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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Babylon » CHAPTER XXIII. RECOGNITION.
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My dear,' said the Colonel, as Gwen and he sat at breakfast together a few mornings later, 'now, what's your programme for to-day? An off day, I hope, for, to tell you the truth, I'm beginning to get rather tired of so much sight-seeing. Yesterday, San Clemente, wasn't it? (that place with the very extraordinary frescoes!) and the Forum, and the temple of Fortuna something-or-other, where an extortionate fellow wanted to charge me a lira for showing us nothing; Wednesday, St. Peter's, which, thank goodness, we did thoroughly' and won't have to go to again in the course of our lifetimes; Tuesday—I'm sure I can't recollect what we did on Tuesday, but I know it was somewhere very tiring. I do hope today's to be an off day, Gwen. Have you made any arrangements?'

'Oh yes, papa. Don't you remember? That delightful Mr. Audouin is coming to take us round to some of the studios.'

The colonel pushed his chair away from the table somewhat testily. 'The Yankee man, you mean, I suppose?' he said, with a considerable trace of acerbity in his manner. 'That fellow who kept talking so much the other day about some German of the name of Heine (I find out from Mrs. Wilmer, by the way, that this man Heine was far from being a respectable person). So you've promised to go mooning about the studios with him, have you?'

'Yes, papa, and he'll be here at ten; so please now go at once and get ready.'

The colonel grumbled a little—it was his double privilege, as a Briton and a military man, to grumble as much as he thought necessary, on all possible occasions; but by the time Audouin arrived, he was quite ready, with his silk hat brushed up to the Bond Street pattern, and his eminently respectable kid gloves shaming Audouin's bare hands with their exquisite newness.

'How kind of you to take us, Mr. Audouin,' Gwen said, with one of her artless smiles: 'I'm really so delighted to get a chance of seeing something of the inner life of artists. And you're going to introduce us to Maragliano, too! What an honour!'

'Oh, quite so,' the colonel assented readily; 'most gratifying, certainly. A very remarkable painter, Signor Maragliano!'

'But most remarkable of all as a sculptor,' Audouin put in quickly, before Gwen had time to correct her father's well-meant blunder. 'A magnificent figure, his Psyche. This way, Miss Russell, down the Corso.'

'Our name is Howard-Russell, Mr. Audouin, if you please—two surnames, with a dash between them,' the colonel interrupted (one can hardly expect the military mind to discriminate accurately between a dash and a hyphen). 'My ancestor, the fourth earl, who was a Howard, you know, married a Lady Mary Russell, daughter of the fifth Marquis of Marsh wood—a great heiress—and took her name. That was how the Russell connection first got into the Howard family.'

'Indeed!' Audouin answered, with forced politeness. (The best bred Americans find it hard to understand our genealogical interest.) 'But the double name's a little long, isn't it, for practical purposes? In an easy-going old-world country like Europe, people can find time for so many syllables, I dare say; but I'm afraid we hurry-scurrying Americans would kick against having to give one person two surnames every time we spoke to him, colonel.'

The colonel drew himself up rather stiffly. That any man could make light of so serious a subject as the Howard-Russell name and pedigree was an idea that had hardly before even occurred to his exalted consideration.

They walked along the Corso, and through the narrow street till they arrived at the Via Colonna. Then Audouin dived down that abode of artists, with Gwen chatting away to him gaily, and the colonel stalking beside them in solemn silence, till they reached Maragliano's studio.

As they entered, the great sculptor was standing aside behind a big lump of moist clay, where Colin Churchill was trying to set up a life-size model from the Calabrian Peasant. Colin's back was turned towards the visitors, so that he did not see them enter; and the colonel, who merely observed a young man unknown kneading up some sticky material on a board, 'just the same as if he were a baker,' didn't for the moment recognise their late companion in the French railway carriage. But Gwen saw at once that it was Colin Churchill. Indeed, to say the truth, she expected to meet him there, for she had already heard all about his arrangement with Maragliano from Audouin; and she had cleverly angled to get Audouin to offer to take them both to Maragliano's, not without the ulterior object of starting a fresh acquaintance, under better auspices, with the interesting young English sculptor.

'Ah, yes,' Maragliano said to the colonel as soon as the formalities of introduction were over. 'That, signor, is my Calabrian Peasant, and that young man you see there, trying to model it, has really a most extraordinary plastic genius. He's a new pupil, and he's going to do wonders. But first, if you will wait and see, in ten minutes his Calabrian Peasant will come all to pieces.'

'Dear me!' exclaimed the colonel, with much show of polite interest. 'Come all to pieces! Really! How very extraordinary! And what is the object of that, now, signor?'

Maragliano laughed. 'He doesn't know it'll fall yet,' he answered, half whispering. 'He's quite new to this sort of work, you see, and I told him when he came the other day to begin copying the Peasant. Of course, as your knowledge of the physical laws will immediately suggest to you, signor, the arm can't possibly hold together in moist clay in that position. In fact, before long, the whole thing will collapse altogether.'

'Naturally,' the colonel answered, looking very wise, and glancing with a critical eye towards the marble original. 'That's a work, of course, that couldn't possibly be produced in clay, but only in bronze or marble.'

'But why did you set him to do it, then?' asked Gwen, a little doubtfully. 'Surely it wasn't kind to make him begin it if it can only end by getting broken.'

'Ah, signorina,' the great sculptor answered, shrugging his shoulders, 'we learn most of all by our errors. For a model like that, we always employ an iron framework, on which, as on a skeleton, we build up the clay into flesh and muscles. But this young compatriot of yours, though he has great native genius, is still quite ignorant of the technical ways of professional sculptors. He has evidently modelled hitherto only in his own self-taught fashion, with moist clay alone, letting it support its own weight the best way possible. So he has set to work trying to mould an outline of my Peasant, as he has been used to do with his own stiff upright figures. By-and-by it will tumble down; then we will send for a blacksmith; he will fix up a mechanical skeleton with iron bars and interlacing crosses of wood and wire; on that, my pupil will flesh out the figure with moist clay; and then it'll be as firm as a rock for him to work upon.'

'But it seems a great shame, all the same,' Gwen cried warmly, 'to make him do it all for nothing. It looks to me like a waste of time.'

'Not so,' Maragliano answered. 'He will get on all the faster for it in the end. He's too enthusiastic now. He must learn that art goes softly.'

The colonel turned aside with Maragliano to examine some of the other works in the studio, but Gwen and Audouin went up to watch the new pupil at his futile task. Colin turned round as they approached, and felt his face grow hot as he suddenly recognised his late beautiful fellow-traveller. But Gwen advanced to meet him so frankly, and held out her delicate hand with such an air of perfect cordiality, that he half forgot the awkwardness of the situation, and only said with a smile, 'You see my hands are not in a fit state for welcoming visitors, Miss Howard-Russell; a sculptor must be excused, you know, for having muddy fingers. But I'm so glad to see you again. I learnt from my brother how kindly you had interested yourself on my behalf with Sir Henry Wilberforce. It was very good of you, and I shall not forget the trouble you took for me.'

Gwen coloured a little. Now that she looked back upon it in a calmer moment, her interference in Colin Churchill's favour had certainly been most dreadfully unconventional.

'I'm only too glad, Mr. Churchill,' she said, 'that you've got away at last from that horrid old man. He almost frightened me out of my senses. You ought to be here working, as you're doing now, of course, and I shall watch your progress in future with so much interest. Signor Maragliano has such a high opinion of you. He says you'll do wonders.'

'Yes,' Colin answered, eagerly. 'He's a splendid man, Maragliano. It's grand to hear his generous appreciation of others, down even to the merest beginners. Whenever he talks of any other sculptor, dead or living, there's such a noble absence of any jealousy or petty reserve about his approbation. He seems as if he could never say enough in praise of anybody.' 'He looks it,' Audouin put in. 'He has a fine head and a speaking eye. I've seldom seen a grander bust and profile. Don't you think so, Miss Russell?'

'Very fine indeed,' Gwen answered. 'And so you're working at this Calabrian Peasant, Mr. Churchill. It's a beautiful piece of sculpture.'

'Oh, yes,' Colin said, standing still and regarding it for a moment with loving attention. 'It's beautiful, beautiful. When I can model a figure like that, I shall think I've done something really. But it's quite painful to me to look round and see the other men here—some of them younger than myself—to watch their power and experience, their masterly way of sketching in the figure, their admirable imitation of nature—and then to think how very little I myself have yet accomplished. It almost makes one feel despondent for one's own powers. When I watch them, I feel humbled and unhappy.'

'No, no,' Audouin said warmly. 'You needn't think so, I'm sure, Churchill. The man who distrusts his own work is always the truest workman. It's only fools or poor creatures who are satisfied with their own first tentative efforts. The true artist underrates himself, especially at first, and thereby both proves himself and makes himself the true artist.'

'Just what I felt myself,' Gwen murmured, half inaudibly (though somebody standing in the shade behind heard her quite distinctly), only I don't know how to put it nearly so cleverly.'

'And Maragliano tells me,' Audouin went on, 'that you've got some splendid designs for bas-reliefs with you, which were what really determined him to take you for his pupil. He says they're the finest things he ever yet saw done by a self-taught beginner, and that they display extraordinary promise.'

'Oh, do show them to us, Mr. Churchill,' Gwen cried, looking at him with obvious admiration (as the somebody behind again noticed). 'Have you got them here? Do show them to us!'

Colin smiled and looked a little embarrassed. Then he went off and got his portfolio, and showed the drawings one after another to Gwen and Audouin. Gwen watched them all with deep interest; Audouin praised and criticised and threw in a word or two here and there of transcendental explanation; while Colin himself now and then pointed out a motive or described his idea of the various personages. When they came to Orestes and the Eumenides, Colin held out the drawing at arm's length for a moment lovingly. 'Maradiano admired that the most,' he said with a touch of not ungraceful vanity; and Gwen, looking at it with her untutored eye, at once agreed that Maragliano had chosen wisely. 'It's beautiful,' she said, 'very beautiful. Oh, Mr. Churchill, what a splendid thing to be able to make such lovely figures! I don't think even painting can compare for a moment for nobility and purity with sculpture.'

Somebody standing beside in the shade—he was by trade a painter—felt a stab in his heart as the beautiful Englishwoman said those simple natural words of outspoken admiration.

'But, oh, Miss Russell,' Colin cried, looking up again from his own drawings to the Calabrian Peasant, in its exquisite grace of attitude, 'what's the use of looking at my poor things with such a statue as that before you?'

Gwen glanced quickly and appreciatively from one to the other. 'Why, do you know, Mr. Churchill,' she answered, with that easy boldness of criticism which distinguishes her sex, 'it may be only my ignorance of art that makes me say so, but I really prefer your Orestes even to Maragliano's Calabrian Peasant; and yet the Peasant's a magnificent statue.'

Somebody behind, putting his head a little on one side, and comparing hastily the drawing and the marble figure, confessed to his own heart, with a painful sinking sense of personal failure, that after all Gwen's judgment in the matter was not far wrong even to the more trained artistic perception.

Colin laughed. 'Ah, that's flattery, I'm afraid,' he said, turning round to her innocently; 'quite too obvious and undeserved flattery. It'd be absurd to compare my poor little drawings of course with the finished work of such an accomplished sculptor as Maragliano. You must be given to paying compliments I'm sure, Miss Russell.'

Gwen thought the conversation was taking perhaps a rather dangerous turn, so she only said, 'Oh no,' a little coldly, and then changed the subject as quickly as she was able. 'So you're going to settle down in Rome for the present?' she said. 'You've taken lodgings, I suppose, have you?'

'Oh yes, I've taken lodgings in such a funny little street—to dine at a trattoria—with a friend of Mr. Audouin's, who's come from America to study painting. You've met him before. He's here this morning. He came round with me to see the studio, and I'm sure I don't know now where he's gone to. Winthrop, Winthrop, where are you?'

Hiram Winthrop stepped out of the gloom behind with bashful eyes and cheeks burning; for he had heard all that Gwen had said to Colin, and he felt as if his own hopes and aspirations were all that moment finally crushed out of him. How much notice she took of this fluent, handsome English sculptor! how little she seemed to think of him, the poor shy, retiring, awkward, shock-headed American painter!

But Gwen didn't seem to be at all conscious of Hiram's embarrassment. She held out her hand to him just as cordially as she had held it out five minutes before to Colin; and Hiram, luckier in the matter of clay, was able to take it, and to feel its touch thrill through him inwardly with a delicious tremor. She talked to him about the ordinary polite nothings for a minute or two—had he done the Vatican yet? was he going to the Colosseum? did he like Rome as far as he had seen it?—and then Maragliano and the colonel drew a little nearer to the group, still talking to one another quite confidentially.

'Ah, yes,' Maragliano was saying, in a somewhat lower tone than before; 'a very remarkable pupil indeed, signor. If I were inclined to jealousy, I should say, a pupil who will soon outstrip his master. He will be a great sculptor—a very great sculptor. You will hear of his name one day; he will not be long in achieving celebrity.'

'Ah, indeed,' the colonel answered, in his set tone of polite indifference. 'Very interesting, really. And what might the young man's name be, signor? so that one may recognise it, you know, when it comes to be worth hearing.'

Before Maragliano could reply, there was a noise of something falling behind, and then, with a sodden sound, like dough flung down upon a board, Colin Churchill's Calabrian Peasant collapsed utterly, and sank of its own weight upon the low table where he was modelling it. There it lay in a ludicrously drunken and inglorious attitude, still present ing some outer semblance of humanity, but flattened and distorted into a grotesque caricature of the original statue. As it lay there helpless, a perfect Guy Fawkes of a Calabrian, with its pasty featureless face staring blankly upward towards the vacant ceiling, Gwen couldn't resist bursting out gaily into a genuine laugh of girlish amusement. Everybody else laughed, except two: and those two stood with burning faces beside the shattered model, glaring at one another indignantly and defiantly. Colin Churchill's cheeks were flushed with natural shame at this absurd collapse of his carefully moulded figure before the eyes of so many spectators. The colonel's were flushed with anger and horror when he saw that the promising pupil with whom his daughter had been talking so eagerly was none other than their railway acquaintance of the journey Rome ward—Sir Henry Wilber-force's valet, Colin Churchill.

'Gwen,' he cried, coming up to her with ill-concealed anger, 'I think we'd better be going. I'm afraid—I'm afraid our presence has possibly contributed to this very unfortunate catastrophe. Good morning, Mr. Churchill. I didn't know we were to have the pleasure of meeting you here this morning. Good morning.'

But Gwen wouldn't be dragged away so easily. 'Wait a minute or two, papa,' she cried in her authoritative way. 'Signor Maragliano will explain all this, and we'll go as soon as Mr. Churchill is ready to say goodbye to us. At present, you see, he's too busy with his model to pay any attention to stray visitors. I'm so sorry, Mr. Winthrop, it should have occurred while we were here, because I take so much interest in Mr. Churchill, and now I'm afraid he'll think we were all in league to raise a laugh against him. But I couldn't help it, you know; I really couldn't help it; the thing does certainly look so very comical.'

Hiram hated himself for it in his heart, but he couldn't help feeling a certain sense of internal triumph in spite of himself at this unexpected discomfiture of his supposed rival.

When they were walking home together a few minutes later, and had passed from the narrow street into an empty sleepy-looking piazza, the colonel turned and said angrily to his daughter, 'Gwen, I'm thoroughly ashamed of you, going and talking in that way to that common valet fellow. Have you no feeling for your position that you choose to lower yourself by actually paying court before my very eyes to a person in his station?'

Gwen bit her lip in silence for a minute or two, and made no reply. Then, after letting her internal indignation cool for a while, she condescended to use the one mean Philistine argument which she thought at all likely to have any effect upon the colonel's personality.

'Papa,' she said very quietly, 'it's no use telling you, of course, that he's a wonderful artist, and that he's going to make beautiful statues that everybody'll admire and talk about, for you don't understand art, and you don't care for it or see anything in it: but can't you at least understand that Mr. Churchill is a gentleman by nature, that he's rising to be a gentleman by position, that he'll come at last to be a great sculptor, and be made President of the Royal Academy, and be knighted, and entertain the Prince of Wales to dinner—and then, you know, you'd be glad enough to get an invitation anywhere to meet him.'

The colonel coughed. 'It'll be quite time to consider that question,' he said drily, 'when we see him duly gazetted. Every French soldier carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack, I've been given to understand; but for my part, I prefer not sitting down to dinner with him, all the same, until the marshal's baton has been properly taken out of the knapsack.'

That night, Hiram Winthrop, creeping up the dim creaking staircase to his small dark bedroom in the narrow dirty Roman lane, said to himself, with something of despair in his soul, 'She will fall in love with Churchill. I feel sure she will fall in love with Churchill. And yet he doesn't seem to notice it, or care for it. While I——'

That night, Colin Churchill, coming back, once more enthusiastic, from Maragliano's, (where the great sculptor had with his own hands rebuilt for him in outline round an iron framework the shattered Calabrian Peasant), and mounting the quaint old Roman staircase to his own funny little attic room, next door to Winthrop's, said to himself casually, in a passing idle moment, 'A beautiful girl, that Miss Howard-Bussell, certainly. More statuesque than Minna, though not perhaps so really pretty. But still, very beautiful. One of the finest profiles, I think, I have ever met with. And what an interest she seems to take in art, too! So anxious to come and see Maragliano, Mr. Audouin told me. Only, she was quite too flattering, really, about Orestes pursued by the Eumenides.'

And that night, away over yonder in lonely London, little Minna read and re-read a long letter from Colin at Rome ten times over, and pressed it tenderly to her heart, and cried to herself over it, and wondered whether Cohn would ever forget her, or would fall in love with one of those splendid dark-eyed treacherous-looking Italian women. And then, as of old, she lay awake and thought of Cohn, and the dangers of absence, with tears in her eyes, till she cried herself to sleep at last with his open letter still pressed tight against her tremulous eager little bosom.


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