Part 3 out of 4
This admirable change in Philip proceeds from nothing
admirable, and may therefore provoke the gibes of the
cynical. But angels and other practical people will accept
it reverently, and write it down as good.
"The view from the Rocca (small gratuity) is finest at
sunset," he murmured, more to himself than to her.
"And he never mentioned the baby once," Miss Abbott
repeated. But she had returned to the window, and again her
finger pursued the delicate curves. He watched her in
silence, and was more attracted to her than he had ever been
before. She really was the strangest mixture.
"The view from the Rocca--wasn't it fine?"
"What isn't fine here?" she answered gently, and then
added, "I wish I was Harriet," throwing an extraordinary
meaning into the words.
She would not go further, but he believed that she had
paid homage to the complexity of life. For her, at all
events, the expedition was neither easy nor jolly. Beauty,
evil, charm, vulgarity, mystery--she also acknowledged this
tangle, in spite of herself. And her voice thrilled him
when she broke silence with "Mr. Herriton--come here--look at
She removed a pile of plates from the Gothic window, and
they leant out of it. Close opposite, wedged between mean
houses, there rose up one of the great towers. It is your
tower: you stretch a barricade between it and the hotel, and
the traffic is blocked in a moment. Farther up, where the
street empties out by the church, your connections, the
Merli and the Capocchi, do likewise. They command the
Piazza, you the Siena gate. No one can move in either but
he shall be instantly slain, either by bows or by crossbows,
or by Greek fire. Beware, however, of the back bedroom
windows. For they are menaced by the tower of the
Aldobrandeschi, and before now arrows have stuck quivering
over the washstand. Guard these windows well, lest there be
a repetition of the events of February 1338, when the hotel
was surprised from the rear, and your dearest friend--you
could just make out that it was he--was thrown at you over
"It reaches up to heaven," said Philip, "and down to the
other place. "The summit of the tower was radiant in the
sun, while its base was in shadow and pasted over with
advertisements. "Is it to be a symbol of the town?"
She gave no hint that she understood him. But they
remained together at the window because it was a little
cooler and so pleasant. Philip found a certain grace and
lightness in his companion which he had never noticed in
England. She was appallingly narrow, but her consciousness
of wider things gave to her narrowness a pathetic charm. He
did not suspect that he was more graceful too. For our
vanity is such that we hold our own characters immutable,
and we are slow to acknowledge that they have changed, even
for the better.
Citizens came out for a little stroll before dinner.
Some of them stood and gazed at the advertisements on the tower.
"Surely that isn't an opera-bill?" said Miss Abbott.
Philip put on his pince-nez. " 'Lucia di Lammermoor.
By the Master Donizetti. Unique representation. This evening.'
"But is there an opera? Right up here?"
"Why, yes. These people know how to live. They would
sooner have a thing bad than not have it at all. That is
why they have got to have so much that is good. However bad
the performance is tonight, it will be alive. Italians
don't love music silently, like the beastly Germans. The
audience takes its share--sometimes more.
"Can't we go?"
He turned on her, but not unkindly. "But we're here to
rescue a child!"
He cursed himself for the remark. All the pleasure and
the light went out of her face, and she became again Miss
Abbott of Sawston--good, oh, most undoubtedly good, but most
appallingly dull. Dull and remorseful: it is a deadly
combination, and he strove against it in vain till he was
interrupted by the opening of the dining-room door.
They started as guiltily as if they had been flirting.
Their interview had taken such an unexpected course. Anger,
cynicism, stubborn morality--all had ended in a feeling of
good-will towards each other and towards the city which had
received them. And now Harriet was here--acrid,
indissoluble, large; the same in Italy as in
England--changing her disposition never, and her atmosphere
Yet even Harriet was human, and the better for a little
tea. She did not scold Philip for finding Gino out, as she
might reasonably have done. She showered civilities on Miss
Abbott, exclaiming again and again that Caroline's visit was
one of the most fortunate coincidences in the world.
Caroline did not contradict her.
"You see him tomorrow at ten, Philip. Well, don't
forget the blank cheque. Say an hour for the business. No,
Italians are so slow; say two. Twelve o'clock. Lunch.
Well--then it's no good going till the evening train. I can
manage the baby as far as Florence--"
"My dear sister, you can't run on like that. You don't
buy a pair of gloves in two hours, much less a baby."
"Three hours, then, or four; or make him learn English
ways. At Florence we get a nurse--"
"But, Harriet," said Miss Abbott, "what if at first he
was to refuse?"
"I don't know the meaning of the word," said Harriet
impressively. "I've told the landlady that Philip and I
only want our rooms one night, and we shall keep to it."
"I dare say it will be all right. But, as I told you, I
thought the man I met on the Rocca a strange, difficult man."
"He's insolent to ladies, we know. But my brother can
be trusted to bring him to his senses. That woman, Philip,
whom you saw will carry the baby to the hotel. Of course
you must tip her for it. And try, if you can, to get poor
Lilia's silver bangles. They were nice quiet things, and
will do for Irma. And there is an inlaid box I lent
her--lent, not gave--to keep her handkerchiefs in. It's of no
real value; but this is our only chance. Don't ask for it;
but if you see it lying about, just say--"
"No, Harriet; I'll try for the baby, but for nothing
else. I promise to do that tomorrow, and to do it in the
way you wish. But tonight, as we're all tired, we want a
change of topic. We want relaxation. We want to go to the
"Theatres here? And at such a moment?"
"We should hardly enjoy it, with the great interview
impending," said Miss Abbott, with an anxious glance at Philip.
He did not betray her, but said, "Don't you think it's
better than sitting in all the evening and getting nervous?"
His sister shook her head. "Mother wouldn't like it.
It would be most unsuitable--almost irreverent. Besides all
that, foreign theatres are notorious. Don't you remember
those letters in the 'Church Family Newspaper'?"
"But this is an opera--'Lucia di Lammermoor'--Sir Walter
Scott--classical, you know."
Harriet's face grew resigned. "Certainly one has so few
opportunities of hearing music. It is sure to be very bad.
But it might be better than sitting idle all the evening.
We have no book, and I lost my crochet at Florence."
"Good. Miss Abbott, you are coming too?"
"It is very kind of you, Mr. Herriton. In some ways I
should enjoy it; but--excuse the suggestion--I don't think we
ought to go to cheap seats."
"Good gracious me!" cried Harriet, "I should never have
thought of that. As likely as not, we should have tried to
save money and sat among the most awful people. One keeps
on forgetting this is Italy."
"Unfortunately I have no evening dress; and if the seats--"
"Oh, that'll be all right," said Philip, smiling at his
timorous, scrupulous women-kind. "We'll go as we are, and
buy the best we can get. Monteriano is not formal."
So this strenuous day of resolutions, plans, alarms,
battles, victories, defeats, truces, ended at the opera.
Miss Abbott and Harriet were both a little shame-faced.
They thought of their friends at Sawston, who were supposing
them to be now tilting against the powers of evil. What
would Mrs. Herriton, or Irma, or the curates at the Back
Kitchen say if they could see the rescue party at a place of
amusement on the very first day of its mission? Philip,
too, marvelled at his wish to go. He began to see that he
was enjoying his time in Monteriano, in spite of the
tiresomeness of his companions and the occasional
contrariness of himself.
He had been to this theatre many years before, on the
occasion of a performance of "La Zia di Carlo." Since then
it had been thoroughly done up, in the tints of the
beet-root and the tomato, and was in many other ways a
credit to the little town. The orchestra had been enlarged,
some of the boxes had terra-cotta draperies, and over each
box was now suspended an enormous tablet, neatly framed,
bearing upon it the number of that box. There was also a
drop-scene, representing a pink and purple landscape,
wherein sported many a lady lightly clad, and two more
ladies lay along the top of the proscenium to steady a large
and pallid clock. So rich and so appalling was the effect,
that Philip could scarcely suppress a cry. There is
something majestic in the bad taste of Italy; it is not the
bad taste of a country which knows no better; it has not the
nervous vulgarity of England, or the blinded vulgarity of
Germany. It observes beauty, and chooses to pass it by.
But it attains to beauty's confidence. This tiny theatre of
Monteriano spraddled and swaggered with the best of them,
and these ladies with their clock would have nodded to the
young men on the ceiling of the Sistine.
Philip had tried for a box, but all the best were taken:
it was rather a grand performance, and he had to be content
with stalls. Harriet was fretful and insular. Miss Abbott
was pleasant, and insisted on praising everything: her only
regret was that she had no pretty clothes with her.
"We do all right," said Philip, amused at her unwonted vanity.
"Yes, I know; but pretty things pack as easily as ugly
ones. We had no need to come to Italy like guys."
This time he did not reply, "But we're here to rescue a
baby." For he saw a charming picture, as charming a picture
as he had seen for years--the hot red theatre; outside the
theatre, towers and dark gates and mediaeval walls; beyond
the walls olive-trees in the starlight and white winding
roads and fireflies and untroubled dust; and here in the
middle of it all, Miss Abbott, wishing she had not come
looking like a guy. She had made the right remark. Most
undoubtedly she had made the right remark. This stiff
suburban woman was unbending before the shrine.
"Don't you like it at all?" he asked her.
"Most awfully." And by this bald interchange they
convinced each other that Romance was here.
Harriet, meanwhile, had been coughing ominously at the
drop-scene, which presently rose on the grounds of
Ravenswood, and the chorus of Scotch retainers burst into
cry. The audience accompanied with tappings and drummings,
swaying in the melody like corn in the wind. Harriet,
though she did not care for music, knew how to listen to
it. She uttered an acid "Shish!"
"Shut it," whispered her brother.
"We must make a stand from the beginning. They're talking."
"It is tiresome," murmured Miss Abbott; "but perhaps it
isn't for us to interfere."
Harriet shook her head and shished again. The people
were quiet, not because it is wrong to talk during a chorus,
but because it is natural to be civil to a visitor. For a
little time she kept the whole house in order, and could
smile at her brother complacently.
Her success annoyed him. He had grasped the principle
of opera in Italy--it aims not at illusion but at
entertainment--and he did not want this great evening-party
to turn into a prayer-meeting. But soon the boxes began to
fill, and Harriet's power was over. Families greeted each
other across the auditorium. People in the pit hailed their
brothers and sons in the chorus, and told them how well they
were singing. When Lucia appeared by the fountain there was
loud applause, and cries of "Welcome to Monteriano!"
"Ridiculous babies!" said Harriet, settling down in her stall.
"Why, it is the famous hot lady of the Apennines," cried
Philip; "the one who had never, never before--"
"Ugh! Don't. She will be very vulgar. And I'm sure
it's even worse here than in the tunnel. I wish we'd never--"
Lucia began to sing, and there was a moment's silence.
She was stout and ugly; but her voice was still beautiful,
and as she sang the theatre murmured like a hive of happy
bees. All through the coloratura she was accompanied by
sighs, and its top note was drowned in a shout of universal joy.
So the opera proceeded. The singers drew inspiration
from the audience, and the two great sextettes were rendered
not unworthily. Miss Abbott fell into the spirit of the
thing. She, too, chatted and laughed and applauded and
encored, and rejoiced in the existence of beauty. As for
Philip, he forgot himself as well as his mission. He was
not even an enthusiastic visitor. For he had been in this
place always. It was his home.
Harriet, like M. Bovary on a more famous occasion, was
trying to follow the plot. Occasionally she nudged her
companions, and asked them what had become of Walter Scott.
She looked round grimly. The audience sounded drunk, and
even Caroline, who never took a drop, was swaying oddly.
Violent waves of excitement, all arising from very little,
went sweeping round the theatre. The climax was reached in
the mad scene. Lucia, clad in white, as befitted her
malady, suddenly gathered up her streaming hair and bowed
her acknowledgment to the audience. Then from the back of
the stage--she feigned not to see it--there advanced a kind of
bamboo clothes-horse, stuck all over with bouquets. It was
very ugly, and most of the flowers in it were false. Lucia
knew this, and so did the audience; and they all knew that
the clothes-horse was a piece of stage property, brought in
to make the performance go year after year. None the less
did it unloose the great deeps. With a scream of amazement
and joy she embraced the animal, pulled out one or two
practicable blossoms, pressed them to her lips, and flung
them into her admirers. They flung them back, with loud
melodious cries, and a little boy in one of the stageboxes
snatched up his sister's carnations and offered them. "Che
carino!" exclaimed the singer. She darted at the little boy
and kissed him. Now the noise became tremendous.
"Silence! silence!" shouted many old gentlemen behind.
"Let the divine creature continue!" But the young men in
the adjacent box were imploring Lucia to extend her civility
to them. She refused, with a humorous, expressive gesture.
One of them hurled a bouquet at her. She spurned it with
her foot. Then, encouraged by the roars of the audience,
she picked it up and tossed it to them. Harriet was always
unfortunate. The bouquet struck her full in the chest, and
a little billet-doux fell out of it into her lap.
"Call this classical!" she cried, rising from her seat.
"It's not even respectable! Philip! take me out at once."
"Whose is it?" shouted her brother, holding up the
bouquet in one hand and the billet-doux in the other.
"Whose is it?"
The house exploded, and one of the boxes was violently
agitated, as if some one was being hauled to the front.
Harriet moved down the gangway, and compelled Miss Abbott to
follow her. Philip, still laughing and calling "Whose is
it?" brought up the rear. He was drunk with excitement.
The heat, the fatigue, and the enjoyment had mounted into
"To the left!" the people cried. "The innamorato is to
He deserted his ladies and plunged towards the box. A
young man was flung stomach downwards across the
balustrade. Philip handed him up the bouquet and the note.
Then his own hands were seized affectionately. It all
seemed quite natural.
"Why have you not written?" cried the young man. "Why
do you take me by surprise?"
"Oh, I've written," said Philip hilariously. "I left a
note this afternoon."
"Silence! silence!" cried the audience, who were
beginning to have enough. "Let the divine creature
continue." Miss Abbott and Harriet had disappeared.
"No! no!" cried the young man. "You don't escape me
now." For Philip was trying feebly to disengage his hands.
Amiable youths bent out of the box and invited him to enter it.
"Gino's friends are ours--"
"Friends?" cried Gino. "A relative! A brother! Fra
Filippo, who has come all the way from England and never written."
"I left a message."
The audience began to hiss.
"Come in to us."
"Thank you--ladies--there is not time--"
The next moment he was swinging by his arms. The moment
after he shot over the balustrade into the box. Then the
conductor, seeing that the incident was over, raised his
baton. The house was hushed, and Lucia di Lammermoor
resumed her song of madness and death.
Philip had whispered introductions to the pleasant
people who had pulled him in--tradesmen's sons perhaps they
were, or medical students, or solicitors' clerks, or sons of
other dentists. There is no knowing who is who in Italy.
The guest of the evening was a private soldier. He shared
the honour now with Philip. The two had to stand side by
side in the front, and exchange compliments, whilst Gino
presided, courteous, but delightfully familiar. Philip
would have a spasm of horror at the muddle he had made. But
the spasm would pass, and again he would be enchanted by the
kind, cheerful voices, the laughter that was never vapid,
and the light caress of the arm across his back.
He could not get away till the play was nearly finished,
and Edgardo was singing amongst the tombs of ancestors. His
new friends hoped to see him at the Garibaldi tomorrow
evening. He promised; then he remembered that if they kept
to Harriet's plan he would have left Monteriano. "At ten
o'clock, then," he said to Gino. "I want to speak to you
alone. At ten."
"Certainly!" laughed the other.
Miss Abbott was sitting up for him when he got back.
Harriet, it seemed, had gone straight to bed.
"That was he, wasn't it?" she asked.
"I suppose you didn't settle anything?"
"Why, no; how could I? The fact is--well, I got taken by
surprise, but after all, what does it matter? There's no
earthly reason why we shouldn't do the business pleasantly.
He's a perfectly charming person, and so are his friends.
I'm his friend now--his long-lost brother. What's the harm?
I tell you, Miss Abbott, it's one thing for England and
another for Italy. There we plan and get on high moral
horses. Here we find what asses we are, for things go off
quite easily, all by themselves. My hat, what a night! Did
you ever see a really purple sky and really silver stars
before? Well, as I was saying, it's absurd to worry; he's
not a porky father. He wants that baby as little as I do.
He's been ragging my dear mother--just as he ragged me
eighteen months ago, and I've forgiven him. Oh, but he has
a sense of humour!"
Miss Abbott, too, had a wonderful evening, nor did she
ever remember such stars or such a sky. Her head, too, was
full of music, and that night when she opened the window her
room was filled with warm, sweet air. She was bathed in
beauty within and without; she could not go to bed for
happiness. Had she ever been so happy before? Yes, once
before, and here, a night in March, the night Gino and Lilia
had told her of their love--the night whose evil she had come
now to undo.
She gave a sudden cry of shame. "This time--the same
place--the same thing"--and she began to beat down her
happiness, knowing it to be sinful. She was here to fight
against this place, to rescue a little soul--who was innocent
as yet. She was here to champion morality and purity, and
the holy life of an English home. In the spring she had
sinned through ignorance; she was not ignorant now. "Help
me!" she cried, and shut the window as if there was magic in
the encircling air. But the tunes would not go out of her
head, and all night long she was troubled by torrents of
music, and by applause and laughter, and angry young men who
shouted the distich out of Baedeker:--
Poggibonizzi fatti in la,
Che Monteriano si fa citta!
Poggibonsi was revealed to her as they sang--a joyless,
straggling place, full of people who pretended. When she
woke up she knew that it had been Sawston.
At about nine o'clock next morning Perfetta went out on to
the loggia, not to look at the view, but to throw some dirty
water at it. "Scusi tanto!" she wailed, for the water
spattered a tall young lady who had for some time been
tapping at the lower door.
"Is Signor Carella in?" the young lady asked. It was no
business of Perfetta's to be shocked, and the style of the
visitor seemed to demand the reception-room. Accordingly
she opened its shutters, dusted a round patch on one of the
horsehair chairs, and bade the lady do herself the
inconvenience of sitting down. Then she ran into Monteriano
and shouted up and down its streets until such time as her
young master should hear her.
The reception-room was sacred to the dead wife. Her
shiny portrait hung upon the wall--similar, doubtless, in all
respects to the one which would be pasted on her tombstone.
A little piece of black drapery had been tacked above the
frame to lend a dignity to woe. But two of the tacks had
fallen out, and the effect was now rakish, as of a
drunkard's bonnet. A coon song lay open on the piano, and
of the two tables one supported Baedeker's "Central Italy,"
the other Harriet's inlaid box. And over everything there
lay a deposit of heavy white dust, which was only blown off
one moment to thicken on another. It is well to be
remembered with love. It is not so very dreadful to be
forgotten entirely. But if we shall resent anything on
earth at all, we shall resent the consecration of a deserted
Miss Abbott did not sit down, partly because the
antimacassars might harbour fleas, partly because she had
suddenly felt faint, and was glad to cling on to the funnel
of the stove. She struggled with herself, for she had need
to be very calm; only if she was very calm might her
behaviour be justified. She had broken faith with Philip
and Harriet: she was going to try for the baby before they
did. If she failed she could scarcely look them in the face
"Harriet and her brother," she reasoned, "don't realize
what is before them. She would bluster and be rude; he
would be pleasant and take it as a joke. Both of them--even
if they offered money--would fail. But I begin to understand
the man's nature; he does not love the child, but he will be
touchy about it--and that is quite as bad for us. He's
charming, but he's no fool; he conquered me last year; he
conquered Mr. Herriton yesterday, and if I am not careful he
will conquer us all today, and the baby will grow up in
Monteriano. He is terribly strong; Lilia found that out,
but only I remember it now."
This attempt, and this justification of it, were the
results of the long and restless night. Miss Abbott had
come to believe that she alone could do battle with Gino,
because she alone understood him; and she had put this, as
nicely as she could, in a note which she had left for
Philip. It distressed her to write such a note, partly
because her education inclined her to reverence the male,
partly because she had got to like Philip a good deal after
their last strange interview. His pettiness would be
dispersed, and as for his "unconventionality," which was so
much gossiped about at Sawston, she began to see that it did
not differ greatly from certain familiar notions of her
own. If only he would forgive her for what she was doing
now, there might perhaps be before them a long and
profitable friendship. But she must succeed. No one would
forgive her if she did not succeed. She prepared to do
battle with the powers of evil.
The voice of her adversary was heard at last, singing
fearlessly from his expanded lungs, like a professional.
Herein he differed from Englishmen, who always have a little
feeling against music, and sing only from the throat,
apologetically. He padded upstairs, and looked in at the
open door of the reception-room without seeing her. Her
heart leapt and her throat was dry when he turned away and
passed, still singing, into the room opposite. It is
alarming not to be seen.
He had left the door of this room open, and she could
see into it, right across the landing. It was in a shocking
mess. Food, bedclothes, patent-leather boots, dirty plates,
and knives lay strewn over a large table and on the floor.
But it was the mess that comes of life, not of desolation.
It was preferable to the charnel-chamber in which she was
standing now, and the light in it was soft and large, as
from some gracious, noble opening.
He stopped singing, and cried "Where is Perfetta?"
His back was turned, and he was lighting a cigar. He
was not speaking to Miss Abbott. He could not even be
expecting her. The vista of the landing and the two open
doors made him both remote and significant, like an actor on
the stage, intimate and unapproachable at the same time.
She could no more call out to him than if he was Hamlet.
"You know!" he continued, "but you will not tell me.
Exactly like you." He reclined on the table and blew a fat
smoke-ring. "And why won't you tell me the numbers? I have
dreamt of a red hen--that is two hundred and five, and a
friend unexpected--he means eighty-two. But I try for the
Terno this week. So tell me another number."
Miss Abbott did not know of the Tombola. His speech
terrified her. She felt those subtle restrictions which
come upon us in fatigue. Had she slept well she would have
greeted him as soon as she saw him. Now it was impossible.
He had got into another world.
She watched his smoke-ring. The air had carried it
slowly away from him, and brought it out intact upon the landing.
"Two hundred and five--eighty-two. In any case I shall
put them on Bari, not on Florence. I cannot tell you why; I
have a feeling this week for Bari." Again she tried to
speak. But the ring mesmerized her. It had become vast and
elliptical, and floated in at the reception-room door.
"Ah! you don't care if you get the profits. You won't
even say 'Thank you, Gino.' Say it, or I'll drop hot,
red-hot ashes on you. 'Thank you, Gino--'"
The ring had extended its pale blue coils towards her.
She lost self-control. It enveloped her. As if it was a
breath from the pit, she screamed.
There he was, wanting to know what had frightened her,
how she had got here, why she had never spoken. He made her
sit down. He brought her wine, which she refused. She had
not one word to say to him.
"What is it?" he repeated. "What has frightened you?"
He, too, was frightened, and perspiration came starting
through the tan. For it is a serious thing to have been
watched. We all radiate something curiously intimate when
we believe ourselves to be alone.
"Business--" she said at last.
"Business with me?"
"Most important business." She was lying, white and
limp, in the dusty chair.
"Before business you must get well; this is the best wine."
She refused it feebly. He poured out a glass. She
drank it. As she did so she became self-conscious. However
important the business, it was not proper of her to have
called on him, or to accept his hospitality.
"Perhaps you are engaged," she said. "And as I am not
"You are not well enough to go back. And I am not engaged."
She looked nervously at the other room.
"Ah, now I understand," he exclaimed. "Now I see what
frightened you. But why did you never speak?" And taking
her into the room where he lived, he pointed to--the baby.
She had thought so much about this baby, of its welfare,
its soul, its morals, its probable defects. But, like most
unmarried people, she had only thought of it as a word--just
as the healthy man only thinks of the word death, not of
death itself. The real thing, lying asleep on a dirty rug,
disconcerted her. It did not stand for a principle any
longer. It was so much flesh and blood, so many inches and
ounces of life--a glorious, unquestionable fact, which a man
and another woman had given to the world. You could talk to
it; in time it would answer you; in time it would not answer
you unless it chose, but would secrete, within the compass
of its body, thoughts and wonderful passions of its own.
And this was the machine on which she and Mrs. Herriton and
Philip and Harriet had for the last month been exercising
their various ideals--had determined that in time it should
move this way or that way, should accomplish this and not
that. It was to be Low Church, it was to be
high-principled, it was to be tactful, gentlemanly,
artistic--excellent things all. Yet now that she saw this
baby, lying asleep on a dirty rug, she had a great
disposition not to dictate one of them, and to exert no more
influence than there may be in a kiss or in the vaguest of
the heartfelt prayers.
But she had practised self-discipline, and her thoughts
and actions were not yet to correspond. To recover her
self-esteem she tried to imagine that she was in her
district, and to behave accordingly.
"What a fine child, Signor Carella. And how nice of you
to talk to it. Though I see that the ungrateful little
fellow is asleep! Seven months? No, eight; of course
eight. Still, he is a remarkably fine child for his age."
Italian is a bad medium for condescension. The
patronizing words came out gracious and sincere, and he
smiled with pleasure.
"You must not stand. Let us sit on the loggia, where it
is cool. I am afraid the room is very untidy," he added,
with the air of a hostess who apologizes for a stray thread
on the drawing-room carpet. Miss Abbott picked her way to
the chair. He sat near her, astride the parapet, with one
foot in the loggia and the other dangling into the view.
His face was in profile, and its beautiful contours drove
artfully against the misty green of the opposing hills.
"Posing!" said Miss Abbott to herself. "A born artist's model."
"Mr. Herriton called yesterday," she began, "but you
He started an elaborate and graceful explanation. He
had gone for the day to Poggibonsi. Why had the Herritons
not written to him, so that he could have received them
properly? Poggibonsi would have done any day; not but what
his business there was fairly important. What did she
suppose that it was?
Naturally she was not greatly interested. She had not
come from Sawston to guess why he had been to Poggibonsi.
She answered politely that she had no idea, and returned to
"But guess!" he persisted, clapping the balustrade
between his hands.
She suggested, with gentle sarcasm, that perhaps he had
gone to Poggibonsi to find something to do.
He intimated that it was not as important as all that.
Something to do--an almost hopeless quest! "E manca
questo!" He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together, to
indicate that he had no money. Then he sighed, and blew
another smoke-ring. Miss Abbott took heart and turned
"This house," she said, "is a large house."
"Exactly," was his gloomy reply. "And when my poor wife
died--" He got up, went in, and walked across the landing to
the reception-room door, which he closed reverently. Then
he shut the door of the living-room with his foot, returned
briskly to his seat, and continued his sentence. "When my
poor wife died I thought of having my relatives to live
here. My father wished to give up his practice at Empoli;
my mother and sisters and two aunts were also willing. But
it was impossible. They have their ways of doing things,
and when I was younger I was content with them. But now I
am a man. I have my own ways. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do," said Miss Abbott, thinking of her own dear
father, whose tricks and habits, after twenty-five years
spent in their company, were beginning to get on her
nerves. She remembered, though, that she was not here to
sympathize with Gino--at all events, not to show that she
sympathized. She also reminded herself that he was not
worthy of sympathy. "It is a large house," she repeated.
"Immense; and the taxes! But it will be better
when--Ah! but you have never guessed why I went to
Poggibonsi--why it was that I was out when he called."
"I cannot guess, Signor Carella. I am here on business."
"I cannot; I hardly know you."
"But we are old friends," he said, "and your approval
will be grateful to me. You gave it me once before. Will
you give it now?"
"I have not come as a friend this time," she answered
stiffly. "I am not likely, Signor Carella, to approve of
anything you do."
"Oh, Signorina!" He laughed, as if he found her piquant
and amusing. "Surely you approve of marriage?"
"Where there is love," said Miss Abbott, looking at him
hard. His face had altered in the last year, but not for
the worse, which was baffling.
"Where there is love," said he, politely echoing the
English view. Then he smiled on her, expecting congratulations.
"Do I understand that you are proposing to marry again?"
"I forbid you, then!"
He looked puzzled, but took it for some foreign banter,
"I forbid you!" repeated Miss Abbott, and all the
indignation of her sex and her nationality went thrilling
through the words.
"But why?" He jumped up, frowning. His voice was
squeaky and petulant, like that of a child who is suddenly
forbidden a toy.
"You have ruined one woman; I forbid you to ruin
another. It is not a year since Lilia died. You pretended
to me the other day that you loved her. It is a lie. You
wanted her money. Has this woman money too?"
"Why, yes!" he said irritably. "A little."
"And I suppose you will say that you love her."
"I shall not say it. It will be untrue. Now my poor
wife--" He stopped, seeing that the comparison would involve
him in difficulties. And indeed he had often found Lilia as
agreeable as any one else.
Miss Abbott was furious at this final insult to her dead
acquaintance. She was glad that after all she could be so
angry with the boy. She glowed and throbbed; her tongue
moved nimbly. At the finish, if the real business of the
day had been completed, she could have swept majestically
from the house. But the baby still remained, asleep on a
Gino was thoughtful, and stood scratching his head. He
respected Miss Abbott. He wished that she would respect
him. "So you do not advise me?" he said dolefully. "But
why should it be a failure?"
Miss Abbott tried to remember that he was really a child
still--a child with the strength and the passions of a
disreputable man. "How can it succeed," she said solemnly,
"where there is no love?"
"But she does love me! I forgot to tell you that."
"Passionately." He laid his hand upon his own heart.
"Then God help her!"
He stamped impatiently. "Whatever I say displeases you,
Signorina. God help you, for you are most unfair. You say
that I ill-treated my dear wife. It is not so. I have
never ill-treated any one. You complain that there is no
love in this marriage. I prove that there is, and you
become still more angry. What do you want? Do you suppose
she will not be contented? Glad enough she is to get me,
and she will do her duty well."
"Her duty!" cried Miss Abbott, with all the bitterness
of which she was capable.
"Why, of course. She knows why I am marrying her."
"To succeed where Lilia failed! To be your housekeeper,
your slave, you--" The words she would like to have said
were too violent for her.
"To look after the baby, certainly," said he.
"The baby--?" She had forgotten it.
"It is an English marriage," he said proudly. "I do not
care about the money. I am having her for my son. Did you
not understand that?"
"No," said Miss Abbott, utterly bewildered. Then, for a
moment, she saw light. "It is not necessary, Signor
Carella. Since you are tired of the baby--"
Ever after she remembered it to her credit that she saw
her mistake at once. "I don't mean that," she added quickly.
"I know," was his courteous response. "Ah, in a foreign
language (and how perfectly you speak Italian) one is
certain to make slips."
She looked at his face. It was apparently innocent of satire.
"You meant that we could not always be together yet, he
and I. You are right. What is to be done? I cannot afford
a nurse, and Perfetta is too rough. When he was ill I dare
not let her touch him. When he has to be washed, which
happens now and then, who does it? I. I feed him, or settle
what he shall have. I sleep with him and comfort him when
he is unhappy in the night. No one talks, no one may sing
to him but I. Do not be unfair this time; I like to do these
things. But nevertheless (his voice became pathetic) they
take up a great deal of time, and are not all suitable for a
"Not at all suitable," said Miss Abbott, and closed her
eyes wearily. Each moment her difficulties were
increasing. She wished that she was not so tired, so open
to contradictory impressions. She longed for Harriet's
burly obtuseness or for the soulless diplomacy of Mrs. Herriton.
"A little more wine?" asked Gino kindly.
"Oh, no, thank you! But marriage, Signor Carella, is a
very serious step. Could you not manage more simply? Your
relative, for example--"
"Empoli! I would as soon have him in England!"
"He has a grandmother there, you know--Mrs. Theobald."
"He has a grandmother here. No, he is troublesome, but
I must have him with me. I will not even have my father and
mother too. For they would separate us," he added.
"They would separate our thoughts."
She was silent. This cruel, vicious fellow knew of
strange refinements. The horrible truth, that wicked people
are capable of love, stood naked before her, and her moral
being was abashed. It was her duty to rescue the baby, to
save it from contagion, and she still meant to do her duty.
But the comfortable sense of virtue left her. She was in
the presence of something greater than right or wrong.
Forgetting that this was an interview, he had strolled
back into the room, driven by the instinct she had aroused
in him. "Wake up!" he cried to his baby, as if it was some
grown-up friend. Then he lifted his foot and trod lightly
on its stomach.
Miss Abbott cried, "Oh, take care!" She was
unaccustomed to this method of awakening the young.
"He is not much longer than my boot, is he? Can you
believe that in time his own boots will be as large? And
that he also--"
"But ought you to treat him like that?"
He stood with one foot resting on the little body,
suddenly musing, filled with the desire that his son should
be like him, and should have sons like him, to people the
earth. It is the strongest desire that can come to a man--if
it comes to him at all--stronger even than love or the desire
for personal immortality. All men vaunt it, and declare
that it is theirs; but the hearts of most are set
elsewhere. It is the exception who comprehends that
physical and spiritual life may stream out of him for ever.
Miss Abbott, for all her goodness, could not comprehend it,
though such a thing is more within the comprehension of
women. And when Gino pointed first to himself and then to
his baby and said "father-son," she still took it as a piece
of nursery prattle, and smiled mechanically.
The child, the first fruits, woke up and glared at her.
Gino did not greet it, but continued the exposition of his policy.
"This woman will do exactly what I tell her. She is
fond of children. She is clean; she has a pleasant voice.
She is not beautiful; I cannot pretend that to you for a
moment. But she is what I require."
The baby gave a piercing yell.
"Oh, do take care!" begged Miss Abbott. "You are
"It is nothing. If he cries silently then you may be
frightened. He thinks I am going to wash him, and he is
"Wash him!" she cried. "You? Here?" The homely piece
of news seemed to shatter all her plans. She had spent a
long half-hour in elaborate approaches, in high moral
attacks; she had neither frightened her enemy nor made him
angry, nor interfered with the least detail of his domestic life.
"I had gone to the Farmacia," he continued, "and was
sitting there comfortably, when suddenly I remembered that
Perfetta had heated water an hour ago--over there, look,
covered with a cushion. I came away at once, for really he
must be washed. You must excuse me. I can put it off no longer."
"I have wasted your time," she said feebly.
He walked sternly to the loggia and drew from it a large
earthenware bowl. It was dirty inside; he dusted it with a
tablecloth. Then he fetched the hot water, which was in a
copper pot. He poured it out. He added cold. He felt in
his pocket and brought out a piece of soap. Then he took up
the baby, and, holding his cigar between his teeth, began to
unwrap it. Miss Abbott turned to go.
"But why are you going? Excuse me if I wash him while
"I have nothing more to say," said Miss Abbott. All she
could do now was to find Philip, confess her miserable
defeat, and bid him go in her stead and prosper better. She
cursed her feebleness; she longed to expose it, without
apologies or tears.
"Oh, but stop a moment!" he cried. "You have not seen
"I have seen as much as I want, thank you."
The last wrapping slid off. He held out to her in his
two hands a little kicking image of bronze.
She would not touch the child.
"I must go at once," she cried; for the tears--the wrong
tears--were hurrying to her eyes.
"Who would have believed his mother was blonde? For he
is brown all over--brown every inch of him. Ah, but how
beautiful he is! And he is mine; mine for ever. Even if he
hates me he will be mine. He cannot help it; he is made out
of me; I am his father."
It was too late to go. She could not tell why, but it
was too late. She turned away her head when Gino lifted his
son to his lips. This was something too remote from the
prettiness of the nursery. The man was majestic; he was a
part of Nature; in no ordinary love scene could he ever be
so great. For a wonderful physical tie binds the parents to
the children; and--by some sad, strange irony--it does not
bind us children to our parents. For if it did, if we could
answer their love not with gratitude but with equal love,
life would lose much of its pathos and much of its squalor,
and we might be wonderfully happy. Gino passionately
embracing, Miss Abbott reverently averting her eyes--both of
them had parents whom they did not love so very much.
"May I help you to wash him?" she asked humbly.
He gave her his son without speaking, and they knelt
side by side, tucking up their sleeves. The child had
stopped crying, and his arms and legs were agitated by some
overpowering joy. Miss Abbott had a woman's pleasure in
cleaning anything--more especially when the thing was human.
She understood little babies from long experience in a
district, and Gino soon ceased to give her directions, and
only gave her thanks.
"It is very kind of you," he murmured, "especially in
your beautiful dress. He is nearly clean already. Why, I
take the whole morning! There is so much more of a baby
than one expects. And Perfetta washes him just as she
washes clothes. Then he screams for hours. My wife is to
have a light hand. Ah, how he kicks! Has he splashed you?
I am very sorry."
"I am ready for a soft towel now," said Miss Abbott, who
was strangely exalted by the service.
"Certainly! certainly!" He strode in a knowing way to
a cupboard. But he had no idea where the soft towel was.
Generally he dabbed the baby on the first dry thing. he found.
"And if you had any powder."
He struck his forehead despairingly. Apparently the
stock of powder was just exhausted.
She sacrificed her own clean handkerchief. He put a
chair for her on the loggia, which faced westward, and was
still pleasant and cool. There she sat, with twenty miles
of view behind her, and he placed the dripping baby on her
knee. It shone now with health and beauty: it seemed to
reflect light, like a copper vessel. Just such a baby
Bellini sets languid on his mother's lap, or Signorelli
flings wriggling on pavements of marble, or Lorenzo di
Credi, more reverent but less divine, lays carefully among
flowers, with his head upon a wisp of golden straw. For a
time Gino contemplated them standing. Then, to get a better
view, he knelt by the side of the chair, with his hands
clasped before him.
So they were when Philip entered, and saw, to all
intents and purposes, the Virgin and Child, with Donor.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed; for he was glad to find things in
such cheerful trim.
She did not greet him, but rose up unsteadily and handed
the baby to his father.
"No, do stop!" whispered Philip. "I got your note. I'm
not offended; you're quite right. I really want you; I
could never have done it alone."
No words came from her, but she raised her hands to her
mouth, like one who is in sudden agony.
"Signorina, do stop a little--after all your kindness."
She burst into tears.
"What is it?" said Philip kindly.
She tried to speak, and then went away weeping bitterly.
The two men stared at each other. By a common impulse
they ran on to the loggia. They were just in time to see
Miss Abbott disappear among the trees.
"What is it?" asked Philip again. There was no answer,
and somehow he did not want an answer. Some strange thing
had happened which he could not presume to understand. He
would find out from Miss Abbott, if ever he found out at all.
"Well, your business," said Gino, after a puzzled sigh.
"Our business--Miss Abbott has told you of that."
"She came for business. But she forgot about it; so did
Perfetta, who had a genius for missing people, now
returned, loudly complaining of the size of Monteriano and
the intricacies of its streets. Gino told her to watch the
baby. Then he offered Philip a cigar, and they proceeded to
"Mad!" screamed Harriet,--"absolutely stark, staring, raving mad!"
Philip judged it better not to contradict her.
What's she here for? Answer me that. What's she doing
in Monteriano in August? Why isn't she in Normandy? Answer
that. She won't. I can: she's come to thwart us; she's
betrayed us--got hold of mother's plans. Oh, goodness, my head!"
He was unwise enough to reply, "You mustn't accuse her
of that. Though she is exasperating, she hasn't come here
to betray us."
"Then why has she come here? Answer me that."
He made no answer. But fortunately his sister was too
much agitated to wait for one. "Bursting in on me--crying
and looking a disgusting sight--and says she has been to see
the Italian. Couldn't even talk properly; pretended she had
changed her opinions. What are her opinions to us? I was
very calm. I said: 'Miss Abbott, I think there is a little
misapprehension in this matter. My mother, Mrs. Herriton--'
Oh, goodness, my head! Of course you've failed--don't
trouble to answer--I know you've failed. Where's the baby,
pray? Of course you haven't got it. Dear sweet Caroline
won't let you. Oh, yes, and we're to go away at once and
trouble the father no more. Those are her commands.
Commands! COMMANDS!" And Harriet also burst into tears.
Philip governed his temper. His sister was annoying,
but quite reasonable in her indignation. Moreover, Miss
Abbott had behaved even worse than she supposed.
"I've not got the baby, Harriet, but at the same time I
haven't exactly failed. I and Signor Carella are to have
another interview this afternoon, at the Caffe Garibaldi.
He is perfectly reasonable and pleasant. Should you be
disposed to come with me, you would find him quite willing
to discuss things. He is desperately in want of money, and
has no prospect of getting any. I discovered that. At the
same time, he has a certain affection for the child." For
Philip's insight, or perhaps his opportunities, had not been
equal to Miss Abbott's.
Harriet would only sob, and accuse her brother of
insulting her; how could a lady speak to such a horrible
man? That, and nothing else, was enough to stamp Caroline.
Oh, poor Lilia!
Philip drummed on the bedroom window-sill. He saw no
escape from the deadlock. For though he spoke cheerfully
about his second interview with Gino, he felt at the bottom
of his heart that it would fail. Gino was too courteous: he
would not break off negotiations by sharp denial; he loved
this civil, half-humorous bargaining. And he loved fooling
his opponent, and did it so nicely that his opponent did not
mind being fooled.
"Miss Abbott has behaved extraordinarily," he said at
last; "but at the same time--"
His sister would not hear him. She burst forth again on
the madness, the interference, the intolerable duplicity of
"Harriet, you must listen. My dear, you must stop
crying. I have something quite important to say."
"I shall not stop crying," said she. But in time,
finding that he would not speak to her, she did stop.
"Remember that Miss Abbott has done us no harm. She
said nothing to him about the matter. He assumes that she
is working with us: I gathered that."
"Well, she isn't."
"Yes; but if you're careful she may be. I interpret her
behaviour thus: She went to see him, honestly intending to
get the child away. In the note she left me she says so,
and I don't believe she'd lie."
"When she got there, there was some pretty domestic
scene between him and the baby, and she has got swept off in
a gush of sentimentalism. Before very long, if I know
anything about psychology, there will be a reaction. She'll
be swept back."
"I don't understand your long words. Say plainly--"
"When she's swept back, she'll be invaluable. For she
has made quite an impression on him. He thinks her so nice
with the baby. You know, she washed it for him."
Harriet's ejaculations were more aggravating than the
rest of her. But Philip was averse to losing his temper.
The access of joy that had come to him yesterday in the
theatre promised to be permanent. He was more anxious than
heretofore to be charitable towards the world.
"If you want to carry off the baby, keep your peace with
Miss Abbott. For if she chooses, she can help you better
than I can."
"There can be no peace between me and her," said Harriet
"Oh, not all I wanted. She went away before I had
finished speaking--just like those cowardly people! --into the
"Into Santa Deodata's?"
"Yes; I'm sure she needs it. Anything more unchristian--"
In time Philip went to the church also, leaving his
sister a little calmer and a little disposed to think over
his advice. What had come over Miss Abbott? He had always
thought her both stable and sincere. That conversation he
had had with her last Christmas in the train to Charing
Cross--that alone furnished him with a parallel. For the
second time, Monteriano must have turned her head. He was
not angry with her, for he was quite indifferent to the
outcome of their expedition. He was only extremely interested.
It was now nearly midday, and the streets were
clearing. But the intense heat had broken, and there was a
pleasant suggestion of rain. The Piazza, with its three
great attractions--the Palazzo Pubblico, the Collegiate
Church, and the Caffe Garibaldi: the intellect, the soul,
and the body--had never looked more charming. For a moment
Philip stood in its centre, much inclined to be dreamy, and
thinking how wonderful it must feel to belong to a city,
however mean. He was here, however, as an emissary of
civilization and as a student of character, and, after a
sigh, he entered Santa Deodata's to continue his mission.
There had been a FESTA two days before, and the church
still smelt of incense and of garlic. The little son of the
sacristan was sweeping the nave, more for amusement than for
cleanliness, sending great clouds of dust over the frescoes
and the scattered worshippers. The sacristan himself had
propped a ladder in the centre of the Deluge--which fills one
of the nave spandrels--and was freeing a column from its
wealth of scarlet calico. Much scarlet calico also lay upon
the floor--for the church can look as fine as any theatre--and
the sacristan's little daughter was trying to fold it up.
She was wearing a tinsel crown. The crown really belonged
to St. Augustine. But it had been cut too big: it fell down
over his cheeks like a collar: you never saw anything so
absurd. One of the canons had unhooked it just before the
FIESTA began, and had given it to the sacristan's daughter.
"Please," cried Philip, "is there an English lady here?"
The man's mouth was full of tin-tacks, but he nodded
cheerfully towards a kneeling figure. In the midst of this
confusion Miss Abbott was praying.
He was not much surprised: a spiritual breakdown was
quite to be expected. For though he was growing more
charitable towards mankind, he was still a little jaunty,
and too apt to stake out beforehand the course that will be
pursued by the wounded soul. It did not surprise him,
however, that she should greet him naturally, with none of
the sour self-consciousness of a person who had just risen
from her knees. This was indeed the spirit of Santa
Deodata's, where a prayer to God is thought none the worse
of because it comes next to a pleasant word to a neighbour.
"I am sure that I need it," said she; and he, who had
expected her to be ashamed, became confused, and knew not
what to reply.
"I've nothing to tell you," she continued. "I have
simply changed straight round. If I had planned the whole
thing out, I could not have treated you worse. I can talk
it over now; but please believe that I have been crying."
"And please believe that I have not come to scold you,"
said Philip. "I know what has happened."
"What?" asked Miss Abbott. Instinctively she led the
way to the famous chapel, the fifth chapel on the right,
wherein Giovanni da Empoli has painted the death and burial
of the saint. Here they could sit out of the dust and the
noise, and proceed with a discussion which promised to be important.
"What might have happened to me--he had made you believe
that he loved the child."
"Oh, yes; he has. He will never give it up."
"At present it is still unsettled."
"It will never be settled."
"Perhaps not. Well, as I said, I know what has
happened, and I am not here to scold you. But I must ask
you to withdraw from the thing for the present. Harriet is
furious. But she will calm down when she realizes that you
have done us no harm, and will do none."
"I can do no more," she said. "But I tell you plainly I
have changed sides."
"If you do no more, that is all we want. You promise
not to prejudice our cause by speaking to Signor Carella?"
"Oh, certainly. I don't want to speak to him again; I
shan't ever see him again."
"Quite nice, wasn't he?"
"Well, that's all I wanted to know. I'll go and tell
Harriet of your promise, and I think things'll quiet down now."
But he did not move, for it was an increasing pleasure
to him to be near her, and her charm was at its strongest
today. He thought less of psychology and feminine
reaction. The gush of sentimentalism which had carried her
away had only made her more alluring. He was content to
observe her beauty and to profit by the tenderness and the
wisdom that dwelt within her.
"Why aren't you angry with me?" she asked, after a pause.
"Because I understand you--all sides, I think,--Harriet,
Signor Carella, even my mother."
"You do understand wonderfully. You are the only one of
us who has a general view of the muddle."
He smiled with pleasure. It was the first time she had
ever praised him. His eyes rested agreeably on Santa
Deodata, who was dying in full sanctity, upon her back.
There was a window open behind her, revealing just such a
view as he had seen that morning, and on her widowed
mother's dresser there stood just such another copper pot.
The saint looked neither at the view nor at the pot, and at
her widowed mother still less. For lo! she had a vision:
the head and shoulders of St. Augustine were sliding like
some miraculous enamel along the rough-cast wall. It is a
gentle saint who is content with half another saint to see
her die. In her death, as in her life, Santa Deodata did
not accomplish much.
"So what are you going to do?" said Miss Abbott.
Philip started, not so much at the words as at the
sudden change in the voice. "Do?" he echoed, rather
dismayed. "This afternoon I have another interview."
"It will come to nothing. Well?"
"Then another. If that fails I shall wire home for
instructions. I dare say we may fail altogether, but we
shall fail honourably."
She had often been decided. But now behind her decision
there was a note of passion. She struck him not as
different, but as more important, and he minded it very much
when she said--
"That's not doing anything! You would be doing
something if you kidnapped the baby, or if you went straight
away. But that! To fail honourably! To come out of the
thing as well as you can! Is that all you are after?"
"Why, yes," he stammered. "Since we talk openly, that
is all I am after just now. What else is there? If I can
persuade Signor Carella to give in, so much the better. If
he won't, I must report the failure to my mother and then go
home. Why, Miss Abbott, you can't expect me to follow you
through all these turns--"
"I don't! But I do expect you to settle what is right
and to follow that. Do you want the child to stop with his
father, who loves him and will bring him up badly, or do you
want him to come to Sawston, where no one loves him, but
where he will be brought up well? There is the question put
dispassionately enough even for you. Settle it. Settle
which side you'll fight on. But don't go talking about an
'honourable failure,' which means simply not thinking and
not acting at all."
"Because I understand the position of Signor Carella and
of you, it's no reason that--"
"None at all. Fight as if you think us wrong. Oh,
what's the use of your fair-mindedness if you never decide
for yourself? Any one gets hold of you and makes you do
what they want. And you see through them and laugh at
them--and do it. It's not enough to see clearly; I'm
muddle-headed and stupid, and not worth a quarter of you,
but I have tried to do what seemed right at the time. And
you--your brain and your insight are splendid. But when you
see what's right you're too idle to do it. You told me once
that we shall be judged by our intentions, not by our
accomplishments. I thought it a grand remark. But we must
intend to accomplish--not sit intending on a chair."
"You are wonderful!" he said gravely.
"Oh, you appreciate me!" she burst out again. "I wish
you didn't. You appreciate us all--see good in all of us.
And all the time you are dead--dead--dead. Look, why aren't
you angry?" She came up to him, and then her mood suddenly
changed, and she took hold of both his hands. "You are so
splendid, Mr. Herriton, that I can't bear to see you
wasted. I can't bear--she has not been good to you--your
"Miss Abbott, don't worry over me. Some people are born
not to do things. I'm one of them; I never did anything at
school or at the Bar. I came out to stop Lilia's marriage,
and it was too late. I came out intending to get the baby,
and I shall return an 'honourable failure.' I never expect
anything to happen now, and so I am never disappointed. You
would be surprised to know what my great events are. Going
to the theatre yesterday, talking to you now--I don't suppose
I shall ever meet anything greater. I seem fated to pass
through the world without colliding with it or moving it--and
I'm sure I can't tell you whether the fate's good or evil.
I don't die--I don't fall in love. And if other people die
or fall in love they always do it when I'm just not there.
You are quite right; life to me is just a spectacle,
which--thank God, and thank Italy, and thank you--is now more
beautiful and heartening than it has ever been before."
She said solemnly, "I wish something would happen to
you, my dear friend; I wish something would happen to you."
"But why?" he asked, smiling. "Prove to me why I don't
do as I am."
She also smiled, very gravely. She could not prove it.
No argument existed. Their discourse, splendid as it had
been, resulted in nothing, and their respective opinions and
policies were exactly the same when they left the church as
when they had entered it.
Harriet was rude at lunch. She called Miss Abbott a
turncoat and a coward to her face. Miss Abbott resented
neither epithet, feeling that one was justified and the
other not unreasonable. She tried to avoid even the
suspicion of satire in her replies. But Harriet was sure
that she was satirical because she was so calm. She got
more and more violent, and Philip at one time feared that
she would come to blows.
"Look here!" he cried, with something of the old manner,
"it's too hot for this. We've been talking and interviewing
each other all the morning, and I have another interview
this afternoon. I do stipulate for silence. Let each lady
retire to her bedroom with a book."
"I retire to pack," said Harriet. "Please remind Signor
Carella, Philip, that the baby is to be here by half-past
eight this evening."
"Oh, certainly, Harriet. I shall make a point of
"And order a carriage to take us to the evening train."
"And please," said Miss Abbott, "would you order a
carriage for me too?"
"You going?" he exclaimed.
"Of course," she replied, suddenly flushing. "Why not?"
"Why, of course you would be going. Two carriages,
then. Two carriages for the evening train." He looked at
his sister hopelessly. "Harriet, whatever are you up to?
We shall never be ready."
"Order my carriage for the evening train," said Harriet,
"Well, I suppose I shall. And I shall also have my
interview with Signor Carella."
Miss Abbott gave a little sigh.
"But why should you mind? Do you suppose that I shall
have the slightest influence over him?"
"No. But--I can't repeat all that I said in the church.
You ought never to see him again. You ought to bundle
Harriet into a carriage, not this evening, but now, and
drive her straight away."
"Perhaps I ought. But it isn't a very big 'ought.'
Whatever Harriet and I do the issue is the same. Why, I can
see the splendour of it--even the humour. Gino sitting up
here on the mountain-top with his cub. We come and ask for
it. He welcomes us. We ask for it again. He is equally
pleasant. I'm agreeable to spend the whole week bargaining
with him. But I know that at the end of it I shall descend
empty-handed to the plains. It might be finer of me to make
up my mind. But I'm not a fine character. And nothing
hangs on it."
"Perhaps I am extreme," she said humbly. "I've been
trying to run you, just like your mother. I feel you ought
to fight it out with Harriet. Every little trifle, for some
reason, does seem incalculably important today, and when you
say of a thing that 'nothing hangs on it,' it sounds like
blasphemy. There's never any knowing--(how am I to put
it?)--which of our actions, which of our idlenesses won't
have things hanging on it for ever."
He assented, but her remark had only an aesthetic value.
He was not prepared to take it to his heart. All the
afternoon he rested--worried, but not exactly despondent.
The thing would jog out somehow. Probably Miss Abbott was
right. The baby had better stop where it was loved. And
that, probably, was what the fates had decreed. He felt
little interest in the matter, and he was sure that he had
It was not surprising, therefore, that the interview at
the Caffe Garibaldi came to nothing. Neither of them took
it very seriously. And before long Gino had discovered how
things lay, and was ragging his companion hopelessly.
Philip tried to look offended, but in the end he had to
laugh. "Well, you are right," he said. "This affair is
being managed by the ladies."
"Ah, the ladies--the ladies!" cried the other, and then
he roared like a millionaire for two cups of black coffee,
and insisted on treating his friend, as a sign that their
strife was over.
"Well, I have done my best," said Philip, dipping a long
slice of sugar into his cup, and watching the brown liquid
ascend into it. "I shall face my mother with a good
conscience. Will you bear me witness that I've done my best?"
"My poor fellow, I will!" He laid a sympathetic hand on
"And that I have--" The sugar was now impregnated with
coffee, and he bent forward to swallow it. As he did so his
eyes swept the opposite of the Piazza, and he saw there,
watching them, Harriet. "Mia sorella!" he exclaimed. Gino,
much amused, laid his hand upon the little table, and beat
the marble humorously with his fists. Harriet turned away
and began gloomily to inspect the Palazzo Pubblico.
"Poor Harriet!" said Philip, swallowing the sugar. "One
more wrench and it will all be over for her; we are leaving
Gino was sorry for this. "Then you will not be here
this evening as you promised us. All three leaving?"
"All three," said Philip, who had not revealed the
secession of Miss Abbott; "by the night train; at least,
that is my sister's plan. So I'm afraid I shan't be here."
They watched the departing figure of Harriet, and then
entered upon the final civilities. They shook each other
warmly by both hands. Philip was to come again next year,
and to write beforehand. He was to be introduced to Gino's
wife, for he was told of the marriage now. He was to be
godfather to his next baby. As for Gino, he would remember
some time that Philip liked vermouth. He begged him to give
his love to Irma. Mrs. Herriton--should he send her his
sympathetic regards? No; perhaps that would hardly do.
So the two young men parted with a good deal of genuine
affection. For the barrier of language is sometimes a
blessed barrier, which only lets pass what is good. Or--to
put the thing less cynically--we may be better in new clean
words, which have never been tainted by our pettiness or
vice. Philip, at all events, lived more graciously in
Italian, the very phrases of which entice one to be happy
and kind. It was horrible to think of the English of
Harriet, whose every word would be as hard, as distinct, and
as unfinished as a lump of coal.
Harriet, however, talked little. She had seen enough to
know that her brother had failed again, and with unwonted
dignity she accepted the situation. She did her packing,
she wrote up her diary, she made a brown paper cover for the
new Baedeker. Philip, finding her so amenable, tried to
discuss their future plans. But she only said that they
would sleep in Florence, and told him to telegraph for
rooms. They had supper alone. Miss Abbott did not come
down. The landlady told them that Signor Carella had called
on Miss Abbott to say good-bye, but she, though in, had not
been able to see him. She also told them that it had begun
to rain. Harriet sighed, but indicated to her brother that
he was not responsible.
The carriages came round at a quarter past eight. It
was not raining much, but the night was extraordinarily
dark, and one of the drivers wanted to go slowly to the
station. Miss Abbott came down and said that she was ready,
and would start at once.
"Yes, do," said Philip, who was standing in the hall.
"Now that we have quarrelled we scarcely want to travel in
procession all the way down the hill. Well, good-bye; it's
all over at last; another scene in my pageant has shifted."
"Good-bye; it's been a great pleasure to see you. I
hope that won't shift, at all events." She gripped his hand.
"You sound despondent," he said, laughing. "Don't
forget that you return victorious."
"I suppose I do," she replied, more despondently than
ever, and got into the carriage. He concluded that she was
thinking of her reception at Sawston, whither her fame would
doubtless precede her. Whatever would Mrs. Herriton do?
She could make things quite unpleasant when she thought it
right. She might think it right to be silent, but then
there was Harriet. Who would bridle Harriet's tongue?
Between the two of them Miss Abbott was bound to have a bad
time. Her reputation, both for consistency and for moral
enthusiasm, would be lost for ever.
"It's hard luck on her," he thought. "She is a good
person. I must do for her anything I can." Their intimacy
had been very rapid, but he too hoped that it would not
shift. He believed that he understood her, and that she, by
now, had seen the worst of him. What if after a long
time--if after all--he flushed like a boy as he looked after
He went into the dining-room to look for Harriet.
Harriet was not to be found. Her bedroom, too, was empty.
All that was left of her was the purple prayer-book which
lay open on the bed. Philip took it up aimlessly, and
saw--"Blessed be the Lord my God who teacheth my hands to war
and my fingers to fight." He put the book in his pocket,
and began to brood over more profitable themes.
Santa Deodata gave out half past eight. All the luggage
was on, and still Harriet had not appeared. "Depend upon
it," said the landlady, "she has gone to Signor Carella's to
say good-bye to her little nephew." Philip did not think it
likely. They shouted all over the house and still there was
no Harriet. He began to be uneasy. He was helpless without
Miss Abbott; her grave, kind face had cheered him
wonderfully, even when it looked displeased. Monteriano was
sad without her; the rain was thickening; the scraps of
Donizetti floated tunelessly out of the wineshops, and of
the great tower opposite he could only see the base, fresh
papered with the advertisements of quacks.
A man came up the street with a note. Philip read,
"Start at once. Pick me up outside the gate. Pay the
bearer. H. H."
"Did the lady give you this note?" he cried.
The man was unintelligible.
"Speak up!" exclaimed Philip. "Who gave it you--and where?"
Nothing but horrible sighings and bubblings came out of
"Be patient with him," said the driver, turning round on
the box. "It is the poor idiot." And the landlady came out
of the hotel and echoed "The poor idiot. He cannot speak.
He takes messages for us all."
Philip then saw that the messenger was a ghastly
creature, quite bald, with trickling eyes and grey twitching
nose. In another country he would have been shut up; here
he was accepted as a public institution, and part of
"Ugh!" shuddered the Englishman. "Signora padrona, find
out from him; this note is from my sister. What does it
mean? Where did he see her?"
"It is no good," said the landlady. "He understands
everything but he can explain nothing."
"He has visions of the saints," said the man who drove
"But my sister--where has she gone? How has she met him?"
"She has gone for a walk," asserted the landlady. It
was a nasty evening, but she was beginning to understand the
English. "She has gone for a walk--perhaps to wish good-bye
to her little nephew. Preferring to come back another way,
she has sent you this note by the poor idiot and is waiting
for you outside the Siena gate. Many of my guests do this."
There was nothing to do but to obey the message. He
shook hands with the landlady, gave the messenger a nickel
piece, and drove away. After a dozen yards the carriage
stopped. The poor idiot was running and whimpering behind.
"Go on," cried Philip. "I have paid him plenty."
A horrible hand pushed three soldi into his lap. It was
part of the idiot's malady only to receive what was just for
his services. This was the change out of the nickel piece.
"Go on!" shouted Philip, and flung the money into the
road. He was frightened at the episode; the whole of life
had become unreal. It was a relief to be out of the Siena
gate. They drew up for a moment on the terrace. But there
was no sign of Harriet. The driver called to the Dogana
men. But they had seen no English lady pass.
"What am I to do?" he cried; "it is not like the lady to
be late. We shall miss the train."
"Let us drive slowly," said the driver, "and you shall
call her by name as we go."
So they started down into the night, Philip calling
"Harriet! Harriet! Harriet!" And there she was, waiting
for them in the wet, at the first turn of the zigzag.
"Harriet, why don't you answer?"
"I heard you coming," said she, and got quickly in. Not
till then did he see that she carried a bundle.
"Whatever is that?"
Harriet had succeeded where Miss Abbott and Philip had
failed. It was the baby.
She would not let him talk. The baby, she repeated, was
asleep, and she put up an umbrella to shield it and her from
the rain. He should hear all later, so he had to conjecture
the course of the wonderful interview--an interview between
the South pole and the North. It was quite easy to
conjecture: Gino crumpling up suddenly before the intense
conviction of Harriet; being told, perhaps, to his face that
he was a villain; yielding his only son perhaps for money,
perhaps for nothing. "Poor Gino," he thought. "He's no
greater than I am, after all."
Then he thought of Miss Abbott, whose carriage must be
descending the darkness some mile or two below them, and his
easy self-accusation failed. She, too, had conviction; he
had felt its force; he would feel it again when she knew
this day's sombre and unexpected close.
"You have been pretty secret," he said; "you might tell
me a little now. What do we pay for him? All we've got?"
"Hush!" answered Harriet, and dandled the bundle
laboriously, like some bony prophetess--Judith, or Deborah,
or Jael. He had last seen the baby sprawling on the knees
of Miss Abbott, shining and naked, with twenty miles of view
behind him, and his father kneeling by his feet. And that
remembrance, together with Harriet, and the darkness, and
the poor idiot, and the silent rain, filled him with sorrow
and with the expectation of sorrow to come.
Monteriano had long disappeared, and he could see
nothing but the occasional wet stem of an olive, which their
lamp illumined as they passed it. They travelled quickly,
for this driver did not care how fast he went to the
station, and would dash down each incline and scuttle
perilously round the curves.
"Look here, Harriet," he said at last, "I feel bad; I
want to see the baby."
"I don't mind if I do wake him up. I want to see him.
I've as much right in him as you."
Harriet gave in. But it was too dark for him to see the
child's face. "Wait a minute," he whispered, and before she
could stop him he had lit a match under the shelter of her
umbrella. "But he's awake!" he exclaimed. The match went out.
"Good ickle quiet boysey, then."
Philip winced. "His face, do you know, struck me as all
"All puckered queerly."
"Of course--with the shadows--you couldn't see him."
"Well, hold him up again." She did so. He lit another
match. It went out quickly, but not before he had seen that
the baby was crying.
"Nonsense," said Harriet sharply. "We should hear him
if he cried."
"No, he's crying hard; I thought so before, and I'm
Harriet touched the child's face. It was bathed in
tears. "Oh, the night air, I suppose," she said, "or
perhaps the wet of the rain."
"I say, you haven't hurt it, or held it the wrong way,
or anything; it is too uncanny--crying and no noise. Why
didn't you get Perfetta to carry it to the hotel instead of
muddling with the messenger? It's a marvel he understood
about the note."
"Oh, he understands." And he could feel her shudder.
"He tried to carry the baby--"
"But why not Gino or Perfetta?"
"Philip, don't talk. Must I say it again? Don't talk.
The baby wants to sleep." She crooned harshly as they
descended, and now and then she wiped up the tears which
welled inexhaustibly from the little eyes. Philip looked
away, winking at times himself. It was as if they were
travelling with the whole world's sorrow, as if all the
mystery, all the persistency of woe were gathered to a
single fount. The roads were now coated with mud, and the
carriage went more quietly but not less swiftly, sliding by
long zigzags into the night. He knew the landmarks pretty
well: here was the crossroad to Poggibonsi; and the last
view of Monteriano, if they had light, would be from here.
Soon they ought to come to that little wood where violets
were so plentiful in spring. He wished the weather had not
changed; it was not cold, but the air was extraordinarily
damp. It could not be good for the child.
"I suppose he breathes, and all that sort of thing?" he said.
"Of course," said Harriet, in an angry whisper. "You've
started him again. I'm certain he was asleep. I do wish
you wouldn't talk; it makes me so nervous."
"I'm nervous too. I wish he'd scream. It's too
uncanny. Poor Gino! I'm terribly sorry for Gino."
"Because he's weak--like most of us. He doesn't know
what he wants. He doesn't grip on to life. But I like that
man, and I'm sorry for him."
Naturally enough she made no answer.
"You despise him, Harriet, and you despise me. But you
do us no good by it. We fools want some one to set us on
our feet. Suppose a really decent woman had set up Gino--I
believe Caroline Abbott might have done it--mightn't he have
been another man?"
"Philip," she interrupted, with an attempt at
nonchalance, "do you happen to have those matches handy? We
might as well look at the baby again if you have."
The first match blew out immediately. So did the
second. He suggested that they should stop the carriage and
borrow the lamp from the driver.
"Oh, I don't want all that bother. Try again."
They entered the little wood as he tried to strike the
third match. At last it caught. Harriet poised the
umbrella rightly, and for a full quarter minute they
contemplated the face that trembled in the light of the
trembling flame. Then there was a shout and a crash. They
were lying in the mud in darkness. The carriage had overturned.
Philip was a good deal hurt. He sat up and rocked
himself to and fro, holding his arm. He could just make out
the outline of the carriage above him, and the outlines of
the carriage cushions and of their luggage upon the grey
road. The accident had taken place in the wood, where it
was even darker than in the open.
"Are you all right?" he managed to say. Harriet was
screaming, the horse was kicking, the driver was cursing
some other man.
Harriet's screams became coherent. "The baby--the
baby--it slipped--it's gone from my arms--I stole it!"
"God help me!" said Philip. A cold circle came round
his mouth, and, he fainted.
When he recovered it was still the same confusion. The
horse was kicking, the baby had not been found, and Harriet
still screamed like a maniac, "I stole it! I stole it! I
stole it! It slipped out of my arms!"
"Keep still!" he commanded the driver. "Let no one
move. We may tread on it. Keep still."
For a moment they all obeyed him. He began to crawl
through the mud, touching first this, then that, grasping
the cushions by mistake, listening for the faintest whisper
that might guide him. He tried to light a match, holding
the box in his teeth and striking at it with the uninjured
hand. At last he succeeded, and the light fell upon the
bundle which he was seeking.
It had rolled off the road into the wood a little way,
and had fallen across a great rut. So tiny it was that had
it fallen lengthways it would have disappeared, and he might
never have found it.
"I stole it! I and the idiot--no one was there." She
burst out laughing.
He sat down and laid it on his knee. Then he tried to
cleanse the face from the mud and the rain and the tears.
His arm, he supposed, was broken, but he could still move it
a little, and for the moment he forgot all pain. He was
listening--not for a cry, but for the tick of a heart or the
slightest tremor of breath.
"Where are you?" called a voice. It was Miss Abbott,
against whose carriage they had collided. She had relit one
of the lamps, and was picking her way towards him.
"Silence!" he called again, and again they obeyed. He
shook the bundle; he breathed into it; he opened his coat
and pressed it against him. Then he listened, and heard
nothing but the rain and the panting horses, and Harriet,
who was somewhere chuckling to herself in the dark.
Miss Abbott approached, and took it gently from him.
The face was already chilly, but thanks to Philip it was no
longer wet. Nor would it again be wetted by any tear.
The details of Harriet's crime were never known. In her
illness she spoke more of the inlaid box that she lent to
Lilia--lent, not given--than of recent troubles. It was clear
that she had gone prepared for an interview with Gino, and
finding him out, she had yielded to a grotesque temptation.
But how far this was the result of ill-temper, to what
extent she had been fortified by her religion, when and how
she had met the poor idiot--these questions were never
answered, nor did they interest Philip greatly. Detection
was certain: they would have been arrested by the police of
Florence or Milan, or at the frontier. As it was, they had
been stopped in a simpler manner a few miles out of the town.
As yet he could scarcely survey the thing. It was too
great. Round the Italian baby who had died in the mud there
centred deep passions and high hopes. People had been
wicked or wrong in the matter; no one save himself had been
trivial. Now the baby had gone, but there remained this
vast apparatus of pride and pity and love. For the dead,
who seemed to take away so much, really take with them
nothing that is ours. The passion they have aroused lives