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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 4. - 3/10 -
He spent the hours appointed for study like a careless lover, and worked without inclination, without pleasure, without ardor, yet with visible increase of skill.
In gambling he forgot what tortured him, it stirred his blood, dispelled weariness; the gold was nothing to him.
The lion's share of his gains he loaned to broken gamblers, without expectation of return, gave to starving artists, or flung with lavish hand to beggars.
So the months in Ferrara glided by, and when the allotted time was over, he took leave of Sebastiano Filippi without regret. He returned by sea to Spain, and arrived in Madrid richer than he had gone away, but with impoverished confidence in his own powers, and doubting the omnipotence of Art.
Ulrich again stood before the Alcazar, and recalled the hour when, a poor lad, just escaped from prison, he had been harshly rebuffed by the same porter, who now humbly saluted the young gentleman attired in costly velvet.
And yet how gladly he would have crossed this threshold poor as in those days, but free and with a soul full of enthusiasm and hope; how joyfully he would have effaced from his life the years that lay between that time and the present.
He dreaded meeting the Coellos; nothing but honor urged him to present himself to them.
Yes--and if the old man rejected him?--so much the better!
The old cheerful confusion reigned in the studio. He had a long time to wait there, and then heard through several doors Senora Petra's scolding voice and her husband's angry replies.
At last Coello came to him and after greeting him, first formally, then cordially, and enquiring about his health and experiences, he shrugged his shoulders, saying:
"My wife does not wish you to see Isabella again before the trial. You must show what you can do, of course; but I..... you look well and apparently have collected reales. Or is it true," and he moved his hand as if shaking a dice-box. "He who wins is a good fellow, but we want no more to do with such people here! You find me the same as of old, and you have returned at the right time, that is something. De Soto has told me about your quarrel in Venice. The great masters were pleased with you and this, you Hotspur, you forfeited! Ferrara for Venice! A poor exchange. Filippi--understands drawing; but otherwise.... Michael Angelo's pupil! Does he still write on his back? Every monk is God's servant, but in how few does the Lord dwell! What have you drawn with Sebastiano?"
Ulrich answered these questions in a subdued tone; and Coello listened with only partial attention, for he heard his wife telling the duenna Catalina in an adjoining room what she thought of her husband's conduct. She did so very loudly, for she wished to be overheard by him and Ulrich. But she was not to obtain her purpose, for Coello suddenly interrupted the returned travellers story, saying:
"This is getting beyond endurance. If she does her utmost, you shall see Isabella. A welcome, a grasp of the hand, nothing more. Poor young lovers! If only it did not require such a confounded number of things to live....Well, we will see!"
As soon as the artist had entered the adjoining room, a new and more violent quarrel arose there, but, though Senora Petra finally called a fainting-fit to her aid, her husband remained firm, and at last returned to the studio with Isabella.
Ulrich had awaited her, as a criminal expects his sentence. Now she stood before him led by her father's hand-and he, he struck his forehead with his fist, closed his eyes and opened them again to look at her--to gaze as if he beheld a wondrous apparition. Then feeling as if he should die of shame, grief, and joyful surprise, he stood spellbound, and knew not what to do, save to extend both hands to her, or what to say, save I....I--I," then with a sudden change of tone exclaimed like a madman:
"You don't know! I am not.... Give me time, master. Here, here, girl, you must, you shall, all must not be over!"
He had opened his arms wide, and now hastily approached her with the eager look of the gambler, who has staked his last penny on a card.
Coello's daughter did not obey.
She was no longer little, unassuming Belita; here stood no child, but a beautiful, blooming maiden. In eighteen months her figure had gained height; anxious yearning and constant contention with her mother had wasted her superabundance of flesh; her face had become oval, her bearing self-possessed. Her large, clear eyes now showed their full beauty, her half-developed features had acquired exquisite symmetry, and her raven- black hair floated, like a shining ornament, around her pale, charming face.
"Happy will be the man, who is permitted to call this woman his own!" cried a voice in the youth's breast, but another voice whispered "Lost, lost, forfeited, trifled away!"
Why did she not obey his call? Why did she not rush into his open arms? Why, why?
He clenched his fists, bit his lips, for she did not stir, except to press closely to her father's side.
This handsome, splendidly-dressed gentleman, with the pointed beard, deep-set eyes, and stern, gloomy gaze, was an entirely different person from the gay enthusiastic follower of art, for whom her awakening heart had first throbbed more quickly; this was not the future master, who stood before her mind as a glorious favorite of fortune and the muse, transfigured by joyous creation and lofty success--this defiant giant did not look like an artist. No, no; yonder man no longer resembled the Ulrich, to whom, in the happiest hour of her life, she had so willingly, almost too willingly, offered her pure lips.
Isabella's young heart contracted with a chill, yet she saw that he longed for her; she knew, could not deny, that she had bound herself to him body and soul, and yet--yet, she would so gladly have loved him.
She strove to speak, but could find no words, save "Ulrich, Ulrich," and these did not sound gay and joyous, but confused and questioning.
Coello felt her fingers press his shoulder closer and closer. She was surely seeking protection and aid from him, to keep her promise and resist her lover's passionate appeal.
Now his darling's eyes filled with tears, and he felt the tremor of her limbs.
Softened by affectionate weakness and no longer able to resist the impulse to see his little Belita happy, he whispered:
"Poor thing, poor young lovers! Do as you choose, I won't look."
But Isabella did not leave him; she only drew herself up higher, summoned all her courage and looking the returned traveller more steadily in the face, said:
"You are so changed, so entirely changed, Ulrich I cannot tell what has come over me. I have anticipated this hour day and night, and now it is here;--what is this? What has placed itself between us?"
"What, indeed!" he indignantly exclaimed, advancing towards her with a threatening air. "What? Surely you must know! Your mother has destroyed your regard for the poor bungler. Here I stand! Have I kept my promise, yes or no? Have I become a monster, a venomous serpent? Do not look at me so again, do not! It will do no good; to you or me. I will not allow myself to be trifled with!"
Ulrich had shouted these words, as if some great injustice had been done him, and he believed himself in the right.
Coello tried to release himself from his daughter, to confront the passionately excited man, but she held him back, and with a pale face and trembling voice, but proud and resolute manner, answered:
"No one has trifled with you, I least of all; my love has been earnest, sacred earnest."
"Earnest!" interrupted Ulrich, with cutting irony.
"Yes, yes, sacred earnest;--and when my mother told me you had killed a man and left Venice for a worthless woman's sake, when it was rumored, that in Ferrara you had become a gambler, I thought: 'I know him better, they are slandering him to destroy the love you bear in your heart.' I did not believe it; but now I do. I believe it, and shall do so, till you have withstood your trial. For the gambler I am too good, to the artist Navarrete I will joyfully keep my promise. Not a word, I will hear no more. Come, father! If he loves me, he will understand how to win me. I am afraid of this man."
Ulrich now knew who was in fault, and who in the right. Strong impulse urged him away from the studio, away from Art and his betrothed bride; for he had forfeited all the best things in life.
But Coello barred his way. He was not the man, for the sake of a brawl and luck at play, to break friendship with the faithful companion, who had shown distinctly enough how fondly he loved his darling. He had hidden behind these bushes himself in his youth, and yet become a skilful artist and good husband.
He willingly yielded to his wife in small matters, in important ones he meant to remain master of the house. Herrera was a great scholar and artist, but an insignificant man; and he allowed himself to be paid like a bungler. Ulrich's manly beauty had pleased him, and under his, Coello's teaching, he would make his mark. He, the father knew better what suited Isabella than she herself. Girls do not sob so bitterly as she had done, as soon as the door of the studio closed behind her, unless they are in love.
Whence did she obtain this cool judgment? Certainly not from him, far less from her mother.
Perhaps she only wished to arouse Navarrete to do his best at the trial. Coello smiled; it was in his power to judge mildly.
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