The Story of Rosina

The scene, a wood. A shepherd tip-toe creeping,

Carries a basket, whence a billet peeps,

To lay beside a silk-clad Oread sleeping

Under an urn; yet not so sound she sleeps

But that she plainly sees his graceful act;

" He thinks she thinks he thinks she sleeps," in fact.

One hardly needs the " Peint par François Boucher ."

All the sham life comes back again, — one sees

Alcoves, Ruelles , the Lever and the Coucher ,

Patches and Ruffles, Roues and Marquises ;

The little great, the infinite small thing

That ruled the hour when Louis Quinze was king.

For these were yet the days of halcyon weather, —

A " Martin's summer," when the nation swam,

Aimless and easy as a wayward feather,

Down the full tide of jest and epigram; —

A careless time, when France's bluest blood

Beat to the tune of " After us the Flood."

Plain Roland still was placidly " inspecting,"

Not now Camille had stirred the Cafe Foy;

Marat was young, and Guillotin dissecting,

Corday unborn, and Lamballe in Savoie;

No faubourg yet had heard the Tocsin ring: —

This was the summer — when Grasshoppers sing.

And far afield were sun-baked savage creatures,

Female and male, that tilled the earth, and wrung

Want from the soil; — lean things with livid features,

Shape of bent man, and voice that never sung:

These were the Ants, for yet to Jacques Bonhomme.

Tumbrils were not, nor any sound of drum.

But Boucher was a Grasshopper, and painted, —

Rose-water Raphael, — en couleur de rose ,

The crowned Caprice, whose sceptre, nowise sainted,

Swayed the light realm of ballets and bons mots; —

Ruled the dim boudoir's demi-jour , or drove

Pink-ribboned flocks through some pink-flowered grove.

A laughing Dame, who sailed a laughing cargo

Of flippant loves along the Fleuve du Tendre;

Whose greatest grace was jupes a la Camargo ,

Whose gentlest merit gentiment se rendre;

Queen of the rouge-cheeked Hours, whose footsteps fell

To Rameau's notes, in dances by Gardel; —

Her Boucher served, till Nature's self betraying,

As Wordsworth sings, the heart that loved her not,

Made of his work a land of languid Maying,

Filled with false gods and muses misbegot; —

A Versailles Eden of cosmetic youth,

Wherein most things went naked, save the Truth.

Once, only once, — perhaps the last night's revels

Palled in the after-taste, — our Boucher sighed

For that first beauty, falsely named the Devil's,

Young-lipped, unlessoned, joyous, and clear-eyed;

Flung down his palette like a weary man,

And sauntered slowly through the Rue Sainte-Anne.

Wherefore, we know not; but, at times, far nearer

Things common come, and lineaments half-seen

Grow in a moment magically clearer; —

Perhaps, as he walked, the grass he called " too green"

Rose and rebuked him, or the earth " ill-lighted"

Silently smote him with the charms he slighted.

But, as he walked, he tired of god and goddess,

Nymphs that deny, and shepherds that appeal;

Stale seemed the trick of kerchief and of bodice,

Folds that confess, and flutters that reveal;

Then as he grew more sad and disenchanted,

Forthwith he spied the very thing he wanted.

So, in the Louvre, the passer-by might spy some

Arch-looking head, with half-evasive air,

Start from behind the fruitage of Van Huysum,

Grape-bunch and melon, nectarine and pear: —

Here 'twas no Venus of Batavian city,

But a French girl, young, piquante , bright, and pretty.

Graceful she was, as some slim marsh-flower shaken

Among the sallows, in the breezy Spring;

Blithe as the first blithe song of birds that waken,

Fresh as a fresh young pear-tree blossoming;

Black was her hair as any blackbird's feather;

Just for her mouth, two rose-buds grew together.

Sloes were her eyes; but her soft cheeks were peaches,

Hued like an Autumn pippin, where the red

Seems to have burned right through the skin, and reaches

E'en to the core; and if you spoke, it spread

Up till the blush had vanquished all the brown,

And, like two birds, the sudden lids dropped down.

As Boucher smiled, the bright black eyes ceased dancing;

As Boucher spoke, the dainty red eclipse

Filled all the face from cheek to brow, enhancing

Half a shy smile that dawned around the lips.

Then a shrill' mother rose upon the view;

" Cerises, M'sieu? Rosine, depeches-vous! "

Deep in the fruit her hands Rosina buries,

Soon in the scale the ruby bunches lay.

The Painter, watching the suspended cherries,

Never had seen such little fingers play; —

As for the arm, no Hebe's could be rounder;

Low in his heart a whisper said " I've found her."

" Woo first the mother, if you'd win the daughter!"

Boucher was charmed, and turned to Madame Mere ,

Almost with tears of suppliance besought her

Leave to immortalize a face so fair;

Praised and cajoled so craftily that straightway

Voici Rosina, — standing at his gateway.

Shy at the first, in time Rosina's laughter

Rang through the studio as the girlish face

Peeped from some painter's travesty, or after

Showed like an Omphale in lion's case;

Gay as a thrush, that from the morning dew

Pipes to the light its clear " Reveillez-vous ."

Just a mere child with sudden ebullitions,

Flashes of fun, and little bursts of song,

Petulant pains, and fleeting pale contritions,

Mute little moods of misery and wrong;

Only a child, of Nature's rarest making,

Wistful and sweet, — and with a heart for breaking!

Day after day the little loving creature

Came and returned; and still the Painter felt,

Day after day, the old theatric Nature

Fade from his sight, and like a shadow melt

Paniers and Powder, Pastoral and Scene,

Killed by the simple beauty of Rosine.

As for the girl, she turned to her new being, —

Came, as a bird that hears its fellow call;

Blessed, as the blind that blesses God for seeing;

Grew, as the flower on which the sun-rays fall;

Loved if you will; she never named it so:

Love comes unseen, — we only see it go.

There is a figure among Boucher's sketches,

Slim, — a child-face, the eyes as black as beads,

Head set askance, and hand that shyly stretches

Flowers to the passer, with a look that pleads.

This was no other than Rosina surely; —

None Boucher knew could else have looked so purely.

But forth her Story, for I will not tarry:

Whether he loved the little " nut-brown maid,"

If, of a truth, he counted this to carry

Straight to the end, or just the whim obeyed,

Nothing we know, but only that before

More had been done, a finger tapped the door.

Opened Rosina to the unknown comer.

'Twas a young girl — " une pauvre fille ," she said,

" They had been growing poorer all the summer;

Father was lame, and mother lately dead;

Bread was so dear, and, — oh! but want was bitter,

Would Monsieur pay to have her for a sitter?

Men called her pretty." Boucher looked a minute:

Yes, she was pretty; and her face beside

Shamed her poor clothing by a something in it, —

Grace, and a presence hard to be denied;

This was no common offer, it was certain; —

" Alles , Rosina! sit behind the curtain."

Meanwhile the Painter, with a mixed emotion,

Drew and re-drew his ill-disguised Marquise,

Passed in due time from praises to devotion;

Last, when his sitter left him on his knees,

Rose in a maze of passion and surprise, —

Rose, and beheld Rosina's saddened eyes.

Thrice-happy France, whose facile sons inherit

Still in the old traditionary way,

Power to enjoy — with yet a rarer merit,

Power to forget! Our Boucher rose, I say,

With hand still prest to heart, with pulses throbbing,

And blankly stared at poor Rosina sobbing.

" This was no model, M'sieu , but a lady."

Boucher was silent, for he knew it true.

" Est-ce que vous l'aimes? " Never answer made he!

Ah, for the old love fighting with the new!

" Est-ce que vous l'aimes? " sobbed Rosina's sorrow.

" Bon! " murmured Boucher; " she will come to-morrow."

How like a Hunter thou, O Time, dost harry

Us, thine oppressed, and pleasured with the chase,

Sparest to strike thy sorely-running quarry,

Following not less with unrelenting face.

Time, if Love hunt, and Sorrow hunt, with thee,

Woe to the Fawn! There is no way to flee.

Woe to Rosina! By To-morrow stricken,

Swift from her life the sun of gold declined.

Nothing remained but those grey shades that thicken,

Cloud and the cold, — the loneliness — the wind.

Only a little by the door she lingers, —

Waits, with wrung lip and interwoven fingers.

No, not a sign. Already with the Painter

Grace and the nymphs began recovered reign;

Truth was no more, and Nature, waxing fainter,

Paled to the old sick Artifice again.

Seeing Rosina going out to die,

How should he know what Fame had passed him by?

Going to die! For who shall waste in sadness,

Shorn of the sun, the very warmth and light,

Miss the green welcome of the sweet earth's gladness

Lose the round life that only Love makes bright:

There is no succour if these things are taken.

None but Death loves the lips by Love forsaken.

So, in a little, when those Two had parted, —

Tired of himself, and weary as before,

Boucher remembering, sick and sorry-hearted,

Stayed for a moment by Rosina's door.

" Ah, the poor child!" the neighbours cry of her,

" Morte, M'sieu, morte! On dit, — des peines de caeur! "

Just for a second, say, the tidings shocked him;

Say, in his eye a sudden tear-drop shone, —

Just for a second, a dull feeling mocked him

With a vague sense of something priceless gone,

Then, — for at best 'twas but the empty type,

The husk of man with which the days were ripe, —

Then, he forgot her. But, for you that slew her,

You, her own sister, that with airy ease,

Just for a moment's fancy could undo her,

Pass on your way. A little while, Marquise,

Be the sky silent, be the sea serene;

A pleasant passage — a Sainte Guillotine!

As for Rosina, — for the quiet sleeper,

Whether stone hides her, or the happy grass,

If the sun quickens, if the dews beweep her,

Laid in the Madeleine or Montparnasse,

Nothing we know, — but that her heart is cold,

Poor beating heart! And so the Story's told.

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