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Jacob's Room

The water fell off a ledge like lead--like a chain with thick white links. The train ran out
into a steep green meadow, and Jacob saw striped tulips growing and heard a bird
singing, in Italy.
A motor car full of Italian officers ran along the flat road and kept up with the train,
raising dust behind it. There were trees laced together with vines--as Virgil said. Here
was a station; and a tremendous leave- taking going on, with women in high yellow
boots and odd pale boys in ringed socks. Virgil's bees had gone about the plains of
Lombardy. It was the custom of the ancients to train vines between elms. Then at Milan
there were sharp-winged hawks, of a bright brown, cutting figures over the roofs.
These Italian carriages get damnably hot with the afternoon sun on them, and the
chances are that before the engine has pulled to the top of the gorge the clanking chain
will have broken. Up, up, up, it goes, like a train on a scenic railway. Every peak is
covered with sharp trees, and amazing white villages are crowded on ledges. There is
always a white tower on the very summit, flat red-frilled roofs, and a sheer drop
beneath. It is not a country in which one walks after tea. For one thing there is no grass.
A whole hillside will be ruled with olive trees. Already in April the earth is clotted into dry
dust between them. And there are neither stiles nor footpaths, nor lanes chequered with
the shadows of leaves nor eighteenth-century inns with bow-windows, where one eats
ham and eggs. Oh no, Italy is all fierceness, bareness, exposure, and black priests
shuffling along the roads. It is strange, too, how you never get away from villas.
Still, to be travelling on one's own with a hundred pounds to spend is a fine affair. And if
his money gave out, as it probably would, he would go on foot. He could live on bread
and wine--the wine in straw bottles-- for after doing Greece he was going to knock off
Rome. The Roman civilization was a very inferior affair, no doubt. But Bonamy talked a
lot of rot, all the same. "You ought to have been in Athens," he would say to Bonamy
when he got back. "Standing on the Parthenon," he would say, or "The ruins of the
Coliseum suggest some fairly sublime reflections," which he would write out at length in
letters. It might turn to an essay upon civilization. A comparison between the ancients
and moderns, with some pretty sharp hits at Mr. Asquith--something in the style of
A stout gentleman laboriously hauled himself in, dusty, baggy, slung with gold chains,
and Jacob, regretting that he did not come of the Latin race, looked out of the window.
It is a strange reflection that by travelling two days and nights you are in the heart of
Italy. Accidental villas among olive trees appear; and men-servants watering the
cactuses. Black victorias drive in between pompous pillars with plaster shields stuck to
them. It is at once momentary and astonishingly intimate--to be displayed before the
eyes of a foreigner. And there is a lonely hill-top where no one ever comes, and yet it is