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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 4. - 2/10 -
Again Ulrich heard Moor mentioned. Then the old man, from whom the youth had not averted his eyes for an instant, beckoned, and Cagliari called him, saying that he, the gallant Antonio Moor's pupil, must now show what he could do; the Master, Titian, would give him a task.
A shudder ran through his frame; cold drops of perspiration, extorted by fear, stood on his brow.
The old man now invited him to accompany his nephew to the studio. Daylight would last an hour longer. He might paint a Jew; no usurer nor dealer in clothes, but one of the noble race of prophets, disciples, apostles.
Ulrich stood before the easel.
For the first time after a long period he again called upon the "word," and did so fervently, with all his heart. His beloved dead, who in the tumult of carnival mirth had vanished from his memory, again rose before his mind, among them the doctor, who gazed rebukingly at him with his clear, thoughtful eyes.
Like an inspiration a thought darted through the youth's brain. He could and would paint Costa, his friend and teacher, Ruth's father.
The portrait he had drawn when a boy appeared before his memory, feature for feature. A red pencil lay close at hand.
Sketching the outlines with a few hasty strokes, he seized the brush, and while hurriedly guiding it and mixing the colors, he saw in fancy Costa standing before him, asking him to paint his portrait.
Ulrich had never forgotten the mild expression of the eyes, the smile hovering about the delicate lips, and now delineated them as well as he could. The moments slipped by, and the portrait gained roundness and life. The youth stepped back to see what it still needed, and once more called upon the "word" from the inmost depths of his heart; at the same instant the door opened, and leaning on a younger painter, Titian, with several other artists, entered the studio.
He looked at the picture, then at Ulrich, and said with an approving smile: "See, see! Not too much of the Jew, and a perfect apostle! A Paul, or with longer hair and a little more youthful aspect, an admirable St. John. Well done, well done! my son!"
Well done, well done! These words from Titian had ennobled his work; they echoed loudly in his soul, and the measure of his bliss threatened to overflow, when no less a personage than the famous Paolo Veronese, invited him to come to his studio as a pupil on Saturday.
Enraptured, animated by fresh hope, he threw himself into his gondola.
Everyone had left the palace, where he lodged with de Soto. Who would remain at home on the evening of Shrove-Tuesday?
The lonely rooms grew too confined for him.
Quiet days would begin early the next morning, and on Saturday a new, fruitful life in the service of the only true word, Art, divine Art, would commence for him. He would enjoy this one more evening of pleasure, this night of joy; drain it to the dregs. He fancied he had won a right that day to taste every bliss earth could give.
Torches, pitch-pans and lamps made the square of St. Mark's as bright as day, and the maskers crowded upon its smooth pavement as if it were the floor of an immense ball-room.
Intoxicating music, loud laughter, low, tender whispers, sweet odors from the floating tresses of fair women bewildered Ulrich's senses, already confused by success and joy. He boldly accosted every one, and if he suspected that a fair face was concealed under a mask, drew nearer, touched the strings of a lute, that hung by a purple ribbon round his neck, and in the notes of a tender song besought love.
Many a wave of the fan rewarded, many an angry glance from men's dark eyes rebuked the bold wooer. A magnificent woman of queenly height now passed, leaning on the arm of a richly-dressed cavalier.
Was not that the fair Claudia, who a short time before had lost enormous sums at the gaming-table in the name of the rich Grimani, and who had invited Ulrich to visit her later, during Lent?
It was, he could not be mistaken, and now followed the pair like a shadow, growing bolder and bolder the more angrily the cavalier rebuffed him with wrathful glances and harsh words; for the lady did not cease to signify that she recognized him and enjoyed his playing. But the nobleman was not disposed to endure this offensive sport. Pausing in the middle of the square, he released his arm with a contemptuous gesture, saying: "The lute-player, or I, my fair one; you can decide----"
The Venetian laughed loudly, laid her hand on Ulrich's arm and said: "The rest of the Shrove-Tuesday night shall be yours, my merry singer."
Ulrich joined in her gayety, and taking the lute from his neck, offered it to the cavalier, with a defiant gesture, exclaiming:
"It's at your disposal, Mask; we have changed parts. But please hold it firmer than you held your lady." High play went on in the gaming hall; Claudia was lucky with the artist's gold.
At midnight the banker laid down the cards. It was Ash-Wednesday, the hall must be cleared; the quiet Lenten season had begun.
The players withdrew into the adjoining rooms, among them the much-envied couple.
Claudia threw herself upon a couch; Ulrich left her to procure a gondola.
As soon as he was gone, she was surrounded by a motley throng of suitors.
How the beautiful woman's dark eyes sparkled, how the gems on her full neck and dazzling arms glittered, how readily she uttered a witty repartee to each gay sally.
"Claudia unaccompanied!" cried a young noble. "The strangest sight at this remarkable carnival!"
"I am fasting," she answered gaily; "and now that I long for meagre food, you come! What a lucky chance!"
"Heavy Grimani has also become a very light man, with your assistance."
"That's why he flew away. Suppose you follow him?"
"Gladly, gladly, if you will accompany me."
"Excuse me to-day; there comes my knight."
Ulrich had remained absent a long time, but Claudia had not noticed it. Now he bowed to the gentlemen, offered her his arm, and as they descended the staircase, whispered: "The mask who escorted you just now detained me;--and there....see, they are picking him up down there in the court- yard.--He attacked me...."
"'They came to his assistance immediately. He barred my way with his unsheathed blade."
Claudia hastily drew her hand from the artist's arm, exclaiming in a low, anxious tone: "Go, go, unhappy man, whoever you may be! It was Luigi Grimani; it was a Grimani! You are lost, if they find you. Go, if you love your life, go at once!"
So ended the Shrove-Tuesday, which had begun so gloriously for the young artist. Titian's "well done" no longer sounded cheerfully in his ears, the "go, go," of the venal woman echoed all the more loudly.
De Soto was waiting for him, to repeat to him the high praise he had heard bestowed upon his art-test at Titian's; but Ulrich heard nothing, for he gave the secretary no time to speak, and the latter could only echo the beautiful Claudia's "go, go!" and then smooth the way for his flight.
When the morning of Ash-Wednesday dawned cool and misty, Venice lay behind the young artist. Unpursued, but without finding rest or satisfaction, he went to Parma, Bologna, Pisa, Florence.
Grimani's death burdened his conscience but lightly. Duelling was a battle in miniature, to kill one's foe no crime, but a victory. Far different anxieties tortured him.
Venice, whither the "word" had led him, from which he had hoped and expected everything, was lost to him, and with it Titian's favor and Cagliari's instruction.
He began to doubt himself, his future, the sublime word and its magic spell. The greater the works which the traveller's eyes beheld, the more insignificant he felt, the more pitiful his own powers, his own skill appeared.
"Draw, draw!" advised every master to whom he applied, as soon as he had seen his work. The great men, to whom he offered himself as a pupil, required years of persevering study. But his time was limited, for the misguided youth's faithful German heart held firmly to one resolve; he must present himself to Coello at the end of the appointed time. The happiness of his life was forfeited, but no one should obtain the right to call him faithless to his word, or a scoundrel.
In Florence he heard Sebastiano Filippi--who had been a pupil of Michael Angelo-praised as a good drawer; so he sought him in Ferrara and found him ready to teach him what he still lacked. But the works of the new master did not please him. The youth, accustomed to Moor's wonderful clearness, Titian's brilliant hues, found Filippi's pictures indistinct, as if veiled by grey mists. Yet he forced himself to remain with him for months, for he was really remarkably skilful in drawing, and his studio never lacked nude models; he needed them for the preliminary studies for his "Day of Judgment."
Without satisfaction, without pleasure in the wearisome work, without love for the sickly master, who held aloof from any social intercourse with him when the hours of labor were over, he felt discontented, bored, disenchanted.
In the evening he sought diversion at the gaming-table, and fortune favored him here as it had done in Venice. His purse overflowed with zechins; but with the red gold, Art withdrew from him her powerful ally, necessity, the pressing need of gaining a livelihood by the exertion of his own strength.
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