On the following morning, Marzio left the house earlier than usual Gianbattista had not finished his black coffee, and was not in a humour to make advances to his master, after the scene of the previous evening. So he did not move from the table when the chiseller left the room, nor did he make any remark upon the hour. The door that led to the stairs had hardly closed after Marzio, when Lucia put her head into the room where Gianbattista was seated.
"He is gone," said the young man; "come in, we can talk a few minutes."
"Tista," began, Lucia, coming forward and laying her fingers on his curly hair, "what did all that mean last night? Have you understood?"
"Who understands that lunatic!" exclaimed Gianbattista, passing his arm round the girl's waist, and drawing her to him. "I only understand one thing, we must be married as soon as possible and be done with it. Is it not true, Lucia?"
"I hope so," answered his companion, with a blush and a sigh. "But I am so much afraid."
"Do not be afraid, leave it all to me, I will protect you, my darling," replied the young man, tapping his breast with the ready gesture of an Italian, as though to prove his courage.
"Oh, I am sure of that! But how can it be managed? Of course he cannot force me to marry Carnesecchi, as Uncle Paolo explained to him. But he will try, and he is so bad!"
"Let him try, let him try," repeated Gianbattista. "I made a bargain with him last night after you had gone to bed. Do you know what I told him? I told him that I would stay with him, but that if you married any one but me, I would cut his throat—Sor Marzio's throat, do you understand?"
"Oh, Tista!" cried Lucia. "How did you ever have the courage to tell him such a thing? Besides, you know, you would not do it, would you?"
"Do not trouble yourself, he saw I was in earnest, and he will think twice about it. Besides, he said yesterday that I might have you if I would take you away."
"A nice thing for a father to say of his daughter!" exclaimed the girl angrily. "And what did you answer him then, my love?"
"Oh! I said that I had not the slightest objection to the proceeding. And then he tried to prove to me that we should starve without him, and then he swore at me like a Turk. What did it matter? He said I was changed. By Diana! Any man would change, just for the sake of not being like him!"
"How do you mean that you are changed, dear?" asked Lucia anxiously.
"Who knows? He said I fawned on Don Paolo like a dog, instead of hating the priests as I used to do. What do you think, love?"
"I think Uncle Paolo would laugh at the idea," answered the girl, smiling herself, but rather sadly. "I am afraid you are as bad as ever, in that way."
"I am not bad, Lucia. I begin to think I like Don Paolo. He was splendid last night. Did you see how he stared your father out of countenance, and then turned him into a lamb with the order for the crucifix? Don Paolo has a much stronger will than Sor Marzio, and a great deal more sense. He will make your father change his mind."
"Of course it would be for the better if we could be married without any objection, and I am very glad you are growing fond of Uncle Paolo. But I have seen it for some time. He is so good!"
"Yes. That is the truth," answered Gianbattista in meditative tone. "He is too good. It is not natural. And then he has a way of making me feel it. Now, I would have strangled Sor Marzio last night if your uncle had not been there, but he prevented me. Of course he was right. Those people always are. But one hates to be set right by a priest. It is humiliating!"
"Well, it is better than not to be set right at all," said Lucia. "You see, if you had strangled poor papa, it would have been dreadful! Oh, Tista, promise me that you will not do anything violent! Of course he is very unkind, I know. But it would be terrible if you were to be angry and hurt him. You will not, Tista? Tell me you will not?"
"We shall see; we shall see, my love!"
"You do not love me if you will not promise."
"Oh, if that is all, my love, I will promise never to lay a finger on him until you are actually married to some one else. But then—" Gianbattista made the gesture which means driving the knife into an enemy.
"Then you may do anything you please," answered Lucia, with a laugh. "He will never make me marry any one but you. You know that, my heart!"
"In that case we ought to be married very soon," argued the young man. "We need not live here, you know. Indeed, it would be out of the question. We will take one of those pretty little places in the new quarter—"
"That is so far away," interrupted the girl.
"Yes, but there is the tramway, and there are omnibuses. It only takes a quarter of an hour."
"But you would be so far from me all day, my love. I could not run into the studio at all hours, and you would not come home for dinner. Oh! I could not bear it!"
"Very well, we will try and find something near here," said Gianbattista, yielding the point. "We will get a little apartment near the Minerva, where there is sun."
"And we will have a terrace on the top of the house, with pots of carnations."
"And red curtains on rings, that we can draw; it is such a pretty light when the sun shines through them."
"And green wall paper with blue furniture," suggested Lucia. "It is so gay."
"Or perhaps the furniture of the same colour as the paper—you know they have it so in all fashionable houses."
"Well, if it is really the fashion, I suppose we must," assented the girl rather regretfully.
"Yes, it is the fashion, my heart, and you must have everything in the fashion. But I must be going," added the young man, rising from his seat.
"Already? It is early, Tista—" she hesitated, "Dear Tista," she began again, her dark eyes resting anxiously on his face, "what will you say to him in the workshop? You will tell him that I would rather die than marry Carnesecchi, that we are solemnly promised, that nothing shall part us! You will make him see reason, Tista, will you not? I cannot go to him, or I would; and mamma, poor mamma, is so afraid of him when he is in his humours. There are only you and Uncle Paolo to manage him; and after the way he insulted Uncle Paolo last night, it will be all the harder. Think of it, Tista, while you are at work, and bring me word when you come to dinner."
"Never fear, love," replied Gianbattista confidently; "what else should I think of while I am hammering away all day? A little kiss, to give me courage."
In a moment he was gone, and his quick step resounded on the stairs as he ran down, leaving Lucia at the door above, to catch the last good-bye he called up to her when he reached the bottom. His fresh voice came up to her mingled with the rattle of the lumbering carts in the street. She answered the cry and went in.
Just then the sleepy Signora Pandolfi emerged from her chamber, clad in the inevitable skirt and white cotton jacket, her heavy black hair coiled in an irregular mass on the top of her head, and held in place by hair-pins that seemed to be on the point of dropping out.
"Ah, Lucia, my darling! Such a night as I have passed!" she moaned, sinking into a chair beside the table, on which the coffee-pot and the empty cups were still standing. "Such a night, my dear! I have not closed an eye. I am sure it is the last judgment! And this scirocco, too, it is enough to kill one!"
"Courage, mamma," answered Lucia gaily. "Things are never so bad as they seem."
"Oh, that monster, that monster!" groaned the fat lady. "He would make an angel lose his patience! Imagine, my dear, he insists that you shall be married in a fortnight, and he has left me money to go and buy things for your outfit! Oh dear! What are we to do? I shall go mad, my dear, and you will all have to take me to Santo Spirito! Oh dear! Oh dear! This scirocco!"
"I think papa will go mad first," said Lucia. "I never heard of such an insane proposition in my life. All in a moment too—I think I am to marry Tista—papa gets into a rage and—patatunfate! a new husband—like a conjuror's trick, such a comedy! I expected to see the door open at every minute, Pulcinella walk in and beat everybody with a blown bladder! But Uncle Paolo did quite as well."
"Oh, my head!" complained the Signora Pandolfi. "I have not slept a wink!"
"And then it was shameful to see the way papa grew quiet and submissive when Uncle Paolo gave him the order for the crucifix! If it had been anybody but papa, I should have said that a miracle had been performed. But poor papa! No—the miracle of the soldi—that is the truth. I would like to catch sight of the saint who could work a miracle on papa! Capers, what a saint he would have to be!"
"Bacchus!" ejaculated Maria Luisa, "San Filippo Neri would be nowhere! The Holy Father would have to make a saint on purpose to convert that monster! A saint who should have nothing else to do. Oh, how hot it is! My head is splitting. What are we to do, Lucia, my heart? Tell me a little what we are to do—two poor women—all alone—oh dear!"
"In the first place, it needs courage, mamma," answered Lucia, "and a cup of coffee. It is still hot, and you have not had any—"
"Coffee! Who thinks of coffee?" cried the Signora Pandolfi, taking the cup from her daughter's hands, and drinking the liquid with more calmness than might have been anticipated.
"That is right," continued the girl. "Drink, mamma, it will do you good. And then, and then—let me see. And then you must talk to Suntarella about the dinner. That old woman has no head—"
"Dinner!" cried the mother, "who thinks of dinner at such a time? And he left me the money for the outfit, too! Lucia, my love, I have the fever—I will go to bed."
"Eh! What do you suppose? That is a way out of all difficulties," answered Lucia philosophically.
"But you cannot go out alone—"
"I will stay at home in that case."
"And then he will come to dinner, and ask to see the things—"
"There will be no things to show him," returned the young girl.
"Well? And then where should we be?" inquired the Signora Pandolfi. "I see him, my husband, coming back and finding that nothing has been done! He would tear his hair! He would kill us! He would bring his broomstick of a lawyer here to marry you this very afternoon, and what should we have gained then? It needs judgment, Lucia, my heart—judgment, judgment!" repeated the fat lady, tapping her forehead.
"Eh! If you have not enough for two, mamma, I do not know what we shall do."
"At the same time, something must be done," mused Maria Luisa. "My head is positively bursting! We might go out and buy half a dozen handkerchiefs, just to show him that we have begun. Do you think a few handkerchiefs would quiet him, my love? You could always use them afterwards—a dozen would be too many—"
"Bacchus!" exclaimed Lucia, "I have only one nose."
"It is a pity," answered her mother rather irrelevantly. "After all, handkerchiefs are the cheapest things, and if we spread them out, all six, on the green sofa, they will make a certain effect—these men! One must deceive them, my child."
"Suppose we did another thing," began Lucia, looking out of the window. "We might get some things—in earnest, good things. They will always do for the wedding with Tista. Meanwhile, papa will of course have to change his mind, and then it will be all right."
"What genius!" cried the Signora Pandolfi. "Oh, Lucia! You have found it! And then we can just step into the workshop on our way—that will reassure your father."
"Perhaps, after all, it would be better to go and tell him the truth," said Lucia, beginning to walk slowly up and down the room. "He must know it, sooner or later."
"Are you mad, Lucia?" exclaimed her mother, holding up her hands in horror. "Just think how he would act if you went and faced him!"
"Then why not go and find Uncle Paolo?" suggested the girl. "He will know what is best to be done, and will help us, you may be sure. Of course, he expected to see us before anything was done in the matter. But I am not afraid to face papa all alone. Besides, Tista is talking to him at this very minute. I told him all he was to say, and he has so much courage!"
"I wish I had as much," moaned the Signora Pandolfi, lapsing into hesitation.
"Come, mamma, I will decide for you," said Lucia. "We will go and find Uncle Paolo, and we will do exactly as he advises."
"After all, that is best," assented her mother, rising slowly from her seat.
Half an hour later they left the house upon their errand, but they did not enter the workshop on their way. Indeed, if they had, they would have been surprised to find that Marzio was not there, and that Gianbattista was consequently not talking to him as Lucia had supposed.
When Gianbattista reached the workshop, he was told that Marzio had only remained five minutes, and had gone away so soon as everybody was at work. He hesitated a moment, wondering whether he might not go home again and spend another hour in Lucia's company; but it was not possible to foretell whether Marzio would be absent during the whole morning, and Gianbattista decided to remain. Moreover, the peculiar smell of the studio brought with it the idea of work, and with the idea came the love of the art, not equal, perhaps, to the love of the woman but more familiar from the force of habit.
All men feel such impressions, and most of all those who follow a fixed calling, and are accustomed to do their work in a certain place every day. Theophile Gautier confessed in his latter days that he could not work except in the office of the Moniteur—elsewhere, he said, he missed the smell of the printers' ink, which brought him ideas. Artists know well the effect of the atmosphere of the studio. Five minutes of that paint-laden air suffice to make the outer world a mere dream, and to recall the reality of work. There was an old dressing-gown to which Thackeray was attached as to a friend, and which he believed indispensable to composition. Balzac had his oval writing-room, when he grew rich, and the creamy white colour of the tapestries played a great part in his thoughts. The blacksmith loves the smoke of the forge and the fumes of hot iron on the anvil, and the chiseller's fingers burn to handle the tools that are strewn on the wooden bench.
Gianbattista stood at the door of the studio, and had he been master instead of apprentice, he could not have resisted the desire to go to his place and take up the work he had left on the previous evening. In a few minutes he was hammering away as busily as though there were no such thing as marriage in the world, and nothing worth living for but the chiselling of beautiful arabesques on a silver ewer. His head was bent over his hands, his eyes followed intently the smallest movements of the tool he held, he forgot everything else, and became wholly absorbed in his occupation.
Nevertheless, much of a chiseller's work is mechanical, and as the smooth iron ran in and out of the tiny curves under the gentle tap of the hammer, the young man's thoughts went back to the girl he had left at the top of the stairs a quarter of an hour earlier; he thought of her, as he did daily, as his promised wife, and he fell to wondering when it would be, and how it would be. They often talked of the place in which they would live, as they had done that morning; and as neither of them was very imaginative, there was a considerable similarity between the speculations they indulged in at one time and at another. It was always to be a snug home, high up, with a terrace, pots of carnations, and red curtains. Their only difference of opinion concerned the colour of the walls and furniture. Like most Italians, they had very little sense of colour, and thought only of having everything gay, as they called it; that is to say, the upholstery was to be chosen of the most vivid hues, probably of those horrible tints known as aniline. Italians, as a rule, and especially those who belong to the same class as the Pandolfi family, have a strong dislike for the darker and softer tones. To them anything which is not vivid is sad, melancholy, and depressing to the senses. Gianbattista saw in his mind's eye a little apartment after his own heart, and was happy in the idea. But, as he followed the train of thought, it led him to the comparison of the home to which he proposed to take his wife with the one in which they now lived under her father's roof, and suddenly the scene of the previous evening rose clearly in the young man's imagination. He dropped his hammer, and stared up at the grated windows.
He went over the whole incident, and perhaps for the first time realised its true importance, and all the danger there might be in the future should Marzio attempt to pursue his plan to the end. Gianbattista had only once seen the lawyer who was thus suddenly thrust into his place. He remembered a thin, cadaverous man, in a long and gloomy black coat, but that was all. He did not recall his voice, nor the expression of his face; he had only seen him once, and had thought little enough of the meeting. It seemed altogether impossible, and beyond the bounds of anything rational, that this stranger should ever really be brought forward to be Lucia's husband.
For a moment the whole thing looked like an evil dream, and Gianbattista smiled as he looked down again at his work. Then the reality of the occurrence rose up again and confronted him stubbornly. He was not mistaken, Marzio had actually pronounced those words, and Don Paolo had sprung forward to prevent Gianbattista from attacking his master then and there. The young man looked at his work, holding his tools in his hands, but hesitating to lay the point of the chisel on the silver, as he hesitated to believe the evidence of his memory.
Marzio had risen early that morning, as has been said, and had left the house before any one but Gianbattista was up. He was in reality far from inclined to drink his coffee in the company of his apprentice, and would have avoided it, if possible. Nor did he care to meet Lucia until he had found time and occasion to refresh his anger. His wife was too sleepy to quarrel, and hardly seemed to understand him when he gave her money and bade her look to Lucia's outfit, adding that the wedding was to take place immediately.
"Will you not let me sleep in peace, even in the morning?" she groaned.
"Magari! I wish you would sleep, and for ever!" growled Marzio, as he left the room.
He drank his coffee in silence, and went out. After looking into the workshop he walked slowly away in the direction of the Capitol. The damp morning air was pleasant to him, and the gloomy streets through which he passed were agreeable to his state of feeling. He wished Home might always wear such a dismal veil of dampness, scirocco, and cloud.
A man in a bad humour will go out of his way to be rained upon and blown against by the weather. We would all like to change our surroundings with our moods, to fill the world with sunshine when we are happy, and with clouds when we have stumbled in the labyrinths of life. Lovers wish that the whole earth might be one garden, crossed and recrossed by silent moonlit paths; and when love has taken the one and left the other, he who stays behind would have his garden changed to an angry ocean, and the sweet moss banks to storm-beaten rocks, that he may drown in the depths, or be dashed to pieces by the waves, before he has had time to know all that he has lost.
As we grow older, life becomes the expression of a mood, according to the way we have lived. He who seeks peace will find that with advancing age the peaceful moment, that once came so seldom, returns more readily, and that at last the moments unite to make hours, and the hours to build up days and years. He who stoops to petty strife will find that the oft-recurring quarrel has power to perpetuate the discontented weakness out of which it springs, and that it can make all life a hell. He who rejoices in action will learn that activity becomes a habit, and at last excludes the possibility of rest, and the desire for it; and his lot is the best, for the momentary gladness in a great deed well done is worth a millennium of sinless, nerveless tranquillity. The positive good is as much better than the negative "non-bad," as it is better to save a life than not to destroy a life. But whatever temper of mind we choose will surely become chronic in time, and will be known to those among whom we live as our temper, our own particular temper, as distinguished from the tempers of other people.
Marzio had begun life in a bad humour. He delighted in his imaginary grievances, and inflicted his anger on all who came near him, only varying the manifestation of it to suit the position in which he chanced to find himself. With his wife he was overbearing; with his brother he was insolent; with his apprentice he was sullen; and with his associates at the old Falcone he played the demagogue. The reason of these phases was very simple. His wife could not oppose him, Don Paolo would not wrangle with him, Gianbattista imposed upon him by his superior calm and strength of character, and, lastly, his socialist friends applauded him and nattered his vanity. It is impossible for a weak man to appear always the same, and his weakness is made the more noticeable when he affects strength. The sinews of goodness are courage, moral and physical, a fact which places all really good men and women beyond the reach of ridicule and above the high-water mark of the world's contempt.
Marzio lacked courage, and his virulence boiled most hotly when he had least to fear for his personal safety. It was owing to this innate weakness that such a combination of artistic sensitiveness and spasmodic arrogance was possible. The man's excitable imagination apprehended opposition where there was none, and his timidity made him fear a struggle, and hate himself for fearing it. As soon as he was alone, however, his thoughts generally returned to his art, and found expression in the delicate execution of the most exquisite fancies. Under other circumstances his character might have developed in a widely different way; his talent would still have been the same. There is a sort of nervous irritability which acts as a stimulant upon the faculties, and makes them work faster. With Marzio this unnatural state was chronic, and had become so because he had given himself up to it. It is a common disease in cities, where a man is forced to associate with his fellow-men, and to compete with them, whether he is naturally inclined to do so or not. If Marzio could have exercised his art while living as a hermit on the top of a lonely mountain he might have been a much better man.
He almost understood this himself as he walked slowly through the Via delle Botteghe Oscure—"the street of dark shops"—in the early morning. He was thinking of the crucifix he was to make, and the interest he felt in it made him dread the consequences of the previous night's domestic wrangling. He wanted to be alone, and at the same time he wanted to see places and things which should suggest thoughts to him. He did not care whither he went so long as he kept out of the new Rome. When he reached the little garden in front of San Marco he paused, looked at the deep doorway of the church, remembered the barbarous mosaics within, and turned impatiently into a narrow street on the right—the beginning of the Via di Marforio.
The network of by-ways in this place is full of old-time memories. Here is the Via Giulio Romano, where the painter himself once lived; here is the Macel dei Corvi, where Michael Angelo once lodged; hard by stood the statue of Marforio, christened by the mediaeval Romans after Martis Forum, and famous as the interlocutor of Pasquino. The place was a centre of artists and scholars in those days. Many a simple question was framed here, to fit the two-edged biting answer, repeated from mouth to mouth, and carefully written down among Pasquino's epigrams. First of all the low-born Roman hates all that is, and his next thought is to express his hatred in a stinging satire without being found out.
Like every real Roman, Marzio thought of old Marforio as he strolled up the narrow street towards the Capitol, and regretted the lawless days of conspiracy and treacherous deeds when every man's hand was against his fellow. He wandered on, his eyes cast down, and his head bent. Some one jostled against him, walking quickly in the opposite direction. He looked up and recognised Gasparo Carnesecchi's sallow face and long nose.
"Eh! Sor Marzio—is it you?" asked the lawyer.
"I think so," answered the artist. "Excuse me, I was thinking of something."
"No matter. Of what were you thinking, then? Of Pasquino?"
"Why not? But I was thinking of something else. You are in a hurry, I am sure. Otherwise we would speak of that affair."
"I am never in a hurry when there is business to be treated," replied Carnesecchi, looking down the street and preparing to listen.
"You know what I mean," Marzio began. "The matter we spoke of two days ago—my plans for my daughter."
The lawyer glanced quickly at his friend and assumed an indifferent expression. He was aware that his position, was socially superior to that of the silver-chiseller, in spite of Marzio's great talent. But he knew also that Lucia was to have a dowry, and that she would ultimately inherit all her father possessed. A dowry covers a multitude of sins in the eyes of a man to whom money is the chief object in life. Carnesecchi, therefore, meant to extract as many thousands of francs from Marzio as should be possible, and prepared himself to bargain. The matter was by no means settled, in spite of the chiseller's instructions to his wife concerning the outfit.
"We must talk," said Carnesecchi. "Not that I should be altogether averse to coming easily to an understanding, you know. Bat there are many things to be considered. Let us see."
"Yes, let us see," assented the other. "My daughter has education. She is also sufficiently well instructed. She could make a fine marriage. But then, you see, I desire a serious person for my son-in-law. What would you have? One must be prudent."
It is not easy to define exactly what a Roman means by the word "serious." In some measure it is the opposite of gay, and especially of what is young and unsettled. The German use of the word Philistine expresses it very nearly. A certain sober, straitlaced way of looking at life, which was considered to represent morality in Rome fifty years ago; a kind of melancholy superiority over all sorts of amusements, joined with a considerable asceticism and the most rigid economy in the household—that is what was meant by the word "serious." To-day its signification has been slightly modified, but a serious man—un uomo serio—still represents to the middle-class father the ideal of the correct son-in-law.
"Eh, without prudence!" exclaimed Carnesecchi, elliptically, as though to ask where he himself would have been had he not possessed prudence in abundance.
"Exactly," answered Marzio, biting off the end of a common cigar and fixing his eyes on the lawyer's thin, keen face. "Precisely. I think—of course I do not know—but I think that you are a serious man. But then, I may be mistaken."
"Well, it is human to err, Sor Marzio. But then, I am no longer of that age—what shall I say? Everybody knows I am serious. Do I lead the life of the cafe? Do I wear out my shoes in Piazza Colonna? Capers! I am a serious man."
"Yes," answered Marzio, though with some hesitation, as though he were prepared to argue even this point with the sallow-faced lawyer. He struck a match on the gaudy little paper box he carried and began to smoke thoughtfully. "Let us make a couple of steps," he said at last.
Both men moved slowly on for a few seconds, and then stopped again. In Italy "a couple of steps" is taken literally.
"Let us see," said Carnesecchi. "Let us look at things as they are. In these days there are many excellent opportunities for investing money."
"Hum!" grunted Marzio, pulling a long face and looking up under his eyebrows. "I know that is your opinion, Sor Gasparo. I am sorry that you should put so much faith in the stability of things. So you, too, have got the malady of speculation. I suppose you are thinking of building a Palazzo Carnesecchi out at Sant' Agnese in eight floors and thirty-two apartments."
"Yes, I am mad," answered the lawyer ironically.
"Who knows?" returned the other. "I tell you they are building a Pompeii in those new quarters. When you and I are old men, crazy Englishmen will pay two francs to be allowed to wander about the ruins."
"It may be. I am not thinking of building. In tine first place I have not the soldi."
"And if you had?" inquired Marzio.
"What nonsense! Besides, no one has. It is all done on credit, and the devil take the hindmost. But if I really had a million—eh! I know what I would do."
"Let us hear. I also know what I would do. Besta! What is the use of building castles in the air?"
"In the air, or not in the air, if I had a million, I know what I would do."
"I would have a newspaper," said Marzio. "Whew! how it would sting!"
"It would sting you, and bleed you into the bargain," returned the lawyer with some contempt. "No one makes mosey out of newspapers in these times. If I had money, I would be a deputy. With prudence there is much to be earned in the Chambers, and petitioners know that they must pay cash."
"It is certainly a career," assented the artist "But, as you say, it needs money for the first investment."
"Not so much as a million, though. With a good opening, and some knowledge of the law, a small sum would be enough."
"It is a career, as I said," repeated Marzio. "But five thousand francs would not give you an introduction to it."
"Five thousand francs!" exclaimed Carnesecchi, with a scornful laugh. "With five thousand francs you had better play at the lottery. After all, if you lose, it is nothing."
"It is a great deal of money, Sor Gasparo," replied the chiseller. "When you have made it little by little—then you know what it means."
"Perhaps. But we have been standing here more than a quarter of an hour, and I have a client waiting for me about a big affair, an affair of millions."
"Bacchus!" ejaculated Marzio. "You are not in a hurry about the matter. Well, we can always talk, and I will not keep you."
"We might walk together, and say what we have to say."
"I am going to the Capitol," Marzio said, for he had been walking in that direction when they met.
"That is my way, too," answered the lawyer, forgetting that he had run into Marzio as he came down the street.
"Eh! That is lucky," remarked the artist with an almost imperceptible smile. "As I was saying," he continued, "five thousand francs is not the National Bank, but it is a very pretty little sum, especially when there is something more to be expected in the future."
"That depends on the future. But I do not call it a sum. Nothing under twenty thousand is a sum, properly speaking."
"Who has twenty thousand francs?" laughed Marzio, shrugging his shoulders with an incredulous look.
"You talk as though Rome were an asylum for paupers," returned Carnesecchi. "Who has twenty thousand francs? Why, everybody has. You have, I have. One must be a beggar not to have that much. After all, we are talking about business, Sor Marzio. Why should I not say it? I have always said that I would not marry with less than that for a dowry. Why should one throw away one's opportunities? To please some one? It is not my business to try and please everybody. One must be just."
"Of course. What? Am I not just? But if justice were done, where would some people be? I say it, too. If you marry my daughter, you will expect a dowry. Have I denied it? And then, five thousand is not so little. There is the outfit, too; I have to pay for that."
"That is not my affair," laughed the lawyer. "That is the business of the woman. But five thousand francs is not my affair either. Think of the responsibilities a man incurs when he marries! Five thousand! It is not even a cup of coffee! You are talking to a galantuomo, an honest man, Sor Marzio. Reflect a little."
"I reflect—yes! I reflect that you ask a great deal of money, Signer Carnesecchi," replied Marzio with some irritation.
"I never heard that anybody gave money unless it was asked for."
"It will not be for lack of asking if you do not get it," retorted the artist.
"What do you mean, Signor Pandolfi?" inquired Carnesecchi, drawing himself up to his full height and then striking his hollow chest with his lean hand. "Do you mean that I am begging money of you? Do you mean to insult an honest man, a galantuomo? By heaven, Signor Pandolfi, I would have you know that Gasparo Carnesecchi never asked a favour of any man! Do you understand? Let us speak clearly."
"Who has said anything?" asked Marzio. "Why do you heat yourself in this way? And then, after all, we shall arrange this affair. You wish it. I wish it. Why should it not be arranged? If five thousand does not suit you, name a sum. We are Christians—we will doubtless arrange. But we must talk. How much should you think, Sor Gasparo?"
"I have said it. As I told you just now, I have always said that I would not marry with less than eighteen thousand francs of dowry. What is the use of repeating? Words are not roasted chestnuts."
"Nor eighteen thousand francs either," answered the other. "Magari! I wish they were. You should have them in a moment. But a franc is a franc."
"I did not say it was a cabbage," observed Carnesecchi. "After all, why should I marry?"
"Perhaps you will not," suggested Marzio, who was encouraged to continue the negotiations, however, by the diminution in the lawyer's demands.
"Why not?" asked the latter sharply, "Do you think nobody else has daughters?"'
"If it comes to that, why have you not married before?"
"Because I did not choose to marry," answered Carnesecchi, beginning to walk more briskly, as though to push the matter to a conclusion.
Marzio said nothing in reply. He saw that his friend was pressing him, and understood that, to do so, the lawyer must be anxious to marry Lucia. The chiseller therefore feigned indifference, and was silent for some minutes. At the foot of the steps of the Capitol he stopped again.
"You know, Sor Gasparo," he said, "the reason why I did not arrange about Lucia's marriage a long time ago, was because I was not particularly in a hurry to have her married at all. And I am not in a hurry now, either. We shall have plenty of opportunities of discussing the matter hereafter. Good-bye, Sor Gasparo. I have business up there, and that client of yours is perhaps impatient about his millions."
"Good-bye," answered Carnesecchi. "There is plenty of time, as you say. Perhaps we may meet this evening at the Falcone."
"Perhaps," said Marab drily, and turned away.
He had a good understanding of his friend's character, and though in his present mood he would have been glad to fix the wedding day, and sign the marriage contract at once, he had no intention of yielding to Carnesecchi's exorbitant demands. The lawyer was in need of money, Marzio thought, and as he himself was the possessor of what the other coveted, there could be little doubt as to the side on which the advantage would ultimately be taken. Marzio went half-way up the steps of the Capitol, and then stopped to look at the two wretched wolves which the Roman municipality thinks it incumbent on the descendants of Romulus to support. He thought one of them very like Carnesecchi. He watched the poor beasts a moment or two as they tramped and swung and pressed their lean sides against the bars of their narrow cage.
"What a sympathetic animal it is!" he exclaimed aloud. A passer-by stared at him and then went on hurriedly, fearing that he might be mad. Indeed, there was a sort of family likeness between the lawyer, the chiseller, and the wolves.
Other thoughts, however, occupied Marzio's attention; and as soon as he was sure that his friend was out of the way, he descended the steps. He did not care whither he went, but he had no especial reason for climbing the steep ascent to the Capitol. The crucifix his brother had ordered from him on the previous evening engaged his attention, and it was as much for the sake of being alone and of thinking about the work that he had taken his solitary morning walk, as with the hope of finding in some church a suggestion or inspiration which might serve him. He knew what was to be found in Roman churches well enough; the Crucifixion in the Trinita dei Pellegrini and the one in San Lorenzo in Lucina—both by Guido Reni, and both eminently unsympathetic to his conception of the subject—he had often looked at them, and did not care to see them again. At last he entered the Church of the Gesu, and sat down upon a chair in a corner.
He did not look up. The interior of the building was as familiar to him as the outside. He sat in profound thought, occasionally twisting his soft hat in his hands, and then again remaining quite motionless. He did not know how long he stayed there. The perfect silence was pleasant to him, and when he rose he felt that the idea he had sought was found, and could be readily expressed. With a sort of sigh of satisfaction he went out again into the air and walked quickly towards his workshop.
The men told him that Gianbattista was busy within, and after glancing sharply at the work which was proceeding, Marzio opened the inner door and entered the studio. He strode up to the table and took up the body of the ewer, which lay on its pad where he had left it the night before. He held it in his hands for a moment, and then, pushing the leather cushion towards Gianbattista, laid it down.
"Finish it," he said shortly; "I have something else to do."
The apprentice looked up in astonishment, as though he suspected that Marzio was jesting.
"I am afraid—" he answered with hesitation.
"It makes no difference; finish it as best you can; I am sick of it; you will do it well enough. If it is bad, I will take the responsibility."
"Do you mean me really to finish it—altogether?"
"Yes; I tell you I have a great work on hand. I cannot waste my time over such toys as acanthus leaves and cherubs' eyes!" He bent down and examined the thing carefully. "You had better lay aside the neck and take up the body just where I left it, Tista," he continued. "The scirocco is in your favour. If it turns cold to-morrow the cement may shrink, and you will have to melt it out again."
Marzio spoke to him as though there had not been the least difference between them, as though Gianbattista had not proposed to cut his throat the night before, as though he himself had not proposed to marry Carnesecchi to Lucia.
"Take my place," he said. "The cord is the right length for you, as it is too short for me. I am going to model."
Without more words Marzio went and took a large and heavy slate from the corner, washed it carefully, and dried it with his handkerchief. Then he provided himself with a bowl full of twisted lengths of red wax, and with a couple of tools he sat down to his work. Gianbattista, having changed his seat, looked over the tools his master had been using, with a workman's keen glance, and, taking up his own hammer, attacked the task given him. For some time neither of the men spoke.
"I have been to church," remarked Marzio at last, as he softened a piece of wax between his fingers before laying it on the slate. The news was so astounding that Gianbattista uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"You need not be frightened," answered the artist. "I only went to look at a picture, and I did not look at it after all. I shall go to a great many more churches before I have finished this piece of work. You ought to go to the churches and study, Tista. Everything is useful in our art—pictures, statues, mosaics, metal-work. Now I believe there is not a really good crucifix, nor a crucifixion, in Rome. It is strange, too, I have dreamed of one all my life."
Gianbattista did not find any answer ready in reply to the statement. The words sounded so strangely in Marzio's mouth this morning, that the apprentice was confused. And yet the two had often discussed the subject before.
"You do not seem to believe me," continued Marzio quietly. "I assure you it is a fact. The other things of the kind are not much better either. Works of art, perhaps, but not satisfactory. Even Michael Angelo's Pieta in Saint Peter's does not please me. They say it did not please the people of his time either—he was too young to do anything of that sort—he was younger than you, Tista, only twenty-four years old when he made that statue."
"Yes," answered Gianbattista, "I have heard you say so." He bent over his work, wondering what his master meant by this declaration of taste. It seemed as though Marzio felt the awkwardness of the situation and was exerting himself to make conversation. The idea was so strange that the apprentice could almost have laughed. Marzio continued to soften the wax between his fingers, and to lay the pieces of it on the slate, pressing them roughly into the shape of a figure.
"Has Paolo been here?" asked the master after another long pause.
Gianbattista merely shook his head to express a negative.
"Then he will come," continued Marzio. "He will not leave me in peace all day, you may be sure."
"What should he come for? He never comes," said the young man.
"He will be afraid that I will have Lucia married before supper time. I know him—and he knows me."
"If he thinks that, he does not know you at all," answered Gianbattista quietly.
"Indeed?" exclaimed Marzio, raising his voice to the ironical tone he usually affected when any one contradicted him. "To-day, to-morrow, or the next day, what does it matter? I told you last night that I had made up my mind."
"And I told you that I had made up mine."
"Oh yes—boy's threats! I am not the man to be intimidated by that sort of thing. Look here, Tista, I am in earnest. I have considered this matter a long time; I have determined that I will not be browbeaten any longer by two women and a priest—certainly not by you. If things go on as they are going, I shall soon not be master in my own house."
"You would be the only loser," retorted Gianbattista.
"Have done with this, Tista!" exclaimed Marzio angrily. "I am tired of your miserable jokes. You have gone over to the enemy, you are Paolo's man, and if I tolerate you here any longer it is merely because I have taught you something, and you are worth your wages. As for the way I have treated you during all these years, I cannot imagine how I could have been such a fool. I should think anybody might see through your hypocritical ways."
"Go on," said Gianbattista calmly. "You know our bargain of last night"
"I will risk that. If I see any signs of your amiable temper I will have you arrested for threatening my life. I am not afraid of you, my boy, but I do not care to die just at present. You have all had your way long enough, I mean to have mine now."
"Let us talk reasonably, Sor Marzio. You say we have had our way. You talk as though you had been in slavery in your own house. I do not think that is the opinion of your wife, nor of your daughter. As for me, I have done nothing but execute your orders for years, and if I have learnt something, it has not been by trying to overrule you or by disregarding your advice. Two years ago, you almost suggested to me that I should marry Lucia. Of course, I asked nothing better, and we agreed to wait until she was old enough. We discussed the matter a thousand times. We settled the details. I agreed to go on working for the same small wages instead of leaving you, as I might have done, to seek my fortune elsewhere. You see I am calm, I acknowledge that I was grateful to you for having taught me so much, and I am grateful still. You have just given me another proof of your confidence in putting this work into my hands to finish. I am grateful for that. Well, we have talked of the marriage often; I have lived in your house; I have seen Lucia every day, for you have let us be together as much as we pleased; the result is that I not only am more anxious to marry her than I was before—I love her; I am not ashamed to say so. I know you laugh at women and say they are no better than monkeys with parrots' heads. I differ from you. Lucia is an angel, and I love her as she loves me. What happens? One day you take an unreasonable dislike for me, without even warning me of the fact, and then, suddenly, last night, you come home and say she is to marry the Avvocato Gasparo Carnesecchi. Now, for a man who has taught me that there is no God but reason, all this strikes me as very unreasonable. Honestly, Sor Marzio, do you not think so yourself?"
Marzio looked at his apprentice and frowned, as though hesitating whether to lose his temper and launch into the invective style, or to answer Gianbattista reasonably. Apparently he decided in favour of the more peaceable course.
"It is unworthy of a man who follows reason to lose his self-control and indulge in vain threats," he answered, assuming a grand didactic air. "You attempt to argue with me. I will show you what argument really means, and whither it leads. Now answer me some questions, Tista, and I will prove that you are altogether in the wrong. When a man is devoted to a great and glorious cause, should he not do everything in his power to promote its success against those who oppose it?"
"Undoubtedly," assented Gianbattista.
"And should not a man be willing to sacrifice his individual preferences in order to support and to further the great end of his life?"
"Bacchus! I believe it!"
"Then how much the more easy must it be for a man to support his cause when there are no individual preferences in the way!" said Marzio triumphantly. "That is true reason, my boy. That is the inevitable logic of the great system."
"I do not understand the allegory," answered Gianbattista.
"It is as simple as roasted chestnuts," returned Marzio. "Even if I liked you, it would be my duty to prevent you from marrying Lucia. As I do not like you—you understand?"
"I understand that," replied the young man. "For some reason or other you hate me. But, apart from the individual preferences, which you say it is your duty to overcome, I do not see why you are morally obliged to hinder our marriage, after having felt morally obliged to promote it?"
"Because you are a traitor to the cause," cried Marzio, with sudden fierceness. "Because you are a friend of Paolo. Is not that enough?"
"Poor Don Paolo seems to stick in your throat," observed Gianbattista. "I do not see what he has done, except that he prevented me from killing you last night!"
"Paolo! Paolo is a snake, a venomous viper! It is his business, his only aim in life, to destroy my peace, to pervert my daughter from the wholesome views I have tried to teach her, to turn you aside from the narrow path of austere Italian virtue, to draw you away from following in the footsteps of Brutus, of Cassius, of the great Romans, of me, your teacher and master! That is all Paolo cares for, and it is enough—more than enough! And he shall pay me for his presumptuous interference, the villain!"
Marzio's voice sank into a hissing whisper as he bent over the wax he was twisting and pressing. Gianbattista glanced at his pale face, and inwardly wondered at the strange mixture of artistic genius, of bombastic rhetoric and relentless hatred, all combined in the strange man whom destiny had given him for a master. He wondered, too, how he had ever been able to admire the contrasts of virulence and weakness, of petty hatred and impossible aspirations which had of late revealed themselves to him in a new light. Have we not most of us assisted at the breaking of the Image of Baal, at the destruction of an imaginary representative of an illogical ideal?
"Well, Sor Marzio," said Gianbattista after a pause, "if I were to return to my worship of you and your principles—what would you do? Would you take me back to your friendship and give me your daughter?"
Marzio looked up suddenly, and stared at the apprentice in surprise. But the fresh young face gave no sign. Gianbattista had spoken quietly, and was again intent upon his work.
"If you gave me a proof of your sincerity," answered Marzio, in low tones, "I would do much for you. Yes, I would give you Lucia—and the business too, when I am too old to work. But it must be a serious proof—no child's play."
"What do you call a serious proof? A profession of faith?"
"Yes—sealed with the red wax that is a little thicker than water," answered Marzio grimly, his eyes still fixed on Gianbattista's face.
"In blood," said the young man calmly. "Whose blood would you like, Sor Marzio?"
The chiseller spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, and bent low over his slate, modelling hard at the figure under his fingers.
"I thought so," muttered Gianbattista between his teeth. Then he raised his voice a little and continued: "And have you the courage, Sor Marzio, to sit there and bargain with me to kill your brother, bribing me with the offer of your daughter's hand? Why do you not kill him yourself, since you talk of such things?"
"Nonsense, my dear Tista—I was only jesting," said the other nervously. "It is just like your folly to take me in earnest." The anger had died out of Marzio's voice and he spoke almost persuasively.
"I do not know," answered the young man. "I think you were in earnest for a moment. I would not advise you to talk in that way before any one else. People might interpret your meaning seriously."
"After all, you yourself were threatening to cut my throat last night," said Marzio, with a forced laugh. "It is the same thing. My life is as valuable as Paolo's. I only suggested that you should transfer your tender attentions from me to my brother."
"It is one thing to threaten a man to his face. It is quite another to offer a man a serious inducement to commit murder. Since you have been so very frank with me, Sor Marzio, I will confess that if the choice lay between killing you, or killing Don Paolo, under the present circumstances I would not hesitate a moment."
"And which would you—"
"Neither," replied the young man, with a cool laugh. "Don Paolo is too good to be killed, and you are not good enough. Come and look at the cherub's head I have made."
Lucia's cheerfulness was not genuine, and any one possessing greater penetration than her mother would have understood that she was, in reality, more frightened than she was willing to show. The girl had a large proportion of common sense, combined with a quicker perception than the stout Signora Pandolfi. She did not think that she knew anything about logic, and she had always shown a certain inconsistency in her affection for Gianbattista, but she had nevertheless a very clear idea of what was reasonable, a quality which is of immense value in difficulties, though it is very often despised in every-day life by people who believe themselves blessed by the inspirations of genius.
It seems very hard to make people of other nationalities understand that the Italians of the present day are not an imaginative people. It is nevertheless true, and it is only necessary to notice that they produce few, if any, works of imagination. They have no writers of fiction, no poets, few composers of merit and few artists who rank with those of other nations. They possessed the creative faculty once; they have lost it in our day, and it does not appear that they are likely to regain it. On the other hand, the Italians are remarkable engineers, first-rate mathematicians, clever, if unscrupulous, diplomatists. Though they overrate their power and influence, they have shown a capacity for organisation which is creditable on the whole. If they fail to obtain the position they seek in Europe, their failure will have been due to their inordinate vanity and over-governing, if I may coin the word, rather than to an innate want of intelligence.
The qualities and defects of the Italian nation all existed in the Pandolfi family. Marzio possessed more imagination than most of his countrymen, and he had, besides, that extraordinary skill in his manual execution of his work, which Italians have often exhibited on a large scale. On the other hand, he was full of bombastic talk about principles which he called great. His views concerning society, government, and the future of his country, were entirely without balance, and betrayed an amazing ignorance of the laws which, direct the destinies of mankind. He suffered in a remarkable degree from that mental disease which afflicts Italians—the worship of the fetish—of words which mean little, and are supposed to mean much, of names in history which have been exalted by the rhetoric of demagogues from the obscurity to which they had been wisely consigned by the judgment of scholars. He was alternately weak and despotic, cunning about small things which concerned his own fortunes, and amazingly foolish about the set of ideas which he loosely defined as politics.
Lucia's nature illustrated another phase of the Italian character, and one which, if it is less remarkable, is much more agreeable. She possessed the character which looks at everything from the point of view of daily life. Without imagination, she regarded only the practical side of existence. Her vanity was confined to a modest wish to make the best of her appearance, while her ambition went no further than the strictest possibility, in the shape of a marriage with Gianbattista Bordogni, and a simple little apartment with a terrace and pots of pinks. Had she known how much richer her father was than she suspected him of being, the enlargement of her views for the future would have been marked by a descent, from the fourth story of the house which was to be her imaginary home, to the third story. It could never have entered her head that Gianbattista ought to give up his profession until he was too old to work any longer. In her estimation, the mere possession of money could not justify a change of social position. She had been accustomed from her childhood to hear her father air his views in regard to the world in general, but his preaching had produced but little impression upon her. When he thought she was listening in profound attention to his discourse, she was usually wishing that he could be made to see the absurdity of his theories. She wished also that he would sacrifice some of his enthusiasm for the sake of a little more quiet in the house, for she saw that his talking distressed her mother. Further than this she cared little what he said, and not at all for what he thought. Her mind was generally occupied with the one subject which absorbed her thoughts, and which had grown to be by far the most important part of her nature, her love for Gianbattista Bordogni.
Upon that point she was inflexible. Her Uncle Paolo might have led her to change her mind in regard to many things, for she was open to persuasion where her common sense was concerned. But in her love for Gianbattista she was fixed and determined. It would have been more easy to turn her father from his ideas than to make Lucia give up the man she loved. When Marzio had suddenly declared that she should marry the lawyer, her first feeling had been one of ungovernable anger which had soon found vent in tears. During the night she had thought the matter over, and had come to the conclusion that it was only an evil jest, invented by Marzio to give her pain. But in the morning it seemed to her as though on the far horizon a black cloud of possible trouble were gathering; she had admitted to herself that her father might be in earnest, and she had felt something like the anticipation of the great struggle of her life. Then she felt that she would die rather than submit.
She had no theatrical desire to swear a fearful oath with Gianbattista that they should drown themselves at the Ponte Quattro Capi rather than be separated. Her nature was not dramatic, any more than his. The young girl dressed herself quickly, and made up her mind that if any pressure were brought to bear upon her she would not yield, but that, until then, there was no use in making phrases, and it would be better to be as cheerful as possible under the circumstances. But for Lucia's reassuring manner, the Signora Pandolfi would have doubtless succumbed to her feelings and gone to bed. Lucia, however, had no intention of allowing her mother any such weakness, and accordingly alternately comforted her and suggested means of escape from the position, as though she were herself the mother and Maria Luisa were her child.
They found Don Paolo in his small lodging, and he bid them enter, that they might all talk the matter over.
"In the first place," said the priest, "it is wrong. In the second place it is impossible. Thirdly, Marzio will not attempt to carry out his threat."
"Dear me! How simple you make it seem!" acclaimed the Signora Pandolfi, reviving at his first words, like a tired horse when he sees the top of the hill.
"But if papa should try and force me to it—what then?" asked Lucia, who was not so easily satisfied.
"He cannot force you to it, my child—the law will not allow him to do so. I told you so last night"
"But the law is so far off—and he is so violent" answered the young girl.
"Never fear," said Don Paolo, reassuring her. "I will manage it all. These will be a struggle, perhaps; but I will make him see reason. He had been with his friends last night, and his mind was excited; he was not himself. He will have thought differently of it this morning;"
"On the contrary," put in the Signora Pandolfi, "he waked me up at daylight and gave me a quantity of money to go and buy Lucia's outfit. And he will come home at midday and ask to see the things I have brought, and so I thought perhaps we had better buy something just to show him—half a dozen handkerchiefs—something to make a figure, you understand?"
Don Paolo smiled, and Lucia looked sympathetically from him to her mother.
"I am afraid that half a dozen handkerchiefs would have a bad effect," said the priest. "Either he would see that you are not in earnest, and then he would be very angry, or else he would be deceived and would think that you were really buying the outfit. In that case you would have done harm. This thing must not go any further. The idea must be got out of his head as soon as possible."
"But if I do nothing at all before dinner he will be furious—he will cry out that we are all banded together against him—"
"So we are," said Don Paolo simply.
"Oh dear, oh dear!" moaned the Signora Pandolfi, looking for her handkerchief in the anticipation of fresh tears.
"Do not cry, mamma. It is of no use," said Lucia.
"No, it is of no use to cry," assented the priest. "There is nothing to be done but to go and face Marzio, and not leave him until he has changed his mind. You are afraid to meet him at midday. I will go now to the workshop and find him."
"Oh, you are an angel, Paolo!" cried Maria Luisa, regaining her composure and replacing her handkerchief in her pocket. "Then we need not buy anything? What a relief!"
"I told you Uncle Paolo would know what to do," said Lucia. "He is so good—and so courageous. I would not like to face papa this morning. Will you really go, Uncle Paolo?" The young girl went and took down his cloak and hat from a peg on the wall, and brought them to him.
"Of course I will go, and at once," he answered. "But I must give you a word of advice."
"We will do everything you tell us," said the two women together.
"You must not ask him any questions, nor refer to the matter at all when he comes home."
"Diana! I would as soon speak of death!" exclaimed the Signora Pandolfi.
"And if he begins to talk about it you must not answer him, nor irritate him in any way."
"Be easy about that," answered the fat lady. "Never meddle with sleeping dogs—I know."
"If he grows very angry you must refer him to me."
"Oh, but that is another matter! I would rather offer pepper to a cat than talk to him of you. You would see how he would curse and swear and call you by bad names."
"Well, you must not do anything to make him swear, because that would be a sin; but if he only abuses me, I do not mind. He will do that when I talk to him. Perhaps after all, if he mentions the matter, you had better remain silent."
"Eh! that will be easy. He talks so much, and he talks so fast, never waiting for an answer. But are you not afraid for yourself, dear Paolo?"
"Oh, he will not hurt me—I am not afraid of him," answered the priest. "He will talk a little, he will use some big words, and then it will be finished. You see, it is not a great thing, after all. Take courage, Maria Luisa, it will be a matter of half an hour."
"Heaven grant it may be only that!" murmured Marzio's wife, turning up her eyes, and rising from her chair.
Lucia, who, as has been said, had a very keen appreciation of facts, did not believe that things would go so smoothly.
"You had better come back with him to our house when it is all over," she said, "just to give us a sign that it is settled, you know, Uncle Paolo."
Don Paolo himself had his doubts about the issue, although he put such a brave face on it, and in spite of the Signora Pandolfi. That good lady was by nature very sincere, but she always seemed to bring an irrelevant and comic element into the proceedings.
The result of the interview was that, in half an hour, Don Paolo knocked at the door of the workshop in the Via dei Falegnami, where Marzio and Gianbattista were at work. The chiseller's voice bade him enter.
Don Paolo had not found much time to collect his thoughts before he reached the scene of battle, but his opinion of the matter in hand was well formed. He loved his niece, and he had begun to like Gianbattista. He knew the lawyer, Carnesecchi, by reputation, and what he had heard of him did not prejudice him in the man's favour. It would have been the same had Marzio chosen any one else. In the priest's estimation, Gianbattista had a right to expect the fulfilment of the many promises which had been made to him. To break those promises for no ostensible reason, just as Gianbattista seemed to be growing up to be a sensible man, was an act of injustice which Don Paolo would not permit if he could help it. Gianbattista was not, perhaps, a model man, but, by contrast with Marzio, he seemed almost saintly. He had a good disposition and no vices; married to Lucia and devoted to his art, much might be expected of him. On the other hand, Gasparo Carnesecchi represented the devil in person. He was known to be an advanced freethinker, a radical, and, perhaps, worse than a radical—a socialist. He was certainly not very rich, and Lucia's dowry would be an object to him; he would doubtless spend the last copper of the money in attempting to be elected to the Chambers. If he succeeded, he would represent another unit in that ill-guided minority which has for its sole end the subversion of the existing state of things. He would probably succeed in getting back the money he had spent, and more also, by illicit means. If he failed, the money would be lost, and he would go from bad to worse, intriguing and mixing himself up with the despicable radical press, in the hope of getting a hearing and a place.
There is a scale in the meaning of the word socialist. In France it means about the same thing as a communist, when one uses plain language. When one uses the language of Monsieur Dramont, it means a Jew. In England a socialist is equal to a French conservative republican. In America it means a thief. In Germany it means an ingenious individual of restricted financial resources, who generally fails to blow up some important personage with wet dynamite. In Italy a socialist is an anarchist pure and simple, who wishes to destroy everything existing for the sake of dividing a wealth which does not exist at all. It also means a young man who orders a glass of water and a toothpick at a cafe, and is able to talk politics for a considerable time on this slender nourishment. Signor Succi and Signor Merlatti have discovered nothing new. Their miracles of fasting may be observed by the curious at any time in a Roman cafe.
Don Paolo regarded the mere idea of an alliance with Gasparo Carnesecchi as an outrage upon common sense, and when he entered Marzio's workshop he was determined to say so. Marzio looked up with an air of inquiry, and Gianbattista foresaw what was coming. He nodded to the priest, and brought forward the old straw chair from the corner; then he returned to his work in silence.
"You will have guessed my errand," Don Paolo began, by way of introducing his subject.
"No," answered Marzio doggedly. "Something about the crucifix, I suppose."
"Not at all," returned the priest, folding his hands over the handle of his umbrella. "A much more delicate matter. You suggested last night an improbable scheme for marrying Lucia."
"You had better say that I told you plainly what I mean to do. If you have come to talk about that, you had better talk to the workmen outside. They may answer you. I will not!"
Don Paolo was not to be so easily put off. He waited a moment as though to give Marzio time to change his mind, and then proceeded.
"There are three reasons why this marriage will not take place," he said. "In the first place, it is wrong—that is my point of view. In the second place, it is impossible—and that is the view the law takes of it. Thirdly, it will not take place because you will not attempt to push it. What do you say of my reasons, Marzio?"
"They are worthy of you," answered the artist. "In the first place, I do not care a fig for what you think is wrong, or right either. Secondly, I will take the law into my own hands. Thirdly, I will bring it about and finish it in a fortnight; and fourthly, you may go to the devil! What do you think of my reasons, Paolo? They are better than yours, and much more likely to prevail."
"My dear Marzio," returned the priest quietly, "you may say anything you please, I believe, in these days of liberty. But the law will not permit you to act upon your words. If you can persuade your daughter to marry Gasparo Carnesecchi of her own free will, well and good. If you cannot, there is a statute, I am quite sure, which forbids your dragging her up the steps of the Capitol, and making her sign her name by force or violence in the presence of the authorities. You may take my word for it; and so you had better dismiss the matter from your mind at once, and think no more about it."
"I remember that you told her so last night," growled Marzio, growing pale with anger.
"You—you—you priest!" cried the chiseller, unable in his rage to find an epithet which he judged more degrading. Don Paolo smiled.
"Yes, I am a priest," he answered calmly.
"Yea, you are a priest," yelled Marzio, "and what is to become of paternal authority in a household where such fellows as you are listening at the keyholes? Is a man to have no more rights? Are we to be ruled by women and creatures in petticoats? Viper! Poisoning my household, teaching my daughter to disobey me, my wife to despise me, my paid workmen to—"
"Silence!" cried Gianbattista in ringing tones, and with the word he sprang to his feet and clapped his hand on Marzio's mouth.
The effect was sudden and unexpected. Marzio was utterly taken by surprise. It was incredible to him that any one should dare to forcibly prevent him from indulging in the language he had used with impunity for so many years. He leaned back pale and astonished, and momentarily dumb with amazement. Gianbattista stood over him, his young cheeks flushed with anger, and his broad fist clenched.
"If you dare to talk in that way to Don Paolo, I will kill you with my hands!" he said, his voice sinking lower with concentrated determination. "I have had enough of your foul talk. He is a better man than you, as I told you last night, and I repeat it now—take care—"
Marzio made a movement as though he would rise, and at the same instant Gianbattista seized the long, fine-pointed punch, which served for the eyes of the cherubs—a dangerous weapon in a determined hand.
Don Paolo had risen from his chair, and was trying to push himself between the two. But Gianbattista would not let him.
"For heaven's sake," cried the priest in great distress, "no violence, Tista—I will call the men—"
"Never fear," answered the apprentice quietly; "the man is a coward."
"To me—you dare to say that to me!" exclaimed Marzio, drawing back at the same time.
"Yes—it is quite true. But do not suppose that I think any the worse of you on that account, Sor Marzio."
With this taunt, delivered in a voice that expressed the most profound contempt, Gianbattista went back to his seat and took up his hammer as though nothing had happened. Don Paolo drew a long breath of relief. As for Marzio, his teeth chattered with rage. His weakness had been betrayed at last, and by Gianbattista. All his life he had succeeded in concealing the physical fear which his words belied. He had cultivated the habit of offering to face danger, speaking of it in a quiet way, as he had observed that brave men did. He had found it good policy to tell people that he was not afraid of them, and his bearing had hitherto saved him from physical violence. Now he felt as though all his nerves had been drawn out of his body. He had been terrified, and he knew that he had shown it. Gianbattista's words stung in his ears like the sting of wasps.
"You shall never enter this room again," he hissed out between his teeth. The young man shrugged his shoulders as though he did not care. Don Paolo sat down again and grasped his umbrella.
"Gianbattista," said the priest, "I am grateful to you for your friendship, my boy. But it is very wrong to be violent—"
"It is one of the seven deadly sins!" cried Marzio, finding his voice at last, and by a strange accident venting his feelings in a sentence which might have been spoken by a confessor to a penitent.
Gianbattista could not help laughing, but he shook his head as though to explain that it was not his fault if he was violent with such a man.
"It is very wrong to threaten people, Tista," repeated Don Paolo; "and besides it does not hurt me, what Marzio says. Let us all be calm. Marzio, let us discuss this matter reasonably. Tista, do not be angry at anything that is said. There is nothing to be done but to look at the question quietly."
"It is very well for you to talk like that," grumbled Marzio, pretending to busy himself over his model in order to cover his agitation.
"It is of no use to talk in any other way," answered the priest "I return to the subject. I only want to convince you that you will find it impossible to carry out your determination by force. You have only to ask the very man you have hit upon, the Avvocato Garnesecchi, and he will tell you the same thing. He knows the law better than you or I. He will refuse to be a party to such an attempt. Ask him, if you do not believe me."
"Yes; a pretty position you want to put me in, by the body of a dog! To ask a man to marry my daughter by force! A fine opinion he would conceive of my domestic authority! Perhaps you will take upon yourself to go and tell him—won't you, dear Paolo? It would save me the trouble."
"I think that is your affair," answered Don Paolo, taking him in earnest. "Nevertheless, if you wish it—"
"Oh, this is too much!" cried Marzio, his anger rising again. "It is not enough that you thwart me at every turn, but you come here to mock me, to make a figure of me! Take care, Paolo, take care! You may go too far."
"I would not advise you to go too far, Sor Marzio," put in Gianbattista, turning half round on his stool.
"Cannot I speak without being interrupted? Go on with your work, Tista, and let us talk this matter out. I tell you, Paolo, that I do not want your advice, and that I have had far too much of your interference. I will inquire into this matter, so far as it concerns the law, and I will show you that I am right, in spite of all your surmises and prophecies. A man is master in his own house and must remain so, whatever laws are made. There is no law which can force a man to submit to the dictation of his brother—even if his brother is a priest."
Marzio spoke more calmly than he had done hitherto, in spite of the sneer in the last sentence. He had broken down, and he felt that Paolo and Gianbattista were too much for him. He desired no repetition of the scene which had passed, and he thought the best thing to be done was to temporise for a while.
"I am glad you are willing to look into the matter," answered Don Paolo. "I am quite sure you will soon be convinced."
Marzio was silent, and it was evident that the interview was at an end. Don Paolo was tolerably well satisfied, for he had gained at least one point in forcing his brother to examine the question. He remained a moment in his seat, reviewing the situation, and asking himself whether there was anything more to be said. He wished indeed that he could produce some deeper impression on the artist. It was not enough, from the moral point of view, that Marzio should be made to see the impossibility of his scheme, although it was as much as could be expected. The good man wished with all his heart that Marzio could be softened a little, that he might be made to consider his daughter's feelings, to betray some sign of an affection which seemed wholly dead, to show some more human side of his character. But the situation at present forbade Don Paolo from making any further effort. The presence of Gianbattista, who had suddenly constituted himself the priest's defender, was a constraint. Alone with his brother, Marzio might possibly have exhibited some sensibility, but while the young man who had violently silenced him a few moments earlier was looking on, the chiseller would continue to be angry, and would not forget the humiliation he had suffered. There was nothing more to be done at present, and Don Paolo prepared to take his departure, gathering his cloak around him, and smoothing the felt of his three-cornered hat while he held his green umbrella under his arm.
"Are you going already, Don Paolo?" asked Gianbattista, rising to open the door.
"Yes, I must go. Good-bye, Marzio. Bear me no ill-will for pressing you to be cautious. Good-bye, Tista." He pressed the young man's hand warmly, as though to thank him for his courageous defence, and then left the workshop. Marzio paid no attention to his departure. When the door was closed, and as Gianbattista was returning to his bench, the artist dropped his modelling tools and faced his apprentice.
"You may go too," he said in a low tone, as though he were choking. "I mean you may go for good. I do not need you any longer."
He felt in his pocket for his purse, opened it, and took out some small notes.
"I give you an hour to take your things from my house," he continued. "There are your wages—you shall not tell the priest that I cheated you."
Gianbattista stood still in the middle of the room while Marzio held out the money to him. A hot flush rose to his young forehead, and he seemed on the point of speaking, but the words did not pass his lips. With a quick step he came forward, took the notes from Marzio's hand, and crumpling them in his fingers, threw them in his face with all his might. Then he turned on his heel, spat on the floor of the room, and went out before Marzio could find words to resent the fresh insult.
The door fell back on the latch and Marzio was alone. He was very pale, and for a moment his features worked angrily. Then a cruel smile passed over his face. He stooped down, picked up the crumpled notes, counted them, and replaced them in his purse. The economical instinct never forsook him, and he did the thing mechanically. Glancing at the bench his eyes fell on the pointed punch which Gianbattista had taken up in his anger. He felt it carefully, handled it, looked at it, smiled again and put it into his pocket.
"It is not a bad one," he muttered. "How many cherubs' eyes I have made with that thing!"
He turned to the slate and examined the rough model he had made in wax, flat still, and only indicated by vigorous touches, the red material smeared on the black surface all around it by his fingers. There was force in the figure, even in its first state, and there was a strange pathos in the bent head, the only part as yet in high relief. But Marzio looked at it angrily. He turned it to the light, closed his eyes a moment, looked at it again, and then, with an incoherent oath, his long, discoloured hand descended on the model, and, with a heavy pressure and one strong push, flattened out what he had done, and smeared it into a shapeless mass upon the dark stone.
"I shall never do it," he said in a low voice. "They have destroyed my idea."
For some minutes he rested his head in his hand in deep thought. At last he rose and went to a corner of the workshop in which stood a heavily ironed box. Marzio fumbled in his pocket till he found a key, bright from always being carried about with him, and contrasting oddly with the rusty lock into which he thrust it. It turned with difficulty in his nervous fingers, and he raised the heavy lid. The coffer was full of packages wrapped in brown paper. He removed one after another till he came to a wooden case which filled the whole length and breadth of the safe. He lifted it out carefully and laid it on the end of the bench. The cover was fastened down by screws, and he undid them one by one until it moved and came off in his hands. The contents were wrapped carefully in a fine towel, which had once been white, but which had long grown yellow with age. Marzio unfolded the covering with a delicate touch as though he feared to hurt what was within. He took out a large silver crucifix, raising it carefully, and taking care not to touch the figure. He stood it upon the bench before him, and sat down to examine it.
It was a work of rare beauty, which he had made more than ten years before. With the strange reticent instinct which artists sometimes feel about their finest works, he had finished it in secret, working at night alone, and when it was done he had put it away. It was his greatest feat, he had said to himself, and, as from time to time he took it out and looked at it, he gradually grew less and less inclined to show it to any one, resolving to leave it in its case, until it should be found after his death. It had seemed priceless to him, and he would not sell it. With a fantastic eccentricity of reasoning he regarded it as a sacred thing, to part with which would be a desecration. So he kept it. Then, taking it out again, it had seemed less good to him, as his mind became occupied with other things, and he had fancied he should do better yet. At last he screwed it up in a wooden case and put it at the bottom of his strong box, resolving never to look at it again. Many years had passed since he had laid eyes upon it.
The idea which had come to him when Paolo had communicated the order to him on the previous evening, had seemed absolutely new. It had appeared to him as a glorification of the work he had executed in secret so long ago. Time, and the habit of dissatisfaction had effaced from his mind the precise image of the work of the past, and the emotions of the present had seemed something new to him. He had drawn and modelled during many hours, and yet he was utterly disappointed with the new result. He felt the innate consciousness of having done it before, and of having done it better.
And now the wonderful masterpiece of his earlier years stood before him—the tall and massive ebony cross, bearing the marvellous figure of the dead Saviour. A ray of sunlight fell through the grated window upon the dying head, illuminating the points of the thorns in the crown, the falling locks of hair, the tortured hands, and casting a shadow of death beneath the half-closed eyes.
For several minutes Marzio sat motionless on his stool, realising the whole strength and beauty of what he had done ten years before. Then he wanted to get a better view of it. It was not high enough above him, for it was meant to stand upon an altar. He could not see the face. He looked about for something upon which to make it stand, but nothing was near. He pushed away his stool, and turning the cross a little, so that the sunlight should strike it at a better angle, he kneeled down on the floor, his hands resting on the edge of the bench, and he looked up at the image of the dead Christ.
When Don Paolo left the workshop, he immediately crossed over and entered the street door of Marzio's house, intending to tell Maria Luisa and Lucia the result of the interview. He had not got to the top of the first flight of stairs when he heard Gianbattista's step behind him, and turning he saw the young man's angry face.
"What is the matter, Tista?" asked the priest, stopping on the steps and laying his hand on the iron railing.
"I am discharged, turned out, insulted by that animal!" answered the apprentice hotly. "He is like a piece of wood! You might as well talk to a wall! You had only just closed the door when he pulled out his purse, counted my wages, and told me to take my things from his house in an hour. I threw the money in his face—the beast!"
"Hush, Tista," said Don Paolo. "Do not be angry—we will arrange it all before night. He cannot do without you, and after all it is my fault. Calm yourself, Tista, my boy—we will soon set that straight."
"Yes—in an hour I will have left the house. Then it will be straight enough, as you call it. Oh! I would like to strangle him! Dear Don Paolo, nobody but you can arrange this affair—"
"Hush, hush, Tista. I cannot hear you talk in this way. Come, we will go back to Marzio. He will listen to reason—"
"Do you know what he said to me not a quarter of an hour before you came in?" asked Gianbattista quickly, laying his hand on the priest's arm. "He said I might have Lucia and welcome if I would kill you! Do you understand? I wish you could have seen the look in his eyes!"
"No, no, my boy—he was angry. He did not mean it."
"Mean it! Bacchus! He would kill you himself if he were not such a dastardly coward!"
Don Paolo shook his head with an incredulous smile, and looked kindly into the young man's eyes.
"You have all lost your heads over this unfortunate affair, Tista. You are all talking of killing each other and yourselves as though it were as simple as 'good-morning.' It is very wrong to talk of such things, and besides, you know, it is not really worth while—"
"It seems simple enough to me," answered the young man, frowning and clenching his hand.
"Come with me," urged the other, making as though he would descend the steps. "Come back to the workshop, and we will talk it all over."
"Wait a minute, Don Paolo. There is one thing—one favour I want to ask of you." Gianbattista lowered his voice. "You can do it for us—I am sure you will. I will call Lucia, and we will go with you—"
"Where?" asked the priest, not understanding the look of the young man.
"To church, of course. You can marry us in ten minutes, and the thing will be all over. Then we can laugh at Sor Marzio."
Don Paolo smiled.
"My dear boy," he answered, "those things are not done in a moment like roasting chestnuts. There are banns to be published. There is a civil marriage at the Capitol—"
"I should be quite satisfied with your benediction—a Pater Noster, an Oremus properly said—eh? Would it not be all right?"
"Really, Tista!" exclaimed the good man, holding up his hands in horror. "I had no idea that your religious education had been so neglected! My dear child, marriage is a very solemn thing."
"By Diana! I should think so! But that need not make it such a long ceremony. A man dies in a moment—paff!—the light is out!—you are dead. It is very solemn. The same thing for marriage. The priest looks at you, says Oremus—paff! You are married, and it cannot be undone! I know it is very serious, but it is only the affair of a moment."
Don Paolo did not know whether to laugh or to look grave at this exposition of Gianbattista's views of death and matrimony. He put it down to the boy's excitement.
"There is another reason, Tista. The law does not allow a girl of seventeen to be married without her father's consent."
"The law again!" exclaimed Gianbattista in disgust. "I thought the law protected Lucia from her father. You said so last night, and you repeated it this morning."
"Certainly, my boy. But the law also protects parents against any rashness their children may meditate. It would be no marriage if Lucia had not Marzio's consent."
"I wish there were no laws," grumbled the young man. "How do you come to know so much about marriage, Don Paolo?"
"It is my profession. Come along; we will talk to Marzio."
"What can we say to him? You do not suppose I will go and beg to be taken back?"
"You must be forgiving—"
"I believe in forgiveness when the other side begins," said Gianbattista.
"Perhaps Marzio will forgive too," argued the priest.
"He has nothing to forgive," answered the young man. The reasoning seemed to him beyond refutation.
"But if he says he has no objection, if he begs you to come back, I think you might make some advance on your side, Tista. Besides, you were very rough with him this morning."
"He turned me out like a dog—after all these years," said Gianbattista. "I will go back and work for him on one condition. He must give me Lucia at once."
"I am afraid that as a basis of negotiations that plan leaves much to be desired," replied Don Paolo, in a meditative tone. "Of course, we are all determined that you shall marry her in the end; but unless Providence is pleased to change Marzio's state of mind, you may have to wait until she is of age. He will never consent at present."
"In that case I had better go and take my things away from his house," returned the apprentice. "And say good-bye to Lucia—for a day or two," he added in a low voice.
"Of course, if you will not agree to be conciliatory it is of no use for you to come with me," said Don Paolo rather sadly. "Dear me! Here comes Maria Luisa with Suntarella!"
"Ah, dear Paolo, dear Paolo!" cried the stout lady, puffing up the stairs with the old woman close behind her. "How good you are! And what did he say? We asked if you had gone at the workshop, and they said you had, so Lucia went in to ask her father whether he would have the chickens boiled or roasted. Well, well, tell me all about it. These stairs! Suntarella, run up and open the door while I get my breath! Dear Paolo, you are an angel of goodness!"
"Softly, Maria Luisa," answered the priest. "There is good and bad. He has admitted that he will have to consider the matter because he cannot make Lucia marry without her consent. But on the other hand—poor Tista—" he looked at the young man and hesitated.
"He has turned me out," said Gianbattista. "He has given me an hour to leave his house. I believe a good part of the hour has passed already—"
"And Tista says he will not go back at any price," put in Don Paolo. The Signora Pandolfi gasped for breath.
"Oh! oh! I shall faint!" she sobbed, pressing the handle of her parasol against her breast with both hands. "Oh, what shall we do? We are lost! Paolo, your arm—I shall die!"
"Courage, courage, Maria Luisa," said the priest kindly. "We will find a remedy. For the present Tista can come to my house. There is the little room Where the man-servant sleeps, who is gone to see his sick wife in the country. The Cardinal will not mind."
"But you are not going like tins?" cried the stout lady, grasping Gianbattista's arm and looking into his face with an expression of forlorn bewilderment. "You cannot go to-day—it is impossible, Tista—your shirts are not even ironed! Oh dear I oh dear! And I had anticipated a feast because I was sure that Marzio would see reason before midday, and there are chickens for dinner—with rice, Tista, just as you like them—oh, you cannot go, Tista, I cannot let you go!"
"Courage, Maria Luisa," exhorted Don Paolo. "It is not a question of chickens."
"Dear Sora Luisa, you are too good," said Gianbattista. "Let us go upstairs first, to begin with—you will catch cold here on the steps. Come, come, courage, Sora Luisa!"
He took the good woman's arm and led her upwards. But Don Paolo stayed behind. He believed it to be his duty to return to the workshop, and to try and undo the harm Gianbattista had done himself by the part he had played in the proceedings of the morning. The Signora Pandolfi suffered herself to be led upstairs, panting and sobbing as she went, and protesting still that Gianbattista could not possibly be allowed to leave the house.
When Don Paolo had parted from the two women an hour earlier, they had not gone home as he had supposed, but, chancing to meet old Assunta near the house, the three had gone together to make certain necessary purchases. On their return they had inquired for Paolo at the workshop, as Maria Luisa had explained, and Lucia had entered in the confident expectation of finding that the position of things had mended considerably since the early morning. Moreover, since the announcement of the previous evening, the young girl had not seen her father alone. She wanted to talk to him on her own account, in order to sound the depth of his determination. She was not afraid of him. The fact that for a long time he had regarded favourably the project of her marriage with Gianbattista had given her a confidence which was not to be destroyed in a moment, even by Marzio's strange conduct. She passed through the outer rooms, nodding to the workmen, who touched their caps to the master's daughter. A little passage separated the large workshop from the inner studio. The door at the end was not quite closed. Lucia went up to it, and looked through the opening to see whether Gianbattista were with her father. The sight she saw was so surprising that she leaned against the door-post for support. She could not believe her eyes.
There was her father in his woollen blouse, kneeling, on the brick floor of the room, before a crucifix, his back turned towards her, his hands raised, and, as it seemed from the position of the arms, folded in prayer. The sunlight fell upon the silver figure, and upon the dark tangled hair of the artist who remained motionless, as though absorbed in devotion, while his daughter watched him through the half-open door. The scene was one which would have struck any one; the impression it made on Lucia was altogether extraordinary. She easily fancied that Marzio, after his interview with Don Paolo, had felt a great and sudden revulsion of sentiment. She knew that the priest had not left the studio many minutes before, and she saw her father apparently praying before a crucifix. A wonderful conversion had been effected, and the result was there manifest to the girl's eyes.
She held her breath, and remained at the door, determined not to move until Marzio should have risen from his knees. To interrupt him at such a moment would have been almost a sacrilege; it might produce the most fatal results; it would be an intrusion upon the privacy of a repentant man. She stood watching and waiting to see what would happen.
Presently Marzio moved. Lucia thought he was going to rise from his knees, but she was surprised to see that he only changed the position of the crucifix with one hand. He approached his head so near the lower part of it that Lucia fancied he was in the act of pressing his lips upon the crossed feet of the silver Christ. Then he drew back a little, turned his head to one side, and touched the figure with his right hand. It was evident, now, that he was no longer praying, but that something about the workmanship had attracted his attention.
How natural, the girl said to herself, that this man, even in such a supreme moment, should not forget his art—that, even in prayer, his eyes should mechanically detect an error of the chisel, a flaw in the metal, or some such detail familiar to his daily life. She did not think the worse of him for it. He was an artist! The habit of his whole existence could not cease to influence him—he could as soon have ceased to breathe. Lucia watched him and felt something like love for her father. Her sympathy was with him in both actions; in his silent prayer, in the inner privacy of his working-room, as well as in the inherent love of his art, from which he could not escape even when he was doing something contrary to the whole tenor of his life. Lucia thought how Don Paolo's face would light up when she should tell him of what she had seen. Then she wondered, with a delicate sense of respect for her father's secret feelings, whether she would have the right to tell any one what she had accidentally seen through the half-closed door of the studio.