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- The Untilled Field - 1/57 -


THE UNTILLED FIELD

by George Moore

CONTENTS

I. IN THE CLAY II. SOME PARISHIONERS III. THE EXILE IV. HOME SICKNESS V. A LETTER TO ROME VI. JULIA CAHILL'S CURSE VII. A PLAYHOUSE IN THE WASTE VIII. THE WEDDING-GOWN IX. THE CLERK'S QUEST X. "ALMS-GIVING" XI. SO ON HE FARES XII. THE WILD GOOSE XIII. THE WAY BACK

CHAPTER I IN THE CLAY

It was a beautiful summer morning, and Rodney was out of his bed at six o'clock. He usually went for a walk before going to his studio, and this morning his walk had been a very pleasant one, for yesterday's work had gone well with him. But as he turned into the mews in which his studio was situated he saw the woman whom he employed to light his fire standing in the middle of the roadway. He had never seen her standing in the middle of the roadway before and his doors wide open, and he instantly divined a misfortune, and thought of the Virgin and Child he had just finished. There was nothing else in his studio that he, cared much about. A few busts, done long ago, and a few sketches; no work of importance, nothing that he cared about or that could not be replaced if it were broken.

He hastened his steps and he would have run if he had not been ashamed to betray his fears to the char-woman.

"I'm afraid someone has been into the studio last night. The hasp was off the door when I came this morning. Some of the things are broken."

Rodney heard no more. He stood on the threshold looking round the wrecked studio. Three or four casts had been smashed, the floor was covered with broken plaster, and the lay figure was overthrown, Rodney saw none of these things, he only saw that his Virgin and Child was not on the modelling stool, and not seeing it there, he hoped that the group had been stolen, anything were better than that it should have been destroyed. But this is what had happened: the group, now a mere lump of clay, lay on the floor, and the modelling stand lay beside it.

"I cannot think," said the charwoman, "who has done this. It was a wicked thing to do. Oh, sir, they have broken this beautiful statue that you had in the Exhibition last year," and she picked up the broken fragments of a sleeping girl.

"That doesn't matter," said Rodney. "My group is gone."

"But that, sir, was only in the clay. May I be helping you to pick it up, sir? It is not broken altogether perhaps."

Rodney waved her aside. He was pale and he could not speak, and was trembling. He had not the courage to untie the cloths, for he knew there was nothing underneath but clay, and his manner was so strange that the charwoman was frightened. He stood like one dazed by a dream. He could not believe in reality, it was too mad, too discordant, too much like a nightmare. He had only finished the group yesterday!

He still called it his Virgin and Child, but it had never been a Virgin and Child in the sense suggested by the capital letters, for he had not yet put on the drapery that would convert a naked girl and her baby into the Virgin and Child. He had of course modelled his group in the nude first, and Harding, who had been with him the night before last, had liked it much better than anything he had done, Harding had said that he must not cover it with draperies, that he must keep it for himself, a naked girl playing with a baby, a piece of paganism. The girl's head was not modelled when Harding had seen it. It was the conventional Virgin's head, but Harding had said that he must send for his model and put his model's head upon it. He had taken Harding's advice and had sent for Lucy, and had put her pretty, quaint little head upon it. He had done a portrait of Lucy. If this terrible accident had not happened last night, the caster would have come to cast it to-morrow, and then, following Harding's advice always, he would have taken a "squeeze," and when he got it back to the clay again he was going to put on a conventional head, and add the conventional draperies, and make the group into the conventional Virgin and Child, suitable to Father McCabe's cathedral.

This was the last statue he would do in Ireland. He was leaving Ireland. On this point his mind was made up, and the money he was going to receive for this statue was the money that was going to take him away. He had had enough of a country where there had never been any sculpture or any painting, nor any architecture to signify. They were talking about reviving the Gothic, but Rodney did not believe in their resurrections or in their renaissance or in their anything. "The Gael has had his day. The Gael is passing." Only the night before he and Harding had had a long talk about the Gael, and he had told Harding that he had given up the School of Art, that he was leaving Ireland, and Harding had thought that this was an extreme step, but Rodney had said that he did not want to die, that no one wanted to die less than he did, but he thought he would sooner die than go on teaching. He had made some reputation and had orders that would carry him on for some years, and he was going where he could execute them, to where there were models, to where there was art, to where there was the joy of life, out of a damp religious atmosphere in which nothing flourished but the religious vocation.

"Good Heavens! How happy I was yesterday, full of hope and happiness, my statue finished, and I had arranged to meet Harding in Rome. The blow had fallen in the night. Who had done this? Who had destroyed it?"

He fell into a chair, and sat helpless like his own lay figure. He sat there like one on whom some stupor had fallen, and he was as white as one of the casts; the charwoman had never seen anyone give way like that before, and she withdrew very quietly.

In a little while he got up and mechanically kicked the broken pieces of plaster aside. The charwoman was right, they had broken his sleeping girl: that did not matter much, but the beautiful slenderness, the grace he had caught from Lucy's figure--those slendernesses, those flowing rhythms, all these were gone; the lovely knees were ugly clay. Yes, there was the ruin, the ignoble ruin, and he could not believe in it; he still hoped he would wake and find he had been dreaming, so difficult is it to believe that the living have turned to clay.

In front of him there was the cheval glass, and overcome though he was by misfortune he noticed that he was a small, pale, wiry, and very dark little man, with a large bony forehead. He had seen, strangely enough, such a bumpy forehead, and such narrow eyes in a Florentine bust, and it was some satisfaction to him to see that he was the typical Italian.

"If I had lived three hundred years ago," he said, "I should have been one of Cellini's apprentices."

And yet he was the son of a Dublin builder! His father had never himself thought to draw, but he had always taken an interest in sculpture and painting, and he had said before Rodney was born that he would like to have a son a sculptor. And he waited for the little boy to show some signs of artistic aptitude. He pondered every scribble the boy made, and scribbles that any child at the same age could have done filled him with admiration. But when Rodney was fourteen he remodelled some leaves that had failed to please an important customer; and his father was overcome with joy, and felt that his hopes were about to be realised. For the customer, who professed a certain artistic knowledge, praised the leaves that Rodney had designed, and soon after Rodney gave a still further proof of his desire for art by telling his mother he did not care to go to Mass, that Mass depressed him and made him feel unhappy, and he had begged to be allowed to stay at home and do some modelling. His father excused his son's want of religious feeling on the ground that no one can think of two things at once, and John was now bent on doing sculpture. He had converted a little loft into a studio, and was at work there from dusk to dusk, and his father used to steal up the ladder from time to time to watch his son's progress. He used to say there was no doubt that he had been forewarned, and his wife had to admit that it did seem as if he had had some pre-vision of his son's genius: how else explain the fact that he had said he would like to have a son a sculptor three months before the child was born?

Rodney said he would like to go to the School of Art, and his father kept him there for two years, though he sorely wanted him to help in the business. There was no sacrifice that the elder Rodney would not have made for his son. But Rodney knew that he could not always count upon his father's help, and one day he realised quite clearly that the only way for him to become a sculptor was by winning scholarships. There were two waiting to be won by him, and he felt that he would have no difficulty in winning them. That year there was a scholarship for twenty-five pounds, and there was another scholarship that he might win in the following year, and he thought of nothing else but these scholarships until he had won them; then he started for Paris with fifty pounds in his pocket, and a resolve in his heart that he would live for a year and pay his fees out of this sum of money. Those were hard days, but they were likewise great days. He had been talking to Harding about those days in Paris the night before


The Untilled Field - 1/57

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