The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 57

About a week after this the two friends sat working together, but not in the same spirit. Pietro dashed fitfully at his, and did wonders in a few minutes, and then did nothing, except abuse it; then presently resumed it in a fury, to lay it down with a groan. Through all which kept calmly working, calmly smiling, the canny Dutchman.

To be plain, Gerard, who never had a friend he did not master, had put his Onagra in harness. The friends were painting playing cards to boil the pot.

When done, the indignant master took up his picture to make his daily tour in search of a customer.

Gerard begged him to take the cards as well, and try and sell them. He looked all the rattle-snake, but eventually embraced Gerard in the Italian fashion, and took them, after first drying the last-finished ones in the sun, which was now powerful in that happy clime.

Gerard, left alone, executed a Greek letter or two, and then mended a little rent in his hose. His landlady found him thus employed, and inquired ironically whether there were no women in the house.

“When you have done that,” said she “come and talk to Teresa, my friend I spoke to thee of, that hath a husband not good for much, which brags his acquaintance with the great.”

Gerard went down, and who should Teresa be but the Roman matron.

“Ah, madama,” said he, “is it you? The good dame told me not that. And the little fair-haired boy, is he well is he none the worse for his voyage in that strange boat?”

“He is well,” said the matron.

“Why, what are you two talking about?” said the landlady, staring at them both in turn; “and why tremble you so, Teresa mia?”

“He saved my child’s life,” said Teresa, making an effort to compose herself.

“What! my lodger? and he never told me a word of that. Art not ashamed to look me in the face?”

“Alas! speak not harshly to him,” said the matron. She then turned to her friend and poured out a glowing description of Gerard’s conduct, during which Gerard stood blushing like a girl, and scarce recognizing his own performance, gratitude painted it so fair.

“And to think thou shouldst ask me to serve thy lodger, of whom I knew nought but that he had thy good word, oh, Fiammina; and that was enough for me. Dear youth, in serving thee I serve myself.”

Then ensued an eager description, by the two women, of what had been done, and what should be done, to penetrate the thick wall of fees, commissions, and chicanery, which stood between the patrons of art and an unknown artist in the Eternal City.

Teresa smiled sadly at Gerard’s simplicity in leaving specimens of his skill at the doors of the great.

“What!” said she, “without promising the servants a share — without even feeing them, to let the signors see thy merchandise! As well have flung it into Tiber.”

“Well-a-day!” sighed Gerard. “Then how is an artist to find a patron? for artists are poor, not rich.”

“By going to some city nobler and not so greedy as this,” said Teresa. “La corte Romana non vuol’ pecora senza lana.”

She fell into thought, and said she would come again to-morrow.

The landlady felicitated Gerard. “Teresa has got something in her head,” said she.

Teresa was scarce gone when Pietro returned with his picture, looking black as thunder. Gerard exchanged a glance with the landlady, and followed him upstairs to console him.

“What, have they let thee bring home thy masterpiece?”

“As heretofore.”

“More fools they, then.”

“That is not the worse.”

“Why, what is the matter?”

“They have bought the cards,” yelled Pietro, and hammered the air furiously right and left.

“All the better,” said Gerard cheerfully.

“They flew at me for them. They were enraptured with them. They tried to conceal their longing for them, but could not. I saw, I feigned, I pillaged; curse the boobies.”

And he flung down a dozen small silver coins on the floor and jumped on them, and danced on them with basilisk eyes, and then kicked them assiduously, and sent them spinning and flying, and running all abroad. Down went Gerard on his knees, and followed the maltreated innocents directly, and transferred them tenderly to his purse.

“Shouldst rather smile at their ignorance, and put it to profit,” said he.

“And so I will,” said Pietro, with concentrated indignation. “The brutes! We will paint a pack a day; we will set the whole city gambling and ruining itself, while we live like princes on its vices and stupidity. There was one of the queens, though, I had fain have kept back. ’Twas you limned her, brother. She had lovely red-brown hair and sapphire eyes, and above all, soul.”

“Pietro,” said Gerard softly, “I painted that one from my heart.”

The quick-witted Italian nodded, and his eyes twinkled.

“You love her so well, yet leave her.”

“Pietro, it is because I love her so dear that I have wandered all this weary road.”

This interesting colloquy was interrupted by the landlady crying from below, “Come down, you are wanted.” He went down, and there was Teresa again.

“Come with me, Ser Gerard.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33