A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Towards noon Coello called Ulrich into Moor's former studio; the youth could not fail to observe its altered appearance.
Long cartoons, containing sketches of figures, large paintings, just commenced or half-finished, leaned against the easels; mannikins, movable wooden horse's heads, and plaster-models stood on the floor, the tables, and in the windows. Stuffs, garments, tapestries, weapons hung over the backs of the chairs, or lay on chests, tables and the stone-floor. Withered laurel-wreaths, tied with long ribbons, fluttered over the mantel-piece; one had fallen, dropped over the bald head of Julius Caesar, and rested on the breast.
The artist's six cats glided about among the easels, or stretched their limbs on costly velvet and Arabian carpets.
In one corner stood a small bed with silk curtains--the nursery of the master's pets. A magnificent white cat was suckling her kittens in it.
Two blue and yellow cockatoos and several parrots swung screaming in brass hoops before the open window, and Coello's coal-black negro crept about, cleaning the floor of the spacious apartment, though it was already noon. While engaged in this occupation, he constantly shook his woolly head, displaying his teeth, for his master was singing loudly at his work, and the gaily-clad African loved music.
What a transformation bad taken place in the Netherlander's quiet, orderly, scrupulously neat studio! But, even amid this confusion, admirable works were created; nay, the Spaniard possessed a much more vivid imagination, and painted pictures, containing a larger number of figures and far more spirited than Moor's, though they certainly were not pervaded by the depth and earnestness, the marvellous fidelity to nature, that characterized those of Ulrich's beloved master.
Coello called the youth to the easel, and pointing to the sketches in color, containing numerous figures, on which he was painting, said:
"Look here, my son. This is to be a battle of the Centaurs, these are Parthian horsemen;--Saint George and the Dragon, and the Crusaders are not yet finished. The king wants the Apocalyptic riders too. Deuce take it! But it must be done. I shall commence them to-morrow. They are intended for the walls and ceiling of the new winter riding-school. One person gets along slowly with all this stuff, and I--I. . . . The orders oppress me. If a man could only double, quadruple himself! Diana of Ephesus had many breasts, and Cerberus three heads, but only two hands have grown on my wrists. I need help, and you are just the person to give it. You have had nothing to do with horses yet, Isabella tells me; but you are half a Centaur yourself. Set to work on the steeds now, and when you have progressed far enough, you shall transfer these sketches to the ceiling and walls of the riding-school. I will help you perfect the thing, and give it the finishing touch."
This invitation aroused more perplexity than pleasure in Ulrich's mind, for it was not in accordance with Moor's opinions. Fear of his fellow-men no longer restrained him, so he frankly said that he would rather sketch industriously from nature, and perhaps would do well to seek Moor in Flanders. Besides, he was afraid that Coello greatly overrated his powers.
But the Spaniard eagerly cut him short:
"I have seen your portrait of Sophonisba. You are no longer a pupil, but a rising artist. Moor is a peerless portrait-painter, and you have profited greatly by his teaching. But Art has still higher aims. Every living thing belongs to her. The Venus, the horse . . . which of those two pictures won Apelles the greater fame? Not only copying, but creating original ideas, leads to the pinnacle of art. Moor praised your vivid imagination. We must use what we possess. Remember Buonarotti, Raphael! Their compositions and frescos, have raised their names above all others. Antonio has tormented you sufficiently with drawing lifeless things. When you transfer these sketches, many times enlarged, to a broad surface, you will learn more than in years of copying plaster-casts. A man must have talent, courage and industry; everything else comes of its own accord, and thank Heaven, you're a lucky fellow! Look at my horses--they are not so bad, yet I never sketched a living one in my life till I was commissioned to paint His Majesty on horseback. You shall have a better chance. Go to the stables and the old riding-school to-morrow. First try noble animals, then visit the market and shambles, and see how the knackers look. If you make good speed, you shall soon see the first ducats you yourself have earned." The golden reward possessed little temptation for Ulrich, but he allowed himself to be persuaded by his senior, and drew and painted horses and mares with pleasure and success, working with Isabella and Coello's pupil, Felice de Liano, when they sketched and painted from living models. When the scaffolding was erected in the winter riding-school, he went there under the court-artist's direction, to measure, arrange and finally transfer the painter's sketches to the wide surfaces.
He did this with increasing satisfaction, for though Coello's sketches possessed a certain hardness, they were boldly devised and pleased him.
The farther he progressed, the more passionately interested he became in his work. To create on a grand scale delighted him, and the fully occupied life, as well as the slight fatigue after his work was done, which was sweetened by the joy of labor accomplished, were all beautiful, enjoyable things; yet Ulrich felt that this was not exactly the right course, that a steeper, more toilsome path must lead to the height he desired to attain.
He lacked the sharp spurring to do better and better, the censure of a master, who was greatly his superior. Praise for things, which did not satisfy himself, vexed him and roused his distrust.
Isabella, and--after his return--Sophonisba, were his confidantes.
The former had long felt what he now expressed. Her young heart clung to him, but she loved in him the future great artist as much as the man. It was certainly no light matter for her to be deprived of Ulrich's society, yet she unselfishly admitted that her father, in the vast works he had undertaken, could not be a teacher like Moor, and it would probably be best for him to seek his old master in Flanders, as soon as his task in the riding-school was completed.
She said this, because she believed it to be her duty, though sadly and anxiously; but he joyously agreed with her, for Sophonisba had handed him a letter from the master, in which the latter cordially invited him to come to Antwerp.
Don Fabrizio's wife summoned him to her palace, and Ulrich found her as kind and sympathizing as when she had been a girl, but her gay, playful manner had given place to a more quiet dignity.
She wished to be told in detail all he had suffered for Moor, how he employed himself, what he intended to do in the future; and she even sought him more than once in the riding-school, watched him at his work, and examined his drawings and sketches.
Once she induced him to tell her the story of his youth.
This was a boon to Ulrich; for, although we keep our best treasures most closely concealed, yet our happiest hours are those in which, with the certainty of being understood, we are permitted to display them.
The youth could show this noble woman, this favorite of the Master, this artist, what he would not have confided to any man, so he permuted her to behold his childhood, and gaze deep into his soul.
He did not even hide what he knew about the "word"--that he believed he had found the right one in the dungeon, and that Art would remain his guiding star, as long as he lived.
Sophonisba's cheeks flushed deeper and deeper, and never had he seen her so passionately excited, so earnest and enthusiastic, as now when she exclaimed:
"Yes, Ulrich, yes! You have found the right word!
"It is Art, and no other. Whoever knows it, whoever serves it, whoever impresses it deeply on his soul and only breathes and moves in it, no longer has any taint of baseness; he soars high above the earth, and knows nothing of misery and death. It is with Art the Divinity bridges space and descends to man, to draw him up ward to brighter worlds. This word transfigures everything, and brings fresh green shoots even from the dry wood of souls defrauded of love and hope. Life is a thorny rose-bush, and Art its flower. Here Mirth is melancholy--Joy is sorrowful and Liberty is dead. Here Art withers and--like an exotic--is prevented perishing outright only by artificial culture. But there is a land, I know it well, for it is my home--where Art buds and blossoms and throws its shade over all the highways. Favorite of Antonio, knight of the Word--you must go to Italy!"
Sophonisba had spoken. He must go to Italy. The home of Titian! Raphael! Buonarotti! where also the Master went to school.
"Oh, Word, Word!" he cried exultingly in his heart. "What other can disclose, even on earth, such a glimpse of the joys of Paradise."
When he left Sophonisba, he felt as if he were intoxicated.
What still detained him in Madrid?
Moor's zechins were not yet exhausted, and he was sure of the assistance of the "word" upon the sacred soil of Italy.
He unfolded his plan to Coello without delay, at first modestly, then firmly and defiantly. But the court-artist would not let him go. He knew how to maintain his composure, and even admitted that Ulrich must travel, but said it was still too soon. He must first finish the work he had undertaken in the riding-school, then he himself would smooth the way to Italy for him. To leave him, so heavily burdened, in the lurch now, would be treating him ungratefully and basely.
Ulrich was forced to acknowledge this, and continued to paint on the scaffold, but his pleasure in creating was spoiled. He thought of nothing but Italy.
Every hour in Madrid seemed lost. His lofty purposes were unsettled, and he began to seek diversion for his mind, especially at the fencing-school with Sanchez Coello.
His eye was keen, his wrist pliant, and his arm was gaining more and more of his father's strength, so he soon performed extraordinary feats.
His remarkable skill, his reserved nature, and the natural charm of his manner soon awakened esteem and regard among the young Spaniards, with whom he associated.
He was invited to the banquets given by the wealthier ones, and to join the wild pranks, in which they sometimes indulged, but spite of persuasions and entreaties, always in vain.
Ulrich needed no comrades, and his zechins were sacred to him; he was keeping them for Italy.
The others soon thought him an odd, arrogant fellow, with whom no friendly ties could be formed, and left him to his own resources. He wandered about the streets at night alone, serenaded fair ladies, and compelled many gentlemen, who offended him, to meet him in single combat.
No one, not even Sanchez Coello, was permitted to know of these nocturnal adventures; they were his chief pleasure, stirred his blood, and gave him the blissful consciousness of superior strength.
This mode of life increased his self-confidence, and expressed itself in his bearing, which gained a touch of the Spanish air. He was now fully grown, and when he entered his twentieth year, was taller than most Castilians, and carried his head as high as a grandee.
Yet he was dissatisfied with himself, for he made slow progress in his art, and cherished the firm conviction that there was nothing more for him to learn in Madrid; Coello's commissions were robbing him of the most precious time.
The work in the riding-school was at last approaching completion. It had occupied far more than the year in which it was to have been finished, and His Majesty's impatience had become so great, that Coello was compelled to leave everything else, to paint only there, and put his improving touches to Ulrich's labor.
The time for departure was drawing near. The hanging-scaffold, on which he had lain for months, working on the master's pictures, had been removed, but there was still something to be done to the walls.
Suddenly the court-artist was ordered to suspend the work, and have the beams, ladders and boards, which narrowed the space in the picadero,--[Riding School]--removed.
The large enclosure was wanted during the next few days for a special purpose, and there were new things for Coello to do.
Don Juan of Austria, the king's chivalrous half-brother, had commenced his heroic career, and vanquished the rebellious Moors in Granada. A magnificent reception was to be prepared for the young conqueror, and Coello received the commission to adorn a triumphal arch with hastily-sketched, effective pictures.
The designs were speedily completed, and the triumphal arch erected in a court-yard of the Alcazar, for here, within the narrow circle of the court, not publicly, before the whole population, had the suspicious monarch resolved to receive and honor the victor.
Ulrich had again assisted Coello in the execution of his sketches. Everything was finished at the right time, and Don Juan's reception brilliantly carried out with great pomp and dignity, through the whole programme of a Te Deum and three services, processions, bull-fights, a grand 'Auto-da-fe', and a tournament.
After this festival, the king again resigned the riding-school to the artists, who instantly set to work. Everything was finished except the small figures at the bottom of the larger pictures, and these could be executed without scaffolding.
Ulrich was again standing on the ladder, for the first time after this interruption, and Coello had just followed him into the picadero, when a great bustle was heard outside.
The broad doors flew open, and the manege was soon filled with knights and ladies on foot and horseback.
The most brilliant figures in all the stately throng were Don Juan himself, and his youthful nephew, Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma.
Ulrich feasted his eyes on the splendid train, and the majestic, haughty, yet vivacious manner of the conqueror.
Never in his life, he thought, had he seen a more superb youthful figure. Don Juan stopped directly opposite to him, and bared his head. The thick, fair hair brushed back behind his ears, hung in wonderfully soft, waving locks down to his neck, and his features blended feminine grace with manly vigor.
As, hat in hand, he swung himself from the saddle, unassisted, to greet the fair duchess of Medina Celi, there was such a charm in his movements, that the young artist felt inclined to believe all the tales related of the successful love affairs of this favorite of fortune, who was the son of the Emperor Charles, by a German washerwoman.
Don Juan graciously requested his companion to retire to the back of the manege, assisted the ladies from their saddles and, offering his hand to the duchess, led her to the dais, then returning to the ring, he issued some orders to the mounted officers in his train, and stood conversing with the ladies, Alexander Farnese, and the grandees near him.
Loud shouts and the tramp of horses hoofs were now heard outside of the picadero, and directly after nine bare-backed horses were led into the ring, all selected animals of the best blood of the Andalusian breed, the pearls of all the horses Don Juan had captured.
Exclamations and cries of delight echoed through the building, growing louder and warmer, when the tenth and last prize, a coal-black young stallion, dragged the sinewy Moors that led him, into the ring, and rearing lifted them into the air with him.
The brown-skinned young fellows resisted bravely; but Don Juan turning to Alexander Farnese, said: "What a superb animal! but alas, alas, he has a devilish temper, so we have called him Satan. He will bear neither saddle nor rider. How dare I venture . . . there he rears again. . . . It is quite impossible to offer him to His Majesty. Just look at those eyes, those crimson nostrils. A perfect monster!"
"But there cannot be a more beautiful creature!" cried the prince, warmly. "That shining black coat, the small head, the neck, the croup, the carriage of his tail, the fetlocks and hoofs. Oh, oh, that was serious!" The vicious stallion had reared for the third time, pawing wildly with his fore-legs, and in so doing struck one of the Moors. Shrieking and wailing, the latter fell on the ground, and directly after the animal released itself from the second groom, and now dashed freely, with mighty leaps, around the course, rushing hither and thither as if mad, kicking furiously, and hurling sand and dust into the faces of the ladies on the dais. The latter shrieked loudly, and their screams increased the animal's furious excitement. Several gentlemen drew back, and the master of the horse loudly ordered the other barebacked steeds to be led away.
Don Juan and Alexander Farnese stood still; but the former drew his sword, exclaiming, vehemently:
"Santiago! I'll kill the brute!"
He was not satisfied with words, but instantly rushed upon the stallion; the latter avoiding him, bounded now backward, now sideways, at every fresh leap throwing sand upon the dais.
Ulrich could remain on the ladder no longer.
Fully aware of his power over refractory horses, he boldly entered the ring and walked quietly towards the snorting, foaming steed. Driving the animal back, and following him, he watched his opportunity, and as Satan turned, reached his side and boldly seized his nostrils firmly with his hand.
Satan plunged more and more furiously, but the smith's son held him as firmly as if in a vise, breathed into his nostrils, and stroked his head and muzzle, whispering soothing words.
The animal gradually became quieter, tried once more to release himself from his tamer's iron hand, and when he again failed, began to tremble and meekly stood still with his fore legs stretched far apart.
"Bravo! Bravamente!" cried the duchess, and praise from such lips intoxicated Ulrich. The impulse to make a display, inherited from his mother, urged him to take still greater risks. Carefully winding his left hand in the stallion's mane, he released his nostrils and swung himself on his back. Taken by surprise Satan tried to rid himself of his burden, but the rider sat firm, leaned far over the steed's neck, stroked--his head again, pressed his flanks and, after the lapse of a few minutes, guided him merely by the pressure of his thighs first at a walk, then at a trot over the track. At last springing off, he patted Satan, who pranced peacefully beside him, and led him by the bridle to Don Juan.
The latter measured the tall, brave fellow with a hasty glance, and turning, half to him, half to Alexander Farnese, said:
"An enviable trick, and admirable performance, by my love!"
Then he approached the stallion, stroked and patted his shining neck, and continued:
"I thank you, young man. You have saved my best horse. But for you I should have stabbed him. You are an artist?"
"At your service, Your Highness."
"Your art is beautiful, and you alone know how it suits you. But much honor, perhaps also wealth and fame, can be gained among my troopers. Will you enlist?"
"No, Your Highness," replied Ulrich, with a low bow. "If I were not an artist, I should like best to be a soldier; but I cannot give up my art."
"Right, right! Yet . . . do you think your cure of Satan will be lasting; or will the dance begin again to-morrow?"
"Perhaps so; but grant me a week, Your Highness, and the swarthy fellows can easily manage him. An hour's training like this every morning, and the work will be accomplished. Satan will scarcely be transformed into an angel, but probably will become a perfectly steady horse."
"If you succeed," replied Don Juan, joyously, "you will greatly oblige me. Come to me next week. If you bring good tidings . . . consider meantime, how I can serve you."
Ulrich did not need to consider long. A week would pass swiftly, and then--then the king's brother should send him to Italy. Even his enemies knew that he was liberal and magnanimous.
The week passed away, the horse was tamed and bore the saddle quietly. Don Juan received Ulrich's petition kindly, and invited him to make the journey on the admiral's galley, with the king's ambassador and his secretary, de Soto.
The very same day the happy artist obtained a bill of exchange on a house on the Rialto, and now it was settled, he was going to Italy.
Coello was obliged to submit, and his kind heart again showed itself; for he wrote letters of introduction for Ulrich to his old artist friends in Venice, and induced the king to send the great Titian a present--which the ambassador was to deliver. The court-artist obtained from the latter a promise to present his pupil Navarrete to the grey-Haired prince of artists.
Everything was now ready for departure; Ulrich again packed his belongings in the studio, but with very different feelings from the first time.
He was a man, he now knew what the right "word" was, life lay open before him, and the paradise of Art was about to unclose its gates.
The studies he had finished in Madrid aroused his compassion; in Italy he would first really begin to become an artist: there work must bring him what it had here denied: satisfaction, success! Gay as a boy, half frantic with joy, happiness and expectation, he crushed the sketches, which seemed to him too miserable, into the waste-paper basket with a maul-stick.
During this work of destruction, Isabella entered the room.
She was now sixteen. Her figure had developed early, but remained petite. Large, deep, earnest eyes looked forth from the little round face, and the fresh, tiny mouth could not help pleasing everyone. Her head now reached only to Ulrich's breast, and if he had always treated her like a dear, sensible, clever child, her small stature had certainly been somewhat to blame for it. To-day she was paler than usual and her features were so grave, that the young man asked her in surprise, yet full of sympathy:
"What is the matter, little one? Are you not well?"
"Yes, yes," she answered, quickly, "only I must talk with you once more alone."
"Do you wish to hear my confession, Belita?"
"Cease jesting now. I am no longer a child. My heart aches, and I must not conceal the cause."
"Speak, speak! How you look! One might really be alarmed."
"If I only can! No one here tells you the truth; but I--I love you; so I will do it, ere it is too late. Don't interrupt me now, or I shall lose courage, and I will, I must speak."
"My studies lately have not pleased you; nor me either. Your father. . . ."
"He has led you in false paths, and now you are going to Italy, and when you see what the greatest artists have created, you will wish to imitate them immediately and forget Meister Moor's lessons. I know you, Ulrich, I know it! But I also know something else, and it must now be said frankly. If you allow yourself to be led on to paint pictures, if you do not submit to again become a modest pupil, and honestly torment yourself with studying, you will make no progress, you will never again accomplish a portrait like the one in the old days, like your Sophonisba. You will then be no great artist and you can, you must become one."
"I will, Belita, I will!"
"Well, well; but first be a pupil! If I were in your place, I would, for aught I care, go to Venice and look about me, but from there I would ride to Flanders, to Moor, to the master."
"Give up Italy? Can you be in earnest? Your father, himself, told me, that I . . . well, yes . . . in portrait-painting, he too thinks I am no blunderer. Where do the Netherlanders go to learn anything new? To Italy, always to Italy! What do they create in Flanders? Portraits, portraits, nothing more. Moor is great, very great in this department, but I take a very different view of art; it has higher aims. My head is full of plans. Wait, only wait! In Italy I shall learn to fly, and when I have finished my Holy Family and my Temple of Art, with all the skill I intend to attain. . . ."
"Then, then, what will happen then?"
"Then you will perhaps change your opinion and cease your tutoring, once for all. This fault-finding, this warning vexes me. It spoils my pleasure, it clouds my fancy. You are poisoning my happiness, you--you . . . the croaker's voice is disagreeable to me."
Isabella sadly bent her head in silence. Ulrich approached her, saying:
"I do not wish to wound you, Belita; indeed, I do not. You mean well, and you love me, a poor forsaken fellow; do you not, little girl?"
"Yes, Ulrich, and that is just why I have told you what I think. You are rejoicing now in the thought of Italy. . . ."
"Very, very much, unspeakably! There, too, I will remember you, and what a dear, faithful, wise little creature you are. Let us part in friendship, Isabella. Come with me; that would be the best way!"
The young girl flushed deeply, and made no answer except: "How gladly I would!"
The words sounded so affectionate and came so tenderly from the inmost depths of the heart, that they entered his soul. And while she spoke, her eyes gazed so faithfully, lovingly, and yearningly into his, that he saw nothing else. He read in them love, true, self-sacrificing love; not like pretty Carmen's or that given by the ladies, who had thrown flowers to him from their balconies. His heart swelled, and when he saw how the flush on Isabella's dear face deepened under his answering glance, unspeakable gratitude and joy seized upon him, and he could not help clasping her in his arms and drawing her into his embrace.
She permitted it, and when she looked up at him and her soft scarlet lips, from which gleamed two rows of dazzling white teeth, bloomed temptingly near him, he bent his, he knew not how, towards them. They kissed each other again and again, and Isabella flung her little hands around his neck, for she could not reach him with her arms, and said she had always loved him; he assured her in an agitated voice that he believed it, and that there was no better, sweeter, brighter creature on earth than she; only he forgot to say that he loved her. She gave, he received, and it seemed to him natural.
She saw and felt nothing except him and her happiness; he was wholly absorbed by the bliss of being loved and the sweetness of her kiss; so neither noticed that Coello had opened the door and watched them for a minute, with mingled wrath and pleasure, irresolutely shaking his head.
When the court-artist's deep voice exclaimed loudly:
"Why, why, these are strange doings!" they hastily started back.
Startled, sobered, confused, Ulrich sought for words, and at last stammered:
"We have, we wanted . . . the farewell. . . . Coello found no time to interrupt him, for his daughter had thrown herself on his breast, exclaiming amid tears:
"Forgive us, father-forgive us; he loves me, and I, I love him so dearly, and now that we belong to each other, I am no longer anxious about him, he will not rest, and when he returns. . . ."
"Enough, enough!" interrupted Coello, pressing his hand upon her mouth. "That is why a duenna is kept for the child; and this is my sensible Belita! It is of no importance, that yonder youth has nothing, I myself courted your mother with only three reales in my pocket, but he cannot yet do any really good work, and that alters the case. It is not my way to dun debtors, I have been in debt too often myself for that; but you, Navarrete, have received many favors from me, when you were badly off, and if you are not a scamp, leave the girl in peace and do not see her again before your departure. When you have studied in Italy and become a real artist, the rest will take care of itself. You are already a handsome, well-formed fellow, and my race will not degenerate in you. There are very different women in Italy, from this dear little creature here. Shut your eyes, and beware of breaking her heart. Your promise! Your hand upon it! In a year and a half from to-day come here again, show what you can do, and stand the test. If you have become what I hope, I'll give her to you; if not, you can quietly go your way. You will make no objection to this, you silly little, love-sick thing. Go to your room now, Belita, and you, Navarrete, come with me."
Ulrich followed the artist to his chamber, where the latter opened a chest, in which lay the gold he had earned. He did not know himself, how much it was, for it was neither counted, nor entered in books. Grasping the ducats, he gave Ulrich two handfuls, exclaiming:
"This one is for your work here, the other to relieve you from any care concerning means of living, while pursuing your studies in Venice and Florence. Don't make the child wretched, my lad; if you do, you will be a contemptible, dishonorable rascal, a scoundrel, a . . . but you don't look like a rogue!"
There was a great deal of bustle in Coello's house that evening. The artist's indolent wife was unusually animated. She could not control her surprise and wrath. Isabella had been from childhood a great favorite of Herrera, the first architect in Spain, who had already expressed his love for the young girl, and now this vagabond pauper, this immature boy, had come to destroy the prosperity of her child's life.
She upbraided Coello with being faithless to his paternal duty, and called him a thoughtless booby. Instead of turning the ungrateful rascal out of the house, he, the dunce, had given him hopes of becoming her poor, dazzled, innocent daughter's husband. During the ensuing weeks, Senora Petra prepared Coello many bad days and still worse nights; but the painter persisted in his resolution to give Isabella to Ulrich, if in a year and a half he returned from Italy a skilful artist.