After I had breakfast, I went back to my room, and tried to forget that I was almost hungrier than I had been before, and I did this by looking out into the court, which I found had a morning flavor that differed from its mood of the afternoon. For instance the little man, instead of slowly polishing brass and stopping his polishing now and again as he raised his head and lingered on a particularly nice note in his singing, swept energetically around the back door of his shop with a broom that looked as if it belonged in a picture of some witch. And as he swept he chattered shrilly at a boy who was riveting something on a bench near the door.
And there were children chasing each other around the paths, and my artist wasn’t at work. I realize now - Leslie has taught me many things - that it wasn’t nice to spy on him, but at that time he seemed only part of a play I was witnessing, and when I saw what he was doing, I hadn’t the slightest consciousness about leaning right out of my window and looking across at his.
He was cooking his breakfast, in front of an open window that was next to the big studio window which so lit the room that one could see in pretty well, and I did wonder what he was eating! I had the greatest interest in watching him dump it out of the frying-pan on his plate, and when he leaned out of his window, to wave his frying-pan, and call, “Gino, buon giorno!” at the little man with the broom, and he, in turn, waved his broom as he answered, I felt as if the play was really started.
Then I watched him eat and of course that wasn’t nice but, as Leslie said, later, I “lack even a rudimentary knowledge of social graces,” (and I wanted to punch her for saying so) and so I could frankly enjoy a lot of things a really polished person would have to pretend they weren’t watching.
After my artist had had his breakfast he threw a piece of something that was left at a cat, and said - so loudly that it floated across the court to me - “Scat, you green-eyed instrument of Satan!” which led me to think that he had heard the cat concert, too.
“American,” I said half aloud, for two things had told me so; one was his voice, and the other was his dandy throw, for it was a peach. It took the cat right on the nose. It must have been soft, for, after the cat had jumped it came crawling back to the bouquet that had been hurled at it and sniffed at it as cats do, and then it turned around and sat down and washed its ears and whiskers. That made me like him, for I like cats, and a great many men don’t hunt things that are exactly soft to throw at cats who sing all night!
Then he went to work. I saw him slip into his big, long apron, and take his brushes out of a mason jar in which they were standing, and I left the window and opened my steamer trunk, which I had only unlocked the night before, and did my unpacking.
At about ten Beata came in, pointed at my made-up bed, and said, “No, no, Signorina!” by which I suppose she meant she would do it, and then she said, “Oh!” in a way that told me she had suddenly remembered something, and fumbled in her pocket.
There was a letter in it for me from Miss Sheila, and I opened it with a great deal of interest, for I imagined that it would have something in it about Leslie and this Miss Harris-Clarke, and it did.
she wrote, in her funny, curly writing which I like so much!
“I am in receipt of rather astounding news, and news that does not entirely please me, however, it is news that must be accepted, and perhaps everything that comes of it will be good; I am afraid I am often a most apprehensive old maiden lady!
“Leslie last night telephoned me that she intends to spend the winter in Florence and study with Signor Paggi, and that with her will go a young friend who is - only temporarily, I am afraid - in Leslie’s complete favor.
“What led to this impulsive plan, I have only a faint notion, but that makes no difference; it is the work out of it that bothers me.
“Because you will be involved, I shall have to be more frank about Leslie than I like; and I think I shall do it through rules.
“You are not to play maid to Leslie; run ribbons in her clothes, errands for her, or answer her many and various whims. No doubt this particular interest will last about two or three weeks, and during that time I insist that you go your own way in complete independence and remember you are under no obligation to a girl who is - I am sorry to say - both spoiled and lazy.
“Love to you, dear child, and the best of luck with Signor Paggi; I, I know, am going to live to be even more proud of you than I am at this moment!
“Always affectionately and devotedly your friend,
and then the date. I thought it was a nice letter and I read it several times and then I tore it up in tiny pieces and sat down to answer it, and to assure Miss Sheila, without rapping on wood - and it never hurts to rap on wood! - that I knew that everything would be all right.
Lunch came right in the middle of my writing, and after lunch I went to one of the practice rooms, which were way down the hall, and played for a while. Then I finished my letter, and decided I would go out and post it, which worried Miss Julianna, whom I met in the hall.
“No,” she said, shaking her head hard, “You get lost.”
“But the Italians are awfully easy pointers,” I said - I had learned even then that they wave their hands a lot - “and as long as they can do that, and I can say ‘Piazza Indipendenza’ and ‘Pension Dante’ I guess I’ll get along all right; you see how it would work.”
“Yes,” she answered, “maybe, but thees Meester Wake, he take you soon? I theenk better to take the small walk first, please?”
And because she looked anxious, I said, “All right,” and smiled at her and then said, “Good-by,” and started down the stairs.
These were of stone, and the banisters made of twisted iron, and the walls were, like most of the other walls, of painted or frescoed plaster. The hall was cold and draughty as well as dark, and so quiet that every step I took echoed loudly, and so, when I stepped out into the warmth and light and noise of the street, the contrast was complete.
I blinked a moment before I started, and then I drew a deep breath because, well, it made you feel that way!
As in Genoa, I don’t remember half I saw, but I do remember the different things, and the sort of things that I never could have seen in a Pennsylvania town of fifteen thousand people that is surrounded by hills with oil wells on them.
The first one that struck in was two officers who looked as if they had just been painted, and wound up somewhere between the shoulder blades, although they were much handsomer than any toys I’d ever seen. One of them had a mustache that tilted up, and he twirled this; the other flung his wide blue cloak back over his shoulder as he passed me, with a gesture that looked careless, but couldn’t have been so, because it was so packed with grace! I walked behind them, looking at their high, shining boots, and their broad, light blue capes and the gilt braid and the clanking swords. And I did wonder how they ever could win if they got mixed up in a real fight, and I knew that they did, for Father had said they were fine and gallant soldiers.
Then they turned a corner, and I was ever so sorry until I was diverted by a man who was sprinkling his pavement with water that he had in a chianti bottle; he wanted the dust kept down in front of his shop, which was an antique place, but that quart bottle full of water was all that he dared use!
By that time the Park - I mean the Piazza Indipendenza - was behind me, houses and shops were on the other side instead of green, and the way was narrow.
After I walked two blocks on this I saw a fountain that was on the side of a building opposite, and it was made of blue and white china, with green leaves and gold oranges and yellow lemons all around it. I thought it was so wonderful, and for once in my life I thought right, because even the critics seemed to half enjoy it. I found it was made by a fellow named della Robbia who had been dead hundreds of years, and that his work was fairly well known in Italy. Well, I looked at it a while, and then I remembered my letter, and went up to two old ladies who were sitting on a doorstep eating some funny little birds that had been cooked with the heads and feet still on them.
I smiled, stuck out my letter, and said, “Where?”
And I never heard anything like the outburst that followed! They both got up and clutched my sleeves, and pointed their hands that were full of bird-lunch, and nodded their heads and patted my back, and kept explaining, in forty-seven ways, where the mail box was. It was really very funny, and I thought I was never going to get away!
After I did, and I hadn’t half as much idea of where the box was as I had when I stopped, I went on, and after a while I saw something that looked suspicious, and after I saw a woman drop a postcard in it, I dropped my letter, and then turned.
Going back, I waved at the old ladies, and said “Grazie,” which I had learned meant thank you, and they bobbed their heads and called, “Niente, niente, Signorina!”
Then a group of soldiers from the ranks clattered past me in their olive drab and the heavy shoes that announce their coming, and again I was at the doorway through which I could reach the Pension Dante, wondering whether it was really true, or whether my program had slipped to the floor during the first act?
And then I rang the pension bell and went in and up.
Going in, and away from all the shrill, staccato street noises, and the smells, which sometimes aren’t nice, but are always different, going in and away from all this seemed tame, but after I got up and Beata had opened the door, I was glad I had been decent enough to consider Miss Julianna’s feelings because…
Miss Leslie Parrish, of Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Miss Viola Harris-Clarke, of Ossining, New York, had arrived! I heard them before they heard me, which is, perhaps, unfair, but it is sometimes also a decided advantage, and I needed all the advantages on my side! I knew it as soon as I heard them speak, and that they would probably consider me countrified and make fun of me. I didn’t care, but I was glad to get used to the idea of our being so different, before we met and I was plumped up against all that manner at one time.
It didn’t take a Signorina Sherlock Holmes to know that they had come, and I didn’t need Beata’s wild pointing, for I heard their voices immediately although they were in a room that was well down the hall.
The first thing I heard was, “Simply impossible!” (I knew in a second that it was Leslie, and that it was her comment about the room.) “You mean to say,” she went on, “that my aunt has seen this?”
“Si, Signorina,” Miss Julianna answered, and she didn’t sound as if she were smiling.
“Well,” I heard in Leslie’s pretty, carefully used voice, “that is very strange! What do you think, Viola?”
“I don’t know, dear,” came in a higher, and a little more artificial voice, and then there was a silence.
A short, baffled kind of laugh, prefaced Leslie’s “I’m absolutely at sea! I don’t know whether to stay or not, but I vowed I would.”
“We might get a few things,” suggested Viola.
“Yes,” (doubtfully) “but the walls - streaks and soil - I don’t know!”
Again there was a silence.
“You do as you like,” said Miss Julianna quickly and in a rather brittle way. “I have keep the rooms at order of Mees Parrish, but you do not haf to stay.”
And then she came out of the room, and down the hall toward me. “Insolent!” I heard in Leslie’s voice, and I wasn’t much impressed.