When we reached Florence, which was well along in the afternoon, Mr. Wake went with me to the Pension Dante, which is on the Piazza Indipendenza, not far from the station, and is the place where Miss Sheila had arranged to have me stay.
Again a facchino took our baggage and piled it all up, trunks and bags together, in a wheelbarrow, and then started ahead of us, singing.
“Don’t you live in the country?” I asked of Mr. Wake, for I had understood from Mrs. Hamilton that he did.
“Yes, out the Fiesole way,” he answered; “my goods go to the Piazza del Duomo where I take a tram.”
“What’s a duomo?” I asked, because I imagined it was some kind of an officer in a high, bear-skin cap. It seemed to me that it sounded like that. But it wasn’t, it was something quite different.
“It’s the greatest church in an Italian city,” Mr. Wake answered, “and I think you will probably be able to see the dome of this one from your window. It is one of the largest domes in Italy; it was the model for St. Peter’s in Rome, and it was alike the despair of Michael Angelo, and the pride of its maker, Brunelleschi.”
I said, “Oh,” because at that time such facts seemed dry to me, and dulled by dust. I had not learned how much romance may be unearthed by a puff of breath from someone who knows, as does Mr. Wake, how to blow aside the years.
“About a month,” he said, “and you’ll like it, and you’ll be hunting for old facts.” And then he smiled at me in a way that told me he had understood my feeling.
After that our facchino paused and dumped my baggage out of his wheelbarrow and rang a bell.
“You’ve evidently reached home,” Mr. Wake hazarded, “and a mighty nice place it is too, isn’t it, with this square before you? Probably puff up a million stairs now, and then you’ll tell me I have too much tummy, won’t you?”
“No,” I answered, “I did tell you that.”
He laughed, and we followed the facchino who had put my trunk on his shoulders, and started before us, up three flights to the Pension Dante.
“Look here,” said Mr. Wake as we paused on the first landing, “suppose you take me in training? You walk?”
“I have to,” I answered. “Father made me promise to walk at least five miles every day.”
“Well, that ought to help me,” Mr. Wake commented; “suppose I go, too, and show you the town?”
I said I’d like it.
“I can take you to some spots most tourists miss,” he promised, as we again started on and up.
“That’ll be nice,” I said, but I never dreamed then how very nice it would be, nor of how much I was to enjoy those trips he planned, in spite of the fact that I learned a good deal in the process. “And I thank you,” I ended, and he said I was most welcome.
Then the door at the head of the third flight opened, and I saw a pretty, plump little Italian woman whose hair rippled like the waves that follow in the immediate wake of a steamboat, and when she held out both of her hands to me, and said, “Buona sera, Signorina, well-come!” I felt very much at home, and I loved her right away.
“Are you Miss Rotelli?” I asked.
“Yes, Mees Rotelli,” she answered as she nodded like everything, and I introduced Mr. Wake, and he left me after a promise of looking around to see how I was in a day or so, and then I followed Miss Rotelli – I soon called her Miss Julianna – in.
Well, I think that everybody should travel. As Mr. Hemmingway, whom I met at dinner, says, it is educational. One has an idea, or at least I did, that houses all over the world are about the same. I expected little differences, but I didn’t expect stone floors, or Cupids painted on walls, or ceilings that took a field glass to see, or to see a plaster-of-Paris Madonna on the wall with a tall wrought-iron candlestick on the floor before it. And I hadn’t expected to see a box full of sawdust with a broom in it, or that they had to clean house differently in Florence. I didn’t know that there was so little water that they had to dampen sawdust and brush it around the rooms instead of mopping them up as we do. There are many, many differences, but those things, and Beata, struck into me at first.
Beata, who had a rose in her hair, and whom I soon found was the cook and waitress, was sitting in the long corridor into which I had stepped.
She rose as I came in and bobbed from the knees, as Elaine McDonald, who is the only girl in our town who ever went to boarding school, did the first year after she came home.
“She ees Beata,” said Miss Rotelli, and Beata spoke. “She say well-come,” explained Miss Rotelli.
“Tell her thank you, if you please,” I said. And then I heard, “Niente, Signorina Americana!” from Beata, who again sat down and went on knitting a bright red tie.
“She make for her sweetheart,” said Miss Rotelli, and I didn’t feel very far from home at that moment. Roberta makes dozens of ties and always falters over presenting them, and says that perhaps, after she’s made a few more, she can do better - which mother doesn’t think very nice, because it makes every poor silly she gives them to think he’s the first one to have a tie knit for him by Roberta. But Roberta is like that! It’s all unfair that she should be popular, but she is!
However, to get on, I followed Miss Julianna well down a corridor, which ran straight ahead as one entered the door from the outside hall, and was so long that it narrowed in the distance almost like a railroad track, and toward the end of this Miss Julianna opened a door on the left, and said, “Your room.” She said everything in a clipped way that was most interesting and, to me, attractive.
And I went in.
I felt lots of interest about that room, of course, because I imagined that I would spend a great deal of time in it for the next six months at least. I looked around carefully, and then I said, “It’s very pretty,” although I really didn’t think it was but I wouldn’t for the world have disappointed Miss Julianna, who looked on and waited, I thought, a little anxiously.
“Grazie, Signorina,” she said, which means, “Thank you, Miss,” and after that she said, all in a level, and very fast, “Down-the-hall-bath-room-with-water-which-runs-and-real-tub-dinner-at-seven-goodbye,” and after that she nodded her head and backed out.
Then I took an inventory which resulted in the discovery that I was in a room that was as big as our Elks’ ball-room at home; a room which was punctuated at long intervals by one bed, covered with a mustard-colored bedspread, a bureau which had a mirror that belonged in the funny mirror place in the County Fair, two chairs that were built for people with stiff corsets, one chair that was designed for an aviator, (it went over backward if you weren’t familiar with its management) a washstand with some stuff on it that Leslie - about Leslie later – called “Medieval hardware,” a table with a bright red cover, a black marble mantel and a footstool which I soon learned it was wise to use if you didn’t want your feet to grow numb from cold.
In the exact center of the room was a little rug that looked about as big as a postage stamp on a cabinet photograph case; and across from the door was the room’s real attraction which I was yet to explore, and that was the window.
I walked over to it slowly; and there, I leaned out, and after I had leaned out I don’t know how long I came back and hunted in my suitcase for the writing case that Elaine McDonald had got in New York and given me for a going-away present. And, after I had addressed an envelope to Mother, and put on “Jackson Ridge, Pennsylvania, Stati Uniti d’America,” which Miss Sheila had told me to do; and after I had told about my health and asked about theirs, and said I was safe, and told of Mr. Wake who had helped me, when Mrs. Hamilton, Miss Sheila’s acquaintance, had changed her plan, I described the back yard.
“I have just looked out of my window,” I wrote, “and down into a little court that looks as if it belongs to another age and were sleeping in this. It is a court upon which all the houses that box this square, back. It has a fountain in it that has a stone cupid in its center; there must be a mile-and-a-half of tiny winding paths; and there is heavy-leaved foliage like none I have ever seen. Some of the trees quite cover the paths, and others of a more lacy variety give one a glimpse of the red tiles that divide the winding yellow ways from the green.
“Across the way is a tan stucco house with green shutters; its next-door neighbor is salmon pink and has flower boxes on its window sills. The windows are, most of them, set in at different heights. It does not look neat, but it is pretty; I think even prettier than the way we do it at home.
“The sun is so bright that when it rests on anything white, it blinds you. And all the shadows are black. The roofs are of red tile, and slope gently. There are some poplar trees” (I found later they were cypress trees; the shape misled me) “swaying over the top of a low roof down the block. When I was last at the window a little shopkeeper who wore a big apron sat in his back door singing, while he polished brass, and his voice is nearly as good as Mr. Kinsolving’s.”
(Mr. Kinsolving is our church tenor, and he gets two dollars for singing at each service, which shows how fine he is; but I honestly thought that the shopkeeper sung better, but of course I wasn’t going to write that home for one of the twins to blurt out when they shouldn’t!)
“Across the court,” I went on, “is a studio,” (It seems strange to me now--my writing about that studio in my first letter home!) “And I can see the artist painting,” my pen scratched on. “He has on a long, white, aprony-looking thing, and I can see his arm move before his canvas which is dark. I think I shall like watching him and thinking that there is someone else in this block who is trying hard to get on, as I shall soon!
“I wish you could see everything I can, dear people, and especially the court. Marguerite Clarke, as she was in Prunella, ought to be dancing in the court with her Pierrot following; the court looks like that, and as if it would be full of ghosts who dance the minuet on moonlight nights.”
I stopped, reread what I had written, and wondered whether I should send it, because Roberta, who is much more practical, sometimes thinks the things I fancy, silly. But then I caught the Mrs. Frank Jones on the envelope and I knew that it could go.
For Mother always understood my funny, half hidden, soft moods as well as my love of baseball and outdoor things, and I knew that she would like what I had written, even though it would seem foolish to all the rest. So I kissed the page, and put a little cross where I had kissed it, and I wrote, “That’s for you, Mother dear,” and then I got up and brushed my hair really hard, and hurried around at dressing, the way you do when you have felt almost homesick and are just a little afraid that the whole feeling may creep over you.
An hour or so later I heard a tinkling bell, and a soft, musically rising voice which sung out, “È pronto!” which I found later means “Is ready,” in Italian, and that “Is ready” in Italian means dinner. But I understood that night not from “È pronto,” but from the fact that, after I opened my door and looked into the hall, I saw three other doors open and very queer looking people come out of them, and go toddling down the hall.
The first one was fat, and wore the kind of basque mother was photographed in when she was very young. Her skirt was a purplish serge that had once been blue.
“Well, Miss Bannister!” she called to a thin old lady who came out of the door almost opposite mine. Miss Bannister’s hair was not applied quite as it should have been; it seems mean to mention it, but she never gave you a chance to forget it! Leslie thought she tied it on the gas jet, then ran under it, and clipped the cord as she ran, and let it stay just where it dropped, and it did look that way!
“Hello,” answered this old lady, in a high squeaky voice. “Has she come?”
“My eye, yes!” answered the one in the basque, whose name was Miss Meek, “and a jolly number of boxes too. I say we’ll have a beastly lot of brag!”
That made me mad, and I decided that they wouldn’t have any from me. Then they saw me and grew silent, and at the moment another door opened, and a tall, thin man who walked as if he had casters under him, came sliding out.
“Ahem,” he said, “ahem! And how is every one tonight? A charming day,” he went on without waiting for answer, “a charming day! How well I remember a day such as this in the fall of 1902,” (he paused, and when he continued, spoke very slowly) “now was it in 1902, or 1903? How can I fasten it?” (He snapped his fingers and I’m sure he frowned, although I was walking back of him and couldn’t see.) “But just a moment, I can locate the year if I reason the thing through, and I make this bold assertion because, if I recall correctly, it was in the fall of 1902 that I was in England, while the day to which I refer was beneath Italy’s azure skies, which clearly reveals, and without possible doubt, that it was in 1903, since—”
“Oh, lud!” broke in the fat one who wore the purplish blue skirt and the basque, and was Miss Meek. “Oh, lud!” which I found later was her way of saying, “Oh, Lord!”
And then we turned into the dining room - I had followed the crowd at a respectful distance - and Miss Julianna stepped forward, to say, “La Signorina Jones, Americana!” and then she turned and said, “Mees Meek, Mees Banneester, Meester Hemmingway; you must be friend!”
And I said that I hoped they would let me be. And then, a little flushed because I was not used to meeting so many people at once, I wiggled into my chair, and Beata came in with the soup.