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CHAPTER III.Edit

Born under the sky of Italy, brought up at haphazard like a water-fowl, poor, orphaned, abandoned, yet happy in the present and confident in the future, Anzoleto, this handsome lad of nineteen, who spent all his days with little Consuelo on the streets of Venice in the most complete liberty, was not by any means indulging in his first love, as one might have supposed. He was no stranger to the easy conquests so common in Venice, and under a colder sky and with a nature less richly endowed, he might have been already worn out and corrupted. But his heart was still pure and his passions were held in check by his will. He had first chanced to meet the little Spaniard before the Madonettes, singing hymns, and he had sung with her the whole evening, merely for the pleasure of exercising his voice, with only the stars for an audience. Afterwards they had met on the sands of the Lido, gathering shell-fish, he to eat them, she to make necklaces and ornaments of them Again they met in churches, where she went to pray to God with all her heart, and he to look at the handsome ladies with all his eyes. In all these meetings Consuelo had appeared so good, gentle, obliging, and gay that he had ended by making her his inseparable friend and companion, without exactly knowing how or why. At this time Anzoleto understood only the sensual pleasure of love. He felt a friendship for Consuelo, and as he belonged to a country and a race in which passion is more common than attachment, he knew no other name to give his friendship than love. Consuelo accepted this figure of speech after making one objection, "If you call yourself my lover, do you mean that you wish to marry me ? " Anzoleto replied, " Certainly, we will get married, if you like."

From that time the matter was settled. Anzoleto may have thought it a jest, although Consuelo took it quite seriously. It is certain that his young heart felt already those opposing sentiments and complicated emotions which disturb the lives of men who have become blasé. But, without understandmg the charm which drew him to Consuelo, having as yet scarcely any feeling for the beautiful, and not knowing whether she was ugly or pretty, child enough to amuse himself with her at sports beneath his age, yet man enough to respect her fourteen years, he led with her in public, on the streets and canals of Venice, a life as happy, as pure, and as secluded as that of Paul and Virginia under the palms of the desert. Although they enjoyed a liberty more absolute and more dangerous, with no families, no tender and watchful! mothers to train ihem in virtue, no faithful servant to seek them at nightfall and bring them back to the fold, no dog, even, to warn them of danger, their life was wholly innocent. They sailed the lagoons in boats without oars or pilot, they wandered in the marshes without a guide, and with no concern for the rising tide. They sang before the shrines erected under vine branches at street corners without regard for the lateness of the hour and needing no other bed than the stones, still warm from midday heat. They would stand before Polcinella's theatre and follow with passionate attention the adventures of the beautiful Corisande, the queen of marionettes, without remembering the absence of breakfast and the small likelihood of supper. They plunged into the wild sports of carnival, Anzoleto with no disguise but his coat turned inside out, Consuelo with none but a bunch of old ribbons. They had sumptuous feasts on the balustrades of bridges or the steps of palaces, their only viands sea-fruit[1], or raw fennel-stalks. They lived, in short, a free and happy life, without giving more dangerous caresses and feeling more tender sentiments than two innocent children of the same age and sex would have done. Days and years went by. Anzoleto had other loves, but Consuelo did not even know that there was any love different from that of which she was the object. She became a young girl, yet felt no need to show greater reserve to her lover. He saw her growing and becoming transformed without impatience or wish for any change in their intimacy, which knew no cloud or scruple, no mystery or remorse.

It was now four years since Professor Porpora and Count Zustiniani had mutually presented their little musicians to each other, and from thet day the count had never thought of the young singer of sacred music. The professor had, for his part, quite forgotten the handsome Anzoleto, in whom he had found, on examination, non of qualities which he required in his pupils. These were a serious and patient intelligence, in the first place, then a modesty which reached to the annihilation of the pupil before the master, and finally an entire absence of previous musical studies. "Never offer me a pupil," he used to say? "whose brain will not be like an empty page before my will? or like virgin wax, on which I may make the first impression/ I have no time enough to waste a year in unlearning before I begin to teach. If you wish me to write on a slate, it mush be clean, and not only that, it must be of good quality. If it is too hard, I cannot mark it. If it is too soft, I shall break it at the first stroke." In short, although he admitted the extraordinary powers of young Anzoleto, he announced to the count at the end of the first lesson, rather crossly and with ironical humility, that his method would be of no use to so advanced a pupil, and that " the first master he might meet with would be able to embarrass and retard the natural progress and the invincible development of this mag- nificent organization."

The count sent his protege to Professor Mellifiore, who led his pupil through roulades and cadenzas, through trills and grupetti, up to the complete development of his brilliant powers. When Anxoleto was three-and-twenty he was considered by all those who heard him in the count's drawing-room to be compe- tent to appear at the San-Samuel with success in the principal parts.

One evening all the diletante nobility and all the artists of reputation in Venice were invited to be present at a final and decisive trial. Anzoleto ap- peared for the first time in a black coat and satin waistcoat, with his handsome hair powdered, and buckled shoes on his feet. He assumed a tranquil air and stepped on tiptoe to the clavecin where, under the light of a hundred candles and the eyes of two or three hundred people, he inflated his lungs and plunged, with his boldness, his ambition, and his chest C, into that dangerous career in which it is not a judge nor a jury but a whole public that stands ready to award glory or shame.

It is not worth while to ask whether Anzoleto felt any inward uneasiness. It was hardly apparent, at any rate j and no sooner had his sharp eyes detected in the looks of the women that secret approval which is rarely refused to one so handsome; no sooner had the amateurs, surprised at the power of his voice and the brilliancy of his vocalization, given utterance to a murmur of applause, than joy and hope filled his whole being. Until that time he had been commonly taught and listened to by common hearers, but he now realized for the first time in his life that he was not a commonplace man, and supported by a consciousness of triumph and the desire for more of it, he sing with remarkable spirit, originality, and energy. It is true that his taste was not always pure and his execution not always faultless, but he was able to redeem him self by feats of daring, by gleams of intelligence, and by bursts, of enthusiasm. He missed the effects which the composer had designed, but he found others of which no one had ever thought, either the author who ha I composed, the professor who hid interpreted, or the artists who had rendered the music His boldness carried every one away. They forgave him a dozen faults for a single innovation, a dozen rebellions agiinst method for t sin Je flash of originality, — so true IS It that in the matter of art the least spark of genius or the slightest aspiration towards new con ptsts exercises m irt fast imtion than all the resources of seance within the limits of our knowledge.

No one, perhaps, considered the cause of this enthusiasm, but no one escaped from its effects. Gorilla had opened the evening with an air which she had sung well and which had been warmly applauded, but the success of the yoiuig debutant so far exceeded her oivn that she was filled with rage. When Anzoleto, loaded with applause and caresses, came back to the clavecin near which she was seated, he leaned toward her and said, with mingled humility and boldness, "And you, queen ofsong and queen of beauty? Have you not even a look of encouragement for the unfortunate being who fears and adores you?"

The prima donna, surprised by so much audacity, looked closely at the handsome face at which she had scarcely deigned to glance before ; for what vain and triumphant woman would condescend to look at a poor and obscure lad ? Rut at last she scanned his face, and was struck with its beauty. His fiery glance met hers, and she, fascinated and conquered, let fall on him a long look which set the zeal to his celebrity. During this memorable evening Anzoleto had conquered his public and disarmed his most dangerous enemy ; for the beautiful singer was not only queen on the boards, but also in the administration and in Count Zustiniani's study.

NotesEdit

  1. Different sorts of shell-fish, of which the common people of Venice are very fond.