Murietta looked at his new picture the new light of morning with a singular expression on his worn and weary face. He turned it to the light, turned it away, turned it side ways, turned it in every conceivable way; still it did not please him. Surely it was not the fault of the hand that fashioned it, for it was as wonderful in its execution as it was sudden. It was such a likeness, such a beautiful, matchless, and magnificent face. You could only see the face, and yet you could fancy you saw the lady, saw her moving, gliding, passing away, turning, looking back over her shoulder, earnest, thoughtful, full of soul — but it was a soul of pity, of sympathy, not of love.
And this it was that tormented the fevered brain of Murietta. She was for ever turning away from him; not scornfully, not suddenly or severely, but sadly, and with a face full of pity for him, and that sort of sympathy which a great and good soul feels for an inferior one when troubled.
He had drawn this picture in a state of mind that made him almost beyond the reach of responsibility for his acts. He had painted this by the dim candle light, and in a single night, and all from memory. Yet he had, from the first beginning of that picture, determined to paint quite another position and quite another expression. Time and again he had pictured this same face, this same retiring, sympathetic face, looking back at him over her shoulder. If he had painted his ideal woman, the one who had been set up in his heart from the first, it is pretty certain he had painted this same picture, and painted it exactly after this fashion. At least he could now only image her in that way. He tried to recall the time when she had not been turning away from him, looking back in a great sympathy — but he could not.
He turned the picture to the cold, bright sunbeams that pitched through the little window down over the Capitoline Hill once more, and walked around and around and around, and began to talk to himself in a low, quiet way. Then he turned the picture again. This time he smiled and uttered an exclamation of delight.
The picture, the face was looking at him as if it might return, as if it had stopped in its retreat and would come back, and lay its hand on his arm, and talk to him in a low, sweet way, and not be for ever turning from him.
He stepped close to the picture, spoke to it, clasped his hands, and looked eagerly in the face, for he thought he saw the lips move, and he waited to hear her answer him.
The door softly opened. "Did you call, signor? " He turned his head angrily and beckoned the countess from the room.
The dream seemed broken. He could not get the face to look at him again, turn it as he would. His hands were cold; his head was in a fever.
Around and around and around he moved and turned the picture in every possible light; yet all the time it was passing away, and would come to him no more.
He caught up a dagger that lay on the little table at his side. "I have followed you — I have followed you for a thousand years. Centuries before I was bom, it seems to me, I sought to find you out among the millions that make their journey through the chartless seas, and touch the stars, and land sometimes to rest like birds in flight, but found no place where we might rest till now.
"At last we two are on this earth! We two have touched this little grain of dust that rises in the great highway of stars from the wheels of Time; we two together! And yet you, after all my years of weary waiting, will turn away and come to me no more!"
He folded his arms, tucked the little blade up under his arm, and stood before the picture; and he looked at it, and bowed forward, and he listened, and he seemed to hear it speak — to speak to him — to answer back — and to turn to him. Yet all the time his brow grew dark, his lips hot, and his breathing short and quick.
Suddenly he sprang erect. He seemed to have heard her final answer.
The blade was in the air. He struck his foot on the floor, and cried, —
"There, go! go! I command you to go! I curse you — I kill — There! take that and go from out my heart, for you have been my bane and death! "
He struck the dagger through the picture, and leaving it there, staggered on past it through the open door, and fell with his face buried in his bed.
Nothing is so hard for an over-taxed mind to do as nothing.
Murietta all these months past, had been attempting to rest. The result was, his mind was hard at work, and grew more wearied than ever.
The mind can only rest at work. Lie down to sleep, and the more tired you are, the more certain is the soul to take strange journeys, and vex you with scenes that you would not see.
Had this artist had the strength and the determination, after first meeting with Annette, to quietly find out some pleasant English village, sit down there, picture old cathedrals, lonesome lanes, and stout human faces, he had rested at his work and been very well. As it was, he travelled. Just as if a man could travel away from himself!
And now at last, with this counter current, this beautiful countess with her pitiful face and all her troubles crossing his path, appealing to him, and then his hard life and horrible cell on the shady side of the Tarpeian Rock, the miasma blowing in from the Pontine Marshes, the poisonous air generated in the wretched Jew quarter — all these were too much. The artist was mad with the Roman fever.
As he lay there, the beautiful countess, in her strange but becoming dress of rose and pink, was before him all the time and pleading to him for help.
He knew perfectly well, insane as he was with the fever, that his own mind now was not over practical and cool. He felt that his life and soul were not on a level with the world around him, and that in the battle with the world he stood at a sore disadvantage. True, he might be above them all; yet to be alone, to be lifted up, is to be made a mark for every archer's arrow.
If you would have peace and make a successful fight, keep down in the open plain,, and on a level with your fellows, for that is best.
He now remembered more vividly than ever before, his old terror of the madhouse. He seemed to see all his friends, all the fearless and bold and original men who dared speak, live, act, as they believed and for themselves, shut up by the great majority who live, act, speak, as is prescribed and ordered by society.
He saw himself persecuted, hunted down, caught, confined in a damp prison, behind rusty bars, watched by a set of imbeciles, pitied by a set of well-regulated philanthropists, and he began to cry out in his agony of mind. He half awoke. His mind settled in its place a moment. Yet the countess in her warm, soft attire of rose and pink was before him still.
Never had she seemed so near to him before. His own stormy seas had thrown him on the sands at her feet. He seemed to understand her now. He pictured himself as standing in her place.
He remembered how terrible it had been to him when men tried to make him appear insane. Yet he was a man, strong enough, well enough, with all the world before him, and he was free to choose his time of going and his place of retreat.
But here was a weak and helpless woman, one who certainly had seen nothing at all of the bad side of life, a woman with a family, bound by ties of man and God to a certain person and to a certain form of con- duct. And this won^an, too, was being per- secuted by a beast — a sort of Caliban and old man of the mountains combined, from whom she could not escape.
He saw all this as she stood before him there, and his heart filled fall of sympathy. He seemed to stand beside her. He saw that their souls stood very near together now in their trouble, and he questioned himself why he could not reach out his hand to the only one in all the world that stood by his side and understood him.
Then he thought of Anette. He saw her as he had seen her ten thousand times. She was still in his heart, the one great picture there, the central figure on its walls. But she was going away, it seemed to him. She was looking back over her shoulder, turning sharp about she seemed to be. Yet he had seen her ever thus before. He thought this all over, and tried to remember what had happened that morning between them. He was certain he had just been talking to her. Even now, as she was turning away, passing out of sight, looking back, her lips were half parted.
Perhaps she had just been saying farewell!
This thought maddened him. He sprang up, shrieked aloud and reached his hands in the air, and then fell back moaning in his bed.
A little lady with a storm of black hair stood before him. She came up close to the bed,
"Come here, my Roman lady, I have a story to tell you.'
The little countess came as close as she dared up to the bedside of her singular lodger.
"You see that picture there with the dagger through it?"
He partly turned in his bed and pointed to the picture he had painted that night, and which he had been talking to that morning. "Well, she has gone away. She will never come back any more. You know how beautiful she was — how good — how gentle she was to all of us?"
"But I did not see her."
"Did not see her? Why, she was here all night. And you did not see her? Well, she has gone away and will never come back any more!" He turned on his side and hid his face in his hands.
After awhile he opened his eyes and looked up. A black-eyed little lady with a storm of black hair stood beside him.
"And you did not see her? "
"The lady that I painted last night, the lady that I was talking to you about."
"Nay, you have been talking to my sister."
"And where has your sister gone then?"
"She has gone with the prince to bring you a doctor, for you are very ill."
"Well, what an idea! Why, you see I have been at work for that lady. I had to finish it last night. I finished it! I finished it without raising my head. My hand is so tired it aches as if it would break. And then, don't you think, she went off in a rage about it? See! my dagger is through it! My dagger is in it up to the hilt."
The little countess stood back to the wall as the man rose in his bed looking straight in her face.
Then he reached out his hand, and pointing at the picture and wagging his finger, said, —
"I scattered roses in her path. I followed her by sea and land. I waited and watched and worked for a thousand years. and now just see what comes of it!" Again the man sank back, burning to death with the fever, and hid his face in the bedclothes.
He raised his face again, and looked at the little woman in black and abundant hair who stood before him.
"Was it wrong? Do you think it was wrong? "
"Wrong? what was wrong?"
"Wrong to drive the dagger through her breast?"
"Holy Mother! what is the man talking of?" The little woman retired back to the door.
"Talking of? Why of the picture — the picture I was just telling you about."
"Telling me? No, you must have been telling my sister."
"And has your sister gone? "
"Yes, for a moment."
"To bring you a priest."
"Why a priest? why?"
"signor, you are so very, very ill!"
Murietta did not answer. He understood it all now, and stretched himself back in his bed with his face to the door, while the little countess stood waiting and watching, and ever and anon looking out of the door and listening for steps on the narrow stone stairs.
There was the rattle of a sabre on the step. The door opened into the little hall, and then into the little salon where the picture drooped with the dagger in it as if it had wilted in the sun.
The doctor lifted his felt bare hat and brushed it a little with his threadbare sleeve before proceeding to settle it down on the little table by the picture. At the same time his black eyes wandered, or rather danced, about the room as if to take an inventory of the baggage and the property in sight.
It did not take him long. There was a wrinkle in his brow when he had finished. Then he looked at the picture. "Ah! an artist!" There were now two wrinkles in his brow. He looked through the door into the bed-room, saw the walls hung with strange implements of the savages. and said, "Ah! an American artist!" There were now three wrinkles in his brow.
This man wore the moustache so dear to every Italian. But his moustache seemed to be ashamed of itself, and was all the time trying to hide up under his nose. His eyes were black and small and unsatis- fied, and stood very close together as if they too wanted to take shelter under the doctor's nose. There was nothing particularly noticeable about the man's brow save the three wrinkles just above the nose, and the thick black hair just above the wrinkles. He was a tall, thin man who looked as if he had not dined for years. Across his arm was a little leather bag, but it was so little and so light that it did not seem to make the least impression for itself. It was as if a big leather winged bat had blown out of the ruins somewhere and lit on his arm as he passed.
Behind the doctor, who stood in the doorway, now taking an inventory of the baggage in the bed room, stood a stout, heavy, round-faced, beardless man, whom Murietta somehow at once knew to be Prince Trawaska. His right hand rested on the hilt of his sabre; his left held his cap, which he kept poising and turning lightly in the air, while Marietta measured him, as if it made him a little nervous to be looked at.
The doctor turned his head to the prince in light blue uniform, all ablaze with buttons and broad gold lace and glittering epaulettes.
"Why do you bring me here?"
"The countess said the man was mad with the fever."
"Mad he may be; mad he is — but I! a professor! an Italian physician, doctor to the Duke of Montebello, the King of Naples, the Duchess of Sicily! But this man has not baggage enough to pay for his coffin!"
The prince shrugged his shoulders. "Ah, but he has friends, perhaps we can squeeze his friends. Squeeze his friends, you see?"
"His friends I Does a man who has friends hide away in a place like this?"
"But," urged two of the little ladies in a breath, "the man is ill — he is a stranger"
"He needs you; will you not help him? Besides, he is a good man."
"A good foreigner? and poor!" The doctor laughed in a wicked, a devilish sort of a way, that made Marietta's blood run cold.
"But if you will please to help him," pleaded the countess, "we will pay you. We will pay you your five francs every time you must call."
"We will pay you your five francs every day," cried four sweet voices at the door together.
The prince twisted and twirled his cap more nervously than before.
"Well," said the doctor after a long breath, "that is — you will pardon me, but we professional men are overworked. We are imposed upon also." He turned to the four little ladies all there together (all so perfectly alike that even their lovers sometimes came and began their pathetic tales of love and left them off, and came and began again to one of the four who had not heard the beginning), and made a long and elaborate speech of thanks.
Murietta lay there perfectly conscious, hearing and understanding every word.
The Italian knave makes more mistakes, ten to one, than the knave of any race in the world. This he owes to his lively imagination. He is all the time jumping at conclusions.
"Then, good doctor, you will attend him, and attend him at once?"
The little leather-winged bat loosened itself from the threadbare sleeve and fluttered down into the doctor's hand as he stepped towards the bedside, and reached his hand to take and feel the pulse of the artist.
Murietta drew back his wrist, raised up on his elbow, hitched himself back in bed, and sat bolt upright looking the man full in the face.
The doctor took a step back, and the little leather winged bat fluttered again back to its perch on the arm. There was a little table or stand by the bedside, and on the little table or stand lay a pistol.
Murietta raised his arm, passed his hand across his brow as if to collect his thoughts. Then he let his hand fall carelessly down at his side. It rested very near the butt of the pistol.
"Doctor, what is your fee for this visit?" The prince jerked up his shoulders till his gorgeous epaulettes danced and rattled beneath his ears. The doctor's moustache tried to hide beneath his nose, and there was nothing visible on his brow but the three wrinkles.
"What is your charge for this visit?"
The prince recovered first. These men from the north are always masters of themselves even under circumstances that will crush an Italian.
The round head, with the big ears above the gorgeous epaulettes, bowed forward and whispered in the doctor's ear.
"What is your charge, I ask, for this visit?" The artist was getting loud and excited.
"Fi — five — five hundred francs." The fingers of the artist clutched the butt of the pistol. The thumb threw itself over the hammer.
"What is your charge for this visit, I ask?"
"Fi — five — hundred francs."
The prince leaned forward again. The big ears were blossoming red with excitement.
"Gold — in gold," whispered the prince, loud enough to be heard all over the room, "say in gold!"
"And in gold," cried the Italian doctor boldly, as he and the prince advanced together towards the bed.
The doctor backed against the prince, and the prince backed right against the wall.
The pistol was pointing at their heads,
"Five francs? Did you say five francs, doctor?"
The little bull-dog of a pistol stuck its nose out, thrust it forward, way out in the face of the two men as if it was just about to bark, as if it was positively anxious to bark. It seemed as if it could hardly keep from barking right out. It seemed to say, "0, if you will only say five hundred francs, so that I can bark at you, I will be so glad. 0, do say five hundred francs! Please say five hundred francs!"
The men trembled together till a sabrepoint rattled against the stone floor, and the brass image of the she-wolf on the soldier's belt was pressed deep into the body of its wearer by the cowering form of the shivering doctor.
The big ears had faded, and were now as pale as paste.
"Five," hissed the soldier.
"Fi — five," said the doctor catching his breath.
The pistol settled down on the stand but the hammer was still lifted. It lay. there like a little bull-dog showing its teeth as if it still was positively anxious to bark.
A little woman came close up to his side. A true old Roman was she! One of the mothers of the new Italy.
"You will write a receipt in full for five francs, for this doctor to sign."
"And it is to be gold," said the soldier.
The little bull-dog sprang up again into the air. And the soldier went to the wall.
"Yes; gold then," said the artist, "the man does not want the currency of his country. Give him gold, and let him begone."
^ The trembling hand of the doctor wrote his name.
Then the man caught up his little leather bag on his left arm and stood pulling his moustache with his right hand.
The prince muttered something doggedly and thick with oaths.
The doctor then handed his receipt back to the artist, who would not take it.
"Have you a stamp?"
The doctor coloured up, fumbled in his pocket, and brought forth a stamp. He pasted this on the receipt, and once more held it out towards the artist.
"No, doctor, not yet! That will not do. You may be a very good Italian doctor; but you are not a good Italian lawyer. Be so good as to take the pen and write the date and the initials of your name across the stamp. There! that will do! The little bull-dog settled down on the table by the bedside, but it still showed its teeth.
"Countess, you will hand this man the doctor five francs in gold, and you will tell him he need not come to visit me any more."
The countess smiled a smile of satisfaction and perfect triumph. She handed him the money; and the doctor, turning to Murietta, wished him health and good day, and bowing, took up his hat, and passed out.
"Call back the doctor!" cried Murietta.
The soldier who was just passing out of the door, brought the doctor back, pushed him into the room, but was very careful to remain outside himself.
"You have got your money, have you?"
"You have got your pay in full? "
"You are perfectly satisfied?"
"Perfectly satisfied, signor, thank you."
"Then you can go, and you need not return."
The doctor bowed more profoundly than before.
The cunning Italian was getting to have some respect for the foreigner from the West. As he passed out of the door he turned, and bowed most profoundly again.
The two doors shut behind him, and the prince's sabre was heard rattling on the narrow stone steps as they descended together.
"Call back that doctor!" shouted Murietta.
The doctor came and stood in the door with his hat in his hand.
"Did you understand me, doctor?"
"Are you perfectly certain that you understand perfectly well that I do not want you to come here to visit me any more?"
"Perfectly, signor, my good master and most kind gentleman, I did understand perfectly well that I am not to visit you again."
"Ah, I see you understand. Now you can go."
This time the doctor bowed himself almost to the floor. He backed himself out from the presence of the artist as if he had been before his king.
The Prince Trawaska, the Italian colonel, made a military salute, and touched the tip of his cap. He wheeled on his heel as the doctor came out, and was marching him down the stairs as if he had been a sort of new recruit.
There was a little interruption on the stairs, for the sabre ceased to rattle, and voices were heard in conversation. They had met the priest. It is not certain, but very probable that the doctor forbade the priest to see his patient, for he did not come up the stairs.
The sabre rattled again; and the priest and the doctor and the soldier were gone.