Murietta, finding himself left alone, after loitering an hour or two about the hotel, went to his friend the consul.
The consul was a good man, which is a new thing in an American officer abroad. The consul was also a politician and a politic man, which is not a new thing at all. In fact, had he not been a politician he had not been a consul.
The consul shook his head and laughed.
"My dear boy, this is an old story. Pardon my liberty, but the lady does not suffer. She tells, or tries to tell, some sort of a story to every one who will listen to it. At least, so I hear," added the consul in a sort of foot-note, for he was a politician, and did not like to be positive or say anything that meant anything at all.
"Has she ever told anything to you?"
"And you have known her and you like her?"
"Yes," bowed the consul.
"And you have known her long and like her much?"
"Like her? yes, exceedingly. She is a good woman, as good as she is beautiful, and that is saying much! but she is really, you know —" The consul touched his forehead, tapped it with his fingers, and shut his eyes.
"Yes, I understand what you mean. But may you not be mistaken? May not she be a prisoner? May not this husband be a jealous little monster? An old man of the mountains?"
The merry consul laughed again, rose up, reached a cigar, struck a match, and with his cigar between his teeth, and the light still burning in his fingers which he held around it like a lantern, said : "Marietta, look here! You are an artist, an enthusiast, and a dreamer. Half the time you are asleep, the other half you are altogether too much awake. You do things in a wild and unreasonable way. Now you listen to me. I do not sleep, I do not dream; I am always awake. Level head you see."
He tapped his bald head with his fingers after throwing away the match, and seated himself by the side of his friend.
"I see," said Murietta, though he did not exactly see what he meant.
"Well, I make no mistakes. Now let me tell you what to do. Will you hear me? will you take my advice?"
"Yes, that is—"
"That is, what!"
"Well, if I see any lady in trouble, I shall not be persuaded to let her suffer; you may take my word for that."
"Suffer! Tom-cats! Do you suppose a lady with a hundred thousand francs, a husband a titled gentleman of culture, who is with her as if he was her shadow, can be allowed to suffer? No, no, my boy, depend upon it you are in the wrong. You have no experience with women — no sava as your Mexicans would say. Besides, you cannot afford to mix up in this matter, even though there should be the least bit of tyranny."
"And why could I not afford it?"
"Well, what would the world say?"
"That for the world and all it can say and all it can do!" Murietta sprang to his feet and snapped his fingers, as if he was snapping a cap in the face of the world. "In the teeth of the world I have lived thus far, and in the teeth of the world I shall die! Let me have the good opinion of myself, and I will whistle in the face of the world and win it at my feet."
He threw away his cigar, came up, and stood before the consul. The flame that had shot up, beautiful as it was, was dying out. It had been too intense. His mind had been strung to a sort of madness that morning, and now, in the presence of the cool and clear-headed friend, it was tempering down.
"Well, you will pardon me. I am sorry. I want only to serve the lady, not to annoy you. I see that you are wiser in these things than I. Besides, what can I do for her?"
"Listen. Will you do as I advise?"
"Well, you will do Genoa today and tonight. At dawn tomorrow there is a ship goes out for Naples. A glorious sea, and a glorious sail it will be. You, my friend, are not now the man to reach a hand into any man's or woman's affairs. You would only spoil all. Wait, if you must interfere, for a more convenient season."
The artist thought a moment, thought of the old trouble, the days before he left the British Isles — and this confirmed him. He reached his hand.
"You are perfectly right and I trust you. I will go on the ship that leaves Genoa for Naples tomorrow morning."
That night Murietta stood by the old city wall above the sea, and watched the sun go down on Genoa. Away to the left the sea and sky were one unbroken curve of blue; but to the west the sun wedged in between the two and lit it up like a far light in some vast and eternal temple. And then it fell like a sinking isle of fire, and it was night in the city of the Holy Grail.
He turned to look at the houses behind him. They stood on the edge of a precipice at least fifty feet in height, and these houses were seven stories high. Out of every window, as in nearly every window of Genoa, there hung a line of clothes. "These must be the wealthiest people in the way of clothes in the world," mused the man.
And these clothes are for ever hanging from the windows. Murietta never saw such a lot of clothes in his life. When he first saw them he thought the people had all gone to bed and hung their clothes to air from the windows. Here and there he saw a long white strip like the turban of a Turk. That was used for wrapping up babies. The little stranger enters Genoa with nothing but these long white strips of cotton in his carpet-bag, and nothing can he have but these for the full first year.
Murietta laughed to himself. Old clothes bathed in the glory of an Italian sunset, and fanned by the storied winds of the Mediterranean!
It was too sudden and too ridiculous for even the sentimental a rtist to endure. And he laughed till he cried.
He passed on, and stood in the moonlight down on the old quay, and looked up at the lofty old palaces that had looked out on the sea for a thousand years.
At every one of these windows, making up a mile of the crescented sea-front of the city, there were children playing and men and women peering out upon the sea. He never had such unpleasant sensations as when looking up at those children in the windows. He was constantly afraid that some of them would drop. He was disappointed, however, and entered one of a thousand little alleys, only wide enough for two or three to walk abreast, and took his course toward the upper part of the city. Now and then he would look up. Up! up! up! It seemed as if he had crept like a cricket into a crack of the earth. He could see nothing above him but a long bright line of stars. The opening above looked no wider than a span. Very often there were causeways away above, reaching from house to house across the street, and in some places carriage roads.
This is the place where Dickens used to come and get lost, just for the fun of it. But when one is alone, and not at all satisfied with the looks of some Turk or Arab in his rear it is no fun, you may be sure.
All the time and all this night, as the dreamer wandered up and down and around and through this mighty and ancient heap of marble, he was thinking and thinking and thinking of that fair child-face that had appealed to him, that wonderful woman who had been in these strange old places among the poor before him and he was not glad. He even wished he had not promised to go away.
He came to a thousand walls in trying to make the distance of a mile. There were never such people for building walls in the world. And they build them in the most unlikely places, both in the city and in the country, that one can imagine. Why they build them one does not know. Sometimes he would find a narrow opening in the wall, and sometimes he would have to turn back in despair. Sometimes his way would lead directly through some shop. He would hesitate, but the polite proprietor would smile and politely show him the way to advance. Little wine-shops, coffee-shops, and curious places where maccaroni was wound up, flattened out, strung around, and put in all conceivable shapes for sale.
He found sitting in a comer of one of these shops a little boy with a bundle of newspapers across his lap. He went up to him, for this was the first newsboy he had seen in Genoa. The boy was fast asleep.
What a noisy city! particularly in the lower and older parts; there is nothing like it on the face of the earth. All day men and boys are shouting their fruits or wares for sale; and at night opera, nothing but opera! At both ends and in the middle of the crack in the earth you hear these sturdy singers at their work. From the side streets, or cracks in the earth, you hear the same, and up and down the great marble walls the sounds are echoed till you cannot hear your own voice.
In these narrow streets you are hustled and crowded and elbowed and spun around at almost every step. Sometimes you have to wait quite a time before you can advance. You will notice, however, that when some of the masked brotherhood come by with a victim of the plague on their shoulders they meet with no obstruction.
It was a pleasant thing to come again into the open city, to get up and out of those cracks of the earth. There was a gentle breeze blowing in from the sea; and it seemed to fan the stars into a fair and a tender light. There were only two or three opera singers near enough to be very distinct; but the train of little mules coming down the mountain with their loads of milk now and then trumpeted away as if all of Byron's jackals had come back to take possession.
Looking up the Apennines and beyond the wall, Murietta saw a thousand — nay, ten thousand — lights on the mountain sides, that looked down upon the city from the cottages of men who trimmed the vines or tended goats upon the hills. Higher and higher the eye followed the loftier Apennines, further and fainter shone the little lights from the grape-growers' doors, until the mountain-tops were lost in the distance and the cottage lights were lost among the stars.
The sun came suddenly over the hill, blew out the little lights of the cottages- and the little lamps up in the purple heavens — and it was morning in Genoa!
"Good-bye, beautiful lady!" The dreamer stood on the deck of the ship as she foamed through the opaline sea, and looked sadly back and kissed his hand and said, —
"I am a coward."Start reading Chapter 7 ofThe One Fair Lady