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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Babylon » CHAPTER VIII. WOOD AND STONE.
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Colin Churchill's first delight at the wood-carver's at Exeter was of the sort that a man rarely feels twice in a lifetime. It was the joy of first emancipation. Hitherto, Colin had been only a servant, and had looked forward to a life of service. Not despondently or gloomily—for Colin was a son of the people, and he accepted servitude as his natural guerdon—but blankly and without eagerness or repining. The children of the labouring class expect to walk through life in their humble way as through a set task, where a man may indeed sometimes meet with stray episodes of pleasure (especially that one human episode of love-making), but where for the most part he will come across nothing whatsoever save interminable rules and regulations. Now, however, Colin felt himself free and happy: he had got a trade and a career before him, and a trade and a career into which he could throw himself with his utmost ardour. For the first time in his life Colin began dimly to feel that he too had something in him. How could he possibly have got up an enthusiasm about the vicar's boots, or about the proper way to deliver letters on a silver salver? But when it came to carving roses and plums out of solid mahogany or walnut, why, that of course was a very different sort of matter.

Even at Wootton Mandeville, the boy had somehow suspected, in his vague inarticulate fashion (for the English agricultural class has no tongue in which to express itself), that he too had artistic taste and power. When he heard the vicar talking to his friends about paintings or engravings, he recognised that he could understand and appreciate all that the vicar said; nay, more: on two or three occasions he had even boldly ventured to conceive that he saw certain things in certain pictures which the vicar, in his cold, dry, formal fashion, with his coldly critical folding eyeglass, could never have dreamt of or imagined. In his heart of hearts, even then, the boy somehow half-knew that the vicar saw what the vicar was capable of seeing in each work, but that he, Colin Churchill the pageboy, penetrated into the very inmost feeling and meaning of the original artist. So much, in his inarticulate way, the boy had sometimes surprised himself by dimly fancying; but as he had no language in which to speak such things, even to himself, and only slowly learnt that language afterwards, he didn't formulate his ideas in his own head for a single minute, allowing them merely to rest there in the inchoate form of shapeless feeling.

Now, at Exeter, however, all this was quite altered. In the aisles of the great cathedral, looking up at the many-coloured saints in the windows, and listening to the long notes of the booming organ, Colin Churchill's soul awoke and knew itself. The gift that was in him was not one to be used for himself alone, a mere knack of painting pictures to decorate the bare walls of his bedroom, or of making clay images for little Minna to stick upon the fisherman's wooden mantelshelf: it was a talent admired and recognised of other people, and to be employed for the noble and useful purposes of carving pine-apple posts for walnut bedsteads or conventional scrolls for fashionable chimneypieces. To such great heights did emancipated Colin Churchill now aspire. Even his master allowed him to see that he thought well of him. The boy was given tools to work with, and instructed in the use of them; and he learnt how to employ them so fast that the master openly expressed his surprise and satisfaction. In a very few weeks Colin was fairly through the first stage of learning, and was set to produce bits of scroll work from his own design, for a wainscoted room in the house of a resident canon.

For seven months Colin went on at his wood-carving with unalloyed delight, and wrote every week to tell Minna how much he liked the work, and what beautiful wooden things he would now be able to make her. But at the end of those seven months, as luck would have it (whether good luck or ill luck the future must say), Colin chanced to fall in one day with a strange companion. One afternoon a heavy-looking Italian workman dropped casually into the workshop where Colin Churchill was busy carving. The boy was cutting the leaves of a honeysuckle spray from life for a long moulding. The Italian watched him closely for a while, and then he said in his liquid English: 'Zat is good. You can carve, mai boy. You must come and see me at mai place. I wawrk for Smeez and Whatgood.'

Colin turned round, blushing with pleasure, and looked at the Italian. He couldn't tell why, but somehow in his heart instinctively, he felt more proud of that workman's simple expression of satisfaction at his work than he had felt even when the vicar told him, in his stiff, condescending, depreciatory manner, that there was 'some merit in the bas-relief and drawings.' Smith and Whatgood were stonecutters in the town, who did a large trade in tombstones and 'monumental statuary.' No doubt the Italian was one of their artistic hands, and Colin took his praise with a flush of sympathetic pleasure. It was handicraftsman speaking critically and appreciatively of handicraftsman.

'What's your name, sir?' he asked the man, politely.

'You could not pronounce it,' answered the Italian, smiling and showing his two fine rows of pure white teeth: 'Giuseppe Cicolari. You cannot pronounce it.'

'Giuseppe Cicolari,' the boy repeated slowly, with the precise intonation the Italian had given it, for he had the gift of vocal imitation, like all men of Celtic blood (and the Dorsetshire peasant is mainly Celtic). 'Giuseppe Cicolari! a pretty name. Da you carve figures for Smith and Whatgood?'

'I am zair sculptor,' the Italian replied, proudly. 'I carve for zem. I carve ze afflicted widow, in ze classical costume, who bends under ze weeping willow above ze oorn containing ze ashes of her decease husband. You have seen ze afflicted widow? Ha, I carve her. She is expensive. And I carve ze basso-rilievo of Hope, gazing toward ze sky, in expectation of ze glorious resurrection. I carve also busts; I carve ornamental figures. Come and see me. You are a good workman. I will show you mai carvings.'

Colin liked the Italian at first sight: there was a pride in his calling about him which he hadn't yet seen in English workmen—a certain consciousness of artistic worth that pleased and interested him. So the next Saturday evening, when they left off work early, he went round to see Cicolari. The Italian smiled again warmly, as soon as he saw the boy coming. 'So you have come,' he said, in his slow English. 'Zat is well. If you will be artist, you must watch ozzer artist. Ze art does not come of himself, it is learnt.' And he took Colin round to see his works of statuary.

There was one little statuette among the others, a small figure of Bacchus, ordered from the clay by a Plymouth shipowner, that pleased Colin's fancy especially. It wasn't remotely like the Thorwaldsen at Wootton; that he felt intuitively; it was a mere clever, laughing, merry figure, executed with some native facility, but with very little real delicacy or depth of feeling. Still, Colin liked it, and singled it out at once amongst all the mass of afflicted widows and weeping children as a real genuine living human figure. The Italian was charmed at his selection. 'Ah, yes,' he said; 'zat is good. You have choosed right. Zat is ze best of ze collection. I wawrk at zat from life. It is from ze model.' And he showed all his teeth again in his satisfaction.

Colin took a little of Cicolari's moist clay up in his hand and began roughly moulding it into the general shape of the little Bacchus. He did it almost without thinking of what he was doing, and talking all the time, or listening to the Italian's constant babble; and Cicolari, with a little disdainful smile playing round the corners of his full lips, made no outward comment, but only waited, with a complacent sense of superiority, to see what the English boy would make of his Bacchus. Colin worked away at the familiar clay, and seemed to delight in the sudden return to that plastic and responsive material. For the first time since he had been at Begg's wood-carving works, it sudddenly struck him that clay was an infinitely finer and more manageable medium than that solid, soulless, intractable wood. Soon, he threw himself unconsciously into the task of moulding, and worked away silently, listening to Cicolari's brief curt criticisms of men and things, for hour after hour. In the delight of finding himself once more expending his energies upon his proper material (for who can doubt that Colin Churchill was a born sculptor?) he forgot the time—nay, he forgot time and space both, and saw and felt nothing on earth but the artistic joy of beautiful workmanship. Cicolari stood by gossiping, but said never a word about the boy's Bacchus. At first, indeed (though he had admired Colin's wood-work), he expected to see a grotesque failure. Next, as the work grew slowly under the boy's hands, he made up his mind that he would produce a mere stiff, lifeless, wooden copy. But by-and-by, as Colin added touch after touch with his quick deft fingers, the Italian's contempt passed into surprise, and his surprise into wonder and admiration. At last, when the boy had finished his rough sketch of the head to his own satisfaction, Cicolari gasped a little, open-mouthed, and then said slowly: 'You have wawrked in ze clay before, mai friend?'

Colin nodded. 'Yes,' he said, 'just to amuse myself, don't ee see? Only just copyin the figures at the vicarage.'

The Italian put his head on one side, and then on another, and looked critically at the copy of the Bacchus. Of course it was only a raw adumbration, as yet, of the head and bust, but he saw quite enough to know at a glance that it was the work of a born sculptor. The vicar had half guessed as much in his dilettante hesitating way; but the workman, who knew what modelling was, saw it indubitably at once in that moist Bacchus. 'Mai friend,' he said decisively, through his closed teeth, 'you must not stop at ze wood-carving. You must go to Rome and be a sculptor. Yes. To Rome. To Rome. You must go to Rome and be a sculptor.'

The man said it with just a tinge of jealousy in his tone, for he saw that Colin Churchill could not only copy but could also improve upon his Bacchus. Still, he said it so heartily and earnestly, that Colin, now well awakened from his absorbing pursuit, laughed a boyish laugh of mingled amusement and exultation. 'To Rome!' he cried gaily. 'To Rome! Why, Mr. Cicolari, that's where all the pictures are, by Raffael and Michael Angelo and them that I used to see at the vicarage. Rome! why isn't that the capital of Italy?' For he put together naively the two facts about Rome which he had yet gathered: the one from the vicar's study, and the other from the meagre little geography book in use at the Wootton national school.

'Ze capital of Italy!' cried the Italian contemptuously. 'Yes, mai friend, it is ze capital of Italy. And it is somesing more zan zat. I tell you, it is ze capital of art.'

Colin Churchill was old enough now to understand the meaning of those words; and from that day onward, he never ceased to remember that the goal of all his final endeavours must be to reach Rome, the capital of art, and then learn to be a sculptor.


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