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

The virtue that bruises not only the heel of the Evil One but the heart of the beloved is never its own reward. The thought of Jean’s aching loneliness oppressed Olive far more than her own. She believed that she had done right in leaving him, but no consciousness of her own rectitude sustained her, and she was pitifully far from any sense of self-satisfaction. Her head hung dejectedly in the cold light of its aureole. Sometimes she hated herself for being one of the dull ninety-and-nine who never stray and who need no forgiveness, and yet she clung to her dear ideal of love thorn-crowned, white, and clean.

She had hoped to be able to help her friends, but that hope had faded, and she had been very near despair. There was something pathetic now in her intense joy at the thought of earning a few pence. She lied to the kind women at home because she knew they would not understand. They might believe the way to the Villa Medici to be the primrose path that leads to everlasting fire they probably would if they had ever heard of Camille. She told them she had found lessons, and the wolf seemed to skulk growlingly away from the door as she uttered the words.

“You need not be afraid of the baker now,” she told Ser Giulia. “He shall be paid at the end of the week.”

Her waking on the Monday morning was the happiest she had known since she left Florence. She was to help to make beautiful things. Her part would be passive; but they also serve who only stand and wait. She was not of those who see degradation in the lesser forms of labour. Each worker is needed to make the perfect whole. The men who wrought the gold knots and knops of the sanctuary, who wove the veil for the Holy of Holies, were called great, but the hewers of wood and carriers of water were temple builders too, even though their part was but to raise up scaffoldings that must come down again, or to mix the mortar that is unseen though it should weld the whole. Men might pass these toilers by in silence, but God would surely praise them.

Praxiteles moulded a goddess in clay, and we still acclaim him after the lapse of some two thousand years. What of the woman who wearied and ached that his eyes might not fail to learn the least sweet curve of her? What of the patient craftsmen who hewed out the block of marble, whose eyes were inflamed, whose lungs were scarred by the white dust of it? They suffered for beauty’s sake not, as some might say, because they must eat and live. Even slaves might get bread by easier ways. But, very simply for beauty’s sake.

Olive might have soon learnt how vile such service may be in the studios of any of the canaglia poor Rosina knew, but Camille, that sheep in wolf’s clothing, was safe enough. What there was in him of perversity, of brute force, he expended in the portrayal of his subtly beautiful furies. His art was feverishly decadent, and those who judge a man by his work might suppose him to be a monster of iniquity. He was, in fact, an extremely clever and rather worldly-wise boy who loved violets and stone-pines and moonlight with poetical fervour, who preferred milk to champagne, and saunterings in green fields to gambling on green cloth.

That February morning was cloudless, and Rome on her seven hills was flooded in sunshine. The birds were singing in the ilex wood as Olive passed through, and Camille was singing too in his atelier:

“’Derriere chez mon pere
Vive la rose.’
Il y a un oranger
Vive ci, vive la!
Il y a un oranger,
Vive la rose et lé lilas!

“I was afraid you would be late.”

“Why?” she asked, smiling, as she came to him across the great room.

“Women always are. But you are not a woman; you are an angel.”

He looked at her closely. The strong north light showed her smooth skin flawless.

“The white and rose is charming,” he said. “And I adore freckles. But your eyes are too deep; one can see that you have suffered. There is too much in them for the innocent baa-lamb picture I must paint.”

Her face fell. “I shan’t do then?”

“Dear child, you will,” he reassured her. “I shall paint your lashes and not your eyes. Your lashes and a curve of pink cheek. Now go behind that screen and put on the sprigged cotton frock you will find there, with a muslin fichu and a mob cap. I have a basket of wools here and a piece of tapestry. The sort of woman I have never painted is always doing needlework.”

Camille spent half the morning in the arrangement of the accessories that were, as he said, to suggest virtuous domesticity; then he settled the folds of the girl’s skirt, the turn of her head, her hands. At last, when he was satisfied, he went to his easel and began to work. Olive had never before realised how hard it is to keep quite still. The muscles of her neck ached and her face seemed to grow stiff and set; she felt her hands quivering.

Hours seemed to pass before his voice broke the silence. “I have drawn it in,” he announced. “You can rest now. Come down and see some of my pictures.”

He showed her his “Salome,” a Hebrew maenad, whose scarlet, parted lips ached for the desert dreamer’s death; “Lucrezia Borgia,” slow-smiling, crowned with golden hair; and a rough charcoal study for Queen Eleanor.

“I seem to see you as Henry’s Rosamund,” he said. “I wonder the haunting shadow of coming sorrow in blue eyes. You have suffered.”

“I am hungry,” she answered.

He looked at his watch. “Forgive me! It is past noon. Run away, child, and come back at two.”

The day seemed very long in spite of Camille’s easy kindness, and the girl shrank from the subsequent sitting at Varini’s.

“Why do you pose for those wretched boys?” grumbled the Prix de Rome man. “After this week you must come to me only. I must paint a Rosamund.”

At sunset she hurried down the hill to the Corso, and came by way of the corridor and garden to the pavilion. The porter took her into a dingy little lumber-filled passage and left her there. A soiled pink satin frock was laid ready for her on a broken chair. As she put it on she heard a babel of voices in the class-room beyond, and she felt something like stage-fright as she fumbled at the hooks and eyes; but a clock struck the hour presently, and she went in then and climbed on to the throne. At first she saw nothing, but after a while she was aware of a group of men who stood near the door regarding her.

Carina.

“Yes, a fine colour, but too thin.”

When the professor came in he made her sit in a carved chair, and gave her a fan to hold. The men moved about, choosing their places, and were silent until he left them with a gruff “Felice notte.” Olive noticed the lad who had been called in to Varini’s studio to see her; the boy who sat next him had a round, impudent face, and when presently she yawned he smiled at her.

“I will ask questions to keep you awake, but you must answer truly. Have you taken a fancy to anyone here?”

“I don’t dislike you or Mario.”

They rose simultaneously and bowed. “We are honoured. But why? Bembi here is a fine figure of a man.”

“Enough!” growled Bembi. “You talk too much.”

During the rest Olive went to look at the boys’ work; it was brilliantly impressionistic. The younger had evidently founded himself on Mario, and Mario was, perhaps, a genius.

They came and sat down, one on either side of her.

“Why are you pretending to be a model?” whispered Mario. “We can see you are not. Are you hiding from someone?”

She shook her head. “I am earning my bread,” she answered. “Be kind to me.”

“We will.” He patted her bare shoulder with the air of a grandfather, but his brown eyes sparkled.

“Why are some of the men so old, and why is some of the work so ”

“Bad.” Mario squinted at Bembi’s black, smudged drawing. “I will tell you. That bald man in the corner is seventy-two; painting is his amusement, and he loves models. He wants to marry Fortunata, but she won’t have him because he is toothless. Once, twenty-five years ago, he sold a watercolour for ten lire and he has never forgotten it.”

“Really because he is toothless?”

“Oh, he is mad too, and she is afraid of him. Cesare and I are the only ones here who will make you look human. It is a pity, as you are really carina.”

He patted her shoulder again and pinched her ear, and Cesare passed his arm about her waist. She struggled to free herself.

“Let her go!” cried the other men, and, flushed and dishevelled, she took refuge on the throne. The pose was resumed, and the room settled down to work again.

She kept very still, but after a while the tears that filled her eyes overflowed, ran down her cheeks, and dripped upon the hand that held the fan.

“I am sorry,” cried Mario.

“And I.”

“Forgive me.”

“And me.”

“I was a mascalzone!”

“And I.”

“Forgive them for our sakes,” growled Bembi, “or they will cackle all night.”

Olive laughed a little in spite of herself, but she was very tired and they had hurt her. The marks of Cesare’s fingers showed red still on her wrist, and the lace of the short sleeve was torn.

Mario clattered out of the room presently, and came back with a glass of water for her. “I am really sorry,” he whispered as he gave it. “Do stop crying.”

After all they had not meant any harm. She was a little comforted, and the expressed contrition helped her.

“I shall be better soon,” she said gently.

When she got home to the apartment in Via Arco della Ciambella there were lies to be told about the lessons, the pupils, the hours. The fine edge of her exaltation was already blunted, and she sighed at the thought of her morning dreams; sighed and was glad; the first steps had not cost much after all, and she had earned five lire and fifteen soldi.

The lamp was lit in the little sitting-room, and Ser Giulia was there, cutting out a skirt on the table very carefully, in a tense silence that was broken only by the click of the scissors and the rustle of silk.

“I have lost confidence in myself,” she said as she fastened the shining lengths together with pins. “This is the right side of the material, isn’t it, my dear? I can’t see.”

“Yes, this is right. Let me stitch the seams for you. Where is Signora Aurelia?”

“She has gone to bed. Her head ached. She she does not complain, but I think she needs more sun and air than she can get here.”

Olive looked at her quickly. “You ought to go away and rest, both of you.”

“Our brother in Como would be glad to have us with him, but it is impossible at present. I paid our rent a few days ago three months in advance.”

“I will go to the house-agent in the Piazza di Spagna to-morrow. It should not be difficult to get a tenant, and at the end of the time the furniture could be warehoused, or you could sell it.”

Ser Giulia hesitated. “What would you do then, figliuola mia?”

“Oh, I can take care of myself,” the girl said easily.