At about nine o'clock next morning Perfetta went out on to the loggia, not to
look at the view, but to throw some dirty water at it. "Scusi tanto!" she
wailed, for the water spattered a tall young lady who had for some time been
tapping at the lower door.
"Is Signor Carella in?"
the young lady asked. It was no business of Perfetta's to be shocked, and
the style of the visitor seemed to demand the reception-room. Accordingly
she opened its shutters, dusted a round patch on one of the horsehair chairs,
and bade the lady do herself the inconvenience of sitting down. Then she
ran into Monteriano and shouted up and down its streets until such time as her
young master should hear her.
The reception-room was
sacred to the dead wife. Her shiny portrait hung upon the wall--similar,
doubtless, in all respects to the one which would be pasted on her
tombstone. A little piece of black drapery had been tacked above the frame
to lend a dignity to woe. But two of the tacks had fallen out, and the
effect was now rakish, as of a drunkard's bonnet. A coon song lay open on
the piano, and of the two tables one supported Baedeker's "Central Italy," the
other Harriet's inlaid box. And over everything there lay a deposit of
heavy white dust, which was only blown off one moment to thicken on
another. It is well to be remembered with love. It is not so very
dreadful to be forgotten entirely. But if we shall resent anything on
earth at all, we shall resent the consecration of a deserted
Miss Abbott did not sit down, partly because
the antimacassars might harbour fleas, partly because she had suddenly felt
faint, and was glad to cling on to the funnel of the stove. She struggled
with herself, for she had need to be very calm; only if she was very calm might
her behaviour be justified. She had broken faith with Philip and Harriet:
she was going to try for the baby before they did. If she failed she could
scarcely look them in the face again.
her brother," she reasoned, "don't realize what is before them. She would
bluster and be rude; he would be pleasant and take it as a joke. Both of
them--even if they offered money--would fail. But I begin to understand
the man's nature; he does not love the child, but he will be touchy about
it--and that is quite as bad for us. He's charming, but he's no fool; he
conquered me last year; he conquered Mr. Herriton yesterday, and if I am not
careful he will conquer us all today, and the baby will grow up in
Monteriano. He is terribly strong; Lilia found that out, but only I
remember it now."
This attempt, and this
justification of it, were the results of the long and restless night. Miss
Abbott had come to believe that she alone could do battle with Gino, because she
alone understood him; and she had put this, as nicely as she could, in a note
which she had left for Philip. It distressed her to write such a note,
partly because her education inclined her to reverence the male, partly because
she had got to like Philip a good deal after their last strange interview.
His pettiness would be dispersed, and as for his "unconventionality," which was
so much gossiped about at Sawston, she began to see that it did not differ
greatly from certain familiar notions of her own. If only he would forgive
her for what she was doing now, there might perhaps be before them a long and
profitable friendship. But she must succeed. No one would forgive
her if she did not succeed. She prepared to do battle with the powers of
The voice of her adversary was heard at last,
singing fearlessly from his expanded lungs, like a professional. Herein he
differed from Englishmen, who always have a little feeling against music, and
sing only from the throat, apologetically. He padded upstairs, and looked
in at the open door of the reception-room without seeing her. Her heart
leapt and her throat was dry when he turned away and passed, still singing, into
the room opposite. It is alarming not to be
He had left the door of this room open, and she
could see into it, right across the landing. It was in a shocking
mess. Food, bedclothes, patent-leather boots, dirty plates, and knives lay
strewn over a large table and on the floor. But it was the mess that comes
of life, not of desolation. It was preferable to the charnel-chamber in
which she was standing now, and the light in it was soft and large, as from some
gracious, noble opening.
He stopped singing, and
cried "Where is Perfetta?"
His back was turned, and
he was lighting a cigar. He was not speaking to Miss Abbott. He
could not even be expecting her. The vista of the landing and the two open
doors made him both remote and significant, like an actor on the stage, intimate
and unapproachable at the same time. She could no more call out to him
than if he was Hamlet.
"You know!" he continued, "but
you will not tell me. Exactly like you." He reclined on the table
and blew a fat smoke-ring. "And why won't you tell me the numbers? I
have dreamt of a red hen--that is two hundred and five, and a friend
unexpected--he means eighty-two. But I try for the Terno this week.
So tell me another number."
Miss Abbott did not know
of the Tombola. His speech terrified her. She felt those subtle
restrictions which come upon us in fatigue. Had she slept well she would
have greeted him as soon as she saw him. Now it was impossible. He
had got into another world.
She watched his
smoke-ring. The air had carried it slowly away from him, and brought it
out intact upon the landing.
"Two hundred and
five--eighty-two. In any case I shall put them on Bari, not on
Florence. I cannot tell you why; I have a feeling this week for
Bari." Again she tried to speak. But the ring mesmerized her.
It had become vast and elliptical, and floated in at the reception-room
"Ah! you don't care if you get the
profits. You won't even say 'Thank you, Gino.' Say it, or I'll drop hot,
red-hot ashes on you. 'Thank you, Gino--'"
ring had extended its pale blue coils towards her. She lost
self-control. It enveloped her. As if it was a breath from the pit,
There he was, wanting to know what had
frightened her, how she had got here, why she had never spoken. He made
her sit down. He brought her wine, which she refused. She had not
one word to say to him.
"What is it?" he
repeated. "What has frightened you?"
was frightened, and perspiration came starting through the tan. For it is
a serious thing to have been watched. We all radiate something curiously
intimate when we believe ourselves to be
"Business--" she said at
"Most important business." She was lying,
white and limp, in the dusty chair.
you must get well; this is the best wine."
refused it feebly. He poured out a glass. She drank it. As she
did so she became self-conscious. However important the business, it was
not proper of her to have called on him, or to accept his
"Perhaps you are engaged," she
said. "And as I am not very well--"
not well enough to go back. And I am not
She looked nervously at the other
"Ah, now I understand," he exclaimed.
"Now I see what frightened you. But why did you never speak?" And
taking her into the room where he lived, he pointed to--the
She had thought so much about this baby, of its
welfare, its soul, its morals, its probable defects. But, like most
unmarried people, she had only thought of it as a word--just as the healthy man
only thinks of the word death, not of death itself. The real thing, lying
asleep on a dirty rug, disconcerted her. It did not stand for a principle
any longer. It was so much flesh and blood, so many inches and ounces of
life--a glorious, unquestionable fact, which a man and another woman had given
to the world. You could talk to it; in time it would answer you; in time
it would not answer you unless it chose, but would secrete, within the compass
of its body, thoughts and wonderful passions of its own. And this was the
machine on which she and Mrs. Herriton and Philip and Harriet had for the last
month been exercising their various ideals--had determined that in time it
should move this way or that way, should accomplish this and not that. It
was to be Low Church, it was to be high-principled, it was to be tactful,
gentlemanly, artistic--excellent things all. Yet now that she saw this
baby, lying asleep on a dirty rug, she had a great disposition not to dictate
one of them, and to exert no more influence than there may be in a kiss or in
the vaguest of the heartfelt prayers.
But she had
practised self-discipline, and her thoughts and actions were not yet to
correspond. To recover her self-esteem she tried to imagine that she was
in her district, and to behave accordingly.
fine child, Signor Carella. And how nice of you to talk to it. Though I
see that the ungrateful little fellow is asleep! Seven months? No,
eight; of course eight. Still, he is a remarkably fine child for his
Italian is a bad medium for
condescension. The patronizing words came out gracious and sincere, and he
smiled with pleasure.
"You must not stand. Let
us sit on the loggia, where it is cool. I am afraid the room is very
untidy," he added, with the air of a hostess who apologizes for a stray thread
on the drawing-room carpet. Miss Abbott picked her way to the chair.
He sat near her, astride the parapet, with one foot in the loggia and the other
dangling into the view. His face was in profile, and its beautiful
contours drove artfully against the misty green of the opposing hills.
"Posing!" said Miss Abbott to herself. "A born artist's
"Mr. Herriton called yesterday," she began,
"but you were out."
He started an elaborate and
graceful explanation. He had gone for the day to Poggibonsi. Why had
the Herritons not written to him, so that he could have received them
properly? Poggibonsi would have done any day; not but what his business
there was fairly important. What did she suppose that it
Naturally she was not greatly interested.
She had not come from Sawston to guess why he had been to Poggibonsi. She
answered politely that she had no idea, and returned to her
"But guess!" he persisted, clapping the
balustrade between his hands.
She suggested, with
gentle sarcasm, that perhaps he had gone to Poggibonsi to find something to
He intimated that it was not as important as all
that. Something to do--an almost hopeless quest! "E manca
questo!" He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together, to indicate that he
had no money. Then he sighed, and blew another smoke-ring. Miss
Abbott took heart and turned diplomatic.
house," she said, "is a large house."
his gloomy reply. "And when my poor wife died--" He got up, went in,
and walked across the landing to the reception-room door, which he closed
reverently. Then he shut the door of the living-room with his foot,
returned briskly to his seat, and continued his sentence. "When my poor
wife died I thought of having my relatives to live here. My father wished
to give up his practice at Empoli; my mother and sisters and two aunts were also
willing. But it was impossible. They have their ways of doing
things, and when I was younger I was content with them. But now I am a
man. I have my own ways. Do you
"Yes, I do," said Miss Abbott, thinking
of her own dear father, whose tricks and habits, after twenty-five years spent
in their company, were beginning to get on her nerves. She remembered,
though, that she was not here to sympathize with Gino--at all events, not to
show that she sympathized. She also reminded herself that he was not
worthy of sympathy. "It is a large house," she
"Immense; and the taxes! But it will
be better when--Ah! but you have never guessed why I went to
Poggibonsi--why it was that I was out when he
"I cannot guess, Signor Carella. I am
here on business."
"I cannot; I hardly know
"But we are old friends," he said, "and your
approval will be grateful to me. You gave it me once before. Will
you give it now?"
"I have not come as a friend this
time," she answered stiffly. "I am not likely, Signor Carella, to approve
of anything you do."
"Oh, Signorina!" He
laughed, as if he found her piquant and amusing. "Surely you approve of
"Where there is love," said Miss Abbott,
looking at him hard. His face had altered in the last year, but not for
the worse, which was baffling.
"Where there is love,"
said he, politely echoing the English view. Then he smiled on her,
"Do I understand that you
are proposing to marry again?"
"I forbid you,
He looked puzzled, but took it for some
foreign banter, and laughed.
"I forbid you!" repeated
Miss Abbott, and all the indignation of her sex and her nationality went
thrilling through the words.
"But why?" He
jumped up, frowning. His voice was squeaky and petulant, like that of a
child who is suddenly forbidden a toy.
ruined one woman; I forbid you to ruin another. It is not a year since
Lilia died. You pretended to me the other day that you loved her. It
is a lie. You wanted her money. Has this woman money
"Why, yes!" he said irritably. "A
"And I suppose you will say that you love
"I shall not say it. It will be
untrue. Now my poor wife--" He stopped, seeing that the comparison
would involve him in difficulties. And indeed he had often found Lilia as
agreeable as any one else.
Miss Abbott was furious at
this final insult to her dead acquaintance. She was glad that after all
she could be so angry with the boy. She glowed and throbbed; her tongue
moved nimbly. At the finish, if the real business of the day had been
completed, she could have swept majestically from the house. But the baby
still remained, asleep on a dirty rug.
thoughtful, and stood scratching his head. He respected Miss Abbott.
He wished that she would respect him. "So you do not advise me?" he said
dolefully. "But why should it be a
Miss Abbott tried to remember that he was
really a child still--a child with the strength and the passions of a
disreputable man. "How can it succeed," she said solemnly, "where there is
"But she does love me! I forgot to
He laid his hand upon his own heart.
"Then God help
He stamped impatiently. "Whatever I say
displeases you, Signorina. God help you, for you are most unfair.
You say that I ill-treated my dear wife. It is not so. I have never
ill-treated any one. You complain that there is no love in this
marriage. I prove that there is, and you become still more angry.
What do you want? Do you suppose she will not be contented? Glad
enough she is to get me, and she will do her duty
"Her duty!" cried Miss Abbott, with all the
bitterness of which she was capable.
course. She knows why I am marrying her."
succeed where Lilia failed! To be your housekeeper, your slave,
you--" The words she would like to have said were too violent for
"To look after the baby, certainly," said
"The baby--?" She had forgotten
"It is an English marriage," he said
proudly. "I do not care about the money. I am having her for my
son. Did you not understand that?"
Miss Abbott, utterly bewildered. Then, for a moment, she saw light.
"It is not necessary, Signor Carella. Since you are tired of the
Ever after she remembered it to her credit
that she saw her mistake at once. "I don't mean that," she added
"I know," was his courteous response.
"Ah, in a foreign language (and how perfectly you speak Italian) one is certain
to make slips."
She looked at his face. It was
apparently innocent of satire.
"You meant that we
could not always be together yet, he and I. You are right. What is
to be done? I cannot afford a nurse, and Perfetta is too rough. When
he was ill I dare not let her touch him. When he has to be washed, which
happens now and then, who does it? I. I feed him, or settle what he shall
have. I sleep with him and comfort him when he is unhappy in the
night. No one talks, no one may sing to him but I. Do not be unfair this
time; I like to do these things. But nevertheless (his voice became
pathetic) they take up a great deal of time, and are not all suitable for a
"Not at all suitable," said Miss Abbott,
and closed her eyes wearily. Each moment her difficulties were
increasing. She wished that she was not so tired, so open to contradictory
impressions. She longed for Harriet's burly obtuseness or for the soulless
diplomacy of Mrs. Herriton.
"A little more wine?"
asked Gino kindly.
"Oh, no, thank you! But
marriage, Signor Carella, is a very serious step. Could you not manage
more simply? Your relative, for
"Empoli! I would as soon have him in
has a grandmother there, you know--Mrs.
"He has a grandmother here. No, he
is troublesome, but I must have him with me. I will not even have my
father and mother too. For they would separate us," he
separate our thoughts."
She was silent. This
cruel, vicious fellow knew of strange refinements. The horrible truth,
that wicked people are capable of love, stood naked before her, and her moral
being was abashed. It was her duty to rescue the baby, to save it from
contagion, and she still meant to do her duty. But the comfortable sense
of virtue left her. She was in the presence of something greater than
right or wrong.
Forgetting that this was an
interview, he had strolled back into the room, driven by the instinct she had
aroused in him. "Wake up!" he cried to his baby, as if it was some
grown-up friend. Then he lifted his foot and trod lightly on its
Miss Abbott cried, "Oh, take care!"
She was unaccustomed to this method of awakening the
"He is not much longer than my boot, is
he? Can you believe that in time his own boots will be as large? And
that he also--"
"But ought you to treat him like
He stood with one foot resting on the little
body, suddenly musing, filled with the desire that his son should be like him,
and should have sons like him, to people the earth. It is the strongest
desire that can come to a man--if it comes to him at all--stronger even than
love or the desire for personal immortality. All men vaunt it, and declare
that it is theirs; but the hearts of most are set elsewhere. It is the
exception who comprehends that physical and spiritual life may stream out of him
for ever. Miss Abbott, for all her goodness, could not comprehend it,
though such a thing is more within the comprehension of women. And when
Gino pointed first to himself and then to his baby and said "father-son," she
still took it as a piece of nursery prattle, and smiled
The child, the first fruits, woke up
and glared at her. Gino did not greet it, but continued the exposition of
"This woman will do exactly what I tell
her. She is fond of children. She is clean; she has a pleasant
voice. She is not beautiful; I cannot pretend that to you for a
moment. But she is what I require."
gave a piercing yell.
"Oh, do take care!" begged Miss
Abbott. "You are squeezing it."
nothing. If he cries silently then you may be frightened. He thinks
I am going to wash him, and he is quite right."
him!" she cried. "You? Here?" The homely piece of news seemed
to shatter all her plans. She had spent a long half-hour in elaborate
approaches, in high moral attacks; she had neither frightened her enemy nor made
him angry, nor interfered with the least detail of his domestic
"I had gone to the Farmacia," he continued,
"and was sitting there comfortably, when suddenly I remembered that Perfetta had
heated water an hour ago--over there, look, covered with a cushion. I came
away at once, for really he must be washed. You must excuse me. I
can put it off no longer."
"I have wasted your time,"
she said feebly.
He walked sternly to the loggia and
drew from it a large earthenware bowl. It was dirty inside; he dusted it
with a tablecloth. Then he fetched the hot water, which was in a copper
pot. He poured it out. He added cold. He felt in his pocket
and brought out a piece of soap. Then he took up the baby, and, holding
his cigar between his teeth, began to unwrap it. Miss Abbott turned to
"But why are you going? Excuse me if I wash
him while we talk."
"I have nothing more to say,"
said Miss Abbott. All she could do now was to find Philip, confess her
miserable defeat, and bid him go in her stead and prosper better. She
cursed her feebleness; she longed to expose it, without apologies or
"Oh, but stop a moment!" he cried. "You
have not seen him yet."
"I have seen as much as I
want, thank you."
The last wrapping slid off.
He held out to her in his two hands a little kicking image of
would not touch the child.
"I must go at once," she
cried; for the tears--the wrong tears--were hurrying to her
"Who would have believed his mother was
blonde? For he is brown all over--brown every inch of him. Ah, but
how beautiful he is! And he is mine; mine for ever. Even if he hates
me he will be mine. He cannot help it; he is made out of me; I am his
It was too late to go. She could not
tell why, but it was too late. She turned away her head when Gino lifted
his son to his lips. This was something too remote from the prettiness of
the nursery. The man was majestic; he was a part of Nature; in no ordinary
love scene could he ever be so great. For a wonderful physical tie binds
the parents to the children; and--by some sad, strange irony--it does not bind
us children to our parents. For if it did, if we could answer their love
not with gratitude but with equal love, life would lose much of its pathos and
much of its squalor, and we might be wonderfully happy. Gino passionately
embracing, Miss Abbott reverently averting her eyes--both of them had parents
whom they did not love so very much.
"May I help you
to wash him?" she asked humbly.
He gave her his son
without speaking, and they knelt side by side, tucking up their sleeves.
The child had stopped crying, and his arms and legs were agitated by some
overpowering joy. Miss Abbott had a woman's pleasure in cleaning
anything--more especially when the thing was human. She understood little
babies from long experience in a district, and Gino soon ceased to give her
directions, and only gave her thanks.
"It is very
kind of you," he murmured, "especially in your beautiful dress. He is
nearly clean already. Why, I take the whole morning! There is so
much more of a baby than one expects. And Perfetta washes him just as she
washes clothes. Then he screams for hours. My wife is to have a
light hand. Ah, how he kicks! Has he splashed you? I am very
"I am ready for a soft towel now," said Miss
Abbott, who was strangely exalted by the
"Certainly! certainly!" He
strode in a knowing way to a cupboard. But he had no idea where the soft
towel was. Generally he dabbed the baby on the first dry thing he
"And if you had any
He struck his forehead despairingly.
Apparently the stock of powder was just
She sacrificed her own clean
handkerchief. He put a chair for her on the loggia, which faced westward,
and was still pleasant and cool. There she sat, with twenty miles of view
behind her, and he placed the dripping baby on her knee. It shone now with
health and beauty: it seemed to reflect light, like a copper vessel. Just
such a baby Bellini sets languid on his mother's lap, or Signorelli flings
wriggling on pavements of marble, or Lorenzo di Credi, more reverent but less
divine, lays carefully among flowers, with his head upon a wisp of golden
straw. For a time Gino contemplated them standing. Then, to get a
better view, he knelt by the side of the chair, with his hands clasped before
So they were when Philip entered, and saw, to
all intents and purposes, the Virgin and Child, with
"Hullo!" he exclaimed; for he was glad to find
things in such cheerful trim.
She did not greet him,
but rose up unsteadily and handed the baby to his
"No, do stop!" whispered Philip. "I got
your note. I'm not offended; you're quite right. I really want you;
I could never have done it alone."
No words came from
her, but she raised her hands to her mouth, like one who is in sudden
"Signorina, do stop a little--after all your
She burst into
"What is it?" said Philip
She tried to speak, and then went away
The two men stared at each
other. By a common impulse they ran on to the loggia. They were just
in time to see Miss Abbott disappear among the
"What is it?" asked Philip again. There
was no answer, and somehow he did not want an answer. Some strange thing
had happened which he could not presume to understand. He would find out
from Miss Abbott, if ever he found out at all.
your business," said Gino, after a puzzled sigh.
business--Miss Abbott has told you of
"She came for business. But she
forgot about it; so did I."
Perfetta, who had a
genius for missing people, now returned, loudly complaining of the size of
Monteriano and the intricacies of its streets. Gino told her to watch the
baby. Then he offered Philip a cigar, and they proceeded to the