One always rises refreshed in Italy. The rest there is wonderful.
An Italian beggar will drop down asleep in the shadow of a fig tree or wayside wall, weary, hungry, worn. He will rise up in less than two hours, climb up on the top of the wall if possible, and sit there like a bird, and, fresh as the morning, will sing an opera from the very gladness and fulness of his heart.
Murietta arose next morning on much better terms with himself and the world generally. The sea as he looked out from his lofty window was like an opal in the glorious sunlight of an Italian autumn. Ships drew in and ships blew out as if Genoa was young and strong and full of life.
The stars and stripes fluttered by the side of the crescent, and the artist kissed his hand to the pretty banner, for under its folds he had seen and had suffered much. It was like looking upon an old and dear, yet threadbare, friend. It was a mother — a sort of stepmother it is true — to the future and new Republic, and Murietta was glad to meet it again in strange waters.
The Countess Edna still lingered at breakfast in the coffee-room, and Murietta was not at all annoyed to see her there, bright and beautiful, as he entered. There was no cloud louring over this sun in the shape of the count, no shadow of the great chin; and the little woman sat there sideways at the table in her light pink clothes, her little feet in pink slippers on a footstool, and seemed tranquil as the morning. Her lap was full of morning papers, which she perhaps had never meant to read, for they were tumbled promiscuously with magazines and little paper-covered novels right and left before her on the table.
She smiled her recognition, subdued and in silence, and turned her eyes to the chair opposite. Murietta hesitated. At another time when the sun shone less brightly, or his heart beat less lightly, he had not hesitated at all, but would have gone straight on to the little table away back in the comer, and stowed himself there out of sight, as was his habit. But now he stood still and looked inquiriingly around.
The lady lifted her eyes to his. She took hold of him as if he had been a prisoner. She led him with her eyes silently and gently to the place opposite, and as he bowed helplessly before her and said, "With your permission," set him down there a captive to her beauty.
"Yes, the count was out on the bay with little Sunshine and the big Admiral."
"Dear, dear, dead old Genoa!" The artist said this half to himself and half to the lady, as he looked at the crumbling frescoes on the great palace wall opposite, for he did not wish to think of that ugly man the admiral on a morning of such matchless beauty. The great dreamy eyes were wide as if with wonder. The little pink feet tapped impatiently on the ottoman, and the papers rustled in the lap with the dress, and against the ruffles of soft pink and rose.
"No, no, no! Genoa is not dead. It seems to be taking a second growth. There are factories and machine-shops growing up about the outskirts of the town; and now and then a new palace or hotel is creeping up from the crowded mass of buildings within the walls. You can well imagine, however, that once the city slept. You can see where it stood still for nearly a thousand years — until the wonderful little Corsican came down the Alps and awakened all Italy with the thunder of his cannon. And since then there has been no sleep I but it has gone on steadily step by step — politically, socially, and materially — till the country stands in no wise in the rear of nations."
Murietta began to be troubled in his mind again. The pretty Italian actor, dressed for his part, and perfect in it as if he had been all night at rehearsal, came sailing in here with two very bright and shining instruments lifted high in his hands, and held by two black and crooked handles. He came sideways and bowing up to the table by Murietta, and bowing again, tilted his instruments, and at one and the same time turned a little cataract of boiling chalk and water, and a little cataract of burt beans, misnamed coffee, into a great white coffee cup, and bowing again tilted back his instruments, lifted them in the air on a level with his head, and bowed himjself back and sideways with such artistic perfection that Murietta almost expected to see the curtain come down, and was a little disappointed that there was not a storm of applause from the frescoed ceilings and walls around.
"And I suppose you have 'done' Genoa?" he observed to the countess.
"No, no, not 'done' Genoa at all. Genoa is like Rome, inexhaustible!" she said. "One cannot well tire of looking at the old, old palaces, built Heaven knows when! One sees them still roofed with Roman tile, and on the side next the sun as red and bright as ever, but on the other slope gray and mossed, and made velvet, as if for the feet of Time. And then, within, the walls are made alive with masterpieces of painting; and some are hung with implements of war — trophies that were won, and banners that were borne in triumph through the Holy Land."
Again the papers and the ruffles rustled, and the little pink feet tapped restlessly on the gorgeous ottoman.
"Then there is a museum of antiquities — the collection, unlike those of our country and of England, made up mostly from older lands than Italy — as if these people counted theirs but a new country, and only the orient gray enough to give them relics worth preserving. What a curious collection it is in indeed! The implements of war are all gnawed and bitten by the teeth of Time; and the stained and yellow statuary is broken up as if it had been overthrown and ground and ground beneath the wheels of his chariot.
Murietta leaned and listened and as she paused he said something of the great wealth for want of a better theme — for he wished to hear her through.
"No, you mistake; these people are comparatively very poor. With all this city full of palaces, filled with costly pictures, you see at once that even the wealthy people of Genoa — and even of all Italy as a rule — are very poor. That is, we strangers from the West see it and feel it at every turn. Perhaps the feeling will wear away in time, but it makes one uncomfortable at first. However, it is a sort of dignified poverty that refuses to complain or is above complaining. The country, as a whole, reminds you of some great and good man, devoted to art, who had once great fortune, but having lost it, sits down quiet and uncomplaining, satisfied, and scarcely regretting his loss in his love of art."
"But then come the beggars," said the artist.
"As for the beggars, I hardly find them a nuisance," she rejoined; "they are so civil, so artistic, and so easily satisfied. A five-centime piece — equal to an American cent — is enough to insure you half a dozen graceful bows, and to make a fellow-creature happy for half a day at least; and I count that very cheap indeed. Besides, the number of these beggars constantly testifies to the liberality of our countrymen; for if we did not continue to give they would cease to beg. You will notice that they never beg of their own countrymen. An answer in Italian is quite as satisfactory as a contribution."
"Perhaps," said Murietta, "I shall yet find it necessary to learn the language and the native accent."
The little lady laughed in a low careless way, and went on —
"Yes, you will like Genoa; for it is full of art, and heart, and beauty. I know of nothing in the world more beautiful in its way than the kindness and readiness with which the wealthy possessors of fine pictures, of all works of art, and even elegant gardens, open their doors to all comers who wish to behold them. There is a perfect little paradise — a garden full of fine statuary, lakes, caves, trees from the tropics, everything that can amuse and instruct — a few miles out yonder, overlooking the Mediterranean. This place is open to all on festal days — and that means about half the time in Italy — without any question whatever. At all other times it is accessible by special permit. It was constructed by an old Italian marquis, in the time of a famine, to give employment to starving men. May he rest in peace, and his name and his deed be long remembered. And this is only a specimen, though perhaps about the finest, of the climbing gardens that look down from the Apennines on Genoa and the sea. It is these sweet environs, no doubt, which endeared Genoa to the great artists who have gone before, and left their footprints in this singular and isolated city. And ah, such funny funerals! Have you seen a funeral in Genoa?''
The artist almost shuddered, and shook his head in silence, for the lady laughed outright.
"Well, I will tell you how it is done. I with my maid was walking in one of the dark and narrow streets the other day, and I came upon four strangely masked and most solemn looking individuals in black, moving slowly and in single file down the steep and stony way. "Here is another of their hundred holidays," I said to myself, "and these solemn and monkish looking maskers are gay young fellows bent on having a lark," I felt like poking one of them in the ribs with my parasol, and telling him that was no use trying to fool me, for I knew him by his back." I said nothing, however; but as our way lay in the same direction, I followed along till they came to one of those ghastly dark close ways, that look like caves and seem never to be closed, and here they entered and faded away into the darkness. Before I had fairly turned aside my solemn maskers again came slowly out of their cave, bearing something black upon their shoulders. It was a corpse, and these were the undertakers of Genoa. There is a kind of brotherhood here devoted to this solem office. It is made up of men who do this in penance for their sins. As the streets are too narrow to admit carriages, the dead bodies must be borne on the shoulders. The burial of the better classes is another affair, and often quite imposing."
Murietta was silent again. What in the world could induce this beautiful woman to go prowling around among the dead in those dreadful places?
"But you — really, you— you don't mean to say that you go there all alone, and for diversion?"
"Alone, and for diversion if you like; why not? Besides, other amusements are shut to me. Women talk and men stare. They say I am mad! I go among those poor wretches, I give them money, they give me their blessings; and I reckon that more than gold. They do not watch me at all. They are honest — good. My friend, the sweetest flowers grow low and close to the earth."
Murietta did not answer. The little brows were knit a bit, the pretty pouting lips pushed out, and the papers rustled again on the rosy ruffles, and the regiment of novels on the table changed about as if it intended to march, and the little pink feet tapped more nervously than before.
Then she laughed, and the papers joined in a little chorus, and when they had done dancing and laughing she went on —
"We had a little earthquake here recently; and not long after the pleasant sensation, in one of my solitary walks through the poor parts of the city, I came upon a most unaccountable number of funerals. On inquiry I found that the cholera was raging in Genoa, and that it was very fatal, less than one-fourth of those attacked recovering. This comes of journeying into strange streets, without first knowing where you are going. The authorities kept the existence of the plague a secret as far as possible, and I am told that not one half of the cases were reported. I was fortimate enough to find a physician connected with the hospital, and from him I learnt that they do not fear the cholera as they did when it first appeared in Europe, that it spreads but slowly, and is hardly counted contagious. He told me that the day after the earthquake the number of fatal cases was more than doubled. They were frightened to death! Do you mind earthquakes? "
Murietta only looked his answer.
"Oh, I do like them so much!" continued the countess, "I should like to be rocked to sleep in the lap of my mother by an earthquake."
The curtain was raised, or at least two actors entered here, bowing gracefully, dressed in splendid stage array, and bearing aloft a tray in each right hand, as they glided sideways towards the table. The china and the teaspoons met in convention on these trays, talked for a moment in an undertone; the stray bits of bread gathered themselves together as these graceful actors moved their hands over the linen. The trays lifted up light as balances; the graceful actors bowed and edging sideways were gone, and the curtain seemed to come down and the piece was over.
"You have been to Nervi?"
The brown eyes, so soft, so childlike, so lonesome, so hungry for love, so wishful for just one friend, man or woman, brother, sister, mother, any one — they lifted to his timidly. Then as if half frightened they turned aside, and the lady laughed as if to divert herself, and tapped the ottoman and passed the regiment of novels all up and down with her little lily-white right hand. "Well, you must go to Nervi. I will tell you all about it. It is a little watering place five or six miles down the line of sea, and I often go out there for a day or two to see the patient, simple peasants at their work. The drive is the only really pleasant one around Genoa. You pass right under the little mountain where we first met — you look surprised. Well, you will find the road to the eastern gate of Genoa leads right under and through the little, half levelled mountain on which that beautiful drive and garden with the trees is built. Then you pass through a great moss-grown gate that opens from the old and crowded city, and you pass many Madonnas fastened up in the walls of houses and over doors. And you know these lamps are always burning, and the peasants never pass them without crossing themselves and lifting their tattered hats."
She stopped, looked away, and seemed to forget her narive.
"Well?" said Murietta, as if to call her back to her subject.
"There are soldiers mounted on the mighty wall of the city, which is at least twenty miles in length; and you rarely pass the gate without having an officer peer into your carriage and pull at the robes, or whatever he likes to lay hands on. You pass 'Paradiso,' the old home of Lord Byron, and 'The Pink Jail,' the residence of Charles Dickens. I fancy that in the names which those two artists gave their Italian homes, you may read much of their natures. But ah I how beautiful is Paradise! What poet could not have written poetry here? Peace and repose, luxury and refinement and art on every hand, with never a thought of the wolf at the door or the world.
"A little way beyond this beautiful palace, half hidden in vines and trees, a very island in a little sea of flowers, there stands the tall thin marble shaft that marks the spot from which Garibaldi with his few followers stealthily embarked one night bearing the future of Italy. I kiss my hand away across the sea to Caprera as I pass!
"You cross deep, dried-up gorges pointing into the sea. And all things on this drive remind you so much of California! The bare hills, the cunning little lizards on the grey walls, the light blue skies, the sea, the air — all things in fact seem a counterpart of the fair and far Pacific."
A pretty actor entered, walked across the stage, let down the coloured curtain against the sun, and withdrew as she continued —
"And here are our little lean and ever-patient friends the mules, in long dusty caravans, climbing up and down and around the rocky hills, just as they do in Mexico. Everything — milk, meat, bread, wine, pigs, chickens, children, old men, old women — all things, animate or inanimate, belonging to the peasantry, seem to climb up out Of the dust into the baskets that hang from the sides of my thoughtful but not always silent little friends. I met one of these little fellows, not much larger than a Newfoundland dog, not long ago as I came into town. The two little bareheaded and barefooted boys, who were on their way to the mountains to get a load of wood, had climbed into the baskets, and there they lay curled up like kittens and fast asleep. It was a very warm day, and the solemn little donkey was taking it very slow, and letting his long ears flop and flag as if they had wilted in the sun; but he did not stop nor bump the baskets against the walls, nor do anything to disturb the little sleepers."
"Babes of the woods! How I should like to paint them," mused the artist.
"I am bound to say that these peasants are indolent in the extreme. You see them asleep by the roadside — asleep among the grape vines — asleep on the great stone walls. It is my opinion that when an Italian is not singing an opera, or acting a piece, he is asleep. On this pleasant drive to and from Nervi, I must tell you there are two institutions that you cannot avoid, and with which you must not quarrel. One is an old demented beggar, who fancies that he is an officer, and insists on inspecting our carriage for contraband goods. A penny, however, will satisfy him that it is all right, and he will let you pass. The dear old fellow has learnt that from the real officers; such a satire, is it not? The other institution is a one-legged beggar with matches. Now there is no use in trying to drive away from this man. I have tried it, and there is not a horse in all Genoa that can escape him. He is the liveliest Italian I ever saw. It is safe to say that he can outrun any two-legged peasant to be found on this grape-clad slope of the Apennines."
The soft tones stopped at last; the little pink feet played their tattoo again, and the nervous little dimpled right hand began to set the regiments of novels in motion as if a battle was about to begin.
The brown eyes opened wide and clear and candid, and they looked to Murietta as if he could rise up in spirit and march in through those beautiful, broad, opened doors and enter her soul, and sit down there and rest perfectly satisfied that there was nothing but good, but peace, but charity, but sympathy, hope, and faith, and love.
"I will go to Nervi, lady." He leaned over the table on his arms as he spoke, and looked full in her face with his old enthusiasm and frankness. "I will go to Nervi. I will go as if on a road that a saint had travelled. I will lift my hat as I pass the places you have named. Your little peasant boys, your beggars, even the little mules, shall have all the road for me, for I will step aside and let them pass. I will see in each one of them an immortal picture. Your custom house officer shall take me a prisoner, and your one-legged beggar — "
The lady turned white as the marbles on the mantel. Her eyes fell, she did not look around. She knew that he was there, all the blood went back to her heart in such floods that it beat and beat as if there was indeed to be a battle.
The enormous man with that dreadful chin was standing in the door, and the mildeyed count, with his weak nose as red as a priest's, was standing under his shadow, watching the beautiful woman and the enthusiastic artist.
The warm blood of Murietta flamed also. But it was not with fear. He saw the situation of things but imperfectly, yet he saw enough to know perfectly well that there was a wrong, and that a woman was the sufferer. A man has no right to ask to know more. This to a man should be enough to insure his action. But it is not enough in this day of shops and shoddy. The creature man, the coward, must first know that he, his name, his position, his money, his all, is not only safe, but that he is to be paid for his services as a sort of upper servant is paid — and then he works.
Bah! Out upon the time!
Murietta did not move. He did not even take back his reached face, but sat there the same as if no one had come upon the scene.
The beautiful lady, pale as a California lily, sank and settled down as if she would disappear in the rosy folds of her robe.
"Lady," the artist went on as if he still spoke of the drive to Nervi, "lady, do not fear, do not move unless you desire. No hand shall — no tongue shall insult you here."
"Oh sir, you do not know what you say. You do not know what you promise. You do not know a thing about it. Ah, if you only knew! Now — now — now — " she put her little hands to the side of her head as if in pain — "Ah, I have wasted time! I was coming to it you know. I was going to tell you. I wanted to prove to you that I was all right — that — that — you —"
"Will you come?" called the count, at the same time lifting his hat civilly.
"Come, come, it's past meridian," thundered the admiral.
The lady rose, smiled sadly, bowed, looking back, and went out a prisoner.
Why did they not come in? and why did she go away?Start reading Chapter 6 ofThe One Fair Lady