It was in the early days of April; Bernard Longueville had been spending th_inter in Rome. He had travelled northward with the consciousness of severa_ocial duties that appealed to him from the further side of the Alps, but h_as under the charm of the Italian spring, and he made a pretext fo_ingering. He had spent five days at Siena, where he had intended to spend bu_wo, and still it was impossible to continue his journey. He was a young ma_f a contemplative and speculative turn, and this was his first visit t_taly, so that if he dallied by the way he should not be harshly judged. H_ad a fancy for sketching, and it was on his conscience to take a fe_ictorial notes. There were two old inns at Siena, both of them very shabb_nd very dirty. The one at which Longueville had taken up his abode wa_ntered by a dark, pestiferous arch-way, surmounted by a sign which at _istance might have been read by the travellers as the Dantean injunction t_enounce all hope. The other was not far off, and the day after his arrival, as he passed it, he saw two ladies going in who evidently belonged to th_arge fraternity of Anglo-Saxon tourists, and one of whom was young an_arried herself very well. Longueville had his share—or more than his share—o_allantry, and this incident awakened a regret. If he had gone to the othe_nn he might have had charming company: at his own establishment there was n_ne but an aesthetic German who smoked bad tobacco in the dining-room. H_emarked to himself that this was always his luck, and the remark wa_haracteristic of the man; it was charged with the feeling of the moment, bu_t was not absolutely just; it was the result of an acute impression made b_he particular occasion; but it failed in appreciation of a providence whic_ad sprinkled Longueville's career with happy accidents—accidents, especially, in which his characteristic gallantry was not allowed to rust for want o_xercise. He lounged, however, contentedly enough through these bright, stil_ays of a Tuscan April, drawing much entertainment from the hig_icturesqueness of the things about him. Siena, a few years since, was _lawless gift of the Middle Ages to the modern imagination. No other Italia_ity could have been more interesting to an observer fond of reconstructin_bsolete manners. This was a taste of Bernard Longueville's, who had a relis_or serious literature, and at one time had made several lively excursion_nto mediaeval history. His friends thought him very clever, and at the sam_ime had an easy feeling about him which was a tribute to his freedom fro_edantry. He was clever indeed, and an excellent companion; but the rea_easure of his brilliancy was in the success with which he entertaine_imself. He was much addicted to conversing with his own wit, and he greatl_njoyed his own society. Clever as he often was in talking with his friends, _m not sure that his best things, as the phrase is, were not for his own ears.
And this was not on account of any cynical contempt for the understanding o_is fellow-creatures: it was simply because what I have called his own societ_as more of a stimulus than that of most other people. And yet he was not fo_his reason fond of solitude; he was, on the contrary, a very sociable animal.
It must be admitted at the outset that he had a nature which seemed at severa_oints to contradict itself, as will probably be perceived in the course o_his narration.
He entertained himself greatly with his reflections and meditations upo_ienese architecture and early Tuscan art, upon Italian street-life and th_eological idiosyncrasies of the Apennines. If he had only gone to the othe_nn, that nice-looking girl whom he had seen passing under the dusky porta_ith her face turned away from him might have broken bread with him at thi_ntellectual banquet. Then came a day, however, when it seemed for a momen_hat if she were disposed she might gather up the crumbs of the feast.
Longueville, every morning after breakfast, took a turn in the great square o_iena—the vast piazza, shaped like a horse-shoe, where the market is hel_eneath the windows of that crenellated palace from whose overhanging cornic_ tall, straight tower springs up with a movement as light as that of a singl_lume in the bonnet of a captain. Here he strolled about, watching a brow_ontadino disembarrass his donkey, noting the progress of half an hour'_haffer over a bundle of carrots, wishing a young girl with eyes like animate_gates would let him sketch her, and gazing up at intervals at the beautiful, slim tower, as it played at contrasts with the large blue air. After he ha_pent the greater part of a week in these grave considerations, he made up hi_ind to leave Siena. But he was not content with what he had done for hi_ortfolio. Siena was eminently sketchable, but he had not been industrious. O_he last morning of his visit, as he stood staring about him in the crowde_iazza, and feeling that, in spite of its picturesqueness, this was an awkwar_lace for setting up an easel, he bethought himself, by contrast, of a quie_orner in another part of the town, which he had chanced upon in one of hi_irst walks—an angle of a lonely terrace that abutted upon the city-wall, where three or four superannuated objects seemed to slumber in th_unshine—the open door of an empty church, with a faded fresco exposed to th_ir in the arch above it, and an ancient beggar-woman sitting beside it on _hree-legged stool. The little terrace had an old polished parapet, about a_igh as a man's breast, above which was a view of strange, sad-colored hills.
Outside, to the left, the wall of the town made an outward bend, and expose_ts rugged and rusty complexion. There was a smooth stone bench set into th_all of the church, on which Longueville had rested for an hour, observing th_omposition of the little picture of which I have indicated the elements, an_f which the parapet of the terrace would form the foreground. The thing wa_hat painters call a subject, and he had promised himself to come back wit_is utensils. This morning he returned to the inn and took possession of them, and then he made his way through a labyrinth of empty streets, lying on th_dge of the town, within the wall, like the superfluous folds of a garmen_hose wearer has shrunken with old age. He reached his little grass-grow_errace, and found it as sunny and as private as before. The old mendicant wa_umbling petitions, sacred and profane, at the church door; but save for thi_he stillness was unbroken. The yellow sunshine warmed the brown surface o_he city-wall, and lighted the hollows of the Etruscan hills. Longuevill_ettled himself on the empty bench, and, arranging his little portabl_pparatus, began to ply his brushes. He worked for some time smoothly an_apidly, with an agreeable sense of the absence of obstacles. It seemed almos_n interruption when, in the silent air, he heard a distant bell in the tow_trike noon. Shortly after this, there was another interruption. The sound o_ soft footstep caused him to look up; whereupon he saw a young woman standin_here and bending her eyes upon the graceful artist. A second glance assure_im that she was that nice girl whom he had seen going into the other inn wit_er mother, and suggested that she had just emerged from the little church. H_uspected, however—I hardly know why—that she had been looking at him for som_oments before he perceived her. It would perhaps be impertinent to inquir_hat she thought of him; but Longueville, in the space of an instant, made tw_r three reflections upon the young lady. One of them was to the effect tha_he was a handsome creature, but that she looked rather bold; the burden o_he other was that—yes, decidedly—she was a compatriot. She turned away almos_s soon as she met his eyes; he had hardly time to raise his hat, as, after _oment's hesitation, he proceeded to do. She herself appeared to feel _ertain hesitation; she glanced back at the church door, as if under th_mpulse to retrace her steps. She stood there a moment longer—long enough t_et him see that she was a person of easy attitudes—and then she walked awa_lowly to the parapet of the terrace. Here she stationed herself, leaning he_rms upon the high stone ledge, presenting her back to Longueville, and gazin_t rural Italy. Longueville went on with his sketch, but less attentively tha_efore. He wondered what this young lady was doing there alone, and then i_ccurred to him that her companion—her mother, presumably—was in the church.
The two ladies had been in the church when he arrived; women liked to sit i_hurches; they had been there more than half an hour, and the mother had no_nough of it even yet. The young lady, however, at present preferred the vie_hat Longueville was painting; he became aware that she had placed herself i_he very centre of his foreground. His first feeling was that she would spoi_t; his second was that she would improve it. Little by little she turned mor_nto profile, leaning only one arm upon the parapet, while the other hand, holding her folded parasol, hung down at her side. She was motionless; it wa_lmost as if she were standing there on purpose to be drawn. Yes, certainl_he improved the picture. Her profile, delicate and thin, defined itsel_gainst the sky, in the clear shadow of a coquettish hat; her figure wa_ight; she bent and leaned easily; she wore a gray dress, fastened up as wa_hen the fashion, and displaying the broad edge of a crimson petticoat. Sh_ept her position; she seemed absorbed in the view. "Is she posing—is sh_ttitudinizing for my benefit?" Longueville asked of himself. And then i_eemed to him that this was a needless assumption, for the prospect was quit_eautiful enough to be looked at for itself, and there was nothing impossibl_n a pretty girl having a love of fine landscape. "But posing or not," he wen_n, "I will put her into my sketch. She has simply put herself in. It wil_ive it a human interest. There is nothing like having a human interest." So, with the ready skill that he possessed, he introduced the young girl's figur_nto his foreground, and at the end of ten minutes he had almost mad_omething that had the form of a likeness. "If she will only be quiet fo_nother ten minutes," he said, "the thing will really be a picture."
Unfortunately, the young lady was not quiet; she had apparently had enough o_er attitude and her view. She turned away, facing Longueville again, an_lowly came back, as if to re-enter the church. To do so she had to pass nea_im, and as she approached he instinctively got up, holding his drawing in on_and. She looked at him again, with that expression that he had mentall_haracterized as "bold," a few minutes before—with dark, intelligent eyes. He_air was dark and dense; she was a strikingly handsome girl.
"I am so sorry you moved," he said, confidently, in English. "You were so—s_eautiful."
She stopped, looking at him more directly than ever; and she looked at hi_ketch, which he held out toward her. At the sketch, however, she onl_lanced, whereas there was observation in the eye that she bent upo_ongueville. He never knew whether she had blushed; he afterward thought sh_ight have been frightened. Nevertheless, it was not exactly terror tha_ppeared to dictate her answer to Longueville's speech.
"I am much obliged to you. Don't you think you have looked at me enough?"
"By no means. I should like so much to finish my drawing."
"I am not a professional model," said the young lady.
"No. That 's my difficulty," Longueville answered, laughing. "I can't propos_o remunerate you."
The young lady seemed to think this joke in indifferent taste. She turned awa_n silence; but something in her expression, in his feeling at the time, i_he situation, incited Longueville to higher play. He felt a lively need o_arrying his point.
"You see it will be pure kindness," he went on,—"a simple act of charity. Fiv_inutes will be enough. Treat me as an Italian beggar."
She had laid down his sketch and had stepped forward. He stood there, obsequious, clasping his hands and smiling.
His interruptress stopped and looked at him again, as if she thought him _ery odd person; but she seemed amused. Now, at any rate, she was no_rightened. She seemed even disposed to provoke him a little.
"I wish to go to my mother," she said.
"Where is your mother?" the young man asked.
"In the church, of course. I did n't come here alone!"
"Of course not; but you may be sure that your mother is very contented. I hav_een in that little church. It is charming. She is just resting there; she i_robably tired. If you will kindly give me five minutes more, she will com_ut to you."
"Five minutes?" the young girl asked.
"Five minutes will do. I shall be eternally grateful." Longueville was amuse_t himself as he said this. He cared infinitely less for his sketch than th_ords appeared to imply; but, somehow, he cared greatly that this gracefu_tranger should do what he had proposed.
The graceful stranger dropped an eye on the sketch again.
"Is your picture so good as that?" she asked.
"I have a great deal of talent," he answered, laughing. "You shall see fo_ourself, when it is finished."
She turned slowly toward the terrace again.
"You certainly have a great deal of talent, to induce me to do what you ask."
And she walked to where she had stood before. Longueville made a movement t_o with her, as if to show her the attitude he meant; but, pointing wit_ecision to his easel, she said—
"You have only five minutes." He immediately went back to his work, and sh_ade a vague attempt to take up her position. "You must tell me if this wil_o," she added, in a moment.
"It will do beautifully," Longueville answered, in a happy tone, looking a_er and plying his brush. "It is immensely good of you to take so muc_rouble."
For a moment she made no rejoinder, but presently she said—
"Of course if I pose at all I wish to pose well."
"You pose admirably," said Longueville.
After this she said nothing, and for several minutes he painted rapidly and i_ilence. He felt a certain excitement, and the movement of his thoughts kep_ace with that of his brush. It was very true that she posed admirably; sh_as a fine creature to paint. Her prettiness inspired him, and also he_udacity, as he was content to regard it for the moment. He wondered abou_er—who she was, and what she was—perceiving that the so-called audacity wa_ot vulgar boldness, but the play of an original and probably interestin_haracter. It was obvious that she was a perfect lady, but it was equall_bvious that she was irregularly clever. Longueville's little figure was _uccess—a charming success, he thought, as he put on the last touches. Whil_e was doing this, his model's companion came into view. She came out of th_hurch, pausing a moment as she looked from her daughter to the young man i_he corner of the terrace; then she walked straight over to the young girl.
She was a delicate little gentlewoman, with a light, quick step.
Longueville's five minutes were up; so, leaving his place, he approached th_wo ladies, sketch in hand. The elder one, who had passed her hand into he_aughter's arm, looked up at him with clear, surprised eyes; she was _harming old woman. Her eyes were very pretty, and on either side of them, above a pair of fine dark brows, was a band of silvery hair, rathe_oquettishly arranged.
"It is my portrait," said her daughter, as Longueville drew near. "Thi_entleman has been sketching me."
"Sketching you, dearest?" murmured her mother. "Was n't it rather sudden?"
"Very sudden—very abrupt!" exclaimed the young girl with a laugh.
"Considering all that, it 's very good," said Longueville, offering hi_icture to the elder lady, who took it and began to examine it. "I can't tel_ou how much I thank you," he said to his model.
"It 's very well for you to thank me now," she replied. "You really had n_ight to begin."
"The temptation was so great."
"We should resist temptation. And you should have asked my leave."
"I was afraid you would refuse it; and you stood there, just in my line o_ision."
"You should have asked me to get out of it."
"I should have been very sorry. Besides, it would have been extremely rude."
The young girl looked at him a moment.
"Yes, I think it would. But what you have done is ruder."
"It is a hard case!" said Longueville. "What could I have done, then, decently?"
"It 's a beautiful drawing," murmured the elder lady, handing the thing bac_o Longueville. Her daughter, meanwhile, had not even glanced at it.
"You might have waited till I should go away," this argumentative young perso_ontinued.
Longueville shook his head.
"I never lose opportunities!"
"You might have sketched me afterwards, from memory."
Longueville looked at her, smiling.
"Judge how much better my memory will be now!"
She also smiled a little, but instantly became serious.
"For myself, it 's an episode I shall try to forget. I don't like the part _ave played in it."
"May you never play a less becoming one!" cried Longueville. "I hope that you_other, at least, will accept a memento of the occasion." And he turned agai_ith his sketch to her companion, who had been listening to the girl'_onversation with this enterprising stranger, and looking from one to th_ther with an air of earnest confusion. "Won't you do me the honor of keepin_y sketch?" he said. "I think it really looks like your daughter."
"Oh, thank you, thank you; I hardly dare," murmured the lady, with _eprecating gesture.
"It will serve as a kind of amends for the liberty I have taken," Longuevill_dded; and he began to remove the drawing from its paper block.
"It makes it worse for you to give it to us," said the young girl.
"Oh, my dear, I am sure it 's lovely!" exclaimed her mother. "It '_onderfully like you."
"I think that also makes it worse!"
Longueville was at last nettled. The young lady's perversity was perhaps no_xactly malignant; but it was certainly ungracious. She seemed to desire t_resent herself as a beautiful tormentress.
"How does it make it worse?" he asked, with a frown.
He believed she was clever, and she was certainly ready. Now, however, sh_eflected a moment before answering.
"That you should give us your sketch," she said at last.
"It was to your mother I offered it," Longueville observed.
But this observation, the fruit of his irritation, appeared to have no effec_pon the young girl.
"Is n't it what painters call a study?" she went on. "A study is of use to th_ainter himself. Your justification would be that you should keep your sketch, and that it might be of use to you."
"My daughter is a study, sir, you will say," said the elder lady in a little, light, conciliating voice, and graciously accepting the drawing again.
"I will admit," said Longueville, "that I am very inconsistent. Set it down t_y esteem, madam," he added, looking at the mother.
"That 's for you, mamma," said his model, disengaging her arm from he_other's hand and turning away.
The mamma stood looking at the sketch with a smile which seemed to express _ender desire to reconcile all accidents.
"It 's extremely beautiful," she murmured, "and if you insist on my takin_t—"
"I shall regard it as a great honor."
"Very well, then; with many thanks, I will keep it." She looked at the youn_an a moment, while her daughter walked away. Longueville thought her _elightful little person; she struck him as a sort of transfigured Quakeress—_ystic with a practical side. "I am sure you think she 's a strange girl," sh_aid.
"She is extremely pretty."
"She is very clever," said the mother.
"She is wonderfully graceful."
"Ah, but she 's good!" cried the old lady.
"I am sure she comes honestly by that," said Longueville, expressively, whil_is companion, returning his salutation with a certain scrupulous grace of he_wn, hurried after her daughter.
Longueville remained there staring at the view but not especially seeing it.
He felt as if he had at once enjoyed and lost an opportunity. After a while h_ried to make a sketch of the old beggar-woman who sat there in a sort o_alsied immobility, like a rickety statue at a church-door. But his attempt t_eproduce her features was not gratifying, and he suddenly laid down hi_rush. She was not pretty enough—she had a bad profile.