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CHARMING

 

ALFRED the sculptoryou know himWe all know himhe won the gold medalwent to Italy and then came home againHe was young in those daysand indeed he is young yet though he is ten years older than he was then

After his return he visited one of the little provincial towns on the island of ZealandThe whole town knew who the stranger wasand one of the richest persons gave a party in honour of himand all who were of any consequenceor possessed any propertywere invitedIt was quite an eventand all the town knew of it without its being announced by beat of drumApprentice boysand children of poor peopleand even some of the poor people themselvesstood in front of the houseand looked at the lighted curtainand the watchman could fancy that he was giving a partyso many people were in the streetsThere was quite an air of festivity about and in the house was festivity also for Mr Alfred the sculptor was there

He talkedand told anecdotesand all listened to him with pleasure and a certain kind of awebut none felt such respect for him as did the elderly widow of an officialshe seemedso far as Mr Alfred was concernedlike a fresh piece of blotting paperthat absorbed all that was spokenand asked for more She was very receptive and incredible ignorant——a kind of female Caspar Hauser

I should like to see Rome,”she said.“It must be a lovely city with all the strangers who are continually arriving thereNowdo give us a description of RomeHow does the city look when you come in by the gate?”

I cannot very well describe it,” replied the sculptor.“A great open placeand in the midst of it an obeliskwhich is four thousand years old.”

An organist!”exclaimed the ladywho had never met with the word obelisk

A few of the guests could hardly keep from laughingnor could the sculptor quite keep his countenancebut the smile that rose to his lips faded awayfor he sawclose by the inquisitive damea pair of dark-blue eyesthey belonged to the daughter of the speakerand any one who has such a daughter cannot be sillyThe mother was like a fountain of questionsand the daughterwho listened but never spokemight pass for the beautiful Naiad of the fountain How charming she was She was a study for the sculptor to contemplatebut not to converse withand indeedshe did not speakor only very seldom

Has the Pope a large family?” asked the lady

And the young man answered as if the question could have been better put

No he does not come of a great family.”

That's not what I mean,” the widow persisted.“I meanhas he a wife and children?”

The Pope is not allowed to marry,”said the gentleman

I don't like that,” was the lady's comment

She certainly might have put more sensible questions but if she had not spoken in just the manner she usedwould her daughter have leaned so gracefully upon her shoulder looking straight out with the almost mournful smile upon her face

Then MrAlfred spoke againand told of the glory of colour in Italyof the purple hills the blue Mediterraneanthe azure sky of the Southwhose brightness and glory was only to be surpassed in the North by a maiden's deep blue eyes And this he said with a peculiar applicationbut she who should have understood his meaninglooked as if she were quite unconscious of itand that again was charming

Italy!”sighed a few of the guests

Ohto travel!”sighed others

CharmingCharming

Yesif I win fifty thousand dollars in the lottery,”said the head taxcollector's lady,“then we will travelI and my daughter and you Mr Alfred you must be our guide We'll all three travel togetherand one or two good friends more.” And she nodded such a friendly way at the company that each one might imagine he or she was the person who was to be taken to Italy.“Yeswe will go to ItalyBut not to those parts where there are robberswe'll keep to Romeand to the great high roads where one is safe.”

And the daughter sighed very quietlyAnd how much may lie in one little sighor be placed in itThe young man placed a great deal in it The two blue eyeslit up that evening in honour of himmust conceal treasurestreasures of the heart and mindricher than all the glories of Romeand when he left the party that night he had lost his heartlost it completely to the young lady

The house of the widow was now the one which MrAlfred the sculptor frequentedand it was understood that his visits were not intended for that ladythough he and she were the people who kept up the conversation he came for the daughter s sake They called her Kala Her name was really Karen Malenaand these two names had been contracted into the one nameKalaShe was beautifulbut a few said she was rather dull and slept late of a morning

She has always been accustomed to that,”her mother said.“She's a beautyand they always are easily tiredShe sleeps rather latebut that makes her eyes so clear.”

What a power lay in those bright eyes!“Still waters run deep.”The young man felt the truth of this proverband his heart had sunk into the depthsHe spoke and told his adventuresand the mamma was as simple and eager in her questioning as on the first evening of their meeting

It was a pleasure to hear Alfred describe anythingHe spoke of Naplesof excursions to Mount Vesuviusand showed coloured prints of several of the eruptionsAnd the widow had never heard of them before or taken time to consider the question

Good heavens!”she exclaimed.“So that is a burning mountainBut is it not dangerous to the people round about?”

Whole cities have been destroyed,”he answered;“for instancePompeii and Herculaneum.”

But the poor people!—And you saw all that with your own eyes

No I did not see any of the eruptions represented in these pictures but I will show yon a picture of my own of an eruption I saw.”

He laid a pencil sketch upon the table and mammawho had been absorbed in the contemplation of the highly coloured printsthrew a glance at the pale drawingand cried in astonishment

Did you see it throw up white fire?”

For a moment Alfred's respect for Kala's mamma suffered a sudden diminutionbut dazzled by the light that illumined Kalahe soon found it quite natural that the old lady should have no eye for colourAfter allit was of no consequencefor Kala's mamma had the best of all thingsnamelyKala herself

And Alfred and Kala were betrothedwhich was natural enoughand the betrothal was announced in the little newspaper of the townMamma purchased thirty copies of the paperthat she might cut out the paragraph and send it to their friends and acquaintancesAnd the betrothed pair were happyand the mother-in-law elect was happy toofor it seemed like connecting herself with Thorwaldsen

For you are a continuation of Thorwaldsen,” she said to Alfred

And it seemed to Alfred that mamma had in this instance said a clever thingKala said nothingbut her eyes shoneher lips smiled her every movement was gracefulYesshe was beautifulthat cannot be too often repeated

Alfred undertook to make a bust pf Kala and of his mother-in-lawThey sat to him accordinglyand saw how he mouldedand smoothed the soft clay with his fingers

I suppose it's only on our account,”said mamma-in-law,“that you undertake this commonplace workand don't leave your servant to do all that sticking together?”

It is necessary that I should mould the clay my-self,”he replied

Ahyesyou are so very polite,”retorted mammaand Kala silently pressed his hand still soiled by the clay

And he unfolded to both of them the loveliness of nature in creationhow the living stood above the deadthe plant above the mineral the animal above the plantand man above the animalHow mind and beauty become manifest in outward formand how the sculptor gave that beauty its manifestation in his works

Kala stood silentand nodded approbation of the expressed thoughtwhile mamma-in-law made the following confession

It's difficult to follow all thatBut I manage to hobble after you with my thoughtsthough they whirl round and round but I contrive to hold them fast.”

And Kala's beauty held Alfred fastfilled his whole souland seized and mastered himBeauty gleamed forth from Kala s every featurefrom her look from the corners of her mouth and in every movement of her fingersAlfred the sculptor saw this he spoke only of herthought only of her and the two became one and thus it may be said that she spoke muchfor he spoke very much

Such was the betrothal and now came the weddingwith bridesmaids and wedding presents all duly mentioned in the wedding speech

Mammainlaw had set up Thorwaldsen's bust at the end of the tableattired in a dressing-gownfor he was to be a guestsuch was her whimSongs were sung and cheers were given for it was a gay weddingand they were a handsome pair.“Pygmalion received his Galatea,”so one of the songs said

Ah that's your mythology,”said mamma-in-law

Next day the youthful pair started for Copenhagenwhere they were to liveMammainlaw accompanied them,“to take care of the common place,”as she saidmeaning the domestic economyKala was like a doll in a doll's house all was so brightso newand so fineThere they sat all threeand as for Alfredto use a proverb that will describe his positionwe may say that he sat like the friar in the gooseyard

The magic of form had enchanted himHe had looked at the case and cared not to inquire what the case contained and that omission brings unhappinessmuch unhappinessinto married life for the case may be broken and the gilt may come off and then the purchaser may repent his bargainIn a large party it is very disagreeable to observe that one s buttons are giving wayand that there are no buckles to fall back uponbut it is worse still in a great company to become aware that wife and mother-in-law are talking nonsense and that one cannot depend upon oneself for a happy piece of wit to carry off the stupidity of the thing

The young married pair often sat hand in handhe speaking and she letting fall a word here and therethe same melodythe same two or three tones of the bellIt was a mental relief when Sophyone of her friendscame to pay a visit

Sophy was not prettyShe was certainly free from bodily deformity though Kala always asserted she was a little crookedbut no eye save a friend's would have remarked it She was a very sensible girl and it never occurred to her that she might become at all dangerous hereHer appearance was like a pleasant breath of air in the doll's house and air was certainly required thereas they all acknowledgedThey felt they wanted airingand consequently they came out into the airand mamma-in-law and the young couple travelled to Italy

Thank Heaven that we are in our own four walls again,”was the exclamation of mother and daughter when they came home a year after

There's no pleasure in travellingsaid mamma-inlaw.“To tell the truth it's very wearisomeI beg pardon for saying so I found the time heavilyalthough I had my children with meand its expensive worktravellingvery expensiveAnd all those galleries one has to seeand the quantity of things you are obliged to run afterYou must do it for decency 's sakefor you 're sure to be asked when you come back and then you 're sure to be told that you've omitted to see what was best worth seeingI got tired at last of those endless Madonnasone seemed to be turning a Madonna oneself!”

And what bad living you get!” said Kala

Yes,”replied mamma,“no such thing as an honest meat soupIt's miserable trash their cookery.”

And the travelling fatigued Kalashe was always fatiguedthat was the worst of itSophy was taken into the houseand she did good there

Mamma-in-law acknowledged that Sophy understood both housewifery and aftthough a knowledge of the latter could not be expected from a person of her limited meansand she wasmoreoveran honestfaithful girlshe showed that thoroughly while Kala lay illfading away

Where the case is everythingthe case should be strongor else all is overAnd all was over with the caseKala died

She was beautiful,”said mamma;“she was quite different from the antiquesfor they are so damagedKala was wholeand a beauty should be whole.”

Alfred weptand mamma wept and both of them wore mourning The black dress suited mamma very welland she wore mourning the longest Moreovershe had soon to experience another grief in seeing Alfred marry againmarry Sophywho had no appearance at all

He 's gone to the very extreme,”cried mammain-lawhe has gone from the most beautiful to the ugliestand has forgotten his first wifeMen have no constancyMy husband was of a different stampand he died before me.”

Pygmalion received his Galatea,” said Alfred:“yesthat's what they said in the wedding song I had once really fallen in love with the beautiful statuewhich awoke to life in my arms but the kindred soul which Heaven sends down to usthe angel who can feel and sympathize with and elevate us I have not found and won till now You cameSophynot in the glory of outward beautythough you are fairfairer than is needfulThe chief thing remains the chiefYou came to teach the sculptor that his work is but clay and dustonly an outward form in a fabric that passes awayand that we must seek the essencethe eternal spiritPoor KalaOurs was but wayfarers' life Yonder where we shall know each other by sympathywe shall be half strangers.”

That was not lovingly spoken,” said Sophy,“not spoken like a true Christian Yonder where there is no giving in marriage but whereas you say souls attract each other by sympathythere where everything beautiful develops itself and is elevatedher soul may acquire such completeness that it may sound more harmoniously than mineand you will then once more utter the first rapturous exclamation of your love,‘Beautifulmost beautiful!’”

 


 

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