Search This Blog

Friday, April 28, 2023


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 cafés, 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


No comments:

Post a Comment