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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Adventures in Cookieing, Part Three: Icing Consistency


Now that you’re happy with your cookie rolling and cutting skills, it’s time to move on to the next step, applying the base coat. While you can paint or stencil directly onto a plain cookie (I’ve tried it), the colours show up much better against bright white, which means some variant of royal icing. This should not be applied on cookies fresh from the oven as it will just run everywhere. Give the cookies time to not only cool but dry out a bit.

There are plenty of icing recipes out there, and it’s even possible to buy mixes that just require the addition of water, but for household consumption you can easily make your own, no expensive stand mixer required.

Cookie Icing

1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon meringue powder (my grocery store carries it in the cake mix aisle)
food colouring (if you want a base other than white)
flavouring (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together the icing sugar and meringue powder. Add colouring and flavouring (1/4 teaspoon of vanilla or almond is nice) if desired. Then add water a few drops at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

That’s the tricky bit. You want icing that’s thick enough to stand on its own (it will be forming a dam) and thin enough to be piped. There are lots of videos online and everyone seems to have their own idea of what the right consistency is. Most say that the icing needs to be thick enough that a line drawn through it with a knife will stay there for several seconds, but I’ve seen several versions of just how many seconds that is. You’ll need to experiment. And remember, if they don’t come out looking right, you can always eat the evidence. It took me a few batches to get the technique down.

Add more icing sugar if it’s too thin or more water if it’s too thick, but be careful. On my second attempt, the icing came out perfectly for the first cookie but I couldn’t squeeze any more out. So I added a few drops of water directly into the piping bag. My next squeeze sent icing out the top of the bag and all over the cupboard rather than through the tip. Speaking of which, a small round tip which will allow you to “draw” a straight line is all that’s needed. You can buy disposable piping bags, but I prefer silicone bags, which are fairly easy to clean up and can be reused multiple times.

Pipe a line of icing around the outer edge of the cookie. Let that stand a while to harden and then fill in the interior with more icing (that’s called flooding). You can either use the icing you’ve already got made up as is, or thin it a little bit first. Either way, something pointed, such as a skewer, is useful for pushing icing into the unfilled corners, popping bubbles, or generally smoothing things out. You want enough icing to hide the surface of the cookie and come to the top of the outline (you’re aiming at a flat surface) but not so much that it won’t dry in a reasonable length of time.

Set your iced cookies aside for several hours or overnight and you’re ready to stencil or paint.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Paragon Pudding

I found this one in The Ideal Cookery Book, Third Edition, available on Project Gutenberg, and was intrigued by the fact that it used potatoes to make a dessert. The ingredients weren’t expensive so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying. It actually came out pretty well, though it took much longer to make than expected as we had a three-day power outage due to an ice storm in the middle of the process. Looks like a good way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.

1 pound peeled and cooked potatoes (measured before cooking)

¼ cup butter, melted

rind and juice of 2 lemons (or 4 tablespoons bottled lemon juice)

5 oz sugar

2 eggs

pinch salt

½ teaspoon vanilla*

Rub potatoes through a sieve. Add butter, then grated rind, sugar, eggs, lemon juice and vanilla.

Spoon into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.

I served this with an amaretto-flavoured hard sauce because I was afraid it would be bland. It actually wasn’t, but the hard sauce did work well with it. You could also use whipped cream to dress it up a bit.

* not called for in the recipe but I put it in anyway

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

A Modern Trio in an Old Town, by Katharine Haviland Taylor

I really enjoyed this novel and thought others might too. If you’re into writing, it’s a clinic on character voice and show don’t tell. If you’re not, it’s still an engaging story with likeable characters, told with humour. And I guarantee it's clean.

What happens when 18-year-old Jane Jones leaves her small town in Pennsylvania to travel to Florence to study with a master piano teacher?

Project Gutenberg information can be found at the end of the final chapter or online at









As I look back through my experience of eighteen years, I realize that many of my apprehensions have been foolish, because so many of the things that I dreaded turned out all right. Almost every one of the parties I thought would be stiff - and I am not very happy at the sort! - proved to be the kind where everyone grew lively. I remember one that Elaine McDonald had, particularly, because I had said to mother, “I don’t want to go. They’ll all wear gloves and it will be miserable!” But I did go, and they had a Paul Jones that was so rough that they broke a chair and knocked over a table, and it was fine!

While, on the other hand, there have been parties that I thought would be nice and informal, and we just went and sat in one place and talked, and at that sort I smile until my face feels as if it were covered with shellac, because I don’t feel like smiling at all.

And this all shows - or it should, because I am trying to make it - that I never should take my apprehensions seriously. But I seem to have to, and I always do, and so I felt as if I had real reason for misery, when Mrs. Hamilton, who had looked after me as I crossed the Atlantic upon the Steamship Carpatia, called me back into the stateroom and said, “By the way, child, I am not going to Florence, after all.”

Well, I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, which is what I often do while waiting.

“But,” she went on, as she fussed with the little jars that contribute quite a lot toward her beauty, “I shall hunt up someone who is, and see that you are looked after.”

“Thank you,” I said, and then I went back to the foot I had originally been standing on.

“My friends, the Wiltons, want me to go to Mentone with them,” she stated as she picked up a little brush she has for her eyebrows and began to use it, “and their plans sound rather jolly, and so I’ve taken them up. I’m really sorry not to see you entirely settled, but there’ll be someone on board who is going up, no doubt.”

“I suppose so,” I answered in a flat tone that I use while miserable. Then I wondered what in the world would happen if there was no one on board who was headed for Florence, because the only Italian I knew was, “La luna bella,” which is “The beautiful moon,” and I didn’t see what that would do on a railroad train, and especially since I was going to travel by day.

“How do you say Florence in Italian?” I asked, after I changed feet again.

“Firenze,” Mrs. Hamilton responded, as she powdered the back of her hands, “and don’t worry, we’ll surely locate someone who will care for you.”

But that only half cheered me, because I had been but a day out of Boston when I realized that Mrs. Hamilton is like a lot of people who talk a good deal. She is a good promiser, and she promises so much that she can’t do a third of all she intends to. Really the only thing she did do that she had forecast doing, was getting seasick, and she, herself, didn’t entirely cause that. A couple of days of rough weather helped her.

However, to go back, I blamed her unjustly this time, for while I was idling around the deck after dinner, wishing that I had nothing on my mind to keep me from enjoying the salt tang in the air, and the pretty phosphorescent, silver lights that gleam in the water where the prow of the boat cuts it, she came toward me, and said she had found someone who would help me reach Florence safely.

“A Mr. Terrance Wake,” she said, “probably you’ve never heard of him, but he is rather noted. Writes on art, all that sort of thing, and has a perfect love of a villa near Florence. He says he’ll he delighted to be of any service to you.”

“Well, if he’ll just let me follow him, it’ll be all right,” I answered, and Mrs. Hamilton laughed.

“Funny child,” she said, and then, “I must go in; I was dummy. I’ll present Mr. Wake in the morning.”

After that she vanished in one of the bright-lit doorways from which came the energetic voices of people who were fondly telling each other that they had played the wrong card, and again I was alone. I felt better and I could breathe with more ease. Before she came I had felt as if my lungs were a size too small for my breath. Being anxious always makes me feel that way. And I walked around the deck I had learned so well, speaking to people as I passed them, exchanging plans, and promising to send postcards.

I was awake when Mrs. Hamilton came down to go to bed, which was unusual for me, for insomnia is not one of my troubles, and I sat up in the berth to talk.

“What’s Mr. Wake like?” I asked, as I leaned out and looked down.

“Fascinating man,” she responded, “but fearfully indifferent!”

“Does he smoke?” I asked, for I had begun to get anxious again, and I had actually supposed up a bad awake-dream that had to do with his going off to smoke, and the train being broken up, and my being left in a strange country with nothing to help me but a remark about the moon.

“I don’t know, Jane,” Mrs. Hamilton answered, with an easy little laugh. Then she added the “Funny child!” she says at me so often, and I lay back and stared up at the ceiling again.

“You won’t forget to introduce us, will you?” I asked, as she switched off the lights.

“Ho hum,” she yawned, deeply. “No, dear, certainly not! Now go to sleep, for you’ll have lots that’s new to see to-morrow. ’Night.”

“Goodnight,” I answered. But I couldn’t take her advice about sleep, and in the dark I lay wide eyed, and half unhappy, which is, I suppose, silly to confess. But I had never met a strange country before; in fact, I had never been anywhere much before, and the whole experience was almost overpowering. And it was only after quite an hour of wakefulness that my eyes grew heavy and I began to dream.

When I woke up it was morning, a bright, sunny, warm morning, and there were voices outside which called in a way that was new to me; there were songs in the calls, even when they were angry. And the ship was still, so I knew that we must be in the harbor at Genoa.

Because I was green - and still am and always will be! - I went down to the bathroom, and ran a tub full of water, and then decided not to bathe, for no one but a mud turtle could have bathed in that sort of water! It came right out of the harbor! And so I contented myself with the washbowl instead - the water from that was all right - and then went back to my stateroom; dressed, closed my steamer trunk and my bag, and hurried in to breakfast.

I found Mrs. Hamilton finishing hers, and she pointed out Mr. Wake to me. He sat at the Captain’s table, and there was a beautiful woman devoting herself in the most unselfish way to talking to him, and he ate all the time she did it, and only nodded! I felt certain then that my day would be a silent one! However, that didn’t worry me.

“Marvelous man,” Mrs. Hamilton sort of breathed out in a way she does.

“He certainly can eat oatmeal,” I answered, because that was the only thing I noticed about him. Mrs. Hamilton laughed - she does a great deal - and turned to tell a young man with a funny little mustache what I had said, and he laughed. Then Mrs. Hamilton got up, and hurried off, and I finished my breakfast.

As I left the dining saloon, I heard her hail me, and I found that she had actually come back to see that I met Mr. Wake.

“Mr. Wake!” she called, as he came toward us, “here is my little charge.” Then she laughed, but he didn’t laugh. He didn’t even smile, he just bowed from the waistline in a manner that was very impressive, and yet chilling.

“And it is Miss Jones, whom I am to look out for?” he asked, in a sort of bored way.

“Jane,” I answered. “I should think you could call me Jane, because you are so much older than I am.”

And then he did laugh.

“Bully,” he said, “I will! And look here, Jane, I say, you won’t talk Art to me, will you? Or quote my books?”

“I didn’t know you wrote any until last night,” I answered, seriously, and again he laughed. I laughed too, but just to be sociable, because I didn’t see the joke.

“We’ll have a fine day!” he said in the kindest and most enthusiastic manner, and I felt that we would too, but neither of us had any idea of how fine it would be, nor of all the many, many happy happenings it was to preface!

Chapter 2


After I had said goodbye to a great many people, and walked down the shaking steps with canvas banisters that the sailors hang on the side of a ship, and stepped into a little tug as three Italians who wore blue uniforms screamed, “Attento! Attento!” I felt as if I were getting close to the end of my journey, and that the surprise pile must be getting low, for I couldn’t imagine that things on land could keep on being so different. But they were, and after I landed, I felt as if the ship life, which had been a real change for me, had been only a mild preface.

The harbor was rough, and getting in was quite hard, which I liked, and a great many of the women in the tug screamed and held on to the nearest man, and the Italian sailors called shrilly, and it was all very nice.

“Afraid?” Mr. Wake asked of me. It was the first time he had spoken since he had thanked heaven that I had only one bag.

“No,” I answered, “I like it. I kind of wish it would go over – of course I wouldn’t want anyone hurt, but I would like to write home about it.”

“Stars!” said Mr. Wake.

“Which one would you rescue?” I asked as I looked around.

“None,” he answered shortly.

Then I let conversation die, which is what I almost always have to do when I can’t think of anything to say. I am not at all like my older sister Roberta, who is socially versed and can go right on talking, whether she has anything to talk about or not. Roberta is wonderfully clever, and talented and polished, and strangers can hardly believe we are sisters. But to get on, I didn’t mind the silence because I had so much to see.

The town that cuddled against the hills on the shore was getting closer and closer, and it was so interesting to see palm trees and such stuff that one associates with greenhouses, around the Statue of Columbus in a public square down in front of the town.

“Like it?” Mr. Wake asked of me, after quite a long interval of silence.

I nodded.

“The Italian sun makes the shadows black, doesn’t it?” I questioned, lazily, for the day and the new sights made me feel half sleepy, “and the houses so white that you squint when you look at them,” I went on. “Just the look of the sun makes you feel warm.”

Mr. Wake said I was right. “Personally,” he said, “I think that that warm look makes a good many people think Italy a warm country. It isn’t. Florence is penetrating during some of the winter months. Hope you have heavy enough clothes.”

“Oh, yes,” I answered, “I have long underwear and everything,” and then I realized how Roberta would have felt about my confiding that, and grew silent. And after Mr. Wake said, “That’s good,” in a rather restrained way, he grew silent too.

Then suddenly we were bumping against a wharf, and the sailors were squawking as if the landing were the first one they had ever made, and ragged small boys with piercing brown eyes and dusky cheeks and black hair were crying, “Lady, postcard! Buy the postcard!” and beggars held out their hands and whined. And it seemed a pity to me that so gentle a climate and pretty a country had to welcome people that way.

However, before I was on land two or three minutes I had forgotten all about it and was completely absorbed by what Roberta would have termed “The country’s entire charm.”

There were occasional palm trees that rose in piercing spikes between the roofs of dull red tile, and a blue sky so clear that it seemed thousands of miles from the earth and as if the blue overlaid silver; and little streets so narrow one felt sure the sun could never creep into them. But I can’t do justice to these things, I can only tell, and roughly, of what sank into my mind and stayed there. And the things that dented my memory enough to stick in it, made their dents by sharp, new edges.

For instance: in Pennsylvania I never saw a little curly-haired, brown-skinned baby who looked as if she ought to have wings, sitting on a curb - without as much as a safety pin on her - and laughing at the bright pomegranate which she tossed in the air or rolled in the dirt-filled gutter.

And I had never seen half-clothed little boys turn handsprings in the street, and then sing out their begging song, which was, “Uno soldo, Signor! Uno soldo!” nor had I seen a town that lives in the street, and eats, quarrels, talks and sometimes even sleeps there.

We had to hurry through Genoa to the station, because we hadn’t any too much time in which to catch the train for Florence, but we went on foot and followed our facchino (which is Italian for porter) who had our bags piled high in a wheelbarrow, and I was glad we walked and that we were in a hurry, for we took the short cuts through the tiny back streets, and I think back streets are just like people’s kitchens. You learn more of the people after you have looked at the dishcloth, and found out whether they use a nice, hemmed square, or use any old piece of worn material that happens to be around, than you can from studying their parlors where everything is all spick and span and stuck up.

I said so to Mr. Wake as we hurried along, but he didn’t answer. He couldn’t. Our going was uphill, and it seemed to tire him; he puffed dreadfully. I decided when I knew him better that I would teach him the Billy Taft stationary run, and a few of Mr. Camp’s “Daily Dozen,” but I didn’t speak of it then, because I felt that the thought of further exercise might not be entirely welcome.

“Have to run for it,” he panted, as we gained the platform, and we did, and we got in the train none too soon. I love getting trains that way, but Mr. Wake didn’t seem to care for it so much, because after he had tossed the facchino some coins, and put our bags up on the shelf that is over the seats, he dropped down opposite me, took off his hat, fanned himself with it, and then wiped the perspiration from his brow.

“Getting old,” he said, but I shook my head, because my father is a doctor and I knew why he was out of breath.

“You’re just a little overweight,” I said, and I couldn’t help looking at his stomach which stuck out. He saw me do it and he laughed and I liked the little wrinkles that stood out boldly for that moment, around his eyes.

“You know,” he confided, “I’ve been trying to gain the courage to do something about it, but everyone - up to this moment - has discouraged me! I’d get my mouth set for long walks and short rations, and then someone would say, ‘Oh, stuff, you’re just right.’”

“Did they really?” I questioned, because I could hardly believe it, and again he laughed.

“Really, Jane!” he answered.

“Well,” I commented, “although you are not really fat, you’re too fat for your height. And you puffed like the dickens after that run, and it wasn’t anything.” And then I broke off with, “What’s that?” for a horn of the prettiest, clear tone had tooted, and it made me wonder.

“Horn,” said Mr. Wake, “they do that in the stations before the trains pull out; haven’t any bells over here, you know. Now watch this start - smooth as glass; no jolts! Government over here seems to know how to run railroads.”

I smiled, because I thought that any government should be able to run the funny little trains that looked as if they ought to be running around a Christmas tree, and as if they would fall off at every curve, to lie, feet up, buzzing until someone started them on again.

Mr. Wake saw my smile, and I was glad he did, because what it led him to say helped me lots later.

“Think they’re funny?” he asked.

“They look as if they ought to be full of pine needles,” I answered. “You know how the needles begin to drop all over the Christmas tree yard about the second of January?”

“Of course they look like that,” he answered, “we got our patterns for toys, with many another thing, from this side of the pond. My child, a great many Americans come over here, and derive real benefit; they see things that are beautiful and rare, but their gratitude is of a strange variety, for they evidence it only with bragging.”

I felt flat. I said so.

“Pshaw, don’t!” Mr. Wake begged. “I didn’t mean you and I don’t mean to be a preachy old codger, but I do think one sees more if one appreciates and doesn’t depreciate. You know, as a matter of fact you wouldn’t go into a neighbor’s house and say, ‘My house is better than your house, my bathtub is shinier; my doorbell is louder, my front porch is wider,’ and lots of us - in various ways - do just that, for this is a neighbor’s house.”

I said a really humble “Thank you,” and Mr. Wake moved over to sit by me. He looked down and smiled in a very gentle way, and I began to love him.

“You are a very nice, sensible little girl,” he said; “how old are you!”

I told him.

“And why are you off here alone at eighteen?” he asked.

“I am going to Florence to study piano with Mr. Michele Paggi,” I responded.

“Well, well!” said Mr. Wake. And then he laughed. “I know him,” he said after the laugh. “And my, my, what a fire-eater he is! Well, you seem to like adventure. But whatever started you this way?”

“It really is a fairy story,” I said, “and it is so romantic that I sometimes can’t quite believe it, and I know I never shall be sure it isn’t all a dream.”

“That is nice,” Mr. Wake broke in, “and it’s hard to believe that I sit by a young lady who instead of asking questions will weave me a tale. Good fairies in it?”

“Yes,” I answered, “and a fairy godmother, who wears Paris hats, and always tilted just a little over one eye, and soft silk dresses, and gray furs that match her fluffy, wavy, light gray hair.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Wake, “then she is the sort that I, myself, might fancy!”

“Oh, you  would !” I asserted surely; and it seems very, very funny to recall that now!

 Chapter 3


I went into reverse for Mr. Wake, because he seemed interested in my own fairy story, but I didn’t begin to tell it until after lunch.

Buying our lunches was the most interesting kind of a business transaction, and unpacking them was interesting too.

“At the next station,” Mr. Wake said, “I am going to get two mighty good lunches that come packed in little baskets, and there will be a little wicker-covered bottle, full of wine, that you can use for hair tonic or scent after it’s empty.”

And then the train slowed and he leaned far out of the opened window that was in the door of our compartment.

The station where we found ourselves after we had come to a gentle stop was much smaller than the one at Genoa, but it had the same foreign flavor, and a highly charged feeling of imperfectly suppressed excitement and happiness. I can’t quite explain about this; it rises, perhaps, from the clear, dazzling sunlight, the masquerade-ball look that is lent by gay uniforms, and the women who carry trays that are piled high with small bouquets. But anyway it is there. And this gaiety was strange to me. Of course at our stations there are always some people who scream such things as, “Let us know when you get to Aggie’s!” or, “Don’t forget to write!” at each other, through two panes of thick glass, but they don’t seem entirely happy and I feel that the majority are entirely sober about traveling, and when I mentioned my feeling to Mr. Wake, he said they had a right to be.

Mr. Wake called out something in Italian, and his cry mingled with the shrilly voiced wants of the many Italians who leaned from the other windows of the train, and a white-aproned man who trundled a truck that was piled high with little baskets caught the coins that were flung to him, and handed lunches into the train, and said his “Grazies” and made his bows.

And then he reached us, and Mr. Wake bought two baskets for two lire each, and we sat down and unpacked them. There were bologna sandwiches and ripe olives - which I then didn’t care for - and a slab of Italian cheese which I couldn’t name, a very good hard roll, figs and grapes, very fresh and delicious, and then there was the little gourd-shaped bottle with wicker around its feet, and a paper napkin. It seemed very reasonable to me for a few cents, because it was all I needed, and I always need quite a bit.

“I don’t know whether I’d better drink this,” I said, about the wine. “It might make me light-headed.”

“Nonsense,” said Mr. Wake, “it’s about as likely to as lemonade. The Italians drink it like water, and you never see one drunk – probably won’t unless some fool starts a prohibition movement.”

Then the train made its slippery, oiled start, and I spoke only once again, and then I was silent for some time. “Do they sell cushions, too?” I asked. I had seen a whole truck piled high with them, and had seen some of them being passed into the windows of the train, and I was naturally curious about everything.

“Rent them,” Mr. Wake answered. “The people leave them in the train, and they are rented again on the trip back.” That seemed very strange to me, too, coming, as I do, from a race that takes everything that isn’t nailed down, while traveling.

Then I really ate, and I was glad to have the quiet lull in which to look at the things we passed. Everything fascinated me, but nothing seemed real. I expected all the time to hear the click of the nickel as it drops into one of those boxes holding candy that are clamped to the back of the seats in our opera house. The country looked like a drop curtain, or the kind of a scene that brings on a Tyrolean chorus. There was a lot of pink and white and bright, bright green and salmon-colored houses, with blue shutters; and little shrines set high upon their walls, under the wide-hanging, gleaming roofs of tiles. And there were oxen on the smooth white roads we passed, drawing queer, lumbering-looking carts with huge wheels that creaked each time they completed their uneven circles. I had so many things to interest me that I was too busy. It made me think of the time that Daddy took the twins (my youngest sisters) to the circus, and they cried because they couldn’t look at all the rings at once. I felt that way, and so surprised over everything. I enjoyed my lunch, but I chewed dully and without my usual enthusiasm. That was because I was looking so hard at the same time. Mr. Wake watched me, and his eyes twinkled. I think he liked the way I felt. Anyway, as I brushed the crumbs from my lap and put the little basket in which the lunch had come up by my bag, Mr. Wake said, “You know, I have a firm conviction that you are going to enjoy Florence.”

“I’d be an idiot not to, wouldn’t I?” I asked.

“Surely, but the world is full of idiots. Mr. Carlyle once said, ‘London has a population of three million people, most of whom are fools’ - but tell me your story. You come from Pennsylvania?”

“Yes,” I answered, “from a little town that has the smell of oil in the air, and that is surrounded by hills that have oil wells on them. It’s a fine town. You’d like it.”

“No doubt,” agreed Mr. Wake, and again he smiled at me.

“And,” I confided, “I’d never even been to Buffalo, which is our closest city, so you can imagine what all this does to me.”

“And who waved the wand?” he asked.

“Miss Sheila Parrish,” I answered.

“Miss—,” he stopped, then began again, “Miss who?” he asked.

“Miss Sheila Parrish,” I repeated. “It’s a pretty name, isn’t it?”

Mr. Wake didn’t answer immediately, and then he said, “It is a pretty name; I’m thinking it holds a touch of old Ireland and a deal of romance.”

“She hasn’t many friends,” I said, “she says she is fond of solitude.”

Mr. Wake, who was looking down at a strange ring he wore - which I soon learned was a scarab, - twisted it as he said, “Well, now you have introduced the fairy who holds the wand, tell me, please, how did she wave it?” And I told him.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had begun early in May on a rainy day when I had spilled fudge right in the middle of the front breadth of my one good dress. I felt dreadfully about it, because Mother is always asking me to wear an apron, and she works so hard to keep us looking nice that the idea of making her more work made me miserable. But there the fudge was, spreading over the floor, with the treacherous pan handle, that had made me knock it off, looking as mild and blameless as the twins after they have been eating pink and yellow candy bananas (these are forbidden) and there I stood looking down miserably at the front of my skirt and wondering what to do.

Well, I remember I murmured, “I might as well scrape it up, and get out of this,” and so I got a palette knife and scraped the top layer of fudge off the floor for the twins - who don’t care at all what has happened to any fudge as long as it happens to come to them - and then I scraped my dress, and sponged it a little, and then - miserable and feeling weighted -went up to the third floor where I sleep in the same room with Roberta, and got into my old, faded pink lawn.

I hated that lawn dress, and it helped me to wear it while I waited for Mother who was downtown buying Ferris waists and garter elastic and bone buttons and dish towel material and all those things mothers buy at least once a month, and of course I needed to see mother - as every one of us always needs her when we have been into mischief!

I knew she would say, “Never mind, honey, we’ll fix it in no time! I have more goods and I’ll slip in a new front breadth before you can say ‘Jack Robinson!’” And I knew that I would feel humble and mean because of her being so nice, but cleared up too, and that I would slide up to her, and lay my face against her shoulder, and say, “Oh, Mother,” in a tight way, because thinking of how wonderful she is, and how much too good for us, always makes me want to cry, and I would rather die than cry.

The only time when I ever did cry without shame was when my favorite pitcher was expelled, and most unjustly, from The Oil City League.

However, to get on, I went downstairs, and watered the plants and dusted and did all those things I never do while feeling well mentally, and then I sat down and played the piano.

I didn’t play anything that echoed my mood but I played a dancing, gay, bright thing. I believe most people save the sad ones for those moments when they want to feel sentimental, or are not afraid of being sad.

Anyway I played this thing which sounded as if gipsies might dance to it in the heart of a summer day, and I played it, I believe, fairly well.

After I finished it I sat idle, my hands on the piano keys, feeling even more depressed than before, and it was into this moment of dreariness that the fairy godmother stepped.

Perhaps I heard a little noise, and perhaps I only felt eyes on me, but in any event, I turned - something made me turn - and then I said, “Why, Miss Sheila!” for although I had never seen the pretty woman who stood in the doorway, I had often - very often - seen the picture of the girl she had been, and the years had not changed her much.

She came toward me as I got up, and she held out both hands, and I saw that she had felt tears, for her long lashes were wet, and made into little points.

“Bless you, darling child!” she said, as she kissed me, “how did you know?” and I said, “Mother has a picture of you, and of course we’ve always talked of you, for Mother loved you so much; she said you were so kind to her!”

“Kind to her?” she echoed, “dear soul, think of all that she did for me.”

And then her eyes brimmed again, and Mother spoke quickly of how they had met, because I think she felt that it was too hard for Miss Sheila to remember the time when Mother, then a trained nurse, had cared for Miss Sheila’s younger brother who died.

“Right by the First National,” Mother said, “and there I was, coming out of Mr. Duffy’s with a pound of liver, and I looked up and saw dear Miss Sheila!”

“And I’ve tried to find you everywhere, Margaret,” said Miss Sheila to Mother, “but that trip - I traveled, you know, after we parted, and I lost hold of threads for a time, and then when I came back I couldn’t locate you. I suppose you married the young intern in the Pennsylvania Hospital, during that interval?”

Mother laughed, flushed and nodded.

“He used to write her letters that weighed seven to eight pounds, every day,” said Miss Sheila to me, as she shook her pretty head disapprovingly, “I assure you the poor postman grew quite stooped; I hope, Jane, that no young intern writes to you?”

And I told her that none did, and that I wouldn’t let any, because I wanted a husband whom I would know by sight, anyway, and one that didn’t smell of ether.

And then I put my hand on the piano. “It’s this with me,” I said shyly, because I do feel shy about my playing. It makes me feel lumpy in my throat from the way I love it, and that embarrasses me.

“I don’t wonder,” said Miss Sheila as she looked at me searchingly, “I heard you. Jane—”

And she didn’t wave her wand, but I saw the flicker of its silver magic in the air.

“Jane,” she continued, “I have a hobby, and it is helping girls to find work that they like, and after finding it, helping them to go on with it. This, because I, myself, have been without work, and suffered from it. You can play, my child, and your mother is going to give me the great pleasure of letting me help you play better. You are, Margaret? My dear, remember the old days, and all that you did for me! Jane,” (she turned back to me) “in Florence there is rather a marvelous teacher named Michele Paggi, and in October you shall go to him!”

       *       *       *       *       *

That was the story.

I told it to Mr. Terrance Wake as if he could see our house, and knew the people in it, including Miss Sheila, who abandoned the party with whom she was motoring and came to stay with us for a time.

And as I ended it, on that Italian train that was taking me nearer and nearer to Florence, I looked up to see that Mr. Wake was still twisting a scarab ring and looking down at it.

“So you see,” I said, “why I am here, and why I love Miss Sheila.”

“Yes,” he said, and he raised his head to smile at me in a strange way. “Yes, I see,” and then he looked away from me and down again at his scarab ring.

Chapter 4


When we reached Florence, which was well along in the afternoon, Mr. Wake went with me to the Pension Dante, which is on the Piazza Indipendenza, not far from the station, and is the place where Miss Sheila had arranged to have me stay.

Again a facchino took our baggage and piled it all up, trunks and bags together, in a wheelbarrow, and then started ahead of us, singing.

“Don’t you live in the country?” I asked of Mr. Wake, for I had understood from Mrs. Hamilton that he did.

“Yes, out the Fiesole way,” he answered; “my goods go to the Piazza del Duomo where I take a tram.”

“What’s a duomo?” I asked, because I imagined it was some kind of an officer in a high, bear-skin cap. It seemed to me that it sounded like that. But it wasn’t, it was something quite different.

“It’s the greatest church in an Italian city,” Mr. Wake answered, “and I think you will probably be able to see the dome of this one from your window. It is one of the largest domes in Italy; it was the model for St. Peter’s in Rome, and it was alike the despair of Michael Angelo, and the pride of its maker, Brunelleschi.”

I said, “Oh,” because at that time such facts seemed dry to me, and dulled by dust. I had not learned how much romance may be unearthed by a puff of breath from someone who knows, as does Mr. Wake, how to blow aside the years.

“About a month,” he said, “and you’ll like it, and you’ll be hunting for old facts.” And then he smiled at me in a way that told me he had understood my feeling.

After that our facchino paused and dumped my baggage out of his wheelbarrow and rang a bell.

“You’ve evidently reached home,” Mr. Wake hazarded, “and a mighty nice place it is too, isn’t it, with this square before you? Probably puff up a million stairs now, and then you’ll tell me I have too much tummy, won’t you?”

“No,” I answered, “I did tell you that.”

He laughed, and we followed the facchino who had put my trunk on his shoulders, and started before us, up three flights to the Pension Dante.

“Look here,” said Mr. Wake as we paused on the first landing, “suppose you take me in training? You walk?”

“I have to,” I answered. “Father made me promise to walk at least five miles every day.”

“Well, that ought to help me,” Mr. Wake commented; “suppose I go, too, and show you the town?”

I said I’d like it.

“I can take you to some spots most tourists miss,” he promised, as we again started on and up.

“That’ll be nice,” I said, but I never dreamed then how very nice it would be, nor of how much I was to enjoy those trips he planned, in spite of the fact that I learned a good deal in the process. “And I thank you,” I ended, and he said I was most welcome.

Then the door at the head of the third flight opened, and I saw a pretty, plump little Italian woman whose hair rippled like the waves that follow in the immediate wake of a steamboat, and when she held out both of her hands to me, and said, “Buona sera, Signorina, well-come!” I felt very much at home, and I loved her right away.

“Are you Miss Rotelli?” I asked.

“Yes, Mees Rotelli,” she answered as she nodded like everything, and I introduced Mr. Wake, and he left me after a promise of looking around to see how I was in a day or so, and then I followed Miss Rotelli – I soon called her Miss Julianna – in.

And in.

Well, I think that everybody should travel. As Mr. Hemmingway, whom I met at dinner, says, it is educational. One has an idea, or at least I did, that houses all over the world are about the same. I expected little differences, but I didn’t expect stone floors, or Cupids painted on walls, or ceilings that took a field glass to see, or to see a plaster-of-Paris Madonna on the wall with a tall wrought-iron candlestick on the floor before it. And I hadn’t expected to see a box full of sawdust with a broom in it, or that they had to clean house differently in Florence. I didn’t know that there was so little water that they had to dampen sawdust and brush it around the rooms instead of mopping them up as we do. There are many, many differences, but those things, and Beata, struck into me at first.

Beata, who had a rose in her hair, and whom I soon found was the cook and waitress, was sitting in the long corridor into which I had stepped.

She rose as I came in and bobbed from the knees, as Elaine McDonald, who is the only girl in our town who ever went to boarding school, did the first year after she came home.

“She ees Beata,” said Miss Rotelli, and Beata spoke. “She say well-come,” explained Miss Rotelli.

“Tell her thank you, if you please,” I said. And then I heard, “Niente, Signorina Americana!” from Beata, who again sat down and went on knitting a bright red tie.

“She make for her sweetheart,” said Miss Rotelli, and I didn’t feel very far from home at that moment. Roberta makes dozens of ties and always falters over presenting them, and says that perhaps, after she’s made a few more, she can do better - which mother doesn’t think very nice, because it makes every poor silly she gives them to think he’s the first one to have a tie knit for him by Roberta. But Roberta is like that! It’s all unfair that she should be popular, but she is!

However, to get on, I followed Miss Julianna well down a corridor, which ran straight ahead as one entered the door from the outside hall, and was so long that it narrowed in the distance almost like a railroad track, and toward the end of this Miss Julianna opened a door on the left, and said, “Your room.” She said everything in a clipped way that was most interesting and, to me, attractive.

And I went in.

I felt lots of interest about that room, of course, because I imagined that I would spend a great deal of time in it for the next six months at least. I looked around carefully, and then I said, “It’s very pretty,” although I really didn’t think it was but I wouldn’t for the world have disappointed Miss Julianna, who looked on and waited, I thought, a little anxiously.

“Grazie, Signorina,” she said, which means, “Thank you, Miss,” and after that she said, all in a level, and very fast, “Down-the-hall-bath-room-with-water-which-runs-and-real-tub-dinner-at-seven-goodbye,” and after that she nodded her head and backed out.

Then I took an inventory which resulted in the discovery that I was in a room that was as big as our Elks’ ball-room at home; a room which was punctuated at long intervals by one bed, covered with a mustard-colored bedspread, a bureau which had a mirror that belonged in the funny mirror place in the County Fair, two chairs that were built for people with stiff corsets, one chair that was designed for an aviator, (it went over backward if you weren’t familiar with its management) a washstand with some stuff on it that Leslie - about Leslie later – called “Medieval hardware,” a table with a bright red cover, a black marble mantel and a footstool which I soon learned it was wise to use if you didn’t want your feet to grow numb from cold.

In the exact center of the room was a little rug that looked about as big as a postage stamp on a cabinet photograph case; and across from the door was the room’s real attraction which I was yet to explore, and that was the window.

I walked over to it slowly; and there, I leaned out, and after I had leaned out I don’t know how long I came back and hunted in my suitcase for the writing case that Elaine McDonald had got in New York and given me for a going-away present. And, after I had addressed an envelope to Mother, and put on “Jackson Ridge, Pennsylvania, Stati Uniti d’America,” which Miss Sheila had told me to do; and after I had told about my health and asked about theirs, and said I was safe, and told of Mr. Wake who had helped me, when Mrs. Hamilton, Miss Sheila’s acquaintance, had changed her plan, I described the back yard.

“I have just looked out of my window,” I wrote, “and down into a little court that looks as if it belongs to another age and were sleeping in this. It is a court upon which all the houses that box this square, back. It has a fountain in it that has a stone cupid in its center; there must be a mile-and-a-half of tiny winding paths; and there is heavy-leaved foliage like none I have ever seen. Some of the trees quite cover the paths, and others of a more lacy variety give one a glimpse of the red tiles that divide the winding yellow ways from the green. 

“Across the way is a tan stucco house with green shutters; its next-door neighbor is salmon pink and has flower boxes on its window sills. The windows are, most of them, set in at different heights. It does not look neat, but it is pretty; I think even prettier than the way we do it at home.

“The sun is so bright that when it rests on anything white, it blinds you. And all the shadows are black. The roofs are of red tile, and slope gently. There are some poplar trees” (I found later they were cypress trees; the shape misled me) “swaying over the top of a low roof down the block. When I was last at the window a little shopkeeper who wore a big apron sat in his back door singing, while he polished brass, and his voice is nearly as good as Mr. Kinsolving’s.”

(Mr. Kinsolving is our church tenor, and he gets two dollars for singing at each service, which shows how fine he is; but I honestly thought that the shopkeeper sung better, but of course I wasn’t going to write that home for one of the twins to blurt out when they shouldn’t!)

“Across the court,” I went on, “is a studio,” (It seems strange to me now--my writing about that studio in my first letter home!) “And I can see the artist painting,” my pen scratched on. “He has on a long, white, aprony-looking thing, and I can see his arm move before his canvas which is dark. I think I shall like watching him and thinking that there is someone else in this block who is trying hard to get on, as I shall soon!

“I wish you could see everything I can, dear people, and especially the court. Marguerite Clarke, as she was in Prunella, ought to be dancing in the court with her Pierrot following; the court looks like that, and as if it would be full of ghosts who dance the minuet on moonlight nights.”

I stopped, reread what I had written, and wondered whether I should send it, because Roberta, who is much more practical, sometimes thinks the things I fancy, silly. But then I caught the Mrs. Frank Jones on the envelope and I knew that it could go.

For Mother always understood my funny, half hidden, soft moods as well as my love of baseball and outdoor things, and I knew that she would like what I had written, even though it would seem foolish to all the rest. So I kissed the page, and put a little cross where I had kissed it, and I wrote, “That’s for you, Mother dear,” and then I got up and brushed my hair really hard, and hurried around at dressing, the way you do when you have felt almost homesick and are just a little afraid that the whole feeling may creep over you.

An hour or so later I heard a tinkling bell, and a soft, musically rising voice which sung out, “È pronto!” which I found later means “Is ready,” in Italian, and that “Is ready” in Italian means dinner. But I understood that night not from “È pronto,” but from the fact that, after I opened my door and looked into the hall, I saw three other doors open and very queer looking people come out of them, and go toddling down the hall.

The first one was fat, and wore the kind of basque mother was photographed in when she was very young. Her skirt was a purplish serge that had once been blue.

“Well, Miss Bannister!” she called to a thin old lady who came out of the door almost opposite mine. Miss Bannister’s hair was not applied quite as it should have been; it seems mean to mention it, but she never gave you a chance to forget it! Leslie thought she tied it on the gas jet, then ran under it, and clipped the cord as she ran, and let it stay just where it dropped, and it did look that way!

“Hello,” answered this old lady, in a high squeaky voice. “Has she come?”

“My eye, yes!” answered the one in the basque, whose name was Miss Meek, “and a jolly number of boxes too. I say we’ll have a beastly lot of brag!”

That made me mad, and I decided that they wouldn’t have any from me. Then they saw me and grew silent, and at the moment another door opened, and a tall, thin man who walked as if he had casters under him, came sliding out.

“Ahem,” he said, “ahem! And how is every one tonight? A charming day,” he went on without waiting for answer, “a charming day! How well I remember a day such as this in the fall of 1902,” (he paused, and when he continued, spoke very slowly) “now was it in 1902, or 1903? How can I fasten it?” (He snapped his fingers and I’m sure he frowned, although I was walking back of him and couldn’t see.) “But just a moment, I can locate the year if I reason the thing through, and I make this bold assertion because, if I recall correctly, it was in the fall of 1902 that I was in England, while the day to which I refer was beneath Italy’s azure skies, which clearly reveals, and without possible doubt, that it was in 1903, since—”

“Oh, lud!” broke in the fat one who wore the purplish blue skirt and the basque, and was Miss Meek. “Oh, lud!” which I found later was her way of saying, “Oh, Lord!”

And then we turned into the dining room - I had followed the crowd at a respectful distance - and Miss Julianna stepped forward, to say, “La Signorina Jones, Americana!” and then she turned and said, “Mees Meek, Mees Banneester, Meester Hemmingway; you must be friend!”

And I said that I hoped they would let me be. And then, a little flushed because I was not used to meeting so many people at once, I wiggled into my chair, and Beata came in with the soup.

Chapter 5

Monday, May 8, 2023


I looked at the bunch of paper roses that stood in the center of the table as I ate my soup, because I felt all the rest looking at me and it made me uncomfortable; and I suppose I would have looked at them, or down at my plate, all through the meal, if Miss Bannister hadn’t barked a question out at me.

“Where do you come from?” she asked, with an emphasis and a rise in her sentence that was as new to me as the Italian I was hearing.

“Pennsylvania,” I answered.

“Quite a village, I suppose?” she questioned.

I tried to explain, but right in the middle of my explanation she said: “One of my deaf days, but no matter, I don’t care in the least. I only asked to be polite, don’t you know.”

Which left me feeling as you do when you run for a car, but do nothing more than reach the spot where it was. I ate soup quite hard for several minutes.

Then Mr. Hemmingway, who had traveled quite a lot - I learned it soon! - helped me out by screaming information about the States across the table to Miss Bannister, who clattered her spoon and kept saying, “No matter, no matter!” all the time he talked. I felt just exactly as if I were in the middle of a funny dream, and one that wasn’t especially nice, and I honestly even half wondered whether I wouldn’t wake up to tell Mother about it, and have her say, “Now what did you eat before you went to bed?”

But I didn’t wake up and the dinner went on; Beata took away our soup plates, and then brought in big plates of spaghetti, cheese was passed and sprinkled over this, and I found it good, but difficult to eat, because it was in long pieces. Several on my plate I know would have gone around our hose reel dozens of times! Anyway, as I struggled with this and tried to cut it, Mr. Hemmingway began, and I began to understand him.

“I am familiar with the States,” he asserted, “although my travels in the States have not been extensive. I spent a winter in Canada while a comparatively young man; it was, if I recall correctly, the winter of 1882. Or was it ’83? Now I should know. Ah, I have it! It was ’83, and my certainty of this pertinent fact comes from the recollection that in ’82 I was in England, and I know this, because the year prior to that, which, if you will reckon, was ’81, I was detained in a village in South Wales, by a sharp attack of fever which was thought to have been introduced by the importation of French labor upon the occasion of…”

And so on. He never got there, but I did feel sorry for him, so I listened just as hard as I could, which is less trying where you can eat than at other places. He was having a splendid time, when Miss Meek cut in to question me.

“Student?” she boomed out, and she pronounced it, “Stew-dant.”

I felt pleased, and I wanted to answer nicely, but I had at least six inches of spaghetti in my mouth - I hadn’t meant to take so much but it kept trailing up, and I had to lap it in - and so I had to nod. I should have waited a minute before I let that pleased feeling get on top, because she shoved it right over a cliff by her next remark, which was, “Oh, my eye!” and she followed that with a prodigious groan. It wasn’t very flattering.

“But in a student pension,” began Mr. Hemmingway, “where the rates are lowered for others by the fact that practising makes the house in some ways less attractive, one must accept the handicap with grace. How well I remember in Vienna, when I, then quite a boy - let me see, what was the year?”

“No matter!” barked Miss Bannister, and then Miss Meek added something, after another groan, that interested me considerably.

“And two more coming!” she stated.

“Are there?” I asked quickly.

“I do not lie,” she answered frigidly, and I stammered out something about not having meant that she did, but that I was interested.

“Mees Leslie Parrish,” said Miss Julianna, who came in at the moment, after Beata who carried a big platter upon which were rounds of meat all wrapped in overcoats of cabbage leaves in which they had been baked, “and Mees Viola Harris-Clarke.”

I was surprised, and I couldn’t quite believe it, because Leslie Parrish was Miss Sheila’s niece, and I couldn’t see quite why she was coming to study.

Miss Sheila told me a good deal about Leslie while she visited us. I remember one day, while I sat on the guest room bed and helped Miss Sheila run two-toned ribbon - wonderfully lovely ribbon which was faint lavender on one side and pale peach pink on the other - into her beautiful underthings, that she, Miss Sheila, said her own niece would have played well if she had ever learned to work. And I remember just how she looked as she tossed a chemise to a chair and said, “But unhappily, the child has been frightfully, and wrongly indulged.”

It made me wonder a lot!

I knew that Leslie Parrish’s father had lots of money, all the Parrish family are wealthy, and I knew that she spent her time going to parties and making visits, and entertaining, for Miss Sheila had told me that too. So I thought Miss Julianna must be mistaken, because, for Leslie, the Pension Dante would be very simple.

“When did you hear this?” I asked.

“A week, ten days past,” she answered, “in the cable. You did not know?”

“No,” I answered, “I didn’t.”

“I suppose you did. Miss Parrish also write for you.”

“When are they to arrive?” asked Miss Meek.

“Tomorrow, or day after,” Miss Julianna answered, as Beata took away the plates that had had the meat on them and substituted some plates on which were lettuce and red cheese.

After this came a pastry, and that made Miss Bannister say, “Tart again!” in a high, querulous voice.

“Bally things!” said Miss Meek, who, I soon found, loved to be thought a sport and used lots of English slang, I think, because she had been a governess and still taught English to a few Italians, and was afraid of being considered school-teachery or prim.

They both ate their tarts just as if they enjoyed them, while Mr. Hemmingway began to tell about how the first tart was made in England, and was side-tracked by the reason that had made the man who had told it to him, tell it to him. I began to see that he was really ever so funny, and to feel like smiling each time he said, “Now let me see, it was raining that day if I recall correctly, or was it the day before that day when it rained so heavily? It seems to me it was that day, because I remember I had some new galoshes which I had gotten in East London at one of the curb stalls, and I recall the getting them, because…”

And on and on! His mind was full of little paths that led him away from the main road, which even a clever person could only occasionally glimpse through the haze Mr. Hemmingway made by details.

After we had finished the “tart,” Miss Meek pushed back her chair, and boomed out “Draughts?” to which Miss Bannister, who still seemed querulous, answered, “If you like.”

And they got out a checker board from behind a bookcase that was by a window; Beata cleared one corner of the table, and they began. Mr. Hemmingway stood looking on, rocking back and forth, first on his heels and then on his toes, and as he did this he tried, I think, to tell of a game of checkers he had seen played between experts somewhere in Brazil, but of course I couldn’t really tell.

“When I was a youngster,” he began, “now was I twenty-three or was I twenty-four? It seems to me I was twenty-four, because the year before I had typhus, and I am certain that that happened in my twenty-third year, and directly after my convalescence I took passage for South America which would make me twenty-four at that time, since my birthday is in November, (the year’s saddest month) and having gone directly after that, I must, therefore, have passed my twenty-fourth birthday.”

“Ho hum,” grunted out Miss Meek.

“However, no matter,” said Mr. Hemmingway quickly, “What I was about to entertain with is the history of my witnessing a match of draughts played between experts in San Paola. And how keenly I remember it! The day was fine.”

“Ho hum!” groaned Miss Meek.

“What’s he saying?” asked Miss Bannister.

“Not a bally thing! Getting ready, don’t you know!” Miss Meek shouted in answer, and I did feel sorry for him, but my sympathy wasn’t needed, for Miss Meek’s attitude, I soon learned, made no impression.

“I think,” I put in, “I must go to my room; I am so sorry, for I would love to hear about the match, but I must finish a letter to my family.” Which wasn’t true, but I didn’t know how to get off without some excuse!

I went to bed early, but again I didn’t sleep early, and I think it was fully a half hour before my eyelids closed. A cat down in the court had made all the screeching, whining, sizzling, hissing noises one cat can make, and big mosquitos had hummed around to disturb me, too. But at last I burrowed under the covers, and then I forgot, and when I woke, the sun was spread out across the square tiled floor in a wide, blazing streak. And the sky looked flat, as if some giant had stretched gleaming blue satin all over space; there wasn’t a cloud, nor a feeling of movement, outside my window, but only the brightness of the keen, strong sun, and that deep, thick blue. I lay looking out until someone tapped, and after my answer I heard Beata’s singing voice, saying: “Buon giorno, Signorina! Acqua calda!”

And I got up to take in a tall, slender-necked brass pitcher which was filled with water that sent up a cloud of steam.

Chapter 6