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   Chapter 3 APOLLO PROMISES

Romance of Roman Villas (The Renaissance) By Elizabeth W. Champney Characters: 15920

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Little we see of Nature that is ours.

. . . . . . . .

It moves us not,-Great God! I'd rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd horn.

W. Wordsworth.

Raphael, at the period of which I write, had but one mistress,-his art,-and after finishing the Sposalizio he withdrew from the society of the Dovizios, painting most assiduously. I remember that his model was a pretty maid of seven years, named Margherita, the child of one of Chigi's servants, as playful and as ignorant as a little fawn. The startled look in her eyes, when spoken to by any one but Raphael, reminded me of some wild creature of the woods. But with him she was never shy,-singing and prattling the livelong day with the most charming and na?ve affection. While Raphael painted, Bernardo Dovizio, who apparently regretted having wounded him, came from time to time to lend him books, much deploring that one so gifted by nature should be unread in the classics.

His daughter watched them from a distance, and when Raphael left his easel would steal near and study the picture or chat with me and with the little Margherita. On such occasions the child, usually merry and loving, would sulk and scowl unhandsomely, and though Maria Dovizio was sweet and generous to her, she showed an unreasoning prejudice amounting to discourtesy, for which at first I was at a loss to account. I mind me that she was present when I tied the bunch of orange blossoms to Raphael's mahl stick, and after the visitors had left the studio the child, believing that the flowers were the gift of the Signorina Dovizio, tore them from the rod and trampled them beneath her feet.

When I chid her for such savage behaviour Margherita burst into tears and cried out passionately that Raphael was her friend, and that the strange lady had no business to try to steal him from her. Seeing her so unreasoningly jealous at such a tender age I was mightily amused, having no premonition that these two would one day be rivals in good earnest for Raphael's love.

But Margherita's jealousy woke in me a curiosity as to how far it was well-founded, and bantering Raphael thereon I came to the conclusion that he loved Maria Dovizio, but that he had so modest an estimate of his own talent and prospects that he would never tell her of his affection. The knowledge that I had a rival enlivened mightily my own passion, and determined me to lay the matter plainly before the lady and demand that she should choose between us.

Finding my opportunity I argued my friend's cause, as it seemed to me with great magnanimity, but at the same time I neglected not to set forth how superior were my own advantages. To my immense surprise she refused me in such terms as to leave me with no ground for hope,-persisting at the same time that I was mistaken in regard to Raphael's feelings.

In sheer contrariety and because her refusal had temporarily taken away my senses, I maintained that I knew whereof I spoke.

"Would that I had known this before," she said turning from me.

"You would not then have disclaimed sending the message implied by the flowers which I attached to his mahl stick?" I persisted rudely.

"Nay, nay," she cried all of a tremble, "it is best as it is," and she made me swear that I would tell nothing of all this. The oath sat lightly on my conscience, and when my pride had somewhat recovered from the wound which it had received, my better nature asserted itself for I reflected that here were two young creatures whom nature intended for one another and I determined to give these bashful lovers another opportunity in which to understand each other.

Though I prided myself not a little on the rare nobility of soul which I manifested by such unusual procedure, it was not so disinterested as might at first appear. For, I reasoned in my heart, when all comes to be known Maria Dovizio will give me credit for great self-sacrifice and delicacy of feeling, while Raphael cannot fail to be touched by my magnanimity. Back of all this self-laudation there was an ulterior motive hardly confessed to myself. By springing the mine prematurely I would either cement their union or drive them permanently apart, thus clearing my path of a dangerous rival while removing any imputation of underhand dealing upon my part. I dared the risk for I was nearing that point of desperation where uncertainty is worse than the knowledge of absolute defeat.

While I sought for some promising way in which to execute my scheme, Raphael read the translations of the pagan writers which Dovizio had lent him, and this plunge into a bath of the old literature, so new to him, had a tremendous effect upon his susceptible mind. He regretted deeply that Pico della Mirandola, who strove to harmonise Greek mythology with the Christian religion, had been snatched away by death before he could have had the opportunity to converse with him. He read his writings with avidity and listened to what Dovizio remembered of his arguments that the religion of the Greeks was as truly a revelation from God as our own, and he could readily believe the assertion of certain of the humanist's friends that at Pico's death-bed the Virgin and Venus had met, and comforting his dying gaze with their presence, had together borne away his soul to the regions of the blest.

Without being any less Christian, Raphael's soul expanded in the sunshine of these influences, absorbing all that was joyous and beautiful in pagan ideas. Chigi lent him his favourite manuscript, the Myth of Psyche, translated from Apuleius, which he declared Raphael must one day paint for him. But of all the gods of antiquity the one which roused our young enthusiast to deepest admiration was Apollo, whose avatar was the sun, but whose spiritual significance was infinitely more, the light of the soul, the god of music, art, and poetry and all that elevates the spirit of man.

"Listen Giovanni," he said to me one day, "I could pray to such a deity. Think you that it would be sin to utter a prayer like this of Socrates: 'Beloved Pan, and all ye gods who haunt this place, give me beauty of the inward soul, and may the outward and the inward man be at one'?"

Seeing sport in the idea I assured him that such adoration was commendable and would doubtless meet with a response. I had my own idea of what form that response should take. Chigi held revel that night to celebrate a visit from the improvisatrice Imperia, who was on her way to Rome. Raphael could not be induced to join the company, preferring to spend the night devouring some books lately come from Venice. He had striven to tell me of a mysterious experience. A stone bearing the image of Apollo had fallen before him as he read, and he had accepted it as a propitious omen. I laughed rudely and he shrank from me offended.

"I would have shown it to you," he said, "but now you shall not see it."

I repeated this hallucination to Chigi and Imperia, and they also found it amusing.

"He is as drunk with poesy," I insisted, "as ever I have been with wine. If the Signorina would graciously sing some old Greek chant yonder in the garden he would believe that he heard the voice of the gods."

Imperia's eyes sparkled with mischief. "Let us humour this young enthusiast to his bent," she said. "I will hide in the laurel copse at the foot of the garden if Bazzi here will bring him out upon the terrace."

"He could never be content to hear your divine voice," Chigi objected, "without seeking you out, and then-"

"And then, my friend, you would imply that the disillusion would be too cruel. No, I am too evidently a part of this solid earth to pass as a nymph of Apollo."

I remained silent but I looked meaningly at Maria Dovizio, who stood near t

he window, her slight figure outlined against its darkness. Imperia followed my glance.

"Ah! there is a girl, graceful and ethereal enough to satisfy an artist's ideal."

"What a pity," Chigi said, "that she has not your voice."

"Nay, if the Signora will but deign to sing as she suggested," I persisted, "we will robe the Signorina Dovizio in Greek draperies and pose her in the little pillared temple in front of the laurel thicket and Raphael will not doubt that the voice is hers."

Thus, at last, my scheme was carried out, though we had much difficulty in persuading Maria Dovizio to lend herself to it. Only when Chigi explained that it was an ovation to Raphael, in which she was to crown him with a wreath of laurel and foretell him a glorious future, did she consent. Even then she had no suspicion that I had any ulterior motive in suggesting the little tableau.

It was late at night, or rather early in the morning, when all our arrangements were completed and, returning to the studio, I dragged Raphael from his books on pretence that we both had need to cool our brains.

The view from the terrace was a favourite one with each of us. In the mysterious morning twilight there seemed something supernaturally sentient in the atmosphere, as though it quivered in expectation of the dawn. A soft trill, faint with rapture, filtered through the foliage of the neighbouring wood. It was a solitary nightingale calling his mate; and presently he was answered by flute-like notes which soared above the soft murmur of a viol still strumming in the villa as a skylark cuts the mists. It was not another nightingale as I at first thought, but Imperia's voice from the laurel thicket mocking the melody. As she sang there appeared within the circle of the tiny temple's columns a white-robed figure, outlined against the pale green and lemon yellow of the dawn. It might have been a statue save that as the song of the improvisatrice, a rhapsody to Apollo, thrilled the air with passionate sweetness, it raised its perfect arms in invocation. As though in response to the gesture the clouds flushed through delicate rose to crimson, while the radiance beneath their exquisite arch burned like molten gold, with ever-increasing intensity, until the sun itself blinded our eyes with its intolerable white fire.

Though this was exactly the event which I had planned, I was not prepared for such phenomenal success, and I stole nearer the temple spellbound by my own artifice.

The effect upon Raphael in his exalted mood may readily be imagined. To him my little comedy was a supernatural vision, and kneeling before Maria Dovizio he exclaimed: "Beautiful priestess, beseech Apollo to grant me the power to make the world more beautiful."

Mechanically the Signorina repeated the lines which I had assigned her: "To you it is decreed to find Apollo and to bring back the Golden Age."

Then, as she bent to crown him with the wreath of laurel, the perfume and warmth of her person intoxicating his senses, her bared arms encircling his neck, her soul in her eyes, Raphael awoke to the consciousness that this was no phantom but a woman pulsing with life and love, and that woman Maria Dovizio.

He might have revolted at the trick and have thrust her from him; but look you-it is always the unforeseen which happens. His arms were around her and he drew her to him unresisting till for an instant her lips touched his forehead and his face was buried in her bosom. Then she withdrew herself, pushing him from her very gently and steadying herself tremblingly with her hands upon his shoulders.

"And shall I not find you again, O my beloved?" he cried, springing to his feet.

"Surely," she answered, "surely, when you have found Apollo."

She had turned from him and was hurrying toward the villa, but he followed her, calling her name.

"Claim me not now, not now!" she cried, as he caught her hand.

"When you will," he answered, closing her fingers over some small object, "this is my pledge that when you call me I will keep the tryst."

He passed me a moment later, but so great was his preoccupation that he did not see me. I knew by the exalted look upon his face that I had played and lost. Raphael had awakened from his dreams to love. That instant of mutual enlightenment for two such natures was not alone an ineffaceable memory but a sacred though wordless betrothal.

Through my pain I vaguely heard Chigi calling and returned to the villa. Neither he nor his friends had understood the full significance of what had just happened, and Bernardo Dovizio was demanding of his niece an explanation of the scene.

"He thought me one of the muses," she said, "and begged me to beseech for him the favour of Apollo."

"But he gave you something," said Dovizio. "Show it to me," and he wrenched open his niece's fingers.

For one instant he gazed wonder-stricken at the token, and as I pressed close with the others I also recognised the famous Apollo intaglio, the gem of the collection of Lorenzo the Magnificent, of which for a few hours I had been the unlawful possessor.

Exclamations of wonder and admiration arose on all sides. But Dovizio, recovering his power of speech, seized Chigi by the arm, exclaiming: "We have the thief! Look you Agostino, I have had my suspicions all along. It was Raphael who played the bandit, and robbed me of my jewels. I demand that you arrest the villain."

Maria's look of anguish cut me to the heart. "Nay, listen to me," I cried; "it was not Raphael but I who stole your gems. You shall not burst in upon him and kill him with the shock of your accusations. Listen while I confess the truth." And then and there I did confess it, to the wonder but not to the satisfaction of Dovizio.

"But where are the other gems?" he insisted. "You are a pair of rogues, the two of you. Come with me to your confederate and disgorge your booty."

"Give o'er, my good Dovizio," said Chigi. "I will sift this matter; come with me but keep silence, for I believe in my soul that Bazzi speaks the truth. I will hear Raphael's version of how he came by this intaglio; since a portion of your lost property has been returned, perchance the remainder is on the way."

And so indeed it proved. Raphael had not returned to the studio, but as we opened the door we heard a scampering and chattering, and caught a glimpse of Ciacco leaping to the top of a high cabinet and thence to a rafter where he perched whimpering in fear of punishment.

"Come down, you rogue," I cried, "come down and retrieve your game."

The creature understood and climbing into the hay loft, which joined the studio, returned, hugging to his breast the lost casket.

Dovizio, nearly fainting with excitement, counted his treasures, and compared them with the list. All were there, excepting the Apollo intaglio, which Ciacco, driven by hunger, had that evening restored to Raphael.

As it came so pat with the matter of his reading, it is no wonder that he imagined it had fallen from the skies, and this view of the case even the placated Dovizio took upon reflection.

"It were a pity to rob him of his illusions if they are an inspiration to him," he mused. "Let him think himself favoured by Apollo; and as for my niece, since our business here is now accomplished and we shall leave Siena on the morrow, he will probably never see her again, and it is as well that he should not connect her with his visions."

Thus ended our adventures at the villa of Cetinale for Raphael also presently left us for Urbino and Florence and all things seemed as they had been before our meeting together. But I knew that the day would surely come when he would claim his beloved, and that in the spinning of their fates so slight a thing as the pranking of a fool had twisted itself into the very fibre of their lives, never to be unravelled until the shears of Atropos should cut the cords asunder.

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