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

Camille, loitering on the terrace of the old garden of the Villa Medici, was quick to hear the creaking of the iron gate upon its hinges. His pale face brightened as he threw away his cigarette and he went down the path between the ilex trees to meet his model.

“You have come. Oh, I seem to have been years away.”

They went up the hill together. It was early yet, and the city was veiled in fine mist through which the river gleamed here and there with a sharpness of steel. The dome of St Peter’s was still dark against the greenish pallor of the morning sky.

“I am glad to be in Rome again. Venice is beautiful, but it does not inspire me. It has no associations for me. What do I care for the Doges, or for Titian’s fat, golden-haired women with their sore eyes Caterina Cornaro and the rest. Rome is a crystal in which I seem to see faces of dear women, women who lived and loved and saw the sun set behind that rampart of low hills Virginia, the Greek slave Acte, Agnes, Cecilia, who sang as she lay dying in her house over there in the Trasteverine quarter. Ah, I shall go away and have the nostalgia of Rome to the end of my life.” He paused to light another cigarette. “Come and look at the picture. I have not dared to see it again myself since I came back last night.”

The door of his atelier was open; he clattered up the steep wooden stairs and she followed him. The canvas was set up on an easel facing the great north light. Camille went up to it and then backed away.

“Well?”

He was smiling. “It is good,” he said. “I shall work on it to-day and to-morrow. Get ready now while I prepare my palette.”

He looked at her critically as she took her place. The change in her was indefinable, but he was aware of it. She seemed to be listening.

“Do you feel a draught from the door?” he asked presently.

“No, but I should like it shut.”

“Nerves. You need a tonic and probably a change of air and scene. There is nothing the matter?”

She shook her head. Camille was kind, but he could not help her. He could not make the earth open and swallow Tor di Rocca, and sometimes she felt that nothing less than that would satisfy her, and that such a summary ending would contribute greatly to her peace of mind.

She had not seen the Prince for two days and she was beginning to hope that he had gone away, but she was not yet able to feel free of him. Rosina had come home with her every night from Varini’s. Once he had followed them, and twice he had come up the stairs and knocked at the door. There had been hours when she had been safe from him, but she had not known them, and the strain, the constant pricking fear of him, was telling upon her. Every day youth and strength and hope seemed to be slipping away and leaving her less able to do and to endure. She dared not look forward, as Camille did, to the end of life. He would die in his bed, full of years and honour, a great artist, a master, the president of many societies, but she

Sometimes, as she stood facing the semi-circle of men at Varini’s, and listened to the busy scratching of charcoal on paper, to Bembi’s heavy breathing, and to the ticking of the clock, she wondered if she had done wrong in taking this way of bread earning. Certainly there could be no turning back. The step, once taken, was irrevocable. If artists employed her she would go on, but she could get no other work if this failed. If this failed there must be another struggle between flesh and spirit, and this time it would be decisive one or other must prevail. Though she dreaded it she knew it was inevitable.

Meanwhile Camille stood in need of her ministrations. He had arranged to show his work on the fifteenth of April, and now he seemed to regard that date as thrice accursed. Often when she came in the morning she would find him prowling restlessly to and fro, or sitting with his head in his hands staring gloomily at the parquet flooring and sighing like a furnace.

“I hate having to invite people who do not know anything, who cannot tell an etching from an oil,” he said irritably. “I cannot suffer their ridiculous comments gladly. I would rather have six teeth pulled out than hear my Aholibah called pretty. Pretty!

“They cannot say anything wrong about the picture of me,” she said. “It is splendid. M’sieur Directeur says so, and I am sure it is. And your Venice sketches look so well on the screen.”

“You must be there,” he moaned. “If you are not there I shall burst into tears and run away.” Then he laughed. “I am always like this. You should see me in Paris on the eve of the opening of the Salon. A pitiable wreck! I had no angel to console me there.”

He kissed her hands with unusual fervour.

The girl had not really meant to come at first, but she yielded to his persuasions. “I will look after the food and drink then,” she said, and she spent herself on the decoration of the tea-table. They went to Aragno’s together in the morning to get cakes and bonbons.

“What flowers?”

She chose mimosa, and he bought a great mass of the fragrant golden boughs, and a bunch of violets for her.

Camille knew a good many people in Rome, and all those he had asked came. The Prix de Rome men were the first arrivals. They came in a body, and on the stroke of the hour named on the invitation cards. Camille watched their faces eagerly as they crowded in and came to a stand before his picture; they knew, and if they approved he cared little for the verdict of all Rome.

Gontrand was the first to break rather a long silence.

“Delicious!” he cried. “It is a triumph.”

Camille flushed with pleasure as the others echoed him.

“The scheme of whites,” “The fine quality,” “So pure.”

One after the other they went across the room to talk to the model, who stood by the tea-table waiting to serve them.

“You are wonderful, mademoiselle. If only you would sit for me I might hope to achieve something too.”

“When M’sieur Michelin has done with me,” she said. “You like the picture?”

“It is adorable as you are.”

Other people were coming now. Camille stayed by the door to receive them while his friend Gontrand showed the drawings in the portfolio, explained the Campagna sketches, and handed plates of cake and sweets. When Olive made fresh tea he brought her more sliced lemons from the lumber room, where Rosina was washing the cups.

“I am useful but not disinterested. Persuade Camille to let you sit for me.”

“But you will not be here in the summer,” she said wistfully.

“Coffee, madame? These cakes are not very sweet. Yes, I was M’sieur Michelin’s model. Yes, it is a beautiful picture.”

The crowd thinned towards six o’clock, and there was no one now at the far end of the room but a man who seemed to be looking at the sketches on the screen. Olive thought she might take a cup of tea herself, and she was pouring it out when he turned and came towards her. It was Tor di Rocca.

“Ah,” he said smilingly, “the girl in Michelin’s picture reminded me of you, but I did not realise that you were indeed the ‘Jeune Fille.’ I have been away from Rome these last few days. Have you missed me?”

His hot brown eyes lingered over her.

“Don’t.”

“I should like a cup of coffee.”

Her hand shook so as she gave it to him that much was spilled on the floor. She had pitied him once; he remembered that as he saw how she shrank from him. “Michelin has been more fortunate than I have,” he said deliberately.

“I beg your pardon.”

“You seem to be at home here.”

“I suppose you must follow the bent of your mind.”

“I suppose I must,” he agreed as he stood aside to let her pass. She had defied him that night in Florence. “Never!” she had said. And now he saw that she smiled at Camille as she went by him into the further room, and the old bad blood stirred in him and he ached with a fierce jealousy.

She had denied him. “Never!” she had said.

As he joined the group of men by the door Gontrand turned to him. “Ah, Prince, have you heard that Michelin has already sold his picture?”

“I am not surprised,” the Italian answered suavely. “If I was rich but I am not. Who is the happy man?”

“That stout grey-haired American who left half an hour since. Did you notice him? He is Vandervelde, the great millionaire art collector.”

“May one ask the price?”

“Eight thousand francs,” answered Camille. He looked tired, but his blue eyes were very bright. “I am glad, and yet I shall be sorry to part with it.”

“You will still have the charming original,” the Prince said not quite pleasantly.

There was a sudden silence. The men all waited for Camille’s answer. Beyond, in the next room, they heard the two girls splashing the water, clattering the cups and plates.

The young Frenchman paused in the act of striking a match. He looked surprised. “But this is the original. I have made no copy.”

“I meant ” The Prince stopped short. After all, he thought, he goes well who goes slowly.

Camille was waiting. “You meant?”

Tor di Rocca had had time to think. “Nothing,” he said sweetly.

Silence was again ensuing but Gontrand flung himself into the breach.

“The Duchess said she wanted her daughter’s portrait painted.”

“She said the same to me.”

“Are you going to do it?”

Camille suppressed a yawn. “I don’t know. Qui vivrà verrà.

He was glad when they were all gone, Gontrand and Tor di Rocca and the rest, and he could stretch himself and sigh, and sing at the top of his voice:

“’Nicholas, je vais me pendre
Qu’est-ce que tu vas dire de cela?
Si vous vous pendez v’vous pendez pas
Ca m’est ben egal, Mam’zelle.
Si vous vous pendez v’vous pendez pas
Oh, laissez moi planter mes chous!’”

When Olive came out of the inner room presently he told her that he had sold the “Jeune Fille.” “The Duchess has nearly commissioned me to paint her Melanie. It went off well, don’t you think so? Come at nine to-morrow.”

“Yes, if you want me. Good-night, M’sieur Camille,” she said. “Are you coming, Rosina?”

“Why do you wait for her?” he asked curiously. “I should not have thought you had much in common.”

“She is my friend. She knows I do not care to be alone.”