In the year 18—x the world applauded the young artist, Alpho Murietta, and pronounced him a genius of the very highest order.
As the world is nearly always wrong, it is safe to say that in this case it was utterly so. In justice to the young artist, who was being borne as it were on the shoulders of his seniors, and held up to the full gaze of the great, I may say that he himself half suspected that the world lied. Yet he was not so terribly displeased after all at the falsehood.
In the year 18-y the world denounced the young artist, Alpho Murietta, as an impostor, a libertine, and a fraud of the very worst stamp.
As the world is nearly always wrong perhaps it was mistaken again. As for young Murietta, he was this time himself perfectly certain that the world lied. But this time he was displeased and troubled too. And sad as it was, and certain as he was in this conviction, in truth I must say that this time he stood almost alone in his belief.
His had been an eventful story, which we may come upon further on. Boy as he was, he was scarred all over by battle, he had lived the life of a man in his boyhood, and though he was the soul of virtue, his heart lay broken in bits and scattered like clay all over the world where he had wandered. With all that, he had never yet met the one great woman of his life, the one whom somehow he felt all the time was standing somewhere in the world by his path of life, waiting till he should come that way.
Woman — full, complete, and perfect woman was to him the whole wide world. He would follow her, worship afar off, wait and watch if by some chance he might be able to do her service. His soul and sense of duty to woman was that of a knight of old. Alpho Murietta was born out of his time. Amid the revolutions of his land, he had grown up in the field and camp almost without culture, and was what the world, with its usual felicity for fitting a man in his proper niche, was very happy to call a half savage.
That the young new-risen star was a little rough in his appearance and blunt in expression, is true. But his voice was low and soft, his manner gentle, engaging, almost childlike, certainly timid, shrinking, shy of the gaze and attention of men. He stood alone, mantled in the gloom of his own individuality.
A soldier by chance and fortune, yet his figure was lithe and light as that of a woman. His was a singular face for the age. Men were always saying, "Why, I have seen that face before!" In fact it was a face that men would paint, would see without knowing it. Artist as he was by nature, his face, half hidden in blonde and abundant hair that hung to the shoulders, was such a face as painters would paint and men would buy and hang on their walls, and yet know not why. And still it was not beautiful, not by any manner of means. It was a sympathetic face, full of affection and full of truth, of resolution, self-will, defiance, doubt. That is, sometimes.
Faces change so. Let a face be backed by blood and mettle, let the soul be hallowed by experience, and made mellow as a ploughed field by troubles that have torn it up, let it be made charitable of the sins of others by a sense of its own sins, — and you have a face that will wear as many changes of expression as the wind and weather.
This man had come upon his art by instinct. He had fancied, or perhaps really seen, things of beauty; he knew they were hiding back behind his canvas, that some day they would come out from there, stand before him, droop, lean, reach, live, look him in the face, and talk back to him and answer the solitude of his soul. In his solitary hours he had seen them, distant. dim, faint, and far away. They seemed to be afraid to draw near.
By devotion, self-denial, adoration, love for the beautiful, and a sincere and simple life, he made himself familiar with their ways, and then they came, and he made them his friends for ever.
With all his love for woman, he had never yet seen the one certain destiny of his life. Yet he knew she lived. He knew perfectly well that she would come, as the figures and faces of beauty had come on his canvas. And he knew he should recognize her when she came. He pictured her a tall and silent woman, dark and half mysterious; strong, moving a world, yet scarce moving a hand, a central figure, a sun with a thousand stars that moved as she moved, that knew no light but hers.
The first year, the one and only year, of his glory was gone. The young artist was no more a wonder. People began to measure their praise, to doubt, to damn with a definition of qualities. Still no man, however willing some were, had yet proclaimed against him. Soon made, soon marred. All sudden growths as a rule are the story of Jonah's gourd.
At last, without design, without desiring such a thing now, at a time in fact when he almost wished his dream of her to be and remain for ever but a dream and fancy, he met this One Fair Woman face to face in of the highest circles in the world.
He had heard her name without knowing it or caring for it. He had been dreaming all day, was dreaming still. He did not see her till he stood before her in the gorgeous saloon, splendid with all the magnificence of modem art and civilization, and set about by beautiful women and noble men, and she the one chief centre stone In the shining casket.
Then he lifted his eyes to hers, dark and deep and thoughtful, and full of fire. Their light startled him. He awoke from his dream, shrunk back embarrassed, stammered some strange words that he himself did not understand, and in the whirl and movement of the company took refuge at once, and was perhaps at once forgotten by this wonderful woman. At least she betrayed no consciousness, no emotion, no interest whatever.
Possibly she had not heard his name. Possibly she had heard too much of it. Possibly she, too, had been dreaming like himself that night, and did not waken at all. All these and a thousand other possibilities poured through the young man's brain from that day forth. He did not dare to see her again. Yet dreaming or awake he saw nothing but her, heard no sound but her voice, a voice that was so full of soul, of song, of sympathy, so refreshing, soft, and mellow; like the fountain of Trevi.
Murietta, as I have said, knew certainly that he would one day meet this woman. Knowing this by some sort of intuition, a sort of revelation that belongs to certain natures cursed or blessed with intense sensibility, he had been content to wait, to go on silently and in a satisfied sort of way with his work, without once considering what he should do when the time came.
No doubt if he had been asked, or if he had asked himself, he would have replied confidently that he should at once address her, tell her the truth briefly, candidly, frank and bold as a soldier, and possess her.
As it was, however, he did not address her at all. He ran away. He began for the first time in his life to fear. He could not exactly tell what it was that he feared; but he felt himself tremble in the presence of man, alone, in crowds, and all the time impressed with the fear that something dreadful was about to happen. Then the horrors began to pour in upon him from a hundred quarters. He had done nothing at all but hide himself away and try all the time to get that one face from between him and his old loves and beautiful princesses on the canvas. It was impossible. He now was miserable beyond expression. Men began to note his change of manner and of mind. His enemies were delighted; his few, very few friends shook their heads and left him nearly alone.
This could not go on with a mind like his. One day in a mood of desperation he resolved to ask who she was. Strange enough he had not dared mention her name to any one since that night. When at last, pale, excited, trembling, he found the man who could tell him what he sought to learn of her, he found his tongue utterly tied and his mouth dry as if he had had a fever. He wanted to take this man by the collar and lead him into a dark place and turn his face to the wall, and make him tell him there, with his eyes held down and in a voice that only he could hear, who she was, and what her name and history.
That, I should say, is love — love deep, selfdenying, yet uncontrolled.
To his relief, the man led up to the subject of his heart, and told him all about her while he stood by the fire in early autumn, and looked out through the window at a man with a tray on his head and a little bell in his hand hawking his wares.
The tale was soon told, or at least so much as the man chose to relate, and the artist still stood looking out of the window. The friend set down his glass and laid his hand on his shoulder. He started. " I was looking at the man with the tray and bell Very singular; very pretty; 'twould make a picture."
The friend stooped a little and looked through the window; but no man with a tray was to be seen. In fact he had gone on half an hour before. But to the artist he was still there, ringing his little brass bell up in his own right ear, as if to be certain he made a great noise to attract the little people to buy his homely wares.
The men looked each other in the face. The artist was pale and embarrassed.
"You are ill. You must stop work. Do you know what your friends say?"
"Ay, your friends — the world."
"Shall I tell you?"
"Well, yes, since we had as well hear one falsehood as another."
"But it will offend you."
"I have passed that phase."
"I fear it will annoy you."
"Nonsense. You annoy me by your insinuations. Speak plain."
"Well then, my dear fellow, you must stop work."
"Is that what the world says?"
"Well, no, not exactly, but,"
"But, but, but!"
The artist drew up his bands and wrung them nervously as he looked at his so-called friend.
"But— but! What?"
"They say you — you — that you are ill — and——"
"And — and! " This time the hands had clutched the shoulder. They shook the man, and they shook these words from out between his chattering teeth,
"And that you — you — are insane!"
The artist shook off his friend and found his way into the street.
"Cabman. India Docks."
The Italian flag was fluttering from the masthead of a ship steaming as if just about to start. It bore the word "Genoa."
"Genoa! Genoa? why not? That is in Italy. And she is in Italy."
Down the stormy channel, around the rocky Gates of Hercules and up the choppy, ugly Mediterranean, and they drew in upon the isolated city of palaces.
Marietta walked ashore without even a hat-box in the shape of luggage. Happy man! Not one of the thousand-and-one porters laid hold of him. They thought he belonged to the ship, and opened a very fair line and let him walk leisurely on to the old Hotel Italic, while they fought a hand-to-hand combat with the other passengers for their luggage.
At his hotel the good consul sought Murietta out; but he was still sad and thoughtfuL
"You will dine with me?"
"You will at least call and spend an hour — see my family."
"No, no, no. I am not in a mood to see happy people."
Then suddenly turning to the consul after a moment's silence —
"Consul, do me a favour,"
"With pleasure, if it is in my power."
"Then take me to see those that are unhappy, the miserable!"
The consul hesitated.
"I am miserable to-day; take me among my kind to-day! To-morrow I shall be more cheerful."
They passed up the narrow crowded streets with mighty marble palaces on either hand, up past many fountains, up many steps, under many arches, around a spiral stairway of marble, till suddenly they stood before the Jardin Nero with its tropical flowers, its fountains, its birds, its beasts, and its thousand happy children and beautiful women.
The consul turned his back to this, and led across the shady walk to the beautiful public drive, with its double rows of trees, its fountains, its bands of music, and its whirl of carriages that follow one another around and around on this delightful drive overlooking the sea, that seems to have been fashioned from a half-levelled mountain.
"Folly, folly! I asked for the unhappy. You bring me to this whirl of gaiety — this giddiness of delight!"
"You asked for the miserable. Here they are! There they sit in those carriages! There are the truly unhappy! And so it is the wide world oyer."
Marietta grasped his hand. He looked him in the face as if he would look him through.
"You have uttered a great truth. I knew it before, I felt it before, but dared not say."
Around and around the carriages whirled, two and two, and then a double line meeting till they drove four deep, and the horses took in the spirit of the splendid sunset scene and bent their necks and tossed their manes and stepped as if they scarcely touched the ground. A group of peasants in gay and beautiful dresses with their glorious hair about their shoulders, danced below an acacia tree in the sprinkle of the fountain while officers in splendid uniforms moved leisurely up and down and bowed to the blackrobed women seated here and there in twos and threes and the black eyed women smiled and blushed in return: and all the time the fountains flashed and played in the gold of the sloping sun, while the bands played martial airs and then low and tender melodies.
The carriages were largely those of foreigners. They were filled with beautiful women and men who certainly wore a look of more care than was consistent with the scene. There was a fearful rivalry between many of these splendid tenants.
This one had the best horses in Genoa, but that one had a carriage that shone with gold and silver; then this carriage bore the most beautiful woman in the world, while that one claimed a special glory because it bore the Crown Prince of Italy.Start reading Chapter 2 of The One Fair Lady