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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 02, No. 11, September, 1858 online

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lived in that next house in the picture, and he had a martin-box, with
a steeple to it; but his father gave fencing-lessons, and was very
rich."

As the intelligent little fellow ran on with his pretty prattle, I was
diligently pursuing the lady and child of the specimens through the
sketches. On every leaf I encountered them, ever changing, yet always
the same. Here was the child by my side, - unquestionably the same;
though now I looked in vain for the anxious mouth and the foreboding
eyes in his face of careless, hopeful urchinhood. But who was the
other? - his mother, no doubt; and yet no trace of resemblance.

"And tell me, who is this beautiful lady, my lad, - here, and here, and
here, and here again? You see I recognize her always, - so lovely, and
so gentle-looking. Your mother?"

"Oh, no, Sir!" and he laughed, - "my mother is very different from
that. That is nobody, - only a fancy sketch."

"Only a fancy sketch!" So, then, I thought, my pretty entertainer,
confiding and communicative as you are, it is plain there are some
things you do not know, or will not tell.

"She is not any one we ever saw; - she never lived. My father made her
out of his own head, as I make stories sometimes; or he dreamed her,
or saw her in the fire. But he is very fond of her, I suppose, because
he made her himself, - just as I think my own stories prettier than any
true ones; and he's always drawing her, and drawing her, and drawing
her. I love her, too, very much, - she looks so natural, and has such
nice ways. Isn't it strange my father - but he's _so_ clever with his
pencil and brushes! - should be able to invent the Lady Angelica?
- that's her name. But my mother does not like her at all, and
gets out of patience with my father for painting so many of her.
Mamma says she has a stuck-up expression, - such a funny word,
'stuck-up'! - and does not look like a lady. Once I told mamma I was
sure she was only jealous, and she grew very angry, and made me cry;
so now I never speak of Lady Angelica before her. What makes me think
my father must have dreamed her is that I dreamed her once myself. I
thought she came to me in such a splendid dress, and told me that she
was not only a live lady, but my own mother, and that mamma was - -
Hush! This is my father, Sir."

Wonderful! how the lad had changed! - like a phantom, the thoughtless
prattler was gone in a moment, and in his place stood the seer-boy of
the picture, the profound foreboding eyes fixed anxiously, earnestly,
on the singular man who at that moment entered: a singularly small
man, cheaply but tidily attired in black; even his shoes polished, - a
rare and dandyish indulgence in San Francisco, before the French
bootblacks inaugurated the sumptuary vanity of Day and Martin's lustre
on the stoop of the California Exchange, and made it a necessity no
less than diurnal ablutions; a well-preserved English hat on his head,
which, when he with a somewhat formal air removed it, discovered thin
black locks, beginning to part company with the crown of his head. In
his large, brown eyes an expression of moving melancholy was
established; a nervous tremulousness almost twitched his refined lips,
which, to my surprise, were not concealed by the universal
moustache, - indeed, the smooth chin and symmetrically trimmed
mutton-chop whiskers, in the orthodox English mode, showed that the
man shaved. His nose, slightly aquiline, was delicately cut, and his
nostrils fine; and he had small feet and hands, the latter remarkably
white and tender. As he stood before me, he was never at rest for an
instant, but changed his support from one leg to the other, - they were
slight as a young boy's, - and fumbled, as it were, with his feet; as I
have seen a distinguished medical lecturer, of Boston, gesticulate
with his toes. He played much with his whiskers, too, and his fingers
were often in his hair - as a fidgety and vulgar man would bite his
nails. From all of which I gathered that my new acquaintance was an
intensely nervous person, - very sensitive, of course, and no doubt
irritable.

He was accompanied by a - female, much taller than he, and as stalwart
as dear woman can be; an especially common-looking person, bungled as
to her dress, which was tawdry-fine, unseasonable for the place as
well as time, inappropriate to herself, inharmonious in its
composition, and every way most vilely put on; a clumsy and, as I
presently perceived, a loud person, whose face, still showing traces
of the coarse but decided beauty it must once have possessed, fell far
short of compensating for the complete gracelessness of her presence.

Her eyes had a bibulous quality, and the bright redness of her nose
vied vulgarly with the rusty redness of her cheeks. I suspected her
complexion of potations, but charitably let it off with - beer; for she
was, at first glance, English. As she jerked off her flaunting bonnet,
and dragged off her loud shawl, saluting me, as she did so, with an
overdone obeisance, she said, "This San Fanfrisko" - why would she, how
could she, always twist the decent name of the metropolis of the
Pacific into such an absurd shape? - "was a norrid 'ole; she happealed
to the gentleman," - meaning me, - "didn't 'e find it a norrid 'ole,
habsolutely hawful?" And then she went clattering among tinware and
crockery, and snubbed the gentlemanly boy in a sort of tender
Billingsgate.

While she was thus gracefully employed, the agonized artist, his face
suffused with blushes and fairly ghastly with an enforced smile, was
painfully struggling to abstract himself, by changing the places of
things, shifting the position of his easel, prying in a lost way into
lumbered corners, and pretending to be in search of something,
- ingenious, but unable to disguise his chagrin. He pranced
with his legs, and tumbled his hair, and twitched at his whiskers more
than ever, as he said, -

"My dear," (and the boy had called her Mamma; so, then, it must be a
fancy sketch, after all,) "my dear, no doubt the gentleman is more a
cosmopolite than yourself, and blessed with more facility in adapting
himself to circumstances."

"You know, Madam," I came to his assistance, "we Americans have a
famous trick of living and enjoying a little in advance, of 'going
ahead' of the hour, as it were. We find in San Francisco rather what
it promises to be than what it is, and we take it at its word."

"Oh, pray, don't mention Americans! I positively 'ate the hodious
people. I confess I 'ave a hinsurmountable prejudice hagainst the
race; you are not haware that I am Hinglish. I think I might endure
heven San Fanfrisko, if it were not for the Americans. Are you an
American?"

Alternating between the pallor of rage and the flush of mortification,
her husband now turned, with a calmness that had something of
desperation in it, and saved me the trouble and the pain of replying,
by asking, in the frigid tone of one who resented my presence as the
cause of his shame, -

"Did you wish to see me on business, Sir? and have you been waiting
long?"

"The success with which your charming little boy has entertained me
has made the time seem very short. I could willingly have waited
longer."

That last remark was a mere _contretemps_. I did not mean to be as
severe as he evidently thought me, for he bowed haughtily and
resentfully.

I came at once to business, - drew from my pocket the engraving I had
brought, - "Could he copy that for me?"

"How? - in miniature or life-size? - ivory or canvas?"

"You are, then, a portrait-painter, also? - Ah! to be sure!" and I
glanced at the canvas on the easel.

"Certainly, - I prefer to make portraits."

"And in this case I should prefer to have one. Extravagant as the
vanity may seem, I am willing to indulge in it, for the sake of being
the first, in this land of primitive wants and fierce unrefinements,
to take a step in the direction of the Fine Arts, - unless you have had
calls upon your pencil already."

"None, Sir."

"Then to-morrow, if you please, - for I cannot remain longer at
present, - we will discuss my whim in detail."

"I shall be at your service, Sir."

"Good day, Madam! And you, my pretty lad, well met, - what is your
name?"

"Ferdy, Sir, - Ferdinand Pintal."

At that moment, his father, as if reminded of a neglected courtesy, or
a business form, handed me his card, - "Camillo Alvarez y Pintal."

"Thanks, then, Ferdy, for the pains you took to entertain me. You must
let me improve an acquaintance so pleasantly begun."

The boy's hand trembled as it lay in mine, and his eyes, fixed upon
his father's, wore again the ominous expression of the picture. He did
not speak, and his father took a step toward the door significantly.

But the doleful silence that might have attended my departure was
broken by a demonstration, "as per sample," from my country's fair and
gentle 'ater. "She 'oped I would not be hoffended by the freedom of
'er hobservations on my countrymen. I must hexcuse 'er Hinglish
bluntness; she was haware that she 'ad a somewhat hoff-'and way of
hexpressing 'er hemotions; but when she 'ated she 'ated, and it
relieved 'er to hout with it hat once. Certainly she would
never - bless 'er 'eart, no! - 'ave taken me for an American; I was so
huncommonly genteel."

With my hand upon the region of my heart, as I had seen stars, when
called before the curtain on the proudest evening of their lives, give
anatomical expression to their overwhelming sense of the honor done
them, I backed off, hat in hand.

"Camillo Alvarez y Pintal," I read again, as I approached the Plaza.
"Can this man be Spanish, then? Surely not; - how could he have
acquired his excellent English, without a trace of foreign accent, or
the least eccentricity of idiom? His child, too, said nothing of that.
English, no doubt, of Spanish parentage; or, - oh, patience! I shall
know by-and-by, thanks to my merry Virginia jade, who shall be arrayed
in resplendent hues, and throned in a golden frame, if she but feed my
curiosity generously enough."

Next day, in the afternoon, having bustled through my daily programme
of business, I betook myself with curious pleasure to my appointment
with Pintal. To my regret, at first, I found him alone; but I derived
consolation from the assurance, that, wherever the engaging boy had
gone, his mother had accompanied him. Even more than at my first
visit, the artist was frigidly reserved and full of warning-off
politeness. With but a brief prelude of courteous commonplaces, he
called me to the business of my visit.

My picture, as I have said, was a fairly executed steel engraving,
taken from some one of the thousands of "Tokens," or "Keepsakes," or
"Amulets," or "Gems," or such like harmless giftbooks, with which
youths of tender sentiment remind preoccupied damsels of their careful
_penchants_. It represented an "airy, fairy Lilian" of eighteen, or
thereabouts, lolling coquettishly, fan in hand, in an antique,
high-backed chair, with "carven imageries," and a tasselled cushion.
She rejoiced in a profusion of brown ringlets, and her costume was
pretty and quaint, - a dainty chemisette, barred with narrow bands of
velvet, as though she had gone to Switzerland, or the South of Italy,
for the sentiment of her bodice, - sleeves quaintly puffed and
"slashed," - the ample skirt looped up with rosettes and natty little
ends of ribbon; her feet beneath her petticoat, "like little mice,"
stole out, "as if they feared the light." Somewhere, among the many
editions of Dickens's works, I have seen a Dolly Varden that resembled
her.

It was agreed between us that she should be reproduced in a life-size
portrait, with such a distribution of rich colors as the subject
seemed to call for, as his fine taste might select, and his cunning
hand lay on. I sought to break down his reserve, and make myself
acceptable to him, by the display of a discreet geniality, and a
certain frankness, not falling into familiarity, which should seem to
proceed from sympathy, and a _bonhommie_, that, assured of its own
kindly purpose, would take no account of his almost angry distance.
The opportunity was auspicious, and I was on the alert to turn it to
account. I made a little story of the picture, and touched it with
romance. I told him of Virginia, - especially of that part of the State
in which this saucy little lady lived, - of its famous scenery, its
historic places, and the peculiar features of its society. I strove to
make the lady present to his mind's eye by dwelling on her certain
eccentricities, and helping my somewhat particular description of her
character with anecdotes, more or less pointed and amusing, especially
to so grave a foreigner, of her singular ready-wittedness and graceful
audacity. Then I had much to say about her little "ways" of attitude,
gesture, and expression, and some hints to offer for slight changes in
the finer lines of the face, and in the expression, which might make
the likeness more real to both of us, and, by getting up an interest
in him for the picture, procure his favorable impression for myself.

I had the gratification, as my experiment proceeded, to find that it
was by no means unsuccessful. His austerity appreciably relaxed, and
the kindly tone into which his few, but intelligent observations
gradually fell, was accompanied by an encouraging smile, when the
drift of our talk was light. Then I spoke of his child, and eagerly
praised the beauty, the intelligence, and sweet temper of the lad.
'Twas strange how little pleasure he seemed to derive from my sincere
expressions of admiration; indeed, the slight satisfaction he did
permit himself to manifest appeared in his words only, not at all in
his looks; for a shade of deep sadness fell at once upon his handsome
face, and his expression, so full of sensibility, assumed the cast of
anxiety and pain. "He thanked me for my eloquent praises of the boy,
and - not too partially, he hoped - believed that he deserved them all.
A prize of beauty and of love had fallen to him in his little Ferdy,
for which he would be grieved to seem ungrateful. But yet - but
yet - the responsibility, the anxiety, the ceaseless fretting care!
This fierce, unbroken city"; - he spoke of it as though it were a
newly-lassoed and untamed mustang, - I liked the simile; "this lawless,
blasphemous, obscene, and dangerous community; these sights of
heartlessness and cruelty; these sounds of selfish, greedy contention;
the absence of all taste and culture, - no lines of beauty, no strains
of music, no tones of kindness, no gestures of gentleness and grace,
no delicate attentions, no ladies' presence, no social circle, no
books, no home, no church; - Good God! what a heathenish barbarism of
coarse instincts, and irreverence, and insulting equalities, and all
manner of gracelessnesses, to bring the dangerous impressionability of
fine childhood to! The boy was nervous, sensitive, of a spirit quick
to take alarms or hurts, - physically unprepared to wrestle with
arduous toil, privation, and exposure, - most apt for the teachings of
gentleness and taste. It was cruel to think - he could wish him dead
first - that his clean, white mind must become smeared and spotted
here, his well-tuned ear reconciled to loud discords, and his fine eye
at peace with deformity; but there was no help for it." And then, as
though he had suddenly detected in my face an expression of surprised
discovery, he said, "But I am sure I do not know how I came to say so
much, or let myself be tedious with sickly egotisms to a polite, but
indifferent, stranger. If you have gathered from them more than I
meant should appear, you will at least do me the justice to believe
that I have not been boasting of what I regard as a calamity."

I essayed to reassure him by urging upon his consideration the
manifest advantages of courage, self-reliance, ingenuity, quick and
economical application of resources, independence, and perseverance,
which his son, if well-trained, must derive from even those rude
surroundings, - at the same time granting the necessity of sleepless
vigilance and severe restraints. But he only shook his head sadly, and
said, "No doubt, no doubt; and I hope, Sir, the fault is in myself,
that I do not appreciate the force and value of all that."

The subject was so plainly full of a peculiar pain for him, he was so
ill at mind on this point, that I could not find it in my heart to
pursue it further at the cost of his feelings. So we talked of other
things: of gold, and the placers, and their unimpaired productiveness,
- of the prospects of the country, and of the character the
mineral element must stamp upon its politics, its commerce, and
its social system, - of San Francisco, and all the enchantments of its
sudden upspringing, - of Alcaldes and town-councils, - of hounds and
gamblers, - of real estate and projected improvements, - of canvas
houses, and iron houses, and fires, - of sudden fortunes, and as sudden
failures, - of speculations and markets, and the prices of clothing,
provisions, and labor, - of intemperance, disease, and hospitals, - of
brawls, murder, and suicide, - till we had exhausted all the
Californian budget; and then I bade him good day. He parted with me
with flattering reluctance, cordially shaking my hand and urging me to
repeat my visit in a few days, when he should be sufficiently forward
with the picture to admit me to a sight of it. I confessed my
impatience for the interval to pass; for my interest was now fully
awakened and very lively; - so well-informed and so polished a
gentleman, so accomplished and so fluent, so ill-starred and sad, so
every way a man with a history!

I saw much of Pintal after this, and he sometimes visited me at my
office. Impelled by increasing admiration and esteem, I succeeded by
the exercise of studious tact in ingratiating myself in his friendship
and confidence; he talked with freedom of his feelings and his
affairs; and although he had not yet admitted me to the knowledge of
his past, he evinced but little shyness in speaking of the present. At
our interviews in his tent I seldom met his wife; indeed, I suspected
him of contriving to keep her out of the way; for I was always told
she had just stepped out; - or if by chance I found her there, she was
never again vulgarly loquacious, but on some pretext or other at once
took herself away. On the other hand, the child was rarely
absent, - from which I argued that I was in favor; nor was his pretty
prattle, even his boldest communicativeness, harshly checked, save
when, as I guessed, he was approaching too near some forbidden theme.
Then a quick flash from his father's eye instantaneously imposed
silence upon him: as if that eye were an evil one, and there were a
malison in its glance, the whole demeanor of the child underwent at
once a magical change; the foreboding look took possession of his
beautiful eyes, the anxious lines appeared around his mouth, his lips
and chin became tremulous, his head drooped, he let fall my hand which
he was fond of holding as he talked, and quietly, penitently slunk
away; and though he might presently be recalled by his father's
kindliest tones, his brightness would not be restored that time.

This mysterious, severe understanding between the father and the child
affected me painfully; I was at a loss to surmise its nature, whence
it proceeded, or how it could be; for Ferdy evinced in his every word,
look, movement, an undivided fondness for his father. And in his
tender-proud allusions to the boy, at times let fall to me, - in the
anxious watchfulness with which he followed him with his eye, when an
interval of peace and comparative happiness had set childhood's spirit
free, and lent a degree of graceful gayety to all his motions, - I saw
the brimming measure of the father's love. Could it be but his
morbidly repellant pride, his jealous guarding of the domestic
privacies, his vigilant pacing up and down forever before the
close-drawn curtain of the heart? - was there no Bluebeard's chamber
there? No! Pride was all the matter, - pride was the Spartan fox that
tore the vitals of Pintal, while he but bit his lips, and bowed, and
passed.

Among the pictures in Pintal's tent was one which had in an especial
manner attracted my attention. It was a cabinet portrait, nearly
full-length, of a venerable gentleman, of grave but benevolent aspect,
and an air of imposing dignity. Care had evidently been taken to
render faithfully the somewhat remarkable vigor of his frame; his
iron-gray hair was cropped quite short, and he wore a heavy grizzled
moustache, but no other beard; the lines of his mouth were not severe,
and his eye was soft and gentle. But what made the portrait
particularly noticeable was the broad red ribbon of a noble order
crossing the breast, and a Maltese cross suspended from the neck by a
short chain of massive and curiously wrought links. I had many times
been on the point of asking the name of this singularly handsome and
distinguished-looking personage; but an instinctive feeling of
delicacy always deterred me.

One day I found little Ferdy alone, and singing merrily some pretty
Spanish song. I told him I was rejoiced to find him in such good
spirits, and asked him if he had not been having a jolly romp with the
American carpenter's son, who lived in the Chinese house close by. My
question seemed to afflict him with puzzled surprise; - he half smiled,
as if not quite sure but I might be jesting.

"Oh, no, indeed! I have never played with him; I do not know him; I
never play with any boys here. Oh, no, indeed!"

"But why not, Ferdy? What! a whole month in this tiresome tent, and
not make the acquaintance of your nearest neighbor, - such a sturdy,
hearty chunk of a fellow as that is? - I have no doubt he's
good-natured, too, for he's fat and funny, tough and independent.
Besides, he's a carpenter's son, you know; so there's a chance to
borrow a saw to make the dog-house with. Who knows but his father will
take a fancy to you, - I'm sure he is very likely to, - and make you a
church dog-house, steeple and all complete and painted, and much finer
than Charley Saunders's martin-box?"

"Oh, I should like to, so much! And perhaps he has a Newfoundlander
with a bushy tail and a brass collar, - that would be nicer than a
kangaroo. But - but" - looking comically bothered, - "I never knew a
carpenter's son in my life. I am sure my father would not give me
permission, - I am sure he would be very angry, if I asked him. Are
they not very disagreeable, that sort of boys? Don't they swear, and
tear their clothes, and fight, and sing vulgar songs, and tell lies,
and sit down in the middle of the street?"

Merciful Heaven! thought I, - here's a crying shame! here's an
interesting case for professors of moral hygiene! An apt, intelligent
little man, with an empty mind, and a by-no-means overloaded stomach,
I'll engage, - with a pride-paralyzed father, and a beer-bewitched
slattern of a mother, - with his living to get, in San Francisco, too,
and the world to make friends with, - who has never enjoyed the
peculiar advantages to be derived from the society of little dirty
boys, never been admitted to the felicity of popular songs, nor
exercised his pluck in a rough-and-tumble, nor ventilated himself in
wholesome "giddy, giddy, gout," - to whom dirt-pies are a fable!

"Ferdy," said I, "I'll talk with your father myself. But tell me, now,
what makes you so happy to-day."

"My father got a letter this morning," - a mail had just arrived; it
brought no smile or tear for me, - no parallelogram of tragedy or
comedy in stationery, - "such a pleasant one, from my uncle Miguel, at
Florence, in Italy, you know. He is well, and quite rich, my father
says; they have restored to him his property that he thought was all
lost forever, and they have made him a chevalier again. But I am sure
my father will tell you all about it, for he said he did hope you
would come to-day; and he is so happy and so kind!"

"They have made him a chevalier again," I wondered. "Your uncle Miguel
is your father's brother, then, Ferdy. And did you ever see him?"

Before he could reply, Pintal entered, stepping smartly, his color
heightened with happiness, his eyes full of an extraordinary elation.

"Ah! my dear Doctor, I am rejoiced to find you here; I have been
wishing for you. See! your picture is finished. Tell me if you like
it."

"Indeed, a work of beauty, Pintal."

"To me, too, it never looked so well before; but I see things with
glad eyes to-day. I have much to tell you. Ferdy, your mother is
dining at the restaurant; go join her. And when you have finished your
dinner, ask her to take you to walk. Say that I am engaged. Would you


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 02, No. 11, September, 1858 → online text (page 9 of 20)