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A Tale of the Epiphany
Continued from page 1
He led them as he spoke into a great, bare attic, and bade the woman sit upon the old chair which he pulled forward.
The children pressed close to their mother and looked about with round, surprised eyes. What a strange place this was! No table, no bed, nothing but piles of pictures standing with their faces against the walls, and in the centre of the room on a curious wooden stand a great uncovered picture glowing with such wonderful colour that it seemed almost to shine in the dull, dim room. The light from the sloping window fell full upon this picture, and as they looked the children forgot their shyness and fear of the stern-faced old man, and pressed forward to look at it.
Why, it was a picture of the very festa which they were preparing to keep next day, the feast of the Blessed Epiphany. There was the rough, rude stable, with the dim outline of the cattle just seen in the background; at one side an empty manger; and in the centre, where some straw had been heaped together, the Holy Mother with her Baby in her arms. Such a sweet young mother she looked, as she gazed down with tender happiness and almost reverent awe upon the Child on her knee. Before them, on the rough stones of the stable floor, knelt the three kings, their heads bent in lowly adoration, their costly robes of crimson, purple and gold standing out in contrast to the dark stable and the simply clad mother. It was a wonderful picture, but it was disappointing too, for the best part of all was still unfinished, and only a blank showed where the face of the Gesu Bambino was still to be painted.
The old painter himself stood with the children looking at the picture, and he sighed heavily as he gazed. Day after day, month after month, he had worked at this picture, which he felt sure would at last bring him fame and honour. Faithfully and well he had worked, and each part was as beautiful as he could make it: only one thing seemed beyond his power. It was the face of the Child, the centre of the whole, and toil as he might he could not paint it as he wished it to be. Over and over again had he tried; he had sought for models far and near, but it always ended in failure, and he painted it out each time in fresh despair.
But here was a new chance, a little model his quick eye had noted in his search the day before. He roused himself and bade the children stand back as he caught up his brushes and prepared to work. Then he turned impatiently to the woman.
'Unwrap thy shawl and hold the child so that I can see its face,' he ordered. 'Dost thou think that I wish to paint a mummy or a chrysalis?'
The woman started and began hastily to undo her shawl.
'He is asleep,' she said, 'and has a cough, poverino.' But seeing an angry, impatient look come over the painter's face, she hastened to rouse the child and arrange its blue pinafore and gently stroke its little, dark, downy head.
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