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one of his youthful friends, named Ottavio, a painter like himself, but endowed with a supple and intriguing disposition, which, more than any talent he possessed, had introduced and recommended him to the viceroy, whose good-will he had obtained, and who had publicly declared him his protégé. When Ottavio recognised him, he advanced towards Ribera with loud exclamations of surprise.
“ From whence have you come ?” he inquired. Why, it is more than an age since we have seen you.”
“ I have been working very hard,” replied Ribera. He then recalled to his recollection his twenty times repeated promise to introduce him to the Count de Montercy.
6 Oh, Heaven !” replied Ottavio, “ not a day passes in which I do not speak of you to his lordship. But what would you have ? There's no meeting with you anywhere. Now, if the count could see any of your paintings,
“ Do you think, in that case, he might be induced to interest himself in my fortunes ?”
6 I have no doubt of it, with such talent as you possess. It is only necessary for it to be known to be appreciated. Moreover, should not I be there to exclaim, “Admirable !' • Sublime !' • Perfect ?'”
“ The present opportunity is just the one then for our purpose," observed Ribera. “ I have but now completed a painting, and, without vanity, I never did anything half so good. Would you like to judge of it yourself ? Come back with me.”
“That's impossible just now," said Ottavio, “ as I am hurrying to a rendezvous; but to-morrow or the day after to-morrow as you very correctly remarked, the opportunity is a good one, and should not be neglected ... I will speak of you to the count, depend upon it. Adieu, my dear comrade, adieu."
So saying, le hastened away.
66 And now for this merchant,” resumed Ribera. 66 Better the perhaps contemptuous patronage of a stranger than such hypocritical grimaces, and professions of devotion and friendship. Yes, yes ! retain the place into which you have crept! Watch the gates of the palace, and keep me out; for let me only once cross its threshold, and I would kick you out, as God chased the money-changers from his temple. Ah, ha! my masters, ye are jealous of me-ye are afraid of me; and, to put me to sleep, ye promise me your favour and protection. But may I continue all my
life dauber like your lordships, if I do not find some means of making my way without and in spite of you!"
Ribera stood in front of the mansion of Panolfo. He was ushered by two servants into a sumptuously-decorated apartment, the window of which opened upon an extensive garden, beyond which he perceived the azure expanse of ocean. A stout, middle-aged man, of a dull and common-place countenance, walked up and down the room, yawning most portentously; while against the window was seated a young girl, whose head was supported by one hand, and who inspired the delicate odour of the orange blossoms wafted to her by the sea breeze, which scattered its penetrating dews from its overcharged wings. On entering, Ribera made the customary salutations; but the blood rushed to his cheeks, and he lost somewhat of his accustomed assurance, when he recognised the young lady, of whom, scarcely an hour ago, he had spoken with so much enthusiasm to Beatrice; and he could scarcely stammer forth his name and errand. In truth, Laura was very beautiful; her bright eyes sometimes languished with tender fancies, or anon flashed like a gleam of lightning; they were shaded by long, drooping lashes; and her neck had the grace and flexibility of a swan's. Her hair, which fell down in curls
upon her bare shoulders, was (a beauty very rare in southern climes) of a golden blonde, so much esteemed among the women of Athens, and which contrasted so strikingly with her brunette, satinlooking, and transparent complexion. Every movement betrayed a voluptuous abandonment of soul and feeling; the sound of her voice vibrated tremulously upon the ear, and spoke of the ardent organisation of her temperament. To see her thus half-reclining on a sofa, and absorbed in a deep reverie, one would have taken her. for Magdalen long before her repentance—for Magdalen still a virgin, but dreaming of love, and filling her soul with its suave and delicious anticipations.
Ribera stood before this lovely creature, playing with the brim of his hat, speechless, without the power of uttering a word. The merchant who, on his entrance, had suspended his promenade of the apartment, accounted for Ribera's agitation by imputing it to his want of knowledge of the world, and coarsely and clumsily tried to reassure him.
This gross assumption of protection recalled the painter from the sort of ecstatic trance by which his senses were held enthralled, and all his natural haughtiness returned to him. He raised his head, as he replied to the merchant's encouragement :
“ It was not wealth, nor the pomp of power, nor any of those accessories which seem so imposing to other men, that made me look with downcast eyes; but God always makes himself known to my soul by beauty, and when you saw me discomposed, it was because I was admiring the most perfect specimen of his handiwork."
His glance met that of ra, and the same emotion was felt in unison, and simultaneously, by Ribera and Panolfo's daughter. It was a sort of fascination they exercised upon each other; and, before they had exchanged a word of conversation, they had learned by the mute eloquence of the eyes that they were mutually adored, beloved and loving. Unconsciously Panolfo ministered to this sudden love; for the more he played off the condescending patron to the haughty artist, with more anxious interest were the eyes of Laura fixed upon the latter, and the more earnestly she seemed desirous to offer him an imdemnity for the humiliation.
They say that you are not without talent ?” asked the merchant. Ribera bowed.
But you are poor, and are compelled to labour. It has ever been
my desire to support and encourage the arts. We shall see if you are worthy of the interest I intend to take in you."
Ribera knit his brow, and bit his lip, to restrain the natural retort to such low-bred impertinence. Laura noticed this involuntary movement, and calmed the storm that was rising within him, by in. quiring, “ Are you not a foreigner, sir ?"
At the sound of that voice, which penetrated into his inmost soul, the contracted brow of the painter relaxed, and he answered, “I am a native of Spain, from Xativa, near Valencia. But I left my home and family when quite a child, and have never beheld them since; and I now consider myself as a child of Italy, from the length of time I have spent in it, and all the feelings that retain me here. I have sojourned in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Parma, and have left the impress of my footsteps in every corner of this land; wherever genius and painting have flourished, there I have been, like the bee, to gather and increase the honey of the imagination. I now repose myself in Naples, and Naples I will never again leave."
“ And what is it," asked the merchant, “ that has obtained for us so flattering a preference ?”
Ribera again blushed; but he quietly composed himself, and added, “ That is my secret.”
Laura here interposed.
“Father," said she, “you are too inquisitive. The signor, perhaps, wishes you to understand that he is in love."
“ Yes, signora," said the painter;" in love, for once, and for ever 1"
It was now Laura's turn to blush, and her discomposure, which she could not hide, still further increased that of the painter.
“ Let us quit this subject,” remarked the merchant. proach me with being curious, Laura, when you are yourself an hundred times more so. Sit down, sir, and let us talk about busi
Do you want to earn twenty-five ducats ? In the first place, what is your style?”
“Tell me," replied the painter, “what particular painting you require.”
“ A sign-board for my warehouse."
Ribera made a movement as if about to rise precipitately; but a suppliant look from Laura withheld him. His emotion, however, was so deep, that he could not utter either a refusal or acceptance of the proposal.
Panolfo continued: “Do you decline it? Let me tell you it is a fine opportunity to make yourself known, and if you have talent, there can be no better way of showing it. If you succeed, all my friends and fellows will employ you."
“ Will you leave me the choice of the subject ?" inquired the painter. “I can only accept your offer on condition of being permitted to follow the impulses of my own fancy.”
“ Certainly; I have confidence in you; paint whatever you please.”
“ And what price do you appraise this sign-board at?" asked the painter, with a bitter and sarcastic smile.
6 You re
“ I have already mentioned that-twenty-five ducats—and I think that the work will be handsomely remunerated. You must begin it. If I am pleased, you shall paint my portrait, and I will double the
You see I am a customer whom it is worth your while to secure.”
“ I thank you, sir," replied Ribera, rising. “ If you had left me to fix my own value on the work, I should have probably named five hundred ducats. But there is another way by which we can come to terms. I only ask permission of you to fix over your door, for one day, the sign-board you have ordered, and which shall not cost you a single paulo : you are right; I must make myself known; and I avail myself of the opportunity you now hold out to me. You can announce, sir, that you have just concluded an advantageous bargain with the first painter in Italy. In a short time we will see one another again. Adieu, signora.'
Laura lifted her moistened eyes, and looked at him with a glance which seemed to say: “ Be what you declare yourself, and Laura's heart shall be the reward of your talent.”
Ribera left the room; he descended the stairs slowly; and in crossing the garden, as he passed under the window of the room he had just quitted, a purse fell at his feet. It contained five hundred ducats, and a paper with these words on it: “My fortune and my hand to the first painter of Naples !".
CHAPTER IV. A fortnight after this interview, an immense crowd had collected from early dawn in front of Panolfo's house, and in a frenzy of delight clapped their hands, and demanded the name of the painter who had exhibited as a sign-board the magnificent picture of the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, which had been attached to the balcony, over the door the preceding night, and had only been noticed at daybreak. At one instant bursts of enthusiasm proceeded from the assembled multitude, which were followed by the expressive silence of admiration in which feelings of a profound terror had no small part. The suffering saint was represented as lying on his left side, his feet tied together, and supported by one of his executioners; his right arm, which was kept in a position perpendicular to his head by a rope, had already received an incision, and the other executioner, whose savage features were distended with an atrocious grin, thrust one of his hands between the raised skin and the bleeding flesh with as much coolness and indifference as a butcher would flay the animal he had just felled to the ground; while the face of the holy victim expressed in admirable union the agonies of his torture, conquered and repressed by pious resignation, and a confident faith in the everlasting reward promised to the martyr who does not deny his Maker. Such a subject had never yet found such an interpreter; and before had the pencil attained such terrific energy.
The news of this singular exhibition was soon spread thoughout the city, and the crowd increased to such a degree as to fill the square, when the viceroy became anxious to learn the cause of such an unwonted agitation. Attended by Ottavio and his other favourites,
he posted himself before the merchant's door, where the crowd was thickest and most excited. Impressed with wonder and admiration, he involuntarily exclaimed—“Who has produced this masterpiece ?"
At first no response was made.
“Why does the author conceal himself ?" rejoined Monterey. “Let him declare himself, and be sure of my friendship and protection. I only wish that all the grinders of colours in Naples would go to school to him. Once more, who has done this ?”
“ Ecce homo! I am the man,” said Ribera, stepping forth from the throng.
“Who are you?” asked the viceroy. “My name is Ribera—an unknown man yesterday, and to-day whatsoever it may please your Excellency to style me.' 6 What recompense
“ It shall be conferred upon you by sound of trumpet. How much have you received for this painting?"
“ Monsignore, I refused twenty-five ducats for it from the merchant Panolfo ; but he can pay for it in another way. I love his daughter, Laura.”
“ And you shall have her," said the viceroy ; " if the girl is willing, I give you my word you shall be married to-morrow.”
And on the morrow the nuptials of the lovers were solemnised. Ribera, afterwards better known by the name of Spagnoletto, in a few years became the most renowned painter of the Neapolitan school, and succeeded in the Count de Montercy's favour all those pretenders who, out of jealousy and fear of his manifest superiority, had so industriously excluded him from the path of glory and preferment. As for Panolfo, who cheerfully and cordially gave his consent to his daughter's happiness, not a day passed in which he did not boast of being the first to discover and appreciate the stupendous genius of his celebrated son-in-law.