A room with a view by E.M. Foster - HTML preview
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It so happened that Lucy, who found daily life rather chaotic, entered a more solid world when she opened the piano. She was then no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either a rebel or a slave. The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom. Lucy had done so never.
She was no dazzling executante; her runs were not at all like strings of pearls, and she struck no more right notes than was suitable for one of her age and situation. Nor was she the passionate young lady, who performs so tragically on a summer's evening with the window open. Passion was there, but it could not be easily labelled; it slipped between love and hatred and jealousy, and all the furniture of the pictorial style. And she was tragical only in the sense that she was great, for she loved to play on the side of Victory. Victory of what and over what— that is more than the words of daily life can tell us. But that some sonatas of Beethoven are written tragic no one can gainsay; yet they can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy had decided that they should triumph.
A very wet afternoon at the Bertolini permitted her to do the thing she really liked, and after lunch she opened the little draped piano. A few people lingered round and praised her playing, but finding that she made no reply, dispersed to their rooms to write up their diaries or to sleep. She took no notice of Mr. Emerson looking for his son, nor of Miss Bartlett looking for Miss Lavish, nor of Miss Lavish looking for her cigarette-case. Like every true performer, she was intoxicated by the 25
mere feel of the notes: they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone, did she come to her desire.
Mr. Beebe, sitting unnoticed in the window, pondered this illogical element in Miss Honeychurch, and recalled the occasion at Tunbridge Wells when he had discovered it. It was at one of those entertainments where the upper classes entertain the lower. The seats were filled with a respectful audience, and the ladies and gentlemen of the parish, under the auspices of their vicar, sang, or recited, or imitated the drawing of a champagne cork. Among the promised items was "Miss Honeychurch.
Piano. Beethoven," and Mr. Beebe was wondering whether it would be Adelaida, or the march of The Ruins of Athens, when his composure was disturbed by the opening bars of Opus III. He was in suspense all through the introduction, for not until the pace quickens does one know what the performer intends. With the roar of the opening theme he knew that things were going extraordinarily; in the chords that herald the conclusion he heard the hammer strokes of victory. He was glad that she only played the first movement, for he could have paid no attention to the winding intricacies of the measures of nine-sixteen. The audience clapped, no less respectful. It was Mr. Beebe who started the stamping; it was all that one could do.
"Who is she?" he asked the vicar afterwards.
"Cousin of one of my parishioners. I do not consider her choice of a piece happy. Beethoven is so usually simple and direct in his appeal that it is sheer perversity to choose a thing like that, which, if anything, disturbs."
"She will be delighted. She and Miss Bartlett are full of the praises of your sermon."
"My sermon?" cried Mr. Beebe. "Why ever did she listen to it?"
When he was introduced he understood why, for Miss Honeychurch, disjoined from her music stool, was only a young lady with a quantity of dark hair and a very pretty, pale, undeveloped face. She loved going to concerts, she loved stopping with her cousin, she loved iced coffee and meringues. He did not doubt that she loved his sermon also. But before he left Tunbridge Wells he made a remark to the vicar, which he now made to Lucy herself when she closed the little piano and moved dreamily towards him:
"If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her."
Lucy at once re-entered daily life.
"Oh, what a funny thing! Some one said just the same to mother, and she said she trusted I should never live a duet."
"Doesn't Mrs. Honeychurch like music?"
"She doesn't mind it. But she doesn't like one to get excited over anything; she thinks I am silly about it. She thinks—I can't make out. Once, you know, I said that I liked my own playing better than any one's. She has never got over it. Of course, I didn't mean that I played well; I only meant—"
"Of course," said he, wondering why she bothered to explain.
"Music—" said Lucy, as if attempting some generality. She could not complete it, and looked out absently upon Italy in the wet. The whole life of the South was disorganized, and the most graceful nation in Europe had turned into formless lumps of clothes.
The street and the river were dirty yellow, the bridge was dirty grey, and the hills were dirty purple. Somewhere in their folds were concealed Miss Lavish and Miss Bartlett, who had chosen this afternoon to visit the Torre del Gallo.
"What about music?" said Mr. Beebe.
"Poor Charlotte will be sopped," was Lucy's reply.
The expedition was typical of Miss Bartlett, who would return cold, tired, hungry, and angelic, with a ruined skirt, a pulpy Baedeker, and a tickling cough in her throat. On another day, when the whole world was singing and the air ran into the mouth. like wine, she would refuse to stir from the drawing-room, saying that she was an old thing, and no fit companion for a hearty girl.
"Miss Lavish has led your cousin astray. She hopes to find the true Italy in the wet I believe."
"Miss Lavish is so original," murmured Lucy. This was a stock remark, the supreme achievement of the Pension Bertolini in the way of defini-tion. Miss Lavish was so original. Mr. Beebe had his doubts, but they would have been put down to clerical narrowness. For that, and for other reasons, he held his peace.
"Is it true," continued Lucy in awe-struck tone, "that Miss Lavish is writing a book?"
"They do say so."
"What is it about?"
"It will be a novel," replied Mr. Beebe, "dealing with modern Italy. Let me refer you for an account to Miss Catharine Alan, who uses words herself more admirably than any one I know."
"I wish Miss Lavish would tell me herself. We started such friends. But I don't think she ought to have run away with Baedeker that morning in Santa Croce. Charlotte was most annoyed at finding me practically alone, and so I couldn't help being a little annoyed with Miss Lavish."
"The two ladies, at all events, have made it up."
He was interested in the sudden friendship between women so apparently dissimilar as Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish. They were always in each other's company, with Lucy a slighted third. Miss Lavish he believed he understood, but Miss Bartlett might reveal unknown depths of strangeness, though not perhaps, of meaning. Was Italy deflecting her from the path of prim chaperon, which he had assigned to her at Tunbridge Wells? All his life he had loved to study maiden ladies; they were his specialty, and his profession had provided him with ample opportunities for the work. Girls like Lucy were charming to look at, but Mr.
Beebe was, from rather profound reasons, somewhat chilly in his attitude towards the other sex, and preferred to be interested rather than enthralled.
Lucy, for the third time, said that poor Charlotte would be sopped.
The Arno was rising in flood, washing away the traces of the little carts upon the foreshore. But in the south-west there had appeared a dull haze of yellow, which might mean better weather if it did not mean worse.
She opened the window to inspect, and a cold blast entered the room, drawing a plaintive cry from Miss Catharine Alan, who entered at the same moment by the door.
"Oh, dear Miss Honeychurch, you will catch a chill! And Mr. Beebe here besides. Who would suppose this is Italy? There is my sister actually nursing the hot-water can; no comforts or proper provisions."
She sidled towards them and sat down, self-conscious as she always was on entering a room which contained one man, or a man and one woman.
"I could hear your beautiful playing, Miss Honeychurch, though I was in my room with the door shut. Doors shut; indeed, most necessary. No one has the least idea of privacy in this country. And one person catches it from another."
Lucy answered suitably. Mr. Beebe was not able to tell the ladies of his adventure at Modena, where the chambermaid burst in upon him in his bath, exclaiming cheerfully, "Fa niente, sono vecchia." He contented himself with saying: "I quite agree with you, Miss Alan. The Italians are a most unpleasant people. They pry everywhere, they see everything, and they know what we want before we know it ourselves. We are at their 28
mercy. They read our thoughts, they foretell our desires. From the cab-driver down to—to Giotto, they turn us inside out, and I resent it. Yet in their heart of hearts they are—how superficial! They have no conception of the intellectual life. How right is Signora Bertolini, who exclaimed to me the other day: 'Ho, Mr. Beebe, if you knew what I suffer over the children's edjucaishion. HI won't 'ave my little Victorier taught by a hignorant Italian what can't explain nothink!'"
Miss Alan did not follow, but gathered that she was being mocked in an agreeable way. Her sister was a little disappointed in Mr. Beebe, having expected better things from a clergyman whose head was bald and who wore a pair of russet whiskers. Indeed, who would have supposed that tolerance, sympathy, and a sense of humour would inhabit that mil-itant form?
In the midst of her satisfaction she continued to sidle, and at last the cause was disclosed. From the chair beneath her she extracted a gun-metal cigarette-case, on which were powdered in turquoise the initials
"That belongs to Lavish." said the clergyman. "A good fellow, Lavish, but I wish she'd start a pipe."
"Oh, Mr. Beebe," said Miss Alan, divided between awe and mirth.
"Indeed, though it is dreadful for her to smoke, it is not quite as dreadful as you suppose. She took to it, practically in despair, after her life's work was carried away in a landslip. Surely that makes it more excusable."
"What was that?" asked Lucy.
Mr. Beebe sat back complacently, and Miss Alan began as follows: "It was a novel—and I am afraid, from what I can gather, not a very nice novel. It is so sad when people who have abilities misuse them, and I must say they nearly always do. Anyhow, she left it almost finished in the Grotto of the Calvary at the Capuccini Hotel at Amalfi while she went for a little ink. She said: 'Can I have a little ink, please?' But you know what Italians are, and meanwhile the Grotto fell roaring on to the beach, and the saddest thing of all is that she cannot remember what she has written. The poor thing was very ill after it, and so got tempted into cigarettes. It is a great secret, but I am glad to say that she is writing another novel. She told Teresa and Miss Pole the other day that she had got up all the local colour—this novel is to be about modern Italy; the other was historical—but that she could not start till she had an idea. First she tried Perugia for an inspiration, then she came here— this must on no account get round. And so cheerful through it all! I cannot help thinking 29
that there is something to admire in every one, even if you do not approve of them."
Miss Alan was always thus being charitable against her better judgment. A delicate pathos perfumed her disconnected remarks, giving them unexpected beauty, just as in the decaying autumn woods there sometimes rise odours reminiscent of spring. She felt she had made almost too many allowances, and apologized hurriedly for her toleration.
"All the same, she is a little too—I hardly like to say unwomanly, but she behaved most strangely when the Emersons arrived."
Mr. Beebe smiled as Miss Alan plunged into an anecdote which he knew she would be unable to finish in the presence of a gentleman.
"I don't know, Miss Honeychurch, if you have noticed that Miss Pole, the lady who has so much yellow hair, takes lemonade. That old Mr.
Emerson, who puts things very strangely—"
Her jaw dropped. She was silent. Mr. Beebe, whose social resources were endless, went out to order some tea, and she continued to Lucy in a hasty whisper:
"Stomach. He warned Miss Pole of her stomach-acidity, he called it—and he may have meant to be kind. I must say I forgot myself and laughed; it was so sudden. As Teresa truly said, it was no laughing matter. But the point is that Miss Lavish was positively ATTRACTED by his mentioning S., and said she liked plain speaking, and meeting different grades of thought. She thought they were commercial travellers—'drummers' was the word she used—and all through dinner she tried to prove that England, our great and beloved country, rests on nothing but commerce. Teresa was very much annoyed, and left the table before the cheese, saying as she did so: 'There, Miss Lavish, is one who can confute you better than I,' and pointed to that beautiful picture of Lord Tennyson. Then Miss Lavish said: 'Tut! The early Victorians.' Just imagine! 'Tut! The early Victorians.' My sister had gone, and I felt bound to speak. I said: 'Miss Lavish, I am an early Victorian; at least, that is to say, I will hear no breath of censure against our dear Queen.' It was horrible speaking. I reminded her how the Queen had been to Ireland when she did not want to go, and I must say she was dumbfounded, and made no reply. But, unluckily, Mr. Emerson overheard this part, and called in his deep voice: 'Quite so, quite so! I honour the woman for her Irish visit.' The woman! I tell things so badly; but you see what a tangle we were in by this time, all on account of S. having been mentioned in the first place. But that was not all. After dinner Miss Lavish actually came up and said: 'Miss Alan, I am going into the smoking-room to talk to those 30
two nice men. Come, too.' Needless to say, I refused such an unsuitable invitation, and she had the impertinence to tell me that it would broaden my ideas, and said that she had four brothers, all University men, except one who was in the army, who always made a point of talking to commercial travellers."
"Let me finish the story," said Mr. Beebe, who had returned.
"Miss Lavish tried Miss Pole, myself, every one, and finally said: 'I shall go alone.' She went. At the end of five minutes she returned unob-trusively with a green baize board, and began playing patience."
"Whatever happened?" cried Lucy.
"No one knows. No one will ever know. Miss Lavish will never dare to tell, and Mr. Emerson does not think it worth telling."
"Mr. Beebe—old Mr. Emerson, is he nice or not nice? I do so want to know."
Mr. Beebe laughed and suggested that she should settle the question for herself.
"No; but it is so difficult. Sometimes he is so silly, and then I do not mind him. Miss Alan, what do you think? Is he nice?"
The little old lady shook her head, and sighed disapprovingly. Mr.
Beebe, whom the conversation amused, stirred her up by saying:
"I consider that you are bound to class him as nice, Miss Alan, after that business of the violets."
"Violets? Oh, dear! Who told you about the violets? How do things get round? A pension is a bad place for gossips. No, I cannot forget how they behaved at Mr. Eager's lecture at Santa Croce. Oh, poor Miss Honeychurch! It really was too bad. No, I have quite changed. I do NOT
like the Emersons. They are not nice."
Mr. Beebe smiled nonchalantly. He had made a gentle effort to introduce the Emersons into Bertolini society, and the effort had failed. He was almost the only person who remained friendly to them. Miss Lavish, who represented intellect, was avowedly hostile, and now the Miss Alans, who stood for good breeding, were following her. Miss Bartlett, smarting under an obligation, would scarcely be civil. The case of Lucy was different. She had given him a hazy account of her adventures in Santa Croce, and he gathered that the two men had made a curious and possibly concerted attempt to annex her, to show her the world from their own strange standpoint, to interest her in their private sorrows and joys. This was impertinent; he did not wish their cause to be championed by a young girl: he would rather it should fail. After all, he knew nothing 31
about them, and pension joys, pension sorrows, are flimsy things; whereas Lucy would be his parishioner.
Lucy, with one eye upon the weather, finally said that she thought the Emersons were nice; not that she saw anything of them now. Even their seats at dinner had been moved.
"But aren't they always waylaying you to go out with them, dear?"
said the little lady inquisitively.
"Only once. Charlotte didn't like it, and said something—quite politely, of course."
"Most right of her. They don't understand our ways. They must find their level."
Mr. Beebe rather felt that they had gone under. They had given up their attempt—if it was one—to conquer society, and now the father was almost as silent as the son. He wondered whether he would not plan a pleasant day for these folk before they left— some expedition, perhaps, with Lucy well chaperoned to be nice to them. It was one of Mr. Beebe's chief pleasures to provide people with happy memories.
Evening approached while they chatted; the air became brighter; the colours on the trees and hills were purified, and the Arno lost its muddy solidity and began to twinkle. There were a few streaks of bluish-green among the clouds, a few patches of watery light upon the earth, and then the dripping facade of San Miniato shone brilliantly in the declining sun.
"Too late to go out," said Miss Alan in a voice of relief. "All the galleries are shut."
"I think I shall go out," said Lucy. "I want to go round the town in the circular tram—on the platform by the driver."
Her two companions looked grave. Mr. Beebe, who felt responsible for her in the absence of Miss Bartlett, ventured to say:
"I wish we could. Unluckily I have letters. If you do want to go out alone, won't you be better on your feet?"
"Italians, dear, you know," said Miss Alan.
"Perhaps I shall meet some one who reads me through and through!"
But they still looked disapproval, and she so far conceded to Mr. Beebe as to say that she would only go for a little walk, and keep to the street frequented by tourists.
"She oughtn't really to go at all," said Mr. Beebe, as they watched her from the window, "and she knows it. I put it down to too much Beethoven."
Mr. Beebe was right. Lucy never knew her desires so clearly as after music. She had not really appreciated the clergyman's wit, nor the suggest-ive twitterings of Miss Alan. Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the wind-swept platform of an electric tram. This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.
There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the knights, but still she lingers in our midst. She reigned in many an early Victorian castle, and was Queen of much early Victorian song. It is sweet to protect her in the intervals of business, sweet to pay her honour when she has cooked our dinner well. But alas!
the creature grows degenerate. In her heart also there are springing up strange desires. She too is enamoured of heavy winds, and vast panora-mas, and green expanses of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of this world, how full it is of wealth, and beauty, and war—a radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens.
Men, declaring that she inspires them to it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy, not because they are masculine, but because they are alive. Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and go there as her transitory self.
Lucy does not stand for the medieval lady, who was rather an ideal to which she was bidden to lift her eyes when feeling serious. Nor has she any system of revolt. Here and there a restriction annoyed her 33
particularly, and she would transgress it, and perhaps be sorry that she had done so. This afternoon she was peculiarly restive. She would really like to do something of which her well-wishers disapproved. As she might not go on the electric tram, she went to Alinari's shop.
There she bought a photograph of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." Venus, being a pity, spoilt the picture, otherwise so charming, and Miss Bartlett had persuaded her to do without it. (A pity in art of course signified the nude.) Giorgione's "Tempesta," the "Idolino," some of the Sistine frescoes and the Apoxyomenos, were added to it. She felt a little calmer then, and bought Fra Angelico's "Coronation," Giotto's "Ascension of St. John,"
some Della Robbia babies, and some Guido Reni Madonnas. For her taste was catholic, and she extended uncritical approval to every well-known name.
But though she spent nearly seven lire, the gates of liberty seemed still unopened. She was conscious of her discontent; it was new to her to be conscious of it. "The world," she thought, "is certainly full of beautiful things, if only I could come across them." It was not surprising that Mrs.
Honeychurch disapproved of music, declaring that it always left her daughter peevish, unpractical, and touchy.
"Nothing ever happens to me," she reflected, as she entered the Piazza Signoria and looked nonchalantly at its marvels, now fairly familiar to her. The great square was in shadow; the sunshine had come too late to strike it. Neptune was already unsubstantial in the twilight, half god, half ghost, and his fountain plashed dreamily to the men and satyrs who idled together on its marge. The Loggia showed as the triple entrance of a cave, wherein many a deity, shadowy, but immortal, looking forth upon the arrivals and departures of mankind. It was the hour of unreality—the hour, that is, when unfamiliar things are real. An older person at such an hour and in such a place might think that sufficient was happen-ing to him, and rest content. Lucy desired more.
She fixed her eyes wistfully on the tower of the palace, which rose out of the lower darkness like a pillar of roughened gold. It seemed no longer a tower, no longer supported by earth, but some unattainable treasure throbbing in the tranquil sky. Its brightness mesmerized her, still dancing before her eyes when she bent them to the ground and started towards home.
Then something did happen.
Two Italians by the Loggia had been bickering about a debt. "Cinque lire," they had cried, "cinque lire!" They sparred at each other, and one of them was hit lightly upon the chest. He frowned; he bent towards Lucy 34
with a look of interest, as if he had an important message for her. He opened his lips to deliver it, and a stream of red came out between them and trickled down his unshaven chin.
That was all. A crowd rose out of the dusk. It hid this extraordinary man from her, and bore him away to the fountain. Mr. George Emerson happened to be a few paces away, looking at her across the spot where the man had been. How very odd! Across something. Even as she caught sight of him he grew dim; the palace itself grew dim, swayed above her, fell on to her softly, slowly, noiselessly, and the sky fell with it.
She thought: "Oh, what have I done?"
"Oh, what have I done?" she murmured, and opened her eyes.
George Emerson still looked at her, but not across anything. She had complained of dullness, and lo! one man was stabbed, and another held her in his arms.
They were sitting on some steps in the Uffizi Arcade. He must have carried her. He rose when she spoke, and began to dust his knees. She repeated:
"Oh, what have I done?"
"I—I am very sorry."
"How are you now?"
"Perfectly well—absolutely well." And she began to nod and smile.
"Then let us come home. There's no point in our stopping."
He held out his hand to pull her up. She pretended not to see it. The cries from the fountain—they had never ceased—rang emptily. The whole world seemed pale and void of its original meaning.
"How very kind you have been! I might have hurt myself falling. But now I am well. I can go alone, thank you."
His hand was still extended.
"Oh, my photographs!" she exclaimed suddenly.
"I bought some photographs at Alinari's. I must have dropped them out there in the square." She looked at him cautiously. "Would you add to your kindness by fetching them?"
He added to his kindness. As soon as he had turned his back, Lucy arose with the running of a maniac and stole down the arcade towards the Arno.
She stopped with her hand on her heart.
"You sit still; you aren't fit to go home alone."
"Yes, I am, thank you so very much."
"No, you aren't. You'd go openly if you were."
"But I had rather—"
"Then I don't fetch your photographs."
"I had rather be alone."
He said imperiously: "The man is dead—the man is probably dead; sit down till you are rested." She was bewildered, and obeyed him. "And don't move till I come back."
In the distance she saw creatures with black hoods, such as appear in dreams. The palace tower had lost the reflection of the declining day, and joined itself to earth. How should she talk to Mr. Emerson when he returned from the shadowy square? Again the thought occurred to her,
"Oh, what have I done?"—the thought that she, as well as the dying man, had crossed some spiritual boundary.
He returned, and she talked of the murder. Oddly enough, it was an easy topic. She spoke of the Italian character; she became almost gar-rulous over the incident that had made her faint five minutes before. Being strong physically, she soon overcame the horror of blood. She rose without his assistance, and though wings seemed to flutter inside her, she walked firmly enough towards the Arno. There a cabman signalled to them; they refused him.
"And the murderer tried to kiss him, you say—how very odd Italians are!—and gave himself up to the police! Mr. Beebe was saying that Italians know everything, but I think they are rather childish. When my cousin and I were at the Pitti yesterday—What was that?"
He had thrown something into the stream.
"What did you throw in?"
"Things I didn't want," he said crossly.
"Where are the photographs?"
He was silent.
"I believe it was my photographs that you threw away."
"I didn't know what to do with them," he cried. and his voice was that of an anxious boy. Her heart warmed towards him for the first time.
"They were covered with blood. There! I'm glad I've told you; and all the time we were making conversation I was wondering what to do with them." He pointed down-stream. "They've gone." The river swirled under the bridge, "I did mind them so, and one is so foolish, it seemed better that they should go out to the sea—I don't know; I may just mean that 36
they frightened me. Then the boy verged into a man. "For something tremendous has happened; I must face it without getting muddled. It isn't exactly that a man has died."
Something warned Lucy that she must stop him.
"It has happened," he repeated, "and I mean to find out what it is."
He turned towards her frowning, as if she had disturbed him in some abstract quest.
"I want to ask you something before we go in."
They were close to their pension. She stopped and leant her elbows against the parapet of the embankment. He did likewise. There is at times a magic in identity of position; it is one of the things that have suggested to us eternal comradeship. She moved her elbows before saying:
"I have behaved ridiculously."
He was following his own thoughts.
"I was never so much ashamed of myself in my life; I cannot think what came over me."
"I nearly fainted myself," he said; but she felt that her attitude repelled him.
"Well, I owe you a thousand apologies."
"Oh, all right."
"And—this is the real point—you know how silly people are gossiping—ladies especially, I am afraid—you understand what I mean?"
"I'm afraid I don't."
"I mean, would you not mention it to any one, my foolish behaviour?"
"Your behaviour? Oh, yes, all right—all right."
"Thank you so much. And would you—"
She could not carry her request any further. The river was rushing below them, almost black in the advancing night. He had thrown her photographs into it, and then he had told her the reason. It struck her that it was hopeless to look for chivalry in such a man. He would do her no harm by idle gossip; he was trustworthy, intelligent, and even kind; he might even have a high opinion of her. But he lacked chivalry; his thoughts, like his behaviour, would not be modified by awe. It was useless to say to him, "And would you—" and hope that he would complete the sentence for himself, averting his eyes from her nakedness like the knight in that beautiful picture. She had been in his arms, and he remembered it, just as he remembered the blood on the photographs that she had bought in Alinari's shop. It was not exactly that a man had died; something had happened to the living: they had come to a situation 37
where character tells, and where childhood enters upon the branching paths of Youth.
"Well, thank you so much," she repeated, "How quickly these accidents do happen, and then one returns to the old life!"
Anxiety moved her to question him.
His answer was puzzling: "I shall probably want to live."
"But why, Mr. Emerson? What do you mean?"
"I shall want to live, I say."
Leaning her elbows on the parapet, she contemplated the River Arno, whose roar was suggesting some unexpected melody to her ears.
Possibilities of a Pleasant Outing
It was a family saying that "you never knew which way Charlotte Bartlett would turn." She was perfectly pleasant and sensible over Lucy's adventure, found the abridged account of it quite adequate, and paid suitable tribute to the courtesy of Mr. George Emerson. She and Miss Lavish had had an adventure also. They had been stopped at the Dazio coming back, and the young officials there, who seemed impudent and des-oeuvre, had tried to search their reticules for provisions. It might have been most unpleasant. Fortunately Miss Lavish was a match for any one.
For good or for evil, Lucy was left to face her problem alone. None of her friends had seen her, either in the Piazza or, later on, by the embankment. Mr. Beebe, indeed, noticing her startled eyes at dinner-time, had again passed to himself the remark of "Too much Beethoven." But he only supposed that she was ready for an adventure, not that she had encountered it. This solitude oppressed her; she was accustomed to have her thoughts confirmed by others or, at all events, contradicted; it was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong.
At breakfast next morning she took decisive action. There were two plans between which she had to choose. Mr. Beebe was walking up to the Torre del Gallo with the Emersons and some American ladies. Would Miss Bartlett and Miss Honeychurch join the party? Charlotte declined for herself; she had been there in the rain the previous afternoon. But she thought it an admirable idea for Lucy, who hated shopping, changing money, fetching letters, and other irksome duties—all of which Miss Bartlett must accomplish this morning and could easily accomplish alone.
"No, Charlotte!" cried the girl, with real warmth. "It's very kind of Mr.
Beebe, but I am certainly coming with you. I had much rather."
"Very well, dear," said Miss Bartlett, with a faint flush of pleasure that called forth a deep flush of shame on the cheeks of Lucy. How 39
abominably she behaved to Charlotte, now as always! But now she should alter. All morning she would be really nice to her.
She slipped her arm into her cousin's, and they started off along the Lung' Arno. The river was a lion that morning in strength, voice, and colour. Miss Bartlett insisted on leaning over the parapet to look at it. She then made her usual remark, which was "How I do wish Freddy and your mother could see this, too!"
Lucy fidgeted; it was tiresome of Charlotte to have stopped exactly where she did.
"Look, Lucia! Oh, you are watching for the Torre del Gallo party. I feared you would repent you of your choice."
Serious as the choice had been, Lucy did not repent. Yesterday had been a muddle—queer and odd, the kind of thing one could not write down easily on paper—but she had a feeling that Charlotte and her shopping were preferable to George Emerson and the summit of the Torre del Gallo. Since she could not unravel the tangle, she must take care not to re-enter it. She could protest sincerely against Miss Bartlett's insinuations.
But though she had avoided the chief actor, the scenery unfortunately remained. Charlotte, with the complacency of fate, led her from the river to the Piazza Signoria. She could not have believed that stones, a Loggia, a fountain, a palace tower, would have such significance. For a moment she understood the nature of ghosts.
The exact site of the murder was occupied, not by a ghost, but by Miss Lavish, who had the morning newspaper in her hand. She hailed them briskly. The dreadful catastrophe of the previous day had given her an idea which she thought would work up into a book.
"Oh, let me congratulate you!" said Miss Bartlett. "After your despair of yesterday! What a fortunate thing!"
"Aha! Miss Honeychurch, come you here I am in luck. Now, you are to tell me absolutely everything that you saw from the beginning." Lucy poked at the ground with her parasol.
"But perhaps you would rather not?"
"I'm sorry—if you could manage without it, I think I would rather not."
The elder ladies exchanged glances, not of disapproval; it is suitable that a girl should feel deeply.
"It is I who am sorry," said Miss Lavish. "literary hacks are shameless creatures. I believe there's no secret of the human heart into which we wouldn't pry."
She marched cheerfully to the fountain and back, and did a few calculations in realism. Then she said that she had been in the Piazza since eight o'clock collecting material. A good deal of it was unsuitable, but of course one always had to adapt. The two men had quarrelled over a five-franc note. For the five-franc note she should substitute a young lady, which would raise the tone of the tragedy, and at the same time furnish an excellent plot.
"What is the heroine's name?" asked Miss Bartlett.
"Leonora," said Miss Lavish; her own name was Eleanor.
"I do hope she's nice."
That desideratum would not be omitted.
"And what is the plot?"
Love, murder, abduction, revenge, was the plot. But it all came while the fountain plashed to the satyrs in the morning sun.
"I hope you will excuse me for boring on like this," Miss Lavish concluded. "It is so tempting to talk to really sympathetic people. Of course, this is the barest outline. There will be a deal of local colouring, descrip-tions of Florence and the neighbourhood, and I shall also introduce some humorous characters. And let me give you all fair warning: I intend to be unmerciful to the British tourist."
"Oh, you wicked woman," cried Miss Bartlett. "I am sure you are thinking of the Emersons."
Miss Lavish gave a Machiavellian smile.
"I confess that in Italy my sympathies are not with my own country-men. It is the neglected Italians who attract me, and whose lives I am going to paint so far as I can. For I repeat and I insist, and I have always held most strongly, that a tragedy such as yesterday's is not the less tragic because it happened in humble life."
There was a fitting silence when Miss Lavish had concluded. Then the cousins wished success to her labours, and walked slowly away across the square.
"She is my idea of a really clever woman," said Miss Bartlett. "That last remark struck me as so particularly true. It should be a most pathetic novel."
Lucy assented. At present her great aim was not to get put into it. Her perceptions this morning were curiously keen, and she believed that Miss Lavish had her on trial for an ingenue.
"She is emancipated, but only in the very best sense of the word," continued Miss Bartlett slowly. "None but the superficial would be shocked at her. We had a long talk yesterday. She believes in justice and truth and 41
human interest. She told me also that she has a high opinion of the destiny of woman—Mr. Eager! Why, how nice! What a pleasant surprise!"
"Ah, not for me," said the chaplain blandly, "for I have been watching you and Miss Honeychurch for quite a little time."
"We were chatting to Miss Lavish."
His brow contracted.
"So I saw. Were you indeed? Andate via! sono occupato!" The last remark was made to a vender of panoramic photographs who was approaching with a courteous smile. "I am about to venture a suggestion.
Would you and Miss Honeychurch be disposed to join me in a drive some day this week—a drive in the hills? We might go up by Fiesole and back by Settignano. There is a point on that road where we could get down and have an hour's ramble on the hillside. The view thence of Florence is most beautiful—far better than the hackneyed view of Fiesole. It is the view that Alessio Baldovinetti is fond of introducing into his pictures. That man had a decided feeling for landscape. Decidedly.
But who looks at it to-day? Ah, the world is too much for us."
Miss Bartlett had not heard of Alessio Baldovinetti, but she knew that Mr. Eager was no commonplace chaplain. He was a member of the residential colony who had made Florence their home. He knew the people who never walked about with Baedekers, who had learnt to take a siesta after lunch, who took drives the pension tourists had never heard of, and saw by private influence galleries which were closed to them. Living in delicate seclusion, some in furnished flats, others in Renaissance villas on Fiesole's slope, they read, wrote, studied, and exchanged ideas, thus attaining to that intimate knowledge, or rather perception, of Florence which is denied to all who carry in their pockets the coupons of Cook.
Therefore an invitation from the chaplain was something to be proud of. Between the two sections of his flock he was often the only link, and it was his avowed custom to select those of his migratory sheep who seemed worthy, and give them a few hours in the pastures of the per-manent. Tea at a Renaissance villa? Nothing had been said about it yet.
But if it did come to that— how Lucy would enjoy it!
A few days ago and Lucy would have felt the same. But the joys of life were grouping themselves anew. A drive in the hills with Mr. Eager and Miss Bartlett—even if culminating in a residential tea-party—was no longer the greatest of them. She echoed the raptures of Charlotte somewhat faintly. Only when she heard that Mr. Beebe was also coming did her thanks become more sincere.
"So we shall be a partie carree," said the chaplain. "In these days of toil and tumult one has great needs of the country and its message of purity.
Andate via! andate presto, presto! Ah, the town! Beautiful as it is, it is the town."
"This very square—so I am told—witnessed yesterday the most sordid of tragedies. To one who loves the Florence of Dante and Savonarola there is something portentous in such desecration— portentous and humiliating."
"Humiliating indeed," said Miss Bartlett. "Miss Honeychurch happened to be passing through as it happened. She can hardly bear to speak of it." She glanced at Lucy proudly.
"And how came we to have you here?" asked the chaplain paternally.
Miss Bartlett's recent liberalism oozed away at the question. "Do not blame her, please, Mr. Eager. The fault is mine: I left her unchaperoned."
"So you were here alone, Miss Honeychurch?" His voice suggested sympathetic reproof but at the same time indicated that a few harrowing details would not be unacceptable. His dark, handsome face drooped mournfully towards her to catch her reply.
"One of our pension acquaintances kindly brought her home," said Miss Bartlett, adroitly concealing the sex of the preserver.
"For her also it must have been a terrible experience. I trust that neither of you was at all—that it was not in your immediate proximity?"
Of the many things Lucy was noticing to-day, not the least remarkable was this: the ghoulish fashion in which respectable people will nibble after blood. George Emerson had kept the subject strangely pure.
"He died by the fountain, I believe," was her reply.
"And you and your friend—"
"Were over at the Loggia."
"That must have saved you much. You have not, of course, seen the disgraceful illustrations which the gutter Press— This man is a public nuisance; he knows that I am a resident perfectly well, and yet he goes on worrying me to buy his vulgar views."
Surely the vendor of photographs was in league with Lucy—in the eternal league of Italy with youth. He had suddenly extended his book before Miss Bartlett and Mr. Eager, binding their hands together by a long glossy ribbon of churches, pictures, and views.
"This is too much!" cried the chaplain, striking petulantly at one of Fra Angelico's angels. She tore. A shrill cry rose from the vendor. The book it seemed, was more valuable than one would have supposed.
"Willingly would I purchase—" began Miss Bartlett.
"Ignore him," said Mr. Eager sharply, and they all walked rapidly away from the square.
But an Italian can never be ignored, least of all when he has a grievance. His mysterious persecution of Mr. Eager became relentless; the air rang with his threats and lamentations. He appealed to Lucy; would not she intercede? He was poor—he sheltered a family—the tax on bread. He waited, he gibbered, he was recompensed, he was dissatisfied, he did not leave them until he had swept their minds clean of all thoughts whether pleasant or unpleasant.
Shopping was the topic that now ensued. Under the chaplain's guid-ance they selected many hideous presents and mementoes— florid little picture-frames that seemed fashioned in gilded pastry; other little frames, more severe, that stood on little easels, and were carven out of oak; a blotting book of vellum; a Dante of the same material; cheap mo-saic brooches, which the maids, next Christmas, would never tell from real; pins, pots, heraldic saucers, brown art-photographs; Eros and Psyche in alabaster; St. Peter to match—all of which would have cost less in London.
This successful morning left no pleasant impressions on Lucy. She had been a little frightened, both by Miss Lavish and by Mr. Eager, she knew not why. And as they frightened her, she had, strangely enough, ceased to respect them. She doubted that Miss Lavish was a great artist. She doubted that Mr. Eager was as full of spirituality and culture as she had been led to suppose. They were tried by some new test, and they were found wanting. As for Charlotte—as for Charlotte she was exactly the same. It might be possible to be nice to her; it was impossible to love her.
"The son of a labourer; I happen to know it for a fact. A mechanic of some sort himself when he was young; then he took to writing for the Socialistic Press. I came across him at Brixton."
They were talking about the Emersons.
"How wonderfully people rise in these days!" sighed Miss Bartlett, fingering a model of the leaning Tower of Pisa.
"Generally," replied Mr. Eager, "one has only sympathy for their success. The desire for education and for social advance—in these things there is something not wholly vile. There are some working men whom 44
one would be very willing to see out here in Florence—little as they would make of it."
"Is he a journalist now?" Miss Bartlett asked, "He is not; he made an advantageous marriage."
He uttered this remark with a voice full of meaning, and ended with a sigh.
"Oh, so he has a wife."
"Dead, Miss Bartlett, dead. I wonder—yes I wonder how he has the ef-frontery to look me in the face, to dare to claim acquaintance with me.
He was in my London parish long ago. The other day in Santa Croce, when he was with Miss Honeychurch, I snubbed him. Let him beware that he does not get more than a snub."
"What?" cried Lucy, flushing.
"Exposure!" hissed Mr. Eager.
He tried to change the subject; but in scoring a dramatic point he had interested his audience more than he had intended. Miss Bartlett was full of very natural curiosity. Lucy, though she wished never to see the Emersons again, was not disposed to condemn them on a single word.
"Do you mean," she asked, "that he is an irreligious man? We know that already."
"Lucy, dear—" said Miss Bartlett, gently reproving her cousin's penetration.
"I should be astonished if you knew all. The boy—an innocent child at the time—I will exclude. God knows what his education and his inherited qualities may have made him."
"Perhaps," said Miss Bartlett, "it is something that we had better not hear."
"To speak plainly," said Mr. Eager, "it is. I will say no more." For the first time Lucy's rebellious thoughts swept out in words—for the first time in her life.
"You have said very little."
"It was my intention to say very little," was his frigid reply.
He gazed indignantly at the girl, who met him with equal indignation.
She turned towards him from the shop counter; her breast heaved quickly. He observed her brow, and the sudden strength of her lips. It was intolerable that she should disbelieve him.
"Murder, if you want to know," he cried angrily. "That man murdered his wife!"
"How?" she retorted.
"To all intents and purposes he murdered her. That day in Santa Croce—did they say anything against me?"
"Not a word, Mr. Eager—not a single word."
"Oh, I thought they had been libelling me to you. But I suppose it is only their personal charms that makes you defend them."
"I'm not defending them," said Lucy, losing her courage, and relapsing into the old chaotic methods. "They're nothing to me."
"How could you think she was defending them?" said Miss Bartlett, much discomfited by the unpleasant scene. The shopman was possibly listening.
"She will find it difficult. For that man has murdered his wife in the sight of God."
The addition of God was striking. But the chaplain was really trying to qualify a rash remark. A silence followed which might have been impressive, but was merely awkward. Then Miss Bartlett hastily purchased the Leaning Tower, and led the way into the street.
"I must be going," said he, shutting his eyes and taking out his watch.
Miss Bartlett thanked him for his kindness, and spoke with enthusiasm of the approaching drive.
"Drive? Oh, is our drive to come off?"
Lucy was recalled to her manners, and after a little exertion the complacency of Mr. Eager was restored.
"Bother the drive!" exclaimed the girl, as soon as he had departed. "It is just the drive we had arranged with Mr. Beebe without any fuss at all.
Why should he invite us in that absurd manner? We might as well invite him. We are each paying for ourselves."
Miss Bartlett, who had intended to lament over the Emersons, was launched by this remark into unexpected thoughts.
"If that is so, dear—if the drive we and Mr. Beebe are going with Mr.
Eager is really the same as the one we are going with Mr. Beebe, then I foresee a sad kettle of fish."
"Because Mr. Beebe has asked Eleanor Lavish to come, too."
"That will mean another carriage."
"Far worse. Mr. Eager does not like Eleanor. She knows it herself. The truth must be told; she is too unconventional for him."
They were now in the newspaper-room at the English bank. Lucy stood by the central table, heedless of Punch and the Graphic, trying to answer, or at all events to formulate the questions rioting in her brain.
The well-known world had broken up, and there emerged Florence, a 46
magic city where people thought and did the most extraordinary things.
Murder, accusations of murder, A lady clinging to one man and being rude to another—were these the daily incidents of her streets? Was there more in her frank beauty than met the eye—the power, perhaps, to evoke passions, good and bad, and to bring them speedily to a fulfillment?
Happy Charlotte, who, though greatly troubled over things that did not matter, seemed oblivious to things that did; who could conjecture with admirable delicacy "where things might lead to," but apparently lost sight of the goal as she approached it. Now she was crouching in the corner trying to extract a circular note from a kind of linen nose-bag which hung in chaste concealment round her neck. She had been told that this was the only safe way to carry money in Italy; it must only be broached within the walls of the English bank. As she groped she murmured: "Whether it is Mr. Beebe who forgot to tell Mr. Eager, or Mr.
Eager who forgot when he told us, or whether they have decided to leave Eleanor out altogether—which they could scarcely do—but in any case we must be prepared. It is you they really want; I am only asked for appearances. You shall go with the two gentlemen, and I and Eleanor will follow behind. A one-horse carriage would do for us. Yet how difficult it is!"
"It is indeed," replied the girl, with a gravity that sounded sympathetic.
"What do you think about it?" asked Miss Bartlett, flushed from the struggle, and buttoning up her dress.
"I don't know what I think, nor what I want."
"Oh, dear, Lucy! I do hope Florence isn't boring you. Speak the word, and, as you know, I would take you to the ends of the earth to-morrow."
"Thank you, Charlotte," said Lucy, and pondered over the offer.
There were letters for her at the bureau—one from her brother, full of athletics and biology; one from her mother, delightful as only her mother's letters could be. She had read in it of the crocuses which had been bought for yellow and were coming up puce, of the new parlour-maid, who had watered the ferns with essence of lemonade, of the semi-detached cottages which were ruining Summer Street, and breaking the heart of Sir Harry Otway. She recalled the free, pleasant life of her home, where she was allowed to do everything, and where nothing ever happened to her. The road up through the pine-woods, the clean drawing-room, the view over the Sussex Weald—all hung before her 47
bright and distinct, but pathetic as the pictures in a gallery to which, after much experience, a traveller returns.
"And the news?" asked Miss Bartlett.
"Mrs. Vyse and her son have gone to Rome," said Lucy, giving the news that interested her least. "Do you know the Vyses?"
"Oh, not that way back. We can never have too much of the dear Piazza Signoria."
"They're nice people, the Vyses. So clever—my idea of what's really clever. Don't you long to be in Rome?"
"I die for it!"
The Piazza Signoria is too stony to be brilliant. It has no grass, no flowers, no frescoes, no glittering walls of marble or comforting patches of ruddy brick. By an odd chance—unless we believe in a presiding geni-us of places—the statues that relieve its severity suggest, not the innocence of childhood, nor the glorious bewilderment of youth, but the conscious achievements of maturity. Perseus and Judith, Hercules and Thus-nelda, they have done or suffered something, and though they are immortal, immortality has come to them after experience, not before. Here, not only in the solitude of Nature, might a hero meet a goddess, or a heroine a god.
"Charlotte!" cried the girl suddenly. "Here's an idea. What if we popped off to Rome to-morrow—straight to the Vyses' hotel? For I do know what I want. I'm sick of Florence. No, you said you'd go to the ends of the earth! Do! Do!"
Miss Bartlett, with equal vivacity, replied:
"Oh, you droll person! Pray, what would become of your drive in the hills?"
They passed together through the gaunt beauty of the square, laughing over the unpractical suggestion.
The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them
It was Phaethon who drove them to Fiesole that memorable day, a youth all irresponsibility and fire, recklessly urging his master's horses up the stony hill. Mr. Beebe recognized him at once. Neither the Ages of Faith nor the Age of Doubt had touched him; he was Phaethon in Tuscany driving a cab. And it was Persephone whom he asked leave to pick up on the way, saying that she was his sister—Persephone, tall and slender and pale, returning with the Spring to her mother's cottage, and still shading her eyes from the unaccustomed light. To her Mr. Eager objected, saying that here was the thin edge of the wedge, and one must guard against imposition. But the ladies interceded, and when it had been made clear that it was a very great favour, the goddess was allowed to mount beside the god.
Phaethon at once slipped the left rein over her head, thus enabling himself to drive with his arm round her waist. She did not mind. Mr.
Eager, who sat with his back to the horses, saw nothing of the indecor-ous proceeding, and continued his conversation with Lucy. The other two occupants of the carriage were old Mr. Emerson and Miss Lavish.
For a dreadful thing had happened: Mr. Beebe, without consulting Mr.
Eager, had doubled the size of the party. And though Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish had planned all the morning how the people were to sit, at the critical moment when the carriages came round they lost their heads, and Miss Lavish got in with Lucy, while Miss Bartlett, with George Emerson and Mr. Beebe, followed on behind.
It was hard on the poor chaplain to have his partie carree thus transformed. Tea at a Renaissance villa, if he had ever meditated it, was now 49
impossible. Lucy and Miss Bartlett had a certain style about them, and Mr. Beebe, though unreliable, was a man of parts. But a shoddy lady writer and a journalist who had murdered his wife in the sight of God—they should enter no villa at his introduction.
Lucy, elegantly dressed in white, sat erect and nervous amid these explosive ingredients, attentive to Mr. Eager, repressive towards Miss Lavish, watchful of old Mr. Emerson, hitherto fortunately asleep, thanks to a heavy lunch and the drowsy atmosphere of Spring. She looked on the expedition as the work of Fate. But for it she would have avoided George Emerson successfully. In an open manner he had shown that he wished to continue their intimacy. She had refused, not because she disliked him, but because she did not know what had happened, and suspected that he did know. And this frightened her.
For the real event—whatever it was—had taken place, not in the Loggia, but by the river. To behave wildly at the sight of death is pardonable. But to discuss it afterwards, to pass from discussion into silence, and through silence into sympathy, that is an error, not of a startled emotion, but of the whole fabric. There was really something blameworthy (she thought) in their joint contemplation of the shadowy stream, in the common impulse which had turned them to the house without the passing of a look or word. This sense of wickedness had been slight at first. She had nearly joined the party to the Torre del Gallo. But each time that she avoided George it became more imperative that she should avoid him again. And now celestial irony, working through her cousin and two clergymen, did not suffer her to leave Florence till she had made this expedition with him through the hills.
Meanwhile Mr. Eager held her in civil converse; their little tiff was over.
"So, Miss Honeychurch, you are travelling? As a student of art?"
"Oh, dear me, no—oh, no!"
"Perhaps as a student of human nature," interposed Miss Lavish, "like myself?"