The advance of regret can be so gradual that it is impossible to say
"yesterday I was happy, today I am not." At no one moment did Lilia
realize that her marriage was a failure; yet during the summer and autumn she
became as unhappy as it was possible for her nature to be. She had no
unkind treatment, and few unkind words, from her husband. He simply left
her alone. In the morning he went out to do "business," which, as far as
she could discover, meant sitting in the Farmacia. He usually returned to
lunch, after which he retired to another room and slept. In the evening he
grew vigorous again, and took the air on the ramparts, often having his dinner
out, and seldom returning till midnight or later. There were, of course,
the times when he was away altogether--at Empoli, Siena, Florence, Bologna--for
he delighted in travel, and seemed to pick up friends all over the
country. Lilia often heard what a favorite he
She began to see that she must assert herself,
but she could not see how. Her self-confidence, which had overthrown
Philip, had gradually oozed away. If she left the strange house there was
the strange little town. If she were to disobey her husband and walk in
the country, that would be stranger still--vast slopes of olives and vineyards,
with chalk-white farms, and in the distance other slopes, with more olives and
more farms, and more little towns outlined against the cloudless sky. "I
don't call this country," she would say. "Why, it's not as wild as Sawston
Park!" And, indeed, there was scarcely a touch of wildness in it--some of
those slopes had been under cultivation for two thousand years. But it was
terrible and mysterious all the same, and its continued presence made Lilia so
uncomfortable that she forgot her nature and began to
She reflected chiefly about her
marriage. The ceremony had been hasty and expensive, and the rites,
whatever they were, were not those of the Church of England. Lilia had no
religion in her; but for hours at a time she would be seized with a vulgar fear
that she was not "married properly," and that her social position in the next
world might be as obscure as it was in this. It might be safer to do the
thing thoroughly, and one day she took the advice of Spiridione and joined the
Roman Catholic Church, or as she called it, "Santa Deodata's." Gino
approved; he, too, thought it safer, and it was fun confessing, though the
priest was a stupid old man, and the whole thing was a good slap in the face for
the people at home.
The people at home took the slap
very soberly; indeed, there were few left for her to give it to. The
Herritons were out of the question; they would not even let her write to Irma,
though Irma was occasionally allowed to write to her. Mrs. Theobald was
rapidly subsiding into dotage, and, as far as she could be definite about
anything, had definitely sided with the Herritons. And Miss Abbott did
likewise. Night after night did Lilia curse this false friend, who had
agreed with her that the marriage would "do," and that the Herritons would come
round to it, and then, at the first hint of opposition, had fled back to England
shrieking and distraught. Miss Abbott headed the long list of those who
should never be written to, and who should never be forgiven. Almost the
only person who was not on that list was Mr. Kingcroft, who had unexpectedly
sent an affectionate and inquiring letter. He was quite sure never to
cross the Channel, and Lilia drew freely on her fancy in the
At first she had seen a few English people,
for Monteriano was not the end of the earth. One or two inquisitive
ladies, who had heard at home of her quarrel with the Herritons, came to
call. She was very sprightly, and they thought her quite unconventional,
and Gino a charming boy, so all that was to the good. But by May the
season, such as it was, had finished, and there would be no one till next
spring. As Mrs. Herriton had often observed, Lilia had no resources.
She did not like music, or reading, or work. Her one qualification for
life was rather blowsy high spirits, which turned querulous or boisterous
according to circumstances. She was not obedient, but she was cowardly,
and in the most gentle way, which Mrs. Herriton might have envied, Gino made her
do what he wanted. At first it had been rather fun to let him get the
upper hand. But it was galling to discover that he could not do
otherwise. He had a good strong will when he chose to use it, and would
not have had the least scruple in using bolts and locks to put it into
effect. There was plenty of brutality deep down in him, and one day Lilia
nearly touched it.
It was the old question of going
"I always do it in
"Yes, but I'm older than you, and I'll
"I am your husband," he said, smiling.
They had finished their mid-day meal, and he wanted to go and sleep.
Nothing would rouse him up, until at last Lilia, getting more and more angry,
said, "And I've got the money."
Now was the moment to assert
herself. She made the statement again. He got up from his
"And you'd better mend your manners," she
continued, "for you'd find it awkward if I stopped drawing
She was no reader of character, but she
quickly became alarmed. As she said to Perfetta afterwards, "None of his
clothes seemed to fit--too big in one place, too small in another." His
figure rather than his face altered, the shoulders falling forward till his coat
wrinkled across the back and pulled away from his wrists. He seemed all
arms. He edged round the table to where she was sitting, and she sprang
away and held the chair between them, too frightened to speak or to move.
He looked at her with round, expressionless eyes, and slowly stretched out his
Perfetta was heard coming up from the
kitchen. It seemed to wake him up, and he turned away and went to his room
without a word.
"What has happened?" cried Lilia,
nearly fainting. "He is ill--ill."
looked suspicious when she heard the account. "What did you say to
him?" She crossed herself.
said Lilia and crossed herself also. Thus did the two women pay homage to
their outraged male.
It was clear to Lilia at last
that Gino had married her for money. But he had frightened her too much to
leave any place for contempt. His return was terrifying, for he was
frightened too, imploring her pardon, lying at her feet, embracing her,
murmuring "It was not I," striving to define things which he did not
understand. He stopped in the house for three days, positively ill with
physical collapse. But for all his suffering he had tamed her, and she
never threatened to cut off supplies again.
he kept her even closer than convention demanded. But he was very young,
and he could not bear it to be said of him that he did not know how to treat a
lady--or to manage a wife. And his own social position was
uncertain. Even in England a dentist is a troublesome creature, whom
careful people find difficult to class. He hovers between the professions
and the trades; he may be only a little lower than the doctors, or he may be
down among the chemists, or even beneath them. The son of the Italian
dentist felt this too. For himself nothing mattered; he made friends with
the people he liked, for he was that glorious invariable creature, a man.
But his wife should visit nowhere rather than visit wrongly: seclusion was both
decent and safe. The social ideals of North and South had had their brief
contention, and this time the South had won.
have been well if he had been as strict over his own behaviour as he was over
hers. But the incongruity never occurred to him for a moment. His
morality was that of the average Latin, and as he was suddenly placed in the
position of a gentleman, he did not see why he should not behave as such.
Of course, had Lilia been different--had she asserted herself and got a grip on
his character--he might possibly--though not probably--have been made a better
husband as well as a better man, and at all events he could have adopted the
attitude of the Englishman, whose standard is higher even when his practice is
the same. But had Lilia been different she might not have married
The discovery of his infidelity--which she made
by accident--destroyed such remnants of self-satisfaction as her life might yet
possess. She broke down utterly and sobbed and cried in Perfetta's
arms. Perfetta was kind and even sympathetic, but cautioned her on no
account to speak to Gino, who would be furious if he was suspected. And
Lilia agreed, partly because she was afraid of him, partly because it was, after
all, the best and most dignified thing to do. She had given up everything
for him--her daughter, her relatives, her friends, all the little comforts and
luxuries of a civilized life--and even if she had the courage to break away,
there was no one who would receive her now. The Herritons had been almost
malignant in their efforts against her, and all her friends had one by one
fallen off. So it was better to live on humbly, trying not to feel,
endeavouring by a cheerful demeanour to put things right. "Perhaps," she
thought, "if I have a child he will be different. I know he wants a
Lilia had achieved pathos despite herself, for
there are some situations in which vulgarity counts no longer. Not
Cordelia nor Imogen more deserves our tears.
herself cried frequently, making herself look plain and old, which distressed
her husband. He was particularly kind to her when he hardly ever saw her,
and she accepted his kindness without resentment, even with gratitude, so docile
had she become. She did not hate him, even as she had never loved him;
with her it was only when she was excited that the semblance of either passion
arose. People said she was headstrong, but really her weak brain left her
Suffering, however, is more independent of
temperament, and the wisest of women could hardly have suffered
As for Gino, he was quite as boyish as ever,
and carried his iniquities like a feather. A favourite speech of his was,
"Ah, one ought to marry! Spiridione is wrong; I must persuade him.
Not till marriage does one realize the pleasures and the possibilities of
life." So saying, he would take down his felt hat, strike it in the right
place as infallibly as a German strikes his in the wrong place, and leave
One evening, when he had gone out thus, Lilia
could stand it no longer. It was September. Sawston would be just
filling up after the summer holidays. People would be running in and out
of each other's houses all along the road. There were bicycle gymkhanas,
and on the 30th Mrs. Herriton would be holding the annual bazaar in her garden
for the C.M.S. It seemed impossible that such a free, happy life could
exist. She walked out on to the loggia. Moonlight and stars in a
soft purple sky. The walls of Monteriano should be glorious on such a
night as this. But the house faced away from
Perfetta was banging in the kitchen, and the
stairs down led past the kitchen door. But the stairs up to the attic--the
stairs no one ever used--opened out of the living-room, and by unlocking the
door at the top one might slip out to the square terrace above the house, and
thus for ten minutes walk in freedom and peace.
key was in the pocket of Gino's best suit--the English check--which he never
wore. The stairs creaked and the key-hole screamed; but Perfetta was
growing deaf. The walls were beautiful, but as they faced west they were
in shadow. To see the light upon them she must walk round the town a
little, till they were caught by the beams of the rising moon. She looked
anxiously at the house, and started.
It was easy
walking, for a little path ran all outside the ramparts. The few people
she met wished her a civil good-night, taking her, in her hatless condition, for
a peasant. The walls trended round towards the moon; and presently she
came into its light, and saw all the rough towers turn into pillars of silver
and black, and the ramparts into cliffs of pearl. She had no great sense
of beauty, but she was sentimental, and she began to cry; for here, where a
great cypress interrupted the monotony of the girdle of olives, she had sat with
Gino one afternoon in March, her head upon his shoulder, while Caroline was
looking at the view and sketching. Round the corner was the Siena gate,
from which the road to England started, and she could hear the rumble of the
diligence which was going down to catch the night train to Empoli. The
next moment it was upon her, for the highroad came towards her a little before
it began its long zigzag down the hill.
slackened, and called to her to get in. He did not know who she was.
He hoped she might be coming to the station.
vengo!" she cried.
He wished her good-night, and
turned his horses down the corner. As the diligence came round she saw
that it was empty.
"Vengo . .
Her voice was tremulous, and did not carry.
The horses swung off.
He had begun to sing, and heard
nothing. She ran down the road screaming to him to stop--that she was
coming; while the distance grew greater and the noise of the diligence
increased. The man's back was black and square against the moon, and if he
would but turn for an instant she would be saved. She tried to cut off the
corner of the zigzag, stumbling over the great clods of earth, large and hard as
rocks, which lay between the eternal olives. She was too late; for, just
before she regained the road, the thing swept past her, thunderous, ploughing up
choking clouds of moonlit dust.
She did not call any
more, for she felt very ill, and fainted; and when she revived she was lying in
the road, with dust in her eyes, and dust in her mouth, and dust down her
ears. There is something very terrible in dust at
"What shall I do?" she moaned. "He
will be so angry."
And without further effort she
slowly climbed back to captivity, shaking her garments as she
Ill luck pursued her to the end. It was
one of the nights when Gino happened to come in. He was in the kitchen,
swearing and smashing plates, while Perfetta, her apron over her head, was
weeping violently. At the sight of Lilia he turned upon her and poured
forth a flood of miscellaneous abuse. He was far more angry but much less
alarming than he had been that day when he edged after her round the
table. And Lilia gained more courage from her bad conscience than she ever
had from her good one, for as he spoke she was seized with indignation and
feared him no longer, and saw him for a cruel, worthless, hypocritical,
dissolute upstart, and spoke in return.
screamed for she told him everything--all she knew and all she thought. He
stood with open mouth, all the anger gone out of him, feeling ashamed, and an
utter fool. He was fairly and rightfully cornered. When had a
husband so given himself away before? She finished; and he was dumb, for
she had spoken truly. Then, alas! the absurdity of his own position
grew upon him, and he laughed--as he would have laughed at the same situation on
"You laugh?" stammered
"Ah!" he cried, "who could help it? I,
who thought you knew and saw nothing--I am tricked--I am conquered. I give
in. Let us talk of it no more."
He touched her
on the shoulder like a good comrade, half amused and half penitent, and then,
murmuring and smiling to himself, ran quietly out of the
Perfetta burst into congratulations.
"What courage you have!" she cried; "and what good fortune! He is angry no
longer! He has forgiven you!"
nor Gino, nor Lilia herself knew the true reason of all the misery that
followed. To the end he thought that kindness and a little attention would
be enough to set things straight. His wife was a very ordinary woman, and
why should her ideas differ from his own? No one realized that more than
personalities were engaged; that the struggle was national; that generations of
ancestors, good, bad, or indifferent, forbad the Latin man to be chivalrous to
the northern woman, the northern woman to forgive the Latin man. All this
might have been foreseen: Mrs. Herriton foresaw it from the
Meanwhile Lilia prided herself on her high
personal standard, and Gino simply wondered why she did not come round. He
hated discomfort and yearned for sympathy, but shrank from mentioning his
difficulties in the town in case they were put down to his own
incompetence. Spiridione was told, and replied in a philosophical but not
very helpful letter. His other great friend, whom he trusted more, was
still serving in Eritrea or some other desolate outpost. And, besides,
what was the good of letters? Friends cannot travel through the
Lilia, so similar to her husband in many ways,
yearned for comfort and sympathy too. The night he laughed at her she
wildly took up paper and pen and wrote page after page, analysing his character,
enumerating his iniquities, reporting whole conversations, tracing all the
causes and the growth of her misery. She was beside herself with passion,
and though she could hardly think or see, she suddenly attained to magnificence
and pathos which a practised stylist might have envied. It was written
like a diary, and not till its conclusion did she realize for whom it was
"Irma, darling Irma, this letter is for
you. I almost forgot I have a daughter. It will make you unhappy,
but I want you to know everything, and you cannot learn things too soon.
God bless you, my dearest, and save you. God bless your miserable
Fortunately Mrs. Herriton was in when the
letter arrived. She seized it and opened it in her bedroom. Another
moment, and Irma's placid childhood would have been destroyed for
Lilia received a brief note from Harriet, again
forbidding direct communication between mother and daughter, and concluding with
formal condolences. It nearly drove her
"Gently! gently!" said her husband.
They were sitting together on the loggia when the letter arrived. He often
sat with her now, watching her for hours, puzzled and anxious, but not
"It's nothing." She went in and tore
it up, and then began to write--a very short letter, whose gist was "Come and
It is not good to see your wife crying when
she writes--especially if you are conscious that, on the whole, your treatment
of her has been reasonable and kind. It is not good, when you accidentally
look over her shoulder, to see that she is writing to a man. Nor should
she shake her fist at you when she leaves the room, under the impression that
you are engaged in lighting a cigar and cannot see
Lilia went to the post herself. But in
Italy so many things can be arranged. The postman was a friend of Gino's,
and Mr. Kingcroft never got his letter.
So she gave
up hope, became ill, and all through the autumn lay in bed. Gino was
distracted. She knew why; he wanted a son. He could talk and think
of nothing else. His one desire was to become the father of a man like
himself, and it held him with a grip he only partially understood, for it was
the first great desire, the first great passion of his life. Falling in
love was a mere physical triviality, like warm sun or cool water, beside this
divine hope of immortality: "I continue." He gave candles to Santa
Deodata, for he was always religious at a crisis, and sometimes he went to her
himself and prayed the crude uncouth demands of the simple. Impetuously he
summoned all his relatives back to bear him company in his time of need, and
Lilia saw strange faces flitting past her in the darkened
"My love!" he would say, "my dearest
Lilia! Be calm. I have never loved any one but
She, knowing everything, would only smile
gently, too broken by suffering to make sarcastic
Before the child was born he gave her a
kiss, and said, "I have prayed all night for a
Some strangely tender impulse moved her, and
she said faintly, "You are a boy yourself, Gino."
answered, "Then we shall be brothers."
He lay outside
the room with his head against the door like a dog. When they came to tell
him the glad news they found him half unconscious, and his face was wet with
As for Lilia, some one said to her, "It is a
beautiful boy!" But she had died in giving birth to him.