Puslapio vaizdai
[graphic][merged small]
[graphic][merged small][merged small]


'None," she cried. "Why

should I come to you if I had a portrait of him already?''

After a long pause of consternation, I said: "What, then, do you wish me to do?"

"You think me mad," she said. "I do not wonder at it. You have not thought of the possibility of this as I have. But it is possible; it can be done, and shall be done, and you must do it. Hush!" she went on, silencing me with a motion of her hand. "Do not speak until you have thoroughly grasped this notion. You are to paint the portrait of this dead man, whom you have never seen, whose dead face you cannot see, of whom there is no likeness left.


The sole record that remains of him is one little lock of hair."

I was full of bewilderment and amazement. I had passed through extraordinary revulsions of feeling in the interchange of these few sentences. The sudden giving up of all my determinations against portrait - painting; the delight in anticipation of painting so exquisite a creature; the disappointment of this anticipation; the shock on the supposition that I was to paint from the face of a corpse. I cannot describe how the contrast affected me, between my first hope of having for my model this woman so brimful of the essence of life, and the idea


of copying the stark dead face. Lastly, the blank astonish-, tinued, "is my history; how I came to know this dead man, ment and dismay that the lady's final explanations caused me what we were to each other. There is that in the dead face. -all these conflicting emotions struck me dumb and helpless. You must be told it." "It is impossible," I said, at last. "You ask what neither I nor any one else can do."

"It is not impossible," she cried, with another emphasis of the slender foot. "This dead man has more life for me than you have. I can see him now more plainly than I can see you. All the world is full of him to me. I see portions of him in other people. I hear echoes of his voice in other voices. I distinguish a footfall like his among all the thousand footfalls of the streets. Patterns on carpets and on walls take for me the outline of his features. His face starts out of the darkness; his figure haunts me in long avenues of dreary country places. In crowded rooms I see his reflection in the glasses. What do you talk of life and death? For me this man alone lives, and all others are ghosts."

[blocks in formation]

"Not a stroke. I have tried to learn. Should I come to you if I could do for myself what I demand of you?"

"You must learn to draw," I said. "I will teach you." "I cannot learn," she cried, vehemently. "That is denied me by the curse of God. Do you think I have not tried all means before I sought out you? I have had better masters than you can be. You are not to be my tutor, sir, but my slave. I will have you do this thing for me?"

The lady was in the right. It was more impossible for me to disobey her commands than to attempt the impossibility she commanded. After vainly re-asserting the impracticability, I came to the helpless inquiry, how the thing was to be done. "Are there any relations of this dead man whom I can see?" I asked. 'Any one with any faintest resemblance to him?" "None."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

I cannot disclose the details of her story. There were no names mentioned. I never learned her name. The story was a sad, not an uncommon one-a young girl sold to an old man for money-a guilty love. The paramour had gone to India with his regiment, and had died there, shot through the heart in battle, about a year before. That was all.

"There is that in the dead face," she said, and, as I write it, I recall Tennyson's description of Lancelot :

The great and guilty love he bare the queen,
In battle with the love he bare his lord,
Had marred his face, and marked it ere his time.
Another sinning on such heigh's with one,
The flower of all the west and all the world,
Had been the sleeker for it; but, in him,
His mood was often like a fiend, and rose
And drove him int> wastes and solitudes

For agony, who was yet a living soul.

The lady, after her first burst of passion, went on with a wonderful calmness. Her strange determination had evidently been formed for a long time, and she had thought out all the details with a morbid acuteness. The story told, she drew from her bosom a locket, in which was a curl of light brown hair. She confided to me, in the next place, the Christian name of the dead man. He could have had no other name save that, it seemed to her; this was another link in the chain of circumstantial evidence.

She described to me accurately his person, his manner, his tastes. She had the talent of describing. The picture that she had in her mind she could present to another. How she did this I cannot tell. I have said that the thought came through her language so vividly, that one took no note of the words.

Any chance likeness of him in another person? Chance Her description was like a sketch. But not only by voice, but likenesses are very common."

"None; at least none that can serve your purpose." "Impossible!" I said again.

"You artists, whether you write or whether you paint," she broke out bitterly, "you artists pretend to a magical insight. You conjure up an Othello; and you say this is the man whom Shakspeare saw-this, and no other. This creature of a poet's brain, which never had an existence, which comes to you through a few antiquated words, half of which you cannot understand, this shadow of a shadow you fashion forth. Look at your own pictures: Miranda you call this one, Marguerite that, and you say they are the veritable creatures which Shakspeare and Goëthe thought into being. I tell you to paint a man who really lived on this earth. I am here to be questioned-I am here to describe-to tear out of my heart every word he ever spoke to me-to tell you what he was to me. Perhaps I saw him untruly. That is nothing; I tell you to paint him as I knew and know him. Look into my eyes; your insight will find something of him there. Look at my hand; it has clung to his until some form and seal of his must be left indelibly behind; look at my smile; I learned the trick of his in days gone by. Listen to my voice, transpose the treble into bass; mine is as some weak echo of his. Take me as I am. I am not my own, but his; I am a part of him. I am your book; study me. I will describe: I will answer ten thousand questions. I will sing to you the songs that he loved; I will read to you the readings that he approved; I will tell you of our talk; I will show you his letters; you shall see the one lock of hair. I say that it is not impossible; and you shall do it."

I can give but a faint impression of the torrent of her words here. I have put into her mouth but stilted common-places. I cannot help it. Her rapid utterance was not so much language as vocal thought. As one saw in her neither drapery nor flesh, but life; so one read thought and passion, not speech, in what she uttered.

"Now, you will paint me this portrait," she said, with recovered calmness, after a long silence.

"I will try," I said.

I will trust you.

by action of undulating hands, of emphatic foot, of all the light and shadow of her expressive face, she gave life to the image she sought to impress.

A shadow gathered itself together before me, dim, vague; its features shrouded, its figure wrapped in gloom-an indistinct form, but still a form. As by long study of a poet's writing one feels his creation gradually coming forth-such and no other, having a personality entirely its own; so a new image, distinct from all others, began to rise in my imagination as she spoke. How true or how false I cannot say. What two men read the same poet precisely alike? What poet has ever said to the artist, "You have made my creature visible to others as I see it."

On this first day she was careful, I think, to give me only a general idea of the man I was to paint-the history, the name, the light brown hair, the description of him as a whole. Just as a lover, seeing his future mistress for the first time, carries away with him a vague impression of her as separated off from all the other girls, and yet scarcely knows the color of her eyes or the contour of her cheek; so I gained at this time but a general impression of the person she described. The lover learns afterwards his mistress by heart, trait by trait, line by line; and thus I learned this terrible figure, until at length I could see nothing, but the one face.

The lady's carriage returned for her. She shook hands frankly with me, saying, "I trust you. Remember you put hand to no work till I come to you to-morrow morning. Think of my portrait; dream of it; let it never leave your mind for a moment!"

When the sound of her carriage had died away I turned from the window, and took down my Medusa from the easel. What a change had come over me in the short time since I sobbed over my success in her beautiful horror! That picture was turned towards the wall. I sat down before my blank easel, thinking-thinking. The lady had had no need to say, "Let it never leave your mind for a moment."

"A spirit passed before my face. It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof." So it is written in the book of Job; and such a terror of the formless presence as came upon the seer there came upon me.

"I will not ask you to be secret. I am more certain that you will not betray me than if you had sworn All day, whether in the streets or at home, I was haunted by the most solemn oaths. The first thing to tell you," she con- this shape, "if shape it might be called, that shape had none."

Upon the chosen type of face, these fleeting expressions of passion, these settled influences of passion, were tried. Something came out of this. "So he looked at such a time "-and the incident was told. "Not like that-change, soften. Now it is better." All this; and the dead face seemed to stir within its grave.

I was eager to grasp it; to force it to give up to me its hidden | virtue that is vice; the love that is hate; the pride that is lineaments; to assume some definite form, false or true. I shame-such subjects came out of our morning's lesson. could not and dare not. I longed to take my pencil, and com- Then we passed on from the fleeting expressions of passion, pel out of this shadow some visible presentment. The com- which pass over the countenance like shadows over hills, to mands laid upon me by the lady prevented this. I had entered that settled influence which any one passion long obeyed will upon the work. I felt that this was a first stage that must be stamp upon the features. Child-Cleopatra, in her quasi-innogone through. I had laid aside the notion of impossibility, and cence, was contrasted with the brazen harlot in whose lap felt the artist's all-mastering and patient desire of success. To Antony lounged away his life. think that was all I could do as yet; the time for working had not yet come. All night I dreamed of it; never for a moment did it gain definiteness. There it lay, an embryo-to grow into form only through painful and weary time. I say that I had given up the notion of the impossibility of the thing. To a reader of this story, laying the case plainly before him, this will seem absurd. To humor and deceive a crazed woman at the price of so many guineas would be understandable; but that, after consenting to undertake this work, I should persuade myself into belief of the remotest hope of any success, must seem incomprehensible. The reader argues from a different stand-point to that which I occupied. The project once entertained, the previous notion of its impossibility was shut out. What best means to employ was the consideration henceforth, not the uselessness of employing any means at all. I was, as it were, in a dream, which, though logical in its own boundaries, could be fitted on to no premises of the daylight world-not an uncommon state of mind with the artist.

At the same hour on the following morning the lady came again. We met as old friends, and she entered at once upon the business in hand.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

I cannot write the history of day by day. The ingenuity of my patroness in gathering together every smallest detail which might help to bring home to me the character and the person of her dead lover, is the most marvellous matter that I have ever known.

One day she brought a collection of engravings-some old and shabby, some new and tawdry, some scarce and fine, evidently a collection made through years, gathered together month by month, from all places, and with always the same object. In some figure in each of these there was a certain likeness to him-here the position, there the turn of the head, there the eyes, there the smile. And these scraps of likeness she had the rare power of making me see, showing me in what the likeness consisted, where it began and where it ended.

"You have obeyed me?" she asked, with one of her sad. These scraps she would make me copy again and again. winning smiles. "You have not been painting?"

"I have obeyed you; and will obey you to the very letter in all you command me."

"You artists," she said, “as I have read and know, have your early simple lessons in the drawing of the human face. There are different types of face, markedly distinct from each other, to one or other of which, or to some recognizable blending of which, all human faces may be assigned. These types you represent by mere simple lines, which of course you have by heart. Now, draw these for me."

This I did, and from the hasty sketches thus made, one was selected and put aside as the primary type (without individuality, without expression) of the face wanted.

Again: she spoke of the "temperaments." Of these she had read in some old book, and said she believed in them as guides in the matter in hand. In colored crayons I made another series of sketches, and from these again one was chosen and put side.

The day was far spent by this time. While I had been sketching she had been impressing on me prominent points of the history told in brief the day before. Of the family of the dead man, of the manner of his bringing up, of the scenes in which he had lived, of the changes which he had gone through, she spoke, giving me, according to her talent, not words but her

own thoughts.

[blocks in formation]

I sketched off the old rude formulæ -a mapping out of the emotions into hyperbolical figures, not unlike the mapping out of the stars on a celestial globe. Then I softened down these exaggerated signs. I illustrated by my own old sketches. I showed the difference between love in the face of a Miranda and of a Juliet. I contrasted the base jealousy of a Leontes with the demoniac possession of an Othello. I put side by side child-Cleopatra blushing under the first gaze of Anthony, and Virginia. Degrees of passion broadening into contrasts; the

Another day she brought a packet of his letters. She showed me the writing and the differences in it, according to the emotions influencing him while he wrote. Here was a letter blotted with tears; another full of the wildest gaiety; another acrid with jealousy and distrust. She read these letters to me, changing her intonations. "Thus he would have spoken this. So he would have flung his arms about. This is something like his laugh."

She read to me books that he had liked, and told me the observations he had made upon certain passages. She sang to me songs that she had sung to him-told me how this had made him solemn, this brilliant and gay-how this had always filled his eyes with tears. One song in particular was his favorite; and this she was constantly crooning. To me, now, that strange episode in my life comes back set to the music of this song.

Day after day passed by. Almost every day, never suffering more than one day to intervene, she came to me. Whether true or false, I gradually created in my imagination a distinct picture of the dead man. Every story she told of him fitted itself to this image. In my dreams I seemed to have revelations of him. The creation of my brain was complete. More distinct than of any ideal character, was the image now impressed upon my mind. Not with the passion of one especial moment upon him-the crimson blush of Virginia, the trans

forming agony of Medusa, the wretchedness of Leontes eyeing be portrayed, when the time came, under influence of any the "paddling palms"-but as a veritable human being, to passion, or at case from all.

Hitherto I had been commanded to abstain from attempting the portrait. At last the converse fiat was issued. For one week the lady was to remain absent; at the end of that week, she was to see the portrait.

I painted my picture, and the lady came. A burst of tears; an agony of wringing hands and bowed head and writhing body; not a grieving woman, but grief itself. The portrait was a failure. Utterly unlike. All the labor and the pain thrown away. No hope left.

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

failure in the first attempt was so great. I knew very much more of this man whom I had never seen, than of any person whose portrait I have since taken. I knew from a thousand sources of chance likeness, of imitation, of description, of shrewd conjecture, of flashing intuition, what this person was like. What do portrait painters usually paint but the best clothes of their sitters? The glossy coat and spotless shirtfront are not more mere dress than the sunny smile and the prim mouth and the dull wateriness of the set eye. I knew this dead man, his strengths and his weaknesses, his loves and his hates, his great sorrows and his great sins. Of no other people whom I have painted have I known more than that they had such a facial angle, such features, such a blemish to be toned down, such a half-beauty to be petted into completeness. However, we set to work anew. I painted now with the lady by my side? Why should I dwell on the details of this time? I can give no idea of how the portrait was painted. It is sufficient to say that I did at length succeed in achieving some faint and distant likeness, having more of death than of life in it-a galvanized ghastliness of expression, a cruel rigidity of outline, a sickly pallor of color-yet being, as some distorted reflection of the reality, recognizable by my monitress.

When this was achieved, I learned for the first time that a sister of the dead man was alive, and in London, and to be seen by me. Why had this not been told me before, I asked. Because the sister was unlike the brother, I was told, and would have been of no service to me until this time. One look only of this sister claimed any kinship with the brother's countenance.

upon my easel. I thought of the reason we were both there; and I mistrusted and misjudged her.

Suddenly she turned upon me her eyes. She rose from her garden seat and crossed over to the blonde sister. My lady extended her hand, and smiled a winning smile, and spoke soft words. On the face of the other there came the look I was to watch for a lifting of the eyebrows, a compression of the lips, a steady glance of the cruel eyes. She put aside the extended hand, swept the ground with a low bow, and passed on. My lady turned to me with a crimson face, waving dismissal. That was enough. The one look completed for me the picture studied for so long.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

THE teal is the smallest of our ducks. It frequently breeds in England, mostly choosing the northern lakes for that purpose. It is a most difficult bird to shoot, its flight being so exceedingly rapid as to carry it very speedily out of gunshot. It is also very wary, choosing the night for its feeding time, concealing itself during the day under the herbs that fringe the banks of the water, where it has chosen its habitation. It places its nest carefully among dense herbage. It generally lays from eight to twelve eggs of a yellowy white color before it commences the ceremony of setting.

It is one of the most delicate of birds, and is considered quite a bonnebouche by our gourmands.

[graphic][merged small]

Under sudden surprise there was a lifting of the eyebrows, a compression of the lips, a steady glance of the eyes, which I should now be able to seize upon and appreciate.

How I was to see the sister was in this fashion: There was a dejeûner about to be given at some grand house on the river side. For this the lady obtained a voucher for me. Here, she undertook to show me the sister, and to call up in her face the expression upon which I was to seize.

I went to this dejeûner. The lady pointed out to me by a silent gesture and a momentary glance of the eye the woman whom I was to observe. This sister was a blonde, handsome, haughty, impassive. A crowd of young men surrounded her wheresoever she turned.

I never lost sight of this woman. My lady too hovered in her neighborhood. My lady, as the other, had a crowd of worshippers about her. They seemed to me two rival queens.

I had no enjoyment in the scene. The incongruity of seeking in the midst of this frivolous gaiety for the expression of a dead man's face was constantly present with me.

The afternoon wore away wearily. I was conscious of my shabby clothes and my haggard face, so different from those of the men around me. I felt on an equality with my lady as we labored at our terrible work in my little studio; here I felt how far we were separated. She trifled with the men, she smiled upon them, she talked and laughed and listened. Her eyes were brilliant, her color went and came. She whispered, she bed, she coquetted.

s dissatisfied. I thought of the painted death-in-life

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« AnkstesnisTęsti »