April came in as gently and softly as a month could possibly come, and it held more loveliness than I had ever dreamed could be. The sun was growing too warm and, some days, the heat was oppressive and going out unwise; but most of the days were flawless jewels that began with brown which merged into green, topped and finished with the blue, blue sky.
“And how’s everything?” he asked, after he had smiled down at me in the kindest way, and told me that he liked my broad hat which I had bought at the Mercato Nuovo for five lire which is now about twenty-five cents.
“Better and better,” I answered, and then I told him all the news, as I always did when we met. We met a good deal too, but there always seemed to be a lot to say. It is like that when you are real friends.
“Miss Bannister,” I said, “has had luck. A nephew of hers has lost his wife, which is hard on him, but fine for Miss Bannister, because he wants her to come to Devonshire and live in his house, and attend to giving the cook and what Miss Bannister calls ‘the scullery maid’ their orders. And he sent her ten pounds - how much is that, Sam?”
“About fifty hard bones, dear,” he answered. (I was quite used to his calling me “dear,” and I liked it.)
“Well, that is all for clothes,” I stated, “and I’m going to help her buy them.”
“Can you get more than one frock with that?” asked Sam, and I told him that she certainly could, for only the day before Leslie and I had shopped. She had helped me to buy the things I was going to take home to Mother, Roberta, the twins, and Daddy, and we had got lovely things at most reasonable prices. Hand-embroidered, hand-made night dresses could be bought for a dollar and a half; waist patterns wonderfully embroidered, for two dollars; laces (and the laces were beautiful), for about half what one would pay at home - I had bought Mother a set of broad Irish lace collars and cuffs for four dollars - and quite everything was like that, one paid less, and got more.
“Leslie got uncurled ostrich feather fans for some of her friends,” I went on, “she said for half what she would have to pay for the cheapest at home - they were twelve and fifteen dollars, I think - and she got leather frames and hand-bound books too, that were beautiful.” Then I told Sam that I had found for Father a hand-tooled card case that I wanted him to see, and he said he wanted to, and then he said he was miserable.
“That won’t stop our being friends,” I answered, and I pretended a cheerfulness that I really didn’t feel.
“No,” he answered, “it mustn’t. I’m going to work hard,” he continued, “and I’m coming over to New York in a year or so for a one man show.” (I suppose I looked as if I didn’t understand - for I didn’t - and he explained.) “That means,” he said, “an exhibition of my work, all by itself. Mr. Wake, bless him, thinks I can swing it, and when I come over I’ll come to see you. But you knew that, didn’t you?”
“Will you really?” I questioned, because I did want to be very sure, and he said he really would.
“But then,” I said, “you’ll probably go again.”
“Um, probably. I used to travel with a banjo tucked under one arm, and a palette under the other. But I see where, in a couple of years, things are going to be more complicated, if I can manage what I want to.”
I didn’t understand him, but I let it go, because Mr. Wake and Viola had come out of the Cathedral which dominates the wind-swept Piazza at Fiesole, and Mr. Wake came over to tell Sam to take me in and show me the bust of a Bishop and his monument that were made by Mino da Fiesole, and that Mr. Wake liked very much.
We found Mr. Wake and Viola across the big Piazza, loitering in the shade, and Mr. Wake said that it was too hot for anything but his own shady garden and iced tea, and so we left the funny, pretty little town and started down a narrow roadway that ran between high walls, or slopes that were covered with olive trees.
Every color was accentuated. Houses that were faint pink, seemed salmon; greens almost clashed; the dust of the roadway was a vivid yellow, and down in the hollow below us, Florence spread out, a steaming, gleaming mass of tightly packed palaces, shining spires, and gleaming towers.
“Ah, Giotto,” said Mr. Wake, as we halted at a bend in the way and looked down at our own city. He said this, for he loved the tower that Giotto had planned and had seen half built before his death. “Ever hear,” said Mr. Wake, “of how the little Giotto was found, and how he was helped to become the great artist that he was?”
I hadn’t, and I said so. Viola thought she had, but she said she forgot so many things, when Mr. Wake questioned her a little.
“Well,” he said, “since Viola has forgotten, and Jane frankly admits she doesn’t know, indulge an old man in his love of the telling of picturesque stories.”
“I love them,” I said, for I really did. His stories were about people who had lived and died, and they never had Irish or Hebrew or Swedish people in them to make him try a dialect. I don’t care so very much for that sort. And Mr. Wake didn’t even try to be funny, which is unusual in a man.
“Well,” he said, as he took off his hat and mopped his brow, “one day when Cimabue, who was a great artist, and a fine chap, was strolling through the country he came to a clearing in which a little boy was tending sheep. And perhaps because he was in an ill humor – probably thinking all art was going to the bad, for he was a critic too, you know, and critics have thought that since the beginning of paint - anyway, I feel that an ill humor set upon him, and that he was, because of it, minded to stop, and divert himself by talking a bit to a little country lad.
Then he paused outside of a wall that had once been pink, but had been washed by the rain and faded by sun until it was only a faint peach in a few sheltered spots, and here he rang a bell.
Soon after he did this, a girl opened the gate for us, greeted Mr. Wake and us all with real sweetness, and we trooped into his garden. And I was glad to see it, for I loved Mr. Wake and I wanted to see where he lived, but I would have enjoyed it in any case, for it was without exception the prettiest place I had ever seen.
There were high walls all around it except on the side that looked down upon Florence. Here the view was interrupted, rather edged, by groups of tall, slender cypress trees, and here was a low, marble balustrade. There were vines and clumps of foliage, and in the center of the lower terrace a little fountain with a laughing cupid in its center. And there were wicker chairs with hoods on them – Sam said that they were called beach chairs - and there was a yellow awning with a bright blue star on it, which had once been the sail of a Venetian fishing craft. I cannot describe it. While I was there I could only feel it, and hope I wouldn’t wake. I sank down in a chair that had a footstool near it, and looked down the green hillside, toward the city of towers.
“Oh,” I murmured.
“Didn’t exaggerate, did I?” he went on.
“No,” I answered, “you couldn’t.” Then Mr. Wake came up, followed by Viola who was murmuring, “Enchanting,” “Adorable,” and “Too heavenly,” one right after the other. And after he had come to stand smiling down at me, I mentioned Miss Sheila for the first time.
“Mr. Wake,” I said, “My fairy godmother would love this more than I can say. It’ll seem strange to you, but she has talked to me of a place like this. She really has.”
“Look here,” said Mr. Wake to Sam, “you and Viola go hunt up some tea, will you.”
And Sam said, “Of course,” and stood up.
“And show Viola your last picture,” Mr. Wake added, “and take your time to it!”
“Yes, Sir,” said Sam, and very nicely, considering the fact that he and Viola don’t get on very well.
After he had gone, Mr. Wake took out his cigarette case and lit a cigarette, and then sat down on the end of a chaise longue.
He paused to stare down upon Florence for some moments, and then, after he had drawn a deep breath, he went on.
“About twenty years ago,” he said, “when I was a boy, and named Terrence O’Gilvey, and right off the sod, Jane, I came to New York. I had done a bit of writing or two, even then, and I went on a paper; and, because of my Irish manner I think, my little things took. Anyway, the first thing I knew a well-known newspaper man named Ford, and then the Danas and some others began to believe in me and to be kind to me, and I knew I had got hold of the first rung anyway, and I was mighty happy. I thought I was as happy as any man could be until I met Sheila Parrish, and then I was in hell and yet happier than I had ever been before, and, faith, all because I was so deep in love with her!
“Well, she was good to me. And she let me come to see her, and I sent her posies, and I wrote her what I am afraid were rhymes, and no more, but by all the Saints, child, what I felt! And then one day Heaven opened, and she - she stretched out her lovely hands to me, and she said, ‘You are more than a dear Irish boy, Terry; I believe you are a man, and I believe I will listen to your story.’”
He stopped speaking, and I put my hand out, and laid it on his - I was so sorry for him!
For a moment we sat like this, and then he went on.
“She had a younger brother,” he said, “God rest his soul! He was bad, as reckless and vicious a youth as has ever been my unhappy fortune to see, and how he hurt Sheila. I saw it, and I suffered a thousand times for her. I’d find her with tears on her cheeks, and know that some new devilishness had cropped out. And I railed, as youth will rail, Jane, and it drove her from me. When, (a long story this, but I can’t seem to shorten it) after she had set the date for our wedding, her younger brother was found to have tuberculosis, and she said that I must wait, while she went west with him and fought with him for health, I lost control of every brake I had, and I went to pieces.
“And the next day I wrote her, but I had no answer. And that was the end of it, and of everything, and you see, now, why I can’t meet her.”
“Why did you change your name!” I asked. I am too dull to say the appropriate thing, so I usually ask or say what I really want to.
“An uncle wanted to adopt me. He was a lonely old chap; I had no one, and I thought he was mighty pathetic, until he died and left me a more than fair-sized fortune, (A great thing to have, Jane, by the way, if you’ve a fancy for writing books!) and then, well I thought he was a humbug, but I was grateful, and I have been ever since.”
He stood up and smiled down at me. No one who hadn’t known him for long would have thought his smile stiff, or forced, but I knew that it was.
“But are you over caring for her?” I asked. “I didn’t know if it were very real, that it would change.”
“I am not,” he answered, “what you term ‘over it,’ and there is no changing for me, but for my peace I think less of it and of the hopes that the boy named Terrence O’Gilvey sent up to his gods.”
Then, Viola and Sam came wandering back to stand on the upper terrace uncertainly, and Mr. Wake called to them.
“Come on down,” he said, “we’re ready for our tea.”
And then a maid who wore a scarlet waist, and a black skirt with scarlet bands around it, a little white cap on her head, and a Roman striped scarf around her waist, came toward us with a big tray which she set on a table that Sam brought up.
It was very, very pretty. But it suddenly seemed hollow. I wondered whether it were always hollow for Mr. Wake. And I thought how nice it would be if pretty Miss Sheila were smiling at him from across the table, and knew, without asking, how many lumps of sugar he would take, and whether his tea should be strong or weak.
“How many loads,” asked Sam as he picked up the sugar spoon.
“Two for me,” I answered.
“None,” said Viola who is afraid of fat.
“Where is Leslie?” asked Mr. Wake who had evidently just noticed her absence.
“In the Boboli gardens,” answered Viola, on a guess that later proved correct.
“Hum, hope she drove over. Aren’t they warning people at the bridges today?” he ended, with a questioning look toward Sam who had gone down to the town that morning. (On very hot days sentinels, who stand at the entrance to the bridges, warn people against crossing them, for it is a risk to do this during the middle hours of the day.)
“No,” Sam replied, “I wandered over the Ponte Vecchio without a word from anyone.”
“The real heat will come soon,” Mr. Wake prophesied. “Think,” he went on, “I’ll go to Switzerland in June.”
“Poor Miss Meek,” I put in, “hates the heat so and has to stay here.”
“Pshaw,” said Mr. Wake, “that is too bad. Look here,” he said quickly, after a second’s pause, “I have some Italian friends who want a governess; I believe they are going to Viareggio for the hot months. Would she touch that?”
“She’d love it,” I answered quickly, “she’s wanted a post for ages, but it’s so hard to get one now, since everyone’s so poor from the war.”
“And fancy the little Italian beggars saying, ‘My eye! How jolly,’” put in Sam.
Everyone laughed. “Won’t hurt ’em,” said Mr. Wake easily, “for they won’t know it’s not top notch proper and the latest thing! I’ll talk to Lucca tomorrow, and after that I’ll let you know, Jane. Believe I can fix it.”
And he did.
I thought of him a lot going down. So much that Sam thought I felt badly from the heat. But the heat hadn’t made my depression. I had so wanted Miss Sheila and Mr. Wake to know and like each other. They were both lonely, and I loved them both and they seemed alike and suited to like each other in lots of ways. And I could tell that Mr. Wake needed Miss Sheila from the manner in which he had talked of her at the beginning of our friendship. And now it was all over; I could never present my dear friend to her, nor talk of my Fairy Godmother to him!
It did seem all wrong, but as Leslie and Viola both said, things turn out as one doesn’t expect them to.
I had hoped - of course it was silly - but I had hoped a lot. And now even my chance for hoping had disappeared.
“Are you sure,” asked Sam, “that the heat hasn’t done you up?”
“Sure,” I answered dully.
“He’s wild over you,” said Viola as we toiled up the stairs that we had come to call “The last, long mile.” We had sent Sam off at the door, because he had to walk back to the Piazza del Duomo again to get his car, and the town was still heavy and sultry with the heat that the day had held.
“Yes, he is. We might have a double wedding.”
I was furious.
“I’m going home to play the organ in the First Presbyterian Church,” I stated, “and to give music lessons, and I won’t have time to get married for years!”
“I’m only eighteen,” I added, and with resentment.
“I’ll bet on twenty for you,” she said teasingly.
“Not before I’m twenty-one,” I answered before I thought, and then I grew pink. Viola laughed, as Maria, the new maid, opened the door for us. “Oh, he’ll get you,” she prophesied, “and he’ll court you divinely. It’s plain that he doesn’t like me, but I like and admire him in spite of it. And you know lots of women go right along with their careers after marriage.”
I didn’t answer that, but I did know that if I ever did marry, my first thought would be to follow, as nearly as I could, the fine career my mother had had and to make my husband as comfortable and as happy as Mother had made Father. For I feel that that should come first.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” I said, sharply, after we had gone in the cool, dim corridor, “I don’t want to have to think about it yet.”
“Sorry,” she said. And I said I was sorry I had been cross. Then the Pension door opened again, and Leslie, followed by a tall, bronzed man, came in. I liked his looks, and I was reassured for him, after I met him, for he had something of Leslie’s manner - an almost lordly, commanding, I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it-and-I-intend-to-get-it air. I think a good many people who have had too much money and have been able to issue too many orders get that. But if Leslie was going to marry him - and I found soon she was - I knew he would need it.
He stayed for dinner and was very charming to everyone, but most charming to Leslie and after he left, Leslie came to my room to talk.
“Well?” she questioned from the doorway.
“I like him,” I answered, as she came toward me.
“I love him,” she said, and she said it as sensibly and openly as I had ever heard her say anything, “and,” she continued, “he is going to let me marry him.”
I laughed, and she joined me.
“It isn’t a joke,” she stated after a moment.
“I know it,” I answered.
I knew he would have liked it, because men all do thoroughly enjoy hearing about women who cry because they love them (the men) which seems funny when you consider that, if the same men see them cry, they almost have a fit and are far from comfortable. But, as I read in some book, Life is one vast riddle.
“I’m very happy,” said Leslie, as she stood up. And I said I was very glad and that I hoped she would keep on being so even after she was married and settled down. And she said she expected to, and then she said, in a quick, remembering way, “Oh,” and brought out an unstamped note that was addressed to me by Miss Sheila.
“Ben brought this,” she said, “I think from New York; anyway he saw Aunt Sheila somewhere,” and then she left, and I, alone, read the note, which held surprising and nice news for me.