Read ROME : CHAPTER II of Olive in Italy , free online book, by Moray Dalton, on ReadCentral.com.

Olive sat idly on one of the benches near the great wall in the Pincian gardens. She had been to an office in the Piazza di Spagna and had there been assured for the seventh time that there was nothing on the books. “If the signorina were a cook now, there are many people in need of cooks,” the young man behind the counter had said smilingly, and she had thanked him and come away. What else could she do?

It was getting late, and a fading light filtered through the bare interwoven branches of the planes. The shadows were lengthening in the avenues and grass-bordered paths where the seminarists had been walking in twos and threes among the playing children. They were gone now, the grave-faced young men in their black soutanes and broad beaver hats; all the people were gone.

“O Pasquina! Birichina!

Olive, turning her head, saw a young woman and a child coming towards her. The little thing was clinging to its mother’s skirts, stumbling at every step, whining to be taken up, and now she dropped the white rabbit muff and the doll she was carrying into a puddle.

“O Pasquina!”

The child stared open-mouthed as Olive came forward and stooped to pick up the fallen treasures, and though tears were running down her little face she made no outcry.

“See, the beautiful lady helps you,” the mother said hastily, and she sat down on the bench at Olive’s side and lifted the baby on to her lap to comfort her.

“She is tired. We have been to the Campo Marzo to buy her a fine hat with white feathers,” she explained.

Olive looked at her with interest. She was not at all pretty; her round snubby face was red and she had a bruise on her chin, and yet she was somehow attractive. Her small, twinkling blue eyes were so kind, and her hair was beautiful, smooth, shining, and yellow as straw. She wore no hat.

Her name was Rosina. The signorino was always very good, and he gave her an afternoon off when she asked for it. On Christmas night, for instance, she had drunk too much wine, and she had fallen down in the street and hurt herself. The next day her head ached so, and when the signorino saw she was not well he said she might go home and sleep. She had been working for him six weeks. What work? She seemed surprised at the question.

“I am a model. My face is ugly, as you see,” she said in her simple, straightforward way; “but otherwise I am beautiful, and I can always get work with sculptors. The signorino is an American and he has an unpronounceable name. He is doing me as Eve, crouched on the ground and hiding my head in my arms. After the Fall, you know. Have you been to the Andreoni gallery? There is a statuette of me there called ‘Morning.’ This is the pose.”

She clasped her hands together behind her head, raising her chin a little. Olive observed the smooth long throat, the exquisite lines of the shoulders and breast and hips. Pasquina slipped off her mother’s knees.

“Are you well paid?”

“It depends on the artist. Some are so poor that they cannot give, and others will not. The schools allow fifteen soldi an hour, but the signorino is paying me twenty-five soldi. In the evenings I sing and dance at a caffè near the station.”

Olive hesitated. “Do do artists ever want models dressed?”

Rosina looked at her quickly. “Oh, yes, when they are as pretty as you are. But you are well educated one sees that it is not fit work for such as you.”

“Never mind that,” Olive said eagerly. “How does one begin being a model? I will try that. Will you help me?”

Rosina beamed at her. “Sicuro! We will go to Varini’s school in the Corso if you like. The woman in the newspaper kiosk in the Piazza di Spagna knows me, and I can leave Pasquina with her. An’iamo!

The two girls went together down the wide, shallow steps of the Trinità dei Monti with the child between them.

Poor little Pasquina was the outward and visible sign of her mother’s inward and hopelessly material gracelessness; she symbolised the great gulf fixed between smirched Roman Rosina and Jean’s English rose in their different understanding of their own hearts’ uses. Olive believed love to be the way to heaven; Rosina knew it, or thought she knew it, as a means of livelihood.

The model was very evidently not only familiar with the studios. The cabmen on the rank in the piazza hailed her with cries of “Rosi”; she was greeted by beggars at the street corners, dustmen, carabinieri, crossing-sweepers, and Olive was not wholly unembarrassed. Yet Rosina escaped the vulgarity of some who might be called her betters as the world goes by being simply natural. When she was amused she laughed aloud, when she was tired she yawned as openly and flagrantly as any duchess. In manners extremes meet, and the giggle and the sneer are the disastrous half measures of the ill-bred, the social greasers. Rosina had never been sly in her life; she was ever as simply without shame as Eve before the Fall, and lawless because she knew no law. The darkness of Northern cities is tainted and cold and cannot bring forth such kindly things as the rosine little roses that spring up in the warm, sweet Roman dust.

“Here is Varini’s.”

They passed through a covered passage into a little garden overgrown with laurels and gnarled old pepper trees; there was a fountain with gold fish, and green arums were springing up about a broken faun’s head set on a pedestal of verd’ antico. Some men were standing together in the path, a pretty dark-eyed peasant girl with them. They all turned to stare, and the cioccara put out her tongue as Olive went by. Rosina instantly replied in kind.

Ohe! Fortunata! Benedetta ragazza! Resting as usual? Does Lorenz still beat you?”

She described the antecedents and characteristics of Lorenz.

The slower-witted country girl had a more limited vocabulary. Her eyes glared in the shadow of her white coif. “Ah,” she gasped. “Brutta bestia!” and she turned her back.

The men laughed, and Rosina laughed with them as she knocked on a green painted door in the wall. It was opened by a burly, bearded man, tweed-clad, and swathed in a stained painting apron.

“Oh, Professore, here is a friend of mine who wants work.”

“Come in,” he said shortly, and they followed him into a large untidy studio. A Pompeian fruit-seller in a black frame, a study for a Judgment of Paris on a draped easel, and on another easel the portrait of an old lady just begun. There were stacks of canvases on the floor and on all the chairs.

“Turn to the light,” the artist said brusquely; and then, as Olive obeyed him, “Don’t be frightened. You are new, I see. You are so pink and white that I thought you were painted. You are not Italian?”

“No.”

“What, then?”

She was silent.

He smiled. “Ah, well, it does not matter. You can come to the pavilion on Monday at five and sit to the evening class for a week. You understand? Wait a minute.” He went to the door and called one of the young men in from the garden.

“Here is a new model, Mario. I have engaged her for the evening class. What do you think of her?”

Carina assai,” approved Mario. He was a round-faced, snub-nosed youth with clever brown eyes set very far apart, and a humorous mouth. “Carina assai!” he repeated.

“Fifteen soldi the hour, from five to seven-thirty,” said the professor. “Come a little before the time on Monday; the porter will show you what costume you must wear and I shall be there to pose you.”

“Now I shall take you to M’sieur Michelin,” Rosina said when they had left Varini’s. “He is looking for a type, and perhaps you will please him. He is strano, but good always, and he pays well.”

“It is not tiring you?”

Ma che! I must see that you begin well and with the right people. Some painters are canaglia. Ah, I know that,” the girl said with a little sigh and a shrug of her shoulders.

They went by way of the Via Babuino across the Piazza di Spagna, and up the little hill past the convent of English nuns to the Villa Medici. Rosina rang the gate-bell, and the old braided Cerberus admitted them grumblingly. “You are late. But if it is M’sieur Camille ”

Camille Michelin, bright particular star of the French Prix de Rome constellation, lived and worked in one of the more secluded garden-studios of the villa; it was deep set in the ilex wood, and the girls came to it by a narrow winding path, box-edged, and strewn with dead leaves. A light shone in one of the upper windows; the great man was there and he came down the creaking wooden stairs himself to open the door.

“Who is it? Rosina? I have put away the Anthony canvas for a month and I will let you know when I want you again.”

“But, signorino, I have brought you a type.”

“What!” he said eagerly, in his execrable Italian. “Fresh, sweet, clean?”

Sicuro.

“I do not believe you. You are lying.”

Camille was picturesque from the crown of his flaxen head to the soles of his brown boots; his pallor was interesting, his blue eyes remarkable; he habitually wore rust-coloured velveteen; he smoked cigarettes incessantly. All men who knew and loved his work saw in him a decadent creature of extraordinary charm; and yet, in spite of his “Aholibah,” his “Salome,” and his horribly beautiful, unfinished study of Fulvia piercing the tongue of Cicero, in spite of his Byron-cum-Baudelaire after Velasquez and Vandyke exterior he always managed to be quite boyishly simple and sincere.

“Where is she?” Then, as his eyes met Olive’s, he cried, “Not you, mademoiselle?” His surprise was as manifest as his pleasure. “My friends have sworn that I could never paint a wholesome picture. Now I will show them. When can you come?”

“Monday morning.”

“Do not fail me,” he implored. “Such harpies have been here to show themselves to me; fat, brown, loose-lipped things with purple-shadowed eyes. But you are perfect; divine bread-and-butter. They think they are clean because they have washed in soap and water, but it is the stainless soul I want. It must shine through my canvas as it does through Angelico’s.”

“I hope I shall please you,” faltered the girl. “I I only pose draped.”

He looked at her quickly. “Very well,” he said, “I will remember. It is your head I want. You are not Roman; have you sat to any other man here?”

“No. I am going to Varini’s in the evenings next week.”

“Ah! Well, don’t let anyone else get hold of you. Gontrand will be trying to snap you up. He is so tired of the cioccare. What shall I call you?”

“Nothing. I have no name.”

“I shall give you one. You shall be called child. Come at nine and you will find the door open.” He fumbled in his pockets for some silver. “Here, Rosina, this is for the little one.”