While the foregoing scene was taking place at the Vatican, Angela Sovrani, left to herself for some hours, took the opportunity to set her great picture |on view| for the coming morrow. Locking both doors of her studio, she began to arrange the room; her huge canvas was already on a movable easel supplied with wheels, which ran lightly and easily over the polished floor without making any sound. At its summit a brass rod was attached, and on this a curtain of golden-coloured silk was hung, the folds of which at present concealed the painting from view. The top-light of the studio was particularly good on this special afternoon, as the weather was clear, and the Roman sky translucent and bright as an opal, and Angela, as she wheeled her |great work| into position, sang for pure lightness of heart and thankfulness that all was done. In her soul she had the consciousness that what she had produced from her brain and hand was not altogether unworthy. For, though to the true artist, no actual result can ever attain to the beauty of the first thought or ideal of the thing to be performed, there is always the consolation that if one's best and truest feeling has been earnestly put into the work, some touch, however slight, of that ideal beauty must remain. The poet's poem is never so fine as the poet's thought. The thought is from the immortal and invincible soul, -- the poem has to be conveyed through the grosser body, clothed in language which must always be narrow and inadequate. Hence the artist's many and grievous limitations. To the eyes of the spirit all things appear transfigured, because lifted out of the sphere of material vision. But when we try to put these |beautiful things made new, for the delight of the sky-children| on paper or canvas, in motionless marble or flexible rhyme, -- we are weighted by grosser air and the density of bodily feeling. So it was with Angela Sovrani, iwhose compact little head were folded the splendid dreams of genius like sleeping fairies in a magic cave; -- and thoughtful and brilliant though she was, she could not, in her great tenderness for her affianced lover Florian Varillo, foresee that daily contact with his weaker and smaller nature, would kill those dreams as surely as a frost-wind kills the buds of the rose, -- and that gradually, very gradually, the coarser fibre of his intelligence mingling with hers, would make a paltry and rough weaving of the web of life, instead of a free and gracious pattern. She never thought of such possibilities -- she would have rejected the very idea of them with scorn and indignation. She would have declared that her love for Florian was the very root and source of her art, -- that for him she worked -- for him she lived. So indeed she believed, in her finely- fervent self-delusion, -- but it was not ordained that this glamour should last, -- for hers was a nature too rare and valuable to be sacrificed, and the Higher destinies had begun to approve her as precious. Therefore, as is the case with all precious things, the furnace was preparing for the shaping of the gold, -- the appointed Angel of her Fate was already hovering near, holding ready the cup of bitterness which all must drain to the dregs, before knowing what it is to drink of |the new wine in the Kingdom of God.|
|I wonder,| thought the girl now, as she stepped lightly from one corner of her studio to the other, rearranging a vase here -- a bust there -- and imparting to the whole room that indefinable air of grace and luxury which can only be bestowed by the trained hand of a practised artist, -- |I wonder if Florian will be proud? People will certainly talk of my picture, -- some will praise and some will condemn; and this mixture of praise and condemnation is what is called Fame. But will my beloved love me more? Will he be glad that I am found worthy in the world's sight? -- or will he think I am usurping his place? Ah!| and she paused in her work, looking vaguely before her with thoughtful, wondering eyes, |That is where we women workers have to suffer! Men grudge us the laurel, but they forget that we are trying to win it only that we may wear the rose more fittingly! A woman tries to do a great and a noble thing, not that she may vex of humiliate a man by superiority, -- but that she may be more worthy to be his mate and helper in the world, -- and also, that her children may reverence her for something more than the mere animal duties of nursing and tenderness. How proud to-day would be any man or woman who could point to Rosa Bonheur and say, 'She was my mother!' And yet perhaps this idea of mine is too fantastic, -- the Brownings left a son -- and he has nothing of their genius or their enthusiasm.|
She moved to the grand piano and set it open; as she did so a thought of Sylvie came across her mind, and she smiled.
|Dear little rose-bud of a woman!| she mused, |How glad I am that she is happy! And how delightful it is to see the pride she takes in Aubrey Leigh! -- how she studies his books, and pores over his statistics and theories! I really believe she knows them all by heart! And what wonderful schemes she is building up in her mind for the people in whom he is so interested! What a sensation she will make if she intends to work with her husband as thoroughly and devotedly as her ideas imply! Her marriage will be an immense disappointment to certain persons I could name!| and she smiled, |Dear Sylvie! With all her goodness, and grace and beauty, her name will sound more obnoxious at the Vatican than even the name of Gys Grandit!|
She had lifted a cluster of lilies from a vase to regroup them, and as her thoughts turned in this direction she bent her eyes upon their large white blooms meditatively, and a faint rose flush warmed her cheeks.
|Ce sont des fleurs etranges, Et traitresses, avec leurs airs de sceptres d'anges, De thyrses lumineux pour doigts de seraphins, Leurs parfums sont trop forts, tout ensemble, et trop fins.|
|It is strange,| she thought, |that I should have corresponded so many months with 'Gys Grandit' through my admiration for his books -- and that he should turn out to be the son of poor Abbe Vergniaud! Cyrillon! It is a pretty name! And since we met -- since that terrible scene in the church in Paris, -- since he knew who I was, he has not written. And, and for his poor father's death . . . I suppose he thought it was sufficient to telegraph the news of the death to my uncle. But I am sorry he does not write to me any more! -- I valued his letters -- they were such brilliant essays on all the movements and politics of the time. It was just a little secret of mine; -- it was pleasant to think I was in correspondence with such a genius. However, he has had so much to think of since then . . .| She set the lilies in their vase again, inhaling their delicious odour as she did so.
|The flowers of the saints and martyrs!| she said, |I do not wonder that the artists chose them for that purpose; they are so white-and pure-and passionless . . .|
A slight crash disturbed her self-communion, and she hastened to see what had fallen. It was a small clay figure of |Eros|, -- a copy of a statuette found in the ruins of Pompeii. The nail supporting its bracket had given way. Angela had been rather fond of this little work of art, and as she knelt to pick up the fragments she was more vexed at the accident than she cared to own. She looked wistfully at the pretty moulded broken limbs of the little god as she put them all in a heap together.
|What a pity!| she murmured, |I am not at all superstitious, yet I wish anything in the room had come to grief rather than this! It is not a good omen!|
She moved across the floor again and stood for a moment inert, one hand resting lightly on the amber silk draperies which veiled her picture.
|There was no truth at all in that rumour about Florian's 'Phillida'; -- 'Pon-Pon,' as they call her,| she thought, |She serves as a model to half the artists in Rome. Unfortunate creature. She is one of the most depraved and reckless of her class, so I hear -- and Florian is far too refined and fastidious to even recognise such a woman, outside his studio. The Marquis Fontenelle only wished to defend himself by trying to include another man in the charge of libertinage, when he himself was meditating the most perfidious designs on Sylvie. Poor Fontenelle! One must try and think as kindly as possible of him now -- he is dead. But I cannot think it was right of him to accuse my Florian!|
Just then she heard a soft knocking. It came from the door at the furthest end of the studio, one which communicated with a small stone courtyard, which in its turn opened out to a narrow street leading down to the Tiber. It was the entrance at which models presented themselves whenever Angela needed them.
|Angela!| called a melodious voice, which she recognised at once as the dearest to her in the world. |Angela!|
She hurried to the door but did not open it.
|Florian!| she said softly, putting her lips close to the panel, |Florian, caro mio! Why are you here?|
|I want to come in,| said Florian, |I have news, Angela! I must see you!|
She hesitated a moment longer, and then she undid the bolt, and admitted him. He entered with a smiling and victorious air.
|I am all alone here,| she said at once, before he could speak, |Father is at Frascati on some business -- and my uncle the Cardinal is at the Vatican. Will you not come back later?|
For all answer, Florian took her in his arms with quite a reverent tenderness, and kissed her softly on brow and lips.
|No, I will stay!| he said, |I want to have you all to myself for a few minutes. I came to tell you, sweetest, that if I am to be the first to see your picture and pass judgment on it, I had better see it now, for I am going away to-morrow!|
|Going away!| echoed Angela, |Where?|
|To Naples,| he answered, |Only for a little while. They have purchased my picture 'Phillida et les Roses' for one of the museums there, and they want me to see if I approve of the position in which it is to be placed. They also wish to honour me by a banquet or something of the kind -- an absurdly unnecessary affair, but still I think it is perhaps advisable that I should go.|
He spoke with an affectation of indifference, but any observer of him whose eyes were not blinded by affection, could have seen that he exhaled from himself an atmosphere of self-congratulation at the banquet proposition. Little honours impress little minds; -- and a faint thrill of pain moved Angela as she saw him thus delighted with so poor and ordinary a compliment. In any other man it would have moved her to contempt, but in Florian -- well! -- she was only just a little sorry.
|Yes, perhaps it might look churlish of you not to accept,| she said, putting away from her the insidious suggestion that perhaps if Florian loved her as much as he professed, an invitation to a banquet at Naples would have had no attraction for him as compared with being present at the first view of her picture on the morning she had herself appointed -- |I think under the circumstances you had better not see the picture till you come back!|
|Now, Angela!| he exclaimed vexedly, |You know I will not consent to that! You have promised me that I shall be the first to see it -- and here I am!|
|It should be seen by the morning light,| said Angela, a touch of nervousness beginning to affect her equanimity, -- |This light is pale and waning, though the afternoon is so clear. You cannot see the coloring to the best advantage!|
|Am I not a painter also?| asked Varillo playfully, putting his arm round her waist, -- |And can I not guess the effect in the morning light as well as if I saw it? Come, Angela mia! Unveil the great prodigy!| and he laughed, -- |You began it before we were affianced; -- think what patience I have had for nearly two years!|
Angela did not reply at once. Somehow, his light laugh jarred upon her.
|Florian,| she said at last, raising her truthful, beautiful eyes fully to his, |I do not think you quite understand! This picture has absorbed a great deal of my heart and soul -- I have as it were, painted my own life blood into it -- for I mean it to declare a truth and convey a lesson. It will either cover me with obloquy, or crown me with lasting fame. You speak jestingly, as if it were some toy with which I had amused myself these three years. Do you not believe that a woman's work may be as serious, as earnest, and strongly purposeful as a man's?|
Still clasping her round the waist, Florian drew her closer, and pressing her head against his breast, he looked down on her smiling.
|What sweet eyes you have!| he said, |The sweetest, the most trusting, the most childlike eyes I have ever seen! It would be impossible to paint such eyes, unless one's brushes were Raffaelle's, dipped in holy water. Not that I believe very much in holy water as a painter's medium! |He laughed, -- he had a well-shaped mouth and was fond of smiling, in order that he might show his even pearly teeth, which contrasted becomingly with his dark moustache. |Yes, my Angela has beautiful eyes, -- and such soft, pretty hair!| and he caressed it gently, |like little golden tendrils with a beam of the sunlight caught in it! Is not that a pretty compliment? I think I ought to have been a poet instead of a painter!|
|You are both,| said Angela fondly, with a little sigh of rest and pleasure as she nestled in his arms -- |You will be the greatest artist of your time when you paint large subjects instead of small ones.|
His tender hold of her relaxed a little.
|You think 'Phillida et les Roses' a small subject?| he asked, with a touch of petulance in his tone, |Surely if a small study is perfect, it is better than a large one which is imperfect?|
|Of course it is!| replied the girl quickly -- |By smallness I did not mean the size of the canvas, -- I meant the character of the subject.|
|There is nothing small in the beauty of woman!| declared Varillo, with an enthusiastic air -- |Her form is divine! Her delicious flesh tints -- her delicate curves -- her amorous dimples -- her exquisite seductiveness -- combined with her touching weakness -- these qualities make of woman the one, -- the only subject for a painter's brush, when the painter is a man!|
Involuntarily Angela thought of |Pon-Pon,| who had posed for the |Phillida,| and a little shiver ran over her nerves like a sudden wind playing on the chords of an AEolian harp. Gently she withdrew herself from her lover's embrace.
|And when the painter is a woman, should the only subject for her brush be the physical beauty of man?| she asked.
Varillo gave an airy gesture of remonstrance.
|Carissima mia! You shock me! How can you suggest such a thing! The two sexes differ in tastes and aspirations as absolutely as in form. Man is an unfettered creature, -- he must have his liberty, even if it reaches license; woman is his dependent. That is Nature's law. Man is the conqueror -- woman is his conquest! We cannot alter these things. That is one reason for the prejudice existing against woman's work -- if it excels that of man, we consider it a kind of morbid growth -- an unnatural protuberance on the face of the universe. In fact, it is a wrong balance of the intellectual forces, which in their action, should always remain on the side of man.|
|But if man abuses his power, may it not be taken from him altogether?| suggested Angela tranquilly, |If man, knowing that a life of self-indulgence destroys his intellectual capacity, still persists in that career, and woman, studying patiently to perfect herself, refuses to follow his example of vice, may it not happen that the intellectual forces may range themselves on the side of right rather than wrong, and invest woman with a certain supremacy in the end? It is a problem worth thinking of!|
Varillo looked sharply at her. Had she heard anything of his private life in Rome? -- a life he kept carefully concealed from everyone who might be likely to report his little amusements at the Palazzo Sovrani? A slight, very slight touch of shame pricked him, as he noted the grace of her figure, the dainty poise of her head on her slim white throat -- the almost royal air of dignity and sweetness which seemed to surround her, -- there was no doubt whatever of her superiority to the women he generally consorted with, and for a moment he felt remorseful, -- but he soon dismissed his brief compunction with a laugh.
|No, sweet Angela,| he said gaily, |it is not worth thinking of! Believe me! I will not enter into any such profound discussions with you. My present time is too short, and your attractions too many! Why did you slip out of my arms so unkindly just now? Surely you were not offended? Comeback! Come, and we will go up to the great picture as lovers should, together -- entwined in each other's arms! -- and you shall then draw the mysterious curtain, -- or shall I?|
She still hesitated. Then after a pause, she came towards him once more, the soft colour alternately flushing and paling her cheeks, as she laid her hand on his arm.
|You did not answer me,| she said, |when I asked you just now if you believed that a woman's work could be as purposeful as a man's -- sometimes indeed more so. You evaded the question. Why?|
|Did I evade it?| and Varillo took her hand in his own and kissed it, -- |Dolcesza mia, I would not pain you for the world!|
A slight shadow clouded her face.
|You will not pain me,| she answered, |except by not being true to yourself and to me. You know how I have worked, -- you know how high I have set my ambition for your sake -- to make myself more worthy of you; but if you do honestly think that a woman's work in art must always be inferior to a man's, no matter how ardently she studies -- no matter even if she has so perfected herself in drawing, anatomy, and colouring as to be admitted the equal of men in these studies -- if the result must, in your mind, be nevertheless beneath that of the masculine attainment, why say so, -- because then -- then -- |
|Then what, my sweet philosopher?| asked Florian lightly, again kissing the hand he held.
She fixed her eyes fully on him. |Then,| she replied slowly, |I should know you better -- I should understand you more!|
An unpleasant twinge affected his nerves, and his eyelids quivered and blinked as though struck by a sudden shaft of the sun. This was the only facial sign he ever gave of the difficulty he at times experienced in meeting the straight, clear glance of his betrothed.
|You would know me more, and love me less? Is that it?| he said carelessly. |My dear girl, why do you press the point? If you will have it, I tell you frankly, I think women are growing very clever, much too clever in fact, -- and that the encouragement and impetus given to them in the Arts is a very great mistake. Because they are not all geniuses like my Angela! You are one in a thousand -- or rather one in a million, -- and for one Angela Sovrani we shall have a world of female daubers calling themselves artists and entering into competition with us, as if we had not already quite enough competition among our own sex! I honestly believe that with very rare exceptions woman's work is decidedly inferior and mediocre as compared to man's.|
Quickly Angela disengaged herself from his hold, her lips trembling- -her eyes were full of a strange fire and brilliancy, -- her slight figure seemed to grow taller as she stood for a moment like a queen, regarding him steadfastly from under her fair, level brows.
|Then come and see!| she said, |I am not proud -- I make no boast at all of what I have done -- and no one perceives or deplores the faults of my work more than I do -- but I know I have not altogether failed!|
She moved away from him and stood opposite her veiled canvas, -- then as Florian followed and joined her, with a swift action which had something of defiance as well as grace in it, she swept aside the concealing curtain. Florian recoiled with an involuntary cry, -- and then remained motionless and silent, -- stricken dumb and stupid by the magnificent creation which confronted him. This Angela's masterpiece! A woman's work! This stupendous conception! This perfect drawing! This wondrous colouring! Fully facing him, the central glory of the whole picture, was a figure of Christ -- unlike any other Christ ever imagined by poet or painter -- an etherealised Form through which the very light of Heaven itself seemed to shine,- -supreme, majestic, and austerely God-like; -- the face was more beautiful than any ever dreamed of by the hewers of the classic marbles -- it was the face of a great Archangel, -- beardless and youthful, yet kingly and commanding. Round the broad brows a Crown of Thorns shone like a diadem, every prickly point tipped with pale fire, -- and from the light floating folds of intense white which, cloud-like, clung about the divine Form, faint flashes of the lightning gleamed. Above this grand Christ, the heavens were opened, pouring out a rain of such translucent purity of colour and radiance as never had been seen in any painted canvas before -- but beneath, the clouds were black as midnight -- confused, chaotic, and drifting darkly on a strong wind as it seemed into weird and witch-like shapes, wherein there were seen the sun and moon revolving pallidly, like globes of fire lost from their orbits and about to become extinct. And among those shifting black films were a crowd of human creatures, floating and falling into unknown depths of darkness, and striking out wild arms of appeal and entreaty and despair, -- the faces of these were all familiar, and were the life-like portraits of many of those pre-eminent in the history of the time. Chief among them was the Sovereign Pontiff, waxen and wan and dark-eyed, -- he was depicted as fastening fetters of iron round the body of a beautiful youth, laurel-crowned, the leaves of the laurel bearing faint gold letters which spelt the word |Science.| Huddled beside him was a well-known leader of the Jesuits, busily counting up heaps of gold, -- another remarkable figure was that of a well-known magnate of the Church of England, who, leaning forward eagerly, sought to grasp and hold the garment of the Pope, but was dragged back by the hand of a woman crowned with an Imperial diadem. After these and other principal personages came a confusion of faces -- all recognisable, yet needing study to discern; -- creatures drifting downwardly into the darkness, -- one was the vivisectionist whose name was celebrated through France, clutching at his bleeding victim and borne relentlessly onwards by the whirlwind, -- and forms and faces belong to men of every description of Church-doctrine were seen trampling underneath them other human creatures scarcely discernible. And over all this blackness and chaos the supernal figure of the Christ was aerially poised, -- one hand was extended and to this a woman clung -- a woman with a beautiful face made piteous in its beauty by long grief and patient endurance. In her other arm she held a sleeping child -- and mother and child were linked together by a garland of flowers partially broken and faded. Her entreating attitude, -- the sleeping child's helplessness -- her worn face, -- the perishing roses of earth's hope and joy, -- all expressed their meaning simply yet tragically, and as the Divine Hand supported and drew her up out of the universal chaos below, the hope of a new world, a better world, a wiser world, a holier world, seemed to be distantly conveyed. But the eyes of the Christ were full of reproach, and were bent on the Representative of St. Peter binding the laurel-crowned youth, and dragging him into darkness, -- and the words written across the golden mount of the picture, in clear black letters, seemed to be actually spoken aloud from the vivid color and movement of the painting. |Many in that day will call upon Me and say, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name cast out devils, and done many wonderful works?|
|Then will I say to them, I never knew you! Depart from me all ye that work iniquity!|
As an Allegory the picture was a daring yet sublime reproach to the hypocrisy of the religious world, -- as a picture it was consummate in every detail, and would have been freely admitted as a masterpiece of Raffaelle had Raffaelle been fortunate enough to paint it. Still Varillo kept silence. Angela's heart beat so loudly that she could almost hear it in the deep silence of the room. Every fine little nerve in her body was strained -- to the utmost height of suspense, -- she was afraid to look at her lover, or disturb the poise of his mental judgment by the lightest movement. And he? Thoughts, black as the chaos of cloud she had so powerfully portrayed, were stirring in his soul, -- thoughts, base and mean and cowardly, which, gradually gathering force as he dwelt upon them, began to grow and spring up to a devilish height worked into life and being by a burning spark of jealousy, which, long smouldering in his nature, now leaped into a flame. No trace of the wicked inner workings of his mind, however, darkened the equanimity of his features, or clouded the serene, soft candour of his eyes, as he at last turned towards the loving, shrinking woman, who stood waiting for his approval, as simply and sweetly as a rose might wait for the touch of the morning sun. Slowly, and like little pellets of ice, his first words fell from his lips,
|Did you do it all yourself?|
The spell was disturbed -- the charm broken. Angela turned very white- -she drew a deep breath -- and the tension on her nerves relaxed, -- her heart gave one indignant bound -- and then resumed its usual quiet beating, as with a strong effort she gathered all her dignity and force together, and replied simply,
|Can you ask?|
He looked at her. What an embodied insult to the arrogance of man she was! She! -- a mere woman! -- and the painter of the finest picture ever seen since Raffaelle and Michael Angelo left the world to work elsewhere. |Chaste as ice, pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny!| In his imagination he saw the world crowning her with imperishable bays -- he heard the denunciation of the Vatican and the condemnation of the Churches, thunder uselessly against the grand lesson of her work, while crowds gathered adoringly before the most perfect Christ ever painted! -- and he saw her name written up in letters of gold on the scroll of those whom history numbers as immortal! It should not be! It should never be! And again he spoke, enunciating his words with difficulty, for his lips were dry.
|It is very fine! Quite marvellous, in fact! -- almost unprecedented! That is why I ask, 'did you do it all yourself?' You must not be offended, Angela! I mean so well! You see the conception -- the breadth of treatment -- the gradation and tone of colour -- are all absolutely masculine. Who first suggested the idea to you?|
Still very pale, breathing quickly yet lightly, and maintaining an air of calm which was almost matter of fact, she answered, --
|No one! Though perhaps, if it is traced to its source, it arose in my mind from seeing the universal dissatisfaction which most intelligent people feel with religion, as administered to them by the Churches. That, and a constant close study of the New Testament, set the thought in my brain, -- a thought which gradually expressed itself in this form. So far as any work belongs to the worker, it is entirely my own creation. I am sorry you should have implied any doubt of it!|
Here her voice trembled a little, but she quickly steadied it. He smiled -- a little difficult smile -- and slipping his right hand between his coat and vest, felt for something he always carried there. It should never be!
|My dear Angela!| he said, with a gracious tranquillity that was almost dignity, |I do not doubt you in the least! -- I merely SUGGEST what all the world will SAY! There is not an art-critic alive who will accept this -- this extraordinary production -- as the work of a woman! It is the kind of thing which might have been produced hundreds of years ago by a great master setting his pupils to work at different sections of the canvas, -- but that one woman, painting all alone for three years, should have designed and executed such a masterpiece -- yes! -- I will admit it is a masterpiece! -- is an unheard of and altogether an extraordinary thing, and you must not wonder if competent judges reject the statement with incredulity!|
|It does not matter to me,| said Angela, |what they reject or accept. You admit it is a masterpiece -- that is enough for me. It is my own work, and you know it is!|
|Dear little one!| he said, laughing forcedly, |How do I know? You have never admitted me into the studio once while you were at work!|
The exclamation broke from her lips like a cry of physical pain.
|That was a mistake of yours!| he went on recklessly, his eyes beginning to glitter with the fever raging in his mind, |You should not have shut the doors against your lover, my beloved! Nor would you admit your father either! That looks very strange!|
White as a snowflake, yet with blazing eyes, Angela turned upon him.
|Florian!| she said, |Do you -- you of all people in the world -- you to whom I have given all my love and confidence -- mean to suggest that my work is not my own?|
He looked at her, smiling easily.
|Sweet Angela, not I! I know your genius -- I worship it! See!| and with a light grace he dropped on one knee, and snatching her hand, kissed it -- then springing up again, he said, |You are a great creature, my Angela! -- the greatest artist in the world, -- IF WE CAN ONLY MAKE THE WORLD BELIEVE IT!|
Something in his voice, his manner, moved her to a vague touch of dread. Earnestly she looked at him, -- wonderingly, and with a passionate reproach in her pure, true eyes. And still he smiled, while the fiends of envy and malice made havoc in his soul.
|My glorious Angela!| he said, |My bride, my beautiful one! A veritable queen, to whom nations shall pay homage!| He threw one arm round her waist and drew her somewhat roughly to him. |You must not be vexed with me, sweetheart! -- the world is a cruel world, and always doubts great ability in woman! I only prepare you for what most people will say. But I do not doubt! -- I know your power, and triumph in it!| He paused a moment, breathing quickly, -- his eyes were fixed on the picture, -- then he said, |If I may venture to criticise -- there is a shadow -- there, at the left hand side of the canvas -- do you not see?|
She disengaged herself from his clasp.
|Where?| she asked, in a voice from which all spirit and hopefulness had fled.
|You are sad? My Angela, have I discouraged you? Forgive me! I do not find fault, -- this is a mere nothing, -- you may not agree with me, -- but does not that dark cloud make somewhat too deep a line near the faded roses? It may be only an effect of this waning light, -- but I do think that line is heavy and might be improved. Be patient with me! -- I only criticise to make perfection still more perfect!|
Listlessly she moved closer to the picture, turning away from him as she did so.
|Just the slightest softening of the tone -- the finishing touch!| he murmured in caressing accents; while to himself he muttered -- |It shall not be! It shall never be!| Then with a swift movement his hand snatched at the thing he always carried concealed near his breast -- a flash of pointed steel glittered in the light, -- and with one stealthy spring and pitiless blow, he stabbed her full and furiously in the back as she stood looking at the fault he had pretended to discover in her picture! One choking cry escaped her lips --
|Florian -- you! YOU -- Florian!| Then reeling, she threw up her arms and fell, face forwards on the floor, insensible.
He stood above her, dagger in hand, -- and studied the weapon with strange curiosity. It was crimson and wet with blood. Then he stared at the picture. A faint horror began to creep over him. The great Christ in the centre of the painting seemed to live and move, and float towards him on clouds of blinding glory. His breath came and went in uneasy gasps.
|Angela!| he muttered thickly, -- |Angela!| She lay prone and horribly still. He was afraid to touch her. What had he done? Murdered her? Oh no! -- he had done nothing -- nothing at all, -- she had merely fainted -- she would be well presently! He smiled foolishly at this, still gazing straight at the picture, and holding the sharp blood- stained blade in his hand.
|My love!| he said aloud, -- then listened -- as though waiting for an answer. And still he stared persistently at the glorious figure of the Christ, till the Divine eyes seemed to flash the fire of an everlasting wrath upon his treacherous soul.
|To destroy the work? Or claim it?| he mused, |Either would be easy! That is, if she were dead! -- .| he paused, -- amazed at his own thought. |If she were dead, it would be easy to swear I had painted the picture! If she were dead!| Again he listened. |Angela!| he whispered.
A door banging in the house startled him from his semi-stupor. His eyes wandered from the picture to the inanimate form lying at his feet.
|Sweet Angela!| he said, a cold smile flickering on his lips, |You were always unselfish! You wished me to be the greatest artist of my time! -- and perhaps I shall be! -- now YOU are dead! My love!|
A sudden clatter of horses' hoofs and rolling wheels wakened hollow echoes from the great stone courtyard below. It was the Cardinal returning from the Vatican. A panic seized him -- his teeth chattered as with icy cold. He sprang swiftly to the door by which Angela had admitted him, and opened it cautiously, -- then slinking out, locked it carefully behind him, took the key, -- and fled. Once in the street, he never paused till he reached the corner of a dark projecting wall over-looking the Tiber, and here, glancing nervously round lest he should be observed, he flung his murderer's dagger and the key of the studio both into the water. Again he paused and listened -- looking up at the frowning windows of the Palazzo Sovrani which could be dimly seen from where he stood. He had not meant to kill Angela. Oh no! He had come to the studio, full of love, prepared to chide her tenderly for the faults in her work, -- till he saw that it was faultless; to make a jest of her ambition, -- till he realized her triumph! And then, -- then the devil had seized him -- then -- ! A scarlet slit in the western horizon showed where the sun had sunk, -- a soft and beautiful after-glow trembled over the sky in token of its farewell. A boy came strolling lazily down the street eating a slice of melon, and paused to fling the rind over the wall. The innocent, unconscious glance of the stripling's eyes was sufficient to set up a cowardly trembling in his body, -- and turning round abruptly so that even this stray youth might not observe him too closely, he hurried away. And the boy, never regarding him at all, strolled on with the mellow taste of the fruit he had just enjoyed in his mouth, and presently, as if inspired thereby, awoke the slumbering echoes of the street with his high, fluting young treble, singing, |Che faro senza Eurydice!|