The day was done, and the consul and the artist were walking on together toward the Hotel Italic.
"The poor count has a sorry time of it indeed," observed the consul.
"And why? He certainly seems the happier of the two."
"Ah, you do not understand. Well, there is a history! — a sort of story which nobody knows much about; for the count is so affectionate, so faithful, and so careful of his wife's good fame, that he would die rather than reveal it. Still, I am partly in his confidence; and he has hinted at enough to make at least a dozen men miserable."
"Well, she at least is miserable."
"She is mad!" added the consul emphatically.
Marietta put his hand to his brow. He began to wonder if the consul had heard what his enemies had said of him. He looked in the face of his friend, and drew a breath of relief.
"And that big man with the little boy?"
"A sort of keeper, and a friend of the good count's."
"And are they long in Genoa?"
"Oh, so-so! for the season of a few weeks like all travellers. And they too, like all the English-speaking people, are at the same hotel with yourself."
Murietta shrugged his shoulders, and wished them almost anywhere else.
"Whatever she is, I am not in a mood to meet her. As for the count, he is too in- sipid — too soft. I should despise him. The big man with the big chin. — Look here!" As Murietta turned the comer of the street, he laid a finger of his left hand in his open palm and said emphatically, "Honest men don't tell you that they carry their hearts in their hands."
The consul only laughed, said something about his being a blunt old sailor who only said it for the sake of a pretty expression, and they parted.
They shook hands at the great castle-gate-like door of the hotel; and the tired artist — devoutly hoping he should meet no one, particularly the woman with the sad face and pitiful history — climbed to his rooms up the great marble steps, and thus selfishly shutting up his heart, entered, shut the door, and walked up and down the marble floor, thinking only of Annette — the One Fair Woman.
If this fair, sad-faced lady, the Countess Edna, was beautiful as she sat in the carriage, she was tenfold more so as she moved in her. rich Italian dress down to the salle that evening to dinner.
Murietta had been there before she entered. He had his face on his upturned palm, and was moody and silent, and dissatisfied with Genoa. He had not seen her enter, although he had been looking straight in that direction. When he first saw her, she was walking, or rather gliding, moving as if on waves, coming noiselessly, save the rustle of her trailing pink garments, straight upon him. He rose to his feet, and her husband, who followed, very gently seated her at the table only a remove or two away.
Again Murietta fell into his mood, let his head fall on his upturned palm in an abstracted abandon that had been rudeness in any other than this careless land of repose, and fell to thinking of her he fain would find.
There was the prettiest little laugh, and the beautiful countess turned her head just a little so as to lift and let fall the shower of her gold hair about her bare and blushing shoulders; and Murietta turned to look, admire, and listen.
The big admiral sat opposite, bowed low to Murietta, reached his hand as if he held his heart in it — and then turned to look with a sort of hungry expression at his prisoner.
The Count Edna sat beside his lady, and beyond her sat the red-faced, fat, very proper English clergyman, in black clothes with his napkin tuoked up under his chin.
The lady had been speaking to this clergyman, and he had evidently been talking of or quoting the Italian poets.
"Dante!" laughed the lady, "ha, ha! it was Dante who wrote all about hell, was it not?"
The clergyman bowed profoundly.
"Well, was Dante ever married?"
The clergyman laid down his knife and fork, and rolled his eyes about, and lifted up the lower part of his napkin and threatened his mouth with it, and held it there theologically and in silence.
The count sighed, and looked down the table for sympathy. A very long spinster in gold spectacles away down the table said, "Poor lady," loud enough for all to hear, and the hungry admiral whipped out a book and wrote something under the shadow of his enormous chin.
"Because," continued the countess, as if she had not heard or seen a thing that passed, though she heard, saw, felt all, and more than all, "because I want to read Dante once more, and must inform myself on this point, for I have no confidence in authors who get their information second- hand!"
As the dinner advanced the big admiral melted away under the influence of Italian wine, and withdrew, taking the count in tow. The man sandwiched in between the artist and the countess was fairly absorbed by the literary lady in gold spectacles, and drawn to her side; and thus Murietta found himself at last almost alone by the very woman he had wished to avoid.
He had expected her to begin and wear him out in a dozen ways at once. On the contrary, she sat silent, as far as he was concerned, and only addressed herself to the little sunshine of a boy by her side.
"Yes," at last she answered to the old stereotyped question which every traveller puts to his fellow traveller by way of breaking the ice, "Yes; she liked Genoa well. It had such a history — had been such a brave old crusader."
"And then it discovered us!" added the artist.
She was thoughtful a moment, and then observed:
"What a nomad; what a roving restless creature is man all his life — and even sometimes after life! Columbus, born here in the shadow of the Apennines, lies buried on the other side of the world; and John the Baptisty born away in Judea, lies buried here in Genoa." She paused and changed her tone, and added, "I came here by water. A terrible trip it is, too, in these Italian ships and with these bad seamen." She laughed and looked mischevous and went on again,
"I have nothing to say against the ship captains on the Mediterranean Sea. But I freely give it as my opinion that if the Creator were to ordain another deluge, and were to order another Noah to gather into his ark all the beasts, so that their kind might be saved as of old, then these sea-men need not fear that their race should suffer in the least."
Murietta smiled and filled up his glass.
"They are cruel, indolent, impudent, and filthy! I have found more solid discomfort in a three hours' sail on this sea — anywhere that I have tried it, from the Gates of Hercules to the Ionian Isles — than I got out of the whole passage of the Atlantic. And this discomfort does not seem to be confined to this line or that, one nation or another, Christian, Turk, Jew, or Gentile, all alike seem incomplete and unsatisfactory as sailors. Besides that, the sea itself is a churlish, sudden, squally, sharp, and treacherous bit of water. And after all, perhaps, this may be half the cause of discontent with the ships and captains. Yet I am safe in saying that neither the one nor the other at all approach our great ships and brave old captains that drive against the setting sun. It seems hard to say this, in the town of Columbus, and even as I look out upon his great white monument there, pointing its white ships' prows towards America. But so it is, the cold clear frozen truth, even here — "By the tideless, dolorous, midland sea!"
The artist was getting interested. He waited for her — wished for her to continue, but he did not speak. The lady looked down and lifted the long hair from the shoulders of the little boy who sat by her side in blue velvet and innumerable buttons, then looked at Murietta again, smiling, and went on:
"It is best to come suddenly upon Genoa, and always from the sea, if you wish to behold it in all its beauty. There are two ways of coming upon new lands: the first, and by far the most common way, is to consult maps, and histories, and guide-books, and books of travel, and so seek out a place, full of second-hand knowledge of all it has to offer you; the other and better way, if you have the world and life before you, and lots of leisure, is to go down to the sea, embark on the first ship that points in the direction you wish to go, and ask no questions about the land you are to touch upon, but drift and dream till you are set down in your new world. In that way you become — to yourself at least — a sort of Columbus; and the new port is to you a discovery and a revelation."
Murietta was amazed. He had thought of all this, had himself experienced it, and could do no more nor less than frankly confess the truth.
"I discovered the extreme delight of this sort of a voyage by accident," he said, "or rather by simply going to the sea and shipping without any other purpose or object than to get away from the land. I know of nothing equal to it."
"How strange it is here, is it not?" she queried. "When you first land, you somehow feel you are approaching the confines of Asia. You see turbaned Turks and tawny Arabs moving dreamily up and down the crowded quay; and the redcapped sailors and the oddly-dressed fishermen, barefooted and indolent, testify that you have found a new, or rather old — very old — order of life."
"Yes," said Murietta, "here all things are new, even to very old travellers. From the moment you land you constantly come upon strange things, and are constantly bumping your head against proprieties and time-honoured customs. Few cities have so perfectly maintained their individuality as Genoa. No doubt its isolation, its wall of Apennines, and its long and bitter wars with the neighbouring cities, had much to do with keeping it apart from the rest of the world. But from the first its people were a brave, resolute, and original race. And even to-day the men who led in the Crusades, discovered a world, and established some rules in art, seem pretty well content to go on in ways peculiarly their own."
The pretty countess clasped her pretty hands.
"What immense houses!" she said; "they look like little mountains. I thought I had seen large and lofty houses in Edinburgh, but I find the houses of that romantic old city are mere wigwams compared to those in Genoa. When I came to look at my rooms here, in this hotel, the interpreter said something to the clerk; then the clerk said something to a man in a red cap; then the man in the red cap bowed, and said something to a woman in a white cap; and then the black-eyed woman in the white cap took a candle in her hand and stood before me. And do you know that all this time this looked just like a play? Everybody was dressed as if dressed for the stage, and everybody moved or spoke or reached their hands just as if they had been trained to move and speak and reach their hands just in this way for all time."
"And then?" asked Marietta.
"And then the whole committee, save the clerk was sent away with the count to assist in selecting rooms."
"Ah" laughed the artist, "it takes more men and women in Genoa to do nothing than in any other place in the world — except perhaps in Washington!"
The lady wandered back to the time she first saw Genoa.
"I think a good stock of ignorance and a great deal of indifference is necessary to make this kind of voyaging a success; and these I certainly had when I first came upon Genoa."
"And I too."
"If you are only fortunate enough to first sight Genoa as the sun goes down behind you! Wonderful! marvellous! It looks like a miracle! You will think there is surely a city in the heavens! There, back of the great white city, with its lofty walls curving about it, lift the Apennines, white with snow as the clouds of an Indian summer; and looking at Genoa from the sea, you cannot tell where the city leaves off or the Apennine peaks begin. What mighty walls! And then, even beyond the twenty miles of lofty wall and time-stained battlements on the brown hills, you see terrace above terrace, palace above palace, white and high, and vast and magnificent."
Her hands were reached here, and her hair was a perfect shower about her shoulder. The woman in gold spectacles, left all alone, was busily taking notes.
"It is such a city, contemplated from the sea, as we may imagine Jerusalem to have been. It is truly 'a city set upon a hill;' and you clasp your hands and you gape and you gaze upon the city of Columbus, forgetting the blue seas, forgetting the bluer skies, forgetting the abominable food you have been fed on for a week, forgetting the coarse sea-captain with the great gold rings in his ears, till you have touched the very shore."
"Ah, but Distance is a cunning old magician," added the artist. "You land, and the delusion is gone. Your great white idol of an hour before is broken; and lies an unshapely, dirty, ugly mass before you. The mighty palaces, as you approach them, are stained, broken, shattered, falling to decay, and unlovely to look upon. The frescoes are falling away from the walls, and the towers and battlements of the city, that appeared so splendid from the sea, now look as if they had endured a thousand years of siege from the grand old conqueror Time, and had at last quite surrendered. The olive trees, that stretched in dark and suggestive lines around and through the upper part of the city, are gray with dust; and the groves of fig trees look as if they had inherited the curse of the tree that stood by the wayside of old."
"Yet Dickens adored Genoa," said the lady, "and so did Byron, and Shelley also. No doubt these great masters were somehow correct in their estimates of the curious and brave old town. But it takes a long time to grow to like it thoroughly; and you have to find a deal of compensation in its scenery and fine sea-air to reconcile you to its narrow, dirty streets, its cholera-breeding customs, and the unaccountable indolence of its people."
"But," said Murietta, now quite out of his mood and something more than interested, "what about the troop of players that trooped off upstairs to find the rooms for you? "
"Oh, I followed the party and saw it as such fun! The man in the red cap led off; as if striding across the stage. Then we climbed the great mtarble stairs. They were wide and large as the steps of a state capitol. They were as sloping, gradual, and easy as a well-regulated turnpike. For the first half mile the steps were of white marble. After that the marble was black and the steps more narrow, yet still wide enough for a team of California mules to climb with perfect composure. At last my Hamlet stopped, struck an attitude, had the great double doors swung open, raised the candle above his head, and told me through the interpreter, that if these rooms did not suit, he would be happy to show me some others upstairs.
"Good gracious! and is this not up stairs?"
"Ah, no" answered the gentle Italian, as he lowered the candle, "this is only the fifth floor."
The most noticeable and unpleasant thing here in the construction and arrangement of these massive buildings is the universal and wearisome use of marble. From the marble-paved street you enter a marble-paved eourt, you mount marble steps — and many a step indeed! and at last you enter a massive door cased in white miarble, to find your floor a naked shining sheet of ghastly marble. Marble tables, marble stands, marble bureaus — all things that you look upon or lay hands upon — nothing but one dreadful nightmare of marble."
"It is like taking up quarters in an aristocratic churchyard," laughed the countess. "I am sure that if I should ask for any additional furniture and get it, that it would come in the shape of another tomb-stone."
The count and the lady's keeper had not returned. The little boy had been led away by a servant; and Marietta could do no less than offer the countess his arm. They entered the great parlour, and sat by the open window alone overlooking a portion of the great city. It was white and splendid in the mellow moon.
"Look," said the painter, pointing to a great palace all covered with beautiful frescoes. "Does it not look as if the palace had been filled full of splendid pictures, and was now boiling over and spilling down on the outside?"
"Beautiftil!" cried the lady with enthusiasm. "Nothing is more noticeable here amongst all classes than the devotion to art. This, however, as all the world knows, obtains throughout the whole peninsula. Your porter is an actor; your bootblack sings an opera keeping time to the strokes of his brush; and your chambermaid is generally a better judge of pictures than yourself A gentleman told me once of a Genoese boy, his servant, to whom he showed a rather stupid looking picture of "Lucretia," and asked what he thought of it. "It is not good." the Italian servant answered; "There is no death, no desperation, no nothing in the face. She only looks as if she might be sorry that there was not another Tarquin."
The lady paused a moment. She seemed delighted with her new friend, and took up the subject again in a wild and eager way.
"Even the gray-headed old beggar down at the corner of the street begs artistically to a fault. I am certain that if he were to make a false gesture with his extended hand, or drop a key too low in his dolorous petition for alms, he would despise himself for a month — and possibly go and hang himself in despair. Every house seems to be a picture-gallery, without as well as within. Nearly all the houses are painted outside in flowers and stars and bars and banners, and pictures of hideous beasts and reptiles and men and Madonnas, in every conceivable attitude and condition, and in all the hues of the rainbow. It is true they are nearly all cracked and faded and ugly — perhaps were even from the first — even to hideonsness. But we take refuge in the thought that they were all done in the interest of art, and possibly meant a great deal in the world's far dawn. And this devotion to art is sincere!" she continued, absorbed in her subject. "It has borne and will continue to bear its fruit. The whole world will testify to that. When you remember that no gallery is complete without a most liberal contribution from this land, and that even the great Covent Garden cannot have an opera without procuring at least three-fourths of its force from Italy, you are willing to forgive a vast deal of nonsense in detail for the results in the aggregate."
Her face was glorious with enthusiasm. But she stopped suddenly. She felt, rather than saw, that she was being watched. Murietta turned his head.
There stood the count in the doorway under the shadow of the enormous chin. Both men were glaring hard at the two who sat by the window, out of the dark of the doorway, and both men were drunk.
She leaned towards Murietta as if continuing the conversation.
"I have something to say. Ah! I must say it, and say it soon. Do not — do not run away from me. They all run away — all of them — whenever I begin to tell them how it is I am a prisoner. I am watched! I have talked long to you to-night to prove to you that I am not mad. Am I mad? Do you think I am mad? Will you some day tell me? Will you some day sit still and hear me? Oh, I am so alone!"
She almost hissed these words into his ear. She had risen as she spoke, and now reaching her hand timidly, she said "Good night!" and was gone, through the door, into the hands of the count and under the shadow of the enormous chin.
Murietta paced his room that night. He was perfectly certain he had never seen so much beauty, so much quiet dignity, such devotion to art, and clear good sense in any one woman before. He was certain something was wrong. He had wished to avoid her. He was a knight by nature; but he did not care for a tilt now. The more he thought of the situation of things, the more he was perplexed and annoyed.
At last he drew back his foot, kicked an ottoman with all his might, said "Confound that woman!" and went to bed.Start reading Chapter 5 ofThe One Fair Lady