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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter XIV. A SURPRISING ENCOUNTER
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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter XIV. A SURPRISING ENCOUNTER Post by :Jeannie Category :Long Stories Author :Rene Bazin Date :April 2012 Read :3593

Click below to download : The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter XIV. A SURPRISING ENCOUNTER (Format : PDF)

The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter XIV. A SURPRISING ENCOUNTER

MILAN, June 26th.

I have just had another letter from Sylvestre. My poor friend is very miserable; his mother is dead--a saint if ever there was one. I was very deeply touched by the news, although I knew this lovable woman very slightly--too slightly, indeed, not having been a son, or related in any way to her, but merely a passing stranger who found his way within the horizon of her heart, that narrow limit within which she spread abroad the treasures of her tenderness and wisdom. How terribly her son must feel her loss!

He described in his letter her last moments, and the calmness with which she met death, and added:

"One thing, which perhaps you will not understand, is the remorse which is mingled with my sorrow. I lived with her forty years, and have some right to be called 'a good son.' But, when I compare the proofs of affection I gave her with those she gave me, the sacrifices I made for her with those she made for me; when I think of the egoism which found its way into our common life, on which I founded my claims to merit, of the wealth of tenderness and sympathy with which she repaid a few walks on my arm, a few kind words, and of her really great forbearance in dwelling beneath the same roof with me--I feel that I was ungrateful, and not worthy of the happiness I enjoyed.

"I am tortured by the thought that it is impossible for me to repair all my neglect, to pay a debt the greatness of which I now recognize for the first time. She is gone. All is over. My prayers alone can reach her, can tell her that I loved her, that I worshipped her, that I might have been capable of doing all that I have left undone for her.

"Oh, my friend, what pleasant duties have I lost! I mean, at least, to fulfil her last wishes, and it is on account of one of them that I am writing to you.

"You know that my mother was never quite pleased at my keeping at home the portrait of her who was my first and only love. She would have preferred that my eyes did not recall so often to my heart the recollection of my long-past sorrows. I withstood her. On her death-bed she begged me to give up the picture to, those who should have had it long ago. 'So long as I was here to comfort you in the sorrows which the sight of it revived in you,' she said, 'I did not press this upon you; but soon you will be left alone, with no one to raise you when your spirits fail you. They have often begged you to give up the picture to them. The time is come for you to grant their prayers.'

"I promised.

"And now, dear friend, help me to keep my promise. I do not wish to write to them. My hand would tremble, and they would tremble when they saw my writing. Go and see them.

"They live about nine miles from Milan, on the Monza road, but beyond that town, close to the village of Desio. The villa is called Dannegianti, after its owners. It used to be hidden among poplars, and its groves were famous for their shade. You must send in your card to the old lady of the house together with mine. They will receive you. Then you must break the news to them as you think best, that, in accordance with the dying wish of Sylvestre Lampron's mother, the portrait of Rafaella is to be given in perpetuity to the Villa Dannegianti. Given, you understand.

"You may even tell them that it is on its way. I have just arranged with Plumet about packing it. He is a good workman, as you know. To-morrow all will be ready, and my home an absolute void.

"I intend to take refuge in hard work, and I count upon you to alleviate to some extent the hardships of such a method of consolation.

"SYLVESTRE LAMPRON."

When I got Lampron's letter, at ten in the morning, I went at once to see the landlord of the Albergo dell' Agnello.

"You can get me a carriage for Desio, can't you?"

"Oh, your lordship thinks of driving to Desio? That is quite right. It is much more picturesque than going by train. A little way beyond Monza. Monza, sir, is one of our richest jewels; you will see there--"

"Yes," said I, repeating my Baedeker as accurately as he, "the Villa Reale, and the Iron Crown of the Emperors of the West."

"Exactly so, sir, and the cathedral built--"

"By Theodolinda, Queen of the Lombards, A.D. 595, restored in the sixteenth century. I know; I only asked whether you could get me a decent carriage."

"A matchless one! At half-past three, when the heat is less intense, your lordship will find the horses harnessed. You will have plenty of time to get to Desio before sunset, and be back in time for supper."

At the appointed time I received notice. My host had more than kept his word, for the horses sped through Milan at a trot which they did not relinquish when we got into the Como road, amid the flat and fertile country which is called the garden of Italy.

After an hour and a half, including a brief halt at Monza, the coachman drew up his horses before the first house in Desio--an inn.

It was a very poor inn, situated at the corner of the main street and of a road which branched off into the country. In front of it a few plane-trees, trained into an arbor, formed an arch of shade. A few feet of vine clambered about their trunks. The sun was scorching the leaves and the heavy bunches of grapes which hung here and there. The shutters were closed, and the little house seemed to have been lulled to sleep by the heat and light of the atmosphere and the buzzing of the gnats.

"Oh, go in; they'll wake up at once," said the coachman, who had divined my thoughts.

Then, without waiting for my answer, like a man familiar with the customs of the country, he took his horses down the road to the stable.

I went in. A swarm of bees and drones were buzzing like a whirlwind beneath the plane-trees; a frightened white hen ran cackling from her nest in the dust. No one appeared. I opened the door; still nobody was to be seen. Inside I found a passage, with rooms to right and left and a wooden staircase at the end. The house, having been kept well closed, was cool and fresh. As I stood on the threshold striving to accustom my eyes to the darkness of the interior, I heard the sound of voices to my right:

"Picturesque as you please, but the journey has been a failure! These people are no better than savages; introductions, distinctions, and I may say even fame, had no effect upon them!"

"Do you think they have even read your letters?" "That would be still worse, to refuse to read letters addressed to them! No, I tell you, there's no excuse."

"They have suffered great trouble, I hear, and that is some excuse for them, father."

"No, my dear, there is no possible excuse for their keeping hidden treasures of such scientific interest. I do not consider that even an Italian nobleman, were he orphan from his cradle, and thrice a widower, has any right to keep locked up from the investigation of scholars an unequalled collection of Roman coins, and a very presentable show of medallions and medals properly so-called. Are you aware that this boorish patrician has in his possession the eight types of medal of the gens Attilia?"

"Really?"

"I am certain of it, and he has the thirty-seven of the gens Cassia, one hundred and eighteen to one hundred and twenty-one of the gens Cornelia, the eleven Farsuleia, and dozens of Numitoria, Pompeia, and Scribonia, all in perfect condition, as if fresh from the die. Besides these, he has some large medals of the greatest rarity; the Marcus Aurelius with his son on the reverse side, Theodora bearing the globe, and above all the Annia Faustina with Heliogabalus on the reverse side, an incomparable treasure, of which there is only one other example, and that an imperfect one, in the world--a marvel which I would give a day of my life to see; yes, my dear, a day of my life!"

Such talk as this, in French, in such an inn as this!

I felt a presentiment, and stepped softly to the right-hand door.

In the darkened room, lighted only by a few rays filtered between the slats of the shutters, sat a young girl. Her hat was hung upon a nail above her head; one arm rested on a wretched white wood table; her head was bent forward in mournful resignation. On the other side of the table, her father was leaning back in his chair against the whitewashed wall, with folded arms, heightened color, and every sign of extreme disgust. Both rose as I entered--Jeanne first, M. Charnot after her. They were astonished at seeing me.

I was no less astounded than they.

We stood and stared at each other for some time, to make sure that we were not dreaming.

M. Charnot was the first to break the silence. He did not seem altogether pleased at my appearance, and turned to his daughter, whose face had grown very red and yet rather chilling:

"Jeanne, put your hat on; it is time to go to the station." Then he addressed me:

"We shall leave you the room to yourself, sir; and since the most extraordinary coincidence"--he emphasized the words--"has brought you to this damnable village, I hope you will enjoy your visit."

"Have you been here long, Monsieur?"

"Two hours, Monsieur, two mortal hours in this inn, fried by the sun, bored to death, murdered piecemeal by flies, and infuriated by the want of hospitality in this out-of-the-way hole in Lombardy."

"Yes, I noticed that the host was nowhere to be seen, and that is the reason why I came in here; I had no idea that I should have the honor of meeting you."

"Good God! I'm not complaining of him! He's asleep in his barn over there. You can wake him up; he doesn't mind showing himself; he even makes himself agreeable when he has finished his siesta."

"I only wish to ask him one question, which perhaps you could answer, Monsieur; then I need not waken him. Could you tell me the way to the Villa Dannegianti?"

M. Charnot walked up to me, looked me straight in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and burst out laughing.

"The Villa Dannegianti!"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"Are you going to the Villa Dannegianti?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"Then you may as well turn round and go home again."

"Why?"

"Because there's no admission."

"But I have a letter of introduction."

"I had two, Monsieur, without counting the initials after my name, which are worth something and have opened the doors of more than one foreign collection for me; yet they denied me admission! Think of it! The porter of that insolent family denied me admission! Do you expect to succeed after that?"

"I do, Monsieur."

My words seemed to him the height of presumption.

"Come, Jeanne," he said, "let us leave this gentleman to his youthful illusions. They will soon be shattered--very soon."

He gave me an ironical smile and made for the door.

At this moment Jeanne dropped her sunshade. I picked it up for her.

"Thank you, Monsieur," she said.

Of course these words were no more than ordinarily polite. She would have said the same to the first comer. Nothing in her attitude or her look displayed any emotion which might put a value on this common form of speech. But it was her voice, that music I so often dream of. Had it spoken insults, I should have found it sweet. It inspired me with the sudden resolution of detaining this fugitive apparition, of resting, if possible, another hour near her to whose side an unexpected stroke of fortune had brought me.

M. Charnot had already left the room; his rotund shadow rested on the wall of the passage. He held a travelling-bag in his hand.

"Monsieur," said I, "I am sorry that you are obliged to return already to Milan. I am quite certain of admission to the Villa Dannegianti, and it would have given me pleasure to repair a mistake which is clearly due only to the stupidity of the servants."

He stopped; the stroke had told.

"It is certainly quite possible that they never looked at my card or my letters. But allow me to ask, since my card did not reach the host, what secret you possess to enable yours to get to him?"

"No secret at all, still less any merit of my own. I am the bearer of news of great importance to the owners of the villa, news of a purely private nature. They will be obliged to see me. My first care, when I had fulfilled my mission, would have been to mention your name. You would have been able to go over the house, and inspect a collection of medals which, I have heard, is a very fine one."

"Unique, Monsieur!"

"Unfortunately you are going away, and to-morrow I have to leave Milan myself, for Paris."

"You have been some time in Italy, then?"

"Nearly a fortnight."

M. Charnot gave his daughter a meaning look, and suddenly became more friendly.

"I thought you had just come. We have not been here so long," he added; "my daughter has been a little out of sorts, and the doctor advised us to travel for change of air. Paris is not healthful in this very hot weather."

He looked hard at me to see whether his fib had taken me in. I replied, with an air of the utmost conviction, "That is putting it mildly. Paris, in July, is uninhabitable."

"That's it, Monsieur, uninhabitable; we were forced to leave it. We soon made up our minds, and, in spite of the time of the year, we turned our steps toward the home of the classics, to Italy, the museum of Europe. And you really think, then, that by means of your good offices we should have been admitted to the villa?"

"Yes, Monsieur, but owing only to the missive with which I am entrusted."

M. Charnot hesitated. He was probably thinking of the blot of ink, and certainly of M. Mouillard's visit. But he doubtless reflected that Jeanne knew nothing of the old lawyer's proceedings, that we were far from Paris, that the opportunity was not to be lost; and in the end his passion for numismatics conquered at once his resentment as a bookworm and his scruples as a father.

"There is a later train at ten minutes to eight, father," said Jeanne.

"Well, dear, do you care to try your luck again, and return to the assault of that Annia Faustina?"

"As you please, father."

We left the inn together by the by-road down the hill. I could not believe my eyes. This old man with refined features who walked on my left, leaning on his malacca cane, was M. Charnot. The same man who received me so discourteously the day after I made my blot was now relying on me to introduce him to an Italian nobleman; on me, a lawyer's clerk. I led him on with confidence, and both of us, carried away by our divers hopes, he dreaming of medals, I of the reopened horizon full of possibilities, conversed on indifferent subjects with a freedom hitherto unknown between us.

And this charming Parisienne, whose presence I divined rather than saw, whom I dared not look in the face, who stepped along by her father's side, light of foot, her eyes seeking the vault of heaven, her ear attentive though her thoughts were elsewhere, catching her Parisian sunshade in the hawthorns of Desio, was Jeanne, Jeanne of the flower-market, Jeanne whom Lampron had sketched in the woods of St. Germain! It did not seem possible.

Yet it was so, for we arrived together at the gates of the Villa Dannegianti, which is hardly a mile from the inn.

I rang the bell. The fat, idle, insolent Italian porter was beginning to refuse me admission, with the same words and gestures which he had so often used. But I explained, in my purest Tuscan, that I was not of the ordinary kind of importunate tourist. I told him that he ran a serious risk if he did not immediately hand my card and my letter--Lampron's card in an envelope--to the Comtesse Dannegianti.

From his stony glare I could not tell whether I had produced any impression, nor even whether he had understood. He turned on his heel with his keys in one hand and the letter in the other, and went on his way through the shady avenue, rolling his broad back from side to side, attired in a jacket which might have fitted in front, but was all too short behind.

The shady precincts of which Lampron wrote did not seem to have been pruned. The park was cool and green. At the end of the avenue of plane-trees, alternating with secular hawthorns cut into pyramids, we could see the square mass of the villa just peeping over the immense clumps of trees. Beyond it the tops and naked trunks of a group of umbrella pines stood silhouetted against the sky.

The porter returned, solemn and impassive. He opened the gate without a word. We all passed through--M. Charnot somewhat uneasy at entering under false pretenses, as I guessed from the way he suddenly drew up his head. Jeanne seemed pleased; she smoothed down a fold which the wind had raised in her frock, spread out a flounce, drew herself up, pushed back a hairpin which her fair tresses had dragged out of its place, all in quick, deft, and graceful movements, like a goldfinch preening its feathers.

We reached the terrace, and arranged that M. and Mademoiselle Charnot should wait in an alley close at hand till I received permission to visit the collections.

I entered the house, and following a lackey, crossed a large mosaic-paved hall, divided by columns of rare marbles into panels filled with mediocre frescoes on a very large scale. At the end of this hall was the Countess's room, which formed a striking contrast, being small, panelled with wood, and filled with devotional knick-knacks that gave it the look of a chapel.

As I entered, an old lady half rose from an armchair, which she could have used as a house, the chair was so large and she was so small. At first I could distinguish only two bright, anxious eyes. She looked at me like a prisoner awaiting a verdict. I began by telling her of the death of Lampron's mother. Her only answer was an attentive nod. She guessed something else was coming and stood on guard, so to speak. I went on and told her that the portrait of her daughter was on its way to her. Then she forgot everything--her age, her rank, and the mournful reserve which had hitherto hedged her about. Her motherly heart alone spoke within her; a ray of light had come to brighten the incurable gloom which was killing her; she rushed toward me and fell into my arms, and I felt against my heart her poor aged body shaking with sobs. She thanked me in a flood of words which I did not catch. Then she drew back and gazed at me, seeking to read in my eyes some emotion responsive to her own, and her eyes, red and swollen and feverishly bright, questioned me more clearly than her words.

"How good are you, sir! and how generous is he! What life does he lead? Has he ever lived down the sorrow which blasted his youth here? Men forget more easily, happily for them. I had given up all hope of obtaining the portrait. Every year I sent him flowers which meant, 'Restore to us all that is left of our dead Rafaella.' Perhaps it was unkind. I did reproach myself at times for it. But I was her mother, you know; the mother of that peerless girl! And the portrait is so good, so like! He has never altered it? tell me; never retouched it? Time has not marred the lifelike coloring? I shall now have the mournful consolation I have so long desired; I shall always have before me the counterpart of my lost darling, and can gaze upon that face which none could depict save he who loved her; for, dreadful though it be to think of, the image of the best beloved will change and fade away even in a mother's heart, and at times I doubt whether my old memory is still faithful, and recalls all her grace and beauty as clearly as it used to do when the wound was fresh in my heart and my eyes were still filled with the loveliness of her. Oh, Monsieur, Monsieur! to think that I shall see that face once more!"

She left me as quickly as she had come, and went to open a door on the left, into an adjoining room, whose red hangings threw a ruddy glow upon the polished floor.

"Cristoforo!" she cried, "Cristoforo! come and see a French gentleman who brings us great news. The portrait of our Rafaella, Cristoforo, the portrait we have so long desired, is at last to be given to us!"

I heard a chair move, and a slow footstep. Cristoforo appeared, with white hair and black moustache, his tall figure buttoned up in an old-fashioned frockcoat, the petrified, mummified remains of a once handsome man. He walked up to me, took both my hands and shook them ceremoniously. His face showed no traces of emotion; his eyes were dry, and he had not a word to say. Did he understand? I really do not know. He seemed to think the affair was an ordinary introduction. As I looked at him his wife's words came back to me, "Men forget sooner." She gazed at him as if she would put blood into his veins, where it had long ceased to flow.

"Cristoforo, I know this will be a great joy to you, and you will join with me in thanking Monsieur Lampron for his generosity. You, sir, will express to him all the Count's gratitude and my own, and also the sympathy we feel for him in his recent loss. Besides, we shall write to him. Is Monsieur Lampron rich?"

"I had forgotten to tell you, Madame, that my friend will accept nothing but thanks."

"Ah, that is truly noble of him, is it not, Cristoforo?"

All the answer the old Count made was to take my hands and shake them again.

I used the opportunity to put forward my request in behalf of M. Charnot. He listened attentively.

"I will give orders. You shall see everything--everything."

Then, considering our interview at an end, he bowed and withdrew to his own apartments.

I looked for the Countess Dannegianti. She had sunk into her great armchair, and was weeping hot tears.

Ten minutes later, M. Charnot and Jeanne entered with me into the jealously guarded museum.

Museum was the only name to give to a collection of such artistic value, occupying, as it did, the whole of the ground floor to the right of the hall. Two rooms ran parallel to each other, filled with pictures, medals, and engravings, and were connected by a narrow gallery devoted to sculpture.

Hardly was the door opened when M. Charnot sought the famous medals with his eye. There they were in the middle of the room in two rows of cases. He was deeply moved. I thought he was about to make a raid upon them, attracted after his kind by the 'auri sacra fames', by the yellow gleam of those ancient coins, the names, family, obverse and reverse of which he knew by heart. But I little understood the enthusiast.

He drew out his handkerchief and spectacles, and while he was wiping the glasses he gave a rapid and impatient glance at the works that adorned the walls. None of them could charm the numismatist's heart. After he had enjoyed the pleasure of proving how feeble in comparison were the charms of a Titian or a Veronese, then only did M. Charnot walk step by step to the first case and bend reverently over it.

Yet the collection of paintings was unworthy of such disdain. The pictures were few, but all were signed with great names, most of them Italian, a few Dutch, Flemish, or German. I began to work systematically through them, pleased at the want of a catalogue and the small number of inscriptions on the frames. To be your own guide doubles your pleasure; you can get your impression of a picture entirely at first hand; you are filled with admiration without any one having told you that you are bound to go into ecstasies. You can work out for yourself from a picture, by induction and comparison, its subject, its school, and its author, unless it proclaims, in every stroke of the brush, "I am a Hobbema," "a Perugino," or "a Giotto."

I was somewhat distracted, however, by the voice of the old numismatist, as he peered into the cases, and constrained his daughter to share in the exuberance of his learned enthusiasm.

"Jeanne, look at this; crowned head of Cleopatra, Mark Antony on the reverse; in perfect condition, isn't it? See, an Italian 'as-Iguvium Umbriae', which my friend Pousselot has sought these thirty years! Oh, my dear, this is important: Annius Verus on the reverse of Commodus, both as children, a rare example--yet not as rare as--Jeanne, you must engrave this gold medal in your heart, it is priceless: head of Augustus with laurel, Diana walking on the reverse. You ought to take an interest in her. Diana the fair huntress.

"This collection is heavenly! Wait a minute; we shall soon come to the Annia Faustina."

Jeanne made no objection, but smiled softly upon the Cleopatra, the Umbrian 'as', and the fair huntress.

Little by little her father's enthusiasm expanded over the vast collection of treasures. He took out his pocketbook and began to make notes. Jeanne raised her eyes to the walls, took one glance, then a second, and, not being called back to the medals, stepped softly up to the picture at which I had begun.

She went quickly from one to another having evidently no more than a child's untutored taste for pictures. As I, on the contrary, was getting on very slowly, she was bound to overtake me. You may be sure I took no steps to prevent it, and so in a very short time we were both standing before the same picture, a portrait of Holbein the younger. A subject of conversation was ready to hand.

"Mademoiselle," said I, "do you like this Holbein?"

"You must admit, sir, that the old gentleman is exceedingly plain."

"Yes, but the painting is exquisite. See how powerful is the drawing of the head, how clear and deep the colors remain after more than three hundred years. What a good likeness it must have been! The subject tells his own story: he must have been a nobleman of the court of Henry VIII, a Protestant in favor with the King, wily but illiterate, and wishing from the bottom of his heart that he were back with the companions of his youth at home in his country house, hunting and drinking at his ease. It is really the study of a man's character. Look at this Rubens beside it, a mere mass of flesh scarcely held together by a spirit, a style that is exuberantly material, all color and no expression. Here you have spirituality on one side and materialism on the other, unconscious, perhaps, but unmistakable. Compare, again, with these two pictures this little drawing, doubtless by Perugino, just a sketch of an angel for an Annunciation; notice the purity of outline, the ideal atmosphere in which the painter lives and with which he impregnates his work. You see he comes of a school of poets and mystics, gifted with a second sight which enabled them to beautify this world and raise themselves above it."

I was pleased with my little lecture, and so was Jeanne. I could tell it by her surprised expression, and by the looks she cast toward her father, who was still taking notes, to see whether she might go on with her first lesson in art.

He smiled in a friendly way, which meant:

"I'm happy here, my dear, thank you; 'va piano va sano'."

This was as good as permission. We went on our way, saluting, as we passed, Tintoretto and Titian, Veronese and Andrea Solari, old Cimabue, and a few early paintings of angular virgins on golden backgrounds.

Jeanne was no longer bored.

"And is this," she would say, "another Venetian, or a Lombard, or a Florentine?"

We soon completed the round of the first room, and made our way into the gallery beyond, devoted to sculpture. The marble gods and goddesses, the lovely fragments of frieze or cornice from the excavations at Rome, Pompeii, or Greece, had but a moderate interest for Mademoiselle Charnot. She never gave more than one glance to each statue, to some none at all.

We soon came to the end of the gallery, and the door which gave access into the second room of paintings.

Suddenly Jeanne gave an exclamation of surprise.

"What is that?" she said.

Beneath the large and lofty window, fanned on the outside by leafy branches, a wooden panel, bearing an inscription, stood upright against the wall. The words were painted in black on a white ground, and arranged with considerable skill, after the style of the classic epitaphs which the Italians still cultivate.

I drew aside the folds of a curtain:

"It is one of those memorial tablets, Mademoiselle, such as people hang up in this part of the country upon the church doors on the day of the funeral. It means:

"To thee, Rafaella Dannegianti--who, aged twenty years and few months--having fully experienced the sorrows and illusions of this world--on January 6--like an angel longing for its heavenly home--didst wing thy way to God in peace and happiness--the clergy of Desioand the laborers and artificers of the noble house of Dannegianti--tender these last solemn offices."

"This Rafaella, then, was the Count's daughter?"

"His only child, a girl lovely and gracious beyond rivalry."

"Oh, of course, beyond rivalry. Are not all only daughters lovely and perfect when once they are dead?" she replied with a bitter smile. "They have their legend, their cult, and usually a flattering portrait. I am surprised that Rafaella's is not here. I imagine her portrait as representing a tall girl, with long, well-arched eyebrows, and brown eyes--"

"Greenish-brown."

"Green, if you prefer it; a small nose, cherry lips, and a mass of light brown hair."

"Golden brown would be more correct."

"Have you seen it, then? Is there one?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle, and it lacks no perfection that you could imagine, not even that smile of happy youth which was a falsehood ere the paint had yet dried on the canvas. Here, before this relic, which recalls it to my thoughts, I must confess that I am touched."

She looked at me in astonishment.

"Where is the portrait? Not here?"

"No, it is at Paris, in my friend Lampron's studio."

"O--oh!" She blushed slightly.

"Yes, Mademoiselle, it is at once a masterpiece and a sad reminder. The story is very simple, and I am sure my friend would not mind my telling it to you--to you if to no other--before these relics of the past.

"When Lampron was a young man travelling in Italy he fell in love with this young girl, whose portrait he was painting. He loved her, perhaps without confessing it to himself, certainly without avowing it to her. Such is the way of timid and humble men of heart, men whose love is nearly always misconstrued when it ceases to be unnoticed. My friend risked the happiness of his life, fearlessly, without calculation--and lost it. A day came when Rafaella Dannegianti was carried off by her parents, who shuddered at the thought of her stooping to a painter, even though he were a genius."

"So she died?"

"A year later. He never got over it. Even while I speak to you, he in his loneliness is pondering and weeping over these very lines which you have just read without a suspicion of the depth of their bitterness."

"He has known bereavement," said she; "I pity him with all my heart."

Her eyes filled with tears. She repeated the words, whose meaning was now clear to her, "A to Rafaella." Then she knelt down softly before the mournful inscription. I saw her bow her head. Jeanne was praying.

It was touching to see the young girl, whom chance had placed before this simple testimony of a sorrow now long past, deeply moved by the sad tale of love, filled with tender pity for the dead Rafaella, her fellow in youth and beauty and perhaps in destiny, finding in her heart the tender impulse to kneel without a word, as if beside the grave of a friend. The daylight's last rays streaming in through the window illumined her bowed head.

I drew back, with a touch of awe.

M. Charnot appeared.

He went up to his daughter and tapped her on the shoulder. She rose with a blush.

"What are you doing there?" he said.

Then he adjusted his glasses and read the Italian inscription.

"You really take unnecessary trouble in kneeling down to decipher a thing like that. You can see at once that it's a modern panel, and of no value. Monsieur," he added, turning to me, "I do not know what your plans are, but unless you intend to sleep at Desio, we must be off, for the night is falling."

We left the villa.

Out of doors it was still light, but with the afterglow. The sun was out of sight, but the earth was still enveloped, as it were, in a haze of luminous dust.

M. Charnot pulled out his watch.

"Seven minutes past eight. What time does the last train start, Jeanne?"

"At ten minutes to eight."

"Confusion! we are stranded in Desio! The mere thought of passing the night in that inn gives me the creeps. I see no way out of it unless Monsieur Mouillard can get us one of the Count's state coaches. There isn't a carriage to be got in this infernal village!"

"There is mine, Monsieur, which luckily holds four, and is quite at your service."

"Upon my word, I am very much obliged to you. The drive by moonlight will be quite romantic."

He drew near to Jeanne and whispered in her ear:

"Are you sure you've wraps enough? a shawl, or a cape, or some kind of pelisse?"

She gave a merry nod of assent.

"Don't worry yourself, father; I am prepared for all emergencies."

At half-past eight we left Desio together, and I silently blessed the host of the Albergo dell' Agnello, who had assured me that the carriage road was "so much more picturesque." I found it so, indeed.

M. Charnot and Jeanne faced the horses. I sat opposite to M. Charnot, who was in the best of spirits after all the medals he had seen. Comfortably settled in the cushions, careless of the accidents of the road, with graphic and untiring forefinger, he undertook to describe his travels in Greece, whither he had been sent on some learned enterprise by the Minister of Education, and had carried an imagination already prepossessed and dazzled with Homeric visions. He told his story well and with detail, combining the recollections of the scholar with the impressions of an artist. The pediment of the Parthenon, the oleanders of the Ilissus, the stream "that runs in rain-time," the naked peak of Parnassus, the green slopes of Helicon, the blue gulf of Argus, the pine forest beside Alpheus, where the ancients worshipped "Death the Gentle"--all of them passed in recount upon his learned lips.

I must acknowledge, to my shame, that I did not listen to all he said, but, in a favorite way I have, reserved some of my own freedom of thought, while I gave him complete freedom of speech. And I am bound to say he did not abuse it, but consented to pause at the frontiers of Thessaly. Then followed silence. I gave him room to stretch. Soon, lulled by the motion of the carriage, the stream of reminiscence ran more slowly--then ran dry. M. Charnot slept.

We bowled at a good pace, without jolting, over the white road. A warm mist rose around us laden with the smell of vegetation, ripe corn, and clover from the overheated earth and the neighboring fields, which had drunk their full of sunlight. Now and again a breath of fresh air was blown to us from the mountains. As the darkness deepened the country grew to look like a vast chessboard, with dark and light squares of grass and corn land, melting at no great distance into a colorless and unbroken horizon. But as night blotted out the earth, the heaven lighted up its stars. Never have I seen them so lustrous nor in such number. Jeanne reclined with her eyes upturned toward those limitless fields of prayer and vision; and their radiance, benignly gentle, rested on her face. Was she tired or downcast, or merely dreaming? I knew not. But there was something so singularly poetic in her look and attitude that she seemed to me to epitomize in herself all the beauty of the night.

I was afraid to speak. Her father's sleep, and our consequent isolation, made me ill at ease. She, too, seemed so careless of my presence, so far away in dreamland, that I had to await opportunity, or rather her leave, to recall her from it.

Finally she broke the silence herself. A little beyond Monza she drew closer her shawl, that the night wind had ruffled, and bent over toward me:

"You must excuse my father; he is rather tired this evening, for he has been on his feet since five o'clock."

"The day has been so hot, too, Mademoiselle, and the medals 'came not in single spies, but in battalions'; he has a right to sleep after the battle."

"Dear old father! You gave him a real treat, for which he will always be obliged to you."

"I trust the recollection of to-day will efface that of the blot of ink, for which I am still filled with remorse."

"Remorse is rather a serious word."

"No, Mademoiselle, I really mean remorse, for I wounded the feelings of a gentleman who has every claim on my respect. I never have dared to speak of this before. But if you would be kind enough to tell Monsieur Charnot how sorry I have been for it, you would relieve me of a burden."

I saw her eyes fixed upon me for a moment with a look of attention not previously granted to me. She seemed pleased.

"With all my heart," she said.

There was a moment's silence.

"Was this Rafaella, whose story you have told me, worthy of your friend's long regret?"

"I must believe so."

"It is a very touching story. Are you fond of Monsieur Lampron?"

"Beyond expression, Mademoiselle; he is so openhearted, so true a friend, he has the soul of the artist and the seer. I am sure you would rate him very highly if you knew him."

"But I do know him, at least by his works. Where am I to be seen now, by the way? What has become of my portrait?"

"It's at Lampron's house, in his mother's room, where Monsieur Charnot can go and see it if he likes."

"My father does not know of its existence," she said, with a glance at the slumbering man of learning.

"Has he not seen it?"

"No, he would have made so much ado about nothing. So Monsieur Lampron has kept the sketch? I thought it had been sold long ago."

"Sold! you did not think he would sell it!"

"Why not? Every artist has the right to sell his works."

"Not work of that kind."

"Just as much as any other kind."

"No, he could not have done that. He would no more sell it than he would sell the portrait of Rafaella Dannegianti. They are two similar relics, two precious reminiscences."

Mademoiselle Charnot turned, without a reply, to look at the country which was flying past us in the darkness.

I could just see her profile, and the nervous movement of her eyelids.

As she made no attempt to speak, her silence emboldened me.

"Yes, Mademoiselle, two similar relics, yet sometimes in my hours of madness--as to-day, for instance, here, with you near me--I dare to think that I might be less unfortunate than my friend--that his dream is gone forever--but that mine might return to me--if you were willing."

She quickly turned toward me, and in the darkness I saw her eyes fixed on mine.

Did the darkness deceive me as to the meaning of this mute response? Was I the victim of a fresh delusion? I fancied that Jeanne looked sad, that perhaps she was thinking of the oaths sworn only to be broken by her former lover, but that she was not quite displeased.

However, it lasted only for a second. When she spoke, it was in a higher key:

"Don't you think the breeze is very fresh this evening?"

A long-drawn sigh came from the back part of the carriage. M. Charnot was waking up.

He wished to prove that he had only been meditating.

"Yes, my dear, it's a charming evening," he replied; "these Italian nights certainly keep up their reputation."

Ten minutes later the carriage drew up, and M. Charnot shook hands with me before the door of his hotel.

"Many thanks, my dear young sir, for this delightful drive home! I hope we shall meet again. We are off to Florence to-morrow; is there anything I can do for you there?"

"No, thank you."

Mademoiselle Charnot gave me a slight bow. I watched her mount the first few steps of the staircase, with one hand shading her eyes from the glare of the gaslights, and the other holding up her wraps, which had come unfolded and were falling around her.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Came not in single spies, but in battalions
Men forget sooner
Skilful actor, who apes all the emotions while feeling none
Sorrows shrink into insignificance as the horizon broadens
Surprise goes for so much in what we admire
To be your own guide doubles your pleasure
You must always first get the tobacco to burn evenly

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