Why he went straight to the Corso and took that end of it leading towards the Capitoline, Murietta would not even have confessed to himself.
He soon came to the great palaces, passed on up the street among the crowds of people sauntermg along in the middle of the street, as in all Italian towns, without regard to the pavement, and perfectly fearless of the slow coaches and carriages that moved good-naturedly through the crowd, and saw the open court leading into the great palace, as described by the secretary. He lifted his hat, walked on past, turned on his heel, walked back again, again lifted his hat, crossed the street, stood there. looked a long time at the imposing palace, and then walked on towards the Capitoline.
"It is utterly impossible. Not only that, but it is idiotic to entertain the thought of such a thing. I am tired. I have worked, and fought, and travelled, and done much for others — little for myself. I will sit down and rest. I will step aside, let the world go by, and watch its actions. Doing nothing myself, bearing no part in the play, no interest in it, no care further than to be amused, I will laugh at its mistakes, and mock at its calamities."
So mused Murietta as he walked on toward the Capitoline. He went there as a wild beast would have gone under the same circumstances.
Turn a herd of wild cattle into a field; they all run at once, bellowing, to the highest part of the field, to take a look at their surroundings. A wild deer in a park, antelopes, and all sorts, will do precisely the same thing. A bear will climb the stoutest tree. A wolf will sit down on the highest place he can find, and howl all night.
At the base of the broad step you will see, to the right, and in fact almost at your shoulder, for it is mounted on the end of the balustrade, a tiger in blue marble. Mount these steps, crossing to the other side, and you will find there the little she wolf, a harmless kind of coyote, no bigger than a sheep dog, and quite as innocent. It is the wonder of the dozens of little boys for ever climbing up and leaning over the balustrade. It is under the eye of a handsome policeman, with a sword by his side, mounted by a bronze figure of the she-wolf of old and her twins, and in a cocked hat with a perfect storm of red cock's feathers, and it is kept at the city's expense.
There are the mighty marble figures of Castor and Pollux, found after a thousand years, broken up and in bits, beneath a ruined palace. They are looking straight down upon the she-wolf, and stand beside their great marble horses in line with "him who first showed his imperial successors the road to heaven." There is the museum to the left where the "Dying Gladiator" and the hideous old brass wolf— 'The thunder-stricken nurse of Rome' are kept, and from that high balcony overlooking all Rome, the new king proclaimed his presence and authority to the people of Rome.
A mighty mounted figure in bronze, Marcus Aurelius, long thought to be Constantine, stands in the centre of the stony square that tops the Capitoline, and a fountain pours from a group of grand and imposing marbles to the left.
Murietta passed these, climbed the steps to the right, passed under a high arch, through a long passage into a narrow, dirty street, read the sign which some enterprising rascal had put up at the entrance to a garden :
"This is the entrance to the Tarpeian Rock"
— and passed on down a flight of steps to a narrow street running along the side of a steep hill.
A pretty Roman woman was standing on the steps, with a little boy in a cap which showed that he belonged to the new schools established by the Government. This woman had a pleasant face. The boy was perfectly beautiful. There was a sign over the door.
"You have apartments to let?"
"Can I see them?"
The woman lifted her brows a little. No doubt she was thinking, " This man has committed a crime and wishes to hide. What else could bring him to this part of the town?"
Then she said —
"Will you so honour me?"
And leading the way she climbed two flights of stairs, pushed open a door, passed into a little hall with a fine view of St. Peter's and Monte Mario from the window, to the north, and then opening a door to the south side of the hall, bade the artist enter.
A brick floor, the least bit of crazy furniture. It was a cell. There was a bedroom adjoining. A little iron bedstead, a stand, a chair, a rush mat to protect the feet from the dusty bricks as you got in and out of bed, and that was all.
While they talked of the views from the windows, the fine air, and all that, a sister came and stood by the side of the pretty matronly Roman woman. Then as they talked of bed and board another sister came and stood in the room. Then he asked the price. As he did so another pretty Roman girl, with curls all about her face, came in, and stood and looked in silence with her great chestnut eyes on the stranger.
This charmed him. This would not be a cheerless home at all. He could buy carpets and get a heater for the rooms, and from this lofty look-out watch the world go by, and laugh when he could and weep when he must.
He counted down the fifty francs for a month, and was perfectly content. The pretty girls began to arrange the rooms as he directed, and to laugh like so many fountains as they moved about.
Returning to his hotel, he was about to enter a cab to return to his lodgings, when the formidable woman, the special correspondent in gold spectacles, stretched out her bony arm as a sort of barrier.
"And you are going?"
"Where, where? The world, papers I represent, will wish to know where,"
"Down the Tiber."
"Ah, down the Tiber, down the Tiber. Now we shall have some famous pictures to be called 'Views on the Tiber.' Am I not correct? Yes, yes, I will so state it in my next."
And as Murietta climbed into the cab she whipped out a note-book, scribbled a second, and then, as if fearing he would escape, threw out the long arm again, clutched his leg, and held him fast.
"You will not forget my plan for shipping pictures to America. My plan is, you remember, to establish a regular line of ships for taking pictures regularly every month from Rome to the States. That will give room for our American artists to work. That will encourage them. It will encourage you, will it not? Only fancy, a shipload of pictures every month! That will keep at least half of the American artists in steady work. Think of it, think of it! It is a great humanitarian movement, A thought, it is, worthy of yourself. In fact, in my next I shall so state it. That will give it more weight; perhaps that will get the matter before Congress — get a subsidy — in fact, make a fortune. Think of it, think of it! It will pay; I tell you it will pay. Besides the pictures we would ship statuary. The statuary would serve for ballast to the ship. We could ballast every ship with statuary by American artists. That would also give room for, and employment to, the American sculptors. Think of it, think of it! It is valuable, worthy of your co-operation. It will pay, it will pay. Pictures and marble, marble and pictures, by the shipload."
The fearful woman here whipped out her note-book again, and began to write. The little actor on the box, who had seen all this and understood, though he did not understand a word, now let off his double string of fire-crackers, and while the fearful woman clutched after Murietta and still called out that it would "pay," he drove from under the shadow of the "Angleterre," and into the Via Montenare by the Theatre of Marcellus. Here Murietta handed his actor with the fire-crackers a franc, gave his trunk into the hands of a man who sat there mending chairs, and, mounting the rough steps that led up under the shadow of the Tarpeian Rock, was soon inside his cell, looking down at the world, watching it, and trying to laugh.
He fell to thinking in spite of himself, and when the pretty Roman girl brought him his tea, and only roused him by touching his shoulder and telling him his toast would get cold, he rose up in a sort of stupor. He went to the window, looked out on the Theatre of Marcellus, up and away across the Tiber to the dome of St. Peter's, then turned to the pretty girl, and, remembering that he had come there to be cheerful, tried to laugh. The pretty Roman girl shook her head, opened her eyes very wide, looked at the artist sideways, and then went out.
The four sisters grouped their pretty heads together and shook their curls doubtingly, for the prettiest one had told them that when the man laughed there were tears in his eyes.
CHAPTER XIV.Start reading Chapter 14 ofThe One Fair Lady