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At Old Italian Casements

By Dora Greenwell McChesney

        From a Tuscan Window

A HIGH dark Florentine palace with frowning cornice and
barred windows, rich torch-holders of wrought iron set
beside the deep-arched doorway. In one of the casements stands
a young girl ; it is early morning and the fresh light shines over
her. She has been, perhaps, at a banquet, for she is in gala dress—
soft green worked with threads of silver ; about her slim long
throat is a chain with an ornament of enamel bright with shift-
ing colours. She grasps the heavy iron with a small white hand
and leans forward ; the shadow of one bar lies like a dark band
across the bright hair drawn smoothly back from her forehead.
She is watching for her lover to pass in the dusky street ; her lips
are grave, but there is a smile in the brown eyes under the fine
curved brows. She looks out through the sunrise and waits.
Underneath the window, so close to the wall that he cannot be
seen from above, lies a youth wrapped in a dark mantle—dead—
he has been stabbed there in the night and fallen quite silently.
His loose dark hair brushes the ground where he lies ; his blood
has made a stain on the grey stones. His white face is turned
up ; his eyes are open, looking towards the casement—the case-


                        By Dora Greenwell McChesney 145

ment where the maiden leans, watching for her lover to pass in
the sunrise.

        In the Palace of the Duke

THE window is wreathed about with strange carvings, where
mocking faces look from among the vines. Against the
broad sill a youth is leaning, looking into the court below where
his horse is being led out and his falconer is waiting. The lad is
dressed with great richness, his close crimson doublet and hosen
curiously slashed and his short cloak thick with golden embroidery.
His dark hair makes a cloud about a delicate wilful face. In one
hand he holds a casket of amber wrought with the loves of the
gods, and before him on the ledge lie papers newly signed. Close
by him are two figures ; a man still young and a stately woman
whose hair is grey beneath her jewelled head-dress and veil. They
are mother and son, for their features are alike, and wasted alike
before the time by some long hunger of desire. She has her left
hand on her bosom, pressed hard, almost as though on something
hidden there ; with her right she holds a goblet of silver to the
youth, who reaches backwards for it, not turning, with an indolent
gesture. He glances carelessly to the court below, but the eyes
of mother and son have met, unflinchingly, in a slow smile of
terrible understanding.

        A Venetian Balcony

NIGHT on the waters, yet no darkness. On the still lagoons
broad sheen of moonlight ; in the canals and squares of
Venice shifting and clashing lights of many lamps and torches,


                        146 At Old Italian Casements

for it is a night of festival. From a balcony set with discs of
alabaster, purple and white, a woman is bending to look across the
water. She is full in the mingling of lights, white of the moon-
beams, gold of the wide-flaring torches ; they shine on the warm
whiteness of brow and throat and bosom and the gold of her
hair which she wears coiled high, like a crown, about a jewelled
dagger. She holds her mask in her left hand on which is no
ring. There is a smile on her proud lips, but the great fire of
her eyes is dying ; into the triumph is stealing a touch of fear
and the sense of a woman’s first surrender. The night is all
but gone, the revelry at its close. She looks across the water
where the moon has made a silver track, but her eyes seek only
the track of a gondola which has passed—slipped from her sight.
Back in the dusk rich room a single silver lamp is burning ; it
throws a gleam on her own picture. A master hand has set her
there as the holy Saint Catherine, robed like a queen, as indeed
she is this night, but kneeling humbly before the Blessed Babe
and holding a spousal ring.

        A Brother of St. Francis

LOW and narrow, the window of a convent cell, but it commands
the width of Umbrian plain, above which the sun is scarcely
risen. A great band of saffron light outlines the far horizon, but
the full day has not come. Close to the walls of the cloister rise
slender trees, shooting up as if athirst for the sun, their tall stems
bare and straight, only breaking at the top into leafage. These
lift a delicate tracery of green against the rose-grey of the sky,
but, beyond, the lower slopes are dim with the ashen mist of the
olives. And still beyond the plain sweeps out, showing no wood


                        By Dora Greenwell McChesney 147

or stream, making ready wide barren spaces to be touched into
beauty by the changing sky. The sun has hardly given full life
to the colours beneath ; the green and yellow and grey merge
tremulously. The virginal air of early dawn is not yet brushed
away. The plain lies dream-like—rapt in a great expectancy.
From the casement a young monk looks out. He wears the
brown habit of a Franciscan. His eyes are wide and fixed and he
looks into the sunrise and beyond it. His face is worn and very
pale, so that the early light seems to shine through it, meeting a
light from within ; his lips are parted, not in prayer but in some
breathless rapture of contemplation. The morning brightness
searches his barren cell, touches his coarse garments and his
clasped hands. The marks of fast and vigil are upon him. In
his face is the fulness of utter renunciation—and the peace of a
great promise. Outside, above the narrow window of his cell, the
mated birds are building.

        The Cardinal’s Outlook

WIDE splendour of the sunset beating down upon Rome ;
the statutes on column and church front stand aloof, and
uplifted in the red glow the dark shafts of the cypresses are
kindled by it into dusky gold. It shines in at the window where
the Cardinal is sitting and dwells on his rich robes—then is sub-
dued and lost in the room behind. Yet even there fugitive
gleams respond to it, from rare enamel and wrought metal ; most
of all from the statuette of a Bacchante, the golden bronze of
which seems to hold the sun-rays. The ivory crucifix looks wan
beside it. The Cardinal does not see the sunset, though a bar of
brightness lies across the book open before him on which his left


                        148 At Old Italian Casements

hand is pressed. The window is not all in light ; outside, against
the pageant of the sky rises a mighty bulk of darkness. It is the
dome of St. Peter’s. Its shadow lies across the Cardinal’s dwell-
ing and across the world of his thought. And there—close to
the base of that dome, there in the heart of the Vatican, the Pope
is dying. The Cardinal, new come from his bedside, sits wait-
ing : soon the last mystic sacraments must be bestowed, soon the
last throb of life must pass. He waits. He does not see the
sunset ; he sees instead the kneeling forms round the death-bed ;
he sees the shrouded halls and solemn gatherings of the Conclave
He sees—beyond—a mystery of ever widening domination, at the
centre of which is enthroned—not the old man who is dying
yonder. Whose will it be—the solitary sovereign figure, soon to
stand there where the dome rises and the great shadow lies ?
The Cardinal’s face has grown sharp and sunken in these hours ;
it is of a pallor like the ivory crucifix behind him. Round his
lips lingers the unchanging inward smile of priesthood. His eyes
beneath their drooping lids are intent—patient—menacing. His
right hand is a little lifted with an unconscious movement of
benediction : with such a gesture it is that the Pope—from above
the portico of the Lateran—blesses the kneeling multitudes.

MLA citation:

McChesney, Dora Greenwell. “At Old Italian Casements.” The Yellow Book, vol. 13, April 1897, pp. 144-148. 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.