However much Marietta professed to like his tower on — or rather under — the Tarpeian Rock, and however much he tried to persuade himself that it was just what he wanted and that he was just where he ought to be, and that he was, finally, very philosophic and perfectly happy, he certainly was very miserable.
Gaze as he would from his window out on the fresh green trees that topped the Palatine Hill just visible over the lower end of the Capitoline, he kept all the time thinking of her. Do what he might, turn where he would through the labyrinths of old Rome where the Jews had been penned up for a thousand years, and where Time had sat down in a hopeless siege before old tufa built battlements — he all the time saw that one woman, and thought of her and only her. He had thought of her all his life. But then he had thought of her with hope. Now it was only with despair.
How different all things seemed!
Hope is high. All life, all things, glitter in the sun; and the world goes by as to the march of music. When Hope lies down and dies, then it is night. You cannot move; you cannot see. You want to curse, and die too.
Yet this man was not altogether a child in his weakness. He made strong efforts to rally. Like an old Greek thrown down in battle, he would still fight, still endeavour to rise, to throw off the weight that was crushing him, and go on to the end, if only to see what that end might be. He would wait for the tomorrows as they should come filing by in line one after the other, if only to see what they had to give.
He had the two little cells carpeted, and this gave them a more cheerful face. There was no stove, no fireplace; what was to be done?
He spoke to the pretty padrona.
"Ah no; there are no stoves or fireplaces in all this part of Rome."
"But what am I to do for a fire? the nights begin to grow chill?"
"I will show you."
She tripped out under her great folds of rich black hair, and brought in a little earthen pot with a handle bent over the top like a flower-basket, and held it up warm and glowing with its little handful of burning charcoal.
"There! that is the Roman fireplace. See here! " She stepped to the bed-room, threw back the blankets, parted the sheets, and ran the smooth glazed bottom of the little basket of burning coal over the sheets.
She held it up again. " See! Here we set the tea-pot; there we boil our kettle; here we broil the meat; here we warm our hands. This is fireplace, parlour-stove, cook-stove, and warming-pan."
She held the little basket of fire up admiringly, and then handed it to Murietta, who set it down in the middle of his little parlour, and soon felt the room grow warm and comfortable. The pretty Roman woman looked in through the half-opened door, as he sat there warming his hands and wondering at this primitive contrivance, and laughed. Not knowing what else to do, Murietta laughed also.
"What a singular man!" thought the little head as it moved away under the great folds of midnight hair. And then she tripped away downstairs singing an opera as she went.
There was a gentle tap at the bed-room door at ten in the morning.
The door pushed open; a pretty little Roman woman entered with a little tray held high up, as it is always held in Italy; and she bowed and smiled and blushed and then laughed like a schoolgirl.
There was a little steaming pot of tea, a roll of bread, and a little platter of butter. She wheeled up a little stand by the bedside, set her tray there, and all the time talking in a light laughing way, she seemed to fill the whole house with sunshine.
Murietta was delighted; he rose up like a bolstered invalid, poured out the steaming tea, broke bread, and as the pretty little woman stood by under her storm of black hair, he said, "Dolce far niente" and laughed also.
And then he looked at this woman's dress, this pretty woman who stood by his bedside waiting to serve him, or rather he looked at her want of dress, and was amazed. Good gracious! Her arms were bare almost to the shoulders. Her shoulders were bare almost to anywhere. She was hardly dressed at all. The dress across her bosom reached and tiptoed and tried hard to get up and hide her beauty, but in vain. The truth is, she was dressed almost as scantily as a belle at a fashionable ball- room. And yet she did not blush or seem ashamed.
"Ah yes, she had been to church, to mass; they had all been to church. They never missed going to church on the Sunday. And this was Sunday."
The artist rose up, and went down the crooked lane and down the crazy stone steps with grass springing up all along between the kerbs. He came to the Via Montenare. What a crowd of people! And such people! They were wild as Indians. They were clad in sheepskins and blue woollen clothes spun and woven on the primitive looms that were in use ere Rome had a name or a place on the Palatine.
The tight blue breeches of the men reached down to the knee. There they were met by long hose wound and bound tight as drums by cords and thongs that showed the muscle to a fine advantage. The feet were bound in sandals made of the buffido skin. The hair hung long and bushy down the back or about the shoulders, and the head was covered by a tall bell-crowned hat, with braid, black, and ornamented by at least one feather. This hat always sat jauntily on the side of the head, and you felt certain that the man had just come upon the boards before you, and you always kept expecting him to begin to say his piece. There was always a long large cloak in the possession of each of these wild actors, but you could never see them wear them. They were generally hung over the left shoulder, sometimes out on the arm as a soldier wears a shield. It is safe to say that nine hundred and ninety-nine in any thousand of these men had a knife up his sleeve or down his leg.
What a splendid set of savages they were to be sure!
Tall, supple, nervous, bright-eyed and restless, they swayed, crowded, pushed through the streets together, talked, laughed, bantered the black eyed women, and seemed quite at home in the dirty narrow little piazza of Montenare.
But these men never ventured into the new and civilized part of the city. Even where they were, they kept close together, looked warily at every man dressed in the modern style, and did not at all mix with the people of Rome.
These were the men of the Campagna and of the lower Tiber. They poured into the city from seven in the morning till two in the afternoon; and then the tide began to set back. Before the sun was down, there was not one of their number to be found in the city.
They seemed to be innumerable. They filled up the narrow roads and streets for miles and miles. They always came into the city by the gate of St. Paul. They would not enter by any other. The wrongs and oppressions of the city for two thousand years cannot be forgotten. These wild men still beheve that Rome is Rome. They cannot understand that there is any law or obedience to law in the city. That is the reason they carry knives in their sleeves, and carry their cloaks on their arms like shields, and always enter at the same gate, and pour in like an army of barbarians about to sack the city, and stick together in a solid mass, and always return before nightfall and in a close body as they come.
You see them only on Sunday, and at these certain hours, and in this certain street, and under the dark and solemn shadows of the Theatre of Marcellus. If you remain up on the Corso and in new Rome, you will not see one of these people in a lifetime.
Sometimes as they enter you will see a woman in the mass laden down with produce for traffic, and you will see also hundreds of little mules and asses moving along with only their legs below and their ears above, visible from out the load of fruit or vegetables being borne into the city for sale. But the men, like the true Indians, refuse to bear loads. They step high and free, their heads thrown back as if they walked the stage and were about to act a tragedy; their hands are on their knives; their shields are on their arms.
As they return, you will see every ass and every mule loaded with bread. All the bread for miles and miles around the city, is baked in Rome.
This bread for the peasants is black and ugly and sour. It is baked in a hoop or circle, a hole in the centre like a grinding- stone. Through this hole a rope is passed, and twenty, thirty, forty cakes are strung together, and then swung around the neck of a mule or over a woman's shoulders.
There is nothing in Rome or out of Rome so wild, so picturesque, so interesting, as this herd of half-tamed people pouring out of Rome on their way to their little huts and their homes in caves and old ruins, away out on the desolated and desert-like Campagna. Where did these people come from? Who are they, and what will they accomplish? Is this the blood of Brutus you see here in this stern, proud face? Is that woman in gay and beautiful colours a daughter of Cornelia? Did that man's fathers found the city of London, or overthrow Jerusalem?Start reading Chapter 15 ofThe One Fair Lady