as first published in

Atlantic Monthly, August 1904


"Above all," the letter ended, "don't leave Siena without seeing

Doctor Lombard's Leonardo. Lombard is a queer old Englishman, a

mystic or a madman (if the two are not synonymous), and a devout

student of the Italian Renaissance. He has lived for years in

Italy, exploring its remotest corners, and has lately picked up

an undoubted Leonardo, which came to light in a farmhouse near

Bergamo. It is believed to be one of the missing pictures

mentioned by Vasari, and is at any rate, according to the most

competent authorities, a genuine and almost untouched example of

the best period.

"Lombard is a queer stick, and jealous of showing his treasures;

but we struck up a friendship when I was working on the Sodomas

in Siena three years ago, and if you will give him the enclosed

line you may get a peep at the Leonardo. Probably not more than

a peep, though, for I hear he refuses to have it reproduced. I

want badly to use it in my monograph on the Windsor drawings, so

please see what you can do for me, and if you can't persuade him

to let you take a photograph or make a sketch, at least jot down

a detailed description of the picture and get from him all the

facts you can. I hear that the French and Italian governments

have offered him a large advance on his purchase, but that he

refuses to sell at any price, though he certainly can't afford

such luxuries; in fact, I don't see where he got enough money to

buy the picture. He lives in the Via Papa Giulio."

Wyant sat at the table d'hote of his hotel, re-reading his

friend's letter over a late luncheon. He had been five days in

Siena without having found time to call on Doctor Lombard; not

from any indifference to the opportunity presented, but because

it was his first visit to the strange red city and he was still

under the spell of its more conspicuous wonders--the brick

palaces flinging out their wrought-iron torch-holders with a

gesture of arrogant suzerainty; the great council-chamber

emblazoned with civic allegories; the pageant of Pope Julius on

the Library walls; the Sodomas smiling balefully through the dusk

of mouldering chapels--and it was only when his first hunger was

appeased that he remembered that one course in the banquet was

still untasted.

He put the letter in his pocket and turned to leave the room,

with a nod to its only other occupant, an olive-skinned young man

with lustrous eyes and a low collar, who sat on the other side of

the table, perusing the Fanfulla di Domenica. This gentleman,

his daily vis-a-vis, returned the nod with a Latin eloquence of

gesture, and Wyant passed on to the ante-chamber, where he paused

to light a cigarette. He was just restoring the case to his

pocket when he heard a hurried step behind him, and the lustrous-

eyed young man advanced through the glass doors of the dining-


"Pardon me, sir," he said in measured English, and with an

intonation of exquisite politeness; "you have let this letter


Wyant, recognizing his friend's note of introduction to Doctor

Lombard, took it with a word of thanks, and was about to turn

away when he perceived that the eyes of his fellow diner remained

fixed on him with a gaze of melancholy interrogation.

"Again pardon me," the young man at length ventured, "but are you

by chance the friend of the illustrious Doctor Lombard?"

"No," returned Wyant, with the instinctive Anglo-Saxon distrust

of foreign advances. Then, fearing to appear rude, he said with

a guarded politeness: "Perhaps, by the way, you can tell me the

number of his house. I see it is not given here."

The young man brightened perceptibly. "The number of the house

is thirteen; but any one can indicate it to you--it is well known

in Siena. It is called," he continued after a moment, "the House

of the Dead Hand."

Wyant stared. "What a queer name!" he said.

"The name comes from an antique hand of marble which for many

hundred years has been above the door."

Wyant was turning away with a gesture of thanks, when the other

added: "If you would have the kindness to ring twice."

"To ring twice?"

"At the doctor's." The young man smiled. "It is the custom."

It was a dazzling March afternoon, with a shower of sun from the

mid-blue, and a marshalling of slaty clouds behind the umber-

colored hills. For nearly an hour Wyant loitered on the Lizza,

watching the shadows race across the naked landscape and the

thunder blacken in the west; then he decided to set out for the

House of the Dead Hand. The map in his guidebook showed him that

the Via Papa Giulio was one of the streets which radiate from the

Piazza, and thither he bent his course, pausing at every other

step to fill his eye with some fresh image of weather-beaten

beauty. The clouds had rolled upward, obscuring the sunshine and

hanging like a funereal baldachin above the projecting cornices

of Doctor Lombard's street, and Wyant walked for some distance in

the shade of the beetling palace fronts before his eye fell on a

doorway surmounted by a sallow marble hand. He stood for a

moment staring up at the strange emblem. The hand was a woman's--

a dead drooping hand, which hung there convulsed and helpless,

as though it had been thrust forth in denunciation of some evil

mystery within the house, and had sunk struggling into death.

A girl who was drawing water from the well in the court said that

the English doctor lived on the first floor, and Wyant, passing

through a glazed door, mounted the damp degrees of a vaulted

stairway with a plaster AEsculapius mouldering in a niche on the

landing. Facing the AEsculapius was another door, and as Wyant

put his hand on the bell-rope he remembered his unknown friend's

injunction, and rang twice.

His ring was answered by a peasant woman with a low forehead and

small close-set eyes, who, after a prolonged scrutiny of himself,

his card, and his letter of introduction, left him standing in a

high, cold ante-chamber floored with brick. He heard her wooden

pattens click down an interminable corridor, and after some delay

she returned and told him to follow her.

They passed through a long saloon, bare as the ante-chamber, but

loftily vaulted, and frescoed with a seventeenth-century Triumph

of Scipio or Alexander--martial figures following Wyant with the

filmed melancholy gaze of shades in limbo. At the end of this

apartment he was admitted to a smaller room, with the same

atmosphere of mortal cold, but showing more obvious signs of

occupancy. The walls were covered with tapestry which had faded

to the gray-brown tints of decaying vegetation, so that the young

man felt as though he were entering a sunless autumn wood.

Against these hangings stood a few tall cabinets on heavy gilt

feet, and at a table in the window three persons were seated: an

elderly lady who was warming her hands over a brazier, a girl

bent above a strip of needle-work, and an old man.

As the latter advanced toward Wyant, the young man was conscious

of staring with unseemly intentness at his small round-backed

figure, dressed with shabby disorder and surmounted by a

wonderful head, lean, vulpine, eagle-beaked as that of some art-

loving despot of the Renaissance: a head combining the venerable

hair and large prominent eyes of the humanist with the greedy

profile of the adventurer. Wyant, in musing on the Italian

portrait-medals of the fifteenth century, had often fancied that

only in that period of fierce individualism could types so

paradoxical have been produced; yet the subtle craftsmen who

committed them to the bronze had never drawn a face more

strangely stamped with contradictory passions than that of Doctor


"I am glad to see you," he said to Wyant, extending a hand which

seemed a mere framework held together by knotted veins. "We lead

a quiet life here and receive few visitors, but any friend of

Professor Clyde's is welcome." Then, with a gesture which

included the two women, he added dryly: "My wife and daughter

often talk of Professor Clyde."

"Oh yes--he used to make me such nice toast; they don't

understand toast in Italy," said Mrs. Lombard in a high plaintive


It would have been difficult, from Doctor Lombard's manner and

appearance to guess his nationality; but his wife was so

inconsciently and ineradicably English that even the silhouette

of her cap seemed a protest against Continental laxities. She

was a stout fair woman, with pale cheeks netted with red lines.

A brooch with a miniature portrait sustained a bogwood watch-

chain upon her bosom, and at her elbow lay a heap of knitting and

an old copy of The Queen.

The young girl, who had remained standing, was a slim replica of

her mother, with an apple-cheeked face and opaque blue eyes. Her

small head was prodigally laden with braids of dull fair hair,

and she might have had a kind of transient prettiness but for the

sullen droop of her round mouth. It was hard to say whether her

expression implied ill-temper or apathy; but Wyant was struck by

the contrast between the fierce vitality of the doctor's age and

the inanimateness of his daughter's youth.

Seating himself in the chair which his host advanced, the young

man tried to open the conversation by addressing to Mrs. Lombard

some random remark on the beauties of Siena. The lady murmured a

resigned assent, and Doctor Lombard interposed with a smile: "My

dear sir, my wife considers Siena a most salubrious spot, and is

favorably impressed by the cheapness of the marketing; but she

deplores the total absence of muffins and cannel coal, and cannot

resign herself to the Italian method of dusting furniture."

"But they don't, you know--they don't dust it!" Mrs. Lombard

protested, without showing any resentment of her husband's


"Precisely--they don't dust it. Since we have lived in Siena we

have not once seen the cobwebs removed from the battlements of

the Mangia. Can you conceive of such housekeeping? My wife has

never yet dared to write it home to her aunts at Bonchurch."

Mrs. Lombard accepted in silence this remarkable statement of her

views, and her husband, with a malicious smile at Wyant's

embarrassment, planted himself suddenly before the young man.

"And now," said he, "do you want to see my Leonardo?"

"DO I?" cried Wyant, on his feet in a flash.

The doctor chuckled. "Ah," he said, with a kind of crooning

deliberation, "that's the way they all behave--that's what they

all come for." He turned to his daughter with another variation

of mockery in his smile. "Don't fancy it's for your beaux yeux,

my dear; or for the mature charms of Mrs. Lombard," he added,

glaring suddenly at his wife, who had taken up her knitting and

was softly murmuring over the number of her stitches.

Neither lady appeared to notice his pleasantries, and he

continued, addressing himself to Wyant: "They all come--they all

come; but many are called and few are chosen." His voice sank to

solemnity. "While I live," he said, "no unworthy eye shall

desecrate that picture. But I will not do my friend Clyde the

injustice to suppose that he would send an unworthy

representative. He tells me he wishes a description of the

picture for his book; and you shall describe it to him--if you


Wyant hesitated, not knowing whether it was a propitious moment

to put in his appeal for a photograph.

"Well, sir," he said, "you know Clyde wants me to take away all I

can of it."

Doctor Lombard eyed him sardonically. "You're welcome to take

away all you can carry," he replied; adding, as he turned to his

daughter: "That is, if he has your permission, Sybilla."

The girl rose without a word, and laying aside her work, took a

key from a secret drawer in one of the cabinets, while the doctor

continued in the same note of grim jocularity: "For you must know

that the picture is not mine--it is my daughter's."

He followed with evident amusement the surprised glance which

Wyant turned on the young girl's impassive figure.

"Sybilla," he pursued, "is a votary of the arts; she has

inherited her fond father's passion for the unattainable.

Luckily, however, she also recently inherited a tidy legacy from

her grandmother; and having seen the Leonardo, on which its

discoverer had placed a price far beyond my reach, she took a

step which deserves to go down to history: she invested her whole

inheritance in the purchase of the picture, thus enabling me to

spend my closing years in communion with one of the world's

masterpieces. My dear sir, could Antigone do more?"

The object of this strange eulogy had meanwhile drawn aside one

of the tapestry hangings, and fitted her key into a concealed


"Come," said Doctor Lombard, "let us go before the light fails


Wyant glanced at Mrs. Lombard, who continued to knit impassively.

"No, no," said his host, "my wife will not come with us. You

might not suspect it from her conversation, but my wife has no

feeling for art--Italian art, that is; for no one is fonder of

our early Victorian school."

"Frith's Railway Station, you know," said Mrs. Lombard, smiling.

"I like an animated picture."

Miss Lombard, who had unlocked the door, held back the tapestry

to let her father and Wyant pass out; then she followed them down

a narrow stone passage with another door at its end. This door

was iron-barred, and Wyant noticed that it had a complicated

patent lock. The girl fitted another key into the lock, and

Doctor Lombard led the way into a small room. The dark panelling

of this apartment was irradiated by streams of yellow light

slanting through the disbanded thunder clouds, and in the central

brightness hung a picture concealed by a curtain of faded velvet.

"A little too bright, Sybilla," said Doctor Lombard. His face

had grown solemn, and his mouth twitched nervously as his

daughter drew a linen drapery across the upper part of the


"That will do--that will do." He turned impressively to Wyant.

"Do you see the pomegranate bud in this rug? Place yourself

there--keep your left foot on it, please. And now, Sybilla, draw

the cord."

Miss Lombard advanced and placed her hand on a cord hidden behind

the velvet curtain.

"Ah," said the doctor, "one moment: I should like you, while

looking at the picture, to have in mind a few lines of verse.


Without the slightest change of countenance, and with a

promptness which proved her to be prepared for the request, Miss

Lombard began to recite, in a full round voice like her mother's,

St. Bernard's invocation to the Virgin, in the thirty-third canto

of the Paradise.

"Thank you, my dear," said her father, drawing a deep breath as

she ended. "That unapproachable combination of vowel sounds

prepares one better than anything I know for the contemplation of

the picture."

As he spoke the folds of velvet slowly parted, and the Leonardo

appeared in its frame of tarnished gold:

From the nature of Miss Lombard's recitation Wyant had expected a

sacred subject, and his surprise was therefore great as the

composition was gradually revealed by the widening division of

the curtain.

In the background a steel-colored river wound through a pale

calcareous landscape; while to the left, on a lonely peak, a

crucified Christ hung livid against indigo clouds. The central

figure of the foreground, however, was that of a woman seated in

an antique chair of marble with bas-reliefs of dancing maenads.

Her feet rested on a meadow sprinkled with minute wild-flowers,

and her attitude of smiling majesty recalled that of Dosso

Dossi's Circe. She wore a red robe, flowing in closely fluted

lines from under a fancifully embroidered cloak. Above her high

forehead the crinkled golden hair flowed sideways beneath a veil;

one hand drooped on the arm of her chair; the other held up an

inverted human skull, into which a young Dionysus, smooth, brown

and sidelong as the St. John of the Louvre, poured a stream of

wine from a high-poised flagon. At the lady's feet lay the

symbols of art and luxury: a flute and a roll of music, a platter

heaped with grapes and roses, the torso of a Greek statuette, and

a bowl overflowing with coins and jewels; behind her, on the

chalky hilltop, hung the crucified Christ. A scroll in a corner

of the foreground bore the legend: Lux Mundi.

Wyant, emerging from the first plunge of wonder, turned

inquiringly toward his companions. Neither had moved. Miss

Lombard stood with her hand on the cord, her lids lowered, her

mouth drooping; the doctor, his strange Thoth-like profile turned

toward his guest, was still lost in rapt contemplation of his


Wyant addressed the young girl.

"You are fortunate," he said, "to be the possessor of anything so


"It is considered very beautiful," she said coldly.

"Beautiful--BEAUTIFUL!" the doctor burst out. "Ah, the poor,

worn out, over-worked word! There are no adjectives in the

language fresh enough to describe such pristine brilliancy; all

their brightness has been worn off by misuse. Think of the

things that have been called beautiful, and then look at THAT!"

"It is worthy of a new vocabulary," Wyant agreed.

"Yes," Doctor Lombard continued, "my daughter is indeed

fortunate. She has chosen what Catholics call the higher life--

the counsel of perfection. What other private person enjoys the

same opportunity of understanding the master? Who else lives

under the same roof with an untouched masterpiece of Leonardo's?

Think of the happiness of being always under the influence of

such a creation; of living INTO it; of partaking of it in daily

and hourly communion! This room is a chapel; the sight of that

picture is a sacrament. What an atmosphere for a young life to

unfold itself in! My daughter is singularly blessed. Sybilla,

point out some of the details to Mr. Wyant; I see that he will

appreciate them."

The girl turned her dense blue eyes toward Wyant; then, glancing

away from him, she pointed to the canvas.

"Notice the modeling of the left hand," she began in a monotonous

voice; "it recalls the hand of the Mona Lisa. The head of the

naked genius will remind you of that of the St. John of the

Louvre, but it is more purely pagan and is turned a little less

to the right. The embroidery on the cloak is symbolic: you will

see that the roots of this plant have burst through the vase.

This recalls the famous definition of Hamlet's character in

Wilhelm Meister. Here are the mystic rose, the flame, and the

serpent, emblem of eternity. Some of the other symbols we have

not yet been able to decipher."

Wyant watched her curiously; she seemed to be reciting a lesson.

"And the picture itself?" he said. "How do you explain that?

Lux Mundi--what a curious device to connect with such a subject!

What can it mean?"

Miss Lombard dropped her eyes: the answer was evidently not

included in her lesson.

"What, indeed?" the doctor interposed. "What does life mean? As

one may define it in a hundred different ways, so one may find a

hundred different meanings in this picture. Its symbolism is as

many-faceted as a well-cut diamond. Who, for instance, is that

divine lady? Is it she who is the true Lux Mundi--the light

reflected from jewels and young eyes, from polished marble and

clear waters and statues of bronze? Or is that the Light of the

World, extinguished on yonder stormy hill, and is this lady the

Pride of Life, feasting blindly on the wine of iniquity, with her

back turned to the light which has shone for her in vain?

Something of both these meanings may be traced in the picture;

but to me it symbolizes rather the central truth of existence:

that all that is raised in incorruption is sown in corruption;

art, beauty, love, religion; that all our wine is drunk out of

skulls, and poured for us by the mysterious genius of a remote

and cruel past."

The doctor's face blazed: his bent figure seemed to straighten

itself and become taller.

"Ah," he cried, growing more dithyrambic, "how lightly you ask

what it means! How confidently you expect an answer! Yet here

am I who have given my life to the study of the Renaissance; who

have violated its tomb, laid open its dead body, and traced the

course of every muscle, bone, and artery; who have sucked its

very soul from the pages of poets and humanists; who have wept

and believed with Joachim of Flora, smiled and doubted with

AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini; who have patiently followed to its

source the least inspiration of the masters, and groped in

neolithic caverns and Babylonian ruins for the first unfolding

tendrils of the arabesques of Mantegna and Crivelli; and I tell

you that I stand abashed and ignorant before the mystery of this

picture. It means nothing--it means all things. It may

represent the period which saw its creation; it may represent all

ages past and to come. There are volumes of meaning in the

tiniest emblem on the lady's cloak; the blossoms of its border

are rooted in the deepest soil of myth and tradition. Don't ask

what it means, young man, but bow your head in thankfulness for

having seen it!"

Miss Lombard laid her hand on his arm.

"Don't excite yourself, father," she said in the detached tone of

a professional nurse.

He answered with a despairing gesture. "Ah, it's easy for you to

talk. You have years and years to spend with it; I am an old

man, and every moment counts!"

"It's bad for you," she repeated with gentle obstinacy.

The doctor's sacred fury had in fact burnt itself out. He

dropped into a seat with dull eyes and slackening lips, and his

daughter drew the curtain across the picture.

Wyant turned away reluctantly. He felt that his opportunity was

slipping from him, yet he dared not refer to Clyde's wish for a

photograph. He now understood the meaning of the laugh with

which Doctor Lombard had given him leave to carry away all the

details he could remember. The picture was so dazzling, so

unexpected, so crossed with elusive and contradictory

suggestions, that the most alert observer, when placed suddenly

before it, must lose his coordinating faculty in a sense of

confused wonder. Yet how valuable to Clyde the record of such a

work would be! In some ways it seemed to be the summing up of

the master's thought, the key to his enigmatic philosophy.

The doctor had risen and was walking slowly toward the door. His

daughter unlocked it, and Wyant followed them back in silence to

the room in which they had left Mrs. Lombard. That lady was no

longer there, and he could think of no excuse for lingering.

He thanked the doctor, and turned to Miss Lombard, who stood in

the middle of the room as though awaiting farther orders.

"It is very good of you," he said, "to allow one even a glimpse

of such a treasure."

She looked at him with her odd directness. "You will come

again?" she said quickly; and turning to her father she added:

"You know what Professor Clyde asked. This gentleman cannot give

him any account of the picture without seeing it again."

Doctor Lombard glanced at her vaguely; he was still like a person

in a trance.

"Eh?" he said, rousing himself with an effort.

"I said, father, that Mr. Wyant must see the picture again if he

is to tell Professor Clyde about it," Miss Lombard repeated with

extraordinary precision of tone.

Wyant was silent. He had the puzzled sense that his wishes were

being divined and gratified for reasons with which he was in no

way connected.

"Well, well," the doctor muttered, "I don't say no--I don't say

no. I know what Clyde wants--I don't refuse to help him." He

turned to Wyant. "You may come again--you may make notes," he

added with a sudden effort. "Jot down what occurs to you. I'm

willing to concede that."

Wyant again caught the girl's eye, but its emphatic message

perplexed him.

"You're very good," he said tentatively, "but the fact is the

picture is so mysterious--so full of complicated detail--that I'm

afraid no notes I could make would serve Clyde's purpose as well

as--as a photograph, say. If you would allow me--"

Miss Lombard's brow darkened, and her father raised his head


"A photograph? A photograph, did you say? Good God, man, not

ten people have been allowed to set foot in that room! A


Wyant saw his mistake, but saw also that he had gone too far to


"I know, sir, from what Clyde has told me, that you object to

having any reproduction of the picture published; but he hoped

you might let me take a photograph for his personal use--not to

be reproduced in his book, but simply to give him something to

work by. I should take the photograph myself, and the negative

would of course be yours. If you wished it, only one impression

would be struck off, and that one Clyde could return to you when

he had done with it."

Doctor Lombard interrupted him with a snarl. "When he had done

with it? Just so: I thank thee for that word! When it had been

re-photographed, drawn, traced, autotyped, passed about from hand

to hand, defiled by every ignorant eye in England, vulgarized by

the blundering praise of every art-scribbler in Europe! Bah!

I'd as soon give you the picture itself: why don't you ask for


"Well, sir," said Wyant calmly, "if you will trust me with it,

I'll engage to take it safely to England and back, and to let no

eye but Clyde's see it while it is out of your keeping."

The doctor received this remarkable proposal in silence; then he

burst into a laugh.

"Upon my soul!" he said with sardonic good humor.

It was Miss Lombard's turn to look perplexedly at Wyant. His

last words and her father's unexpected reply had evidently

carried her beyond her depth.

"Well, sir, am I to take the picture?" Wyant smilingly pursued.

"No, young man; nor a photograph of it. Nor a sketch, either;

mind that,--nothing that can be reproduced. Sybilla," he cried

with sudden passion, "swear to me that the picture shall never be

reproduced! No photograph, no sketch--now or afterward. Do you

hear me?"

"Yes, father," said the girl quietly.

"The vandals," he muttered, "the desecrators of beauty; if I

thought it would ever get into their hands I'd burn it first, by

God!" He turned to Wyant, speaking more quietly. "I said you

might come back--I never retract what I say. But you must give

me your word that no one but Clyde shall see the notes you make."

Wyant was growing warm.

"If you won't trust me with a photograph I wonder you trust me

not to show my notes!" he exclaimed.

The doctor looked at him with a malicious smile.

"Humph!" he said; "would they be of much use to anybody?"

Wyant saw that he was losing ground and controlled his


"To Clyde, I hope, at any rate," he answered, holding out his

hand. The doctor shook it without a trace of resentment, and

Wyant added: "When shall I come, sir?"

"To-morrow--to-morrow morning," cried Miss Lombard, speaking


She looked fixedly at her father, and he shrugged his shoulders.

"The picture is hers," he said to Wyant.

In the ante-chamber the young man was met by the woman who had

admitted him. She handed him his hat and stick, and turned to

unbar the door. As the bolt slipped back he felt a touch on his


"You have a letter?" she said in a low tone.

"A letter?" He stared. "What letter?"

She shrugged her shoulders, and drew back to let him pass.


As Wyant emerged from the house he paused once more to glance up

at its scarred brick facade. The marble hand drooped tragically

above the entrance: in the waning light it seemed to have relaxed

into the passiveness of despair, and Wyant stood musing on its

hidden meaning. But the Dead Hand was not the only mysterious

thing about Doctor Lombard's house. What were the relations

between Miss Lombard and her father? Above all, between Miss

Lombard and her picture? She did not look like a person capable

of a disinterested passion for the arts; and there had been

moments when it struck Wyant that she hated the picture.

The sky at the end of the street was flooded with turbulent

yellow light, and the young man turned his steps toward the

church of San Domenico, in the hope of catching the lingering

brightness on Sodoma's St. Catherine.

The great bare aisles were almost dark when he entered, and he

had to grope his way to the chapel steps. Under the momentary

evocation of the sunset, the saint's figure emerged pale and

swooning from the dusk, and the warm light gave a sensual tinge

to her ecstasy. The flesh seemed to glow and heave, the eyelids

to tremble; Wyant stood fascinated by the accidental

collaboration of light and color.

Suddenly he noticed that something white had fluttered to the

ground at his feet. He stooped and picked up a small thin sheet

of note-paper, folded and sealed like an old-fashioned letter,

and bearing the superscription:--

To the Count Ottaviano Celsi.

Wyant stared at this mysterious document. Where had it come

from? He was distinctly conscious of having seen it fall through

the air, close to his feet. He glanced up at the dark ceiling of

the chapel; then he turned and looked about the church. There

was only one figure in it, that of a man who knelt near the high


Suddenly Wyant recalled the question of Doctor Lombard's maid-

servant. Was this the letter she had asked for? Had he been

unconsciously carrying it about with him all the afternoon? Who

was Count Ottaviano Celsi, and how came Wyant to have been chosen

to act as that nobleman's ambulant letter-box?

Wyant laid his hat and stick on the chapel steps and began to

explore his pockets, in the irrational hope of finding there some

clue to the mystery; but they held nothing which he had not

himself put there, and he was reduced to wondering how the

letter, supposing some unknown hand to have bestowed it on him,

had happened to fall out while he stood motionless before the


At this point he was disturbed by a step on the floor of the

aisle, and turning, he saw his lustrous-eyed neighbor of the

table d'hote.

The young man bowed and waved an apologetic hand.

"I do not intrude?" he inquired suavely.

Without waiting for a reply, he mounted the steps of the chapel,

glancing about him with the affable air of an afternoon caller.

"I see," he remarked with a smile, "that you know the hour at

which our saint should be visited."

Wyant agreed that the hour was indeed felicitous.

The stranger stood beamingly before the picture.

"What grace! What poetry!" he murmured, apostrophizing the St.

Catherine, but letting his glance slip rapidly about the chapel

as he spoke.

Wyant, detecting the manoeuvre, murmured a brief assent.

"But it is cold here--mortally cold; you do not find it so?" The

intruder put on his hat. "It is permitted at this hour--when the

church is empty. And you, my dear sir--do you not feel the

dampness? You are an artist, are you not? And to artists it is

permitted to cover the head when they are engaged in the study of

the paintings."

He darted suddenly toward the steps and bent over Wyant's hat.

"Permit me--cover yourself!" he said a moment later, holding out

the hat with an ingratiating gesture.

A light flashed on Wyant.

"Perhaps," he said, looking straight at the young man, "you will

tell me your name. My own is Wyant."

The stranger, surprised, but not disconcerted, drew forth a

coroneted card, which he offered with a low bow. On the card was


Il Conte Ottaviano Celsi.

"I am much obliged to you," said Wyant; "and I may as well tell

you that the letter which you apparently expected to find in the

lining of my hat is not there, but in my pocket."

He drew it out and handed it to its owner, who had grown very


"And now," Wyant continued, "you will perhaps be good enough to

tell me what all this means."

There was no mistaking the effect produced on Count Ottaviano by

this request. His lips moved, but he achieved only an

ineffectual smile.

"I suppose you know," Wyant went on, his anger rising at the

sight of the other's discomfiture, "that you have taken an

unwarrantable liberty. I don't yet understand what part I have

been made to play, but it's evident that you have made use of me

to serve some purpose of your own, and I propose to know the

reason why."

Count Ottaviano advanced with an imploring gesture.

"Sir," he pleaded, "you permit me to speak?"

"I expect you to," cried Wyant. "But not here," he added,

hearing the clank of the verger's keys. "It is growing dark, and

we shall be turned out in a few minutes."

He walked across the church, and Count Ottaviano followed him out

into the deserted square.

"Now," said Wyant, pausing on the steps.

The Count, who had regained some measure of self-possession,

began to speak in a high key, with an accompaniment of

conciliatory gesture.

"My dear sir--my dear Mr. Wyant--you find me in an abominable

position--that, as a man of honor, I immediately confess. I have

taken advantage of you--yes! I have counted on your amiability,

your chivalry--too far, perhaps? I confess it! But what could I

do? It was to oblige a lady"--he laid a hand on his heart--"a

lady whom I would die to serve!" He went on with increasing

volubility, his deliberate English swept away by a torrent of

Italian, through which Wyant, with some difficulty, struggled to

a comprehension of the case.

Count Ottaviano, according to his own statement, had come to

Siena some months previously, on business connected with his

mother's property; the paternal estate being near Orvieto, of

which ancient city his father was syndic. Soon after his arrival

in Siena the young Count had met the incomparable daughter of

Doctor Lombard, and falling deeply in love with her, had

prevailed on his parents to ask her hand in marriage. Doctor

Lombard had not opposed his suit, but when the question of

settlements arose it became known that Miss Lombard, who was

possessed of a small property in her own right, had a short time

before invested the whole amount in the purchase of the Bergamo

Leonardo. Thereupon Count Ottaviano's parents had politely

suggested that she should sell the picture and thus recover her

independence; and this proposal being met by a curt refusal from

Doctor Lombard, they had withdrawn their consent to their son's

marriage. The young lady's attitude had hitherto been one of

passive submission; she was horribly afraid of her father, and

would never venture openly to oppose him; but she had made known

to Ottaviano her intention of not giving him up, of waiting

patiently till events should take a more favorable turn. She

seemed hardly aware, the Count said with a sigh, that the means

of escape lay in her own hands; that she was of age, and had a

right to sell the picture, and to marry without asking her

father's consent. Meanwhile her suitor spared no pains to keep

himself before her, to remind her that he, too, was waiting and

would never give her up.

Doctor Lombard, who suspected the young man of trying to persuade

Sybilla to sell the picture, had forbidden the lovers to meet or

to correspond; they were thus driven to clandestine

communication, and had several times, the Count ingenuously

avowed, made use of the doctor's visitors as a means of

exchanging letters.

"And you told the visitors to ring twice?" Wyant interposed.

The young man extended his hands in a deprecating gesture. Could

Mr. Wyant blame him? He was young, he was ardent, he was

enamored! The young lady had done him the supreme honor of

avowing her attachment, of pledging her unalterable fidelity;

should he suffer his devotion to be outdone? But his purpose in

writing to her, he admitted, was not merely to reiterate his

fidelity; he was trying by every means in his power to induce her

to sell the picture. He had organized a plan of action; every

detail was complete; if she would but have the courage to carry

out his instructions he would answer for the result. His idea

was that she should secretly retire to a convent of which his

aunt was the Mother Superior, and from that stronghold should

transact the sale of the Leonardo. He had a purchaser ready, who

was willing to pay a large sum; a sum, Count Ottaviano whispered,

considerably in excess of the young lady's original inheritance;

once the picture sold, it could, if necessary, be removed by

force from Doctor Lombard's house, and his daughter, being safely

in the convent, would be spared the painful scenes incidental to

the removal. Finally, if Doctor Lombard were vindictive enough

to refuse his consent to her marriage, she had only to make a

sommation respectueuse, and at the end of the prescribed delay no

power on earth could prevent her becoming the wife of Count


Wyant's anger had fallen at the recital of this simple romance.

It was absurd to be angry with a young man who confided his

secrets to the first stranger he met in the streets, and placed

his hand on his heart whenever he mentioned the name of his

betrothed. The easiest way out of the business was to take it as

a joke. Wyant had played the wall to this new Pyramus and

Thisbe, and was philosophic enough to laugh at the part he had

unwittingly performed.

He held out his hand with a smile to Count Ottaviano.

"I won't deprive you any longer," he said, "of the pleasure of

reading your letter."

"Oh, sir, a thousand thanks! And when you return to the casa

Lombard, you will take a message from me--the letter she expected

this afternoon?"

"The letter she expected?" Wyant paused. "No, thank you. I

thought you understood that where I come from we don't do that

kind of thing--knowingly."

"But, sir, to serve a young lady!"

"I'm sorry for the young lady, if what you tell me is true"--the

Count's expressive hands resented the doubt--"but remember that

if I am under obligations to any one in this matter, it is to her

father, who has admitted me to his house and has allowed me to

see his picture."

"HIS picture? Hers!"

"Well, the house is his, at all events."

"Unhappily--since to her it is a dungeon!"

"Why doesn't she leave it, then?" exclaimed Wyant impatiently.

The Count clasped his hands. "Ah, how you say that--with what

force, with what virility! If you would but say it to HER in

that tone--you, her countryman! She has no one to advise her;

the mother is an idiot; the father is terrible; she is in his

power; it is my belief that he would kill her if she resisted

him. Mr. Wyant, I tremble for her life while she remains in that


"Oh, come," said Wyant lightly, "they seem to understand each

other well enough. But in any case, you must see that I can't

interfere--at least you would if you were an Englishman," he

added with an escape of contempt.


Wyant's affiliations in Siena being restricted to an acquaintance

with his land-lady, he was forced to apply to her for the

verification of Count Ottaviano's story.

The young nobleman had, it appeared, given a perfectly correct

account of his situation. His father, Count Celsi-Mongirone, was

a man of distinguished family and some wealth. He was syndic of

Orvieto, and lived either in that town or on his neighboring

estate of Mongirone. His wife owned a large property near Siena,

and Count Ottaviano, who was the second son, came there from time

to time to look into its management. The eldest son was in the

army, the youngest in the Church; and an aunt of Count

Ottaviano's was Mother Superior of the Visitandine convent in

Siena. At one time it had been said that Count Ottaviano, who

was a most amiable and accomplished young man, was to marry the

daughter of the strange Englishman, Doctor Lombard, but

difficulties having arisen as to the adjustment of the young

lady's dower, Count Celsi-Mongirone had very properly broken off

the match. It was sad for the young man, however, who was said

to be deeply in love, and to find frequent excuses for coming to

Siena to inspect his mother's estate.

Viewed in the light of Count Ottaviano's personality the story

had a tinge of opera bouffe; but the next morning, as Wyant

mounted the stairs of the House of the Dead Hand, the situation

insensibly assumed another aspect. It was impossible to take

Doctor Lombard lightly; and there was a suggestion of fatality in

the appearance of his gaunt dwelling. Who could tell amid what

tragic records of domestic tyranny and fluttering broken purposes

the little drama of Miss Lombard's fate was being played out?

Might not the accumulated influences of such a house modify the

lives within it in a manner unguessed by the inmates of a

suburban villa with sanitary plumbing and a telephone?

One person, at least, remained unperturbed by such fanciful

problems; and that was Mrs. Lombard, who, at Wyant's entrance,

raised a placidly wrinkled brow from her knitting. The morning

was mild, and her chair had been wheeled into a bar of sunshine

near the window, so that she made a cheerful spot of prose in the

poetic gloom of her surroundings.

"What a nice morning!" she said; "it must be delightful weather

at Bonchurch."

Her dull blue glance wandered across the narrow street with its

threatening house fronts, and fluttered back baffled, like a bird

with clipped wings. It was evident, poor lady, that she had

never seen beyond the opposite houses.

Wyant was not sorry to find her alone. Seeing that she was

surprised at his reappearance he said at once: "I have come back

to study Miss Lombard's picture."

"Oh, the picture--" Mrs. Lombard's face expressed a gentle

disappointment, which might have been boredom in a person of

acuter sensibilities. "It's an original Leonardo, you know," she

said mechanically.

"And Miss Lombard is very proud of it, I suppose? She seems to

have inherited her father's love for art."

Mrs. Lombard counted her stitches, and he went on: "It's unusual

in so young a girl. Such tastes generally develop later."

Mrs. Lombard looked up eagerly. "That's what I say! I was quite

different at her age, you know. I liked dancing, and doing a

pretty bit of fancy-work. Not that I couldn't sketch, too; I had

a master down from London. My aunts have some of my crayons hung

up in their drawing-room now--I did a view of Kenilworth which

was thought pleasing. But I liked a picnic, too, or a pretty

walk through the woods with young people of my own age. I say

it's more natural, Mr. Wyant; one may have a feeling for art, and

do crayons that are worth framing, and yet not give up everything

else. I was taught that there were other things."

Wyant, half-ashamed of provoking these innocent confidences,

could not resist another question. "And Miss Lombard cares for

nothing else?"

Her mother looked troubled.

"Sybilla is so clever--she says I don't understand. You know how

self-confident young people are! My husband never said that of

me, now--he knows I had an excellent education. My aunts were

very particular; I was brought up to have opinions, and my

husband has always respected them. He says himself that he

wouldn't for the world miss hearing my opinion on any subject;

you may have noticed that he often refers to my tastes. He has

always respected my preference for living in England; he likes to

hear me give my reasons for it. He is so much interested in my

ideas that he often says he knows just what I am going to say

before I speak. But Sybilla does not care for what I think--"

At this point Doctor Lombard entered. He glanced sharply at

Wyant. "The servant is a fool; she didn't tell me you were

here." His eye turned to his wife. "Well, my dear, what have

you been telling Mr. Wyant? About the aunts at Bonchurch, I'll

be bound!"

Mrs. Lombard looked triumphantly at Wyant, and her husband rubbed

his hooked fingers, with a smile.

"Mrs. Lombard's aunts are very superior women. They subscribe to

the circulating library, and borrow Good Words and the Monthly

Packet from the curate's wife across the way. They have the

rector to tea twice a year, and keep a page-boy, and are visited

by two baronets' wives. They devoted themselves to the education

of their orphan niece, and I think I may say without boasting

that Mrs. Lombard's conversation shows marked traces of the

advantages she enjoyed."

Mrs. Lombard colored with pleasure.

"I was telling Mr. Wyant that my aunts were very particular."

"Quite so, my dear; and did you mention that they never sleep in

anything but linen, and that Miss Sophia puts away the furs and

blankets every spring with her own hands? Both those facts are

interesting to the student of human nature." Doctor Lombard

glanced at his watch. "But we are missing an incomparable

moment; the light is perfect at this hour."

Wyant rose, and the doctor led him through the tapestried door

and down the passageway.

The light was, in fact, perfect, and the picture shone with an

inner radiancy, as though a lamp burned behind the soft screen of

the lady's flesh. Every detail of the foreground detached itself

with jewel-like precision. Wyant noticed a dozen accessories

which had escaped him on the previous day.

He drew out his note-book, and the doctor, who had dropped his

sardonic grin for a look of devout contemplation, pushed a chair

forward, and seated himself on a carved settle against the wall.

"Now, then," he said, "tell Clyde what you can; but the letter


He sank down, his hands hanging on the arm of the settle like the

claws of a dead bird, his eyes fixed on Wyant's notebook with the

obvious intention of detecting any attempt at a surreptitious


Wyant, nettled at this surveillance, and disturbed by the

speculations which Doctor Lombard's strange household excited,

sat motionless for a few minutes, staring first at the picture

and then at the blank pages of the note-book. The thought that

Doctor Lombard was enjoying his discomfiture at length roused

him, and he began to write.

He was interrupted by a knock on the iron door. Doctor Lombard

rose to unlock it, and his daughter entered.

She bowed hurriedly to Wyant, without looking at him.

"Father, had you forgotten that the man from Monte Amiato was to

come back this morning with an answer about the bas-relief? He

is here now; he says he can't wait."

"The devil!" cried her father impatiently. "Didn't you tell him--"

"Yes; but he says he can't come back. If you want to see him you

must come now."

"Then you think there's a chance?--"

She nodded.

He turned and looked at Wyant, who was writing assiduously.

"You will stay here, Sybilla; I shall be back in a moment."

He hurried out, locking the door behind him.

Wyant had looked up, wondering if Miss Lombard would show any

surprise at being locked in with him; but it was his turn to be

surprised, for hardly had they heard the key withdrawn when she

moved close to him, her small face pale and tumultuous.

"I arranged it--I must speak to you," she gasped. "He'll be back

in five minutes."

Her courage seemed to fail, and she looked at him helplessly.

Wyant had a sense of stepping among explosives. He glanced about

him at the dusky vaulted room, at the haunting smile of the

strange picture overhead, and at the pink-and-white girl

whispering of conspiracies in a voice meant to exchange

platitudes with a curate.

"How can I help you?" he said with a rush of compassion.

"Oh, if you would! I never have a chance to speak to any one;

it's so difficult--he watches me--he'll be back immediately."

"Try to tell me what I can do."

"I don't dare; I feel as if he were behind me." She turned away,

fixing her eyes on the picture. A sound startled her. "There he

comes, and I haven't spoken! It was my only chance; but it

bewilders me so to be hurried."

"I don't hear any one," said Wyant, listening. "Try to tell me."

"How can I make you understand? It would take so long to

explain." She drew a deep breath, and then with a plunge--"Will

you come here again this afternoon--at about five?" she


"Come here again?"

"Yes--you can ask to see the picture,--make some excuse. He will

come with you, of course; I will open the door for you--and--and

lock you both in"--she gasped.

"Lock us in?"

"You see? You understand? It's the only way for me to leave the

house--if I am ever to do it"-- She drew another difficult

breath. "The key will be returned--by a safe person--in half an

hour,--perhaps sooner--"

She trembled so much that she was obliged to lean against the

settle for support.

"Wyant looked at her steadily; he was very sorry for her.

"I can't, Miss Lombard," he said at length.

"You can't?"

"I'm sorry; I must seem cruel; but consider--"

He was stopped by the futility of the word: as well ask a hunted

rabbit to pause in its dash for a hole!

Wyant took her hand; it was cold and nerveless.

"I will serve you in any way I can; but you must see that this

way is impossible. Can't I talk to you again? Perhaps--"

"Oh," she cried, starting up, "there he comes!"

Doctor Lombard's step sounded in the passage.

Wyant held her fast. "Tell me one thing: he won't let you sell

the picture?"


"Make no pledges for the future, then; promise me that."

"The future?"

"In case he should die: your father is an old man. You haven't


She shook her head.

"Don't, then; remember that."

She made no answer, and the key turned in the lock.

As he passed out of the house, its scowling cornice and facade of

ravaged brick looked down on him with the startlingness of a

strange face, seen momentarily in a crowd, and impressing itself

on the brain as part of an inevitable future. Above the doorway,

the marble hand reached out like the cry of an imprisoned


Wyant turned away impatiently.

"Rubbish!" he said to himself. "SHE isn't walled in; she can get

out if she wants to."


Wyant had any number of plans for coming to Miss Lombard's aid:

he was elaborating the twentieth when, on the same afternoon, he

stepped into the express train for Florence. By the time the

train reached Certaldo he was convinced that, in thus hastening

his departure, he had followed the only reasonable course; at

Empoli, he began to reflect that the priest and the Levite had

probably justified themselves in much the same manner.

A month later, after his return to England, he was unexpectedly

relieved from these alternatives of extenuation and approval. A

paragraph in the morning paper announced the sudden death of

Doctor Lombard, the distinguished English dilettante who had long

resided in Siena. Wyant's justification was complete. Our

blindest impulses become evidence of perspicacity when they fall

in with the course of events.

Wyant could now comfortably speculate on the particular

complications from which his foresight had probably saved him.

The climax was unexpectedly dramatic. Miss Lombard, on the brink

of a step which, whatever its issue, would have burdened her with

retrospective compunction, had been set free before her suitor's

ardor could have had time to cool, and was now doubtless planning

a life of domestic felicity on the proceeds of the Leonardo. One

thing, however, struck Wyant as odd--he saw no mention of the

sale of the picture. He had scanned the papers for an immediate

announcement of its transfer to one of the great museums; but

presently concluding that Miss Lombard, out of filial piety, had

wished to avoid an appearance of unseemly haste in the disposal

of her treasure, he dismissed the matter from his mind. Other

affairs happened to engage him; the months slipped by, and

gradually the lady and the picture dwelt less vividly in his


It was not till five or six years later, when chance took him

again to Siena, that the recollection started from some inner

fold of memory. He found himself, as it happened, at the head of

Doctor Lombard's street, and glancing down that grim

thoroughfare, caught an oblique glimpse of the doctor's house

front, with the Dead Hand projecting above its threshold.

The sight revived his interest, and that evening, over an

admirable frittata, he questioned his landlady about Miss

Lombard's marriage.

"The daughter of the English doctor? But she has never married,


"Never married? What, then, became of Count Ottaviano?"

"For a long time he waited; but last year he married a noble lady

of the Maremma."

"But what happened--why was the marriage broken?"

The landlady enacted a pantomime of baffled interrogation.

"And Miss Lombard still lives in her father's house?"

"Yes, signore; she is still there."

"And the Leonardo--"

"The Leonardo, also, is still there."

The next day, as Wyant entered the House of the Dead Hand, he

remembered Count Ottaviano's injunction to ring twice, and smiled

mournfully to think that so much subtlety had been vain. But

what could have prevented the marriage? If Doctor Lombard's

death had been long delayed, time might have acted as a

dissolvent, or the young lady's resolve have failed; but it

seemed impossible that the white heat of ardor in which Wyant had

left the lovers should have cooled in a few short weeks.

As he ascended the vaulted stairway the atmosphere of the place

seemed a reply to his conjectures. The same numbing air fell on

him, like an emanation from some persistent will-power, a

something fierce and imminent which might reduce to impotence

every impulse within its range. Wyant could almost fancy a hand

on his shoulder, guiding him upward with the ironical intent of

confronting him with the evidence of its work.

A strange servant opened the door, and he was presently

introduced to the tapestried room, where, from their usual seats

in the window, Mrs. Lombard and her daughter advanced to welcome

him with faint ejaculations of surprise.

Both had grown oddly old, but in a dry, smooth way, as fruits

might shrivel on a shelf instead of ripening on the tree. Mrs.

Lombard was still knitting, and pausing now and then to warm her

swollen hands above the brazier; and Miss Lombard, in rising, had

laid aside a strip of needle-work which might have been the same

on which Wyant had first seen her engaged.

Their visitor inquired discreetly how they had fared in the

interval, and learned that they had thought of returning to

England, but had somehow never done so.

"I am sorry not to see my aunts again," Mrs. Lombard said

resignedly; "but Sybilla thinks it best that we should not go

this year."

"Next year, perhaps," murmured Miss Lombard, in a voice which

seemed to suggest that they had a great waste of time to fill.

She had returned to her seat, and sat bending over her work. Her

hair enveloped her head in the same thick braids, but the rose

color of her cheeks had turned to blotches of dull red, like some

pigment which has darkened in drying.

"And Professor Clyde--is he well?" Mrs. Lombard asked affably;

continuing, as her daughter raised a startled eye: "Surely,

Sybilla, Mr. Wyant was the gentleman who was sent by Professor

Clyde to see the Leonardo?"

Miss Lombard was silent, but Wyant hastened to assure the elder

lady of his friend's well-being.

"Ah--perhaps, then, he will come back some day to Siena," she

said, sighing. Wyant declared that it was more than likely; and

there ensued a pause, which he presently broke by saying to Miss

Lombard: "And you still have the picture?"

She raised her eyes and looked at him. "Should you like to see

it?" she asked.

On his assenting, she rose, and extracting the same key from the

same secret drawer, unlocked the door beneath the tapestry. They

walked down the passage in silence, and she stood aside with a

grave gesture, making Wyant pass before her into the room. Then

she crossed over and drew the curtain back from the picture.

The light of the early afternoon poured full on it: its surface

appeared to ripple and heave with a fluid splendor. The colors

had lost none of their warmth, the outlines none of their pure

precision; it seemed to Wyant like some magical flower which had

burst suddenly from the mould of darkness and oblivion.

He turned to Miss Lombard with a movement of comprehension.

"Ah, I understand--you couldn't part with it, after all!" he cried.

"No--I couldn't part with it," she answered.

"It's too beautiful,--too beautiful,"--he assented.

"Too beautiful?" She turned on him with a curious stare. "I

have never thought it beautiful, you know."

He gave back the stare. "You have never--"

She shook her head. "It's not that. I hate it; I've always

hated it. But he wouldn't let me--he will never let me now."

Wyant was startled by her use of the present tense. Her look

surprised him, too: there was a strange fixity of resentment in

her innocuous eye. Was it possible that she was laboring under

some delusion? Or did the pronoun not refer to her father?

"You mean that Doctor Lombard did not wish you to part with the


"No--he prevented me; he will always prevent me."

There was another pause. "You promised him, then, before his


"No; I promised nothing. He died too suddenly to make me." Her

voice sank to a whisper. "I was free--perfectly free--or I

thought I was till I tried."

"Till you tried?"

"To disobey him--to sell the picture. Then I found it was

impossible. I tried again and again; but he was always in the

room with me."

She glanced over her shoulder as though she had heard a step; and

to Wyant, too, for a moment, the room seemed full of a third


"And you can't"--he faltered, unconsciously dropping his voice to

the pitch of hers.

She shook her head, gazing at him mystically. "I can't lock him

out; I can never lock him out now. I told you I should never

have another chance."

Wyant felt the chill of her words like a cold breath in his hair.

"Oh"--he groaned; but she cut him off with a grave gesture.

"It is too late," she said; "but you ought to have helped me that day."