to. We must separate.”

“What were the things you imagined this happier woman would wish to do?” he asked steadily, yet with a beating heart. He was incredulous of so much firmness.

“I will tell you, because I want you to know all,” she replied, with a faint tremor in her voice. “I shall have a feeling of peace, knowing, being sure, that you read my whole heart. It is very childish, perhaps; but women and children love in that way. At first it was not so; but, later, I have sometimes looked at your hair,—it is so soft and sunny,—and I have thought I would like to touch it, and to draw my fingers along the waves, which go, first a shadow, and then a golden light, and then a shadow again. And, then, once I sat behind you, and saw how fine your ear and cheek and neck are, and the little quick thought which came to me was like a flash. I wished that for an instant you and everybody could be stricken blind, so that I might run to you, and kiss you just under the ear.”

“Camilla!” he exclaimed again, and flung himself forward at her feet, and lifted his arms to embrace her.

She put him back with a gentle hand, looking at him with startled, reproachful eyes.

“Do you think I could tell you this, if it were not impossible to be done!” she exclaimed. “See how I trust and love you. I talk to you as if you were my guardian angel. I conceal nothing. Could I insist on what gives you pain, could I resist a prayer of yours, without telling you everything that would make it clear that I must do so?”

Don Filippo’s flushed face grew pale. He began to perceive something inexorable in her pure and sorrowful gentleness. He sank on the stone seat opposite her, and sat with his lip under his teeth, gazing at her, doubting if, indeed, he must give her up, or should snatch her by force away from the world she lived in, and by his pleading wear out her resolution where none could interfere.

“It would be most bold and indelicate, if I were to say this in any other circumstances,” she said. “But it is almost as if my spirit should come back after my death to tell you. In one way, I am dead. My ignorant illusions have perished, and their loss has left me chilly. I saw an English play once that comes to my mind now. In it there was a king who had killed a great many people. At last, one night, on the eve of battle, he dreamed; and, in his dream, all whom he had killed came back to him, one by one, and looked at him, and spoke, each one, his cruel word, and passed away. So it was with me last night. Every hope and wish and sweet vision which I was forced to destroy came back and looked at me, and stabbed me to the heart, and departed.”

“My poor darling!” he exclaimed. “My poor darling! How I have ruined your life!”

“Not so!” she said with tender eagerness. “Do you not know that there is a sadness and pain sweeter than is most pleasure? I would not give the pain I have, knowing you, for any joy I could have had, not having known you. I sometimes think that suffering is a better possession than delight. You can hold a sweet pain all your life, and it may be as a shield between you and every other trouble; but pleasure may escape at any moment. See what precious thoughts I can cherish. I shall say, I know that he loved me tenderly, and he knew that he was all to me, and that I shall not change toward him, though we should not meet ever again. I shall say, we were together a little while, meaning no harm, and, as soon as we saw that ill would come of it, we separated, and it is well with us. Every day and night my thoughts will turn toward you, blessing you, and that part of the heavens over your dwelling will seem to me the place where the sun rises. I want a little picture of you, and you must put a ring on my finger the last time we meet. I am not going to try to forget you. Do not you see, Filippo mio, that there will be few married people in the world so perfectly united as we shall be? We shall have entered on the spiritual life. No misunderstandings can come between us. We shall live in the region above the clouds.”

Something of her tranquillity communicated itself to him. He felt so sure of her love that even parting seemed bearable. But he was not yet satisfied.

“Camilla,” he said, “will not you say that you could be happy as my wife, if it might be so?”

“Certainly,” she replied, without hesitation. “And, if we stayed together, I could not be content in any other way. It is no sin. It is as natural that I should wish it as that I should breathe. Without it, it seems to me that I do not breathe any more, but only sigh.”

He rose hastily from the seat, and stood beside her as she rose from the rocky basin-ledge, and stood looking down upon the water into which her tears were dropping.

“My love!” he exclaimed passionately, “I cannot give you up! We should suffer more in parting than in staying together. You forget that we should be anxious about each other, if not doubting. In sickness, danger, or death, we should suffer too much if separated. I am not a slave of love, dear, and I will be guided by you. I yield to your decision, and will say nothing of marriage. But you must yield, and remain near me. If you refuse, you will fly me in vain; for I shall follow you to the world’s end. In everything else I yield; in this I must be a tyrant. Never shall you hide your dear face and form from me. Death only shall hide you from me; life, never! Look up, darling! Give me your hand! Take courage, and trust me. I will be true and honest! At my first fault, you may leave me. I promise you that. Give me the trial!”

If only she might do so! Some hope and comfort sprang up in her heart at his words. She turned her face toward him, with a half-smile, and half-extended her hand, which he fell on his knees to clasp and kiss.

“Tell me what is right for me to do,” she said. “I know that I am sometimes too uncompromising, and perhaps I have been so now. I love you humanly,—yes; but I love you as almost an angel. I trust you. You are to me all honor and nobleness. You will tell me what is truly best, what I may safely do. Tell me, and I will obey you.”

He felt as if a mountain had been laid on his shoulders. Her trust in him swept from his hold the faintest excuse for self-deception. Bound by it, he was forced to choose an heroic course, which of himself he felt too weak to choose. In the bottom of his heart, he knew that they must separate. Theirs was the passion as well as the tenderness of love, and only the last terrible remedy remained for them. He could have dared to sue, he could have been led to hush the reproaches of his own conscience, but he could not abase himself in the eyes of the woman he adored. She loved him because she believed him heroic. She would cease to love him, if she found him capable of betraying her trust.

He kissed her hand again before replying; but, even as it touched his lips, it was snatched away from him. Some arrowy shadow sprang forward, and retreated while the words yet lingered on his tongue, and Camilla was swept from him as by a whirlwind. The smile had not died from her face when the plunge of her fall woke a hollow echo in the grove, and the waters had devoured her. All the shadows of the cypresses, with their lighted tips, ran crinkling across the pool, like serpents with fiery tongues.

Don Filippo remained paralyzed, gazing into the black water. He seemed to be gazing into eternity. The sudden echo died away, the ripples and shadows smoothed themselves, and the horror that had been receded into the past, as though a century had rolled away since it thus struck him to stone. How many years had he been asking himself if she would come back to him, or if he should go to her?

“Come back! Come back to me, my love!” he cried, at length finding voice.

There was no sound but the strange, muffled echo of his own words, and a footstep which fled down the hill. There was something inexorably stern in the place. The cypresses were swords; the moonlight was the glance of Medusa; the fountain jet laughed on, in spite of despair; the ripples chased each other round and round, like the slow spokes of a great wheel. There was nothing human in the scene but the bursting heart that waited and the strangled love below.

Two or three bubbles broke against the fountain-edge, there was a terrible receding motion in the dark wave, and up floated Camilla, as motionless as a stone but for that rising.

Almost falling into the water, Don Filippo leaned over, snatched desperately at her dress, and drew and lifted her out dripping. Clasping and kissing her, murmuring words of desperate fondness and distress, he ran toward the house, bearing her in his arms.

“Call a doctor!” he cried to the first servant he met. “Take a horse, and ride him to death! If the doctor loses an instant, I’ll shoot him.”

She had not stirred in his clasp while he bore her to the house. Her arms hung straight downward over his, her head dropped back on his shoulder, and a line of cold light parted her eyelids.

He hurried with her to the room where Madame von Klenze sat with her book, wondering over the cause of the sudden stir she heard.

“My God!” she cried, “what has happened? Has she fainted?”

But the face of Don Filippo was not that of one who bears a merely fainting woman. He did not answer. He only laid Camilla on a sofa, and began to try such means as he knew for her restoration. Her dripping garments and the wet hair, in which a long weed was tangled, told the story without words.

Madame von Klenze was a woman of great self-possession, and, after the first instant, went promptly to work. Don Filippo himself was scarcely more imperative than she. The whole household was put in motion; every possible help was procured. Servants came and went with flying feet, or stood whispering at the doors, ready for service. Madame’s efforts were no more prompt than intelligent.

In the midst of all this stir, Camilla lay white and motionless, her arms hanging straight down from her side, and that line of frozen light parting her eyelids.

The doctor came. Hours went by.

From a frantic distress, Don Filippo passed to the silence of despair. Leaving all efforts of restoration to others, he threw himself on his knees at the head of the sofa, and buried his face in the pillow. There was no thought of concealment before those present. He cared not for them. All who were there heard him call Camilla his angel, and beseech her to speak to him once more; all saw him weep over her, and kiss her hand. Not one but knew that it was the idol of his heart who lay there unanswering.

Unanswering. It was terrible to see how her cold silence resisted all their efforts. Death became infinitely more awful when it could make so much beauty and gentleness implacable to every prayer of agonized love. She was like a bird on which the tempest beats without being able to ruffle a feather.

Science and affection exhausted themselves. They struggled long after they knew that their struggles were vain.

At last, when the day began to break, the doctor dropped the cold hand from his grasp, and turned away. He did not dare to say anything, even to Madame von Klenze, who, all need for exertion past gave way to her grief and self-reproach. Bending over Camilla and caressing her, she sobbed out her prayer for forgiveness. She felt, when too late, how false she had been to the real duty of friendship; how this poor dove, beaten hither and thither by the storm, had in vain sought a shelter with her.

Don Filippo was roused by the sound of her weeping, and lifted his head to look at her. He saw that all effort was abandoned, and that no one else was near. The doctor was just passing out through a group of servants clustered at the door. They whispered their question, and gazed anxiously in his face.

He answered them with a single word. “Dead!”