"What sum did they pay your father, do you know?" asked the sovereign.
"Two hundred florins," said August, with a great sigh of shame. "It was so much money, and he is so poor, and there are so many of us."
The king turned to his gentlemen-in-waiting. "Did these dealers of Munich come with the stove?"
He was answered in the affirmative. He desired them to be sought for and brought before him. As one of his chamberlains hastened on the errand, the monarch looked at August with compassion.
"You are very pale, little fellow; when did you eat last?"
"I had some bread and sausage with me; yesterday afternoon I finished it."
"You would like to eat now?"
"If I might have a little water I would be glad; my throat is very dry."
The king had water and wine brought for him, and cake also; but August, though he drank eagerly, could not swallow anything. His mind was in too great a tumult.
"May I stay with Hirschvogel?—may I stay?" he said, with feverish agitation.
"Wait a little," said the king, and asked abruptly, "What do you wish to be when you are a man?"
"A painter. I wish to be what Hirschvogel was—I mean the master that made MY Hirschvogel."
"I understand," said the king.
Then the two dealers were brought into their sovereign's presence. They were so terribly alarmed, not being either so innocent or so ignorant as August was, that they were trembling as though they were being led to the slaughter, and they were so utterly astonished too at a child having come all the way from Tyrol in the stove, as a gentleman of the court had just told them this child had done, that they could not tell what to say or where to look, and presented a very foolish aspect indeed.
"Did you buy this Nurnberg stove of this boy's father for two hundred florins?" the king asked them; and his voice was no longer soft and kind as it had been when addressing the child, but very stern.
"Yes, your majesty," murmured the trembling traders.
"And how much did the gentleman who purchased it for me give to you?"
"Two thousand ducats, your majesty," muttered the dealers, frightened out of their wits, and telling the truth in their fright.
The gentleman was not present: he was a trusted counselor in art matters of the king's, and often made purchases for him.
The king smiled a little, and said nothing. The gentleman had made out the price to him as eleven thousand ducats.
"You will give at once to this boy's father the two thousand gold ducats that you received, less the two hundred Austrian florins that you paid him," said the king to his humiliated and abject subjects. "You are great rogues. Be thankful you are not more greatly punished."
He dismissed them by a sign to his courtiers, and to one of these gave the mission of making the dealers of the Marienplatz disgorge their ill-gotten gains.
August heard, and felt dazzled yet miserable. Two thousand gold Bavarian ducats for his father! Why, his father would never need to go any more to the salt-baking! And yet whether for ducats or for florins, Hirschvogel was sold just the same, and would the king let him stay with it?—would he?
"Oh, do! oh, please do!" he murmured, joining his little brown weather-stained hands, and kneeling down before the young monarch, who himself stood absorbed in painful thought, for the deception so basely practised for the greedy sake of gain on him by a trusted counselor was bitter to him.
He looked down on the child, and as he did so smiled once more.
"Rise up, my little man," he said, in a kind voice; "kneel only to your God. Will I let you stay with your Hirschvogel? Yes, I will; you shall stay at my court, and you shall be taught to be a painter,—in oils or on porcelain as you will,—and you must grow up worthily, and win all the laurels at our Schools of Art, and if when you are twenty-one years old you have done well and bravely, then I will give you your Nurnberg stove, or, if I am no more living, then those who reign after me shall do so. And now go away with this gentleman, and be not afraid, and you shall light a fire every morning in Hirschvogel, but you will not need to go out and cut the wood."
Then he smiled and stretched out his hand; the courtiers tried to make August understand that he ought to bow and touch it with his lips, but August could not understand that anyhow; he was too happy. He threw his two arms about the king's knees, and kissed his feet passionately; then he lost all sense of where he was, and fainted away from hunger, and tire, and emotion, and wondrous joy.
As the darkness of his swoon closed in on him, he heard in his fancy the voice from Hirschvogel saying:—
"Let us be worthy our maker!"
He is only a scholar yet, but he is a happy scholar, and promises to be a great man. Sometimes he goes back for a few days to Hall, where the gold ducats have made his father prosperous. In the old house room there is a large white porcelain stove of Munich, the king's gift to Dorothea and 'Gilda.
And August never goes home without going into the great church and saying his thanks to God, who blessed his strange winter's journey in the Nurnberg stove. As for his dream in the dealers' room that night, he will never admit that he did dream it; he still declares that he saw it all, and heard the voice of Hirschvogel. And who shall say that he did not? for what is the gift of the poet and the artist except to see the sights which others cannot see and to hear the sounds that others cannot hear?
THE AMBITIOUS ROSE TREE
She was a Quatre Saison Rose Tree.
She lived in a beautiful old garden with some charming magnolias for neighbors: they rather overshadowed her, certainly, because they were so very great and grand; but then such shadow as that is preferable, as every one knows, to a mere vulgar enjoyment of common daylight, and then the beetles went most to the magnolia- blossoms, for being so great and grand of course they got very much preyed upon, and this was a vast gain for the rose that was near them. She herself leaned against the wall of an orange-house, in company with a Banksia, a buoyant, active, simple-minded thing, for whom Rosa Damascena, who thought herself much better born than these climbers, had a natural contempt. Banksiae will flourish and be content anywhere, they are such easily pleased creatures; and when you cut them they thrive on it, which shows a very plebeian and pachydermatous temper; and they laugh all over in the face of an April day, shaking their little golden clusters of blossom in such a merry way that the Rose Tree, who was herself very reserved and thorny, had really scruples about speaking to them.
For she was by nature extremely proud,—much prouder than her lineage warranted,—and a hard fate had fixed her to the wall of an orangery, where hardly anybody ever came, except the gardener and his men to carry the oranges in in winter and out in spring, or water and tend them while they were housed there.
She was a handsome rose, and she knew it. But the garden was so crowded—like the world—that she could not get herself noticed in it. In vain was she radiant and red close on to Christmas-time as in the fullest heats of midsummer. Nobody thought about her or praised her. She pined and was very unhappy.
The Banksiae, who are little, frank, honest-hearted creatures, and say out what they think, as such plebeian people will, used to tell her roundly she was thankless for the supreme excellence of her lot.
"You have everything the soul of a rose can wish for: a splendid old wall with no nasty chinks in it; a careful gardener, who nips all the larvae in the bud before they can do you any damage; sun, water, care; above all, nobody ever cuts a single blossom off you! What more can you wish for? This orangery is paradise!"
She did not answer.
What wounded her pride so deeply was just this fact, that they never DID cut off any of her blossoms. When day after day, year after year, she crowned herself with her rich crimson glory and no one ever came nigh to behold or to gather it, she could have died with vexation and humiliation.
Would nobody see she was worth anything?
The truth was that in this garden there was such an abundance of very rare roses that a common though beautiful one like Rosa Damascena remained unthought of; she was lovely, but then there were so many lovelier still, or, at least, much more a la mode.
In the secluded garden corner she suffered all the agonies of a pretty woman in the great world, who is only a pretty woman, and no more. It needs so VERY much more to be "somebody." To be somebody was what Rosa Damascena sighed for, from rosy dawn to rosier sunset.
From her wall she could see across the green lawns, the great parterre which spread before the house terrace, and all the great roses that bloomed there,—Her Majesty Gloire de Dijon, who was a reigning sovereign born, the royally born Niphetos, the Princesse Adelaide, the Comtesse Ouvaroff, the Vicomtesse de Cazes all in gold, Madame de Sombreuil in snowy white, the beautiful Louise de Savoie, the exquisite Duchess of Devoniensis,—all the roses that were great ladies in their own right, and as far off her as were the stars that hung in heaven. Rosa Damascena would have given all her brilliant carnation hues to be pale and yellow like the Princesse Adelaide, or delicately colorless like Her Grace of Devoniensis.
She tried all she could to lose her own warm blushes, and prayed that bees might sting her and so change her hues; but the bees were of low taste, and kept their pearl-powder and rouge and other pigments for the use of common flowers, like the evening primrose or the butter-cup and borage, and never came near to do her any good in arts of toilet.
One day the gardener approached and stood and looked at her: then all at once she felt a sharp stab in her from his knife, and a vivid pain ran downward through her stem.
She did not know it, but gardeners and gods "this way grant prayer."
"Has not something happened to me?" she asked of the little Banksiae; for she felt very odd all over her; and when you are unwell you cannot be very haughty.
The saucy Banksiae laughed, running over their wires that they cling to like little children.
"You have got your wish," they said. "You are going to be a great lady; they have made you into a Rosa Indica!"
A tea rose! Was it possible?
Was she going to belong at last to that grand and graceful order, which she had envied so long and vainly from afar?
Was she, indeed, no more mere simple Rosa Damascena? She felt so happy she could hardly breathe. She thought it was her happiness that stifled her; in real matter of fact it was the tight bands in which the gardener had bound her.
"Oh, what joy!" she thought, though she still felt very uncomfortable, but not for the world would she ever have admitted it to the Banksiae.
The gardener had tied a tin tube on to her, and it was heavy and cumbersome; but no doubt, she said to herself, the thing was fashionable, so she bore the burden of it very cheerfully.
The Banksiae asked her how she felt, but she would not deign even to reply; and when a friendly blackbird, who had often picked grubs off her leaves, came and sang to her, she kept silent: a Rosa Indica was far above a blackbird.
"Next time you want a caterpillar taken away, he may eat you for ME!" said the blackbird, and flew off in a huff.
She was very ungrateful to hate the black-bird so, for he had been most useful to her in doing to death all the larvae of worms and beetles and caterpillars and other destroyers which were laid treacherously within her leaves. The good blackbird, with many another feathered friend, was forever at work in some good deed of the kind, and all the good, grateful flowers loved him and his race. But to this terribly proud and discontented Rosa Damascena he had been a bore, a common creature, a nuisance, a monster—any one of these things by turns, and sometimes all of them altogether. She used to long for the cat to get him.
"You ought to be such a happy rose!" the merle had said to her, one day. "There is no rose so strong and healthy as you are, except the briers."
And from that day she had hated him. The idea of naming those hedgerow brier roses in the same breath with her!
You would have seen in that moment of her rage a very funny sight had you been there; nothing less funny than a rose tree trying to box a blackbird's ears!
But, to be sure, you would only have thought the wind was blowing about the rose, so you would have seen nothing really of the drollery of it all, which was not droll at all to Rosa Damascena, for a wound in one's vanity is as long healing as a wound from a conical bullet in one's body. The blackbird had not gone near her after that, nor any of his relations and friends, and she had had a great many shooting and flying pains for months together, in consequence of aphides' eggs having been laid inside her stem— eggs of which the birds would have eased her long before if they had not been driven away by her haughty rage.
However, she had been almost glad to have some ailment. She had called it aneurism, and believed it made her look refined and interesting. If it would only have made her pale! But it had not done that: she had remained of the richest rose color.
When the winter had passed and the summer had come round again, the grafting had done its work: she was really a Rosa Indica, and timidly put forth the first blossom in her new estate. It was a small, rather puny yellowish thing, not to be compared to her own natural red clusters, but she thought it far finer.
Scarcely had it been put forth by her than the gardener whipped it off with his knife, and bore it away in proof of his success in such transmogrifications.
She had never felt the knife before, when she had been only Rosa Damascena: it hurt her very much, and her heart bled.
"Il faut souffrir pour etre belle," said the Banksiae in a good- natured effort at consolation. She was not going to answer them, and she made believe that her tears were only dew, though it was high noon and all the dewdrops had been drunk by the sun, who by noontime gets tired of climbing and grows thirsty.
Her next essay was much finer, and the knife whipped that off also. That summer she bore more and more blossoms, and always the knife cut them away, for she had been made one of the great race of Rosa Indica.
Now, a rose tree, when a blossom is chopped or broken off, suffers precisely as we human mortals do if we lose a finger; but the rose tree, being a much more perfect and delicate handiwork of nature than any human being, has a faculty we have not: it lives and has a sentient soul in every one of its roses, and whatever one of these endures the tree entire endures also by sympathy. You think this very wonderful? Not at all. It is no whit more wonderful than that a lizard's tail chopped off runs about by itself, or that a dog can scent a foe or a thief whilst the foe or the thief is yet miles away. All these things are most wonderful, or not at all so- -just as you like.
In a little while she bore another child: this time it was a fine fair creature, quite perfect in its hues and shapes. "I never saw a prettier!" said an emperor butterfly, pausing near for a moment; at that moment the knife of the gardener severed the rosebud's stalk.
"The lady wants one for her bouquet de corsage: she goes to the opera to-night," the man said to another man, as he took the young tea rose.
"What is the opera?" asked the mother rose wearily of the butterfly. He did not know; but his cousin the death's-head moth, asleep under a magnolia leaf, looked down with a grim smile on his quaint face.
"It is where everything dies in ten seconds," he answered. "It is a circle of fire; many friends of mine have flown in, none ever returned: your daughter will shrivel up and perish miserably. One pays for glory."
The rose tree shivered through all her stalks; but she was still proud, and tried to think that all this was said only out of envy. What should an old death's-head moth know, whose eyes were so weak that a farthing rushlight blinded them?
So she lifted herself a little higher, and would not even see that the Banksiae were nodding to her; and as for her old friend the blackbird, how vulgar he looked, bobbing up and down hunting worms and woodlice! could anything be more outrageously vulgar than that staring yellow beak of his? She twisted herself round not to see him, and felt quite annoyed that he went on and sang just the same, unconscious of, or indifferent to, her coldness.
With each successive summer Rosa Damascena became more integrally and absolutely a Rosa Indica, and suffered in proportion to her fashion and fame.
True, people came continually to look at her, and especially in Maytime would cry aloud, "What a beautiful Niphetos!" But then she was bereaved of all her offspring, for, being of the race of Niphetos, they were precious, and one would go to die in an hour in a hot ballroom, and another to perish in a Sevres vase, where the china indeed was exquisite but the water was foul, and others went to be suffocated in the vicious gases of what the mortals call an opera box, and others were pressed to death behind hard diamonds in a woman's bosom; in one way or another they each and all perished miserably. She herself also lost many of her once luxuriant leaves, and had a little scanty foliage, red-brown in summer, instead of the thick, dark-green clothing that she had worn when a rustic maiden. Not a day passed but the knife stabbed her; when the knife had nothing to take she was barren and chilly, for she had lost the happy power of looking beautiful all the year round, which once she had possessed.
One day came when she was taken up out of the ground and borne into a glass house, placed in a large pot, and lifted up on to a pedestal, and left in a delicious atmosphere, with patrician plants all around her with long Latin names, and strange, rare beauties of their own. She bore bud after bud in this crystal temple, and became a very crown of blossom; and her spirit grew so elated, and her vanity so supreme, that she ceased to remember she had ever been a simple Rosa Damascena, except that she was always saying to herself, "How great I am! how great I am!" which she might have noticed that those born ladies, the Devoniensis and the Louise de Savoie, never did. But she noticed nothing except her own beauty, which she could see in a mirror that was let into the opposite wall of the greenhouse. Her blossoms were many and all quite perfect, and no knife touched them; and though to be sure she was still very scantily clothed so far as foliage went, yet she was all the more fashionable for that, so what did it matter?
One day, when her beauty was at its fullest perfection, she heard all the flowers about her bending and whispering with rustling and murmuring, saying, "Who will be chosen? who will be chosen?"
Chosen for what? They did not talk much to her, because she was but a newcomer and a parvenue, but she gathered from them in a little time that there was to be a ball for a marriage festivity at the house to which the greenhouse was attached. Each flower wondered if it would be chosen to go to it. The azaleas knew they would go, because they were in their pink or rose ball-dresses all ready; but no one else was sure. The rose tree grew quite sick and faint with hope and fear. Unless she went, she felt that life was not worth the living. She had no idea what a ball might be, but she knew that it was another form of greatness, when she was all ready, too, and so beautiful!
The gardener came and sauntered down the glass house, glancing from one to another. The hearts of all beat high. The azaleas only never changed color: they were quite sure of themselves. Who could do without them in February?
"Oh, take me! take me! take me!" prayed the rose tree, in her foolish, longing, arrogant heart.
Her wish was given her. The lord of their fates smiled when he came to where she stood.
"This shall be for the place of honor," he murmured, as he lifted her out of the large vase she lived in on to a trestle and summoned his boys to bear her away. The very azaleas themselves grew pale with envy.
As for the rose tree herself, she would not look at any one; she was carried through the old garden straight past the Banksise, but she would make them no sign; and as for the blackbird, she hoped a cat had eaten him! Had he not known her as Rosa Damascena?
She was borne bodily, roots and all, carefully wrapped up in soft matting, and taken into the great house.
It was a very great house, a very grand house, and there was to be a marvelous feast in it, and a prince and princess from over the seas were that night to honor the mistress of it by their presence. All this Rosa Indica had gathered from the chatter of the flowers, and when she came into the big palace she saw many signs of excitement and confusion: servants out of livery were running up against one another in their hurry-scurry; miles and miles, it seemed, of crimson carpeting were being unrolled all along the terrace and down the terrace steps, since by some peculiar but general impression royal personages are supposed not to like to walk upon anything else, though myself I think they must get quite sick of red carpet, seeing so very much of it spread for them wherever they go. To Rosa Indica, however, the bright scarlet carpeting looked very handsome, and seemed, indeed, a foretaste of heaven.
Soon she was carried quite inside the house, into an immense room with a beautiful dome-shaped ceiling, painted in fresco three centuries before, and fresh as though it had been painted yesterday. At the end of the room was a great chair, gilded and painted, too, three centuries before, and covered with velvet, gold-fringed, and powdered with golden grasshoppers. "That common insect here!" thought Rosa, in surprise, for she did not know that the chief of the house, long, long, long ago, when sleeping in the heat of noon in Palestine in the first crusade, had been awakened by a grasshopper lighting on his eyelids, and so had been aroused in time to put on his armor and do battle with a troop attacking Saracen cavalry, and beat them; wherefore, in gratitude, he had taken the humble field-creature as his badge for evermore.
They set the roots of Rosa Indica now into a vase—such a vase! the royal blue of Sevres, if you please, and with border and scroll work and all kinds of wonders and glories painted on it and gilded on it, and standing four feet high if it stood one inch! I could never tell you the feelings of Rosa if I wrote a thousand pages. Her heart thrilled so with ecstasy that she almost dropped all her petals, only her vanity came to her aid, and helped her to control in a measure her emotions. The gardeners broke off a good deal of mould about her roots, and they muttered one to another something about her dying of it. But Rosa thought no more of that than a pretty lady does when her physician tells her she will die of tight lacing; not she! She was going to be put into that Sevres vase.
This was enough for her, as it is enough for the lady that she is going to be put into a hundred-guinea ball gown.
In she went. It was certainly a tight fit, as the gown often is, and Rosa felt nipped, strained, bruised, suffocated. But an old proverb has settled long ago that pride feels no pain, and perhaps the more foolish the pride the less is the pain that is felt—for the moment.
They set her well into the vase, putting green moss over her roots, and then they stretched her branches out over a gilded trelliswork at the back of the vase. And very beautiful she looked; and she was at the head of the room, and a huge mirror down at the farther end opposite to her showed her own reflection. She was in paradise!
"At last," she thought to herself, "at last they have done me justice!"
The azaleas were all crowded round underneath her, like so many kneeling courtiers, but they were not taken out of their pots; they were only shrouded in moss. They had no Sevres vases. And they had always thought so much of themselves and given themselves such airs, for there is nothing so vain as an azalea,—except, indeed, a camellia, which is the most conceited flower in the world, though, to do it justice, it is also the most industrious, for it is busy getting ready its next winter buds whilst the summer is still hot and broad on the land, which is very wise and prudent in it and much to be commended.
Well, there was Rosa Indica at the head of the room in the Sevres vase, and very proud and triumphant she felt throned there, and the azaleas, of course, were whispering enviously underneath her, "Well, after all, she was only Rosa Damascena not so VERY long ago."
Yes, THEY KNEW! What a pity it was! They knew she had once been Rosa Damascena and never would wash it out of their minds—the tiresome, spiteful, malignant creatures!
Even aloft in the vase, in all her glory, the rose could have shed tears of mortification, and was ready to cry like Themistocles, "Can nobody give us oblivion?"
Nobody could give that, for the azaleas, who were so irritated at being below her, were not at all likely to hold their tongues. But she had great consolations and triumphs, and began to believe that, let them say what they chose, she had never been a common garden wall rose. The ladies of the house came in and praised her to the skies; the children ran up to her and clapped their hands and shouted for joy at her beauty; a wonderful big green bird came in and hopped before her, cocked his head on one side, and said to her, "Pretty Poll! oh, SUCH a pretty Poll!"
"Even the birds adore me here!" she thought, not dreaming he was only talking of himself; for when you are as vain as was this poor dear Rosa, creation is pervaded with your own perfections, and even when other people say only "Poll!" you feel sure they are saying "You!" or they ought to be if they are not.
So there she stood in her grand Sevres pot, and she was ready to cry with the poet, "The world may end tonight!" Alas! it was not the world which was to end. Let me hasten to close this true heart-rending history.
There was a great dinner as the sun began to set, and the mistress of the house came in on the arm of the great foreign prince; and what did the foreign prince do but look up at Rosa, straight up at her, and over the heads of the azaleas, and say to his hostess: "What a beautiful rose you have there! A Niphetos, is it not?"
And her mistress, who had known her long as simple Rosa Damascena, answered, "Yes, sir; it is a Niphetos."
Oh, to have lived for that hour! The silly thing thought it worth all her suffering from the gardener's knife, all the loss of her robust health and delightful power of flowering in all four seasons. She was a Niphetos, really and truly a Niphetos! and not one syllable hinted as to her origin! She began to believe she had been BORN a tea rose!
The dinner was long and gorgeous; the guests were dazzling in jewels and in decorations; the table was loaded with old plate and rare china; the prince made a speech and used her as a simile of love and joy and purity and peace. The rose felt giddy with triumph and with the fumes of the wines around her. Her vase was of purple and gold, and all the voices round her said, "Oh, the beautiful rose!" No one noticed the azaleas. How she wished that the blackbird could see for a minute, if the cat would gobble him up the next!
The day sped on; the chatelaine and her guests went away; the table was rearranged; the rose tree was left in its place of honor; the lights were lit; there was the sound of music near at hand; they were dancing in other chambers.
Above her hung a chandelier—a circle of innumerable little flames and drops that looked like dew or diamonds. She thought it was the sun come very close. After it had been there a little while it grew very hot, and its rays hurt her.
"Can you not go a little farther away, O Sun?" she said to it. It was flattered at being taken for the sun, but answered her: "I am fixed in my place. Do you not understand astronomy?"
She did not know what astronomy was, so was silent, and the heat hurt her. Still, she was in the place of honor: so she was happy.
People came and went; but nobody noticed her. They ate and drank, they laughed and made love, and then went away to dance again, and the music went on all night long, and all night long the heat of the chandelier poured down on her.
"I am in the place of honor," she said to herself a thousand times in each hour.
But the heat scorched her, and the fumes of the wines made her faint. She thought of the sweet fresh air of the old garden where the Banksiae were. The garden was quite near, but the windows were closed, and there were the walls now between her and it. She was in the place of honor. But she grew sick and waxed faint as the burning rays of the artificial light shining above her seemed to pierce through and through her like lances of steel. The night seemed very long. She was tired.
She was erect there on her Sevres throne, with the light thrilling and throbbing upon her in every point. But she thought of the sweet, dark, fresh nights in the old home where the blackbird had slept, and she longed for them.
The dancers came and went, the music thrummed and screamed, the laughter was both near and far; the rose tree was amidst it all. Yet she felt alone—all alone! as travelers may feel in a desert. Hour succeeded hour; the night wore on apace; the dancers ceased to come; the music ceased, too; the light still burned down upon her, and the scorching fever of it consumed her like fire.
Then there came silence—entire silence. Servants came round and put out all the lights—hundreds and hundreds of lights—quickly, one by one. Other servants went to the windows and threw them wide open to let out the fumes of wine. Without, the night was changing into the gray that tells of earliest dawn. But it was a bitter frost; the grass was white with it; the air was ice. In the great darkness that had now fallen on all the scene this deadly cold came around the rose tree and wrapped her in it as in a shroud.
She shivered from head to foot.
The cruel glacial coldness crept into the hot banqueting chamber, and moved round it in white, misty circles, like steam, like ghosts of the gay guests that had gone. All was dark and chill— dark and chill as any grave!
What worth was the place of honor now?
Was this the place of honor?
The rose tree swooned and drooped! A servant's rough hand shook down its worn beauty into a heap of fallen leaves. When they carried her out dead in the morning, the little Banksia-buds, safe hidden from the frost within their stems, waiting to come forth when the summer should come, murmured to one another:—
"She had her wish; she was great. This way the gods grant foolish prayers, and punish discontent!"
A poor black paint lay very unhappy in its tube one day alone, having tumbled out of an artist's color box and lying quite unnoticed for a year. "I am only Lampblack," he said to himself. "The master never looks at me: he says I am heavy, dull, lustreless, useless. I wish I could cake and dry up and die, as poor Flake-white did when he thought she turned yellow and deserted her."
But Lampblack could not die; he could only lie in his tin tube and pine, like a silly, sorrowful thing as he was, in company with some broken bits of charcoal and a rusty palette knife. The master never touched him; month after month passed by, and he was never thought of; the other paints had all their turn of fair fortune, and went out into the world to great academies and mighty palaces, transfigured and rejoicing in a thousand beautiful shapes and services. But Lampblack was always passed over as dull and coarse, which indeed he was, and knew himself to be so, poor fellow, which made it all the worse. "You are only a deposit!" said the other colors to him; and he felt that it was disgraceful to be a deposit, though he was not quite sure what it meant.
"If only I were happy like the others!" thought poor, sooty Lampblack, sorrowful in his corner. "There is Bistre, now, he is not so very much better-looking than I am, and yet they can do nothing without him, whether it is a girl's face or a wimple in a river!"
The others were all so happy in this beautiful bright studio, whose open casements were hung with myrtle and passion-flower, and whose silence was filled with the singing of nightingales. Cobalt, with a touch or two, became the loveliness of summer skies at morning; the Lakes and Carmines bloomed in a thousand exquisite flowers and fancies; the Chromes and Ochres (mere dull earths) were allowed to spread themselves in sheets of gold that took the shine of the sun into the darkest places; Umber, a sombre and gloomy thing, could lurk yet in a child's curls and laugh in a child's smiles; whilst all the families of the Vermilions, the Blues, the Greens, lived in a perpetual glory of sunset or sunrise, of ocean waves or autumn woods, of kingly pageant or of martial pomp.
It was very hard. Poor Lampblack felt as if his very heart would break, above all when he thought of pretty little Rose Madder, whom he loved dearly, and who never would even look at him, because she was so very proud, being herself always placed in nothing less than rosy clouds, or the hearts of roses, or something as fair and spiritual.
"I am only a wretched deposit!" sighed Lampblack, and the rusty palette knife grumbled back, "My own life has been ruined in cleaning dirty brushes, and see what the gratitude of men and brushes is!"
"But at least you have been of use once; but I never am—never!" said Lampblack, wearily; and indeed he had been there so long that the spiders had spun their silver fleeces all about him, and he was growing as gray as an old bottle does in a dark cellar.
At that moment the door of the studio opened, and there came a flood of light, and the step of a man was heard: the hearts of all the colors jumped for joy, because the step was that of their magician, who out of mere common clays and ground ores could raise them at a touch into splendors of the gods and divinities immortal.
Only the heart of poor dusty Lampblack could not beat a throb the more, because he was always left alone and never was thought worthy even of a glance. He could not believe his senses when this afternoon—oh, miracle and ecstasy!—the step of the master crossed the floor to the obscured corner where he lay under his spiders' webs, and the hand of the master touched him. Lampblack felt sick and faint with rapture. Had recognition come at last?
The master took him up, "You will do for this work," he said; and Lampblack was borne trembling to an easel. The colors, for once in their turn neglected, crowded together to watch, looking in their bright tin tubes like rows of little soldiers in armor.
"It is the old dull Deposit," they murmured to one another, and felt contemptuous, yet were curious, as scornful people often will be.
"But I am going to be glorious and great," thought Lampblack, and his heart swelled high; for never more would they be able to hurl the name of Deposit at him, a name which hurt him none the less, but all the more indeed, because it was unintelligible.
"You will do for this work," said the master, and let Lampblack out of his metal prison house into the light and touched him with the brush that was the wand of magic.
"What am I going to be?" wondered Lampblack, as he felt himself taken on to a large piece of deal board, so large that he felt he must be going to make the outline of an athlete or the shadows of a tempest at the least.
Himself he could not tell what he was becoming: he was happy enough and grand enough only to be employed, and, as he was being used, began to dream a thousand things of all the scenes he would be in, and all the hues that he would wear, and all the praise that he would hear when he went out into that wonderful great world of which his master was an idol. From his secret dreams he was harshly roused; all the colors were laughing and tittering round him till the little tin helmets they wore shook with their merriment.
"Old Deposit is going to be a signpost," they cried to one another so merrily that the spiders, who are not companionable creatures, felt themselves compelled to come to the doors of their dens and chuckle too. A signpost! Lampblack, stretched out in an ecstasy upon the board, roused himself shivering from his dreams, and gazed at his own metamorphosis. He had been made into seven letters, thus:—
This word in the Italian country, where the English painter's studio was, means, Do not trespass, do not shoot, do not show yourself here: anything, indeed, that is peremptory and uncivil to all trespassers. In these seven letters, outspread upon the board, was Lampblack crucified!
Farewell, ambitious hopes and happy dreams! He had been employed to paint a signboard, a thing stoned by the boys, blown on by the winds, gnawed by the rats, and drenched with the winter's rains. Better the dust and the cobwebs of his old corner than such shame as this!
But help was there none. His fate was fixed. He was dried with a drench of turpentine, hastily clothed in a coat of copal, and here he yet was fully aware of all his misery, was being borne away upon the great board out of doors and handed to the gardener. For the master was a hasty and ardent man, and had been stung into impatience by the slaughter of some favorite blue thrushes in his ilex trees that day, and so in his haste had chosen to do journeyman's work himself. Lampblack was carried out of the studio for the last time, and as the door closed on him he heard all the colors laughing, and the laugh of little Rose Madder was highest of all as she cried to Naples Yellow, who was a dandy and made court to her: "Poor old ugly Deposit! He will grumble to the owls and the bats now!"
The door shut, shutting him out forever from all that joyous company and palace of fair visions, and the rough hands of the gardener grasped him and carried him to the edge of the great garden, where the wall overlooked the public road, and there fastened him on high with a band of iron round the trunk of a tree.
That night it rained heavily, and the north wind blew, and there was thunder also. Lampblack, out in the storm without his tin house to shelter him, felt that of all creatures wretched on the face of the earth there was not one so miserable as he.
A signboard! Nothing but a signboard!
The degradation of a color, created for art and artists, could not be deeper or more grievous anywhere. Oh, how he sighed for his tin tube and the quiet nook with the charcoal and the palette knife!
He had been unhappy there indeed, but still had had always some sort of hope to solace him—some chance still remaining that one day fortune might smile and he be allowed to be at least the lowest stratum of some immortal work.
But now hope was there none. His doom, his end, were fixed and changeless. Never more could he be anything but what he was; and change there could be none till weather and time should have done their work on him, and he be rotting on the wet earth, a shattered and worm-eaten wreck.
Day broke—a gloomy, misty morning.
From where he was crucified upon the tree-trunk he could no longer even see his beloved home, the studio; he could only see a dusky, intricate tangle of branches all about him, and below the wall of flint, with the Banksia that grew on it, and the hard muddy highway, drenched from the storm of the night.
A man passed in a miller's cart, and stood up and swore at him, because the people had liked to come and shoot and trap the birds of the master's wooded gardens, and knew that they must not do it now.
A slug crawled over him, and a snail also. A woodpecker hammered at him with its strong beak. A boy went by under the wall and threw stones at him, and called him names. The rain poured down again heavily. He thought of the happy painting room, where it had seemed always summer and always sunshine, and where now in the forenoon all the colors were marshaling in the pageantry of the Arts, as he had seen them do hundreds of times from his lone corner. All the misery of the past looked happiness now.
"If I were only dead, like Flakewhite," he thought; but the stones only bruised, they did not kill him; and the iron band only hurt, it did not stifle him. For whatever suffers very much has always so much strength to continue to exist. And almost his loyal heart blasphemed and cursed the master who had brought him to such a fate as this.
The day grew apace, and noon went by, and with it the rain passed. The sun shone out once more, and Lampblack, even imprisoned and wretched as he was, could not but see how beautiful the wet leaves looked, and the gossamers all hung with raindrops, and the blue sky that shone through the boughs; for he had not lived with a great artist all his days to be blind, even in pain, to the loveliness of nature. The sun came out, and with it some little brown birds tripped out too—very simple and plain in their costumes and ways, but which Lampblack knew were the loves of the poets, for he had heard the master call them so many times in summer nights. The little brown birds came tripping and pecking about on the grass underneath his tree-trunk, and then flew on the top of the wall, which was covered with Banksia and many other creepers. The brown birds sang a little song, for though they sing most in the moonlight, they do sing by day too, and sometimes all day long. And what they sung was this:—
"Oh, how happy we are, how happy! No nets dare now be spread for us, no cruel boys dare climb, and no cruel shooters fire. We are safe, quite safe, and the sweet summer has begun!"
Lampblack listened, and even in his misery was touched and soothed by the tender liquid sounds that these little throats poured out among the light yellow bloom of the Banksia flowers. And when one of the brown birds came and sat on a branch by him, swaying itself and drinking the raindrops off a leaf, he ventured to ask, as well as he could for the iron that strangled him, why they were so safe, and what made them so happy.
The bird looked at him in surprise.
"Do you not know?" he said. "It is YOU!"
"I!" echoed Lampblack, and could say no more, for he feared that the bird was mocking him, a poor, silly, rusty black paint, only spread out to rot in fair weather and foul. What good could he do to any creature?
"You," repeated the nightingale. "Did you not see that man under the wall? He had a gun; we should have been dead but for you. We will come and sing to you all night long, since you like it; and when we go to bed at dawn, I will tell my cousins, the thrushes and merles, to take our places, so that you shall hear somebody singing near you all the day long."
Lampblack was silent.
His heart was too full to speak.
Was it possible that he was of use, after all?
"Can it be true?" he said timidly.
"Quite true," said the nightingale.
"Then the master knew best," thought Lampblack.
Never would he adorn a palace or be adored upon an altar. His high hopes were all dead, like last year's leaves. The colors in the studio had all the glories of the world, but he was of use in it, after all: he could save these little lives. He was poor and despised, bruised by stones and drenched by storms; yet was he content, nailed there upon his tree, for he had not been made quite in vain.
The sunset poured its red and golden splendors through the darkness of the boughs, and the birds sang all together, shouting for joy and praising God.
THE CHILD OF URBINO
It was in the year of grace 1490, in the reign of Guidobaldo, Lord of Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino,—the year, by the way, of the birth of that most illustrious and gracious lady, Vittoria Colonna.
It was in the spring of the year, in that mountain eyrie beloved of the Muses and coveted of the Borgia, that a little boy stood looking out of a grated casement into the calm, sunshiny day. He was a pretty boy, with hazel eyes, and fair hair cut straight above his brows; he wore a little blue tunic with some embroidery about the throat of it, and had in his hand a little round flat cap of the same color. He was sad of heart this merry morning, for a dear friend of his, a friend ten years older than himself, had gone the night before on a journey over the mountains to Maestro Francesco at Bologna, there to be bound apprentice to that gentle artist. This friend, Timoteo della Vita, had been very dear to the child, had played with him and jested with him, made him toys and told him stories, and he was very full of pain at Timoteo's loss. Yet he told himself not to mind, for had not Timoteo said to him, "I go as goldsmith's 'prentice to the best of men; but I mean to become a painter"? And the child understood that to be a painter was to be the greatest and wisest the world held; he quite understood that, for he was Raffaelle, the seven-year-old son of Signor Giovanni Sanzio.
He was a very happy little boy here in this stately, yet homely and kindly Urbino, where his people had come for refuge when the lances of Malatesta had ravaged and ruined their homestead. He had the dearest old grandfather in all the world; he had a loving mother, and he had a father who was very tender to him, and painted him among the angels of heaven, and was always full of pleasant conceits and admirable learning, and such true love of art that the child breathed it with every breath, as he could breathe the sweetness of a cowslip-bell when he held one in his hands up to his nostrils. It was good in those days to live in old Urbino. It was not, indeed, so brilliant a place as it became in a later day, when Ariosto came there, and Bembo and Castiglione and many another witty and learned gentleman, and the Courts of Love were held with ingenious rhyme and pretty sentiment, sad only for wantonness. But, if not so brilliant, it was homelier, simpler, full of virtue, with a wise peace and tranquillity that joined hands with a stout courage. The burgher was good friends with his prince, and knew that in any trouble or perplexity he could go up to the palace, or stop the duke in the market place, and be sure of sympathy and good counsel. There were a genuine love of beautiful things, a sense of public duty and of public spirit, a loyal temper and a sage contentment, among the good people of that time, which made them happy and prosperous.
All work was solidly and thoroughly done, living was cheap, and food good and plentiful, much better and more plentiful than it is now; in the fine old houses every stone was sound, every bit of ornament well wrought; men made their nests to live in and to pass to their children and children's children after them, and had their own fancies and their own traditions recorded in the ironwork of their casements and in the woodwork of their doors. They had their happy day of honest toil from matins bell to evensong, and then walked out or sat about in the calm evening air and looked down on the plains below that were rich with grain and fruit and woodland, and talked and laughed among each other, and were content with their own pleasant, useful lives, not burnt up with envy of desire to be some one else, as in our sickly, hurrying time most people are.
Yes, life must have been very good in those old days in old Urbino, better than it is anywhere in ours.
Can you not picture to yourself good, shrewd, wise Giovanni Sanzio, with his old father by his side, and his little son running before him, in the holy evening time of a feast day, with the deep church bells swaying above-head, and the last sun-rays smiting the frescoed walls, the stone bastions, the blazoned standard on the castle roof, the steep city rocks shelving down into the greenery of cherry orchard and of pear tree? I can, whenever I shut my eyes and recall Urbino as it was; and would it had been mine to live then in that mountain home, and meet that divine child going along his happy smiling way, garnering unconsciously in his infant soul all the beautiful sights and sounds around him, to give them in his manhood to the world.
"Let him alone: he will paint all this some day," said his wise father, who loved to think that his brushes and his colors would pass in time to Raffaelle, whose hands would be stronger to hold them than his own had been. And, whether he would ever paint it or not, the child never tired of thus looking from his eyrie on the rocks and counting all that passed below through the blowing corn under the leafy orchard boughs.
There were so many things to see in Urbino in that time, looking so over the vast green valley below: a clump of spears, most likely, as men-at-arms rode through the trees; a string of market folk bringing in the produce of the orchards or the fields; perchance a red-robed cardinal on a white mule with glittering housings, behind him a sumpter train rich with baggage, furniture, gold and silver plate; maybe the duke's hunting party going out or coming homeward with caracoling steeds, beautiful hounds straining at their leash, hunting horns sounding merrily over the green country; maybe a band of free lances, with plumes tossing, steel glancing, bannerets fluttering against the sky; or maybe a quiet gray-robed string of monks or pilgrims singing the hymn sung before Jerusalem, treading the long lush grass with sandaled feet, coming towards the city, to crowd slowly and gladly up its rocky height. Do you not wish with me you could stand in the window with Raffaelle to see the earth as it was then?
No doubt the good folks of Urbino laughed at him often for a little moonstruck dreamer, so many hours did he stand looking, looking,—only looking,—as eyes have a right to do that see well and not altogether as others see. Happily for him, the days of his childhood were times of peace, and he did not behold, as his father had done, the torches light up the street and the flames devour the homesteads.
At this time Urbino was growing into fame for its pottery work: those big dishes and bowls, those marriage plates and pharmacy jars which it made, were beginning to rival the products of its neighbor Gubbio, and when its duke wished to send a bridal gift, or a present on other festal occasions, he oftenest chose some service or some rare platter of his own Urbino ware. Now, pottery had not then taken the high place among the arts of Italy that it was destined very soon to do. As you will learn when you are older, after the Greeks and the Christians had exhausted all that was beautiful in shape and substance of clay vases, the art seemed to die out, and the potters and the pottery painters died with it, or at any rate went to sleep for a great many centuries, whilst soldiers and prelates, nobles and mercenaries, were trampling to and fro all over the land and disputing it, and carrying fire and torch, steel and desolation, with them in their quarrels and covetousness. But now, the reign of the late good duke, great Federigo, having been favorable to the Marches (as we call his province now), the potters and pottery painters, with other gentle craftsmen, had begun to look up again, and the beneficent fires of their humble ovens had begun to burn in Castel Durante, in Pesaro, in Faenza, in Gubbio, and in Urbino itself. The great days had not yet come: Maestro Giorgio was but a youngster, and Orazio Fontane not born, nor the clever baker Prestino either, nor the famous Fra Xanto; but there was a Don Giorgio even then in Gubbio, of whose work, alas! one plate now at the Louvre is all we have; and here in the ducal city on the hill rich and noble things were already being made in the stout and lustrous majolica that was destined to acquire later on so wide a ceramic fame. Jars and bowls and platters, oval dishes and ewers and basins, and big-bodied, metal- welded pharmacy vases were all made and painted at Urbino whilst Raffaelle Sanzio was running about on rosy infantine feet. There was a master-potter of the Montefeltro at that time, one Maestro Benedetto Ronconi, whose name had not become world-renowned as Orazio Fontane's and Maestro Giorgio's did in the following century, yet who in that day enjoyed the honor of all the duchy, and did things very rare and fine in the Urbino ware. He lived within a stone's throw of Giovanni Sanzio, and was a gray-haired, handsome, somewhat stern and pompous man, now more than middle- aged, who had one beauteous daughter, by name Pacifica. He cherished Pacifica well, but not so well as he cherished the things he wrought—the deep round nuptial plates and oval massive dishes that he painted with Scriptural stories and strange devices, and landscapes such as those he saw around, and flowing scrolls with Latin mottoes in black letters, and which, when thus painted, he consigned with an anxiously beating heart to the trial of the ovens, and which sometimes came forth from the trial all cracked and blurred and marred, and sometimes emerged in triumph and came into his trembling hands iridescent and lovely with those lustrous and opaline hues which we admire in them to this day as the especial glory of majolica.
Maestro Benedetto was an ambitious and vain man, and had had a hard, laborious manhood, working at his potter's wheel and painter's brush before Urbino ware was prized in Italy or even in the duchy. Now, indeed, he was esteemed at his due worth, and his work was so also, and he was passably rich, and known as a good artist beyond the Marches; but there was a younger man over at Gubbio, the Don Giorgio who was precursor of unequaled Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, who surpassed him, and made him sleep o' nights on thorns, as envy makes all those to do who take her as their bedfellow.
The house of Maestro Benedetto was a long stone building, with a loggia at the back all overclimbed by hardy rose trees, and looking on a garden that was more than half an orchard, and in which grew abundantly pear trees, plum trees, and wood strawberries. The lancet windows of his workshop looked on all this quiet greenery. There were so many such pleasant workshops then in the land—calm, godly, homelike places, filled from without with song of birds and scent of herbs and blossoms. Nowadays men work in crowded, stinking cities, in close factory chambers; and their work is barren as their lives are.
The little son of neighbor Sanzio ran in and out this bigger, wider house and garden of Maestro Benedetto at his pleasure, for the maiden Pacifica was always glad to see him, and even the sombre master-potter would unbend to him, and show him how to lay the color on to the tremulous, fugitive, unbaked biscuit.
Pacifica was a lovely young woman of some seventeen or eighteen summers; and perhaps Raffaelle was but remembering her when he painted in his after-years the face of his Madonna di San Sisto. He loved her as he loved everything that was beautiful and every one who was kind; and almost better than his own beloved father's studio, almost better than his dear old grandsire's cheerful little shop, did he love this grave, silent, sweet-smelling, sun- pierced, shadowy old house of Maestro Benedetto.
Maestro Benedetto had four apprentices or pupils in that time learning to become figuli, but the one whom Raffaelle liked the most (and Pacifica too) was one Luca Torelli, of a village above in the mountains,—a youth with a noble, dark, pensive beauty of his own, and a fearless gait, and a supple, tall, slender figure that would have looked well in the light coat of mail and silken doublet of a man-at-arms. In sooth, the spirit of Messer Luca was more made for war and its risks and glories than for the wheel and the brush of the bottega; but he had loved Pacifica ever since he had come down one careless holy-day into Urbino, and had bound himself to her father's service in a heedless moment of eagerness to breathe the same air and dwell under the same roof as she did. He had gained little for his pains: to see her at mass and at mealtimes, now and then to be allowed to bring water from the well for her or feed her pigeons, to see her gray gown go down between the orchard trees and catch the sunlight, to hear the hum of her spinning wheel, the thrum of her viol—this was the uttermost he got of joy in two long years; and how he envied Raffaelle running along the stone floor of the loggia to leap into her arms, to hang upon her skirts, to pick the summer fruit with her, and sort with her the autumn herbs for drying!
"I love Pacifica!" he would say, with a groan, to Raffaelle; and Raffaelle would say, with a smile, "Ah, Luca, so do I!"
"It is not the same thing, my dear," sighed Luca; "I want her for my wife."
"I shall have no wife; I shall marry myself to painting," said Raffaelle, with a little grave, wise face looking out from under the golden roof of his fair hair. For he was never tired of watching his father painting the saints with their branch of palm on their ground of blue or of gold, or Maestro Benedetto making the dull clay glow with angels' wings and prophets' robes and holy legends told in color.
Now, one day, as Raffaelle was standing and looking thus at his favorite window in the potter's house, his friend, the handsome, black-browed Luca, who was also standing there, did sigh so deeply and so deplorably that the child was startled from his dreams.
"Good Luca, what ails you?" he murmured, winding his arms about the young man's knees.
"Oh, 'Faello!" mourned the apprentice, woefully. "Here is such a chance to win the hand of Pacifica if only I had talent—such talent as that Giorgio of Gubbio has! If the good Lord had only gifted me with a master's skill, instead of all this bodily strength and sinew, like a wild hog of the woods, which avails me nothing here!"
"What chance is it?" asked Raffaelle, "and what is there new about Pacifica? She told me nothing, and I was with her an hour."
"Dear simple one, she knows nothing of it," said Luca, heaving another tremendous sigh from his heart's deepest depths. "You must know that a new order has come in this very forenoon from the duke; he wishes a dish and a jar of the very finest and firmest majolica to be painted with the story of Esther, and made ready in three months from this date, to then go as his gifts to his cousins of Gonzaga. He has ordered that no cost be spared in the work, but that the painting thereof be of the best that can be produced, and the prize he will give is fifty scudi. Now, Maestro Benedetto, having known some time, it seems, of this order, has had made in readiness several large oval dishes and beautiful big- bellied jars: he gives one of each to each of his pupils,—to myself, to Berengario, to Tito, and Zenone. The master is sorely distraught that his eyesight permits him not himself to execute the duke's commands; but it is no secret that should one of us be so fortunate as to win the duke's approbation, the painter who does so shall become his partner here and shall have the hand of Pacifica. Some say that he has only put forth this promise as a stimulus to get the best work done of which his bottega is capable; but I know Maestro Benedetto too well to deem him guilty of any such evasion. What he has said, he will carry out; if the vase and the dish win the duke's praise, they will also win Pacifica. Now you see, 'Faello mine, why I am so bitterly sad of heart, for I am a good craftsman enough at the wheel and the furnace, and I like not ill the handling and the moulding of the clay, but at the painting of the clay I am but a tyro, and Berengario or even the little Zenone will beat me; of that I am sure."
Raffaelle heard all this in silence, leaning his elbows on his friend's knee, and his chin on the palms of his own hands. He knew that the other pupils were better painters by far than his Luca, though not one of them was such a good-hearted or noble-looking youth, and for none of them did the maiden Pacifica care.
"How long a time is given for the jar and the dish to be ready?" he asked, at length.
"Three months, my dear," said Luca, with a sigh sadder than ever. "But if it were three years, what difference would it make? You cannot cudgel the divine grace of art into a man with blows as you cudgel speed into a mule, and I shall be a dolt at the end of the time as I am now. What said your good father to me but yesternight?—and he IS good to me and does not despise me. He said: 'Luca, my son, it is of no more avail for you to sigh for Pacifica than for the moon. Were she mine I would give her to you, for you have a heart of gold, but Signor Benedetto will not; for never, I fear me, will you be able to decorate anything more than an apothecary's mortar or a barber's basin. If I hurt you, take it not ill; I mean kindness, and were I a stalwart youth like you I would go try my fortunes in the Free Companies in France or Spain, or down in Rome, for you are made for a soldier.' That was the best even your father could say for me, 'Faello."
"But Pacifica," said the child,—"Pacifica would not wish you to join the Free Companies."
"God knows," said Luca, hopelessly. "Perhaps she would not care."
"I am sure she would," said Raffaelle, "for she does love you, Luca, though she cannot say so, being but a girl, and Signor Benedetto against you. But that redcap you tamed for her, how she loves it, how she caresses it, and half is for you, Luca, half for the bird!"
Luca kissed him.
But the tears rolled down the poor youth's face, for he was much in earnest and filled with despair.
"Even if she did, if she do," he murmured hopelessly, "she never will let me know it, since her father forbids a thought of me; and now here is this trial of skill at the duke's order come to make things worse, and if that swaggering Berengario of Fano win her, then truly will I join the free lances and pray heaven send me swift shrive and shroud."
Raffaelle was very pensive for a while; then he raised his head, and said:—
"I have thought of something, Luca. But I do not know whether you will let me try it."
"You angel child! What would your old Luca deny to you? But as for helping me, my dear, put that thought out of your little mind forever, for no one can help me, 'Faello, not the saints themselves, since I was born a dolt!"
Raffaelle kissed him, and said, "Now listen!"
A few days later Signer Benedetto informed his pupils in ceremonious audience of the duke's command and of his own intentions; he did not pronounce his daughter's name to the youths, but he spoke in terms that were clear enough to assure them that whoever had the good fortune and high merit to gain the duke's choice of his pottery should have the honor of becoming associate in his own famous bottega. Now, it had been known in Urbino ever since Pacifica had gone to her first communion that whoever pleased her father well enough to become his partner would have also to please her as her husband. Not much attention was given to maidens' wishes in those times, and no one thought the master-potter either unjust or cruel in thus suiting himself before he suited his daughter. And what made the hearts of all the young men quake and sink the lowest was the fact that Signer Benedetto offered the competition, not only to his own apprentices, but to any native of the duchy of Urbino. For who could tell what hero might not step forth from obscurity and gain the great prize of this fair hand of Pacifica's? And with her hand would go many a broad gold ducat, and heritage of the wide old gray stone house, and many an old jewel and old brocade that were kept there in dusky sweet-smelling cabinets, and also more than one good piece of land, smiling with corn and fruit trees, outside the gates in the lower pastures to the westward.
Luca, indeed, never thought of these things, but the other three pupils did, and other youths as well. Had it not been for the limitation as to birth within the duchy, many a gallant young painter from the other side of the Apennines, many a lusty vasalino or boccalino from the workshops of fair Florence herself, or from the Lombard cities, might have traveled there in hot haste as fast as horses could carry them, and come to paint the clay for the sake of so precious a recompense. But Urbino men they had to be; and poor Luca, who was so full of despair that he could almost have thrown himself headlong from the rocks, was thankful to destiny for even so much slender mercy as this,—that the number of his rivals was limited.
"Had I been you," Giovanni Sanzio ventured once to say respectfully to Signor Benedetto, "I think I should have picked out for my son-in-law the best youth that I knew, not the best painter; for be it said in all reverence, my friend, the greatest artist is not always the truest man, and by the hearthstone humble virtues have sometimes high claim."
Then Signor Benedetto had set his stern face like a flint, knowing very well what youth Messer Giovanni would have liked to name to him.
"I have need of a good artist in my bottega to keep up its fame," he had said stiffly. "My vision is not what it was, and I should be loath to see Urbino ware fall back, whilst Pesaro and Gubbio and Castel Durante gain ground every day. Pacifica must pay the penalty, if penalty there be, for being the daughter of a great artist."
Mirthful, keen-witted Sanzio smiled to himself, and went his way in silence; for he who loved Andrea Mantegna did not bow down in homage before the old master-potter's estimation of himself, which was in truth somewhat overweening in its vanity.
"Poor Pacifica!" he thought; "if only my 'Faello were but some decade older!"
He, who could not foresee the future, the splendid, wondrous, unequaled future that awaited his young son, wished nothing better for him than a peaceful painter's life here in old Urbino, under the friendly shadow of the Montefeltro's palace walls.
Meanwhile, where think you was Raffaelle? Half the day, or all the day, and every day whenever he could? Where think you was he? Well, in the attic of Luca, before a bowl and a dish almost as big as himself. The attic was a breezy, naked place, underneath the arches supporting the roof of Maestro Benedetto's dwelling. Each pupil had one of these garrets to himself,—a rare boon, for which Luca came to be very thankful, for without it he could not have sheltered his angel; and the secret that Raffaelle had whispered to him that day of the first conference had been, "Let ME try and paint it!"
For a long time Luca had been afraid to comply, had only forborne indeed from utter laughter at the idea from his love and reverence for the little speaker. Baby Sanzio, who was only just seven years old as the April tulips reddened the corn, painting a majolica dish and vase to go to the Gonzaga of Mantua! The good fellow could scarcely restrain his shouts of mirth at the audacious fancy; and nothing had kept him grave but the sight of that most serious face of Raffaelle, looking up to his with serene, sublime self-confidence, nay, perhaps, rather, confidence in heaven and in heaven's gifts.
"Let me try!" said the child a hundred times. He would tell no one, only Luca would know; and if he failed—well, there would only be the spoiled pottery to pay for, and had he not two whole ducats that the duke had given him when the court had come to behold his father's designs for the altar frescos at San Dominico di Cagli?
So utterly in earnest was he, and so intense and blank was Luca's absolute despair, that the young man had in turn given way to his entreaties. "Never can I do aught," he thought, bitterly, looking at his own clumsy designs, "And sometimes by the help of cherubs the saints work miracles,"
"It will be no miracle," said Raffaelle, hearing him murmur this; "it will be myself, and that which the dear God has put into me."
From that hour Luca let him do what he would, and through all these lovely early summer days the child came and shut himself up in the garret, and studied, and thought, and worked, and knitted his pretty fair brows, and smiled in tranquil satisfaction, according to the mood he was in and the progress of his labors.
Giovanni Sanzio went away at that time to paint an altar-piece over at Citta di Castello, and his little son for once was glad he was absent. Messer Giovanni would surely have remarked the long and frequent visits of Raffaelle to the attic, and would, in all likelihood, have obliged him to pore over his Latin or to take exercise in the open fields; but his mother said nothing, content that he should be amused and safe, and knowing well that Pacifica loved him and would let him come to no harm under her roof. Pacifica herself did wonder that he deserted her so perpetually for the garret. But one day when she questioned him the sweet- faced rogue clung to her and murmured, "Oh, Pacifica, I do want Luca to win you, because he loves you so; and I do love you both!" And she grew pale, and answered him, "Ah, dear, if he could!" and then said never a word more, but went to her distaff; and Raffaelle saw great tears fall off her lashes down among the flax.
She thought he went to the attic to watch how Luca painted, and loved him more than ever for that, but knew in the hopelessness of her heart—as Luca also knew it in his—that the good and gallant youth would never be able to create anything that would go as the duke's gifts to the Gonzaga of Mantua. And she did care for Luca! She had spoken to him but rarely indeed, yet passing in and out of the same doors, and going to the same church offices, and dwelling always beneath the same roof, he had found means of late for a word, a flower, a serenade. And he was so handsome and so brave, and so gentle, too, and so full of deference. Poor Pacifica cared not in the least whether he could paint or not. He could have made her happy.
In the attic Raffaelle passed the most anxious hours of all his sunny little life. He would not allow Luca even to look at what he did. He barred the door and worked; when he went away he locked his work up in a wardrobe. The swallows came in and out of the unglazed window, and fluttered all around him; the morning sunbeams came in, too, and made a nimbus round his golden head, like that which his father gilded above the heads of saints. Raffaelle worked on, not looking off, though clang of trumpet, or fanfare of cymbal, often told him there was much going on worth looking at down below. He was only seven years old, but he labored as earnestly as if he were a man grown, his little rosy ringers gripping that pencil which was to make him in life and death famous as kings are not famous, and let his tender body lie in its last sleep in the Pantheon of Rome.
He had covered hundreds of sheets with designs before he had succeeded in getting embodied the ideas that haunted him. When he had pleased himself at last, he set to work to transfer his imaginations to the clay in color in the subtile luminous metallic enamel that characterizes Urbino majolica.
Ah, how glad he was now that his father had let him draw from the time he was two years old, and that of late Messer Benedetto had shown him something of the mysteries of painting on biscuit and producing the metallic lustre which was the especial glory of the pottery of the duchy!
How glad he was, and how his little heart bounded and seemed to sing in this his first enjoyment of the joyous liberties and powers of creative work!
A well-known writer has said that genius is the power of taking pains; he should have said rather that genius HAS this power also, but that first and foremost it possesses the power of spontaneous and exquisite production without effort and with delight.
Luca looked at him (not at his work, for the child had made him promise not to do so) and began to marvel at his absorption, his intentness, the evident facility with which he worked: the little figure leaning over the great dish on the bare board of the table, with the oval opening of the window and the blue sky beyond it, began to grow sacred to him with more than the sanctity of childhood. Raffaelle's face grew very serious, too, and lost its color, and his large hazel eyes looked very big and grave and dark.
"Perhaps Signer Giovanni will be angry with me if ever he knows," thought poor Luca; but it was too late to alter anything now. The child Sanzio had become his master.
So Raffaelle, unknown to any one else, worked on and on there in the attic while the tulips bloomed and withered, and the honeysuckle was in flower in the hedges, and the wheat and barley were being cut in the quiet fields lying far down below in the sunshine. For midsummer was come; the three months all but a week had passed by. It was known that every one was ready to compete for the duke's choice.
One afternoon Raffaelle took Luca by the hand and said to him, "Come."
He led the young man up to the table, beneath the unglazed window, where he had passed so many of these ninety days of the spring and summer.
Luca gave a great cry, and stood gazing, gazing, gazing. Then he fell on his knees and embraced the little feet of the child: it was the first homage that he, whose life became one beautiful song of praise, received from man.
"Dear Luca," he said softly, "do not do that. If it be indeed good, let us thank God."
What his friend saw were the great oval dish and the great jar or vase standing with the sunbeams full upon them, and the brushes and the tools and the colors all strewn around. And they shone with lustrous opaline hues and wondrous flame-like glories and gleaming iridescence, like melted jewels, and there were all manner of graceful symbols and classic designs wrought upon them; and their borders were garlanded with cherubs and flowers, bearing the arms of Montefeltro, and the landscapes were the tender, homely landscapes round about Urbino; and the mountains had the solemn radiance that the Apennines wore at eveningtime; and amidst the figures there was one supreme, white-robed, golden-crowned Esther, to whom the child painter had given the face of Pacifica. And this wondrous creation, wrought by a baby's hand, had safely and secretly passed the ordeal of the furnace, and had come forth without spot or flaw.
Luca ceased not from kneeling at the feet of Raffaelle, as ever since has kneeled the world.
"Oh, wondrous boy! Oh, angel sent unto men!" sighed the poor 'prentice, as he gazed; and his heart was so full that he burst into tears.
"Let us thank God," said little Raffaelle again; and he joined his small hands that had wrought this miracle, and said his Laus Domini.
When the precious jar and the great platter were removed to the wardrobe and shut up in safety behind the steel wards of the locker, Luca said timidly, feeling twenty years in age behind the wisdom of this divine child: "But, dearest boy, I do not see how your marvelous and most exquisite accomplishment can advantage me. Even if you would allow it to pass as mine, I could not accept such a thing; it would be a fraud, a shame: not even to win Pacifica could I consent."
"Be not so hasty, good friend," said Raffaelle. "Wait just a little longer yet and see. I have my own idea. Do trust in me."
"Heaven speaks in you, that I believe," said Luca, humbly.
Raffaelle answered not, but ran downstairs, and, passing Pacifica, threw his arms about her in more than his usual affectionate caresses.
"Pacifica, be of good heart," he murmured, and would not be questioned, but ran homeward to his mother.
"Can it be that Luca has done well," thought Pacifica; but she feared the child's wishes had outrun his wisdom. He could not be any judge, a child of seven years, even though he were the son of that good and honest painter and poet, Giovanni Sanzio.
The next morning was midsummer day. Now, the pottery was all to be placed on this forenoon in the bottega of Signor Benedetto; and the Duke Guidobaldo was then to come and make his choice from amidst them; and the master-potter, a little because he was a courtier, and more because he liked to affect a mighty indifference and to show he had no favoritism, had declared that he would not himself see the competing works of art until the eyes of the Lord of Montefeltro also fell upon them.
As for Pacifica, she had locked herself in her chamber, alone with her intense agitation. The young men were swaggering about, and taunting each other, and boasting. Luca alone sat apart, thrumming an old lute. Giovanni Sanzio, who had ridden home at evening from Citta di Castello, came in from his own house and put his hand on the youth's shoulder.
"I hear the Pesaro men have brought fine things. Take courage, my lad. Maybe we can entreat the duke to dissuade Pacifica's father from this tyrannous disposal of her hand."
Luca shook his head wearily.
There would be one beautiful thing there, indeed, he knew; but what use would that be to him?
"The child—the child—" he stammered, and then remembered that he must not disclose Raffaelle's secret.
"My child?" said Signor Giovanni. "Oh, he will be here; he will be sure to be here: wherever there is a painted thing to be seen, there always, be sure, is Raffaelle."
Then the good man sauntered within from the loggia, to exchange salutations with Ser Benedetto, who, in a suit of fine crimson with doublet of sad-colored velvet, was standing ready to advance bareheaded into the street as soon as the hoofs of the duke's charger should strike on the stones.
"You must be anxious in your thoughts," said Signor Giovanni to him. "They say a youth from Pesaro brings something fine: if you should find yourself bound to take a stranger into your workroom and your home—"
"If he be a man of genius, he will be welcome," answered Messer Ronconi, pompously. "Be he of Pesaro, or of Fano, or of Castel Durante, I go not back from my word: I keep my word, to my own hindrance even, ever."
"Let us hope it will bring you only joy and triumph here," said his neighbor, who knew him to be an honest man and a true, if over-obstinate and too vain of his own place in Urbino.
"Our lord the duke!" shouted the people standing in the street; and Ser Benedetto walked out with stately tread to receive the honor of his master's visit to his bottega.
Raffaelle slipped noiselessly up to his father's side, and slid his little hand into Sanzio's.
"You are not surely afraid of our good Guidobaldo!" said his father, with a laugh and some little surprise, for Raffaelle was very pale, and his lower lip trembled a little.
"No," said the child, simply.
The young duke and his court came riding down the street, and paused before the old stone house of the master-potter,—splendid gentlemen, though only in their morning apparel, with noble Barbary steeds fretting under them, and little pages and liveried varlets about their steps. Usually, unless he went hunting or on a visit to some noble, Guidobaldo, like his father, walked about Urbino like any one of his citizens; but he knew the pompous and somewhat vainglorious temper of Messer Benedetto, and good- naturedly was willing to humor its harmless vanities. Bowing to the ground, the master-potter led the way, walking backward into his bottega; the courtiers followed their prince; Giovanni Sanzio with his little son and a few other privileged persons went in also at due distance. At the farther end of the workshop stood the pupils and the artists from Pesaro and other places in the duchy whose works were there in competition. In all there were some ten competitors: poor Luca, who had set his own work on the table with the rest as he was obliged to do, stood hindmost of all, shrinking back, to hide his misery, into the deepest shadow of the deep- bayed latticed window.
On the narrow deal benches that served as tables on working days to the pottery painters were ranged the dishes and the jars, with a number attached to each—no name to any, because Signor Benedetto was resolute to prove his own absolute disinterestedness in the matter of choice: he wished for the best artist. Prince Guidobaldo, doffing his plumed cap courteously, walked down the long room and examined each production in its turn. On the whole, the collection made a brave display of majolica, though he was perhaps a little disappointed at the result in each individual case, for he had wanted something out of the common run and absolutely perfect. Still, with fair words he complimented Signor Benedetto on the brave show, and only before the work of poor Luca was he entirely silent, since indeed silence was the greatest kindness he could show to it: the drawing was bold and regular, but the coloring was hopelessly crude, glaring, and ill-disposed.
At last, before a vase and a dish that stood modestly at the very farthest end of the deal bench, the duke gave a sudden exclamation of delight, and Signor Benedetto grew crimson with pleasure and surprise, and Giovanni Sanzio pressed a little nearer and tried to see over the shoulders of the gentlemen of the court, feeling sure that something rare and beautiful must have called forth that cry of wonder from the Lord of Montefeltro, and having seen at a glance that for his poor friend Luca there was no sort of hope.
"This is beyond all comparison," said Guidobaldo, taking the great oval dish up reverently in his hands. "Maestro Benedetto, I do felicitate you indeed that you should possess such a pupil. He will be a glory to our beloved Urbino."
"It is indeed most excellent work, my lord duke," said the master- potter, who was trembling with surprise and dared not show all the astonishment and emotion that he felt at the discovery of so exquisite a creation in his bottega. "It must be," he added, for he was a very honest man, "the work of one of the lads of Pesaro or Castel Durante. I have no such craftsman in my workshop. It is beautiful exceedingly!"
"It is worth its weight in gold!" said the prince, sharing his emotion. "Look, gentlemen—look! Will not the fame of Urbino be borne beyond the Apennines and Alps?"
Thus summoned, the court and the citizens came to look, and averred that truly never in Urbino had they seen such painting on majolica. "But whose is it?" said Guidobaldo, impatiently, casting his eyes over the gathered group in the background of apprentices and artists. "Maestro Benedetto, I pray you, the name of the artist; I pray you, quick!"
"It is marked number eleven, my lord," answered the master-potter. "Ho, you who reply to that number, stand out and give your name. My lord duke has chosen your work. Ho, there! do you hear me?"
But not one of the group moved. The young men looked from one to another. Who was this nameless rival? There were but ten of themselves.
"Ho, there!" repeated Signor Benedetto, getting angry. "Cannot you find a tongue, I say? Who has wrought this work? Silence is but insolence to his highness and to me!"
Then the child Sanzio loosened his little hand from his father's hold, and went forward, and stood before the master-potter.
"I painted it," he said, with a pleased smile; "I, Raffaelle."
Can you not fancy, without telling, the confusion, the wonder, the rapture, the incredulity, the questions, the wild ecstasy of praise, that followed on the discovery of the child artist? Only the presence of Guidobaldo kept it in anything like decent quietude, and even he, all duke though he was, felt his eyes wet and felt his heart swell; for he himself was childless, and for the joy that Giovanni Sanzio felt that day he would have given his patrimony and duchy.
He took a jewel hung on a gold chain from his own breast and threw it over Raffaelle's shoulders.
"There is your first guerdon," he said; "you will have many, O wondrous child, who shall live when we are dust!"
Raffaelle, who himself was all the while quite tranquil and unmoved, kissed the duke's hand with sweetest grace, then turned to his own father.
"It is true I have won my lord duke's prize?"
"Quite true, my angel!" said Giovanni Sanzio, with tremulous voice.
Raffaelle looked up at Maestro Benedetto.
"Then I claim the hand of Pacifica!"
There was a smile on all the faces round, even on the darker countenances of the vanquished painters.
"Oh, would indeed you were of age to be my son by marriage, as you are the son of my heart!" murmured Signor Benedetto. "Dear and marvelous child, you are but jesting, I know. Tell me what it is indeed that you would have. I could deny you nothing; and truly it is you who are my master."
"I am your pupil," said Raffaelle, with that pretty serious smile of his, his little fingers playing with the ducal jewel. "I could never have painted that majolica yonder had you not taught me the secrets and management of your colors. Now, dear maestro mine, and you, O my lord duke, do hear me! I by the terms of the contest have won the hand of Pacifica and the right of association with Messer Ronconi. I take these rights and I give them over to my dear friend Luca of Fano, because he is the honestest man in all the world, and does honor Signor Benedetto and love Pacifica as no other can do so well, and Pacifica loves him, and my lord duke will say that thus all will be well."
So with the grave, innocent audacity of a child he spoke—this seven-year-old painter who was greater than any there.
Signor Benedetto stood mute, sombre, agitated. Luca had sprung forward and dropped on one knee; he was as pale as ashes. Raffaelle looked at him with a smile.
"My lord duke," he said, with his little gentle smile, "you have chosen my work; defend me in my rights."
"Listen to the voice of an angel, my good Benedetto; heaven speaks by him," said Guidobaldo, gravely, laying his hand on the arm of his master-potter.
Harsh Signor Benedetto burst into tears.
"I can refuse him nothing," he said, with a sob. "He will give such glory unto Urbino as never the world hath seen!"
"And call down this fair Pacifica whom Raffaelle has won," said the sovereign of the duchy, "and I will give her myself as her dower as many gold pieces as we can cram into this famous vase. An honest youth who loves her and whom she loves—what better can you do, Benedetto? Young man, rise up and be happy. An angel has descended on earth this day for you."
But Luca heard not; he was still kneeling at the feet of Raffaelle, where the world has knelt ever since.
There was a little boy, a year or two ago, who lived under the shadow of Martinswand. Most people know, I should suppose, that the Martinswand is that mountain in the Oberinnthal where, several centuries past, brave Kaiser Max lost his footing as he stalked the chamois, and fell upon a ledge of rock, and stayed there, in mortal peril, for thirty hours, till he was rescued by the strength and agility of a Tyrol hunter—an angel in the guise of a hunter, as the chronicles of the time prefer to say.
The Martinswand is a grand mountain, being one of the spurs of the greater Sonnstein, and rises precipitously, looming, massive and lofty, like a very fortress for giants, where it stands right across that road which, if you follow it long enough, takes you through Zell to Landeck,—old, picturesque, poetic Landeck, where Frederick of the Empty Pockets rhymed his sorrows in ballads to his people,—and so on by Bludenz into Switzerland itself, by as noble a highway as any traveler can ever desire to traverse on a summer's day. It is within a mile of the little burg of Zell, where the people, in the time of their emperor's peril, came out with torches and bells, and the Host lifted up by their priest, and all prayed on their knees underneath the steep gaunt pile of limestone, that is the same to-day as it was then, whilst Kaiser Max is dust; it soars up on one side of this road, very steep and very majestic, having bare stone at its base, and being all along its summit crowned with pine woods; and on the other side of the road are a little stone church, quaint and low, and gray with age, and a stone farmhouse, and cattle sheds, and timber sheds, all of wood that is darkly brown from time; and beyond these are some of the most beautiful meadows in the world, full of tall grass and countless flowers, with pools and little estuaries made by the brimming Inn River that flows by them; and beyond the river are the glaciers of the Sonnstein and the Selrain and the wild Arlberg region, and the golden glow of sunset in the west, most often seen from here through the veil of falling rain.
At this farmhouse, with Martinswand towering above it, and Zell a mile beyond, there lived, and lives still, a little boy who bears the old historical name of Findelkind, whose father, Otto Korner, is the last of a sturdy race of yeomen, who had fought with Hofer and Haspinger, and had been free men always.
Findelkind came in the middle of seven other children, and was a pretty boy of nine years, with slenderer limbs and paler cheeks than his rosy brethren, and tender dreamy eyes that had the look, his mother told him, of seeking stars in midday: de chercher midi a quatorze heures, as the French have it. He was a good little lad, and seldom gave any trouble from disobedience, though he often gave it from forgetfulness. His father angrily complained that he was always in the clouds,—that is, he was always dreaming, and so very often would spill the milk out of the pails, chop his own fingers instead of the wood, and stay watching the swallows when he was sent to draw water. His brothers and sisters were always making fun of him: they were sturdier, ruddier, and merrier children than he was, loved romping and climbing and nutting, thrashing the walnut trees and sliding down snowdrifts, and got into mischief of a more common and childish sort than Findelkind's freaks of fancy. For indeed he was a very fanciful little boy: everything around had tongues for him; and he would sit for hours among the long rushes on the river's edge, trying to imagine what the wild green-gray water had found in its wanderings, and asking the water rats and the ducks to tell him about it; but both rats and ducks were too busy to attend to an idle little boy, and never spoke, which vexed him.
Findelkind, however, was very fond of his books; he would study day and night, in his little ignorant, primitive fashion. He loved his missal and his primer, and could spell them both out very fairly, and was learning to write of a good priest in Zirl, where he trotted three times a week with his two little brothers. When not at school, he was chiefly set to guard the sheep and the cows, which occupation left him very much to himself; so that he had many hours in the summertime to stare up to the skies and wonder— wonder—wonder about all sorts of things; while in the winter—the long, white, silent winter, when the post-wagons ceased to run, and the road into Switzerland was blocked, and the whole world seemed asleep, except for the roaring of the winds—Findelkind, who still trotted over the snow to school in Zirl, would dream still, sitting on the wooden settle by the fire, when he came home again under Martinswand. For the worst—or the best—of it all was that he WAS Findelkind.
This is what was always haunting him. He was Findelkind; and to bear this name seemed to him to mark him out from all other children and to dedicate him to heaven. One day three years before, when he had been only six years old, the priest in Zirl, who was a very kindly and cheerful man, and amused the children as much as he taught them, had not allowed Findelkind to leave school to go home, because the storm of snow and wind was so violent, but had kept him until the worst should pass, with one or two other little lads who lived some way off, and had let the boys roast a meal of apples and chestnuts by the stove in his little room, and, while the wind howled and the blinding snow fell without, had told the children the story of another Findelkind—an earlier Findelkind, who had lived in the flesh on Arlberg as far back as 1381, and had been a little shepherd lad, "just like you," said the good man, looking at the little boys munching their roast crabs, and whose country had been over there, above Stuben, where Danube and Rhine meet and part.