Opposite the Volterra gate of Monteriano, outside the city, is a very
respectable white-washed mud wall, with a coping of red crinkled tiles to keep
it from dissolution. It would suggest a gentleman's garden if there was
not in its middle a large hole, which grows larger with every rain-storm.
Through the hole is visible, firstly, the iron gate that is intended to close
it; secondly, a square piece of ground which, though not quite, mud, is at the
same time not exactly grass; and finally, another wall, stone this time, which
has a wooden door in the middle and two wooden-shuttered windows each side, and
apparently forms the façade of a one-storey
This house is bigger than it looks, for it
slides for two storeys down the hill behind, and the wooden door, which is
always locked, really leads into the attic. The knowing person prefers to
follow the precipitous mule-track round the turn of the mud wall till he can
take the edifice in the rear. Then--being now on a level with the
cellars--he lifts up his head and shouts. If his voice sounds like
something light--a letter, for example, or some vegetables, or a bunch of
flowers--a basket is let out of the first-floor windows by a string, into which
he puts his burdens and departs. But if he sounds like something heavy,
such as a log of wood, or a piece of meat, or a visitor, he is interrogated, and
then bidden or forbidden to ascend. The ground floor and the upper floor
of that battered house are alike deserted, and the inmates keep the central
portion, just as in a dying body all life retires to the heart. There is a
door at the top of the first flight of stairs, and if the visitor is admitted he
will find a welcome which is not necessarily cold. There are several
rooms, some dark and mostly stuffy--a reception-room adorned with horsehair
chairs, wool-work stools, and a stove that is never lit--German bad taste
without German domesticity broods over that room; also a living-room, which
insensibly glides into a bedroom when the refining influence of hospitality is
absent, and real bedrooms; and last, but not least, the loggia, where you can
live day and night if you feel inclined, drinking vermouth and smoking
cigarettes, with leagues of olive-trees and vineyards and blue-green hills to
It was in this house that the brief and
inevitable tragedy of Lilia's married life took place. She made Gino buy
it for her, because it was there she had first seen him sitting on the mud wall
that faced the Volterra gate. She remembered how the evening sun had
struck his hair, and how he had smiled down at her, and being both sentimental
and unrefined, was determined to have the man and the place together.
Things in Italy are cheap for an Italian, and, though he would have preferred a
house in the piazza, or better still a house at Siena, or, bliss above bliss, a
house at Leghorn, he did as she asked, thinking that perhaps she showed her good
taste in preferring so retired an abode.
was far too big for them, and there was a general concourse of his relatives to
fill it up. His father wished to make it a patriarchal concern, where all
the family should have their rooms and meet together for meals, and was
perfectly willing to give up the new practice at Poggibonsi and preside.
Gino was quite willing too, for he was an affectionate youth who liked a large
home-circle, and he told it as a pleasant bit of news to Lilia, who did not
attempt to conceal her horror.
At once he was
horrified too; saw that the idea was monstrous; abused himself to her for having
suggested it; rushed off to tell his father that it was impossible. His
father complained that prosperity was already corrupting him and making him
unsympathetic and hard; his mother cried; his sisters accused him of blocking
their social advance. He was apologetic, and even cringing, until they
turned on Lilia. Then he turned on them, saying that they could not
understand, much less associate with, the English lady who was his wife; that
there should be one master in that
Lilia praised and petted him on his
return, calling him brave and a hero and other endearing epithets. But he
was rather blue when his clan left Monteriano in much dignity--a dignity which
was not at all impaired by the acceptance of a cheque. They took the
cheque not to Poggibonsi, after all, but to Empoli--a lively, dusty town some
twenty miles off. There they settled down in comfort, and the sisters said
they had been driven to it by Gino.
The cheque was,
of course, Lilia's, who was extremely generous, and was quite willing to know
anybody so long as she had not to live with them, relations-in-law being on her
nerves. She liked nothing better than finding out some obscure and distant
connection--there were several of them--and acting the lady bountiful, leaving
behind her bewilderment, and too often discontent. Gino wondered how it
was that all his people, who had formerly seemed so pleasant, had suddenly
become plaintive and disagreeable. He put it down to his lady wife's
magnificence, in comparison with which all seemed common. Her money flew
apace, in spite of the cheap living. She was even richer than he expected;
and he remembered with shame how he had once regretted his inability to accept
the thousand lire that Philip Herriton offered him in exchange for her. It
would have been a shortsighted bargain.
settling into the house, with nothing to do except give orders to smiling
workpeople, and a devoted husband as interpreter. She wrote a jaunty
account of her happiness to Mrs. Herriton, and Harriet answered the letter,
saying (1) that all future communications should be addressed to the solicitors;
(2) would Lilia return an inlaid box which Harriet had lent her--but not
given--to keep handkerchiefs and collars in?
what I am giving up to live with you!" she said to Gino, never omitting to lay
stress on her condescension. He took her to mean the inlaid box, and said
that she need not give it up at all.
no! I mean the life. Those Herritons are very well connected.
They lead Sawston society. But what do I care, so long as I have my silly
fellow!" She always treated him as a boy, which he was, and as a fool,
which he was not, thinking herself so immeasurably superior to him that she
neglected opportunity after opportunity of establishing her rule. He was
good-looking and indolent; therefore he must be stupid. He was poor;
therefore he would never dare to criticize his benefactress. He was
passionately in love with her; therefore she could do exactly as she
"It mayn't be heaven below," she thought, "but
it's better than Charles."
And all the time the boy
was watching her, and growing up.
She was reminded of
Charles by a disagreeable letter from the solicitors, bidding her disgorge a
large sum of money for Irma, in accordance with her late husband's will.
It was just like Charles's suspicious nature to have provided against a second
marriage. Gino was equally indignant, and between them they composed a
stinging reply, which had no effect. He then said that Irma had better
come out and live with them. "The air is good, so is the food; she will be
happy here, and we shall not have to part with the money." But Lilia had
not the courage even to suggest this to the Herritons, and an unexpected terror
seized her at the thought of Irma or any English child being educated at
Gino became terribly depressed over the
solicitors' letter, more depressed than she thought necessary. There was
no more to do in the house, and he spent whole days in the loggia leaning over
the parapet or sitting astride it
"Oh, you idle boy!" she cried,
pinching his muscles. "Go and play pallone."
am a married man," he answered, without raising his head. "I do not play
games any more."
"Go and see your friends
"I have no friends
"Silly, silly, silly! You can't stop
indoors all day!"
"I want to see no one but
you." He spat on to an olive-tree.
don't be silly. Go and see your friends, and bring them to see me.
We both of us like society."
He looked puzzled, but
allowed himself to be persuaded, went out, found that he was not as friendless
as he supposed, and returned after several hours in altered spirits. Lilia
congratulated herself on her good management.
ready, too, for people now," she said. "I mean to wake you all up, just as
I woke up Sawston. Let's have plenty of men--and make them bring their
womenkind. I mean to have real English
"There is my aunt and her husband; but
I thought you did not want to receive my
"I never said such
"But you would be right," he said
earnestly. "They are not for you. Many of them are in trade, and
even we are little more; you should have gentlefolk and nobility for your
"Poor fellow," thought Lilia. "It is
sad for him to discover that his people are vulgar." She began to tell him
that she loved him just for his silly self, and he flushed and began tugging at
"But besides your relatives I must
have other people here. Your friends have wives and sisters, haven't
"Oh, yes; but of course I scarcely know
"Not know your friends'
"Why, no. If they are poor and have to
work for their living I may see them--but not otherwise. Except--"
He stopped. The chief exception was a young lady, to whom he had once been
introduced for matrimonial purposes. But the dowry had proved inadequate,
and the acquaintance terminated.
But I mean to change all that. Bring your friends to see me, and I will
make them bring their people."
He looked at her
"Well, who are the principal
people here? Who leads society?"
of the prison, he supposed, and the officers who assisted
"Well, are they
are. Do you know them?"
"I see," she exclaimed angrily. "They
look down on you, do they, poor boy? Wait!" He assented.
"Wait! I'll soon stop that. Now, who else is
"The marchese, sometimes, and the canons of
canons--" he began with twinkling eyes.
"Oh, I forgot
your horrid celibacy. In England they would be the centre of
everything. But why shouldn't I know them? Would it make it easier
if I called all round? Isn't that your foreign
He did not think it would make it
"But I must know some one! Who were the
men you were talking to this afternoon?"
men. He could scarcely recollect their
"But, Gino dear, if they're low class, why did
you talk to them? Don't you care about your
All Gino cared about at present was
idleness and pocket-money, and his way of expressing it was to exclaim,
"Ouf-pouf! How hot it is in here. No air; I sweat all over. I
expire. I must cool myself, or I shall never get to sleep." In his
funny abrupt way he ran out on to the loggia, where he lay full length on the
parapet, and began to smoke and spit under the silence of the
Lilia gathered somehow from this conversation
that Continental society was not the go-as-you-please thing she had
expected. Indeed she could not see where Continental society was.
Italy is such a delightful place to live in if you happen to be a man.
There one may enjoy that exquisite luxury of Socialism--that true Socialism
which is based not on equality of income or character, but on the equality of
manners. In the democracy of the caffè or the street the great
question of our life has been solved, and the brotherhood of man is a
reality. But is accomplished at the expense of the sisterhood of
women. Why should you not make friends with your neighbour at the theatre
or in the train, when you know and he knows that feminine criticism and feminine
insight and feminine prejudice will never come between you? Though you
become as David and Jonathan, you need never enter his home, nor he yours.
All your lives you will meet under the open air, the only roof-tree of the
South, under which he will spit and swear, and you will drop your h's, and
nobody will think the worse of either.
women--they have, of course, their house and their church, with its admirable
and frequent services, to which they are escorted by the maid. Otherwise
they do not go out much, for it is not genteel to walk, and you are too poor to
keep a carriage. Occasionally you will take them to the caffè or
theatre, and immediately all your wonted acquaintance there desert you, except
those few who are expecting and expected to marry into your family. It is
all very sad. But one consolation emerges--life is very pleasant in Italy
if you are a man.
Hitherto Gino had not interfered
with Lilia. She was so much older than he was, and so much richer, that he
regarded her as a superior being who answered to other laws. He was not
wholly surprised, for strange rumours were always blowing over the Alps of lands
where men and women had the same amusements and interests, and he had often met
that privileged maniac, the lady tourist, on her solitary walks. Lilia
took solitary walks too, and only that week a tramp had grabbed at her watch--an
episode which is supposed to be indigenous in Italy, though really less frequent
there than in Bond Street. Now that he knew her better, he was inevitably
losing his awe: no one could live with her and keep it, especially when she had
been so silly as to lose a gold watch and chain. As he lay thoughtful
along the parapet, he realized for the first time the responsibilities of monied
life. He must save her from dangers, physical and social, for after all
she was a woman. "And I," he reflected, "though I am young, am at all
events a man, and know what is right."
He found her
still in the living-room, combing her hair, for she had something of the
slattern in her nature, and there was no need to keep up
"You must not go out alone," he said
gently. "It is not safe. If you want to walk, Perfetta shall
accompany you." Perfetta was a widowed cousin, too humble for social
aspirations, who was living with them as
"Very well," smiled Lilia, "very well"--as
if she were addressing a solicitous kitten. But for all that she never
took a solitary walk again, with one exception, till the day of her
Days passed, and no one called except poor
relatives. She began to feel dull. Didn't he know the Sindaco or the
bank manager? Even the landlady of the Stella d'Italia would be better
than no one. She, when she went into the town, was pleasantly received;
but people naturally found a difficulty in getting on with a lady who could not
learn their language. And the tea-party, under Gino's adroit management,
receded ever and ever before her.
He had a good deal
of anxiety over her welfare, for she did not settle down in the house at
all. But he was comforted by a welcome and unexpected visitor. As he
was going one afternoon for the letters--they were delivered at the door, but it
took longer to get them at the office--some one humorously threw a cloak over
his head, and when he disengaged himself he saw his very dear friend Spiridione
Tesi of the custom-house at Chiasso, whom he had not met for two years.
What joy! what salutations! so that all the passersby smiled with
approval on the amiable scene. Spiridione's brother was now station-master
at Bologna, and thus he himself could spend his holiday travelling over Italy at
the public expense. Hearing of Gino's marriage, he had come to see him on
his way to Siena, where lived his own uncle, lately monied
"They all do it," he exclaimed, "myself
excepted." He was not quite twenty-three. "But tell me more.
She is English. That is good, very good. An English wife is very
good indeed. And she is rich?"
"It pleases me very much," said Gino
simply. "If you remember, I always desired a blonde." Three or four
men had collected, and were listening.
"We all desire
one," said Spiridione. "But you, Gino, deserve your good fortune, for you
are a good son, a brave man, and a true friend, and from the very first moment I
saw you I wished you well."
"No compliments, I beg,"
said Gino, standing with his hands crossed on his chest and a smile of pleasure
on his face.
Spiridione addressed the other men, none
of whom he had ever seen before. "Is it not true? Does not he
deserve this wealthy blonde?"
"He does deserve her,"
said all the men.
It is a marvellous land, where you
love it or hate it.
There were no letters, and of
course they sat down at the Caffè Garibaldi, by the Collegiate Church--quite a
good caffè that for so small a city. There were marble-topped
tables, and pillars terra-cotta below and gold above, and on the ceiling was a
fresco of the battle of Solferino. One could not have desired a prettier
room. They had vermouth and little cakes with sugar on the top, which they
chose gravely at the counter, pinching them first to be sure they were
fresh. And though vermouth is barely alcoholic, Spiridione drenched his
with soda-water to be sure that it should not get into his
They were in high spirits, and elaborate
compliments alternated curiously with gentle horseplay. But soon they put
up their legs on a pair of chairs and began to
"Tell me," said Spiridione--"I forgot to
well, we cannot have everything."
"But you would be
surprised. Had she told me twenty-eight, I should not have disbelieved
"Is she simpatica?" (Nothing will
translate that word.)
Gino dabbed at the sugar and
said after a silence, "Sufficiently so."
"It is a
most important thing."
"She is rich, she is generous,
she is affable, she addresses her inferiors without
There was another silence. "It is
not sufficient," said the other. "One does not define it thus." He
lowered his voice to a whisper. "Last month a German was smuggling
cigars. The custom-house was dark. Yet I refused because I did not
like him. The gifts of such men do not bring happiness. Non era
simpatico. He paid for every one, and the fine for deception
"Do you gain much beyond your pay?" asked
Gino, diverted for an instant.
"I do not accept small
sums now. It is not worth the risk. But the German was another
matter. But listen, my Gino, for I am older than you and more full of
experience. The person who understands us at first sight, who never
irritates us, who never bores, to whom we can pour forth every thought and wish,
not only in speech but in silence--that is what I mean by
"There are such men, I know,"
said Gino. "And I have heard it said of children. But where will you
find such a woman?"
"That is true. Here you are
wiser than I. Sono poco simpatiche le donne. And the time we
waste over them is much." He sighed dolefully, as if he found the nobility
of his sex a burden.
"One I have seen who may be
so. She spoke very little, but she was a young lady--different to
most. She, too, was English, the companion of my wife here. But Fra
Filippo, the brother-in-law, took her back with him. I saw them
start. He was very angry."
Then he spoke of his
exciting and secret marriage, and they made fun of the unfortunate Philip, who
had travelled over Europe to stop it.
though," said Gino, when they had finished laughing, "that I toppled him on to
the bed. A great tall man! And when I am really amused I am often
"You will never see him again," said
Spiridione, who carried plenty of philosophy about him. "And by now the
scene will have passed from his mind."
happens that such things are recollected longest. I shall never see him
again, of course; but it is no benefit to me that he should wish me ill.
And even if he has forgotten, I am still sorry that I toppled him on to the
So their talk continued, at one moment full of
childishness and tender wisdom, the next moment scandalously gross. The
shadows of the terra-cotta pillars lengthened, and tourists, flying through the
Palazzo Pubblico opposite, could observe how the Italians wasted
The sight of tourists reminded Gino of
something he might say. "I want to consult you since you are so kind as to
take an interest in my affairs. My wife wishes to take solitary
"But I have forbidden
does not yet understand. She asked me to accompany her sometimes--to walk
without object! You know, she would like me to be with her all
"I see. I see." He knitted his
brows and tried to think how he could help his friend. "She needs
employment. Is she a
a pity. She must be persuaded. It will be a great solace to her when
she is alone."
"I am a Catholic, but of course I
never go to church."
"Of course not. Still, you
might take her at first. That is what my brother has done with his wife at
Bologna and he has joined the Free Thinkers. He took her once or twice
himself, and now she has acquired the habit and continues to go without
"Most excellent advice, and I thank you for
it. But she wishes to give tea-parties--men and women together whom she
has never seen."
"Oh, the English! they are
always thinking of tea. They carry it by the kilogramme in their trunks,
and they are so clumsy that they always pack it at the top. But it is
"What am I to do about
"Do nothing. Or ask
"Come!" cried Gino, springing up. "She
will be quite pleased."
The dashing young fellow
coloured crimson. "Of course I was only
"I know. But she wants me to take my
friends. Come now! Waiter!"
"If I do
come," cried the other, "and take tea with you, this bill must be my
"Certainly not; you are in my
A long argument ensued, in which the waiter
took part, suggesting various solutions. At last Gino triumphed. The
bill came to eightpence-halfpenny, and a halfpenny for the waiter brought it up
to ninepence. Then there was a shower of gratitude on one side and of
deprecation on the other, and when courtesies were at their height they suddenly
linked arms and swung down the street, tickling each other with lemonade straws
as they went.
Lilia was delighted to see them, and
became more animated than Gino had known her for a long time. The tea
tasted of chopped hay, and they asked to be allowed to drink it out of a
wine-glass, and refused milk; but, as she repeatedly observed, this was
something like. Spiridione's manners were very agreeable. He kissed
her hand on introduction, and as his profession had taught him a little English,
conversation did not flag.
"Do you like music?" she
"Passionately," he replied. "I have not
studied scientific music, but the music of the heart,
So she played on the humming piano very badly,
and he sang, not so badly. Gino got out a guitar and sang too, sitting out
on the loggia. It was a most agreeable
Gino said he would just walk his friend back
to his lodgings. As they went he said, without the least trace of malice
or satire in his voice, "I think you are quite right. I shall not bring
people to the house any more. I do not see why an English wife should be
treated differently. This is Italy."
very wise," exclaimed the other; "very wise indeed. The more precious a
possession the more carefully it should be
They had reached the lodging, but went on
as far as the Caffè Garibaldi, where they spent a long and most delightful