OR IT GREATLY puzzled him why, when some of the bric-à-brac was all full of life and motion, some was quite still and had not a single thrill in it.
"My dear child," said the powdered lady, "is it possible that you do not know the reason? Why, those silent, dull things are imitation."
This she said with so much decision that she evidently considered it a condensed but complete answer.
"Imitation?" repeated August, timidly, not understanding.
"Of course! Lies, falsehoods, fabrications!" said the princess in pink shoes, very vivaciously. "They only pretend to be what we are! They never wake up: how can they? No imitation ever had any soul in it yet."
"Oh!" said August, humbly, not even sure that he understood entirely yet. He looked at Hirschvogel: surely it had a royal soul within it: would it not wake up and speak? Oh dear! how he longed to hear the voice of his fire-king! And he began to forget that he stood by a lady who sat upon a pedestal of gold-and-white china, with the year 1746 cut on it, and the Meissen mark.
"What will you be when you are a man?" said the little lady, sharply, for her black eyes were quick though her red lips were smiling. "Will you work for the Konigliche Porcellan-Manufactur, like my great dead Kandler?"
"I have never thought," said August, stammering; "at least-that is-I do wish-I do hope to be a painter, as was Master Augustin Hirschvogel at Nurnberg."
"Bravo!" said all the real bric-à-brac in one breath, and the two Italian rapiers left off fighting to cry, "Benone!" For there is not a bit of true bric-à-brac in all Europe that does not know the names of the mighty masters.
August felt quite pleased to have won so much applause, and grew as red as the lady's shoes with bashful contentment.
"I knew all the Hirschvogel, from old Veit downwards," said a fat grès de Flandre beer-jug: "I myself was made at Nurnberg." And he bowed to the great stove very politely, taking off his own silver hat-I mean lid-with a courtly sweep that he could scarcely have learned from burgomasters. The stove, however, was silent, and a sickening suspicion (for what is such heart-break as a suspicion of what we love?) came through the mind of August: Was Hirschvogel only imitation?
"No, no, no, no!" he said to himself, stoutly: though Hirschvogel never stirred, never spoke, yet would he keep all faith in it! After all their happy years together, after all the nights of warmth and joy he owed it, should he doubt his own friend and hero, whose gilt lion's feet he had kissed in his babyhood? "No, no, no, no!" he said, again, with so much emphasis that the Lady of Meissen looked sharply again at him.
"No," she said, with pretty disdain; "no, believe me, they may 'pretend' forever. They can never look like us! They imitate even our marks, but never can they look like the real thing, never can they chassent de race."
"How should they?" said a bronze statuette of Vischer's "They daub themselves green with verdigris, or sit out in the rain to get rusted; but green and rust are not patina; only the ages can give that!"
"And my imitations are all in primary colours, staring colours, hot as the colours of a hostelry's sign-board!" said the Lady of Meissen, with a shiver.
"Well, there is a grès de Flandre over there, who pretends to be a Hans Kraut, as I am," said the jug with the silver hat, pointing with his handle to a jug that lay prone on its side in a corner. "He has copied me as exactly as it is given to moderns to copy us. Almost he might be mistaken for me. But yet what a difference there is! How crude are his blues! how evidently done over the glaze are his black letters! He has tried to give himself my very twist; but what a lamentable exaggeration of that playful deviation in my lines which in his becomes actual deformity!"
"And look at that," said the gilt Cordovan leather, with a contemptuous glance at a broad piece of gilded leather spread out on a table. "They will sell him cheek by jowl with me, and give him my name; but look! I am overlaid with pure gold beaten thin as a film and laid on me in absolute honesty by worthy Diego de las Gorgias, worker in leather of lovely Cordova in the blessed reign of Ferdinand the Most Christian. His gilding is one part gold to eleven other parts of brass and rubbish, and it has been laid on him with a brush-a brush-pah! of course he will be as black as a crock in a few years' time, whilst I am as bright as when I first was made, and, unless I am burnt as my Cordova burnt its heretics, I shall shine on forever."
"They carve pear-wood because it is so soft, and dye it brown, and call it me" said an old oak cabinet, with a chuckle.
"That is not so painful; it does not vulgarise you so much as the cups they paint to-day and christen after me," said a Carl Theodor cup subdued in hue, yet gorgeous as a jewel.
"Nothing can be so annoying as to see common gimcracks aping me," interposed the princess in the pink shoes.
"They even steal my motto, though it is Scripture," said a Trauerkrug of Regensburg in black-and-white.
"And my own dots they put on plain English china creatures!" sighed the little white maid of Nymphenburg.
"And they sell hundreds and thousands of common china plates, calling them after me, and baking my saints and my legends in a muffle of to-day; it is blasphemy!" said a stout plate of Gubbio, which in its year of birth had seen the face of Maestro Giorgio.
"That is what is so terrible in these bric-à-brac places," said the princess of Meissen. "It brings one in contact with such low, imitative creatures; one really is safe nowhere nowadays unless under glass at the Louvre or South Kensington."
"And they get even there," sighed the grès de Flandre. "A terrible thing happened to a dear friend of mine, a terre cuite of Blasius (you know the terres cuites of Blasius date from 1560). Well, he was put under glass in a museum that shall be nameless, and he found himself set next to his own imitation born and baked yesterday at Frankfort, and what think you the miserable creature said to him, with a grin? 'Old Pipeclay,' that is what he called my friend, 'the fellow that bought me got just as much commission on me as the fellow that bought you, and that was all that he thought about. You know it is only the public money that goes!' And the horrid creature grinned again till he actually cracked himself. There is a Providence above all things, even museums."
"Providence might have interfered before, and saved the public money," said the little Meissen lady with the pink shoes.
"After all, does it matter?" said a Dutch jar of Haarlem, "All the shamming in the world will not make them us!"
"One does not like to be vulgarised," said the Lady of Meissen, angrily.
"My maker, the Krabbetje, did not trouble his head about that," said the Haarlem jar, proudly. "The Krabbetje made me for the kitchen, the bright, clean, snow-white Dutch kitchen, well-nigh three centuries ago, and now I am thought worthy the palace; yet I wish I were at home; yes, I wish I could see the good Dutch vrouw, and the shining canals, and the great green meadows dotted with the kine."
"Ah! if we could all go back to our makers!" sighed the Gubbio plate, thinking of Giorgio Andreoli and the glad and gracious days of the Renaissance: and somehow the words touched the frolicsome souls of the dancing jars, the spinning teapots, the chairs that were playing cards; and the violin stopped its merry music with a sob, and the spinet sighed-thinking of dead hands.