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Chapter 7

KAULBACH'S STUDIO


Benedict lost no time in leaving his note at the "Gazette" office, and his letter of introduction at Kaulbach's studio, where he left also his card on which was written, "I hope to have the honour of calling on you to-morrow." He therefore ordered Lenhart to be ready a little before eleven, in order to pay his two visits, one of thanks to Herr Bodemeyer, and one to Kaulbach. As the latter lived at the extreme end of the town where the king had had a charming little house erected for him, he called at Herr Bodemeyer's office first. The last copies of the "Gazette" were just being struck off, and Benedict was able to convince himself that his letter was actually in print. As the "Gazette" had numerous subscribers in Berlin and would be on sale there at six that evening, there was no doubt but that his communication would be widely read. The dissolution of the Chamber was confirmed and it was certain that mobilization would be announced on the morrow. Benedict continued on his way to the studio.

Seen by daylight the house appeared to be a pretty villa in Italian style, standing in a garden enclosed with iron railings. The gate stood invitingly open. Benedict entered, rang, and was answered by a servant in livery, whose manner showed that the visit was expected. He at once led the way to the studio.

"The master is just finishing dinner," he said, "but he will be with you in a moment."

"Tell the master," replied Benedict, "that I am too delighted at being able to see the beautiful things here to wish to hurry him."

And, indeed, the studio, full of original pictures, sketches, and copies of some of the works of the greatest painters known, could not fail to be intensely interesting to an artist such as Benedict, who now suddenly found himself in the sanctuary of one of the greatest of German painters. Kaulbach is an artist who has adhered to his Christian faith, and everywhere one saw proofs of this. But among highly finished sketches for some of his world-famous pictures, such as "The Dispersion of Mankind," "The Taking of Jerusalem," etc., Benedict's attention was drawn to a modern portrait group of five persons. It represented an officer, evidently of high rank, holding a boy of about ten by the hand. His charger stood ready on the terrace below, and a lady in the prime of life sat near him with two little girls, one leaning against her knee, while the other sat at her feet and played with a small dog and some roses. The picture, apparently, was a work of love, for the artist had taken immense pains with it; too much so, in fact, for the elaborately finished details threw the faces into the background, and the general effect was too flat.

Absorbed in the study of this group, Benedict did not observe that Kaulbach had entered the room and was standing beside him, looking on with a smile. Presently he said:

"You are right, that picture is too flat, and I had it brought back, not to finish it still more, but to tone it down and soften some parts. Such as it is your public would never like it. Delacroix has spoilt you for 'clean' pictures."

Benedict laughed.

"Do you mean to imply that he painted dirty ones?" he enquired.

"Heaven forbid! His works are excellent, but your nation did not appreciate them."

"We do him justice now, however."

"Yes, now that he is dead," said Kaulbach smiling. "Is it not always so?"

"Not in your case. Admired in France, adored in Germany, happily you are yet with us."

Kaulbach at this time was about fifty-two, slightly grey, sallow in complexion, having brilliant dark eyes and a highly nervous constitution. Tall and slight, he was at the zenith of his artistic powers and hardly past that of his physical ones. The two men studied each other critically, until at last Turpin began to laugh.

"Do you know what I am thinking?" asked the German. "I am wondering how you have managed to wander from Pekin to St. Petersburg, from Astrakhan to Algiers, and yet found time to produce the remarkable pictures you have painted. I know these only by report unfortunately, but I have heard a good deal. You are a pupil of Scheffer's?"

"Yes, I have also studied under Cabat."

"Great masters, both of them. And you are the hero of that unlucky business at Berlin. I have just read your letter in the 'Gazette.'"

"But why 'unlucky'?"

"Well, you will have two or three duels on your hands."

"So much the worse for my adversaries."

"Allow me to remark that you are not lacking in self-confidence."

"No, because I have the certainty of success. Look!" and Benedict held out his hand. "Observe that the line of life is double. There is not the slightest break anywhere—nothing to indicate accident, sickness, or even the slightest scratch. I might live to a hundred—but I won't say as much of those who quarrel with me."

Aulbach smiled.

"At the end of your letter of introduction," he said, "there was a postscript, which informed me that you were more deeply interested in studying occult science than in pursuing your own art."

"I don't know that I study either very much. I am rather a slave to temperament. If a thing amuses me, well, yes, I study it. If I think I have found a truth, I try to follow it out to the very end. And I do believe that chiromancy can give us a glance into the future, and that the hand is a page on which the lines of our fate have been traced by Destiny. If for five minutes only I could study the hand of either the King of Prussia or of Count Bismarck, I could give you some idea of what will happen."

"Meanwhile," said Kaulbach, "your science says you will escape scot-free from any duels arising out of this Berlin scrimmage?"

"Certainly I shall. But we were talking about your work, which is infinitely more interesting. I believe I know all your pictures, or nearly so."

"I would wager you don't know the best of them."

"Yes, I do. You mean 'Charlemagne visited in his Tomb by the Emperor Otho'? It is the masterpiece of modern German painting."

Kaulbach was evidently delighted.

"You have seen that!" he exclaimed, and he held out his hand to Benedict. "I don't think as much of it as you seem to do, but it is the best thing I have done. Oh! pardon me, but I see two visitors who come for a sitting. But wait, they are kind friends of mine, and may not object to your presence. I will tell them who you are, and then if they do not mind your being here you can please yourself as to whether you go or stay." So saying he hastily quitted the studio.

A carriage was at the garden gate, quite plain in appearance, with no arms emblazoned on the panels, yet Benedict's practised eye saw at once that the horses had cost at least 200 each. Two gentlemen were leaving it, the elder of the two, who seemed about forty-five, wore the epaulettes of a general with an undress uniform of dark green, the collar and facings being of black velvet. Kaulbach said a few words, upon which he took off an order he was wearing and also two crosses, retaining those of the Guelphic Order and of Ernest Augustus. Then, that he might cross the little garden and ascend the steps he took the arm of the younger man, who seemed to be his son, and who, tall and very slight, appeared to be about one-and-twenty, and wore a Hussar uniform of blue and silver.

Kaulbach opened the studio door and stood respectfully aside. Benedict, as he bowed, instantly recognized the central figure of Kaulbach's portrait group. He glanced quickly at the picture on which the missing decoration was depicted in all its glory. It was the Star of the Order of the Garter, worn by few except sovereign princes. He knew at once that the visitors must be the blind King of Hanover, one of the most cultivated and artistic sovereigns of Germany, and his son, the Crown Prince.

"Milords," said Kaulbach, "I have the honour to present a brother artist to you. He is young, but is already famous, and he brings a special introduction from the Minister of Fine Arts at Paris. May I add that his own personality is a better recommendation even than those."

The general bent his head graciously, the youth touched his cap. The elder man then addressed Benedict in English, regretting that his French was only indifferent. Benedict replied in the same language, saying that he was too great an admirer of Shakespeare, Scott, and Byron not to have made an effort to read these authors in their own tongue. The king, satisfied that he was unrecognized, discussed various subjects, and, knowing that Benedict had travelled much, asked many questions which were in themselves a compliment, for only men of superior intelligence could have asked and answered them. Kaulbach, meanwhile, rapidly worked at his picture softening down the too hard accessories. The young prince listened eagerly, and when Benedict offered to show him sketches made in India, he appealed anxiously to his father as to when and where he could see them.

"Better ask both these gentlemen to lunch in your own rooms," said the King, "and if they do you the honour to accept—"

"Oh! can you come to-morrow?" enquired the prince, delighted.

Benedict looked at Kaulbach in embarrassment.

"I fear I may have work of another kind to-morrow," he replied.

"Yes," said Kaulbach, "I fear my friend here is a trifle hot-headed. He only arrived yesterday and he has already written a letter for the 'Gazette,' which is now well on its way to Berlin."

"What! the letter I thought so amusing that I read it aloud to my father! Is that yours, monsieur? But, indeed, you will have duels without end."

"I count on two," said Benedict. "It is a lucky number."

"But suppose you are killed or wounded?"

"If I am killed, I will, with your permission, bequeath you my album. If I am badly hurt, I will ask Herr Kaulbach to show it you instead. If I am only scratched, I will bring it myself. But you need not be anxious on my account; I can assure you nothing unpleasant will happen to me."

"But how can you know that?"

"You know my friend's name, I think," said Kaulbach. "He is Benedict Turpin. Well, he descends in the direct line from the famous enchanter Turpin, the uncle of Charlemagne, and he has inherited the gifts of his ancestor!"

"Good heavens," said the prince, "are you spirit, magician, or what?"

"None of them. I simply amuse myself by reading the past, the present, and as much of the future as one's hand can reveal."

"Before you came," said Kaulbach, "he was deeply regretting not being able to see the hand of the King of Prussia. He would have told us what will happen in the war. My lord," he continued, emphasizing the title, "could we not find somewhere a royal hand for him to see?"

"Very easily," said the king, smiling, "only it should be that of a real king or a real emperor. Such as the Emperor of China, who is obeyed by millions of subjects, or Alexander, who reigns over the ninth part of the whole world. Do you not think so, M. Turpin?"

"I think, sir," replied Benedict, as he bent low before the king, "that it is not always great kingdoms which make great kings. Thessaly produced Achilles, and Macedonia gave birth to Alexander," and again bowing, even more deeply, he left the studio.

Alexandre Dumas pere