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The Spider’s Web
by [?]

To K. L.

He heard the bell of the Badia sound hour after hour, and still sleep refused its solace. He got up and looked through the narrow window. The sky in the East was soft with that luminous intensity, as of a melted sapphire, that comes just before the dawn. One large star was shining next to the paling moon. He watched the sky as it grew more and more transparent, and a fresh breeze blew from the hills. It was the second night that he had spent without sleeping, but the weariness of his body was as nothing compared with the aching emptiness which possessed his spirit. Only three days ago the world had seemed to him starred and gemmed like the Celestial City–an enchanted kingdom, waiting like a sleeping Princess for the kiss of the adventurous conqueror; and now the colours had faded, the dream had vanished, the sun seemed to be deprived of his glory, and the summer had lost its sweetness.

His eye fell upon some papers which were lying loose upon his table. There was an unfinished sonnet which he had begun three days ago. The octet was finished and the first two lines of the sestet. He would never finish it now. It had no longer any reason to be; for it was a cry to ears which were now deaf, a question, an appeal, which demanded an answering smile, a consenting echo; and the lips, the only lips which could frame that answer, were dumb. He remembered that Casella, the musician, had asked him a week ago for the text of a canzone which he had repeated to him one day. He had promised to let him have it. The promise had entirely gone out of his mind. Then he reflected that because the ship of his hopes and dreams had been wrecked there was no reason why he should neglect his obligations to his fellow-travellers on the uncertain sea.

He sat down and transcribed by the light of the dawn in his exquisite handwriting the stanzas which had been the fruit of a brighter day. And the memory of this dead joy was exceedingly bitter to him, so that he sat musing for some time on the unutterable sadness which the ghosts of perished joys bring to man in his misery, and a line of Virgil buzzed in his brain; but not, as of yore, did it afford him the luxury of causeless melancholy, but like a cruel finger it touched his open wound. The ancients, he thought, knew how to bear misfortune.

Levius fit patientia
Quidquid corrigere est nefas.

As the words occurred to him he thought how much better equipped he was for the bitter trial, since had he not the certain hope of another life, and of meeting his beloved in the spaces of endless felicity? Surely then he should be able to bear his sorrow with as great a fortitude as the pagan poets, who looked forward to nothing but the dust; to whom the fabled dim country beyond the Styx was a cheerless dream, and to whom a living dog upon the earth was more worthy of envy than the King of all Elysium. He must learn of the ancients.

The magic of the lemon-coloured dawn had vanished now before the swift daylight. Many bells were ringing in the city, and the first signs of life were stirring in the streets. He searched for a little book, and read of the consolation which Cicero gave to Laelius in the De Amicitia. But he had not read many lines before he closed the book. His wound was too fresh for the balm of reason and philosophy.

“Later,” he thought, “this will strengthen and help me, but not to-day; to-day my wound must bleed and be allowed to bleed, for all the philosophy in the world cannot lessen the fact that yesterday she was and to-day she is not.”