It was Beata who had tapped on my door, and after my weak-kneed “Come,” she opened it and came in, and as she crossed the floor to reach me she held out a lavender-striped box that was tied with silver cord. I took it, and it did seem to me that the silver cord would never come untied, I suppose because I was so excited, but at last I got the knot out and the cover off, and I saw a bunch of big purple violets that smelled of earth and of their own soft, sweet perfume. I couldn’t believe they were for me! I had never had violets sent to me before.
But they were for me, and after Beata, who had lingered from interest and frankly looked on, said, “Signorina, la carte!” I picked up the envelope that was in the bottom of the box, and read on it,
“For Miss ‘Plain Jane Jones’”
and then I tore that open and read the letter. It was from Sam Deane and it said:
“DEAR LITTLE GOOD SAMARITAN:
“Lots of luck has come to me - and may I say, bless you? I think I must! I can’t return the cream puffs, for somehow or other I mislaid the ones you loaned me, and I’m afraid I can’t match them.
“I would like to say lots, but your Mr. Wake is looking over my shoulder and telling me that you are a dear little girl - and don’t I know it? - but, dragons or not, I am going to be your friend, if you will let me.
“Mr. Wake wonders whether you will go walking with him, Saturday. He says he will call for you at three and return you when his waistline is sufficiently reduced.
“I can’t say thank you for all you have done for me; someday I will try to tell you how I feel, and I will show you always, by being
“Your sincere and devoted friend,
I liked that letter.
“Beata,” I said, “aren’t they lovely?”
“Si, si, Signorina!” said Beata, and she nodded and nodded, and her eyes shone just as if the violets were hers. And then I went to stand before the glass, and place them the way girls do, and I was so excited that I stuck the violet pin right through my corset into my stomach, but nothing mattered! I was just awfully happy! I didn’t know that violets would make you feel that way, but these did. And Mr. Hemmingway thought they were beautiful, and tried very hard to recall the first year he ever “sent a lady a posy” (but he couldn’t remember because he couldn’t remember which year he had bought a tan and white striped waistcoat in the Strand or Ludgate Circus, of course he couldn’t remember where, and the waistcoat buying prefaced the posy giving) and Miss Meek said that some man had more sense than most of the jolly idiots, and Miss Bannister asked me who sent them, and let me answer without telling me it was one of her deaf days, which showed that everyone felt kind and interested.
And so dinner passed, and after dinner I sat with Leslie a little while and helped her get in bed; and then brushed my hair while Viola sat in my room and told about how Leslie’s grandfather had started to make his fortune in pickles - and she seemed to be glad of it, I couldn’t see why - and then she squeezed my hand, and said that she was sorry that she had been so fearfully busy during the first two weeks, and that we must see lots of each other now, I suppose because she had fought with Leslie, I know I hadn’t changed any in that short time, and then she left and so ended that day.
Saturday was clear and everything was washed and clean by the rain that had fallen so steadily and long. All the roofs were a brighter red and the gray and tan houses lightened and the sunlight was dazzling, and even the song of Florence, which is made by the many, many church and monastery bells that mix, and tangle, and float across the city to make pretty, skippy tunes, even this song seemed freshened by all the scrubbing that the city had undergone.
I got up quite early and went to my window to look out. Gino was whistling as he swept around his back door, and talking to his parrot that he had brought out with the stand to which it was chained. And I looked above him at the big window through which I had so often watched my artist, and I realized that Mr. Wake would tell me about him that day. And then Beata came to call out her gentle, “Buon giorno, Signorina! Acqua calda!”
And I answered, and took in the tall, steaming, brass pitcher and began to bathe and dress.
I practised a lot in the morning, and brushed my best suit, which I thought ought to back my violets, and then came lunch, and then getting into outdoor duds; and at last the Pension bell jangled as it swung to and fro in answer to a touch from downstairs, and I knew that Mr. Wake had come. I went out to the head of the stairs, as soon as I heard the bell ring, and called, “Is it you, Mr. Wake?” And, when I was answered as I wanted to be, I hurried down.
It was very good to see him, and I stood in the doorway with him for several minutes as I told him about the twins, (he was sure they weren’t very sick) and of Miss Sheila’s promising to write me regularly about how things went on, and of Leslie’s bad cold. And then I asked about my friend, Sam Deane.
“Able to take a little nourishment,” Mr. Wake answered, which I found later was a joke. “I have quite a story for you,” he went on, “suppose we start out and talk on the road. Shall we?”
I nodded, and then blinked as I always did when I stepped from the dark, gray-walled hall out into the brilliant middle hours of an Italian day. It was cheerful outside. The cats - and there are millions of them in Florence; every one sets out food for them, and no one ever harms them; I think they were blessed, and so protected, by some Saint beloved of the Florentines - the cats sat sunning themselves and washing their ears and whiskers, or they strolled without hesitation, and planted their feet surely, which shows how quickly the sun had worked at drying things. The old ladies who always sit in doorways and call to each other, huddled less over their scaldinoes, and little boys with bare knees ran through the paths in the Piazza Indipendenza or spun their tops on the pavement on our side of the street. Of course officers walked slowly, and little knots of soldiers from the ranks collected on corners to talk, and pretty Italian girls fluttered past. Everyone seemed glad to be out, and happy. It was pleasant.
“Well?” I prompted after we had turned a corner, and into a street that was, from the white walls, simply ablaze with sun. “Where is Mr. Deane?”
“At the Villa Rossa, now, I think,” Mr. Wake answered.
“Your house?” I said in surprise.
“Yes, my dear. And very glad I am to have him. A nice boy, a very fine boy, and I needed someone to play the banjo in my garden. I have fountains that look very well in the moonlight, and a climbing rose tree that has covered one side of my house, and I have marble benches, and everything that goes with romance, and not a hint of the real thing. All wrong it was! And so I am glad to have this troubadour from Texas.”
“I called him that too,” I confessed, “I used to like to hear him play.”
“And so do I,” Mr. Wake responded, “and I imagine he plays remarkably badly. There must be ears of love as well as eyes of love. You like him?”
“Oh, very much!” I stated. Mr. Wake smiled down at me then - I didn’t know quite why - but I liked it; it gave me something of the same warm feeling that came from the almost piercing sunlight, and then Mr. Wake took my hand and drew my arm through his as he had done before.
“The devil take Signora Grundy,” he said, “I have no use for her at all, and never had! And how,” (he stopped and coughed and finished with a jerk) “is the fairy godmother?”
“Very well,” I answered.
“Someday,” he said, “you’ll describe her to me? Faith, and I never will get enough of some fairy tales!”
“I will,” I promised. And then Mr. Wake went on to tell me of Sam Deane, and I was glad to hear his story.
Sam Deane, who was twenty-eight, Mr. Wake said, had won a traveling scholarship from a well-known art school in the middle west. This had meant a year in Paris and a thousand dollars allowance beside, and it was given as a reward for exceptionally good work.
Well, Sam Deane had come to Paris and worked his year, and then he decided that he wanted what Mr. Wake said Sam termed “A go at Rome and Florence,” so he packed his suitcase, tucked his banjo under his arm and walked most of the way to Rome. And Mr. Wake put in the statement that Sam was the sort who could get what he really wanted, and I said I thought so too, and then Mr. Wake smiled down at me again in his very pleasant, twinkling, warming way which led me to believe that the weather made him feel well, too.
Sam Deane did well in Rome where he looked up some of his fellow workers, and shared a beautiful studio that was set high in a bit of the old Roman City wall. He got some orders and saw the place, and he stayed there quite a while and began to feel that Fortune was really fond of him.
But in Florence! Oh, that was a different story!
The haughty city turned her back on him, and she closed her long, slim fingers round her gold. And Mr. Wake said that Sam had been duped by the worst scoundrel of an agent that ever lived, and that there was nothing wrong with the picture Sam was copying, not in the manner, Mr. Wake stated. (He said the subject was ghastly, I don’t know why, I thought the little boy would have made a pretty picture, but when you are educated in Art I don’t believe you want them to be pretty.) Anyway, the agent kept putting Sam off, and making him redo his work, for he had a clause in his contract order that let him do this. And Mr. Wake said that in this way Signor Bianco usually reduced his slaves to such despair that they finally let their work go to him for half its real worth.
“Now,” Mr. Wake ended, as we drew near a long building that had medallions all along the front of it, made of the same sort of ware that I had seen in the fountain up on the Via Nazionale, “Now I’m going to take a hand. And I know that with a little boosting and a little advice the young man will get along! He has the real stuff in him. Some of his sketches made me think of the early work of Davies. Going to keep him with me until he gets a hold, and longer if he’ll stay. Nice boy, fine boy. Look ahead of you, Jane, my child. You see the round, blue and white plaques up there? Copied all over the world, those little white babies with their legs wrapped in swaddling clothes. They were made by della Robbia back in the fourteenth century.”
I thought that was wonderful, and so different from our modern art, because if you were to hang up a Henry Hutt picture, even indoors, I don’t believe it would last fifty years.
I said this to Mr. Wake, who entirely agreed with me. Then he told me that one of the reasons that the Italians made such beautiful things was that they took a long time to doing it. A man named Orcagna who is dead - it is discouraging to think that everyone who is great seems to have to be dead a long, long time - this man worked thirty years on a shrine that is in a church called Or San Michele. (It is a beautiful shrine of marble and silver and precious stones and lovely little carved figures.) And Giotto died before his tower was finished - it looks like a slim lily where it stands by the side of the big fat Duomo – and Raphael was killed by working too hard over his pictures, and wasn’t allowed to marry because the Pope thought he should give all of his time to his work, which seems so sad to me. I kept thinking for a long time, after Mr. Wake told me that, of how Raphael’s sweetheart must have felt when Raphael was buried at thirty-seven, for that isn’t so very old, after all.
As we stood there talking I saw Viola coming toward us, and after I had spoken quickly to Mr. Wake, I called to her, because I knew she was lonely. “This is Viola,” I said to Mr. Wake, “her last name is Harris-Clarke, you say them both,” and then I added, to Viola, “We’re going to see this church. Do you want to go with us?”
“But how charming!” she murmured, “and this is Mr. Wake, of whom I have heard most pleasant things?”
Mr. Wake bowed from the waistline, but he didn’t seem especially pleased, or at all excited over the things she had heard of him and that did surprise me a lot!