Murietta Stood all ready for the voyage long before the sun had risen for he had not slept, had not even cared to take off his coat again in Naples.
How ugly all things seemed that morning in the gray dawn. There were shrill ugly voices calling in the street that he had never heard before. The island of Caprea, away out yonder, looked like an ugly humped camel pushed away into the sea. Vesuvius was not beautiful; it was terrible and ugly, an instrument of destruction — the mouth of hell — hell with the lid off.
The ship, after all, was not to go that day. There was cholera on shore, and ships of war at sea, and the Italian captain hesitated about taking in the coast of Spain at all.
Murietta could not remain in Naples. He would leave Naples that day if he left it on foot, and barefooted at that. What would be the time to the seat of war by way of Rome? Not long, but you would have to remain over night at Rome.
This to the artist was particularly unpleasant. Rome was a sort of shrine — a temple into which he did not care to enter without his mind at peace and his heart pure and his hands clean. He thought of all this, and was more and more perplexed. At last, throwing off the load of indecision which was crushing him, he drove to the station, took his ticket for Rome, and Naples — good and bad — was as a dream.
This artist, this enthusiast, was about to enter Rome. How much this shrine had been to him it is hard to say. It was much more than all the world beside in art and beauty, in tradition, and in the history of the world. To him there had been, there could be, but one Rome. He had talked with his sister and his brother when playing on the shores of the Pacific in the shadow of the linden trees, of this Eternal City, and had said to them, "I shall some day see Rome." And they had said, "When you see Rome think of us, for we shall then be dead."
And it was so. He was about to enter Rome, and they were dead, and he was thinking of them.
He sat, wrapped up, alone in a corner, mad that all men around him were laughing, smoking, drinking at every station, getting in and out, coming and going with a flow of spirits that was like a sunny stream. The man was growing selfish. He was sad that his fellow men were glad.
Yet who could blame him? How his heart had gone out to this one woman! How patiently, how devotedly he had loved her, looked up to her, worshipped her, waited before her as if she had been divine — and then to be forgotten, to be unnoticed and unknown!
"I scattered flowers in her path, and she despised me." And sitting wrapped up he fell asleep, and dreamed a hideous dream.
He dreamed that he entered the walls of Rome, and there somehow, and before he hardly knew it, and in fact in a moment he could not recall, he committed some great sin. What that sin or crime was he did not really know. He only felt the intolerable weight of his crime, and knew that he was trying to escape from the city. He had never before felt how terrible a thing it was to do wrong. This crime lay upon his soul like a nightmare, and could not be shaken off.
All the time he was thinking, too, how he had promised to enter Rome barefooted and bareheaded, and think of scenes and faces that were no more. He thought he had entered Rome thoughtless, and loud, and full of merriment, and that this was perhaps his punishment. He promised himself that if ever it was permitted him to enter the Eternal City again, he would stop, leave the train at the last station, and, taking his shoes in his hand, and a pilgrim's staff, walk with bared head into the hoary presence of the past, where Time sits by and wags his beard at Rome.
Then he thought he tried to escape from the city, and went disguised to the People's Gate, opening toward Porto Malo and Florence, and, mixing with the tide of passers-by, thought to pass out unnoticed. A heavy hand reached out, and fell like a thunderbolt upon his shoulder. He turned his face in his terror, looked up, and saw an enormous chin, and heard a voice thunder, "I am a man who carries his heart in his hand. A rough but honest sailor. Come with me."
He followed this fearful man a little while, and then losing himself in the crowds of people, crossed the city, and was passing out of the gate that St. Peter passed when attempting to escape crucifixion. He was almost out; another step and he would be free. His heart leapt with hope; he looked sharp round, lifted his foot, was about to spring forward, threw up his hands with delight, and —
"I am a man who carries his heart in his hand. A rough but honest seaman." The hand came down, and the great chin overshadowed him, and led him back as before.
Again he loosened himself from this hard horny hand, and again got lost in the crowd, and again attempted to pass the gates of Rome.
This time it was Porto Pio opening to the rising sun. There were not so many people passing this way, for it seemed to Marietta that it was night, and people who pass here live far out against the mountains and in and under Tivoli, and rarely keep their road at night, save in their high wine carts, drawn by white oxen or mules, fairly mailed in shining harness of brass and copper.
Murietta was desperate. He thought he climbed up into one of those carts, with its hundred jingling bells hanging about the little rookery where the driver sits all the time asleep, and stowed himself in between the empty wine-kegs.
The bells jingled and rang, and rang and jingled, and the cart drove up under the gate. Murietta was again glad, for this time he certainly would escape. Then the cart stopped, and then all the bells stopped, and that awoke the sleeping driver, and the custom-house man put out his long sharp rod, and the cart again began to move, and the bells to jingle as before. Murietta fairly buried his nails in his clenched hands in his anxiety. He felt the perspiration streaming from his face. He crouched his head down like a coward, and shut his eyes tight lest he should see the man with the mighty chin hanging over him like a nightmare.
The bells jingled and clashed, and clashed and jingled — and a hand fell on Murietta's shoulder, and shook him and shook him, and a voice shouted as only an Italian can shout when excited.
The artist sprang up and attempted to loosen his hands from the folds of his cloak, and strike the man before him — for he still thought himself in the hands of the Admiral of Genoa, the man with the big chin.
"Signor! Signor! How you do sleep! It is Rome, Signor — and you must pass out here, and you must pass in here and be purified after passing through Naples, for Naples is a place of plagues, and of all the curses of the flesh." And here he pushed Murietta through a door into a place so full of smoke and infernal smells that the man fancied he had not awoke at all, but had been seized upon and carried off by the big man with the big chin directly to hell, where he was to suffer for his fearful crime.
Murietta was growing wild. He would have shrieked; but the smoke and the smells stifled him, and he could only cough and catch his breath. He began to feel about in the dust and dense smoke, but he found himself borne along with the crowd, and heard people behind and before, and the voices of the officers giving directions to their men.
At last they were shot out of a great wide door, as if out of the mouth of a mighty cannon. The smoke curled about them as they came out, and clung to their clothes and wreathed out and about and in their hair. They were shot out of the big cannon right into a row of yellow omnibuses backed up to the step, and these omnibuses began to shoot down hill, and to rattle over the stones of Rome.
Murietta had been shot into an onmibus branded "Hotel Angleterre." What the Hotel Angleterre was, he did not know — he did not care. Chance had thrown him into this coach. The responsibility was with chance. The man did not care a pin where he went or how he went there. It was, perhaps, a matter of perfect indifference to him, and a thing for which he would not have turned his head, to find he was not in hell at all, but only in Rome.
The man who kept the door of the omnibus put up a little tin sign over his head, and then settled down in his seat by the door, wound his arms in and around the little iron stairway running to the top of the omnibus, and in a moment was fast asleep. The little sign read "Completo."
There was a tall, raw-boned, hungry-looking woman in gold spectacles crowding down on Murietta to the right. Her elbows dug into his side. She seemed to have a thousand knots and angles, as if she had just devoured the contents of a hardware store.
The omnibus jolted and jerked over the cobble stones, and the bony woman rattled against Murietta and settled down upon him as if she had been a sort of nightmare. Then she churned him in the ribs; then she turned her spectacles into his face, and he knew her for the correspondent he had; seen taking notes at Genoa.
"We are going down one of the seven hills of Rome — one of the seven hills of Rome, Mr. Murietta."
Murietta looked straight across to the little man sandwiched in between four hat-boxes, three travelling-bags, and two very tired and very cross-grained looking women of the West.
"And so you have come to Rome, too? I knew you would come to Rome, and in fact wrote so in my letter from Genoa, in which, by the way, you will find a long and faithful description of yourself and your appearance in detail, as you sat talking with that eccentric countess."
She caught her breath a second; but Murietta did not answer.
"Yes, you painters, all you painters come to Rome. And you make it pay when you come to Rome, too!"
The two women barricaded up behind their baskets, looked out over and down their walls, and listened to hear what Murietta would answer.
The omnibus rattled over the round cobble stones of Rome, and the driver still kept snapping his whip as if he had an endless string of fire-crackers, but Murietta did not answer.
Woman, in any form or light or shade, since his last night in Naples, was to him simply so much marble, to be estimated, valued only by the art and beauty that embellished her. In this case the art and beauty were certainly not apparent by a Roman street lamp, and in a rattling Roman omnibus.
"I have been thinking," began the spectacles again, "and I so wrote in my last — which you will find in the best journals of New York all on file at the bank of Messrs. A. and B. Hookey — that it would be a good commercial investment to buy up a ship load of pictures in Rome. You see I do more to encourage art, and do more for you artists than you suppose. Well, I would buy this ship load of pictures here in Rome, put them in a flat boat, float them down the Tiber, load the ship there at the mouth of the Tiber, and then go straight to New York. I would buy large ones, you see. In fact, I would buy the very largest. The people would have to buy them in the States; I could furnish pictures in this way cheaper than any man in the States could paint them. I could sell them so cheap, in fact, that people would buy them if only to save wallpaper."
How the bony woman did rattle on! She was louder than the omnibus; she talked as if this was a sort of Cincinnati pork business. Murietta was dispirited, and looked straight ahead at the poor little sandwich wedged in between the two sour looking women and the three travelling bags and the four hat-boxes, but did not answer.
"I would ship over my own canvas — get it cheap, you know, a sort of second- hand or contract canvas — and paint and—"
"Damn that woman!"
Marietta shot this out straight ahead at the helpless little man wedged in between the bags and boxes; and then, as the two sour looking women dodged down behind their boxes and bags, he hitched himself round and sat at right angles with the bony elbows and the rattling tongue and the empty head, till the end of the ride; while the spectacles settled sharply down on the sharp nose, and began taking notes preparatory to writing a sketch which was to annihilate our genius, and prove him a brute and a blackguard.
The stones of Rome ceased to rattle beneath them, and the conductor awoke.
The play began. How beautifully the players were dressed; and how gorgeously the stage was got up, to be sure!
There was a row of street lamps hanging from iron posts topped with crowns, and great picturesque vases, just exactly as you see in first-class pictures of old Rome. The pavement was so like a picture, or so like a reality, that the mind hesitated between the real and the ideal, and you could hardly make up your mind whether this was a real scene that looked exactly like a picture or a play, or a play and a painted stage that looked exactly like a real scene in life.
There was a door that opened down into the ground, and people were coming up out of the earth, and going down into the earth; and the light that burned above the door was perfect; and you could read the sign, "Hotel Angleterre," and you could have sworn that it was a real scene, and then not believe your own oath after all.
There was a great big willow tree a little to the right of the door as you entered, and under this great willow tree that reached its long green branches half-way across the pretty street, there was a great stone coffin all covered with pretty chiselled figures, and into this pretty coffin flowed a fountain of cool, sweet water that flashed and sparkled in the bright gaslight, as pretty girls dipped their pretty brown hands and filled their pitchers, or as men plunged their buckets and drew them out with water for their horses.
There was a pretty beggar-boy, with his feet in sandals fastened with red silk ribbons, a sheepskin coat, and a red shirt open in the breast and the prettiest face that could be. How well he played! His head would drop to one side, his pretty lips pout out, his great brown eyes half hiding under his hair that had been a fortune to a belle of fashion; and such a perfect pathos! And then his little dimpled brown hand would not reach out at all: it was a timid hand, half hiding behind the little woolly sheepskin coat, with its rows of brass buttons, and its stripes, and its braids, and its trinkets about the breast and over the shoulders -- a hand full of dimples, and dirty too, no doubt, but the shyest and sweetest little hand that ever reached out and touched any man's heart and opened his pocket and took out all the pennies and made the man glad to give them.
Then there was the conductor, You could tell just exactly how many centimes any one had handed him as he came out of the omnibus, by the number of bows he made to the man as he handed him his things.
Then the driver. He, too, had climbed down and taken his post by the side of the conductor, who was handing out the passengers, and, silk in hand, bowed and bowed as if he were working at a pump handle, till he had pumped a whole handful of coppers from the passengers. He played his piece exceedingly well, and was exceedingly happy as he climbed up to his box, and resumed his reins, and began again to let off his string of fire-crackers.
"Silk must be cheap in Italy," thought Murietta, as he watched the play, "else the manager would be bankrupt in a single season."
Then there came another carriage on the boards. A strange carriage it was indeed, and drawn by one horse. There was a driver; and then behind him, and sideways, sat a man as if he was sitting at a piano. There was the music and all before him; there were the ivory keys; the man was looking up, too, as if for some particular fly on the ceiling, as a sort of key-note by which to begin his performance.
The pretty girls kept coming and going to and from the pretty marble coffin, and filling their pitchers; but the fire-crackers had at last started the poor Roman horses, and, lifting their hats again and again, the driver and the conductor disappeared from the stage.
Then the man at the piano began, and he sang and played in the soft and blended moonlight and lamplight in the open streets of Rome; and the pretty girls set down their pitchers or leaned on the iron rail around the marble coffin, and looked dreamily on in dozens, and listened to the song and music — for it was indeed a piano, and a real performer, and a good one too.
"This," said Murietta, "is the orchestra. I like the play; I like the actors; they are all men; there is not a woman among them — save in that ballet by the fountain, with their brown earthen pitchers in their brown pretty hands."
What a variety of uniforms!
Out there by the fountain, a man with a waist like a woman's, with a sword at his side with the she-wolf and her twins on the great brass hilt, walks idly up and down in a red sash and a coat so full of buttons and so gorgeous with lace, that he might in America be taken for the Lieutenant General of the armies of the Great Republic. That man in the gorgeous clothes, with the sword, and a waist like a woman's, and a great black cocked hat with a storm of red cock's feathers, was playing the part of a private policeman.
Then the conductor had a uniform with a military cap with a gold band; then the driver had a uniform with brass buttons enough for an American brigadier. Then the first clerk also had a uniform, bright and beautiful with buttons and cords and tassels and medals, as if he had been an English veteran of Waterloo.
Then there was the head porter! He also had a uniform that looked as if its wearer was first in command in Italy. Then the second porter looked as if he might be second in command; and then the third porter — and that was "boots," without a doubt — had also a uniform about equal to those first, only a little dimmed by time, not by labour, for these men never work hard enough to hurt their clothes in the least. And all this play took place at the little old Hotel Angleterre away down there in the middle of old Rome — one of the oldest first class houses in all the city, but not one of the best by a great deal.
The play kept on; the scene brightened, and the man sang, and the brown girls leaned and listened under the great willow by the fountain, or plashed their brown pitchers in the marble coffin and laughed like running water.
Murietta, wearied at last, turned to a porter. A porter came with a great brush, dusted the traveller down in the open street, struck a thousand artistic attitudes while doing it, and all the while kept time to the music and watched the play with all the interest of a child at its first circus.
What a sunny hearted people they are to be sure!
Then the artist slipped a copper or two in his hand, and the porter called a boy, and the boy called a cab, and the cab drove upon the boards with a string of fire crackers going off every second, and Murietta stepped into the little basket, bowed to the players, said " Coliseum," and as the fire-crackers flew about his ears, the curtain — as far as he was concerned — went down on the first act he had witnessed in the City of the Caesars.Start reading Chapter 10 ofThe One Fair Lady