« EelmineJätka »
and I loathe it because it will rob me of beauty—comme c'est différent! I wonder how we shall both meet it! But, bah! why talk of these things? The wind will be chilly, and the green leaves brown, and the ground frost-bound in six months' time; but the butterflies playing there above our heads are too wise to spoil the sunshine by remembering the snows. They are Epicureans; let us be so too!"
To such a doctrine, expounded by such lips, it was impossible to dissent. The sunset faded, the purple mists stole on down the slopes of the hills, the west wind rose, bringing a rich odour from the pine forests ; the Bohemian musicians, for a few coins, sang airs sweet enough to have been played by the legendary music-demons of a land where Mozart rules; the boat dropped slowly down the stream in the evening twilight, and Strathmore leant over the vessel's side, talking on to his chance acquaintance, and looking down on to the exquisite Titian-like picture that she made, reclining on her pile of cushions, with the black mantilla of lace thrown on her yellow hair, and her dark lustrous eyes gleaming softly and dreamily in the light of the summer stars. He was singularly critical of the beauty of women, and coldly careless of their wiles and charms; yet even he felt a vague dreamy pleasure in Aoating down the river in the sultry moonlit night thus, with the echo of this sweet silvery voice in his ear, and a face on which he looked in the gloaming, soft as the music that lingered on the silent air. I don't think he would altogether have found the voyage wearisome though it had lasted till the dawn; but-pardieu, mes frères ! one never drops long down any river, real or allegorical, with a smooth current and Arcadian landscapes, under the shade of pleasant woodlands, beneath which we would willingly linger till sunrise, but that we are safe to be soon startled by the rough grate of the keel on the sand, that breaks the spell pour toujours! It was so now; the boat ground in a shallow bit of the water where red sunken rocks made the navigation troublesome for a vessel so cumbersome, and boatmen so clumsy, as were those who now steered it down the Mol. dau's course. No harm was done that could be of serious account, but the boat was stuck hopelessly fast between the rocks, and could not proceed to Auzig that night, at all events; while its passengers had no choice but to remain where they were till the sunrise, or to disembark at a landing-place which was luckily easily to be reached by a plank between the vessel and the shore, where, buried in the favourite cherry orchards of Bohemia, with a gaudy sign swinging under its dark red roof, half hidden in a profusion of giant hollyhocks, with linden-trees in full flower before the door, and the pine-covered hills stretching behind it, stood a little river-side Gasthof.' La blonde aux yeux noirs, into whose society and in whose protection he was thus in a manner forced, laughed brightly, and made light of the contretemps when Strathmore explained it to her. “ We must wait here ?—tant mieux ! I like the smallest soupçon of an adventure. I will dine under those limes. I suppose they can find something to give us; but I must go on to-night if there be a vehicle procurable,” she said, gaily and good humouredly enough, without any feminine repining, or pitié de soi même, as she gave him her hand to be assisted across the plank. Perhaps she was not altogether sorry to be able to retain as a détenu an English aristocrat, with a face like the Vandyke pictures ; who was coldly indifferent to the soft creeds of which she was a head-priestess, and was a renegade and disbeliever in their faith! “ Destiny throws us together, monsieur! We must be good friends. Dieu le veut !” she laughed, as Strathmore lifted her from the plank on to the landing-place, while the white soft hands lay in his, and the delicate fragrance of the perfumed hair floated across him, as the lace of her mantilla brushed his shoulder.
“I am the debtor of destiny, then !” he whispered, in answer, noting as she stood by him in the starlight the sweet grace and luxurious outline of her perfect form, that even the dark drapery of her travelling-dress, wrapped about in long voluminous folds, could not avail to hide.
Mes frères !—it is well for us that we are no seers! Were we cursed with prevision, could we know how, when the idle trifle of the present hour shall have been forged into a link of the past, it will stretch out and bind captive the whole future in its bonds, we should be paralysed, hopeless, powerless, old ere ever we were young! It is well for us that we are no seers. Were we cursed with second sight we should see the white shroud breast-high about the living man, the phospor light of death gleaming on the youthful radiant face, the feathery seed lightly sown bearing in it the germ of the upas-tree, the idle careless word gaily uttered carrying in its womb the future bane of a lifetime; we should see these things till we sickened, and reeled, and grew blind with pain before the ghastly face of the Future, as men in ancient days before the loathsome visage of the Medusa !
AN ARTIST'S STUDY IN THE QUARTIER LATIN.
() DEAR, dirty, picturesque, unsavoury, charming Quartier Latin! Why hast thou so firm a hold on my heart? Is it the association of fresh youth and buoyant spirit, or is it some lasting intrinsic merit of thine own? I long to revisit thy classic haunts, where the old Romans built baths, where Abélard and Héloise conned together Latin (and other languages), where for ages past poets and artists have lived or starved, as the case might be. Could I tread again thy consecrated dirt, should I still be so captivated with the tall, dingy houses, the hirsute, smoking, rollicking inhabitants—the greasy, narrow streets, where the odoriferous gutter usurps the centre of the thoroughfare, and the foot passeuger clings to the dirty walls for dear life as the hackney-coach or omnibus dashes through the “limpid stream,” scattering abroad its perfumed waters—a perfume neutralised somewhat by those which issue from the houses, where the votaries of the Muses appear to be always frying fish or onions (perhaps as incense to Apollo)? But why write in the present when this may be but a description of the past ? Already sanitary laws may have destroyed at one blow both the filth and its memories, the gutter and its traditions, even as the regular beauty of the Rue de Rivoli has murdered hundreds of aristocratic ghosts of the Faubourg St. Germain.
Well, we are doomed to progress, and must resign ourselves to the sad necessity. My anglicised nose would perhaps turn up in disgust at the haunts of my youth.
Ah, dans un grenier qu'on est bien à vingt ans, sings Béranger: one can't go back to the twenty years or the garret, but one may linger on the recollections of the past-so morally bright, so physically dingy. My brother was studying painting in Paris, and inhabited a very small bedroom and a very large study in the Rue de la Harpe, and on all red-letter days (saintly, scholastic, or political) he regularly plodded across the entire length of Paris to fetch me at my school-an arrangement made by our friends at home, not at all in accordance with my governess's rigid sense of propriety. In summer we took little railway excursions to Meudon, Ville d'Avray, St. Germains, &c., when our invariable proceeding was to dip at once into the most secluded part of the wood or park and stretch ourselves full length upon the grass in the shade. Will drew from his pocket a book or two, some delicious sentimental volume forbidden to us school-girls,* and I removed the cover from my little basket of “brioches" and grapes, or cherries, and so we feasted for hours body and mind, laughing jolly peals, or weeping delightful tears over the pages, or dreamily watching the light glancing across the foliage, the hare rushing through the long ferns, or the butterfly dancing here and there on the wild Aowers. So would pass our summer holiday. But in winter, or in bad weather, or when our funds were low, we only walked back to Will's lodging, which appeared to me the most charming, the most wonderful, the most unschool-like place in the world, which latter commendation it certainly deserved. On our road we invested four sous in a litre of chesnuts, then went into the porter's lodge to take the key from amongst some twenty hanging there, all belonging to different locataires, and presided over by Madame Babois, a fat old Frenchwoman, with a figure like a pillow tied round the middle, who sat continually by the fireside, with her feet on a chaûfferette, paring vegetables, and tending the huge "pot au feu” hanging in the chimney. Madame Babois had a most agreeable face, enlivened by black eyes still brilliant, and surmounted by a red handkerchief, which almost concealed her silver-grey hair. And here I would remark how rare it is to find an old Frenchwoman with false fronts or wigs, or destitute of matronly covering. What we call their taste in dress is, in reality, their sense of propriety, which keeps the old venerable and the young simple, and the servant the neatest of handmaidens, never the vulgarised parody of her mistress. When I stepped in to wish madame the good day, she would exclaim:
“Ah la petite mère, vous voilà, et ce pauvre frère est-il heureux donc ! tenez il est bon sujet monsieur votre frère-oui." And she would nod her head and go on saying, “ Oui, il est bon sujet,” whilst we were scrambling up the six flights of stairs which led to the garret, the room next the skies, consecrated naturally enough to art.
Walk in : there is nothing to wipe your shoes on, and no carpet to dirty when you are within. It is a very high room, and lit only by a
* Such as Lamartine's Jocelyn, or a novel of Captain Marryat's.
skylight, which at once distinguishes it from ordinary abodes. The walls, painted dull grey, are covered almost entirely with sketches and studies, in which is conspicuous that early ambition for high art which brightens the opening career of so many artists who have yet to learn it may yield dreams, but not bread. Across the high fireplace, where is never fire lighted, is draped a piece of antique tapestry, which some Jew gammoned Will into buying at three times its value, and a few casts-good subjects, but generally mutilated—stand up ghost-like amongst the most unpoetic and common-place of household requirements. In the middle of the room is placed a great stove, with tubes, like a giant's rusty armour, elbowing up through the roof—a most uncouth-looking object, which gives out a furnace-like heat.
Chairs are very scarce and superlatively shabby; but there is a huge -dare I call it by so elegant a name as ottoman? on which everybody lounges, and where I am perched up to pose for the different females of the before-mentioned sketches. An old oak chest, with only one carved corper left intact, serves as a table when we have anything to eat, but, oftener still, it groans under the kicks of Will, who sits astride upon it. The amount of dust collected was not surprising, when one was made aware that only once in the year was Madame Babois admitted armed with broom, pail, &c. And then the peculiar smell, the varnish, the paint, the seediness, the smoke, stale and fresh! And, more peculiar still, were Will's chums, who were continually dropping in, mostly in blouses, always in beards and smoking-caps, always with some length of pipe (which, however, they smoked only with my permission), always dirty in person, always polished in address. Towards evening, especially, they would assemble round the stove, the tube of which grew red-hot, and looked grimmer than ever in the twilight. They would roast chesnuts, talk excitedly, and drink Will's English tea out of glass tumblers, for there were but two cups and saucers. Oh, my poor schoolmistress! she would have fainted had she seen me (if, indeed, she could have seen me through the tobacco-smoke) listening eagerly and delightedly to the wild talk of these madcap fellows, and yet in few societies could I have learnt less harm. I doubt whether I am more edified now by the scurrilities of that pink of propriety Mrs. B., or the affectations of that finished prude Mrs. A., though the drawing-room smells of roses, and the solemn butler hands round the china teacups on a silver waiter. It is true nearly all the students made love to me with more or less ardour, but it was in the most respectful chivalrous fashion; besides, what could a body of admirers do in each other's presence beyond burning their fingers to secure me the finest chesnuts, or kissing a glove I chanced to drop, or squeezing a paper of rhapsodical verses into my hand, in which I was invariably addressed as "charmante fille d'Albion,” and which I communicated in confidence to my bosom school friend on my return to prison at night. Many of them were foreigners, and would detail customs of their native land, but more often the conversation turned on painting, to which they were devoted, with all the earnestness of enthusiastic youth, deifying their favourite masters, secretly resolving to be masters too in a year or so, and throwing all prudential considerations to the winds, Are they any truer, I wonder, their present views of art, now that their youthful fire is extinguished, and the world has taught them the hard lessons of experience ? This much I know, that one only of that young band of art-heroes has made himself a name! A man is not born an artist, though he may be born of the right stuff to make one; and how few have the means, the patience, the industry, to work out the promise of their early years!
One Supday that my brother had been to meet me after morning service, we found, on our arrival in the Quartier Latin, that our united purses would not furnish us with a dinner. His quarterly remittance from home was due the next day, and mine was nearly exhausted in the purchase of a birthday present. I burst out laughing as the very small tin coins rattled on the old chest, but Will looked quite grave: “ Really, Nelly, it's no joke-I am hungry.” “So am I," I replied, laughing still louder, “or there would be nothing funny in it. It is so absurd to be so poor. But come, have you nothing in your cupboard ? Here is coffee in a tin- here is at least half a yard of bread—and what have we here? Confitures de cerises. Now, if there is a good thing in the world it is cherry preserve. How could you complain of hunger with such a feast provided ?” “Hum!" growled Will; " it may be a feast for & school-girl, but a man requires something better than jam for his dinner, so I shall go and explore for food." He took the little yellowwhite pieces and ran down stairs, singing, as he went :
Bonjour, belle Aspasie, comment vous portez-vous ?
Je me porte à merveille, mais je suis sans le sou. Left alone, I sauntered about the room, turning round the canvases and drawing-boards which showed their backs to the public, reading the various notices and addresses scratched on the wall with chalk or char. coal—the Quartier Latin style of leaving cards.
Poor Will was as innocent as possible of any aristocratic airs, but they all called him “My lor," after vain attempts to pronounce his name, or make him answer to the uncomplimentary “ Vil,” which was supposed to be his baptismal cognomen.
I was contiņuing my survey when a sharp knock, was heard at the door, and without waiting for further permission a man walked in, starting a little at sight of me. He wore a slouched hat, under whose brim shone a pair of large grey eyes, which would have appeared prominent but for the overhanging shadow of his bushy eyebrows. Large regular features terminated in a fine black beard, and his tall form was enveloped in an ample cloak, worn picturesquely yet not affectedly. I at once recognised in him the original of Will's sketch of the romantic, melancholy Master of Ravenswood, but as he doffed his beaver with grave courtesy, I was somewhat disappointed to observe that his hair was grizzled, and wrinkles were forming on his forehead. To my sixteen years' old judgment he seemed an old man; he was really in the prime of life, though much the senior of Will's other companions, and his few grey hairs disenchanted me considerably.
• The sister of my friend, I presume?" he said. “May I introduce myself to her as Rudolf Meyer, a very sincere friend of her bro ther?”
He spoke in English, with no foreign accent, but that extreme precision and freedom from idiom which give so much elegance to the speech of well-educated strangers. I explained that my brother was