When the bewildered tourist alights at the station of Monteriano, he finds
himself in the middle of the country. There are a few houses round the
railway, and many more dotted over the plain and the slopes of the hills, but of
a town, mediaeval or otherwise, not the slightest sign. He must take what
is suitably termed a "legno"--a piece of wood--and drive up eight miles of
excellent road into the middle ages. For it is impossible, as well as
sacrilegious, to be as quick as Baedeker.
three in the afternoon when Philip left the realms of commonsense. He was
so weary with travelling that he had fallen asleep in the train. His
fellow-passengers had the usual Italian gift of divination, and when Monteriano
came they knew he wanted to go there, and dropped him out. His feet sank
into the hot asphalt of the platform, and in a dream he watched the train
depart, while the porter who ought to have been carrying his bag, ran up the
line playing touch-you-last with the guard. Alas! he was in no
humour for Italy. Bargaining for a legno bored him unutterably. The
man asked six lire; and though Philip knew that for eight miles it should
scarcely be more than four, yet he was about to give what he was asked, and so
make the man discontented and unhappy for the rest of the day. He was
saved from this social blunder by loud shouts, and looking up the road saw one
cracking his whip and waving his reins and driving two horses furiously, and
behind him there appeared the swaying figure of a woman, holding star-fish
fashion on to anything she could touch. It was Miss Abbott, who had just
received his letter from Milan announcing the time of his arrival, and had
hurried down to meet him.
He had known Miss Abbott
for years, and had never had much opinion about her one way or the other.
She was good, quiet, dull, and amiable, and young only because she was
twenty-three: there was nothing in her appearance or manner to suggest the fire
of youth. All her life had been spent at Sawston with a dull and amiable
father, and her pleasant, pallid face, bent on some respectable charity, was a
familiar object of the Sawston streets. Why she had ever wished to leave
them was surprising; but as she truly said, "I am John Bull to the backbone, yet
I do want to see Italy, just once. Everybody says it is marvellous, and
that one gets no idea of it from books at all." The curate suggested that
a year was a long time; and Miss Abbott, with decorous playfulness, answered
him, "Oh, but you must let me have my fling! I promise to have it once,
and once only. It will give me things to think about and talk about for
the rest of my life." The curate had consented; so had Mr. Abbott.
And here she was in a legno, solitary, dusty, frightened, with as much to answer
and to answer for as the most dashing adventuress could
They shook hands without speaking. She
made room for Philip and his luggage amidst the loud indignation of the
unsuccessful driver, whom it required the combined eloquence of the
station-master and the station beggar to confute. The silence was
prolonged until they started. For three days he had been considering what
he should do, and still more what he should say. He had invented a dozen
imaginary conversations, in all of which his logic and eloquence procured him
certain victory. But how to begin? He was in the enemy's country,
and everything--the hot sun, the cold air behind the heat, the endless rows of
olive-trees, regular yet mysterious--seemed hostile to the placid atmosphere of
Sawston in which his thoughts took birth. At the outset he made one great
concession. If the match was really suitable, and Lilia were bent on it,
he would give in, and trust to his influence with his mother to set things
right. He would not have made the concession in England; but here in
Italy, Lilia, however wilful and silly, was at all events growing to be a human
"Are we to talk it over now?" he
"Certainly, please," said Miss Abbott, in
great agitation. "If you will be so very
"Then how long has she been
Her face was that of a perfect fool--a fool
"A short time--quite a short time," she
stammered, as if the shortness of the time would reassure
"I should like to know how long, if you can
She entered into elaborate calculations on
her fingers. "Exactly eleven days," she said at
"How long have you been
More calculations, while he tapped irritably
with his foot. "Close on three weeks."
know him before you
Who is he?"
"A native of the
The second silence took place. They had
left the plain now and were climbing up the outposts of the hills, the
olive-trees still accompanying. The driver, a jolly fat man, had got out
to ease the horses, and was walking by the side of the
"I understood they met at the
"It was a mistake of Mrs.
"I also understand that he is a member
of the Italian nobility."
She did not
"May I be told his
Miss Abbott whispered, "Carella." But
the driver heard her, and a grin split over his face. The engagement must
be known already.
"Carella? Conte or Marchese,
"Signor," said Miss Abbott, and looked
"Perhaps I bore you with these
questions. If so, I will stop."
please; not at all. I am here--my own idea--to give all information which
you very naturally--and to see if somehow--please ask anything you
"Then how old is
"Oh, quite young. Twenty-one, I
There burst from Philip the exclamation,
"One would never believe it," said Miss
Abbott, flushing. "He looks much older."
is he good-looking?" he asked, with gathering
She became decisive. "Very
good-looking. All his features are good, and he is well built--though I
dare say English standards would find him too
Philip, whose one physical advantage was his
height, felt annoyed at her implied indifference to
"May I conclude that you like
She replied decisively again, "As far as I have
seen him, I do."
At that moment the carriage entered
a little wood, which lay brown and sombre across the cultivated hill. The
trees of the wood were small and leafless, but noticeable for this--that their
stems stood in violets as rocks stand in the summer sea. There are such
violets in England, but not so many. Nor are there so many in Art, for no
painter has the courage. The cart-ruts were channels, the hollow lagoons;
even the dry white margin of the road was splashed, like a causeway soon to be
submerged under the advancing tide of spring. Philip paid no attention at
the time: he was thinking what to say next. But his eyes had registered
the beauty, and next March he did not forget that the road to Monteriano must
traverse innumerable flowers.
"As far as I have seen
him, I do like him," repeated Miss Abbott, after a
He thought she sounded a little defiant, and
crushed her at once.
"What is he, please? You
haven't told me that. What's his position?"
opened her mouth to speak, and no sound came from it. Philip waited
patiently. She tried to be audacious, and failed
"No position at all. He is kicking
his heels, as my father would say. You see, he has only just finished his
"I suppose so. There is general
conscription. He was in the Bersaglieri, I think. Isn't that the
"The men in it must be short and
broad. They must also be able to walk six miles an
She looked at him wildly, not understanding
all that he said, but feeling that he was very clever. Then she continued
her defence of Signor Carella.
"And now, like most
young men, he is looking out for something to
like most young men, he lives with his people--father, mother, two sisters, and
a tiny tot of a brother."
There was a grating
sprightliness about her that drove him nearly mad. He determined to
silence her at last.
"One more question, and only one
more. What is his father?"
"His father," said
Miss Abbott. "Well, I don't suppose you'll think it a good match.
But that's not the point. I mean the point is not--I mean that social
differences--love, after all--not but
Philip ground his teeth together and said
"Gentlemen sometimes judge hardly. But
I feel that you, and at all events your mother--so really good in every sense,
so really unworldly--after all, love-marriages are made in
"Yes, Miss Abbott, I know. But I am
anxious to hear heaven's choice. You arouse my curiosity. Is my
sister-in-law to marry an angel?"
don't--please, Mr. Herriton--a dentist. His father's a
Philip gave a cry of personal disgust and
pain. He shuddered all over, and edged away from his companion. A
dentist! A dentist at Monteriano. A dentist in fairyland!
False teeth and laughing gas and the tilting chair at a place which knew the
Etruscan League, and the Pax Romana, and Alaric himself, and the Countess
Matilda, and the Middle Ages, all fighting and holiness, and the Renaissance,
all fighting and beauty! He thought of Lilia no longer. He was
anxious for himself: he feared that Romance might
Romance only dies with life. No pair of
pincers will ever pull it out of us. But there is a spurious sentiment
which cannot resist the unexpected and the incongruous and the grotesque.
A touch will loosen it, and the sooner it goes from us the better. It was
going from Philip now, and therefore he gave the cry of
"I cannot think what is in the air," he
began. "If Lilia was determined to disgrace us, she might have found a
less repulsive way. A boy of medium height with a pretty face, the son of
a dentist at Monteriano. Have I put it correctly? May I surmise that
he has not got one penny? May I also surmise that his social position is
"Stop! I'll tell you
"Really, Miss Abbott, it is a little late
for reticence. You have equipped me
"I'll tell you not another word!" she
cried, with a spasm of terror. Then she got out her handkerchief, and
seemed as if she would shed tears. After a silence, which he intended to
symbolize to her the dropping of a curtain on the scene, he began to talk of
They were among olives again, and the
wood with its beauty and wildness had passed away. But as they climbed
higher the country opened out, and there appeared, high on a hill to the right,
Monteriano. The hazy green of the olives rose up to its walls, and it
seemed to float in isolation between trees and sky, like some fantastic ship
city of a dream. Its colour was brown, and it revealed not a single
house--nothing but the narrow circle of the walls, and behind them seventeen
towers--all that was left of the fifty-two that had filled the city in her
prime. Some were only stumps, some were inclining stiffly to their fall,
some were still erect, piercing like masts into the blue. It was
impossible to praise it as beautiful, but it was also impossible to damn it as
Meanwhile Philip talked continually, thinking
this to be great evidence of resource and tact. It showed Miss Abbott that
he had probed her to the bottom, but was able to conquer his disgust, and by
sheer force of intellect continue to be as agreeable and amusing as ever.
He did not know that he talked a good deal of nonsense, and that the sheer force
of his intellect was weakened by the sight of Monteriano, and by the thought of
dentistry within those walls.
The town above them
swung to the left, to the right, to the left again, as the road wound upward
through the trees, and the towers began to glow in the descending sun. As
they drew near, Philip saw the heads of people gathering black upon the walls,
and he knew well what was happening--how the news was spreading that a stranger
was in sight, and the beggars were aroused from their content and bid to adjust
their deformities; how the alabaster man was running for his wares, and the
Authorized Guide running for his peaked cap and his two cards of
recommendation--one from Miss M'Gee, Maida Vale, the other, less valuable, from
an Equerry to the Queen of Peru; how some one else was running to tell the
landlady of the Stella d'Italia to put on her pearl necklace and brown boots and
empty the slops from the spare bedroom; and how the landlady was running to tell
Lilia and her boy that their fate was at
Perhaps it was a pity Philip had talked so
profusely. He had driven Miss Abbott half demented, but he had given
himself no time to concert a plan. The end came so suddenly. They
emerged from the trees on to the terrace before the walk, with the vision of
half Tuscany radiant in the sun behind them, and then they turned in through the
Siena gate, and their journey was over. The Dogana men admitted them with
an air of gracious welcome, and they clattered up the narrow dark street,
greeted by that mixture of curiosity and kindness which makes each Italian
arrival so wonderful.
He was stunned and knew not
what to do. At the hotel he received no ordinary reception. The
landlady wrung him by the hand; one person snatched his umbrella, another his
bag; people pushed each other out of his way. The entrance seemed blocked
with a crowd. Dogs were barking, bladder whistles being blown, women
waving their handkerchiefs, excited children screaming on the stairs, and at the
top of the stairs was Lilia herself, very radiant, with her best blouse
"Welcome!" she cried. "Welcome to
Monteriano!" He greeted her, for he did not know what else to do, and a
sympathetic murmur rose from the crowd below.
told me to come here," she continued, "and I don't forget it. Let me introduce
Philip discerned in the corner
behind her a young man who might eventually prove handsome and well-made, but
certainly did not seem so then. He was half enveloped in the drapery of a
cold dirty curtain, and nervously stuck out a hand, which Philip took and found
thick and damp. There were more murmurs of approval from the
"Well, din-din's nearly ready," said
Lilia. "Your room's down the passage, Philip. You needn't go
He stumbled away to wash his hands,
utterly crushed by her effrontery.
whispered Lilia as soon as he had gone. "What an angel you've been to tell
him! He takes it so well. But you must have had a mauvais quart
Miss Abbott's long terror suddenly
turned into acidity. "I've told nothing," she snapped. "It's all for
you--and if it only takes a quarter of an hour you'll be
Dinner was a nightmare. They had the
smelly dining-room to themselves. Lilia, very smart and vociferous, was at
the head of the table; Miss Abbott, also in her best, sat by Philip, looking, to
his irritated nerves, more like the tragedy confidante every moment. That
scion of the Italian nobility, Signor Carella, sat opposite. Behind him
loomed a bowl of goldfish, who swam round and round, gaping at the
The face of Signor Carella was twitching too
much for Philip to study it. But he could see the hands, which were not
particularly clean, and did not get cleaner by fidgeting amongst the shining
slabs of hair. His starched cuffs were not clean either, and as for his
suit, it had obviously been bought for the occasion as something really
English--a gigantic check, which did not even fit. His handkerchief he had
forgotten, but never missed it. Altogether, he was quite unpresentable,
and very lucky to have a father who was a dentist in Monteriano. And why,
even Lilia--But as soon as the meal began it furnished Philip with an
For the youth was hungry, and his lady
filled his plate with spaghetti, and when those delicious slippery worms were
flying down his throat, his face relaxed and became for a moment unconscious and
calm. And Philip had seen that face before in Italy a hundred times--seen
it and loved it, for it was not merely beautiful, but had the charm which is the
rightful heritage of all who are born on that soil. But he did not want to
see it opposite him at dinner. It was not the face of a
Conversation, to give it that name, was
carried on in a mixture of English and Italian. Lilia had picked up hardly
any of the latter language, and Signor Carella had not yet learnt any of the
former. Occasionally Miss Abbott had to act as interpreter between the
lovers, and the situation became uncouth and revolting in the extreme. Yet
Philip was too cowardly to break forth and denounce the engagement. He
thought he should be more effective with Lilia if he had her alone, and
pretended to himself that he must hear her defence before giving
Signor Carella, heartened by the spaghetti
and the throat-rasping wine, attempted to talk, and, looking politely towards
Philip, said, "England is a great country. The Italians love England and
Philip, in no mood for international
amenities, merely bowed.
"Italy too," the other
continued a little resentfully, "is a great country. She has produced many
famous men--for example Garibaldi and Dante. The latter wrote the
'Inferno,' the 'Purgatorio,' the 'Paradiso.' The 'Inferno' is the most
beautiful." And with the complacent tone of one who has received a solid
education, he quoted the opening lines--
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi ritrovai per una
Che la diritta via era smarrita--
a quotation which was more apt than he
Lilia glanced at Philip to see whether he
noticed that she was marrying no ignoramus. Anxious to exhibit all the
good qualities of her betrothed, she abruptly introduced the subject of pallone,
in which, it appeared, he was a proficient player. He suddenly became shy
and developed a conceited grin--the grin of the village yokel whose cricket
score is mentioned before a stranger. Philip himself had loved to watch
pallone, that entrancing combination of lawn-tennis and fives. But he did
not expect to love it quite so much again.
look!" exclaimed Lilia, "the poor wee fish!"
starved cat had been worrying them all for pieces of the purple quivering beef
they were trying to swallow. Signor Carella, with the brutality so common
in Italians, had caught her by the paw and flung her away from him. Now
she had climbed up to the bowl and was trying to hook out the fish. He got
up, drove her off, and finding a large glass stopper by the bowl, entirely
plugged up the aperture with it.
"But may not the
fish die?" said Miss Abbott. "They have no
"Fish live on water, not on air," he replied in
a knowing voice, and sat down. Apparently he was at his ease again, for he
took to spitting on the floor. Philip glanced at Lilia but did not detect
her wincing. She talked bravely till the end of the disgusting meal, and
then got up saying, "Well, Philip, I am sure you are ready for by-bye. We
shall meet at twelve o'clock lunch tomorrow, if we don't meet before. They
give us caffè later in our rooms."
It was a
little too impudent. Philip replied, "I should like to see you now,
please, in my room, as I have come all the way on business." He heard Miss
Abbott gasp. Signor Carella, who was lighting a rank cigar, had not
It was as he expected. When he was
alone with Lilia he lost all nervousness. The remembrance of his long
intellectual supremacy strengthened him, and he began
"My dear Lilia, don't let's have a
scene. Before I arrived I thought I might have to question you. It
is unnecessary. I know everything. Miss Abbott has told me a certain
amount, and the rest I see for myself."
yourself?" she exclaimed, and he remembered afterwards that she had flushed
"That he is probably a ruffian and certainly
"There are no cads in Italy," she said
He was taken aback. It was one of his
own remarks. And she further upset him by adding, "He is the son of a
dentist. Why not?"
"Thank you for the
information. I know everything, as I told you before. I am also
aware of the social position of an Italian who pulls teeth in a minute
He was not aware of it, but he
ventured to conclude that it was pretty, low. Nor did Lilia contradict
him. But she was sharp enough to say, "Indeed, Philip, you surprise
me. I understood you went in for equality and so
"And I understood that Signor Carella was a
member of the Italian nobility."
"Well, we put it
like that in the telegram so as not to shock dear Mrs. Herriton. But it is
true. He is a younger branch. Of course families ramify--just as in
yours there is your cousin Joseph." She adroitly picked out the only
undesirable member of the Herriton clan. "Gino's father is courtesy
itself, and rising rapidly in his profession. This very month he leaves
Monteriano, and sets up at Poggibonsi. And for my own poor part, I think
what people are is what matters, but I don't suppose you'll agree. And I
should like you to know that Gino's uncle is a priest--the same as a clergyman
Philip was aware of the social position of
an Italian priest, and said so much about it that Lilia interrupted him with,
"Well, his cousin's a lawyer at Rome."
"What kind of
"Why, a lawyer just like you are--except
that he has lots to do and can never get away."
remark hurt more than he cared to show. He changed his method, and in a
gentle, conciliating tone delivered the following
"The whole thing is like a bad dream--so
bad that it cannot go on. If there was one redeeming feature about the man
I might be uneasy. As it is I can trust to time. For the moment,
Lilia, he has taken you in, but you will find him out soon. It is not
possible that you, a lady, accustomed to ladies and gentlemen, will tolerate a
man whose position is--well, not equal to the son of the servants' dentist in
Coronation Place. I am not blaming you now. But I blame the glamour
of Italy--I have felt it myself, you know--and I greatly blame Miss
"Caroline! Why blame her? What's
all this to do with Caroline?"
"Because we expected
her to--" He saw that the answer would involve him in difficulties, and,
waving his hand, continued, "So I am confident, and you in your heart agree,
that this engagement will not last. Think of your life at home--think of
Irma! And I'll also say think of us; for you know, Lilia, that we count
you more than a relation. I should feel I was losing my own sister if you
did this, and my mother would lose a daughter."
seemed touched at last, for she turned away her face and said, "I can't break it
"Poor Lilia," said he, genuinely
moved. "I know it may be painful. But I have come to rescue you,
and, book-worm though I may be, I am not frightened to stand up to a
bully. He's merely an insolent boy. He thinks he can keep you to
your word by threats. He will be different when he sees he has a man to
What follows should be prefaced with some
simile--the simile of a powder-mine, a thunderbolt, an earthquake--for it blew
Philip up in the air and flattened him on the ground and swallowed him up in the
depths. Lilia turned on her gallant defender and
"For once in my life I'll thank you to leave
me alone. I'll thank your mother too. For twelve years you've
trained me and tortured me, and I'll stand it no more. Do you think I'm a
fool? Do you think I never felt? Ah! when I came to your house
a poor young bride, how you all looked me over--never a kind word--and discussed
me, and thought I might just do; and your mother corrected me, and your sister
snubbed me, and you said funny things about me to show how clever you
were! And when Charles died I was still to run in strings for the honour
of your beastly family, and I was to be cooped up at Sawston and learn to keep
house, and all my chances spoilt of marrying again. No, thank you!
No, thank you! 'Bully?' 'Insolent boy?' Who's that, pray, but you?
But, thank goodness, I can stand up against the world now, for I've found Gino,
and this time I marry for love!"
The coarseness and
truth of her attack alike overwhelmed him. But her supreme insolence found
him words, and he too burst forth.
"Yes! and I
forbid you to do it! You despise me, perhaps, and think I'm feeble.
But you're mistaken. You are ungrateful and impertinent and contemptible,
but I will save you in order to save Irma and our name. There is going to
be such a row in this town that you and he'll be sorry you came to it. I
shall shrink from nothing, for my blood is up. It is unwise of you to
laugh. I forbid you to marry Carella, and I shall tell him so
"Do," she cried. "Tell him so now.
Have it out with him. Gino! Gino! Come in! Avanti!
Fra Filippo forbids the banns!"
Gino appeared so
quickly that he must have been listening outside the
"Fra Filippo's blood's up. He shrinks
from nothing. Oh, take care he doesn't hurt you!" She swayed about
in vulgar imitation of Philip's walk, and then, with a proud glance at the
square shoulders of her betrothed, flounced out of the
Did she intend them to fight? Philip had
no intention of doing so; and no more, it seemed, had Gino, who stood nervously
in the middle of the room with twitching lips and
"Please sit down, Signor Carella," said Philip
in Italian. "Mrs. Herriton is rather agitated, but there is no reason we
should not be calm. Might I offer you a cigarette? Please sit
He refused the cigarette and the chair, and
remained standing in the full glare of the lamp. Philip, not averse to
such assistance, got his own face into shadow.
long time he was silent. It might impress Gino, and it also gave him time
to collect himself. He would not this time fall into the error of
blustering, which he had caught so unaccountably from Lilia. He would make
his power felt by restraint.
Why, when he looked up
to begin, was Gino convulsed with silent laughter? It vanished
immediately; but he became nervous, and was even more pompous than he
"Signor Carella, I will be frank with
you. I have come to prevent you marrying Mrs. Herriton, because I see you
will both be unhappy together. She is English, you are Italian; she is
accustomed to one thing, you to another. And--pardon me if I say it--she
is rich and you are poor."
"I am not marrying her
because she is rich," was the sulky reply.
suggested that for a moment," said Philip courteously. "You are
honourable, I am sure; but are you wise? And let me remind you that we
want her with us at home. Her little daughter will be motherless, our home
will be broken up. If you grant my request you will earn our thanks--and
you will not be without a reward for your
"Reward--what reward?" He bent
over the back of a chair and looked earnestly at Philip. They were coming
to terms pretty quickly. Poor Lilia!
said slowly, "What about a thousand lire?"
went forth into one exclamation, and then he was silent, with gaping lips.
Philip would have given double: he had expected a
"You can have them
He found words, and said, "It is too
"Because--" His voice broke. Philip
watched his face,--a face without refinement perhaps, but not without
expression,--watched it quiver and re-form and dissolve from emotion into
emotion. There was avarice at one moment, and insolence, and politeness,
and stupidity, and cunning--and let us hope that sometimes there was love.
But gradually one emotion dominated, the most unexpected of all; for his chest
began to heave and his eyes to wink and his mouth to twitch, and suddenly he
stood erect and roared forth his whole being in one tremendous
Philip sprang up, and Gino, who had flung wide
his arms to let the glorious creature go, took him by the shoulders and shook
him, and said, "Because we are married--married--married as soon as I knew you
were, coming. There was no time to tell you. Oh. oh! You have
come all the way for nothing. Oh! And oh, your generosity!"
Suddenly he became grave, and said, "Please pardon me; I am rude. I am no
better than a peasant, and I--" Here he saw Philip's face, and it was too
much for him. He gasped and exploded and crammed his hands into his mouth
and spat them out in another explosion, and gave Philip an aimless push, which
toppled him on to the bed. He uttered a horrified Oh! and then gave
up, and bolted away down the passage, shrieking like a child, to tell the joke
to his wife.
For a time Philip lay on the bed,
pretending to himself that he was hurt grievously. He could scarcely see
for temper, and in the passage he ran against Miss Abbott, who promptly burst
"I sleep at the Globo," he told her, "and
start for Sawston tomorrow morning early. He has assaulted me. I
could prosecute him. But shall not."
stop here," she sobbed. "I daren't stop here. You will have to take
me with you!"