Constance Fenimore Woolson
AS the evening was delightful, their coffee was served in the garden.
Modesta brought out a low table and a tray; then, returning to the
kitchen, she came forth again with the coffee-pot, fresh from the fire,
and filled the two cups, one for Dennison, the other for his guest,
Edward Gray. The coffee was fragrant, very hot, very black. John
Dennison never took at night more than this one small cupful; but it was
necessary that the quality of the drops within should be of the purest,
and Peppino, the cook, knew that he must not fail. The dinner which had
preceded the coffee had been excellent.
"Well, Jack, you live well!" Gray had remarked, after he had spent two
days with his former school-fellow.
"Yes, good cooking has become a sine qua non with me," Dennison
answered. "I don't take much, but it must be just so; I can't put up
with even a trifling deficiency. I give Peppino very high wages for this
economical land; but, on my side, I require of him unfailingly his very
best skill. I am afraid," he added, with a quizzical smile, "that I
couldn't get through my day and cultivate lofty thoughts if I did not
feel certain that at the end of it there would be a capital little
dinner waiting on the table. Physical comfort has become enormously
important to me. Result: I'm corpulent!"
"Oh no," said Gray.
"Well on the way to it, then. Do you remember how lean I used to be?"
"You look in much better trim than you did when—"
"When I was young. You needn't hesitate about saying it; we're in the
same box in that respect. How old do we call ourselves now?"
"We're fifty-two," answered Gray. "But I to-day look fifty-eight or
nine, and you about forty. To me, Jack, it's marvellous—your youth."
"Yes, I'm plump. I no longer worry; I take life easily. But it's such an
immense change in every way that I've stopped watching it myself. Why, I
remember when I liked pictures that tell a story, good heavens! and
books with a moral, and iron-fronted blocks, and plenty of gaslight."
"Well, it's awfully tempting," said Gray, slowly, as he looked about
"Plenty of gaslight?"
"No; this place—the whole thing."
TEA IN THE GARDEN
They were sitting at one end of a flower-bordered walk which leads to a
terrace with a parapet; from here opens out a panorama of the velvety
hills of Tuscany, with a crowd of serried mountain-peaks rising behind
them; below, in the narrow valley of a winding stream, is the small
mediæval town of Tre Ponti, or Three Bridges. The garden retains a
distinctly monastic air, though its last monk took leave of it several
hundred years ago; here are no statues of goddesses and muses, so common
in Italy; instead there are two worn stone crosses, with illegible
Latin inscriptions at their bases. An arcade along one side is paved
with flag-stones, and has the air of a cloister; at its end is a fresco
representing a monk with his finger on his lips, as if inculcating
silence; the face is dim, all save the eyes, but these have a strange
vitality, and appear to follow the gazer with intelligence as he turns
away. There are two ancient sundials, and there is a relic which excites
curiosity—a flight of stone steps attached to a high boundary wall; the
steps go up for a distance of eight or nine feet, and then stop, leading
to nothing. On the north and west, where it stretches to the verge of
the hill, the garden is open, defended only by its parapet. Across its
south edge it is shut in by the irregular stone house called Casa
Colombina. On the east there is the boundary wall already mentioned, and
above this wall there rises outside, not fifteen yards away, a massive
square battlemented tower, one hundred and thirty feet high, named Torre
Colombina, or Tower of the Dove. This tower is now occupied only by
owls, and travellers suppose vaguely that it belongs in some way to the
little church of Santa Lucia, which nestles at its feet; they even fancy
that it is the campanile for Santa Lucia's bells. But the great stone
Tower of the Dove dates from the thirteenth century, and although Santa
Lucia cannot be called young, her two hundred and fifty years are
nothing to the greater antiquity of her ponderous, overshadowing
neighbor. Santa Lucia's bells, indeed, would be lost in the Tower of the
Dove. The saint has but three, each twelve inches in length, and the
miniature peal is suspended in a belfry about as large as a pigeon-house
which perches on the roof of her own small temple—a yellow sanctuary
adorned with a flat pointed façade which looks (it is a characteristic
of many church façades in Italy) as if it would come up and off if
pulled strongly at the top, like the front of a box or the slide of a
Edward Gray's compliment had drawn from Dennison a disparaging "Oh, it's
all dilapidated, forlorn—"
"Spare your adjectives," responded the other man. "They're pure
hypocrisy. You needn't pretend you don't like it!"
"Of course I don't pretend. Haven't I lived here for nearly twenty years
because I do like it? That tells the story."
"Though my occupation at home is the making of boiler-plate," Gray
continued, pursuing the current of his own thoughts, "and though I
couldn't and wouldn't live here as you do, giving up your own country
(the greatest country in the world), yet don't imagine, Jack, that I
can't take it in!"
He had risen while speaking. Now he went down to the parapet and stood
looking at the view. Each mountain-peak was bathed in the light of
sunset; all was softly fair—the ineffable loveliness of Italy. He came
back. "It's probable that I take it in more than you do," he went on.
"Oh yes, of course; new-comers always think so. They think that we don't
comprehend either the country or the people because we take them calmly.
They believe that they themselves show far more discrimination in only
coming now and then. For in that way they preserve their power of
appreciating; they don't grow dull-eyed and stupid as we do."
"Exactly. That's just what I think," answered Gray. "What do you
suppose those stairs were for?" he added, as he sat down again beside
the table and lighted a cigarette.
"Probably they led to a small out-door pulpit which has fallen down. The
whole top of this hill was covered by a monastery—a fortified place, I
believe, with four towers. Only one of the towers remains, and nothing
above ground of all the other buildings but that piece of high wall; I
dare say there are plenty of substructures and vaults below. But though
the monastery has gone, this old garden of the monks remains very much
as it was, I fancy."
Modesta now came to take the tray. She was accompanied by a cat and a
dog. The dog was a small dachshund, black, with long silky ears and very
crooked paws. The cat, a sinuous yellow matron, appeared to believe that
she was the favorite, for she rubbed herself against her mistress's
ankles caressingly. As Modesta, with murmured "excuses," lifted the
tray, four kittens rushed from the house, gambolling and tumbling over
each other; they all made their way to her feet, round which they curled
themselves so that she walked in a tangle of cats. She returned towards
the house with her tray, laughing, and careful not to step on them. The
dog waited a moment with dignity. "Here, Hannibal! Here!" said Dennison.
But the dachshund paid no attention to him; he trotted back to the house
as fast as his short legs could carry him.
"He is supposed to be my property. But he spends his life in the
kitchen," commented Dennison.
"That girl of yours has a passion for animals; one might rather call it
compassion, perhaps, for I have even seen her petting that
preternaturally ill-tempered and hideous donkey who turns your
water-wheel," remarked Gray. "It seems to extend in all directions, for
she runs out to help the old milkman up the hill with his cans, and she
gives tidbits to that idiot boy who haunts the main road."
"That isn't half. She feeds regularly two children who live a little
below here, on the way down to the valley. Partly she robs me to do it,
after the easy Italian fashion; but she also robs herself—I have had
proof of that. She almost always has some forlorn object, varying
anywhere from a lame chicken to a blind man, stowed away in a corner of
the court or the kitchen, where she can see to and comfort it. And every
Friday, when the regular beggars of Tre Ponti—the authorized
humbugs—make the round of the villas and poderes on this side of the
valley, invariably she has saved something for each one of them."
"She is extraordinarily handsome. With her full throat, her large, soft
eyes, and that classic head and hair, she looks like a Madonna of one of
the old painters. I have never seen a more kindly and beautiful smile."
"It's well enough. But the great thing is that she is perfect as a
servant. What she has to do is done without a fault."
"And she is so placid and sweet-tempered, too, as well as skilful," Gray
went on. "She's a regular marvel!"
"She's a regular Tuscan!"
"Didn't I tell you that you don't half appreciate the beautiful natures
of these people? As to this particular girl—come back to America, and
see what we have to put up with! A waitress like that, over there, would
be worth her weight in silver—if not gold."
"A what?" asked Dennison.
"A waitress; that's what we call 'em now; we've given up 'help.' Is she
married to your cook?"
"Oh no; Peppino is nearly sixty. She is only twenty-five, though she
looks thirty. She is a widow, and she is thinking of taking another
husband before long. Have you noticed a young fellow working in the
vineyard just under your windows?"
"I have noticed some one loafing there."
"That's the man."
"Poor good-natured woman—he has imposed upon her; she will have to earn
his living as well as her own. As it happens, I have watched him, and a
lazier creature I never saw; he looks at the vines occasionally, and he
calls down jokes to the other men below; that is the extent of his
exertions. Come out for a walk."
"I don't walk after dinner."
"Come at least as far as the tower."
Thus adjured, Dennison rose. In spite of his own assertion, he was not
corpulent; he was a tall man whose outlines had grown large; but he was
muscular still. Gray also was tall. If Edward Gray had a hobby, it was
to show to the world that an American business-man can be as athletic as
an English fox-hunter or an ancient Greek; his face, which was thin and
deeply lined, did not come up to his ambition; but his erect figure,
wiry and elastic, was well-developed and strong.
As they passed through the house, now growing dim in the twilight, they
caught a glimpse of the waitress in the distance, seated in the kitchen,
knitting. On the table by her side two of the tall, slender Tuscan lamps
were burning, each with its three little wicks and its three brass
chains; in her lap two kittens were curled asleep. The light illumined
also a gaudy print on the wall, apparently a Madonna. Beneath the print
was a jug filled with flowers.
"Is that little piece of piety your cook's?" Gray asked, as they passed
"No. The cook is a free-thinker. It's Modesta; she is overwhelmingly
devout. She has the whole house blessed at regular intervals—priest and
The outer door of Casa Colombina opens directly upon the small square or
piazza of Santa Lucia, a grassy space dotted with minute pink daisies.
One side of this square is bordered by a low wall. In the daytime this
wall's broad, flat top was adorned not infrequently by the recumbent
figure of one of Modesta's protégés, who, after enjoying her bounty, was
taking a siesta here, in the sunshine or the shade, according to the
season; sometimes it was Hannibal, with his nose on his paws; sometimes
it was the cat; very often it was a beggar or the idiot boy. To-night
the slab was empty, and, after a stroll of half an hour up the road and
back, Dennison and his visitor sat down here for a moment; it made an
excellent seat. It was now dark; the lights of Tre Ponti were twinkling
in the valley, the evening-star shone above the Tower of the Dove; the
soft air of the Italian May was filled with the fragrance of blossoms.
Suddenly on one of the mountains in the northern sky there appeared,
flashing out, a gleam. Then a blaze.
"Woods on fire up there," said Gray, who was accustomed to forest fires
But while he was speaking a similar glare appeared on a mountain in the
south. And then a third in the east. Many summits and flanks of the
Apennines were in sight, and before long there were fifty of the blazing
signals visible, some near, some distant, but all at high points.
"It's the vigil of the Ascension, the night when the mountain peasants
light bonfires on their peaks as a species of religious rite," explained
Dennison. "In reality it is a relic of pagan times. Their belief is that
the ceremony will bring tranquillity to their families during the year."
A figure which had come from the house now passed them. "Lordships will
pardon," said Modesta's voice; "they know that I would not wish to
disturb. But from the kitchen it is not possible to count the mountain
fires. And to count them all is important, since tranquillity is most
surely a blessed thing. Excuses." She passed on to a distant angle of
the wall, where she stood for five or ten minutes.
"What did she say?" asked Gray, who was sure that he could learn to
speak Italian in a week or two. Simplest thing in the world—so much
Dennison translated the phrases—the lordships, the excuses, and the
proffered opinion as to tranquillity.
"It's awfully pretty," said Gray, admiringly.
Modesta, after finishing her counting, crossed the piazza to the little
church. In the starlit darkness they could see her kneel down there in
"She is clinching it—the tranquillity—by a few private orisons," said
Presently, her devotions concluded, the waitress returned to the house.
The two men remained where they were. They had all sorts of subjects to
thresh out together. They took them up, or rather Gray did, by fits and
"Well, Jack, it's settled, then, that you're never coming home?" he
remarked, as he accepted another cigarette.
"Not at all," Dennison answered. "I shall come back by-and-by, when I
feel like it. In the meanwhile I pay my taxes regularly over there, and
I subscribe to all the charities I believe in—three or four. If there
were to be another war (but there won't be) I should return at once."
"Well, I don't call it a useful life."
"Is it more useful to make money—at somebody else's expense?"
"It's more useful to be a good citizen; to bring up one's family well;
"Let's stop there," Dennison interposed. "People with families never
approve of the people who haven't those blessings. It doesn't occur to
them that nobody forced them to marry; they selected the lot, and
therefore they accepted responsibilities. But a man who has not
undertaken family life ought not to be saddled with its cares. You chose
your boys and girls; I chose Italy. Each to his taste. You may ask,
'Isn't the world to be peopled, then?' No trouble about that; it always
will be. Personally my own answer to the same question might be,
however, the old one, 'Je n'en vois pas la nécessité.'"
"That's where you all end; dreary nihilism!"
A figure was now passing the piazza, following the road which ascends
from the valley. "Let us see if Hannibal gives tongue from the house,"
said Dennison. "It's a man they call the Professor; he lives behind the
church, and he and the dog detest each other. Generally, Hannibal knows
his step even from the depths of the olive-grove! You don't want to
watch those fires all night, do you?"
They returned to the house. The outer door of Casa Colombina bore no
relation to the drawing-room, dining-room, or library. It led to the
court, to the cellar, to the gardens, to the podere, to the kitchen, to
whatever you please; but it was only by a circuitous route through
corridors and purposeless anterooms that Dennison could reach his own
apartments. As he and his guest were following this route they caught
another glimpse across the court of Modesta in her kitchen. The door was
more widely open this time, and they could see the whole interior of the
large, vaulted, hall-like room, with the rows of copper pans on the
wall. The kittens were now in their basket on the floor, and Modesta's
lap was occupied by the dachshund, who had curled himself into a ball.
The waitress was still knitting, her head bent forward over her work.
With her smoothly braided hair and her white apron, in her neat, quiet
room, with her cats and her dog and her flower-decked shrine, she was
the image of peace.
"Tranquillity is most surely a blessed thing," quoted Gray. "If it were
not for the moving needles, I should say she was asleep."
"She probably is asleep; she is knitting unconsciously. She appears to
require about fifteen hours of slumber out of the twenty-four," said
Dennison, as he lighted wax matches, one after the other, to show the
way. When he reached the sitting-room he rang for lights, and presently
Modesta appeared, carrying the lamp, her eyes drowsy.
"As soon as Peppino comes in you may close the house," said Dennison.
"We shall require nothing more to-night."
The waitress put down the lamp, adjusting its wick so that it burned
brightly. Then she lighted the shaded candles which stood on a side
table. Hannibal had followed her; when she had finished her task she
stooped and picked him up. "If the master allows, he must be washed
to-morrow," she said. "Or, rather, not to-morrow, for it is a festa, but
the day after. As it is now warm weather, Peppino shall take him to the
pond, instead of bathing him in the green crockery basin. Annibale
himself will not wish to go—silly cherub!" (Here she stroked the dog's
head.) "But—what do they wish? It is necessary. Good-night to the
lordships." And she disappeared, carrying the dog, and murmuring
endearments to him as she went.
The next morning Gray, always an early riser, found himself awake at the
abnormal hour of dawn; for in May and in Italy one can see the
beginnings of light in the east soon after midnight. Long before four
o'clock he was dressed and out. He had a fancy to see the dew on the
blossoms, to watch the sun rise above the Apennines and touch, one by
one, the gray towers with which in that part of Tuscany all the hills
are crowned. Peppino was up, for the kitchen door was open. Hannibal,
hearing steps, looked into the court, and seeing that some one was going
for a walk, he decided to go too, announcing his intention by a bark of
one syllable—"wow!" This drew forth a "Be quiet!" in Tuscan from
Peppino within. For no unnecessary sound must disturb the master of the
house, who never appeared before eight o'clock; in winter an hour
later. Gray went quietly through the corridors to the irrelevant outer
door, opened it, and let himself out, followed by the dog. He walked up
the road for a short distance; then he turned into a winding lane. Here
he saw the thick dew on the hedges and fields, but only one bird; with
great care Dennison had kept three birds'-nests in the garden of Casa
Colombina, but they were probably the only nests for miles. Presently
the sun rose above the eastern mountains, its first rays illumining
distant high-up villages which are invisible later in the day. Then came
the gleam of the towers. Some of these stand alone, like the Tower of
the Dove; two belong to ruined castles; but the majority are now
attached to villas which were built later, or rather the villas have
attached themselves to the towers. These villas, now old in their turn,
are for the most part large, solid, blank-looking structures, yellow in
hue, with a dignified group of cypresses near by. When the tints of the
sunrise were all gone, merged in the broad, clear light of the Tuscan
summer day, Gray turned back. He was following the main road. As the
cluster of houses which stand next to Santa Lucia, behind the piazza,
came into view, he saw a large white dog appear suddenly on the broad
top of a wall which bounds one of the gardens. This dog began to bark in
a deep tone at Hannibal, who was below; for Hannibal had hurried on far
in advance of his companion, with the air of expecting something. This
was what he had expected; and he now answered the challenge by leaping
up as high as he could towards his mocking aggressor, and barking in his
turn with all his strength. As the top of the wall was ten feet above
the roadway, the big dog could loftily send down his derisive scorn at
intervals without lowering the dignity of his pose; and his derision
was plainly increased when two other dogs appeared on the wall by his
side and added their voices to the tumult. Hannibal meanwhile nearly
turned himself inside out in his efforts to reply with appropriate
contempt; he defied them all three at the top of his voice. Suddenly
from a house opposite appeared a singular figure—a tall, thin man in
his night-shirt, scantily covered by a short dressing-gown—who rushed
into the mêlée, brandishing a cane and trying to strike the vociferous
dachshund. Hannibal, relinquishing for the moment his warfare with the
canine foes, turned his attention towards this new enemy, but not
quickly enough to escape a blow which changed his proud bark into a yelp
"Don't strike the dog!" called Gray, futilely, in English, as he hurried
towards the scene of action. But before he could reach the spot a flying
figure had intervened, coming from the opposite direction. Modesta
rushed to the dodging Hannibal and picked him up, while she sent a flood
of Tuscan sarcasms after his now retreating antagonist. "Two-legged
brutes are much worse than four-legged ones," she announced, loudly;
"and as to the quality of the legs, there can be no comparison." The
thin human limbs were, indeed, only too plainly visible below the
insufficient garments, and she wittily enumerated their weak points for
the benefit of the gazing heads which had now appeared at all the
windows of the neighborhood, as the distracted man, losing first one of
his slippers and then the other, finally seized them in his hand, and,
getting his door open at last, disappeared within. "Figure it to
yourself—a Professor! Legs like that for the literary profession!"
was the waitress's final thrust.
After breakfast, as Dennison and Gray were sitting in the garden, she
appeared. "Lordships will excuse, but it seemed best that they should
know. The paw of Annibale is wounded; likewise his shoulder and one ear.
I have put on a lotion and bandaged him, and he has shown the patience
of an angel. But that he suffers is visible, and I therefore ask the
master, could I leave him here while I go to mass, so that he may not be
lonely, Peppino having gone to town?"
"Oh, bring him, if you like," said Dennison. "Little scamp!" he added in
Modesta went off, returning after a minute or two, carrying Hannibal in
his basket. The dog reposed on his cushions with the air of a wounded
hero; he was arrayed in a complicated bandage of coarse white linen,
which swathed one paw and encircled his shoulder and head. "To think of
any one's being such a brute as to injure a creature so small!" said
Modesta, after she had put the basket gently down in the shade. "But,
without doubt, there are in this world absolute demons!"
"You hypocrite!" said Dennison to Hannibal, after the waitress had
departed. "You go every morning of your life at dawn to wake up that
poor man by a row with the Ciardelli dogs—you know you do! He is a
teacher of languages from Florence, who is here for six months of rest,"
he added to Gray. "He has not had much rest so far! He has already
thrown all his boots and shoes at Hannibal through the window more than
once. This morning I suppose he was desperate."
"Is your paw very bad, Hannibal?" inquired Gray.
The bandage had slipped down, so that Hannibal had only one eye visible.
With this eye he appeared to wink.
After lunch the two men went out for a stroll. The roads were gay with
the country-folk, celebrating the festa in the Italian fashion by the
simple amusement of being together in the open air. The wrinkled faces
of the old women were framed in their new red-and-yellow kerchiefs,
which were folded over their heads and tied under their chins. Each girl
wore a flower in her hair, and this hair was always thick, rising up
round the face in a dense mass, no matter how closely the long ends were
braided and coiled behind. The men were dressed in their best, but they
all carried their jackets folded and tossed over one shoulder.
The younger men were entertaining themselves.
"They will end by slicing us in two at the ankles," said Gray,
indignantly, after he had jumped aside three or four times to escape a
sharp disk which met them suddenly as they turned a corner, whizzing
past them as it flew down the road, almost invisible from its speed.
"It's a game," said Dennison.
"Oh, is it? I thought it was assassination."
Presently they came to a little stone building adorned with a rusty tin
cross. On the side towards the road it has a small, iron-barred window,
whose glass within is so thickly covered with dust that it looks as if
it had been painted yellow. There is a Latin inscription cut in stone
over its long-closed door: "Pul—pulsate, et—Knock and it shall be
opened to you," translated Gray, making out the words with difficulty.
"Nobody would dare to knock. And the last thing they wish is to have it
opened," remarked Dennison. "It is the private chapel of that old villa
across the fields, but for the last two hundred years there has been a
tomb inside, whose occupant is supposed to rise and come to the window
now and then to glare at the passers-by. She was a Countess Alberoni,
who had a tragical end, if the legend is true. Her own children are said
to have locked her up in that villa with one attendant and the plainest
food, until at last, from sheer melancholy, she died. On the other hand,
it is added that the world was well rid of her, for a more wicked old
woman never lived. Her crimes, however, whatever they were, have not
prevented Modesta, I see, from decorating her with the others," he
continued. For as they walked on they perceived that a faded shrine, set
in the outer wall of the chapel at its eastern end, had been adorned
with a long garland made of fresh green leaves and blossoms.
"The others? What others?"
"Your Madonna beauty decorates every way-side shrine within a mile of
Casa Colombina on all the principal festas," said Dennison. "She starts
out after lunch, carrying a pile of garlands in her arms, and another
poised on her head, so that she is like a walking hay-stack."
They now took a narrow track which leads to the valley. This path winds
round a small low house, brilliantly pink on the outside, with a dark
and gloomy interior.
"There she is now," said Gray, who, looking at everything with the keen
attention of a stranger, had discovered the figure of the Casa Colombina
servant within. Her back was towards them; she was talking to some one
who was not visible from the road. Hearing their footsteps, she turned.
And then, as the light from the doorway fell upon her, they saw that she
had Hannibal in her arms.
"Put down that ridiculous animal!" called Dennison.
The waitress came out, and, joining in their laughter, placed the dog on
the ground. "With his bandages, yes, he does look comical," she said,
assentingly. "But it seemed best to give him a breath of fresh air."
"Have you lugged him all the way from the house?" asked Dennison, who
had paused to roll two cigarettes. "The dog and the flowers too?"
"It is nothing; lordship knows his gentleness. He lay among them like a
"But why did you give a wreath to the wicked countess, Modesta?"
Dennison went on. "The Signor Gray is astonished at such an action."
"Povera! to be so treated by her own children," answered the Italian;
"that seems to me abominable. She was their mother, even if a bad one.
And then one feels for her; only on a festa does any one pass that
chapel, and so she has very little to see even when she does look out.
The master may not know? This is the home of Pietro."
"The idiot boy?"
"The afflicted of God," said Modesta, gently.
The boy, hearing his name, had come shuffling out. He was a
repulsive-looking child, but Modesta smoothed his hair. "To me he
appears constantly more intelligent," she said, hopefully.
Dennison and his visitor, having lighted their cigarettes, now passed
on. The moment their figures had disappeared round a curve the waitress
stooped and took up the waiting Hannibal. "To call thee comical, with
thy little paw in pain!" she murmured in his ear. "But thou knowest that
I did not mean it. 'Twas but politeness for the masters."
The masters went down to Tre Ponti, where they took horses and a
rattling phaeton, and went off on one of those quests with whose mild
excitements Dennison enlivened his quiet Italian days. This time it was
a search for some tapestry, which had been discovered, so it was said,
in a villa six miles distant. The villa was one of those which had
degenerated, having been used for the last hundred years as a
farm-house. During the preceding week an addition had been pulled down,
and the demolition had uncovered a window which corresponded to nothing
within; further search had revealed a walled-up chamber, and it was this
chamber which contained the tapestry. The chamber was there—a small
room with a high ceiling. It contained no tapestry; nothing, in fact,
but one singular object: a lady's toilet-table with a lace cover, an old
mirror, two candlesticks, and various saucers, vials, and boxes. The
lace, which was falling to pieces from age, was ordinary in quality; the
mirror-frame and the candlesticks were made of metal that imitates
bronze; and the saucers, vials, and boxes were of glass that imitates
crystal; nothing, therefore, had intrinsic value. Dennison made a small
offer for the whole just as it stood, in case the government should not
lay claim to the objects.
"It's only for the riddle," he said to his companion, as they drove back
to Tre Ponti. "There is a history, of course, and nobody can ever know
it; that is the charm; one can fancy anything one pleases. If I get the
table, I'll put it in one of the unused bedrooms. And then when there
comes a wild windy night, such as we sometimes have in Tuscany, I'll go
there after midnight, and see if she don't glide slowly in and look at
herself in her old glass."
It was late in the afternoon when they drove through the eastern gate of
Three Bridges. Leaving the phaeton at the stable, they strolled about
the village for a while before returning to Casa Colombina.
But village is hardly the word. Although Tre Ponti has never contained
more than two thousand inhabitants (at present there are but fifteen
hundred), it is surrounded by an important stone wall with bastions, and
two of the old gateways, massive arched portals, are still in use. The
narrow winding streets are paved with broad flag-stones, which reach to
the house walls on each side, so that one seems to be following hallways
open at the top rather than roads. Nowhere is there an inch of garden;
the high blocks stand side by side in solid rows. The only
breathing-place is the central square; one side of this piazza is
embellished by a palazzo-pubblico, or town-hall, decorated with griffins
and armorial bearings. Along another side there is an arcade ornamented
with a row of heads by Andrea della Robbia, old women, monks, knights,
children, and others, each looking out with life-like expression from a
heavy frame of clustered porcelain fruit.
"Those frames of fruit would do for a State fair," said Gray,
irreverently. "Queer, solid, stony little place! Somehow it looks
"Naturally. They did almost nothing here but fight for hundreds of
years; they fought with every town in Tuscany. And almost every town in
Tuscany responded by fighting with them."
When Gray had seen everything, they passed through the western gate,
taking the road which leads down the hill and across one of the three
bridges; on the other side of this bridge begins the path which is a
short-cut to Casa Colombina.
In the open space outside of this gate there stands a small café of the
most modern type. Its exterior is adorned in fresco on one side of the
door with a portrait of Garibaldi as large as life. On the other side
there is a second work of art, a painted open window from whose lattice
leans a damsel, dressed in the remarkable apparel which is produced by a
translation of the latest Paris fashions into Italian. This damsel
hospitably offers to the passers-by a glass of wine. "Let's breathe,"
said Dennison, seating himself on one of the benches which, with a green
table, was placed before the door.
"You want to attach yourself to every bench you see, Jack."
"On the contrary, I much prefer my own, at home. It's only for your sake
that I go tramping about the country in this way, on my feet."
"What do they have in such a place as this?" asked Gray, fanning himself
with his hat. "We can't sit here without ordering something."
"Yes, we can. Don't be throwing your money about."
"Only a quarter. What can I get for that?"
At this moment the proprietor of the café came forth, carrying a
three-legged stool and a brazier filled with hot coals. He saluted the
gentlemen with a beaming smile, but made no effort to solicit their
patronage; placing the stool and the brazier at a little distance, he
returned to the house, and came forth again with a large shallow pan,
whose bottom was covered with a layer half an inch deep of coffee in
the berry. Seating himself on the stool, he began to roast the coffee,
holding the pan over the coals by its long handle, and swaying it
slightly from side to side with a rhythmical motion. He was a
picturesque young man, with a brilliant pink silk handkerchief round his
neck. Whenever his roving glance happened to meet that of either of the
Americans he smiled genially, as though he wished to assure them that,
whatever their mood might be, he should be sure to sympathize with it if
admitted to their confidence.
"Ask him for the wine," said Gray.
"You can't possibly drink it," expostulated Dennison.
"I'll take it to Modesta—for her Friday beggars. You won't? Very well,
then, I'll do it myself. Here, vyno! Vyno, do you hear? Vyno bono. Oon
liry. Oon!" And he held up one finger.
The young landlord, with cordial smiles, put down his pan, hurried into
the house, and returned with two little tumblers, and one of the
graceful Tuscan flasks swathed in its covering of plaited straw. Taking
out the stopper, he removed with exaggerated care the protecting layer
of oil by means of a long wisp, and then placed the flask on the table
with a flourish. "Ecco!"
"They always understand me," said Gray, complacently, when the coffee
roasting had begun again.
"They would understand a Patagonian; one who was a lunatic, and dumb!"
"That is what I mean; they are so extraordinarily intelligent," replied
Gray, declining to be snubbed.
Tre Ponti was keeping the festa with much gayety; the streets were full
of strolling figures; the benches in front of all the cafés were full.
This little way-side hostlery beyond the gate now began to receive its
share; four men coming to town from a distant podere stopped here to
refresh themselves with wine and chunks of the dark Italian bread. Then
came a procession of youths returning from an expedition up the valley.
They wore branches of blossoms in their hats, and kept step as they
marched. More wine was brought out, and they all drank.
"I have not seen a drunken man in Italy," said Gray; "it's perfectly
wonderful. Think of the whiskey and whiskey-brawls at home! Think of the
gin and horrible wife-beating in England!"
"I don't know why I should think of them. They're not pleasant
A party of women now appeared, coming through the gateway from the town;
one of them had a baby in her arms, and another was carrying a heavy boy
of three, whose head, adorned with a red cap, lay sleepily on her
shoulder. Set in the wall outside of this gateway there is a large
shrine shielded by a grating. It bears an inscription in
Italian—"Erected in token of mercies felt on this spot." There is a low
marble step outside of the grating, and the woman who had the older
child knelt down here for a moment, and made the child kneel by her
side; taking some flowers from the knot at her belt, she showed him how
to throw them through the grating as far as he could, as an offering to
the Madonna within. The boy obeyed her; and then she gently bent his
head forward with her hand as salutation. The other women knelt also,
after this one had risen; but they did it perfunctorily; they bobbed
down and bobbed up again, crossing themselves, the whole process taking
about two seconds.
"The one carrying the red-capped boy is your waitress again," said Gray,
as the women, their devotions over, drew nearer on their way to the
bridge. "What is she doing down here?"
"It's her home; she is a Tre Ponti girl—was born here; and her family
live here still. She herself much prefers the town to the country; she
shares to the full the ideas which Browning expressed in 'Up in a Villa,
Down in the City.'"
Modesta had now discovered them, and paused, while the women who were
with her gave such a general greeting to "lordships" that it seemed to
Gray that he beheld several yards of white teeth, surmounted by rows of
dark eyes whose depths held a sweetness which no Northern orbs could
"I accompany for a short distance my friend Paola," explained the
waitress, "Paola being tired, and having already the baby to carry.
This, the one I have, is her Angelo—as the master can perceive for
himself, an angel indeed—though his little ankles are not strong.
But—what would they have? That requires patience; it will improve. The
masters would like without doubt to see also the baby? A miracle of
beauty!" And giving the older child to one of her companions, she took
the swaddled infant from its mother, and brought it to Dennison and his
friend, a smile of pure enthusiasm irradiating her face. "His cheeks—do
the masters behold them? And his eyes like stars? Lordships can note the
quality of his arms."
Gray lightly pinched the dimpled roll of fat extended towards him. "Oui,
oui. Grandeena!" he said, emphatically.
Modesta appeared to be charmed with this attention; she thanked him
warmly. Then she carried the baby back to its mother, kissing it before
she gave it up, and, taking the other child, led the way down the hill,
the whole party making fresh obeisances before they turned away.
"What frank, pleasant faces they all have!" said Gray.
"Very frank. They never changed a muscle when, as a token of your
admiration of the baby, you told them that it was hailing."
"Hailing? What are you talking about? I said the baby's arm was big."
"Grandina happens to mean 'it is hailing'; that's all."
"It couldn't; it wouldn't be such a fool! Are we going to stay here all
night? It's awfully dusty."
For the open space outside of the gate was now filled with loungers, and
the café of Garibaldi was crowded both inside and out; the two Americans
left their bench and strolled down the hill. When they reached the
bridge they stopped to watch the water. As they did so they heard music;
down the gorge beside the stream came a party of girls, two and two,
with linked arms; they were singing all together something slow and
sweet, and as they passed under the bridge each gave a glance upward
towards the two gentlemen who were leaning over the parapet to look at
"What are they singing?" asked Gray.
"A hymn to the Virgin, with an endless number of verses; stay here a
month, and you'll hear it so often that you'll sing it in your sleep."
"That girl who was last did not look like an Italian," Gray went on, as
the musical band disappeared round a bend.
"She isn't; she is a Swede. She was brought here last summer by a queer
old English woman, who has lived for ten years, off and on, in that
villa just above the second bridge; she had a fancy for servants who
could not speak a word of English, and she picked up this girl in
Stockholm during one of her journeys—for when she wasn't in Tuscany,
she was trotting all over the globe. She died, at the last, suddenly; it
was two months ago, and, so far, her heirs in England, distant cousins,
I believe, have refused to do anything for this stranded maid. The
Swedish consul, however, has taken it up, and I hear that there is
prospect of a remittance some time or other—enough to pay her expenses
back to Stockholm. Fortunately for herself, she had learned to speak
Italian. And she had made friends in Tre Ponti; she is staying with
these friends now, and turning her hand meanwhile to anything that
offers in order to support herself until the money comes. Let's go home
and have some tea. Dinner will be very late this evening on account of
the festa; no hope of its being on the table before nine o'clock."
"Just a minute more," said Gray.
It was no wonder that the man who was unfamiliar with the scene should
wish to linger. The sun was sinking out of sight, sending up broad
shafts of gold as he disappeared; above the gold a deep rose tint filled
the sky. The water of the stream was gilded, and gilded were the
bristling turrets of a fourteenth-century monastery, which here crowns a
crag where the gorge makes a bend towards the south. Opposite, beyond
Casa Colombina, the soaring Tower of the Dove was flushed with pink. And
on the eastern side, over their heads, the little stone town with its
bastioned walls was colored in bars of salmon and pearl. The close
circle of hills, the wider amphitheatre of mountains behind, all of them
clothed in the violet mantle which mountains wear in Italy, were tipped
with orange. And somehow all these lovely hues seemed to deepen as the
chimes of Tre Ponti began to ring the Angelus. The peal of the monastery
on the crag soon joined in the anthem, these latter bells flinging
themselves far out from their open belfry against the sky, to and fro,
to and fro, with an abandon which was in itself a picture. And when the
chime stopped, music of another kind took its place, for coming up the
road appeared the same band of girls singing their slow hymn; they had
left the gorge, and were returning by way of the bridge to Tre Ponti.
They were no longer a small company; a dozen women had joined them, and
six or eight youths followed behind. Modesta accompanied the girls,
having finished her duties as escort to Paola and her children.
"Here is your waitress coming back," said Gray. "How handsome she
The arch of the bridge is high, and the ascent which leads to it steep;
the two gentlemen were standing in a small projecting half-bastion,
which once served, no doubt, as a sentry-box; their figures were
therefore inconspicuous from below, and no one saw them. Modesta walked
beside one of the girls. Her arms were folded, her hands resting upon
them tranquilly; she was clad in a dress of dark blue tint, with a
kerchief of cream-colored silk folded over her breast, and in her hair
there was a crimson rose; she was singing as she walked, joining in the
hymn to the Virgin, and her eyes were slightly raised, fixed dreamily
upon the tinted sky. As the group approached the ascent leading to the
bridge, a girl at the end of the procession began playfully to push
against one of her companions, and the pushing ended in a hoidenish
race, the two turning and rushing back down the road, the one who had
been attacked in pursuit of the aggressor. The others paused, and stood
watching the chase, but without stopping their hymn, which went steadily
on, though, as the pursued girl doubled unexpectedly and baffled her
pursuer, the mouths of the singers became so widely stretched in their
glee that it was impossible for them to pronounce their syllables, and
they carried the melody on mechanically, without words and almost in a
"Modesta is the only one who appears to remember that it is a hymn,"
"Hymn? It's a him of another kind. She probably doesn't know that she is
singing at all; much less what. And she doesn't even see those racing
tomboys. She only knows one thing, sees one thing, and that is her
"Yes; the young fellow she is going to marry. He is just behind
her—there at her elbow. You've seen him in our vineyard half a dozen
"He appeared dull enough there! To-day he looks very smart. However, he
is much too young for her—hardly more than a boy."
The pursued girl had now escaped, and was returning. The pursuer
followed, and as they both reached the waiting group she made a last
desperate effort, and succeeded in grasping the other again, and so
firmly that they both fell to the ground. The hymn now ceased abruptly,
drowned in the general laughter as the two girls struggled in the dust.
After a moment they rose, shaking their skirts, and joining in the
merriment, until suddenly there came from one of them a high yell.
Drawing herself away from the others, she stood with her body stiffened
as though it had been turned into wood, and her eyes closed, while she
poured forth in a shrill voice a flood of rapid Italian. Her companions
meanwhile were so overcome with their laughter as they listened that
they rocked to and fro, and clapped their hands on their sides.
"What was she saying?" asked Gray, when at last the piercing voice
"You wish a sample? She said, 'Brute, thou! Beast, thou! Thou it is who
hast done it, pig of a Vanna! For thou puttest me in a fury so that I
said evil words. And now what is the use of my Lent? Didn't I drop with
fasting? Wasn't I faint? Didn't I do every one of my devotions? And now
all lost through thee. Serpent! and frog!'"
Modesta had paid no more attention to this raving outburst than she had
paid to the race which had preceded it; she had stopped singing when the
others stopped, but her eyes still gazed dreamily at the sky. After a
moment or two she turned so that her glance could take in Goro, and then
she stood tranquilly waiting, her face serene, content.
Presently the little company, its laugh out, began to move on again,
coming up the ascent in a straggling band, the girl who had yelled forth
her accusations with her body stiffened so strangely accompanying them,
her fit of excitement ended. She even tried to frolic in a shamefaced
sort of way; she took the flower from her hair, threw it up and caught
it, as though it were a ball, humming a tune to herself carelessly. As
they reached the bridge the band perceived the two gentlemen in the
semi-bastion; all, that is, save Modesta. In her absorption the waitress
saw nothing, until the girl who was beside her pulled her sleeve.
"The master, thine," she whispered. "Thy two lordships."
The waitress now came back to actual life. She waited a moment, until
the others had passed on. "It is Goro," she said, presenting him. "The
masters already know him well."
"Not in his festival clothes," answered Dennison. "He is nothing," he
added, banteringly; "not half good enough! I wouldn't have him, Modesta,
if I were you."
When Dennison said "He is nothing," Goro answered, "È vero" (It is
true), and laughed lightly. He was a tall, strong youth, with curling
hair and a joyous smile.
"Eh—he wishes me so much good!" replied Modesta, fondly.
The next morning Gray took another sunrise walk; he had but five days
more to spend in Tuscany, and he wished to make every hour tell. When he
came back the waitress was in the court, occupied in tying a long cord
to Hannibal's collar; beside her were two towels and a cake of soap.
"It is Annibale, who goes now for his bath," she explained; "Peppino
takes him. A bath is excellent for Annibale."
The dog's spirits were deeply depressed; his elongated little body
seemed almost to sweep the ground, owing to the dejected state of his
short legs. "It is nothing, thou silly one!" said Modesta,
affectionately. "Thou must be washed—that thou knowest. And as the
morning is so warm, thou art to go to the pond."
Peppino now came from the kitchen, ready for the expedition. With a
salute to their visitor, he took the end of the cord in his hand, and
turned down the path which leads to the fields below.
"I'll go too," said Gray. "Ego," he added, tapping his breast violently,
to show that he meant himself.
The two servants were charmed with this idea; Modesta said that it would
give Hannibal courage to be accompanied by the gentleman, and Peppino
added that it was "too much honor." The cook was very tall, with the
countenance of a seer; in his spotless white linen jacket, his long
white apron, and white linen cap, his appearance, with his dark eyes and
thick gray hair, was striking. He was suspected of belonging to a secret
society of nihilistic principles; but his nihilism must have applied
only to mankind, for he went down the hill as slowly as he could, in
order that Hannibal's neck should not be hurt by undue pressure from his
collar. For the dog was following at the extreme length of his cord,
dragging back obstinately with all his might, and digging his crooked
little paws as deeply into the sand as he possibly could with each
reluctant step; as Peppino was six feet in height, and Hannibal ten
inches, the spectacle was amusing. At the foot of the hill the glitter
of the pond became visible, and Hannibal's resistance grew so desperate
that Peppino went back and picked him up, carrying him onward in his
arms as though he had been a baby. "Most surely he must not be
permitted to strangle himself," he explained to Gray in his serious
The valley fields belonging to Casa Colombina are six in number; five
are for grain and one for vegetables, and all are bordered by rows of
fruit-trees, with grape-vines trained to swing from trunk to trunk.
These fields are watered by artificial rivulets, which are fed from the
pond. And the pond is in reality a reservoir for the water of a spring
above. They passed the spring first. It is covered by a roof which
extends some distance beyond it, supported by pillars of brick; the
ground beneath is paved with flag-stones, and here were assembled a
collection of the large tubs, of red earthen-ware, in shape and hue like
mammoth flower-pots, which the Tuscan peasants use for washing clothes.
Above the spring, fastened to one of the pillars, was a china image of
St. Agnes, and beneath the image there was a hanging lamp with one wick,
its tiny flame like a pale yellow point in the brilliant morning light.
"Modesta?" said Gray, indicating the lamp as they passed.
The cook nodded affirmatively.
"She is foolishly superstitious," he said. "But women—" A shrug
completed the sentence.
"THE DOG WAS FOLLOWING AT THE EXTREME LENGTH OF HIS
The pool was square, paved within, and bordered by a low stone parapet;
the water was not quite a foot deep. Peppino soaped Hannibal carefully
until he was a mass of white lather; then he placed him gently in the
pool, and kept him from returning to the shore by the aid of a long
branch. "Walk about, then; walk! Agitate thyself," he said, pressing him
softly with the twigs. Hannibal walked as little as he possibly
could; his indignation was plainly visible even in the tip of his
nose, which was the only part of him above the water. When he was judged
to be sufficiently laved the branch was withdrawn, and as he leaped out
the cook caught him and dried him with a towel. Another towel was then
folded closely round him and fastened with long tapes, leaving only his
head and paws and tail free. "Now must thou run back, so as not to take
cold," said Peppino, putting on the collar and readjusting the cord. And
then the procession returned, the swathed Hannibal this time as far in
advance as the cord would permit, and pulling up the hill like a
miniature steam-engine. "He is anxious to get back to Modesta," said
The cook comprehended. "It is true. She spoils him with her indulgence;
it is a melancholy weakness in her character," he replied, as with his
disengaged hand he took his red handkerchief from his pocket and wiped
his face, which was heavily bedewed with drops of perspiration, owing to
his exertions at the pond.
As they reached the level ground behind the house the cat could be seen
audaciously reposing in Hannibal's basket, which had been set outside to
air. The dachshund barked angrily; the cook did not set him free, but
hurried forward himself to eject the intruder; and as he did so, in some
way his foot slipped, and he came down full length on the grass with a
thud. And then Modesta, who had appeared at the kitchen door, began to
call out in excitement: "He laughs—behold him! Annibale laughs!" And,
in truth, the dog had that look as, with his mouth set in a broad grin,
his tongue hanging out a little, his tail wagging, and his eyes
brilliant with glee, he surveyed his prostrate companion. Modesta ran
and took him up. "Didst thou laugh, little one? Like a human creature?
And, indeed, thou art one; 'tis a man thou art!" Peppino, as soon as he
was on his feet again, was almost as much interested as she was; between
them they took off the towel, and dried him anew with a fresh one,
watching him tenderly meanwhile with bated breath, as though they were
expecting every instant to hear him speak.
In spite of her mirth, Gray had noticed that the eyes of the waitress
were reddened, as though she had been shedding tears.
At breakfast Dennison also noticed this. "Anything the matter?" he said.
"Ah, nothing, nothing," replied Modesta, waving her hand contemptuously.
"It is only that I am of so great a carelessness—I have shame about it.
Will they figure it to themselves that I actually took off the cover of
the large pepper-jar and emptied the contents into a bowl, my face held
over it meanwhile and a breeze blowing through the pantry! That was
acting like a fool; the pepper naturally flew into my eyes. But enough;
it will pass."
After breakfast Dennison went down to Tre Ponti on business connected
with his olive-grove. But he returned very soon, and, entering the
library, rang the bell sharply.
"What's up?" said Gray, who was writing letters by the window.
"A poor old man was terribly injured while passing the house this
morning; his donkey slipped on a rolling stone and fell, and the man was
thrown from his two-wheeled cart with great violence. Peppino was out
apparently—I can't imagine where, at that hour, as it's not his day for
going to town."
"He was down at the pond washing the dog; I was with him."
"That explains it. Modesta, therefore, having the field to herself,
absolutely refused to allow them to bring the poor creature in here; she
let him go in a jolting wagon down to Tre Ponti, telling me nothing
whatever about it. What makes it worse is that the man is a contadino
who used to work for me; he worked for me, in fact, until he grew too
old to work anywhere."
"Probably she has some reason for disliking him."
"On the contrary, she likes him; I happen to know it. And she has a very
soft heart for old people, for all kinds of infirmity and suffering. She
will fly down to see him upon the very first opportunity; she will rob
herself to take him the best food and wine, and everything else she can
think of; she will take the very pillows from her bed! She had cried her
eyes out over him, that was evident. With her yarn about the pepper!"
"But why in the world, then—"
"Simply because her idea is never to speak of unpleasant subjects to her
superiors if she can possibly avoid it; if forced to tell something of
the truth, she envelops it in roundabout, optimistic phrases that would
deceive even Solomon! But you'll hear for yourself. I'll translate what
she says afterwards."
Modesta now appeared in answer to the ring.
"Two men are coming to-day to work in the olive-grove," said Dennison;
"tell Peppino to have the tools ready; they will come every afternoon
for a week. Your eyes are better, I trust?"
"Almost well, as lordship can behold. It was too much
carelessness—mine—with that pepper!"
"Pepper, indeed; I feel peppery myself," replied Dennison. "Why didn't
you tell me about the man who was injured here this morning?"
"Eh—lordship has heard? It was a slight accident."
"His leg and his arm were broken, and you know it. Also his head was
"Most surely that is an error. It was a sprain, a wrench; nothing more."
"But I have seen him myself. And it was old Niccolo."
"Lordship has seen him? It is possible that it was Niccolo; I did not
"You should have come to my door and wakened me, instead of taking it
upon yourself to give orders," said Dennison.
"Oh!" exclaimed the waitress, with a vivid expression of repugnance in
her eyes. "Waken lordship to tell him of a trouble—a misfortune like
that? What, then, would become of his repose—his tranquillity?"
"You need not concern yourself about my tranquillity," answered
Dennison. But he gave it up. "You may go," he said. "Stay a minute," he
added; "I have provided a nurse for Niccolo, and a doctor, and he is to
be paid so much a day for the best food and wine; he will therefore
require nothing from you."
"Save my compassion," answered the waitress, the tears now rolling
freely down her cheeks, and reddening her eyes anew. "And that I give
with all my heart!" She lifted a corner of her apron to wipe away the
drops. "It was sad to see—the masters can imagine! So old a man, and
feeble. His white hair in the dust. But he knew me when I ran out. I
"How about the pepper?" inquired Dennison, as she left the room.
But the waitress was not disturbed by the detection of her falsehood.
"The whole thing seems to her only the most ordinary duty to me," said
Dennison, after she had gone. "And if I had not happened to see Niccolo
with my own eyes, she would have stuck to her lie to the judgment-day.
Personally it was dreadful to her to send him away; she would have liked
nothing better than to have him here, in one of those cool rooms off the
court, where she could coddle him to her heart's content."
"Do you know, then, I think what she did was in one way charming,"
said Gray. "All these Italian peasants seem to me to have the most
wonderful civility; their manners are always agreeable; they are almost
polished. Think of the manners of—"
"I refuse to think of anything; the discoveries made by you new-comers
are only exceeded by your conceit. For a thorough knowledge of the
Italian character give me the man who has spent, in all, six weeks in
The last day of Gray's visit came. As they sat at the breakfast-table,
his host said: "There's a powwow to-night, to celebrate something or
other, at one of the poderes about a mile from here. Modesta is going if
I give her permission. If I do, she won't be back until after midnight,
and the table service at dinner will therefore be at sixes and sevens.
As the day is so fine, we might take it for a drive to that tower on the
mountain—the one which is adorned, according to you, with a winding
"There certainly is a stairway," persisted Gray.
"And then we could get something in the way of a dinner at a little
summer hotel, which is already open for the season. There is a moon for
the drive back, and we could stop and have a look at the powwow before
coming home—as you're so athirst for everything Tuscan."
"Excellent. Jar!" said Gray.
"Jar? What jar?"
"Jar. Jarr, then, since you say I always cut my r's. You ought to know
Italian when you hear it. Jar is what they all say to me when they mean
"You ridiculous object, 'già' is the word."
"That's exactly what I said: jar."
It was three o'clock when they started, and a beautiful May afternoon. A
pair of horses and the rattling phaeton had been sent to Casa Colombina
from Tre Ponti. Modesta had already departed.
"The celebration begins early," said Gray, as he saw her start.
"She isn't going there now," answered Dennison. "She will go first to
the house of Goro's mother, about half a mile from here; there she will
sit braiding straw and gossiping with the old woman in a dark,
cellar-like room, until the beloved object comes home and is ready to
accompany her. I dare say she is taking him something with which to make
himself smart for the occasion—a new necktie or a silk handkerchief."
As they passed out on their way to the carriage they caught a glimpse of
the distant white figure of the cook seated with his back towards them
outside of his kitchen door in the shade, occupying his leisure in
playing the flute; his notes, which just reached them, were soft and
long-drawn as sighs.
"What is it?" said Gray, listening. "I'm sure I know it."
"'Com' è gentil'; that is, 'O summer night.' Peppino is very sentimental
in his musical tastes."
"He doesn't go to the party, then?"
"He despises parties. He goes in for bombs."
It was between eight and nine o'clock in the evening when, on their
return from the drive, Dennison checked his horses in a hedge-bordered
lane, and stopped. (It may be mentioned that they did not reach the
tower; no one—that is, no stranger—has ever reached it. Italians are
indifferent to its mystery.) "This is the place," he said. "The house is
a quarter of a mile from here, and I could have taken you nearer by
keeping to the main road; but in that case they might have heard the
sound of our wheels. I haven't let any one know we were coming, so that
you can have a glimpse of the scene as it really is, and not tamed by
the presence of strangers." He tied the horses to the hedge, and,
climbing over a stone wall, led the way across a broad field, freshly
ploughed. On the other side of this field the ground ascended, and the
slope was covered by an olive-grove. The sparse gray foliage of the
pruned trees cast hardly more than a lace-work of shade upon the moonlit
ground, and the two men made their way upward easily; in ten minutes
they had reached the top. Here, on a broad plateau, stood the farm-house
with its out-buildings. Beyond the plateau the ground ascended again,
decked by another grove. The door and windows of the house were open,
and sounds of laughter came forth. The two Americans drew near
cautiously, walking as quietly as they could in the shadow of the trees.
But their care was unnecessary; all were assembled within, and no one
was looking either from the door or the windows; the noise, too, was so
great that no sound outside could have been heard even by a listening
ear. Dennison, making a détour, led the way round to one of the back
casements. This window, a small one, was breast-high; its little
lattices of lead-bordered panes had been thrown back; they opened into
the room, as the exterior of the window was guarded by iron rods set
close together. The two spectators outside, by looking between these
rods, obtained a view of the scene within. The room was large, low, and
smoke-browned; it was lighted by all the lamps the house could
muster—lamps of the old Tuscan pattern for olive-oil; there were also
earthen-ware saucers filled with the same oil, and carrying a floating
wick. Two candles illumined a supper-table which was placed across one
end of the apartment. This table bore upon its white linen cloth the
dishes of the feast—dishes and little else, as everything had been
eaten save bread, of which there was still a supply (in case any one
should feel a return of hunger). There were also fresh flasks of wine
for future thirst, and over a handful of coals on the hearth there was a
long-handled coffee-pot. A game was now going on, or, rather, a
pantomime; two men in masks were jumping about like harlequins, and
every now and then they seized a person from the ranks of spectators,
and whirled him or her round and round dizzily; there was guessing
connected with it in some way, as everybody called out names loudly; the
uproar was incessant, with occasional applause and a great deal of
laughter. The feet of the harlequins had raised much dust, and at last
the room became dim. "More light, more light, Filippo. We can't see,"
called several voices.
Filippo, a sinewy little man who had been acting as harlequin himself
(for the men took turns), consulted with his wife. They had no more
candles, and no more saucers and wicks; but they could make a blaze of
brushwood on the hearth, if the company would not mind the additional
heat? The wife, a laughing ample matron who still showed a handsome face
above her rotund person, opened a door into an out-building, and, after
some rummaging, produced three fagots of small, dry twigs; one of these
she placed over the coals, and in a minute or two a blaze leaped up the
wide chimney, lighting the room brilliantly. The game now went on with
redoubled vigor and glee, and the gazers without could see all the faces
of the circle distinctly.
"There is Modesta by the table," whispered Gray. "How she does laugh! It
doesn't seem natural."
"Oh yes, it is. That is the way they laugh sometimes; they can go on for
hours like children."
"Isn't that the Swedish girl with one of the harlequins? How
light-colored she looks in that tanned, black-haired crowd! She is
rather pretty; instead of letting her go back to Stockholm, one of these
Italian youths had better marry her."
"She probably holds herself above them," answered Dennison, in the same
low tone. "But, in any case, Tuscan peasants are extremely slow to marry
a person who is not a Tuscan. They call even Romans foreigners;
generally, too, they call them brutes! Well, we've been here twenty
minutes: had enough?"
They turned, and, making a second circuit of the house, they crossed the
plateau noiselessly, and re-entered the grove. They had gone but a few
paces down the slope when the distant voices and laughter suddenly grew
louder; looking back, they saw that the whole company had come outside,
following the harlequins, each one of whom held a girl by the elbows,
and was whirling her over the grass in the brilliant moonlight.
Presently four more couples began to whirl in the same manner, and all
the others, inspired by the sight, joined hands, and made a long chain
which moved to and fro with rhythmical steps, forming now a star, now a
square, now a figure 8. The game was at an end; everybody was dancing.
One of the harlequins changed his partner every few minutes, but the
other did not loosen his grasp of the girl whom he had brought with him
from the house. After a while this second harlequin moved away from the
other dancers, and came waltzing across the plateau towards the grove
where Dennison and Gray were standing, each hidden in the shadow of a
tree trunk; at the top of the slope the man did not stop, but began to
descend, still dancing, or pretending to dance, and pulling his
unwilling partner with him.
At this instant a woman detached herself from the distant groups of
revellers and rushed towards the grove. And as she came on her figure
was such a vision of swiftness of motion and of intensity of purpose
that Gray unconsciously held his breath as he watched her. The plateau
was broad; she was a full minute in crossing it. As she drew near the
grove she lifted her head a little, and the moonlight, which had been
behind her, fell across her forehead; then he saw that it was Modesta.
The harlequin also had recognized her, for, suddenly ceasing his
gyrations, he released his companion, and ran off in the opposite
direction, bounding as he went, in accordance with his assumed
character, and joining the chain of dancers near the house with a high
leap which gained for him their loud applause. Meanwhile his partner,
freed at last, stood still for an instant with her eyes closed, dizzy
from the whirling.
It was during this instant that Modesta reached her; coming down the
slope with all the gathered impetus of her tremendous speed, she swooped
upon the girl, bore her to the ground, struck her across the cheek, and
then, holding her down with one hand, she fumbled in her own pocket with
Dennison meanwhile, as soon as he had recognized his waitress at the top
of the descent (he had not distinguished who it was before, his eyesight
not being so keen as Gray's), had left his tree, and, darting across the
intervening space, he now caught her arm tightly at the elbow, while her
hand was still in her pocket. Gray hurried to his aid, and seized her
other wrist, dragging her fingers away from the girl on the ground; thus
holding her between them, they pulled her to her feet. As they did so
her right hand came out of her pocket. It held a murderous-looking
"You devil," said Dennison, in Italian, "drop that knife!"
They held her so closely that she could not move, but her face glared at
them in the moonlight. It was like nothing human; her head was thrust
out, the eyes were narrowed and glittering, the nostrils flattened, and
the lips drawn up and back from the set, fierce teeth. Their four
figures—three standing, one on the ground—were below the slope, and no
one saw them. There had been no sound from the prostrate girl, who had
lost consciousness from fright, paralyzed by the terrible countenance of
the woman who had attacked her; and the waitress herself had made no
sound as she came. She made no sound now, save that she panted as she
breathed; she was like a wild beast who had made one spring and is about
to make another.
"Drop the knife, or you shall go to prison," said Dennison, sternly, his
hands on her shoulder like a vise.
Her fingers did not move.
"Listen. If you don't drop it, I swear to you I'll send Goro to America
by the next Leghorn steamer, with five hundred lire in his pocket."
The knife dropped.
"Pick it up," said Dennison to Gray, in English. "Now see if you can
lift that girl and carry her down the hill. Get her across the field
somehow to that stone wall where we climbed over; wait there for
me—unless she should come to on the way, in which case perhaps she will
be able to climb over the wall herself. If she does, wait there with her
by the phaeton. I sha'n't be long. But I must take this she-wolf back to
the house first."
Gray had bent down; he lifted the inert body at their feet, raising it a
little, and as he did so the head fell back, and the moonlight, shining
on the hair and temples, showed that it was the Swede. Modesta, as she
too saw the face, made a spring at it. But Dennison jerked her back.
Then, with a snarling sound in her throat, she twisted her head round,
and bit savagely at his hand where it held her shoulder.
"Do hurry. She is perfectly insane," he said to Gray.
Gray, having got the Swede off the ground, put his left arm under her
back at the shoulders, and his right under her knees, and, lifting her
in this position, he carried her down the hill with as much speed as was
possible. This was not great, because the ground was uneven, and as he
could not see where to place his steps, he was obliged to feel his way
with his feet as he advanced—to shuffle along cautiously. In time,
however, he reached the bottom of the hill. Then slowly he began to
cross the field. This, too, was difficult, owing to the soft, crumbling
earth of the freshly ploughed furrows. But here at last the girl opened
"Can you stand?" asked Gray, breathlessly. Then he thought, with
irritation, "None of them can speak anything!"
But the Swede now made of her own accord the motion of trying to get to
her feet, and gladly enough he let her slip down and stand on the
ground, as his arms were aching. He still supported her, however, lest
she should fall.
But the girl seemed to be more terrified than weak; the instant her feet
touched the earth she began to run towards the stone boundary wall,
looking back every half-minute to see that no one was following. He went
with her, trying to help her over the furrows; and as they hurried
onward side by side, her face was such a picture of deathly fear that
the feeling took possession of him also; he found himself regretting
that their figures were so plainly visible on the moonlit expanse, and
he too looked nervously over his shoulder, as though he expected to see
the Italian woman coming after them madly, with her glittering eyes and
the shining knife.
They reached the wall, and climbed over into the road outside, the Swede
needing no help, but quicker in her movements than he was. In the road
he tried to stop her, but she pulled herself from him. Still holding
her, he showed her the horses tied in the shadow of the hedge. This she
comprehended. She waited, therefore; but she kept herself several yards
away from him, so that he should not stop her in case she should again
wish to flee. She was a slender young creature, and she stood there much
as a bird poises itself on a twig; not resting, not bearing its full
weight, but perched provisionally, as it were—ready to fly away again
in an instant.
Gray, who had now recovered his composure, tried to soothe her. With his
most encouraging inflections he repeated: "All safe now. All-ll safe!
Stay right here with me."
She paid not the least attention to him. Her eyes continued their
strained watch of the lower trees of the grove. At length a man's figure
emerged from these trees, and the girl gave a muffled scream. But Gray
had caught hold of her arm; pointing to the horses and then to Dennison,
he said, gesticulating energetically: "Horses are his. Dennison's.
My friend. Your friend. (Oh, what is 'friend?') Amicus! Don't you
see he's alone? Nobody with him? Solo? Sola?"
And the girl could indeed see for herself that the person approaching
was alone. She had understood the fact that the horses belonged to this
person, and her hope was in the horses; they could take her away—away
As soon as Dennison was near enough he began speaking in Italian, and he
continued to talk to her as he climbed over the wall, calming her,
explaining and arranging. Then he turned the phaeton, and they all took
their places within, the Swede sitting between the two men on the broad
seat. Dennison drove down the lane, still talking encouragingly. When
they reached the main road he took a direction which led them away from
Casa Colombina and Tre Ponti. "We're in for it!" he said in English to
Gray. "I shall take her to the nearest railway station—not the one you
know, but another—and pack her off to Florence; there her consul can
see to her. I have explained it to her clearly. She is glad enough to
"What was it all about, anyhow?"
"Didn't you comprehend? That harlequin (I'll mention no names, and then
she won't be startled) was no less a person than the lover of your
Madonna beauty—the youth she expects to marry. During the game he was
flirting, or trying to flirt after his fashion, with our present
companion. This was too much for the older woman. Hence the knife."
"Which I have in my pocket, by-the-bye."
"Don't take it out now; you can throw it away after we have disposed of
our Scandinavian. I suppose she has never before seen such a thing as a
brandished weapon of that sort. It's a knife used by the peasants about
here to cut hides with; your Madonna probably took it from among
Filippo's tools somehow while the festivities were going on. She must
have been jealous even then."
"I told you that her laugh wasn't natural. 'Twas an awful sight, though!
She would certainly have murdered the girl if we hadn't happened to be
standing just where we were."
"Very likely," answered Dennison. "Tchk, tchk," he added to the horses.
"I hope she is safely locked up by this time."
"Locked up! She is probably dancing with her harlequin."
"You don't mean to say that you let her go?"
"Quite so. She is all right now; she has come back to her senses. I had
six words with the youth, however; he'll treat her better—for the
present, at least; I have frightened him."
"What did you mean when you said you'd send him away?"
"That was what brought her round. He has had a hankering for a long time
to emigrate to—to the land of the free; he would go in a minute if his
passage were paid and he had a hundred dollars in his pocket—go and
never think of her again; she knows this. But the land of the free
doesn't want him—he is incorrigibly lazy; and his departure would end
her as far as I am concerned—make her perfectly useless."
"Good heavens! you're not going to take that murderess back?"
"I can't take her back without sending her away first. And that I
haven't done," answered Dennison.
"But won't she be arrested, in any case? Every one will know that she
attacked this girl, and that the girl has fled."
"No one knows that she attacked her. And even if it is guessed, Tuscan
peasants are not so easily alarmed as you suppose; they understand each
other. As to the disappearance of this one, I shall explain it by saying
that I decided to advance the money to send her as far as Florence,
instead of making her wait for the remittance which is expected from
the consul; it is known that she was to go before long, in any case. It
will cost me something, but I like peace and quietness. The other woman
is perfect as a servant, and the cause of her jealousy removed she will
"Brrrr!" said Gray, uttering the sound that accompanies a shudder.
The Swede recognized the meaning of this; she looked at him quickly with
parted lips and her hand extended. She was ready to spring from the
"Do be quiet!" said Dennison. Then he spoke to the girl in Italian,
quieting her dread.
They reached the station in safety, and soon after sunrise the
Northerner, her breath still hurried, her hands cold, was placed in the
care of the official who had charge of the Florence train. Dennison gave
her his white silk handkerchief to tie over her uncovered head. The
daylight had revealed the discolored lines of the bruise on her cheek
produced by Modesta's blow. "Poor thing!" said Gray, as the train
started on its way, and they had a last glimpse of her frightened eyes
at the window.
"Yes. But she will get over it in time—she is strong and healthy. I
have telegraphed to the consul at Florence to meet her, and take every
care of her; he is to give her money from me, and then he is to send her
to Stockholm, comfortably, in the charge of a suitable person. When she
arrives there she will find a tidy little sum to her credit at a
"You're paying well for her scare."
"I'm paying well for my comfort."
They took fresh horses and returned to Casa Colombina.
As the Tower of the Dove came into sight on its hill, Gray said: "She
won't be there, will she—I mean at the house?"
"What will she do when she sees us?"
"She will bring in the breakfast just as she brings it every morning,
and Hannibal and the cats will follow behind. Perhaps she will talk
rather more than usual; if she does, it will be on the most agreeable
topics, and her smile (which you admire so much) will be sweeter than
ever; her hair will be braided to perfection, and, what is more
important, her work will be done to perfection. We shall pretend, both
of us, she and I, that we don't see the mark of the bite on my hand.
Shall I go on? In a week or two, probably, she will marry her Goro, and
then he will be so constantly under my feet that I shall end by
installing him as my gardener for life. He will do no work of
importance; but, owing to his presence, I shall continue to enjoy the
services of a waitress whom you yourself have described as a regular
It may be added that this prophecy has been exactly fulfilled.