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Title: Lamia's Winter-Quarters
Author: Austin, Alfred
Language: English
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LAMIA’S WINTER-QUARTERS


[Illustration:]


       *       *       *       *       *

  IN THE SAME SERIES

  THE GARDEN
  THAT I LOVE

  BY

  ALFRED AUSTIN

  WITH 16 FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS
  IN COLOUR

  BY

  GEORGE S. ELGOOD, R.I.

  ORDINARY EDITION, PRICE =7/6= NET

  EDITION DE LUXE,  PRICE =21s.= NET

  “The illustrations are worthy of the book, which
  is one of the most charming books about a garden
  in the language.”—_Daily Chronicle._

  “This sumptuous edition will enhance the
  appreciation even of this much-appreciated book.”—_Aberdeen
  Free Press._


  PUBLISHED BY A. & C. BLACK, LONDON


                                AGENTS

 AMERICA  THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 64 & 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

 CANADA   THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA, LTD. 27 RICHMOND STREET WEST,
          TORONTO

 INDIA    MACMILLAN & COMPANY, LTD. MACMILLAN BUILDING, BOMBAY 309 BOW
          BAZAAR STREET, CALCUTTA

       *       *       *       *       *


[Illustration: ‘AND OUT OF A VALLEY OF GRAPE AND GRAIN THERE
                BLOSSOMS A CITY OF DOMES AND TOWERS’]


LAMIA’S WINTER-QUARTERS

by

ALFRED AUSTIN

Author of ‘The Garden That I Love,’ ‘In Veronica’S Garden,‘ ’Haunts of
Ancient Peace,’ and ‘The Poet’S Diary’



[Illustration: Colophon]

London
Adam and Charles Black
1907

This Edition is issued with the kind consent of
Messrs. Macmillan & Co., Ltd.



[Illustration]


                             Introduction

                                  TO

           THE EDITION ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE S. ELGOOD, R.I.


‘I observe,’ said Lamia, ‘that another of those somewhat numerous prose
performances of yours, that are more or less remotely connected with
Gardens, and which you were pleased, without any previous consultation
with me, to entitle _Lamia’s Winter-Quarters_, is, like the first
of the series, _The Garden That I Love_, to be issued in an equally
luxurious form, and to be illustrated by the attractive talent of Mr.
Elgood. But since this project, to which my attention was called by
that now universal source of information, advertisements, has been
alluded to, do you mind telling me why you called our delightful
sojourn in a Tuscan villa overlooking Florence my winter-quarters
rather than the Poet’s winter-quarters, or Veronica’s, or, for that
matter, even yours?‘

Somewhat embarrassed, I replied:

‘To have called the book my winter-quarters would have savoured of
egotism, and would, moreover, I fear, have failed in attractiveness.’

‘But against Veronica’s name, or the Poet’s, no such objection would
lie?‘

‘Perhaps not,’ I said. ‘But possibly from living with them, to say
nothing of you, I have acquired a habit of respect for the fact; and it
was more consonant with truth to call the winter-quarters yours.’

‘How is that?’ she asked.

‘Well, you see, Veronica does what the Poet wishes, and the Poet does
what you wish, and so——’

‘I beg to say,’ she interrupted, ‘_that_ is not the fact. _I_ do what
the _Poet_ wishes.’

‘Is not that much the same thing?’ I replied. ‘You always seem to have
the same wish about everything. So I suppose you felt precisely as he
did when he wrote those adulatory lines which I saw in the public
prints, a few days ago, under the heading, “A Poetical Impromptu.”‘

‘Really! He wrote no such, nor indeed any, lines, never having seen nor
heard of the lady in question, in his life.’

‘Is it possible?‘ ‘Everything of that kind is possible in these days.’

‘But did he not contradict it?‘ ‘Did he contradict! Like a good many
other men, he would have to keep a Secretary for no other purpose than
to contradict what is reported in the papers, and most of which they
probably never see. I should think he turned the opportunity to better
account by recalling a couplet of Pope—

    ‘Let Dennis charge all Grub Street on my quill,
    I wished the man a dinner, and sate still.’

‘But,’ I said, ‘are not such inventions calculated to injure the
influence of the prints that resort to them?’

‘I should think so,’ she said, honouring me for once by talking
seriously. ‘But whose, and what, influence is not being injured
just now by their own misdoings? The House of Commons, for instance,
though more written and talked about than ever, has long been losing
influence, and the Press is now following suit; and it is the silent,
or comparatively silent, persons and forces that are acquiring or
increasing influence; the Monarchy, the House of Lords, and——’

‘The House of Lords!’ I exclaimed. ‘I thought it was going to be
abolished, or to have its very moderate claims yet further curtailed.’

‘Did you?’ she answered. ‘Then your thoughts are not of much value. I
daresay it would be difficult to persuade Politicians that Shakespeare
was wiser than all the sons of the Mother of Parliaments put together;
and what does he say?

    ‘Take but degree away, untune that string,
    And mark what discord follows.

And so long as the British nation continues on the whole to be sane, it
will never consent to take “degree” away, in order to fasten on itself
a dead level and a tyrannical uniformity.‘

I was so flattered by Lamia having, in a short space of time,
condescended to talk seriously with me, that I thought a favourable
opportunity had arisen for preferring any request that I wanted her to
grant. Encouraged by this feeling, I ventured to say:

‘A great adornment and advantage to the forthcoming volume would be
a portrait of the person whose name is associated with it; in other
words, a portrait of Lamia.’

‘So it has come to that!’ she replied. ‘Not satisfied with having
travestied me in—let me see—yes, one, two, three, four, five successive
volumes, _The Garden That I Love_, _In Veronica’s Garden_, _Lamia’s
Winter-Quarters_, _Haunts of Ancient Peace_, and _The Poet’s Diary_,
you now propose to vulgarise my ideal loveliness and magnetic
personality in order to gratify the curiosity of a number of persons
who have never seen me, and never will. Let me never hear of such a
proposal again. As the little boy said, “Myself is my own”; and, if it
please you, part of

                          ‘...the gleam,
    The light that never was on sea or land,
    The consecration, and the Poet’s dream.‘

‘Your wish is my law,’ I hastened to say, and was about to snatch at
the first subject I could think of to ward off further reproof, when
she held out a little posy of Penzance sweet-briar roses she had been
wearing, saying in her sweetest manner, as though afraid she might
have wounded me, ‘Are they not lovely? No, keep them, if you care to
do so. They remind me of something I saw the other day, when, on my way
to London for a few hours, the train halted between Waterloo Station
and Charing Cross at a point overlooking a number of back plots and
alleys of the humblest description; and the one immediately below me
arrested my gaze. There were two short rows of the purest white linen,
lately out of the wash-tub, hanging out to dry; and under them, a
hammock, with a chubby baby in it, fast asleep. A few feet behind was a
red-brick wall, and along its foot three rows of pelargoniums in full
flower, and evidently most carefully hoed and watered. A comely looking
woman, with her sleeves tucked up as far as they would go, came out
of the house, peeped into the hammock, kissed, or rather hugged the
baby, and then turned it round to screen it a little from the direct
rays of the sun that were shining on this little paradise. Then the
train moved on; and I thought to myself, with a feeling of quiet joy,
that neither the garden that we love, nor the Tuscan garden that was
our winter-quarters, nor all the gardens and palaces in the world,
contain more happiness than those few yards of ground in one of the
humblest parts of London, tenanted by linen hung out to dry, three rows
of pelargoniums, a hammock with a sleeping child in it, and a loving
mother.’

‘I wish I had seen it,’ I said.

‘I described it to the Poet,’ Lamia replied; ‘and he then did indulge
in an Impromptu, which—let me think a moment—yes—ran somewhat like this:

    ‘How blest are they who hunger not
      For riches or renown,
    And keep, within a narrow plot,
      A country heart in town;

    ‘Who envy not, though lowly born,
      Luxurious lives above,
    But blend with toil, renewed each morn,
      The bliss of blameless Love.’

[Illustration]



[Illustration]


List of Illustrations

BY GEORGE S. ELGOOD, R.I.


  1. ‘And out of a valley of grape and grain there
  blossoms a City of domes and towers’                   _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE

  2. ‘Peach-trees ablow’                                              10

  3. Baveno and Isola Pescatori, Lago Maggiore                        18

  4. Orange Grove, Mentone                                            22

  5. Pear-blossom, Maritime Alps                                      40

  6. ‘Between the mountains and the sea’                              52

  7. Florence                                                         60

  8. A Tuscan Villa                                                   64

  9. A Noble Fountain                                                 80

  10. Peach, Plum, and Pear-blossom                                   84

  11. Florence                                                        88

  12. Roses and Iris                                                 100

  13. ‘Everywhere are roses, roses’                                  118

  14. Our Tuscan Garden                                              138

  15. Through the Olives, Florence                                   150

  16. Larkspurs                                                      160

_The head and tailpieces throughout the volume are from pen and ink
drawings by William Scott._

[Illustration]



[Illustration]


INVOCATION


I

    Where Apennine slopes unto Tuscan plain,
      And breaks into dimples, and laughs to flowers,
    To see where the terrors of Winter wane,
    And out of a valley of grape and grain
      There blossoms a City of domes and towers.


II

    Teuton, Lombard, and grasping Gaul,
      Prince and Pontiff, have forced their way,
    Have forded the river, and scaled the wall,
    And made in its palaces stye and stall,
      Where spears might glisten and war-steeds neigh.


III

    But ever since Florence was fair and young,
      And the sun upon turret and belfry shone,
    Were her windows bannered and joy-bells rung,
    When back to his saddle the Stranger sprung,
      And lances were lifted and pikemen gone.


IV

    Yes, ever and ever till you, my Queen,
      Came over the sea that is all your own,
    When the tear on the tip of the vine is seen,
    And the fig-tree cressets have flamed to green,
      And windflower wakened, and tulip blown.


V

    Then roses were showered before your feet,
      And her lily-crowned gonfalons waved above,
    And children chanted in square and street,
    ‘All hail to the Monarch may free men greet,
      Whose sceptre is Peace, and whose Throne is Love.’


VI

    And now that each snow-torrent foams and falls,
      And the oreoles sing and the skylarks soar,
    And the lithe swallow circles her rose-white walls,
    Through the clefts of the Apennine Florence calls,
      ‘More welcome than Spring,’ come back once more!


VII

    ‘Come back, for the cuckoo is on its way,
      And the mountains, smiling, await your smile;
    And still in my olive-groves bask and stray,
    Till the warm-winged waters and winds of May
      Shall waft you back to your own loved Isle.’

    I CEDRI,
    PIAN DI RIPOLI, FLORENCE,
    _Lady-Day, 1898_.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



[Illustration]


LAMIA’S WINTER-QUARTERS


‘Where is Lamia?’

The inquiry is one not infrequently made; for, while most of us can
vanish without being missed, some favoured individuals there are whose
disappearance at once excites a sense of loss; and Lamia is one of
these. The question, I need scarcely say, was put by Veronica; since
the Poet maintains a fine irresponsible attitude respecting others as
well as about himself, and, however anxious I may be to keep sight of
Lamia, I am hardly so simple as to betray my desire. But, responding
with sincere alacrity to Veronica’s question, I protested I had not the
faintest notion where she was, but would at once go in search of her.

Veronica’s solicitude was, I suspect, prompted by that deep-seated
regard for decorous behaviour, which, far from leaving it at home,
she had carefully brought abroad as peculiarly applicable to foreign
parts and Continental manners. She is well aware that, in the matter
of social observances, Lamia is capable of almost any enormity;
and her absence from the morning-room of the hotel in the southern
seaport where we were making our first halt, inspired her with natural
misgiving.

The search, as it turned out, was not a long one. Lamia I found seated
under a tall white-flowering magnolia in a leafy garden hard by, where
oleanders already well set for bloom, though still far from their
flowering season, and trees that for some unknown reason English people
call mimosas, but which they should learn to speak of as acacias, and
various evergreen shrubs of stately stature, concerning which I should
not at present like to be too closely cross-questioned, offered a
sufficient protection against the burning December morning sun, while
permitting occasional glimpses of deep-blue sky. Ostensibly, she was
having a further polish put on her brown leather shoes by a black-eyed,
black-haired, tawny-skinned urchin, who entered into her humour with
true Southern adaptability, and who would have gone on performing his
quite unnecessary office as long as ever the young lady desired. For
the moment, I think, she had forgotten all about him, for she had three
oranges in her lap,—‘One for each of you,’ she said,—and was delicately
dividing the other for her own delectation. A large spray of Parma
violets, fastened to her attractive person, I need scarcely say exactly
where they should be, completed her recent purchases.

‘Do you mind asking Veronica to come and see me?’ she said, ‘for I
never was so happy in my life.’

I bethought me of the somewhat stern interrogatory, ‘Where is Lamia?’
and merely observed that Veronica was superintending the final
operations of the maid in the matter of repacking, and probably would
wish not to be disturbed.

‘How strange!’ said Lamia, ‘and how tastes differ! The smell of canvas
covers and leather straps is particularly disagreeable to me; whereas
the island of Zante itself could not be more fragrant than the scent
of these violets and oranges, to say nothing of the magnolia flowers
overhead, and that delightful son of the sunshine at my feet. And to
think that, say thirty-six hours ago, I roused you and the Poet from
your slumbers to look upon a snow-white world! I daresay you will think
me very capricious, but _this_ is the garden that I love.’

‘_Les absens ont toujours tort_,’ said the Poet, emerging from a shady
avenue behind her. At the sound of his voice she rose somewhat hastily,
as though a performance quite good enough for me was scarcely consonant
with the half-courtly veneration she entertains for him; gave the
oranges in her lap and a franc-piece to the smiling young urchin, who
thought her more fascinating than ever, and said reproachfully, ‘Then
why do _you_ absent yourself?’

‘That was hardly what I meaned,’ he replied. ‘I was referring rather
to the position of inferiority you assign to the garden that we love,
because it is now far away from us. But you are quite right, and are
going to Italy in the proper spirit. Whatever you see there, admire
consumedly, and you cannot be far wrong.’

‘Are we not in Italy already?‘ ‘Almost. Its vestibule is Provence.’

       *       *       *       *       *

I suppose it is because we are very simple folk, and lead at home a
rather primitive life, that we find everything new which most other
people find familiar, and so many things attractive that the bulk
of the world treat as undeserving of attention. Along that magical
coast, where we turned our gaze first to the sea-fringe, then to the
hill declivities, then back again to the white-laced bays, and never
being able to determine which were the more beautiful, I observe that
persons who have travelled many hundreds of miles in order to enjoy
the sunshine and glamour of the South, are well content to make this
entrancing journey in a railway carriage, pulling down the blinds if
the sun be a trifle too hot, and conning their newspaper or turning
over the leaves of some conventional novel, in any case. That was not
our way of travelling, which was a good deal more leisurely and more
old-fashioned. We should have liked to find ourselves behind Veronica’s
ponies, but our hired vehicle did well enough; and, while we never
asked our cheerfully communicative driver to quicken his pace, we
frequently begged him to slacken it, and over and over again bade him
halt altogether. Although, save to Lamia, the road was no new one, we
all alike had fresh unsophisticated eyes for it, and all of us found
it a veritable wonder-world. Indeed, I could not help reflecting that
we behaved very much as we behave at home in the garden that we love,
declaring that the last blue creek, or the last secular olive-grove,
was the most wonderful we had yet seen, for no better reason than that
it _was_ the last.

‘And they told me,’ said Lamia, ‘that the scenery is so monotonous, and
that bay follows bay, and mountain repeats mountain, with provoking
uniformity. Why, there are not any two alike. I only wish human beings
were as diverse.’

‘It all depends,’ said the Poet, ‘whether you look lovingly or
unlovingly, passionately or dispassionately. One must be intoxicated by
scenery, in order to appreciate it. Tranquil survey is not enough, and
scrutinising curiosity is fatal.’

‘I am sure,’ said Lamia, ‘Veronica is not intoxicated. She is
tranquillity itself.’

‘Veronica, you mean,’ was his reply, ‘does not effervesce. But her
silence is, perhaps, the measure of her emotion.’

‘O stop! stop! I _must_ have some of those anemones.‘ How often a
kindred need of this kind arose on the part of Lamia, it would be
hard to say; but, by degrees, every part of the carriage that was not
occupied by ourselves was filled with tulips, windflowers, roses, and
long branches of early-flowering golden acacia.

‘You baby!’ said Veronica, ‘what are you going to do with them all?’

‘You shall see, when luncheon-hour has arrived.‘ ‘Which I think it now
has,’ I ventured to suggest.

Thereupon we came to a standstill; the driver took bit and bridle off
his willing little nags, and replaced them with well-filled nose-bags,
while we unloaded our hampers, that were as commodiously as they were
generously stocked. The unpacking of them went on under the skilful
direction of Veronica, who would no more have dreamed of allowing us
to lunch _al fresco_ without spotless table-cloth, neat napkins, and
all the apparatus of civilisation, than in her parlour at home. But
she allowed Lamia to select the spot; and the choice, though made
from romantic rather than from practical impulse, proved to be not
wanting in comfort. Under a carob-tree, the first Lamia had ever seen,
the cloth was spread; and then she scattered rather than arranged her
lately gathered flowers, with infinite taste. A short distance away, as
we looked under the olive-trees across the ruddy clods and accidental
wild-flowers, were the innumerable dimples of the amiable sea; and,
did we turn our heads, slopes of terraced fertility mounted gradually
toward deciduous clusters of woodland, and peaks of more accentuated
pine.

‘Will it be very unromantic,’ asked Lamia, ‘to seem hungry? Because if
it would, as I should not like to hurt any one’s feelings, I can sate
the edge of appetite with bare imagination of a feast, or, at most,
with the unsubstantial pageant of a mandarin orange.‘ Veronica’s reply
was to cut some solid slices of galantine of fowl, and to tell me to
do the same to one of those long rolls of crisp crust which contrast
so favourably with the semi-barbarous baker’s bread of our own beloved
island. The Poet, as of right, withdrew the tow from the withy-bound
flask of ruby wine, saying to me, and to me only, as he did so,
‘_Siccis omnia nam dura deus proposuit_.’ It was our first open-air
meal under the southern sky; and even Veronica, who, as we all know, is
rather on the side of indoor festivity at home, could not protest that,
in the shelter Lamia had chosen for us, it was a touch too cold for the
pleasant and perfectly safe satisfaction of our appetite.

‘Is it always like this?’ asked Lamia.

‘Far from it,’ I was going to reply; but the Poet anticipated me.

‘Yes, always, Lamia! always, always, always! No one deserves to travel
who anticipates anything less agreeable than what he is enjoying at the
moment. Should it ever be different, let us hope we shall know how to
meet it. Meanwhile, let us think as little as possible of to-morrow.’

‘We can all see,’ said Lamia, ‘that such was the spirit in which you
travelled in your youth. In your rhythmical record of the journey
which you took—not with Veronica, I believe,—along this meandering
coast-line, there is never a stanza, a line, even a word, to indicate
that the myrtle ever ceases to bloom, or that the sun ever forgets to
shine.’

‘You forget there is a terrific storm,’ said Veronica, whose
acquaintance with the Poet’s verse, though less frequently exhibited,
is, I must confess, a good deal more intimate than Lamia’s.

‘Yes,’ said Lamia, quite undisconcerted, ‘only to disappear with the
return of dawn, and never to be heard of again; and thenceforth we are
told of nothing but genial airs, temperate sunshine, almond-trees and
peach-trees ablow, and oleanders reddening into bloom.’

‘You must remember,’ said the Poet, ‘that the journey was made in
the very flush and heyday of the Spring; and, if I have in any way
exaggerated what I then beheld, was it not the proper exaggeration of
rapture? It is the instinctive function of Art to reject, to select,
and rightly to magnify what remains. Looking back, I seem to have
omitted much, but to have exaggerated nothing. Have you not observed
that the first impression we receive of scenery, as, indeed, of people
likewise, is the one that abides with us? Many times since, I have
beheld this tract betwixt mountain and main veiled in mist, dimmed by
dust, even powdered with snow. But I always think of it as I saw it
first.’

[Illustration: ‘PEACH-TREES ABLOW’]

‘Do you often think of Olympia?’ Lamia took courage to ask, seeing the
Poet so effusive. ‘Was she very lovely?’

‘She was lovely beyond words,’ he answered, readily responding to her
humour. ‘In fact, my recollection of her is that she was as perfect as
the scenery in which she moved and had her being.’

‘How nice! I wish I had been Olympia, except that she seems to have
had rather a scanty allowance of luggage for a longish journey, and
no appetite to speak of, seeing that, if I remember rightly, she was
quite satisfied with a missal and some dried figs. I fear, after all, I
should have been but ill equipped for the character.‘ Veronica, to show
her displeasure at Lamia’s levity with things deemed sacred, had risen
from the olive bole on which she was sitting, and moved towards the
sea. Lamia, quick to take a hint, went on, but with an altered voice:

‘Tell me, dear Poet, what took you first to Italy.’

‘An irrepressible longing. It was first aroused in me, I think, by
reading, in tender years, Arnold’s _History of Rome_, whereby I
believed as firmly in the Palatine she-wolf, the leap into the Curtian
Gulf, the Rape of the Sabine Women, and the nocturnal interviews of
Numa and Egeria, as in any of the immediate facts of one’s schoolboy
existence; nor did the iconoclastic criticism, with which one perforce
made acquaintance later on, in any degree shake that cherished
credulity. What romantic prose originated, was consummated by yet more
wizard verse. To no mediæval scholar was Virgil more of a magician than
to me, and not even Dante would say of him with more truth—

  _Tu se’ lo mio maestro e il mio autore._

I kept repeating, long before I could translate them into action, the
words addressed by Æneas to his immortal Mother, when she appeared to
him in the guise of a huntress in the Carthaginian forest, _Italiam
quaero patriam_; for already it seemed to be a second fatherland. And
when, at length, the moment arrived that the longing could be indulged,
the only words I could find to express my joy were—

  _Tendimus in Latium, sedes ubi fata quietas
  Ostendunt._

‘Stop, stop,’ said Lamia, ‘I wish I understood Latin, but you know I
don’t.‘

‘Then,’ he replied, ‘do as I did before I first went to Italy, being
then much of the age that you are now. I bought the best Italian
grammar I could find, and worked at it as a schoolboy is made to work
at the elementary rules of a dead language. I studied the dictionary
in like manner; so that, when I went to the new land, I might not long
feel quite a stranger there.’

‘The very thing I have been doing, until my brain seems a repository
for the various inflections of the subjunctive mood; and, as Veronica
corrects my pronunciation, I hope, by the time we reach Latium, to
be more or less understanded of the people. But please do not let us
concern ourselves with either my shortcomings or my accomplishments;
but rather tell me, while I make you some coffee in this windless
atmosphere, how you first went to Italy, and when.‘ ‘It is a long story
and will occupy some little time.’

‘And so will the making of coffee, if it is to be made properly,’ said
Veronica, who had now returned to us, and to whose superior powers
Lamia only too willingly surrendered that delicate task.

‘One likes to think,’ he began, ‘that Heaven interests itself in one’s
training; and so I used self-flatteringly to conceive that a special
care arranged the conditions under which one first beheld the shore
of Liguria. I had taken boat at Marseilles direct for Leghorn; and, in
ordinary circumstances, we should have passed some thirty-six hours on
the open sea, far from sight or surmise of land. It was, therefore,
through no intelligent design of one’s own, but through the sheer
bounty of the gods, that the engine broke down a few hours after we
had left Marseilles, but not so completely but that we could continue
our journey. The result was that we had to hug the shore nearly the
whole way. It was the September equinox, and the moon was full; so
night and day we gazed on that bewitching coast; bay after bay, town
after town, village after village, mountain-range after mountain-range,
unfolding themselves to my untravelled gaze. In the course of our
present journey, we shall pass ever and again through gloomy arcades
and narrow ways whose unseemly aspect will probably shock Veronica
and perhaps please none of us. But distance, the enchanter, presented
them to me then as consisting mainly of granite palaces and marble
belfries; and in every fold of every hill nestled villages that seemed
built of porphyry, and wherefrom soared, intermediaries between earth
and heaven, many-storied _campanili_, whose chimes, as they pealed
for _Angelus_ or _Ave Maria_, we could sometimes faintly hear. There
was no cloud in the sky, scarce a ripple on the water, nothing but
sunlight or moonlight in the air. Sleep would have been a desecration
of so ethereal a scene; and I well remember watching the rounded moon
wax paler and paler as the morning sun reddened up over the wave, and
then sink, as in despair of rivalry, behind the hills.‘ ‘O, I say, it’s
boiling!’ said Lamia.

I hope everybody knows that, in making coffee, that is exactly what
it should not be allowed to do; and I fear Lamia had a malicious
pleasure in finding Veronica for once at fault. I cannot but suppose
that Veronica had heard the foregoing story many times before, but she
catches fire so readily from any one’s enthusiasm for Italy, that she
had almost allowed the coffee to do the same. But she so deftly rescued
it from hurt, that, unheeding of Lamia’s exclamation, he went on:

‘I saw, what we shall not see, many a form of half-mysterious
loveliness flit by me under flowing veil down the steps of narrow
streets in the Ligurian Capital,—for we touched for a few hours
at Genoa,—and heard, what we shall not hear, jovial-looking monks
vociferating Vespers in the Baptistery at Pisa; and then, Lamia, then!
I was borne, I scarce know how, along _Val d’ Arno_ through unending
vineyard-avenues that seemed to have dyed the leaves with the colour
of their purple fruit, and amongst which sun-bronzed youths, who
appeared to disport rather than to toil, were singing love-songs to
gaily-kirtled maidens. The fawn-coloured _bovi_ oscillated homeward to
the wine-vat, dragging after them the grape-piled _carri_ with their
wooden wheels; children and lizards, seemingly of kindred race, twisted
in and out among the workers; and, stately of stature and sober of
mien, dark-haired matrons stood outside their spacious but unluxurious
homes, plaiting straw with rhythmically-moving fingers that never
seemed to tire. Then came hills more rounded, softer declivities,
a gradual narrowing of the plain, a forest of domes, belfries, and
towers, and I was in Florence.‘

‘Why was your visit so brief?’

‘You ask why. Can one give a reason for anything one does in one’s
youth? Only I remember, as I reluctantly quitted it, I vowed to return
to it ere long.‘

‘And you kept your vow,’ said Veronica.

‘I remember,’ said Lamia.

‘You remember what?’ I asked. ‘You must have been in your cradle.’

‘Then I suppose,’ she replied, ‘I was extraordinarily precocious.

    ‘The sickle hath performed its work,
      The storm-gusts sweep the aspens bare,
    Careering clouds and shadows mirk
      Cow the disheartened air.

    ‘No swallow circles round the roof,
      No chirp redeems the dripping shed;
    The very gables frown reproof,
      “Why not already fled?”‘

‘Lamia is very unmerciful,’ said the Poet, ‘and does not allow one to
forget the sins of one’s youth. But it is quite true that, before the
leaves had fallen, one was again on one’s way to Italy; not along this
sybaritic coast, but through the austere gorges, now green, now gray,
of the Simplon. When, having left the summit behind us, we zigzagged
downward, the mountains began to wear a gentler aspect, the vegetation
seemed more ample and more unrestrained, the air more soft, the sky
farther off and more ethereal; and suddenly I caught sight of a huge
granite cross, on the outstretched arms of which was deeply cut the
word _Italia_! I trembled with delight; and, from that hour to this,
the word “Italy” has never lost its magic. On we deviously descended,
past slopes of intermittent chestnut groves whose leaves, fantastically
faded, had not yet fallen, till my driver exclaimed, “Eccolo! Signore!”
and there basked Baveno by the edge of the lake in the setting sun, and
the Borromean Islands seemed rather floating in the air than resting on
the water. It was a true Saint Luke’s summer, where all things seemed
stationary in a season of arrested change before the winter winds
should arise and everything pass away. I have never again seen Nature
in a mood of such absolute abstraction and self-contemplation; and
she communicated to one’s spirit her own autumnal detachment from the
seasons that are feverish with growth, and the seasons that are shaken
by decay.‘

The description of suspended animation in the natural world seemed to
infect us with a kindred tranquillity, and for awhile there followed it
a sympathetic silence.

‘I know,’ said Lamia at length, ‘your aversion to the curiosity of
the interviewer. But is it permissible to ask if it might not be worth
while to record some such reminiscences as you have just recited; in a
word,—do not be angry with me,— to do what so many other people have
done, and to write an autobiography?’

[Illustration: BAVENO AND ISOLA PESCATORI, LAGO MAGGIORE]

‘I have written it,’ he said.

‘And when shall you publish it?’

‘Dear Lamia, it is published already.‘ ‘I do not understand,’ she said,
‘for certainly it is unknown to me.’

‘I fancy not,’ he replied. ‘Indeed, I gather that you have paid me the
compliment of reading much of it more than once.’

As Lamia still seemed puzzled, Veronica broke in with a slight touch of
impatience:

‘You are scarcely as intelligent as usual, Lamia. Surely what he means
you to understand is that a man’s works are his autobiography.‘

‘Exactly. But enough surely—perhaps somewhat too much—of that subject;
and our little horses are ringing a carillon with their bells, as if to
remind us it is time we were again on our way.’

‘One moment,’ said Lamia, raising her hand deprecatingly. ‘Before we
quit this first fair spot of rest in Southern air, grace must be said
for our _al fresco_ repast. You know what form we like that grace to
take. Be it as brief as you will, but it must be in verse.’

‘We are not in Sicily,’ he said, ‘nor am I Theocritus. But Veronica
asked me the other day if I could give her some idea of the short
pastoral idylls written two thousand years ago, which not all of us can
read, but of which all of us have heard. I am not so presumptuous as
to suppose I have succeeded in responding adequately to her wish; but
perhaps our almost Sicilian surroundings, and the indulgent temper of
the hour, may confer on the attempt something of the appropriateness it
would otherwise lack.

    ‘Shepherd swains that feed your flocks
    ‘Mong the grassy-rooted rocks,
    While I still see sun and moon,
    Grant to me this simple boon:
    As I sit on craggy seat,
    And your kids and young lambs bleat,
    Let who on the pierced pipe blows
    Play the sweetest air he knows.
    And, when I no more shall hear
    Grasshopper or chanticleer,
    Strew green bay and yellow broom
    On the silence of my tomb;
    And, still giving as you gave,
    Milk a she-goat at my grave.
    For, though life and joy be fled,
    Dear are love-gifts to the dead.’[1]

 [1] The Poet has since told me that these lines are a free paraphrase
 of an idyll by Leonidas of Tarentum, who lived in the time of Pyrrhus.

Then up we got, and onward we went, past rocks, and waves, and
arbutus, and white heath,—not the white heath of home, but towering
and flowering fifteen or even twenty feet into the air,—and _Cineraria
maritima_, and Bacchic ivy, groups of eucalyptus and acacia, and
glimpses of hill and sky, with here and there a hurrying zigzag
torrent. What seaweed there was, was golden, and the surging and
swirling of the silvery water over and among it and the red rocks
was strangely beautiful. The liliputian waves kept coming on and
breaking, as in any other sea, but never advancing. As Lamia said,
what motion there was seemed purposeless motion, resembling the sport
of children rather than the work of grown-up people. But her greatest
delight was yet to come; for, late that afternoon, she beheld the
first orange-grove glittering and glistening on the sunny outskirts of
a gray-roofed little town, whose bright green _jalousies_ more than
relieved what would otherwise have seemed its somewhat sombre aspect.
Thoughtful Veronica made her take the seat in the carriage where she
might command them best, and her spoken raptures were what we all,
though more travelled than she, silently felt.

‘O, the Garden that you love is nothing, nothing, nothing, compared
with this, which is not a garden at all, but a fairy grove of light and
lustre. Do let us stop and pluck some of the golden fruit!’

‘Better not,’ said Veronica, ‘for doing so might dissipate your dream.
They are lovely to look at, but indifferent to the taste. Neither is
it their best season. Wait to gather oranges till, if ever, you are at
Sorrento in the heart of May.’

‘Yes,’ said the Poet, ‘these are well enough; but they are a feeble
imitation of their fellows in the real South, the true Ausonia.’

Lamia was as ready to believe everything she was told as to admire
everything she saw; and her only lament was that, even though moving at
a leisurely pace, beautiful scene after beautiful scene was withdrawn
from her gaze along that winding road, almost before she could really
behold it.

[Illustration: ORANGE GROVE, MENTONE]

There came a stage in our journey which, as you may suppose, was not
by any means one of a single day, when I felt certain a question would
arise likely to lead to some difference of opinion, and I was curious
to see how it would arrange itself. But, like Lamia herself, who was
the person mainly interested, I carefully avoided all allusion to
it. She, with infinitely more tact, as becomes a woman, kept gradually
and dexterously leading up to it, while seeming to be quite unconscious
of it, and indeed as if moving in quite an opposite direction.

‘Now,’ said Veronica, with that perfect freedom from afterthought or
unspoken inner thought so characteristic of her, ‘now we turn inland
and ascend. Say good-bye to the coast-line, which you will not see
again till we reach the summit.’

‘And say good-bye likewise,’ added the Poet, ‘to the Provençal tongue,
that seems to bear much about the same relation to French that the
Venetian dialect bears to Italian, and to have retained the indefinable
charm of flowers, perfume, and poetry that hovered round the cradle of
modern verse, and has been handed down to us from the lips of lovely
ladies and obeisant troubadours.’

Lamia showed no appreciation of these observations, as I could well
perceive, and went on inwardly concerting a well-calculated strategy of
her own.

‘How long will it take us,’ she asked, with apparent unconcern, ‘to
reach the summit?’

‘Perhaps a couple of hours.‘ ‘And to descend?’

‘To descend where?’ asked Veronica, who, I think, began to suspect what
was fermenting in Lamia’s mind.

‘Anywhere,’ answered Lamia. ‘I mean where we reach, as you said, the
coast-line again.’

‘An hour perhaps,’ I said.

Then followed a short interval of silence or truce, broken by Lamia,
who, far too strategic to attack the question in front, was now
evidently meditating a flank movement which interested me greatly.

‘Do you remember my once saying that I wished I were a poet?’

‘Dear Lamia, I can only say to you, as one so often has to write to
unknown correspondents who send one verse, the intention of which is
better than its execution,—

    ‘To have the great poetic heart
    Is more than all poetic fame.‘

‘But, when one has neither,’ she replied, bringing her forces rapidly
into action, and resolved at all costs to turn Veronica’s position,
‘it is so nice and so advantageous to be taken about by one who has
both.’

To the Poet himself, I am sure, this seemed rather wide of the mark;
but it was just one of those complimentary exaggerations which Lamia
invariably employs when she wants to propitiate Veronica.

‘By one who has both,’ she went on, ‘and accordingly is everywhere
vouchsafed a welcome not only for himself, but for all who travel in
his train. It was not _very_ comfortable last night at that picturesque
_locanda_; and I confess I am looking forward to the prosaic domestic
comforts that are promised us this evening.’

I confess I did not follow the workings of her mind, and almost
began to suspect that I had imputed to her a design of which she was
innocent. But I was quickly confirmed again in my original surmise.

‘Was this country very different when you saw it first from what it is
now?’

‘Well, yes, and no,’ replied the Poet, falling into the trap.
‘Different where Pleasure and Fashion have invaded it: not different
where Nature maintains her native dominion. Along the road, then the
only one, we are now ascending, nothing seems to be altered. What
change _has_ taken place you will perceive very shortly, when we arrive
at the summit. Then one looked down only on the austere towers and
jutting promontory of a rock-bound sea-moated Principality. Now,—but
never mind!’

‘But I _do_ mind. I am greatly interested in these changes.’ Then
suddenly, ‘Veronica! Has it not struck you that we shall arrive at our
journey’s end to-day in the middle of the afternoon, when you know you
never like guests to present themselves? Do you not think it would be
better if we got there towards tea-time?‘

‘Yes, I think it would; and we can easily loiter along the road.’

‘Dear Veronica!’ said Lamia in her most impulsive accents and her most
irresistible manner, ‘_do_ let us loiter _there_ then, if only for an
hour!’

‘Where?’ said Veronica.

‘O, you know what I mean. _There!_’

‘But we should have to retrace our steps.‘ ‘A couple of miles only,’ I
said, seizing the opportunity to curry favour with Lamia.

‘It is odious,’ said Veronica.

‘It certainly is,’ added the Poet; ‘the most offensive place I know.’

‘It was not _Spiaggiascura_, was it!’ exclaimed Lamia in a tone of
pathetic tenderness I never heard equalled, laying her hand gently on
the Poet’s arm. ‘If it was, of course, I will not ask it.’

‘No, it was not Spiaggiascura,’ he replied. ‘Better to think of that as
a name that has no local habitation.’

Lamia had conquered. That last inimitable touch of pathos, which
was moreover, I am sure, entirely sincere, had disarmed Veronica’s
scruples and the Poet’s fastidiousness. By the time three more hours
had gone by, we had seen it all, and were sitting under a brown awning,
partaking of iced coffee to the strains of a Hungarian band.

‘I am afraid I rather like it,’ said Lamia.

‘Why should you not?’ said the Poet.

‘Not the gambling, surely?’ asked Veronica.

‘Not the gambling, dear Veronica, so long as I have you at my side to
buttress my somewhat shaky virtue.’ Then turning to me, ‘You know, of
old, that I have low tastes.’

‘Well,’ observed the Poet, ‘I confess that an earnest desire to be
indulgent to whatever is human has never succeeded in eradicating the
feeling that gambling is the lowest of all human diversions; and,
though here you need neither share nor even see it unless you wish, it
seems to me to cast its ignoble shadow over the entire place, and to
dethrone it from the majestic position with which Nature originally
invested it. It has infected the architecture, vulgarised the
sea-front, corrupted the very air, and exercised a malefic influence on
manners.’

‘And it has certainly spoilt the looks of the men and women,’ said
Lamia. ‘I never saw so many ugly people as round those fascinating
tables.’

‘Gambling would make any one ugly,’ said Veronica.

‘Then I will never gamble,’ said Lamia.

‘Let us leave this,’ I ventured to suggest, ‘and sit among the
flower-beds, somewhat too artificial though I allow they are.’

‘They look combed and curled,’ said Lamia. ‘I am sure I am quite as
natural as they are.’

‘Dante had so exhaustive an imagination,’ observed the Poet, when we
had shifted our position, ‘that it is not easy to suggest any form
of repugnant penalty not to be met with in the _Divine Comedy_. But
I think what is colloquially called a Hell might be added to his
repulsive Circles. What Lamia said just now is strikingly true.
The place has a malign effect on people’s appearance. Look at those
respectable persons—for I am sure they are such—trying to appear almost
the reverse. Great-granddaughters of the Pilgrim Fathers are collected
here, just as cold no doubt as their grandmothers, but striving to seem
otherwise. Looking back to those years when I first wandered along
this lovely region, when this place had neither existence nor name, I
cannot but regret the simplicity that has passed away. Nor can I think
it is well for the idlers of material civilisation to parade their
opulent _ennui_ before a primitive people whom they will probably end
by infecting with their restlessness and their discontent.‘

 ‘I can see,’ said Lamia, ‘this is my first and last visit to this
vicious Circle.’

‘Come, then,’ he answered, rising, and we all did the same, ‘and see
how unnecessarily intolerant one can be, and how narrow is the slip
of territory that modern pleasures have filched from peasant life and
rustic toil. In a few minutes we shall be among the olive woods. Are we
not there already? See! bare-headed women are washing the clothes of
their husbands and children in the Grima. Look there, beyond! The goats
are clambering up the precipitous slopes, and browsing on the myrtle.
What now do we behold through sunny openings in dense dark foliage?
Meditating mountains and laughing sea. Let us recant all we have said.
There is room enough in this large world for everybody, and manifestly
quite enough for us. Man has wrung from Nature a slight concession
along the coast, but here, as everywhere, the Hinterland belongs to
Heaven.’

There was little exaggeration in the words. An ascent as easy as it
was brief carried us beyond the sights and sounds of what Veronica
had, with just alliteration, stigmatised as ‘cosmopolitan canaille,’
and shortly we were sitting on myrtle-cushioned boulders, and gazing
out, through gaps in the silvery foliage of the olive-trees, at a sea
unchanged since the days when Hercules is reputed to have traversed it.

‘Yes,’ said Lamia penitently; ‘I own this is better than the chink of
five-franc pieces, the lavishly gilded ceilings, and the hungry faces
fastened on the gyrations of a whirligig. Yet, the rooms are crowded,
and we have the woods to ourselves. The perversity that governs the
lives of so many of us is, I have often felt, a strong argument
against Free Will; and never seemed it more so than here where, in
the most enchanting spot I have as yet beheld, men and women are most
artificial, and most intent on the ugliest of pursuits.’

Thereupon—for have you not remarked that the oldest subjects of
discourse are precisely those which best preserve their freshness?—the
conversation, in this mountain solitude, began to travel, if somewhat
discursively, over trite ground, in the course of which Lamia rather
ingeniously suggested that, as with every other human faculty, our will
is partly free, in part under the sway of necessity. The discussion, if
discussion it can be called, was confined to three of us; for the Poet
remained a silent listener.

‘Have you nothing,’ said Veronica at length, ‘to contribute to our
deliberations? Can you not give us any help in our perplexity?’

‘I almost think I can,’ he said, ‘but not by any formal dialectic.
Yet is not a universal conviction, of which it is impossible for
human beings to divest themselves, as convincing as the most logical
demonstration? Once after listening, by no means for the first time,
to the arguments you have yet again been urging, there came to me the
following reflections:—

    FREE WILL AND FATE

I

    ‘You ask me why I envy not
      The Monarch on his throne.
    It is that I myself have got
      A Kingdom of my own:
    Kingdom by Free Will divine
    Made inalienably mine,
      Where over motions blind and brute
    I live and reign supreme, a Sovereign absolute.


II

    ‘Ebbing and flowing as the seas,
      And surging but to drown,
    Think you that I will pass to these
      My Sceptre and my Crown?
    Unto rebel passions give
    Empire and prerogative?
      They are attendants in my train,
    To come when I command, and crouch as I ordain.


III

    ‘If Will by long succession be
      Not arbiter of Fate,
    Assail its majesty, and see
      If it doth abdicate.
    Chains that do the body bind
    Cannot manacle the mind.
      What fetters may the heart control,
    Nor doth the Tyrant live that can enslave the soul.


IV

    ‘In Spring, when linnets lift their voice
      To praise the Lord and bless,
    They are thus punctual of free choice,
      Detesting waywardness.
    Throughout earth, and sky, and sea,
    Law is loving liberty,
      That could, but will not, go astray,
    And, free though to rebel, delighteth to obey.


V

    ‘And Spirit, though encased in clay,
      To sense’s grovelling mood
    Accepteth not, befall what may,
      Ignoble servitude.
    In the faggot thrust the torch,
    Till the flame-tongues search and scorch.
      Calmly the martyr mounts the pyre,
    And smiles amid the smoke, and prays above the fire.


VI

    ‘Nor is it Fate directs the waves,
      Or dominates the wind:
    They are God’s servants, not His slaves,
      And they surmise His mind.
    If the planets walk aright
    Though the dim and trackless night,
      Nor their true pathway ever miss,
    Know ye it is because their Will is one with His!‘

An hour or so later, just as mountain and main began to exchange the
resplendent garments of sundown for twilight’s more sober mantle,
Veronica leaned forward, and, pointing to a motionless figure that
with dark flowing plumes and glittering bayonet stood out silhouetted
against the sky, exclaimed:

‘See, Lamia! You are in Italy.’

[Illustration]



[Illustration]


LAMIA’S WINTER-QUARTERS


‘I wonder,’ said Lamia, ‘who invented the phrase, “the sunny South”?‘

‘A poet, no doubt,’ I answered, with perhaps a slight touch of malice;
‘one who, in Bacon’s phrase, accommodates the shows of things to the
affections of the mind.‘

‘That is all very well when you are not in immediate contact with the
things themselves. But here we have been for forty-eight hours, and we
have not seen the sun yet. Tuscany could hardly have behaved worse.’

‘All of us, even the most prosaic,’ said the Poet, ‘are makers of
phrases only approximately true; but even to-morrow perhaps you will
have to own that this southward-sloping coast is not undeserving of its
fame.’

He proved to be right. The following sunrise rebuked Lamia’s lament;
and, when we assembled at breakfast in our English fashion, she
declared she could have dressed before the open window, had Veronica
but permitted it.

Still let it be confessed that ‘the sunny South’ is a phrase that
partakes of some exaggeration. The South is sunnier, much sunnier, than
the North; but it, too, can have its days of gloom, and even its weeks
of capricious temper. Moreover, there is South, and South; and, despite
Lamia’s somewhat hazardous assertion that Tuscany could hardly have
been more inclement than it had been in our new quarters for the first
two days after our arrival, there is, as the rest of us well knew, a
vast difference between its winter climate and that of the favoured
region where, for Lamia’s sake, we awhile were halting.

‘Veronica, you grow more wonderful every day,’ she exclaimed, under the
influence of all-glorifying sunlight. ‘You have discovered a paradise,
by sheer intuition.’

It is not the first time allusion has been made to Veronica’s
executive talents. They are so much greater than the rest of us
possess, that, when anything serviceable has to be done, she reduces
us all to insignificance. Without counsel or assistance from any one,
and entirely by correspondence, she had procured for us, for three
months, a home that we all, with enthusiastic sincerity, declared to
be enchanting. If you think that an easy matter, I can only say, ‘Try
for yourselves.’ It is this special difficulty that drives so many
people who spend the winter months in the South of Europe to pass them
in hotels. One and all we had avowed that we would sooner a thousand
times remain at home than resort to that depressing expedient. Yet
pretentious, trim, and conventional villas, with their cut-and-combed
lawns, their formal palm-trees and dracænas, and their beds of
dubious-coloured cinerarias, are the alternative that, for the most
part, remains; and I imagine you know that would have consorted but
little better with our tastes.

‘I knew what you all wanted,’ said Veronica; ‘but let us,’ she added
modestly, ‘give thanks to Fortune, who has had far more to do with it
than I.’

I verily believe that something, moreover, should be ascribed to
the comparative slenderness of our purse and to the simplicity of
our tastes; nor do I pretend that what Lamia flatteringly called a
paradise regained would have been much short of a purgatory to many
splendidly-fastidious people. Our new abode had neither architectural
design nor internal pretension; but the taste of man, in partnership
with time, had given it charm without and refinement within. Do you
remember how, in that search which finally planted us in the Garden
that we Love, we kept recalling the words of Tacitus as applied to
the race whose preferences run so strongly in our own blood: _Suam
quisque domum spatio circumdat_? I hope we have nothing to conceal,
but is not a sense of seclusion necessary to felicity? Unlike folk of
Northern blood, the Latin race, and the Italian race more especially,
have little taste for privacy, and none for solitude. To lean out of
the open window onto the street or highway below, to sit on door-steps
whence they can see and accost chance passers-by, to talk, to sing, to
dance, this is their idea of such happiness as life permits. But the
very spaciousness of their hills, their plains, their valleys, affords
to the more meditative children of the mist even larger facilities than
our own land for gratifying the passion for that ‘life removed’ which
the Duke in _Measure for Measure_, probably expressing Shakespeare’s
own personal taste, says he had ‘ever loved.’ Veronica had found it for
us here. The spurs of the Maritime Alps, as they decline and dwindle
towards the sea, enclose a series of gorges and ravines of various
forms and dimensions. Some are narrow, gloomy, and precipitous, others
gradual, well open to the sun, not too deep-bosomed, and gladdened by
streams that have their source in remoter mountain-sheds. It was in one
of the latter we had discovered the shelter and seclusion we desired.
No wind could visit us roughly; for, if it blew from the north, we
were curtained by the hills, and, should it rage from the sea, we were
just sufficiently away from the shore, and protected enough in that
direction by olive-slopes and orange-groves to be apprised of its
displeasure only by an unusual rustling of leaves.

‘But what do you propose to do in this ravine of rest?’ Lamia inquired
of me somewhat mockingly. ‘Veronica is never without occupation; and
here she will be abundantly employed in scouring the neighbouring
hamlets for fowls that have not become all bone and sinew by constant
mountaineering, in checking the washing-book, and in raising the moral
tone of the young people along the entire countryside. As for me, a
determination to master the Tuscan tongue will give me rest from the
fatigue of too much idleness; and my new tutor, the young ecclesiastic,
whom Veronica has enticed from the Sacristy for my benefit, is quite
charming, and makes me willing, as he also seems to be, to prolong
indefinitely the time nominally allotted to the most fascinating of
studies. But you? You cannot “garden” here, for the ground seems to do
that of itself; nor, in any case, will you have time to pique yourself
on the result of your labours, which, I have observed, is the main
motive power of those persons who are supposed to love flowers for
themselves.‘


Wishing to divert her playful arrows from myself, I replied that I was
indeed rather gravelled for lack of employment, and so intended to try
if sitting in the sun and doing nothing would supply the deficiency;
and I then added that she had forgotten to include the Poet in the
catalogue of the unemployed.

[Illustration: PEAR-BLOSSOM, MARITIME ALPS]

‘O, the Poet?’ she replied. ‘That is _un altro paio di
maniche_,—you see my devoted subdeacon is teaching me the proverbs of
his lovely language,—for he abides in a lofty ether whither I fear
my shafts would never reach him. For anything I can tell, he may be
writing an adorable sonnet when he is tapping the top of an egg-shell
at the breakfast table; and I often suspect he is, in reality, in a
fine frenzy, when he appears to be listening deferentially to one of my
shallowest disquisitions.’

‘Would you marry a poet?’ I asked. I should have half liked to make the
inquiry more definite; but for that I had not the courage.

‘Marry a poet!’ she exclaimed, ‘I should think not indeed. Poor
Veronica! She manages tolerably well with hers, thanks to her good
sense and infinite patience; and perhaps she is not as sorely tried
as she deserves to be for the irreparable experiment to which she has
committed herself. For us women marriage is necessarily the chief
mercantile transaction of our lives; and, if one marries a peer, one
becomes a peeress; if one weds a millionaire, one may hope to be a
million-heiress. But the wife of a poet does not become a poetess.
She cannot share with him his only valuable asset; and the supposed
romantic nature of his disposition, which is usually a sheer fiction,
not unoften diverts from her the curiosity to which every woman is
entitled, and which every woman who marries reasonably invariably gets.’

‘But if you happen to love a poet?’ I persisted.

She quickly made me repent my question. ‘You are unteachable. Love
is a terminable annuity, that ends long before death, leaving one’s
declining days to abject poverty.‘

At this juncture I saw Veronica and the Poet coming along the rose
_pergola_, for January roses were pretty abundant with us, and I
inwardly wished they had come sooner, for Lamia would not have dared
to say such things in their presence; reserving, as she seems to do,
her most outrageous utterances for my private benefit. But then, it is
true, I should not in that case have put my useless interrogatories.

‘Now,’ she said, ‘I am going to burn some incense before the Poet.’

‘You know he loathes it,’ I observed.

‘Do you think I should proffer it so liberally if he liked it? We were
talking,’ she said, addressing him, as he joined us, ‘of how we are
to occupy ourselves in the quiet and unexciting quarters Veronica has
provided for us. You, of course, can write a long poem, and I should
think this is just the place for doing so, though I observe that people
nowadays deprecate the writing of long poems as being out of date.’

‘I trust,’ he replied, ‘that will have no influence on their being
written or not being written. Novel reading, I fear, has proved
somewhat injurious to the more serious side of the imagination, and
prose fiction has created a distaste for sustained works in verse. If
Milton lived to-day, _L’Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ would perhaps still
be more or less appreciated; but _Paradise Lost_ would of a certainty
be condemned as tedious. Even in his own day it had only fit audience
but few, and few are always enough, if fit.‘

‘I hope,’ said Lamia, ‘that we who are here would answer to that
description; yet you never read what you are writing either to Veronica
or to me. I have often wondered what is the reason.’

‘The reason is very simple,’ he replied. ‘Veronica is rather difficult,
you are somewhat easy, to please; and, while she might make me too
distrustful, you, dear Lamia, would, I fear, render me too enamoured
of my work. It is best, I think, oneself to be its critic, and as
searching and severe a one as possible; and then to leave it with all
its imperfections on its head, which are sure to be very numerous, but
are at least one’s own.‘

‘I wonder,’ she said, ‘how poetry is written.’

‘If I could tell you that,’ he answered, ‘you might conceivably take
advantage of the information to become a formidable rival. But, as
far as I can help you, I should say poetry is a natural and indeed
inevitable form of expression, as I suppose music also is, in a certain
mood or state.’

‘And how is the state brought about?’ she asked.

A smile came over his face as he replied: ‘I wish I knew. Perhaps by
consorting with Lamias, when they are not too inquisitive.’

Veronica remained seated beside us, while he resumed his walk under the
roses. When he had passed out of hearing, Veronica turned to Lamia a
little austerely, and said:


‘There are some persons—usually you are not one of them—who are
perpetually trying to invade the sanctuary of one’s soul, with the
result that one double-locks the doors. Only those who come to worship,
not to scrutinise, are admitted. Have we not already been told,—

    ‘What is it rules thy singing season?
    Instinct, that diviner Reason,
    To which the wish to know seemeth a sort of treason.’

‘And again,—

    ‘Why dost thou ever cease to sing?
    Singing is such sweet comfort, who,
    If he could sing the whole year through,
    Would barter it for anything?’

‘Would you like him to sing the whole year through?’ asked Lamia.

Veronica made no reply; for, though the question was put with an air of
perfect seriousness, it might have been interpreted otherwise. So Lamia
went on:

‘I suppose I do not understand, because I am not married, and still
less have the felicity to be married to a poet. But, if I were, I fear
I should be exacting enough to wish to be even sweeter comfort to
him than his singing. He paid you a great compliment, Veronica, the
other day, when you were not present; for at the end of an interesting
discussion,—interesting, at least, to me,—he said: “The sum of the
matter is, bad wives are as rare as good husbands.” Yet I confess it
seems to me the worst husband in the world would be one who could find
consolation in perpetual carolling. I would rather he beat me.‘ I need
scarcely say that I heartily sympathised, though without having the
courage to say so, with these sentiments of Lamia, albeit it is not
easy to decide if they were really hers or not. She has a fine Socratic
talent for eliciting information; and she was as successful on this
occasion as usual, for, much to my surprise, Veronica, after a brief
silence, rendered necessary perhaps by the violence of Lamia’s closing
observation, said very quietly:

‘I should like, if I may, to recite some lines he wrote the other day,
which seem to bear on your misgivings, if but indirectly, and may
perhaps help to diminish them.’ Thereupon she recited, much better, I
thought, than the Poet himself, the following apology:—


I

    The lark confinèd in his cage,
      And captive in his wing,
    Though fluttering with imprisoned rage,
      Forbeareth not to sing.


II

    But still the strain, though loud and long,
      Is but the mock of mirth,
    Not that dawn-dewy nuptial song
      That weddeth Heaven with Earth.


III

    Voice that in freedom seems so soft,
      Fettered, sounds harsh and rough.
    Listen! He shrilleth far too oft,
      Nor faltereth half enough.


IV

    And I, still feebler if not free,
      Do hourly more and more
    Grow silent in captivity,
      And, if I sing, must soar.


V

    And as the lark’s free carol floats
      High on a sea of sound,
    So let me fling my random notes
      To ripple round and round.


VI

    Hark! now he shakes the towering skies,
      A carillon of light,
    Then dwindleth to a faint surmise,
      Still singing out of sight.


VII

    And, though in clearest light arrayed
      The Poet’s song should shine,
    Sometimes his far-off voice will fade
      Into the dim divine.


VIII

    Then we with following ear and heart
      Should listen to the end,
    Though we descry may but in part,
      And dimly apprehend.


IX

    Lo! soon he quits his heavenly quest,
      Slow-carolling into sight,
    Then, quavering downward, strikes his nest,
      Earthward aerolite.


X

    So doubt not, dear, that if I soar
      Where none longwhile may dwell,
    Though Heaven at times may be my home,
      Home is my Heaven as well.

       *       *       *       *       *

Notwithstanding Lamia’s anxiety lest we should find ourselves short
of agreeable occupation, our familiarity with a quiet and unexciting
existence enabled us to pass many delightful days, while none were
without their incidents and their pleasures. If I attempted to
describe these, they might possibly appear monotonous to you; but
they were not monotonous to us. Excursions to ruined castles, to
picturesquely-perched villages, to slopes and summits famous for their
wild-flowers, are enchanting to those who make them; but one is hardly
justified in demanding sustained attention for them from others. In
life, as in Art, Nature is an excellent background to the actions and
passions of human beings; and our almost daily quest of natural beauty
was not unattended by experiences that aroused a feeling of pathos,
unsealed the sources of pity, or awakened the always welcome sense of
humour. The young ecclesiastic who was engaged in the agreeable task
of reading Italian with Lamia was good enough to wish that we should
pay him a visit, though he warned us, with much well-bred dignity, that
his home was very humble, and that his reception of us would be equally
so. He lived in an up-and-down hamlet among the hills; and we made the
excursion, Veronica and Lamia on mules, the Poet and I on foot, with
much willingness. Lamia spoke of him as her subdeacon; but I believe
he was as yet only in minor orders. He already wore, however, the
ecclesiastical garb, and he had all the grave demeanour of his destined
calling. He made no secret of the modesty of his origin, and confessed,
with perfect simplicity, that he had chosen the sacerdotal state
because, while having lettered tastes, he could so best support his
mother, who was a widow, and his two young sisters. He had contrived
to pick up several volumes of the classics, which evidently were much
dearer to him than the theological tomes that kept them company; and
he frankly declared that, while deeply attached to his Creed, he
would gladly divest himself of the cassock, if we would only take him
to England, and put him in the way of earning a livelihood by such
agreeable labours as he was engaged on with Lamia. Before we left, he
asked if he might read us one of the many Sonnets he had composed in
his abundant leisure; and it was impossible to listen to it without
feeling that he was animated by that desire to extend the horizon of
his existence, which makes the lives of so many students in Italy, both
ecclesiastic and lay, so deeply pathetic. As we descended the hill,
after visiting with him the unpretending chapel where he would one
day minister, we lapsed into a compassionate silence, which I finally
broke, knowing that we were all thinking the same thing, by repeating,
though rather absently, the lovely if hackneyed Virgilian line:—

  ‘_Sunt lachrymae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt_’

I could not be sorry that I had done so; for instantly the Poet,
translating the line, said: ‘Yes.

    ‘These are the things that cause the tears to start,
    And human sorrows touch the human heart.’

‘Did you notice the artificial flowers on the altar?’ said Lamia; ‘and
does it not seem strange the peasants should proffer these, when their
hills furnish them with natural ones, in such abundance, of exquisite
beauty and fragrance?’

‘It offends our taste,’ said Veronica; ‘but I suppose the artificial
flowers cost them something, however little, while natural flowers
would cost them nothing save the gathering. They want to give Heaven of
their dearest and their best; and their dearest and best, poor things,
are their small earnings and scant savings.’

‘Yes, that explains it,’ I said; ‘just as, when we get to Florence,
you will see the most fashionable of its churches, the _Santissima
Annunziata_, bedizened all over with gold; gold being the dearest and
best thing with the fashionable. Thus, both poor and rich alike are
devout in their separate and distinctive ways.’

Do what we would, and divert ourselves in our simple, unpretending way
as we might, we could not help thinking withal of Florence, referring
to Florence, and continually anticipating what Tuscany had in store for
us. Lamia was the most impatient of us all, partly perhaps because she
knew that concern for her alone still kept us from our bourne.

‘Please do not think,’ she said, one day, ‘that I have not greatly
enjoyed myself here. But what is it—for there is something—that renders
life on this lovely strip of coast between the mountains and the sea,
after a brief sojourn, not quite satisfactory?’

[Illustration: ‘BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS AND THE SEA’]

‘Surely,’ said the Poet, ‘it is the insufficient presence of the
Past. Every spot in Europe, as a matter of course, has had a Past of
considerable duration; and this lovely tract of country must have had a
chequered, and at times a very exciting one. But its visible relics are
few. The Roman came and made his roads; the Saracen came and ravaged;
feudal bandit harried feudal bandit; and the great bandit of our own
century, Bonaparte, dispatched and sometimes accompanied his armies
along it. But almost the sole vestiges of its vanished vigour and
virility are trivial ruins devoid of architectural beauty; its villages
are situated most picturesquely, but they are as devoid of plastic
beauty as an eagle’s eyrie; their churches are touching in their devout
simplicity, but, alike within and without, lack the impress of the
artist’s mind, the artist’s hand. He has not been here; or, if he has,
the _condottiere_ has destroyed all traces of his work. Look at the
sea. Byron most happily called it ‘the image of Eternity,’ for its
Present is exactly like its Past, and its Future will be only like its
Present. Man can make no impression on it, nor leave on it any trace of
his presence. Therefore, despite its sublimity, most of us at last tire
of gazing on it. It lacks human interest. When it smiles, it enchants.
When it frowns, it overawes. But we cannot take it to our heart; and
something of the heartlessness of the sea attaches to a land where
neither poet, architect, nor painter has bequeathed monuments to remind
us that here man has aspired and striven, here woman consoled and
suffered. But be patient, Lamia. Florence is reserving for you ample
compensation.‘

‘And yet you, or Veronica, at least,’ said Lamia, ‘would not let
us take up our quarters at or even near,—but perhaps I had better
not mention the place. Only all you have said seems to justify those
wicked people, who find lemon-gardens and olive-groves insufficient for
happiness, and so have enlivened this lovely but unlively coast with
casinos, roulette-tables, and pigeon-shoots.’

‘And even the lemon-gardens and olive-groves,‘I said, ‘are fast
disappearing. As we have observed only too frequently, they are being
ruthlessly cut down, in order that, in their place, _Safrano_ and
_Marie van Houtte_ roses may be grown for Vienna, London, and Saint
Petersburg.’

‘And then,’ said Lamia, ‘there will be nothing left but the mountains
and the sea.’

‘That will be a considerable residuum,’ said the Poet. ‘I happened to
overhear a dialogue between them the other day, which, if you are so
minded, I shall have much pleasure in repeating to you.’

‘By all means,’ said Veronica. ‘Here, we are in the presence of both;
so they will be able to judge if you report their colloquy correctly.’


THE MOUNTAINS

    What ails you, Ocean, that nor near nor far,
      Find you a bourne to ease your burdened breast,
    But throughout time inexorable are
      Never at rest?

    With foaming mouth and fluttering crest you leap
      Impatiently towards never-shifting beach,
    Then wheel, and hurry to some distant deep
      Beyond your reach.

    Nor golden sands nor sheltering combes can slake
      Your fretful longing for some shore unknown,
    And through your shrineless pilgrimage you make
      Unending moan.


THE SEA

    Nimbused by sunlight or enwreathed in snow,
      Lonely you stand, and loftily you soar,
    While I immeasurably ebb and flow
      From shore to shore.

    I see the palm-dates mellowing in the sun,
      I hear the snow-fed torrents bound and brawl,
    And if, where’er I range, content with none,
      I know them all.

    Inward the ice-floes where the walrus whet
      Their pendent tusks, I sweep and swirl my way,
    Or dally where ‘neath dome and minaret
      The dolphins play.

    Beneath or bountiful or bitter sky
      If I myself can never be at rest,
    I lullaby the winds until they lie
      Husht on my breast.

THE MOUNTAINS

    Till they awake, and from your feeble lap
      Whirl through the air, and in their rage rejoice:
    Then you with levin-bolt and thunderclap
      Mingle your voice.

    But I their vain insanity survey,
      And on my silent brow I let them beat.
    What is there it is worth my while to say
      To storm or sleet?

    I hear the thunder rumbling through the rain,
      I feel the lightning flicker round my head;
    The blizzards buffet me, but I remain
      Dumb as the dead!

    Urged by the goad of stern taskmaster Time,
      The Seasons come and go, the years roll round.
    I watch them from my solitude sublime,
      Uttering no sound.

    For hate and love I have nor love nor hate;
      To be alone is not to be forlorn:
    The only armour against pitiless Fate
      Is pitying scorn.


THE SEA

    Yet do I sometimes seem to hear afar
      A tumult in your dark ravines as though
    You weary of your loneliness, and are
      Wrestling with woe.

THE MOUNTAINS

    When the white wolves of Winter to their lair
      Throng, and yet deep and deeper sleeps the snow,
    I loose the avalanche, to shake and scare
      The vale below.

    And, when its sprouting hopes and brimming glee
      Are bound and buried in a death-white shroud,
    Then at the thought that I entombed can be,
      I laugh aloud.


THE SEA

    I grieve with grief, at anguish I repine,
      I dirge the keel the hurricane destroys:
    For all the sorrows of the world are mine,
      And all its joys.

    And when there is no space ‘twixt surf and sky,
      And all the universe seems cloud and wave,
    It is the immitigable wind, not I,
      That scoops men’s grave.

    I wonder how the blast can hear them moan
      For pity, yet keep deaf unto their prayers.
    I have too many sorrows of my own,
      Not to feel theirs.

    And when the season of sweet joy comes round,
      My bosom to their rapture heaves and swells;
    And closer still I creep to catch the sound
      Of wedding bells.

    I see the children digging in the sand,
      I hear the sinewy mariners carouse,
    And lovers in the moonlight, hand-in-hand,
      Whispering their vows.

    You in your lofty loneliness disdain
      Suffering below and comfort from above.
    The sweetest thing in all the world is pain
      Consoled by Love.

After a somewhat lengthened pause, Lamia said: ‘With which do you
sympathise, Veronica? With the mountains, or with the sea?’

‘O, with the sea!

    ‘The sweetest thing in all the world is pain
      Consoled by Love.‘

‘And you, Sir Poet?’

‘Surely, with both,’ he answered.

‘But,’ she persisted, ‘with which of the two, chiefly?’

‘I suppose,’ he replied, ‘with the ineradicable selfishness of a man,
one inclines towards the mountains. _Pacem summa tenent._ Serenity
dwells upon the heights.’



[Illustration]


LAMIA’S WINTER-QUARTERS


I heard the Poet’s voice in the balcony, followed by the pushing back
of heavy _persiane_, and then:

‘Lamia! Come as quickly as you can; I want to show you what you may
never have a chance of seeing again.’

There was no reason why, if there was anything new or wonderful to
behold, Lamia and the Poet should have a monopoly of the spectacle; so,
arraying myself as rapidly as I could, I emerged onto the balcony just
as Lamia, in incomplete but most fascinating attire, did the same.

‘Oh!’ she exclaimed. ‘What hills! What slopes! What villas! But where
is Florence?’

‘Wait,’ said the Poet, ‘and you shall see. Like you, dear Lamia, she
is very fair,’—how I wish I had the courage to address her in that
fashion!—‘but, unlike you, she has not yet flowered out of the night.’

‘Neither have I, quite, I fear,’ she said, showing, when thuswise
reminded, a quite unnecessary concern respecting her hastily-donned
apparel.

‘She is veiled, absolutely veiled, as I have never seen her before,
in a, shall I call it, _peignoir_ of white mist, which conceals her
utterly from sight. But look! she is beginning to disrobe her marble
beauty.’

‘O, what is that, that surges through the mist?‘ ‘That is the noblest
symbol of civic liberty in the world, the Tower of the _Palazzo
Vecchio_.’

‘And that? And that?‘ ‘The topmost tier of Giotto’s Belfry, worthy, by
its sublime simplicity, to serve for the type of all great Art; and, at
its side in the rapidly-clearing ether, the cupola of the Duomo, that
Michelangelo would not copy and could not better.‘Dome after dome,
tower after tower, _campanile_ after _campanile_, surged silently out
of the mist; and, to use the Poet’s I hope not too familiar simile, the
silvery folds of night sank downward to her feet, and Florence stood in
naked loveliness before Lamia’s delighted gaze. Over the eastern hills
came the bright vernal sun, every mountain slope broke into smiles
and dimples, and in the last of its seaward valleys Arno glanced and
gleamed with joy of the expanding dawn. Distance lends enchantment
to the sound as well as to the view, and the clang and clash of
innumerable belfries came modulated through the intervening air,
wherefrom the last lingering trails of mist were gradually wizarded
away.

[Illustration: FLORENCE]

Question and answer followed each other in uninterrupted succession.
Yes, that was _San Miniato Al Monte_, with _La Bella Villanella_ hard
by; and that beyond was _Santa Margherita_, neighboured by the villa
in which Guicciardini completed his History. And yes,—Lamia was quite
right,—that was the _Torre del Gallo_, and away to the right and
farther up the hills was the Medicean _Poggio-a-Cajano_, where Lorenzo
wrote his poem on the _Ambra_. Over the matchless panorama of hill and
valley her interrogatories wandered unceasingly, whilst we called on
our recollection to supply the names she asked for.

Suddenly, other _persiane_ were pushed back, and Veronica joined us.

‘What are you all doing?’

‘Do you remember,’ answered Lamia, ‘the wife of Cosimo, Pater Patriæ,
asking him, when advanced in years, why he so often sate with closed
eyes, and his answering that he did so in order to accustom them to
what they must soon always be doing? I am opening mine thus early,
feeling that, in such a world as this, I shall never be able to close
them again.’

           *       *       *       *       *

‘It is perfect, absolutely perfect,’ said Lamia, ‘and no wonder
Politian found it so.’

‘But did Politian really live here?’ I asked.

‘Let us be wise enough to think so,’ said the Poet, ‘and it was quite
in keeping with Lorenzo’s magnificence, when that testy scholar, to
whom he had committed the tuition of his sons, quarrelled with Donna
Clarice because she thought she also should have something to say
to their training, to provide him with such a sanctuary. Besides,
in Italy, Tradition is not, as some one has said she is elsewhere,
a toothless old crone with memory half gone, but the trustworthy
depositary of unforgotten glories.‘

‘It is more than a tradition,’ said Veronica. ‘Only this morning I came
across a passage from Politian’s correspondence, which would seem to
confirm local legend. Here it is. He is writing to Lorenzo. “When you
are incommoded by the heat of the season at Careggi, you will perchance
bethink you of the shelter of my abode, nor deem it undeserving of your
notice. Nestled in the sloping sides of the hill, we have here water
in abundance, and, being constantly refreshed by moderate breezes,
experience but little inconvenience from the fervour of the sun. As you
approach the villa itself, it seems embosomed in a grove; but, when
you reach it, you discover that it commands a full view of the city.
Though the neighbourhood is not without its denizens, I can here enjoy
the solitude so congenial to my disposition. But I can offer you the
temptation of other allurements. Wandering beyond his own boundaries,
Pico della Mirandola sometimes steals unexpectedly on my retirement,
and draws me from my seclusion to share his supper. What that is, you
well know; modest indeed, but neatly served, and made grateful by the
charm of his converse. But be you my guest. The meal shall be as good,
and the wine better.”‘

‘How very philosophic!’ said Lamia. ‘So much so, that the passage was
probably written on the morrow of a certain fascinating young woman,
whose name I cannot remember, but of whom Politian, I have read, was,
notwithstanding his erudition, deeply enamoured, giving her hand to
a rival scholar, though which of them, I need scarcely say, I have
equally forgotten.’

‘The great Marullus, I think,’ said the Poet; ‘and your fascinating
young woman was Alessandra, the accomplished daughter of Lorenzo’s
Chancellor, Bartolomeo della Scala, whose house, still standing, you
must remind us to show you in Florence.‘ [Illustration: A TUSCAN VILLA]

Our first business was to make acquaintance with the immediate
surroundings of the home provided for us by Veronica’s indefatigable
foresight, operating through a protracted correspondence none of us
had been deemed worthy to peruse. The rural architecture of Tuscany is
of a noble simplicity; and, in the main portion of our villa, built in
the course of the sixteenth century, there was no deviation from the
familiar type. But, adjoining it westward, and seemingly of more
ancient date, were an upper and a lower _loggia_ of conventual aspect;
the upper one having a sloping roof of rich red tiles supported by
graceful pillars of _pietra serena_, and the lower one serving as an
Italian equivalent of an English verandah, only more spacious and more
tasteful, in which we could sun or shade ourselves according to the
mood of the weather. Together, they formed an impenetrable barrier
against the well-known keenness of the _tramontana_, while the main
building provided ample shelter against possible inclemency from the
east. To the west our view was over the final valley of the Arno, that
spacious plain of fertile cultivation tenderly protected by hills of
exquisite shape and moderate elevation, on whose bolder ridges stand
historic towns of unmatched picturesqueness; while southward, over
vineyards and olive-groves terraced down precipitously-sloping ground,
we gazed on the domes and towers of the fair Tuscan capital. If one
lives on the side of a hill, one cannot reasonably expect to have a
very vast level expanse for the purposes of a garden. A quadrangular
space of modest dimensions between the house and the low boundary wall,
where the ground began to fall away, was all that had been dedicated
to that pleasurable end; and this afforded Lamia an opportunity of
observing that two such enthusiastic horticulturists as the Poet and
myself would find but few worlds to conquer in so narrow a territory.

‘Forget,’ I ventured to plead, ‘what it is useless to remember. England
is well enough, and so is Italy, but only on condition that you do
not ask from the one what belongs to the other. I am not quite sure
that the person who is intimately acquainted with both is ever quite
satisfied with either, since it is part of our perverse human nature
mentally to extol what we have not, to the depreciation of what we
have.’

‘Is it to a woman you say that?’ observed Lamia, to my complete
confusion. ‘Men preach Philosophy, women practise it; and I shall
probably show myself quite content without your well-filled borders,
while you inwardly, and perhaps sometimes outwardly, long for your
rampant greenery and untidy efflorescence. These _garofani_—you see,’
she said, turning to the Poet, ‘I know the Italian for carnations,—in
their tasteful pots along the loopholed wall are much more to my taste
than all the straggling annuals and robust perpetuals in the world.’

‘I can see,’ he said, kindly coming to my rescue, ‘you have found
your proper home at last. I thought it would be so; and we can only
congratulate ourselves on the result. But now let us explore farther
afield, and we shall probably find that, if we will only use the word
garden in a liberal sense, and indeed in that in which it is used in
the corner of England where we have our home, there is more of it than
we have just rashly assumed.’

Thereupon, we passed through a cool, spacious _cortile_, cloistered
on two of its sides, but for the rest open to the sky, and whose only
occupants were a disused fountain and a tall glistening orange-tree
covered with golden fruit, of course of the hardy bitter sort; thence
under an archway festooned with wistaria not yet in flower, and out
into the _podere_, which I must needs call by that name, since there is
no English equivalent for it, and which is nowhere to be seen in such
perfection as in Tuscany.

‘Indeed, indeed you are right,’ exclaimed Lamia; ‘right as when you
once said that, were it always Spring, one would never garden, even
in England. O this young green corn, with its purple anemones, its
crimson tulips, its pale almond and intensely bright peach blossom,
its fantastically growing fig-trees with their budding tips, its
burgeoning vines and spectral olive-trees, all dwelling together on
the fair hillside that seems to be smiling self-complacently at its
own loveliness! Look at that bank of irises, not yet broken from their
sheath! But when they have, what a sight they will be!’

It is always delightful to have one’s feelings expressed by some one
else in language of enthusiasm one might oneself be afraid to employ;
and we accompanied Lamia, as a sort of chorus, echoing all she said,
and only too well pleased to follow in her footsteps, as she wandered
on and on through a world of beauty wholly new to her.

‘And these lovely grassy paths,’ she said, ‘that lead everywhere and
nowhere, tempting one to travel on in search of something unknown, but
with ever, on either side, more sprouting wheat, more pendent vines,
more crookedly-branching fig-stems, more tulips, more windflowers,
more mountains, more glimpses of towers and belfries in the glittering
distance. In England everything seems to crouch. Here everything seems
to soar.’

Lured onward by Lamia’s enjoyment, and mounting by such easy and
gradual slopes that we hardly noticed we were ascending, we suddenly
came to a grassy plateau almost encircled by secular cypresses that are
the distinctive glory of Tuscany; and here we might have been tempted
to halt, had it not been that yet beyond it were rugged paths that
zigzagged among tall, dense bushes of white heath and yellow broom,
both now in full flower; while on shapeless boulders and protruding
rocks were the stars of the white, the yellow, and the rose-coloured
cistus. Here and there we came on sheets of the single pink anemone;
elsewhere, in the more sheltered nooks, were the Apennine wind-flower
which, with due care and choice of position, perhaps you remember, we
have persuaded to flourish in the garden that we love.

‘As Veronica has told us that we are to lead a life of strict
simplicity,’ said Lamia, ‘we had better do something to make it
graceful; and, if you two will only cut some branches of heath and
broom, I will be equally energetic among the anemones.’

We were descending homeward with our lovely spoil, when we heard a
creaking sound well known to me; and, in another moment, we overtook
the slowly-rolling wheels of a wooden wain—of wood, not only in its
low, long body, but of wood throughout, with wooden wheels, wooden
pole, and wooden yoke—drawn by a couple of cream-coloured steers, and
bearing a fragrant load of newly-cut rye-grass. Though at no little
inconvenience and delay, on the incline along which it was moving,
the peasants who accompanied it at once cried a halt, that they might
show their respect to and make the acquaintance of the new-comers. Of
the manifold charms of Tuscany, perhaps there is none so great or so
enduring as the charm of manner peculiar to its rural population. Frank
without being free, deferential but never servile, not without a fine
reserve yet with never a touch of shyness, withholding not a certain
tribute to social superiority, while tacitly intimating the fundamental
equality that appertains to human brotherhood, the demeanour and speech
of Tuscan _contadini_ keep intercourse perpetually fresh, and impart
to conversation on the tritest and most familiar themes perennial
liveliness and interest. Their salutations, frequent though these be,
for they would never think of passing you without one, are divested of
conventionality by their manifest sincerity. They can never see you,
never speak to you, too often; and, whenever they speak, they smile.
For thousands of years, morning has risen upon the world, but without
any diminution in its freshness; and it is the same with their _Buon
giorno, signore_! their _Felice sera, sua signoria_! their _Felicissima
notte, e buon riposo_! their _A rivederla_! and all their ancient
consecrated phrases for conveying their sense of the strong link that
binds human creatures to each other. Every time they say these things,
they mean them; nor do they ever tire of the iterated and reiterated
courtesies of life. The undeferential nod of Northern manners, the
mumbled recognition, the slipshod salutation, would seem shocking to
them, as lacking in human piety. On this occasion, no doubt, natural
curiosity blended with native good-breeding to make them halt in
their labours; for they were, I have no doubt, as eager to make our
acquaintance as we were to make theirs. Yet of visible curiosity there
was not a trace, as they lifted their hats from their beaded foreheads
and remained bareheaded till we begged them to cover themselves. What
they conveyed was a fervour of welcome akin to the glow of an Italian
sun, a welcome that warmed us through and through, and made us feel
that, at that instant, we were forming friendships that, save for some
fault of ours, would last through life. Were we all in good health?
Had we had a fatiguing journey? Were we comfortable and happy in the
villa? They hoped we were going to stay a long time. Could they do
anything for us? Did we love Italy? Had we been there before? O, but it
was evident we had; for we talked their language like one of themselves
(somewhat of an exaggeration, save in the case of Veronica). Yes, the
season was fairly forward, and there was good promise for everything,
given what was now wanted, plenty of sunshine. Commonplaces, you
perhaps will say. Indeed, yes. But which of us in this world is so
surprisingly original? The real originality, in some countries I could
mention, would be amiability, unfailing courtesy in the ever-recurring
trifles of life, a wish to please and to be pleased, and a perpetual
freshening of existence by treating nothing in it as a matter of
course, or as undeserving of recognition and thankfulness. Even the
most original of us are original only sometimes; and, if we are to
consort with each other at all, we must needs indulge in a good deal of
repetition and commonplace. But freshness of manner can make repetition
sound absolutely new, and kindliness of disposition invest the veriest
commonplace with an air that everybody shall take for uncommon.

It was with difficulty we led Lamia away from her new acquaintances,
not the least attractive of those being the sleek, smooth-coated,
soft-eyed oxen that play so large a part in the picturesqueness as in
the rural life of Tuscany, and that seemed to appreciate the tender
stroking of her hand and the equally soft caress of her voice.

‘I never felt such a bumpkin before,’ she said, ‘as in the presence of
those gracious peasants. What barbarians they must think us!’

‘If they thought that of you, Lamia,’ I said, more struck by the
exaggeration than by the humility of her remark, ‘they certainly
contrived to conceal their impression. Still, speaking generally, rural
Tuscany is a school of manners.’

The noble simplicity referred to as the distinguishing mark of villa
architecture in Tuscany, is as dominant in the interior as on the
exterior of its buildings; ample space being their chief feature and
adornment. Unless they have been invaded by modern hands, they depend
for effect on bold outlines rather than on decorative detail; and they
are furnished in harmony with the same severe taste. When Veronica
admonished us that we were to lead a life of strict simplicity, she
referred to this circumstance among others.

‘I hope,’ she said, ‘you have left your sybaritic tastes at home. You
will find many shapely but no comfortable chairs, no superfluity of
cushions, nowhere a footstool, and, if you choose to lie on what looks
like a sofa, you will soon find you are not reposing on rose-leaves.
You must not come to me and complain that there is not a bell in your
room, or, if there is, that it apparently has no communication with the
outer world. If Lamia wishes to make a mess indoors with her flowers
and branches of blossom, she shall not be denied; but you must not
look for those more permanent graces of life to which you are all so
attached.’

‘Don’t mind _me_,‘ said Lamia. ‘I am quite prepared to empty my own
bath, brush my own skirts, answer the bell instead of ringing it, and
live on _fagioli_ and dried _funghi_. Indeed, it was chiefly to indulge
in those unusual luxuries that I came to Italy.’

Considering who it is that has created, cherished, and fostered in
us those sybaritic tastes, and that attachment to the graces and
elegancies of life of which Veronica spoke, and with which she told
us we were now to dispense, we may be pardoned, I think, if, at the
first opportunity, we indulged in some private humour at her expense.
If we are demoralised by domestic luxury, who is it but Veronica that
has corrupted us? I protest that most men, in the matter of material
comfort, are absolute Spartans, and, as for the Poet, his native
austerity was once not to be surpassed, and he still indulges from time
to time in his ideal, at any rate in conversation. But he too has, for
the most part, succumbed to Veronica’s unequalled capacity for making
life at once graceful and commodious; and I am not sure that now he
would not, if at home, feel almost wronged if, should he happen to want
a paper-cutter, he had to rise from his chair in order to go in search
of one.

‘Just you wait!’ said Lamia, ‘and see what becomes of the simple life
to which we are to dedicate ourselves. The first time Veronica goes to
Florence, she will return, I will engage to say, laden with manifold
conveniences of existence, and by degrees she will introduce a world
of things into this splendid vacuum; and if, some fine morning, you
meet a plumber or bell-hanger on the stairs, you need not regard
him as an interloper. Nor would I mind wagering my next quarter’s
dress-money that, before long, you will see me sitting in the easiest
of easy-chairs, and gracefully reposing on the softest of ottomans.‘

‘I doubt it,’ said the Poet, ‘for Veronica has a fine sense of the
fitness of things, and her tastes are sufficiently flexible for her to
distinguish between Northern and Southern needs, Northern and Southern
traditions. When Francesco Cibo, the nephew of Innocent VIII., married
Lorenzo’s daughter, and came to Florence with a large and splendid
retinue, he was entertained during the period of the nuptials with the
utmost magnificence. But, at the end of that time, he observed that
all the silver vessels and ornaments, of which there had been such a
profusion, disappeared from the table, and were replaced by others of
brass; and, moreover, that every meal was now served with the utmost
plainness and frugality. Anxious lest his Roman attendants should
carry back to the Eternal City the impression that he had contracted a
union with either a very poor or a very parsimonious family, he sought
to discover how they were faring, and found they were still being
entertained in the most sumptuous manner. The enigma was explained
when Lorenzo said to him, “You are now one of ourselves, and as one of
ourselves I treat you. My grandsire Cosimo used to say to his sons,
‘Remember you are only citizens of Florence, and must reserve what
splendours you can command for the glorification of the City.’ As his
descendant, I obey his injunction.”‘

‘Hark!’ I said. ‘Already there are sounds of modern civilisation. The
grass-plot is being mown.’

Lamia and the Poet listened, though I think the latter at once guessed
my meaning.

‘What is it?’ said Lamia. ‘A mowing-machine? I cannot hear it. I hear
only the bleating of sheep.’

We passed afresh into the garden, and there was a flock of ewes and
lambs nibbling the sweet short clover, attended by a picturesque
shepherd girl, who carefully kept them off the shrubs, but went on
industriously knitting all the while.

‘Is not that a simple enough mowing-machine for you?’ I asked. ‘It
attains to even Veronica’s ideal of primitive expedients.‘

‘It is as simple and primitive,’ said Lamia, ‘as much of the garden
itself. What a comfort it is to find oneself in a country where’—I
imagine this was intended as a shaft against myself—‘there does not
rage a fidgety mania for perfection. Flowers here are reduced to their
proper subordination in the universe.’

Whether Lamia was right or wrong in this conclusion, it must be
allowed that, as a race, Italians have not that tender attachment to
flowers which is universal among ourselves, and that being, contrary
to general belief, far less sentimental and more practical than we
are, they do not care to devote much attention to the growing of
anything that cannot be taken to market and turned into _quattrini_,
or ready cash. Hence, they will willingly grow carnations, freesias,
arum-lilies, lilies of the valley, ranunculuses, and such like flowers
that find a quick sale on the ledges of the _Palazzo Strozzi_, or under
the shadow of the _Municipio_ in the _Piazza della Trinità_. But even
these are so reared that the purchaser alone gets any delectation out
of them, and the spot where they are produced is but little more of
a garden in consequence of their temporary presence. The difficulty
is to induce an Italian gardener to believe that you care for flowers
for their own sake, that you regard the sale of them as a sort of
desecration, that you feel they ought to be love-gifts, tokens of
present or mementoes of absent affection, and, in any case, cherished
companions of one’s private thoughts, one’s habitual pursuits, and
one’s transitory emotions. He cannot understand that you want to
consort with them, to tend them in sickness and health, to cultivate
them for better or for worse, to let them twine and garland themselves
about your inner and your outer life, to make them, in fact, flesh of
your flesh, and spirit of your spirit, till death do you part, when,
with a sweet form of suttee, they will come and immolate themselves
upon your grave.

This conflict of ideals between the Poet and myself on the one side,
and Ippolito, the gardener, on the other,—for the humblest folk in
Tuscany have classical names, which they imagine to be Christian, and
indeed frequently are so, thanks to some primitive martyr in the Church
Calendar,—began at once, and never wholly ceased. We put our veto on
the sale in Florence of flower or leaf grown on the premises; and as
Veronica, with all her marvellous foresight, had not extended our
contract to these, we had to arrange with him what was to be paid by
us for what would otherwise have been profitable produce. Ippolito’s
calculations were of the most elaborate character; but their complexity
arose solely from his scrupulous desire to do justice as between man
and man. Personally, he had no money interest in the matter; for,
but for what he regarded as our unaccountable tastes, he would have
carried all the saleable flowers twice a week to that charming little
market-place which every visitor to the fair city knows so well, made
the best bargain he could with the purchasing public, and credited
his _padrone_ with the amount received. Selling the flowers, he could
know, to a _centesimo_, what they were worth. Not selling them, in
deference to these odd _forestieri_, and therefore having to surmise
what they would probably have fetched could they have been sold, and
anxious neither to defraud his master nor to rob us, he lived, during
our sojourn, a life of continual arithmetical anxiety. In vain were
the Poet’s magnificent endeavours to make him understand that we were
not, as modern language has it, so mighty particular as to what we paid
for rescuing the flowers from what he regarded as an ignoble doom.
We could excite no sentimental emotion on the subject in Ippolito.
To him it was simply a matter of addition in decimals, the sum total
of which should represent the practical results of abstract justice.
It must not be supposed, however, that this quite satisfied him, or
entirely quieted his conscience. To the last he let us perceive that
he considered our arbitrary conduct to have a certain moral obliquity
about it, since it caused and consecrated so much absolute waste;
waste of time, waste of material, waste of money. Once, when we were
not present, he appealed to Veronica, and asked if we were really in
earnest in forbidding him to sell any portion of the flowers. The
violets flowered by tens of thousands, the carnations were rotting on
their stalks, and it was not possible more freesias could be wanted for
indoors; and, with his _Ma, Signora mia_, and _Senta, Sua Signoria_, he
did his best to convert her. But she told him we were inexorable; and,
though she fully shared our sentiments on the subject, she laughed at
us for a couple of _zucconi_, or dunderheads, for allowing ourselves to
pay twice what the flowers were worth: a form of judgment which, as we
have seen, was not quite equitable, but which nevertheless represented,
with tolerable accuracy, the low estimate she entertained of either the
Poet’s or my capacity for a bargain.

[Illustration: A NOBLE FOUNTAIN]

Once Ippolito was thoroughly convinced of our obduracy concerning his
mercenary traditions, he showed an amiable readiness to please us, by
bringing pot after pot of well-grown plants from frame and shelf and
sheltering nook, and placing them where we would, and mostly round the
noble fountain that flashed quietly but unceasingly in the centre of
the garden enclosure; though he well knew that, even in the genial
weather with which we were being favoured, the length of their days
would thereby be somewhat curtailed; white arum-lilies, freesias,
lilies of the valley, and early carnations, thus making a most lively
show.

‘Do not suppose, though,’ I said to Lamia, ‘that Italy has not its
true garden season, even in the English sense; and I trust you will,
in due course, be able to judge of it for yourself. But it is brief
in its marvellous beauty. Like the people themselves of this lovely
land, the year ages soon, when compared with the lagging Spring, the
lingering Summer, and the slowly-ripening Autumn of Northern climes.
But when the roses come they will come in battalions, the wistaria will
run riot over wall and pergola, the _Spiræa Van Houtte_ will whitely
decorate itself with a lavishness unknown to chillier latitudes, and
Madonna lilies will astound you by their height, and irises by their
profusion. For a month, in a favourable season for six weeks, one will
be embowered in bloom; then suddenly to find, if one gardens in English
fashion, you have no garden at all.’

‘A short life and a merry one,’ said Lamia: ‘an ideal existence.’

‘But do not let us forget,’ I observed, ‘that when this brief exuberant
blending of Spring and Summer has passed away from the garden, the
purple and opal bunches of the festooned and trellised vine come timely
to take its place.’

‘Nor,’ added the Poet, ‘should we omit that bewitching preliminary to
the profuse period you speak of, when, as now, in whichever direction
you look or ramble in that astonishing valley, almond and peach,
plum-blossom, pear-blossom, and apple-bloom, fleck with their rich
rival tints, from purest white to rosiest pink, the silvery spray of
the ubiquitous olives.’

‘Silvery till ruffled by the wind,’ he went on, ‘as Lorenzo so
admirably describes it in his poem on the _Ambra_.

  ‘L’uliva, in qualche dolce piaggia aprica,
   Secondo il vento par, or verde, or bianca.‘

‘What an incautious quotation!’ said Lamia; ‘and, were I a critic, I
should at once fasten on you a charge of gross plagiarism. I remember,
if you do not:—

  ‘The smiling slopes with olive groves bedecked,
   Now darkly green, now, as the breeze did stir,
   Spectral and white, as though the air were flecked
   With elfin branches laced with gossamer;

   And then so faint, the eye could scarce detect
   Which the gray hillside, which the foliage fair;
   Until once more it dense and sombre grew,
   To shift again just as the zephyr blew.

‘Have I not established my case?’

‘Completely, my dear Lamia; and I am glad to find myself in such
excellent company as that of Lorenzo, more especially now that we have
taken possession of a villa where he must often have been a guest, with
Politian for host, and Poggio and Pico della Mirandola for companions.‘
‘I fear,’ said Lamia modestly, ‘I should have found them too learned to
be congenial society.’

[Illustration: PEACH, PLUM, AND PEAR-BLOSSOM]

‘Not when Lorenzo was with them; for he assimilated their learning to
life, and contrived to make gaiety out of their scholarship. With more
even than the statesmanship of his grandfather, and of whom it may
equally be said that he ruled without arms and without a title, endowed
with no inconsiderable portion of the culture of the students he so
generously abetted, Lorenzo was a thorough man-of-the-world, and more
than a respectable man-of-letters. I recommend to you his description,
in the _Selve d’ Amore_, of the shepherd leading his flock from the
wintry fold to the Spring pasture, and carrying in his arms a
newly-dropped lamb, his sonnet on the origin of the violet, and, still
more perhaps, the one in praise of rural sights, sounds, and solitude.
Permit me to cite at least a portion of it:—

  ‘Cerchi, chi vuol, le pompe, e gli alti onori,
   Le piazze, e tempi, e gli edifizi magni,
   Le delicie, il tesor, qual accompagni
   Mille duri pensier, mille dolori.
   Un verde praticel pien di bei fiori,
   Un rivolo che l’erba intorno bagni,
   Un augelletto che d’amor si lagni,
   Acqueta molto meglio i nostri ardori.‘

‘I fear,’ said Lamia, ‘I have not yet made sufficient progress in
my studies to follow your recitation completely. Will you kindly
translate?’

‘Let a spontaneous paraphrase suffice, which will reproduce the
original with, if with less literary perhaps with more spiritual,
accuracy.

  ‘Covet who will the patronage of Kings,
   And pompous titles Emperors bestow,
   Splendour, and revelry, and all that brings
   A thousand bitter thoughts, a world of woe:
   A meadow glistening in an April shower,
   A green-banked rivulet, and, near his nest,
   A blackbird carolling in guelder bower,
   ‘Tis these that soothe and satisfy the breast.‘

‘Surely it is strange,’ I said, ‘that a man so occupied with affairs
of State as Lorenzo, conspiring and conspired against from morning to
night, a landowner not indifferent to the prosperity of his estate, a
banker attentive to the profitable employment of his capital, a father
most anxious for the wise bringing up of his sons, a collector of
manuscripts, gems and intaglios, a founder of libraries, an owner of
alum mines, a prince, a statesman, and a diplomatist, should not only
have experienced such a sentiment as you have cited, but should have
found leisure to give expression to it.’

‘And in so short a space of time,’ said Lamia, more indulgent than
usual to my observations. ‘Was he not only forty-one when he died?’

‘He was,’ I said, ‘but he seems to have lived every hour of his life,
and to have acted on the principle he lays down in his contribution
to the _Disputationes Camaldulenses_, that life should consist in
equal parts of action and contemplation; thereby being rather at issue
with Plato, whom he loved so well. But even in his most contemplative
moods he never seems to be divorced from the themes that interest
mankind. There is a passage in a poem of his expository of the
Platonic Philosophy which some critics have thought gave Michelangelo
the suggestion for his famous marble _Sonno_, which you will shortly
see in the Sacristy of San Lorenzo; while, in his _Simposio_ there
is a description of a toping friar which is worthy of Chaucer, and
in the _Canzoni a Ballo_ and the _Canti Carnascialeschi_, which I
cannot recommend you to read save in what you will scarcely find, an
expurgated edition, he expresses the very thoughts, feelings, and
ideals of the populace of Florence.’

‘Veronica shall be my Bowdler,’ said Lamia, ‘and meanwhile I thank you
for your erudition! But, as it happens to be my birthday, do you think
you could forget the Medici for a few moments, if only to wish me, in
the most conventional manner, “many happy returns”?‘

I had not forgotten the circumstance, and indeed had armed myself with
a propitiatory gift which I intended to offer later in the day. But,
before I could stammer out my excuses, she put her hand in that of the
Poet, and said:

‘Perhaps you have forgotten that, not very long ago, you rebuked me
most gently for one of my numerous foibles, and that I asked you to
tell me what I ought to do, and to be, in order to merit your approval.
Will you, for a birthday present, tell me now?’

We had come, in our saunterings, to the long low wall, leaning over
which we gazed down direct on Florence.

‘With pleasure,’ he said, ‘and I must only hope you will not think me
too severe.


A BIRTHDAY PRESENT

I

    ‘“Say what, to please you, you would have me be.”
          Then listen, dear!
    I fain would have you very fair to see,
          And sweet to hear.


II

    ‘You should have Aphrodite’s form and face,
        With Dian’s tread;
    And something of Minerva’s lofty grace
        Should crown your head.


III

    ‘Summer should wander in your voice, and Spring
        Gleam in your gaze,
    And pure thoughts ripen in your heart that bring
        Calm Autumn days.


IV

    ‘Yours should be winning ways that make Love live,
        And ne’er grow old,
    With ever something yet more sweet to give,
        Which you withhold.


V

    ‘You should have generous hopes that can beguile
        Life’s doubts and fears,
    And, ever waiting on your April smile,
        The gift of tears.


VI

    You should be close to us as earth and sea,
        And yet as far
    As Heaven itself. In sooth, I’d have you be
        Just what you are.‘

O these poets! I need scarcely say that, after this insidious effusion,
I stowed away the present I had intended for Lamia in a secret drawer,
reserving it for some more propitious occasion. I hope I am not
prejudiced when I say that the verses were scarcely among the Poet’s
happier compositions. But diamonds would have lacked lustre, after such
metrical adulation.

           *       *       *       *       *

But did you go all that way, it will perhaps be asked, and introduce
Lamia to the acknowledged fascinations of Tuscany, only to wander
in search of wild-flowers, to climb rural hill-sides, to rave about
scenery and sunshine, to listen reverentially to the Poet’s rhymes,
and to discuss things in general, and Lamia’s favourite themes in
particular? Surely, you may be disposed to add, all those things could
have been done just as well at home. Had Florence itself, its churches,
its palaces, its galleries, its storied thoroughfares, no attraction
for you all?

[Illustration: FLORENCE]

Indeed they had. But these have been written about with such minuteness
by the learned, and with such fervour by the enthusiastic, that you
would hardly thank so homely a pen as mine for describing them afresh.
Moreover, let it be confessed that we had a way of our own, which is
hardly the common way, of impressing Lamia’s sensitive mind with the
artistic marvels of the City of Flowers. To the rest of us, Florence
was already as familiar even as the Garden that we love, and the
Poet had a theory, in which I entirely concurred, as to how Lamia’s
familiarity should grow to be like ours, with a reserved freshness
of its own. ‘There are two ways,’ he said, ‘of approaching a place
like Florence. You can try to take possession of it, or you can allow
it to take possession of you. The first is the more usual, but the
second is, I would suggest, the more excellent way. Once when I was
travelling hitherward, I remember an American tourist who was the only
other occupant of the railway compartment, asking me if I knew Pisa;
and, on my replying that I did, he said he should be much obliged if
I would point it out to him. Shortly we approached it, and the train
slackened pace in order to make the customary halt of some seven or
eight minutes. “This is Pisa,” I said, and he at once leaned out of the
window, and there he remained intently gazing till its Duomo, Leaning
Tower, and Baptistery, could be seen no more. Then he turned to me,
and said, “I thank you, sir, for showing me Pisa. I should not have
liked to return to the States without having seen Pisa.” I beg of you
not to take my fellow-traveller as a national type, for Americans are
as various, and differ from each other as much, as the people of other
countries. But I cannot think he had seen Pisa. Yet numbers of people
resemble him in their tacit assumption that a hasty visual impression
or snapshot, so to speak, deserves to be described as seeing, though,
assuredly, where great works of art are concerned, it is not to see
with the mind’s eye, to say nothing of the spirit’s.‘

‘I am easily taken possession of, as you know,’ said Lamia, for a
moment pointedly turning to me, who certainly know nothing of the
kind, and indeed know very much the reverse, and then redirecting her
attention to the Poet. ‘But, if one is to be taken possession of by all
the lovely places and things in this world, would not one have to live
to a rather venerable age?’

‘There is an alternative,’ I said, ‘is there not? which is to be taken
possession of by only some of them, but to be taken possession of by
these thoroughly.’

‘How conjugal and domestic that sounds. But it makes no allowance for
feminine curiosity. I should be sorry, when we leave Florence, to
think there was anything in it worth seeing I had not seen.‘ ‘Neither
shall there be, I hope,’ said the Poet, ‘but, if one is really to see
what is worth seeing, I think one must bridle one’s curiosity a little
about much that is not worth seeing. The specialist, no doubt, must
be boundlessly curious concerning his particular pursuit, and the
professional student of Art is a specialist. We are, at best, only
dilettanti, and seek solely to expand our minds through sympathetic and
discriminating enjoyment.‘

‘In fact,’ said Lamia, ‘it is with Art as with Life. If one is to
enjoy it, one must not know too much about it. In that case, I can
promise myself, during the next few weeks, no end of pleasure.’

We none of us, unless it be Veronica sometimes, resent Lamia’s
seemingly irrelevant way of diverting a discussion, and the Poet has
less reason than any of us to do so, since she not only accepts his
utterances as words of absolute wisdom, but invariably strives to shape
herself according to his canons of life and conduct. Accordingly, when
we descended into Florence, which was pretty often, she manifested
neither impatience nor curiosity, but suffered herself to fall into the
fortuitous fashion of wandering about it that he recommended. We had
neither guide nor guide-book; and, if any of us showed a disposition
to enter here or to linger there, we entered or lingered as a matter
of course. Lamia was left to her own impulses in giving much or little
attention to tomb, fresco, statue, altar-piece, pulpit, or doorway;
nor was she distracted by any information concerning them till she
asked for it. Then, indeed, it was given most willingly, and it was
rarely that one or other of us could not answer her inquiries. The Poet
and I were sometimes at fault, but Veronica never. If you think that
by such a method as this much must have been overlooked that is well
deserving of notice, you must remember there was nothing to prevent
us from returning to the same chapel or sacristy, the same monument
or bas-relief, again and again; and, so varying is the human mood in
general, and Lamia’s mood in particular, that what she would pass by on
one occasion would wholly engross her attention in another. Thus there
was a certain method underlying our apparent purposelessness, and I
fancy she ended by knowing fully as much about Florence as those who
order their visits to its innumerable treasures, while I am sure she
enjoyed herself infinitely more. Moreover, this unsystematic system of
artistic vagrancy issued sometimes in welcome surprises that extended
the experience of all of us. One evening, for instance, just as we were
on the point of quitting the city and driving homeward, Lamia said:

‘Let us go into the Duomo for a few minutes.’

‘But it is so dark,’ I suggested, ‘you will see nothing!’

We entered, nevertheless. It was the eve of Good Friday, when,
according to the Roman Catholic Ritual, the Host, instead of being
enshrined as usual on the High Altar, is, in commemoration of the
sacred tragedy of Calvary, borne to a dimly-lighted Sepulchre, where,
all night long, the faithful come to watch and pray. The Office of
_Tenebræ_ was just over, and the worshippers had all passed out of
the Cathedral. There remained in the doubtful light only a Verger and
ourselves, till, from either side of the Choir, there emerged a figure
robed in black, and bearing a lighted torch. Slowly, solemnly, and
parallel to each other, they skirted the inner walls of the building,
till they met at the main doorway, and then, at the same grave pace,
they walked up the long empty nave. I had a surmise of what was
signified by this slow and lonely procession, but in order to be quite
sure I said to the Verger:

‘_Cosa fanno?_’ (What are they doing?)

‘_Cercano Il Signore, e non lo trovano_,’ he replied. (They are looking
for Our Lord, and cannot find Him.)

We all had heard the reply. Then we quitted the Duomo, and drove home
in silence.

Surely it is true, is it not, that accidental experiences have a
sharper savour and leave behind them a more enduring reminiscence than
projected ones? What one expects but rarely comes up to expectation,
and has generally cost some thought or trouble to procure. What happens
unexpectedly, if it be of the welcome kind, finds one disarmed and
indisposed to criticise, and the emotion it excites is all sheer gain,
no price of admission, to so speak, having been paid for it. Just as
wandering along a river is more agreeable than walking along a canal,
so people who canalise their lives and prearrange their enjoyments
lose much of the enchantment which attends the guiding beneficence of
chance. In Florence, you can scarcely halt anywhere, but story sacred
or profane, saint or scholar, painter or patriot, poet, martyr, or
enthusiast, has left some indelible trace to mark and glorify the
spot, and to make you lift your head and then your heart. The very
lapidary inscriptions let into the walls where architect or sculptor,
jurist or astronomer once abode, are a continual invitation to the
wayfarer to pause, to read, to ponder. Nor is it perhaps the most
famous or the best known that are the most interesting and suggestive.
The Poet seemed to have a special faculty for arresting our footsteps
by those most worthy of contemplation. ‘Is not this one,’ he said,
‘peculiarly consolatory in a period like the present, when most people,
and the Italians especially, seem to think that originality consists
in artificial novelty and even grotesqueness—for that is where such
novelty too often leads—of manner and expression.’

Thereupon he read: ‘_Qui visse e morì Benedetto da Majano, chi nelle
opere sue confrontò con venustà di stile e di forme le grandi idee del
genio creatore._’ (Here lived and died Benedetto da Maiano, who in his
works conferred charm of style and beauty of form on the lofty ideas of
creative genius.)

‘To do that,’ he said, ‘is to overcome the main difficulty and solve
the essential problem of Art, whether in marble or in language. In our
day, too many persons shirk the difficulty and ignore the problem, and
seek to conceal the poverty of their ideas under the extravagance of
their manner.’

‘Some of these are very successful,’ I ventured to observe.

‘Not,’ said Veronica, ‘if in the notion of success be included that
of succession. Congratulated to-day, will they not be consigned to
oblivion to-morrow, when right taste has resumed its authority, or when
some one yet more extravagant creates an impression, equally sudden and
equally transitory, of a somewhat similar character?’

‘I think so,’ said the Poet, ‘and I am sufficiently enamoured of
_venustà di stile_ to hope so. As great a master of style as this
century has produced says somewhere, “_On peut tout dire dans le style
simple et correct des bons auteurs. Les expressions violentes viennent
toujours ou d’une prétention, ou de l’ignorance de nos richesses
réelles._” Do you mind, Lamia, committing that sentence to memory, for
I see you sometimes deeply immersed in works of much pretension, but
consisting for the most part of _expressions violentes_, though I never
observe you admiring in marble or on canvas the violence or the profuse
colouring you occasionally tolerate in language?‘

‘Is it not,’ said Veronica, ‘that in architecture, painting, and
sculpture, the manner in which a thing is done is so much more
conspicuous, so to speak, than what is done, that failure, whether it
arise from feebleness or from violence, strikes us at once; whereas, in
language, what is said, if interesting in itself, makes us indulgent
to, and indeed forgetful of, the manner of saying it?’

‘I suppose that is so,’ he answered; ‘and perhaps it is one of the
incidental drawbacks to literature. Fortunately, however, what you say
is more true of prose than of verse; defect of style in poetry being
at least as obvious to fastidious readers as in marble. And yet,’
he added, ‘in our time, a grotesque, violent, and what seems to me
lamentable way of saying things has been more than tolerated in verse,
for the sake of the things said. For my part, I should be sorry to be
original, either in prose or verse, at the expense of truth or beauty.’

[Illustration: ROSES AND IRIS]

The absence of method in our visits to cloister or gallery seemed to
govern most of our movements. Sometimes we were but two, sometimes
but three, of a company; and it would happen that, when we were four,
we lost touch of each other for a time, and went our separate ways.
Veronica not infrequently was missing; and generally, when this
occurred, when she returned alone to the villa, she brought with her
some ‘object of antiquity,’ as the Florentine dealers in curios and
old furniture call such things, purchased after considerable thought
and much bargaining. I think you know Veronica has a large heart,
and would defraud no one of his due, and indeed would give any one
more than his due, where no bargaining was in question. But she knows
just as much about the date and value of _cassettone_, triptych, or
embroidery, as any of the various dealers on the Ponte Vecchio or in
the Via de’ Serragli; and she not unnaturally enjoyed displaying her
peculiar learning in those interesting haunts. Her perfect familiarity
with the language, and indeed even with Florentine _patois_, added to
her advantage and strengthened her position in appraising the value
of mediæval picture-frame or sixteenth-century mirror. Moreover, it
is the greatest possible error to suppose that Florentine dealers are
consumed with a single-minded desire to rob unwary purchasers; and
I am convinced they much preferred to conclude a fair bargain with
Veronica, than an unfair one with the first ignorant comer. Oriental
ways and traditions of business still linger sufficiently with them to
make _prezzo fisso_ or a rigidly-fixed price exceedingly distasteful.
Their day is long, they have abundance of time on their hands, and,
if the few things they sell in the course of the week were sold
without demur and in a couple of minutes, life would be insufferably
tedious for want of human intercourse and agreeable conversation.
Veronica invariably regaled us with minute accounts, on the occasion
of each fresh purchase, of the polite but protracted controversy
that had attended it; and very diverting these were. She preferred
to conduct these transactions without our company; for, in the
first place, as she truly enough remarked, we knew nothing whatever
upon the subject and could therefore be of no use to her, and, in the
second place, when we honoured her with our useless society, one or
other of us invariably ended by showing signs of impatience, and to
be impatient over a bargain is inevitably to get the worst of it. She
did not always come off a winner in these friendly encounters; and
she was just as candid and as diverting in confessing her defeats as
in recording her victories. On one occasion she suffered a peculiarly
humiliating disaster, which she detailed with much zest at her own
expense. Wishing to give an agreeable surprise to Lamia on the occasion
of that Birthday, when, as you will perhaps remember, I was so sorely
discomfited, she went in search of some amber beads which Lamia had
more than once expressed a longing to find in order to complete a set
she already possessed. But it was indispensable they should be of a
special hue. At length, Veronica discovered some in a shop in the
Por Santa Maria, but, do what she would, and notwithstanding all her
Florentine wit, she could not bring the owner of them into what she
deemed a reasonable frame of mind as regards price.

‘_Ebbene_,’ she said, ‘I will try elsewhere,’

She tried everywhere, but in vain, and so at length had to go back to
the Por Santa Maria, and say she would take the beads at the man’s own
price.

‘But now, _Signora mia_,’ he said, ‘that is no longer the price: you
can find no others in Florence to suit you, so these in the meantime
have become more valuable.’ And he added some insignificant sum to the
original figure, more for the sake of triumph than from any mercenary
motive. Had Veronica been making a purchase for herself, I am sure she
would have defrauded him of his victory by leaving him in possession pf
his amber treasures. But she would not disappoint Lamia, and so paid
the forfeit of her unsuccessful strategy.

But we had a less humorous and far more touching experience on another
occasion. Visiting a hillside village some twenty-five miles away, we
were all much taken by a small altar-piece, a _Presentation in the
Temple_, which stood in a side-chapel in a little church of otherwise
no particular pretension. We discussed, then and there, by whom it
may have been painted, for I need scarcely say that, on that subject,
we all, like so many other people, consider ourselves exceedingly
expert, and quite competent to express an opinion. The _Parroco_, a
venerable Priest of courtly manners but much humility, did not affect
to adjudicate among us, but was evidently much interested in our
deliberations, and still more in our admiration of the picture. At
last he hesitatingly asked Veronica if we should like to become the
owners of it. This had certainly not occurred to us, and we were rather
taken aback by the question. But Veronica, enchanted at the chance
of an unexpected bit of bargaining, said ‘Yes,’ without a moment’s
hesitation. So modest a sum, however, was asked, if compared with the
high artistic qualities we had been attributing to it, that it went
against her conscience, which, as you know, is the strongest part of
her, to offer anything less. Moreover, she probably remembered, on
second thoughts, that the place was not a suitable one for financial
transactions; and any remaining scruple we might have had in completing
the bargain was set at rest by his telling us that he had long been
anxious to buy a second-hand harmonium that was for sale, whereby the
services of his little church could be conducted in a more seemly
manner.

The picture was carried off; and, by the time it had been in our
possession forty-eight hours, its artistic value had enormously
increased, and there was hardly any Umbrian painter, Raphael perhaps
excepted, to whom we were not ready to ascribe it. We discussed, over
and over again, where it should be hung when we returned to England,
and first one position of honour and then another was suggested for
it. But, as I knew well enough from the first would turn out to be the
case, it was finally assigned by Veronica to the Poet’s study.

For a week she had the satisfaction of seeing all of us as much
interested in, and as proud of, a purchase as herself. But, on the
morning of the eighth day after our mountain excursion, the old Priest
suddenly made his appearance at the villa, whither he had walked all
the way; and, in a state of much agitation, he said that he had come
to ask us to give him back the picture, the price of which he would
restore and which he had in his hand. At first there was a protesting
chorus, and Veronica was particularly eloquent in pointing out that the
request was most unreasonable, as we had given the full amount asked
for, without any demur. Thereupon the poor old man explained, with
tears in his eyes, that his parishioners had missed the picture, and,
though he had told them of his intended purchase of the harmonium, they
insisted on its being restored to its traditional home, and all his
pleas and arguments had proved unavailing with them. To such an appeal
but one answer was possible. The picture was returned, and the Poet’s
study will never see that Umbrian masterpiece. Our disappointment
was great; but why, said Veronica, should everybody be disappointed?
Poor old man! He stood there a most touching figure. So we put our
hearts and purses together; and the sound of the second-hand harmonium
now follows on his quavering voice, when, in answer to his _Dominus
vobiscum_, the entire mountain congregation shrills out, to its
instrumental accompaniment, _Et cum spiritu tuo_.

As a rule, however, Veronica’s purchases, over and above being
definitive, were as useful as they were ornamental; and it sometimes
seemed as though Lamia’s predictions concerning the transformation
that was gradually to come over the villa were about to be fulfilled.
Veronica invariably declared that the furniture she brought back
with her from the Via Maggio, or the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, was
intended strictly for home consumption, and would in due course be
packed and dispatched to England. Where she would find room in a
house already remarkably well stocked, was a mystery to all of us; and
meanwhile it remained on the spot, to whose aspect it certainly added
finish and charm, and to whose commodiousness it materially contributed.

‘I told you,’ said Lamia, ‘I should end by having a comfortable
armchair, and you see I have. Nor can I well doubt that a host of
work-people have been secretly introduced by Veronica, for I can now
count on my bell ringing with absolute certainty; and, as for Placida
and Perfetta,’—Placida and Perfetta were two handmaidens,—‘though they
still regard fair words and sweet smiles as the principal ingredients
of domestic service, they have developed a talent for tidying my
drawers and arranging my toilet-table which cannot but have proceeded
from severe drilling by Veronica, while you and I were discussing the
Infinite under the shade of cheerful boughs. Shortly after we first
came, Veronica gave one of our dear devoted but somewhat primitive
attendants a sponge, for what purpose I cannot say. But this domestic
novelty was found so useful, that each of them in turn, she discovered,
had the loan of it, till it came to enjoy an absolute monopoly in the
cleaning of the establishment. Now, I believe, sponges, and all other
requisites of a well-ordered place of residence, are as plentiful as
blackberries. Do you remember,’ she said, turning to me, ‘your giving
me some most lovely flowers last week, which, of course, I treasured
beyond words, even after they had faded? But I discovered, the next
morning, that Perfetta, moved by a spirit of economy which seems to
be a perfect passion with these dear people, was applying them, on
the carpet, to the same purpose, I am told, for which we sometimes
use tea-leaves in England. That was a sad ending, was it not, to your
lovely gift?’

Lamia’s observation on ‘the principal ingredients of domestic service,’
as understood in Italy by those who render it, was strictly accurate.
They wait on you with a smile, and minister to your need with copious
conversation. They will end by giving you all you ask for; but you must
ask, and you must not expect that, having asked for it ninety-nine
times, you will get it the hundredth, without asking for it again.
That would be to defraud them, and you as well, of an opportunity of
talk, the thing they love most in the world. Moreover, they have an
invincible objection to being made methodical; nor can you give them
greater pleasure than to ask them to do the work naturally pertaining
to somebody else. The cook would be delighted to nurse the baby, the
housemaid would find it quite natural to be bidden to cook the dinner,
the butler would eagerly go in search of the vegetables, and the
gardener at once mount the box and drive you into Florence. Only do
not ask them to be perfect, according to English ideas, in their own
line. They will do anything on earth for you, if you go the right way
about it; but they will not be turned into machines. Nothing I have
ever seen in Veronica is more admirable, or shows so conclusively the
discrimination she can blend with her love of order, than the amount of
method, limited no doubt but quite unusual, with which, for the time at
least, she imbued those about us; and Lamia, as we have seen, indulged
in a little characteristic raillery on the subject.

‘It is all very well,’ said the Poet, ‘for us to have our little joke
about a certain person’s passion for discipline. But, upon my word,
what Italy stands in need of is a Ruler with plenary powers, of the
temperament and talents of Veronica. So the Roman Empire was founded,
so the British. Dear Lamia, you are very charming; our friend here is,
I do not forget, a gardener of much repute, and I write verses which, I
am told, sometimes give pleasure to people who are easily pleased. But
Veronica is worth all of us put together a hundred times over.‘

‘Quite so,’ said Lamia. ‘Veronica is our _Minerva Medica_, whose
salutary if sometimes unpalatable wisdom keeps us in such tolerable
health as moral valetudinarians like myself are capable of; whereas I
am but a would-be Egeria, who have not yet succeeded in inducing any
one, and you, dear Poet, least of all, to be my Numa. Still, do not
judge me altogether by the way in which I conduct myself here, among
a people very much after my own heart. I _have_ a conscience, which I
showed by declaring it at the frontier, as I heard it was contraband.
I proved to be right; it was confiscated, and I have got on very
comfortably without it ever since. Indeed, I should have missed a
new gown much more. Poets, we all know, never have a conscience, in
any country. But, as Veronica has enough for two, indeed—obligingly
remembering my existence—for three, I daresay we shall continue to
manage fairly well in this easy-going land, with Veronica’s occasional
assistance.‘

At this moment, Veronica joined us under the lower _loggia_, where we
had for some time been sitting, and desisting more frequently than
perhaps you have imagined, from audible converse, in order to commune
silently with the plashing of the fountain in front of us, with city,
plain, and river far below, and with hill-slope and summit everywhere
around us. The sun had just disappeared; and, each instant, mountain
and sky grew more and more unreal, more and more transfigured in the
afterglow. The last _Ave Maria_ bell had rung; the last wain drawn by
the sleek, swaying oxen had creaked up the hill; and, somewhere among
the more distant olives, a peasant lingering at his work, but pondering
aloud on his love, sang out with clear voice to the clear air:

    ‘Fin al fin de’ giorni miei,
    Io te sola voglio amar.‘

‘You never told us,’ said Veronica, ‘what you two did yesterday
afternoon.’ The two were the Poet and Lamia.

‘You scarcely gave us the chance,’ Lamia replied. ‘We were all so
absorbed in admiring the bust you brought from Florence of the founder
of the Magliabecchian Library, whose name I have already forgotten,
but who was himself, you told us, what you, dear Veronica, will become
if you go on accumulating stray black-letter volumes at the rate you
are doing at present,—_quædam bibliotheca_. But have a care. What if
they were lost or stolen? I was reading only yesterday that, when
Guarino, returning to Florence from Constantinople with a cargo of
Greek manuscripts, was shipwrecked, and all his treasures went to the
bottom of the sea, his hair turned white. See how well-informed I am
getting. I can tell you still more on this interesting subject, and
indeed meditate lecturing on it next winter in the Sala Dante. Cosimo
de’ Medici healed a political breach with Alfonso of Naples by sending
him a Manuscript of Livy; and Lorenzo declared to Pico della Mirandola,
probably where we are now sitting, that, if his fortune proved
insufficient, he would pledge his furniture in order to buy books. But,
when your purse gives out, you will spare my easy-chair, Veronica,
won’t you?‘

‘You have still not told us where you went yesterday afternoon.’

Lamia remained silent; leaving it to the Poet to reply:

‘We carried some flowers to the grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.’

Again there was silence. Then, shortly, Veronica asked:

‘Did nothing come of it?’

We all well knew the meaning of the question, and so did he, and
accordingly replied:

‘Well, yes, something came of it, such as it is’; and, not waiting for
us to express a desire he was aware we all entertained, he unaffectedly
recited to us the following lines:—


AT HER GRAVE

I

    Lo, here among the rest you sleep,
      As though no difference were
    ‘Twixt them and you, more wide, more deep,
    Than such as fondness loves to keep
      Round each lone sepulchre.


II

    Yet they but human, you divine,
      Warmed by that heavenly breath,
    Which, when ephemeral lights decline,
    Like lamp before nocturnal shrine,
      Still burneth after death.


III

    Yes, here in Tuscan soil you lie,
      With Tuscan turf above;
    And, lifting silent spires on high,
    The cypresses remind the sky
      Of the city of your love.


IV

    And you did grow so like to her
      Wherein you dwelt so long,
    Your thoughts, like her May roses, were
    Untrained, unchecked, but how astir,
      And oh how sweet, with song!


V

    The Poet of Olympian mien
      His frenzy doth control,
    And, gazing on the dread Unseen,
    Keep mind majestic, will serene,
      And adamantine soul.


VI

    He, save to Wisdom sternly true,
      Is but the sport of Fate
    And gladiatorial pain. But you!
    A poet, and a woman too!
      The burden was too great.


VII

    And so you laid it down, and here,
      Oblivious of life’s load,
    Quiet you sleep through all the year,
    Young Spring, staid Summer, Autumn sere,
      And Winter’s icy goad.


VIII

    The swallows, freshly on the wing,
      In April’s sun rejoice;
    The nightingales unceasing sing;
    Yes, Spring brings back the birds of Spring,
      But not, alas! your voice.


IX

    So round your sleep I soft let fall
      Frail emblems of regret;
    The lowly wind-flower, tulip tall,
    The iris mantling wayside wall,
      And weeping violet.


X

    My votive flowers to-day will blow,
      To-morrow be decayed;
    But, though long sunk from sight, I know,
    The glory of your afterglow
      Will never wholly fade.



[Illustration]


LAMIA’S WINTER-QUARTERS


It was _Pasqua delle Rose_, literally Easter of Roses, to distinguish
it from _Pasqua delle Uova_, or Easter of Eggs; in other words,
Whitsuntide. We were indebted to Lamia for this pretty designation,
which was new to all of us, and she had made acquaintance with it in
the course of conversation with Perfetta, who, though by no means what
her name implied, and, indeed, as Veronica said, the most imperfect
of our native retainers, had long since quite won Lamia’s heart by a
spontaneous compliment. Very early on in her study of Italian, Lamia
had displayed an extraordinarily fine ear for the pronunciation of
that language, and a quick talent for assimilating its most familiar
phrases, so that Perfetta one day declared she must surely be of
Italian parentage.

‘Indeed she is not,’ I said. ‘Guess from what land she comes?’

Perfetta looked at her for a moment, and then exclaimed: ‘_Dal
Paradiso_.’

Lamia treated this suggestion of celestial origin with much levity,
but, all the same, made Perfetta a present of a gown which she declared
was worn out; though to my masculine perception it seemed almost as
good as new, and Veronica confirmed my impression by reproving her for
spoiling Perfetta at the same time that she deprived herself of a still
very excellent garment.

‘I am sure,’ said Lamia, apologetically, ‘you would not scold me if
you had seen Perfetta’s delight, and heard her expression of it. If
one gives a gown to one’s English maid, one receives a most respectful
“Thank you, Miss,” and never hears another word about it; and, likely
enough, she sells it, having no sentiment on the subject whatever.
But Perfetta went into raptures over the poor little gown, hugged
it, kissed it, spread it to the light, and has recurred to it again
and again. Indeed, to listen to her is to have a lesson in Italian
expletives of admiration. She would keep it, she said, for Feast days,
not even for ordinary Sundays, unless perhaps she put it on, for the
first time, on the festival of her patron Saint. Finally, she declared
she would wear it, for the first time, at _Pasqua delle Rose_, and
so you saw her in it yesterday. But, if I gave her the gown, I have
likewise made you all a present of a most beautiful phrase; and, if you
still are of opinion that I have left myself short of a frock, it is
always open to any one to manifest gratitude by replacing it.‘

It was, indeed, an Easter, or, if you will, a Whitsuntide, of Roses.
They were everywhere; clambering up the house, drooping from the roof,
running along the walls, carpeting the ground, festooning themselves
from elm to elm, interlaced with the cypresses, peering through
porch and casement, covering stable and concealing shed, scaling the
tallest and seemingly most inaccessible places, and thence falling
down in untrained profusion, veritable cascades of colour. We talked
of them from morning to night; we lived, moved, and had our being
among them, left them only to go back to them, vowed these were the
most beautiful,—no, those,—no, those others, and perpetually expressed
ourselves in fickle and contradictory adoration. As Lamia wandered
among them, she would break into song, chanting their praises, now in
one tongue, now in another.

    ‘Roses crimson, roses white,
      Deadly pale or lovely blushing,
    Both in love with May at sight,
      And their maiden blood is rushing
    To and fro in hope to hide
      Tumult it but thus discloses.
    Bring the Bridegroom to the Bride!
      Everywhere are roses, roses.’

Then she would remember snatches of Lorenzo’s _Canzone a Ballo_, ‘_Ben
venga Maggio_,’ written in the local dialect of the time, and improvise
for them a suitable strain.

    ‘E voi, donzelle a schiera,
    Con li vostri amadori,
    Che di rose e di fiori
    Vi fate belle, il Maggio,
    Che è giovane e bella,
    Deh non sie punto acerba,
    Che non si rinnovella
    L’ età come fa l’ herba.
    Nessuna stia superba.
    Al’ amadore, il Maggio.‘

[Illustration: ‘EVERYWHERE ARE ROSES, ROSES’]

Then she would revert to her own tongue, in its paraphrase of the pagan
song the _Compagnacci_ used to troll in the days of Savonarola, when
they wanted to protest against the austerity of his followers and the
Burning of the Vanities.

    ‘Every wall is white with roses,
      Linnets pair in every tree;
    Brim your beakers, twine your posies,
    Kiss and quaff ere Springtime closes;
      Bloom and beauty quickly flee.’

If we drove down to Florence, we drove along roads that were avenues of
roses; and, in the Fair City itself, we forget to look at palace, or
façade, or bridge, absorbed in gazing on the white and yellow Banksias
that hung in bunches and clusters over intramural garden-walls. But,
as the year expanded and deepened in beauty, we grew more and more
unwilling to stir from the enchanting surroundings of the villa itself,
unless it were to wander in other _poderi_ and among other vineyards,
or to make expeditions that took us uninterruptedly through a world of
radiant newness. Lamia did not now inquire how we proposed to employ
ourselves, since being alive was in itself occupation enough. Lest,
however, as she said, Veronica’s conscience should prick her for so
much time passed in the mere delight of doing nothing, she read us the
following passage written by Lorenzo de’ Medici, and which she said she
intended to recite to a larger audience whenever she delivered those
lectures in the _Sala Dante_.

‘What can be more worthy of desire to a well-regulated mind than the
enjoyment of leisure with dignity? That is what all good men wish to
attain, but what great men alone accomplish. In the progress of public
affairs we may indeed be allowed to look forward to a period of rest;
but no repose should totally seclude us from attention to the concerns
of our country. I cannot deny that the path it has been my lot to tread
has been arduous and rugged, full of danger, and beset with treachery;
but I console myself with the thought of having contributed to the
welfare of the State, the prosperity of which now rivals that of any
other, however flourishing. Neither have I been inattentive to the
interests and advancement of my family, having always proposed for
my imitation the example of my grandfather Cosimo, who watched over
his public and his private concerns with equal vigilance. Having now
attained the object of my cares, I trust I may be allowed to enjoy the
sweets of leisure, to share in the reputation of my fellow-citizens,
and to exult in the glory of my native city.’

‘The passage is very interesting,’ said the Poet, ‘and serves to
strengthen one’s impression of the sanity and completeness of Lorenzo’s
talents. But is it not also another contribution to the vanity of
human wishes and the fatuity of human self-complacency? I do not think
Lorenzo ever attained to that enjoyment of dignity with leisure of
which he speaks; and assuredly he had not long been dead before the
glory of his native city, in the sense in which he used the phrase,
passed away.‘

‘If one is to believe Politian,’ I said, ‘either the famous death-bed
colloquy with Savonarola never took place, or it left but little
impression on the dying man.’

‘That is a story,’ said the Poet, ‘one would part with unwillingly. But
what is it that Politian says?’

‘That to judge by Lorenzo’s behaviour, and that of his attendants,
when he was dying, you would have thought it was they who momentarily
expected that fate, and he alone that was exempt from it.‘

‘There is no tomb nor inscription, is there,’ asked Lamia, ‘to mark
the place that received his ashes, while his unworthier successors have
a sumptuous monument designed by Michelangelo, whom in the budding days
of his genius Lorenzo used to place, out of respect for his talent,
above his own sons at table?’

‘I suppose,’ said Veronica, ‘he was paid for the monument he executed,
and could not execute the one the cost of which there was no one to
defray. But do not let us forget that what he felt concerning the
contrast between the earlier and the later Medici is for ever embodied
in his famous quatrain. Repeat it to us, Lamia.’

‘With pleasure, if I can.‘

    ‘Grato m’ è il sonno, e più l’ esser di sasso,
    Mentre che il danno e la vergogna dura.
    Non veder, non sentir, m’ è gran ventura:
    Però, non mi destar. Deh! parla basso.‘

‘How would one translate it?’

‘Translation is a difficult craft,’ said the Poet; ‘but, after visiting
San Lorenzo again the other day, I could not resist trying to render
those noble lines into our own tongue.

    ‘Nay, let me sleep, or, best, be stone or steel,
      While still endures this infamy of woe.
    My one sole bliss is nor to see nor feel:
      So, wake me not; and, lest you should, speak low.’

‘How utterly out of place,’ said Lamia, ‘a character like Michelangelo
seems in Florentine history! whereas Lorenzo is its very type and
representative.’

‘Do you not forget,’ said Veronica, ‘that perhaps the three most
austere human figures known to us were Florentines, either by birth or
by adoption: Michelangelo, Dante, and Savonarola.’

‘That only makes it all the more strange,’ I said.

‘But why?’ said the Poet. ‘Have we not, in these days, succumbed too
readily to the notion that we are the creatures of our surroundings,
and what is called our _habitat_? And is not that theory a mere
_ex-post-facto_ explanation that explains nothing? Who would ever have
thought of predicting that any of the three great Puritans you have
named would be associated with Florence, and the greatest of the three
be born and bred in the very heart of her? Must we not look elsewhere
for the explanation?’

    ‘Know, Nature, like the cuckoo, laughs at law,
    Placing her eggs in whatso nest she will;
    And when, at callow-time, you think to find
    The sparrow’s stationary chirp, lo! bursts
    Voyaging voice to glorify the Spring.‘

‘In the same way characters, austere or the reverse, make their
appearance in the most unlikely places. We hear too much, I think, of
the Spirit of the Age. Shall we not rather believe that the Age is what
great Spirits make it?’

‘There,’ said Veronica, ‘do you not press your own theory too far?
Without for one moment denying that the sudden appearance of great
characters, or the place where they appear, is not to be foretold, one
can hardly help feeling that Dante, Savonarola, and Michelangelo, in
consequence of something adverse in the Florentine character, did not
succeed in making Florence what they would fain have made her.’

‘Truly great characters,’ said Lamia, ‘always fail. Only second-rate
people succeed. For my part I am very glad of it, for nothing is so
disappointing as failure,—except success.’

‘There is a good deal in what you say,’ I was rather surprised to hear
the Poet reply. ‘But perhaps we have all, and myself most of all,
drifted into a vein of exaggeration. I was betrayed into it by the
excessive claim which it seems to me many nowadays advance for Science,
as compared with other sources of instruction and helps to life. Our
debt to Science is great. At the same time, it has its limits, and I
cannot think it is the greatest of our obligations. Do you remember
that profound saying of Pascal, “_La science des choses extérieures ne
me consolera pas de l’ignorance de la morale au temps d’affliction,
mais la science des mœurs me consolera toujours de l’ignorance
des sciences extérieures_”? Such a line, for instance, as that of
Shakespeare,

  “In Nature there’s no blemish but the mind,”

is more deeply and enduringly helpful than steam-engines, electric
lights, or anæsthetics. One can, in case of necessity, dispense with
tramways and telephones; but we cannot dispense with right thinking and
right feeling. The material discoveries of the Age do it much honour;
but man’s triumph over matter is most nobly displayed when he triumphs
over the matter of which he is himself composed; when he ignores
physical pain, and tramples on his non-spiritual passions. Science is
the language of the Intellect, Literature of the Soul; and Poetry, the
highest expression of Literature, does for language, and sometimes for
life, what the Soul does for the body, and what this glorious Italian
sun does for mountain and plain: it spiritualises matter. Let me add,
lest I should seem too partial to the particular art I practise so
imperfectly, that this is true of all imaginative Art; and, far from
fearing lest Science should sap and supersede it, I trust and believe
that Art will ever remain its complement, and, where necessary, its
corrective.‘

‘Do you consider Italians,’ asked Lamia, ‘artistic or scientific,
material or spiritual?’

‘They are both, surely,’ he replied. ‘But, if we took the modern
Florentine as the Italian type, I fear we would have to reply they
are rather too prone to worship material science. The artistic
faculty in them seems almost extinct, save for purposes of imitation;
and, even when they imitate the art of the past, they do so without
any discrimination between the good and the bad. But in railways,
telegraphs, telephones, tramways, they take inexhaustible delight.
They have disfigured much of Florence, and most of Rome, in their
determination not to lag behind in the general march of what is termed
material progress.’

‘Is it not,’ suggested Veronica, ‘that they are essentially a
practical race? When the world first took to commerce, the Florentines
became great merchants and great bankers. When Popes and Princes posed
as patrons of architecture, sculpture and painting, they produced
palaces, statues, and pictures.’

‘Just so,’ said Lamia; ‘and now that the whole world has taken to
travelling, Representative Institutions, and Music Halls, they have
Circular Tours and a popular Parliament, both of which they work
exceedingly badly, and a _Caffè Savonarola Spettacolo Diverso_, a piece
of profanation for which I confess I should like to smack them.’

‘There is a good deal of vulgarity,’ I ventured to plead, ‘in modern
life, and in compliance with the theory you have all been pressing,
they are vulgar accordingly. But would it not be more indulgent, and
equally true, to say that Italy is the one country, and the Italians
are the one race, whose vitality is inexhaustible? They have been well
before the world, if you will pardon that expression, for more than
two thousand five hundred years; and, during all that period, they
have never altogether dropped out of sight. Neither do they now appear
in the least disposed to retire into private life, or to preserve
their ruins, however much some of us would like them to do so, for the
satisfaction of our romantic feelings. Who would have believed, asked
Saint Jerome fifteen hundred years ago, that Rome would ever be sunk
so low that, at the very seat of its Empire, it would be reduced to
fight, not for glory, but for self-preservation. Yet what do we see
to-day? Rome, not only safe against foreign assault, but, with the aid
of railways and Maxim guns, meditating new triumphs and new glories.’

‘That,’ said the Poet, and I felt much flattered by his approval, ‘is
the more generous, and therefore the more just way of putting it. The
Italians have a great Past, which they refuse to forget. It still
continues to animate their ambition, and forbids them to rest satisfied
with that _dolce far niente_ with which they once were reproached.
When the period of the Renaissance came to an end, Italy might have
seemed to say, in the words of Nero, _Qualis artifex pereo_, and to
perish most artistically. But Italy was _not_ dead, as she has shown
so clearly during the last thirty years. One’s only regret is that the
existing type of national greatness is so costly, that Italians have to
pay a desperately heavy price for refusing to exist without it.‘

‘People,’ said Lamia, ‘frequently complain of the excessive loads
Italian carters expect their horses and their mules to draw. But the
whole of Italy seems to me to be suffering from the same infliction.’

‘I fear,’ observed Veronica, ‘there is much truth in what you say. Only
yesterday I remonstrated with the driver of the carriage I had hired to
bring me back to the Villa, because his horse seemed in a shockingly
poor condition. His answer was, “_Campa come me_,—he fares as I do.
When I have plenty, he has plenty. When I have little, there is little
for him also. When there are more _forestieri_, he will have more
oats.”‘

‘Let us have a carriage apiece every afternoon,’ said Lamia, ‘and do
what we all shall hate, drive round and round the _Cascine_ from five
to seven. Only, in that case, I _must_ have that new gown.’

       *       *       *       *       *

‘A firefly! A firefly!’

It was Veronica, invariably the most observant of us, whose voice
called to us to welcome the fairy visitor, whose arrival is as
delightful and momentous an event in Italy as the wing of the first
swallow, the call of the first cuckoo, or the note of the first
nightingale, in England. We were all on the alert in a moment, calling
in return:

‘Where? Where?’

It was a single, solitary firefly, for one may say of fireflies as of
primroses:

    First you come by ones and ones,
    Lastly in battalions,

and it moved and twinkled in the deepening twilight, among the
olive-trees, a miniature and terrestrial planet, having no fixed
orbit. I need scarcely say that this was some days before _Pasqua
delle Rose_, though Whitsuntide happened to be an early one; and, the
following night, we saw three, and, the night after, seven. Then,
for May can be capricious in Tuscany as elsewhere, the weather was
not propitious for them. But, by the time the moon was nearly at
full, they were plenteous as stars in the Milky Way; and while they
flitted and glistened among the darkening leaves, the nightingales
rejoiced and enlivened each other with the song that an ancient story
and inherited association have transformed for us into a strain of
imaginary sadness. Life offers no more enchanting combination of
sensations than fall to one’s lot on a warm Italian night in May, when
moonlight, fireflies, and nightingales weave their concerted charm;
and, night after night, we repaired to the same antique marble seat,
where we liked to think Lorenzo and his associates had often sat,
in front of the same dark silent cypresses, and drank in the same
sweet, grave, harmonious delights. Perhaps you think us a company of
selfish Hedonists, wholly given up to pleasurable sensations, poor
weak copies of our Pagan Renaissance predecessors on the self-same
spot? Whether that be true or not of some of us, I will not undertake
to say. But certainly it is not true of Veronica, nor yet, I think,
of Lamia. Indeed, speaking generally, I think one ought to entertain
one’s friends with a record of one’s happiness rather than with a
recital of one’s woes; but it does not follow, does it, that there is
no pathetic minor in one’s life because one is not always sounding
it? Indeed, amid all the enchantments of that Italian season when
Spring and Summer are indistinguishable, we had been conscious of the
shadow of pain which is cast by the surely approaching extinction of
a young life in one’s own immediate precincts; and the shadow was all
the darker because the season was so bright. Ilaria, the youngest and
comeliest of the daughters of our _contadini_, whose acquaintance you
perhaps remember our first making, had, we were assured, till within a
twelvemonth ago, more than justified her pretty name by the joyousness
of her ways. But there was a canker in the bud, which thus was destined
never to open fully to the meridian of life; and, shortly after our
arrival, her figure was no longer seen among the olives, or her voice
heard among the vines. Veronica was much troubled by the utter lack
of creature comforts in the spacious _casa colonica_, or farmhouse,
where Ilaria was patiently awaiting the end, though in reality their
absence was only part of that rudimentary simplicity of existence which
is universal among a people untainted by Northern ideas of luxury. She
and Lamia were unremitting in their visits, their nursing, and their
solicitude. But these proved unavailing; and _Pasqua delle Rose_ had to
spare some of its luxuriant blooms for the grave of poor Ilaria. In the
simple rustic household where she had left a vacant place, we liked to
think that, in the daytime at least, the continual demands of Nature,
in her busiest and most growing season, on the energy and co-operation
of Man, diverted their thoughts somewhat from the missing figure;
but, when we met and wished them good-day in the _podere_, tying the
vines, training the _pomi-d’oro_, or cutting the sweet green fodder,
that smile of which I once spoke as invariably accompanying their
salutations for awhile vanished from their faces, and at nightfall
we knew they were brought into undistracted consciousness of their
bereavement. We grieved for them, and felt, moreover, a separate grief
of our own; and neither the luminous May moon, nor the fairy-flitting
fireflies, nor the silvery fluting of the nightingale, could wean us
from the gravity of our thoughts. Even the purest and most generous
sympathy borrows something of its tenderness, I suppose, from the
knowledge that we are one and all subject to the dispensation of grief,
and that those who console to-day may themselves need to be consoled
to-morrow; and this is peculiarly so with the advent of the shadow of
death, from which not even the strongest nor the most sanguine can hope
to escape. Thus, without saying it, we were all, I suspect, musing on
our common mortality, and thinking how the continuance of the deepest
and dearest of our joys depends on the favour and forbearance of Heaven.

But the Poet has a theory, which we have all more or less adopted, and
which he generally expresses by the words, ‘Cheerfulness is the most
serviceable form of human charity’; and he never, if he can prevent it,
permits us to linger over-long in the fruitless gloom of sentimental
sorrow. I think that was why, on the fourth evening after we had strewn
the roses on Ilaria’s grave, he recited to us, uninvited,—an unusual
thing with him,—the following consolatory lines:—


WHEN I AM GONE

      When I am gone, I pray you shed
    No tears upon the grassy bed
    Where that which you have loved is laid
    Under the wind-warped yew-tree’s shade.
    And let no sombre pomp prepare
    My unreturning journey there,
    Nor wailing words nor dirges deep
    Disturb the quiet of my sleep;
    But tender maidens, robed in white,
    Who have not yet forgotten quite
    The love I sought, the love I gave,
    Be the sole mourners round my grave.
    And neither then, nor after, raise
    The bust of pride, the slab of praise,
    To him who, having sinned and striven,
    Now only asks to be forgiven,
    That he is gone.

      When I am gone, you must not deem
    That I am severed, as I seem,
    From all that still enchains you here,
    Throughout the long revolving year.
    When, as to Winter’s barren shore
    The tides of Spring return once more,
    And, wakened by their flashing showers,
    The woodland foams afresh with flowers,
    You sally forth and ramble wide,
    I shall walk silent at your side,
    Shall watch your mirth, shall catch your smile,
    Shall wander with you all the while,
    And, as in many a bygone Spring,
    Hear cuckoo call and ousel sing.
    And, when you homeward wend, along
    A land all blithe with bleat and song,
    Where lambs that skip and larks that soar
    Make this old world seem young once more,
    And with the wildwood flowers that fill
    Your April laps deck shelf and sill,
    I shall be there to guide your hand,
    And you will surely understand
    I am not gone.

      When Summer leans on Autumn’s arm,
    And warm round grange and red-roofed farm
    Is piled the wain and thatched the stack,
    And swallows troop and fieldfares pack;
    When round rough trunk and knotted root
    Lies thick the freshly-fallen fruit,
    And ‘mong the orchard aisles you muse
    On what we gain, on what we lose,
    Now vernal cares no more annoy,
    And wisdom takes the place of joy,
    I shall be there, as in past years,
    To share your steps, to dry your tears,
    To note how Autumn days have brought
    Feelings mature and mellow thought,
    The fruitful grief for others’ smart,
    The ripeness of a human heart.
    And, when the winds wax rude and loud,
    And Winter weaves the stark year’s shroud,
    As round the flickering household blaze
    You sit and talk of vanished days,
    Of parent, friend, no longer nigh,
    And loves that in the churchyard lie,
    And lips grow weak, and lids grow wet,
    Then, then, I shall be with you yet,
    Though I seem gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the time drew nearer and nearer for leaving the Tuscan home where
we had been so happy, Veronica began to manifest a certain solicitude,
in consequence of our leisurely and unsystematic ways, lest we
should have omitted to make Lamia acquainted with some cloister or
bas-relief, some bit of quaint street architecture, or some hillside
sanctuary, ignorance whereof might expose her to the reproach of a
want of intelligent curiosity. But we found the omissions were few
and unimportant, and this left us all the more free, during the now
brief and regretful remainder of our sojourn, to pay farewell visits
to the frescoes and altar-pieces, the monuments and statues, that had
most engaged her affections. Where Giotto worked, where Savonarola
preached, where Fra Angelico painted and prayed, where Michelangelo
fought, where Dante sate, where Donatello slept, in death as in life
not severed from his beloved Medicean patron, these and kindred spots
had to be seen just once more. When one quits a place where one has
been residing for some little time, one says good-bye to one’s friends;
and these were, one and all, very dear friends to us, and we could not
but take of them affectionate farewell. The _Luca della Robbia_ in the
_Ospedale degli Innocenti_, the Perugino in the _Maddalena dei Pazzi_,
the Fountain by Verrocchio in the cortile of the _Palazzo Vecchio_, the
recumbent Bishop in _San Miniato_, the Mino da Fiesole in the _Badia_,
the bronze David in the _Bargello_;—but, unless I have a care, I shall
fall into the fault I have been trying to avoid, of troubling you with
a catalogue of familiar names. There were favourite spots, too, to
drive to once again, happily too numerous to cite, and too lovely for
any one to be so foolish as to attempt to describe. Exception, however,
shall be made of one of these, for I fancy it is but little known, and
therefore has not become hackneyed. Accident made us acquainted with
it, and design had often and often taken us there again. It was in a
_podere_ some two miles or so outside the Porta San Niccolò, whence,
over a wall lined with irises, one looks down the river immediately
in front of one straight away to Florence, but sees nothing there
save, through the feathery foliage of distant poplars, the cupola of
the Duomo, Giotto’s campanile, and the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Beyond, far beyond, are visible, on propitious days, the majestic peaks
of the Carrara Mountains, and, a little farther towards the north,
the snowy summits of the Apennines above Pistoia. It was a place that
fascinated us, and we returned to it again and again. One evening, when
the light was even exceptionally beautiful, but the air a little chill,
and we had therefore, for Lamia’s sake, to curtail our enjoyment of it,
I remember her exclaiming:

‘O, do let us stay. Even if it were deadly, it would be worth dying
for. It may never be so beautiful again.’

That expresses a feeling which, I think, one often has in Italy. It is
the intense beauty of certain moments, certain views, certain sunsets,
that makes one declare one never before has seen anything so lovely,
and dread lest on such loveliness one never more may gaze. A
foolish fear; for to-morrow renews the radiance and raptures of to-day.

[Illustration: OUR TUSCAN GARDEN]

But the closing hours of the now lengthening days were always spent in
the _loggia_, the garden, or the _podere_ of our Villa; and Veronica,
who, so English at home, was here the most Italian of us all, would,
whenever the weather permitted, arrange for us to have our evening
meal _al fresco_, in the society of the roses and the nightingales.
Lamia had, as you may suppose, picked up many a Tuscan _stornello_
and _canzone_, and would sing them to us, to the accompaniment of her
guitar; and, between song and song, discourse would run on all the
beauty and the wonders we had seen that day.

‘What is it,’ said Lamia, ‘that, more than anything else, constitutes
the charm of Italy?’

‘Ancientness,’ said the Poet, ‘and an ancientness that never grows old.
For Italy, notwithstanding its centuries of history, art, warfare,
misfortune, remains perennially young. More than once, the rash have
said, “Italy is dead.” Italy never dies. She has the gift of perpetual
life; but, with all her indestructible freshness, she carries about
her the dignity of bygone times and the majesty of tradition. The
new is always more or less vulgar. Refinement is the work of time.
You remember Aristotle’s definition of Aristocracy, Ancient riches.
Italy has ancient riches, the riches of law, religion, poetry, and the
arts, long established, and she has therefore what is most precious
in aristocracy. She has ancient speech and ancient manners. Her
mountains are necessarily ancient, the Soracte of Horace, the Alps
of Hannibal. But her plains and valleys are equally so, for she has
an ancient agriculture. We are sitting at this moment surrounded by
a rural cultivation that is described with absolute accuracy in the
_Georgics_, and again by Politian in his _Rusticus_, written on this
very spot, and that has not changed since the days of Cincinnatus.
Listen to that fellow singing among the olives. Virgil has described
him,—_Canit fundator ad auras_,—and might be his contemporary. It is
this far-backness, if I may coin a word to express my meaning, that
sheds a glamour over everything in Italy, a far-backness, however, that
endures and persists, that is with us and around us, and compels us to
bend with reverence before it, as we must ever do before the parent
Past we still have with us. In proportion as Italy parts with its Past,
Italy will lose its charm. The temptation to do so in this age is
great, and I fear it is not being sufficiently resisted.

‘Dear Poet,’ said Lamia, ‘will you forgive me if I object that I have
sometimes been told, though I am sure most inaccurately, that I, for
instance, am charming; and yet I am not ancient.’

‘Dear Lamia,’ he replied, ‘you are very ancient, and are under deep
obligation to ancestors you never saw, and probably never heard of;
and I hope you will be yet more charming for your visit to this old
and captivating land. For my part, I always seem to miss something
in people who have not fallen under its spell. You have succumbed
to it entirely. I shall never weary, and I hope I shall never weary
you, in extolling the power of the Past. Would the descant of those
nightingales have the same charm for us, if they had not been singing
thus for myriads of Mays? Spring is so irresistibly charming because
it recalls and renews the Aprils that are gone. Time consecrates and
confirms. The deeper our roots, the loftier our thoughts, and the
sounder our hearts. I remember a great poet of this age saying to
me that he could not see that, as some one had affirmed, he in his
writings so much resembled Keats. “You are Keats’s own child,” I
replied, “and are of noble parentage.” But indeed every great poet
is the lineal descendant of every other great poet. At any given
moment, what exercises most influence is, not the present, but the
Past. I ventured, the other day, to observe that there are only two
sorts of people, the noble and the ignoble. Dear Lamia, let us try to
belong to the noble, since every one may be a member of that untitled
aristocracy; so that, when we ourselves are, as some of us are
gradually becoming, portions of the Past, we may influence beneficently
an unborn Future.‘

‘There never was anything more untrue,’ said Lamia, who was quick to
surmise the more personal meaning that underlay those closing words,
‘than the saying “_On n’est jeune qu’une fois_.” I have been old
several times; but I always get young again.‘ ‘And you will do so very
often, I dare say, for many years to come. Moreover, I like to think
there is the youth of one’s youth, the youth of one’s manhood, and,
finally, the youth of one’s old age. But, when one has reached this
last, man’s capacity for rejuvenescence is exhausted.‘

Lamia rose from her seat, placed herself close beside him, and taking
his hand, replied:

‘Dear Poet, even in my youngest moments, compared with you I am in my
dotage.’ And I would at that moment have been any age you will, to be
treated thus tenderly.

We made many expeditions of which I have not told you, just as we
visited, again and again, churches, palaces, and dismantled monasteries
I have not named. But Lamia particularly wished to see a Convent,—a
Convent, that is to say, in the Italian signification, of monks, not
disestablished, but allowed still to survive, with a certain number
of its inmates, as a national monument. She had heard me speak of the
attractive hospitality I had enjoyed in them in days gone by; and we
selected for our monastic excursion a Convent in the Apennines not too
remote from Florence, and the drive to which would take us through
Gavinana, a spot none of us had ever visited. Does the word Gavinana
suggest anything to you? Probably not; yet it was there that the
liberties of Florence received their final extinction. Indeed I fancy
that, of the thousands of people who nowadays visit the Tuscan Capital,
many are unaware that, in the earlier part of the sixteenth century, it
underwent a Siege whose incidents strongly resemble many that occurred
during the siege of another Capital nearly thirty years ago. Only
Florence is much more beautiful than Paris, and less suggestive of the
horrors of war. Yet the Siege of Florence lasted ten months, or more
than twice as long as that of Paris; its inhabitants underwent far
greater hardships, and displayed much greater heroism. We might have
been a little sceptical on those points had Florentine historians been
our only authority for them. But the copious and impartial Reports of
the Venetian Ambassadors who were in the Fair City at the time render
doubt impossible, and establish the courage, pertinacity, and patience
of the besieged against Emperor and Pope. All the villas within a
certain radius of Florence were rased to the ground, lest they should
furnish help and corn to the besiegers; and all its silver plate, both
sacred and profane, was melted down to replenish the coffers of the
Republic. It is the noblest, perhaps it is the one perfectly noble,
incident in the story of Florence; and I sometimes have thought, and
the Poet agrees with me, that Francesco Ferruccio, whose statue is
among that series of famous Florentines outside the Uffizi, is its
most heroic and effective figure. He would in all probability have
saved Florence, had the timidity of some of his fellow-countrymen, and
the treachery of others, allowed him; for he proposed to create a
diversion by marching on Rome, and menacing it with another sack such
as had recently taken place under the Constable Bourbon. His project
was overruled, and he died fighting in the piazza at Gavinana; his only
consolation, in his last moments, being that the Leader of the Imperial
Army, the Prince of Orange, was also slain. ‘The ill-omened spot,’
says the historian of the Commonwealth of Florence, ‘lies within sight
of the traveller as he passes, about a mile to the right of it, on
his way from Pistoia to Modena. And not a peasant of those mountains,
though ignorant as his yoke of dove-coloured oxen of all the history
of his country from that day to this, not a goat-herd tending his
flock by the roadside, not a grimy muleteer bringing down his string
of charcoal-laden beasts from the forests of the Upper Apennine, will
be unable to point out to the stranger the field on which, nearly four
hundred years ago, Tuscan liberty was fought for and lost.’

Drinking our coffee, for which we paid an incredibly small sum, under
the plane trees of the square where Ferruccio and Florence fell, we
again discoursed on the arbitrary hazards of Time that made the City
justly called Fair, and to which one is often disposed to apply what
Ovid represents Helen as saying to her Grecian paramour:—

    ‘Apta magis Veneri quam sunt tua corpora Marti:
    Bella gerant alii; tu, Paris, semper ama,’

a place of arms, a city woeful and intrepid, the champion of freedom
against Sceptre and Tiara.

‘Surely,’ said Lamia, ‘Dante would have forgiven Florence could he
have lived to see that day. The times were grim, and the deeds austere
enough even for one “who had seen Hell.” Would you not rather,‘ she
continued, turning to the Poet, ‘have it said of you that you had seen
Heaven?’

‘Remember,’ said Veronica, ‘Dante saw both.’

The twilight was deepening into dusk before we reached the Convent
whither we were bound, for our driver had taken a wrong turning during
the last few miles of our journey; and Lamia was quick to note, as
characteristic of Italy, that, when inquiry put us on the right one,
the directions given were, not as in England, according to signposts,
but to little tabernacles or shrines at the parting of the ways:
now of the Annunciation, now of Saint Agatha or Saint Barbara, now
of Saint Francis of Assisi receiving the Stigmata. I am afraid her
curiosity was more piqued than satisfied when we reached our bourne;
for, though we were most piously welcomed, Veronica and she were not
allowed to violate that portion of the Convent which is defended from
female gaze by the word _Clausura_; and she not unnaturally, though
quite inaccurately, imagined that she was not shown what was most
worth seeing. The Poet and I were allotted sleeping-cells within
the Monastery, but our companions, of course, had to pass the night
in the _Foresteria_, or strangers’ quarter, outside, in charge of a
lay-brother, and it was there we all had our truly ascetic supper. But
the guests of Sallust never enjoyed one more; for our host, the Prior,
was an ideal monk, majestic yet saintly of aspect, with long flowing
beard, silky and snowy, measured manners, and paternally caressing
voice. The Rules of his Order forbid any instrumental accompaniment
either at Mass or the other Sacred Offices of the twenty-four hours;
but he had always loved music for its own sake, and he had made for
himself a primitive sort of spinette, on which he said he would play to
us, for our further entertainment, when the lay-brother who was waiting
on us had retired, and all the Confraternity were in their first deep
sleep. The performance, like the instrument, was touching in its
simplicity; and Veronica, wishing to make him some return, said that
Lamia, too, was fond of music, and would, she was quite sure, sing to
him if he cared to hear her. Even in the _Foresteria_, I fear, there
was a touch of the profane in the suggestion; but he evidently could
not resist the temptation thus presented to him, and begged Lamia to
sing, but with not too loud and penetrating a voice. She at once broke
into the wild and melancholy chant the Italian recruits used to sing in
the days of Napoleon, when they were dragged from their homes to face
the snows of Russia:—

    ‘Partir, partir bisogna,
            Dove commanderà il mio Sovrano.’

But Lamia got no further than those two lines; for our venerable host
suddenly exclaimed, the colour mounting to his face, and the tears
brimming in his eyes:

‘Stop! stop! _Mi monta la fantasia._’ And he went on to tell us how he
had not heard that strain for five-and-forty years, and that it used to
be sung by one whose caprice had caused him to abandon the world and
assume the habit of Saint Bruno.

On our journey homeward, the following morning, Lamia asked:

‘How would you translate the words the dear old Prior used last night,
_Mi monta la fantasia_?’

‘They are not easily rendered into another tongue,’ said Veronica,
‘for they mean so much in the original. But when he said, “the fantasy
mounts and seizes hold of me,” he doubtless meant that your voice
suddenly made him feel all he had felt five-and-forty years ago.‘

‘O, how delightful!’ said Lamia. ‘Then I forced the _Clausura_, after
all.’

‘It is a pity,’ said Veronica, whose sane nature and active temperament
render her a little intolerant of monasticism in any form, ‘that you
could not break it down altogether, and so make an end of it.’

‘And yet,’ said the Poet, who has rather more indulgence for the
weaknesses of human nature, perhaps because he shares them more, ‘I
doubt if we have done with the motives, many and various, that once
engendered and still foster monasticism. The strong, the valiant, the
sensible, require no shelter from the rough usage of the world. But,
as in the days of savage militarism, so in these of an almost equally
pitiless industrialism, terror, timidity, indolence, mysticism, love
of meditation, longing for silence, and a certain passive piety, make
men fly the market-place for the cloister. When Dante, exiled from
Florence, appeared at the Convent in the Apennines, and was asked by
the monks who he might be, did he not answer, “One who is in quest of
peace”? There is no second Dante, but there are many exiles in this
modern world, and I fear their number every day increases. As the
struggle for existence waxes fiercer and fiercer, I think I hear them,
too, exclaiming, _Dona nobis pacem_.‘

‘Listening first to Veronica,’ said Lamia, ‘and then to you, I am
forced to the conclusion that many things are intolerable which we
cannot do without. Yet I confess a Convent of Nuns seems more natural
than a Confraternity of Monks.’

‘More natural, perhaps,’ said the Poet, ‘but hardly so necessary. For,
even in the very heart of the world, every good woman is more or less
nunlike, by virtue of her purity, her reserve——’

‘And, I suppose,’ interrupted Lamia, ‘her obedience?’

Nothing disconcerted, he re-echoed the words: ‘And her obedience.’

[Illustration: THROUGH THE OLIVES, FLORENCE]

‘Have you not, dear,’ asked Veronica, ‘confuted yourself by
anticipation? It was a man, not a woman, was it not, that took leave of
the Prior, who would fain have detained him, with the words—

    ‘Father, farewell! Be not distressed,
      And take my vow, ere I depart,
    To found a Convent in my breast,
      And keep a cloister in my heart.’

‘One is constantly confuting oneself,’ he replied.

‘How should it be otherwise?’ said Lamia. ‘Verse being the expression,
not of the convictions, but of the emotions, poets cannot be taxed with
inconsistency, though they contradict themselves a thousand times.’

‘Thank you, dear Lamia,’ he said. ‘You are the most ingenious of
apologists. If ever I have to defend myself, you shall be my Portia.’

       *       *       *       *       *

But the last day, the last night, and then the very morning of
departure at length arrived, when Florence, with its gorgeous towers
and cloud-capped palaces, was, for a time at least, to dissolve like
the baseless fabric of a vision. Perfetta was in tears; Ippolito had
a _mazzetto_ of carnations for us all; the _contadini_ desisted from
their work to cluster in the garden in order to see us off with
many gracious words and expressions of hope that next year we should
return; and the entire household manifested by melancholy smiles their
sorrow at our going. Pasquale, the _cameriere_, had come into my room
early that morning with a doleful face, and, in reply to a renewed
inquiry whether we could not help him to find another place, assured
me that he would not care to serve anybody else; and he launched into
touching eulogies of Veronica’s considerateness and universal capacity,
of Lamia’s irresistible charm, of the genius of the Poet,—_Il Gran
Poeta_, he called him, though utterly ignorant, I need scarcely say,
of the very language in which that retiring person writes,—and of the
thousand-and-one virtues which, finally, he ascribed to myself. If you
think that he was insincere, because he in some degree exaggerated, I
can assure you that you are mistaken. He believed it all.

‘No, no,’ he said. ‘_Ringrazio tanto la sua signoria_, but I could not
serve any one else. _Riprenderò il mio antico mestiere_’ (I will return
to my old calling).

‘And what may that be?’ I asked.

‘Do you not know?’ he said. ‘_Io son comico_’ (I am an actor).

The dear people we were leaving are all of them so much more or less
histrionic, that Pasquale’s occasionally fine gestures had never struck
me as singular or exceptional.

‘_Sì, Signore, son comico io_,’ he went on, ‘I am an actor, and have
played at Lucca, at Fiesole, at Pisa, yes and at Siena. Once I was in
the same cast with the stupendous tragedian, Salvini.’

‘Yes, a great actor, indeed,’ I said. ‘I once saw him in an Italian
version of our English drama _Othello_.’

He was in his early morning dress, wearing no coat nor jacket, and
having in his turned-up white apron my boot-trees, which he was just
about to pack. But he drew himself up with much dignity, and, with the
one disengaged hand suiting the action to the word, he said:

‘I, too, have played the part of Otello.’ And, without more ado, he
recited, in his sonorous language, the lines:

    Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!
    Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars;
    That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!

And the earnestness with which he recited that pathetic passage
completely submerged the sense of humour that was beginning to rise in
me.

As we entered Florence, so did we quit it, leisurely, and without
the disenchanting scenes of a modern railway station. We were to
drive across the Apennines to Bologna, and, as we reached the last
flower-stall near the Gate that looks thitherward, Lamia expressed a
wish for one more flower. It was a lovely rose, the only one on a plant
that occupied among the others the place of honour.

‘It is a pity to spoil the plant,’ said the woman, who was well known
to us, for we had often halted to make purchases from her. ‘Will not
another serve equally well?’

You will easily surmise Lamia’s reply. No rose in the world but that
one would have satisfied her desire.

‘_Come vuole_, said the woman (‘be it as you wish’), and she severed
the fair flower from its stalk.

‘How much is it?’ I asked, eagerly availing myself of the opportunity
to make dear Lamia a parting gift from the City of Flowers.

‘Don’t trouble about it,‘ said the woman, ‘you can pay some other time.’

‘But there will be no other time,’ said Lamia, ‘for we are going away
for good and all.’

‘_Dunque, non si paga. Addio, e buon viaggio!_‘was the reply. (‘In
that case, you must not pay at all. Happy be your journey! Good-bye!’)

       *       *       *       *       *

If people love their home, there is no wrong time for coming back
to it; and, were it not for the delight of returning, I doubt if it
would be wise, save under compulsion, ever to leave it. Tacitus asks,
Who would quit Italy for Germany, were it not that Germany is his own
country? Over English folk, at all worthy of their great descent, the
name of England exercises a more enthralling spell even than that of
Italy; and the Garden that I love is all the dearer to me because it
is thoroughly English. But the moment for returning to it fell out
most felicitously; and, gazing on the scene that awaited us, we were
instantly weaned from all regret even for the sky and sunshine of
Tuscany. Under the broad-trunked, wide-spreading Oak,—Veronica has
christened this particular plot of ground the Oak Parlour,—Five O’Clock
Tea was waiting for us, and once more we looked on one of those Urns
which, I am told, have made the owner’s name a household word in many
kindly hearts. I need not say again how happy we had been in our Tuscan
villa, and I verily believe that Veronica would contrive to make us
comfortable in the desert of Sahara. But it is idle to pretend that
all we mean by the word ‘Home’ is to be had save in this, our own
island; and there is all the difference in the world between Perfetta
and the tearful _cameriere_ who, I suppose, has now returned to his
_antico mestiere_, and is smothering Desdemona before some provincial
Tuscan audience, and the Northern handmaidens who, moulded by the
genius of Veronica, perform with noiseless celerity every office that
can minister to the grace of existence. Do not think me material if
I say that that first Five O’Clock Tea in the Oak Parlour after our
return was an event in our life; for its charm was compounded of many
elements, into which entered the abiding influence of unluxurious
domestic refinement. The green antiquity of the oak, the smooth verdure
of the lawn, unattainable, I fear, by the services of a shepherd lass
and her flock of nibbling sheep, the luxuriance and variety of the
flowers, the view, under the oaken branches, of the Manor-House, white
with roses from ground to gable, the snowy face of the tablecloth,
the glow of the burnished urn, the brightness, the spotlessness, the
seemliness of everything, all contributed to the welcome that attended
us, and to the pleasure we received from it.

But something more awaited us than the renewal of old delights. Shortly
before we started for our six months’ absence, we had decided, after
much deliberation, to add, in a modest way, to the home that we had
a thousand times declared, in our optimistic fashion, to be already
ample for our needs; and the result was now before us. You may easily
imagine our anxiety to discern if the decision had been wise or the
reverse; for, though we had gone into the plan with a most competent
architect to the utmost detail, and though Veronica had brought her
practical and tasteful mind to bear upon window and overmantel, hinge
and door-plate, moulding and lining-paper, there is always a danger
lest instructions should have been misunderstood or imperfectly carried
out, or that the instructions themselves were wholly or in part a
mistake. We were prepared to be pleased, but also to criticise; but
for fault-finding there was, in truth, no possible room. Animated by
reverence for what already existed, we had bound architect and builder
to certain well-defined lines and curves, prohibiting externally all
originality save what is perhaps the best kind of it in these days,
pious and humble reproduction of what is already recognised as
beautiful. A room, which was originally spoken of as a billiard-room,
and which for a brief while retained that designation, though all idea
of having a billiard-table in it had been promptly abandoned, and which
now is known as the Morning Room, because, as Lamia says, we nearly
always sit there of an evening, a new boudoir for Veronica, who has at
last a refuge of her own worthy of her beneficent labours, three new
sleeping-chambers, and another staircase, composed the new quarter. And
will you believe it?—it was already furnished; Veronica having made due
preparations and given minute instructions for this end partly before
our departure, and partly during our absence. Now, did she triumph over
us in the matter of those various purchases in Florence that used to
move our ignorant mirth; for everything she had acquired had been sent
home in time to be unpacked and placed in the room and the position
allotted to it. Thus, at every turn, we were reminded of the Fair City
and the bewitching land we had so lately left, and of which, not to be
ungrateful, we still talked affectionately even in the hours of our
home-coming.

But Veronica had no monopoly of success in the swift adornment of our
new wing. I, too, had a little triumph of my own, but, I need scarcely
say, out-of-doors. I do not often sing my own praises, do I, preferring
to extol the Poet and Veronica, who are more deserving of eulogy. But,
on this occasion, I think I really did deserve the congratulations that
were lavished on me. For, with a truly foreseeing mind, I had been
growing on, to use a gardener’s phrase, a certain number of climbing
roses, clematis, jessamine, and other creepers, and had given the
strictest injunctions that they were to be planted against the new
building the very instant the masons had finished it, and were to be
fostered and trained with constant and unremitting attention; and, as
they were then already robust in growth and vigorous at the root, they
were well on their way up the new wing on our arrival. A legend has
since grown up that I did not leave England at all, but remained on the
spot with barrow, trug, and trowel, and that, fast as the work-people
laid a course of stone or brick, I planted a creeper. But, as a fact,
it happened as I have said.

As for the garden, the garden that the too kindly sympathy of others
permits one to say we all love, I can only say I wish the whole of
Italy could have seen it. The Tea Roses, more numerous and more
beautiful than ever, seemed smilingly to say, ‘Has Tuscany roses to
show more fair?’ Larkspurs, of every imaginable shade of blue, from
azure to cerulean; lupines, white, purple, and yellow; foxgloves,
snowy-white and without a freckle; seemed to challenge each other as to
which would tower highest in the summer air. The Pæony Poppies, some
purposely some accidentally sown, were a garden in themselves, fair
but fugitive, yet making up by their number and infinite variety for
the briefness of their existence. They were everywhere in the beds and
borders, and, as it seemed, where they had chosen to be; there, by the
right of supreme loveliness, and the Swan-neck Poppies, the Caucasian,
and the Victoria Cross, rocked more humbly beside them. No other
plant of such supreme beauty has so solid a stem and such imposing
foliage for so fragile a flower; and this it is, I think, which mainly
constitutes its fresh charm. Every one now loves flowers, and I have no
need to weary you with a catalogue of those in the Garden that I Love.
But I doubt if there be any perennial plant of real beauty and value
that will grow in our latitude which is not to be found there; and I
can say with truth, of every bed and border, that you could not see the
ground for flowers. As for the winding turf walk, which perhaps
you remember as the South Enclosure, it is not I who will say what it
looked like when we returned. For one who has justly acquired honour,
not only by the beauty of her own home, but by her charming pages
concerning all that appertains to a garden, and who had visited it
the day before our arrival, left a little line for Veronica, in which
she generously said it was the loveliest she had ever seen. I should
hesitate to repeat so flattering an opinion, were it not for some
injustice to myself that followed. ‘As for the winding turf walk and
its glow of bloom and colour on either side,’ said the kindly writer,
‘nowhere, I am sure, is there anything like it; and only the Poet could
have conceived it.’ As if it was the Poet who had conceived it! It was
I who,—but so it is in this unfair world, where everybody bows down
before prestige. Lamia herself could not have been more partial or more
unjust.

[Illustration: LARKSPURS]

I made some observation of the kind to Veronica, imagining we were
alone, and got for reply,—

‘My dear, you will never understand women.’

‘How is it possible,’ I asked, a little nettled by the implied rebuke,
‘when no two women are alike?’

‘No _one_ woman is alike,’ said Lamia, suddenly emerging from a
luxuriance of leaf and flower that had concealed her from view; and,
though Veronica was there to disprove the universal application of
her aphorism, I think she spoke from the very depths of her own inner
consciousness.

Not even the novelty of the fresh wing, though we kept returning to it
again and again in the course of that to us memorable evening, could
keep us indoors. Lilac, hawthorn, and laburnum had of course flowered
and faded, and the glory of the rhododendrons was fast passing away.
But the air was fragrant with the newly-made but yet uncarted hay; the
scent of the elder was wafted from the lane; the smell of sweet-briar,
with its profusion of little pink rosebuds, was everywhere in the
garden; and we kept stopping ever and again to inhale the penetrating
perfume of the freshly-opened tassels of the lime. Longer and darker
grew the shadows on the lawn, then gradually drew themselves in, and
vanished. The Tea Roses, no longer languid from the heat of the long
summer day, lifted their fair faces freshened with evening dew; the
streaks of crimson that point the pathway of departed days gradually
faded from the west, and the lingering love-song of the missel-thrush
at length came to end, absorbed into the general silence. It was
twilight still, but a twilight slowly succumbing to the Midsummer
night, if night it could be called to which the darkness never wholly
came. Elsewhere, on shrub and sward the deepening dusk brought its
beneficent tribute of abounding moisture; but, under the manifold
foliage of the Oak, the ground retained the dryness of noon. Under
its protecting canopy therefore, as many a time before, satisfied and
silent we sate; till Lamia, moved by the influence of the hour, once
again liberated her fresh young voice, and wedded to notes of almost
austere simplicity the no less simple measure of this Vesper Hymn.


GOOD-NIGHT!

I

      Good-night! Now dwindle wan and low
    The embers of the afterglow,
    And slowly over leaf and lawn
    Is twilight’s dewy curtain drawn.
    The slouching vixen leaves her lair,
    And, prowling, sniffs the tell-tale air.
    The frogs croak louder in the dyke,
    And all the trees seem dark alike:
    The bee is drowsing in the comb,
    The sharded beetle hath gone home:
        Good-night!


II

      Good-night! The hawk is in his nest,
    And the last rook hath dropped to rest.
    There is no hum, no chirp, no bleat,
    No rustle in the meadow-sweet.
    The woodbine, somewhere out of sight,
    Sweetens the loneliness of night.
    The Sister Stars, that once were seven,
    Mourn for their missing mate in Heaven.
    The poppy’s fair frail petals close,
    The lily yet more languid grows,
    And dewy-dreamy droops the rose:
        Good-night!


III

      Good-night! Caressing and caressed,
    The moist babe warms its mother’s breast.
    Silent are rustic loom and lathe;
    The scythe lies quiet as the swathe;
    The woodreeve blinks in covert shed,
    The weary yokel is abed,
    The covey warm beneath the wing,
    And sleep enfoldeth everything.
    Forsaken love, its last tear shed,
    On the lone pillow lays its head,
    And all our woes are respited:
        Good-night!


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber’s note:

Obvious typographical errors have beencorrected silently . All other
variations in hyphenation spelling and punctuation remain unchanged.

Colour plates are identified by their captions. The many
illustrations without captions are black and white sketches of largely
rural scenes. No attempt has been made to describe them.





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