“Recollections of a Portrait Painter, A Brother of the Brush”-Part Four, Final
by Ann Neilson
Ten years of loving dependence and nearly unruffled happiness to the one; ten years of smiling but bitter endurance to the other, and they were once more nearly destitute. The Marchesa died suddenly, and before she had time to make permanent provision for her protegé. The Marchese bemoaned her loss for three months, endured the presence of her dependants for three months more, and then brought home another bride with a tribe of relations. A few days afterwards he placed a small purse of gold in Hamilton’s hand, and politely intimated that he must seek a residence elsewhere. Madeline had permission to remain if she pleased, but she felt it was impossible to do so if she were to be separated from her grandfather. For the Marchese she had never felt any affection. His second wife was a cruel, proud piece of still life, and Madeline had sense enough to see the misery of such a position as hers must be if she staid. They left Florence, therefore—like our first parents, “the world was all before them where to choose,” and they naturally chose to go to England. They bent their course towards Hamilton’s native town, for there he trusted he might yet obtain a subsistence by the exercise of his long neglected art.—He was doomed to be disappointed. Twenty years had raised his birthplace from an insignificant to a wealthy town, the seat of a thriving manufacture. His old connections were dead or dispersed, and other painters had arisen, enough not only to fill his place, but to starve in their own.— He quited H— in despair, and went to London, for he felt that in that great mart he was most likely to obtain a living by the exercise of some humble branch of his calling. Moreover, there Madeline, skilled as she was in all pretty works and womanly accomplishments, might be able to contribute something towards their support. For two years longer they struggled on. Hamilton obtained humble but constant employment as repairer to a picture dealer, and Madeline, flying to the usual resources of lady-like females in distress, made some little additions to their finances by the sale of embroidery, &c. But her health began to fail—she could no longer bend much over her work—there were sickly mists in her eyes when she gazed intently on her muslin or canvass—there was a dull constant aching at her chest, and frequent stitches in her side—there were faintings that made her suddenly drop her needle, and fall back exhausted. Anon she grew pale, and there and then came the short gasping cough, and the daily recurring hectic of the cheek, and the drenching night perspiration. How could Hamilton doubt with what fiend her constitution was silently wrestling, with the certainty of being finally the conquered— Their main resource, the employment furnished by the picture dealer, was at the time suspended, in consequence of some embarrassment in his affairs, and they were almost pennyless. Hamilton declared that this was by far the most trying time of his life. He had barely the means of procuring bread for their daily sustenance, and poor Madeline’s case called not only for this, but for comforts and luxuries which it was impossible to obtain for her.
How often had the poor painter stood by a shop where were stored the delicacies of daily purchase by the rich, and felt the bitterness of his poverty in full, when he thought of her who had been reared in a palace, and for whom he was now unable to procure one morsel of that tempting food, that might have stimulated her sickly appetite! How especially did the sight of piles of costly fruit, exposed for sale in windows or markets, almost drive him mad, when he thought of his inability to procure one handful to cool her feverish lips! How the warm garments and rich furs in the fashionable shops made him think of her thin clothing, and the coming on of winter.
One resource was left, and only one. Amidst the changes of their fortune Hamilton had still preserved a painting by his son—one of his masterpieces. It was the “vintage scene” spoken of in the early part of this narrative, and was peculiarly dear to the old man, as containing portraits of his son, his son’s wife, and their infant daughter. Through the interest of an artist with whom he had made some slight acquaintance, a place was procured for it in the gallery where I first saw it; and day after day did poor Hamilton attend there in the vain hope that it might sell. The result had been seen; it led to my introduction to Hamilton, and, I trust, much more comfort than the mere price of his picture could have purchased.
When Lady Borrodaile heard this tale of distress, (which my readers may be assured reached her early on the next day,) her self-reproach for having unconsciously caused the artist a continuance of suspense and anxiety, was beyond all bounds. She instantly sent to secure the picture; and in less than two hours from her acquaintance with Hamilton’s history, she was seated beside the suffering Madeline, and with the care of a mother, and the tenderness of a dear sister, was inquiring into her wants, and making arrangements for their ample supply. She would not allow the invalid to remain another night in an unwholesome and comfortless lodging, but removed her to her own house, and procured instant medical attendance for her.
In a few days more she established Madeline at a small villa near Richmond, the property of Sir Philip, deeming that quickness and fresh air might do much for her. Here she visited her almost daily; and surrounded by every comfort, tended constantly by her grandfather, and watched over by her benefactress, the poor patient appeared for a while to revive. She certainly grew stronger, and the painter and Lady Borrodaile flattered themselves she would recover. But there was still the hollow cough and the often flushed cheek; and I, who had anxiously watched over a similar case before, knew too well there was nothing to hope.
It was a lovely day in the early spring—one of the first warm days of the season. The roots of the old trees were tufted with primroses, and the river, bankful from recent rains, glided brightly and majestically on in the pure sunshine—the whole face of nature was full of life and gladness. Lady Borrodaile and myself had driven down to the villa, as we frequently did, and found our gentle patient enjoying the sweet spring air and sunshine. She was sitting on a bench placed on the sunny side of the lawn, and her grandfather was beside her. He was reading to her from a small volume, which, as we draw nearer, we found was the New Testament. He passed as we approached, but she did not perceive us.
“Read that again,” said she, in her low sweet voice—“for it does me good!”
We motioned to him not to mention our presence, and softly drew nearer to listen. Suddenly he stopped—an exclamation of terror burst from his lips—Lady Borrodaile sprung forward and caught Madeline on her arm just as she was sliding from her seat. There was a deadly paleness on her brow, but a sweet smile on her lips. She closed her eyes—her hand fell powerless by her side—she quivered slightly, and all was over!
Never, in life or death, have I looked on any thing so lovely as Madeline Hamilton immediately after her spirit had departed. There was not yet the rigidity and chilliness which so soon follows in the track of death, and converts the dearest and the loveliest to a thing for awe and wonder. Never shall I forget the perfect repose, the ineffable grace of her attitude, as she lay for a few minutes on the rustic bench—her small hand drooping by her side—her lips slightly open—her forehead so smooth and still! Long did that form and face haunt me with their solemn quiet beauty; and even yet they ofttimes arise before me, with a vividness and reality which few memories possess.
Hamilton was a lonely man from that hour. All that could be done to alleviate his sorrow was done by kind and sympathising friends. But it was too late—“his occupation was gone.” In six months we laid the poor painter by the side of Madeline.