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Friday, April 28, 2023

CHAPTER FOURTEEN - STORIES, MUSIC AND TEA A Modern Trio in an Old Town

That afternoon was pleasant, but I don’t think that’s the reason I remember it so clearly. A good many pleasant sight-seeing walks followed that have grown a little dim, even now. I think it fastened itself by my beginning to see Viola, and a side of her through which she was soon to hurt herself so cruelly. I discovered the side through a little comment of hers on a painting made by Andrea del Sarto, an artist who painted in Florence a good deal in the fourteen hundreds. They didn’t have any electric signs then, and so they used paint instead, and they spread this over the churches, both inside and out, because they were old-fashioned and religious.

After Viola joined us Mr. Wake said, “The building we face, the one that has the della Robbia babies smiling down on you from the front of it, is a hospital for foundlings - little children whose parents die, or for some reason or other don’t want them - and it is called the ‘Innocenti,’ which means The Innocents, and there, years ago, probably sometime in 1452, a little baby who was later called Leonardo da Vinci, found a home. It was rather well that he did, wasn’t it? And now shall we go into the church?”

“Let’s,” I answered, after I had taken a long look at the stern-looking building that holds inside so much that is lovable. And then we went into Santissima Annunziata and after we had looked at the glittering Chapel of the “Annunciation Virgin” and some paintings Mr. Wake told us were wonderful, we went on into the cloisters.

As we got about halfway in, Mr. Wake put his hand on my arm, drew me to a standstill, and Viola followed suit.

“Look above the door,” said Mr. Wake, and we did, to see a pretty picture of Joseph, and Mary, and a little boy, who was the small Christ. I liked it very much because it was simple, and it made you feel near it. Joseph was leaning on a sack of grain, and Mr. Wake said, when he spoke, that it was called “The Madonna of the Sack” because of that.

“But,” he said, “the great story lies behind the pretty face of the model; for Mary, up there, was Andrea’s ambitious, money-loving wife. She crept into all his pictures, for she was his model, and she made him work like mad to paint them, for she was always wanting the things that do not count, and the things that do not live; and the money for his pictures could buy these things for her. And while he worked, she played and wore the fine garments that the silk-makers guild wove for her. There are millions of her, aren’t there? Poor blind, foolish women!” he ended.

“But,” said Viola, “don’t men like to have women interested in their work? I’m sure that my own dear Father is stimulated by my need for pretty things.”

“Surely,” agreed Mr. Wake, “but to be pushed beyond strength and to be whined at continually is quite a different thing. In this case it proved to be the killing of the golden goose, for Andrea del Sarto did not live to a great age - he died at forty-five - and his wife lived on alone without her beauty and the love of Andrea, and lived long beyond him. It is said that one day, many years after Andrea died, an artist who was copying that moon-shaped picture up there was startled by a touch on his shoulder, and he looked up to see an old, browned, shriveled hag, who smiled down at him a little bitterly. ‘I see,’ she said, ‘that you are copying the picture of me that my husband painted?’ Then perhaps,” Mr. Wake added, “she went in and sent a little prayer up through the dim ceiling for all of her sisters gone and to come who think more of money and things than they do of love or the comfort of their beloved.”

We went in again after that, but I wasn’t much interested in the rest of the church, and it was so cold inside and out of the sun that I was glad when we stepped outside again and made our way toward the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele where there was to be a concert given by one of the military bands. There was a cluster of gaily uniformed band men in its center, and hundreds and hundreds of people around them, and at the edges of the square people sitting at the tables of the open air, outdoor caf├ęs, drinking and eating whatever they had ordered. It was very different from anything I’d ever seen, and so full of brightness and color and a deep, thick sense of enjoyment that I don’t know how to describe it. But people seemed keyed up by the music, and when the band master would stand up before his men and wave his baton, every one grew tense, and when the music started they listened hard.

“Suppose,” said Mr. Wake, after we had pushed by two of the Bersaglieri, (who are the sharp-shooter soldiers that have cock feathers drooping from one side of their always tilted, theatrical-looking hats) “we go sit down, and see whether, if we look very wistful, some waiter won’t come along, and take an order.”

“Delightful,” said Viola, who had been getting more and more airy as she was more and more impressed with Mr. Wake.

“I’d like it,” I said, “I’m always hungry, but how about your stomach?”

“My dear!” Viola put in, in a shocked aside, but I paid no attention because it was no time to quibble. Mr. Wake was taking me out primarily for his stomach, and because he wanted to reduce it, and I didn’t think it would be fair to sit and eat and tempt him.

After Viola said “My dear!” Mr. Wake laughed, and patted my shoulder.

“Always beginning to reduce next week,” he said; “like Alice in Wonderland, ‘jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today!’ And don’t you think a little fat softens age? Suits my type? There’s a table ahead of us, grab it, Jane, before the gentleman with the many whiskers sits down and pretends he is a piece of sage brush.”

He did look like sage brush, but the wind blew me to the table Mr. Wake wanted before it landed the rough, hairy-looking person there, and Viola and Mr. Wake followed and settled. And then I had my first taste of outdoor eating, which is very foreign, and which I like so much!

Viola and I had strong, bitter chocolate with whipped cream on it and French pastries and little cakes with nuts in them, and Mr. Wake had wine and crackers. And just as our waiter brought the order to us, the band struck up “Pizzicato Sylvia” and unless you have heard an Italian band play something shortly and sharply, with a snapping, staccato touch, you have yet to hear music, real music.

Oh, how I came to love those concerts that were scheduled twice a week, all winter long, in one or another of the public squares!

I couldn’t eat, I could just listen. And Mr. Wake smiled at me, and once he put his hand over mine, and I turned my hand until my fingers could squeeze his. And then I drew a deep breath and shook my head because the music made me feel that way. And then the band stopped, and everyone was very quiet for a second, and then they clapped and after that laughter and talk rose with a perfect whir.

“Wasn’t that fine?” I said, as Viola said, “Enchanting,” and someone who had been standing back of me for some moments, leaned down and said softly, “How do you do, today, little Miss Jones?”

It was my Sam Deane!

I was startled, but awfully glad to see him, although the idea of thanking him for those violets before everyone made me feel cold and frightened and stiff.

“Miss Harris-Clarke, this is Mr. Sam Deane,” said Mr. Wake, “whom I am proud to present to you.”

“Delightful,” Viola murmured in her smooth way, and then Sam bowed and drew up a chair.

“Will the bottomless pit have something to eat?” asked Mr. Wake. And Sam Deane grinned at him, and then he said he might consider it.

“What did you draw?” he asked of me, and I told him, and he ordered what I had had.

“I want to write you a little note,” I said.

“By jings, I want you to,” he answered, and he looked at me and smiled in a very kind way. I don’t believe there is a nicer man than Sam Deane! I liked him right off, and I’ve never stopped once since.

“No one ever sent me any before,” I said in an aside, which was easy, because Mr. Wake had begun to talk to Viola about the Uffizi Gallery and the Belli Arti, which is another gallery.

“What was the matter with the boys?” Sam asked.

“My sister,” I said, “is really attractive, and she always gets them. I like them very much, and I was so excited I could hardly get the box open. And I’d just heard that the twins were sick too, and the violets helped me a lot.”

He didn’t answer, but he sat looking down at me and smiling, and I felt as if he would understand my clumsy thanking him. “I thank you ever so much!” I ended.

He shook his head, “Nothing,” he answered, “it was absolutely nothing. I wanted to buy the Pitti Palace and the Boboli gardens and give them to you, and throw in the Piazzale Michael Angelo for good measure. Are you - are you going to let me be your good friend?”

“If you really want to be,” I responded, and I meant it.

“I want it more than anything,” he said, in an undertone, and then we were quiet.

“How are you?” I asked, after the silence had begun to seem strained.

“Never have been better,” he answered. “Did you know Mr. Wake got me a sale for my boy picture straight off? He brought another agent in to see it and he took it. We broke the contract with my old agent. Mr. Wake said I could with safety. I don’t know what to say to you. Think of what you’ve done for me.”

“Oh, no,” I disagreed.

“Oh, yes!” he stated. Then the band began to play “the Blue Danube” and when I heard it I thought I had never heard waltz time before. It rose and fell in the softest waves, with the first beat accented, until one felt as if one must sway with it.

It was a moment that I shall never forget. I don’t know quite why it was so vivid. But the great hushed crowd which was pierced by blue uniforms, and the three-cornered hats of the carabinieri, and the look on the dark-skinned faces and in the deep brown eyes, and the sun that slanted across all this to cover an old stone building with gold, and the people around the little tables, and Viola talking with Mr. Wake, and Sam Deane, looking at me in a kind way, struck into my heart to make a picture that will always be remembered.

When the music stopped, I said, “I don’t know why I am so happy today.”

And Sam Deane said he was too, but he did know why, which of course was natural, for he had been close to starving and worried over work, and all his skies were cleared.

“I can’t tell you,” I said, “how glad I am that everything is all right for you.”

He didn’t answer immediately, and he really didn’t answer at all. He said, “Please keep on feeling that way,” and I promised I would, and then we stood up, and made our way through the crowd to stand at the edge of it, and listen to a few more numbers before we went home.

And on the way - we loitered a little, for we were on the sunny side of the street, and that makes loitering easy - Mr. Wake told us about how Mr. Robert Browning had picked up a little yellow book, in one of the stalls outside of San Lorenzo, which was a church we passed – and how this book made him write “The Ring and the Book.” Viola said that she knew it almost word for word, but when Mr. Wake asked her how it started she couldn’t seem to remember.

“If I recall,” said Mr. Wake - and it was almost the last information he imparted, and after that we began to have a fine time - “if I recall correctly it started out with a very careless sounding few words; they are, I think, ‘Do you see this ring?’ And then, in the next paragraph, ‘Do you see this little yellow book I hold in my hand?’ And the poem has lived! The artificial fades and drops away; the real and simple roots.” (He looked at Viola then; I don’t know why.) “There is another poem,” he went on, “that starts in somewhat the same manner and Jane will know it. That one begins with, ‘Oh, say, can you see by the dawn’s early light,’ both of them intimately in the vernacular.”

I didn’t know what “vernacular” meant, but I didn’t have to admit it, because Viola put in one of her low-breathed, “Fascinatings,” and after that Mr. Wake was quiet until we reached the twisting stairs that led to the Pension Dante, when he and Sam Deane said goodbye to us.

 Chapter 15

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN - FLORENTINE WINTER A Modern Trio in an Old Town

After that first real walk and our outdoor tea, Viola, Mr. Wake, Sam Deane and I took a great many walks - always two a week - and I came to enjoy seeing the things I should see, and hearing about people whom I had considered of little importance because they were so dead. But Mr. Wake woke everything up, and shook the dust from all the old stories and made them live.

For instance, when we passed Dante’s house he would say, “No use of stopping; Dante is over at the Pitti Palace talking to Cosimo de Medici this morning, and I see Gemma” (she was Dante’s wife) “is busy in the backyard hanging up the wash,” and then we’d all pretend we saw her, and walk on deciding as we walked, that it would be kinder to slip our cards under the door without ringing, and that we hadn’t wanted to find them in, anyway. Mr. Wake made everything modern and natural, just like that!

He took us to the Pitti Palace, which, in 1440, Luca Pitti commissioned Brunelleschi to build for him. It was to be a palace more magnificent than the Riccardi Palace which belonged to the Medici; and the citizens and Florentine corporations were so much interested that they aided him. It was so fine that it took years to build, which Mr. Wake proved when he said that in 1549 it was sold, without its roof, to Eleanor of Toledo, who was the wife of Cosimo.

From the Pitti Palace we went to the Uffizi Gallery; through a little narrow passage that runs from the Pitti across the upper story of the Ponte Vecchio - the old bridge - along the Arno for a block, and then turns into the great Uffizi that was built by Vasari in 1560 to ’74 for the municipal government, and by the order of Cosimo I because he wanted to use the Palazzo Vecchio, which was then the municipal building, for his own home.

Mr. Wake said that a good many people try to look up the history of the Uffizi family, but he advised me not to try, and when I asked why not he told me that “Uffizi” means offices.

All this information was given in a way that made it seem quite palatable, and not at all like the information that one usually gets. I enjoyed even the history of the erecting of those great, strong buildings, and when it came to the families, I loved it. It was truly interesting to hear of the wars of the blacks and the whites, who were the opposed and warring factions in Florence of the Middle Ages, and Mr. Wake told of how they planned their conquests in hidden ways or under the cover of black night; and of how the Medici power was overthrown; of a priest who was made so deep a sympathizer of the oppressed that he tried to stab Cosimo de Medici while he was at Mass, then of how Cosimo escaped this, and finally died in one of his peaceful country palaces which stands today just as it did then.

In the Uffizi, Mr. Wake asked me what I would look at if I were alone, and I said the pictures of wars and animals, and Sam took me around hunting these, while Viola stuck to Mr. Wake and admired the things that everyone should admire.

One sunny day, we went to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a great, cleared space on the top of a hill on the south side of the Arno, riding up in a tram and walking slowly down a cypress-shaded path upon which, at intervals, were the stations of the cross. At another time we walked out to see Andrea Del Sarto’s last supper, which is in a tiny church way out in the outskirts of Florence, and is not often seen by the hurried kind of tourist who uses a guide.

Then we saw where well-known people had lived, Thomas Hardy, (and he had had rooms right up near us) and so had George Eliot and Walter Savage Landor and the Brownings and dozens of others I have forgotten.

And of course we saw a little house where Boccaccio was supposed to have lived, and the place in front of Santa Maria Novella (a church) where he, Boccaccio, met seven lovely ladies, one morning in 1348, just after Mass, when the city lay stricken under the horror of the plague. Mr. Wake pointed Boccaccio out to us as we were coming home past the church, one bleak November afternoon, after a walk that had taken us to the churches on the South Side of the Arno.

“There,” he said, “in claret colored doublet and hose is my friend Boccaccio! He swings a silken purse that has in it many ducats, and he tries with nonchalance to hide the horror and fear that lurk within his heart. A serving man whines behind him. ‘Master, master, we had best be going. Two more have fallen in the way not a disc’s throw from your excellency, and the streets are filled with death!’. But now, now! Who are these, seven of them, coming out from Mass! Lovely ladies who greet Boccaccio as a friend, and whose eyes lose their look of fright for the fleeting second when first Boccaccio comes into vision and to mind.”

And then Mr. Wake, in his seeing way told us how that group and two more youths planned to go up to Boccaccio’s villa which some think was close to Fiesole - the town that Florence warred upon so often – the proud, small town that frowned and sneered on Florence from her high seat upon the hill. And Mr. Wake said that the next day, early, when the dew was on the grass and the sun yet gentle, Boccaccio’s party started off, and made their trip in a short two hours; found the villa more charming than their modest host had promised and that there they settled.

And to fill time they told stories, which are, after all this time, being read. But Mr. Wake said, when I said that I’d like to read them, that the stories would be the kind of stories that would be told by people who evaded duty, and kited off by themselves to look out for themselves. And he said they were not exactly the reading he would recommend for me.

Viola had read them and so had Leslie. Both of those girls often made me feel very ignorant, but Sam said he liked me as I was, and that helped a great deal.

Leslie went with us only a few times, although I always asked her. But her quarrel with Viola was as intense as it had been the day when it started, although they did speak to each other, very coldly, and I think that kept Leslie from going, as well as the fact that she was irritated into disliking Mr. Wake by Viola’s and my enthusiasm over him just at that time. She was nervous and edgy and unhappy, and disappointed from the toppling of her friendship with Mr. Ben Forbes. The Florence winter months, which are filled with fog and a damp, in-creeping cold, left her physically uncomfortable too, and she had no real companion and the hard application to work was new to her; altogether now that I look back, I pity her. But all that came to Leslie did help her; I know that, and so I suppose that I am only wasting pity.

The second time we went walking, Leslie went with us, and she was very cool and crisp in her greeting to Mr. Wake, and she disagreed with him about his opinion of the Fra Angelico frescoes in a monastery called San Marco, in a sharp way that wasn’t at all nice.

After we got back from our walk and were settled at dinner, Viola, with a circumspect look at Leslie, said something about Mr. Wake’s books, and I saw Leslie look up at her suddenly and piercingly. And before I went to bed she called me over to her room. She had on a layer of mud - it was some kind of Russian stuff that she put on to cleanse the pores - and it made her look like a mummy. I had to giggle.

“What is the cause of your mirth?” she asked coldly as she stopped brushing her hair.

“Well,” I answered, “you look kind of funny.”

She elevated her chin, and I think she gave me that cool stare with which she even occasionally subdues Miss Meek, but of course it couldn’t get through her mud-pie finish.

“I want to know,” she said after a second of comparative silence, during which she had slammed her little jars around on her bureau, and brushed her hair so hard that I thought she’d brush it all out, “whether it is true that Mr. Wake is a writer?”

“Why, yes,” I answered, “‘Beautiful Tuscany,’ ‘Hill Roads,’ ‘Old Roman Byways’ and lots more were written by him.”

It seemed to irritate her. “It would seem to me,” she confided, “that you would naturally mention it!”

I didn’t see why, but I didn’t say so. I just picked up a button hook and wiggled it around in my hands, the way you do when you have nothing to do but feel uncomfortable.

“You lack finish, and are as gauche as anyone I ever knew,” she went on. I didn’t know just what she meant by that, but I knew I didn’t like it.

“Don’t you know that when you introduce people,” she questioned, “you should give some idea of the - the standing of each person so that – that they may know whom they shall be nice to?”

I shook my head.

“Well, you do,” she snapped, “and if you have any more people to present to me, I want to know about them. I positively snapped at this Mr. Wake - I am fearfully humiliated over it! - and just a word from you would have saved me.” (She slammed a bureau drawer shut until everything on the bureau top rattled.) “I didn’t imagine he could be anybody, because Viola Harris-Clarke raved so.”

“He was my friend in any case,” I said, because I was getting mad, “and if you’d remembered that and been kind, you’d have spared both of us. I was ashamed of you. Mr. Wake was being kind to us, and you were rude to him without any reason for being so.”

“You ashamed of me?” she echoed, and wheeled on me, to stand looking at me in a dreadful way.

“Yes,” I said, “I was,” and I said it hard.

She drew a deep breath, and was about to start in when I decided I would go. I only heard her say, “You come from the backwoods of Pennsylvania, and so you cannot understand the - the infamy of your statement, but in New York I - my family…”

And into this I broke in with something that was horrible to say, I know it, but it was a satisfaction. I said, “Good-night old mud-hen,” and then shut the door. But before I had my own opened, she had jerked through hers, to stand in the corridor and wave her brush at me, “Never,” she called loudly, “never call me ‘Mud-hen’ again!”

“I will if I want to,” I said. “You may count in New York, but I come from Pennsylvania.” And then I went in my room and felt ashamed.

For two days after that Leslie cut me out of her talking list, too, and the only words I had from her were icicle-hung requests to pass things. On the third, I went into the practice room that was farthest down the hall - my afternoon hours followed hers that day - and I found her with her head in her arms, crying.

I felt very sorry for her, and I put my hand on her shoulder, and I said, “Leslie,” quite softly, and she turned away from me for a moment, and then turned to me and clung to my arm. I patted her and smoothed her hair, and I think I made her feel a little better.

Anyway, she stopped crying, and wiped her eyes, and asked me to go to Doney’s with her for tea. But I said I wouldn’t do that.

“Why not?” she asked in her old, cool, lofty manner and she raised her brows in a way that confessed she was surprised over my daring to refuse her invitation.

“Because,” I answered, “you took Viola, and now you’re mad at her, and you’re telling everyone how often you took her out, and how much you did for her.”

She grew red. I think she didn’t like it, but I had to say it.

“I’ll take a walk,” I said. She didn’t answer that, but, head high, collected her music and flounced off. After I had practised about an hour I heard a noise at the doorway, and I looked up to see Leslie standing in it.

“You were quite right,” she stated, in the stiffest voice I had ever heard, and she looked right over my head. “I know it. I will be glad to walk with you if you like.” 

“All right,” I answered, after a look at the little wristwatch father had given to me, before I left, “I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes; fourteen-and-a-half more here, and a half to get into my things.”

And I think that day started our real friendship.

Chapter 16 


 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

CHAPTER SIXTEEN - PLANS FOR A PARTY A Modern Trio in an Old Town

By Christmas time I was so well acquainted with both Leslie and Viola, that when, a week before Christmas, Viola called me in her room and told me what she was writing, I told her that I thought she was foolish.

“Why?” she asked, as she looked at the envelope that was addressed to her father.

“Doesn’t he send you all the money he can?” I questioned in turn.

“Probably,” (she jabbed holes in the blotter with her pen) “but I need more. You see early in the game, when Miss Parrish deigned to notice me, I borrowed money of her, she was always pressing it upon me. One of her sweet ways of impressing people with her wealth importance,” (I didn’t say anything, but I thought Viola was mean.) “and I need to repay that, and then my clothes are in rags,” (which was nonsense, for they weren’t) “and I always do ask father for extra money at Christmas time,” she continued, “because he softens then, or is in so deep that he thinks a little more won’t matter. Anyway, since I always do ask him, there’s no reason for you to be so shocked.”

“He’s your father,” I stated, “but I’ll tell you, I’d hate to send my father a letter like that to get around Christmas time!”

Viola shrugged her shoulders. Then she grew haughty. “As you say,” she said, “he is my father, and it is my affair.”

“You asked me about it,” I put in sharply, “I was going by, and you called me in and said you were writing your father for money, and asked me what I thought would come of it.”

“I meant how much would come of it.”

“Oh.”

“He’s quite used to it, Jane,” she went on, and almost apologetically, “Mother has to ask him for extra money all the time. We simply struggle, and pinch at every point, but even then we can’t put up half the appearance that we should, and we never have what everyone around us has and takes for granted. Did you hear Miss Meek say ‘I’ll wager it’s jolly slummish around the jail!’ yesterday when I was describing our breakfast room? Horrid old thing!”

I didn’t say so, but Viola had made Miss Meek hazard this opinion about Ossining because she, Viola, had put on so many unnecessary and silly airs about her home. Miss Meek added, after her first remark, that of course she knew nothing whatsoever about it, since she never had visited such low places. The moment that followed had been strained - and funny!

“It does seem,” Viola went on, after she had wiped her pen on her stocking, and then said something vigorous because she had forgotten that she wore a brown pair, “it does seem as if Father might try to do better. It makes it very hard for a girl of my type. It doesn’t agree with me to accommodate to poverty, or to pinch and scrape as I have to all the time!”

That was nonsense, but I didn’t say so, because with Leslie and Viola my opinion about money and things didn’t count.

So I only stood there a minute, feeling a little sorry for Viola and very sorry for her father, and wondering why people felt so about that which Viola called “Appearance,” and then I decided I’d go to my room and finish a letter I’d started to Mother, who would, Miss Sheila had stated, write me herself, very soon.

“Where are you going?” asked Viola after I had said I must hurry on.

“My room,” I answered, as I turned the doorknob.

“How’d your lesson go?”

“Pretty well.”

“If Miss Parrish doesn’t join you, I will later.”

“All right,” I responded, “but I won’t have a fire.”

“I should think you’d die without one,” said Viola, pityingly.

“I get along all right,” I answered, shortly, because it seemed to me that Viola had better get along without a fire herself - a scuttle of coal cost about thirty cents, and the kindling that started it, ten - instead of shivering for me, while she badgered her father for money that she confessed wouldn’t be easy for him to spare.

“Don’t be angry,” she called after me.

“I’m not angry,” I replied.

“Well, you acted it. Funny holiday, isn’t it? Just sitting in our rooms. No parties or anything.”

“We could have one if you and Leslie wouldn’t hitch at it, and spoil everything,” I responded. “We could get a nice one up.”

“Well, I’m willing to fly the white flag that evening,” she stated with an indifference I felt that she put on.

But that made the party possible, for I saw how it might be managed and I hurried right on to Leslie’s room to find her lying down on her bed and staring up at a sky-blue ceiling that had gilt stars painted on it.

“Look here,” I said, as I shut the door after myself, “I think we ought to have a party, a Christmas party, but we can’t unless you and Viola stop scrapping for the evening. She said she would; will you?”

Leslie sat up and drew her padded silk dressing gown around her, and then answered. “I am sure,” she said, “that I would act as I always do. One’s personal feelings dare not be aired; I assure you I invariably exercise restraint.”

“All right,” I answered and then I sat down on the edge of her bed, and we planned it. 

“Mr. Wake and Sam will come,” I said, after we had decided to buy those cracker things that pop and have paper caps in them, and Leslie had said she would donate some pastries and some French chocolates.

“Mr. Wake would be fearfully bored,” she objected.

“I don’t believe it,” I disagreed.

“But with Miss Meek and Miss Bannister and Mr. Hemmingway? For of course if we have it here we’ll have to ask the old things!”

“Probably it’ll be the first party they’ve been to in years,” I stated, and I saw that Leslie felt a little mean.

“Well, I’d tell him that the whole institution will be on board,” she advised, and I said I would.

“Beata would serve,” said Leslie, who seemed to have a lot of head about planning the refreshments and how they should be brought on.

“And she’d like it,” I commented, “probably it’ll help her out.”

“What’s the matter with her, anyway?” Leslie asked, and I’d told Leslie about forty times, but I told her once again.

“How much does she need?” she asked, as she lay back and again looked up at the ceiling.

“I think about seventy-five dollars,” I answered. Leslie laughed in a queer, unhappy way.

“Fancy it’s being as simple as that!” she murmured in an undertone.

“Not particularly simple, if she can’t get it,” I disagreed. “And poor Beata doesn’t believe she’ll ever be able to save it, and she loved him so. His name is Pietro La Nasa, and he is good looking. I’ve seen him standing in the court - he knows Gino, who owns the brass shop down there - and he looks up so longingly - and you know how much Beata cries.”

“Yes, I know.”

Suddenly Leslie turned and clasped my hand between both of hers. “Look here, Jane,” she said, and with the prettiest look I had ever seen on her pretty face, “we’ll try to make this a real party. My father sent me a little extra money - I had a dividend from something or other that has done well - and I’d love to spend it this way. As you say, the crowd here probably haven’t had a good time for years.”

“And may not again for years, if ever,” I put in. Leslie nodded.

“We’ll do it,” she said, with lots of energy in her voice. “And you can ask Viola to help with the decorating and so on. Understand, I want nothing to do with her after it is over. I shall never forget the things she said to me about my Grandfather who had a little interest in a factory where they put up chow chow (he made his fortune in railroads) and about my having an inflated idea of my own importance. I have not, but I assure you, Jane, the Harris-Clarkes are nobodies.”

Well, I’d heard that all about a thousand times before, and I had got so that I was honestly bored - and for the first time in my life - whenever Viola started on the Parrishes, or Leslie about the Harris-Clarkes.

“I can’t give any presents,” I broke in.

“I’ll loan you any amount, dear,” said Leslie, quickly.

“No, you won’t!” I answered. “I won’t give presents because I shouldn’t, but we can have an awfully good time, presents or not!”

“And will!” she promised, quickly, and then she crawled out and put a kettle of water over her spirit lamp and began to make tea, and I had three cups and four crackers and two slices of nut cake and some kisses. Then, feeling a little refreshed, I went back to my own room, on the way stopping at Viola’s. “It’s all right,” I said, from the doorway, “she’ll pretend, if you will.”

“I’m honestly glad,” said Viola.

Before I started on, I saw her lick the flap of the envelope that was to take her complaining letter across the sea to her father. I had a queer, sad feeling as she did it, and then I said a short “Bye,” and went on to my own room.

Chapter 17 


Wednesday, April 26, 2023

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - CUPID AND A LADY SANTA CLAUS A Modern Trio in an Old Town

Two days later at about five in the afternoon, Leslie looked around the living room which was growing dark, as she said, “I think we’ve done wonderfully!”

Viola was tying some red tissue paper around the funny little tree that Leslie, with great effort, had got from a florist, and after she stood erect and stretched, she responded to Leslie with a murmured, “Simply sweet!”
 
“Don’t you think so, Jane?” asked Leslie coolly. She had ignored Viola all that afternoon by addressing me, and after she did this pointedly, Viola always huffed up, and appealed to me, too. It made me feel as if I were interpreter in the tower of Babel, and it left me far from comfortable! And it was all so silly!
 
“I certainly do,” I answered as I looked around, and it was fine!
 
Mr. Wake, who had accepted our invitation with great pleasure, had sent in flowers and big branches of foliage from his place, and these were in vases, and massed in corners; and Sam, who had just left, had helped us make twisted red streamers that he had wound around the funny chandelier, and we had put red paper around all the lumpy vases that Miss Julianna seemed to like so much; and the bare little tree was on the center table, with a ring of candles, set up in their own grease around it. It doesn’t sound especially pretty, but it was, as well as very cheering.
 
Over the back of a chair hung a long red gown that Leslie was going to wear as she gave out a few little presents. Her giving them was entirely correct, because the Italian Santa Claus is a lady called “Befana,” and the only way we changed things was by having the Befana come on Christmas Eve instead of on Epiphany.
 
On the mantel were some pink tarletan stockings filled with candy - there was no fastening them up, the mantel was made of marble - and Leslie had got a little piece of mistletoe which Sam had hung in the doorway.

“Really, it has the feeling of Christmas,” said Leslie, as she picked up the gown, which I had made on her with safety pins.
 
“Hasn’t it?” murmured Viola, who, in spite of saying the most bitter things, did want to make up.
 
“When it’s lit by candles it will be pretty,” I prophesied, and it was. Then we picked up the hammers and the nails that always lie around on the edges of things after you’ve put up Christmas decorations, and went to dress, closing the door very carefully after us, and locking it.
 
Beata, who was tremendously interested in the new version of their Befana, and who had asked a great deal through Miss Julianna about the person she called “Meester Sant’ Claus,” smiled at us as we passed the kitchen, and I saw that she hadn’t cried that day, and that she wore her best dress, and a shabby, yet gay artificial flower in one side of her dark hair.
 
“Sant’ Claus come!” she managed, while we were yet within hearing; Leslie called “Not yet,” and then we went on, and parted.

In my room, before I lit the light, I will confess that I had a little moment of sadness, during which home seemed far away and I wished I had as much money to spend as Leslie had. I had wanted to give Miss Meek and Miss Bannister and Mr. Hemmingway very nice presents, because they needed them, but of course I couldn’t give them much. I had found for Miss Bannister a leather picture frame in a shop that was opposite the Pitti Palace. She had said she meant to get a frame for a picture she had of her old home, but that she always forgot it while out, (she is really very poor) and I had got for Miss Meek, who is very gay, a gray comb that had brilliants in it, it was only fifty cents; I got it in a stall outside of a church called Santa Croce. And I had got Mr. Hemmingway a book from a little shop back of the Duomo that had “My memories” written on it in gilt - I mean on the book, not the Duomo, of course - for I thought he would enjoy writing down some of the happenings that occurred at the times he never could remember.

Then I had two lovely colored linen handkerchiefs which had been given me before I sailed, and fortunately, I had only carried them and never put them into active use, and I did these up for Beata and Miss Julianna.

I didn’t give anything to the others, and I wished I could. I had that feeling that leads even restrained people to rush out on Christmas Eve and buy a great deal that they can’t afford, but after I reasoned it through I knew that I shouldn’t, because I wanted to pay back Miss Sheila - I had decided that I preferred to do this - and I wanted to return what I could, as soon as I could, to my own family, who had sacrificed a great deal for me. Then my allowance wasn’t large – Leslie told me she considered it about adequate for a week’s allowance of French pastries and digestion tablets - and so I wrote the rest of my friends notes. I used my best stationery that hasn’t any blue lines on it, but instead a silver “J” in the corner, and after I had written:

 “DEAR MR. WAKE:

“I do hope that you will be very happy this Christmas and always!

                     “Your friend,

                    “JANE JONES.”

I snipped a paragraph from Miss Sheila’s last letter, for he seemed to like hearing about her, and talking of her, and the paragraph was about him.

“I am sure,” she had written, “that the Mr. Wake of whom you write so often, must be a real addition to your Florentine life. I did, very much, like his story of the wedding of Lorenzo, The Magnificent.”

(He was one of the Medici.)

“I saw it, dear, as you said he made you see it. And wouldn’t Florence be a nice city to be married in? I think if I had all my life to do over, I would go to a Padre in Florence, with some unlucky man, and pay a lot of scheming little wretches to throw roses before me as I left the church. You see what a romantic mood has attacked your old friend? I think I must need a tonic! Please write me the titles of your Mr. Wake’s books; I am ashamed to say that I haven’t read them, but I want to, and I shall.”

It did please him, I saw him read it three times that very evening; twice while Mr. Hemmingway was trying to remember the first time that he had ever seen a plum pudding brought in on the center of a blazing platter; and the third time, while Viola was describing the last Christmas and dragging in through it a long description of a lodge in the Adirondacks.

But to get on, or rather go back and start where I should, Miss Julianna had a very fine dinner because of our party, and she sat down with us, which wasn’t always her custom - she often helped in the kitchen - and Mr. Hemmingway had raked up some greenish-black dress clothes from somewhere, and Miss Bannister had her hair on as nearly straight as I had ever seen it, and Miss Meek wore a purple velvet dress with green buttons and a piece of old lace on it, which I had never before seen, but which she had spoken of in a way that made me know that she thought it very fine.

Of course Leslie was beautiful. She had on a new dress made of several shades of light blue chiffon, and this fluttered and changed as she walked, and there was a silver ribbon girdle on it, and silver ribbons knotted here and there over the shining white satin lining, and she wore silver slippers, and blue stockings with silver lace inserts, and she had a silver bandeau on her hair. I told her she was lovely.

Viola had pulled out all her extra eyebrows and looked sort of skinned, but she felt fixed up, so it was all right. She wore a red velvet dress that was pretty too. I wore a brown silk dress that had plaid trimming, and it put me in Miss Meek’s class, but I didn’t mind.

After we sat down, and made conversation in that stiff way that people do when they are all wearing their best clothes and aren’t quite used to them, Mr. Hemmingway stood up and picked up the smaller wine glass that stood by his plate - we had two sorts of wine - and he looked at me, bowed, and said, “To the United States and her lovely daughters.”

I thought it was very kind.

Then Miss Bannister blinked, and nodded, and squeaked out, “To the people we love who aren’t here.”

And I wasn’t a bit ashamed of the fact that my eyes filled with tears and that I had to blink and swallow like the dickens, because everyone else was doing the same thing.

After we drank that Mr. Hemmingway said, “It was, if I recall correctly, the Christmas of ’76 that I first met the customs of Italy at Christmas and Epiphany; I can, I think, without undue assumption of certainty state flatly that it was in ’76, and I assert this, because in the fall of ’76 I was experiencing my first attack of bronchitis; and I recall this, because the June of that same year, ’76, as I have heretofore mentioned, I had taken a trip up the Severn, or was that, now that I probe, ’74? Let me see, let me see.”

And then Miss Meek boomed out her “Ho hum!” and everyone felt more natural and lots better. After that the stiffness slid away, all in a second, and Miss Meek tossed her head and told about the fine Christmases she had seen, and Miss Bannister told of how the children in the village where she had lived sung carols, and Mr. Hemmingway searched after dates that wouldn’t come to him; and Viola and Leslie listened with more kindness than usual.

After we had had the lumpy, heavy sort of pudding that people always serve around Christmas, we sat back and talked some more while we waited for Mr. Wake and Sam to come. And at last the bell in the hall swung to and fro, and then there was excitement. Beata, who curtsied very low, let them in, and they called out their greetings and wishes to everyone, even before I had presented them.
 
Mr. Wake had a big bag under his arm that was pleasantly lumpy, and he said that Santa Claus had dropped it on the hillside near Fiesole and told him to deliver it. Then we all stood up, and after Leslie had lit the many candles in the drawing room, she rang a bell, and we filed in.
 
She summoned Mr. Wake first, and I was glad she did, because going up to the table where she stood might have been hard for some of the others. And after Mr. Wake took his present, he gave a little boarding school bow - that dip at the knees that makes girls shorter than they are for the second in which they do it - and everyone followed his lead. We did have the best time! But, and I suppose it sounds strange, it got in your throat and made it feel cramped. I can’t explain why, but when Miss Bannister and Miss Meek couldn’t, at first, open their packages because their hands shook so, it did make you feel queer.
 
Miss Bannister didn’t say anything, she only looked at her presents while her lips moved, but Miss Meek kept up an incessant string of, “Oh, I say!” or “How too ripping, don’t you know!” in a voice that was not entirely steady. And both of them had very bright, little, round spots of color on their usually faded cheeks, and their eyes were very, very bright.
 
Mr. Hemmingway was so absorbed in a Dunhill pipe that Mr. Wake insisted Santa had sent, that he didn’t mention a date for fully a half hour. He only looked at that pipe, and murmured, “My, my! Never did think I’d own one. My, my, my!”

And there were papers and cords all over the floor, and it looked and felt quite Christmasy.

It was after Mr. Hemmingway got his pipe that I went over to stand by Sam at a window; he had been watching me a little, and I thought perhaps he was lonely for home or something, because he looked that way.

“I think it’s a fine party,” I said, “Don’t you?”

“Best ever,” he answered. Then he coughed, and fumbled around in his pocket, and slipped a small box in my hand. “I’d like to say something darned nice,” he murmured, “but all my parlor conversation seems to have gone on a vacation.”

“Is it for me?” I asked. I was surprised, for I thought that the violets he had given me only a little time before, were enough!

“Who the dickens would I give it to?” he answered, in a half-irritated way. “Think I want to give anything to the other two? I don’t! When I come to think of it, I never did want to buy any truck for any other girl before.”

I enjoyed that; every woman does enjoy that sort of thing. And when I opened the box I almost went over backward; it held the most beautiful bead bag I’d ever seen; it was really prettier than any of Leslie’s! It had a brown and gold background, and soft pink roses on it, and it swung from a gold cord, and had sliding gold rings on that. I knew he shouldn’t have done it for, even to my simple soul, it spelled a lot of money.

I couldn’t say much, but I did say, “You shouldn’t have given it to me, Sam.”

“Don’t you like it, dear?” he asked. I didn’t mind that “Dear” at all. In fact I liked it. I had come to think of Sam as the best friend I’d ever had.

“I love it,” I answered, “but it must have cost a great deal.”

He laughed down at me. “Look here, young woman,” he said, in his drawling slow way, “Someday I’m going to ask you to take over the management of my finances, but until I do, I want the privilege of buying you a little thing like that once and again.”

What he said about finances worried me terribly, because I can’t add at all, and my cash account gives me real pain, and I have almost nothing to account for or to enter. But even at that, each month there is too much or too little, which makes me have to add a cream puff, or take one out.

“Sam,” I said, “I’d do anything for you, because I like you so much, but I can’t add. Why don’t you get Mr. Wake to help you! He’s there anyway, you see, and in a year I’ll be over in America.”

He slipped his arm through mine, and squeezed it against his side.

“Mr. Wake is right about you,” he said, as he smiled down at me, in a sort of a funny way.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, he thinks you a dear little girl. And you are just that.”

“Don’t you like it?” I questioned, because it didn’t seem exactly as if he did.

 “Yes, surely, but, I don’t want you to get over liking me when you grow up.”

“Why, Sam, I couldn’t!” I protested, and then I slipped my hand in his, “Don’t you know how much I like you?” I ended very earnestly because I did want him to understand, and I believe he did, although Leslie called my name before he answered and I had to go up to get my presents.

And after I did, I was absolutely unable to say anything, for everyone had been so kind to me! Miss Bannister had given me one of the pictures of her old home that she loved so much, and Miss Meek, a collar that her own mother had embroidered, and Mr. Hemmingway, a pen holder that he had gotten in Brazil either in ’64 or ’65, he couldn’t remember which, although he tried very hard to fasten the exact date in various ways. And Viola gave me a beautiful blue bottle with scent in it, and Leslie gave me a blouse that I had seen in a shop on the Lungarno and admired - it was tan pongee with heavy coral stitching, and about the color of my hair - the tan, I mean, not the coral - and Miss Julianna had given me a tomato can that she had painted, with a flower in it, and I liked it very much; and Beata, a handkerchief that she had made herself. Mr. Wake gave me a scarab ring, that swung around in its setting, and had the name of the Princess who had first worn it in hieroglyphs on the back, and when I went to thank him, he slipped it on my finger, and made a wish. Then he said to Sam, who had come over to stand with us, “Want to have a shot, old boy? You can twist it, and perhaps the gods will listen.”

So Sam did, and he said it was a fine wish! Then Beata brought in the refreshments, which were pastries, wine, ices and candies and little nut-filled cakes, (Leslie lost a filling while eating one) and we pulled crackers and put on the caps and things that came out of them, and read the mottoes and Mr. Hemmingway got so gay that he kissed Miss Meek who had wandered over under the mistletoe. And it all made a great deal of excitement and fun.

And after that, just when everyone was beginning to have a cold feeling around the edges, from thinking that it was all almost over, the very nicest thing happened. Leslie, who had taken off her long Befana gown, and again looked like a cornflower with silver frost on it, called out, “One more gift; Befana has brought it to Beata, but she was only the messenger of Cupid!”

And then she handed Beata an envelope in which was all the money that Beata needed for her dowry!

I never shall forget that moment, and the way Beata looked when she understood what her gift was. She covered her face with her arm and sobbed deeply and so hard that it shook her; and Leslie, whose eyes had grown wet, called Pietro, whom she had got Miss Julianna to ask in for that hour, and he came from the hall, and Beata explained, and Pietro kissed her hands, and then Leslie’s, and then raised both of his hands high and his face to the ceiling, and exploded!

I never heard anything like it, and of course no one except Mr. Wake, who speaks and understands Italian very well, could understand, but he did, and he said that Pietro was thanking God for rich Americans, and for the fact that the hope of his life had come true.

It made everyone feel shaky and upset to look on at Beata and Pietro. Even Miss Meek had to cough and say, “Oh, my eye! How jolly!” It was very damp and very sweet, and it was a positive relief to be diverted by Mr. Hemmingway, who broke the strain by saying: “How well I recall my first experience with the Latin emotion. It was, if I recall correctly, in the spring of ’60, and I attest this because of my youth, and the fact that in ’59 I had my first pearl gray trousers. Those are fastened in my memory by a tailor who, if I recall, had his place of business in Ludgate Circus, and I remember him keenly, because…”

And on and on in his characteristic way.

Not long after that Sam and Mr. Wake left, and Miss Bannister and Miss Meek and Mr. Hemmingway gathered up their things and the cords and papers that had wrapped them, and I saw Mr. Hemmingway enter something about the evening in the book I gave him, which pleased me, and we all went to bed.

I lay awake quite a while in the dark, the way you do after you’ve been to a party and had a good time, and I think it was fully an hour before I slept. Then, after what seemed ten minutes, I woke to see Leslie standing by my bed, and to feel her hand on my shoulder, shaking me.
 
“Heavens, you sleep soundly,” she complained. “I have a toothache, and I can’t stand pain. We’ll have to find some dentist who is in his office, and I want you to go with me and stay right by me and say ‘Molto sensitivo’ every time I kick you. Oh, do hurry! And don’t forget to tell him that it’s sensitive.”
 
She clamped her hands against her jaw, as she finished speaking, and I sat up to lean over the edge of my bed and fumble for my slippers.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - THE EFFECT OF A SECRET A Modern Trio in an Old Town

It was hard to get down to real work after Christmas, for there was a spirit of gaiety in the air that was too strong to be ignored. In the streets was always the shrill noise that came from little tin horns; children were always playing on the pavements with their new toys, and you could hardly go a block without seeing a crowd around a vender of something or other that was built to please small people. Monkeys that climb up frail, yellow sticks will always make me think of Florence in holiday dress, I know it! And through them I’ll see again the thick, taupe fogs that spread over the city so much of the time, to muffle its bells, leave slime upon its pavements and a dull creeping cold in all the shadows.

Or, I’ll see Florence at night and Harlequins and Juliets and Romeos, or wide-sombreroed Spaniards walking beside Egyptian princesses, or some girl in the costume of Normandy with a sweetheart in clanking armor; for in Florence there are many masked balls after Christmas, and at night one may see the people who go to these strolling along in the best of good humors, and daring all sorts of things because of the protection given them by their disguise.
 
Paper rose leaves were tossed in the air, every pretty girl was spoken to, and there was lots of laughter, and the nicest sort of fun. I, myself, felt that grim Florence must be pleased, for the city of Florence is built to back brilliant costumes, and not the tweeds and serges that she sees most. I wondered, as I looked one night when I was out with Mr. Wake and Sam, whether ghosts in satins and brocades, the ghosts of brides who had ridden all over Florence on snow white chargers before their weddings, whether these ghosts weren’t, perhaps, mingling in the throng. Mr. Wake thought they were, and after I spoke of my feelings, he pointed out to me a ghost named Vanna Tornabuoni, who, because she had been wicked, saw in her mirror instead of her fair face that of the horned devil! And she therefore went to confession immediately, in Santa Maria Novella, if I’m not mistaken, and began a new and a better life.
 
And all this was pleasing and most fascinating, but as I said, it made work difficult even for me, and for Viola, who swayed with any wind, work stopped. Even Signor Paggi’s most bitter scorn didn’t do anything but make her weep.
 
“I’m sick of it anyway,” she confided to me just before New Year’s day. “I wish now I’d listened to Father and never come.”
 
“Didn’t he want you to?” I asked.
 
“No. The old objection, money. But I was wild over being with Leslie then, and I persuaded him. Now,” (She drew rings on her blotters; I had dropped into her room to find her writing) “now, I wish I had listened to him.”

I didn’t say anything; there wasn’t very much to say.
 
“About tomorrow,” she went on - I had come in to tell her that Mr. Wake asked us to go with him to a monastery called Certosa, on the following afternoon - “about tomorrow, I don’t know. But I don’t believe I’ll go this time. I saw a frock and a blouse in a shop on the Lungarno, and I thought that, if I could make the woman listen to reason, I’d take them both. She is asking about forty dollars in our money for the frock, but I think she’ll come down. I’m positively in rags, and I planned to go out about the time Mr. Wake wants us to start. I’m awfully keen to get that frock.”
 
(She never did, something kept her from even wanting it, but of that, later.)
 
“Can’t you shop in the morning?” I asked.

“Hate to get up.” (She drew a larger ring.) “Truly sorry; I’d really like to but I’m obsessed by that blouse and frock. The frock’s blue, with silver and lavender embroidered, Japanese-looking motifs. Simply heavenly. French in every line! It’s honestly worth far more than she asks, but I expect to get her down a few pegs.”

“Sorry,” I said, and then I went on to Leslie’s room to ask her. I found her wearing her chin strap and polishing her nails. “Hello,” she said without changing her expression. (I knew then that she had on a grease cream that is put on to remove wrinkles. Leslie hasn’t any, but she says a great aunt whom she looks a lot like has dozens, and so she means to stall them before they even think of coming!) “What do you want?”

“Here,” I said, and held out Mr. Wake’s letter, which Leslie took, held up to the light and looked through, and after murmuring, “Hand made,” read.

“Can’t,” she stated, “I suppose you’ll think I’m crazy, but I asked Miss Meek and Miss Bannister to go out to tea with me tomorrow afternoon.”

“I think it’s fine of you,” I disagreed.

“Not at all,” she answered sharply. (She hated being thought sentimental, and any mention of the kind things that she was coming to do, more and more regularly, really embarrassed her.) “Nothing ‘fine’ about it at all! Only Miss Meek had never been to Doney’s and I thought she’d like it.”

“She will,” I said, and then I told her I was sorry she couldn’t go, and went back to my own room, and sewed clean collars and cuffs in my serge dress, and looked over some music which Signor Paggi wanted me to read away from the piano and try to see and feel in my mind. Then I went to my window and opened it, to hang out and peer down in the court. It looked cold, and almost dreary, and I was glad to think that spring would be along soon, and I hoped that it would be nice, but I never dreamed, as I stood there, how nice it was to be, nor how many changes and happy readjustments it was to back.

Gino came out, as I was looking down, but he didn’t whistle or sing – I think that Italian whistling and singing is cranked by the bright sun - and then he went in again. A cat pounced on a dried leaf that fluttered across one of the brown paths. A brilliant parrot that hung in his cage outside of a window down the block a little way, sung out shrilly, and I noticed a dark-skinned woman across the way hanging clothes out on a line that was strung from her shutter to a neighbor’s. It was when I was seeing all these things that Beata tapped, and came in bearing my second letter from home - oh, it was so good to get them! - and one from Miss Sheila.

I read them both through several times, and then I slipped Mother’s letter in the pocket of the dress I wore, and Miss Sheila’s letter into the pocket of my suit coat, for in Miss Sheila’s letter was news that I felt sure Mr. Wake would enjoy, and I meant to read it aloud to him on the following day.

Certosa is a large and beautiful place that tops a hill, about three miles outside of Florence, and I enjoyed going there, although it made me feel sad. I suppose my feeling was silly, but the order is an ancient one; they take in no new members, and all that are left to rattle around in the very big place are a half dozen tottering old men, whose hands shake as they unlock the heavy doors for you, and whose breath grows short as they travel the long stairs that take one up to the Capella Prima, which means the main chapel.

I noticed that the white-bearded, white-haired and white-robed monk who took us around talked almost incessantly, and Sam told me why.

“Quiet almost all the time,” he said, “from some vow or other, and I guess the poor old chaps feel like letting out when they can.”

I said I thought it was too bad, and that it was pleasanter to think of men getting old with their families around them, and Sam thought so too.

We were out in the Cloister of Certosa. Cloisters are open squares that are surrounded by the buildings to which they belong, and they are in all the churches and monasteries and are always most lovely. After the sifted, gray light of a church, the sunlight and the beautiful green growing things that fill these spaces are almost too lovely. And usually a white or brown garbed monk, sometimes wearing no more than sandals on his feet, stands in some archway or wanders back and forth in a loggia and this adds to the picture.

The cloister we looked on was centered by a well with a wrought-iron top that has been copied a great deal, and after Sam had spoken of it, he, as he whittled at a stick, asked me whether I intended to marry. I said I hoped so, but that with women a lot depended upon whether any man asked them. That made him laugh, and he put his hand over mine.

“Someone’s bound to ask you,” he said, as he curled up my fingers in my palm and then undid them again, to do it all over - sometimes Sam is very restless - “but, Jane, do tell me any old thing won’t do!”

“Oh, I’d have to like him,” I said, for although I knew little about love, I felt certain of that. Then Mr. Wake appeared, and he frowned on us terribly. “Look here, children,” he said, “you know you mustn’t hold hands in a cloister.” (I laughed, but I got pink, for honestly, I hadn’t realized I was doing that. It only seemed natural and nice, and not anything about it made me conscious until that moment!) “You know,” Mr. Wake went on, “one of these old boys will see you, and wonder how the thing is done, and pop! some nice evening he’ll crawl over the wall, and hike down to Florence, and try to find a sweetheart. Then some jealous brother will see him come in late, and report, and there’ll be no end of a row. You want to think of these things!”

I tried to free my hand, but Sam held it too tightly, because, I think, he saw it teased me.

“Fra Lippo Lippi did that,” said Mr. Wake. “He used to skip over the wall almost every evening after dark. Then he’d come in late, and tiptoe through the corridors, carrying his shoes in his hands. Mr. Browning made a good story about it. Tell you, when you get down to it, there is nothing new under the sun! Jane, am I going to have to speak sharply to you, about your conduct?” (He pretended I was holding Sam’s long hand.)

“You’d better be nice to me,” I said, and I was really almost peevish, “because I’ve always tried to be nice to you, and I have a letter from my Miss Sheila, that’s awfully nice.”

“It’s a shame,” said Sam quickly - and I think he was sorry he had teased me; he is almost always very gentle with me - and he patted my hand, and returned it to my lap with a great deal of funny ceremony. Then I ordered him off, and he wandered across the cloister and stood there smoking and watching us. And then I read Mr. Wake the nice news.

“Well, what, dear child?” he asked, as I got out the letter.

“You wait,” I said.

“I am, small person. Quite a letter, isn’t it?”

“Yes, the news is on the last page, I believe,” I answered. “She writes from front to back, and then down across the middle one. Here ’tis. ‘I have a secret to tell you,’ I read, ‘and one that you must keep.’”

“Ah, Eve!” broke in Mr. Wake, as he smiled down at me until all the little wrinkles stood out around his eyes.

“Well, you’re different,” I said. He swelled. “Adam!” I said, and he told me I was a saucy minx, to go on, and I did.

“‘This spring,’ Miss Sheila wrote, ‘will see me in Florence, but I don’t want Leslie to know I shall appear, for if she does I am sure she’ll want to go back with me. I think this winter is doing her good, and I want her to stick the entire time through.’

“Nice?” I said, as I folded up the letter which made crinkly, crackly noises as it went into the envelope, because it was written on such heavy paper. I had supposed Mr. Wake would think it very nice, and therefore I was surprised to look at him, and see him moisten his lips, and then hear him say, “I don’t know.”

“But, Mr. Wake!” I said - I was a good deal disappointed - “I thought you would like meeting her.” (He turned, walked away a few steps and then came back.)

“I’m afraid,” said Mr. Wake, “that I am too old to meet a Fairy Godmother. No doubt,” (he was trying to play, but his tone was a little stiff) “she’d suggest picnicking in the moonlight - isn’t that the hour when Fairy Rings are most popular? - and that might make my shoulders stiff. Then, seriously, dear child, I am no good as a cavalier; I falter. Children and old ladies are the age for me now, and soon it will be middle-aged women, whom I shall think of as children. So I am afraid I’d best refuse your alluring offer.”

“Well,” I said, and my voice was flat because I felt so, “you know you don’t have to meet her; Florence is big.”

“And the world,” he stated, “is big, but sometimes, in spite of the bigness, one can’t get away from – things.”

Well, I didn’t understand him. All that winter he had asked me about Miss Sheila, until whenever I saw him her name just naturally came out and sat on the tip of my tongue, waiting for the word from him that would make it jump off into space. It did seem very queer! I stuck the letter deep in my pocket, and tried not to feel disappointed, I knew that I shouldn’t, but I did! Mr. Wake had been so dear to me, and was so dear, that I wanted to make him happy, and I’d supposed I could do so by having a party and asking him to meet Miss Sheila.

“You know,” he said, and I could see he was trying to get back to normal, and to make me think he felt quite as usual, “an old person like me, with a fat tummy, simply can’t meet a fairy godmother. He wouldn’t know how to act!”

“Your stomach’s much better,” I answered bluntly, “you needn’t blame it on that! If you don’t want to meet her, just say so, but, I’ll tell you, you’ll miss it! She’s lovely, and she’d be very kind to you. She’s kind to everyone.”

“Is she?” he broke in, and he smiled in a strange way.

“Yes,” I answered hotly, “she is.”

We were quiet a moment. Then Mr. Wake put his hand over mine. “Dear child,” he said, “I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“What about examples now?” asked Sam, who came strolling up. Then he saw that there was something straining in the air, and he quickly changed the subject. “Found a bush all in bloom on the other side of the court,” he said, “Come over and see it, Jane. Almost as pretty as you are, back in a second, Signor Wake.”

“Long as you like,” said Mr. Wake with a wave, by which he meant we might linger.

“What is it!” asked Sam, after we had wandered into the center of the big space that was surrounded on all sides by the building. I told him, and then I said, “It surprised me; he has talked about her, so much that at first I thought he must have known her, but she wrote she’d never known anyone named Wake, and now he doesn’t want to know her.”

“Matchmaker?” asked Sam.

“No,” I answered, and a little sharply, because I was still disappointed, “but I thought he’d like it. And they are both so nice, and Miss Sheila is lonely - you can see it sometimes, although perhaps she doesn’t know it - and I did think that if they liked each other it would be nice.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Sam, “I’ll let you make a match for me. I’ll pick out the girl, and you’ll tell me how to get her.”

“All right,” I promised, and I felt more dismal than ever. I don’t know why, but I did.

“That please you?” he asked.

“Not entirely,” I answered with candor, “I think you’ll ruin your career if you marry too early!”

“It doesn’t look as if I would,” he stated, and he sighed. And I felt worse than ever.

“That’ll be the end of our friendship,” I prophesied, and I felt sad, and my voice sounded it.

“Sometimes it is,” Sam answered, and then he laughed. I didn’t see how he could. It was a pleasant day, and the court was full of sunshine, and the grass and even some of the rose bushes were green, but everything looked bleak to me. I felt alone, and blue.

“Anything wrong?” asked Sam, after we had strolled around a little while, and looked at the well, and stolen some sprigs of herb from a little plot that had a few early vegetables in it.

“There seems to be,” I answered.

“Why, Jane! How can there be under the warmth of an Italian sun, and in this lovely place, and with a - a troubadour who - who adores you?” then he stopped, and I felt much better. I don’t remember when I have felt so much better.

“I’m all right now,” I said, and I smiled up at him, and then because he looked a little different from usual, I thought we’d better go back to Mr. Wake. I said so.

“Love him as much as I do,” said Sam, “the dickens with him! Look here, dear, if there is any satisfaction in my liking you, you can collect it any time, and what’s more, the darned stuff’s rolling up a whacking big interest.”

I liked that; I said so. Then I said that we must go back to Mr. Wake, and I turned to go across the court, and Sam followed, saying he’d like to shake me.

Going down to the car we drank the wine that the friars make and sell in tiny little bottles. And Sam and I got silly and had lots of fun, but Mr. Wake was unusually quiet. I think, perhaps, we had tired him.

It was late when I reached home, for we had stopped to hear the last of a concert that was being given in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, and that led to a little table with three chairs around it, and some chocolate, and cakes.

Then Mr. Wake left us at the Piazza del Duomo, where he took the tram to Fiesole, and Sam walked up to the Piazza Indipendenza with me; we didn’t hurry - he told me about his new orders, and I told him how well the twins were doing - and it seemed to take quite a little time. And it was all of seven when we stood outside the pension door, on the third floor, and shook hands.

“You’ll be late for dinner,” said Sam.

“It doesn’t matter,” I answered.

“I hope it won’t be cold,” he said.

“I don’t care,” I responded. Then he said he was sorry, again, and he hoped it wouldn’t be cold, again, and I told him it didn’t matter, again, and then we reached the point we’d both been waiting for, which was, his saying, “Well, when can I see you again?”

And after I told him - I said, “Day after tomorrow,” because I didn’t think it was nice to rush things - I went in. I expected to hear Mr. Hemmingway reminiscing in the dining room, but no sound came from there; the place seemed strangely and unpleasantly still. I had expected also to encounter Beata carrying in one of the later courses, but when my eyes accommodated to the dim light I saw that Beata was sitting by the table, with her head in her arms, crying.

“Beata,” I broke out quickly, “not Pietro?” for I was afraid that something had come along to change the course of her plans, which all led up to and centered around a wedding which was to be early in February.

Beata looked up; “Signorina,” she said, “la cablegram. La Signorina Harrees-Clarke - la poverina, la poverina!”

That was all I stopped to hear. I hurried down the corridor to Viola’s room, and at that door I paused, for Leslie was sitting on the bed by Viola, holding both of her hands in hers, and saying, as she stroked them, “There, dear, there!”

Chapter 19 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

CHAPTER NINETEEN - CHANGES A Modern Trio in an Old Town

 

I found the cablegram that had come for Viola told her that her father was dead; the father whom she had not written since her complaining, begging letter of Christmas time.

It made me feel so sorry for her that I didn’t know what to do; for I knew that the sorrow would be enough for her without acute regret attached to it; and I knew that she was going to suffer from that too.

I stood in the doorway, that afternoon, for quite a few moments before I could go in, and when I did and Viola saw me, she sat up. Her cheeks were flushed and she didn’t look as if she had cried.

“Do you remember that letter?” she said.

I nodded. I couldn’t speak. “What - can you remember just what I said in it?” she asked. I evaded as hard and convincingly as I could, but it did no good. She remembered it, only she had to talk of it, and she did it through questioning me.

“I - I told him that Leslie’s clothes made me feel like a pauper,” she stated in a hard, high voice, “that - that I’d had to struggle and pinch. I told him…”

I broke in then. And I made her lie down, and I got Leslie started at making tea, and then I helped Viola into bed, and tried to do what I could to divert her through taking off her clothes and making her comfortable and brushing her hair, and Leslie took the cue and stopped saying, “Oh, my dear, how can I help you?” which was not just what Viola needed then.

Everyone was dreadfully upset, and worried for Viola, and Miss Meek came over with smelling salts, and Miss Bannister came tiptoeing to the door to ask what she could do, and Mr. Hemmingway, whose eyes were flooded in tears, told me of the death of his dear father - and he remembered the date - and Miss Julianna, with tears on her pretty round cheeks, came pattering in with offers of all sorts of strange things, and a little shrine, which she set up by Viola’s bed.

“La Madre Santa,” she said, which meant “The Sainted Mother,” and Leslie, who doesn’t seem to understand the people who differ from her in their way of worship, asked Viola if it should stay.

“I can take it away, darling,” she said in an undertone, “when Miss Julianna is gone.”

But Viola shook her head, and I was glad, for I liked its being there. I felt a good deal of comfort through the picture of the pretty woman who held the little baby so tightly in her arms and smiled at anyone who looked at her. We all needed comfort, and someone who could smile.

It was twelve before Viola slept, and after she did, I put out the light, and tiptoed down to Leslie’s room.

I found Leslie sitting up by her table, writing, and I couldn’t help seeing an envelope on it that was addressed to Ben Forbes.

She saw that I saw it, and she spoke.

“Jane,” she said, “I’ve been a perfect fool. I’ve always hated anyone who belittled my importance or anything about me. When Viola did, you know how it was,” (She drew her pretty pink, quilted dressing gown closer around her, and went on.) “and I imagine the reason I haven’t been wild over Aunt Sheila was because I felt she didn’t worship. And you know I wanted to punish Ben Forbes because he told me the truth. I’m writing him,” she shoved the sheet of paper on which she had been writing toward me, “because, after he had hurt me, with truth, I told him that what he said made no difference to me, that I considered him rather uncouth, and that I had written him only from kindness, and the fact that I felt he was rather shut off out there in the wilds, and lots more! Well, to get through with this, this afternoon and tonight some things have been driven home to me by Viola’s losing her own father after she had hurt him. She’ll have to remember now, all her life, how she had hurt him just before he died. They say,” Leslie groped for a handkerchief, and mopped her tears frankly, “they say that all sorts of accidents happen on - on r-ranches.”

And then she covered her face and sobbed.

I moved around the table to stand by her and put my arm around her, and then she spoke.

“Read it,” she said, with a big sob between the two words, and I did.

“DEAR BEN:” she had written.

 “All my life I have been conceited; you must know it now. I do - which is a miracle - and I’m writing tonight to say that the truth you told me helped me and is helping me. I am working hard; I hope I am less a fool.

            “With gratitude,

            “Your old neighbor and friend,

            “LESLIE PARRISH.”

“Is it all right?” she asked, as I laid it down.

“Yes,” I answered, “but if he likes you, and you hurt him, you ought to say you are sorry for that.”

She nodded quickly, and reached for her pen. “What would you say?” she asked, as she looked down, uncertainly, at her lovely monogramed paper.

“If I liked him, really,” I said, “I would write a postscript. I’d say something like, ‘Dear Ben, I like you, and I didn’t mean those things I said when I was cross. I will be very grateful if you will forgive me.’”

And she wrote just that.

“It doesn’t sound like me,” she commented in a voice that shook. “It’s - it’s too nice.” And, again, she wiped away tears.

 I leaned over, and folded the sheet, and stuck it in the envelope and sealed it, as Leslie laughed in a funny, weak way.

“Where are your stamps?” I asked. She told me, and I licked one and stuck it on. Then we kissed each other, and that was unusual. I never was so very much for kissing everybody all the time, and I think when girls do, too much, it’s silly, but it was different that night. Then I went out and laid the letter on the table in the hall - we always left them there for the first person who went out to take, and then I looked in to see that Viola was still sleeping, and after that I went to bed.

That day began a new sort of life for us all. The tragedy that came to Viola was like a stone that is thrown into the center of a still pool. All sorts of widening circles grew from her trouble, and she, herself, found through it a new depth. I don’t mean that everything changed in a day, for things don’t change in that manner, but all the time Viola was building up new habits in place of the old ones that were crumbling away.

I saw the roots of a fine strong habit, on the day when she got the first letter from home written after her father died.

I was with her when it came, and she looked up from the black-bordered sheet to say - vacantly, and in a level, stupid-sounding sort of tone - “He was poor!” I was sewing clean cuffs and collars in my serge dress and I stuck myself and made a spot of blood on one cuff. I was so sorry for her that I really shook when anything new that was hard came to her.

“Read it, Jane,” she said, and she held out the letter. I did, and I couldn’t imagine that anyone who had ever known or really loved Viola’s father had written it. It was full of complaints and self-pity, because the husband of the woman who had written it had died to leave his widow with less money than she thought she should have. I didn’t know what to say. Then I suppose I did a dreadful thing, but I did it without meaning to do anything dreadful, and because I have been brought up to speak the truth.

“Maybe,” I said, “he is happier dead.”

The tears stood out in Viola’s eyes.

“I only said that,” I explained miserably, “because I thought it might make you feel better, for if your mother talked to him like that I – I guess it worried you.” (I stammered terribly over it; it was so hard to say anything that sounded even half right)

“I talked that way too,” said Viola. I couldn’t say anything to that. So I began to sew in my collar.

“He hated the hyphenated name!” said Viola. I finished sewing in my collar and began on my last cuff.

“I don’t mind the money, but I have to think of it. What shall I do? I hate sponging. I will say I always hated it! Mother can go visit people - and she will - but I - I can’t!”

“Why don’t you work?” I asked.

 She looked at me hard. “What would I do?” she asked after several moments of scrutiny.

“Accompany,” I answered. “Even Devil Paggi” (I am ashamed to say that we called him that sometimes) “says you can do that.”

“Yes,” Viola answered in a funny, low voice.

“He said he’d get any of us positions,” I went on, “and touring with a great singer wouldn’t be bad.”

That captured her!

“Basses are always fat,” she said; “I hope to goodness it will be a tenor!” Which was a whole lot like Viola, and a joke that I didn’t appreciate then, for when Viola - who did learn to accompany really beautifully - got her position, it was with a fat German contralto who had five children, a fat poodle dog that Viola had to chaperon a great deal of the time, and a temper that Viola had to suffer, or leave!

I stood up a little time after that, and as I stepped into the corridor I met Leslie, who was taking a letter out for Beata to mail.

“Look here,” I said, as I swung into step by her, and we reached the hall near the entrance door, “Viola had a letter from her mother, and her father hasn’t left much.”

“How ghastly!”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t know. It may help Viola.”

“I’ll lend her anything she needs, any amount,” said Leslie, and then I spoke.

“Please don’t,” I begged. She drew herself up.
 
“Will you be good enough to explain?” she said frigidly, and I did. I said that, unless she intended to support Viola all her life, she had no business to get Viola into the habit of taking and expecting, and I went on to say that it was the one chance for Viola to learn to work, and that she would be helped through her trouble by work. I was sure she would, and I was sure that Leslie oughtn’t to help her, and I spoke with a lot of energy.
 
Leslie didn’t like it - Rome wasn’t built in a day! - and then she said that when she needed my expert advice she’d call for it, and that she didn’t intend to see Viola starve; and after that, we parted.
 
At dinner that night she was frosty as James Whitcomb Riley’s famed pumpkins, but I could see by Viola’s careless manner (Viola always paid a great deal of attention to Leslie after she borrowed money) that Leslie hadn’t spoken to her of her willingness to help.
 
For a couple of days Leslie avoided making real conversation with me, and then one morning while I was practising I looked up to see Leslie in the doorway.

She had on a French blue negligee that had pale two-toned pink ribbons on it, and her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright, and she carried a tray on which was a pot of tea, some little cakes that she knows I like, and some biscuits. She always got her own breakfast because the pension allowance was small, and she knew that I was always hungry until after lunch.
 
“Here!” she said, as she set it down on a chair by me. “Suppose you’re starved as usual. I, myself, am entirely certain that the scant breakfasts stunt the race - I’m certain that it makes them short. I want to say several things.”
 
I began to eat. “Go ahead,” I said, in a tone that I must confess was muffled.
 
“In the first place you, ah, you were right about Viola.” (I almost fainted, but I bit into a biscuit and held on to consciousness.) “I see it now. Then, this afternoon I am going out to buy a wedding present for Beata, and I want you to go with me; can you?”
 
“If you’ll wait till I get through practising,” I answered.
 
“Certainly, that’s understood. Have to with you.” (She always resented and never understood why my first thought had to be music.) “And another thing,” she went on, and she fumbled in the front of her negligee to find a cablegram, “I’ve heard from him.”
 
I took it and read it.
 
“He must have cared a lot to write those two pleases in a cablegram,” I said.
 
She nodded and tried not to smile, but the inclination was so much stronger than her ability to hold it in check, that she smiled in a silly, ashamed sort of way, and she avoided meeting my eyes.

Ben Forbes had cabled, “Thank you. Letter follows. Please please write me again.”

“I thought I’d get Beata a silver coffee service,” said Leslie, who can’t seem to accommodate to other people’s circumstances.

“She’d never use that,” I said. “You might as well get her a wooden leg or a pair of stilts! I’d get her some horrible picture, or candlesticks for their front room, or a lamp with a funny, warty, red and green shade.”

“You’re right,” she said, and then she went off. She kissed her fingers to me from the doorway, and again she smiled in that misty, vacant way.

I practised hard, for that afternoon I had a lesson, and it was that afternoon that Signor Paggi began to be most kind to me.

“You have more feel in the tune,” he said. (I was very happy.) “I think Cupeed have come to make you see,” he went on.

“Not to me,” I said, “but to someone I like.”

“Have as you will,” he stated, “but play again, for me.”

And I did. And as I did, I thought of how Sam had looked when he heard me practise that very same music at the Pension Dante. He had said it was beautiful, and it had helped me.

Friendship is a wonderful thing!

Chapter 20