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.
I like easy recipes that don't call for hard-to-find ingredients or lots of prep work. I also like reading old cookbooks and bringing some of the dishes up to date. My recipes don't require you to be a gourmet chef and many of them are simple enough for kids to tackle.
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Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Adventures in Cookieing, Part Three: Icing Consistency
Tuesday, May 16, 2023
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
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 www.gutenberg.org
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC.
CHAPTER ONE - APPREHENSIONS
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 TWO - THE END OF ONE JOURNEY AND THE START OF ANOTHER A Modern Trio in an Old Town
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.
“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 THREE - LUNCH AND SOME MODERN HISTORY A Modern Trio in an Old Town
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 FOUR - FLORENCE AND THE NEW HOME A Modern Trio in an Old Town
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.
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.
Monday, May 8, 2023
CHAPTER FIVE -NEW FRIENDS, A NEW DAY, AND NEW PLANS A Modern Trio in an Old Town
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.
Friday, May 5, 2023
CHAPTER SIX - MISS PARRISH AND MISS HARRIS-CLARKE A Modern Trio in an Old Town
After I had breakfast, I went back to my room, and tried to forget that I was almost hungrier than I had been before, and I did this by looking out into the court, which I found had a morning flavor that differed from its mood of the afternoon. For instance the little man, instead of slowly polishing brass and stopping his polishing now and again as he raised his head and lingered on a particularly nice note in his singing, swept energetically around the back door of his shop with a broom that looked as if it belonged in a picture of some witch. And as he swept he chattered shrilly at a boy who was riveting something on a bench near the door.
And there were children chasing each other around the paths, and my artist wasn’t at work. I realize now - Leslie has taught me many things - that it wasn’t nice to spy on him, but at that time he seemed only part of a play I was witnessing, and when I saw what he was doing, I hadn’t the slightest consciousness about leaning right out of my window and looking across at his.
He was cooking his breakfast, in front of an open window that was next to the big studio window which so lit the room that one could see in pretty well, and I did wonder what he was eating! I had the greatest interest in watching him dump it out of the frying-pan on his plate, and when he leaned out of his window, to wave his frying-pan, and call, “Gino, buon giorno!” at the little man with the broom, and he, in turn, waved his broom as he answered, I felt as if the play was really started.
Then I watched him eat and of course that wasn’t nice but, as Leslie said, later, I “lack even a rudimentary knowledge of social graces,” (and I wanted to punch her for saying so) and so I could frankly enjoy a lot of things a really polished person would have to pretend they weren’t watching.
After my artist had had his breakfast he threw a piece of something that was left at a cat, and said - so loudly that it floated across the court to me - “Scat, you green-eyed instrument of Satan!” which led me to think that he had heard the cat concert, too.
“American,” I said half aloud, for two things had told me so; one was his voice, and the other was his dandy throw, for it was a peach. It took the cat right on the nose. It must have been soft, for, after the cat had jumped it came crawling back to the bouquet that had been hurled at it and sniffed at it as cats do, and then it turned around and sat down and washed its ears and whiskers. That made me like him, for I like cats, and a great many men don’t hunt things that are exactly soft to throw at cats who sing all night!
Then he went to work. I saw him slip into his big, long apron, and take his brushes out of a mason jar in which they were standing, and I left the window and opened my steamer trunk, which I had only unlocked the night before, and did my unpacking.
At about ten Beata came in, pointed at my made-up bed, and said, “No, no, Signorina!” by which I suppose she meant she would do it, and then she said, “Oh!” in a way that told me she had suddenly remembered something, and fumbled in her pocket.
There was a letter in it for me from Miss Sheila, and I opened it with a great deal of interest, for I imagined that it would have something in it about Leslie and this Miss Harris-Clarke, and it did.
she wrote, in her funny, curly writing which I like so much!
“I am in receipt of rather astounding news, and news that does not entirely please me, however, it is news that must be accepted, and perhaps everything that comes of it will be good; I am afraid I am often a most apprehensive old maiden lady!
“Leslie last night telephoned me that she intends to spend the winter in Florence and study with Signor Paggi, and that with her will go a young friend who is - only temporarily, I am afraid - in Leslie’s complete favor.
“What led to this impulsive plan, I have only a faint notion, but that makes no difference; it is the work out of it that bothers me.
“Because you will be involved, I shall have to be more frank about Leslie than I like; and I think I shall do it through rules.
“You are not to play maid to Leslie; run ribbons in her clothes, errands for her, or answer her many and various whims. No doubt this particular interest will last about two or three weeks, and during that time I insist that you go your own way in complete independence and remember you are under no obligation to a girl who is - I am sorry to say - both spoiled and lazy.
“Love to you, dear child, and the best of luck with Signor Paggi; I, I know, am going to live to be even more proud of you than I am at this moment!
“Always affectionately and devotedly your friend,
and then the date. I thought it was a nice letter and I read it several times and then I tore it up in tiny pieces and sat down to answer it, and to assure Miss Sheila, without rapping on wood - and it never hurts to rap on wood! - that I knew that everything would be all right.
Lunch came right in the middle of my writing, and after lunch I went to one of the practice rooms, which were way down the hall, and played for a while. Then I finished my letter, and decided I would go out and post it, which worried Miss Julianna, whom I met in the hall.
“No,” she said, shaking her head hard, “You get lost.”
“But the Italians are awfully easy pointers,” I said - I had learned even then that they wave their hands a lot - “and as long as they can do that, and I can say ‘Piazza Indipendenza’ and ‘Pension Dante’ I guess I’ll get along all right; you see how it would work.”
“Yes,” she answered, “maybe, but thees Meester Wake, he take you soon? I theenk better to take the small walk first, please?”
And because she looked anxious, I said, “All right,” and smiled at her and then said, “Good-by,” and started down the stairs.
These were of stone, and the banisters made of twisted iron, and the walls were, like most of the other walls, of painted or frescoed plaster. The hall was cold and draughty as well as dark, and so quiet that every step I took echoed loudly, and so, when I stepped out into the warmth and light and noise of the street, the contrast was complete.
I blinked a moment before I started, and then I drew a deep breath because, well, it made you feel that way!
As in Genoa, I don’t remember half I saw, but I do remember the different things, and the sort of things that I never could have seen in a Pennsylvania town of fifteen thousand people that is surrounded by hills with oil wells on them.
The first one that struck in was two officers who looked as if they had just been painted, and wound up somewhere between the shoulder blades, although they were much handsomer than any toys I’d ever seen. One of them had a mustache that tilted up, and he twirled this; the other flung his wide blue cloak back over his shoulder as he passed me, with a gesture that looked careless, but couldn’t have been so, because it was so packed with grace! I walked behind them, looking at their high, shining boots, and their broad, light blue capes and the gilt braid and the clanking swords. And I did wonder how they ever could win if they got mixed up in a real fight, and I knew that they did, for Father had said they were fine and gallant soldiers.
Then they turned a corner, and I was ever so sorry until I was diverted by a man who was sprinkling his pavement with water that he had in a chianti bottle; he wanted the dust kept down in front of his shop, which was an antique place, but that quart bottle full of water was all that he dared use!
By that time the Park - I mean the Piazza Indipendenza - was behind me, houses and shops were on the other side instead of green, and the way was narrow.
After I walked two blocks on this I saw a fountain that was on the side of a building opposite, and it was made of blue and white china, with green leaves and gold oranges and yellow lemons all around it. I thought it was so wonderful, and for once in my life I thought right, because even the critics seemed to half enjoy it. I found it was made by a fellow named della Robbia who had been dead hundreds of years, and that his work was fairly well known in Italy. Well, I looked at it a while, and then I remembered my letter, and went up to two old ladies who were sitting on a doorstep eating some funny little birds that had been cooked with the heads and feet still on them.
I smiled, stuck out my letter, and said, “Where?”
And I never heard anything like the outburst that followed! They both got up and clutched my sleeves, and pointed their hands that were full of bird-lunch, and nodded their heads and patted my back, and kept explaining, in forty-seven ways, where the mail box was. It was really very funny, and I thought I was never going to get away!
After I did, and I hadn’t half as much idea of where the box was as I had when I stopped, I went on, and after a while I saw something that looked suspicious, and after I saw a woman drop a postcard in it, I dropped my letter, and then turned.
Going back, I waved at the old ladies, and said “Grazie,” which I had learned meant thank you, and they bobbed their heads and called, “Niente, niente, Signorina!”
Then a group of soldiers from the ranks clattered past me in their olive drab and the heavy shoes that announce their coming, and again I was at the doorway through which I could reach the Pension Dante, wondering whether it was really true, or whether my program had slipped to the floor during the first act?
And then I rang the pension bell and went in and up.
Going in, and away from all the shrill, staccato street noises, and the smells, which sometimes aren’t nice, but are always different, going in and away from all this seemed tame, but after I got up and Beata had opened the door, I was glad I had been decent enough to consider Miss Julianna’s feelings because…
Miss Leslie Parrish, of Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Miss Viola Harris-Clarke, of Ossining, New York, had arrived! I heard them before they heard me, which is, perhaps, unfair, but it is sometimes also a decided advantage, and I needed all the advantages on my side! I knew it as soon as I heard them speak, and that they would probably consider me countrified and make fun of me. I didn’t care, but I was glad to get used to the idea of our being so different, before we met and I was plumped up against all that manner at one time.
It didn’t take a Signorina Sherlock Holmes to know that they had come, and I didn’t need Beata’s wild pointing, for I heard their voices immediately although they were in a room that was well down the hall.
The first thing I heard was, “Simply impossible!” (I knew in a second that it was Leslie, and that it was her comment about the room.) “You mean to say,” she went on, “that my aunt has seen this?”
“Si, Signorina,” Miss Julianna answered, and she didn’t sound as if she were smiling.
“Well,” I heard in Leslie’s pretty, carefully used voice, “that is very strange! What do you think, Viola?”
“I don’t know, dear,” came in a higher, and a little more artificial voice, and then there was a silence.
A short, baffled kind of laugh, prefaced Leslie’s “I’m absolutely at sea! I don’t know whether to stay or not, but I vowed I would.”
“We might get a few things,” suggested Viola.
“Yes,” (doubtfully) “but the walls - streaks and soil - I don’t know!”
Again there was a silence.
“You do as you like,” said Miss Julianna quickly and in a rather brittle way. “I have keep the rooms at order of Mees Parrish, but you do not haf to stay.”
And then she came out of the room, and down the hall toward me. “Insolent!” I heard in Leslie’s voice, and I wasn’t much impressed.
CHAPTER SEVEN - GETTING ACQUAINTED A Modern Trio in an Old Town
That night, after a dinner during which Leslie and Viola looked as if they were chewing lemons, I went to call on them because I thought it was the polite thing to do. Goodness knows, I didn’t want to! I was afraid that they would purr along about the weather, and that I would have to bob my head and smirk and say, “Yes, isn’t it charmingly warm for this time of year?” and that kind of stuff which certainly bores me! But they didn’t even bother to do that! They talked across me, and, although it wasn’t comfortable, I will admit that it was instructive.
I think one can learn so much about people when they don’t think it is worthwhile to be polite, or think they are alone in the bosom of their family.
I remember one time I walked home with Elaine McDonald from the Crystal Emporium where we had had a banana split, and her father, who thought she had come in alone, barked down at her as if she were a member of a section gang and he were the boss.
The thing that made it funny was the fact that he is a purry man, and always wears a swallow-tail coat on Sunday, and passes the plate, and stands around after church bobbing and smirking over people, and saying, “It is a real pleasure to see you here, Mrs. Smith!” (or Mrs. Jones, or whoever it happened to be) He has a Bible class, too, and is the President of the Shakespeare Club, and I was surprised to hear him bawl out - bawl is a crude word, but it does belong here! - “Elaine, you left the fire on under the boiler and there’s enough hot water here to scald a hog! You and your mother don’t care how you run the gas and the bills.”
And then Elaine said, and, oh, so sweetly, “Papa, dear, Jane Jones is with me.”
And he said, “Ahem. How-a-how-a nice,” and then sneaked back into the bathroom and shut the door quietly and finished his shaving in deep silence. Which just shows, or should, because I am using it for the express purpose of illustration, how different people may be in public and while shaving. Of course Leslie and Viola didn’t syrup up in a hurry as Mr. McDonald did, because they didn’t consider me worthwhile, but I knew that they were capable of slapping on a sugar coating if they’d wanted to.
But, to get on, after dinner I waited around until half past seven, because the best people in our town never start out to make calls before that hour, and I wanted to be correct. Then I went down the hall and tapped on Leslie’s door because I heard a steady buzzing back of that and it intimated that the newcomers were together and inside. After I tapped I waited. Then someone slammed a trunk lid, and I heard an impatient, “What is it?”
“It’s me,” I answered, and realized too late that I shouldn’t have said that. I should have said, “It is I,” but I am always making mistakes. Then I heard, “Vi, open the door.”
And Viola Harris-Clarke let me in.
Leslie, who was leaning over a trunk fishing things out of it, only looked over her shoulder inquiringly for a second, and then turned back after a “Hello,” that had a question mark after it.
“I thought I’d come over and see how you were getting on,” I said.
“Well, sit down,” said Leslie, “that is, if you can find a place!” And I pushed aside a pile of silk underthings that was on the end of a lounge, and roosted there. And then I waited to have Leslie ask how I was, because at home that always comes first. People usually sit in rocking chairs, and the called on person will say, as they rock, “Well, now Mrs. Jones, how are you?” And after the caller answers, they get along to the children and then ask about the father, and next about how the canning is getting on, or the housecleaning, or the particular activity that belongs to the season. It is always like that in our town with anyone who calls, which I consider polite and interested and nice; but I didn’t get it with Leslie; instead she went right on unpacking.
I looked at her with a good deal of interest, and I decided that she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. Her hair is very light in shade and texture, and she wears it straight off her forehead, flat at the sides, and in a psyche knot. (I learned later that Paris is through with the puffs.) She is tall and thin and graceful, and her skin is fair and it flushes easily. Her lashes and brows are dark, and her lashes curl up, (a few days later I saw her help them curl up with a little brush) and she has a classic profile, slender hands and feet, and a languorous, slow way of looking at a person that can be either flattering or flattening.
Viola was another story, and just the way she looked explained every single thing about her.
You could see that she was a follower.
Her hair had been bobbed, and she had had to bob it, not because it was becoming to her, but because everyone was bobbing it. Now she wore it as nearly as Leslie wore hers as she could, with a net over it, and millions of pins to keep the short ends of the slowly lengthening hair from flying. Her eyebrows were what she called “Frenched” which meant that she pulled them out and screeched terribly while doing it, and her fingernails were too pointed and too shiny. Her mouth was too big, and her chin receded a little, but she might have been nice looking if she hadn’t made such a freak of herself. She didn’t look natural at all, and she wasn’t pretty enough to justify all the fuss that the stupidest person could see she made over every detail.
She sat on a corner of the table, swinging her legs and humming.
“Isn’t this simply ghastly?” Leslie asked of me, after an interval of some minutes’ quiet.
“What?” I asked.
“Why, this place. I don’t know what Aunt Sheila was thinking of!” Then she dumped dozens of pairs of colored silk stockings out on the floor, and began to take out more and prettier dresses than I had ever seen before in all my life.
“How’d your frocks stand the crossing, dear?” asked Viola lazily.
“Oh, fairly. Old rags anyway. I didn’t get a new thing!” Then she leaned down again and began to take out perhaps a dozen petticoats that shone in the light, and silk nightdresses and bloomers and a pink satin corset, and gray suède shoes with cut-steel buckles, and some gold shoes with straps and ostrich feather rosettes on the ankles, and some dark blue patent leather shoes with red stitching, and red heels!
And as she did, she and Viola talked of people and places I had never met, and of how frightful the dinner had been, and of the “utterly hideous rooms!”
After quite a little time of this, although I suppose it seemed longer to me than it really was, Leslie sagged down on the corner of a trunk she had not yet opened, and hinted about some past chapters of her story that interested me and that was to have its love scene added in Florence, which I then, of course, didn’t know.
“I came here,” she stated, as she looked straight and hard ahead of her, “on pique.”
“I knew it!” murmured Viola.
“Nonsense!” Leslie answered, sharply. “Why how would you know?”
“Dear, I saw you were suffering.”
That smoothed Leslie; I could see her feathers settle, and when she went on all the irritation had left her voice.
“Someone,” she confided, “and it doesn’t matter in the least who, since he has gone from my life - I assure you I have absolutely put every thought of him away - intimated that I could do nothing but be a butterfly. He was brutal, absolutely brutal!
“And I, perfectly enraged, said I could work, and I would show him that I could. And that very night - Vi, are you sitting on my ostrich feather fan? Oh, all right, I thought I saw something pink there; no, I don’t mind the scarf.”
“Go on, dear,” said Viola, after her exploration and a wiggle that settled her again.
“That very night,” Leslie continued, “I telephoned Aunt Sheila, who happened to be in town and at the Plaza, and I told her I intended to come here and study with Signor Paggi. She was just as mean as she could be. ‘Very well, Leslie,’ she said in that crisp way in which she often speaks. ‘But he won’t keep pupils who don’t work.’ ‘He will keep me,’ I answered, and my voice shook. I was fearfully overwrought. My heart had already been trampled upon.”
I thought that sounded silly, but Viola didn’t, because she said, “My dear!” rather breathed it out as if someone had taken her lungs and squeezed them just as she began to speak.
Leslie looked up at the ceiling and swallowed hard, in a way she considered tragic, and it was, but it also made me think of Roberta’s canary when it drinks. Then she rubbed her brow, laughed mirthlessly, and ended with, “and here I am!”
“The bathtub’s the worst,” said Viola, which sort of took the cream off of Leslie’s tragic moment, and I could see that Leslie didn’t like it, for she frowned.
“I don’t know what to do,” said Leslie after a small lull, “whether to hunt some other place, or stand this.”
“Our trunks are all here,” Viola stated, “and it would be hard to move,” (she had unpacked, and I found later she hated effort). “I wondered whether we couldn’t get a few little extra things - curtains, and cushions and so on? And the food we could supplement. I can make fudge and chicken king.”
“I am certain I can make tea,” said Leslie, “it’s only a matter of the proper pot and a spirit lamp and some water, and then throwing the stuff in. I’ve seen it done dozens of times.”
“And we could buy rolls and things.”
Then they paused to consider it.
“Don’t most students do that sort of thing anyway?” I asked.
“It would be Bohemian,” said Leslie, in a more energetic voice than I’d heard her use before.
“And after we get famous they’ll photograph this ghastly hole, and say we lived here,” Viola added, with a far-away, pleased look.
“I’m willing to try it,” agreed Leslie, in a dull tone I felt she put on. “I don’t care much what happens now, anyway!”
“Poor darling!” murmured Viola, and in that “Poor darling,” I saw the shadow of a row, for I knew that Viola couldn’t keep that up all the time, and I knew that when she stopped Leslie would be angry, and I knew that they were too foolishly and sentimentally intimate to remain good friends. However, I never dreamed for a second, then, that they would come to me to complain about each other! Which was just what they did!
It was dreadful for me; there was a time when I never went into my room without finding one or the other waiting to sniff out their tales, tales which they almost always prefaced in this way: “I never talk about my friends,” (sniff). “You can ask,” (gulp) “anyone where I do,” (sniff) “but I want you to know that I have never been treated,” (gulp-sniff) “as I have been treated since I came to this place in company,” (real sob) “with that - that creature!”
When I think of it now, and then that first call, I could, as Viola says, “Simply scream, my dear!”
But I’m getting ’way ahead of my own story.
At half past eight, I stood up. “Well, I guess I’d better go now,” I said, but neither Leslie nor Viola said, “Oh, don’t hurry,” as I supposed people always did, and so I did go. As I reached the door – alone - Leslie spoke:
“We go to see Signor Paggi to-morrow, don’t we?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered, “at one.”
“We might as well go together,” she suggested, “although,” (her tone was too careless, and she avoided looking at me) “we, of course, won’t expect to act like Siamese triplets, will we?”
“I shall be busy a great deal,” I stated, as I felt myself flush, and then I went out, and after a stiff goodnight, went down the hall to my own room. It did seem to me that Leslie had been unnecessarily unkind in giving that hint, for I had only gone because I supposed it was polite, and I certainly never would push in! Mother had never let us do that!
I was angry, and as I undressed, I vowed that I would let Leslie entirely alone, and that she could make the first advances, if any at all were ever made, and I wondered what kind of a man could like a girl of Leslie’s type, and what he had said that had made her do a thing that was so evidently distasteful. I was really interested, and I couldn’t help hoping that this man who had been “pushed from her life” had socked it to her hard, (and I found later he had!) and I further hoped, without even trying to help it, that I could squelch her someday. Then I said my prayers and crawled into bed.
As I pulled up the blankets one of the sounds that belong to Florence tinkled in through my widely opened French windows. Somewhere, in some little church or convent, bells were ringing and sounding out steps in mellow tones that floated softly through the air. It was very, very pretty. And I closed my eyes, and I could see lilies-of-the-valley and blue bells growing near ferns. That doesn’t seem very sensible unless you’ve heard those bells, but if you have, on a warm-aired, soft Italian night, you’ll probably understand. Then the bells died gently down to nothing and I heard another sound, and when I heard that I saw people clogging, for it was a banjo, and I got out of bed in a hurry, and skipped over to the window without even waiting to put on my slippers.
I couldn’t see much down in the court, because the wide banners of light that floated out from the doorways only seemed to intensify the shadows, and the banjo-player was sitting on a bench by the side of a back door and not in the light.
But I could hear, and I heard, in a very pretty voice with the soft strum of the banjo creeping through:
Sisters and cousins of men in my set:
Tried to be cheerful and give them an earful
Of soft sort of talk, but, oh, gosh!
The strain was something fearful!
Always found after a minute or two
Just to be civil was all I could do.
Now I know why I could never be contented,
I was looking for a pal like you.”
And I knew the tune, and it is one I liked, and the singing in my own language was cheering and rather jolly, and the feeling the man put into the foolishly light words made me laugh, and I leaned far out and listened.
Then I heard a snatch of a Neapolitan song that better fitted the look of the court, and then a bit of opera. The troubadour faltered on that, and right in the middle of it he stopped, repeated one phrase, and then called, “Hi, Gino, old Top! Ta tum, ta tum, ta ta, ta tum - that right?”
And Gino echoed it in his voice, and answered excitedly, “Si, si, Signor! Brava! Brava, Signor! Brrrava!”
And then, warmed and cheered and quite myself again, I went back to bed.