The Novels of F. Marion Crawford In Twenty-five Volumes, Authorized Edition
F. MARION CRAWFORD
P.F. Collier & Son New York
"The whole of this modern fabric of existence is a living lie!" cried Marzio Pandolfi, striking his little hammer upon the heavy table with an impatient rap. Then he dropped it and turning on his stool rested one elbow upon the board while he clasped his long, nervous fingers together and stared hard at his handsome apprentice. Gianbattista Bordogni looked up from his work without relinquishing his tools, nodded gravely, stared up at the high window, and then went on hammering gently upon his little chisel, guiding the point carefully among the delicate arabesques traced upon the silver.
"Yes," he said quietly, after a few seconds, "it is all a lie. But what do you expect, Maestro Marzio? You might as well talk to a stone wall as preach liberty to these cowards."
"Nevertheless, there are some—there are half a dozen—" muttered Marzio, relapsing into sullen discontent and slowly turning the body of the chalice beneath the cord stretched by the pedal on which he pressed his foot. Having brought under his hand a round boss which was to become the head of a cherub under his chisel, he rubbed his fingers over the smooth silver, mechanically, while he contemplated the red wax model before him. Then there was silence for a space, broken only by the quick, irregular striking of the two little hammers upon the heads of the chisels.
Maestro Marzio Pandolfi was a skilled workman and an artist. He was one of the last of those workers in metals who once sent their masterpieces from Rome to the great cathedrals of the world; one of the last of the artistic descendants of Caradosso, of Benvenuto Cellini, of Claude Ballin, and of all their successors; one of those men of rare talent who unite the imagination of the artist with the executive skill of the practised workman. They are hard to find nowadays. Of all the twenty chisellers of various ages who hammered from morning till night in the rooms outside, one only—Gianbattista Bordogni—had been thought worthy by his master to share the privacy of the inner studio. The lad had talent, said Maestro Marzio, and, what was more, the lad had ideas—ideas about life, about the future of Italy, about the future of the world's society. Marzio found in him a pupil, an artist and a follower of his own political creed.
It was a small room in which they worked together. Plain wooden shelves lined two of the walls from the floor to the ceiling. The third was occupied by tables and a door, and in the fourth high grated windows were situated, from which the clear light fell upon the long bench before which the two men sat upon high stools. Upon the shelves were numerous models in red wax, of chalices, monstrances, marvellous ewers and embossed basins for the ablution of the priests' hands, crucifixes, crowns, palm and olive branches—in a word, models of all those things which pertain to the service and decoration of the church, and upon which it has been the privilege of the silversmith to expend his art and labour from time immemorial until the present day. There were some few casts in plaster, but almost all were of that deep red, strong-smelling wax which is the most fit medium for the temporary expression and study of very fine and intricate designs. There is something in the very colour which, to one acquainted with the art, suggests beautiful fancies. It is the red of the Pompeian walls, and the rich tint seems to call up the matchless traceries of the ancients. Old chisellers say that no one can model anything wholly bad in red wax, and there is truth in the saying. The material is old—the older the better; it has passed under the hand of the artist again and again; it has taken form, served for the model of a lasting work, been kneaded together in a lump, been worked over and over by the boxwood tool. The workman feels that it has absorbed some of the qualities of the master's genius, and touches it with the certainty that its stiff substance will yield new forms of beauty in his fingers, rendering up some of its latent capacity of shape at each pressure and twist of the deftly-handled instrument.
At the extremities of the long bench huge iron vices were fixed by staples that ran into the ground. In one of these was fastened the long curved tool which serves to beat out the bosses of hollow and small-necked vessels. Each of the workmen had a pedal beneath his foot from which a soft cord ascended, passed through the table, and pressed the round object on which he was working upon a thick leather cushion, enabling him to hold it tightly in its place, or by lifting his foot to turn it to a new position. In pots full of sand were stuck hundreds of tiny chisels, so that the workmen could select at a glance the exact form of tool needful for the moment. Two or three half balls of heavy stone stood in leathern collars, their flat surfaces upwards and covered with a brown composition of pitch and beeswax an inch thick, in which small pieces of silver were firmly embedded in position to be chiselled.
The workshop was pervaded by a smell of wax and pitch, mingled with the curious indefinable odour exhaled from steel tools in constant use, and supplemented by the fumes of Marzio's pipe. The red bricks in the portion of the floor where the two men sat were rubbed into hollows, but the dust had been allowed to accumulate freely in the rest of the room, and the dark corners were full of cobwebs which had all the air of being inhabited by spiders of formidable dimensions.
Marzio Pandolfi, who bent over his work and busily plied his little hammer during the interval of silence which followed his apprentice's last remark, was the sole owner and master of the establishment. He was forty years of age, thin and dark. His black hair was turning grey at the temples, and though not long, hung forward over his knitted eyebrows in disorderly locks. He had a strange face. His head, broad enough at the level of the eyes, rose to a high prominence towards the back, while his forehead, which projected forward at the heavy brows, sloped backwards in the direction of the summit. The large black eyes were deep and hollow, and there were broad rings of dark colour around them, so that they seemed strangely thrown into relief above the sunken, colourless cheeks. Marzio's nose was long and pointed, very straight, and descending so suddenly from the forehead as to make an angle with the latter the reverse of the one most common in human faces. Seen in profile, the brows formed the most prominent point, and the line of the head ran back above, while the line of the nose fell inward from the perpendicular down to the small curved nostrils. The short black moustache was thick enough to hide the lips, though deep furrows surrounded the mouth and terminated in a very prominent but pointed chin. The whole face expressed unusual qualities and defects; the gifts of the artist, the tenacity of the workman and the small astuteness of the plebeian were mingled with an appearance of something which was not precisely ideality, but which might easily be fanaticism.
Marzio was tall and very thin. His limbs seemed to move rather by the impulse of a nervous current within than by any development of normal force in the muscles, and his long and slender fingers, naturally yellow and discoloured by the use of tools and the handling of cements, might have been parts of a machine, for they had none of that look of humanity which one seeks in the hand, and by which one instinctively judges the character. He was dressed in a woollen blouse, which hung in odd folds about his emaciated frame, but which betrayed the roundness of his shoulders, and the extreme length of his arms. His apprentice, Gianbattista Bordogni, wore the same costume; but beyond his clothing he bore no trace of any resemblance to his master. He was not a bad type of the young Roman of his class at five-and-twenty years of age. His thick black hair curled all over his head, from his low forehead to the back of his neck, and his head was of a good shape, full and round, broad over the brows and high above the orifice of the ear. His eyes were brown and not over large, but well set, and his nose was slightly aquiline, while his delicate black moustache showed the pleasant curve of his even lips. There was colour in his cheeks, too—that rich colour which dark men sometimes have in their youth. He was of middle height, strong and compactly built, with large, well-made hands that seemed to have more power in them, if less subtle skill, than those of Maestro Marzio.
"Remember what I told you about the second indentation of the acanthus," said the elder workman, without looking round; "a light, light hand—no holes in this work!"
Gianbattista murmured a sort of assent, which showed that the warning was not wanted. He was intent upon the delicate operation he was performing. Again the hammers beat irregularly.
"The more I think of it," said Marzio after the pause, "the more I am beside myself. To think that you and I should be nailed to our stools here, weekdays and feast-days, to finish a piece of work for a scoundrelly priest—"
"A cardinal," suggested Gianbattista.
"Well! What difference is there? He is a priest, I suppose—a creature who dresses himself up like a pulcinella before his altar—to—"
"Softly!" ejaculated the young man, looking round to see whether the door was closed.
"Why softly?" asked the other angrily, though his annoyance did not seem to communicate itself to the chisel he held in his hand, and which continued its work as delicately as though its master were humming a pastoral. "Why softly? An apoplexy on your softness! The papers speak as loudly as they please—why should I hold my tongue? A dog-butcher of a priest!"
"Well," answered Gianbattista in a meditative tone, as he selected another chisel, "he has the money to pay for what he orders. If he had not, we would not work for him, I suppose."
"If we had the money, you mean," retorted Marzio. "Why the devil should he have money rather than we? Why don't you answer? Why should he wear silk stockings—red silk stockings, the animal? Why should he want a silver ewer and basin to wash his hands at his mass? Why would not an earthen one do as well, such as I use? Why don't you answer? Eh?"
"Why should Prince Borghese live in a palace and keep scores of horses?" inquired the young man calmly.
"Ay—why should he? Is there any known reason why he should? Am I not a man as well as he? Are you not a man—you young donkey? I hate to think that we, who are artists, who can work when we are put to it, have to slave for such fellows as that—mumbling priests, bloated princes, a pack of fools who are incapable of an idea! An idea! What am I saying? Who have not the common intelligence of a cabbage-seller in the street! And look at the work we give them—the creation of our minds, the labour of our hands—"
"They give us their money in return," observed Gianbattista. "The ancients, whom you are so fond of talking about, used to get their work done by slaves chained to the bench—"
"Yes! And it has taken us two thousand years to get to the point we have reached! Two thousand years—and what is it? Are we any better than slaves, except that we work better?"
"I doubt whether we work better."
"What is the matter with you this morning?" cried Marzio. "Have you been sneaking into some church on your way here? Pah! You smell of the sacristy! Has Paolo been here? Oh, to think that a brother of mine should be a priest! It is not to be believed!"
"It is the irony of fate. Moreover, he gets you plenty of orders."
"Yes, and no doubt he takes his percentage on the price. He had a new cloak last month, and he asked me to make him a pair of silver buckles for his shoes. Pretty, that—an artist's brother with silver buckles! I told him to go to the devil, his father, for his ornaments. Why does he not steal an old pair from the cardinal, his bondmaster? Not good enough, I suppose—beast!"
Marzio laid aside his hammer and chisel, and lit the earthen pipe with the rough wooden stem that lay beside him. Then he examined the beautiful head of the angel he had been making upon the body of the ewer. He touched it lovingly, loosed the cord, and lifted the piece from the pad, turning it towards the light and searching critically for any defect in the modelling of the little face. He replaced it on the table, and selecting a very fine-pointed punch, laid down his pipe for a moment and set about putting the tiny pupils into the eyes. Two touches were enough. He began smoking again, and contemplated what he had done. It was the body of a large silver ewer of which Gianbattista was ornamenting the neck and mouth, which were of a separate piece. Amongst the intricate arabesques little angels'-heads were embossed, and on one side a group of cherubs was bearing a "monstrance" with the sacred Host through silver clouds. A hackneyed subject on church vessels, but which had taken wonderful beauty under the skilled fingers of the artist, who sat cursing the priest who was to use it, while expending his best talents on its perfections.
"It is not bad," he said rather doubtfully. "Come and look at it, Tista," he added. The young man left his place and came and bent over his master's shoulder, examining the piece with admiration. It was characteristic of Marzio that he asked his apprentice's opinion. He was an artist, and had the chief peculiarities of artists—namely, diffidence concerning what he had done, and impatience of the criticism of others, together with a strong desire to show his work as soon as it was presentable.
"It is a masterpiece!" exclaimed Gianbattista. "What detail! I shall never be able to finish anything like that cherub's face!"
"Do you think it is as good as the one I made last year, Tista?"
"Better," returned the young man confidently. "It is the best you have ever made. I am quite sure of it. You should always work when you are in a bad humour; you are so successful!"
"Bad humour! I am always in a bad humour," grumbled Marzio, rising and walking about the brick floor, while he puffed clouds of acrid smoke from his coarse pipe. "There is enough in this world to keep a man in a bad humour all his life."
"I might say that," answered Gianbattista, turning round on his stool and watching his master's angular movements as he rapidly paced the room. "I might abuse fate—but you! You are rich, married, a father, a great artist!"
"What stuff!" interrupted Marzio, standing still with his long legs apart, and folding his arms as he spoke through his teeth, between which he still held his pipe. "Rich? Yes—able to have a good coat for feast-days, meat when I want it, and my brother's company when I don't want it—for a luxury, you know! Able to take my wife to Frascati on the last Thursday of October as a great holiday. My wife, too! A creature of beads and saints and little books with crosses on them—who would leer at a friar through the grating of a confessional, and who makes the house hideous with her howling if I choose to eat a bit of pork on a Friday! A good wife indeed! A jewel of a wife, and an apoplexy on all such jewels! A nice wife, who has a face like a head from a tombstone in the Campo Varano for her husband, and who has brought up her daughter to believe that her father is condemned to everlasting flames because he hates cod-fish—salt cod-fish soaked in water! A wife who sticks images in the lining of my hat to convert me, and sprinkles holy water on me Then she thinks I am asleep, but I caught her at that the other night—"
"Indeed, they say the devil does not like holy water," remarked Gianbattista, laughing.
"And you want to many my daughter, you young fool," continued Marzio, not heeding the interruption. "You do. I will tell you what she is like. My daughter—yes!—she has fine eyes, but she has the tongue of the—"
"Of her father," suggested Gianbattista, suddenly frowning.
"Yes—of her father, without her father's sense," cried Marzio angrily. "With her eyes, those fine eyes!—those eyes!—you want to marry her. If you wish to take her away, you may, and good riddance. I want no daughter; there are too many women in the world already. They and the priests do all the harm between them, because the priests know how to think too well, and women never think at all. I wish you good luck of your marriage and of your wife. If you were my son you would never have thought of getting married. The mere idea of it made you send your chisel through a cherub's eye last week and cost an hoax's time for repairing. Is that the way to look at the great question of humanity? Ah! if I were only a deputy in the Chambers, I would teach you the philosophy of all that rubbish!"
"I thought you said the other day that you would not have any deputies at all," observed the apprentice, playing with his hammer.
"Such as these are—no! A few of them I would put into the acid bath, as I would a casting, to clean them before chiselling them down. They might be good for something then. You must begin by knocking down, boy, if you want to build up. You must knock down everything, raze the existing system to the ground, and upon the place where it stood shall rise the mighty temple of immortal liberty."
"And who will buy your chalices and monstrances under the new order of things?" inquired Gianbattista coldly.
"The foreign market," returned Marzio. "Italy shall be herself again, as she was in the days of Michael Angelo; of Leonardo, who died in the arms of a king; of Cellini, who shot a prince from the walls of Saint Angelo. Italy shall be great, shall monopolise the trade, the art, the greatness of all creation!"
"A lucrative monopoly!" exclaimed the young man.
"Monopolies! There shall be no monopolies! The free artisan shall sell what he can make and buy what he pleases. The priests shall be turned out in chain gangs and build roads for our convenience, and the superfluous females shall all be deported to the glorious colony of Massowah! If I could but be absolute master of this country for a week I could do much."
"I have no doubt of it," answered Gianbattista, with a quiet smile.
"I should think not," assented Marzio proudly; then catching sight of the expression on the young man's face, he turned sharply upon him. "You are mocking me, you good-for-nothing!" he cried angrily. "You are laughing at me, at your master, you villain you wretch, you sickly hound, you priest-ridden worm! It is intolerable! It is the first time you have ever dared; do you think I am going to allow you to think for yourself after all the pains I have taken to educate you, to teach you my art, you ungrateful reptile?"
"If you were not such a great artist I would have left you long ago," answered the apprentice. "Besides, I believe in your principles. It is your expression of them that makes me laugh now and then; I think you go too far sometimes!"
"As if any one had ever gone far enough" exclaimed Marzio, somewhat pacified, for his moods were very quick. "Since there are still men who are richer than others, it is a sign that we have not gone to the end—to the great end in which we believe. I am sure you believe in it too, Tista, don't you?"
"Oh yes—in the end—certainly. Do not let us quarrel about the means, Maestro Marzio. I must do another leaf before dinner."
"I will get in another cherub's nose," said his master, preparing to relight his pipe for a whiff before going to work again. "Body of a dog, these priests!" he grumbled, as he attacked the next angel on the ewer with matchless dexterity and steadiness. A long pause followed the animated discourse of the chiseller. Both men were intent upon their work, alternately holding their breath for the delicate strokes, and breathing more freely as the chisel reached the end of each tiny curve.
"I think you said a little while ago that I might marry Lucia," observed Gianbattista, without looking up, "that is, if I would take her away!"
"And if you take her away," retorted the other, "where will you get bread?"
"Where I get it now. I could live somewhere else and come here to work; it seems simple enough."
"It seems simple, but it is not," replied Marzio. "Perhaps you could try and get Paolo's commissions away from me, and then set up a studio for yourself; but I doubt whether you could succeed. I am not old yet, nor blind, nor shaky, thank God!"
"I did not catch the last words," said Gianbattista, hiding his smile over his work.
"I said I was not old, nor broken down yet, thanks to my strength," growled the chiseller; "you will not steal my commissions yet awhile. What is the matter with you to-day? You find fault with half I say, and the other half you do not hear at all. You seem to have lost your head, Tista. Be steady over those acanthus leaves; everybody thinks an acanthus leaf is the easiest thing in the world, whereas it is one of the most difficult before you get to figures. Most chisellers seem to copy their acanthus leaves from the cabbage in their soup. They work as though they had never seen the plant growing. When the Greeks began to carve Corinthian capitals, they must have worked from real leaves, as I taught you to model when you were a boy. Few things are harder than a good acanthus leaf."
"I should think women could do the delicate part of our work very well," said the apprentice, returning to the subject from which Marzio was evidently trying to lead him. "Lucia has such very clever fingers."
"Idiot!" muttered Marzio between his teeth, not deigning to make any further answer.
The distant boom of a gun broke upon the silence that followed, and immediately the bells of all the neighbouring churches rang out in quick succession. It was midday.
"I did not expect to finish that nose," said Marzio, rising from his stool. He was a punctual man, who exacted punctuality in others, and in spite of his thin frame and nervous ways, he loved his dinner. In five minutes all the men had left the workshop, and Marzio and his apprentice stood in the street, the former locking the heavy door with a lettered padlock, while the younger man sniffed the fresh spring air that blew from the west out of the square of San Carlo a Catenari down the Via dei Falegnami in which the establishment of the silver-chiseller was situated.
As Marzio fumbled with the fastenings of the door, two women came up and stopped. Marzio had his back turned, and Gianbattista touched his hat in silence. The younger of the two was a stout, black-haired woman of eight-and-thirty years, dressed in a costume of dark green cloth, which fitted very closely to her exuberantly-developed bust, and was somewhat too elaborately trimmed with imitation of jet and black ribands. A high bonnet, decorated with a bunch of purple glass grapes and dark green leaves, surmounted the lady's massive head, and though carefully put on and neatly tied, seemed too small for the wearer. Her ears were adorned by long gold earrings, in each of which were three large garnets, and these trinkets dangled outside and over the riband of the bonnet, which passed under her chin. In her large hands, covered with tight black gloves, she carried a dark red parasol and a somewhat shabby little black leather bag with steel fastenings. The stout lady's face was of the type common among the Roman women of the lower class—very broad and heavy, of a creamy white complexion, the upper lip shaded by a dark fringe of down, and the deep sleepy eyes surmounted by heavy straight eyebrows. Her hair, brought forward from under her bonnet, made smooth waves upon her low forehead and reappeared in thick coils at the back of her neck. Her nose was relatively small, but too thick and broad at the nostrils, although it departed but little from the straight line of the classic model. Altogether the Signora Pandolfi, christened Maria Luisa, and wife to Marzio the silver-chiseller, was a portly and pompous-looking person, who wore an air of knowing her position, and of being sure to maintain it. Nevertheless, there was a kindly expression in her fat face, and if her eyes looked sleepy they did not look dishonest.
Signora Pandolfi's companion was her old maid-of-all-work, Assunta, commonly called Suntarella, without whom she rarely stirred abroad—a little old woman, in neat but dingy-coloured garments, with a grey woollen shawl drawn over her head like a cowl, instead of a bonnet.
Marzio finished fastening the door, and then turned round. On seeing his wife he remained silent for a moment, looking at her with an expression of dissatisfied inquiry. He had not expected her.
"Well?" he ejaculated at last.
"It is dinner time," remarked the stout lady.
"Yes, I heard the gun," answered Marzio drily. "It is the same as if you had told me," he added ironically, as he turned and led the way across the street.
"A pretty answer!" exclaimed Maria Luisa, tossing her large head as she followed her lord and master to the door of their house. Meanwhile Assunta, the old servant, glanced at Gianbattista, rolled up her eyes with an air of resignation, and spread out her withered hands for a moment with a gesture of despair, instantly drawing them in again beneath the folds of her grey woollen shawl.
"Gadding!" muttered Marzio, as he entered the narrow door from which the dark steps led abruptly upwards. "Gadding—always gadding! And who minds the soup-kettle when you are gadding, I should like to know? The cat, I suppose! Oh, these women and their priests! These priests and these women!"
"Lucia is minding the soup-kettle," gasped Maria Luisa, as she puffed up stairs behind her thin and active husband.
"Lucia!" cried Marzio angrily, a flight of steps higher. "I suppose you will bring her up to be woman of all work? Well, she could earn her living then, which is more than you do! After all, it is better to mind a soup-kettle than to thump a piano and to squeal so that I can hear her in the shop opposite, and it is better than hanging about the church all the morning, or listening to Paolo's drivelling talk. By all means keep her in the kitchen."
It was hard to say whether Signora Pandolfi was puffing or sighing as she paused for breath upon the landing, but there was probably something of both in the labour of her lungs. She was used to Marzio. She had lived with him for twenty years, and she knew his moods and his ways, and detected the coming storm from afar. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, for her, there was little variety in the sequence of his ideas. She was accustomed to his beginning at the grumbling stage before dinner, and proceeding by a crescendo movement to the pitch of rage, which was rarely reached until he had finished his meal, when he generally seized his hat and dragged Gianbattista away with him, declaring loudly that women were not fit for human society. The daily excitement of this comedy had long lost its power to elicit anything more than a sigh from the stout Maria Luisa, who generally bore Marzio's unreasonable anger with considerable equanimity, waiting for his departure to eat her boiled beef and salad in peace with Lucia, while old Assunta sat by the table with the cat in her lap, putting in a word of commiseration alternately with a word of gossip about the lodgers on the other side of the landing. The latter were a young and happy pair: the husband, a chorus singer at the Apollo, who worked at glove cleaning during the day time; his wife, a sempstress, who did repairs upon the costumes of the theatre. Their apartments consisted of two rooms and a kitchen, while Marzio and his family occupied the rest of the floor, and entered their lodging by the opposite door.
Maria Luisa envied the couple in her sleepy fashion. Her husband was indeed comparatively rich, and though economical in his domestic arrangements, he had money in the bank enough to keep him comfortably for the rest of his days. His violence did not extend beyond words and black looks, and he was not miserly about a few francs for dress, or a dinner at the Falcone two or three times a year. But in the matter of domestic peace his conduct left much to be desired. He was a sober man, but his hours were irregular, for he attended the meetings of a certain club which Maria Luisa held in abhorrence, and brought back opinions which made her cross herself with her fat fingers, shuddering at the things he said. As for Gianbattista Bordogni, who lived with them, and consequently received most of his wages in the shape of board and lodging, he loved Lucia Pandolfi, his master's daughter, and though he shared Marzio's opinions, he held his tongue in the house. He understood how necessary to him the mother's sympathy must be, and, with subtle intelligence, he knew how to create a contrast between himself and his master by being reticent at the right moment.
Lucia opened the door in answer to the bell her father had rung, and stood aside in the narrow way to let members of the household pass by, one by one. Lucia was seventeen years old, and probably resembled her mother as the latter had looked at the same age. She was slight, and tall, and dark, with a quantity of glossy black hair coiled behind her head. Her black eyes had not yet acquired that sleepy look which advancing life and stoutness had put into her mother's, as a sort of sign of the difficulty of quick motion. Her figure was lithe, though she was not a very active girl, and one might have predicted that at forty she, too, would pay her debt to time in pounds of flesh. There are thin people who look as though they could never grow stout, and there are others whose leisurely motion and deliberate step foretells increase of weight. But Gianbattista had not studied these matters of physiological horoscopy. It sufficed him that Lucia Pandolfi was at present a very pretty girl, even beautiful, according to some standards. Her thick hair, low forehead, straight classic features, and severe mouth fascinated the handsome apprentice, and the intimacy which had developed between the two during the years of his residence under Marzio's roof, from the time when Lucia was a little girl to the present day, had rendered the transition from friendship to love almost imperceptible to them both. Gianbattista was the last of the party to enter the lodging, and as he paused to shut the door, Lucia was still lingering at the threshold.
"Hist! They will see!" she protested under her breath.
"What do I care!" whispered the apprentice, as he kissed her cheek in the dusky passage. Then they followed the rest.
That evening Marzio finished the last cherub's head on the ewer before he left the shop. He had sent Gianbattista home, and had dismissed the men who were working at a huge gilded grating ordered by a Roman prince for a church he was decorating. Marzio worked on by the light of a strong lamp until the features were all finished and he had indicated the pupils of the eyes with the fine-pointed punch. Then he sat some time at his bench with the beautiful piece of workmanship under his fingers, looking hard at it and straining his eyes to find imperfections that did not exist. At last he laid it down tenderly upon the stuffed leather pad and stared at the green shade of the lamp, deep in thought.
The man's nature was in eternal conflict with itself, and he felt as though he were the battle-ground of forces he could neither understand nor control. A true artist in feeling, in the profound cultivation of his tastes, in the laborious patience with which he executed his designs, there was an element in his character and mind which was in direct contradiction with the essence of what art is. If art can be said to depend upon anything except itself, that something is religion. The arts began in religious surroundings, in treating religious subjects, and the history of the world from the time of the early Egyptians has shown that where genius has lost faith in the supernatural, its efforts to produce great works of lasting beauty in the sensual and material atmosphere of another century have produced comparatively insignificant results. The science of silver-chiselling began, so far as this age is concerned, in the church. The tastes of Francis the First directed the attention of the masters of the art to the making of ornaments for his mistresses, and for a time the men who had made chalices for the Vatican succeeded in making jewelry for Madame de Chateaubriand, Madame d'Etampes, and Diane de Poitiers. But the art itself remained in the church, and the marvels of repousse gold and silver to be seen in the church of Notre Dame des Victoires, the masterpieces of Ossani of Rome, could not have been produced by any goldsmith who made jewelry for a living.
Marzio Pandolfi knew all this better than any one, and he could no more have separated himself from his passion for making chalices and crucifixes than he could have changed the height of his stature or the colour of his eyes. But at the same time he hated the church, the priests, and every one who was to use the beautiful things over which he spent so much time and labour. Had he been indifferent, a careless, good-natured sceptic, he would have been a bad artist. As it was, the very violence of his hatred lent spirit and vigour to his eye and hand. He was willing to work upon the figure, perfecting every detail of expression, until he fancied he could feel and see the silver limbs of the dead Christ suffering upon the cross under the diabolical skill of his long fingers. The monstrous horror of the thought made him work marvels, and the fancied realisation of an idea that would startle even a hardened unbeliever, lent a feverish impulse to this strange man's genius.
As for the angels on the chalices, he did not hate them; on the contrary, he saw in them the reflection of those vague images of loveliness and innocence which haunt every artist's soul at times, and the mere manual skill necessary to produce expression in things so minute, fascinated a mind accustomed to cope with difficulties, and so inured to them as almost to love them.
Nevertheless, when a man is constantly a prey to strong emotions, his nature cannot long remain unchanged. The conviction had been growing in Marzio's mind that it was his duty, for the sake of consistency, to abandon his trade. The thought saddened him, but the conclusion seemed inevitable. It was absurd, he repeated to himself, that one who hated the priests should work for them. Marzio was a fanatic in his theories, but he had something of the artist's simplicity in his idea of the way they should be carried out. He would have thought it no harm to kill a priest, but it seemed to him contemptible to receive a priest's money for providing the church with vessels which were to serve in a worship he despised.
Moreover, he was not poor. Indeed, he was richer than any one knew, and the large sums paid for his matchless work went straight from the workshop to the bank, while Marzio continued to live in the simple lodgings to which he had first brought home his wife, eighteen years before, when he was but a young partner in the establishment he now owned. As he sat at the bench, looking from his silver ewer to the green lampshade, he was asking himself whether he should not give up this life of working for people he hated and launch into that larger work of political agitation, for which he fancied himself so well fitted. He looked forward into an imaginary future, and saw himself declaiming in the Chambers against all that existed, rousing the passions of a multitude to acts of destruction—of justice, as he called it in his thoughts—and leading a vast army of angry men up the steps of the Capitol to proclaim himself the champion of the rights of man against the rights of kings. His eyelids contracted and the concentrated light of his eyes was reduced to two tiny bright specks in the midst of the pupils; his nervous hand went out and the fingers clutched the jaws of the iron vice beside him as he would have wished to grapple with the jaws of the beast oppression, which in his dreams seemed ever tormenting the poor world in which he lived.
There was something lacking in his face, even in that moment of secret rage as he sat alone in his workroom before the lamp. There was the frenzy of the fanatic, the exaltation of the dreamer, clearly expressed upon his features, but there was something wanting. There was everything there except the force to accomplish, the initiative which oversteps the bank of words, threats, and angry thoughts, and plunges boldly into the stream, ready to sacrifice itself to lead others. The look of power, of stern determination, which is never absent from the faces of men who change their times, was not visible in the thin dark countenance of the silver-chiseller. Marzio was destined never to rise above the common howling mob which he aspired to lead.
This fact asserted itself outwardly as he sat there. After a few minutes the features relaxed, a smile that was almost weak—the smile that shows that a man lacks absolute confidence—passed quickly over his face, the light in his eyes went out, and he rose from his stool with a short, dissatisfied sigh, which was repeated once or twice as he put away his work and arranged his tools. He made the rounds of the workshop, looked to the fastenings of the windows, lighted a taper, and then extinguished the lamp. He threw a loose overcoat over his shoulders without passing his arms through the sleeves, and went out into the street. Glancing up at the windows of his house opposite, he saw that the lights were burning brightly, and he guessed that his wife and daughter were waiting for him before sitting down to supper.
"Let them wait," he muttered with a surly grin, as he put out the taper and went down the street in the opposite direction.
He turned the street corner by the dark Palazzo Antici Mattei, and threaded the narrow streets towards the Pantheon and the Piazza Sant' Eustachio. The weather had changed, and the damp south-east wind was blowing fiercely behind him. The pavement was wet and slippery with the strange thin coating of greasy mud which sometimes appears suddenly in Rome even when it has not rained. The insufficient gas lamps flickered in the wind as though they would go out, and the few pedestrians who hurried along clung closely to the wall as though it offered them some protection from the moist scirocco. The great doors of the palaces were most of them closed, but here and there a little red light announced a wine-shop, and as Marzio passed by he could see through the dirty panes of glass dark figures sitting in a murky atmosphere over bottles of coarse wine. The streets were foul with the nauseous smell of decaying vegetables and damp walls which the south-east wind brings out of the older parts of Rome, and while few voices were heard in the thick air, the clatter of horses' hoofs on the wet stones rattled loudly from the thoroughfares which lead to the theatres. It was a dismal night, but Marzio Pandolfi felt that his temper was in tune with the weather as he tramped along towards the Pantheon.
The streets widened as he neared his destination, and he drew his overcoat more closely about his neck. Presently he reached a small door close to Sant' Eustachio, one of the several entrances to the ancient Falcone, an inn which has existed for centuries upon the same spot, in the same house, and which affords a rather singular variety of accommodation. Down stairs, upon the square, is a modern restaurant with plate-glass windows, marble floor, Vienna cane chairs, and a general appearance of luxury. A flight of steps leads to an upper story, where there are numerous rooms of every shape and dimension, furnished with old-fashioned Italian simplicity, though with considerable cleanliness. Thither resort the large companies of regular guests who have eaten their meals there during most of their lives. But there is much more room in the house than appears. The vast kitchen on the ground floor terminates in a large space, heavily vaulted and lighted by oil lamps, where rougher tables are set and spread, and where you may see the well-to-do wine-carter eating his supper after his journey across the Campagna, in company with some of his city acquaintances of a similar class. In dark corners huge wine-casks present their round dusty faces to the doubtful light, the smell of the kitchen pervades everything, tempered by the smell of wine from the neighbouring cellars; the floor is of rough stone worn by generations of cooks, potboys, and guests. Beyond this again a short flight of steps leads to a narrow doorway, passing through which one enters the last and most retired chamber of the huge inn. Here there is barely room for a dozen persons, and when all the places are full the bottles and dishes are passed from the door by the guests themselves over each other's heads, for there is no room to move about in the narrow space. The walls are whitewashed and the tables are as plain as the chairs, but the food and drink that are consumed there are the best that the house affords, and the society, from the point of view of Marzio Pandolfi and his friends, is of the most agreeable.
The chiseller took his favourite seat in the corner furthest from the window. Two or three men of widely different types were already at the table, and Marzio exchanged a friendly nod with each. One was a florid man of large proportions, dressed in the height of the fashion and with scrupulous neatness. He was a jeweller. Another, a lawyer with a keen and anxious face, wore a tightly-buttoned frock coat and a black tie. Immense starched cuffs covered his bony hands and part of his fingers. He was supping on a salad, into which he from time to time poured an additional dose of vinegar. A third man, with a round hat on one side of his head, and who wore a very light-coloured overcoat, displaying a purple scarf with a showy pin at the neck, held a newspaper in one hand and a fork in the other, with which he slowly ate mouthfuls of a ragout of wild boar. He was a journalist on the staff of an advanced radical paper.
"Halloa, Sor Marzio!" cried this last guest, suddenly looking up from the sheet he was reading, "here is news of your brother."
"What?" asked Marzio briefly, but as though the matter were utterly indifferent to him. "Has he killed anybody, the assassin?" The journalist laughed hoarsely at the jest.
"Not so bad as that," he answered. "He is getting advancement. They are going to make him a canon of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is in the Osservatore Romano of this evening."
"He is good for nothing else," growled Marzio. "It is just like him not to have told me anything about it."
"With the sympathy which exists between you, I am surprised," said the journalist. "After all, you might convert him, and then he would be useful. He will be an archdeacon next, and then a bishop—who knows?—perhaps a cardinal!"
"You might as well talk of converting the horses on Monte Cavallo as of making Paolo change his mind," replied Pandolfi, beginning to sip the white wine he had ordered. "You don't know him—he is an angel, my brother! Oh, quite an angel! I wish somebody would send him to heaven, where he is so anxious to be!"
"Look out, Marzio!" exclaimed the lawyer, glancing from the vinegar cruet towards the door and then at his friend.
"No such luck," returned the chiseller. "Nothing ever happens to those black-birds. When we get as far as hanging them, my dear brother will happen to be in Paris instead of in Rome. You might as well try to catch a street cat by calling to it micio, micio! as try and catch a priest. You may as well expect to kill a mule by kicking it as one of those animals, Burn the Vatican over their heads and think you have destroyed them like a wasps' nest, they will write you a letter from Berlin the next day saying that they are alive and well, and that Prince Bismarck protests against your proceedings."
"Bravo, Sor Marzio!" cried the journalist. "I will put that in the paper to-morrow—it is a fine fulmination. You always refresh my ideas—why will you not write an article for us in that strain? I will publish it as coming from a priest who has given up his orders, married, and opened a wine-shop in Naples. What an effect! Magnificent! Do go on!"
Marzio did not need a second invitation to proceed upon his favourite topic. He was soon launched, and as the little room filled, his pale and sunken cheeks grew red with excitement, his tongue was unloosed, and he poured out a continuous stream of blasphemous ribaldry such as would have shocked the ears of a revolutionist of the year '89 or of a petroleuse of the nineteenth century. It seemed as though the spring once opened would never dry. His eyes flashed, his fingers writhed convulsively on the table, and his voice rang out, ironical and cutting, with strange intonations that roused strange feelings in his hearers. It was the old subject, but he found something new to say upon it at each meeting with his friends, and they wondered where he got the imagination to construct his telling phrases and specious, virulent arguments.
We have all wondered at such men. They are the outcome of this age and of no previous time, as it is also to be hoped that their like may not arise hereafter. They are found everywhere, these agitators, with their excited faces, their nervous utterances, and their furious hatred of all that is. They find their way into the parliaments of the world, into the dining-rooms of the rich, into the wine-shops of the working men, into the press even, and some of their works are published by great houses and read by great ladies, if not by great men. Suddenly, when we least expect it, a flaming advertisement announces a fiery tirade against all that the great mass of mankind hold in honour, if not in reverence. Curiosity drives thousands to read what is an insult to humanity, and even though the many are disgusted, some few are found to admire a rhetoric which exalts their own ignorance to the right of judging God. And still the few increase and grow to be a root and send out shoots and creepers like an evil plant, so that grave men say among themselves that if there is to be a universal war in our times or hereafter it will be fought by Christians of all denominations defending themselves against those who are not Christians.
Marzio sat long at his table, and his modest pint of wine was enough to moisten his throat throughout the time during which he held forth. When the liquor was finished he rose, took down his overcoat from the peg on which it hung, pushed his soft hat over his eyes, and with a sort of triumphant wave of the hand, saluted his friends and left the room. He was a perfectly sober man, and no power would have induced him to overstep the narrow limit he allowed to his taste. Indeed, he did not care for wine itself, and still less for any excitement it produced in his brain. He ordered his half-litre as a matter of respect for the house, as he called it, and it served to wet his throat while he was talking. Water would have done as well. Consumed by the intensity of his hatred for the things he attacked, he needed no stimulant to increase his exaltation.
When he was gone, there was silence in the room for some few minutes. Then the journalist burst into a loud laugh.
"If we only had half a dozen fellows like that in the Chambers, all talking at once!" he cried.
"They would be kicked into the middle of Montecitorio in a quarter of an hour," answered the thin voice of the lawyer. "Our friend Marzio is slightly mad, but he is a good fellow in theory. In practice that sort of thing must be dropped into public life a little at a time, as one drops vinegar into a salad, on each leaf. If you don't, all the vinegar goes to the bottom together, and smells horribly sour."
While Marzio was holding forth to his friends, the family circle in the Via dei Falegnami was enjoying a very pleasant evening in his absence. The Signora Pandolfi presided at supper in a costume which lacked elegance, but ensured comfort—the traditional skirt and white cotton jacket of the Italian housewife. Lucia wore the same kind of dress, but with less direful effects upon her appearance. Gianbattista, as usual after working hours, was arrayed in clothes of fashionable cut, aiming at a distant imitation of the imaginary but traditional English tourist. A murderous collar supported his round young chin, and a very stiffly-constructed pasteboard-lined tie was adorned by an exquisite silver pin of his own workmanship—the only artistic thing about him.
Besides these members of the family, there was a fourth person at supper, the person whom, of all others, Marzio detested, Paolo Pandolfi, his brother the priest, commonly called Don Paolo. He deserves a word of description, for there was in his face a fleeting resemblance to Marzio, which might easily have led a stranger to believe that there was a similarity between their characters. Tall, like his brother, the priest was a little less thin, and evidently far less nervous. The expression of his face was thoughtful, and the deep, heavily-ringed eyes were like Marzio's, but the forehead was broader, and the breadth ascended higher in the skull, which was clearly defined by the short, closely-cropped hair and the smooth tonsure at the back. The nose was larger and of more noble shape, and Paolo's complexion was less yellow than his brother's; the features were not surrounded by furrows or lines, and the leanness of the priest's face threw them into relief. The clean shaven upper lip showed a kind and quiet mouth, which smiled easily and betrayed a sense of humour, but was entirely free from any suggestion of cruelty. Don Paolo was scrupulous of his appearance, and his cassock and mantle were carefully brushed, and his white collar was immaculately clean. His hands were of the student type—white, square at the tips, lean, and somewhat knotty.
Marzio, in his ill-humour, had no doubt flattered himself that his family would wait for him for supper. But his family had studied him and knew his ways. When he was not punctual, he seldom came at all, and a quarter of an hour was considered sufficient to decide the matter.
"What are we waiting to do?" exclaimed Maria Luisa, in the odd Italian idiom. "Marzio is in his humours—he must have gone to his friends. Ah! those friends of his!" she sighed. "Let us sit down to supper," she added; and, from her tone, the idea of supper seemed to console her for her husband's absence.
"Perhaps he guessed that I was coming," remarked Don Paolo, with a smile. "In that case he will be a little nervous with me when he comes back. With your leave, Maria Luisa," he added, by way of announcing that he would say grace. He gave the short Latin benediction, during which Gianbattista never looked away from Lucia's face. The boy fancied she was never so beautiful as when she stood with her hands folded and her eyes cast down.
"Marzio does not know what I have come for," began Don Paolo again, as they all sat down to the square table in the little room. "If he knew, perhaps he might have been here—though perhaps he would not care very much after all. You all ask what it is? Yes; I will tell you. His Eminence has obtained for me the canonry that was vacant at Santa Maria Maggiore—"
At this announcement everybody sprang up and embraced Don Paolo, and overwhelmed him with congratulations, reproaching him at the same time for having kept the news so long to himself.
"Of course, I shall continue to work with the Cardinal," said the priest, when the family gave him time to speak. "But it is a great honour. I have other news for Marzio—"
"I imagine that you did not count upon the canonry as a means of pleasing him," remarked the Signora, Pandolfi, with a smile.
"No, indeed," laughed Lucia. "Poor papa—he would rather see you sent to be a curate in Civita Lavinia!"
"Dear me! I fear so," answered Don Paolo, with a shade of sadness. "But I have a commission for him. The Cardinal has ordered another crucifix, which he desires should be Marzio's masterpiece—silver, of course, and large. It must be altogether the finest thing he has ever made, when it is finished."
"I daresay he will be very much pleased," said Maria Luisa, smiling comfortably.
"I wish he could make the figure solid, cast and chiselled, instead of repousse," remarked Gianbattista, whose powerful hands craved heavy work by instinct.
"It would be a pity to waste so much silver; and besides, the effects are never so light," said Lucia, who, like most artists' daughters, knew something of her father's work.
"What is a little silver, more or less, to the Cardinal?" asked Gianbattista, with a little scorn; but as he met the priest's eye his expression instantly became grave.
The apprentice was very young; he was not beyond that age at which, to certain natures, it seems a fine thing to be numbered among such men as Marzio's friends. But at the same time he was not old enough, nor independent enough, to exhibit his feelings on all occasions. Don Paolo exercised a dominant influence in the Pandolfi household. He had the advantage of being calm, grave, and thoroughly in earnest, not easily ruffled nor roused to anger, any more than he was easily hurt. By character sensitive, he bore all small attacks upon himself with the equanimity of a man who believes his cause to be above the need of defence against little enemies. The result was that he dominated his brother's family, and even Marzio himself was not free from a certain subjection which he felt, and which was one of the most bitter elements in his existence. Don Paolo imposed respect by his quiet dignity, while Marzio asserted himself by speaking loudly and working himself voluntarily into a state of half-assumed anger. In the contest between quiet force and noisy self-assertion the issue is never doubtful. Marzio lacked real power, and he felt it. He could command attention among the circle of his associates who already sympathised with his views, but in the presence of Paolo he was conscious of struggling against a superior and incomprehensible obstacle, against the cool and unresentful disapprobation of a man stronger than himself. It was many years since he had ventured to talk before his brother as he talked when he was alone with Gianbattista, and the latter saw the change that came over his master's manner before the priest, and guessed that Marzio was morally afraid. The somewhat scornful allusion to the Cardinal's supposed wealth certainly did not constitute an attack upon Don Paolo, but Gianbattista nevertheless felt that he had said something rather foolish, and made haste to ignore his words. The influence could not be escaped.
It was this subtle power that Marzio resented, for he saw that it was exerted continually, both upon himself and the members of his household. The chiseller acknowledged to himself that in a great emergency his wife, his daughter, and even Gianbattista Bordogni, would most likely follow the advice of Don Paolo, in spite of his own protests and arguments to the contrary. He fancied that he himself alone was a free agent. He doubted Gianbattista, and began to think that the boy's character would turn out a failure. This was the reason why he no longer encouraged the idea of a marriage between his daughter and his apprentice, a scheme which, somewhat earlier, had been freely discussed. It had seemed an admirable arrangement. The young man promised to turn out a freethinker after Marzio's own heart, and showed a talent for his profession which left nothing to be desired. Some one must be ready to take Marzio's place in the direction of the establishment, and no one could be better fitted to undertake the task than Gianbattista. Lucia would inherit her father's money as the capital for the business, and her husband should inherit the workshop with all the stock-in-trade. Latterly, however, Marzio had changed his mind, and the idea no longer seemed so satisfactory to him as at first. Gianbattista was evidently falling under the influence of Don Paolo, and that was a sufficient reason for breaking off the match. Marzio hardly realised that as far as his outward deportment in the presence of the priest was concerned, the apprentice was only following his master's example.
Marzio had been looking about him for another husband for his daughter, and he had actually selected one from among his most intimate friends. His choice had fallen upon the thin lawyer—by name Gasparo Carnesecchi—who, according to the chiseller's views, was in all respects a most excellent match. A true freethinker, a practising lawyer with a considerable acquaintance in the world of politics, a discreet man not far from forty years of age, it seemed as though nothing more were required to make a model husband. Marzio knew very well that Lucia's dowry would alone have sufficed to decide the lawyer to marry her, and an interview with Carnesecchi had almost decided the matter. Of course, he had not been able to allude to the affair this evening at the inn, when so many others were present, but the preliminaries were nearly settled, and Marzio had made up his mind to announce his intention to his family at once. He knew well enough what a storm he would raise, and, like many men who are always trying to seem stronger than they really are, he had determined to choose a moment for making the disclosure when he should be in a thoroughly bad humour. As he walked homewards from the old inn he felt that this moment had arrived. The slimy pavement, the moist wind driving through the streets and round every corner, penetrating to the very joints, contributed to make him feel thoroughly vicious and disagreeable; and the tirade in which he had been indulging before his audience of friends had loosed his tongue, until he was conscious of being able to face any domestic disturbance or opposition.
The little party had adjourned from supper, and had been sitting for some time in the small room which served as a place of meeting. Gianbattista was smoking a cigarette, which he judged to be more in keeping with his appearance than a pipe when he was dressed in civilised garments, and he was drawing an elaborate ornament of arabesques upon a broad sheet of paper fixed on a board. Lucia seated at the table was watching the work, while Don Paolo sat in a straight-backed chair, his white hands folded on his knee, from time to time addressing a remark to Maria Luisa. The latter, being too stout to recline in the deep easy-chair near the empty fireplace, sat bolt upright, with her feet upon the edge of a footstool, which was covered by a tapestry of worsted-work, displaying an impossible nosegay upon a vivid green ground.
They had discussed the priest's canonry, and the order for the crucifix. They had talked about the weather. They had made some remarks upon Marzio's probable disposition of mind when he should come home, and the conversation was exhausted so far as the two older members were concerned. Gianbattista and Lucia conversed in a low tone, in short, enigmatic phrases.
"Do you know?" said the apprentice.
"What?" inquired Lucia.
"I have spoken of it to-day." Both glanced at the Signora Pandolfi. She was sitting up as straight as ever, but her heavy head was slowly bending forward.
"Well?" asked the young girl
"He was in a diabolical humour. He said I might take you away." Gianbattista smiled as he spoke, and looked into Lucia's eyes. She returned his gaze rather sadly, and only shook her head and shrugged her shoulders for a reply.
"If we took him at his word," suggested Gianbattista.
"Just so—it would be a fine affair!" exclaimed Lucia ironically.
"After all, he said so," argued the young man. "What does it matter whether he meant it?"
"Things are going badly for us," sighed his companion. "It was different a year ago. You must have done something to displease him, Tista. I wish I knew!" Her dark eyes suddenly assumed an angry expression, and she drew in her red lips.
"Wish you knew what?" inquired the apprentice, in a colder tone.
"Why he does not think about it as he used to. He never made any objections until lately. It was almost settled."
Gianbattista glanced significantly at Don Paolo, shrugged his shoulders, and went on drawing.
"What has that to do with it?" asked Lucia impatiently.
"It is enough for your father that it would please his brother. He would hate a dog that Don Paolo liked."
"What nonsense!" exclaimed the girl. "It is something else. Papa sees something—something that I do not see. He knows his own affairs, and perhaps he knows yours too, Tista. I have not forgotten the other evening."
"I!" ejaculated the young man, looking up angrily.
"You know very well where I was—at the Circolo Artistico. How do you dare to think—"
"Why are you so angry if there is no one else in the case?" asked Lucia, with a sudden sweetness, which belied the jealous glitter in her eyes.
"It seems to me that I have a right to be angry. That you should suspect me after all these years! How many times have I sworn to you that I went nowhere else?"
"What is the use of your swearing? You do not believe in anything—why should you swear? Why should I believe you?"
"Oh—if you talk like that, I have finished!" answered Gianbattista. "But there—you are only teasing me. You believe me, just as I believe you. Besides, as for swearing and believing in something besides you—who knows? I love you—is not that enough?"
Lucia's eyes softened as they rested on the young man's face. She knew he loved her. She only wanted to be told so once more.
"There is Marzio," said Don Paolo, as a key rattled in the latch of the outer door.
"At this hour!" exclaimed the Signora Pandolfi, suddenly waking up and rubbing her eyes with her fat fingers.
Marzio, having divested himself of his heavy coat and hat, appeared at the door of the sitting-room.
Everybody looked at him, as though to discern the signs of his temper, and no one was perceptibly reassured by the sight of his white face and frowning forehead.
"Well, most reverend canon," he began, addressing Don Paolo, "I am in time to congratulate you, it seems. It was natural that I should be the last to hear of your advancement, through the papers."
"Thank you," answered Don Paolo quietly. "I came to tell you the news."
"You are very considerate," returned Marzio. "I have news also; for you all." He paused a moment, as though to give greater effect to the statement he was about to make. "I refer," he continued very slowly, "to the question of Lucia's marriage."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the priest. "I am glad if it is to be arranged at last."
The other persons in the room held their breath. The young girl blushed deeply under her white skin, and Gianbattista grew pale as he laid aside his pencil and shaded his eyes with his hands. The Signora Pandolfi panted with excitement and trembled visibly as she looked at her husband. His dark figure stood out strongly from the background of the shabby blue wall paper, and the petroleum lamp cast deep shadows in the hollows of his face.
"Yes," he continued, "I talked yesterday with Gasparo Carnesecchi—you know, he is the lawyer I always consult. He is a clever fellow and understands these matters. We talked of the contract; I thought it better to consult him, you see, and he thinks the affair can be arranged in a couple of weeks. He is so intelligent. A marvel of astuteness; we discussed the whole matter, I say, and it is to be concluded as soon as possible. So now, my children—"
Gianbattista and Lucia, seated side by side at the table, were looking into each other's eyes, and as Marzio fixed his gaze upon them, their hands joined upon the drawing-board, and an expression of happy surprise overspread their faces. Marzio smiled too, as he paused before completing the sentence.
"So that now, my children," he continued, speaking very slowly, "you may as well leave each other's hands and have done with all this nonsense."
The lovers looked up suddenly with a puzzled air, supposing that Marzio was jesting.
"I am in earnest," he went on. "You see, Tista, that it will not be proper for you to sit and hold Lucia's hand when she is called Signora Carnesecchi, so you may as well get used to it."
For a moment there was a dead silence in the room. Then Lucia and Gianbattista both sprang to their feet.
"What!" screamed the young girl in an agony of terror. "Carnesecchi! what do you mean?"
"Infame! Wretch!" shouted Gianbattista, beside himself with rage as he sprang forward to grasp Marzio in his hands.
But the priest had risen too, and placed himself between the young man and Marzio to prevent any struggle. "No violence!" he cried in a tone that dominated the angry voices and the hysterical weeping of Maria Luisa, who sat rocking herself in her chair. Gianbattista stepped back and leaned against the wall, choking with anger. Lucia fell back into her seat and covered her face with her hands.
"Violence? Who wants violence?" asked Marzio in contemptuous tones. "Do you suppose I am afraid of Tista? Let him alone, Paolo; let us see whether he will strike me."
The priest now turned his back on the apprentice, and confronted Marzio. He was not pale like the rest, for he was not afraid of the chiseller, and the generous flush of a righteous indignation mounted to his calm face.
"You are mad," he said, meeting his brother's gaze fearlessly.
"Not in the least," returned Marzio. "Lucia shall marry Gasparo Carnesecchi at once, or she shall not marry any one; what am I saying? She shall have no choice. She must and she shall marry the man I have chosen. What have you to do with it? Have you come here to put yourself between me and my family? I advise you to be careful. The law protects me from such interference, and fellows of your cloth are not very popular at present."
"The law," answered the priest, controlling his wrath, "protects children against their parents. The law which you invoke provides that a father shall not force his daughter to marry against her will, and I believe that considerable penalties are incurred in such cases."
"What do you know of law, except how to elude it?" inquired Marzio defiantly.
Not half an hour had elapsed since he had been haranguing the admiring company of his friends, and his words came easily. Moreover, it was a long time since he had broken through the constraint he felt in Don Paolo's presence, and the opportunity having presented itself was not to be lost.
"Who are you that should teach me?" he repeated, raising his voice to a strained key and gesticulating fiercely. "You, your very existence is a lie, and you are the server of lies, and you and your fellow liars would have created them if they didn't already exist, you love them so. You live by a fraud, and you want to drag everybody into the comedy you play every day in your churches, everybody who is fool enough to drop a coin into your greedy palm! What right have you to talk to men? Do you work? Do you buy? Do you sell? You are worse than those fine gentlemen who do nothing because their fathers stole our money, for you live by stealing it yourselves! And you set yourselves up as judges over an honest man to tell him what he is to do with his daughter? You fool, you thing in petticoats, you deceiver of women, you charlatan, you mountebank, go! Go and perform your antics before your altars, and leave hardworking men like me to manage their families as they can, and to marry their daughters to whom they will!"
Marzio had rolled off his string of invective in such a tone, and so rapidly, that it had been impossible to interrupt him. The two women were sobbing bitterly. Gianbattista, pale and breathing hard, looked as though he would throttle Marzio if he could reach him, and Don Paolo faced the angry artist, with reddening forehead, folding his arms and straining his muscles to control himself. When Marzio paused for breath, the priest answered him with an effort.
"You may insult me if it pleases you," he said, "it is nothing to me. I cannot prevent your uttering your senseless blasphemies. I speak to you of the matter in hand. I tell you simply that in treating these two, who love each other, as you are treating them, you are doing a thing unworthy of a man. Moreover, the law protects your daughter, and I will see that the law does its duty."
"Oh, to think that I should have such a monster for a husband," groaned the fat Signora Pandolfi, still rocking herself in her chair, and hardly able to speak through her sobs.
"You will do a bad day's work for yourself and your art when you try to separate us," said Gianbattista between his teeth.
Marzio laughed hoarsely, and turned his back on the rest, beginning to fill his pipe at the chimney-piece. Don Paolo heard the apprentice's words, and understood their meaning. He went and laid his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"Do not let us have any threats, Tista," he said quietly. "Sor Marzio will never do this thing—believe me, he cannot if he would."
"Go on," cried Marzio, striking a match. "Go on—sow the seeds of discord, teach them all to disobey me. I am listening, my dear Paolo."
"All the better, if you are," answered the priest, "for I assure you I am in earnest. You will have time to consider this thing. I have a matter of business with you, Marzio. That is what I came for this evening. If you have done, we will speak of it."
"Business?" exclaimed Marzio in loud ironical tones. "This is a good time for talking of business—as good as any other! What is it?"
"The Cardinal wants another piece of work done, a very fine piece of work."
"The Cardinal? I will not make any more chalices for your cardinals. I am sick of chalices, and monstrances, and such stuff."
"It is none of those," answered Don Paolo quietly. "The Cardinal wants a magnificent silver crucifix. Will you undertake it? It must be your greatest work, if you do it at all."
"A crucifix?" repeated Marzio, in a changed tone. The angry gleam faded from his eyes, and a dreamy look came into them as he let the heavy lids droop a little, and remained silent, apparently lost in thought. The women ceased sobbing, and watched his altered face, while Gianbattista sank down into a chair and absently fingered the pencil that had fallen across the drawing-board.
"Will you do it?" asked Don Paolo, at last.
"A crucifix," mused the artist. "Yes, I will make a crucifix. I have made many, but I have never made one to my mind. Yes, tell the Cardinal that I will make it for him, if he will give me time."
"I do not think he will need it in less than three or four months," answered Don Paolo.
"Four months—that is not a long time for such a work. But I will try."
Thereupon Marzio, whose manner had completely changed, puffed at his pipe until it burned freely, and then approached the table, glancing at Gianbattista and Lucia as though nothing had happened. He drew the drawing-board which the apprentice had been using towards him, and, taking the pencil from the hand of the young man, began sketching heads on one corner of the paper.
Don Paolo looked at him gravely. After the words Marzio had spoken, it had gone against the priest's nature to communicate to him the commission for the sacred object. He had hesitated a moment, asking himself whether it was right that such a man should be allowed to do such work. Then the urgency of the situation, and his knowledge of his brother's character, had told him that the diversion might avert some worse catastrophe, and he had quickly made up his mind. Even now he asked himself whether he had done right. It was a question of theology, which it would have taken long to analyse, and Don Paolo had other matters to think of in the present, so he dismissed it from his mind. He wanted to be gone, and he only stayed a few minutes to see whether Marzio's mind would change again. He knew his brother well, and he was sure that no violence was to be feared from him, except in his speech. Such scenes as he had just witnessed were not uncommon in the Pandolfi household, and Don Paolo did not believe that any consequence was to be expected after he had left the house. He only felt that Marzio had been more than usually unreasonable, and that the artist could not possibly mean seriously what he had proposed that evening.
The priest did not indeed think that Gianbattista was altogether good enough for Lucia. The boy was occasionally a little wild in his speech, and though he was too much in awe of Don Paolo to repeat before him any of the opinions he had learned from his master, his manner showed occasionally that he was inclined to take the side of the latter in most questions that arose. But the habit of controlling his feelings in order not to offend the man of the church, and especially in order not to hurt Lucia's sensitive nature, had begun gradually to change and modify the young man's character. From having been a devoted admirer of Marzio's political creed and extreme free thought, Gianbattista had fallen, into the way of asking questions of the chiseller, to see how he would answer them; and the answers had not always satisfied him. Side by side with his increasing skill in his art, which led him to compare himself with his teacher, there had grown up in the apprentice the habit of comparing himself with Marzio from the intellectual point of view as well as from the artistic. The comparison did not appear to him advantageous to the elder man, as he discovered, in his way of thinking, a lack of logic on the one hand, and a love of frantic exaggeration on the other, which tended to throw a doubt upon the whole system of ideas which had produced these defects. The result was that the young man's mental position was unbalanced, and he was inclined to return to a more normal condition of thought. Don Paolo did not know all this, but he saw that Gianbattista had grown more quiet during the last year, and he hoped that his marriage with Lucia would complete the change. To see her thrown into the arms of a man like Gasparo Carnesecchi was more than the priest's affection for his niece could bear. He hardly believed that Marzio would seriously think again of the scheme, and he entertained a hope that the subject would not even be broached for some time to come.
Marzio continued to draw in silence, and after a few minutes, Don Paolo rose to take his leave. The chiseller did not look up from his pencil.
"Good-night, Marzio—let it be a good piece of work," said Paolo.
"Good-night," growled the artist, his eyes still fixed on the paper. His brother saluted the rest and left the room to go home to his lonely lodgings at the top of an old palace, in the first floor of which dwelt the Cardinal, whom he served as secretary. When he was gone, Lucia rose silently and went to her room, leaving her father and mother with Gianbattista. The Signora Pandolfi hesitated as to whether she should follow her daughter or stay with the two men. Her woman's nature feared further trouble, and visions of drawn knives rose before her swollen eyes, so that, after making as though she would rise twice, she finally remained in her seat, her fat hands resting idly upon her knees, staring at her husband and Gianbattista. The latter sat gloomily watching the paper on which his master was drawing.
"Marzio, you do not mean it?" said Maria Luisa, after a long interval of silence. The good woman did not possess the gift of tact.
"Do you not see that I have an idea?" asked her husband crossly, by way of an answer, as he bent his head over his work.
"I beg your pardon," said the Signora Pandolfi, in a humble tone, looking piteously at Gianbattista. The apprentice shook his head, as though he meant that nothing could be done for the present. Then she rose slowly, and with a word of good-night as she turned to the door, she left the room. The two men were alone.
"Now that nobody hears us, Sor Marzio, what do you mean to do?" asked Gianbattista in a low voice. Marzio shrugged his shoulders.
"What I told you," he answered, after a few seconds. "Do you suppose that rascally priest of a brother has made me change my mind?"
"No, I did not expect that, but I am not a priest; nor am I a boy to be turned round your fingers and put off in this way—sent to the wash like dirty linen. You must answer to me for what you said this evening."
"Oh, I will answer as much as you please," replied the artist, with an evil smile.
"Very well. Why do you want to turn me out, after promising for years that I should marry Lucia with your full consent when she was old enough?"
"Why? because you have turned yourself out, to begin with. Secondly, because Carnesecchi is a better match for my daughter than a beggarly chiseller. Thirdly, because I please; and fourthly, because I do not care a fig whether you like it or not. Are those reasons sufficient or not?"
"They may satisfy you," answered Gianbattista. "They leave something to be desired in the way of logic, in my humble opinion."
"Since I have told you that I do not care for your opinion—"
"I will probably find means to make you care for it," retorted the young man. "Don Paolo is quite right, in the first place, when he tells you that the thing is simply impossible. Fathers do not compel their daughters to marry in this century. Will you do me the favour to explain your first remark a little more clearly? You said I had turned myself out—how?"
"You have changed, Tista," said Marzio, leaning back to sharpen his pencil, and staring at the wall. "You change every day. You are not at all what you used to be, and you know it. You are going back to the priests. You fawn on my brother like a dog."
"You are joking," answered the apprentice. "Of course I would not want to make trouble in your house by quarrelling with Don Paolo, even if I disliked him. I do not dislike him. This evening he showed that he is a much better man than you."
"Dear Gianbattista," returned Marzio in sour tones, "every word you say convinces me that I have done right. Besides, I am busy—you see—you disturb my ideas. If you do not like my house, you can leave it. I will not keep you. I daresay I can educate another artist before I die. You are really only fit to swing a censer behind Paolo, or at the heels of some such animal."
"Perhaps it would be better to do that than to serve the mass you sing over your work-bench every day," said Gianbattista. "You are going too far, Sor Marzio. One may trifle with women and their feelings. You had better not attempt it with men."
"Such as you and Paolo? There was once a mule in the Pescheria Vecchia; when he got half-way through he did not like the smell of the fish, and he said to his leader, 'I will turn back.' The driver pulled him along. Then said the mule, 'Do not trifle with me. I will turn round and kick you.' But there is not room for a mule to turn round in the Pescheria Vecchia. The mule found it out, and followed the man through the fish market after all. I hope that is clear? It means that you are a fool."
"What is the use of bandying words?" cried the apprentice angrily. "I will offer you a bargain, Sor Marzio. I will give you your choice. Either I will leave the house, and in that case I will carry off Lucia and marry her in spite of you. Or else I will stay here—but if Lucia marries any one else, I will cut your throat. Is that a fair bargain?"
"Perfectly fair, though I cannot see wherein the bargain consists," answered Marzio, with a rough laugh. "I prefer that you should stay here. I will run the risk of being murdered by you, any day, and you may ran the risk of being sent to the galleys for life, if you choose. You will be well cared for there, and you can try your chisel on paving-stones for a change from silver chalices."
"Never mind what becomes of me afterwards, in that case," said the young man. "If Lucia is married to some one else, I do not care what happens. So you have got your warning!"
"Thank you. If you had remained what you used to be, you might have married her without further difficulty. But to have you and Lucia and Maria Luisa and Paolo all conspiring against me from morning till night is more than I can bear. Good-night, and the devil be with you, you fool!"
"Et cum spiritu tuo," answered Gianbattista as he left the room.
When Marzio was alone he returned to the head he was drawing—a head of wonderful beauty, inclined downwards and towards one side, bearing a crown of thorns, the eyelids drooped and shaded in death. He glanced at it with a bitter smile and threw aside the pencil without making another stroke upon the paper.
He leaned back, lighted another pipe, and began to reflect upon the events of the evening. He was glad it was over, for a strange weakness in his violent nature made it hard for him to face such scenes unless he were thoroughly roused. Now, however, he was satisfied. For a long time he had seen with growing distrust the change in Gianbattista's manner, and in the last words he had spoken to the apprentice he had uttered what was really in his heart. He was afraid of being altogether overwhelmed by the majority against him in his own house. He hated Paolo with his whole soul, and he had hated him all his life. This calm, obliging brother of his stood between him and all peace of mind. It was not the least of his grievances that he received most of his commissions through the priest who was constantly in relation with the cardinal and rich prelates who were the patrons of his art. The sense of obligation which he felt was often almost unbearable, and he longed to throw it off. The man whom he hated for his own sake and despised for his connection with the church, was daily in his house; at every turn he met with Paolo's tacit disapprobation or outspoken resistance. For a long time Paolo had doubted whether the marriage between the two young people would turn out well, and while he expressed his doubts Marzio had remained stubborn in his determination. Latterly, and doubtless owing to the change in Gianbattista's character, Paolo had always spoken of the marriage with favour. This sufficed at first to rouse Marzio's suspicions, and ultimately led to his opposing with all his might what he had so long and so vigorously defended; he resolved to be done with what he considered a sort of slavery, and at one stroke to free himself from his brother's influence, and to assure Lucia's future. During several weeks he had planned the scene which had taken place that evening, waiting for his opportunity, trying to make sure of being strong enough to make it effective, and revolving the probable answers he might expect from the different persons concerned. It had come, and he was satisfied with the result.
Marzio Pandolfi's intelligence lacked logic. In its place he possessed furious enthusiasm, an exaggerated estimate of the value of his social doctrines, and a whole vocabulary of terms by which to describe the ideal state after which he hankered. But though he did not possess a logic of his own, his life was itself the logical result of the circumstances he had created. As, in the diagram called the parallelogram of forces, various conflicting powers are seen to act at a point, producing an inevitable resultant in a fixed line, so in the plan of Marzio's life, a number of different tendencies all acted at a centre, in his overstrained intelligence, and continued to push him in a direction he had not expected to follow, and of which even now he was far from suspecting the ultimate termination.
He had never loved his brother, but he had loved his wife with all his heart. He had begun to love Lucia when she was a child. He had felt a sort of admiring fondness for Gianbattista Bordogni, and a decided pride in the progress and the talent of the apprentice. By degrees, as the prime mover, his hatred for Paolo, gained force, it had absorbed his affection for Maria Luisa, who, after eighteen years of irreproachable wifehood, seemed to Marzio to be nothing better than an accomplice and a spy of his brother's in the domestic warfare. Next, the lingering love for his child had been eaten up in the same way, and Marzio said to himself that the girl had joined the enemy, and was no longer worthy of his confidence. Lastly, the change in Gianbattista's character and ideas seemed to destroy the last link which bound the chiseller to his family. Henceforth, his hand was against each one of his household, and he fancied that they were all banded together against himself.
Every step had followed as the inevitable consequence of what had gone before. The brooding and suspicious nature of the artist had persisted in seeing in each change in himself the blackest treachery in those who surrounded him. His wife was an implacable enemy, his daughter a spy, his apprentice a traitor, and as for Paolo himself, Marzio considered him the blackest of villains. For all this chain of hatreds led backwards, and was concentrated with tenfold virulence in his great hatred for his brother. Paolo, in his estimation, was the author of all the evil, the sole ultimate cause of domestic discord, the arch enemy of the future, the representative, in Marzio's sweeping condemnation, not only of the church and of religion, but of that whole fabric of existing society which the chiseller longed to tear down.
Marzio's socialism, for so he called it, had one good feature. It was sincere of its kind, and disinterested. He was not of the common herd, a lazy vagabond, incapable of continuous work, or of perseverance in any productive occupation, desiring only to be enriched by impoverishing others, one of the endless rank and file of Italian republicans, to whom the word "republic" means nothing but bread without work, and the liberty which consists in howling blasphemies by day and night in the public streets. His position was as different from that of a private in the blackguard battalion as his artistic gifts and his industry were superior to those of the throng. He had money, he had talent, and he had been very successful in his occupation. He had nothing to gain by the revolutions he dreamed of, and he might lose much by any upsetting of the existing laws of property. He was, therefore, perfectly sincere, so far as his convictions went, and disinterested to a remarkable degree. These conditions are often found in the social position of the true fanatic, who is the more ready to run to the greatest length, because he entertains no desire to better his own state. Marzio's real weakness lay in the limited scope of his views, and in a certain timid prudence which destroyed his power of initiative. He was an economical man, who distrusted the future; and though such a disposition produces a good effect in causing a man to save money against the day of misfortune, it is incompatible with the career of the true enthusiast, who must be ready to risk everything at any moment. The man who would move other men, and begin great changes, must have an enormous belief in himself, an unbounded confidence in his cause, and a large faith in the future, amounting to the absolute scorn of consequence.
These greater qualities Marzio did not possess, and through lack of them the stupendous results of which he was fond of talking had diminished to a series of domestic quarrels, in which he was not always victorious. His hatred of the church was practically reduced to the detestation of his brother, and to an unreasoning jealousy of his brother's influence in his home. His horror of social distinctions, which speculated freely upon the destruction of the monarchy, amounted in practice to nothing more offensive than a somewhat studious rudeness towards the few strangers of high position who from time to time visited the workshop in the Via dei Falegnami. In the back room of his inn, Marzio could find loud and cutting words in which to denounce the Government, the monarchy, the church, and the superiority of the aristocracy. In real fact, Marzio took off his hat when he met the king in the street, paid his taxes with a laudable regularity, and increased the small fortune he had saved by selling sacred vessels to the priests against whom he inveighed. Instead of burning the Vatican and hanging the College of Cardinals to the pillars of the Colonnade, Marzio Pandolfi felt a very unpleasant sense of constraint in the presence of the only priest with whom he ever conversed, his brother Paolo. When, on very rare occasions, he broke out into angry invective, and ventured to heap abuse upon the calm individual who excited his wrath, he soon experienced the counter-shock in the shape of a strong conviction that he had injured his position rather than bettered it, and the melancholy conclusion forced itself upon him that by abusing Paolo he himself lost influence in his own house, and not unfrequently called forth the contempt of those he had sought to terrify.
The position was galling in the extreme; for, like many artists who are really remarkable in their profession, Marzio was very vain of his intellectual superiority in other branches. It may be a question whether vanity is not essential to any one who is forced to compete in excellence with other gifted men. Vanity means emptiness, and in the case of the artist it means that emptiness which craves to be filled with praise. The artist may doubt his own work, but he is bitterly disappointed if other people doubt it also. Marzio had his full share of this kind of vanity, which, as in most cases, extended beyond the sphere of his art. How often does one hear two or three painters or sculptors who are gathered together in a studio, laying down the law concerning Government, society, and the distribution of wealth. And yet, though they make excellent statues and paint wonderful pictures, there are very few instances on record of artists having borne any important part in the political history of their times. Not from any want of a desire to do so, in many cases, but from the real want of the power; and yet many of them believe themselves far more able to solve political and social questions than the men who represent them in the Parliament of their country, or the persons who by innate superiority of tact have made themselves the arbiters of society.
Marzio's vanity suffered terribly, for he realised the wide difference that existed between his aims and the result actually produced. For this reason he had determined to bring matters to a point of contention in his household, in order to assert once and for all the despotic authority which he believed to be his right. He knew well enough that in proposing the marriage of Lucia with Carnesecchi, he had hit upon a plan which Paolo would oppose with all his might. It seemed as though he could not have selected a question more certain to produce a hot contention. He had brought forward his proposal boldly, and had not hesitated to make a most virulent personal attack on his brother when the latter had shown signs of opposition. And yet, as he sat over his drawing board, staring at the clouds of smoke that rose from his pipe, he was unpleasantly conscious that he had not been altogether victorious, that he had not played the part of the despot to the end, as he had intended to do, that he had suddenly felt his inferiority to Paolo's calmness, and that upon hearing of the proposition concerning the crucifix he had acted as though he had received a bribe to be quiet. He bit his thin lips as he reflected that all the family must have supposed his silence from that moment to have been the effect of the important commission which Paolo had communicated to him; for it seemed impossible that they should understand the current of his thoughts.
As he glanced at the head he had drawn he understood himself better than others had understood him, for he saw on the corner of the paper the masterly sketch of an ideal Christ he had sought after for years without ever reaching it. He knew that that ideal had presented itself to his mind at the very moment when Paolo had proposed the work to him—the result perhaps, of the excitement under which he laboured at the moment. From that instant he had been able to think of nothing. He had been impelled to draw, and the expression of his thought had driven everything else out of his mind. Paolo had gained a fancied victory by means of a fancied bribe. Marzio determined to revenge himself for the unfair advantage his brother had then taken, by showing himself inflexible in his resolution concerning the marriage. It was but a small satisfaction to have braved Gianbattista's boyish threats, after having seemed to accept the bribe of a priest.