Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Richard Fane, Haddonfield, NJ
Where Angels Fear to Tread
by E. M. Forster
They were all at Charing Cross to see Lilia off--Philip,
Harriet, Irma, Mrs. Herriton herself. Even Mrs. Theobald,
squired by Mr. Kingcroft, had braved the journey from
Yorkshire to bid her only daughter good-bye. Miss Abbott
was likewise attended by numerous relatives, and the sight
of so many people talking at once and saying such different
things caused Lilia to break into ungovernable peals of laughter.
"Quite an ovation," she cried, sprawling out of her
first-class carriage. "They'll take us for royalty. Oh,
Mr. Kingcroft, get us foot-warmers."
The good-natured young man hurried away, and Philip,
taking his place, flooded her with a final stream of advice
and injunctions--where to stop, how to learn Italian, when to
use mosquito-nets, what pictures to look at. "Remember," he
concluded, "that it is only by going off the track that you
get to know the country. See the little towns--Gubbio,
Pienza, Cortona, San Gemignano, Monteriano. And don't, let
me beg you, go with that awful tourist idea that Italy's
only a museum of antiquities and art. Love and understand
the Italians, for the people are more marvellous than the land."
"How I wish you were coming, Philip," she said,
flattered at the unwonted notice her brother-in-law was
"I wish I were." He could have managed it without great
difficulty, for his career at the Bar was not so intense as
to prevent occasional holidays. But his family disliked his
continual visits to the Continent, and he himself often
found pleasure in the idea that he was too busy to leave town.
"Good-bye, dear every one. What a whirl!" She caught
sight of her little daughter Irma, and felt that a touch of
maternal solemnity was required. "Good-bye, darling. Mind
you're always good, and do what Granny tells you."
She referred not to her own mother, but to her
mother-in-law, Mrs. Herriton, who hated the title of Granny.
Irma lifted a serious face to be kissed, and said
cautiously, "I'll do my best."
"She is sure to be good," said Mrs. Herriton, who was
standing pensively a little out of the hubbub. But Lilia
was already calling to Miss Abbott, a tall, grave, rather
nice-looking young lady who was conducting her adieus in a
more decorous manner on the platform.
"Caroline, my Caroline! Jump in, or your chaperon will
go off without you."
And Philip, whom the idea of Italy always intoxicated,
had started again, telling her of the supreme moments of her
coming journey--the Campanile of Airolo, which would burst on
her when she emerged from the St. Gothard tunnel, presaging
the future; the view of the Ticino and Lago Maggiore as the
train climbed the slopes of Monte Cenere; the view of
Lugano, the view of Como--Italy gathering thick around her
now--the arrival at her first resting-place, when, after long
driving through dark and dirty streets, she should at last
behold, amid the roar of trams and the glare of arc lamps,
the buttresses of the cathedral of Milan.
"Handkerchiefs and collars," screamed Harriet, "in my
inlaid box! I've lent you my inlaid box."
"Good old Harry!" She kissed every one again, and there
was a moment's silence. They all smiled steadily, excepting
Philip, who was choking in the fog, and old Mrs. Theobald,
who had begun to cry. Miss Abbott got into the carriage.
The guard himself shut the door, and told Lilia that she
would be all right. Then the train moved, and they all
moved with it a couple of steps, and waved their
handkerchiefs, and uttered cheerful little cries. At that
moment Mr. Kingcroft reappeared, carrying a footwarmer by
both ends, as if it was a tea-tray. He was sorry that he
was too late, and called out in a quivering voice,
"Good-bye, Mrs. Charles. May you enjoy yourself, and may
God bless you."
Lilia smiled and nodded, and then the absurd position of
the foot-warmer overcame her, and she began to laugh again.
"Oh, I am so sorry," she cried back, "but you do look so
funny. Oh, you all look so funny waving! Oh, pray!" And
laughing helplessly, she was carried out into the fog.
"High spirits to begin so long a journey," said Mrs.
Theobald, dabbing her eyes.
Mr. Kingcroft solemnly moved his head in token of
agreement. "I wish," said he, "that Mrs. Charles had gotten
the footwarmer. These London porters won't take heed to a
"But you did your best," said Mrs. Herriton. "And I
think it simply noble of you to have brought Mrs. Theobald
all the way here on such a day as this." Then, rather
hastily, she shook hands, and left him to take Mrs. Theobald
all the way back.
Sawston, her own home, was within easy reach of London,
and they were not late for tea. Tea was in the dining-room,
with an egg for Irma, to keep up the child's spirits. The
house seemed strangely quiet after a fortnight's bustle, and
their conversation was spasmodic and subdued. They wondered
whether the travellers had got to Folkestone, whether it
would be at all rough, and if so what would happen to poor
"And, Granny, when will the old ship get to Italy?"
"'Grandmother,' dear; not 'Granny,'" said Mrs. Herriton,
giving her a kiss. "And we say 'a boat' or 'a steamer,' not
'a ship.' Ships have sails. And mother won't go all the way
by sea. You look at the map of Europe, and you'll see why.
Harriet, take her. Go with Aunt Harriet, and she'll show
you the map."
"Righto!" said the little girl, and dragged the
reluctant Harriet into the library. Mrs. Herriton and her
son were left alone. There was immediately confidence
"Here beginneth the New Life," said Philip.
"Poor child, how vulgar!" murmured Mrs. Herriton. "It's
surprising that she isn't worse. But she has got a look of
poor Charles about her."
"And--alas, alas!--a look of old Mrs. Theobald. What
appalling apparition was that! I did think the lady was
bedridden as well as imbecile. Why ever did she come?"
"Mr. Kingcroft made her. I am certain of it. He wanted
to see Lilia again, and this was the only way."
"I hope he is satisfied. I did not think my
sister-in-law distinguished herself in her farewells."
Mrs. Herriton shuddered. "I mind nothing, so long as
she has gone--and gone with Miss Abbott. It is mortifying to
think that a widow of thirty-three requires a girl ten years
younger to look after her."
"I pity Miss Abbott. Fortunately one admirer is chained
to England. Mr. Kingcroft cannot leave the crops or the
climate or something. I don't think, either, he improved
his chances today. He, as well as Lilia, has the knack of
being absurd in public."
Mrs. Herriton replied, "When a man is neither well bred,
nor well connected, nor handsome, nor clever, nor rich, even
Lilia may discard him in time."
"No. I believe she would take any one. Right up to the
last, when her boxes were packed, she was 'playing' the
chinless curate. Both the curates are chinless, but hers
had the dampest hands. I came on them in the Park. They
were speaking of the Pentateuch."
"My dear boy! If possible, she has got worse and
worse. It was your idea of Italian travel that saved us!"
Philip brightened at the little compliment. "The odd
part is that she was quite eager--always asking me for
information; and of course I was very glad to give it. I
admit she is a Philistine, appallingly ignorant, and her
taste in art is false. Still, to have any taste at all is
something. And I do believe that Italy really purifies and
ennobles all who visit her. She is the school as well as
the playground of the world. It is really to Lilia's credit
that she wants to go there."
"She would go anywhere," said his mother, who had heard
enough of the praises of Italy. "I and Caroline Abbott had
the greatest difficulty in dissuading her from the Riviera."
"No, Mother; no. She was really keen on Italy. This
travel is quite a crisis for her." He found the situation
full of whimsical romance: there was something half
attractive, half repellent in the thought of this vulgar
woman journeying to places he loved and revered. Why should
she not be transfigured? The same had happened to the Goths.
Mrs. Herriton did not believe in romance nor in
transfiguration, nor in parallels from history, nor in
anything else that may disturb domestic life. She adroitly
changed the subject before Philip got excited. Soon Harriet
returned, having given her lesson in geography. Irma went
to bed early, and was tucked up by her grandmother. Then
the two ladies worked and played cards. Philip read a
book. And so they all settled down to their quiet,
profitable existence, and continued it without interruption
through the winter.
It was now nearly ten years since Charles had fallen in
love with Lilia Theobald because she was pretty, and during
that time Mrs. Herriton had hardly known a moment's rest.
For six months she schemed to prevent the match, and when it
had taken place she turned to another task--the supervision
of her daughter-in-law. Lilia must be pushed through life
without bringing discredit on the family into which she had
married. She was aided by Charles, by her daughter Harriet,
and, as soon as he was old enough, by the clever one of the
family, Philip. The birth of Irma made things still more
difficult. But fortunately old Mrs. Theobald, who had
attempted interference, began to break up. It was an effort
to her to leave Whitby, and Mrs. Herriton discouraged the
effort as far as possible. That curious duel which is
fought over every baby was fought and decided early. Irma
belonged to her father's family, not to her mother's.
Charles died, and the struggle recommenced. Lilia tried
to assert herself, and said that she should go to take care
of Mrs. Theobald. It required all Mrs. Herriton's kindness
to prevent her. A house was finally taken for her at
Sawston, and there for three years she lived with Irma,
continually subject to the refining influences of her late
During one of her rare Yorkshire visits trouble began
again. Lilia confided to a friend that she liked a Mr.
Kingcroft extremely, but that she was not exactly engaged to
him. The news came round to Mrs. Herriton, who at once
wrote, begging for information, and pointing out that Lilia
must either be engaged or not, since no intermediate state
existed. It was a good letter, and flurried Lilia
extremely. She left Mr. Kingcroft without even the pressure
of a rescue-party. She cried a great deal on her return to
Sawston, and said she was very sorry. Mrs. Herriton took
the opportunity of speaking more seriously about the duties
of widowhood and motherhood than she had ever done before.
But somehow things never went easily after. Lilia would not
settle down in her place among Sawston matrons. She was a
bad housekeeper, always in the throes of some domestic
crisis, which Mrs. Herriton, who kept her servants for
years, had to step across and adjust. She let Irma stop
away from school for insufficient reasons, and she allowed
her to wear rings. She learnt to bicycle, for the purpose
of waking the place up, and coasted down the High Street one
Sunday evening, falling off at the turn by the church. If
she had not been a relative, it would have been
entertaining. But even Philip, who in theory loved
outraging English conventions, rose to the occasion, and
gave her a talking which she remembered to her dying day.
It was just then, too, that they discovered that she still
allowed Mr. Kingcroft to write to her "as a gentleman
friend," and to send presents to Irma.
Philip thought of Italy, and the situation was saved.
Caroline, charming, sober, Caroline Abbott, who lived two
turnings away, was seeking a companion for a year's travel.
Lilia gave up her house, sold half her furniture, left the
other half and Irma with Mrs. Herriton, and had now
departed, amid universal approval, for a change of scene.
She wrote to them frequently during the winter--more
frequently than she wrote to her mother. Her letters were
always prosperous. Florence she found perfectly sweet,
Naples a dream, but very whiffy. In Rome one had simply to
sit still and feel. Philip, however, declared that she was
improving. He was particularly gratified when in the early
spring she began to visit the smaller towns that he had
recommended. "In a place like this," she wrote, "one really
does feel in the heart of things, and off the beaten track.
Looking out of a Gothic window every morning, it seems
impossible that the middle ages have passed away." The
letter was from Monteriano, and concluded with a not
unsuccessful description of the wonderful little town.
"It is something that she is contented," said Mrs.
Herriton. "But no one could live three months with Caroline
Abbott and not be the better for it."
Just then Irma came in from school, and she read her
mother's letter to her, carefully correcting any grammatical
errors, for she was a loyal supporter of parental
authority--Irma listened politely, but soon changed the
subject to hockey, in which her whole being was absorbed.
They were to vote for colours that afternoon--yellow and
white or yellow and green. What did her grandmother think?
Of course Mrs. Herriton had an opinion, which she
sedately expounded, in spite of Harriet, who said that
colours were unnecessary for children, and of Philip, who
said that they were ugly. She was getting proud of Irma,
who had certainly greatly improved, and could no longer be
called that most appalling of things--a vulgar child. She
was anxious to form her before her mother returned. So she
had no objection to the leisurely movements of the
travellers, and even suggested that they should overstay
their year if it suited them.
Lilia's next letter was also from Monteriano, and Philip
grew quite enthusiastic.
"They've stopped there over a week!" he cried. "Why! I
shouldn't have done as much myself. They must be really
keen, for the hotel's none too comfortable."
"I cannot understand people," said Harriet. "What can
they be doing all day? And there is no church there, I suppose."
"There is Santa Deodata, one of the most beautiful
churches in Italy."
"Of course I mean an English church," said Harriet
stiffly. "Lilia promised me that she would always be in a
large town on Sundays."
"If she goes to a service at Santa Deodata's, she will
find more beauty and sincerity than there is in all the Back
Kitchens of Europe.
The Back Kitchen was his nickname for St. James's, a
small depressing edifice much patronized by his sister. She
always resented any slight on it, and Mrs. Herriton had to
"Now, dears, don't. Listen to Lilia's letter. 'We love
this place, and I do not know how I shall ever thank Philip
for telling me it. It is not only so quaint, but one sees
the Italians unspoiled in all their simplicity and charm
here. The frescoes are wonderful. Caroline, who grows
sweeter every day, is very busy sketching.' "
"Every one to his taste!" said Harriet, who always
delivered a platitude as if it was an epigram. She was
curiously virulent about Italy, which she had never visited,
her only experience of the Continent being an occasional six
weeks in the Protestant parts of Switzerland.
"Oh, Harriet is a bad lot!" said Philip as soon as she
left the room. His mother laughed, and told him not to be
naughty; and the appearance of Irma, just off to school,
prevented further discussion. Not only in Tracts is a child
"One moment, Irma," said her uncle. "I'm going to the
station. I'll give you the pleasure of my company."
They started together. Irma was gratified; but
conversation flagged, for Philip had not the art of talking
to the young. Mrs. Herriton sat a little longer at the
breakfast table, re-reading Lilia's letter. Then she helped
the cook to clear, ordered dinner, and started the housemaid
turning out the drawing-room, Tuesday being its day. The
weather was lovely, and she thought she would do a little
gardening, as it was quite early. She called Harriet, who
had recovered from the insult to St. James's, and together
they went to the kitchen garden and began to sow some early
"We will save the peas to the last; they are the
greatest fun," said Mrs. Herriton, who had the gift of
making work a treat. She and her elderly daughter always
got on very well, though they had not a great deal in
common. Harriet's education had been almost too
successful. As Philip once said, she had "bolted all the
cardinal virtues and couldn't digest them." Though pious
and patriotic, and a great moral asset for the house, she
lacked that pliancy and tact which her mother so much
valued, and had expected her to pick up for herself.
Harriet, if she had been allowed, would have driven Lilia to
an open rupture, and, what was worse, she would have done
the same to Philip two years before, when he returned full
of passion for Italy, and ridiculing Sawston and its ways.
"It's a shame, Mother!" she had cried. "Philip laughs
at everything--the Book Club, the Debating Society, the
Progressive Whist, the bazaars. People won't like it. We
have our reputation. A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Mrs. Herriton replied in the memorable words, "Let
Philip say what he likes, and he will let us do what we
like." And Harriet had acquiesced.
They sowed the duller vegetables first, and a pleasant
feeling of righteous fatigue stole over them as they
addressed themselves to the peas. Harriet stretched a
string to guide the row straight, and Mrs. Herriton
scratched a furrow with a pointed stick. At the end of it
she looked at her watch.
"It's twelve! The second post's in. Run and see if
there are any letters."
Harriet did not want to go. "Let's finish the peas.
There won't be any letters."
"No, dear; please go. I'll sow the peas, but you shall
cover them up--and mind the birds don't see 'em!"
Mrs. Herriton was very careful to let those peas trickle
evenly from her hand, and at the end of the row she was
conscious that she had never sown better. They were
"Actually old Mrs. Theobald!" said Harriet, returning.
"Read me the letter. My hands are dirty. How
intolerable the crested paper is."
Harriet opened the envelope.
"I don't understand," she said; "it doesn't make sense."
"Her letters never did."
"But it must be sillier than usual," said Harriet, and
her voice began to quaver. "Look here, read it, Mother; I
can't make head or tail."
Mrs. Herriton took the letter indulgently. "What is the
difficulty?" she said after a long pause. "What is it that
puzzles you in this letter?"
"The meaning--" faltered Harriet. The sparrows hopped
nearer and began to eye the peas.
"The meaning is quite clear--Lilia is engaged to be
married. Don't cry, dear; please me by not crying--don't
talk at all. It's more than I could bear. She is going to
marry some one she has met in a hotel. Take the letter and
read for yourself." Suddenly she broke down over what might
seem a small point. "How dare she not tell me direct! How
dare she write first to Yorkshire! Pray, am I to hear
through Mrs. Theobald--a patronizing, insolent letter like
this? Have I no claim at all? Bear witness, dear"--she
choked with passion--"bear witness that for this I'll never
"Oh, what is to be done?" moaned Harriet. "What is to
"This first!" She tore the letter into little pieces
and scattered it over the mould. "Next, a telegram for
Lilia! No! a telegram for Miss Caroline Abbott. She, too,
has something to explain."
"Oh, what is to be done?" repeated Harriet, as she
followed her mother to the house. She was helpless before
such effrontery. What awful thing--what awful person had
come to Lilia? "Some one in the hotel." The letter only
said that. What kind of person? A gentleman? An
Englishman? The letter did not say.
"Wire reason of stay at Monteriano. Strange rumours,"
read Mrs. Herriton, and addressed the telegram to Abbott,
Stella d'Italia, Monteriano, Italy. "If there is an office
there," she added, "we might get an answer this evening.
Since Philip is back at seven, and the eight-fifteen catches
the midnight boat at Dover--Harriet, when you go with this,
get 100 pounds in 5 pound notes at the bank."
Go, dear, at once; do not talk. I see Irma coming back;
go quickly.... Well, Irma dear, and whose team are you in
this afternoon--Miss Edith's or Miss May's?"
But as soon as she had behaved as usual to her
grand-daughter, she went to the library and took out the
large atlas, for she wanted to know about Monteriano. The
name was in the smallest print, in the midst of a
woolly-brown tangle of hills which were called the
"Sub-Apennines." It was not so very far from Siena, which
she had learnt at school. Past it there wandered a thin
black line, notched at intervals like a saw, and she knew
that this was a railway. But the map left a good deal to
imagination, and she had not got any. She looked up the
place in "Childe Harold," but Byron had not been there. Nor
did Mark Twain visit it in the "Tramp Abroad." The
resources of literature were exhausted: she must wait till
Philip came home. And the thought of Philip made her try
Philip's room, and there she found "Central Italy," by
Baedeker, and opened it for the first time in her life and
read in it as follows:--
MONTERIANO (pop. 4800). Hotels: Stella d'Italia,
moderate only; Globo, dirty. * CaffeGaribaldi. Post and
Telegraph office in Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, next to
theatre. Photographs at Seghena's (cheaper in
Florence). Diligence (1 lira) meets principal trains.
Chief attractions (2-3 hours): Santa Deodata, Palazzo
Pubblico, Sant' Agostino, Santa Caterina, Sant' Ambrogio,
Palazzo Capocchi. Guide (2 lire) unnecessary. A walk
round the Walls should on no account be omitted. The
view from the Rocca (small gratuity) is finest at sunset.
History: Monteriano, the Mons Rianus of Antiquity,
whose Ghibelline tendencies are noted by Dante (Purg.
xx.), definitely emancipated itself from Poggibonsi in
'261. Hence the distich, "POGGIBONIZZI, FAUI IN LA, CHE
MONTERIANO SI FA CITTA!" till recently enscribed over
the Siena gate. It remained independent till 1530, when
it was sacked by the Papal troops and became part of the
Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It is now of small importance,
and seat of the district prison. The inhabitants are
still noted for their agreeable manners.
- - - - -
The traveller will proceed direct from the Siena gate to
the Collegiate Church of Santa Deodata, and inspect (5th
chapel on right) the charming * Frescoes....
Mrs. Herriton did not proceed. She was not one to
detect the hidden charms of Baedeker. Some of the
information seemed to her unnecessary, all of it was dull.
Whereas Philip could never read "The view from the Rocca
(small gratuity) is finest at sunset" without a catching at
the heart. Restoring the book to its place, she went
downstairs, and looked up and down the asphalt paths for her
daughter. She saw her at last, two turnings away, vainly
trying to shake off Mr. Abbott, Miss Caroline Abbott's
father. Harriet was always unfortunate. At last she
returned, hot, agitated, crackling with bank-notes, and Irma
bounced to greet her, and trod heavily on her corn.
"Your feet grow larger every day," said the agonized
Harriet, and gave her niece a violent push. Then Irma
cried, and Mrs. Herriton was annoyed with Harriet for
betraying irritation. Lunch was nasty; and during pudding
news arrived that the cook, by sheer dexterity, had broken a
very vital knob off the kitchen-range. "It is too bad,"
said Mrs. Herriton. Irma said it was three bad, and was
told not to be rude. After lunch Harriet would get out
Baedeker, and read in injured tones about Monteriano, the
Mons Rianus of Antiquity, till her mother stopped her.
"It's ridiculous to read, dear. She's not trying to
marry any one in the place. Some tourist, obviously, who's
stopping in the hotel. The place has nothing to do with it
"But what a place to go to! What nice person, too, do
you meet in a hotel?"
"Nice or nasty, as I have told you several times before,
is not the point. Lilia has insulted our family, and she
shall suffer for it. And when you speak against hotels, I
think you forget that I met your father at Chamounix. You
can contribute nothing, dear, at present, and I think you
had better hold your tongue. I am going to the kitchen, to
speak about the range."
She spoke just too much, and the cook said that if she
could not give satisfaction--she had better leave. A small
thing at hand is greater than a great thing remote, and
Lilia, misconducting herself upon a mountain in Central
Italy, was immediately hidden. Mrs. Herriton flew to a
registry office, failed; flew to another, failed again; came
home, was told by the housemaid that things seemed so
unsettled that she had better leave as well; had tea, wrote
six letters, was interrupted by cook and housemaid, both
weeping, asking her pardon, and imploring to be taken back.
In the flush of victory the door-bell rang, and there was
the telegram: "Lilia engaged to Italian nobility. Writing.
"No answer," said Mrs. Herriton. "Get down Mr. Philip's
Gladstone from the attic."
She would not allow herself to be frightened by the
unknown. Indeed she knew a little now. The man was not an
Italian noble, otherwise the telegram would have said so.
It must have been written by Lilia. None but she would have
been guilty of the fatuous vulgarity of "Italian nobility."
She recalled phrases of this morning's letter: "We love this
place--Caroline is sweeter than ever, and busy
sketching--Italians full of simplicity and charm." And the
remark of Baedeker, "The inhabitants are still noted for
their agreeable manners," had a baleful meaning now. If
Mrs. Herriton had no imagination, she had intuition, a more
useful quality, and the picture she made to herself of
Lilia's FIANCE did not prove altogether wrong.
So Philip was received with the news that he must start
in half an hour for Monteriano. He was in a painful
position. For three years he had sung the praises of the
Italians, but he had never contemplated having one as a
relative. He tried to soften the thing down to his mother,
but in his heart of hearts he agreed with her when she said,
"The man may be a duke or he may be an organ-grinder. That
is not the point. If Lilia marries him she insults the
memory of Charles, she insults Irma, she insults us.
Therefore I forbid her, and if she disobeys we have done
with her for ever."
"I will do all I can," said Philip in a low voice. It
was the first time he had had anything to do. He kissed his
mother and sister and puzzled Irma. The hall was warm and
attractive as he looked back into it from the cold March
night, and he departed for Italy reluctantly, as for
something commonplace and dull.
Before Mrs. Herriton went to bed she wrote to Mrs.
Theobald, using plain language about Lilia's conduct, and
hinting that it was a question on which every one must
definitely choose sides. She added, as if it was an
afterthought, that Mrs. Theobald's letter had arrived that
Just as she was going upstairs she remembered that she
never covered up those peas. It upset her more than
anything, and again and again she struck the banisters with
vexation. Late as it was, she got a lantern from the
tool-shed and went down the garden to rake the earth over
them. The sparrows had taken every one. But countless
fragments of the letter remained, disfiguring the tidy
When the bewildered tourist alights at the station of
Monteriano, he finds himself in the middle of the country.
There are a few houses round the railway, and many more
dotted over the plain and the slopes of the hills, but of a
town, mediaeval or otherwise, not the slightest sign. He
must take what is suitably termed a "legno"--a piece of
wood--and drive up eight miles of excellent road into the
middle ages. For it is impossible, as well as sacrilegious,
to be as quick as Baedeker.
It was three in the afternoon when Philip left the
realms of commonsense. He was so weary with travelling that
he had fallen asleep in the train. His fellow-passengers
had the usual Italian gift of divination, and when
Monteriano came they knew he wanted to go there, and dropped
him out. His feet sank into the hot asphalt of the
platform, and in a dream he watched the train depart, while
the porter who ought to have been carrying his bag, ran up
the line playing touch-you-last with the guard. Alas! he
was in no humour for Italy. Bargaining for a legno bored
him unutterably. The man asked six lire; and though Philip
knew that for eight miles it should scarcely be more than
four, yet he was about to give what he was asked, and so
make the man discontented and unhappy for the rest of the
day. He was saved from this social blunder by loud shouts,
and looking up the road saw one cracking his whip and waving
his reins and driving two horses furiously, and behind him
there appeared the swaying figure of a woman, holding
star-fish fashion on to anything she could touch. It was
Miss Abbott, who had just received his letter from Milan
announcing the time of his arrival, and had hurried down to
He had known Miss Abbott for years, and had never had
much opinion about her one way or the other. She was good,
quiet, dull, and amiable, and young only because she was
twenty-three: there was nothing in her appearance or manner
to suggest the fire of youth. All her life had been spent
at Sawston with a dull and amiable father, and her pleasant,
pallid face, bent on some respectable charity, was a
familiar object of the Sawston streets. Why she had ever
wished to leave them was surprising; but as she truly said,
"I am John Bull to the backbone, yet I do want to see Italy,
just once. Everybody says it is marvellous, and that one
gets no idea of it from books at all." The curate suggested
that a year was a long time; and Miss Abbott, with decorous
playfulness, answered him, "Oh, but you must let me have my
fling! I promise to have it once, and once only. It will
give me things to think about and talk about for the rest of
my life." The curate had consented; so had Mr. Abbott. And
here she was in a legno, solitary, dusty, frightened, with
as much to answer and to answer for as the most dashing
adventuress could desire.
They shook hands without speaking. She made room for
Philip and his luggage amidst the loud indignation of the
unsuccessful driver, whom it required the combined eloquence
of the station-master and the station beggar to confute.
The silence was prolonged until they started. For three
days he had been considering what he should do, and still
more what he should say. He had invented a dozen imaginary
conversations, in all of which his logic and eloquence
procured him certain victory. But how to begin? He was in
the enemy's country, and everything--the hot sun, the cold
air behind the heat, the endless rows of olive-trees,
regular yet mysterious--seemed hostile to the placid
atmosphere of Sawston in which his thoughts took birth. At
the outset he made one great concession. If the match was
really suitable, and Lilia were bent on it, he would give
in, and trust to his influence with his mother to set things
right. He would not have made the concession in England;
but here in Italy, Lilia, however wilful and silly, was at
all events growing to be a human being.
"Are we to talk it over now?" he asked.
"Certainly, please," said Miss Abbott, in great
agitation. "If you will be so very kind."
"Then how long has she been engaged?"
Her face was that of a perfect fool--a fool in terror.
"A short time--quite a short time," she stammered, as if
the shortness of the time would reassure him.
"I should like to know how long, if you can remember."
She entered into elaborate calculations on her fingers.
"Exactly eleven days," she said at last.
"How long have you been here?"
More calculations, while he tapped irritably with his
foot. "Close on three weeks."
"Did you know him before you came?"
"Oh! Who is he?"
"A native of the place."
The second silence took place. They had left the plain
now and were climbing up the outposts of the hills, the
olive-trees still accompanying. The driver, a jolly fat
man, had got out to ease the horses, and was walking by the
side of the carriage.
"I understood they met at the hotel."
"It was a mistake of Mrs. Theobald's."
"I also understand that he is a member of the Italian nobility."
She did not reply.
"May I be told his name?"
Miss Abbott whispered, "Carella." But the driver heard
her, and a grin split over his face. The engagement must be
"Carella? Conte or Marchese, or what?"
"Signor," said Miss Abbott, and looked helplessly aside.
"Perhaps I bore you with these questions. If so, I will
"Oh, no, please; not at all. I am here--my own idea--to
give all information which you very naturally--and to see if
somehow--please ask anything you like."
"Then how old is he?"
"Oh, quite young. Twenty-one, I believe."
There burst from Philip the exclamation, "Good Lord!"
"One would never believe it," said Miss Abbott,
flushing. "He looks much older."
"And is he good-looking?" he asked, with gathering sarcasm.
She became decisive. "Very good-looking. All his
features are good, and he is well built--though I dare say
English standards would find him too short."
Philip, whose one physical advantage was his height,
felt annoyed at her implied indifference to it.
"May I conclude that you like him?"
She replied decisively again, "As far as I have seen
him, I do."
At that moment the carriage entered a little wood, which
lay brown and sombre across the cultivated hill. The trees
of the wood were small and leafless, but noticeable for
this--that their stems stood in violets as rocks stand in the
summer sea. There are such violets in England, but not so
many. Nor are there so many in Art, for no painter has the
courage. The cart-ruts were channels, the hollow lagoons;
even the dry white margin of the road was splashed, like a
causeway soon to be submerged under the advancing tide of
spring. Philip paid no attention at the time: he was
thinking what to say next. But his eyes had registered the
beauty, and next March he did not forget that the road to
Monteriano must traverse innumerable flowers.
"As far as I have seen him, I do like him," repeated
Miss Abbott, after a pause.
He thought she sounded a little defiant, and crushed her
"What is he, please? You haven't told me that. What's
She opened her mouth to speak, and no sound came from
it. Philip waited patiently. She tried to be audacious,
and failed pitiably.
"No position at all. He is kicking his heels, as my
father would say. You see, he has only just finished his
"As a private?"
"I suppose so. There is general conscription. He was
in the Bersaglieri, I think. Isn't that the crack regiment?"
"The men in it must be short and broad. They must also
be able to walk six miles an hour."
She looked at him wildly, not understanding all that he
said, but feeling that he was very clever. Then she
continued her defence of Signor Carella.
"And now, like most young men, he is looking out for
something to do."
"Meanwhile, like most young men, he lives with his
people--father, mother, two sisters, and a tiny tot of a brother."
There was a grating sprightliness about her that drove
him nearly mad. He determined to silence her at last.
"One more question, and only one more. What is his father?"
"His father," said Miss Abbott. "Well, I don't suppose
you'll think it a good match. But that's not the point. I
mean the point is not--I mean that social differences--love,
after all--not but what--I'
Philip ground his teeth together and said nothing.
"Gentlemen sometimes judge hardly. But I feel that you,
and at all events your mother--so really good in every sense,
so really unworldly--after all, love-marriages are made in heaven."
"Yes, Miss Abbott, I know. But I am anxious to hear
heaven's choice. You arouse my curiosity. Is my
sister-in-law to marry an angel?"
"Mr. Herriton, don't--please, Mr. Herriton--a dentist.
His father's a dentist."
Philip gave a cry of personal disgust and pain. He
shuddered all over, and edged away from his companion. A
dentist! A dentist at Monteriano. A dentist in fairyland!
False teeth and laughing gas and the tilting chair at a
place which knew the Etruscan League, and the Pax Romana,
and Alaric himself, and the Countess Matilda, and the Middle
Ages, all fighting and holiness, and the Renaissance, all
fighting and beauty! He thought of Lilia no longer. He was
anxious for himself: he feared that Romance might die.
Romance only dies with life. No pair of pincers will
ever pull it out of us. But there is a spurious sentiment
which cannot resist the unexpected and the incongruous and
the grotesque. A touch will loosen it, and the sooner it
goes from us the better. It was going from Philip now, and
therefore he gave the cry of pain.
"I cannot think what is in the air," he began. "If
Lilia was determined to disgrace us, she might have found a
less repulsive way. A boy of medium height with a pretty
face, the son of a dentist at Monteriano. Have I put it
correctly? May I surmise that he has not got one penny?
May I also surmise that his social position is nil?
"Stop! I'll tell you no more."
"Really, Miss Abbott, it is a little late for
reticence. You have equipped me admirably!"
"I'll tell you not another word!" she cried, with a
spasm of terror. Then she got out her handkerchief, and
seemed as if she would shed tears. After a silence, which
he intended to symbolize to her the dropping of a curtain on
the scene, he began to talk of other subjects.
They were among olives again, and the wood with its
beauty and wildness had passed away. But as they climbed
higher the country opened out, and there appeared, high on a
hill to the right, Monteriano. The hazy green of the olives
rose up to its walls, and it seemed to float in isolation
between trees and sky, like some fantastic ship city of a
dream. Its colour was brown, and it revealed not a single
house--nothing but the narrow circle of the walls, and behind
them seventeen towers--all that was left of the fifty-two
that had filled the city in her prime. Some were only
stumps, some were inclining stiffly to their fall, some were
still erect, piercing like masts into the blue. It was
impossible to praise it as beautiful, but it was also
impossible to damn it as quaint.
Meanwhile Philip talked continually, thinking this to be
great evidence of resource and tact. It showed Miss Abbott
that he had probed her to the bottom, but was able to
conquer his disgust, and by sheer force of intellect
continue to be as agreeable and amusing as ever. He did not
know that he talked a good deal of nonsense, and that the
sheer force of his intellect was weakened by the sight of
Monteriano, and by the thought of dentistry within those walls.
The town above them swung to the left, to the right, to
the left again, as the road wound upward through the trees,
and the towers began to glow in the descending sun. As they
drew near, Philip saw the heads of people gathering black
upon the walls, and he knew well what was happening--how the
news was spreading that a stranger was in sight, and the
beggars were aroused from their content and bid to adjust
their deformities; how the alabaster man was running for his
wares, and the Authorized Guide running for his peaked cap
and his two cards of recommendation--one from Miss M'Gee,
Maida Vale, the other, less valuable, from an Equerry to the
Queen of Peru; how some one else was running to tell the
landlady of the Stella d'Italia to put on her pearl necklace
and brown boots and empty the slops from the spare bedroom;
and how the landlady was running to tell Lilia and her boy
that their fate was at hand.
Perhaps it was a pity Philip had talked so profusely.
He had driven Miss Abbott half demented, but he had given
himself no time to concert a plan. The end came so
suddenly. They emerged from the trees on to the terrace
before the walk, with the vision of half Tuscany radiant in
the sun behind them, and then they turned in through the
Siena gate, and their journey was over. The Dogana men
admitted them with an air of gracious welcome, and they
clattered up the narrow dark street, greeted by that mixture
of curiosity and kindness which makes each Italian arrival
He was stunned and knew not what to do. At the hotel he
received no ordinary reception. The landlady wrung him by
the hand; one person snatched his umbrella, another his bag;
people pushed each other out of his way. The entrance
seemed blocked with a crowd. Dogs were barking, bladder
whistles being blown, women waving their handkerchiefs,
excited children screaming on the stairs, and at the top of
the stairs was Lilia herself, very radiant, with her best
"Welcome!" she cried. "Welcome to Monteriano!" He
greeted her, for he did not know what else to do, and a
sympathetic murmur rose from the crowd below.
"You told me to come here," she continued, "and I don't
forget it. Let me introduce Signor Carella!"
Philip discerned in the comer behind her a young man who
might eventually prove handsome and well-made, but certainly
did not seem so then. He was half enveloped in the drapery
of a cold dirty curtain, and nervously stuck out a hand,
which Philip took and found thick and damp. There were more
murmurs of approval from the stairs.
"Well, din-din's nearly ready," said Lilia. "Your
room's down the passage, Philip. You needn't go changing."
He stumbled away to wash his hands, utterly crushed by
"Dear Caroline!" whispered Lilia as soon as he had
gone. "What an angel you've been to tell him! He takes it
so well. But you must have had a MAUVAIS QUART D'HEURE."
Miss Abbott's long terror suddenly turned into acidity.
"I've told nothing," she snapped. "It's all for you--and if
it only takes a quarter of an hour you'll be lucky!"
Dinner was a nightmare. They had the smelly dining-room
to themselves. Lilia, very smart and vociferous, was at the
head of the table; Miss Abbott, also in her best, sat by
Philip, looking, to his irritated nerves, more like the
tragedy confidante every moment. That scion of the Italian
nobility, Signor Carella, sat opposite. Behind him loomed a
bowl of goldfish, who swam round and round, gaping at the guests.
The face of Signor Carella was twitching too much for
Philip to study it. But he could see the hands, which were
not particularly clean, and did not get cleaner by fidgeting
amongst the shining slabs of hair. His starched cuffs were
not clean either, and as for his suit, it had obviously been
bought for the occasion as something really English--a
gigantic check, which did not even fit. His handkerchief he
had forgotten, but never missed it. Altogether, he was
quite unpresentable, and very lucky to have a father who was
a dentist in Monteriano. And why, even Lilia--But as soon as
the meal began it furnished Philip with an explanation.
For the youth was hungry, and his lady filled his plate
with spaghetti, and when those delicious slippery worms were
flying down his throat, his face relaxed and became for a
moment unconscious and calm. And Philip had seen that face
before in Italy a hundred times--seen it and loved it, for it
was not merely beautiful, but had the charm which is the
rightful heritage of all who are born on that soil. But he
did not want to see it opposite him at dinner. It was not
the face of a gentleman.
Conversation, to give it that name, was carried on in a
mixture of English and Italian. Lilia had picked up hardly
any of the latter language, and Signor Carella had not yet
learnt any of the former. Occasionally Miss Abbott had to
act as interpreter between the lovers, and the situation
became uncouth and revolting in the extreme. Yet Philip was
too cowardly to break forth and denounce the engagement. He
thought he should be more effective with Lilia if he had her
alone, and pretended to himself that he must hear her
defence before giving judgment.
Signor Carella, heartened by the spaghetti and the
throat-rasping wine, attempted to talk, and, looking
politely towards Philip, said, "England is a great country.
The Italians love England and the English."
Philip, in no mood for international amenities, merely bowed.
"Italy too," the other continued a little resentfully,
"is a great country. She has produced many famous men--for
example Garibaldi and Dante. The latter wrote the
'Inferno,' the 'Purgatorio,' the 'Paradiso.' The 'Inferno'
is the most beautiful." And with the complacent tone of one
who has received a solid education, he quoted the opening
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
Che la diritta via era smarrita--
a quotation which was more apt than he supposed.
Lilia glanced at Philip to see whether he noticed that
she was marrying no ignoramus. Anxious to exhibit all the
good qualities of her betrothed, she abruptly introduced the
subject of pallone, in which, it appeared, he was a
proficient player. He suddenly became shy and developed a
conceited grin--the grin of the village yokel whose cricket
score is mentioned before a stranger. Philip himself had
loved to watch pallone, that entrancing combination of
lawn-tennis and fives. But he did not expect to love it
quite so much again.
"Oh, look!" exclaimed Lilia, "the poor wee fish!"
A starved cat had been worrying them all for pieces of
the purple quivering beef they were trying to swallow.
Signor Carella, with the brutality so common in Italians,
had caught her by the paw and flung her away from him. Now
she had climbed up to the bowl and was trying to hook out
the fish. He got up, drove her off, and finding a large
glass stopper by the bowl, entirely plugged up the aperture
"But may not the fish die?" said Miss Abbott. "They
have no air."
"Fish live on water, not on air," he replied in a
knowing voice, and sat down. Apparently he was at his ease
again, for he took to spitting on the floor. Philip glanced
at Lilia but did not detect her wincing. She talked bravely
till the end of the disgusting meal, and then got up saying,
"Well, Philip, I am sure you are ready for by-bye. We shall
meet at twelve o'clock lunch tomorrow, if we don't meet
before. They give us caffe later in our rooms."
It was a little too impudent. Philip replied, "I should
like to see you now, please, in my room, as I have come all
the way on business." He heard Miss Abbott gasp. Signor
Carella, who was lighting a rank cigar, had not understood.
It was as he expected. When he was alone with Lilia he
lost all nervousness. The remembrance of his long
intellectual supremacy strengthened him, and he began volubly--
"My. dear Lilia, don't let's have a scene. Before I
arrived I thought I might have to question you. It is
unnecessary. I know everything. Miss Abbott has told me a
certain amount, and the rest I see for myself."
"See for yourself?" she exclaimed, and he remembered
afterwards that she had flushed crimson.
"That he is probably a ruffian and certainly a cad."
"There are no cads in Italy," she said quickly.
He was taken aback. It was one of his own remarks. And
she further upset him by adding, "He is the son of a
dentist. Why not?"
"Thank you for the information. I know everything, as I
told you before. I am also aware of the social position of
an Italian who pulls teeth in a minute provincial town."
He was not aware of it, but he ventured to conclude that
it was pretty, low. Nor did Lilia contradict him. But she
was sharp enough to say, "Indeed, Philip, you surprise me.
I understood you went in for equality and so on."
"And I understood that Signor Carella was a member of
the Italian nobility.
"Well, we put it like that in the telegram so as not to
shock dear Mrs. Herriton. But it is true. He is a younger
branch. Of course families ramify--just as in yours there is
your cousin Joseph." She adroitly picked out the only
undesirable member of the Herriton clan. "Gino's father is
courtesy itself, and rising rapidly in his profession. This
very month he leaves Monteriano, and sets up at Poggibonsi.
And for my own poor part, I think what people are is what
matters, but I don't suppose you'll agree. And I should
like you to know that Gino's uncle is a priest--the same as a
clergyman at home."
Philip was aware of the social position of an Italian
priest, and said so much about it that Lilia interrupted him
with, "Well, his cousin's a lawyer at Rome."
"What kind of 'lawyer'?"
"Why, a lawyer just like you are--except that he has lots
to do and can never get away."
The remark hurt more than he cared to show. He changed
his method, and in a gentle, conciliating tone delivered the
"The whole thing is like a bad dream--so bad that it
cannot go on. If there was one redeeming feature about the
man I might be uneasy. As it is I can trust to time. For
the moment, Lilia, he has taken you in, but you will find
him out soon. It is not possible that you, a lady,
accustomed to ladies and gentlemen, will tolerate a man
whose position is--well, not equal to the son of the
servants' dentist in Coronation Place. I am not blaming you
now. But I blame the glamour of Italy--I have felt it
myself, you know--and I greatly blame Miss Abbott."
"Caroline! Why blame her? What's all this to do with Caroline?"
"Because we expected her to--" He saw that the answer
would involve him in difficulties, and, waving his hand,
continued, "So I am confident, and you in your heart agree,
that this engagement will not last. Think of your life at
home--think of Irma! And I'll also say think of us; for you
know, Lilia, that we count you more than a relation. I
should feel I was losing my own sister if you did this, and
my mother would lose a daughter."
She seemed touched at last, for she turned away her face
and said, "I can't break it off now!"
"Poor Lilia," said he, genuinely moved. "I know it may
be painful. But I have come to rescue you, and, book-worm
though I may be, I am not frightened to stand up to a
bully. He's merely an insolent boy. He thinks he can keep
you to your word by threats. He will be different when he
sees he has a man to deal with."
What follows should be prefaced with some simile--the
simile of a powder-mine, a thunderbolt, an earthquake--for it
blew Philip up in the air and flattened him on the ground
and swallowed him up in the depths. Lilia turned on her
gallant defender and said--
"For once in my life I'll thank you to leave me alone.
I'll thank your mother too. For twelve years you've trained
me and tortured me, and I'll stand it no more. Do you think
I'm a fool? Do you think I never felt? Ah! when I came to
your house a poor young bride, how you all looked me
over--never a kind word--and discussed me, and thought I might
just do; and your mother corrected me, and your sister
snubbed me, and you said funny things about me to show how
clever you were! And when Charles died I was still to run
in strings for the honour of your beastly family, and I was
to be cooped up at Sawston and learn to keep house, and all
my chances spoilt of marrying again. No, thank you! No,
thank you! 'Bully?' 'Insolent boy?' Who's that, pray, but
you? But, thank goodness, I can stand up against the world
now, for I've found Gino, and this time I marry for love!"
The coarseness and truth of her attack alike overwhelmed
him. But her supreme insolence found him words, and he too
"Yes! and I forbid you to do it! You despise me,
perhaps, and think I'm feeble. But you're mistaken. You
are ungrateful and impertinent and contemptible, but I will
save you in order to save Irma and our name. There is going
to be such a row in this town that you and he'll be sorry
you came to it. I shall shrink from nothing, for my blood
is up. It is unwise of you to laugh. I forbid you to marry
Carella, and I shall tell him so now."
"Do," she cried. "Tell him so now. Have it out with
him. Gino! Gino! Come in! Avanti! Fra Filippo forbids
Gino appeared so quickly that he must have been
listening outside the door.
"Fra Filippo's blood's up. He shrinks from nothing.
Oh, take care he doesn't hurt you!" She swayed about in
vulgar imitation of Philip's walk, and then, with a proud
glance at the square shoulders of her betrothed, flounced
out of the room.
Did she intend them to fight? Philip had no intention
of doing so; and no more, it seemed, had Gino, who stood
nervously in the middle of the room with twitching lips and eyes.
"Please sit down, Signor Carella," said Philip in
Italian. "Mrs. Herriton is rather agitated, but there is no
reason we should not be calm. Might I offer you a
cigarette? Please sit down."
He refused the cigarette and the chair, and remained
standing in the full glare of the lamp. Philip, not averse
to such assistance, got his own face into shadow.
For a long time he was silent. It might impress Gino,
and it also gave him time to collect himself. He would not
this time fall into the error of blustering, which he had
caught so unaccountably from Lilia. He would make his power
felt by restraint.
Why, when he looked up to begin, was Gino convulsed with
silent laughter? It vanished immediately; but he became
nervous, and was even more pompous than he intended.
"Signor Carella, I will be frank with you. I have come
to prevent you marrying Mrs. Herriton, because I see you
will both be unhappy together. She is English, you are
Italian; she is accustomed to one thing, you to another.
And--pardon me if I say it--she is rich and you are poor."
"I am not marrying her because she is rich," was the
"I never suggested that for a moment," said Philip
courteously. "You are honourable, I am sure; but are you
wise? And let me remind you that we want her with us at
home. Her little daughter will be motherless, our home will
be broken up. If you grant my request you will earn our
thanks--and you will not be without a reward for your
"Reward--what reward?" He bent over the back of a chair
and looked earnestly at Philip. They were coming to terms
pretty quickly. Poor Lilia!
Philip said slowly, "What about a thousand lire?"
His soul went forth into one exclamation, and then he
was silent, with gaping lips. Philip would have given
double: he had expected a bargain.
"You can have them tonight."
He found words, and said, "It is too late."
"Because--" His voice broke. Philip watched his face,--a
face without refinement perhaps, but not without
expression,--watched it quiver and re-form and dissolve from
emotion into emotion. There was avarice at one moment, and
insolence, and politeness, and stupidity, and cunning--and
let us hope that sometimes there was love. But gradually
one emotion dominated, the most unexpected of all; for his
chest began to heave and his eyes to wink and his mouth to
twitch, and suddenly he stood erect and roared forth his
whole being in one tremendous laugh.
Philip sprang up, and Gino, who had flung wide his arms
to let the glorious creature go, took him by the shoulders
and shook him, and said, "Because we are
married--married--married as soon as I knew you were, coming.
There was no time to tell you. Oh. oh! You have come all
the way for nothing. Oh! And oh, your generosity!"
Suddenly he became grave, and said, "Please pardon me; I am
rude. I am no better than a peasant, and I--" Here he saw
Philip's face, and it was too much for him. He gasped and
exploded and crammed his hands into his mouth and spat them
out in another explosion, and gave Philip an aimless push,
which toppled him on to the bed. He uttered a horrified
Oh! and then gave up, and bolted away down the passage,
shrieking like a child, to tell the joke to his wife.
For a time Philip lay on the bed, pretending to himself
that he was hurt grievously. He could scarcely see for
temper, and in the passage he ran against Miss Abbott, who
promptly burst into tears.
"I sleep at the Globo," he told her, "and start for
Sawston tomorrow morning early. He has assaulted me. I
could prosecute him. But shall not."
"I can't stop here," she sobbed. "I daren't stop here.
You will have to take me with you!"
Opposite the Volterra gate of Monteriano, outside the city,
is a very respectable white-washed mud wall, with a coping
of red crinkled tiles to keep it from dissolution. It would
suggest a gentleman's garden if there was not in its middle
a large hole, which grows larger with every rain-storm.
Through the hole is visible, firstly, the iron gate that is
intended to close it; secondly, a square piece of ground
which, though not quite, mud, is at the same time not
exactly grass; and finally, another wall, stone this time,
which has a wooden door in the middle and two
wooden-shuttered windows each side, and apparently forms the
facade of a one-storey house.
This house is bigger than it looks, for it slides for
two storeys down the hill behind, and the wooden door, which
is always locked, really leads into the attic. The knowing
person prefers to follow the precipitous mule-track round
the turn of the mud wall till he can take the edifice in the
rear. Then--being now on a level with the cellars--he lifts
up his head and shouts. If his voice sounds like something
light--a letter, for example, or some vegetables, or a bunch
of flowers--a basket is let out of the first-floor windows by
a string, into which he puts his burdens and departs. But
if he sounds like something heavy, such as a log of wood, or
a piece of meat, or a visitor, he is interrogated, and then
bidden or forbidden to ascend. The ground floor and the
upper floor of that battered house are alike deserted, and
the inmates keep the central portion, just as in a dying
body all life retires to the heart. There is a door at the
top of the first flight of stairs, and if the visitor is
admitted he will find a welcome which is not necessarily
cold. There are several rooms, some dark and mostly
stuffy--a reception-room adorned with horsehair chairs,
wool-work stools, and a stove that is never lit--German bad
taste without German domesticity broods over that room; also
a living-room, which insensibly glides into a bedroom when
the refining influence of hospitality is absent, and real
bedrooms; and last, but not least, the loggia, where you can
live day and night if you feel inclined, drinking vermouth
and smoking cigarettes, with leagues of olive-trees and
vineyards and blue-green hills to watch you.
It was in this house that the brief and inevitable
tragedy of Lilia's married life took place. She made Gino
buy it for her, because it was there she had first seen him
sitting on the mud wall that faced the Volterra gate. She
remembered how the evening sun had struck his hair, and how
he had smiled down at her, and being both sentimental and
unrefined, was determined to have the man and the place
together. Things in Italy are cheap for an Italian, and,
though he would have preferred a house in the piazza, or
better still a house at Siena, or, bliss above bliss, a
house at Leghorn, he did as she asked, thinking that perhaps
she showed her good taste in preferring so retired an abode.
The house was far too big for them, and there was a
general concourse of his relatives to fill it up. His
father wished to make it a patriarchal concern, where all
the family should have their rooms and meet together for
meals, and was perfectly willing to give up the new practice
at Poggibonsi and preside. Gino was quite willing too, for
he was an affectionate youth who liked a large home-circle,
and he told it as a pleasant bit of news to Lilia, who did
not attempt to conceal her horror.
At once he was horrified too; saw that the idea was
monstrous; abused himself to her for having suggested it;
rushed off to tell his father that it was impossible. His
father complained that prosperity was already corrupting him
and making him unsympathetic and hard; his mother cried; his
sisters accused him of blocking their social advance. He
was apologetic, and even cringing, until they turned on
Lilia. Then he turned on them, saying that they could not
understand, much less associate with, the English lady who
was his wife; that there should be one master in that house--
Lilia praised and petted him on his return, calling him
brave and a hero and other endearing epithets. But he was
rather blue when his clan left Monteriano in much dignity--a
dignity which was not at all impaired by the acceptance of a
cheque. They took the cheque not to Poggibonsi, after all,
but to Empoli--a lively, dusty town some twenty miles off.
There they settled down in comfort, and the sisters said
they had been driven to it by Gino.
The cheque was, of course, Lilia's, who was extremely
generous, and was quite willing to know anybody so long as
she had not to live with them, relations-in-law being on her
nerves. She liked nothing better than finding out some
obscure and distant connection--there were several of
them--and acting the lady bountiful, leaving behind her
bewilderment, and too often discontent. Gino wondered how
it was that all his people, who had formerly seemed so
pleasant, had suddenly become plaintive and disagreeable.
He put it down to his lady wife's magnificence, in
comparison with which all seemed common. Her money flew
apace, in spite of the cheap living. She was even richer
than he expected; and he remembered with shame how he had
once regretted his inability to accept the thousand lire
that Philip Herriton offered him in exchange for her. It
would have been a shortsighted bargain.
Lilia enjoyed settling into the house, with nothing to
do except give orders to smiling workpeople, and a devoted
husband as interpreter. She wrote a jaunty account of her
happiness to Mrs. Herriton, and Harriet answered the letter,
saying (1) that all future communications should be
addressed to the solicitors; (2) would Lilia return an
inlaid box which Harriet had lent her--but not given--to keep
handkerchiefs and collars in?
"Look what I am giving up to live with you!" she said to
Gino, never omitting to lay stress on her condescension. He
took her to mean the inlaid box, and said that she need not
give it up at all.
"Silly fellow, no! I mean the life. Those Herritons
are very well connected. They lead Sawston society. But
what do I care, so long as I have my silly fellow!" She
always treated him as a boy, which he was, and as a fool,
which he was not, thinking herself so immeasurably superior
to him that she neglected opportunity after opportunity of
establishing her rule. He was good-looking and indolent;
therefore he must be stupid. He was poor; therefore he
would never dare to criticize his benefactress. He was
passionately in love with her; therefore she could do
exactly as she liked.
"It mayn't be heaven below," she thought, "but it's
better than Charles."
And all the time the boy was watching her, and growing up.
She was reminded of Charles by a disagreeable letter
from the solicitors, bidding her disgorge a large sum of
money for Irma, in accordance with her late husband's will.
It was just like Charles's suspicious nature to have
provided against a second marriage. Gino was equally
indignant, and between them they composed a stinging reply,
which had no effect. He then said that Irma had better come
out and live with them. "The air is good, so is the food;
she will be happy here, and we shall not have to part with
the money." But Lilia had not the courage even to suggest
this to the Herritons, and an unexpected terror seized her
at the thought of Irma or any English child being educated
Gino became terribly depressed over the solicitors'
letter, more depressed than she thought necessary. There
was no more to do in the house, and he spent whole days in
the loggia leaning over the parapet or sitting astride it
"Oh, you idle boy!" she cried, pinching his muscles.
"Go and play pallone."
"I am a married man," he answered, without raising his
head. "I do not play games any more."
"Go and see your friends then."
"I have no friends now."
"Silly, silly, silly! You can't stop indoors all day!"
"I want to see no one but you." He spat on to an olive-tree.
"Now, Gino, don't be silly. Go and see your friends,
and bring them to see me. We both of us like society."
He looked puzzled, but allowed himself to be persuaded,
went out, found that he was not as friendless as he
supposed, and returned after several hours in altered
spirits. Lilia congratulated herself on her good management.
"I'm ready, too, for people now," she said. "I mean to
wake you all up, just as I woke up Sawston. Let's have
plenty of men--and make them bring their womenkind. I mean
to have real English tea-parties."
"There is my aunt and her husband; but I thought you did
not want to receive my relatives."
"I never said such a--"
"But you would be right," he said earnestly. "They are
not for you. Many of them are in trade, and even we are
little more; you should have gentlefolk and nobility for
"Poor fellow," thought Lilia. "It is sad for him to
discover that his people are vulgar." She began to tell him
that she loved him just for his silly self, and he flushed
and began tugging at his moustache.
"But besides your relatives I must have other people
here. Your friends have wives and sisters, haven't they?"
"Oh, yes; but of course I scarcely know them."
"Not know your friends' people?"
"Why, no. If they are poor and have to work for their
living I may see them--but not otherwise. Except--" He
stopped. The chief exception was a young lady, to whom he
had once been introduced for matrimonial purposes. But the
dowry had proved inadequate, and the acquaintance terminated.
"How funny! But I mean to change all that. Bring your
friends to see me, and I will make them bring their people."
He looked at her rather hopelessly.
"Well, who are the principal people here? Who leads society?"
The governor of the prison, he supposed, and the
officers who assisted him.
"Well, are they married?"
"There we are. Do you know them?"
"Yes--in a way."
"I see," she exclaimed angrily. "They look down on you,
do they, poor boy? Wait!" He assented. "Wait! I'll soon
stop that. Now, who else is there?"
"The marchese, sometimes, and the canons of the
"The canons--" he began with twinkling eyes.
"Oh, I forgot your horrid celibacy. In England they
would be the centre of everything. But why shouldn't I know
them? Would it make it easier if I called all round? Isn't
that your foreign way?"
He did not think it would make it easier.
"But I must know some one! Who were the men you were
talking to this afternoon?"
Low-class men. He could scarcely recollect their names.
"But, Gino dear, if they're low class, why did you talk
to them? Don't you care about your position?"
All Gino cared about at present was idleness and
pocket-money, and his way of expressing it was to exclaim,
"Ouf-pouf! How hot it is in here. No air; I sweat all
over. I expire. I must cool myself, or I shall never get
to sleep." In his funny abrupt way he ran out on to the
loggia, where he lay full length on the parapet, and began
to smoke and spit under the silence of the stars.
Lilia gathered somehow from this conversation that
Continental society was not the go-as-you-please thing she
had expected. Indeed she could not see where Continental
society was. Italy is such a delightful place to live in if
you happen to be a man. There one may enjoy that exquisite
luxury of Socialism--that true Socialism which is based not
on equality of income or character, but on the equality of
manners. In the democracy of the caffe or the street the
great question of our life has been solved, and the
brotherhood of man is a reality. But is accomplished at the
expense of the sisterhood of women. Why should you not make
friends with your neighbour at the theatre or in the train,
when you know and he knows that feminine criticism and
feminine insight and feminine prejudice will never come
between you? Though you become as David and Jonathan, you
need never enter his home, nor he yours. All your lives you
will meet under the open air, the only roof-tree of the
South, under which he will spit and swear, and you will drop
your h's, and nobody will think the worse of either.
Meanwhile the women--they have, of course, their house
and their church, with its admirable and frequent services,
to which they are escorted by the maid. Otherwise they do
not go out much, for it is not genteel to walk, and you are
too poor to keep a carriage. Occasionally you will take
them to the caffe or theatre, and immediately all your
wonted acquaintance there desert you, except those few who
are expecting and expected to marry into your family. It is
all very sad. But one consolation emerges--life is very
pleasant in Italy if you are a man.
Hitherto Gino had not interfered with Lilia. She was so
much older than he was, and so much richer, that he regarded
her as a superior being who answered to other laws. He was
not wholly surprised, for strange rumours were always
blowing over the Alps of lands where men and women had the
same amusements and interests, and he had often met that
privileged maniac, the lady tourist, on her solitary walks.
Lilia took solitary walks too, and only that week a tramp
had grabbed at her watch--an episode which is supposed to be
indigenous in Italy, though really less frequent there than
in Bond Street. Now that he knew her better, he was
inevitably losing his awe: no one could live with her and
keep it, especially when she had been so silly as to lose a
gold watch and chain. As he lay thoughtful along the
parapet, he realized for the first time the responsibilities
of monied life. He must save her from dangers, physical and
social, for after all she was a woman. "And I," he
reflected, "though I am young, am at all events a man, and
know what is right."
He found her still in the living-room, combing her hair,
for she had something of the slattern in her nature, and
there was no need to keep up appearances.
"You must not go out alone," he said gently. "It is not
safe. If you want to walk, Perfetta shall accompany you."
Perfetta was a widowed cousin, too humble for social
aspirations, who was living with them as factotum.
"Very well," smiled Lilia, "very well"--as if she were
addressing a solicitous kitten. But for all that she never
took a solitary walk again, with one exception, till the day
of her death.
Days passed, and no one called except poor relatives.
She began to feel dull. Didn't he know the Sindaco or the
bank manager? Even the landlady of the Stella d'Italia
would be better than no one. She, when she went into the
town, was pleasantly received; but people naturally found a
difficulty in getting on with a lady who could not learn
their language. And the tea-party, under Gino's adroit
management, receded ever and ever before her.
He had a good deal of anxiety over her welfare, for she
did not settle down in the house at all. But he was
comforted by a welcome and unexpected visitor. As he was
going one afternoon for the letters--they were delivered at
the door, but it took longer to get them at the office--some
one humorously threw a cloak over his head, and when he
disengaged himself he saw his very dear friend Spiridione
Tesi of the custom-house at Chiasso, whom he had not met for
two years. What joy! what salutations! so that all the
passersby smiled with approval on the amiable scene.
Spiridione's brother was now station-master at Bologna, and
thus he himself could spend his holiday travelling over
Italy at the public expense. Hearing of Gino's marriage, he
had come to see him on his way to Siena, where lived his own
uncle, lately monied too.
"They all do it," he exclaimed, "myself excepted." He
was not quite twenty-three. "But tell me more. She is
English. That is good, very good. An English wife is very
good indeed. And she is rich?"
"Blonde or dark?"
"Is it possible!"
"It pleases me very much," said Gino simply. "If you
remember, I always desired a blonde." Three or four men had
collected, and were listening.
"We all desire one," said Spiridione. "But you, Gino,
deserve your good fortune, for you are a good son, a brave
man, and a true friend, and from the very first moment I saw
you I wished you well."
"No compliments, I beg," said Gino, standing with his
hands crossed on his chest and a smile of pleasure on his face.
Spiridione addressed the other men, none of whom he had
ever seen before. "Is it not true? Does not he deserve
this wealthy blonde?"
"He does deserve her," said all the men.
It is a marvellous land, where you love it or hate it.
There were no letters, and of course they sat down at
the Caffe Garibaldi, by the Collegiate Church--quite a good
caffe that for so small a city. There were marble-topped
tables, and pillars terra-cotta below and gold above, and on
the ceiling was a fresco of the battle of Solferino. One
could not have desired a prettier room. They had vermouth
and little cakes with sugar on the top, which they chose
gravely at the counter, pinching them first to be sure they
were fresh. And though vermouth is barely alcoholic,
Spiridione drenched his with soda-water to be sure that it
should not get into his head.
They were in high spirits, and elaborate compliments
alternated curiously with gentle horseplay. But soon they
put up their legs on a pair of chairs and began to smoke.
"Tell me," said Spiridione--"I forgot to ask--is she young?"
"Ah, well, we cannot have everything."
"But you would be surprised. Had she told me
twenty-eight, I should not have disbelieved her."
"Is she SIMPATICA?" (Nothing will translate that word.)
Gino dabbed at the sugar and said after a silence,
"It is a most important thing."
"She is rich, she is generous, she is affable, she
addresses her inferiors without haughtiness."
There was another silence. "It is not sufficient," said
the other. "One does not define it thus." He lowered his
voice to a whisper. "Last month a German was smuggling
cigars. The custom-house was dark. Yet I refused because I
did not like him. The gifts of such men do not bring
happiness. NON ERA SIMPATICO. He paid for every one, and
the fine for deception besides."
"Do you gain much beyond your pay?" asked Gino, diverted
for an instant.
"I do not accept small sums now. It is not worth the
risk. But the German was another matter. But listen, my
Gino, for I am older than you and more full of experience.
The person who understands us at first sight, who never
irritates us, who never bores, to whom we can pour forth
every thought and wish, not only in speech but in
silence--that is what I mean by SIMPATICO."
"There are such men, I know," said Gino. "And I have
heard it said of children. But where will you find such a woman?"
"That is true. Here you are wiser than I. SONO POCO
SIMPATICHE LE DONNE. And the time we waste over them is
much." He sighed dolefully, as if he found the nobility of
his sex a burden.
"One I have seen who may be so. She spoke very little,
but she was a young lady--different to most. She, too, was
English, the companion of my wife here. But Fra Filippo,
the brother-in-law, took her back with him. I saw them
start. He was very angry."
Then he spoke of his exciting and secret marriage, and
they made fun of the unfortunate Philip, who had travelled
over Europe to stop it.
"I regret though," said Gino, when they had finished
laughing, "that I toppled him on to the bed. A great tall
man! And when I am really amused I am often impolite."
"You will never see him again," said Spiridione, who
carried plenty of philosophy about him. "And by now the
scene will have passed from his mind."
"It sometimes happens that such things are recollected
longest. I shall never see him again, of course; but it is
no benefit to me that he should wish me ill. And even if he
has forgotten, I am still sorry that I toppled him on to the
So their talk continued, at one moment full of
childishness and tender wisdom, the next moment scandalously
gross. The shadows of the terra-cotta pillars lengthened,
and tourists, flying through the Palazzo Pubblico opposite,
could observe how the Italians wasted time.
The sight of tourists reminded Gino of something he
might say. "I want to consult you since you are so kind as
to take an interest in my affairs. My wife wishes to take
Spiridione was shocked.
"But I have forbidden her."
"She does not yet understand. She asked me to accompany
her sometimes--to walk without object! You know, she would
like me to be with her all day."
"I see. I see." He knitted his brows and tried to
think how he could help his friend. "She needs employment.
Is she a Catholic?"
"That is a pity. She must be persuaded. It will be a
great solace to her when she is alone."
"I am a Catholic, but of course I never go to church."
"Of course not. Still, you might take her at first.
That is what my brother has done with his wife at Bologna
and he has joined the Free Thinkers. He took her once or
twice himself, and now she has acquired the habit and
continues to go without him."
"Most excellent advice, and I thank you for it. But she
wishes to give tea-parties--men and women together whom she
has never seen."
"Oh, the English! they are always thinking of tea.
They carry it by the kilogramme in their trunks, and they
are so clumsy that they always pack it at the top. But it
"What am I to do about it?'
"Do nothing. Or ask me!"
"Come!" cried Gino, springing up. "She will be quite pleased."
The dashing young fellow coloured crimson. "Of course I
was only joking."
"I know. But she wants me to take my friends. Come
"If I do come," cried the other, "and take tea with you,
this bill must be my affair."
"Certainly not; you are in my country!"
A long argument ensued, in which the waiter took part,
suggesting various solutions. At last Gino triumphed. The
bill came to eightpence-halfpenny, and a halfpenny for the
waiter brought it up to ninepence. Then there was a shower
of gratitude on one side and of deprecation on the other,
and when courtesies were at their height they suddenly
linked arms and swung down the street, tickling each other
with lemonade straws as they went.
Lilia was delighted to see them, and became more
animated than Gino had known her for a long time. The tea
tasted of chopped hay, and they asked to be allowed to drink
it out of a wine-glass, and refused milk; but, as she
repeatedly observed, this was something like. Spiridione's
manners were very agreeable. He kissed her hand on
introduction, and as his profession had taught him a little
English, conversation did not flag.
"Do you like music?" she asked.
"Passionately," he replied. "I have not studied
scientific music, but the music of the heart, yes."
So she played on the humming piano very badly, and he
sang, not so badly. Gino got out a guitar and sang too,
sitting out on the loggia. It was a most agreeable visit.
Gino said he would just walk his friend back to his
lodgings. As they went he said, without the least trace of
malice or satire in his voice, "I think you are quite
right. I shall not bring people to the house any more. I
do not see why an English wife should be treated
differently. This is Italy."
"You are very wise," exclaimed the other; "very wise
indeed. The more precious a possession the more carefully
it should be guarded."
They had reached the lodging, but went on as far as the
Caffe Garibaldi, where they spent a long and most delightful
The advance of regret can be so gradual that it is
impossible to say "yesterday I was happy, today I am not."
At no one moment did Lilia realize that her marriage was a
failure; yet during the summer and autumn she became as
unhappy as it was possible for her nature to be. She had no
unkind treatment, and few unkind words, from her husband.
He simply left her alone. In the morning he went out to do
"business," which, as far as she could discover, meant
sitting in the Farmacia. He usually returned to lunch,
after which he retired to another room and slept. In the
evening he grew vigorous again, and took the air on the
ramparts, often having his dinner out, and seldom returning
till midnight or later. There were, of course, the times
when he was away altogether--at Empoli, Siena, Florence,
Bologna--for he delighted in travel, and seemed to pick up
friends all over the country. Lilia often heard what a
favorite he was.
She began to see that she must assert herself, but she
could not see how. Her self-confidence, which had
overthrown Philip, had gradually oozed away. If she left
the strange house there was the strange little town. If she
were to disobey her husband and walk in the country, that
would be stranger still--vast slopes of olives and vineyards,
with chalk-white farms, and in the distance other slopes,
with more olives and more farms, and more little towns
outlined against the cloudless sky. "I don't call this
country," she would say. "Why, it's not as wild as Sawston
Park!" And, indeed, there was scarcely a touch of wildness
in it--some of those slopes had been under cultivation for
two thousand years. But it was terrible and mysterious all
the same, and its continued presence made Lilia so
uncomfortable that she forgot her nature and began to reflect.
She reflected chiefly about her marriage. The ceremony
had been hasty and expensive, and the rites, whatever they
were, were not those of the Church of England. Lilia had no
religion in her; but for hours at a time she would be seized
with a vulgar fear that she was not "married properly," and
that her social position in the next world might be as
obscure as it was in this. It might be safer to do the
thing thoroughly, and one day she took the advice of
Spiridione and joined the Roman Catholic Church, or as she
called it, "Santa Deodata's." Gino approved; he, too,
thought it safer, and it was fun confessing, though the
priest was a stupid old man, and the whole thing was a good
slap in the face for the people at home.
The people at home took the slap very soberly; indeed,
there were few left for her to give it to. The Herritons
were out of the question; they would not even let her write
to Irma, though Irma was occasionally allowed to write to
her. Mrs. Theobald was rapidly subsiding into dotage, and,
as far as she could be definite about anything, had
definitely sided with the Herritons. And Miss Abbott did
likewise. Night after night did Lilia curse this false
friend, who had agreed with her that the marriage would
"do," and that the Herritons would come round to it, and
then, at the first hint of opposition, had fled back to
England shrieking and distraught. Miss Abbott headed the
long list of those who should never be written to, and who
should never be forgiven. Almost the only person who was
not on that list was Mr. Kingcroft, who had unexpectedly
sent an affectionate and inquiring letter. He was quite
sure never to cross the Channel, and Lilia drew freely on
her fancy in the reply.
At first she had seen a few English people, for
Monteriano was not the end of the earth. One or two
inquisitive ladies, who had heard at home of her quarrel
with the Herritons, came to call. She was very sprightly,
and they thought her quite unconventional, and Gino a
charming boy, so all that was to the good. But by May the
season, such as it was, had finished, and there would be no
one till next spring. As Mrs. Herriton had often observed,
Lilia had no resources. She did not like music, or reading,
or work. Her one qualification for life was rather blowsy
high spirits, which turned querulous or boisterous according
to circumstances. She was not obedient, but she was
cowardly, and in the most gentle way, which Mrs. Herriton
might have envied, Gino made her do what he wanted. At
first it had been rather fun to let him get the upper hand.
But it was galling to discover that he could not do
otherwise. He had a good strong will when he chose to use