(LA MAJA DESNUDA)
VICENTE BLASCO IBANEZ
TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH
WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY NOTE BY THE AUTHOR
NEW YORK E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY 681 FIFTH AVENUE Copyright, 1920, BY K. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
All Rights Reserved
First printing March, 1920
Second printing March, 1020
Third printing March, 1920
Fourth printing March, 1920
Fifth printing March, 1920
Sixth printing March, 1920
Seventh printing March. 1920
Eighth printing March, 1920
Ninth printing April, 1920
Tenth printing April, 1920
Eleventh printing April, 1920
Twelfth printing April, 1920
Thirteenth printing April, 1920
Fourteenth printing April, 1920
Printed In the United States of America
INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION
The title of this novel in the original, La maja desnuda, "The Nude Maja," is also the name of one of the most famous pictures of the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
The word maja has no exact equivalent in English or in any of the modern languages. Literally, it means "bedecked," "showy," "gaudily attired," "flashy," "dazzling," etc., and it was applied at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth to a certain class of gay women of the lower strata of Madrid society notorious for their love of dancing and their fondness for exhibiting themselves conspicuously at bull-fights and all popular celebrations. The great ladies of the aristocracy affected the free ways and imitated the picturesque dress of the maja; Goya made this type the central figure of many of his genre paintings, and the dramatist Ramon de la Cruz based most of his sainetes—farcical pieces in one act—upon the customs and rivalries of these women. The dress invented by the maja, consisting of a short skirt partly covered by a net with berry-shaped tassels, white mantilla and high shell-comb, is considered all over the world as the national costume of Spanish women.
When the novel first appeared in Spain some years ago, a certain part of the Madrid public, unduly evil-minded, thought that it had discovered the identity of the real persons whom I had taken as models to draw my characters. This claim provoked a scandalous sensation and gave my book an unwholesome notoriety. It was thought that the protagonists of La maja desnuda were an illustrious Spanish painter of world-wide fame, who is my friend, and an aristocratic lady very celebrated at the time but now forgotten. I protested against this unwarranted and fantastic interpretation. Although I draw my characters from life, I do so only in a very fragmentary way (like all the great creative novelists whom I admire as masters in the field of fiction), using the materials gathered in my observations to form completely new types which are the direct and legitimate offspring of my own imagination. To use a figure: as a novelist I am a painter, not a photographer. Although I seek my inspiration in reality, I copy it in accordance with my own way of seeing it; I do not reproduce it with the mechanical servility of the photographic camera.
It is possible that my imaginary heroes are vaguely reminiscent of beings who actually exist. Subconsciousness is the novelist's principal instrument, and this subconsciousness frequently mocks us, leading us to mistake for our own creation the things which we have unwittingly observed in Nature. But despite this, it is unfair, as well as risky, for the reader to assign the names of real persons to the characters of fiction, saying, "This is So-and-so."
It would be equally unfair to consider this novel as audacious or of doubtful morality. The artistic world which I describe in La maja desnuda cannot be expected to have the same conception of life as the conventional world. Far from believing it immoral, I consider this one of the most moral novels I have ever written. And it is for this reason that, with a full realization of the standards demanded by the English-reading public, I have not hesitated to authorize the present translation without palliation or amputation, fully convinced that the reader will not find anything in this novel objectionable or offensive to his moral sense. Morality is not to be found in words but in deeds and in the lessons which these deeds teach.
The difficulty of adequately translating the word maja into English led to the adoption of "Woman Triumphant" as the title of the present version. I believe it is a happy selection; it interprets the spirit of the novel. But it must be borne in mind that the woman here is the wife of the protagonist. It is the wife who triumphs, resurrecting in spirit to exert an overwhelming influence over the life of a man who had wished to live without her.
Renovales, the hero, is simply the personification of human desire, this poor desire which, in reality, does not know what it wants, eternally fickle and unsatisfied. When we finally obtain what we desire, it does not seem enough. "More: I want more," we say. If we lose something that made life unbearable, we immediately wish it back as indispensable to our happiness. Such are we: poor deluded children who cried yesterday for what we scorn to-day and shall want again to-morrow; poor deluded beings plunging across the span of life on the Icarian wings of caprice.
VICENTE BLASCO IBANEZ.
New York, January, 1920.
It was eleven o'clock in the morning when Mariano Renovales reached the Museo del Prado. Several years had passed since the famous painter had entered it. The dead did not attract him; very interesting they were, very worthy of respect, under the glorious shroud of the centuries, but art was moving along new paths and he could not study there under the false glare of the skylights, where he saw reality only through the temperaments of other men. A bit of sea, a mountainside, a group of ragged people, an expressive head attracted him more than that palace, with its broad staircases, its white columns and its statues of bronze and alabaster—a solemn pantheon of art, where the neophytes vacillated in fruitless confusion, without knowing what course to follow.
The master Renovales stopped for a few moments at the foot of the stairway. He contemplated the valley through which you approach the palace—with its slopes of fresh turf, dotted at intervals with the sickly little trees—with a certain emotion, as men are wont to contemplate, after a long absence, the places familiar to their youth. Above the scattered growth the ancient church of Los Jeronimos, with its gothic masonry, outlined against the blue sky its twin towers and ruined arcades. The wintry foliage of the Retiro served as a background for the white mass of the Cason. Renovales thought of the frescos of Giordano that decorated its ceilings. Afterwards, he fixed his attention on a building with red walls and a stone portal, which pretentiously obstructed the space in the foreground, at the edge of the green slope. Bah! The Academy! And the artist's sneer included in the same loathing the Academy of Language and the other Academies—painting, literature, every manifestation of human thought, dried, smoked, and swathed, with the immortality of a mummy, in the bandages of tradition, rules, and respect for precedent.
A gust of icy wind shook the skirts of his overcoat, his long beard tinged with gray and his wide felt hat, beneath the brim of which protruded the heavy locks of his hair, that had excited so much comment in his youth, but which had gradually grown shorter with prudent trimming, as the master rose in the world, winning fame and money.
Renovales felt cold in the damp valley. It was one of those bright, freezing days that are so frequent in the winter in Madrid. The sun was shining; the sky was blue; but from the mountains, covered with snow, came an icy wind, that hardened the ground, making it as brittle as glass. In the corners, where the warmth of the sun did not reach, the morning frost still glistened like a coating of sugar. On the mossy carpet, the sparrows, thin with the privations of winter, trotted back and forth like children, shaking their bedraggled feathers.
The stairway of the Museo recalled to the master his early youth, when at sixteen he had climbed those steps many a time with his stomach faint from the wretched meal at the boarding-house. How many mornings he had spent in that old building copying Velasquez! The place brought to his memory his dead hopes, a host of illusions that now made his smile; recollections of hunger and humiliating bargaining to make his first money by the sale of copies. His large, stern face, his brow that filled his pupils and admirers with terror lighted up with a merry smile. He recalled how he used to go into the Museo with halting steps, how he feared to leave the easel, lest people might notice the gaping soles of his boots that left his feet uncovered.
He passed through the vestibule and opened the first glass door. Instantly the noises of the world outside ceased; the rattling of the carriages in the Prado; the bells of the street-cars, the dull rumble of the carts, the shrill cries of the children who were running about on the slopes. He opened the second door, and his face, swollen by the cold, felt the caress of warm air, buzzing with the vague hum of silence. The footfalls of the visitors reverberated in the manner peculiar to large, unoccupied buildings. The slam of the door, as it closed, resounded like a cannon shot, passing from hall to hall through the heavy curtains. From the gratings of the registers poured the invisible breath of the furnaces. The people, on entering, spoke in a low tone, as if they were in a cathedral; their faces assumed an expression of unnatural seriousness, as though they were intimidated by the thousands of canvases that lined the walls, by the enormous busts that decorated the circle of the rotunda and the middle of the central salon.
On seeing Renovales, the two door-keepers, in their long frock-coats, started to their feet. They did not know who he was, but he certainly was somebody. They had often seen that face, perhaps in the newspapers, perhaps on match-boxes. It was associated in their minds with the glory of popularity, with the high honors reserved for people of distinction. Presently they recognized him. It was so many years since they had seen him there! And the two attendants, with their caps covered with gold-braid in their hands and with an obsequious smile, came forward towards the great artist.
"Good morning, Don Mariano. Did Senor de Renovales wish something? Did he want them to call the curator?" They spoke with oily obsequiousness, with the confusion of courtiers who see a foreign sovereign suddenly enter their palace, recognizing him through his disguise.
Renovales rid himself of them with a brusque gesture and cast a glance over the large decorative canvases of the rotunda, that recalled the wars of the 17th century; generals with bristling mustaches and plumed slouch-hat, directing the battle with a short baton, as though they were directing an orchestra, troops of arquebusiers disappearing downhill with banners of red and blue crosses at their front, forests of pikes rising from the smoke, green meadows of Flanders in the backgrounds—thundering, fruitless combats that were almost the last gasps of a Spain of European influence. He lifted a heavy curtain and entered the spacious salon, where the people at the other end looked like little wax figures under the dull illumination of the skylights.
The artist continued straight ahead, scarcely noticing the pictures, old acquaintances that could tell him nothing new. His eyes sought the people without, however, finding in them any greater novelty. It seemed as though they formed a part of the building and had not moved from it in many years; good-natured fathers with a group of children before their knees, explaining the meaning of the pictures; a school teacher, with her well-behaved and silent pupils who, in obedience to the command of their superior, passed without stopping before the lightly clad saints; a gentleman with two priests, talking loudly, to show that he was intelligent and almost at home there; several foreign ladies with their veils caught up over their straw hats and their coats on their arms, consulting the catalogue, all with a sort of family-air, with identical expressions of admiration and curiosity, until Renovales wondered if they were the same ones he had seen there years before, the last time he was there.
As he passed, he greeted the great masters mentally; on one side the holy figures of El Greco, with their greenish or bluish spirituality, slender and undulating; beyond, the wrinkled, black heads of Ribera, with ferocious expressions of torture and pain—marvelous artists, whom Renovales admired, while determined not to imitate them. Afterwards, between the railing that protects the pictures and the line of busts, show-cases and marble tables supported by gilded lions, he came upon the easels of several copyists. They were boys from the School of Fine Arts, or poverty-stricken young ladies with run-down heels and dilapidated hats, who were copying Murillos. They were tracing on the canvas the blue of the Virgin's robe or the plump flesh of the curly-haired boys that played with the Divine Lamb. Their copies were commissions from pious people; a genre that found an easy sale among the benefactors of convents and oratories. The smoke of the candles, the wear of years, the blindness of devotion would dim the colors, and some day the eyes of the worshipers, weeping in supplication, would see the celestial figures move with mysterious life on their blackened background, as they implored from them wondrous miracles.
The master made his way toward the Hall of Velasquez. It was there that his friend Tekli was working. His visit to the Museo had no other object than to see the copy that the Hungarian painter was making of the picture of Las Meninas.
The day before, when the foreigner was announced in his studio, he had remained perplexed for a long while, looking at the name on the card. Tekli! And then all at once he remembered a friend of twenty years before, when he lived in Rome; a good-natured Hungarian, who admired him sincerely and who made up for his lack of genius with a silent persistency in his work, like a beast of burden.
Renovales was glad to see his little blue eyes, hidden under his thin, silky eyebrows, his jaw, protruding like a shovel, a feature that made him look very much like the Austrian monarchs—his tall frame that bent forward under the impulse of excitement, while he stretched out his bony arms, long as tentacles, and greeted him in Italian:
"Oh, maestro, caro maestro!"
He had taken refuge in a professorship, like all artists who lack the power to continue the upward climb, who fall in the rut. Renovales recognized the artist-official in his spotless suit, dark and proper, in his dignified glance that rested from time to time on his shining boots that seemed to reflect the whole studio. He even wore on one lapel of his coat the variegated button of some mysterious decoration. The felt hat, white as meringue, which he held in his hand, was the only discordant feature in this general effect of a public functionary. Renovales caught his hands with sincere enthusiasm. The famous Tekli! How glad he was to see him! What times they used to have in Rome! And with a smile of kindly superiority he listened to the story of his success. He was a professor in Budapest; every year he saved money in order to go and study in some celebrated European museum. At last he had succeeded in coming to Spain, fulfilling the desire he had cherished for many years.
"Oh, Velasquez! uel maestro, caro Mariano!"
And throwing back his head, with a dreamy expression in his eyes, he moved his protruding jaw covered with reddish hair, with a voluptuous look, as though he were sipping a glass of his sweet native Tokay.
He had been in Madrid for a month, working every morning in the Museo. His copy of Las Meninas was almost finished. He had not been to see his "Dear Mariano" sooner because he wanted to show him this work. Would he come and see him some morning in the Museo? Would he give him this proof of his friendship? Renovales tried to decline. What did he care for a copy? But there was an expression of such humble supplication in the Hungarian's little eyes, he showered him with so many praises of his great triumphs, expatiating on the success that his picture Man Overboard! had won at the last Budapest Exhibition, that the master promised to go to the Museo.
And a few days later, one morning when a gentleman whose portrait he was painting canceled his appointment, Renovales remembered his promise and went to the Museo del Prado, feeling, as he entered, the same sensation of insignificance and homesickness that a man suffers on returning to the university where he has passed his youth.
When he found himself in the Hall of Velasquez, he suddenly felt seized with religious respect. There was a painter! The painter! All his irreverent theories of hatred for the dead were left outside the door. The charm of those canvases that he had not seen for many years rose again—fresh, powerful, irresistible; it overwhelmed him, awakening his remorse. For a long time he remained motionless, turning his eyes from one picture to another, eager to comprise in one glance the whole work of the immortal, while around him the hum of curiosity began again.
"Renovales! That's Renovales!"
The news had started from the door, spreading through the whole Museo, reaching the Hall of Velasquez behind his steps. The groups of curious people stopped gazing at the pictures to look at that huge, self-possessed man who did not seem to realize the curiosity that surrounded him. The ladies, as they went from canvas to canvas, looked out of the corner of their eyes at the celebrated artist whose portrait they had seen so often. They found him more ugly, more commonplace than he appeared in the engravings in the papers. It did not seem possible that that "porter" had talent and painted women so well. Some young fellows approached to look at him more closely, pretending to gaze at the same pictures as the master. They scrutinized him, noting his external peculiarities with that desire for enthusiastic imitation which marks the novice. Some determined to copy his soft bow-tie and his tangled hair, with the fantastic hope that this would give them a new spirit for painting. Others complained to themselves that they were beardless and could not display the curly gray whiskers of the famous master.
He, with his keen sensitiveness to praise, was not long in observing the atmosphere of curiosity that surrounded him. The young copyists seemed to stick closer to their easels, knitted their brows, dilated their nostrils, and moved their brushes slowly, with hesitation, knowing that he was behind them, trembling at every step that sounded on the inlaid floor, full of fear and desire that he might deign to cast a glance over their shoulders. He divined with a sort of pride what all the mouths were whispering, what all the eyes were saying, fixed absent-mindedly on the canvases only to turn toward him.
"It's Renovales—the painter Renovales."
The master looked for a long while at one of the copyists—an old man, decrepit and almost blind, with heavy convex spectacles that gave him the appearance of a sea-monster, whose hands trembled with senile unsteadiness. Renovales recognized him. Twenty years before, when he used to study in the Museo, he had seen him in the same spot, always copying Los Borrachos. Even if he should become completely blind, if the picture should be lost, he could reproduce it by feeling. In those days they had often talked together, but the poor man could not have the remotest suspicion that the Renovales whom people talked so much about was the same lad who on more than one occasion had borrowed a brush from him, but whose memory was scarcely preserved in his mind, mummified by eternal imitation.
Renovales thought of the kindness of the chummy Bacchus and the gang of ruffians of his court, who for half a century had been supporting the household of the copyist, and he fancied he could see the old wife, the married children, the grandchildren—a whole family supported by the old man's trembling hand.
Some one whispered to him the news that was filling the Museo with excitement and the copyist, shrugging his shoulders disdainfully, raised his moribund glance from his work.
And so Renovales was there, the famous Renovales! At last he was going to see the prodigy!
The master saw those grotesque eyes like those of a sea-monster, fixed on him, with an ironical gleam behind the heavy lenses. The grafter! He had already heard of that studio, as splendid as a palace, behind the Retire What Renovales had in such plenty had been taken from men like him who, for want of influence, had been left behind. He charged thousands of dollars for a canvas, when Velasquez worked for three pesetas a day and Goya painted his portraits for a couple of doubloons. Deceit, modernism, the audacity of the younger generation that lacked scruples, the ignorance of the simpletons that believe the newspapers! The only good thing was right there before him. And once more shrugging his shoulders scornfully, he lost his expression of ironical protest and returned to his thousandth copy of Los Borrachos.
Renovales, seeing that the curiosity about him was diminishing, entered the little hall that contained the picture of Las Meninas. There was Tekli in front of the famous canvas that occupies the whole back of the room, seated before his easel, with his white hat pushed back to leave free his throbbing brow that was contracted with a tenacious insistence on accuracy.
Seeing Renovales, he rose hastily, leaving his palette on the piece of oil-cloth that protected the floor from spots of paint. Dear master! How thankful he was to him for this visit! And he showed him the copy, minutely accurate but without the wonderful atmosphere, without the miraculous realism of the original. Renovales approved with a nod; he admired the patient toil of that gentle ox of art, whose furrows were always alike, of geometric precision, without the slightest negligence or the least attempt at originality.
"Ti piace?" he asked anxiously, looking into his eyes to divine his thoughts. "E vero? E vero?" he repeated with the uncertainty of a child who fears that he is being deceived.
And suddenly calmed by the evidences of Renovales' approval, that kept growing more extravagant to conceal his indifference, the Hungarian grasped both of his hands and lifted them to his breast.
"Sono contento, maestro, sono contento."
He did not want to let Renovales go. Since he had had the generosity to come and see his work, he could not let him go away, they would lunch together at the hotel where he lived. They would open a bottle of Chianti to recall their life in Rome; they would talk of the merry Bohemian days of their youth, of those comrades of various nationalities that used to gather in the Cafe del Greco,—some already dead, the rest scattered through Europe and America, a few celebrated, the majority vegetating in the schools of their native land, dreaming of a final masterpiece before which death would probably overtake them.
Renovales felt overcome by the insistence of the Hungarian, who seized his hands with a dramatic expression, as though he would die at a refusal. Good for the Chianti! They would lunch together, and while Tekli was giving a few touches to his work, he would wait for him, wandering through the Museo, renewing old memories.
When he returned to the Hall of Velasquez, the assemblage had diminished; only the copyists remained bending over their canvases. The painter felt anew the influence of the great master. He admired his wonderful art, feeling at the same time the intense, historical sadness that seemed to emanate from all of his work. Poor Don Diego! He was born in the most melancholy period of Spanish history. His sane realism was fitted to immortalize the human form in all its naked beauty and fate had provided him a period when women looked like turtles, with their heads and shoulders peeping out between the double shell of their inflated gowns, and when men had a sacerdotal stiffness, raising their dark, ill-washed heads above their gloomy garb. He had painted what he saw; fear and hypocrisy were reflected in the eyes of that world. In the jesters, fools and humpbacks immortalized by Don Diego was revealed the forced merriment of a dying nation that must needs find distraction in the monstrous and absurd. The hypochondriac temper of a monarchy weak in body and fettered in spirit by the terrors of hell, lived in all those masterpieces, that inspired at once admiration and sadness. Alas for the artistic treasures wasted in immortalizing a period which without Velasquez would have fallen into utter oblivion!
Renovales thought, too, of the man, comparing with a feeling of remorse the great painter's life with the princely existence of the modern masters. Ah, the munificence of kings, their protection of artists, that people talked about in their enthusiasm for the past! He thought of the peaceful Don Diego and his salary of three pesetas as court painter, which he received only at rare intervals; of his glorious name figuring among those of jesters and barbers in the list of members of the king's household, forced to accept the office of appraiser of masonry to improve his situation, of the shame and humiliation of his last years in order to gain the Cross of Santiago, denying as a crime before the tribunal of the Orders that he had received money for his pictures, declaring with servile pride his position as servant of the king, as though this title were superior to the glory of an artist. Happy days of the present, blessed revolution of modern life, that dignifies the artist, and places him under the protection of the public, an impersonal sovereign that leaves the creator of beauty free and ends by even following him in new-created paths!
Renovales went up to the central gallery in search of another of his favorites. The works of Goya filled a large space on both walls. On one side the portraits of the kings and queens of the Bourbon decadence; heads of monarchs, or princes, crushed under their white wigs; sharp feminine eyes, bloodless faces, with their hair combed in the form of a tower. The two great painters had coincided in their lives with the moral downfall of two dynasties. In the Hall of Velasquez the thin, bony, fair-haired kings, of monastic grace and anaemic pallor, with their protruding under-jaws, and in their eyes an expression of doubt and fear for the salvation of their souls. Here, the corpulent, clumsy monarchs, with their huge, heavy noses, fatefully pendulous, as though by some mysterious relation they were dragging on the brain, paralyzing its functions; their thick underlips, hanging in sensual inertia; their eyes, calm as those of cattle, reflecting in their tranquil light indifference for everything that did not directly concern their own well-being. The Austrians, nervous, restless, vacillating with the fever of insanity, riding on theatrical chargers, in dark landscapes, bounded by the snowy crests of the Guadarrama, as sad, cold and crystallized as the soul of the nation; the Bourbons, peaceful, adipose, resting—surfeited—on their huge calves, without any other thought than the hunt of the following day or the domestic intrigue that would set the family in dissension, deaf to the storms that thundered beyond the Pyrenees. The one, surrounded by brutal-faced imbeciles, by gloomy pettifoggers, by Infantas with childish faces and the hollow skirts of a Virgin's image on an altar; the others bringing as a merry, unconcerned retinue, a rabble clad in bright colors, wrapped in scarlet capes or lace mantillas, crowned with ornamental combs or masculine hats—a race that, without knowing it, was sapping its heroism in picnics at the Canal or in grotesque amusements. The lash of invasion aroused them from their century-long infancy. The same great artist that for many years had portrayed the simple thoughtlessness of this gay people, showy and light-hearted as a comic-opera chorus, afterwards painted them, knife in hand, attacking the Mamelukes with the agility of monkeys, felling those Egyptian centaurs under their slashes, blackened with the smoke of a hundred battles, or dying with theatrical pride by the light of a lantern in the gloomy solitude of Moncloa, shot by the invaders.
Renovales admired the tragic atmosphere of the canvas before him. The executioners hid their faces, leaning on their guns; they were the blind executors of fate, a nameless force, and before them rose the pile of palpitating, bloody flesh; the dead with strips of flesh torn off by the bullets, showing reddish holes, the living with folded arms, defying the murderers in a tongue they could not understand, or covering their faces with their hands, as though this instinctive movement could save them from the lead. A whole people died, to be born again. And beside this picture of horror and heroism, in another close to it, he saw Palafox, the Leonidas of Saragossa, mounted on horseback, with his stylish whiskers and the arrogance of a blacksmith in a captain-general's uniform, having in his bearing something of the appearance of a popular chieftain, holding in one hand, gloved in buckskin, the curved saber, and in the other the reins of his stocky, big-bellied steed.
Renovales thought that art is like light, which acquires color and brightness from the objects it touches. Goya had passed through a stormy period; he had been a spectator of the resurrection of the soul of the people and his painting contained the tumultuous life, the heroic fury that you look for in vain in the canvases of that other genius, tied as he was to the monotonous existence of the palace, unbroken except by the news of distant wars in which they had little interest and whose victories, too late to be useful, had the coldness of doubt.
The painter turned away from the dames of Goya, clad in white cambric, with their rosebud mouths and with their hair done up like a turban, to concentrate his attention on a nude figure, the luminous gleam of whose flesh seemed to throw the adjacent canvases in a shadow. He contemplated it closely for a long time, bending over the railing till the brim of his hat almost touched the canvas. Then he gradually moved away, without ceasing to look at it, until, at last, he sat down on a bench, still facing the picture with his eyes fixed upon it.
"Goya's Maja. The Maja Desnuda!"
He spoke aloud, without realizing it, as if his words were the inevitable outburst of the thoughts that rushed into his mind and seemed to pass back and forth behind the lenses of his eyes. His expressions of admiration were in different tones, marking a descending scale of memories.
The painter looked with delight at the gracefully delicate form, luminous, as though within it burned the flame of life, showing through the pearl-pale flesh. A shadow, scarcely perceptible, veiled in mystery of her femininity; the light traced a bright spot on her smoothly rounded knees and once more the shadow reached down to her tiny feet with their delicate toes, rosy and babyish.
The woman was small, graceful, and dainty; the Spanish Venus with no more flesh than was necessary to cover her supple, shapely frame with softly curving outlines. Her amber eyes that flashed slyly, were disconcerting with their gaze; her mouth had in its graceful corners the fleeting touch of an eternal smile; on her cheeks, elbows and feet the pink tone showed the transparency and the moist brilliancy of those shells that open their mysterious colors in the secret depths of the sea.
"Goya's Maja. The Maja Desnuda!"
He no longer said these words aloud, but his thought and his expression repeated them, his smile was their echo.
Renovales was not alone. From time to time groups of visitors passed back and forth between his eyes and the picture, talking loudly. The tread of heavy feet shook the wooden floor. It was noon and the bricklayers from nearby buildings were taking advantage of the noon hour to explore those salons as if it were a new world, delighting in the warm air of the furnaces. As they went, they left footprints of plaster on the floor; they called out to each other to share their admiration before a picture; they were impatient to take it all in at a single glance; they waxed enthusiastic over the warriors in their shining armor or the elaborate uniforms of olden times. The cleverest among them served as guides to their companions, driving them impatiently. They had been there the day before. Go ahead! There was still a lot to see! And they ran toward the inner halls with the breathless curiosity of men who tread on new ground and expect something marvelous to rise before their steps.
Amid this rush of simple admirers there passed, too, some groups of Spanish ladies. All did the same thing before Goya's work, as if they had been previously coached. They went from picture to picture, commenting on the fashions of the past, feeling a sort of longing for the curious old crinolines and the broad mantillas with the high combs. Suddenly they became serious, drew their lips together and started at a quick pace for the end of the gallery. Instinct warned them. Their restless eyes felt hurt by the nude in the distance; they seemed to scent the famous Maja before they saw her and they kept on—erect, with severe countenances, just as if they were annoyed by some rude fellow's advances in the street—passing in front of the picture without turning their faces, without seeing even the adjacent pictures nor stopping till they reached the Hall of Murillo.
It was the hatred for the nude, the Christian, century-old abomination of Nature and truth, that rose instinctively to protest against the toleration of such horrors in a public building which was peopled with saints, kings and ascetics.
Renovales worshiped the canvas with ardent devotion, and placed it in a class by itself. It was the first manifestation in Spanish history of art that was free from scruples, unhampered by prejudice. Three centuries of painting, several generations of glorious names, succeeded one another with wonderful fertility; but not until Goya had the Spanish brush dared to trace the form of a woman's body, the divine nakedness that among all peoples has been the first inspiration of nascent art. Renovales remembered another nude, the Venus of Velasquez, preserved abroad. But that work had not been spontaneous; it was a commission of the monarch who, at the same time that he was paying foreigners lavishly for their studies in the nude, wished to have a similar canvas by his court-painter.
Religious oppression had obscured art for centuries. Human beauty terrified the great artists, who painted with a cross on their breasts and a rosary on their sword-hilts. Bodies were hidden under the stiff, heavy folds of sackcloth or the grotesque, courtly crinoline, and the painter never ventured to guess what was beneath them, looking at the model, as the devout worshiper contemplates the hollow mantle of the Virgin, not knowing whether it contains a body or three sticks to hold up the head. The joy of life was a sin. In vain a sun fairer than that of Venice shone on Spanish soil, futile was the light that burned upon the land with a brighter glow than that of Flanders: Spanish art was dark, lifeless, sober, even after it knew the works of Titian. The Renaissance, that in the rest of the world worshiped the nude as the supreme work of Nature, was covered here with the monk's cowl or the beggar's rags. The shining landscapes were dark and gloomy when they reached the canvas; under the brush the land of the sun appeared with a gray sky and grass that was a mournful green; the heads had a monkish gravity. The artist placed in his pictures not what surrounded him, but what he had within him, a piece of his soul—and his soul was fettered by the fear of dangers in the present life and torments in the life to come; it was black—black with sadness, as if it were dyed in the soot of the fires of the autos-de-fe.
That naked woman with her curly head resting on her folded arms was the awakening of an art that had lived in isolation. The slight frame, that scarcely rested on the green divan and the fine lace cushions, seemed on the point of rising in the air with the mighty impulse of resurrection.
Renovales thought of the two masters, equally great, and still so different. One had the imposing majesty of famous monuments—serene, correct, cold, filling the horizon of history with their colossal mass, growing old in glory without the centuries opening the least crack in their marble walls. On all sides the same facade—noble, symmetrical, calm, without the vagaries of caprice. It was reason—solid, well-balanced, alien to enthusiasm and weakness, without feverish haste. The other was as great as a mountain, with the fantastic disorder of Nature, covered with tortuous inequalities. On one side the wild, barren cliff; beyond, the glen, covered with blossoming heath; below, the garden with its perfumes and birds; on the heights, the crown of dark clouds, heavy with thunder and lightning. It was imagination in unbridled career, with breathless halts and new flights—its brow in the infinite and its feet implanted on earth.
The life of Don Diego was summed up in these words: "He had painted." That was his whole biography. Never in his travels in Spain and Italy did he feel curious to see anything but pictures. In the court of the Poet-king, he had vegetated amid gallantries and masquerades, calm as a monk of painting, always standing before his canvas and model—to-day a jester, to-morrow a little Infanta—without any other desire than to rise in rank among the members of the royal household, to see a cross of red cloth sewed on his black jerkin. He was a lofty soul, enclosed in a phlegmatic body that never tormented him with nervous desires nor disturbed the calm of his work with violent passions. When he died the good Dona Juana, his wife, died too, as though they sought each other, unable to remain apart after their long, uneventful pilgrimage through the world.
Goya "had lived." His life was that of the nobleman-artist—a stormy novel, full of mysterious amours. His pupils, on parting the curtains of his studio, saw the silk of royal skirts on their master's knees. The dainty duchesses of the period resorted to that robust Aragonese of rough, manly gallantry to have him paint their cheeks, laughing like mad at these intimate touches. When he contemplated some divine beauty on the tumbled bed, he transferred her form to the canvas by an irresistible impulse, an imperious necessity of reproducing beauty; and the legend that floated about the Spanish artist connected an illustrious name with all the beauties whom his brush immortalized.
To paint without fear or prejudice, to take delight in reproducing on canvas the glory of the nude, the lustrous amber of woman's flesh with its pale roses like a sea-shell, was Renovales' desire and envy; to live like the famous Don Francisco—a free bird with restless, shining plumage in the midst of the monotony of the human barn-yard; in his passions, in his diversions, in his tastes, to be different from the majority of men, since he was already different from them in his way of appreciating life.
But, ah! his existence was like that of Don Diego—unbroken, monotonous, laid out by level in a straight line. He painted, but he did not live. People praised his work for the accuracy with which he reproduced Nature, for the gleam of light, for the indefinable color of the atmosphere, and the exterior of things; but something was lacking, something that stirred within him and fought in vain to leap the vulgar barriers of daily existence.
The memory of the romantic life of Goya made him think of his own life. People called him a master; they bought everything he painted at good prices, especially if it was in accordance with some one else's tastes and contrary to his artistic desire; he enjoyed a calm existence, full of comforts; in his studio, almost as splendid as a palace, the facade of which was reproduced in the illustrated magazines, he had a wife who was convinced of his genius and a daughter who was almost a woman and who made the troop of his intimate pupils stammer with embarrassment. The only evidences of his Bohemian past that remained were his soft felt hats, his long beard, his tangled hair and a certain carelessness in his dress; but when his position as a "national celebrity" demanded it, he took out of his wardrobe a dress suit with the lapel covered with the insignia of honorary orders and played his part in official receptions. He had thousands of dollars in the bank. In his studio, palette in hand, he conferred with his broker, discussing what sort of investments he ought to make with the year's profits. His name awakened no surprise or aversion in high society, where it was fashionable for ladies to have their portraits painted by him.
In the early days he had provoked scandal and protests by his boldness in color and his revolutionary way of seeing Nature, but there was not connected with his name the least offence against the conventions of society. His women were women of the people, picturesque and repugnant; the only flesh that he had shown on his canvases was that of a sweaty laborer or the chubby child. He was an honored master, who cultivated his stupendous ability with the same calm that he showed in his business affairs.
What was lacking in his life? Ah! Renovales smiled ironically. His whole life suddenly came to mind in a tumultuous rush of memories. Once more he fixed his glance on that woman, shining white like a pearl amphora, with her arms above her head, her breasts erect and triumphant, her eyes resting on him, as if she had known him for many years, and he repeated mentally with an expression of bitterness and dejection:
"Goya's Maja, the Maja Desnuda!"
As Mariano Renovales recalled the first years of his life, his memory, always sensitive to exterior impressions, called up the ceaseless clang of hammers. From the rising of the sun till the earth began to darken with the shadows of twilight the iron sang or groaned on the anvil, jarring the walls of the house and the floor of the garret, where Mariano used to play, lying on the floor at the feet of a pale, sickly woman with serious, deep-set eyes, who frequently dropped her sewing to kiss the little one with sudden violence, as though she feared she would not see him again.
Those tireless hammers that had accompanied Mariano's birth, made him jump out of bed as soon as day broke and go down to the shop to warm himself beside the glowing forge. His father, a good-natured Cyclops—hairy and blackened—walked back and forth, turning over the irons, picking up files, giving orders to his assistants with loud shouts, in order to be heard in the din of the hammering. Two sturdy fellows, stripped to the waist, swung their arms, panting over the anvil, and the iron—now red, now golden—leaped in bright showers, scattered in crackling sprays, peopling the black atmosphere of the shop with a swarm of fiery flies that died away in the soot of the corners.
"Take care, little one!" said the father, protecting his delicate curly-haired head with one of his great hands.
The little fellow felt attracted by the colors of the glowing iron, till with the thoughtlessness of childhood he sometimes tried to pick up the fragments that glowed on the ground like fallen stars.
His father would push him out of the shop, and outside the door—black with soot—Mariano could see stretching out below him in the flood of sunlight the fields with their red soil cut into geometric figures by stone walls; at the bottom the valley with groups of poplars bordering the winding, crystal stream, and before him the mountains, covered to the very tops with dark pine woods. The shop was in the suburbs of a town and from it and the villages of the valley came the jobs that supported the blacksmith—new axles for carts, plowshares, scythes, shovels, and pitchforks in need of repair.
The incessant pounding of the hammers seemed to stir up the little fellow, inspiring him with a fever of activity, tearing him from his childish amusements. When he was eight years old, he used to seize the rope of the bellows and pull it, delighting in the shower of sparks that the current of air drove out of the lighted coals. The Cyclops was gratified at the strength of his son, robust and vigorous like all the men of his family, with a pair of fists that inspired a wholesome respect in all the village lads. He was one of his own blood. From his poor mother, weak and sickly, he inherited only his propensity toward silence and isolation that sometimes, when the fever of activity died out in him, kept him for hours at a time watching the fields, the sky or the brooks that came tumbling down over the pebbles to join the stream at the bottom of the valley.
The boy hated school, showing a holy horror of letters. His strong hands shook with uncertainty when he tried to write a word. On the other hand, his father and the other people in the shop admired the ease with which he could reproduce objects in a simple, ingenuous drawing, in which no detail of naturalness was lacking. His pockets were always full of bits of charcoal and he never saw a wall or stone that had a suggestion of whiteness, without at once tracing on it a copy of the objects that struck his eyes because of some marked peculiarity. The outside walls of the shop were black with little Mariano's drawings. Along the walls ran the pigs of Saint Anthony, with their puckered snouts and twisted tails, that wandered through the village and were supported by public charity, to be raffled on the festival of the saint. And in the midst of this stout procession stood out the profiles of the blacksmith and all the workmen of the shop, with an inscription beneath, that no doubt might arise as to their identity.
"Come here, woman," the blacksmith would shout to his sick wife when he discovered a new sketch. "Come and see what our son has done. A devil of a boy!"
And influenced by this enthusiasm, he no longer complained when Mariano ran away from school and the bellows rope to spend the whole day running through the valley or the village, a piece of charcoal in his hand, covering the rocks of the mountain and the house walls with black lines, to the despair of the neighbors. In the tavern in the Plaza Mayor he had traced the heads of the most constant customers, and the innkeeper pointed them out proudly, forbidding anyone to touch the wall for fear the sketches would disappear. This work was a source of vanity to the blacksmith when Sundays, after mass, he went in to drink a glass with his friends. On the wall of the rectory he had traced a Virgin, before which the most pious old women in the village stopped with deep sighs.
The blacksmith with a flush of satisfaction accepted all the praises that were showered on the little fellow as if they belonged in large part to himself. Where had that prodigy come from, when all the rest of his family were such brutes? And he nodded affirmatively when the village notables spoke of doing something for the boy. To be sure, he did not know what to do, but they were right; his Mariano was not destined to hammer iron like his father. He might become as great a personage as Don Rafael, a gentleman who painted saints in the capital of the province and was a teacher of painting in a big house, full of pictures, in the city. During the summer he came with his family to live in an estate in the valley.
This Don Rafael was a man of imposing gravity; a saint with a large family of children, who wore a frock-coat as if it were a cassock and spoke with the suavity of a friar through his white beard that covered his thin, pink cheeks. In the village church they had a wonderful picture painted by him, a Purisima, whose soft glowing colors made the legs of the pious tremble. Besides, the eyes of the image had the marvelous peculiarity of looking straight at those who contemplated it, following them even though they changed position. A veritable miracle. It seemed impossible that that good gentleman who came up every morning in the summer to hear mass in the village, had painted that supernatural work. An Englishman had tried to buy it for its weight in gold. No one had seen the Englishman, but every one smiled sarcastically when they commented on the offer. Yes, indeed, they were likely to let the picture go! Let the heretics rage with all their millions. The Purisima would stay in her chapel to the envy of the whole world—and especially of the neighboring villages.
When the parish priest went to visit Don Rafael to speak to him about the blacksmith's son, the great man already knew about his ability. He had seen his drawings in the village; the boy had some talent and it was a pity not to guide him in the right path. After this came the visits of the blacksmith and his son, both trembling when they found themselves in the attic of the country house that the great painter had converted into a studio, seeing close at hand the pots of color, the oily palette, the brushes and those pale blue canvases on which the rosy, chubby cheeks of the cherubim or the ecstatic face of the Mother of God were beginning to assume form.
At the end of the summer the good blacksmith decided to follow Don Rafael's advice. As long as he was so good as to consent to helping the boy, he was not going to be the one to interfere with his good fortune. The shop gave him enough to live on. All it meant was to work a few years longer, to support himself till the end of his life beside the anvil, without an assistant or a successor. His son was born to be somebody, and it was a serious sin to stop his progress by scorning the help of his good protector.
His mother, who constantly grew weaker and more sickly, cried as if the journey to the capital of the province were to the end of the world.
"Good-by, my boy. I shall never see you again."
And in truth it was the last time that Mariano saw that pale face with its great expressionless eyes, now almost wiped out of his memory like a whitish spot in which, in spite of all his efforts, he could not succeed in restoring the outline of the features.
In the city his life was radically different. Then for the first time he understood what it was his hands were striving for as they moved the charcoal over the whitewashed walls. Art was revealed to his eyes in those silent afternoons, passed in the convent where the provincial museum was situated, while his master, Don Rafael, argued with other gentlemen in the professor's hall, or signed papers in the secretary's office.
Mariano lived at his protector's house, at once his servant and his pupil. He carried letters to the dean and the other canons, who were friends of his master and who accompanied him on his walks or spent social evenings in his studio. More than once he visited the locutories of nunneries, to deliver through the heavy gratings presents from Don Rafael to certain black and white shadows, which attracted by this sturdy young country boy, and aware that he meant to be a painter, overwhelmed him with the eager questions born of their seclusion. Before he went away they would hand him, through the revolving window, cakes and candied lemons or some other goody, and then, with a word of advice, would say good-by in their thin, soft voices, which sifted through the iron of the gratings.
"Be a good boy, little Mariano. Study, pray. Be a good Christian, the Lord will protect you and perhaps you will get to be as great a painter as Don Rafael, who is one of the first in the world."
How the master laughed at the memory of the childish simplicity that made him see in his master the most marvelous painter on earth!... Mornings, when he attended the classes in the School of Fine Arts, he grew angry at his comrades, a disrespectful rabble, brought up in the streets, sons of mechanics, who, as soon as the professor turned his back, pelted each other with the crumbs of bread meant to wipe out their drawings, and cursed Don Rafael, calling him a "Christer" and a "Jesuit."
The afternoon Mariano passed in the studio, at his master's side. How excited he was the first time he placed a palette in his hand and allowed him to copy on an old canvas a child St. John which he had finished for a society!... While the boy with his forehead wrinkled in his eagerness, tried to imitate his master's work, he listened to the good advice that the master gave him without looking up from the canvas over which his angelic brush was running.
Painting must be religious; the first pictures in the world had been inspired by religion; outside of it, life offered nothing but base materialism, loathsome sins. Painting must be ideal, beautiful. It must always represent pretty subjects, reproduce things as they ought to be, not as they really are, and above all, look up to heaven, since there is true life, not on this earth, a valley of tears. Mariano must modify his instincts—that was his master's advice—must lose his fondness for drawing coarse subjects—people as he saw them, animals in all their material brutality, landscapes in the same form as his eyes gazed upon.
He must have idealism. Many painters were almost saints; only thus could they reflect celestial beauty in the faces of their madonnas. And poor Mariano strove to be ideal, to catch a little of that beatific serenity which surrounded his master.
Little by little he came to understand the methods which Don Rafael employed to create these masterpieces which called forth cries of admiration from his circle of canons and the rich ladies that gave him commissions for pictures. When he intended to begin one of his Purisimas, which were slowly invading the churches and convents of the province, he arose early and returned to his studio after mass and communion. In this way he felt an inner strength, a calm enthusiasm, and, if he felt depressed in the midst of the work, he once more had recourse to this inspiring medicine.
The artist, besides, must be pure. He had taken a vow of chastity after he had reached the age of fifty, somewhat late to be sure, but it was not because he had not known before this certain means of reaching the perfect idealism of a celestial painter. His wife, who had grown old in her countless confinements, exhausted by the tiresome fidelity and virtue of the master, was no longer anything but the companion who gave the responses when he prayed his rosaries and Trisagia at night. He had several daughters, who weighed on his conscience like the reproachful memory of a disgraceful materialism, but some were already nuns and the others were on the way, while the idealism of the artist increased as these evidences of his impurity disappeared from the house and went to hide away in a convent where they upheld the artistic prestige of their father.
Sometimes the great painter hesitated before a Purisima, which was always the same, as if he painted it with a stencil. Then he spoke mysteriously to his disciple:
"Mariano, tell the gentlemen not to come to-morrow. We have a model."
And when the studio was closed to the priests and the other respectable friends, with heavy step in came Rodriguez, a policeman, with a cigarette stub under his heavy bristling mustache and one hand on the handle of his sword. Dismissed from the gendarmerie for intoxication and cruelty, and finding himself without employment, by some strange chance he began to devote himself to serving as a painter's model. The pious artist, who held him in a sort of terror, nagged by his constant petitions, had secured for him this position as policeman, and Rodriguez took advantage of every opportunity to show his rough appreciation, slapping the master's shoulders with his great hands and blowing in his face, his breath redolent with nicotine and alcohol.
"Don Rafael, you are my father. If anybody touches you, I'll fix him, whoever he is."
And the ascetic artist, with a feeling of satisfaction at this protection, blushed and waved his hands in protest against the frankness of the rude fellow with his threats for the men he would "fix."
He threw his helmet on the ground, handed his heavy sword to Mariano, and like a man that knows his duty, took out of the bottom of a chest a white woolen tunic and a piece of blue cloth like a cloak, placing both garments on his body with the skill of practice.
Mariano looked at him with astonished eyes but without any temptation to laugh. They were mysteries of art, surprises that were reserved only for those who, like him, had the good fortune to live on terms of intimacy with the great master.
"Ready, Rodriguez?" Don Rafael asked impatiently.
And Rodriguez, erect in his bath robe with the blue rag hanging from his shoulders, clasped his hands and lifted his fierce gaze to the ceiling, without ceasing to suck the stub that singed his mustache. The master did not need the model except for the robes of the figure, to study the folds of the celestial garment, which must not reveal the slightest evidence of human contour. The possibility of copying a woman had never passed through his imagination. That was falling into materialism, glorifying the flesh, inviting temptation; Rodriguez was all he needed; one must be an idealist.
The model continued in his mystic attitude with his body lost in the innumerable folds of his blue and white raiment, while under it the square toes of his army boots stuck out, and he held up his grotesque, flat head, crowned with bristling hair, coughing and choking from the smoke of the cigar, without ceasing to look up and without separating his hands clasped in an attitude of worship.
Sometimes, tired out by the industrious silence of the master and the pupil, Rodriguez uttered a few grumbles that little by little took the form of words and finally developed into the story of the deeds of his heroic period, when he was a rural policeman and "could take a shot at anyone and pay for it afterward with a report." The Purisima grew excited at these memories. His hands separated with a tremble of murderous joy, the carefully arranged folds were disturbed, his bloodshot eyes no longer looked heavenward, and with a hoarse voice he told of tremendous beatings he administered, of men who fell to the ground writhing with pain, the shooting of prisoners which afterwards were reported as attempts to escape; and to give greater relief to this autobiography which he declaimed with bestial pride, he sprinkled his words with interjections as vulgar as they were lacking in respect for the first personages of the heavenly court.
"Rodriguez, Rodriguez!" exclaimed the master, horror-stricken.
"At your command, Don Rafael."
And the Purisima, after passing the stub from one side of his mouth to the other, once more folded his hands, straightened up, showing his red-striped trousers under the tunic, and lost his gaze on high, smiling with ecstasy, as if he contemplated on the ceiling all his heroic deeds of which he felt so proud.
Mariano was in despair before his canvas. He could never imitate his illustrious master. He was incapable of painting anything but what he saw, and his brush, after reproducing the blue and white raiment, stopped, hesitating at the face, calling in vain on imagination. After futile efforts it was the grotesque mask of Rodriguez that appeared on the canvas.
And the pupil had a sincere admiration for the ability of Don Rafael, for that pale head veiled in the light of its halo, a pretty, expressionless face of childish beauty, which took the place of the policeman's fierce head in the picture.
This sleight-of-hand seemed to the boy the most astounding evidence of art. When would he reach the easy prestidigitation of his master!
With time the difference between Don Rafael and his pupil became more marked. At school his comrades gathered around him, recognizing his superiority and praising his drawings. Some professors, enemies of his master, lamented that such talent should be lost beside that "saint-painter." Don Rafael was surprised at what Mariano did outside of his studio—figures and landscapes, directly observed which, according to him, breathed the brutality of life.
His circle of serious gentlemen began to discover some merit in the pupil.
"He will never reach your height, Don Rafael," they said. "He lacks unction, he has no idealism, he will never paint a good Virgin—but as a worldly painter he has a future."
The master, who loved the boy for his submissive nature and the purity of his habits, tried in vain to make him follow the right way. If he would only imitate him, his fortune was made. He would die without a successor and his studio and his fame would be his. The boy only had to see how, little by little, like a good ant of the Lord, the master had gathered together a fair sized future with his brush. By virtue of his idealism, he had his country house there in the village, and no end of estates, the tenants of which came and visited him in his studio, carrying on endless discussions over the payment and amount of the rents in front of the poetic Virgins. The Church was poor because of the impiety of the times, it could not pay as generously as in other centuries, but commissions were numerous, and a Virgin in all her purity was a matter of only three days—but young Renovales made a troubled, wry face, as if a painful sacrifice were demanded of him.
"I can't, Master. I'm an idiot. I don't know how to invent things. I paint only what I see."
And when he began to see naked bodies in the so-called "life" class he devoted himself zealously to this study, as if the flesh caused in him the most violent intoxication. Don Rafael was appalled by finding in the corners of his house sketches that portrayed shameful nudes in all their reality. Besides, the progress of his pupil caused him some uneasiness; he saw in his painting a vigor that he himself had never had. He even noted some falling-off in his circle of admirers. The good canons, as always, admired his Virgins, but some of them had their portraits painted by Mariano, praising the skill of his brush.
One day he said to his pupil, firmly:
"You know that I love you as I would a son, Mariano, but you are wasting your time with me. I cannot teach you anything. Your place is somewhere else. I thought you might go to Madrid. There you will find men of your stamp."
His mother was dead; his father was still in the blacksmith shop, and when he saw him come home with several duros, the pay for portraits he had made, he looked on this sum as a fortune. It did not seem possible that anyone would give money in exchange for colors. A letter from Don Rafael convinced him. Since that wise gentleman advised that his son should go to Madrid, he must agree.
"Go to Madrid, my boy, and try to make money soon, for your father is old and will not always be able to help you."
At the age of sixteen, Renovales landed in Madrid and finding himself alone, with only his wishes for his guide, devoted himself zealously to his work. He spent the morning in the Museo del Prado, copying all the heads in Velasquez's pictures. He felt that till then he had been blind. Besides, he worked in an attic studio with some other companions and evenings painted water-colors. By selling these and some copies, he managed to eke out the small allowance his father sent him.
He recalled with a sort of homesickness those years of poverty, of real misery, the cold nights in his wretched bed, the irritating meals—Heaven knows what was in them—eaten in a bar-room near the Teatro Real; the discussions in the corner of a cafe, under the hostile glances of the waiters who were provoked that a dozen long-haired youths should occupy several tables and order all together only three coffees and many bottles of water.
The light-hearted young fellows stood their misery without difficulty and, to make up for it, what a fill of fancies they had, what a glorious feast of hopes! A new discovery every day. Renovales ran through the realm of art like a wild colt, seeing new horizons spreading out before him, and his career caused an outburst of scandal that amounted to premature celebrity. The old men said that he was the only boy who "had the stuff in him"; his comrades declared that he was a "real painter," and in their iconoclastic enthusiasm compared his inexperienced works with those of the recognized old masters—"poor humdrum artists" on whose bald pates they felt obliged to vent their spleen in order to show the superiority of the younger generation.
Renovales' candidacy for the fellowship at Rome caused a veritable revolution. The younger set, who swore by him and considered him their illustrious captain, broke out in threats, fearful lest the "old boys" should sacrifice their idol.
When at last his manifest superiority won him the fellowship, there were banquets in his honor, articles in the papers, his picture was published in the illustrated magazines, and even the old blacksmith made a trip to Madrid, to breathe with tearful emotion part of the incense that was burned for his son.
In Rome a cruel disappointment awaited Renovales. His countrymen received him rather coldly. The younger men looked on him as a rival and waited for his next works with the hope of a failure; the old men who lived far from their fatherland examined him with malignant curiosity. "And so that big chap was the blacksmith's son, who caused so much disturbance among the ignorant people at home!... Madrid was not Rome. They would soon see what that genius could do!"
Renovales did nothing in the first months of his stay in Rome. He answered with a shrug of his shoulders those who asked for his pictures with evident innuendo. He had come there not to paint but to study; that was what the State was paying him for. And he spent more than half a year drawing, always drawing in the famous art galleries, where, pencil in hand, he studied the famous works. The paint boxes remained unopened in one corner of the studio.
Before long he came to detest the great city, because of the life the artists led in it. What was the use of fellowships? People studied less there than in other places. Rome was not a school, it was a market. The painting merchants set up their business there, attracted by the gathering of artists. All—old and beginners, famous and unknown—felt the temptation of money; all were seduced by the easy comforts of life, producing works for sale, painting pictures in accordance with the suggestions of some German Jews who frequented the studios, designating the sizes and the types that were in style in order to spread them over Europe and America.
When Renovales visited the studios, he saw nothing but genre pictures, sometimes gentlemen in long dress coats, others tattered Moors or Calabrian peasants. They were pretty, faultless paintings, for which they used as models a manikin, or the families of ciociari whom they hired every morning in the Piazza di Espagna beside the Sealinata of the Trinity; the everlasting country-woman, swarthy and black-eyed, with great hoops in her ears and wearing a green skirt, a black waist and a white head-dress caught up on her hair with large pins; the usual old man with sandals, a woolen cloak and a pointed hat with spiral bands on his snowy head that was a fitting model for the Eternal Father. The artists judged each other's ability by the number of thousand lire they took in during a year; they spoke with respect of the famous masters who made a fortune out of the millionaires of Paris and Chicago for easel-pictures that nobody saw. Renovales was indignant. This sort of art was almost like that of his first master, even if it was "worldly" as Don Rafael had said. And that was what they sent him to Rome for!
Unpopular with his countrymen because of his brusque ways, his rude tongue and his honesty, which made him refuse all commissions from the art merchants, he sought the society of artists from other countries. Among the cosmopolitan group of young painters who were quartered in Rome, Renovales soon became popular.
His energy, his exuberant spirits, made him a congenial, merry comrade, when he appeared in the studios of the Via di Babuino or in the chocolate rooms and cafes of the Corso, where the artists of different nationalities gathered in friendly company.
Mariano, at the age of twenty, was an athletic fellow, a worthy scion of the man who was pounding iron from morning till night in a far away corner of Spain. One day an English youth, a friend of his, read him a page of Ruskin in his honor. "The plastic arts are essentially athletic." An invalid, a half paralyzed man, might be a great poet, a celebrated musician, but to be a Michael Angelo or a Titian a man must have not merely a privileged soul, but a vigorous body. Leonardo da Vinci broke a horseshoe in his hands; the sculptors of the Renaissance worked huge blocks of marble with their titanic arms or chipped off the bronze with their gravers; the great painters were often architects and, covered with dust, moved huge masses. Renovales listened thoughtfully to the words of the great English aestheticist. He, too, was a strong soul in an athlete's body.
The appetites of his youth never went beyond the manly intoxications of strength and movement. Attracted by the abundance of models which Rome offered, he often undressed a ciociara in his studio, delighting in drawing the forms of her body. He laughed, like the big giant that he was, he spoke to her with the same freedom as if she were one of the poor women that came out to stop him at night as he returned alone to the Academy of Spain, but when the work was over and she was dressed—out with her! He had the chastity of strong men. He worshiped the flesh, but only to copy its lines. The animal contact, the chance meeting, without love, without attraction, with the inner reserve of two people who do not know each other and who look on each other with suspicion, filled him with shame. What he wanted to do was to study, and women only served as a hindrance in great undertakings. He consumed the surplus of his energy in athletic exercise. After one of his feats of strength, which filled his comrades with enthusiasm, he would come in fresh, serene, indifferent, as though he were coming out of a bath. He fenced with the French painters of the Villa Medici; learned to box with Englishmen and Americans; organized, with some German artists, excursions to a grove near Rome, which were talked about for days in the cafes of the Corso. He drank countless healths with his companions to the Kaiser whom he did not know and for whom he did not care a rap. He would thunder in his noisy voice the traditional Gaudeamus Igitur and finally would catch two models of the party around the waist and with his arms stretched out like a cross carry them through the woods till he dropped them on the grass as if they were feathers. Afterwards he would smile with satisfaction at the admiration of those good Germans, many of them sickly and near-sighted, who compared him with Siegfried and the other muscular heroes of their warlike mythology.
In the Carnival season, when the Spaniards organized a cavalcade of the Quixote, he undertook to represent the knight Pentapolin—"him of the rolled-up sleeves,"—and in the Corso there were applause and cries of admiration for the huge biceps that the knight-errant, erect on his horse, revealed. When the spring nights came, the artists marched in a procession across the city to the Jewish quarter to buy the first artichokes—the popular dish in Rome, in the preparation of which an old Hebrew woman was famous. Renovales went at the head of the carciofalatta, bearing the banner, starting the songs which were alternated with the cries of all sorts of animals; and his comrades marched behind him, reckless and insolent under the protection of such a chieftain. As long as Mariano was with them there was no danger. They told the story that in the alleys of the Trastevere he had given a deadly beating to two bullies of the district, after taking away their stilettos.
Suddenly the athlete shut himself up in the Academy and did not come down to the city. For several days they talked about him at the gatherings of artists. He was painting; an exhibition that was going to take place in Madrid was close at hand and he wanted to take to it a picture to justify his fellowship. He kept the door of his studio closed to everyone, he did not permit comment nor advice, the canvas would appear just as he conceived it. His comrades soon forgot him and Renovales ended his work in seclusion, and left for his country with it.
It was a complete success, the first important step on the road that was to lead him to fame. Now he remembered with shame, with remorse, the glorious uproar his picture "The Victory of Pavia" stirred up. People crowded in front of the huge canvas, forgetting the rest of the Exhibition. And as, at that time, the Government was strong, the Cortes was closed and there was no serious accident in any of the bull-rings, the newspapers, for lack of any more lively event, hastened in cheap rivalry to reproduce the picture, to talk about it, publishing portraits of the author, profiles, as well as front views, large and small, expatiating on his life in Rome and his eccentricities, and recalled with tears of emotion the poor old man who far away in his village was pounding iron, hardly knowing of his son's glory.
With one bound Renovales passed from obscurity to the light of apotheosis. The older men whose duty it was to judge his work became benevolent and extended kindly sympathy. The little tiger was getting tame. Renovales had seen the world and now he was coming back to the good traditions; he was going to be a painter like the rest. His picture had portions that were like Velasquez, fragments worthy of Goya, corners that recalled El Greco; there was everything in it, except Renovales, and this amalgam of reminiscences was its chief merit, what attracted general applause and won it the first medal.
A magnificent debut it was. A dowager duchess, a great protectress of the arts, who never bought a picture or a statue but who entertained at her table painters and sculptors of renown, finding in this an inexpensive pleasure and a certain distinction as an illustrious lady, wished to make Renovales' acquaintance. He overcame the stand-offishness of his nature that kept him away from all social relations. Why should he not know high society? He could go wherever other men could. And he put on his first dress-coat, and after the banquets of the duchess, where his way of arguing with members of the Academy provoked peals of merry laughter, he visited other salons and for several weeks was the idol of society which, to be sure, was somewhat scandalized by his faux pas, but still pleased with the timidity that overcame him after his daring sallies. The younger set liked him because he handled a sword like a Saint George. Although a painter and son of a blacksmith, he was in every way a respectable person. The ladies flattered him with their most amiable smiles, hoping that the fashionable artist would honor them with a portrait gratis, as he had done with the duchess.
In this period of high-life, always in dress clothes from seven in the evening, without painting anything but women who wanted to appear pretty and discussed gravely with the artist which gown they should put on to serve as a model, Renovales met his wife Josephina.
The first time that he saw her among so many ladies of arrogant bearing and striking presence, he felt attracted towards her by force of contrast. The bashfulness, the modesty, the insignificance of the girl impressed him. She was small, her face offered no other beauty than that of youth, her body had the charm of delicacy. Like himself, the poor girl was there out of a sort of condescendence on the part of the others; she seemed to be there by sufferance and she shrank in it, as if afraid of attracting attention, Renovales always saw her in the same evening gown somewhat old, with that appearance of weariness which a garment constantly made over to follow the course of the fashions is wont to acquire. The gloves, the flowers, the ribbons had a sort of sadness in their freshness, as if they betrayed the sacrifices, the domestic exertions it had taken to procure them. She was on intimate terms with all the girls who made a triumphal entrance into the drawing-rooms, inspiring praise and envy with their new toilettes; her mother, a majestic lady, with a big nose and gold glasses, treated the ladies of the noblest families with familiarity; but in spite of this intimacy there was apparent around the mother and daughter the gap of somewhat disdainful affection, in which commiseration bore no small part. They were poor. The father had been a diplomat of some distinction who, at his death, left his wife no other source of income than the widow's pension. Two sons were abroad as attaches of an embassy, struggling with the scantiness of their salary and the demands of their position. The mother and daughter lived in Madrid, chained to the society in which they were born, fearing to abandon it, as if that would be equivalent to a degradation, remaining during the day in a fourth-floor apartment, furnished with the remnants of their past opulence, making unheard-of sacrifices in order to be able in the evening to rub elbows worthily with those who had been their equals.
Some relative of Dona Emilia, the mother, contributed to her support, not with money (never that!) but by loaning her the surplus of their luxury, that she and her daughter might maintain a pale appearance of comfort.
Some of them loaned them their carriage on certain days, so that they might drive through the Castellana and the Retiro, bowing to their friends as the carriages passed; others sent them their box at the Opera on evenings when the bill was not a brilliant one. Their pity made them remember them, too, when they sent out invitations to birthday dinners, afternoon teas, and the like. "We mustn't forget the Torrealtas, poor things." And the next day, the society reporters included in the list of those present at the function "the charming Senorita de Torrealta and her distinguished mother, the widow of the famous diplomat of imperishable memory," and Dona Emilia, forgetting her situation, fancying she was in the good old times, went to everything, in the same black gown, annoying with her "my dears" and her gossip the great ladies whose maids were richer and ate better than she and her daughter. If some old gentleman took refuge beside her, the diplomat's wife tried to overwhelm him with the majesty of her recollections. "When we were ambassadors in Stockholm." "When my friend Eugenie was empress...."
The daughter, endowed with her instinctive girlish timidity, seemed better to realize her position. She would remain seated among the older ladies, only rarely venturing to join the other girls who had been her boarding-school companions and who now treated her condescendingly, looking on her as they would upon a governess who had been raised to their station, out of remembrance for the past. Her mother was annoyed at her timidity. She ought to dance a lot, be lively and bold, like the other girls, crack jokes, even if they were doubtful, that the men might repeat them and give her the reputation of being a wit. It was incredible that with the bringing up she had had, she should be so insignificant. The idea! The daughter of a great man about whom people used to crowd as soon as he entered the first salons in Europe! A girl who had been educated at the school of the Sacred Heart in Paris, who spoke English, a little German, and spent the day reading when she did not have to clean a pair of gloves or make over a dress! Didn't she want to get married? Was she so well satisfied with that fourth-story apartment, that wretched cell so unworthy of their name?
Josephina smiled sadly. Get married! She never would get to that in the society they frequented. Everyone knew they were poor. The young men thronged the drawing-rooms in search of women with money. If by chance one of them did come up to her, attracted by her pale beauty, it was only to whisper to her shameful suggestions while they danced; to propose uncompromising engagements, friendly relations with a prudence modeled on the English, flirtations that had no result.
Renovales did not realize how his friendship with Josephina began. Perhaps it was the contrast between himself and the little woman who hardly came up to his shoulder and who seemed about fifteen when she was already past twenty. Her soft voice with its slight lisp came to his ears like a caress. He laughed when he thought of the possibility of embracing that graceful, slender form; it would break in pieces in his pugilist's hands, like a wax doll. Mariano sought her out in the drawing-rooms which she and her mother were accustomed to frequent, and spent all the time sitting at her side, feeling an impulse to confide in her as a brother, a desire of telling her all about herself, his past, his present work, his hopes, as if she were a room-mate. She listened to him, looking at him with her brown eyes that seemed to smile at him, nodding assent, often without having heard what he said, receiving like a caress the exuberance of that nature which seemed to overflow in waves of fire. He was different from all the men she had known.
When someone—nobody knows who—perhaps one of Josephina's friends, noticed this intimacy, to make sport of her, she spread the news. The painter and the Torrealta girl were engaged. That was when the interested parties discovered that they loved each other. It was something more than friendship that made Renovales pass through Josephina's street mornings, looking at the high windows in the hope of seeing her dainty silhouette through the panes. One night at the duchess' when they were left alone in the hallway, Renovales caught her hand and lifted it to his lips, but so timidly that they scarcely touched her glove. He was afraid after his rudeness, felt ashamed of his violence; he thought he was hurting the delicate, slender girl; but she let her hand stay in his, and at the same time bowed her head and began to cry.
"How good you are, Mariano!"
She felt the most intense gratitude, when she realized that she was loved for the first time; loved truly, by a man of some distinction, who fled from the women of fortune to seek a humble, neglected girl like her. All the treasures of affection which had been accumulating in the isolation of her humiliating life overflowed. How she could love the man who loved her, taking her out of that parasite's existence, lifting her by his strength and affection to the level of those who scorned her!
The noble widow of Torrealta gave a cry of indignation when she learned of the engagement of the painter and her daughter. "The blacksmith's son!" "The illustrious diplomat of imperishable memory!" But as if this protest of her pride opened her eyes, she thought of the years her daughter had spent going from one drawing-room to another, without anyone paying any attention to her. What dunces men were! She thought, too, that a celebrated painter was a personage; she remembered the articles devoted to Renovales because of his last picture, and, above all, a thing that had the most effect on her, she knew by hearsay of the great fortune that artists amassed abroad, the hundreds of thousands of francs paid for a canvas that could be carried under your arm. Why might not Renovales be one of the fortunate?
She began to annoy her countless relatives with requests for advice. The girl had no father and they must take his place. Some answered indifferently. "The painter! Hump! Not bad!" evidencing by their coldness that it was all the same to them if she married a tax-collector. Others insulted her unwittingly by showing their approval. "Renovales? An artist with a great future before him. What more do you want? You ought to be thankful he has taken a fancy to her." But the advice that decided her was that of her famous cousin, the Marquis of Tarfe, a man to whom she looked upon as the most distinguished citizen in the country, without doubt because of his office as permanent head of the Foreign Service, for every two years he was made Minister of Foreign Affairs.
"It looks very good to me," said the nobleman, hastily, for they were waiting for him in the Senate. "It is a modern marriage and we must keep up with the times. I am a conservative, but liberal, very liberal and very modern. I will protect the children. I like the marriage. Art joining its prestige with a historic family! The popular blood that rises through its merits and is mingled with that of the ancient nobility!"
And the Marquis of Tarfe, whose marquisate did not go back half a century, with these rhetorical figures of an orator in the Senate and his promises of protection, convinced the haughty widow. She was the one who spoke to Renovales, to relieve him of an explanation that would be trying because of the timidity he felt in this society that was not his own.
"I know all about it, Mariano, my dear, and you have my consent."
But she did not like long engagements. When did he intend to get married? Renovales was more eager for it than the mother. Josephina was different from other women who hardly aroused his desire. His chastity, which had been like that of a rough laborer, developed into a feverish desire to make that charming doll his own as soon as possible. Besides, his pride was flattered by this union. His fiancee was poor; her only dowry was a few ragged clothes, but she belonged to a noble family, ministers, generals—all of noble descent. They could weigh by the ton the coronets and coats-of-arms of those countless relatives who did not pay much attention to Josephina and her mother, but who would soon be his family. What would Senor Anton think, hammering iron in the suburbs of his town? What would his comrades in Rome say, whose lot consisted in living with the ciociari who served as their models, and marrying them afterward out of fear for the stiletto of the venerable Calabrian who insisted on providing a legitimate father for his grandsons!
The papers had much to say about the wedding, repeating with slight variations the very phrases of the Marquis of Tarfe, "Art uniting with nobility." Renovales wanted to leave for Rome with Josephina as soon as the marriage was celebrated. He had made all the arrangements for his new life there, investing in it all the money he had received from the State for his picture and the product of several pictures for the Senate for which he received commissions through his illustrious relative-to-be.
A friend in Rome (the jolly Cotoner) had hired for him an apartment in the Via Margutta and had furnished it in accordance with his artistic taste. Dona Emilia would remain in Madrid with one of her sons, who had been promoted to a position in the Foreign Office. Everybody, even the mother, was in the young couple's way. And Dona Emilia wiped away an invisible tear with the tip of her glove. Besides, she did not care to go back to the countries where she had been somebody; she preferred to stay in Madrid; there people knew her at least.
The wedding was an event. Not a soul in the huge family was absent; all feared the annoying questions of the illustrious widow who kept a list of relatives to the sixth remove.
Senor Anton arrived two days before, in a new suit with knee-breeches and a broad plush hat, looking somewhat confused at the smiles of those people who regarded him as a quaint type. Crestfallen and trembling in the presence of the two women, with a countryman's respect, he called his daughter-in-law "Senorita."
"No, papa, call me 'daughter.' Say Josephina to me."
But in spite of Josephina's simplicity and the tender gratitude he felt when he saw her look at his son with such loving eyes, he did not venture to take the liberty of speaking to her as his child and made the greatest efforts to avoid this danger, always speaking to her in the third person.
Dona Emilia, with her gold glasses and her majestic bearing, caused him even greater emotion. He always called her "Senora marquesa," for in his simplicity he could not admit that that lady was not at least a marchioness. The widow, somewhat disarmed by the good man's homage, admitted that he was a "rube" of some natural talent, a fact that made her tolerate the ridiculous note of his knee breeches.
In the chapel of the Marquis of Tarfe's palace, after looking dumbfounded at the great throng of nobility that had gathered for his son's wedding, the old man, standing in the doorway, began to cry:
"Now I can die, O Lord. Now I can die!"
And he repeated his sad desire, without noticing the laughter of the servants, as if, after a life of toil, happiness were the inevitable forerunner of death.
The bride and groom started on their trip the same day. Senor Anton for the first time kissed his daughter-in-law on the forehead, moistening it with his tears, and went home to his village, still repeating his longing for death, as though nothing were left in the world for him to hope for.
Renovales and his wife reached Rome after several stops on the way. Their short stay in various cities of the Riviera, the days in Pisa and Florence, though delightful, as keeping the memory of their first intimacy, seemed unspeakably vulgar, when they were installed in their little house in Rome. There the real honeymoon began, by their own fireside, free from all intrusion, far from the confusion of hotels.
Josephina, accustomed to a life of secret privation, to the misery of that fourth-floor apartment in which she and her mother lived as though they were camping out, keeping all their show for the street, admired the coquettish charm, the smart daintiness of the house in the Via Margutta. Mariano's friend, who had charge of the furnishing of the house, a certain Pepe Cotoner, who hardly ever touched his brushes and who devoted all his artistic enthusiasm to his worship of Renovales, had certainly done things well.
Josephina clapped her hands in childish joy when she saw the bedroom, admiring its sumptuous Venetian furniture, with its wonderful inlaid pearl and ebony, a princely luxury that the painter would have to pay for in instalments.
Oh! The first night of their stay in Rome! How well Renovales remembered it! Josephina, lying on the monumental bed, made for the wife of a Doge, shook with the delight of rest, stretching her limbs before she hid them under the fine sheets, showing herself with the abandon of a woman who no longer has any secrets to keep. The pink toes of her plump little feet moved as if they were calling Renovales.
Standing beside the bed, he looked at her seriously, with his brows contracted, dominated by a desire that he hesitated to express. He wanted to see her, to admire her; he did not know her yet, after those nights in the hotels when they could hear strange voices on the other side of the thin walls.
It was not the caprice of a lover, it was the desire of a painter, the demand of an artist. His eyes were hungry for beauty.
She resisted, blushing, a trifle angry at this demand which offended her deepest prejudices.
"Don't be foolish, Mariano, dear. Come to bed; don't talk nonsense."
But he persisted obstinately in his desire. She must overcome her bourgeois scruples, art scoffed at such modesty, human beauty was meant to be shown in all its radiant majesty and not to be kept hidden, despised and cursed.
He did not want to paint her; he did not dare to ask for that; but he did want to see her, to see her and admire her, not with a coarse desire, but with religious adoration.
And his hands, restrained by the fears of hurting her, gently pulled her weak arms that were crossed on her breast in the endeavor to resist his advances. She laughed: "You silly thing. You're tickling me—you're hurting me." But little by little, conquered by his persistency, her feminine pride flattered by this worship of her body, she gave in to him, allowed herself to be treated like a child, with soft remonstrances as if she were undergoing torture, but without resisting any longer.
Her body, free from veils, shone with the whiteness of pearl. Josephina closed her eyes as if she wanted to flee from the shame of her nakedness. On the smooth sheet, her graceful form was outlined in a slightly rosy tone, intoxicating the eyes of the artist.
Josephina's face was not much to look at, but her body! If he could only overcome her scruples some time and paint her!
Renovales kneeled down beside the bed in a transport of admiration.
"I worship you, Josephina. You are as fair as Venus. No, not Venus. She is cold and calm, like a goddess, and you are a woman. You are like—what are you like? Yes, now I see the likeness. You are Goya's little Maja, with her delicate grace, her fascinating daintiness. You are the Maja Desnuda!"
Renovales' life was changed. In love with his wife, fearing that she might lack some comfort, and thinking with anxiety of the Torrealta widow, who might complain that the daughter of the "illustrious diplomat of imperishable memory" was not happy because she had lowered herself to the extent of marrying a painter, he worked incessantly to maintain with his brush the comforts with which he had surrounded Josephina.
He, who had had so much scorn for industrial art, painting for money, as did his comrades, followed their example, but with the energy that he showed in all his undertakings. In some of the studios there were cries of protest against this tireless competitor who lowered prices scandalously. He had sold his brush for a year to one of those Jewish dealers who exported paintings at so much a picture, and under agreement not to paint for any other dealer. Renovales worked from morning till night changing subjects when it was demanded by what he called his impresario. "Enough ciociari, now for some Moors." Afterwards the Moors lost their market-value and the turn of the musketeers came, fencing a valiant duel; then pink shepherdesses in the style of Watteau or ladies in powdered wigs embarking in a golden gondola to the sound of lutes. To give freshness to his stock, he would interpolate a sacristy scene with much show of embroidered chasubles and golden incensaries, or an occasional bacchanalian, imitating from memory, without models, Titians' voluptuous forms and amber flesh. When the list was ended, the ciociari were once more in style and could be begun again. The painter with his extraordinary facility of execution produced two or three pictures a week, and the impresario, to encourage him in his work, often visited him afternoons, following the movements of his brush with the enthusiasm of a man who appreciated art at so much a foot and so much an hour. The news he brought was of a sort to infuse new zest.
The last bacchanal painted by Renovales was in a fashionable bar in New York. His pageant of the Abruzzi was in one of the noblest castles in Russia. Another picture, representing a dance of countesses disguised as shepherdesses in a field of violets, was in the possession of a Jewish baron, a banker in Frankfort. The dealer rubbed his hands, as he spoke to the painter with a patronizing air. His name was becoming famous, thanks to him, and he would not step until he had won him a world-wide reputation. Already his agents were asking him to send nothing but the works of Signor Renovales, for they were the best sellers. But Mariano answered him with a sudden outburst of bitterness. All those canvases were mere rot. If that was art, he would prefer to break stone on the high roads.
But his rebellion against this debasement of his art disappeared when he saw his Josephina in the house whose ornamentation he was constantly improving, converting it into a jewel case worthy of his love. She was happy in her home, with a splendid carriage in which to drive every afternoon and perfect freedom to spend money on her clothes and jewelry. Renovales' wife lacked nothing; she had-at her disposal, as adviser and errand-boy, Cotoner, who spent the night in a garret that served him as a studio in one of the cheap districts and the rest of the day with the young couple. She was mistress of the money; she had never seen so many banknotes at once. When Renovales handed her the pile of lires which the impresario gave him she said with a little laugh of joy, "Money, money!" and ran and hid it away with the serious expression of a diligent, economical housewife—only to take it out the next day and squander it with a childish carelessness. What a wonderful thing painting was! Her illustrious father (in spite of all that her mother said) had never made so much money in all his travels through the world, going from cotillon to cotillon as the representative of his king.
While Renovales was in the studio, she had been to drive in the Pincio, bowing from her landau to the countless wives of ambassadors who were stationed at Rome, to aristocratic travelers stopping in the city, to whom she had been introduced in some drawing-room, and to all the crowd of diplomatic attaches who live about the double court of the Vatican and the Quirinal.
The painter was introduced by his wife into an official society of the most rigid formality. The niece of the Marquis of Tarfe, perpetual foreign minister, was received with open arms by the high society of Rome, the most exclusive in Europe. At every reception at the two Spanish embassies, "the famous painter Renovales and his charming wife" were present and these invitations had spread to the embassies of other countries. Almost every night there was some function. Since there were two diplomatic centers, one at the court of the Italian king, the other at the Vatican, the receptions and evening parties were frequent in this isolated society that gathered every night, sufficient for its own enjoyment.