Produced by David Widger from page images generously
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Produced by David Widger from page images generously
By Grant Allen
Author Of ‘Fhilistia’, ‘Strange Stories’, Etc.
In Three Volumes
With Twelve Illustrations By P. Macnab
Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly
CHAPTER XV. A DOOR OPENS
Another year had passed, and Colin, now of full age, had tired of working for Cicolari. It was all very well, this moulding clay and carving replicas of afflicted widows; it was all very well, this modelling busts and statuettes and little classical compositions; it was all very well, this picking up stray hints in a half-amateur fashion from the grand torsos of the British Museum and a few scattered Thorwaldsens or antiques of the great country houses; but Colin Churchill felt in his heart of hearts that all that was not sculpture. He was growing in years now, and instead of learning he was really working. Still, he had quite made up his mind that some day or other he should look with his own eyes on the glories of the Vatican and the Villa Albani. Nay, he had even begun to take lessons in Italian from Cicolari—counting his chickens before they were hatched, Minna said—so that he might not feel himself at a loss whenever the great and final day of his redemption should happen to arrive. The dream of his life was to go to Rome, and study in a real studio, and become a regular genuine sculptor. Nothing short of that would ever satisfy him, he told Minna: and Minna, though she trembled to think of Colin’s going so far away from her—among all those black-eyed Italian women, too—(and Colin had often told her he admired black eyes, like hers, above all others)—poor little Minna could not but admit sorrowfully to herself that Rome was after all the proper school for Colin Churchill. ‘The capital of art,’ he repeated to her, over and over again; must it not be the right place for him, who she felt sure was going to be the greatest of all modern English artists?
But how was Colin ever to get there?
Going to Rome costs money; and during all these years Colin had barely been able to save enough to buy the necessary books and materials for his self-education. The more deeply he felt the desire to go, the more utterly remote did the chance of going seem to become to him. ‘And yet I shall go, Minna,’ he said to her almost fiercely one September evening. ‘Go to Rome I will, if I have to tramp every step of the way on foot, and reach there barefoot.
Minna sighed and the tears came into her eyes; but strong in her faith and pride in Colin, strong in her eager desire that Colin should give free play to his own genius, she answered firmly with a little quiver of her lips, ‘You ought to go, Colin; and if you think it’d help you, you might take all that’s left of my savings, and I’d go back again willingly to the parlour-maiding.’
Colin looked at the pretty little pupil-teacher with a look of profound and unfeigned admiration. ‘Minna,’ he said, ‘dear little woman, you’re the best and kindest-hearted girl that ever breathed; but how on earth do you suppose I could possibly be wretch enough to take away your poor little savings? No, no, little woman, you must keep them for yourself, and use them for making yourself—I was going to say into a lady—but you couldn’t do that, Minna, you couldn’t do that, for you were born one already. Still, if you want me to be a real sculptor, I want you, little woman, just as much to be a real educated gentlewoman.’ Colin said the last word with a certain lingering loving cadence, for it had a good old-fashioned ring about it that recommended it well to his simple straightforward peasant nature.
‘Well, Colin,’ Minna went on, blushing a bit (for that last quiet hint seemed half unintentionally to convey the impression that Colin really possessed a proprietary right in her whole future), ‘we must try our best to find out some way for you to go to Rome at last in spite of everything. You know, meanwhile, you’ve got good employment, Colin, and that’s always something.’
‘Ah yes, Minna,’ Colin answered with his youthful enthusiasm coming strong upon him, ‘I’ve got employment, of course; but I don’t want employment; I want opportunities, I want advice, I want instruction, I want the means of learning, I want to perfect myself. Here in London, somehow, I feel as if I was tied down by the leg, and panting to get loose again. I like Cicolari, and in my own native untaught fashion I’ve done my best to improve myself with him; but I feel sadly the lack of training and competition. I should like to see how other men do their work; I should like to pit myself against them and find out whether I really am or am not a sculptor. Let me but just go to Rome, and I shall mould such things and carve such statues—ah, Minna, you shall see them! And the one delight I have in life now, Minna, is to get out like this, and talk it over with you, and tell you what I mean to do when once I get at it. For you can sympathise with me more than any of them, little woman. I feel that you can realise my longing to do good work—the work I know I’m fitted for—a thousand times better than a mere decent respectable marble-hacking workman like Cicolari.’