“This drawing I kept in a private drawer. At night, when I went to my chamber, I opened the drawer and looked at it. It lay so that I did not need to touch it; and as I gazed at it, I saw all his own character, and all that I had felt and lived since that evening.
“At length the day came, on which the parents of Sulpizia came to my brother to speak of her portrait. Camillo listened to them quietly, and mentioned his friend Luigi as a man who could understand Sulpizia, and therefore paint her portrait. The parents were satisfied. It was an unusual thing; but at that time, as at all times, a great many unusual things could be done in convents, especially if one had a brother, who was Cardinal Balbo.
“It was a bright morning that Camillo carried Luigi in his gondola to the convent. He had merely said to him that there was a beautiful abbess to paint, an old friend of his; and Luigi replied that he would always willingly desert beautiful waters and skies for beautiful eyes. They reached the island”—
The Marchesa beat the floor slowly with her foot, and controlled herself, as if a spasm of mortal agony had seized her.
“They reached the island, and stepped ashore into the convent garden. They went into the little parlor, and presently the abbess entered veiled. My brother, who had not seen her since she was his playmate, could not pierce the veil; and as calmly as ever told her briefly the name of his friend, said a few generous words of him, and, rising, promised to call at sunset for Luigi, and departed.”
The Marchesa now spoke very rapidly.
“I do not well know—nobody knows—but Sulpizia raised her veil, and Luigi adjusted his easel. He painted—they conversed—the day fled away. Sunset came. Camillo arrived in his gondola, and Luigi came out without smiling. The gondoliers pulled toward the city.
“‘Is she beautiful?’ asked Camillo.
“‘Wonderful,’ responded his friend, and said no more. He trailed his hands in the water, and then wiped them across his brow. He took off his hat and faced the evening breeze from the sea. He cried to the gondoliers that they were lazy—that the gondola did not move. It was darting like a wind over the water.
“The next day they returned to the island—and the next. But at sunset, Luigi did not come to the gondola. Camillo waited, and sat until it was quite dark. Then he went through the garden of the convent, and inquired for the painter. They sought him in the parlor. He was not there. The abbess was not there. Upon the easel stood her portrait partly finished—strangely beautiful. Camillo had followed into the room, and stood suddenly before the picture. He had not seen Sulpizia since she was a child. Even his fancy had scarcely dreamed of a face so beautiful. His knees trembled as he stood, and he fell before it in the attitude of prayer. The last red flash of daylight fell upon the picture. The eyes smiled—the lips were slightly parted—a glow of awakening life trembled all through the features.