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Monday, November 6, 2023

Tales from the Matthewsburg Manse


They say everyone has at least one book in them, and I’ve just published mine. Tales from the Matthewsburg Manse contains several short stories (some previously published) that collectively make up a novel. It’s currently available as print on demand (which is why it’s listed on Amazon as temporarily out of stock, you actually have to order it) or as an ebook (Kindle and other). If your public library is subscribed to OverDrive, you might be able to request the ebook version there.

Here’s the back cover blurb to give you some idea of what it’s about: When city girl Viv's husband Mark accepts his first pastoral charge in rural Matthewsburg, she wonders what to expect, and what will be expected of her. This collection of connected fiction stories, some humorous, some suspenseful, some even romantic, explores Viv's new life as she tries to find her place in the community while dealing with local gossip, old rivalries, suspected murder, sabotaged car shows, and more. Who says life in a small town is boring?

You can also find a sample of the first three stories on Amazon/Kindle.

If you do read it, I’d appreciate a review either on the site where you bought it or on GoodReads. If you like it, please tell your friends.


Friday, August 4, 2023

Piggy Fries

The last time we were in the Fort Myer’s area, we ate more than once at Wahoo Willie’s Tiki Bar and Grill in Fort Myer’s Beach. One of the things I enjoyed on their menu was their Loaded Fries, a plate of fries covered with barbequed pork, barbeque sauce, shredded cheese and green onions. Basically a Southern version of poutine. It was delicious, but Fort Myer’s is a long way to go to satisfy a craving, so I came up with my own homemade version. It can be served as a meal, or as a group appetizer.

While I’m giving quantities below, you can adjust proportions and add or subtract ingredients to suit yourself.

650 grams straight-cut fries*

255 grams barbequed pulled pork+

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

barbeque sauce

Grate the cheese. Cook the fries according to the package directions. While they are cooking, heat up and shred the pulled pork.

Once the fries are cooked, either place them on a large platter (if you cook them on a large pizza pan, you can use that) or on 2 individual microwavable or ovenproof plates. Drizzle with barbeque sauce. Cover with pulled pork and drizzle with more barbeque sauce. Top with shredded cheese. Pop into the microwave or oven for a few seconds to melt the cheese.

Serves 2

* I used McCain Superfries Extra Crispy Straight Cut because I thought they’d be less likely to get soggy, but given the price (almost $7) for what was only two servings (I used the whole bag), I’d probably go with the store brand next time.

+I used Baton Rouge Fully Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork which came with its own barbeque sauce. I probably would use that again as the quantity was right and it was tasty.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Pineapple Date Bars


Another old recipe for you. I found this in Season’s Best Dishes by Mary Lee Taylor. Seems to have been one of those recipe books compiled to push a particular product, in this case Pet milk. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but it seems to have been similar to Carnation.

I was expecting a hard bar from this, but it came out more like a thin, fruit- and nut-studded sponge cake. I doubled the recipe because I don’t own an 8 x 12 inch shallow pan. By doubling, I was able to use an 11 x 17 cookie sheet. I also substituted regular milk for the evaporated as it didn’t seem worth opening a tin for such a small quantity. And I didn’t put in the nuts, as I had none on hand. It still came out.

1 cup crushed pineapple, well drained
1 ½ cups chopped and pitted dates
2 cups chopped nuts
1 ½ cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease an 11 x 17 inch cookie sheet.

Mix, then let stand, pineapple, dates and nuts.

Sift together flour and baking powder.

In large bowl, beat egg yolks until very light. Gradually beat in sugar. Stir in milk and vanilla. Add flour, mixing until smooth.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold in fruit mixture and egg whites to contents of large bowl.

Spread into greased cookie sheet. Bake until firm, about 35 minutes.

When cool, cut in 1 x 4 inch bars.

I haven’t tried it, but if you wanted a thicker cake, you could bake it in a 9 x 13 pan. Baking time would have to be adjusted upwards.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Microwavable Ham and Egg Breakfast Bowls


We used to enjoy the breakfast bowls you could find in the grocery store freezer section. They generally contained egg and potato and some sort of meat and just needed to be popped in the microwave. But they’ve gotten harder to find and more expensive, and sometimes the meat is—well, let’s just say it’s more like TVP than actual sausage. So I started looking for ways to make my own.

I was inspired by the egg and sausage breakfast rolls on Lord Byron’s Kitchen. In fact, there are several excellent recipes on his site. But I had to tweak this and that to make it more to our taste and this ham version is one of the results. And cooking it in the microwave cuts down on the prep time.

While you can certainly use store-bought rolls (6 small submarine style or Kaisers would work well), I generally use this recipe for crusty French bread rolls and make it into 8 round rolls in a 9 x 13 pan. The torn-out interiors can then be used for making bread pudding.

6 or 8 crusty rolls
156 gram (5.5 ounces) tin of flaked ham
4 eggs
¼ cup milk
grated cheese for topping

Take off the top crust of each roll and hollow them out, leaving a good half inch of bread around the outside. I find it easiest to do this with a pair of kitchen scissors. Cut around the outer edge first, then cut underneath if the crust won’t just pull off. Use the scissors again to cut into the roll before tearing out the interior. Be careful. You don’t want holes where the egg mixture will run out. If you do make one, try patching with bread squished together.

Fill the bottom half of the rolls with the ham, pushing it into the corners.

Beat eggs and milk together and pour over the ham. Don’t overfill. Allow to sit a few minutes, then add more egg mixture if necessary.

Place 2 or 3 at a time on a microwavable plate and cover. In my microwave, 3 take 5 minutes on high to cook the egg, and 2 take 4 minutes.

Remove from microwave and cover with grated cheese.

They can be eaten as soon as the cheese melts, or you can let them cool and freeze them for later. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator and zap in the microwave to remelt cheese before serving.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Calorie-Free Citrus Iced Tea


This does have to be made ahead so the tea has time to cool down before serving, but the prep time is basically however long it takes the kettle to boil. If you’re worried about the use of artificial sweeteners, use one can of frozen orange drink or lemonade instead and as much boiling water as it takes to fill the pitcher. Of course, there will be calories with that variant.

4 tea bags (I’ve only tried it with orange pekoe)
8 cups boiling water
4 squirts lemonade-flavoured liquid water enhancer
2 squirts orange-flavoured liquid water enhancer

Place tea bags in bottom of two-quart pitcher. Fill up with boiling water. Let sit 10 minutes, then remove tea bags (a slotted serving spoon works well for this). I usually let it cool down on the counter before putting it in the fridge. Serve cold over ice.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Iced Mocha Coffee in Bulk


I like to have a pitcher of this on hand in the summertime. I generally use decaf coffee so I can enjoy it in the late afternoon without worrying about trouble sleeping at night.

4 tablespoons instant espresso
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
7 cups boiling water
1 cup coffee cream (10%)

In a 2-quart pitcher, combine espresso, sugar and cocoa. Whisk together with 2 cups of boiling water. Add the coffee cream and the rest of the boiling water, stirring as you go. Let cool and refrigerate. Serve over ice, stirring first as the cocoa tends to settle out.

Makes 8 cups/2 quarts

While I’ve used instant coffee to make this, of course you can make it with regular coffee instead of the powder and boiling water. Just make it up a bit on the strong side.

You get a richer flavour if you use 5 tablespoons of espresso, sugar and cocoa, but you’ll end up with a lot of sludge in the bottom of the pitcher no matter how much you stir it.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part One


One of mine. A light look at time travel from the perspective of undergrads in Classics.

* * * * *

“The Kessler twins have it sewn up,” said Brent. “Since their mother started talking about endowing two faculty positions, they’ve been getting straight A’s. The grad students are doing their course work for them.”

Brent, Georgia and I sat in our room in residence, drinking beer and moping. We needed an outstanding fourth-year project to get into grad school. Technically, we weren’t supposed to start work until the following September, but even the worst procrastinators in our class were already thinking about it.

Georgia stared into her beer. “That still leaves eight openings. If only we could find something really spectacular.”

“If only they hadn’t burned the Library of Alexandria,” I said. This is a standard classicist beef. The city of Alexandria had had a huge collection of scrolls on every conceivable subject, lost in 48 BC when Julius Caesar set fire to Ptolemy XIV’s fleet. If it had survived, we’d know a lot more than we do about the ancient Mediterranean. And if I’d been born rich, I wouldn’t be worrying about my fourth-year project—I’d be cruising the Greek islands on my yacht.

 “The Library of Alexandria,” Brent repeated. “My cousin Nate is a grad student in engineering. He’s working with Dr. Deeble on the time machine project.”

“That's been running 50 years,” said Georgia. “At least.”

“Yeah,” I said. “The only thing they’ve learned is how to waste time.”

“Nate agrees. He thinks Dr. Deeble’s theory is off-base. He’s been working on his own and he’s come up with a portable time machine.”

We stared. “Portable?” said Georgia. “How come no one’s heard about this?”

“He wants to keep it under wraps until he’s sure it works. He’s used a prototype on plants and lab rats. Now he needs test subjects who can bring back proof.”

“And how does this help us?” I said.

“We speak several dead languages. We’re familiar with ancient history. We’re the perfect test subjects.”

“Are you crazy? Why would we want to volunteer?”

“You said it yourself, Nikos. The Library of Alexandria,” said Brent. “If we could get there just before it burned...”

“...and take some of the books,” put in Georgia, “our future would be guaranteed and no one in the past would even know they were missing.”

“Exactly,” said Brent. “And Nate would get the fame he deserves.”

“And if it doesn’t work? If we get killed or stranded somewhere in the past?”

“Then we don’t have to pay back our student loans,” said Georgia.

* * * * *

We met Nate in the basement of the undergrad library. I’d discovered the place in my first year. It was quiet, so I could study or sleep between classes. And there was something about books on paper—holding one in my hands and wondering about all the other people who had ever read it.

Brent had been working on Nate, stressing our linguistic skills and general knowledge. I hoped we wouldn’t have to use them. I could speak Greek and Latin, but my modern pronunciation would finger me as a foreigner. Georgia was quick to point out there were lots of foreigners in Alexandria, which made it an ideal spot for time travel. Then Nate threw the first snag at us.

“This Alexandria place is in Egypt or something, right? We’ll have to go to Egypt to use the machine.”

“You can’t just punch in a destination?” Georgia asked.

He got that look on his face that engineers get when explaining something blindingly obvious to us lesser mortals. “It’s not the TARDIS—though that would be seriously cool.”

We stared blankly at him.

He sighed. “It just travels through time, not space. And while the receiver—the part you’ll carry with you—is portable, the transmitter isn’t. It’s got a range of five kilometres—get farther away and I can’t pick you up.”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Two


Ironically, it was the Kessler twins who paid our way. For their fourth year project, they had decided to do a travelogue on Alexander the Great (they were a little shaky on the concept of “original research”). They were spending their winter break skiing in Colorado, so when Georgia volunteered to take pictures for them in Egypt, if they’d help with the expenses, they were delighted. Which was how we managed to rent a top-of-the-line (according to Nate) SUV and stay in a decent hotel near the harbour.

The first day we spent figuring out where things were. Landmarks can change a lot in two thousand plus years. We located the old harbour, and chose an isolated spot to try the experiment. We planned to travel back long enough to confirm we were there, and determine our position in relation to the lighthouse of Pharos. Then we could check over our maps and information before returning to break into the Library.

The streets were deserted, which was good, because I felt ridiculous wearing flowing Greek drapery. Not to mention chilly. Once the sun had gone down, so had the temperature. Oh, I know what you’re thinking? Why dress like a Greek in an Egyptian city? But the Ptolemies were Greeks, and it would be far easier to pass for Greek than Egyptian, a language none of us spoke.

Nate handed Georgia the receiver, made to look like a griffin-headed walking staff, and the three of us gripped it firmly. “There's a small camera built into the head,” he said. “Aim it at anything interesting. Ready?”

Gulp. We nodded. He pushed a few buttons on his console. The eyes of the griffin gleamed an eerie yellow. I focused on them and waited. A sudden lurching, and the earth dropped out beneath me. Blackness. Only the solid feel of the staff in my hands kept me grounded.

The tumbling sensation slowed, and I became aware once more of the yellow eyes of the griffin, and Georgia and Brent to either side of me. Taking a deep breath, I looked around. We were in a narrow alley lined with the blank white walls of houses. The road ran up a slight slope, a larger building at the top with a row of statues along the roof line. Georgia pulled a drawing pencil from her pocket and marked a large “X” on the wall beside her so we could find the spot again.

I turned downhill. Atop a multi-tiered tower, a huge ball of orange light shimmered and flickered. Smaller specks of yellow and orange reflected in the water far below. The famed Lighthouse of Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Legend said it could be seen for kilometres. I believed it now. And without electricity, let alone modern bio-energetics.

Long minutes passed before we stopped staring and focussed on the task at hand. Yes, this was Alexandria, but when? The lighthouse had been used for centuries; if we were going to pilfer from the Library, we needed to be in 48 BC., before the fire. We hurried down the street towards the harbour.

We came out near the docks. Farther along to our right I saw several large buildings, well-lit by torches, and bustling with activity. Guards armed with spears stood at the foot of each dock. Others were marching up and down in front of the buildings. Hard to believe this would all be under water in 2042.

“Those buildings are probably the palace,” I said. “The Library should be on the palace grounds. There’s supposed to be a garden and a zoo nearby, so we’ll have to look for an area with trees and plants.”

“How are we going to get past the guards?” asked Georgia.

I shook my head. “No idea, but we’d better think of something before tomorrow.”

Across the harbour the lighthouse towered above everything else. Several ships rode at anchor, backlit by the glow. I pulled out a pair of night glasses for a closer look. Definitely not Roman galleys, and definitely war ships. This must be Ptolemy XIV’s fleet. “Our timing’s good,” I said. “The fleet is here to keep Caesar and Cleopatra under siege in the palace.”

“Did you say Cleopatra?” Brent’s voice squeaked. “The Cleopatra?”

I’d forgotten he was a mediaeval specialist and not up on the Greeks and Romans. “The Cleopatra,” I said, skin prickling. “She and her brother Ptolemy were rivals for the throne.” I gazed at the palace. Somewhere in that complex of buildings were the first Roman emperor, in fact, if not in name, and the legendary queen of Egypt.

“Our two hours are nearly up. We’d better get back,” said Georgia. We retraced our steps and gathered around the staff, depressing the small knob at the base of the griffin's head. The eyes flashed green for several seconds, before switching to a steady yellow glow. The falling sensation hit the bottom of my stomach like a glass of sour milk.

We filled Nate in on what we’d seen on the drive back to the hotel, and Brent handed over the staff.

“If there’s enough detail on that thing,” Nate said, “I can put you inside the palace grounds.”

Detail? The three of us looked at each other. No one had thought to point it at anything. Good thing we hadn’t had to actually turn it on.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Three


Sun flooded through the curtains. Looking at my watch, I discovered it was already past nine, and hastily rolled out of bed. Following the sound of voices, I wandered out to our large balcony. Brent, Georgia, and Nate were sitting around a cast-iron table covered with food.

“Morning, Nikos,” Georgia mumbled through a mouthful of baklava.

“We left you some coffee,” said Brent, holding up the pot. “Though if you'd been five minutes later...”

I added milk and sugar and downed half a cup, then refilled it.

“I reviewed the video,” said Nate. “At first I thought the recorder had malfunctioned because there was nothing but black for the first 30 seconds.”

“That only lasted 30 seconds?” said Georgia, echoing my thought.

“30.2 seconds. I can’t be more precise than that with the current software.”

“Never mind that,” said Brent. “Was there anything useful?”

“I’m reasonably sure I can extrapolate from the video and where you guys left, to where you need to be standing to land in the palace grounds—there was a treed area, next to a building with a big dome.”

“Perfect!” I said. “That’s probably the Library.”

“There is a problem,” Nate said. “I nearly got arrested for loitering last night. The cop let me off because I was a tourist, but apparently you can’t sit in parked cars after dark. Good thing he didn’t see the equipment in the back, or I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it. I’ll have to drive around the block until I get your signal.”

“That’s not too serious,” I said, “as long as we’re not being chased by a Roman patrol.” Nobody laughed.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Four


Once again we clustered around the staff. My stomach was already lurching, and the process hadn’t even started. Everything faded to black. I felt as if I was struggling through warm taffy, and at the same time travelling at great speed.

It took some time for my sight to return. I thought something had gone wrong, then realized we were standing in the shadow of a large tree. Insects sang, and water splashed in the distance. Fragrance drifted on the air. “Nate’s done it,” I said. “This must be the garden. Now we have to find the Library. Look for a building with a big dome.”

“Like that?" asked Brent, pointing past several trees. An immense white dome floated above them, glowing in the moonlight. Twin flagpoles rose in front of it, pennons hanging limply.

I nodded, my heart thumping. A winding path headed in the right direction, and I took it, the other two close behind me. As we walked the splashing grew louder, until it drowned out the rest of the night noises. Rounding a bend, we came across the source. A large basin of pale pink marble, perhaps 5 metres across, filled a small clearing. Water lilies floated on its surface, releasing a heavenly perfume. In the centre was a sculpture of three leaping dolphins, water spouting merrily from their mouths.

Someone gasped, and a slight figure rose from her seat on the edge of the basin. “Who goes there?” she called in Greek. She was garbed in the Egyptian style in a dress of fine linen, very nearly transparent. She looked our age or perhaps younger, with smooth skin, pale as ivory under the moon. Around her neck she wore a heavy beaded collar in blue and white. Dark, wavy hair fell to her shoulders, accented by a gold circlet with the figure of a hooded cobra over her brow.

The royal insignia. Cleopatra. An eternity passed as I stood and gaped. “Please forgive the intrusion, my queen,” I finally managed to say. “We are scholars, out to look at the stars.” Behind me, Brent gurgled.

“Astrologers,” she said slowly, relaxing. Her hand dropped to her side and I saw she held one of the water lilies. “Can you read my destiny?”

Ulp. I’m no geek, but even I know giving people information about future events is a bad idea. And if I did tell her the truth—that two of her lovers would be killed, and she would commit suicide, not to mention that her country would become a Roman province? Even if it didn’t change anything, she’d probably put us to death on the spot.

Luckily, Georgia was still thinking. “We have seen your future, oh queen. Much is veiled, but I can tell you that you will be remembered among the great ones.”

Her head went up, a fierce look kindling in her eyes. “Yes. Yes. I have always known it.” With the moonlight spilling down on her, she looked more like a goddess than a queen. No wonder Caesar and Anthony had loved her, and Rome feared her. She was the very essence of womanhood, distilled into one human being.

With a graceful movement, Cleopatra slid a bracelet in the shape of a coiled snake from her forearm, and handed it to Georgia. “My thanks go with it,” she said. “If you ever need a favour from me, present this.” The three of us bowed. She nodded briefly at us, then glided across the open area and entered the woods, walking towards the palace.

We stood there a few moments, numb with the shock of it, Georgia staring down at the bracelet in her cupped hand as if it really was a snake and might bite her. To talk to one of the great ones of history—my body tingled with awe. My heart raced and I felt vibrantly alive, yet a bit wistful. Whatever else happened to me, I was certain nothing would match this moment.

“Did you get that on camera?” Brent asked. Georgia froze, her face blanching, then turning rosy as the blood rushed to her cheeks.

“Oh no! I never thought—I was holding the staff behind me—it couldn’t have picked up anything.” She slid the bracelet onto her wrist for safekeeping and belatedly brought the staff around to record the image of the fountain.

“I didn't think of it either,” I said, patting her on the shoulder. Secretly, I was pleased. My memory of Cleopatra would remain mine, not shared with the rest of the world.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Five


“Time’s running out,” Brent said. “We’d best find the Library, grab our books, and go.” He started around the fountain and we followed wordlessly. A short distance through the woods, and the building with the dome was in front of us. We climbed a brief flight of steps and passed through a pillared porch into a large round room. I saw couches and tables by the moonlight seeping through the windows. Between the windows, half-a-dozen darkened corridors led into the building's interior.

Georgia scanned the room with the staff, then turned to me. “Where to?”

“I don’t know. We’ll have to try the halls one by one until we find the bookshelves.”

“We’re going to need a light,” said Brent, eyeing the dark openings.

“Didn’t anyone bring one?” I said. They both shook their heads. “Probably just as well, it could be spotted. We’ll have to feel our way along. Let’s begin with that hall on the left.” I saw a faint gray patch at the other end; hopefully there would be enough light to find our way around. We started down the corridor, running our fingers along the wall on our right.

On reaching the doorway at the end, I grinned. Rows of shelves lined the two side walls, filled with scrolls. We had found one of the book rooms. Picking up a scroll reverently, I carried it over by the window, and gently unrolled the first few inches. Straining to read the characters in the dim light, I realized I was holding a copy of Euripide's play “The Trojan Women.” “This must be the literature room,” I said. “We’ve struck pure gold. Grab as many as you can, and put them...” I looked around, and saw a wooden chest sitting open against the back wall “ that armarium,” I continued triumphantly. “Then we can signal Nate and go.”

I plucked scrolls from the shelves at random and handed them to Georgia, who carried them to Brent for packing. In less than ten minutes, the chest held several dozen scrolls. I looked regretfully at those still remaining. I’d come back first chance I got. “Let’s go.”

Brent and I each held one of the handles of the chest, our other hand firmly grasping the staff. Georgia pushed the knob, and the griffin's eyes flashed green. I counted to myself. One, two, hundred. No response. Ice cubes slid up and down my back, as I told myself Nate was just driving around the block.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Six


“Maybe our signal can’t be read through the building,” said Brent. “We should go back out.”

“Could be right,” I agreed. With the chest between us, we staggered into the hallway, then stopped in surprise. It was lit with a dancing yellow light coming from an opening halfway down—an opening we would have to pass to get out. Brent and I glanced at each other, shrugged, then continued down the hall at a faster pace.

Reaching the doorway, we saw and felt the source of the light. A pile of scrolls on the floor blazed with fire. Two Roman soldiers, carrying torches, were silhouetted by the flames. Even as we watched, they torched the scrolls on the shelves. I was stunned. According to legend, the Library had burned accidentally, caught up in the conflagration of Ptolemy’s fleet by Julius Caesar. But this was deliberate!

One of the soldiers glanced our way. Cursing, he drew his sword.

“Run!” Georgia cried, fleeing down the hall. Brent and I dropped the chest and followed, hands holding up our robes. Behind us, we heard the soldier trip over the chest. We scrambled into the round room, through the porch, down the steps, and into the woods.

We huddled around the receiver and again pushed the signal button. Clutching the staff, I watched the flashing green eyes. Come on, Nate, I pleaded. A steady yellow glow appeared, and we were in the comforting blackness.

Shortly thereafter, we climbed into the back of the SUV. “Sorry I couldn't pick you up right away,” said Nate. “I saw a car coming. What did you get?”

“A stupid piece of jewellery,” said Brent. “Some Roman soldiers chased us and we had to drop everything.”

“Can you send us back?” I said. “Maybe an hour or two earlier?” Nate shook his head. “Between last night and tonight the battery’s done. The power pack takes 18 hours to recharge. We'll be halfway home by then. What about pictures?”

“I did get some film of the Library burning,” said Georgia.

“You got that on film?” I said. “That’s something at least.”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Seven


“Pity we aren’t in dramatic arts,” Brent said, watching the dolphin fountain scroll by. “We could at least turn it into a movie.”

“Maybe we should sell it to the Kessler twins for their travelogue,” I said. The Library steps filled the screen, and then the dark interior of the round room—except that it wasn’t dark. I leaned forward to get a better look at the murals painted on the walls.

Nate pushed a button. A close-up appeared. “I knew you’d be running around at night, so I put digital enhancers on the camera.”

“Could be a paper or two in those,” I said. “Pity my major’s literature and not art, but maybe Georgia could.” I groaned as the book room appeared. All those scrolls. Even one could have made my entire career. Even a fragment of one.

“What the hell?” Brent said. On the screen, the two Roman soldiers set fire to the pile of scrolls. They had been shadows to us, but thanks to Nate’s enhancements, we could see their faces. They looked familiar. “Zoom in,” Brent ordered Nate.

The two heads filled the screen—Professor Rickett, the Classics Department Chair, and Professor Emeritus Robinson, both looking considerably younger.

“Deeble must have had a working time machine years ago,” said Nate. "He’s good friends with Robinson. He’s deliberately sent us all on the wrong track.”

“So that’s how they got their hands on the Falconetti Scrolls,” said Georgia. “But why destroy the Library?”

“Because the Romans didn’t,” I guessed. “They knew the Library had been burnt, so they torched it themselves to ensure the value of their books. Supply and demand.”

“But why would Deeble keep his time machine secret?” Nate asked. “He could have had a Nobel prize.”

“He’s an accessory to arson,” said Brent. “A crime against humanity. And he’s married to Professor Rickett’s sister.”

“What do we do?” Georgia set her beer mug on the coffee table with a loud thunk. “We can’t let them get away with this!”

“We go back earlier and stop them,” Brent said. Georgia and I sat up straighter.

“No,” said Nate. “That might change history.”

“We'd be fixing it,” said Brent. “Not changing anything. Of course, we’d still have to get back to Egypt.”

 * * * * *

In the end, we decided to confront them. As Dr. Rickett was Georgia’s faculty adviser, she sent him a note asking to speak with him about her fourth year project. She attached a close-up of him and Dr. Robinson setting the scrolls on fire.

He called that afternoon to set up a meeting for the following evening at the Faculty Club.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Eight


The maitre’d took our coats and escorted us to a private dining room in the back, where Professors Deeble, Robinson, and Rickett were already seated. Dinner was excellent; it was hard to believe the same caterers provided the meals at the student cafeteria. We nervously exchanged small talk, waiting for the profs to make the first move.

At last the waiter wheeled out the dirty dishes, leaving us with clean glasses and a large decanter of port. Dr. Deeble followed him to the door, locking it behind him. Dr. Rickett poured us each a glass of port, then cleared his throat. “My colleagues and I have looked over this ‘problem’ of yours. What do you want from us?”

“An explanation for starters,” said Georgia. “Why did you do it?” Their expressions relaxed subtly, and Dr. Deeble’s hand came away from his back pocket.

“It was an accident,” said Dr. Rickett, tugging on his earring.

“Oh, come on,” said Brent. “We have the whole thing on film. It was clearly deliberate.”

“The math scrolls, yes,” Dr. Rickett said. “But we never meant to destroy the Library.”

“Our professors told us we would be the last graduate students in Classics, and the Department would be phased out, unless someone came up with some highly original work,” Dr. Robinson began. “We found out Dr. Deeble had made a major breakthrough in chronometry and we begged him to let us test his machine by travelling to the Library of Alexandria to retrieve some scrolls. Jon McLean, the University’s biggest donor, had a particular interest in mathematics, so we took some scrolls on geometry and presented them to him.”

“He had his lawyers draw up a perpetual endowment for the Classics Department. We started work on our theses. Everyone was happy.” He sighed.

“Ever heard of the McLean proof? It’s a geometrical proof worked out by Jon McLean’s great grandmother. One of the scrolls showed that the Greeks had already solved it 2,600 years previously. Jon was adamant we destroy every mathematical scroll in the Alexandrian collection to preserve Great Grandma’s reputation. We agreed, thinking we’d go back after he was dead and rectify the damage.”

“Unfortunately, we were interrupted by three, as we thought, Alexandrians. We gave chase and in our absence the fire got out of control.”

I slumped in my chair. We’d distracted them. The greatest library of the ancient world was a charred ruin because I’d wanted a sensational school project. I had to make it right.

“Why didn’t you go back and fix it?” Georgia demanded. “Jon McLean died years ago.”

Dr. Deeble laughed. “We tried, but we could never get closer than twenty hours before or after. And the more we tried, the worse it got. It seems to be an innate law of time travel that you can’t be in the same place and time twice. We’d no choice but to accept our complicity and get on with our lives.”

“It hasn’t been easy,” said Dr. Rickett, “living with the guilt all these years.” The large diamond on his middle finger reflected the light from the ornate chandelier as he reached across to refill our port glasses. “Not easy at all.” His eyes strayed to his watch. “I have to leave soon. My wife and I have tickets to the symphony. Opening night, you know.”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Nine


We weren’t about to believe in Dr. Deebles’ innate law of time travel until we’d tested it. It was easy enough to check. All we had to do was put ourselves into last week.

We failed miserably. We’d get the blackness, and the falling sensation. Then we’d crash into some invisible barrier, get hurled backwards, and find ourselves in our room in residence, feeling hungover.

“There has to be some way around this,” said Brent. “If the fire was caused by our being there, we have to stop it.”

Georgia toyed with the cobra bracelet on her wrist, glaring at the empty bottle of pain killers on the coffee table. Nate scanned the recording of our latest attempt frame by frame, muttering to himself. I was staring off into space, when my eye was caught by the fire extinguisher Brent’s mom had given us, hanging on the side of the cupboard by the stove. If only there was some way of getting it to the Library. But we couldn’t get back to the appropriate time window to use it. We’d been there already.

Nate hadn’t. He’d stayed behind to run the transmitter. I jumped to my feet. “Nate, how hard is it to operate that thing?”

“Programming’s tricky. But the transmitting part is easy. All I have to do is watch for the signal and flip a switch.”

“So even I could do it?”

“Sure, a six-year-old could do it.”

“How would you like to take a trip?”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Ten


Once again, the problem was funding. And once again the Kessler twins came to our rescue. They’d been quite pleased with the footage we’d shot before, and wanted more. With finances out of the way, we began planning our summer vacation. We managed to book the same suite in the same hotel. The car agency was out of the model we wanted, so gave us a free upgrade. And when we got to our suite, room service brought up afternoon tea on the house as a thank you for our repeat business. The ancient gods were smiling on us.

That night, we drove down to our previous point of departure. Nate sat in the back of the car for several minutes, checking readouts and power levels on the transmitter before he was satisfied. Climbing out, he once more reminded Georgia (sorry, Nikos, you get distracted too easily), “When this light turns green and starts flashing, flip that switch.” Then he grabbed the staff and pushed the start button.

Nothing happened. I noticed a slight distortion in the air around him, like a heat shimmer on a hot July noon. The distortion grew worse, then he was gone. We all looked at the transmitter. A steady yellow light shone from the console. That was supposed to mean Nate had made the trip safely, and was still within range. While Georgia monitored the transmitter, Brent and I popped the SUV’s hood, then disconnected the battery. If the police came by, we had an excuse for loitering—our battery was giving us trouble.

We assumed the transmitter would return Nate if he stopped the fire and restored history, but we didn’t know. He’d tried to explain about string theory and multiple universes, but it was all geek to me. Could history even be changed? I didn’t like to think so. Sweat evaporated off my body in the breeze blowing off the water, leaving me chilled. Shouldn’t Nate be signalling by now? I peeked at my phone. Only ten minutes had passed.

Brent paced up and down beside the car, whistling off-key.

“Stop that!” Georgia snapped. “You’re distracting me.” On the board, the yellow light turned green. All three of us reached for the switch, bumping heads. “Got it,” said Georgia with satisfaction.

The heat shimmer formed and there was Nate, covered in ash, with the fire extinguisher tucked under one arm. He held the staff up triumphantly in his other hand.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins -Part Eleven


We slept off the effects of the celebratory Greek brandy the next morning, and had a leisurely breakfast on the patio. “What shall we do today?” asked Georgia, stretching lazily.

“The museum,” I said. “The last time I spent several hours looking at their display on the Library. It was pretty cheesy, they had a button you could push to watch it go up in flames.”

“Good idea,” Nate agreed. “I'd like to see what effect we’ve had.”

It was hard not to race up the museum steps. What wonderful scrolls might now be on exhibit, lost masterpieces of Greek drama, Egyptian medicine, Roman literature—it would be a life’s work just to read it. I herded everyone down the corridor to the Library exhibit. It was wall-to-wall school children, there with their teacher, chattering excitedly in Arabic.

They still had the same diorama, right down to the miniature fleet positioned in the harbour. The teacher held up his hand for silence, then pushed a button on the display. The ships caught on fire, then the buildings on the dock. Then the Library. As I stared in disbelief, flames engulfed the dome.

We found our way into the museum's courtyard and sat down heavily on the edge of the reflecting pool. “What happened?” I asked.

Nate shrugged. “It’s as if we didn’t do anything.” He stared into the pool, stirring the water with his hand. “Like we had no more effect than these drops of water.” Then he laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

“Maybe we should take you back to the hotel,” Georgia suggested. “It’s awfully warm today.”

Nate shook his head. “I’m fine. But do you realize what this means? We can’t change history—what’s already happened will still happen, regardless of what we do. We’ve discovered a new law of time travel!”

“So it’s not our fault the Library burned,” I said.

“And you’ll be rich and famous,” said Brent.

Nate grinned. “I’ll have a great thesis. And this means time travel is safe. Classicists can travel back and observe—the field will really open up.”

Georgia pulled out her phone. “Deeble, Robinson, and Rickett will be relieved to hear this. We’d better call them.”

I thought back to our dinner at the Faculty Club. They’d looked pretty well-fed and self-satisfied for people who had been ‘living with the guilt all these years.’ “Naah,” I said. “They can read all about it in Nate’s thesis. Let's hit the beach.”

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Lazy Woman’s Maple Sugar Pie


While I was binge-watching the Old Cookbook Show a few weeks back, I came across the episode where they were making maple sugar pie from the 1915 edition of the Toronto Queen City of Canada Cookbook. That sounded like something I’d want to try, if I could get my hands on some maple sugar. And a couple of days later, there it was, on the shelf at my local grocery store.

So why am I blogging about it here when it’s already available online elsewhere? Because I did make a few changes in the technique and the ingredients (in blue), hence the title. And also because it came out really, really tasty.

2 cups milk (I used one cup of 10% cream and one cup of water instead, figuring 1915 milk probably had a higher fat content than the 1% in my fridge)
1 cup maple sugar
2 rounded teaspoons cornstarch
2 eggs (I only used the egg yolks)
¼ cup icing sugar (didn’t use since I wasn't making meringue)
paste-lined plate (1 9-inch graham cracker crust)
whipping cream for topping

Original Instructions:

Heat one and one-half cups of milk in a double boiler and add one cup of maple sugar broken fine or grated.

Bring to the boiling point, add two rounding teaspoons cornstarch mixed, with one-half cup milk and cook eight minutes.

Pour a little over the yolks of two eggs and stir and return to boiler and cook until smooth.

Pour into a paste-lined plate and bake.

Cover with meringue made of the whites of two eggs beaten stiff with one-quarter cup powdered sugar and brown.

Like so many of these old recipes, no directions are given about oven temperature, such as slow oven, hot oven, or how long to cook. I looked at other custard pie recipes to figure that out.

My Instructions:

I started out following the recipe, but it was taking forever for the cream/maple sugar mixture to reach boiling point in my makeshift double boiler (a glass bowl over a saucepan). I got impatient and I said to myself, “This is just a custard, and I know you can make custard in the microwave.” So here’s my version of making the filling.

Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a small bowl, combine the maple sugar and the cornstarch. Stir in the two egg yolks. Add enough of the water/cream mixture to make a thin paste.

In a large microwavable container (a large glass measuring cup is perfect for this), heat the rest of the water/cream mixture until it boils. Whisk in the paste. Continuing microwaving in 30-second bursts and whisking until the mixture thickens.

Pour into pie crust. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

At this point, if you’re following the original recipe, you’ll want to make the meringue. I opted to serve my cooled pie with whipped cream instead, and I think it was a better choice. It was certainly easier.

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