Don Tarquinio
A Kataleptic Phantasmatic

Chapter XXII


Having parted from our companions and dismissed our trains, I and Ippolito walked along the high gallery, emerging at length on the vast corridor of the castle, spiral, gloomy. Below were labyrinthine depths. We ascended several little stairs, passing through numerous antechambers hung with porphyry-coloured arras. The odour of the place was sepulchral.

A ruffled flunkey in a Spanish habit of black, with cloak and sword, drew aside a thick porphyry-coloured curtain; and we passed out of darkness into the blazing sunlight of The Presence.

We were on a secluded terrace on the summit of the fortress. Beyond the battlements, we could see the panorama of all Rome and the Campagna with the Alban


Mount on the distant horizon. Tiber seemed to be a chain of chrysoliths meandering among mounds of emeralds. So lofty a situation was convenient for Him, Whose authority was world-wide.

Some orange-trees in tubs formed a screen in the shadow of a turret. A square carpet, porphyry-coloured, was spread on the pavement. A throne-like chair, raised on one step, with a foot-stool and cushions and other stools, all of the same colour, stood upon it.

Here sat the Ruler of the world, the Father of princes and kings, the earthly Vicar of Jesus Christ our Saviour, the Paparch Alexander, magnificent, invincible, alone and reading in His breviary.

I will tell thee, o Prospero, how that incomparable prince and pontiff appeared to me. He was habited in the white cassock, sash, and hosen, the porphyry-coloured shoes embroidered with gold crosses, the cape and cap of porphyry-coloured velvet, reversed with ermine, the golden paparchal stole.


The pallium of universal jurisdiction, well-woven, snow-like, was fixed, on His breast and shoulders, by diamond pins of the form of crosses potent elongate. A gold chain surrounded His neck; and its pendent cross decorously was hidden in the folds of His cape.1 The grand gold signet of the paparchy glittered on the first finger, and an enormous amethyst on the third of His right hand. He was in the sixty-fifth year of His age, of a robust habit of body; and genial generous majesty distinguished the splendour of His Spanish features.

The chamberlains and pages in porphyry-coloured liveries, who stood about the turret doorway, performed their genuflections; and retired backward.

Ippolito let his great-cloak of ermine and vermilion fall to trail voluminously behind him; and led me forward by the hand. I suddenly became conscious that I was very young

1. This seems to be less ostentatious than the modern prelatic method.


and very slim by side of all this sumptuous grandeur. I felt as a new taper feeleth when stuck suddenly on high upon a pricket, rather pleased with the light on its head: but knowing that a mere flip of the finger can break its body in twain and consign it to the darkness of oblivion. But yet, remembering how diaphanously white and vivid were mine aspect and my gait, I comforted myself a little.

We kneeled at the foot-stool. Ippolito kissed the paparchal hand: I, the cross on the shoe.

The Archiereys closed His prayer-book, looking with inquiry from me to Ippolito, and back again to me. I perceived admiration in His glance which swept and enveloped me; and I knew that my stars were benignant. I was glad.

Ippolito stood up: but I remained on my knees. He took mine hand; and presented me by name, reciting my style and estate.


Our Lord the Paparch did not remove his glance from me: nor I, mine from Him.

Ippolito continued his discourse, stating mine abominable condition, naming my natural abilities as well as the disabilities which, as a bandit, I was compelled to tolerate; and he briefly narrated the deed which I had done, meriting favour. And at length he made an end.

Our Lord the Paparch gave me a sign to rise, saying nothing. I alertly sprang to my feet; and took ij paces backward, from the shadow into the full glare of the sun, stiffening my strong knees, standing well-poised and very rigidly erect indeed. So, having shaken mine hair from mine eyes, I looked squarely and superbly in the face of His Sanctity.

He intently regarded me during ij or iij moments. Then He said:

“Let Us hear thy voice, that We may know thee.”

I drew in a very long breath, inflating my breast, raising my head and shoulders; and


began to speak, gravely, slowly, saying that I knew myself to be in the presence of the Ruler of the world, Whose plenitude of power could reinstate mine house of Poplicola di Hagiostayros, no one contradicting, or could eradicate the same utterly by means of the Great Ban – power, I said, of making or of marring.

Then I hesitated: for sudden overwhelming conviction of mine helpless insignificance rushed into my mind. I poured out a torrent of words. What was I, I said, in the sight of the Father of princes and kings, but a negligible worm.

And impotent fury, at my total dependence on the Paparch’s will and pleasure, inflamed me. My face tingled with angry blood, at the thought that anyone should be my superior, at the knowledge that I knew myself to be this One’s inferior and had confessed the same. But instantly, with a very vehement effort, I mastered mine emotions; and continued speaking, deliberately, even frigidly,


while the bowels terrifically throbbed within my body. I said:

“But I will not sue. There are no crimes on my soul which are matter for pardon. I will not ask for favour. But, rather than live another hour, blameless under the Great Ban which I have not merited, I will dive headlong from these near battlements, that the candour of mine innocence may shatter the blood-stained stones of Rome.”

Thus having spoken, I flashed mine eyes to the side for an instant, noting the place whence I would spring. Then I looked back with most fierce determination, alert and ready to leap before Ippolito could lay his mighty hands on me, standing intense, expecting paparchal fulminations.

Our Lord the Paparch eyed me up and down, comprehending each plane and contour of the incarnate independence, pallid, not uncomely in defiance, which refused to ask for right as a grace. And anon He very gently said:


“Dear lovely child, think not so unkindly of thy Father.”

At those words, sublime, benignant, my throat was constricted and my knees trembled very exceedingly. Mine eyes glared upon the Paparch and the cardinal in turn, without seeing either of those personages. Then I looked upward to the empyrean where the gods live: for surely it was a god’s voice which I had heard; and I noted a little skylark soaring above me, singing like an angel. Nothing else was visible to me at that moment. My body was simply tottering by cause of the sudden violent evanescence of my fury.

I sank on my knees, very meekly kissing the extended hand of my Father.

The bells in all the turrets of the City began clanging in the new manner. It was the hour of noon.

Our Lord the Paparch and the Cardinal of Ferrara kneeled where they were; and


said the prayers, Angelus Domini and the rest.

I also was kneeling, thankful enough for the interval granted while I conquered my weakness, recollecting myself.