A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Alonzo Sanchez Coello, a very distinguished Spanish artist, had his studio in the upper story of the treasury. The king was very friendly to him, and often took him also on his excursions. The gay, lively artist clung without envy, and with ardent reverence, to Moor, whose fellow-pupil he had been in Florence and Venice. During the Netherlander's first visit to Madrid, he had not disdained to seek counsel and instruction from his senior, and even now frequently visited his studio, bringing with him his children Sanchez and Isabella as pupils, and watched the Master closely while he painted.
At first Ulrich was not specially pleased with his new companions, for in the strangely visionary life he led, he had depended solely upon himself and "Fortune," and the figures living in his imagination were the most enjoyable society to him.
Formerly he had drawn eagerly in the morning, joyously anticipated Sophonisba's visit, and then gazed out over his paper and dreamed. How delightful it had been to let his thoughts wander to his heart's content. This could now be done no longer.
So it happened, that at first he could feel no real confidence in Sanchez, who was three years his senior, for the latter's thin limbs and close-cut dark hair made him look exactly like dark-browed Xaver. Therefore his relations with Isabella were all the more friendly.
She was scarcely fourteen, a dear little creature, with awkward limbs, and a face so wonderfully changeful in expression, that it could not fail to be by turns pretty and repellent. She always had beautiful eyes; all her other features were unformed, and might grow charming or exactly the reverse. When her work engrossed her attention, she bit her protruded tongue, and her raven-black hair, usually remarkably smooth, often became so oddly dishevelled, that she looked like a kobold; when, on the other hand, she talked pleasantly or jested, no one could help being pleased.
The child was rarely gifted, and her method of working was an exact contrast to that of the German lad. She progressed slowly, but finally accomplished something admirable; what Ulrich impetuously began had a showy, promising aspect, but in the execution the great idea shrivelled, and the work diminished in merit instead of increasing.
Sanchez Coello remained far behind the other two, but to make amends, he knew many things of which Ulrich's uncorrupted soul had no suspicion.
Little Isabella had been given by her mother, for a duenna, a watchful, ill-tempered widow, Senora Catalina, who never left the girl while she remained with Moor's pupils.
Receiving instruction with others urged Ulrich to rivalry, and also improved his knowledge of Spanish. But he soon became familiar with the language in another way, for one day, as he came out of the stables, a thin man in black, priestly robes, advanced towards him, looked searchingly into his face, then greeted him as a countryman, declaring that it made him happy to speak his dear native tongue again. Finally, he invited the "artist" to visit him. His name was Magister Kochel and he lodged with the king's almoner, for whom he was acting as clerk.
The pallid man with the withered face, deep-set eyes and peculiar grin, which always showed the bluish-red gums above the teeth, did not please the boy, but the thought of being able to talk in his native language attracted him, and he went to the German's.
He soon thought that by so doing he was accomplishing something good and useful, for the former offered to teach him to write and speak Spanish. Ulrich was glad to have escaped from school, and declined this proposal; but when the German suggested that he should content himself with speaking the language, assuring him that it could be accomplished without any difficulty, Ulrich consented and went daily at twilight to the Magister.
Instruction began at once and was pleasant enough, for Kochel let him translate merry tales and love stories from French and Italian books, which he read aloud in German, never scolded him, and after the first half-hour always laid the volume aside to talk with him.
Moor thought it commendable and right, for Ulrich to take upon himself the labor and constraint of studying a language, and promised, when the lessons were over, to give a fitting payment to the Magister, who seemed to have scanty means of livelihood.
The master ought to have been well disposed towards worthy Kochel, for the latter was an enthusiastic admirer of his works. He ranked the Netherlander above Titian and the other great Italian artists, called him the worthy friend of gods and kings, and encouraged his pupil to imitate him.
"Industry, industry!" cried the Magister. "Only by industry is the summit of wealth and fame gained. To be sure, such success demands sacrifices. How rarely is the good man permitted to enjoy the blessing of mass. When did he go to church last?"
Ulrich answered these and similar questions frankly and truthfully, and when Kochel praised the friendship uniting the artist to the king, calling them Orestes and Pylades, Ulrich, proud of the honor shown his master, told him how often Philip secretly visited the latter.
At every succeeding interview Kochel asked, as if by chance, in the midst of a conversation about other things: "Has the king honored you again?" or "You happy people, it is reported that the king has shown you his face again."
This "you" flattered Ulrich, for it allowed a ray of the royal favor to fall upon him also, so he soon informed his countryman, unasked, of every one of the monarch's visits to the treasury.
Weeks and months elapsed.
Towards the close of his first year's residence in Madrid, Ulrich spoke Spanish with tolerable fluency, and could easily understand his fellow-pupils; nay, he had even begun to study Italian.
Sophonisba Anguisciola still spent all her leisure hours in the studio, painting or conversing with Moor. Various dignitaries and grandees also went in and out of the studio, and among them frequently appeared, indeed usually when Sophonisba was present, her faithful admirer Don Fabrizio di Moncada.
Once Ulrich, without listening, heard Moor through the open door of the school-room, represent to her, that it was unwise to reject a suitor like the baron; he was a noble, high-minded gentleman and his love beyond question.
Her answer was long in coming; at last she rose, saying in an agitated voice: "We know each other, Master; I know your kind intentions. And yet, yet! Let me remain what I am, however insignificant that may be. I like the baron, but what better gifts can marriage bestow, than I already possess? My love belongs to Art, and you--you are my friend. . . . My sisters are my children. Have I not gained the right to call them so? I shall have no lack of duties towards them, when my father has squandered his inheritance. My noble queen will provide for my future, and I am necessary to her. My heart is filled--filled to the brim; I do what I can, and is it not a beautiful thought, that I am permitted to be something to those I love? Let me remain your Sophonisba, and a free artist."
"Yes, yes, yes! Remain what you are, girl!" Moor exclaimed, and then for a long time silence reigned in the studio.
Even before they could understand each other's language, a friendly intercourse had existed between Isabella and her German fellow-pupil, for in leisure moments they had sketched each other more than once.
These pictures caused much laughter and often occasional harmless scuffles between Ulrich and Sanchez, for the latter liked to lay hands on these portraits and turn them into hideous caricatures.
Isabella often earned the artist's unqualified praise, Ulrich sometimes received encouraging, sometimes reproving, and sometimes even harsh words. The latter Moor always addressed to him in German, but they deeply wounded the lad, haunting him for days.
The "word" still remained obedient to him. Only in matters relating to art, the power of "fortune" seemed to fail, and deny its service.
When the painter set him difficult tasks, which he could not readily accomplish, he called upon the "word;" but the more warmly and fervently he did so, the more surely he receded instead of advancing. When, on the contrary, he became angered against "fortune," reproached, rejected it, and relied wholly on himself, he accomplished the hardest things and won Moor's praise.
He often thought, that he would gladly resign his untroubled, luxurious life, and all the other gifts of Fortune, if he could only succeed in accomplishing what Moor desired him to attain in art. He knew and felt that this was the right goal; but one thing was certain, he could never attain it with pencil and charcoal. What his soul dreamed, what his mental vision beheld was colored. Drawing, perpetual drawing, became burdensome, repulsive, hateful; but with palette and brush in his hand he could not fail to become an artist, perhaps an artist like Titian.
He already used colors in secret; Sanchez Coello had been the cause of his making the first trial.
This precocious youth was suing for a fair girl's favor, and made Ulrich his confidant. One day, when Moor and Sanchez's father had gone with the king to Toledo, he took him to a balcony in the upper story of the treasury, directly opposite to the gate-keeper's lodgings, and only separated by a narrow court-yard from the window, where sat pretty Carmen, the porter's handsome daughter.
The girl was always to be found here, for her father's room was very dark, and she was compelled to embroider priestly robes from morning till night. This pursuit brought in money, which was put to an excellent use by the old man, who offered sacrifices to his own comfort at the cook-shop, and enjoyed fish fried in oil with his Zamora wine. The better her father's appetite was, the more industriously the daughter was obliged to embroider. Only on great festivals, or when an 'Auto-da-fe' was proclaimed, was Carmen permitted to leave the palace with her old aunt; yet she had already found suitors. Nineteen-year-old Sanchez did not indeed care for her hand, but merely for her love, and when it began to grow dusk, he stationed himself on the balcony which he had discovered, made signs to her, and flung flowers or bonbons on her table.
"She is still coy," said the young Spaniard, telling Ulrich to wait at the narrow door, which opened upon the balcony. "There sits the angel! Just look! I gave her the pomegranate blossom in her magnificent hair--did you ever see more beautiful tresses? Take notice! She'll soon melt; I know women!"
Directly after a bouquet of roses fell into the embroiderer's lap. Carmen uttered a low cry, and perceiving Sanchez, motioned him away with her head and hand, finally turning her back upon him.
"She's in a bad humor to-day," said Sanchez; "but I beg you to notice that she'll keep my roses. She'll wear one to-morrow in her hair or on her bosom; what will you wager?"
"That may be," answered Ulrich. "She probably has no money to buy any for herself."
To be sure, the next day at twilight Carmen wore a rose in her hair.
Sanchez exulted, and drew Ulrich out upon the balcony. The beauty glanced at him, blushed, and returned the fair-haired boy's salutation with a slight bend of the head.
The gate-keeper's little daughter was a pretty child, and Ulrich had no fear of doing what Sanchez ventured.
On the third day he again accompanied him to the balcony, and this time, after silently calling upon the "word," pressed his hand upon his heart, just as Carmen looked at him.
The young girl blushed again, waved her fan, and then bent her little head so low, that it almost touched the embroidery.
The next evening she secretly kissed her fingers to Ulrich.
From this time the young lover preferred to seek the balcony without Sanchez. He would gladly have called a few tender words across, or sung to his lute, but that would not do, for people were constantly passing to and fro in the court-yard.
Then the thought occurred to him, that he could speak to the fair one by means of a picture.
A small panel was soon found, he had plenty of brushes and colors to choose from, and in a few minutes, a burning heart, transfixed by an arrow, was completed. But the thing looked horribly red and ugly, so he rejected it, and painted--imitating one of Titian's angels, which specially pleased him--a tiny Cupid, holding a heart in his hand.
He had learned many things from the master, and as the little figure rounded into shape, it afforded him so much pleasure, that he could not leave it, and finished it the third day.
It had not entered his mind to create a completed work of art, but the impetuosity of youth, revelling in good fortune, had guided his brush. The little Cupid bent joyously forward, drawing the right leg back, as if making a bow. Finally Ulrich draped about him a black and yellow scarf, such as he had often seen the young Austrian archduke wear, and besides the pierced heart, placed a rose in the tiny, ill-drawn hand.
He could not help laughing at his "masterpiece" and hurried out on the balcony with the wet painting, to show it to Carmen. She laughed heartily too, answered his salutations with tender greetings, then laid aside her embroidery and went back into the room, but only to immediately reappear at the window again, holding up a prayer-book and extending towards him the eight fingers of her industrious little hands.
He motioned that he understood her, and at eight o'clock the next morning was kneeling by her side at mass, where he took advantage of a favorable opportunity to whisper: "Beautiful Carmen!"
The young girl blushed, but he vainly awaited an answer. Carmen now rose, and when Ulrich also stood up to permit her to pass, she dropped her prayer-book, as if by accident. He stooped with her to pick it up, and when their heads nearly touched, she whispered hurriedly: "Nine o'clock this evening in the shell grotto; the garden will be open."
Carmen awaited him at the appointed place.
At first Ulrich's heart throbbed so loudly and passionately, that he could find no words; but the young girl helped him, by telling him that he was a handsome fellow, whom it would be easy to love.
Then he remembered the vows of tenderness he had translated at Kochel's, falteringly repeated them, and fell on one knee before her, like all the heroes in adventures and romances.
And behold! Carmen did exactly the same as the young ladies whose acquaintance he had made at his teacher's, begged him to rise, and when he willingly obeyed the command--for he wore thin silk stockings and the grotto was paved with sharp stones--drew him to her heart, and tenderly stroked his hair back from his face with her dainty fingers, while he gladly permitted her to press her soft young lips to his.
All this was delightful, and he had no occasion to speak at all; yet Ulrich felt timid and nervous. It seemed like a deliverance when the footsteps of the guard were heard, and Carmen drew him away through the gate with her into the court-yard.
Before the little door leading into her father's room she again pressed his hand, and then vanished as swiftly as a shadow.
Ulrich remained alone, pacing slowly up and down before the treasury, for he knew that he had done something very wrong, and did not venture to appear before the artist.
When he entered the dark garden, he had again summoned "fortune" to his aid; but now it would have pleased him better, if it had been less willing to come to his assistance.
Candles were burning in the studio, and Moor sat in his arm-chair, holding--Ulrich would fain have bidden himself in the earth--the boy's Cupid in his hands.
The young culprit wanted to slip past his teacher with a low "good night," but the latter called him, and pointing to the picture, smilingly asked: "Did you paint this?"
Ulrich nodded, blushing furiously.
The artist eyed him from top to toe, saying: "Well, well, it is really very pretty. I suppose it is time now for us to begin to paint."
The lad did not know what had happened, for a few weeks before Moor had harshly refused, when he asked the same thing now voluntarily offered.
Scarcely able to control his surprise and joy, he bent over the artist's hand to kiss it, but the latter withdrew it, gazed steadily into his eyes with paternal affection, and said: "We will try, my boy, but we must not give up drawing, for that is the father of our art. Drawing keeps us within the bounds assigned to what is true and beautiful. The morning you must spend as before; after dinner you shall be rewarded by using colors." This plan was followed, and the pupil's first love affair bore still another fruit--it gave a different form to his relations with Sanchez. The feeling that he had stood in his way and abused his confidence sorely disturbed Ulrich, so he did everything in his power to please his companion.
He did not see the fair Carmen again, and in a few weeks the appointment was forgotten, for painting under Moor's instruction absorbed him as nothing in his life had ever done before, and few things did after.