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by [?]

Alfred the sculptor–you know him? We all know him: he won the great gold medal, and got a travelling scholarship, went to Italy, and then came back to his native land. He was young in those days, and indeed he is young yet, though he is ten years older than he was then.

After his return he visited one of the little provincial towns on the island of Seeland. The whole town knew who the stranger was, and one of the richest persons gave a party in honour of him, and all who were of any consequence, or possessed any property, were invited. It was quite an event, and all the town knew of it without its being announced by beat of drum. Apprentice boys, and children of poor people, and even some of the poor people themselves, stood in front of the house, and looked at the lighted curtain; and the watchman could fancy that he was giving a party, so many people were in the streets. There was quite an air of festivity about, and in the house was festivity also, for Mr. Alfred the sculptor was there.

He talked, and told anecdotes, and all listened to him with pleasure and a certain kind of awe; but none felt such respect for him as did the elderly widow of an official: she seemed, so far as Mr. Alfred was concerned, like a fresh piece of blotting paper, that absorbed all that was spoken, and asked for more. She was very appreciative, and incredibly ignorant–a kind of female Caspar Hauser.

“I should like to see Rome,” she said. “It must be a lovely city, with all the strangers who are continually arriving there. Now, do give us a description of Rome. How does the city look when you come in by the gate?”

“I cannot very well describe it,” replied the sculptor. “A great open place, and in the midst of it an obelisk, which is a thousand years old.”

“An organist!” exclaimed the lady, who had never met with the word obelisk. A few of the guests could hardly keep from laughing, nor could the sculptor quite keep his countenance; but the smile that rose to his lips faded away, for he saw, close by the inquisitive dame, a pair of dark blue eyes–they belonged to the daughter of the speaker, and any one who has such a daughter cannot be silly! The mother was like a fountain of questions, and the daughter, who listened, but never spoke, might pass for the beautiful Naiad of the fountain. How charming she was! She was a study for the sculptor to contemplate, but not to converse with; and, indeed, she did not speak, or only very seldom.

“Has the Pope a large family?” asked the lady.

And the young man considerately answered, as if the question had been better put, “No, he does not come of a great family.”

“That’s not what I mean,” the widow persisted. “I mean, has he a wife and children?”

“The Pope is not allowed to marry,” said the gentleman.

“I don’t like that,” was the lady’s comment.

She certainly might have put more sensible questions; but if she had not spoken in just the manner she used, would her daughter have leant so gracefully on her shoulder, looking straight out with the almost mournful smile upon her face?

Then Mr. Alfred spoke again, and told of the glory of colour in Italy, of the purple hills, the blue Mediterranean, the azure sky of the South, whose brightness and glory was only surpassed in the North by a maiden’s deep blue eyes. And this he said with a peculiar application; but she who should have understood his meaning, looked as if she were quite unconscious of it, and that again was charming!

“Italy!” sighed a few of the guests. “Oh, to travel!” sighed others. “Charming, charming!” chorused they all.

“Yes, if I win a hundred thousand dollars in the lottery,” said the head tax-collector’s lady, “then we will travel. I and my daughter, and you, Mr. Alfred; you must be our guide. We’ll all three travel together, and one or two good friends more.” And she nodded in such a friendly way at the company, that each one might imagine he or she was the person who was to be taken to Italy. “Yes, we will go to Italy! but not to those parts where there are robbers–we’ll keep to Rome, and to the great high roads where one is safe.”