A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Moor remained alone in the studio. How could he have played such a boyish prank!
He was gazing anxiously at the floor, for he had good reason to be troubled, though the reflection that he had been alone with the king, and the unprecedented act had occurred without witnesses, somewhat soothed him. He could not know that a third person, Ulrich, had beheld the reckless, fateful contest.
The boy had been drawing in the adjoining room, when loud voices were heard in the studio. He cherished a boundless reverence, bordering upon idolatry, for his first model, the beautiful Sophonisba, and supposing that it was she, discussing works of art with Moor, as often happened, he opened the door, pushed back the curtain, and saw the artist tap the chuckling king on the arm.
The scene was a merry one, yet a thrill of fear ran through his limbs, and he went back to his plaster model more rapidly than he had come.
At nightfall Moor sought Sophonisba. He had been invited to a ball given by the queen, and knew that he should find the maid of honor among Isabella's attendants.
The magnificent apartments were made as light as day by thousands of wax-candles in silver and bronze candelabra; costly Gobelin tapestry and purple Flanders hangings covered the walls, and the bright hues of the paintings were reflected from the polished floors, flooded with brilliant light.
No dancing had ever been permitted at the court before Philip's marriage with the French princess, who had been accustomed to greater freedom of manners; now a ball was sometimes given in the Alcazar. The first person who had ventured to dance the gaillarde before the eyes of the monarch and his horrified courtiers, was Sophonisba--her partner was Duke Gonzaga. Strangely enough, the gayest lady at the court was the very person, who gave the gossips the least occasion for scandal.
A gavotte was just over, as Moor entered the superb rooms. In the first rank of the brilliant circle of distinguished ecclesiastics, ambassadors and grandees, who surrounded the queen, stood the Austrian archdukes, and the handsome, youthful figures of Alexander of Parma and of Don Juan, the half-brother of King Philip.
Don Carlos, the deformed heir to the throne, was annoying with his coarse jests some ladies of the court, who were holding their fans before their faces, yet did not venture to make the sovereign's son feel their displeasure.
Velvet, silk and jewels glittered, delicate laces rose and drooped around the necks and hands of the ladies and gentlemen. Floating curls, sparkling eyes, noble and attractive features enslaved the eye, but the necks, throats and arms of the court dames were closely concealed under high ruffs and lace frills, stiff bodices and puffed sleeves.
A subtile perfume filled the illuminated air of these festal halls; amidst the flirting of light fans, laughter, gay conversation, and slander reigned supreme. In an adjoining room golden zechins fell rattling and ringing on the gaming-table.
The morose, bigoted court, hampered by rigid formality, had been invaded by worldly pleasure, which disported itself unabashed by the presence of the distinguished prelates in violet and scarlet robes, who paced with dignified bearing through the apartments, greeting the more prominent ladies and grandees.
A flourish of trumpets was borne on the air, and Philip appeared. The cavaliers, bowing very low, suddenly stepped back from the fair dames, and the ladies curtsied to the floor. Perfect silence followed.
It seemed as if an icy wind had passed over the flower-beds and bent all the blossoms at once.
After a few minutes the gentlemen stood erect, and the ladies rose again, but even the oldest duchesses were not allowed the privilege of sitting in their sovereign's presence.
Gayety was stifled, conversation was carried on in whispers.
The young people vainly waited for the signal to dance.
It was long since Philip had been so proudly contemptuous, so morose as he was to-night. Experienced courtiers noticed that His Majesty held his head higher than usual, and kept out of his way. He walked as if engaged in scrutinizing the frescos on the ceiling, but nothing that he wished to see escaped his notice, and when he perceived Moor, he nodded graciously and smiled pleasantly upon him for a moment, but did not, as usual, beckon him to approach.
This did not escape the artist or Sophonisba, whom Moor had informed of what had occurred.
He trusted her as he did himself, and she deserved his confidence.
The clever Italian had shared his anxiety, and as soon as the king entered another apartment, she beckoned to Moor and held a long conversation with him in a window-recess. She advised him to keep everything in readiness for departure, and she undertook to watch and give him timely warning.
It was long after midnight, when Moor returned to his rooms. He sent the sleepy servant to rest, and paced anxiously to and fro for a short time; then he pushed Ulrich's portrait of Sophonisba nearer the mantel-piece, where countless candles were burning in lofty sconces.
This was his friend, and yet it was not. The thing lacking--yes, the king was right--was incomprehensible to a boy.
We cannot represent, what we are unable to feel. Yet Philip's censure had been too severe. With a few strokes of the brush Moor expected to make this picture a soul mirror of the beloved girl, from whom it was hard, unspeakably hard for him to part.
"More than fifty!" he thought, a melancholy smile hovering around his mouth.--"More than fifty, an old husband and father, and yet--yet--good nourishing bread at home--God bless it, Heaven preserve it! It only this girl were my daughter! How long the human heart retains its functional power! Perhaps love is the pith of life--when it dries, the tree withers too!"
Still absorbed in thought, Moor had seized his palette, and at intervals added a few short, almost imperceptible strokes to the mouth, eyes, and delicate nostrils of the portrait, before which he sat--but these few strokes lent charm and intellectual expression to his pupil's work.
When he at last rose and looked at what he had done, he could not help smiling, and asking himself how it was possible to imitate, with such trivial materials, the noblest possessions of man: mind and soul. Both now spoke to the spectator from these features. The right words were easy to the master, and with them he had given the clumsy sentence meaning and significance.
The next morning Ulrich found Moor before Sophonisba's portrait. The pupil's sleep had been no less restless than the master's, for the former had done something which lay heavy on his heart.
After being an involuntary witness of the scene in the studio the day before he had taken a ride with Sanchez and had afterwards gone to Kochel's to take a lesson. True, he now spoke Spanish with tolerable fluency and knew something of Italian, but Kochel entertained him so well, that he still visited him several times a week.
On this occasion, there was no translating. The German first kindly upbraided him for his long absence, and then, after the conversation had turned upon his painting and Moor, sympathizingly asked what truth there was in the rumor, that the king had not visited the artist for a long time and had withdrawn his favor from him.
"Withdrawn his favor!" Ulrich joyously exclaimed. "They are like two brothers! They wrestled together to-day, and the master, in all friendship, struck His Majesty a blow with the maul-stick. . . . But--for Heaven's sake!--you will swear--fool, that I am--you will swear not to speak of it!"
"Of course I will!" Kochel exclaimed with a loud laugh. "My hand upon it Navarrete. I'll keep silence, but you! Don't gossip about that! Not on any account! The jesting blow might do the master harm. Excuse me for to-day; there is a great deal of writing to be done for the almoner."
Ulrich went directly back to the studio. The conviction that he had committed a folly, nay, a crime, had taken possession of him directly after the last word escaped his lips, and now tortured him more and more. If Kochel, who was a very ordinary man, should not keep the secret, what might not Moor suffer from his treachery! The lad was usually no prattler, yet now, merely to boast of his master's familiar intercourse with the king, he had forgotten all caution.
After a restless night, his first thought had been to look at his portrait of Sophonisba. The picture lured, bewitched, enthralled him with an irresistible spell.
Was this really his work?
He recognized every stroke of the brush. And yet! Those thoughtful eyes, the light on the lofty brow, the delicate lips, which seemed about parting to utter some wise or witty word--he had not painted them, never, never could he have accomplished such a masterpiece. He became very anxious. Had "Fortune," which usually left him in the lurch when creating, aided him on this occasion? Last evening, before he went to bed, the picture had been very different. Moor rarely painted by candlelight and he had heard him come home late, yet now--now. . . .
He was roused from these thoughts by the artist, who had been feasting his eyes a long time on the handsome lad, now rapidly developing into a youth, as he stood before the canvas as if spellbound. He felt what was passing in the awakening artist-soul, for a similar incident had happened to himself, when studying with his old master, Schorel.
"What is the matter?" asked Moor as quietly as usual, laying his hand upon the arm of his embarrassed pupil. "Your work seems to please you remarkably."
"It is-I don't know"--stammered Ulrich. "It seems as if in the night. . . ."
"That often happens," interrupted the master. "If a man devotes himself earnestly to his profession, and says to himself: 'Art shall be everything to me, all else trivial interruptions,' invisible powers aid him, and when he sees in the morning what he has created the day before, he imagines a miracle has happened."
At these words Ulrich grew red and pale by turns. At last, shaking his head, he murmured in an undertone: "Yes, but those shadows at the corners of the mouth--do you see?--that light on the brow, and there--just look at the nostrils--I certainly did not paint those."
"I don't think them so much amiss," replied Moor. "Whatever friendly spirits now work for you at night, you must learn in Antwerp to paint in broad day at any hour."
"We shall prepare for departure this very day. It must be done with the utmost privacy. When Isabella has gone, pack your best clothes in the little knapsack. Perhaps we shall leave secretly; we have remained in Madrid long enough. Keep yourself always in readiness. No one, do you hear, no human being, not even the servants, must suspect what is going on. I know you; you are no babbler."
The artist suddenly paused and turned pale, for men's loud, angry voices were heard outside the door of the studio.
Ulrich too was startled.
The master's intention of leaving Madrid had pleased him, for it would withdraw the former from the danger that might result from his own imprudence. But as the strife in the anteroom grew louder, he already saw the alguazils forcing their way into the studio.
Moor went towards the door, but it was thrown wide open ere he reached it, and a bearded lansquenet crossed the threshold.
Laughing scornfully, he shouted a few derisive words at the French servants who had tried to stop him, then turning to the artist, and throwing back his broad chest, he held out his arms towards Moor, with passionate ardor, exclaiming: "These French flunkies--the varlets, tried to keep me from waiting upon my benefactor, my friend, the great Moor, to show my reverence for him. How you stare at me, Master! Have you forgotten Christmas-day at Emmendingen, and Hans Eitelfritz from Colln on the Spree?"
Every trace of anxiety instantly vanished from the face of the artist, who certainly had not recognized in this braggart the modest companion of those days.
Eitelfritz was strangely attired, so gaily and oddly dressed, that he could not fail to be conspicuous even among his comrades. One leg of his breeches, striped with red and blue, reached far below his knee, while the other, striped with yellow and green, enclosed the upper part of the limb, like a full muff. Then how many puffs, slashes and ribbons adorned his doublet! What gay plumes decked the pointed edge of his cap.
Moor gave the faithful fellow a friendly welcome, and expressed his pleasure at meeting him so handsomely equipped. He held his head higher now, than he used to do under the wagon-tilt and in quarters, and doubtless he had earned a right to do so.
"The fact is," replied Hans Eitelfritz, "I've received double pay for the past nine months, and take a different view of life from that of a poor devil of a man-at-arms who goes fighting through the country. You know the ditty:
"'There is one misery on earth, Well, well for him, who knows it not! With beggar's staff to wander forth, Imploring alms from spot to spot.'
"And the last verse:
"'And shall we never receive our due? Will our sore trials never end? Leader to victory, be true, Come quickly, death, beloved friend.'
"I often sang it in those days; but now: What does the world cost? A thousand zechins is not too much for me to pay for it!"
"Have you gained booty, Hans?"
"Better must come; but I'm faring tolerably well. Nothing but feasting! Three of us came here from Venice through Lombardy, by ship from Genoa to Barcelona, and thence through this barren, stony country here to Madrid."
"To take service?"
"No, indeed. I'm satisfied with my company and regiment. We brought some pictures here, painted by the great master, Titian, whose fame must surely have reached you. See this little purse! hear its jingle--it's all gold! If any one calls King Philip a niggard again, I'll knock his teeth down his throat."
"Good tidings, good reward!" laughed Moor. "Have you had board and lodging too?"
"A bed fit for the Roman Emperor,--and as for the rest?--I told you, nothing but feasting. Unluckily, the fun will be all over to-night, but to go without paying my respects to you. . . . Zounds! is that the little fellow--the Hop-o'my-Thumb-who pressed forward to the muster-table at Emmendingen?"
"Zounds, he has grown. We'll gladly enlist you now, young sir. Can you remember me?"
"Of course I do," replied Ulrich. "You sang the song about 'good fortune'"
"Have you recollected that?" asked the lansquenet. "Foolish stuff! Believe it or not, I composed the merry little thing when in great sorrow and poverty, just to warm my heart. Now I'm prosperous, and can rarely succeed in writing a verse. Fires are not needed in summer."
"Where have you been lodged?"
"Here in the 'old cat.' That's a good name for this Goliath's palace."
When Eitelfritz had enquired about the jester and drunk a goblet of wine with Moor and Ulrich, he took leave of them both, and soon after the artist went to the city alone.
At the usual hour Isabella Coello came with her duenna to the studio, and instantly noticed the change Sophonisba's portrait had undergone.
Ulrich stood beside her before the easel, while she examined his work.
The young girl gazed at it a long, long time, without a word, only once pausing in her scrutiny to ask: "And you, you painted this--without the master?"
Ulrich shook his head, saying, in an undertone: "I suppose he thinks it is my own work; and yet--I can't understand it."
"But I can," she eagerly exclaimed, still gazing intently at the portrait.
At last, turning her round, pleasant flee towards him, she looked at him with tears in her eyes, saying so affectionately that the innermost depths of Ulrich's heart were stirred: "How glad I am! I could never accomplish such a work. You will become a great artist, a very distinguished one, like Moor. Take notice, you surely will. How beautiful that is!--I can find no words to express my admiration."
At these words the blood mounted to Ulrich's brain, and either the fiery wine he had drunk, or the delighted girl's prophetic words, or both, fairly intoxicated him. Scarcely knowing what he said or did, he seized Isabella's little hand, impetuously raised his curly head, and enthusiastically exclaimed: "Hear me! your prophecy shall be fulfilled, Belica; I will be an artist. Art, Art alone! The master said everything else is vain--trivial. Yes, I feel, I am certain, that the master is right."
"Yes, yes," cried Isabella; "you must become a great artist."
"And if I don't succeed, if I accomplish nothing more than this. . . ."
Here Ulrich suddenly paused, for he remembered that he was going away, perhaps to-morrow, so he continued sadly, in a calmer tone: "Rely upon it; I will do what I can, and whatever happens, you will rejoice, will you not, if I succeed-and if it should be otherwise. . . ."
"No, no," she eagerly exclaimed. "You can accomplish everything, and I--I; you don't know how happy it makes me that you can do more than I!"
Again he held out his hand, and as Isabella warmly clasped it, the watchful duenna's harsh voice cried:
"What does this mean, Senorita? To work, I beg of you. Your father says time is precious."