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The sculptor Alfred—surely you know him? We all know him. He used to engrave gold medallions; went to Italy, and returned again. He was young then; indeed, he is young now, though about half a score of years older than he was at that time.
He returned home, and went on a visit to one of the small towns in Zealand. The whole community knew of the arrival of the stranger, and who he was. There was a party given on his account by one of the richest families in the place; every one who was anybody, or had anything, was invited; it was quite an event, and the whole town heard of it without beat of drum. A good many apprentice boys and poor people's children, with a few of their parents, ranged themselves outside, and looked at the windows with their drawn blinds, through which a blaze of light was streaming. The watchman might have fancied he had a party himself, so many people occupied his quarters in the street. They all seemed merry on the outside; and in the inside of the house everything was pleasant, for Herr Alfred, the sculptor, was there.
He talked, and he told anecdotes, and every one present listened to him with pleasure and deep attention, but no one with more eagerness than an elderly widow of good standing in society; and she was, in reference to all that Herr Alfred said, like a blank sheet of whity-brown paper, that quickly sucks the sweet things in, and is ready for more. She was very susceptible, and totally ignorant—quite a female Caspar Hauser.
"I should like to see Rome," said she. "That must be a charming town, with the numerous strangers that go there. Describe Rome to us now. How does it look as you enter the gate?"
"It is not easy to describe Rome," said the young sculptor. "It is a very large place; in the centre of it stands an obelisk, which is four thousand years old."
"An organist!" exclaimed the astonished lady, who had never before heard the word obelisk.
Many of the party could scarcely refrain from laughing, and among the rest the sculptor. But the satirical smile that was gathering round his mouth glided into one of pleasure; for he saw, close to the lady, a pair of large eyes, blue as the sea. They appertained to the daughter of the talkative dame, and when one had such a daughter one could not be altogether ridiculous. The mother was like a bubbling fountain of questions, constantly pouring forth; the daughter like the fountain's beautiful naiad, listening to its murmurs. How lovely she was! She was something worth a sculptor's while to gaze at; but not to converse with; and she said nothing, at least very little.
"Has the Pope a great family?" asked the widow.
And the young man answered as if the question might have been better worded,—
"No, he is not of a high family."
"I don't mean that," said the lady; "I mean has he a wife and children?"
"The Pope dare not marry," he replied.
"I don't approve of that," said the lady.
She could scarcely have spoken more foolishly, or asked sillier questions; but what did all that signify when her daughter looked over her shoulder with that most winning smile?
Herr Alfred talked of the brilliant skies of Italy, and its cloud-capped hills; the blue Mediterranean; the soft South; the beauty which could only be rivalled by the blue eyes of the females of the North. And this was said pointedly; but she who ought to have understood it did not allow it to be seen that she had detected any compliment in his words, and this was also charming.
"Italy!" sighed some. "Travelling!" sighed others. "Charming, charming!"
"Well, when I win the fifty-thousand-dollar prize in the lottery," said the widow, "we shall set off on our travels too—my daughter and I; and you, Herr Alfred, shall be our escort. We shall all three go, and a few other friends will go with us, I hope;" and she bowed invitingly to them all round, so that each individual might have thought, "It is I she wishes to accompany her." "Yes, we will go to Italy, but not where the robbers are; we will stay in Rome, or only go by the great high roads, where people are safe, of course."
And the daughter heaved a gentle sigh. How much can there not lie in a slight sigh, or be supposed to lie in it! The young man put a world of feeling into it; the two blue eyes that had beamed on him that evening concealed the treasure—the treasure of heart and of mind, richer far than all the glories of Rome; and when he left the party he was over head and ears in love with the widow's pretty daughter.
The widow's house became the house of all others most visited by Herr Alfred, the sculptor. People knew that it could not be for the mother's sake he sought it so often, although he and she were always the speakers; it must be for the daughter's sake he went. She was called Kala, though christened Karen Malene: the two names had been mutilated, and thrown together into the one appellation, Kala. She was very beautiful, but rather silly, some people hinted, and rather indolent. She was certainly a very late riser in the morning.
"She has been accustomed to that from her childhood," said her mother. "She has always been such a little Venus that she was scarcely ever found fault with. She is not a very early riser, but to this she owes her fine clear eyes."
What power there was in these clear eyes—these swimming blue eyes! The young man felt it. He told anecdote upon anecdote, and answered question after question; and mamma always asked the same lively, sensible, pertinent questions as she had asked at first.
It was a pleasure to hear Herr Alfred speak. He described Naples, the ascent of Mount Vesuvius, and several of its eruptions; and the widow lady, who had never heard of them before, was lost in surprise.
"Mercy on us!" she exclaimed; "then it is a volcano? Does it ever do any harm to anybody?"
"It has destroyed entire towns," he replied: "Pompeii and Herculaneum."
"But the poor inhabitants! Did you see it yourself?"
"No, not either of these eruptions, but I have a sketch taken by myself of an eruption which I did witness."
Then he selected from his portfolio a sketch done with a black-lead pencil; but mamma, who delighted in highly-coloured pictures, looked at the pale sketch, and exclaimed in amazement,—
"You saw it gush out white?"
Mamma got into Herr Alfred's black books for a few minutes, and he felt profound contempt for her; but the light from Kala's eyes soon dispelled his gloom. He bethought him that her mother had no knowledge of drawing, that was all; but she had what was far better—she had the sweet, beautiful Kala.
As might have been expected, Alfred and Kala became engaged, and their betrothal was announced in the newspaper of the town. Mamma bought thirty copies of it, that she might cut the paragraphs out, and inclose them to various friends. The betrothed pair were very happy, and so was the mamma: she felt almost as proud as if her family were going to be connected with Thorwaldsen.
"You are his successor at any rate," she said; and Alfred thought that she had said something very clever. Kala said nothing, but her eyes brightened, and a lovely smile played around her well-formed mouth. Every movement of hers was graceful: she was very beautiful—that cannot be said too often.
Alfred was making busts of Kala and her mother: they sat for him, and saw how with his finger he smoothed and moulded the soft clay.
"It is a compliment to us," said his mother-in-law elect, "that you condescend to do that simple work yourself, instead of letting your men dab all that for you."
"No; it is absolutely necessary that I should do this myself in the clay," he replied.
"Oh! you are always so exceedingly gallant!" said mamma; and Kala gently pressed his hand, to which pieces of clay were sticking.
He discoursed to them about the magnificence of Nature in its creations, the superiority of the living over the dead, plants over minerals, animals over plants, human beings over mere animals; how mind and beauty manifested themselves through form, and that the sculptor sought to bestow on his forms of clay the greatest possible beauty and expression.
Kala remained silent, revolving his words. Her mother said,
"It is difficult to follow you; but though my thoughts go slowly, I hold fast what I hear."
And the power of beauty held him fast; it had subdued him—entranced and enslaved him. Kala's beauty certainly was extraordinary; it was enthroned in every feature of her face, in her whole figure, even to the points of her fingers. The sculptor was bewildered by it; he thought only of her—spoke only of her; and his fancy endowed her with all perfection.
Then came the wedding-day, with the bridal gifts and the bride's-maids; and the marriage ceremony was duly performed. His mother-in-law had placed in the room where the bridal party assembled the bust of Thorwaldsen, enveloped in a dressing-gown. "He ought to be a guest, according to her idea," she said. Songs were sung, and healths were drunk. It was a handsome wedding, and they were a handsome couple. "Pygmalion got his Galathea" was a line in one of the songs.
"That was something from mythology," remarked the widow.
The following day the young couple started for Copenhagen, where they intended to reside; and the mamma accompanied them, to give them a helping hand, she said, which meant to take charge of the house. Kala was to be a mere doll. Everything was new, bright, and charming. There they settled themselves all three; and Alfred, what can be said of him, only that he was like a bishop among a flock of geese?
The magic of beauty had infatuated him. He had gazed upon the case, and not thought of what was in it; and this is unfortunate, very unfortunate, in the marriage state. When the case decays, and the gilding rubs off, one then begins to repent of one's bargain. It was very mortifying to Alfred that in society neither his wife nor his mother-in-law was capable of entering into general conversation—that they said very silly things, which, with all his wittiest efforts, he could not cover.
How often the young couple sat hand in hand, and he spoke, and she dropped a word now and then, always in the same tone, like a clock striking one, two, three! It was quite a relief when Sophie, a female friend, came.
Sophie was not very pretty; she was slightly awry, Kala said; but this was not perceptible except to her female friends. Kala allowed that she was clever. It never occurred to her that her talents might make her dangerous. She came like fresh air into a close, confined puppet show; and fresh air is always pleasant. After a time the young couple and the mother-in-law went to breathe the soft air of Italy. Their wishes were fulfilled.
"Thank Heaven, we are at home again!" exclaimed both the mother and the daughter, when, the following year, they and Alfred returned to Denmark.
"There is no pleasure in travelling," said the mamma; "on the contrary, it is very fatiguing—excuse my saying so. I was excessively tired, notwithstanding that I had my children with me. And travelling is extremely expensive. What hosts of galleries you have to see! What quantities of things to be rushing after! And you are so teased with questions when you come home, as if it were possible to know everything. And then to hear that you have just forgotten to see what was most charming! I am sure I was quite tired of these everlasting Madonnas; one was almost turned into a Madonna one's self."
"And the living was so bad," said Kala.
"Not a single spoonful of honest meat soup," rejoined the mamma. "They dress the victuals so absurdly."
Kala was much fatigued after her journey. She continued very languid, and did not seem to rally—that was the worst of it. Sophie came to stay with them, and she was extremely useful.
The mother-in-law allowed that Sophie understood household affairs well, and had many accomplishments, which she, with her fortune, had no need to trouble herself about; and she confessed, also, that Sophie was very estimable and kind. She could not help seeing this when Kala was lying ill, without making the slightest exertion in any way.
If there be nothing but the case or framework, when it gives way it is all over with the case. And the case had given way. Kala died.
"She was charming!" said her mother. "She was very different from all these antiquities that are half mutilated. Kala was a perfect beauty!"
Alfred wept, and his mother-in-law wept, and they both went into mourning. The mamma went into the deepest mourning, and she wore her mourning longest. She also retained her sorrow the longest; in fact, she remained weighed down with grief until Alfred married again. He took Sophie, who had nothing to boast of in respect to outward charms.
"He has gone to the other extremity," said his mother-in-law; "passed from the most beautiful to the ugliest. He has found it possible to forget his first wife. There is no constancy in man. My husband, indeed, was different; but he died before me."
"Pygmalion got his Galathea," said Alfred. "These words were in the bridal song. I certainly did fall in love with the beautiful statue that became imbued with life in my arms. But the kindred soul, which Heaven sends us, one of those angels who can feel with us, think with us, raise us when we are sinking, I have now found and won. You have come, Sophie, not as a beautiful form, fascinating the eye, but prettier, more pleasing than was necessary. You excel in the main point. You have come and taught the sculptor that his work is but clay—dust; only a copy of the outer shell of the kernel we ought to seek. Poor Kala! her earthly life was but like a short journey. Yonder above, where those who sympathise shall be gathered together, she and I will probably be almost strangers."
"That is not a kind speech," said Sophie; "it is not a Christian one. Up yonder, where 'they neither marry nor are given in marriage,' but, as you say, where spirits shall meet in sympathy—there, where all that is beautiful shall unfold and improve, her soul may perhaps appear so glorious in its excellence that it may far outshine mine and yours. You may then again exclaim, as you did in the first excitement of your earthly admiration, 'Charming—charming!'"
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