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Stories Toto Told Me

V.—About the Heresy of Fra Serafico

ONE of Toto s brothers was called Nicola, and he was going
to be a priest. He was nineteen years old, and very like
Toto in appearance with this notable difference—there was no
light in his eyes. He was a curious, gaunt, awkward, unworldly
creature, absolutely the opposite of Toto, who had the charm and
freedom of a young savage on the loose. I don’t know why the
clergy, for whom I entertain the highest respect, of course, should
always slink along by the wall, expressing by the cringing
obsequiousness of their carriage that they would take it as a
favour for some one to kick them, but such is the case. I used
to see this Nicola sneaking about during his summer vacation, but
I don’t think I ever spoke to him except when he came to say
” How do you do ? ” and ” Good-bye.” One morning, soon after
his arrival, I asked Toto what was the matter with his brother, for
he looked even more caged, humpty-backed, and slouching, more
utterly miserable and crushed than usual. ” Cola, sir, he said,
“you must know, has a very feeling heart, and if he meets with
any little misfortune it is a much more serious thing to him than
it would be to me. I, of course, would say that it didn’t matter,


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and look for something else to amuse me : but ‘Cola will think
over his grief so much that it will seem far greater than it really
is, and he will not be able to eat his food or take any interest in
anything, and wish he was dead or that he had never given
himself the annoyance of being born. And I suppose now he has
had some little trouble in his college—dropped his garter, perhaps,
and let his stocking down when out with the camerata in the
street, and he has thought about it so much that now he believes
he has committed a sin against the sixth commandment, by an
indecent exposure of his person. But, if I have your leave, I will
ask him, for I can see him saying his beads behind the

Toto ran away, and I took a little nap.

When I woke, he was coming down the steps holding a
rhubarb leaf over his head. ” I am sure you will be much
amused, sir, when I tell you what is the matter with ‘Cola,” he
said. “I have made him very angry with me because I could not
help laughing at him, and he has said that I should certainly burn
for making a mock of the clergy—clergy, indeed, and he only a
sub-deacon, and I his brother who know all about him and
everything he ever did ! And Geltruda, too ! For my part
I am sure it is a gift straight from Heaven to be a priest, because I
remember that ‘Cola used to be quite as fond of enjoying himself
as I am, but since he went to the Seminario he will not look at a
petticoat—that is to say, the face that belongs to it, for it is only
the petticoats he does look at. Have I not seen my little mother
cry when he came home, because he only put his lips to her hand—
and they didn’t touch it—as if she were la Signora Duchessa
instead of the mother who wished to take him in her arms ? But
his dolour now, sir, is this. You must know that in the
Seminario you have to preach to the other chierichetti in the


                        145 By Baron Corvo

refectory, during supper. This is to give you practice in deliver
ing sermons. And after you have preached, you go to your place,
and, if it is necessary to make any remarks upon what you have
said, the professors tell you then what they think. Well, it was
‘Cola’s turn to preach the night before he came home, and he says
that it was a sermon which he had taken all his life to write. He
had learnt it by heart, and on arriving in the pulpit he repeated it,
moving his hands and his body in a manner which he had practised
before his mirror, without making a single mistake. When he
had finished, the Rector paid him compliments, and two or three
of the other professors did the same. But when it came to the
turn of the Decanus who is the senior student, he said that the
college ought to be very proud of having produced an abbatino so
clever as to be able, in his first sermon, to invent and proclaim
sixteen new and hitherto unheard of heresies. And ‘Cola, instead
of feeling a fine rage against this nasty, jealous prig, with his
mocking tongue, takes all the blame to himself and is making
himself wretched. I told him that there was no difficulty about
heresies, if that was what he wanted, because I think that to do
wrong is as easy as eating, and that the real difficulty is to keep
straight. But he says he is a miserable sinner, and that it is all
his fault, for he cannot have perfectly corresponded with his
vocation. Why, as for heresy, sir, I will tell you how a friar in
Rome was accused of preaching heresy, and then you will know
that it is not always the being accused of inventing heresies that
makes you guilty of that same.

” Ah well, formerly there lived in Rome a certain friar called Fra
Serafico. When he had lived in the world he was of the Princes
of Monte Corvino, but at about the age of ‘Cola he astonished
everybody by giving up his rank and his riches and his state, and
becoming a son of Saint Francis. Now the Franciscans of his


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convent were not quite able to understand why a young man who
had his advantages, should give them up as he did, and prefer a
shaved head and naked feet and to be a beggar. And Fra Serafico
though he had the best will in the world, didn’t make a good
impression on the other friars, because his manners were different
to theirs. He felt miserable without a pocket-handkerchief for his
nose. And it was some time before the superiors became certain
that he had a true vocation, for he went about his duties with
diligence and humility, feeling so shy, because the things around
him were so strange, that he gained for himself amongst the other
novices the nickname of ‘Dumbtongue.

” And this went on until he had finished his probation, and taken
the habit and the vows.

” One day after this, the Father Guardian, in order to give him
a good humiliation, told him to prepare a sermon to preach before
the convent at the chapter that afternoon. Fra Serafico received
this command in silence, and, having kissed the ground before his
Superior, he went away to his cell, and when the afternoon came
he stood up to preach.

” Then, sir, a very curious thing happened, for Fra Serafico
preached, and while he preached the faces of the other friars
became set in a glare of astonishment, and the eyes of the Father
Guardian were almost starting out of his head by the time the
sermon was finished. Then there was silence for a little while,
and the friars looked at one another and nodded. It seems that
they had been entertaining an angel unawares, for this Dumb-
tongue, as they called him, had turned out to be a perfect Golden-
mouth. And the friars were more than glad, for, though they
were all good men and very holy, they had no great preacher
among them at that time ; and they thought it was a shame that an
Order whose business was to preach should have no man who could


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preach well, and at last they saw a way out of the difficulty : For
surely, they said, this Serafico speaks the words of San Paolo
himself, with the tongue of an angel.

“After this he gave fervorini daily in the convent church, till all
the city was filled with his fame, and at last he was named by
Papa Silvio to preach the Lent in the Church of San Carlo Al

” Of course you know very well, sir, that the devil is always dis-
gusted to see the works of God going on as easily as water running
out of a turned-on tap, and you know also that when a good work
seems to be thriving at its best, then is the time the devil chooses
to try to upset it. And so he went to a little Jesuit called Padre
Tonto Pappagallo—and, of course, I need not tell you that the
Jesuits are not what you might call friendly to the Franciscans—
and he suggested to him the evil thought, that it was a bad thing
for the Jesuits to be beaten in preaching by the Franciscans, and
what a score it would be if a Jesuit were to have the honour of
catching Fra Serafico in the act of preaching heresy. Padre Tonto,
it happened, had made a bad meditation that morning, having
allowed his eyes to fix themselves upon some of the stone angels
who were dangling their beautiful white legs over the arches round
the apsis, and his thoughts to wander from his meditation to those
things which every good priest flies from with as much haste as he
would fly from the foul fiend appearing in person. And so his
mind was just like a fertile field, and when the devil popped in his
suggestion, the seed immediately took root, and before the morn-
ing was over it had burst into blossom, for this Padre Tonto cut
off to the church of San Carlo to hear the great preacher, and
when he saw the vast multitude all so intent upon those golden
words, that if an earthquake had happened then and there I believe
no one would have blinked, and when he heard the sighs from the


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breasts of wicked men and saw the tears rain down on women’s
cheeks, he envied Fra Serafico his power to move men so, and
he began to listen to the sermon that he might catch the
preacher preaching heresy. Now, of course, while he was staring
about, he had not paid attention to the words of gold, and the first
sentence that caught his ear when he did begin, indeed, to listen
was this, No one shall be crowned unless he has contended

” Padre Tonto jumped up and ran out of the church. He was
delighted, for he had heard a heresy straight away. ‘No one
shall be crowned,’ he said—’that is, of course, with the crown of
glory which the saints in heaven wear for ever—unless he has
contended lawfully—that is to say, as the martyrs did in the
Colosseo. Pr-r-r-r-r-r, my dear Serafico ! And what, then, be
comes of all the holy bishops and confessors, and of the virgins and
penitents and widows whom Holy Church has numbered with the
saints ? These were not martyrs, nor did they fight with beasts,
like San Paolo’ (and I cannot tell you the place, sir). ‘An I were
Pope, Seraficone mio, I should burn your body in the Campo di
Fiore to-morrow morning, and your soul in hell for ever and the
day after.’ And saying these words and all sorts of other things
like them, he ran away to the Sant Uffizio and made a mischief
with much diligence.

” Now Padre Tonto had a very good reputation and was exceed
ingly well thought of in Rome. Moreover, the accusation he
made, appeared to be well founded. So Fra Serafico was sent for
and the question was put to him, ‘Did you, or did you not, in
your sermon preached in the Church of San Carlo Al Corso on
the second Monday in Lent, say, ” No one shall be crowned un-
less he has contended lawfully ? “‘ And Fra Serafico replied that
his questioner, who was the Grand Inquisitor himself, spoke like

                                                a book

                        149 By Baron Corvo

a book with large letters and clasps of silver, for without a doubt
he had used those very words. The Grand Inquisitor laid down
the key of the question room, and remarked that confession of
wrong done was always good for the soul : and he pointed out
to Fra Serafico the dreadful heresy of which he had been guilty
in uttering words which, if they meant anything at all, meant this,
according to Padre Tonto Pappagallo, who was a theologian, That
it was impossible to get to heaven unless you suffered martyrdom.
And he told Fra Serafico, that as he had made his heresy public by
preaching it to all Rome, it would be necessary to make amends
also in the place of his crime, or else to let himself be burnt with
fire in the Campo di Fiore on the next public holiday, both to
atone for the sin, and in order to encourage other people who
might feel it their business to preach heresy as he had done. And
Fra Serafico answered that he wished to live and die a good and
obedient son of Holy Mother Church, and to submit his judg-
ment in all things to Hers ; therefore, it would give him much joy
to make public amends for his heresy at any time or place which
His Eminence in his wisdom might be pleased to appoint.

” The next day the people of Rome were called by proclamation
to the Church of San Carlo Al Corso to see Fra Serafico’s humi-
liation, and because he was such a celebrated man there came
together all the noblest and most distinguished persons in the city.
Papa Silvio sat upon the throne with the Princes Colonna and
Orsini on his right hand and on his left. All around there were
fifty scarlet cardinals, bishops by the score in purple and green,
friars grey, friars white, friars black, monks by the hundred, and
princes and common people like rain drops. And when they had
all taken their places, Fra Serafico entered between two officers of
the Sant’ Uffizio with their faces covered in the usual manner, and
first he prostrated himself before the Majesty in the tabernacle,


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and then at the feet of Papa Silvio, then he bowed from the waist
to the Sacred College and the prelates, and from the shoulders to
the rest ; and then he was led into the pulpit from which he had
proclaimed his heresy. There he began to speak, using these
words : ‘Most Holy Father, Most Eminent and Most Reverend
Lords, my Reverend Brethren, Most Illustrious Princes, my dear
Children in Jesus Christ. I am brought here to-day on account of
the vile and deadly heresy which I am accused of preaching in
this pulpit on the first Monday in Lent. That heresy is con-
tained in the following words : ” No one shall be crowned unless
he has contended lawfully.” I freely confess, acknowledge, and
say that I did in real truth use those words. But before I proceed
to abjure the heresy contained in them and to express with tears
my penitence for the crime I have committed, I crave, my beloved
children in Jesus Christ, most illustrious princes, my reverend
brethren, most eminent and most reverend lords, and, prostrate at
Your Feet, Most Holy Father, your indulgence for a few moments
while I relate a dream and a vision which came to me during the
night just past, which I spent for the good of my soul upon the
tender bosom of the Sant’ Uffizio.’ Fra Serafico’s face as he spoke
beamed with a beauty so unearthly, his manner was so gracious,
and the music of his golden voice so entrancing that Papa Silvio,
making the Sign of the Cross, granted him the favour he had asked.
” The Friar went on : ‘In my dream it appeared to me that I
was standing before the bar of the Eternal Judge, and that there I
was accused by a certain Jesuit named Padre Tonto Pappagallo of
having preached heresy on the first Monday in Lent, in the
Church of San Carlo Al Corso, using these words: “No one shall
be crowned unless he has contended lawfully.” And while I
waited there, Blessed Father Francesco himself came and stood
beside me. And the Judge of all men looked upon me with


                        151 By Baron Corvo

wrath and anger, asking whether I confessed my crime, and I,
wretched man that I am, in the presence of Him who knows all
things, even the inmost secrets of the heart, could do nothing else
but acknowledge that it was even so. Then the Padre Eterno,
who, though terrible beyond all one can conceive to evil-doers, is
of a justice so clear, so fine, and straight that the crystal of earth
becomes as dark as mud, the keenness of a diamond as blunt
granite, and the shortest distance between two points as crooked
as the curves in a serpent’s tail—this Just Judge, I say, asked me,
who am but a worm of the earth, whether I had anything to say
in excuse for my crime.

“‘And I, covered with confusion as with a garment, because of
my many sins,replied, “May it please Your Majesty,! have confessed
my crime, and in excuse I can only say that when I was preparing
my sermon I took those words from the writings of San Gregorio.”

“‘The Judge of all men ordered my angel to write this down, and
deigned to ask whether I could say in what part of the writings of
San Gregorio this heresy could be found. ” May it please Your
Majesty,” I replied, ” the heresy will be found in the 37th Homily
of San Gregorio on the I4th chapter of the Gospel of San Luca.”
Then I covered my face with my hands and waited for my dread-
ful sentence ; but Blessed Father Francesco comforted me, and
patted my shoulder with his hand, all shining with the Sacred
Stigmata, and the Padre Eterno, speaking in a mild voice to the
Court of Heaven, said, ” My children, this little brother has been
accused of preaching a heresy, and this heresy is said to have been
taken from the writings of San Gregorio. In this case, you will
perceive that it is not our little brother who is a heretic, but San
Gregorio, who will therefore have the goodness to place himself at
the bar, for We are determined to search this matter to its re-
motest end.” Then San Gregorio was led by his guardian angel


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from his throne among the Doctors of the Church, and came down
to the bar and stood beside me and Blessed Father Francesco, who
whispered in my ear, ” Cheer up, little brother, and hope for the
best ! ”

“‘ And the Padre Eterno said, “San Gregorio, this little
brother has been accused before Us, that on the first Monday in
Lent, in the Church of San Carlo Al Corso, he preached heresy
in the following words : ‘No one shall be crowned unless he has
contended lawfully.’ We have examined him, and he alleges that
he has taken these words from the 3yth Homily, which you have
written upon the I4th chapter of the Gospel of San Luca. We
demand, therefore, that you should say, first, whether you acknow-
ledge that you have written these words; and secondly, if you
have done so, what excuse you have to offer ? ” And San Gregorio
opened the book of his writings which, of course, he always carries
with him, and turned the pages with an anxious finger. Presently
he looked up with a smile into the Face of God and said, ” May
it please Your Majesty, our little brother has spoken the truth, for
I have found the passage, and when I have read it, You will find
the answer to both questions which Your Condescension has put
me.” So San Gregorio read from his writings these words, ” But
we cannot arrive at the great reward unless through great labours :
wherefore, that most excellent preacher, San Paolo, says, ‘No one
shall be crowned unless he has contended lawfully.’ The great
ness of rewards, therefore, may delight the mind, but does not take
away the obligation of first fighting for it.” ” Hm-m-m-m,”said
the Padre Eterno, “this begins to grow interesting ; for it seems,
My children, that Our little brother here has quoted his heresy from
San Gregorio, and that San Gregorio in his turn quoted it from
San Paolo, upon whom, therefore, the responsibility seems to rest.
Call San Paolo.”

                                                ” So

                        153 By Baron Corvo

“‘ So the seven archangels blew their trumpets and summoned
San Paolo, who was attending a meeting of the Apostolic
College, and when he came into Court his guardian angel led
him to the bar, where he took his place by the side of San
Gregorio’ (the one who made them Catholics in England, sir,
and the chant, sir, and saw San Michelé Arcangiolo on top of
the Mola, sir), ‘and of my wretched self. “Now, San Paolo,”
said the Padre Eterno, ” We have here a little grey friar who has
been accused of preaching heresy on the first Monday in Lent, in
the Church of San Carlo Al Corso, in these words, ‘No one shall
be crowned unless he has contended lawfully.’ And he has in
formed Us that he quoted these words from the 3yth Homily of
San Gregorio on the I4th chapter of the Gospel of San Luca. We
have examined San Gregorio, and he has pointed out to Us that he
did indeed use these words, as our little brother has said ; but San
Gregorio also alleges that they are not his own words, but yours.
The Court, therefore, would like to know whether San Gregorio’s
statement is true.” Then San Paolo’s guardian angel handed to
him the book which contained all the letters he had written, and
after he had refreshed his memory with this, the great apostle
replied, ” May it please Your Majesty, there is no doubt that both
our little brother and San Gregorio are right, for I find in my second
letter to San Timoteo, chapter ii. verse 5, the following words :
And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned
except he contend lawfully.” ” Well ! ” said the Padre Eterno,
“this is a very shocking state of things that you, of all men,
should publish heresies in this manner and lead men of all ages into
error ! San Gregorio, taking the statement on your authority,
preaches heresy in his time, and a thousand years after, our little
brother, innocently thinking that men of such eminence as the
Apostle of the Gentiles and the Apostle of England are of good


                        154 Stories Toto Told Me

authority, preaches the same heresy. You see now that it is im-
possible to know what the end of a lie will be when once it has
been started on its course.”

“‘” But hear me,” said San Paolo, who was a very bold man,
” for I venture to submit to Your Majesty that the second letter
which I wrote to San Timoteo has been placed by Your Church
on earth on the list of the Canonical Books, and this means that
when I wrote that letter I was inspired by the Third Person of
the Ever Blessed Trinity, and that therefore I was divinely pro-
tected from teaching error in any shape or form ! :

“‘” Of course it does,” replied the Padre Eterno. ” The words
that you have written, San Paolo, in your second letter to San
Timoteo, are not the words of a man, but the words of God
Himself, and the matter amounts to this, that our little brother here,
who took the words from San Gregorio, who took them from you
who were divinely inspired to write them, has not been guilty of
heresy at all, unless God Himself can err. And who,” continued
the Padre Eterno, with indignation, “We should like to know, is
the ruffian who has taken up Our time with this ridiculous and
baseless charge against Our little brother ?”

“‘ Somebody said that it was a Jesuit named Padre Tonto Pappa-
gallo, at which the Padre Eterno sniffed saying, ” A Jesuit ! and
what in the name of goodness is that ? ”

“‘ So the Madonna whispered that it was a son of Sant Ignazio.
” Where is Sant’ Ignazio ? ” said the Padre Eterno. Now Sant’
Ignazio, who had seen the way things were going, and what a
contemptible spectacle his son was presenting, had hidden himself
behind a bush and was pretending to say his office. But he was
soon found and brought into Court, and the Padre Eterno asked
him what he meant by allowing his spiritual children to act in this
way. And Sant Ignazio only groaned and said, ” May it please


                        155 By Baron Corvo

Your Majesty, all my life long I tried to teach them to mind their
own business, but in fact I have altogether failed to make them
listen to me.”

“‘ That was my dream, Most Holy Father, Most Eminent and
Most Reverend Lords, my Reverend Brethren, Most Illustrious
Princes, my Beloved Children in Jesus Christ ; and since you have
been so gracious as to listen, I will now no longer delay my recanta-
tion of the heresy of which I am accused of preaching on the first
Monday in Lent, in the Church of San Carlo Al Corso.’

” But Papa Silvio arose from His throne, and the cardinals, and
the bishops, and the princes, and the people, and they all cried
in a loud voice, Eviva, eviva, Bocca d’Oro, eviva, eviva.'”

VI.—About One Way in which Christians
Love One Another

“YES,” I said, ” that’s a very good story, Toto. And now I
want to know where you learnt it.”

” Well, sir,” he replied, ” it was told to me by Fra Leone of the
Capuccini. Not that I wish you to think the Capuccini and
Franciscans to be the same. Not at all. But, of course, you know
better than that, and it is like their impertinence of bronze to
pretend that they are, as they do, for the Capuccini were not even
heard of for hundreds of years after San Francesco founded his
Order of Little Brothers. And the reason why they came to be
made was only because of the vain man Simon Something or
other, who gave more thought to his clothes than was good for
his soul, and found that the sleeves which were good enough for
San Francesco, and the round tippet which that heavenly saint wore,

The Yellow Book—Vol. XI. K


                        156 Stories Toto Told Me

did not suit his style of beauty, and so he made himself a brown
habit instead of a grey one, with plain sleeves to show the shape
of his arms, and no pockets in them, and a tippet not round but
pointed like the piece of flesh there is between my shoulders.
And then, because there are always plenty of men ready to run
after something new, he got together so many followers who
wished to dress themselves like him, that the Holy Father preferred
to give them permission to have their own way rather than cause
them to become rebels against our Holy Mother the Church, by
making it difficult for them to be obedient, because the matter
had really no importance to speak of.”

I said that I knew all about that, but that I didn’t believe
that religious men, whether they were Franciscans or sham ones
like the Capuccini, or even Jesuits, would show such jealousy and
envy of each other as appeared in the story of Fra Serafico.

“And there,” said Toto, “I can assure you that you are
altogether wrong. I may tell you that in every religious order
there are two kinds of men—the saints and the sinners ; and of
course, the saints always love each other as Francesco and
Domenico did ; and, by contrary, having submitted themselves to
the infernal dragon who always drives all love out of the hearts of
his slaves and inflames them with the undying fire of envy, the
sinners hate each other with a hatred like the poison of vipers,
and occupy themselves with all kinds of schemes by which they
may bring discredit upon their enemies, the sinners of other orders.
Why, I will tell you a tale which is quite true, because I have
seen it, of how some Capuccini—and you will not ask me to say
where their convent is—have done a deed by which much shame
will some day be brought upon a house of Jesuits who live in their

” Well, then, there was a convent of Capuccini, and outside the


                        157 By Baron Corvo

grounds or the convent there was a small house in which I lived
with my father and my mother and my brothers and sisters, and
it was a very lonely place. And about as far off as it would take
you to say five Paters, and five Aves, and five Glorias, there was
another house, and there were perhaps three or four cottages in
sight, and that is all, so it was a very lonely place. But six miles
away there was a large college of Jesuits, up in the hills, and when
a Jesuit died it was the custom to bury him in the churchyard of
the Capuccini.

” Now there was a man who came to live in the other house,
and he was not an old man nor a young man, but just between
the two ; and because he felt lonely he used to pay attention to all
the ladies who came in his way when visiting this celebrated
convent of Capuccini ; and our difficulty was to know which one
he was going to marry. And there was one in particular who
appeared to these Capuccini to be the one that he ought to marry,
but her home was far away in a large town, and so one of the
friars wrote to her parish priest to ask what ought to be done,
and the parish priest replied : ‘Yes, you must get her married as
soon as possible ;’ and soon after that the respectable man married
her and brought her to the house in the lonely place that I am
telling you about. And they lived there very quietly for a little
while, and then his business called the respectable man away from
his house for a few weeks. So he went and his wife remained
at home, and there was no one in the house besides her but a
woman, her servant.

“And presently, in the middle or one night, there was a
knocking at the door of the small house where I lived with my
father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, and I heard
this knocking because that night I was going to enjoy myself in
the orchard of the Capuccini. So I came downstairs in my shirt


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only ; and because I wished to keep what I was going to do a
secret, I left my shirt rolled up in a bundle under the seat in the
porch, and I will tell you why : I thought of two things ; the
first thing was that it was a very rainy night, and if my mother
found in the morning that my shirt was wet, she would guess I
had been up to mischief, and having told my father, I should have
nothing but stick for breakfast ; and the second thing was that if
some Capuccino should be persuaded by an uneasy devil to look
out of his window to see a naked boy running about in the
orchard or in the churchyard, he would say to himself that it was
just a poor soul escaping from purgatory, and then having repeated
a De Profundis, he would go back to his bed. So just as I was
creeping across the yard with the warm rain pouring in torrents
over my body, there came this banging on the door of my house,
and I skipped behind a tree and waited. Then my father opened
the window of his room upstairs, demanding what was the matter,
and the voice of the servant of the respectable man, replied that la
Signora Pucci had suddenly been taken very ill, and that if my
mother was a Christian woman she would come to her assistance.
This servant spoke with a very thick voice, and as I did not think
I was going to be amused if I stayed behind my tree, I ran away
and enjoyed myself enough with the peaches belonging to these
Capuccini. When I came home I dried myself with a cloth,
took my shirt from under the seat in the porch, and went to bed
again. And in the morning when I awoke there was no one to
give us our breakfast, for my father was gone to his work and my
mother to the assistance of the wife of the respectable man, so I
was thankful enough that I had made so many good meals during
the night. All that day and all the next night and the day after
was my mother away from her home, and I need not tell you
that I began to think that something very strange was happening


                        159 By Baron Corvo

of which I ought to know ; so I waited here and I waited there,
and I put a question of one kind to this and a question of another
kind to that, and during the night, after my father had seen me go
to bed, I got up again, left my shirt in the porch as before, not
because it was raining now, but because 1 liked it, as well as for
the other reason, and I wandered about quite naked and happy
and free,” (here he tossed his arms and wriggled all over in an
indescribable manner) “dodging behind trees and bushes, from my
father s house to the house of the respectable man and to the
churchyard of the convent of the Capuccini, and during that
night I saw many curious things, and these, with the answers
which were given to the questions I had been asking, and other
odds and ends which I either knew or had seen with my eyes,
made me able to know exactly what this mystery was.

” Now I ought to have told you this, that a week before, a very
old priest from the Jesuit college of which I have already spoken had
been buried in the convent churchyard, also he was the confessor
of the wife of the respectable man, and a priest whom she held in
the very greatest honour, and he was called Padre Tommaso. He
was a saint indeed whom everybody venerated, for the Signer Iddio
had made him live one hundred and two years in order that he
might add to the many good deeds which in his long life he had
done. I should like you to remember this, because now I must
go to another part of the story.

” After the servant of the respectable man had told my father
that her mistress was ill, my mother arose from her bed and went
at once to the house of the sick person. Arrived there, she found
la Signora Pucci fallen upon the floor in great pain, and being a
woman herself, she knew with one stroke of her eye what was the

” Now the servant of the respectable man, who had accompanied


                        160 Stories Toto Told Me

my mother, was drunk and so useless. Therefore my mother,
who is the best of all women living, made la Signora Pucci as
comfortable as she could at that time, went into the stable, put the
horse into the cart and, having driven for three miles to the
nearest town, brought a doctor back with her as the day was

“The sick woman was put to bed, and the doctor gave my
mother directions as to what was to be done during his absence ;
for he said he must go home now to finish his night s rest, and in
the morning he had his patients to see, but in the afternoon he
would come again, and that then, perhaps, something would
happen. But my mother told him that she would on no account
consent to be left alone in the house with la Signora Pucci, be-
cause she perceived that something most dreadful was to happen.
The doctor replied that he would not stay, because he could not ;
and that if my mother was not there to assist the sick woman in
her trouble, she might die. But my mother would by no means
be persuaded, and in the end she conquered, and the doctor stayed,
and they waited ail through the night, and the next morning at
noon there came a new baby into that house, and la Signora Pucci
was so astonished that she really nearly died, and as for the baby,
he did die after a half-hour of this world.

“Then the sick woman became mad, and cried in delirium that
she would not have it known to the respectable man, her husband,
that a new baby had come into that house, so my mother went to
the Father Guardian of these Capuccini, telling him all that she
knew, how she had baptized the baby Angelo herself seeing that he
was at the point of death, and that therefore he must be buried in
the churchyard, and how his mother, la Signora Pucci, demanded
that this should be done secretly, and that the grave should be
made with Padre Tommaso, of whom 1 have told you before, who


                        161 By Baron Corvo

was a saint that any person might be glad to be buried with.
Upon which the Father Guardian replied that this was as
easy as eating ; and he directed my mother, having put the
dead baby Angelo into a box, to take him under her cloak
at midnight to the grave of Padre Tommaso. So she did as
she was told, putting the dead baby Angelo into a wooden box
in which rice had been, and cutting a cross upon the lid so that
San Michelé Arcangiolo should know there was a Christian
there ; and at midnight she was there at the grave of Padre
Tommaso. And, of course, I need not tell you that there was
a naked boy hidden in a cedar tree, over their heads, lying flat
upon his face upon a thick branch which he held between his
thighs and with his arms, and looking right down upon the grave.
Then there came out of the convent Fra Giovannino, Fra Lorenzo,
Fra Sebastiano, and Fra Guilhelmo. And if I had not remem-
bered that a naked boy in a cedar-tree was not one of the things
which you are unable to do without at a midnight funeral, I should
have laughed, because these friars, coming out of their convent
without candles, fell over the crosses on the graves and said things
which friars do not say in their offices. They brought two spades
and a bucket of holy water, and when they came to the grave of
Padre Tommaso, Fra Sebastiano and Fra Guilhelmo dug about
three feet of a hole over the Jesuit s head, then my mother gave
them the box from under her cloak and they put it in the earth,
and having sprinkled it with holy water, they covered it up, made
the grave look as it had looked before as best they could in that
dim light, and then returned to their convent, all the time saying
no word aloud.

” Then my mother went back to the house of la Signora Pucci,
and a boy without clothes followed her there. For one hour
afterwards I ran backwards and forwards secretly from the con-


                        162 Stories Toto Told Me

vent to the house of the respectable man, but finding that
nothing else happened I went to my bed.

” About the end of the day after this my mother returned to her
house, and said that the doctor had brought a nurse to la Signora
Pucci, and that the respectable man her husband also was coming
back, so there was nothing more for her to do. Then she swooned
with weariness, for she was tired to death, but having rested some
days while I and my sisters and my brothers kept the house clean
and tidy, she recovered herself.

” And that is all the tale, sir.

“And I think you will see that these Capuccini, unless indeed
they are entirely fools of the most stupid, and that they may be
have been urged on by envy of the Jesuit fathers to lay the begin-
nings of a plot which some day will cause a great scandal. You
must see that they could not help the coming of the new baby
to the house of the respectable man, and it is not for that that I
blame them. You must see that when the new baby had come and
died a Christian, there was nothing else for them to do but to bury
it in their churchyard, and that secretly, to defend la Signora Pucci
from shame. And, after all, you must see that there are yards and
yards and yards of ground in that churchyard where this dead
Christian baby Angelo could be buried by himself secretly, and that
it is simply abominable to have to put him into the grave of a
Jesuit, which, being opened as it may at any time—God knows
when or why, but it is quite likely—will bring a great dishonour
and a foul blot upon the sons of San Ignazio.”

I said that I saw.

MLA citation:

Corvo, Baron. “Stories Toto Told Me.” The Yellow Book, vol. 11, October 1896, pp. 143-162. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.