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Friday, April 28, 2023


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 


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