THE ENCHANTED APRIL
ELIZABETH VON ARNIM
It began in a Woman's Club in London on a February afternoon—an
uncomfortable club, and a miserable afternoon—when Mrs. Wilkins, who
had come down from Hampstead to shop and had lunched at her club, took
up The Times from the table in the smoking-room, and running her
listless eye down the Agony Column saw this:
To Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian
Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let furnished for the
month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.
That was its conception; yet, as in the case of many another, the
conceiver was unaware of it at the moment.
So entirely unaware was Mrs. Wilkins that her April for that year
had then and there been settled for her that she dropped the newspaper
with a gesture that was both irritated and resigned, and went over to
the window and stared drearily out at the dripping street.
Not for her were mediaeval castles, even those that are specially
described as small. Not for her the shores in April of the
Mediterranean, and the wisteria and sunshine. Such delights were only
for the rich. Yet the advertisement had been addressed to persons who
appreciate these things, so that it had been, anyhow addressed too to
her, for she certainly appreciated them; more than anybody knew; more
than she had ever told. But she was poor. In the whole world she
possessed of her very own only ninety pounds, saved from year to year,
put by carefully pound by pound, out of her dress allowance. She had
scraped this sum together at the suggestion of her husband as a shield
and refuge against a rainy day. Her dress allowance, given her by her
father, was £100 a year, so that Mrs. Wilkins's clothes were what her
husband, urging her to save, called modest and becoming, and her
acquaintance to each other, when they spoke of her at all, which was
seldom for she was very negligible, called a perfect sight.
Mr. Wilkins, a solicitor, encouraged thrift, except that branch
of it which got into his food. He did not call that thrift, he called
it bad housekeeping. But for the thrift which, like moth, penetrated
into Mrs. Wilkins's clothes and spoilt them, he had much praise. "You
never know," he said, "when there will be a rainy day, and you may be
very glad to find you have a nest-egg. Indeed we both may."
Looking out of the club window into Shaftesbury Avenue—hers was
an economical club, but convenient for Hampstead, where she lived, and
for Shoolbred's, where she shopped—Mrs. Wilkins, having stood there
some time very drearily, her mind's eye on the Mediterranean in April,
and the wisteria, and the enviable opportunities of the rich, while her
bodily eye watched the really extremely horrible sooty rain falling
steadily on the hurrying umbrellas and splashing omnibuses, suddenly
wondered whether perhaps this was not the rainy day Mellersh—Mellersh
was Mr. Wilkins—had so often encouraged her to prepare for, and
whether to get out of such a climate and into the small mediaeval
castle wasn't perhaps what Providence had all along intended her to do
with her savings. Part of her savings, of course; perhaps quite a
small part. The castle, being mediaeval, might also be dilapidated,
and dilapidations were surely cheap. She wouldn't in the least mind a
few of them, because you didn't pay for dilapidations which were
already there, on the contrary—by reducing the price you had to pay
they really paid you. But what nonsense to think of it . . .
She turned away from the window with the same gesture of mingled
irritation and resignation with which she had laid down The Times, and
crossed the room towards the door with the intention of getting her
mackintosh and umbrella and fighting her way into one of the
overcrowded omnibuses and going to Shoolbred's on her way home and
buying some soles for Mellersh's dinner—Mellersh was difficult with
fish and liked only soles, except salmon—when she beheld Mrs.
Arbuthnot, a woman she knew by sight as also living in Hampstead and
belonging to the club, sitting at the table in the middle of the room
on which the newspapers and magazines were kept, absorbed, in her turn,
in the first page of The Times.
Mrs. Wilkins had never yet spoken to Mrs. Arbuthnot, who belonged
to one of the various church sets, and who analysed, classified,
divided and registered the poor; whereas she and Mellersh, when they
did go out, went to the parties of impressionist painters, of whom in
Hampstead there were many. Mellersh had a sister who had married one
of them and lived up on the Heath, and because of this alliance Mrs.
Wilkins was drawn into a circle which was highly unnatural to her, and
she had learned to dread pictures. She had to say things about them,
and she didn't know what to say. She used to murmur, "marvelous," and
feel that it was not enough. But nobody minded. Nobody listened.
Nobody took any notice of Mrs. Wilkins. She was the kind of person who
is not noticed at parties. Her clothes, infested by thrift, made her
practically invisible; her face was non-arresting; her conversation was
reluctant; she was shy. And if one's clothes and face and conversation
are all negligible, thought Mrs. Wilkins, who recognized her
disabilities, what, at parties, is there left of one?
Also she was always with Wilkins, that clean-shaven, fine-looking
man, who gave a party, merely by coming to it, a great air. Wilkins
was very respectable. He was known to be highly thought of by his
senior partners. His sister's circle admired him. He pronounced
adequately intelligent judgments on art and artists. He was pithy; he
was prudent; he never said a word too much, nor, on the other had, did
he ever say a word too little. He produced the impression of keeping
copies of everything he said; and he was so obviously reliable that it
often happened that people who met him at these parties became
discontented with their own solicitors, and after a period of
restlessness extricated themselves and went to Wilkins.
Naturally Mrs. Wilkins was blotted out. "She," said his sister, with
something herself of the judicial, the digested, and the final in her
manner, "should stay at home." But Wilkins could not leave his wife
at home. He was a family solicitor, and all such have wives and show
them. With his in the week he went to parties, and with his on Sundays
he went to church. Being still fairly young—he was thirty-nine—and
ambitious of old ladies, of whom he had not yet acquired in his
practice a sufficient number, he could not afford to miss church,
and it was there that Mrs. Wilkins became familiar, though never
through words, with Mrs. Arbuthnot.
She saw her marshalling the children of the poor into pews. She
would come in at the head of the procession from the Sunday School
exactly five minutes before the choir, and get her boys and girls
neatly fitted into their allotted seats, and down on their little knees
in their preliminary prayer, and up again on their feet just as, to the
swelling organ, the vestry door opened, and the choir and clergy, big
with the litanies and commandments they were presently to roll out,
emerged. She had a sad face, yet she was evidently efficient. The
combination used to make Mrs. Wilkins wonder, for she had been told by
Mellersh, on days when she had only been able to get plaice, that if
one were efficient one wouldn't be depressed, and that if one does
one's job well one becomes automatically bright and brisk.
About Mrs. Arbuthnot there was nothing bright and brisk, though
much in her way with the Sunday School children that was automatic; but
when Mrs. Wilkins, turning from the window, caught sight of her in the
club she was not being automatic at all, but was looking fixedly at one
portion of the first page of The Times, holding the paper quite still,
her eyes not moving. She was just staring; and her face, as usual, was
the face of a patient and disappointed Madonna.
Mrs. Wilkins watched her a minute, trying to screw up courage to
speak to her. She wanted to ask her if she had seen the advertisement.
She did not know why she wanted to ask her this, but she wanted to.
How stupid not to be able to speak to her. She looked so kind. She
looked so unhappy. Why couldn't two unhappy people refresh each
other on their way through this dusty business of life by a little
talk—real, natural talk, about what they felt, what they would have
liked, what they still tried to hope? And she could not help thinking
that Mrs. Arbuthnot, too, was reading that very same advertisement.
Her eyes were on the very part of the paper. Was she, too, picturing
what it would be like—the colour, the fragrance, the light, the soft
lapping of the sea among little hot rocks? Colour, fragrance, light,
sea; instead of Shaftesbury Avenue, and the wet omnibuses, and the fish
department at Shoolbred's, and the Tube to Hampstead, and dinner, and
to-morrow the same and the day after the same and always the same . . .
Suddenly Mrs. Wilkins found herself leaning across the table.
"Are you reading about the mediaeval castle and the wisteria?" she
heard herself asking.
Naturally Mrs. Arbuthnot was surprised; but she was not half so
much surprised as Mrs. Wilkins was at herself for asking.
Mrs. Arbuthnot had not yet to her knowledge set eyes on the
shabby, lank, loosely-put-together figure sitting opposite her, with
its small freckled face and big grey eyes almost disappearing under a
smashed-down wet-weather hat, and she gazed at her a moment without
answering. She was reading about the mediaeval castle and the
wisteria, or rather had read about it ten minutes before, and since
then had been lost in dreams—of light, of colour, of fragrance, of the
soft lapping of the sea among little hot rocks . . .
"Why do you ask me that?" she said in her grave voice, for her
training of and by the poor had made her grave and patient.
Mrs. Wilkins flushed and looked excessively shy and frightened.
"Oh, only because I saw it too, and I thought perhaps—I thought
somehow—" she stammered.
Whereupon Mrs. Arbuthnot, her mind being used to getting people
into lists and divisions, from habit considered, as she gazed
thoughtfully at Mrs. Wilkins, under what heading, supposing she had to
classify her, she could most properly be put.
"And I know you by sight," went on Mrs. Wilkins, who, like all
the shy, once she was started; lunged on, frightening herself to more
and more speech by the sheer sound of what she had said last in her
ears. "Every Sunday—I see you every Sunday in church—"
"In church?" echoed Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"And this seems such a wonderful thing—this advertisement about
Mrs. Wilkins, who must have been at least thirty, broke off and
wriggled in her chair with the movement of an awkward and embarrassed
"It seems so wonderful," she went on in a kind of burst, "and—it
is such a miserable day . . ."
And then she sat looking at Mrs. Arbuthnot with the eyes of an
"This poor thing," thought Mrs. Arbuthnot, whose life was spent
in helping and alleviating, "needs advice."
She accordingly prepared herself patiently to give it.
"If you see me in church," she said, kindly and attentively, "I
suppose you live in Hampstead too?"
"Oh yes," said Mrs. Wilkins. And she repeated, her head on its
long thin neck drooping a little as if the recollection of Hampstead
bowed her, "Oh yes."
"Where?" asked Mrs. Arbuthnot, who, when advice was needed,
naturally first proceeded to collect the facts.
But Mrs. Wilkins, laying her hand softly and caressingly on the
part of The Times where the advertisement was, as though the mere
printed words of it were precious, only said, "Perhaps that is why this
seems so wonderful."
"No—I think that's wonderful anyhow," said Mrs. Arbuthnot,
forgetting facts and faintly sighing.
"Then you were reading it?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, her eyes going dreamy again.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful?" murmured Mrs. Wilkins.
"Wonderful," said Mrs. Arbuthnot. Her face, which had lit up,
faded into patience again. "Very wonderful," she said. "But it's no
use wasting one's time thinking of such things."
"Oh, but it is," was Mrs. Wilkins's quick, surprising reply;
surprising because it was so much unlike the rest of her—the
characterless coat and skirt, the crumpled hat, the undecided wisp of
hair straggling out, "And just the considering of them is worth while
in itself—such a change from Hampstead—and sometimes I believe—I
really do believe—if one considers hard enough one gets things."
Mrs. Arbuthnot observed her patiently. In what category would
she, supposing she had to, put her?
"Perhaps," she said, leaning forward a little, "you will tell me
your name. If we are to be friends"—she smiled her grave smile—"as I
hope we are, we had better begin at the beginning."
"Oh yes—how kind of you. I'm Mrs. Wilkins," said Mrs. Wilkins.
"I don't expect," she added, flushing, as Mrs. Arbuthnot said nothing,
"that it conveys anything to you. Sometimes it—it doesn't seem to
convey anything to me either. But"—she looked round with a movement
of seeking help—"I am Mrs. Wilkins."
She did not like her name. It was a mean, small name, with a
kind of facetious twist, she thought, about its end like the upward
curve of a pugdog's tail. There it was, however. There was no doing
anything with it. Wilkins she was and Wilkins she would remain; and
though her husband encouraged her to give it on all occasions as Mrs.
Mellersh-Wilkins she only did that when he was within earshot, for she
thought Mellersh made Wilkins worse, emphasizing it in the way
Chatsworth on the gate-posts of a villa emphasizes the villa.
When first he suggested she should add Mellersh she had objected
for the above reason, and after a pause—Mellersh was much too prudent
to speak except after a pause, during which presumably he was taking a
careful mental copy of his coming observation—he said, much
displeased, "But I am not a villa," and looked at her as he looks who
hopes, for perhaps the hundredth time, that he may not have married a
Of course he was not a villa, Mrs. Wilkins assured him; she had
never supposed he was; she had not dreamed of meaning . . . she was
only just thinking . . .
The more she explained the more earnest became Mellersh's hope,
familiar to him by this time, for he had then been a husband for two
years, that he might not by any chance have married a fool; and they
had a prolonged quarrel, if that can be called a quarrel which is
conducted with dignified silence on one side and earnest apology on the
other, as to whether or no Mrs. Wilkins had intended to suggest that
Mr. Wilkins was a villa.
"I believe," she had thought when it was at last over—it took a
long while—"that anybody would quarrel about anything when they've not
left off being together for a single day for two whole years. What we
both need is a holiday."
"My husband," went on Mrs. Wilkins to Mrs. Arbuthnot, trying to
throw some light on herself, "is a solicitor. He—" She cast about for
something she could say elucidatory of Mellersh, and found: "He's very
"Well," said Mrs. Arbuthnot kindly, "that must be a great
pleasure to you."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Wilkins.
"Because," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, a little taken aback, for
constant intercourse with the poor had accustomed her to have her
pronouncements accepted without question, "because beauty—handsomeness—
is a gift like any other, and if it is properly used—"
She trailed off into silence. Mrs. Wilkins's great grey eyes
were fixed on her, and it seemed suddenly to Mrs. Arbuthnot that
perhaps she was becoming crystallized into a habit of exposition, and
of exposition after the manner of nursemaids, through having an
audience that couldn't but agree, that would be afraid, if it wished,
to interrupt, that didn't know, that was, in fact, at her mercy.
But Mrs. Wilkins was not listening; for just then, absurd as it
seemed, a picture had flashed across her brain, and there were two
figures in it sitting together under a great trailing wisteria that
stretched across the branches of a tree she didn't know, and it was
herself and Mrs. Arbuthnot—she saw them—she saw them. And behind
them, bright in sunshine, were old grey walls—the mediaeval castle
—she saw it—they were there . . .
She therefore stared at Mrs. Arbuthnot and did not hear a word
she said. And Mrs. Arbuthnot stared too at Mrs. Wilkins, arrested by
the expression on her face, which was swept by the excitement of what
she saw, and was as luminous and tremulous under it as water in
sunlight when it is ruffled by a gust of wind. At this moment, if she
had been at a party, Mrs. Wilkins would have been looked at with
They stared at each other; Mrs. Arbuthnot surprised, inquiringly,
Mrs. Wilkins with the eyes of some one who has had a revelation. Of
course. That was how it could be done. She herself, she by herself,
couldn't afford it, and wouldn't be able, even if she could afford it,
to go there all alone; but she and Mrs. Arbuthnot together . . .
She leaned across the table, "Why don't we try and get it?" she
Mrs. Arbuthnot became even more wide-eyed. "Get it?" she
"Yes," said Mrs. Wilkins, still as though she were afraid of
being overheard. "Not just sit here and say How wonderful, and then go
home to Hampstead without having put out a finger—go home just as usual
and see about the dinner and the fish just as we've been doing for
years and years and will go on doing for years and years. In fact,"
said Mrs. Wilkins, flushing to the roots of her hair, for the sound of
what she was saying, of what was coming pouring out, frightened her,
and yet she couldn't stop, "I see no end to it. There is no end to it.
So that there ought to be a break, there ought to be intervals—in
everybody's interests. Why, it would really be being unselfish to go
away and be happy for a little, because we would come back so much
nicer. You see, after a bit everybody needs a holiday."
"But—how do you mean, get it?" asked Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Take it," said Mrs. Wilkins.
"Rent it. Hire it. Have it."
"But—do you mean you and I?"
"Yes. Between us. Share. Then it would only cost half, and you
look so—you look exactly as if you wanted it just as much as I do—as
if you ought to have a rest—have something happy happen to you."
"Why, but we don't know each other."
"But just think how well we would if we went away together for a
month! And I've saved for a rainy day—look at it—"
"She is unbalanced," thought Mrs. Arbuthnot; yet she felt
"Think of getting away for a whole month—from everything—to
"She shouldn't say things like that," thought Mrs. Arbuthnot. "The
vicar—" Yet she felt strangely stirred. It would indeed be wonderful
to have a rest, a cessation.
Habit, however, steadied her again; and years of intercourse with
the poor made her say, with the slight though sympathetic superiority
of the explainer, "But then, you see, heaven isn't somewhere else. It
is here and now. We are told so."
She became very earnest, just as she did when trying patiently to
help and enlighten the poor. "Heaven is within us," she said in her
gentle low voice. "We are told that on the very highest authority.
And you know the lines about the kindred points, don't you—"
"Oh yes, I know them," interrupted Mrs. Wilkins impatiently.
"The kindred points of heaven and home," continued Mrs.
Arbuthnot, who was used to finishing her sentences. "Heaven is in our
"It isn't," said Mrs. Wilkins, again surprisingly.
Mrs. Arbuthnot was taken aback. Then she said gently, "Oh, but
it is. It is there if we choose, if we make it."
"I do choose, and I do make it, and it isn't," said Mrs. Wilkins.
Then Mrs. Arbuthnot was silent, for she too sometimes had doubts
about homes. She sat and looked uneasily at Mrs. Wilkins, feeling more
and more the urgent need to getting her classified. If she could only
classify Mrs. Wilkins, get her safely under her proper heading, she
felt that she herself would regain her balance, which did seem very
strangely to be slipping all to one side. For neither had she had a
holiday for years, and the advertisement when she saw it had set her
dreaming, and Mrs. Wilkins's excitement about it was infectious, and
she had the sensation, as she listened to her impetuous, odd talk and
watched her lit-up face, that she was being stirred out of sleep.
Clearly Mrs. Wilkins was unbalanced, but Mrs. Arbuthnot had met
the unbalanced before—indeed she was always meeting them—and they had
no effect on her own stability at all; whereas this one was making her
feel quite wobbly, quite as though to be off and away, away from her
compass points of God, Husband, Home and Duty—she didn't feel as if
Mrs. Wilkins intended Mr. Wilkins to come too—and just for once be
happy, would be both good and desirable. Which of course it wasn't;
which certainly of course it wasn't. She, also, had a nest-egg,
invested gradually in the Post Office Savings Bank, but to suppose that
she would ever forget her duty to the extent of drawing it out and
spending it on herself was surely absurd. Surely she couldn't, she
wouldn't ever do such a thing? Surely she wouldn't, she couldn't ever
forget her poor, forget misery and sickness as completely as that? No
doubt a trip to Italy would be extraordinarily delightful, but there
were many delightful things one would like to do, and what was strength
given to one for except to help one not to do them?
Steadfast as the points of the compass to Mrs. Arbuthnot were the
great four facts of life: God, Husband, Home, Duty. She had gone to
sleep on these facts years ago, after a period of much misery, her head
resting on them as on a pillow; and she had a great dread of being
awakened out of so simple and untroublesome a condition. Therefore it
was that she searched with earnestness for a heading under which to put
Mrs. Wilkins, and in this way illumine and steady her own mind; and
sitting there looking at her uneasily after her last remark, and
feeling herself becoming more and more unbalanced and infected, she
decided pro tem, as the vicar said at meetings, to put her under the
heading Nerves. It was just possible that she ought to go straight
into the category Hysteria, which was often only the antechamber to
Lunacy, but Mrs. Arbuthnot had learned not to hurry people into their
final categories, having on more than one occasion discovered with
dismay that she had made a mistake; and how difficult it had been to
get them out again, and how crushed she had been with the most terrible
Yes. Nerves. Probably she had no regular work for others,
thought Mrs. Arbuthnot; no work that would take her outside herself.
Evidently she was rudderless—blown about by gusts, by impulses. Nerves
was almost certainly her category, or would be quite soon if no one
helped her. Poor little thing, thought Mrs. Arbuthnot, her own balance
returning hand in hand with her compassion, and unable, because of the
table, to see the length of Mrs. Wilkins's legs. All she saw was her
small, eager, shy face, and her thin shoulders, and the look of
childish longing in her eyes for something that she was sure was going
to make her happy. No; such things didn't make people happy, such
fleeting things. Mrs. Arbuthnot had learned in her long life with
Frederick—he was her husband, and she had married him at twenty and was
not thirty-three—where alone true joys are to be found. They are to be
found, she now knew, only in daily, in hourly, living for others; they
are to be found only—hadn't she over and over again taken her
disappointments and discouragements there, and come away comforted?—at
the feet of God.
Frederick had been the kind of husband whose wife betakes herself
early to the feet of God. From him to them had been a short though
painful step. It seemed short to her in retrospect, but it had really
taken the whole of the first year of their marriage, and every inch of
the way had been a struggle, and every inch of it was stained, she felt
at the time, with her heart's blood. All that was over now. She had
long since found peace. And Frederick, from her passionately loved
bridegroom, from her worshipped young husband, had become second only
to God on her list of duties and forbearances. There he hung, the
second in importance, a bloodless thing bled white by her prayers. For
years she had been able to be happy only by forgetting happiness. She
wanted to stay like that. She wanted to shut out everything that would
remind her of beautiful things, that might set her off again long,
desiring . . .
"I'd like so much to be friends," she said earnestly. "Won't you
come and see me, or let me come to you sometimes? Whenever you feel as
if you wanted to talk. I'll give you my address"—she searched in her
handbag—"and then you won't forget." And she found a card and held
Mrs. Wilkins ignored the card.
"It's so funny," said Mrs. Wilkins, just as if she had not heard
her, "But I see us both—you and me—this April in the mediaeval
Mrs. Arbuthnot relapsed into uneasiness. "Do you?" she said,
making an effort to stay balanced under the visionary gaze of the
shining grey eyes. "Do you?"
"Don't you ever see things in a kind of flash before they
happen?" asked Mrs. Wilkins.
"Never," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
She tried to smile; she tried to smile the sympathetic yet wise
and tolerant smile with which she was accustomed to listen to the
necessarily biased and incomplete view of the poor. She didn't
succeed. The smile trembled out.
"Of course," she said in a low voice, almost as if she were
afraid the vicar and the Savings Bank were listening, "it would be most
"Even if it were wrong," said Mrs. Wilkins, "it would only be for
"That—" began Mrs. Arbuthnot, quite clear as to the
reprehensibleness of such a point of view; but Mrs. Wilkins stopped her
before she could finish.
"Anyhow," said Mrs. Wilkins, stopping her, "I'm sure it's wrong
to go on being good for too long, till one gets miserable. And I can
see you've been good for years and years, because you look so unhappy"—
Mrs. Arbuthnot opened her mouth to protest—"and I—I've done nothing
but duties, things for other people, ever since I was a girl, and I
don't believe anybody loves me a bit—a bit—the b-better—and I long—
oh, I long—for something else—something else—"
Was she going to cry? Mrs. Arbuthnot became acutely
uncomfortable and sympathetic. She hoped she wasn't going to cry. Not
there. Not in that unfriendly room, with strangers coming and going.
But Mrs. Wilkins, after tugging agitatedly at a handkerchief that
wouldn't come out of her pocket, did succeed at last in merely
apparently blowing her nose with it, and then, blinking her eyes very
quickly once or twice, looked at Mrs. Arbuthnot with a quivering air of
half humble, half frightened apology, and smiled.
"Will you believe," she whispered, trying to steady her mouth,
evidently dreadfully ashamed of herself, "that I've never spoken to any
one before in my life like this? I can't think, I simply don't know,
what has come over me."
"It's the advertisement," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, nodding gravely.
"Yes," said Mrs. Wilkins, dabbing furtively at her eyes, "and us
both being so—"—she blew her nose again a little—"miserable."
Of course Mrs. Arbuthnot was not miserable—how could she be, she
asked herself, when God was taking care of her?—but she let that pass
for the moment unrepudiated, because of her conviction that here was
another fellow-creature in urgent need of her help; and not just boots
and blankets and better sanitary arrangements this time, but the more
delicate help of comprehension, of finding the exact right words.
The exact right words, she presently discovered, after trying
various ones about living for others, and prayer, and the peace to be
found in placing oneself unreservedly in God's hands—to meet all these
words Mrs. Wilkins had other words, incoherent and yet, for the moment
at least, till one had had more time, difficult to answer—the exact
right words were a suggestion that it would do no harm to answer the
advertisement. Non-committal. Mere inquiry. And what disturbed Mrs.
Arbuthnot about this suggestion was that she did not make it solely to
comfort Mrs. Wilkins; she made it because of her own strange longing
for the mediaeval castle.
This was very disturbing. There she was, accustomed to direct,
to lead, to advise, to support—except Frederick; she long since had
learned to leave Frederick to God—being led herself, being influenced
and thrown off her feet, by just an advertisement, by just an
incoherent stranger. It was indeed disturbing. She failed to
understand her sudden longing for what was, after all, self-indulgence,
when for years no such desire had entered her heart.
"There's no harm in simply asking," she said in a low voice, as
if the vicar and the Savings Bank and all her waiting and dependent
poor were listening and condemning.
"It isn't as if it committed us to anything," said Mrs. Wilkins,
also in a low voice, but her voice shook.
They got up simultaneously—Mrs. Arbuthnot had a sensation of surprise
that Mrs. Wilkins should be so tall—and went to a writing-table, and
Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote to Z, Box 1000, The Times, for particulars. She
asked for all particulars, but the only one they really wanted was the
one about the rent. They both felt that it was Mrs. Arbuthnot who
ought to write the letter and do the business part. Not only was she
used to organizing and being practical, but she also was older, and
certainly calmer; and she herself had no doubt too that she was wiser.
Neither had Mrs. Wilkins any doubt of this; the very way Mrs. Arbuthnot
parted her hair suggested a great calm that could only proceed from
But if she was wiser, older and calmer, Mrs. Arbuthnot's new
friend nevertheless seemed to her to be the one who impelled.
Incoherent, she yet impelled. She appeared to have, apart from her
need of help, an upsetting kind of character. She had a curious
infectiousness. She led one on. And the way her unsteady mind leaped
at conclusions—wrong ones, of course; witness the one that she, Mrs.
Arbuthnot, was miserable—the way she leaped at conclusions was
Whatever she was, however, and whatever her unsteadiness, Mrs.
Arbuthnot found herself sharing her excitement and her longing; and
when the letter had been posted in the letter-box in the hall and
actually was beyond getting back again, both she and Mrs. Wilkins felt
the same sense of guilt.
"It only shows," said Mrs. Wilkins in a whisper, as they turned
away from the letter-box, "how immaculately good we've been all our
lives. The very first time we do anything our husbands don't know
about we feel guilty."
"I'm afraid I can't say I've been immaculately good," gently
protested Mrs. Arbuthnot, a little uncomfortable at this fresh example
of successful leaping at conclusions, for she had not said a word about
her feeling of guilt.
"Oh, but I'm sure you have—I see you being good—and that's why
you're not happy."
"She shouldn't say things like that," thought Mrs. Arbuthnot. "I
must try and help her not to."
Aloud she said gravely, "I don't know why you insist that I'm not
happy. When you know me better I think you'll find that I am. And I'm
sure you don't mean really that goodness, if one could attain it, makes
"Yes, I do," said Mrs. Wilkins. "Our sort of goodness does. We
have attained it, and we are unhappy. There are miserable sorts of
goodness and happy sorts—the sort we'll have at the mediaeval castle,
for instance, is the happy sort."
"That is, supposing we go there," said Mrs. Arbuthnot
restrainingly. She felt that Mrs. Wilkins needed holding on to.
"After all, we've only written just to ask. Anybody may do that. I
think it quite likely we shall find the conditions impossible, and even
if they were not, probably by to-morrow we shall not want to go."
"I see us there," was Mrs. Wilkins's answer to that.
All this was very unbalancing. Mrs. Arbuthnot, as she presently
splashed though the dripping streets on her way to a meeting she was to
speak at, was in an unusually disturbed condition of mind. She had,
she hoped, shown herself very calm to Mrs. Wilkins, very practical and
sober, concealing her own excitement. But she was really
extraordinarily moved, and she felt happy, and she felt guilty, and she
felt afraid, and she had all the feelings, though this she did not
know, of a woman who was come away from a secret meeting with her
lover. That, indeed, was what she looked like when she arrived late on
her platform; she, the open-browed, looked almost furtive as her eyes
fell on the staring wooden faces waiting to hear her try and persuade
them to contribute to the alleviation of the urgent needs of the
Hampstead poor, each one convinced that they needed contributions
themselves. She looked as though she were hiding something
discreditable but delightful. Certainly her customary clear expression
of candor was not there, and its place was taken by a kind of
suppressed and frightened pleasedness, which would have led a more
worldly-minded audience to the instant conviction of recent and
probably impassioned lovemaking.
Beauty, beauty, beauty . . . the words kept ringing in her ears as
she stood on the platform talking of sad things to the sparsely attended
meeting. She had never been to Italy. Was that really what her nest-egg
was to be spent on after all? Though she couldn't approve of the
way Mrs. Wilkins was introducing the idea of predestination into her
immediate future, just as if she had no choice, just as if to struggle,
or even to reflect, were useless, it yet influenced her. Mrs.
Wilkins's eyes had been the eyes of a seer. Some people were like
that, Mrs. Arbuthnot knew; and if Mrs. Wilkins had actually seen her at
the mediaeval castle it did seem probable that struggling would be a
waste of time. Still, to spend her nest-egg on self-indulgence— The
origin of this egg had been corrupt, but she had at least supposed its
end was to be creditable. Was she to deflect it from its intended
destination, which alone had appeared to justify her keeping it, and
spend it on giving herself pleasure?
Mrs. Arbuthnot spoke on and on, so much practiced in the kind of
speech that she could have said it all in her sleep, and at the end of
the meeting, her eyes dazzled by her secret visions, she hardly noticed
that nobody was moved in any way whatever, least of all in the way of
But the vicar noticed. The vicar was disappointed. Usually his
good friend and supporter Mrs. Arbuthnot succeeded better than this.
And, what was even more unusual, she appeared, he observed, not even to
"I can't imagine," he said to her as they parted, speaking
irritably, for he was irritated both by the audience and by her, "what
these people are coming to. Nothing seems to move them."
"Perhaps they need a holiday," suggested Mrs. Arbuthnot; an
unsatisfactory, a queer reply, the vicar thought.
"In February?" he called after her sarcastically.
"Oh no—not till April," said Mrs. Arbuthnot over her shoulder.
"Very odd," thought the vicar. "Very odd indeed." And he went
home and was not perhaps quite Christian to his wife.
That night in her prayers Mrs. Arbuthnot asked for guidance. She
felt she ought really to ask, straight out and roundly, that the
mediaeval castle should already have been taken by some one else and
the whole thing thus be settled, but her courage failed her. Suppose
her prayer were to be answered? No; she couldn't ask it; she couldn't
risk it. And after all—she almost pointed this out to God—if she
spent her present nest-egg on a holiday she could quite soon accumulate
another. Frederick pressed money on her; and it would only mean, while
she rolled up a second egg, that for a time her contributions to the
parish charities would be less. And then it could be the next nest-egg
whose original corruption would be purged away by the use to which it
was finally put.
For Mrs. Arbuthnot, who had no money of her own, was obliged to
live on the proceeds of Frederick's activities, and her very nest-egg
was the fruit, posthumously ripened, of ancient sin. The way Frederick
made his living was one of the standing distresses of her life. He
wrote immensely popular memoirs, regularly, every year, of the
mistresses of kings. There were in history numerous kings who had had
mistresses, and there were still more numerous mistresses who had had
kings; so that he had been able to publish a book of memoirs during
each year of his married life, and even so there were greater further
piles of these ladies waiting to be dealt with. Mrs. Arbuthnot was
helpless. Whether she liked it or not, she was obliged to live on the
proceeds. He gave her a dreadful sofa once, after the success of his
Du Barri memoir, with swollen cushions and soft, receptive lap, and it
seemed to her a miserable thing that there, in her very home, should
flaunt this re-incarnation of a dead old French sinner.
Simply good, convinced that morality is the basis of happiness,
the fact that she and Frederick should draw their sustenance from
guilt, however much purged by the passage of centuries, was one of the
secret reasons of her sadness. The more the memoired lady had
forgotten herself, the more his book about her was read and the more
free-handed he was to his wife; and all that he gave her was spent,
after adding slightly to her nest-egg—for she did hope and believe
that some day people would cease to want to read of wickedness, and
then Frederick would need supporting—on helping the poor. The parish
flourished because, to take a handful at random, of the ill-behavior of
the ladies Du Barri, Montespan, Pompadour, Ninon de l'Enclos, and even
of learned Maintenon. The poor were the filter through which the money
was passed, to come out, Mrs. Arbuthnot hoped, purified. She could do
no more. She had tried in days gone by to think the situation out, to
discover the exact right course for her to take, but had found it, as
she had found Frederick, too difficult, and had left it, as she had
left Frederick, to God. Nothing of this money was spent on her house
or dress; those remained, except for the great soft sofa, austere. It
was the poor who profited. Their very boots were stout with sins. But
how difficult it had been. Mrs. Arbuthnot, groping for guidance,
prayed about it to exhaustion. Ought she perhaps to refuse to touch
the money, to avoid it as she would have avoided the sins which were
its source? But then what about the parish's boots? She asked the
vicar what he thought, and through much delicate language, evasive and
cautious, it did finally appear that he was for the boots.
At least she had persuaded Frederick, when first he began his
terrible successful career—he only began it after their marriage; when
she married him he had been a blameless official attached to the
library of the British Museum—to publish the memoirs under another
name, so that she was not publicly branded. Hampstead read the books
with glee, and had no idea that their writer lived in its midst.
Frederick was almost unknown, even by sight, in Hampstead. He never
went to any of its gatherings. Whatever it was he did in the way of
recreation was done in London, but he never spoke of what he did or
whom he saw; he might have been perfectly friendless for any mention he
ever made of friends to his wife. Only the vicar knew where the money
for the parish came from, and he regarded it, he told Mrs. Arbuthnot,
as a matter of honour not to mention it.
And at least her little house was not haunted by the loose lived
ladies, for Frederick did his work away from home. He had two rooms
near the British Museum, which was the scene of his exhumations, and
there he went every morning, and he came back long after his wife was
asleep. Sometimes he did not come back at all. Sometimes she did not
see him for several days together. Then he would suddenly appear at
breakfast, having let himself in with his latchkey the night before,
very jovial and good-natured and free-handed and glad if she would
allow him to give her something—a well-fed man, contented with the
world; a jolly, full-blooded, satisfied man. And she was always
gentle, and anxious that his coffee should be as he liked it.
He seemed very happy. Life, she often thought, however much one
tabulated was yet a mystery. There were always some people it was
impossible to place. Frederick was one of them. He didn't seem to
bear the remotest resemblance to the original Frederick. He didn't
seem to have the least need of any of the things he used to say were so
important and beautiful—love, home, complete communion of thoughts,
complete immersion in each other's interests. After those early
painful attempts to hold him up to the point from which they had hand
in hand so splendidly started, attempts in which she herself had got
terribly hurt and the Frederick she supposed she had married was
mangled out of recognition, she hung him up finally by her bedside as
the chief subject of her prayers, and left him, except for those,
entirely to God. She had loved Frederick too deeply to be able now to
do anything but pray for him. He had no idea that he never went out of
the house without her blessing going with him too, hovering, like a
little echo of finished love, round that once dear head. She didn't
dare think of him as he used to be, as he had seemed to her to be in
those marvelous first days of their love-making, of their marriage.
Her child had died; she had nothing, nobody of her own to lavish
herself on. The poor became her children, and God the object of her
love. What could be happier than such a life, she sometimes asked
herself; but her face, and particularly her eyes, continued sad.
"Perhaps when we're old . . . perhaps when we are both quite old . . ."
she would think wistfully.
The owner of the mediaeval castle was an Englishman, a Mr.
Briggs, who was in London at the moment and wrote that it had beds
enough for eight people, exclusive of servants, three sitting-rooms,
battlements, dungeons, and electric light. The rent was £60 for the
month, the servants' wages were extra, and he wanted references—he
wanted assurances that the second half of his rent would be paid, the
first half being paid in advance, and he wanted assurances of
respectability from a solicitor, or a doctor, or a clergyman. He was
very polite in his letter, explaining that his desire for references
was what was usual and should be regarded as a mere formality.
Mrs. Arbuthnot and Mrs. Wilkins had not thought of references,
and they had not dreamed a rent could be so high. In their minds had
floated sums like three guineas a week; or less, seeing that the place
was small and old.
Sixty pounds for a single month.
It staggered them.
Before Mrs. Arbuthnot's eyes rose up boots: endless vistas, all the
stout boots that sixty pounds would buy; and besides the rent there
would be the servants' wages and the food, and the railway journeys
out and home. While as for references, these did indeed seem a
stumbling-block; it did seem impossible to give any without making
their plan more public than they had intended.
They had both—even Mrs. Arbuthnot, lured for once away from
perfect candour by the realization of the great saving of trouble and
criticism an imperfect explanation would produce—they had both thought
it would be a good plan to give out, each to her own circle, their
circles being luckily distinct, that each was going to stay with a
friend who had a house in Italy. It would be true as far as it went—
Mrs. Wilkins asserted that it would be quite true, but Mrs. Arbuthnot
thought it wouldn't be quite—and it was the only way, Mrs. Wilkins
said, to keep Mellersh even approximately quiet. To spend any of her
money just on the mere getting to Italy would cause him indignation;
what he would say if he knew she was renting part of a mediaeval castle
on her own account Mrs. Wilkins preferred not to think. It would take
him days to say it all; and this although it was her very own money,
and not a penny of it had ever been his.
"But I expect," she said, "your husband is just the same. I
expect all husbands are alike in the long run."
Mrs. Arbuthnot said nothing, because her reason for not wanting
Frederick to know was the exactly opposite one—Frederick would by only
too pleased for her to go, he would not mind it in the very least;
indeed, he would hail such a manifestation of self-indulgence and
worldliness with an amusement that would hurt, and urge her to have a
good time and not to hurry home with a crushing detachment. Far
better, she thought, to be missed by Mellersh than to be sped by
Frederick. To be missed, to be needed, from whatever motive, was, she
thought, better than the complete loneliness of not being missed or
needed at all.
She therefore said nothing, and allowed Mrs. Wilkins to leap at
her conclusions unchecked. But they did, both of them, for a whole day
feel that the only thing to be done was to renounce the mediaeval
castle; and it was in arriving at this bitter decision that they really
realized how acute had been their longing for it.
Then Mrs. Arbuthnot, whose mind was trained in the finding of
ways out of difficulties, found a way out of the reference difficulty;
and simultaneously Mrs. Wilkins had a vision revealing to her how to
reduce the rent.
Mrs. Arbuthnot's plan was simple, and completely successful. She
took the whole of the rent in person to the owner, drawing it out of
her Savings Bank—again she looked furtive and apologetic, as if the
clerk must know the money was wanted for purposes of self-indulgence—and,
going up with the six ten pound notes in her hand-bag to the
address near the Brompton Oratory where the owner lived, presented them
to him, waiving her right to pay only half. And when he saw her, and
her parted hair and soft dark eyes and sober apparel, and heard her
grave voice, he told her not to bother about writing round for those
"It'll be all right," he said, scribbling a receipt for the rent.
"Do sit down, won't you? Nasty day, isn't it? You'll find the old
castle has lots of sunshine, whatever else it hasn't got. Husband
Mrs. Arbuthnot, unused to anything but candour, looked troubled
at this question and began to murmur inarticulately, and the owner at
once concluded that she was a widow—a war one, of course, for other
widows were old—and that he had been a fool not to guess it.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, turning red right up to his fair hair.
"I didn't mean—h'm, h'm, h'm—"
He ran his eye over the receipt he had written. "Yes, I think
that's all right," he said, getting up and giving it to her. "Now," he
added, taking the six notes she held out and smiling, for Mrs.
Arbuthnot was agreeable to look at, "I'm richer, and you're happier.
I've got money, and you've got San Salvatore. I wonder got which is best."
"I think you know," said Mrs. Arbuthnot with her sweet smile.
He laughed and opened the door for her. It was a pity the
interview was over. He would have liked to ask her to lunch with him.
She made him think of his mother, of his nurse, of all things kind and
comforting, besides having the attraction of not being his mother or
"I hope you'll like the old place," he said, holding her hand a
minute at the door. The very feel of her hand, even through its glove,
was reassuring; it was the sort of hand, he thought, that children
would like to hold in the dark. "In April, you know, it's simply a
mass of flowers. And then there's the sea. You must wear white.
You'll fit in very well. There are several portraits of you there."
"Madonnas, you know. There's one on the stairs really exactly
Mrs. Arbuthnot smiled and said good-bye and thanked him. Without
the least trouble and at once she had got him placed in his proper
category: he was an artist and of an effervescent temperament.
She shook hands and left, and he wished she hadn't. After she
was gone he supposed that he ought to have asked for those references,
if only because she would think him so unbusiness-like not to, but he
could as soon have insisted on references from a saint in a nimbus as
from that grave, sweet lady.
Her letter, making the appointment, lay on the table.
That difficulty, then, was overcome. But there still remained
the other one, the really annihilating effect of the expense on the
nest-eggs, and especially on Mrs. Wilkins's, which was in size,
compared with Mrs. Arbuthnot's, as the egg of the plover to that of the
duck; and this in its turn was overcome by the vision vouchsafed to
Mrs. Wilkins, revealing to her the steps to be taken for its
overcoming. Having got San Salvatore—the beautiful, the religious
name, fascinated them—they in their turn would advertise in the Agony
Column of The Times, and would inquire after two more ladies, of
similar desires to their own, to join them and share the expenses.
At once the strain of the nest-eggs would be reduced from half to
a quarter. Mrs. Wilkins was prepared to fling her entire egg into the
adventure, but she realized that if it were to cost even sixpence over
her ninety pounds her position would be terrible. Imagine going to
Mellersh and saying, "I owe." It would be awful enough if some day
circumstances forced her to say, "I have no nest-egg," but at least she
would be supported in such a case by the knowledge that the egg had
been her own. She therefore, though prepared to fling her last penny
into the adventure, was not prepared to fling into it a single farthing
that was not demonstrably her own; and she felt that if her share of
the rent was reduced to fifteen pounds only, she would have a safe
margin for the other expenses. Also they might economise very much on
food—gather olives off their own trees and eat them, for instance, and
perhaps catch fish.
Of course, as they pointed out to each other, they could reduce
the rent to an almost negligible sum by increasing the number of
sharers; they could have six more ladies instead of two if they wanted
to, seeing that there were eight beds. But supposing the eight beds
were distributed in couples in four rooms, it would not be altogether
what they wanted, to find themselves shut up at night with a stranger.
Besides they thought that perhaps having so many would not be quite so
peaceful. After all, they were going to San Salvatore for peace and
rest and joy, and six more ladies, especially if they got into one's
bedroom, might a little interfere with that.
However, there seemed to be only two ladies in England at that
moment who had any wish to join them, for they had only two answers to
"Well, we only want two," said Mrs. Wilkins, quickly recovering,
for she had imagined a great rush.
"I think a choice would have been a good thing," said Mrs.
"You mean because then we needn't have had Lady Caroline Dester."
"I didn't say that," gently protested Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"We needn't have her," said Mrs. Wilkins. "Just one more person
would help us a great deal with the rent. We're not obliged to have
"But why should we not have her? She seems really quite what we
"Yes—she does from her letter," said Mrs. Wilkins doubtfully.
She felt she would be terribly shy of Lady Caroline. Incredible
as it may seem, seeing how they get into everything, Mrs. Wilkins had
never come across any members of the aristocracy.
They interviewed Lady Caroline, and they interviewed the other
applicant, a Mrs. Fisher.
Lady Caroline came to the club in Shaftesbury Avenue, and
appeared to be wholly taken up by one great longing, a longing to get
away from everybody she had ever known. When she saw the club, and
Mrs. Arbuthnot, and Mrs. Wilkins, she was sure that here was exactly
what she wanted. She would be in Italy—a place she adored; she would
not be in hotels—places she loathed; she would not be staying with
friends—persons she disliked; and she would be in the company of
strangers who would never mention a single person she knew, for the
simple reason that they had not, could not have, and would not come
across them. She asked a few questions about the fourth woman, and was
satisfied with the answers. Mrs. Fisher, of Prince of Wales Terrace.
A widow. She too would be unacquainted with any of her friends. Lady
Caroline did not even know where Prince of Wales Terrace was.
"It's in London," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Is it?" said Lady Caroline.
It all seemed most restful.
Mrs. Fisher was unable to come to the club because, she explained
by letter, she could not walk without a stick; therefore Mrs. Arbuthnot
and Mrs. Wilkins went to her.
"But if she can't come to the club how can she go to Italy?"
wondered Mrs. Wilkins, aloud.
"We shall hear that from her own lips," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
From Mrs. Fisher's lips they merely heard, in reply to delicate
questioning, that sitting in trains was not walking about; and they
knew that already. Except for the stick, however, she appeared to be a
most desirable fourth—quiet, educated, elderly. She was much older
than they or Lady Caroline—Lady Caroline had informed them she was
twenty-eight—but not so old as to have ceased to be active-minded.
She was very respectable indeed, and still wore a complete suit of
black though her husband had died, she told them, eleven years before.
Her house was full of signed photographs of illustrious Victorian dead,
all of whom she said she had known when she was little. Her father had
been an eminent critic, and in his house she had seen practically
everybody who was anybody in letters and art. Carlyle had scowled at
her; Matthew Arnold had held her on his knee; Tennyson had sonorously
rallied her on the length of her pig-tail. She animatedly showed them
the photographs, hung everywhere on her walls, pointing out the
signatures with her stick, and she neither gave any information about
her own husband nor asked for any about the husbands of her visitors;
which was the greatest comfort. Indeed, she seemed to think that they
also were widows, for on inquiring who the fourth lady was to be, and
being told it was a Lady Caroline Dester, she said, "Is she a widow
too?" And on their explaining that she was not, because she had not
yet been married, observed with abstracted amiability, "All in good
But Mrs. Fisher's very abstractedness—and she seemed to be
absorbed chiefly in the interesting people she used to know and in
their memorial photographs, and quite a good part of the interview was
taken up by reminiscent anecdote of Carlyle, Meredith, Matthew Arnold,
Tennyson, and a host of others—her very abstractedness was a
recommendation. She only asked, she said, to be allowed to sit quiet
in the sun and remember. That was all Mrs. Arbuthnot and Mrs. Wilkins
asked of their sharers. It was their idea of a perfect sharer that she
should sit quiet in the sun and remember, rousing herself on Saturday
evenings sufficiently to pay her share. Mrs. Fisher was very fond,
too, she said, of flowers, and once when she was spending a week-end
with her father at Box Hill—
"Who lived at Box Hill?" interrupted Mrs. Wilkins, who hung on
Mrs. Fisher's reminiscences, intensely excited by meeting somebody who
had actually been familiar with all the really and truly and
undoubtedly great—actually seen them, heard them talking, touched
Mrs. Fisher looked at her over the top of her glasses in some
surprise. Mrs. Wilkins, in her eagerness to tear the heart out quickly
of Mrs. Fisher's reminiscences, afraid that at any moment Mrs.
Arbuthnot would take her away and she wouldn't have heard half, had
already interrupted several times with questions which appeared
ignorant to Mrs. Fisher.
"Meredith of course," said Mrs. Fisher rather shortly. "I
remember a particular week-end"—she continued. "My father often took
me, but I always remember this week-end particularly—"
"Did you know Keats?" eagerly interrupted Mrs. Wilkins.
Mrs. Fisher, after a pause, said with sub-acid reserve that she
had been unacquainted with both Keats and Shakespeare.
"Oh of course—how ridiculous of me!" cried Mrs. Wilkins,
flushing scarlet. "It's because"—she floundered—"it's because the
immortals somehow still seem alive, don't they—as if they were here,
going to walk into the room in another minute—and one forgets they are
dead. In fact one knows perfectly well that they're not dead—not
nearly so dead as you and I even now," she assured Mrs. Fisher, who
observed her over the top of her glasses.
"I thought I saw Keats the other day," Mrs. Wilkins incoherently
proceeded, driven on by Mrs. Fisher's look over the top of her glasses.
"In Hampstead—crossing the road in front of that house—you know—the
house where he lived—"
Mrs. Arbuthnot said they must be going.
Mrs. Fisher did nothing to prevent them.
"I really thought I saw him," protested Mrs. Wilkins, appealing
for belief first to one and then to the other while waves of colour
passed over her face, and totally unable to stop because of Mrs.
Fisher's glasses and the steady eyes looking at her over their tops. "I
believe I did see him—he was dressed in a—"
Even Mrs. Arbuthnot looked at her now, and in her gentlest voice
said they would be late for lunch.
It was at this point that Mrs. Fisher asked for references. She
had no wish to find herself shut up for four weeks with somebody who
saw things. It is true that there were three sitting-rooms, besides
the garden and the battlements at San Salvatore, so that there would be
opportunities of withdrawal from Mrs. Wilkins; but it would be
disagreeable to Mrs. Fisher, for instance, if Mrs. Wilkins were
suddenly to assert that she saw Mr. Fisher. Mr. Fisher was dead; let
him remain so. She had no wish to be told he was walking about the
garden. The only reference she really wanted, for she was much too old
and firmly seated in her place in the world for questionable associates
to matter to her, was one with regard to Mrs. Wilkins's health. Was
her health quite normal? Was she an ordinary, everyday, sensible
woman? Mrs. Fisher felt that if she were given even one address she
would be able to find out what she needed. So she asked for
references, and her visitors appeared to be so much taken aback—Mrs.
Wilkins, indeed, was instantly sobered—that she added, "It is usual."
Mrs. Wilkins found her speech first. "But," she said "aren't we
the ones who ought to ask for some from you?"
And this seemed to Mrs. Arbuthnot too the right attitude. Surely
it was they who were taking Mrs. Fisher into their party, and not Mrs.
Fisher who was taking them into it?
For answer Mrs. Fisher, leaning on her stick, went to the
writing-table and in a firm hand wrote down three names and offered
them to Mrs. Wilkins, and the names were so respectable, more, they
were so momentous, they were so nearly august, that just to read them
was enough. The President of the Royal Academy, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, and the Governor of the Bank of England—who would dare
disturb such personages in their meditations with inquires as to
whether a female friend of theirs was all she should be?
"They have know me since I was little," said Mrs. Fisher—
everybody seemed to have known Mrs. Fisher since or when she was
"I don't think references are nice things at all between—between
ordinary decent women," burst out Mrs. Wilkins, made courageous by
being, as she felt, at bay; for she very well knew that the only
reference she could give without getting into trouble was Shoolbred,
and she had little confidence in that, as it would be entirely based on
Mellersh's fish. "We're not business people. We needn't distrust each
And Mrs. Arbuthnot said, with a dignity that yet was sweet, "I'm
afraid references do bring an atmosphere into our holiday plan that
isn't quite what we want, and I don't think we'll take yours up or give
you any ourselves. So that I suppose you won't wish to join us."
And she held out her hand in good-bye.
Then Mrs. Fisher, her gaze diverted to Mrs. Arbuthnot, who
inspired trust and liking even in Tube officials, felt that she would
be idiotic to lose the opportunity of being in Italy in the particular
conditions offered, and that she and this calm-browed woman between
them would certainly be able to curb the other one when she had her
attacks. So she said, taking Mrs. Arbuthnot's offered hand, "Very
well. I waive references."
She waived references.
The two as they walked to the station in Kensington High Street
could not help thinking that this way of putting it was lofty. Even
Mrs. Arbuthnot, spendthrift of excuses for lapses, thought Mrs. Fisher
might have used other words; and Mrs. Wilkins, by the time she got to
the station, and the walk and the struggle on the crowded pavement with
other people's umbrellas had warmed her blood, actually suggested
waiving Mrs. Fisher.
"If there is any waiving to be done, do let us be the ones who
waive," she said eagerly.
But Mrs. Arbuthnot, as usual, held on to Mrs. Wilkins; and
presently, having cooled down in the train, Mrs. Wilkins announced that
at San Salvatore Mrs. Fisher would find her level. "I see her finding
her level there," she said, her eyes very bright.
Whereupon Mrs. Arbuthnot, sitting with her quiet hands folded,
turned over in her mind how best she could help Mrs. Wilkins not to see
quite so much; or at least, if she must see, to see in silence.
It had been arranged that Mrs. Arbuthnot and Mrs. Wilkins,
traveling together, should arrive at San Salvatore on the evening of
March 31st—the owner, who told them how to get there, appreciated
their disinclination to begin their time in it on April 1st—and Lady
Caroline and Mrs. Fisher, as yet unacquainted and therefore under no
obligations to bore each other on the journey, for only towards the end
would they find out by a process of sifting who they were, were to
arrive on the morning of April 2nd. In this way everything would be
got nicely ready for the two who seemed, in spite of the equality of
the sharing, yet to have something about them of guests.
There were disagreeable incidents towards the end of March, when
Mrs. Wilkins, her heart in her mouth and her face a mixture of guilt,
terror and determination, told her husband that she had been invited to
Italy, and he declined to believe it. Of course he declined to believe
it. Nobody had ever invited his wife to Italy before. There was no
precedent. He required proofs. The only proof was Mrs. Arbuthnot, and
Mrs. Wilkins had produced her; but after what entreaties, what
passionate persuading! Mrs. Arbuthnot had not imagined she would have
to face Mr. Wilkins and say things to him that were short of the truth,
and it brought home to her what she had for some time suspected, that
she was slipping more and more away from God.
Indeed, the whole of March was filled with unpleasant, anxious
moments. It was an uneasy month. Mrs. Arbuthnot's conscience, made
super-sensitive by years of pampering, could not reconcile what she was
doing with its own high standard of what was right. It gave her little
peace. It nudged her at her prayers. It punctuated her entreaties for
divine guidance with disconcerting questions, such as, "Are you not a
hypocrite? Do you really mean that? Would you not, frankly, be
disappointed if that prayer were granted?"
The prolonged wet, raw weather was on the side too of her
conscience, producing far more sickness than usual among the poor.
They had bronchitis; they had fevers; there was no end to the distress.
And here she was going off, spending precious money on going off,
simply and solely to be happy. One woman. One woman being happy, and
these piteous multitudes . . .
She was unable to look the vicar in the face. He did not know,
nobody knew, what she was going to do, and from the very beginning she
was unable to look anybody in the face. She excused herself from
making speeches appealing for money. How could she stand up and ask
people for money when she herself was spending so much on her own
selfish pleasure? Nor did it help her or quiet her that, having
actually told Frederick, in her desire to make up for what she was
squandering, that she would be grateful if he would let her have some
money, he instantly gave her a cheque for £100. He asked no questions.
She was scarlet. He looked at her a moment and then looked away. It
was a relief to Frederick that she should take some money. She gave it
all immediately to the organization she worked with, and found herself
more tangled in doubts than ever.
Mrs. Wilkins, on the contrary, had no doubts. She was quite
certain that it was a most proper thing to have a holiday, and
altogether right and beautiful to spend one's own hard-collected
savings on being happy.
"Think how much nicer we shall be when we come back," she said to
Mrs. Arbuthnot, encouraging that pale lady.
No, Mrs. Wilkins had no doubts, but she had fears; and March was
for her too an anxious month, with the unconscious Mr. Wilkins coming
back daily to his dinner and eating his fish in the silence of imagined
Also things happened so awkwardly. It really is astonishing, how
awkwardly they happen. Mrs. Wilkins, who was very careful all this
month to give Mellersh only the food he liked, buying it and hovering
over its cooking with a zeal more than common, succeeded so well the
Mellersh was pleased; definitely pleased; so much pleased that he began
to think that he might, after all, have married the right wife instead
of, as he had frequently suspected, the wrong one. The result was that
on the third Sunday in the month—Mrs. Wilkins had made up her
trembling mind that on the fourth Sunday, there being five in that
March and it being on the fifth of them that she and Mrs. Arbuthnot
were to start, she would tell Mellersh of her invitation—on the third
Sunday, then, after a very well-cooked lunch in which the Yorkshire
pudding had melted in his mouth and the apricot tart had been so
perfect that he ate it all, Mellersh, smoking his cigar by the brightly
burning fire the while hail gusts banged on the window, said "I am
thinking of taking you to Italy for Easter." And paused for her
astounded and grateful ecstasy.
None came. The silence in the room, except for the hail hitting
the windows and the gay roar of the fire, was complete. Mrs. Wilkins
could not speak. She was dumbfounded. The next Sunday was the day she
had meant to break her news to him, and she had not yet even prepared
the form of words in which she would break it.
Mr. Wilkins, who had not been abroad since before the war, and
was noticing with increasing disgust, as week followed week of wind and
rain, the peculiar persistent vileness of the weather, and slowly
conceived a desire to get away from England for Easter. He was doing
very well in his business. He could afford a trip. Switzerland was
useless in April. There was a familiar sound about Easter in Italy.
To Italy he would go; and as it would cause comment if he did not take
his wife, take her he must—besides, she would be useful; a second
person was always useful in a country whose language one did not speak
for holding things, for waiting with the luggage.
He had expected an explosion of gratitude and excitement. The
absence of it was incredible. She could not, he concluded, have heard.
Probably she was absorbed in some foolish day-dream. It was
regrettable how childish she remained.
He turned his head—their chairs were in front of the fire—and
looked at her. She was staring straight into the fire, and it was no
doubt the fire that made her face so red.
"I am thinking," he repeated, raising his clear, cultivated voice
and speaking with acerbity, for inattention at such a moment was
deplorable, "of taking you to Italy for Easter. Did you not hear me?"
Yes, she had heard him, and she had been wondering at the
extraordinary coincidence—really most extraordinary—she was just
going to tell him how—how she had been invited—a friend had invited
her—Easter, too—Easter was in April, wasn't it?—-her friend had a—
had a house there.
In fact Mrs. Wilkins, driven by terror, guilt and surprise, had
been more incoherent if possible than usual.
It was a dreadful afternoon. Mellersh, profoundly indignant,
besides having his intended treat coming back on him like a blessing to
roost, cross-examined her with the utmost severity. He demanded that
she refuse the invitation. He demanded that, since she had so
outrageously accepted it without consulting him, she should write and
cancel her acceptance. Finding himself up against an unsuspected,
shocking rock of obstinacy in her, he then declined to believe she had
been invited to Italy at all. He declined to believe in this Mrs.
Arbuthnot, of whom till that moment he had never heard; and it was only
when the gentle creature was brought round—with such difficulty, with
such a desire on her part to throw the whole thing up rather than tell
Mr. Wilkins less than the truth—and herself endorsed his wife's
statements that he was able to give them credence. He could not but
believe Mrs. Arbuthnot. She produced the precise effect on him that
she did on Tube officials. She hardly needed to say anything. But
that made no difference to her conscience, which knew and would not let
her forget that she had given him an incomplete impression. "Do you,"
asked her conscience, "see any real difference between an incomplete
impression and a completely stated lie? God sees none."
The remainder of March was a confused bad dream. Both Mrs.
Arbuthnot and Mrs. Wilkins were shattered; try as they would not to,
both felt extraordinarily guilty; and when on the morning of the 30th
they did finally get off there was no exhilaration about the departure,
no holiday feeling at all.
"We've been too good—much too good," Mrs. Wilkins kept on
murmuring as they walked up and down the platform at Victoria, having
arrived there an hour before they need have, "and that's why we feel as
though we're doing wrong. We're brow-beaten—we're not any longer real
human beings. Real human beings aren't ever as good as we've been.
Oh"—she clenched her thin hands—"to think that we ought to be so
happy now, here on the very station, actually starting, and we're not,
and it's being spoilt for us just simply because we've spoilt them!
What have we done—what have we done, I should like to know," she
inquired of Mrs. Arbuthnot indignantly, "except for once want to go
away by ourselves and have a little rest from them?"
Mrs. Arbuthnot, patiently pacing, did not ask who she meant by them,
because she knew. Mrs. Wilkins meant their husbands, persisting in her
assumption that Frederick was as indignant as Mellersh over the departure
of his wife, whereas Frederick did not even know his wife had gone.
Mrs. Arbuthnot, always silent about him, had said nothing of this
to Mrs. Wilkins. Frederick went too deep into her heart for her to
talk about him. He was having an extra bout of work finishing another
of those dreadful books, and had been away practically continually the
last few weeks, and was away when she left. Why should she tell him
beforehand? Sure as she so miserably was that he would have no
objection to anything she did, she merely wrote him a note and put it
on the hall-table ready for him if and when he should come home. She
said she was going for a month's holiday as she needed a rest and she
had not had one for so long, and that Gladys, the efficient
parlourmaid, had orders to see to his comforts. She did not say where
she was going; there was no reason why she should; he would not be
interested, he would not care.
The day was wretched, blustering and wet; the crossing was
atrocious, and they were very sick. But after having been very sick,
just to arrive at Calais and not be sick was happiness, and it was
there that the real splendour of what they were doing first began to
warm their benumbed spirits. It got hold of Mrs. Wilkins first, and
spread from her like a rose-coloured flame over her pale companion.
Mellersh at Calais, where they restored themselves with soles because
of Mrs. Wilkins's desire to eat a sole Mellersh wasn't having—Mellersh
at Calais had already begun to dwindle and seem less important. None
of the French porters knew him; not a single official at Calais cared a
fig for Mellersh. In Paris there was no time to think of him because
their train was late and they only just caught the Turin train at the
Gare de Lyons; and by the afternoon of the next day when they got into
Italy, England, Frederick, Mellersh, the vicar, the poor, Hampstead,
the club, Shoolbred, everybody and everything, the whole inflamed sore
dreariness, had faded to the dimness of a dream.
It was cloudy in Italy, which surprised them. They had expected
brilliant sunshine. But never mind: it was Italy, and the very clouds
looked fat. Neither of them had ever been there before. Both gazed
out of the windows with rapt faces. The hours flew as long as it was
daylight, and after that there was the excitement of getting nearer,
getting quite near, getting there. At Genoa it had begun to rain—
Genoa! Imagine actually being at Genoa, seeing its name written up in
the station just like any other name—at Nervi it was pouring, and when
at last towards midnight, for again the train was late, they got to
Mezzago, the rain was coming down in what seemed solid sheets. But it
was Italy. Nothing it did could be bad. The very rain was different—
straight rain, falling properly on to one's umbrella; not that
violently blowing English stuff that got in everywhere. And it did
leave off; and when it did, behold the earth would be strewn with
Mr. Briggs, San Salvatore's owner, had said, "You get out at
Mezzago, and then you drive." But he had forgotten what he amply knew,
that trains in Italy are sometimes late, and he had imagined his
tenants arriving at Mezzago at eight o'clock and finding a string of
flys to choose from.
The train was four hours late, and when Mrs. Arbuthnot and Mrs.
Wilkins scrambled down the ladder-like high steps of their carriage
into the black downpour, their skirts sweeping off great pools of sooty
wet because their hands were full of suit-cases, if it had not been for
the vigilance of Domenico, the gardener at San Salvatore, they would
have found nothing for them to drive in. All ordinary flys had long
since gone home. Domenico, foreseeing this, had sent his aunt's
fly, driven by her son his cousin; and his aunt and her fly lived in
Castagneto, the village crouching at the feet of San Salvatore, and
therefore, however late the train was, the fly would not dare come home
without containing that which it had been sent to fetch.
Domenico's cousin's name was Beppo, and he presently emerged out
of the dark where Mrs. Arbuthnot and Mrs. Wilkins stood, uncertain what
to do next after the train had gone on, for they could see no porter
and they thought from the feel of it that they were standing not so
much on a platform as in the middle of the permanent way.
Beppo, who had been searching for them, emerged from the dark
with a kind of pounce and talked Italian to them vociferously. Beppo
was a most respectable young man, but he did not look as if he were,
especially not in the dark, and he had a dripping hat slouched over one
eye. They did not like the way he seized their suit-cases. He could
not be, they thought, a porter. However, they presently from out of
his streaming talk discerned the words San Salvatore, and after that
they kept on saying them to him, for it was the only Italian they knew,
as they hurried after him, unwilling to lose sight of their suit-cases,
stumbling across rails and through puddles out to where in the road a
small, high fly stood.
Its hood was up, and its horse was in an attitude of thought.
They climbed in, and the minute they were in—Mrs. Wilkins, indeed,
could hardly be called in—the horse awoke with a start from its
reverie and immediately began going home rapidly; without Beppo;
without the suit-cases.
Beppo darted after him, making the night ring with his shouts,
and caught the hanging reins just in time. He explained proudly, and
as it seemed to him with perfect clearness, that the horse always did
that, being a fine animal full of corn and blood, and cared for by him,
Beppo, as if he were his own son, and the ladies must be alarmed—he
had noticed they were clutching each other; but clear, and loud, and
profuse of words though he was, they only looked at him blankly.
He went on talking, however, while he piled the suit-cases up
round them, sure that sooner or later they must understand him,
especially as he was careful to talk very loud and illustrate
everything he said with the simplest elucidatory gestures, but they
both continued only to look at him. They both, he noticed
sympathetically, had white faces, fatigued faces, and they both had big
eyes, fatigued eyes. They were beautiful ladies, he thought, and their
eyes, looking at him over the tops of the suit-cases watching his every
movement—there were no trunks, only numbers of suit-cases—were like
the eyes of the Mother of God. The only thing the ladies said, and
they repeated it at regular intervals, even after they had started,
gently prodding him as he sat on his box to call his attention to it,
was, "San Salvatore?"
And each time he answered vociferously, encouragingly, "Si, si—
"We don't know of course if he's taking us there," said Mrs.
Arbuthnot at last in a low voice, after they had been driving as it
seemed to them a long while, and had got off the paving-stones of the
sleep-shrouded town and were out on a winding road with what they could
just see was a low wall on their left beyond which was a great black
emptiness and the sound of the sea. On their right was something close
and steep and high and black—rocks, they whispered to each other; huge
They felt very uncomfortable. It was so late. It was so dark.
The road was so lonely. Suppose a wheel came off. Suppose they met
Fascisti, or the opposite of Fascisti. How sorry they were now that
they had not slept at Genoa and come on the next morning in daylight.
"But that would have been the first of April," said Mrs. Wilkins,
in a low voice.
"It is that now," said Mrs. Arbuthnot beneath her breath.
"So it is," murmured Mrs. Wilkins.
They were silent.
Beppo turned round on his box—a disquieting habit already
noticed, for surely his horse ought to be carefully watched—and again
addressed them with what he was convinced was lucidity—no patois, and
the clearest explanatory movements.
How much they wished their mothers had made them learn Italian
when they were little. If only now they could have said, "Please sit
round the right way and look after the horse." They did not even know
what horse was in Italian. It was contemptible to be so ignorant.
In their anxiety, for the road twisted round great jutting rocks,
and on their left was only the low wall to keep them out of the sea
should anything happen, they too began to gesticulate, waving their
hands at Beppo, pointing ahead. They wanted him to turn round again and
face his horse, that was all. He thought they wanted him to drive
faster; and there followed a terrifying ten minutes during which, as he
supposed, he was gratifying them. He was proud of his horse, and it
could go very fast. He rose in his seat, the whip cracked, the horse
rushed forward, the rocks leaped towards them, the little fly swayed,
the suit-cases heaved, Mrs. Arbuthnot and Mrs. Wilkins clung. In this
way they continued, swaying, heaving, clattering, clinging, till at a
point near Castagneto there was a rise in the road, and on reaching the
foot of the rise the horse, who knew every inch of the way, stopped
suddenly, throwing everything in the fly into a heap, and then
proceeded up at the slowest of walks.
Beppo twisted himself round to receive their admiration, laughing
with pride in his horse.
There was no answering laugh from the beautiful ladies. Their
eyes, fixed on him, seemed bigger than ever, and their faces against
the black of the night showed milky.
But here at least, once they were up the slope, were houses. The
rocks left off, and there were houses; the low wall left off, and there
were houses; the sea shrunk away, and the sound of it ceased, and the
loneliness of the road was finished. No lights anywhere, of course,
nobody to see them pass; and yet Beppo, when the houses began, after
looking over his shoulder and shouting "Castagneto" at the ladies, once
more stood up and cracked his whip and once more made his horse dash
"We shall be there in a minute," Mrs. Arbuthnot said to herself,
"We shall soon stop now," Mrs. Wilkins said to herself, holding
on. They said nothing aloud, because nothing would have been heard
above the whip-cracking and the wheel-clattering and the boisterous
inciting noises Beppo was making at his horse.
Anxiously they strained their eyes for any sight of the beginning
of San Salvatore.
They had supposed and hoped that after a reasonable amount of
village a mediaeval archway would loom upon them, and through it they
would drive into a garden and draw up at an open, welcoming door, with
light streaming from it and those servants standing in it who,
according to the advertisement, remained.
Instead the fly suddenly stopped.
Peering out they could see they were still in the village street,
with small dark houses each side; and Beppo, throwing the reins over
the horse's back as if completely confident this time that he would not
go any farther, got down off his box. At the same moment, springing as
it seemed out of nothing, a man and several half-grown boys appeared on
each side of the fly and began dragging out the suit-cases.
"No, no—San Salvatore, San Salvatore"—exclaimed Mrs. Wilkins,
trying to hold on to what suit-cases she could.
"Si, si—San Salvatore," they all shouted, pulling.
"This can't be San Salvatore," said Mrs. Wilkins, turning to Mrs.
Arbuthnot, who sat quite still watching her suit-cases being taken from
her with the same patience she applied to lesser evils. She knew she
could do nothing if these men were wicked men determined to have her
"I don't think it can be," she admitted, and could not refrain
from a moment's wonder at the ways of God. Had she really been brought
here, she and poor Mrs. Wilkins, after so much trouble in arranging it,
so much difficulty and worry, along such devious paths of prevarication
and deceit, only to be—
She checked her thoughts, and gently said to Mrs. Wilkins, while
the ragged youths disappeared with the suit-cases into the night and
the man with the lantern helped Beppo pull the rug off her, that they
were both in God's hands; and for the first time on hearing this, Mrs.
Wilkins was afraid.
There was nothing for it but to get out. Useless to try to go on
sitting in the fly repeating San Salvatore. Every time they said it,
and their voices each time were fainter, Beppo and the other man merely
echoed it in a series of loud shouts. If only they had learned Italian
when they were little. If only they could have said, "We wish to be
driven to the door." But they did not even know what door was in
Italian. Such ignorance was not only contemptible, it was, they now
saw, definitely dangerous. Useless, however, to lament it now.
Useless to put off whatever it was that was going to happen to them by
trying to go on sitting in the fly. They therefore got out.
The two men opened their umbrellas for them and handed them to
them. From this they received a faint encouragement, because they
could not believe that if these men were wicked they would pause to
open umbrellas. The man with the lantern then made signs to them to
follow him, talking loud and quickly, and Beppo, they noticed, remained
behind. Ought they to pay him? Not, they thought, if they were going
to be robbed and perhaps murdered. Surely on such an occasion one did
not pay. Besides, he had not after all brought them to San Salvatore.
Where they had got to was evidently somewhere else. Also, he did not
show the least wish to be paid; he let them go away into the night with
no clamour at all. This, they could not help thinking, was a bad sign.
He asked for nothing because presently he was to get so much.
They came to some steps. The road ended abruptly in a church and
some descending steps. The man held the lantern low for them to see
"San Salvatore?" said Mrs. Wilkins once again, very faintly,
before committing herself to the steps. It was useless to mention it
now, of course, but she could not go down steps in complete silence.
No mediaeval castle, she was sure, was ever built at the bottom of
Again, however, came the echoing shout—"Si, si—San Salvatore."
They descended gingerly, holding up their skirts just as if they
would be wanting them another time and had not in all probability
finished with skirts for ever.
The steps ended in a steeply sloping path with flat stone slabs
down the middle. They slipped a good deal on these wet slabs, and the
man with the lantern, talking loud and quickly, held them up. His way
of holding them up was polite.
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Wilkins in a low voice to Mrs. Arbuthnot,
"It is all right after all."
"We're in God's hands," said Mrs. Arbuthnot again; and again Mrs.
Wilkins was afraid.
They reached the bottom of the sloping path, and the light of the
lantern flickered over an open space with houses round three sides.
The sea was the fourth side, lazily washing backwards and forwards on
"San Salvatore," said the man pointing with his lantern to a
black mass curved round the water like an arm flung about it.
They strained their eyes. They saw the black mass, and on the
top of it a light.
"San Salvatore?" they both repeated incredulously, for where were
the suit-cases, and why had they been forced to get out of the fly?
"Si, si—San Salvatore."
They went along what seemed to be a quay, right on the edge of
the water. There was not even a low wall here—nothing to prevent the
man with the lantern tipping them in if he wanted to. He did not,
however, tip them in. Perhaps it was all right after all, Mrs. Wilkins
again suggested to Mrs. Arbuthnot on noticing this, who this time was
herself beginning to think that it might be, and said no more about
The flicker of the lantern danced along, reflected in the wet
pavement of the quay. Out to the left, in the darkness and evidently
at the end of a jetty, was a red light. They came to an archway with a
heavy iron gate. The man with the lantern pushed the gate open. This
time they went up steps instead of down, and at the top of them was a
little path that wound upwards among flowers. They could not see the
flowers, but the whole place was evidently full of them.
It here dawned on Mrs. Wilkins that perhaps the reason why the fly had
not driven them up to the door was that there was no road, only a
footpath. That also would explain the disappearance of the suit-cases.
She began to feel confident that they would find their suit-cases
waiting for them when they got up to the top. San Salvatore was, it
seemed, on the top of a hill, as a mediaeval castle should be. At a
turn of the path they saw above them, much nearer now and shining
more brightly, the light they had seen from the quay. She told Mrs.
Arbuthnot of her dawning belief, and Mrs. Arbuthnot agreed that it was
very likely a true one.
Once more, but this time in a tone of real hopefulness, Mrs.
Wilkins said, pointing upwards at the black outline against the only
slightly less black sky, "San Salvatore?" And once more, but this time
comfortingly, encouragingly, came back the assurance, "Si, si—San
They crossed a little bridge, over what was apparently a ravine,
and then came a flat bit with long grass at the sides and more flowers.
They felt the grass flicking wet against their stockings, and the
invisible flowers were everywhere. Then up again through trees, along
a zigzag path with the smell all the way of the flowers they could not
see. The warm rain was bringing out all the sweetness. Higher and
higher they went in this sweet darkness, and the red light on the jetty
dropped farther and farther below them.
The path wound round to the other side of what appeared to be a
little peninsula; the jetty and the red light disappeared; across the
emptiness on their left were distant lights.
"Mezzago," said the man, waving his lantern at the lights.
"Si, si," they answered, for they had by now learned si, si.
Upon which the man congratulated them in a great flow of polite words,
not one of which they understood, on their magnificent Italian; for
this was Domenico, the vigilant and accomplished gardener of San
Salvatore, the prop and stay of the establishment, the resourceful, the
gifted, the eloquent, the courteous, the intelligent Domenico. Only
they did not know that yet; and he did in the dark, and even sometimes
in the light, look, with his knife-sharp swarthy features and swift,
panther movements, very like somebody wicked.
They passed along another flat bit of path, with a black shape
like a high wall towering above them on their right, and then the path
went up again under trellises, and trailing sprays of scented things
caught at them and shook raindrops on them, and the light of the
lantern flickered over lilies, and then came a flight of ancient steps
worn with centuries, and then another iron gate, and then they were
inside, though still climbing a twisting flight of stone steps with old
walls on either side like the walls of dungeons, and with a vaulted
At the top was a wrought-iron door, and through it shone a flood
of electric light.
"Ecco," said Domenico, lithely running up the last few steps
ahead and pushing the door open.
And there they were, arrived; and it was San Salvatore; and their
suit-cases were waiting for them; and they had not been murdered.
They looked at each other's white faces and blinking eyes very
It was a great, a wonderful moment. Here they were, in their
mediaeval castle at last. Their feet touched its stones.
Mrs. Wilkins put her arm round Mrs. Arbuthnot's neck and kissed
"The first thing to happen in this house," she said softly,
solemnly, "shall be a kiss."
"Dear Lotty," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Dear Rose," said Mrs. Wilkins, her eyes brimming with gladness.
Domenico was delighted. He liked to see beautiful ladies kiss.
He made them a most appreciative speech of welcome, and they stood arm
in arm, holding each other up, for they were very tired, blinking
smilingly at him, and not understanding a word.
When Mrs. Wilkins woke next morning she lay in bed a few minutes
before getting up and opening the shutters. What would she see out of
her window? A shining world, or a world of rain? But it would be
beautiful; whatever it was would be beautiful.
She was in a little bedroom with bare white walls and a stone
floor and sparse old furniture. The beds—there were two—were made of
iron, enameled black and painted with bunches of gay flowers. She lay
putting off the great moment of going to the window as one puts off
opening a precious letter, gloating over it. She had no idea what time
it was; she had forgotten to wind up her watch ever since, centuries
ago, she last went to bed in Hampstead. No sounds were to be heard in
the house, so she supposed it was very early, yet she felt as if she
had slept a long while—so completely rested, so perfectly content.
She lay with her arms clasped round her head thinking how happy she
was, her lips curved upwards in a delighted smile. In bed by herself:
adorable condition. She had not been in a bed without Mellersh once now
for five whole years; and the cool roominess of it, the freedom of
one's movements, the sense of recklessness, of audacity, in giving the
blankets a pull if one wanted to, or twitching the pillows more
comfortably! It was like the discovery of an entirely new joy.
Mrs. Wilkins longed to get up and open the shutters, but where
she was was really so very delicious. She gave a sigh of contentment,
and went on lying there looking round her, taking in everything in her
room, her own little room, her very own to arrange just as she pleased
for this one blessed month, her room bought with her own savings, the
fruit of her careful denials, whose door she could bolt if she wanted
to, and nobody had the right to come in. It was such a strange little
room, so different from any she had known, and so sweet. It was like a
cell. Except for the two beds, it suggested a happy austerity. "And
the name of the chamber," she thought, quoting and smiling round at it,
Well, this was delicious, to lie there thinking how happy she
was, but outside those shutters it was more delicious still. She
jumped up, pulled on her slippers, for there was nothing on the stone
floor but one small rug, ran to the window and threw open the shutters.
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Wilkins.
All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her
feet. The sun poured in on her. The sea lay asleep in it, hardly
stirring. Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different
in colour, were asleep too in the light; and underneath her window, at
the bottom of the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall of the
castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues
and violets and rose-colours of the mountains and the sea like a great
She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty;
and she alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents
came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted
her hair. Far out in the bay a cluster of almost motionless fishing
boats hovered like a flock of white birds on the tranquil sea. How
beautiful, how beautiful. Not to have died before this . . . to have
been allowed to see, breathe, feel this. . . . She stared, her lips
parted. Happy? Poor, ordinary, everyday word. But what could one
say, how could one describe it? It was as though she could hardly stay
inside herself, it was as though she were too small to hold so much of
joy, it was as though she were washed through with light. And how
astonishing to feel this sheer bliss, for here she was, not doing and
not going to do a single unselfish thing, not going to do a thing she
didn't want to do. According to everybody she had ever come across she
ought at least to have twinges. She had not one twinge. Something was
wrong somewhere. Wonderful that at home she should have been so good,
so terribly good, and merely felt tormented. Twinges of every sort had
there been her portion; aches, hurts, discouragements, and she the
whole time being steadily unselfish. Now she had taken off all her
goodness and left it behind her like a heap in rain-sodden clothes, and
she only felt joy. She was naked of goodness, and was rejoicing in
being naked. She was stripped, and exulting. And there, away in the
dim mugginess of Hampstead, was Mellersh being angry.
She tried to visualize Mellersh, she tried to see him having
breakfast and thinking bitter things about her; and lo, Mellersh
himself began to shimmer, became rose-colour, became delicate violet,
became an enchanting blue, became formless, became iridescent.
Actually Mellersh, after quivering a minute, was lost in light.
"Well," thought Mrs. Wilkins, staring, as it were, after him.
How extraordinary not to be able to visualize Mellersh; and she who
used to know every feature, every expression of his by heart. She
simply could not see him as he was. She could only see him resolved
into beauty, melted into harmony with everything else. The familiar
words of the General Thanksgiving came quite naturally into her mind,
and she found herself blessing God for her creation, preservation, and
all the blessings of this life, but above all for His inestimable Love;
out loud; in a burst of acknowledgment. While Mellersh, at that moment
angrily pulling on his boots before going out into the dripping
streets, was indeed thinking bitter things about her.
She began to dress, choosing clean white clothes in honour of the
summer's day, unpacking her suit-cases, tidying her adorable little
room. She moved about with quick, purposeful steps, her long thin body
held up straight, her small face, so much puckered at home with effort
and fear, smoothed out. All she had been and done before this morning,
all she had felt and worried about, was gone. Each of her worries
behaved as the image of Mellersh had behaved, and dissolved into colour
and light. And she noticed things she had not noticed for years—when
she was doing her hair in front of the glass she noticed it, and
thought, "Why, what pretty stuff." For years she had forgotten she had
such a thing as hair, plaiting it in the evening and unplaiting it in
the morning with the same hurry and indifference with which she laced
and unlaced her shoes. Now she suddenly saw it, and she twisted it
round her fingers before the glass, and was glad it was so pretty.
Mellersh couldn't have seen it either, for he had never said a word
about it. Well, when she got home she would draw his attention to it.
"Mellersh," she would say, "look at my hair. Aren't you pleased you've
got a wife with hair like curly honey?"
She laughed. She had never said anything like that to Mellersh
yet, and the idea of it amused her. But why had she not? Oh yes—she
used to be afraid of him. Funny to be afraid of anybody; and
especially of one's husband, whom one saw in his more simplified
moments, such as asleep, and not breathing properly through his nose.
When she was ready she opened her door to go across to see if
Rose, who had been put the night before by a sleepy maidservant into a
cell opposite, were awake. She would say good-morning to her, and then
she would run down and stay with that cypress tree till breakfast was
ready, and after breakfast she wouldn't so much as look out of a window
till she had helped Rose get everything ready for Lady Caroline and
Mrs. Fisher. There was much to be done that day, settling in,
arranging the rooms; she mustn't leave Rose to do it alone. They would
make it all so lovely for the two to come, have such an entrancing
vision ready for them of little cells bright with flowers. She
remembered she had wanted Lady Caroline not to come; fancy wanting to
shut some one out of heaven because she thought she would be shy of
her! And as though it mattered if she were, and as though she would be
anything so self-conscious as shy. Besides, what a reason. She could
not accuse herself of goodness over that. And she remembered she had
wanted not to have Mrs. Fisher either, because she had seemed lofty.
How funny of her. So funny to worry about such little things, making
The bedrooms and two of the sitting-rooms at San Salvatore were
on the top floor, and opened into a roomy hall with a wide glass window
at the north end. San Salvatore was rich in small gardens in different
parts and on different levels. The garden this window looked down on
was made on the highest part of the walls, and could only be reached
through the corresponding spacious hall on the floor below. When Mrs.
Wilkins came out of her room this window stood wide open, and beyond it
in the sun was a Judas tree in full flower. There was no sign of
anybody, no sound of voices or feet. Tubs of arum lilies stood about
on the stone floor, and on a table flamed a huge bunch of fierce
nasturtiums. Spacious, flowery, silent, with the wide window at the
end opening into the garden, and the Judas tree absurdly beautiful in
the sunshine, it seemed to Mrs. Wilkins, arrested on her way across to
Mrs. Arbuthnot, too good to be true. Was she really going to live in
this for a whole month? Up to now she had had to take what beauty she
could as she went along, snatching at little bits of it when she came
across it—a patch of daisies on a fine day in a Hampstead field, a
flash of sunset between two chimney pots. She had never been in
definitely, completely beautiful places. She had never been even in a
venerable house; and such a thing as a profusion of flowers in her
rooms was unattainable to her. Sometimes in the spring she had bought
six tulips at Shoolbred's, unable to resist them, conscious that
Mellersh if he knew what they had cost would think it inexcusable; but
they had soon died, and then there were no more. As for the Judas
tree, she hadn't an idea what it was, and gazed at it out there against
the sky with the rapt expression of one who sees a heavenly vision.
Mrs. Arbuthnot, coming out of her room, found her there like
that, standing in the middle of the hall staring.
"Now what does she think she sees now?" thought Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"We are in God's hands," said Mrs. Wilkins, turning to her,
speaking with extreme conviction.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Arbuthnot quickly, her face, which had been
covered with smiles when she came out of her room, falling. "Why, what
For Mrs. Arbuthnot had woken up with such a delightful feeling of
security, of relief, and she did not want to find she had not after all
escaped from the need of refuge. She had not even dreamed of
Frederick. For the first time in years she had been spared the nightly
dream that he was with her, that they were heart to heart, and its
miserable awakening. She had slept like a baby, and had woken up
confident; she had found there was nothing she wished to say in her
morning prayer, except Thank you. It was disconcerting to be told she
was after all in God's hands.
"I hope nothing has happened?" she asked anxiously.
Mrs. Wilkins looked at her a moment, and laughed. "How funny,"
she said, kissing her.
"What is funny?" asked Mrs. Arbuthnot, her face clearing because
Mrs. Wilkins laughed.
"We are. This is. Everything. It's all so wonderful. It's so
funny and so adorable that we should be in it. I daresay when we
finally reach heaven—the one they talk about so much—we shan't find
it a bit more beautiful."
Mrs. Arbuthnot relaxed to smiling security again. "Isn't it
divine?" she said.
"Were you ever, ever in your life so happy?" asked Mrs. Wilkins,
catching her by the arm.
"No," said Mrs. Arbuthnot. Nor had she been; not ever; not even
in her first love-days with Frederick. Because always pain had been
close at hand in that other happiness, ready to torture with doubts,
to torture even with the very excess of her love; while this was the
simple happiness of complete harmony with her surroundings, the
happiness that asks for nothing, that just accepts, just breathes, just
"Let's go and look at that tree close," said Mrs. Wilkins. "I
don't believe it can only be a tree."
And arm in arm they went along the hall, and their husbands would
not have known them their faces were so young with eagerness, and
together they stood at the open window, and when their eyes, having
feasted on the marvelous pink thing, wandered farther among the
beauties of the garden, they saw sitting on the low wall at the east
edge of it, gazing out over the bay, her feet in lilies, Lady Caroline.
They were astonished. They said nothing in their astonishment,
but stood quite still, arm in arm, staring down at her.
She too had on a white frock, and her head was bare. They had
had no idea that day in London, when her hat was down to her nose and
her furs were up to her ears, that she was so pretty. They had merely
thought her different from the other women in the club, and so had
the other women themselves, and so had all the waitresses, eyeing her
sideways and eyeing her again as they passed the corner where she
sat talking; but they had had no idea she was so pretty. She was
exceedingly pretty. Everything about her was very much that which it
was. Her fair hair was very fair, her lovely grey eyes were very
lovely and grey, her dark eyelashes were very dark, her white skin was
very white, her red mouth was very red. She was extravagantly slender—
the merest thread of a girl, though not without little curves beneath
her thin frock where little curves should be. She was looking out
across the bay, and was sharply defined against the background of empty
blue. She was full in the sun. Her feet dangled among the leaves and
flowers of the lilies just as if it did not matter that they should be
bent or bruised.
"She ought to have a headache," whispered Mrs. Arbuthnot at last,
"sitting there in the sun like that."
"She ought to have a hat," whispered Mrs. Wilkins.
"She is treading on lilies."
"But they're hers as much as ours."
"Only one-fourth of them."
Lady Caroline turned her head. She looked up at them a moment,
surprised to see them so much younger than they had seemed that day at
the club, and so much less unattractive. Indeed, they were really
almost quite attractive, if any one could ever be really quite
attractive in the wrong clothes. Her eyes, swiftly glancing over them,
took in every inch of each of them in the half second before she smiled
and waved her hand and called out Good-morning. There was nothing, she
saw at once to be hoped for in the way of interest from their clothes.
She did not consciously think this, for she was having a violent
reaction against beautiful clothes and the slavery they impose on one,
her experience being that the instant one had got them they took one in
hand and gave one no peace till they had been everywhere and been seen
by everybody. You didn't take your clothes to parties; they took you.
It was quite a mistake to think that a woman, a really well-dressed
woman, wore out her clothes; it was the clothes that wore out the
woman—dragging her about at all hours of the day and night. No wonder
men stayed younger longer. Just new trousers couldn't excite them.
She couldn't suppose that even the newest trousers ever behaved like
that, taking the bit between their teeth. Her images were disorderly,
but she thought as she chose, she used what images she like. As she
got off the wall and came towards the window, it seemed a restful thing
to know she was going to spend an entire month with people in dresses
made as she dimly remembered dresses used to be made five summers ago.
"I got here yesterday morning," she said, looking up at them and
smiling. She really was bewitching. She had everything, even a
"It's a great pity," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, smiling back, "because
we were going to choose the nicest room for you."
"Oh, but I've done that," said Lady Caroline. "At least, I think
it's the nicest. It looks two ways—I adore a room that looks two
ways, don't you? Over the sea to the west, and over this Judas tree to
"And we had meant to make it pretty for you with flowers," said
"Oh, Domenico did that. I told him to directly I got here. He's
the gardener. He's wonderful."
"It's a good thing, of course," said Mrs. Arbuthnot a little
hesitatingly, "to be independent, and to know exactly what one wants."
"Yes, it saves trouble," agreed Lady Caroline.
"But one shouldn't be so independent," said Mrs. Wilkins, "as to
leave no opportunity for other people to exercise their benevolences on
Lady Caroline, who had been looking at Mrs. Arbuthnot, now looked
at Mrs. Wilkins. That day at the queer club she had had merely a
blurred impression of Mrs. Wilkins, for it was the other one who did
all the talking, and her impression had been of somebody so shy, so
awkward that it was best to take no notice of her. She had not even
been able to say good-bye properly, doing it in an agony, turning red,
turning damp. Therefore she now looked at her in some surprise; and
she was still more surprised when Mrs. Wilkins added, gazing at her
with the most obvious sincere admiration, speaking indeed with a
conviction that refused to remain unuttered, "I didn't realize you were
She stared at Mrs. Wilkins. She was not usually told this quite
so immediately and roundly. Abundantly as she was used to it—
impossible not to be after twenty-eight solid years—it surprised her
to be told it with such bluntness, and by a woman.
"It's very kind of you to think so," she said.
"Why, you're very lovely," said Mrs. Wilkins. "Quite, quite
"I hope," said Mrs. Arbuthnot pleasantly, "you make the most of
Lady Caroline then stared at Mrs. Arbuthnot. "Oh yes," she said.
"I make the most of it. I've been doing that ever since I can
"Because," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, smiling and raising a warning
forefinger, "it won't last."
Then Lady Caroline began to be afraid these two were originals.
If so, she would be bored. Nothing bored her so much as people who
insisted on being original, who came and buttonholed her and kept her
waiting while they were being original. And the one who admired her—
it would be tiresome if she dogged her about in order to look at her.
What she wanted of this holiday was complete escape from all she had
had before, she wanted the rest of complete contrast. Being admired,
being dogged, wasn't contrast, it was repetition; and as for originals,
to find herself shut up with two on the top of a precipitous hill in a
medieval castle built for the express purpose of preventing easy goings
out and in, would not, she was afraid, be especially restful. Perhaps
she had better be a little less encouraging. They had seemed such
timid creatures, even the dark one—she couldn't remember their
names—that day at the club, that she had felt it quite safe to be very
friendly. Here they had come out of their shells; already; indeed, at
once. There was no sign of timidity about either of them here. If
they had got out of their shells so immediately, at the very first
contact, unless she checked them they would soon begin to press upon
her, and then good-bye to her dream of thirty restful, silent days,
lying unmolested in the sun, getting her feathers smooth again, not
being spoken to, not waited on, not grabbed at and monopolized, but
just recovering from the fatigue, the deep and melancholy fatigue, of
the too much.
Besides, there was Mrs. Fisher. She too must be checked. Lady
Caroline had started two days earlier than had been arranged for two
reasons: first, because she wished to arrive before the others in order
to pick out the room or rooms she preferred, and second, because she
judged it likely that otherwise she would have to travel with Mrs.
Fisher. She did not want to travel with Mrs. Fisher. She did not want
to arrive with Mrs. Fisher. She saw no reason whatever why for a
single moment she should have to have anything at all to do with Mrs.
But unfortunately Mrs. Fisher also was filled with a desire to
get to San Salvatore first and pick out the room or rooms she
preferred, and she and Lady Caroline had after all traveled together.
As early as Calais they began to suspect it; in Paris they feared it;
at Modane they knew it; at Mezzago they concealed it, driving out to
Castagneto in two separate flys, the nose of the one almost touching
the back of the other the whole way. But when the road suddenly left
off at the church and the steps, further evasion was impossible; and
faced by this abrupt and difficult finish to their journey there was
nothing for it but to amalgamate.
Because of Mrs. Fisher's stick Lady Caroline had to see about
everything. Mrs. Fisher's intentions, she explained from her fly when
the situation had become plain to her, were active, but her stick
prevented their being carried out. The two drivers told Lady Caroline
boys would have to carry the luggage up to the castle, and she went in
search of some, while Mrs. Fisher waited in the fly because of her
stick. Mrs. Fisher could speak Italian, but only, she explained, the
Italian of Dante, which Matthew Arnold used to read with her when she
was a girl, and she thought this might be above the heads of boys.
Therefore Lady Caroline, who spoke ordinary Italian very well, was
obviously the one to go and do things.
"I am in your hands," said Mrs. Fisher, sitting firmly in her
fly. "You must please regard me as merely an old woman with a stick."
And presently, down the steps and cobbles to the piazza, and
along the quay, and up the zigzag path, Lady Caroline found herself as
much obliged to walk slowly with Mrs. Fisher as if she were her own
"It's my stick," Mrs. Fisher complacently remarked at intervals.
And when they rested at those bends of the zigzag path where
seats were, and Lady Caroline, who would have liked to run on and get
to the top quickly, was forced in common humanity to remain with Mrs.
Fisher because of her stick, Mrs. Fisher told her how she had been on a
zigzag path once with Tennyson.
"Isn't his cricket wonderful?" said Lady Caroline absently.
"The Tennyson," said Mrs. Fisher, turning her head and observing
her a moment over her spectacles.
"Isn't he?" said Lady Caroline.
"And it was a path, too," Mrs. Fisher went on severely,
"curiously like this. No eucalyptus tree, of course, but otherwise
curiously like this. And at one of the bends he turned and said to
me—I see him now turning and saying to me—"
Yes, Mrs. Fisher would have to be checked. And so would these
two up at the window. She had better begin at once. She was sorry she
had got off the wall. All she need have done was to have waved her
hand, and waited till they came down and out into the garden to her.
So she ignored Mrs. Arbuthnot's remark and raised forefinger, and
said with marked coldness—at least, she tried to make it sound marked—
that she supposed they would be going to breakfast, and that she had
had hers; but it was her fate that however coldly she sent forth her
words they came out sounding quite warm and agreeable. That was
because she had a sympathetic and delightful voice, due entirely to
some special formation of her throat and the roof of her mouth, and
having nothing whatever to do with what she was feeling. Nobody in
consequence ever believed they were being snubbed. It was most
tiresome. And if she stared icily it did not look icy at all, because
her eyes, lovely to begin with, had the added loveliness of very long,
soft, dark eyelashes. No icy stare could come out of eyes like that;
it got caught and lost in the soft eyelashes, and the persons stared at
merely thought they were being regarded with a flattering and exquisite
attentiveness. And if ever she was out of humour or definitely cross—
and who would not be sometimes in such a world?—-she only looked so
pathetic that people all rushed to comfort her, if possible by means of
kissing. It was more than tiresome, it was maddening. Nature was
determined that she should look and sound angelic. She could never be
disagreeable or rude without being completely misunderstood.
"I had my breakfast in my room," she said, trying her utmost to
sound curt. "Perhaps I'll see you later."
And she nodded, and went back to where she had been sitting on
the wall, with the lilies being nice and cool round her feet.
Their eyes followed her admiringly. They had no idea they had
been snubbed. It was a disappointment, of course, to find she had
forestalled them and that they were not to have the happiness of
preparing for her, of watching her face when she arrived and first saw
everything, but there was till Mrs. Fisher. They would concentrate on
Mrs. Fisher, and would watch her face instead; only, like everybody
else, they would have preferred to watch Lady Caroline's.
Perhaps, then, as Lady Caroline had talked of breakfast, they had
better begin by going and having it, for there was too much to be done
that day to spend any more time gazing at the scenery—servants to be
interviewed, the house to be gone through and examined, and finally
Mrs. Fisher's room to be got ready and adorned.
They waved their hands gaily at Lady Caroline, who seemed
absorbed in what she saw and took no notice, and turning away found the
maidservant of the night before had come up silently behind them in
cloth slippers with string soles.
She was Francesca, the elderly parlour-maid, who had been with
the owner, he had said, for years, and whose presence made inventories
unnecessary; and after wishing them good-morning and hoping they had
slept well, she told them breakfast was ready in the dining-room on the
floor below, and if they would follow her she would lead.
They did not understand a single word of the very many in which
Francesca succeeded in clothing this simple information, but they
followed her, for it at least was clear that they were to follow, and
going down the stairs, and along the broad hall like the one above
except for glass doors at the end instead of a window opening into the
garden, they were shown into the dining-room; where, sitting at the
head of the table having her breakfast, was Mrs. Fisher.
This time they exclaimed. Even Mrs. Arbuthnot exclaimed, though
her exclamation was only "Oh."
Mrs. Wilkins exclaimed at greater length. "Why, but it's like
having the bread taken out of one's mouth!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilkins.
"How do you do," said Mrs. Fisher. "I can't get up because of my
stick." And she stretched out her hand across the table.
They advanced and shook it.
"We had no idea you were here," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Yes," said Mrs. Fisher, resuming her breakfast. "Yes. I am
here." And with composure she removed the top of her egg.
"It's a great disappointment," said Mrs. Wilkins. "We had meant
to give you such a welcome."
This was the one, Mrs. Fisher remembered, briefly glancing at
her, who when she came to Prince of Wales Terrace said she had seen
Keats. She must be careful with this one—curb her from the beginning.
She therefore ignored Mrs. Wilkins and said gravely, with a
downward face of impenetrable calm bent on her egg, "Yes. I arrived
yesterday with Lady Caroline."
"It's really dreadful," said Mrs. Wilkins, exactly as if she had
not been ignored. "There's nobody left to get anything ready for now.
I feel thwarted. I feel as if the bread had been taken out of my mouth
just when I was going to be happy swallowing it."
"Where will you sit?" asked Mrs. Fisher of Mrs. Arbuthnot—markedly
of Mrs. Arbuthnot; the comparison with the bread seemed to her most
"Oh, thank you—" said Mrs. Arbuthnot, sitting down rather
suddenly next to her.
There were only two places she could sit down in, the places laid
on either side of Mrs. Fisher. She therefore sat down in one, and Mrs.
Wilkins sat down opposite her in the other.
Mrs. Fisher was at the head of the table. Round her was grouped
the coffee and the tea. Of course they were all sharing San Salvatore
equally, but it was she herself and Lotty, Mrs. Arbuthnot mildly
reflected, who had found it, who had had the work of getting it, who
had chosen to admit Mrs. Fisher into it. Without them, she could not
help thinking, Mrs. Fisher would not have been there. Morally Mrs.
Fisher was a guest. There was no hostess in this party, but supposing
there had been a hostess it would not have been Mrs. Fisher, nor Lady
Caroline, it would have been either herself or Lotty. Mrs. Arbuthnot
could not help feeling this as she sat down, and Mrs. Fisher, the hand
which Ruskin had wrung suspended over the pots before her, inquired,
"Tea or coffee?" She could not help feeling it even more definitely
when Mrs. Fisher touched a small gong on the table beside her as though
she had been used to that gong and that table ever since she was
little, and, on Francesca's appearing, bade her in the language of
Dante bring more milk. There was a curious air about Mrs. Fisher,
thought Mrs. Arbuthnot, of being in possession; and if she herself had
not been so happy she would have perhaps minded.
Mrs. Wilkins noticed it too, but it only made her discursive
brain think of cuckoos. She would no doubt immediately have begun to
talk of cuckoos, incoherently, unrestrainably and deplorably, if she
had been in the condition of nerves and shyness she was in last time
she saw Mrs. Fisher. But happiness had done away with shyness—she was
very serene; she could control her conversation; she did not have,
horrified, to listen to herself saying things she had no idea of saying
when she began; she was quite at her ease, and completely natural. The
disappointment of not going to be able to prepare a welcome for Mrs.
Fisher had evaporated at once, for it was impossible to go on being
disappointed in heaven. Nor did she mind her behaving as hostess.
What did it matter? You did not mind things in heaven. She and Mrs.
Arbuthnot, therefore, sat down more willingly than they otherwise would
have done, one on either side of Mrs. Fisher, and the sun, pouring
through the two windows facing east across the bay, flooded the room,
and there was an open door leading into the garden, and the garden was
full of many lovely things, especially freesias.
The delicate and delicious fragrance of the freesias came in
through the door and floated round Mrs. Wilkins's enraptured nostrils.
Freesias in London were quite beyond her. Occasionally she went into a
shop and asked what they cost, so as just to have an excuse for lifting
up a bunch and smelling them, well knowing that it was something awful
like a shilling for about three flowers. Here they were everywhere—
bursting out of every corner and carpeting the rose beds. Imagine it—
having freesias to pick in armsful if you wanted to, and with glorious
sunshine flooding the room, and in your summer frock, and its being
only the first of April!
"I suppose you realize, don't you, that we've got to heaven?" she said,
beaming at Mrs. Fisher with all the familiarity of a fellow-angel.
"They are considerably younger than I had supposed," thought Mrs.
Fisher, "and not nearly so plain." And she mused a moment, while she
took no notice of Mrs. Wilkins's exuberance, on their instant and
agitated refusal that day at Prince of Wales Terrace to have anything
to do with the giving or the taking of references.
Nothing could affect her, of course; nothing that anybody did.
She was far too solidly seated in respectability. At her back stood
massively in a tremendous row those three great names she had offered,
and they were not the only ones she could turn to for support and
countenance. Even if these young women—she had no grounds for
believing the one out in the garden to be really Lady Caroline Dester,
she had merely been told she was—even if these young women should all
turn out to be what Browning used to call—how well she remembered his
amusing and delightful way of putting things—Fly-by-Nights, what could
it possibly, or in any way matter to her? Let them fly by night if
they wished. One was not sixty-five for nothing. In any case there
would only be four weeks of it, at the end of which she would see no
more of them. And in the meanwhile there were plenty of places where
she could sit quietly away from them and remember. Also there was her
own sitting-room, a charming room, all honey-coloured furniture and
pictures, with windows to the sea towards Genoa, and a door opening on
to the battlements. The house possessed two sitting-rooms, and she
explained to that pretty creature Lady Caroline—certainly a pretty
creature, whatever else she was; Tennyson would have enjoyed taking her
for blows on the downs—who had seemed inclined to appropriate the
honey-colored one, that she needed some little refuge entirely to
herself because of her stick.
"Nobody wants to see an old woman hobbling about everywhere," she
had said. "I shall be quite content to spend much of my time by myself
in here or sitting out on these convenient battlements."
And she had a very nice bedroom, too; it looked two ways, across
the bay in the morning sun—she liked the morning sun—and onto the
garden. There were only two of these bedrooms with cross-views in the
house, she and Lady Caroline had discovered, and they were by far the
airiest. They each had two beds in them, and she and Lady Caroline had
had the extra beds taken out at once and put into two of the other
rooms. In this way there was much more space and comfort. Lady
Caroline, indeed, had turned hers into a bed-sitting-room, with the
sofa out of the bigger drawing-room and the writing-table and the most
comfortable chair, but she herself had not had to do that because she
had her own sitting-room, equipped with what was necessary. Lady
Caroline had thought at first of taking the bigger sitting-room
entirely for her own, because the dining-room on the floor below could
quite well be used between meals to sit in by the two others, and was a
very pleasant room with nice chairs, but she had not liked the bigger
sitting-room's shape—it was a round room in the tower, with deep slit
windows pierced through the massive walls, and a domed and ribbed
ceiling arranged to look like an open umbrella, and it seemed a little
dark. Undoubtedly Lady Caroline had cast covetous glances at the
honey-coloured room, and if she Mrs. Fisher, had been less firm would
have installed herself in it. Which would have been absurd.
"I hope," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, smilingly making an attempt to
convey to Mrs. Fisher that though she, Mrs. Fisher, might not be
exactly a guest she certainly was not in the very least a hostess,
"your room is comfortable."
"Quite," said Mrs. Fisher. "Will you have some more coffee?"
"No, thank you. Will you?"
"No, thank you. There were two beds in my bedroom, filling it up
unnecessarily, and I had one taken out. It has made it much more
"Oh that's why I've got two beds in my room!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilkins,
illuminated; the second bed in her little cell had seemed an
unnatural and inappropriate object from the moment she saw it.
"I gave no directions," said Mrs. Fisher, addressing Mrs.
Arbuthnot, "I merely asked Francesca to remove it."
"I have two in my room as well," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Your second one must be Lady Caroline's. She had hers removed
too," said Mrs. Fisher. "It seems foolish to have more beds in a room
than there are occupiers."
"But we haven't got husbands here either," said Mrs. Wilkins,
"and I don't see any use in extra beds in one's room if one hasn't got
husbands to put in them. Can't we have them taken away too?"
"Beds," said Mrs. Fisher coldly, "cannot be removed from one room
after another. They must remain somewhere."
Mrs. Wilkins's remarks seemed to Mrs. Fisher persistently
unfortunate. Each time she opened her mouth she said something best
left unsaid. Loose talk about husbands had never in Mrs. Fisher's
circle been encouraged. In the 'eighties, when she chiefly flourished,
husbands were taken seriously, as the only real obstacles to sin. Beds
too, if they had to be mentioned, were approached with caution; and a
decent reserve prevented them and husbands ever being spoken of in the
She turned more markedly than ever to Mrs. Arbuthnot. "Do let me
give you a little more coffee," she said.
"No, thank you. But won't you have some more?"
"No indeed. I never have more than two cups at breakfast. Would
you like an orange?"
"No thank you. Would you?"
"No, I don't eat fruit at breakfast. It is an American fashion
which I am too old now to adopt. Have you had all you want?"
"Quite. Have you?"
Mrs. Fisher paused before replying. Was this a habit, this trick
of answering a simple question with the same question? If so it must
be curbed, for no one could live for four weeks in any real comfort
with somebody who had a habit.
She glanced at Mrs. Arbuthnot, and her parted hair and gentle
brow reassured her. No; it was accident, not habit, that had produced
those echoes. She could as soon imagine a dove having tiresome habits
as Mrs. Arbuthnot. Considering her, she thought what a splendid wife
she would have been for poor Carlyle. So much better than that horrid
clever Jane. She would have soothed him.
"Then shall we go?" she suggested.
"Let me help you up," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, all consideration.
"Oh, thank you—I can manage perfectly. It's only sometimes that
my stick prevents me—"
Mrs. Fisher got up quite easily; Mrs. Arbuthnot had hovered over
her for nothing.
"I'm going to have one of these gorgeous oranges," said Mrs.
Wilkins, staying where she was and reaching across to a black bowl
piled with them. "Rose, how can you resist them. Look—have this one.
Do have this beauty—" And she held out a big one.
"No, I'm going to see to my duties," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, moving
towards the door. "You'll forgive me for leaving you, won't you," she
added politely to Mrs. Fisher.
Mrs. Fisher moved towards the door too; quite easily; almost
quickly; her stick did not hinder her at all. She had no intention of
being left with Mrs. Wilkins.
"What time would you like to have lunch?" Mrs. Arbuthnot asked
her, trying to keep her head as at least a non-guest, if not precisely
a hostess, above water.
"Lunch," said Mrs. Fisher, "is at half-past twelve."
"You shall have it at half-past twelve then," said Mrs.
Arbuthnot. "I'll tell the cook. It will be a great struggle," she
continued, smiling, "but I've brought a little dictionary—"
"The cook," said Mrs. Fisher, "knows."
"Oh?" said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Lady Caroline has already told her," said Mrs. Fisher.
"Oh?" said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Yes. Lady Caroline speaks the kind of Italian cooks understand.
I am prevented going into the kitchen because of my stick. And even if
I were able to go, I fear I shouldn't be understood."
"But—" began Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"But it's too wonderful," Mrs. Wilkins finished for her from the
table, delighted with these unexpected simplifications in her and
Rose's lives. "Why, we've got positively nothing to do here, either of
us, except just be happy. You wouldn't believe," she said, turning her
head and speaking straight to Mrs. Fisher, portions of orange in either
hand, "how terribly good Rose and I have been for years without
stopping, and how much now we need a perfect rest."
And Mrs. Fisher, going without answering her out the room, said
to herself, "She must, she shall be curbed."
Presently, when Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot, unhampered by
any duties, wandered out and down the worn stone steps and under the
pergola into the lower garden, Mrs. Wilkins said to Mrs. Arbuthnot, who
seemed pensive, "Don't you see that if somebody else does the ordering
it frees us?"
Mrs. Arbuthnot said she did see, but nevertheless she thought it
rather silly to have everything taken out of their hands.
"I love things to be taken out of my hands," said Mrs. Wilkins.
"But we found San Salvatore," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, "and it is
rather silly that Mrs. Fisher should behave as if it belonged only to
"What is rather silly," said Mrs. Wilkins with much serenity, "is
to mind. I can't see the least point in being in authority at the
price of one's liberty."
Mrs. Arbuthnot said nothing to that for two reasons—first,
because she was struck by the remarkable and growing calm of the
hitherto incoherent and excited Lotty, and secondly because what she
was looking at was so very beautiful.
All down the stone steps on either side were periwinkles in full
flower, and she could now see what it was that had caught at her the
night before and brushed, wet and scented, across her face. It was
wistaria. Wistaria and sunshine . . . she remembered the
advertisement. Here indeed were both in profusion. The wistaria was
tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of
flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet
geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and
marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink
snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour. The
ground behind these flaming things dropped away in terraces to the sea,
each terrace a little orchard, where among the olives grew vines on
trellises, and fig-trees, and peach-trees, and cherry-trees. The
cherry-trees and peach-trees were in blossom—lovely showers of white
and deep rose-colour among the trembling delicacy of the olives; the
fig-leaves were just big enough to smell of figs, the vine-buds were
only beginning to show. And beneath these trees were groups of blue
and purple irises, and bushes of lavender, and grey, sharp cactuses,
and the grass was thick with dandelions and daisies, and right down at
the bottom was the sea. Colour seemed flung down anyhow, anywhere;
every sort of colour, piled up in heaps, pouring along in rivers—the
periwinkles looked exactly as if they were being poured down each side
of the steps—and flowers that grow only in borders in England, proud
flowers keeping themselves to themselves over there, such as the great
blue irises and the lavender, were being jostled by small, shining
common things like dandelions and daisies and the white bells of the
wild onion, and only seemed the better and the more exuberant for it.
They stood looking at this crowd of loveliness, this happy
jumble, in silence. No, it didn't matter what Mrs. Fisher did; not
here; not in such beauty. Mrs. Arbuthnot's discomposure melted out of
her. In the warmth and light of what she was looking at, of what to
her was a manifestation, and entirely new side of God, how could one be
discomposed? If only Frederick were with her, seeing it too, seeing as
he would have seen it when first they were lovers, in the days when he
saw what she saw and loved what she loved. . .
"You mustn't sigh in heaven," said Mrs. Wilkins. "One doesn't."
"I was thinking how one longs to share this with those one
loves," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"You mustn't long in heaven," said Mrs. Wilkins. "You're
supposed to be quite complete there. And it is heaven, isn't it, Rose?
See how everything has been let in together—the dandelions and the
irises, the vulgar and the superior, me and Mrs. Fisher—all welcome,
all mixed up anyhow, and all so visibly happy and enjoying ourselves."
"Mrs. Fisher doesn't seem happy—not visibly, anyhow," said Mrs.
"She'll begin soon, you'll see."
Mrs. Arbuthnot said she didn't believe that after a certain age
people began anything.
Mrs. Wilkins said she was sure no one, however old and tough,
could resist the effects of perfect beauty. Before many days, perhaps
only hours, they would see Mrs. Fisher bursting out into every kind of
exuberance. "I'm quite sure," said Mrs. Wilkins, "that we've got to
heaven, and once Mrs. Fisher realizes that that's where she is, she's
bound to be different. You'll see. She'll leave off being ossified,
and go all soft and able to stretch, and we shall get quite—why, I
shouldn't be surprised if we get quite fond of her."
The idea of Mrs. Fisher bursting out into anything, she who
seemed so particularly firmly fixed inside her buttons, made Mrs.
Arbuthnot laugh. She condoned Lotty's loose way of talking of heaven,
because in such a place, on such a morning, condonation was in the very
air. Besides, what an excuse there was.
And Lady Caroline, sitting where they had left her before
breakfast on the wall, peeped over when she heard laughter, and saw
them standing on the path below, and thought what a mercy it was they
were laughing down there and had not come up and done it round her.
She disliked jokes at all times, but in the morning she hated them;
especially close up; especially crowding in her ears. She hoped the
originals were on their way out for a walk, and not on their way back
from one. They were laughing more and more. What could they possibly
find to laugh at?
She looked down on the tops of their heads with a very serious
face, for the thought of spending a month with laughers was a grave
one, and they, as though they felt her eyes, turned suddenly and looked
The dreadful geniality of those women. . .
She shrank away from their smiles and wavings, but she could not
shrink out of sight without falling into the lilies. She neither
smiled nor waved back, and turning her eyes to the more distant
mountains surveyed them carefully till the two, tired of waving, moved
away along the path and turned the corner and disappeared.
This time they both did notice that they had been met with, at
"If we weren't in heaven," said Mrs. Wilkins serenely, "I should
say we had been snubbed, but as nobody snubs anybody there of course we
can't have been."
"Perhaps she is unhappy," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Whatever it is she is she'll get over it here," said Mrs.
Wilkins with conviction.
"We must try and help her," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Oh, but nobody helps anybody in heaven. That's finished with.
You don't try to be, or do. You simply are."
Well, Mrs. Arbuthnot wouldn't go into that—not here, not to-day.
The vicar, she knew, would have called Lotty's talk levity, if not
profanity. How old he seemed from here; an old, old vicar.
They left the path, and clambered down the olive terraces, down
and down, to where at the bottom the warm, sleepy sea heaved gently
among the rocks. There a pine-tree grew close to the water, and they
sat under it, and a few yards away was a fishing-boat lying motionless
and green-bellied on the water. The ripples of the sea made little
gurgling noises at their feet. They screwed up their eyes to be able
to look into the blaze of light beyond the shade of their tree. The
hot smell from the pine-needles and from the cushions of wild thyme
that padded the spaces between the rocks, and sometimes a smell of pure
honey from a clump of warm irises up behind them in the sun, puffed
across their faces. Very soon Mrs. Wilkins took her shoes and stockings
off, and let her feet hang in the water. After watching her a minute
Mrs. Arbuthnot did the same. Their happiness was then complete. Their
husbands would not have known them. They left off talking. They
ceased to mention heaven. They were just cups of acceptance.
Meanwhile Lady Caroline, on her wall, was considering her position.
The garden on the top of the wall was a delicious garden, but its
situation made it insecure and exposed to interruptions. At any moment
the others might come and want to use it, because both the hall and the
dining-room had doors opening straight into it. Perhaps, thought Lady
Caroline, she could arrange that it should be solely hers. Mrs. Fisher
had the battlements, delightful with flowers, and a watch-tower all to
herself, besides having snatched the one really nice room in the house.
There were plenty of places the originals could go to—she had herself
seen at least two other little gardens, while the hill the castle stood
on was itself a garden, with walks and seats. Why should not this one
spot be kept exclusively for her? She liked it; she liked it best of
all. It had the Judas tree and an umbrella pine, it had the freesias
and the lilies, it had a tamarisk beginning to flush pink, it had the
convenient low wall to sit on, it had from each of its three sides the
most amazing views—to the east the bay and mountains, to the north
the village across the tranquil clear green water of the little harbour
and the hills dotted with white houses and orange groves, and to the
west was the thin thread of land by which San Salvatore was tied to
the mainland, and then the open sea and the coast line beyond Genoa
reaching away into the blue dimness of France. Yes, she would say she
wanted to have this entirely to herself. How obviously sensible if
each of them had their own special place to sit in apart. It was
essential to her comfort that she should be able to be apart, left
alone, not talked to. The others ought to like it best too. Why
herd? One had enough of that in England, with one's relations and
friends—oh, the numbers of them!—pressing on one continually.
Having successfully escaped them for four weeks why continue, and
with persons having no earthly claim on one, to herd?
She lit a cigarette. She began to feel secure. Those two had
gone for a walk. There was no sign of Mrs. Fisher. How very pleasant
Somebody came out through the glass doors, just as she was
drawing a deep breath of security. Surely it couldn't be Mrs. Fisher,
wanting to sit with her? Mrs. Fisher had her battlements. She ought
to stay on them, having snatched them. It would be too tiresome if she
wouldn't, and wanted not only to have them and her sitting-room but to
establish herself in this garden as well.
No; it wasn't Mrs. Fisher, it was the cook.
She frowned. Was she going to have to go on ordering the food?
Surely one or other of those two waving women would do that now.
The cook, who had been waiting in increasing agitation in the
kitchen, watching the clock getting nearer to lunch—time while she
still was without knowledge of what lunch was to consist of, had gone
at last to Mrs. Fisher, who had immediately waved her away. She then
wandered about the house seeking a mistress, any mistress, who would
tell her what to cook, and finding none; and at last, directed by
Francesca, who always knew where everybody was, came out to Lady
Dominica had provided this cook. She was Costanza, the sister of
that one of his cousins who kept a restaurant down on the piazza. She
helped her brother in his cooking when she had no other job, and knew
every sort of fat, mysterious Italian dish such as the workmen of
Castagneto, who crowded the restaurant at midday, and the inhabitants
of Mezzago when they came over on Sundays, loved to eat. She was a
fleshless spinster of fifty, grey-haired, nimble, rich of speech, and
thought Lady Caroline more beautiful than anyone she had ever seen; and
so did Domenico; and so did the boy Giuseppe who helped Domenico and
was, besides, his nephew; and so did the girl Angela who helped
Francesca and was, besides, Domenico's niece; and so did Francesca
herself. Domenico and Francesca, the only two who had seen them,
thought the two ladies who arrived last very beautiful, but compared to
the fair young lady who arrived first they were as candles to the
electric light that had lately been installed, and as the tin tubs in
the bedrooms to the wonderful new bathroom their master had had
arranged on his last visit.
Lady Caroline scowled at the cook. The scowl, as usual, was
transformed on the way into what appeared to be an intent and beautiful
gravity, and Costanza threw up her hands and took the saints aloud to
witness that here was the very picture of the Mother of God.
Lady Caroline asked her crossly what she wanted, and Costanza's
head went on one side with delight at the sheer music of her voice.
She said, after waiting a moment in case the music was going to
continue, for she didn't wish to miss any of it, that she wanted
orders; she had been to the Signorina's mother, but in vain.
"She is not my mother," repudiated Lady Caroline angrily; and her
anger sounded like the regretful wail of a melodious orphan.
Costanza poured forth pity. She too, she explained, had no
Lady Caroline interrupted with the curt information that her
mother was alive and in London.
Costanza praised God and the saints that the young lady did not
yet know what it was like to be without a mother. Quickly enough did
misfortunes overtake one; no doubt the young lady already had a
"No," said Lady Caroline icily. Worse than jokes in the morning
did she hate the idea of husbands. And everybody was always trying to
press them on her—all her relations, all her friends, all the evening
papers. After all, she could only marry one, anyhow; but you would
think from the way everybody talked, and especially those persons who
wanted to be husbands, that she could marry at least a dozen.
Her soft, pathetic "No" made Costanza, who was standing close to
her, well with sympathy.
"Poor little one," said Costanza, moved actually to pat her
encouragingly on the shoulder, "take hope. There is still time."
"For lunch," said Lady Caroline freezingly, marveling as she
spoke that she should be patted, she who had taken so much trouble to
come to a place, remote and hidden, where she could be sure that among
other things of a like oppressive nature pattings also were not, "we
Costanza became business-like. She interrupted with suggestions,
and her suggestions were all admirable and all expensive.
Lady Caroline did not know they were expensive, and fell in with
them at once. They sounded very nice. Every sort of young vegetables
and fruits came into them, and much butter and a great deal of cream
and incredible numbers of eggs. Costanza said enthusiastically at the
end, as a tribute to this acquiescence, that of the many ladies and
gentlemen she had worked for on temporary jobs such as this she
preferred the English ladies and gentlemen. She more than preferred
them—they roused devotion in her. For they knew what to order; they
did not skimp; they refrained from grinding down the faces of the poor.
From this Lady Caroline concluded that she had been extravagant,
and promptly countermanded the cream.
Costanza's face fell, for she had a cousin who had a cow, and the
cream was to have come from them both.
"And perhaps we had better not have chickens," said Lady
Costanza's face fell more, for her brother at the restaurant kept
chickens in his back-yard, and many of them were ready for killing.
"Also do not order strawberries till I have consulted with the
other ladies," said Lady Caroline, remembering that it was only the
first of April, and that perhaps people who lived in Hampstead might be
poor; indeed, must be poor, or why live in Hampstead? "It is not I who
am mistress here."
"Is it the old one?" asked Costanza, her face very long.
"No," said Lady Caroline.
"Which of the other two ladies is it?"
"Neither," said Lady Caroline.
Then Costanza's smiles returned, for the young lady was having
fun with her and making jokes. She told her so, in her friendly
Italian way, and was genuinely delighted.
"I never make jokes," said Lady Caroline briefly. "You had
better go, or lunch will certainly not be ready by half-past twelve."
And these curt words came out sounding so sweet that Costanza
felt as if kind compliments were being paid her, and forgot her
disappointment about the cream and the chickens, and went away all
gratitude and smiles.
"This," thought Lady Caroline, "will never do. I haven't come
here to housekeep, and I won't."
She called Costanza back. Costanza came running. The sound of
her name in that voice enchanted her.
"I have ordered the lunch for to-day," said Lady Caroline, with
the serious angel face that was hers when she was annoyed, "and I have
also ordered the dinner, but from now on you will go to one of the
other ladies for orders. I give no more."
The idea that she would go on giving orders was too absurd. She
never gave orders at home. Nobody there dreamed of asking her to do
anything. That such a very tiresome activity should be thrust upon her
here, simply because she happened to be able to talk Italian, was
ridiculous. Let the originals give orders if Mrs. Fisher refused to.
Mrs. Fisher, of course, was the one Nature intended for such a purpose.
She had the very air of a competent housekeeper. Her clothes were the
clothes of a housekeeper, and so was the way she did her hair.
Having delivered herself of her ultimatum with an acerbity that
turned sweet on the way, and accompanied it by a peremptory gesture of
dismissal that had the grace and loving-kindness of a benediction, it
was annoying that Costanza should only stand still with her head on one
side gazing at her in obvious delight.
"Oh, go away!" exclaimed Lady Caroline in English, suddenly
There had been a fly in her bedroom that morning which had stuck
just as Costanza was sticking; only one, but it might have been a
myriad it was so tiresome from daylight on. It was determined to
settle on her face, and she was determined it should not. Its
persistence was uncanny. It woke her, and would not let her go to
sleep again. She hit at it, and it eluded her without fuss or effort
and with an almost visible blandness, and she had only hit herself. It
came back again instantly, and with a loud buzz alighted on her cheek.
She hit at it again and hurt herself, while it skimmed gracefully away.
She lost her temper, and sat up in bed and waited, watching to hit at
it and kill it. She kept on hitting at it at last with fury and with
all her strength, as if it were a real enemy deliberately trying to
madden her; and it elegantly skimmed in and out of her blows, not even
angry, to be back again the next instant. It succeeded every time in
getting on to her face, and was quite indifferent how often it was
driven away. That was why she had dressed and come out so early.
Francesca had already been told to put a net over her bed, for she was
not going to allow herself to be annoyed twice like that. People were
exactly like flies. She wished there were nets for keeping them off
too. She hit at them with words and frowns, and like the fly they
slipped between her blows and were untouched. Worse than the fly, they
seemed unaware that she had even tried to hit them. The fly at least
did for a moment go away. With human beings the only way to get rid of
them was to go away herself. That was what, so tired, she had done
this April; and having got here, having got close up to the details of
life at San Salvatore, it appeared that here, too, she was not to be
Viewed from London there had seemed to be no details. San
Salvatore from there seemed to be an empty, a delicious blank. Yet,
after only twenty-four hours of it, she was discovering that it was not
a blank at all, and that she was having to ward off as actively as
ever. Already she had been much stuck to. Mrs. Fisher had stuck
nearly the whole of the day before, and this morning there had been no
peace, not ten minutes uninterruptedly alone.
Costanza of course had finally to go because she had to cook, but
hardly had she gone before Domenico came. He came to water and tie up.
That was natural, since he was the gardener, but he watered and tied up
all the things that were nearest to her; he hovered closer and closer;
he watered to excess; he tied plants that were as straight and steady
as arrows. Well, at least he was a man, and therefore not quite so
annoying, and his smiling good-morning was received with an answering
smile; upon which Domenico forgot his family, his wife, his mother, his
grown-up children and all his duties, and only wanted to kiss the young
He could not do that, unfortunately, but he could talk while he
worked, and talk he did; voluminously; pouring out every kind of
information, illustrating what he said with gestures so lively that he
had to put down the watering-pot, and thus delay the end of the
Lady Caroline bore it for a time but presently was unable to bear
it, and as he would not go, and she could not tell him to, seeing that
he was engaged in his proper work, once again it was she who had to.
She got off the wall and moved to the other side of the garden,
where in a wooden shed were some comfortable low cane chairs. All she
wanted was to turn one of these round with its back to Domenico and its
front to the sea towards Genoa. Such a little thing to want. One
would have thought she might have been allowed to do that unmolested.
But he, who watched her every movement, when he saw her approaching the
chairs darted after her and seized one and asked to be told where to
Would she never get away from being waited on, being made
comfortable, being asked where she wanted things put, having to say
thank you? She was short with Domenico, who instantly concluded the
sun had given her a headache, and ran in and fetched her a sunshade and
a cushion and a footstool, and was skilful, and was wonderful, and was
one of Nature's gentlemen.
She shut her eyes in a heavy resignation. She could not be
unkind to Domenico. She could not get up and walk indoors as she would
have done if it had been one of the others. Domenico was intelligent
and very competent. She had at once discovered that it was he who
really ran the house, who really did everything. And his manners were
definitely delightful, and he undoubtedly was a charming person. It
was only that she did so much long to be let alone. If only, only she
could be left quite quiet for this one month, she felt that she might
perhaps make something of herself after all.
She kept her eyes shut, because then he would think she wanted to
sleep and would go away.
Domenico's romantic Italian soul melted within him at the sight,
for having her eyes shut was extraordinarily becoming to her. He stood
entranced, quite still, and she thought he had stolen away, so she
opened them again.
No; there he was, staring at her. Even he. There was no getting
away from being stared at.
"I have a headache," she said, shutting them again.
"It is the sun," said Domenico, "and sitting on the wall without
"I wish to sleep."
"Si signorina," he said sympathetically; and went softly away.
She opened her eyes with a sigh of relief. The gentle closing of
the glass doors showed her that he had not only gone quite away but had
shut her out in the garden so that she should be undisturbed. Now
perhaps she would be alone till lunch-time.
It was very curious, and no one in the world could have been more
surprised than she herself, but she wanted to think. She had never
wanted to do that before. Everything else that it is possible to do
without too much inconvenience she had either wanted to do or had done
at one period or another of her life, but not before had she wanted to
think. She had come to San Salvatore with the single intention of
lying comatose for four weeks in the sun, somewhere where her parents
and friends were not, lapped in forgetfulness, stirring herself only to
be fed, and she had not been there more than a few hours when this
strange new desire took hold of her.
There had been wonderful stars the evening before, and she had
gone out into the top garden after dinner, leaving Mrs. Fisher alone
over her nuts and wine, and, sitting on the wall at the place where the
lilies crowded their ghost heads, she had looked out into the gulf of
the night, and it had suddenly seemed as if her life had been a noise
all about nothing.
She had been intensely surprised. She knew stars and darkness
did produce unusual emotions because, in others, she had seen them
being produced, but they had not before done it in herself. A noise
all about nothing. Could she be quite well? She had wondered. For a
long while past she had been aware that her life was a noise, but it
had seemed to be very much about something; a noise, indeed, about so
much that she felt she must get out of earshot for a little or she
would be completely, and perhaps permanently, deafened. But suppose it
was only a noise about nothing?
She had not had a question like that in her mind before. It had
made her feel lonely. She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That
was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully
right inside one. It was what one dreaded most. It was what made one
go to so many parties; and lately even the parties had seemed once or
twice not to be a perfectly certain protection. Was it possible that
loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way
one met them? Perhaps, she had thought, she had better go to bed. She
couldn't be very well.
She went to bed; and in the morning, after she had escaped the fly and
had her breakfast and got out again into the garden, there was this
same feeling again, and in broad daylight. Once more she had that
really rather disgusting suspicion that her life till now had not
only been loud but empty. Well, if that were so, and if her first
twenty-eight years—the best ones—had gone just in meaningless noise,
she had better stop a moment and look round her; pause, as they
said in tiresome novels, and consider. She hadn't got many sets of
twenty-eight years. One more would see her growing very like Mrs.
Fisher. Two more— She averted her eyes.
Her mother would have been concerned if she had known. Her
mother doted. Her father would have been concerned too, for he also
doted. Everybody doted. And when, melodiously obstinate, she had
insisted on going off to entomb herself in Italy for a whole month with
queer people she had got out of an advertisement, refusing even to take
her maid, the only explanation her friends could imagine was that poor
Scrap—such was her name among them—had overdone it and was feeling a
Her mother had been distressed at her departure. It was such an
odd thing to do, such a sign of disappointment. She encouraged the
general idea of the verge of a nervous breakdown. If she could have
seen her adored Scrap, more delightful to look upon than any other
mother's daughter had ever yet been, the object of her utmost
pride, the source of all her fondest hopes, sitting staring at the
empty noonday Mediterranean considering her three possible sets of
twenty-eight years, she would have been miserable. To go away alone
was bad; to think was worse. No good could come out of the thinking
of a beautiful young woman. Complications could come out of it in
profusion, but no good. The thinking of the beautiful was bound to
result in hesitations, in reluctances, in unhappiness all round. And
here, if she could have seen her, sat her Scrap thinking quite hard.
And such things. Such old things. Things nobody ever began to think
till they were at least forty.
That one of the two sitting-rooms which Mrs. Fisher had taken for
her own was a room of charm and character. She surveyed it with
satisfaction on going into it after breakfast, and was glad it was
hers. It had a tiled floor, and walls the colour of pale honey, and
inlaid furniture the colour of amber, and mellow books, many in ivory
or lemon-coloured covers. There was a big window overlooking the sea
towards Genoa, and a glass door through which she could proceed out
on to the battlements and walk along past the quaint and attractive
watch-tower, in itself a room with chairs and a writing table, to where
on the other side of the tower the battlements ended in a marble seat,
and one could see the western bay and the point round which began the
Gulf of Spezia. Her south view, between these two stretches of sea,
was another hill, higher than San Salvatore, the last of the little
peninsula, with the bland turrets of a smaller and uninhabited castle
on the top, on which the setting sun still shone when everything else
was sunk in shadow. Yes, she was very comfortably established here;
and receptacles—Mrs. Fisher did not examine their nature closely, but
they seemed to be small stone troughs, or perhaps little sarcophagi—
ringed round the battlements with flowers.
These battlements, she thought, considering them, would have been
a perfect place for her to pace up and down gently in moments when she
least felt the need of her stick, or to sit in on the marble seat,
having first put a cushion on it, if there had not unfortunately been a
second glass door opening on to them, destroying their complete
privacy, spoiling her feeling that the place was only for her. The
second door belonged to the round drawing-room, which both she and Lady
Caroline had rejected as too dark. That room would probably be sat in
by the women from Hampstead, and she was afraid they would not confine
themselves to sitting in it, but would come out through the glass door
and invade her battlements. This would ruin the battlements. It would
ruin them as far as she was concerned if they were to be overrun; or
even if, not actually overrun, they were liable to be raked by the
eyes of persons inside the room. No one could be perfectly at
ease if they were being watched and knew it. What she wanted, what she
surely had a right to, was privacy. She had no wish to intrude on the
others; why then should they intrude on her? And she could always
relax her privacy if, when she became better acquainted with her
companions, she should think it worth while, but she doubted whether
any of the three would so develop as to make her think it worth while.
Hardly anything was really worth while, reflected Mrs. Fisher,
except the past. It was astonishing, it was simply amazing, the
superiority of the past to the present. Those friends of hers in
London, solid persons of her own age, knew the same past that she knew,
could talk about it with her, could compare it as she did with the
tinkling present, and in remembering great men forget for a moment the
trivial and barren young people who still, in spite of the war, seemed
to litter the world in such numbers. She had not come away from these
friends, these conversable ripe friends, in order to spend her time in
Italy chatting with three persons of another generation and defective
experience; she had come away merely to avoid the treacheries of a
London April. It was true what she had told the two who came to Prince
of Wales Terrace, that all she wished to do at San Salvatore was to sit
by herself in the sun and remember. They knew this, for she had told
them. It had been plainly expressed and clearly understood. Therefore
she had a right to expect them to stay inside the round drawing-room
and not to emerge interruptingly on to her battlements.
But would they? The doubt spoilt her morning. It was only
towards lunch-time that she saw a way to be quite safe, and ringing for
Francesca, bade her, in slow and majestic Italian, shut the shutters of
the glass door of the round drawing-room, and then, going with her into
the room, which had become darker than ever in consequence, but also,
Mrs. Fisher observed to Francesca, who was being voluble, would because
of this very darkness remain agreeably cool, and after all there were
the numerous slit-windows in the walls to let in light and it was
nothing to do with her if they did not let it in, she directed the
placing of a cabinet of curios across the door on its inside.
This would discourage egress.
Then she rang for Domenico, and caused him to move one of the
flower-filled sarcophagi across the door on its outside.
This would discourage ingress.
"No one," said Domenico, hesitating, "will be able to use the
"No one," said Mrs. Fisher firmly, "will wish to."
She then retired to her sitting-room, and from a chair placed
where she could look straight on to them, gazed at her battlements,
secured to her now completely, with calm pleasure.
Being here, she reflected placidly, was much cheaper than being
in an hotel and, if she could keep off the others, immeasurably more
agreeable. She was paying for her rooms—extremely pleasant rooms, now
that she was arranged in them—£3 a week, which came to about eight
shillings a day, battlements, watch-tower and all. Where else abroad
could she live as well for so little, and have as many baths as she
like, for eight shillings a day? Of course she did not yet know what
her food would cost, but she would insist on carefulness over that,
though she would also insist on its being carefulness combined with
excellence. The two were perfectly compatible if the caterer took
pains. The servants' wages, she had ascertained, were negligible,
owing to the advantageous exchange, so that there was only the food to
cause her anxiety. If she saw signs of extravagance she would propose
that they each hand over a reasonable sum every week to Lady Caroline
which should cover the bills, any of it that was not used to be
returned, and if it were exceeded the loss to be borne by the caterer.
Mrs. Fisher was well off and had the desire for comforts proper
to her age, but she disliked expenses. So well off was she that, had
she so chosen, she could have lived in an opulent part of London and
driven from it and to it in a Rolls-Royce. She had no such wish. It
needed more vitality than went with true comfort to deal with a house
in an opulent spot and a Rolls-Royce. Worries attended such
possessions, worries of every kind, crowned by bills. In the sober
gloom of Prince of Wales Terrace she could obscurely enjoy inexpensive
yet real comfort, without being snatched at by predatory men-servants
or collectors for charities, and a taxi stand was at the end of the
road. Her annual outlay was small. The house was inherited. Death
had furnished it for her. She trod in the dining-room on the Turkey
carpet of her fathers; she regulated her day by the excellent black
marble clock on the mantelpiece which she remembered from childhood; her
walls were entirely covered by the photographs her illustrious deceased
friends had given either herself or her father, with their own
handwriting across the lower parts of their bodies, and the windows,
shrouded by the maroon curtains of all her life, were decorated besides
with the selfsame aquariums to which she owed her first lessons in
sealore, and in which still swam slowly the goldfishes of her youth.
Were they the same goldfish? She did not know. Perhaps, like
carp, they outlived everybody. Perhaps, on the other hand, behind the
deep-sea vegetation provided for them at the bottom, they had from time
to time as the years went by withdrawn and replaced themselves. Were
they or were they not, she sometimes wondered, contemplating them
between the courses of her solitary means, the same goldfish that had
that day been there when Carlyle—how well she remembered it—angrily
strode up to them in the middle of some argument with her father that
had grown heated, and striking the glass smartly with his fist had put
them to flight, shouting as they fled, "Och, ye deaf devils! Och, ye
lucky deaf devils! Ye can't hear anything of the blasted, blethering,
doddering, glaikit fool-stuff yer maister talks, can ye?" Or words to
Dear, great-souled Carlyle. Such natural gushings forth; such
true freshness; such real grandeur. Rugged, if you will—yes,
undoubtedly sometimes rugged, and startling in a drawing-room, but
magnificent. Who was there now to put beside him? Who was there to
mention in the same breath? Her father, than whom no one had had more
flair, said: "Thomas is immortal." And here was this generation, this
generation of puniness, raising its little voice in doubts, or, still
worse, not giving itself the trouble to raise it at all, not—it was
incredible, but it had been thus reported to her—even reading him.
Mrs. Fisher did not read him either, but that was different. She had
read him; she had certainly read him. Of course she had read him.
There was Teufelsdröck—she quite well remembered a tailor called
Teufelsdröck. So like Carlyle to call him that. Yes, she must have
read him, though naturally details escaped her.
The gong sounded. Lost in reminiscence Mrs. Fisher had forgotten
time, and hastened to her bedroom to wash her hands and smoothe her
hair. She did not wish to be late and set a bad example, and perhaps
find her seat at the head of the table taken. One could put no trust
in the manners of the younger generation; especially not in those of
that Mrs. Wilkins.
She was, however, the first to arrive in the dining-room.
Francesca in a white apron stood ready with an enormous dish of smoking
hot, glistening macaroni, but nobody was there to eat it.
Mrs. Fisher sat down, looking stern. Lax, lax.
"Serve me," she said to Francesca, who showed a disposition to
wait for the others.
Francesca served her. Of the party she liked Mrs. Fisher least,
in fact she did not like her at all. She was the only one of the four
ladies who had not yet smiled. True she was old, true she was
unbeautiful, true she therefore had no reason to smile, but kind ladies
smiled, reason or no. They smiled, not because they were happy but
because they wished to make happy. This one of the four ladies could
not then, Francesca decided, be kind; so she handed her the macaroni,
being unable to hide any of her feelings, morosely.
It was very well cooked, but Mrs. Fisher had never cared for
maccaroni, especially not this long, worm-shaped variety. She found it
difficult to eat—slippery, wriggling off her fork, making her look,
she felt, undignified when, having got it as she supposed into her
mouth, ends of it yet hung out. Always, too, when she ate it she was
reminded of Mr. Fisher. He had during their married life behaved very
much like maccaroni. He had slipped, he had wriggled, he had made her
feel undignified, and when at last she had got him safe, as she
thought, there had invariably been little bits of him that still, as it
were, hung out.
Francesca from the sideboard watched Mrs. Fisher's way with
macaroni gloomily, and her gloom deepened when she saw her at last take
her knife to it and chop it small.
Mrs. Fisher really did not know how else to get hold of the
stuff. She was aware that knives in this connection were improper, but
one did finally lose patience. Maccaroni was never allowed to appear
on her table in London. Apart from its tiresomeness she did not even
like it, and she would tell Lady Caroline not to order it again. Years
of practice, reflected Mrs. Fisher, chopping it up, years of actual
living in Italy, would be necessary to learn the exact trick. Browning
managed maccaroni wonderfully. She remembered watching him one day
when he came to lunch with her father, and a dish of it had been
ordered as a compliment to his connection with Italy. Fascinating, the
way it went in. No chasing round the plate, no slidings off the fork,
no subsequent protrusions of loose ends—just one dig, one whisk, one
thrust, one gulp, and lo, yet another poet had been nourished.
"Shall I go and seek the young lady?" asked Francesca, unable any
longer to look on a good maccaroni being cut with a knife.
Mrs. Fisher came out of her reminiscent reflections with
difficulty. "She knows lunch is at half-past twelve," she said. "They
"She may be asleep," said Francesca. "The other ladies are
further away, but this one is not far away."
"Beat the gong again then," said Mrs. Fisher.
What manners, she thought; what, what manners. It was not an
hotel, and considerations were due. She must say she was surprised at
Mrs. Arbuthnot, who had not looked like somebody unpunctual. Lady
Caroline, too—she had seemed amiable and courteous, whatever else she
might be. From the other one, of course, she expected nothing.
Francesca fetched the gong, and took it out into the garden and
advanced, beating it as she advanced, close up to Lady Caroline, who,
still stretched in her low chair, waited till she had done, and then
turned her head and in the sweetest tones poured forth what appeared to
be music but was really invective.
Francesca did not recognize the liquid flow as invective; how was
she to, when it came out sounding like that? And with her face all
smiles, for she could not but smile when she looked at this young lady,
she told her the maccaroni was getting cold.
"When I do not come to meals it is because I do not wish to come
to meals," said the irritated Scrap, "and you will not in future
"Is she ill?" asked Francesca, sympathetic but unable to stop
smiling. Never, never had she seen hair so beautiful. Like pure flax;
like the hair of northern babes. On such a little head only blessing
could rest, on such a little head the nimbus of the holiest saints
could fitly be placed.
Scrap shut her eyes and refused to answer. In this she was
injudicious, for its effect was to convince Francesca, who hurried away
full of concern to tell Mrs. Fisher, that she was indisposed. And Mrs.
Fisher, being prevented, she explained, from going out to Lady Caroline
herself because of her stick, sent the two others instead, who had come
in at that moment heated and breathless and full of excuses, while she
herself proceeded to the next course, which was a very well-made
omelette, bursting most agreeably at both its ends with young green
"Serve me," she directed Francesca, who again showed a
disposition to wait for the others.
"Oh, why won't they leave me alone?" Scrap asked herself when she
heard more scrunchings on the little pebbles which took the place of
grass, and therefore knew some one else was approaching.
She kept her eyes tight shut this time. Why should she go in to
lunch if she didn't want to? This wasn't a private house; she was in
no way tangled up in duties towards a tiresome hostess. For all
practical purposes San Salvatore was an hotel, and she ought to be let
alone to eat or not to eat exactly as if she really had been in an
But the unfortunate Scrap could not just sit still and close her
eyes without rousing that desire to stroke and pet in her beholders
with which she was only too familiar. Even the cook had patted her.
And now a gentle hand—how well she knew and how much she dreaded
gentle hands—was placed on her forehead.
"I'm afraid you're not well," said a voice that was not Mrs.
Fisher's, and therefore must belong to one of the originals.
"I have a headache," murmured Scrap. Perhaps it was best to say
that; perhaps it was the shortest cut to peace.
"I'm so sorry," said Mrs. Arbuthnot softly, for it was her hand
"And I," said Scrap to herself, "who thought if I came here I
would escape mothers."
"Don't you think some tea would do you good?" asked Mrs.
"Tea? The idea was abhorrent to Scrap. In this heat to be
drinking tea in the middle of the day. . .
"No," she murmured.
"I expect what would really be best for her," said another voice,
"is to be left quiet."
How sensible, thought Scrap; and raised the eye-lashes of one eye
just enough to peep through and see who was speaking.
It was the freckled original. The dark one, then, was the one
with the hand. The freckled one rose in her esteem.
"But I can't bear to think of you with a headache and nothing
being done for it," said Mrs. Arbuthnot. "Would a cup of strong black
Scrap said no more. She waited, motionless and dumb, till Mrs.
Arbuthnot should remove her hand. After all, she couldn't stand there
all day, and when she went away she would have to take her hand with
"I do think," said the freckled one, "that she wants nothing
And perhaps the freckled one pulled the one with the hand by the
sleeve, for the hold on Scrap's forehead relaxed, and after a minute's
silence, during which no doubt she was being contemplated—she was
always being contemplated—the footsteps began to scrunch the pebbles
again, and grew fainter, and were gone.
"Lady Caroline has a headache," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, re-entering
the dining-room and sitting down in her place next to Mrs. Fisher. "I
can't persuade her to have even a little tea, or some black coffee. Do
you know what aspirin is in Italian?"
"The proper remedy for headaches," said Mrs. Fisher firmly, "is
"But she hasn't got a headache," said Mrs. Wilkins.
"Carlyle," said Mrs. Fisher, who had finished her omelette and
had leisure, while she waited for the next course, to talk, "suffered
at one period terribly from headaches, and he constantly took castor
oil as a remedy. He took it, I should say, almost to excess, and
called it, I remember, in his interesting way the oil of sorrow. My
father said it coloured for a time his whole attitude to life, his
whole philosophy. But that was because he took too much. What Lady
Caroline wants is one dose, and one only. It is a mistake to keep on
taking castor oil."
"Do you know the Italian for it?" asked Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Ah, that I'm afraid I don't. However, she would know. You can
"But she hasn't got a headache," repeated Mrs. Wilkins, who was
struggling with the maccaroni. "She only wants to be let alone."
They both looked at her. The word shovel crossed Mrs. Fisher's
mind in connection with Mrs. Wilkins's actions at that moment.
"Then why should she say she has?" asked Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"Because she is still trying to be polite. Soon she won't try,
when the place has got more into her—she'll really be it. Without
"Lotty, you see," explained Mrs. Arbuthnot, smiling to Mrs.
Fisher, who sat waiting with a stony patience for her next course,
delayed because Mrs. Wilkins would go on trying to eat the maccaroni,
which must be less worth eating than ever now that it was cold; "Lotty,
you see, has a theory about this place—"
But Mrs. Fisher had no wish to hear any theory of Mrs. Wilkins's.
"I am sure I don't know," she interrupted, looking severely at
Mrs. Wilkins, "why you should assume Lady Caroline is not telling the
"I don't assume—I know." said Mrs. Wilkins.
"And pray how do you know?" asked Mrs. Fisher icily, for Mrs.
Wilkins was actually helping herself to more maccaroni, offered her
officiously and unnecessarily a second time by Francesca.
"When I was out there just now I saw inside her."
Well, Mrs. Fisher wasn't going to say anything to that; she
wasn't going to trouble to reply to downright idiocy. Instead she
sharply rapped the little table-gong by her side, though there was
Francesca standing at the sideboard, and said, for she would wait no
longer for her next course, "Serve me."
And Francesca—it must have been wilful—offered her the
There was no way of getting into or out of the top garden at San
Salvatore except through the two glass doors, unfortunately side by
side, of the dining-room and the hall. A person in the garden who
wished to escape unseen could not, for the person to be escaped from
could be met on the way. It was a small, oblong garden, and
concealment was impossible. What trees there were—the Judas tree, the
tamarisk, the umbrella-pine—grew close to the low parapets. Rose
bushes gave no real cover; one step to right or left of them, and the
person wishing to be private was discovered. Only the north-west
corner was a little place jutting out from the great wall, a kind of
excrescence or loop, no doubt used in the old distrustful days for
observation, where it was possible to sit really unseen, because
between it and the house was a thick clump of daphne.
Scrap, after glancing round to see that no one was looking, got
up and carried her chair into this place, stealing away as carefully on
tiptoe as those steal whose purpose is sin. There was another
excrescence on the walls just like it at the north-east corner, but
this, though the view from it was almost more beautiful, for from it
you could see the bay and the lovely mountains behind Mezzago, was
exposed. No bushes grew near it, nor had it any shade. The north-west
loop then was where she would sit, and she settled into it, and
nestling her head in her cushion and putting her feet comfortably on
the parapet, from whence they appeared to the villagers on the piazza
below as two white doves, thought that now indeed she would be safe.
Mrs. Fisher found her there, guided by the smell of her
cigarette. The incautious Scrap had not thought of that. Mrs. Fisher
did not smoke herself, and all the more distinctly could she smell the
smoke of others. The virile smell met her directly she went out into
the garden from the dining-room after lunch in order to have her
coffee. She had bidden Francesca set the coffee in the shade of the
house just outside the glass door, and when Mrs. Wilkins, seeing a
table being carried there, reminded her, very officiously and
tactlessly Mrs. Fisher considered, that Lady Caroline wanted to be
alone, she retorted—and with what propriety—that the garden was for
Into it accordingly she went, and was immediately aware that Lady
Caroline was smoking. She said to herself, "These modern young women,"
and proceeded to find her; her stick, now that lunch was over, being no
longer the hindrance to action that it was before her meal had been
securely, as Browning once said—surely it was Browning? Yes, she
remembered how much diverted she had been—roped in.
Nobody diverted her now, reflected Mrs. Fisher, making straight
for the clump of daphne; the world had grown very dull, and had
entirely lost its sense of humour. Probably they still had their
jokes, these people—in fact she knew they did, for Punch still went
on; but how differently it went on, and what jokes. Thackeray, in his
inimitable way, would have made mincemeat of this generation. Of how
much it needed the tonic properties of that astringent pen it was of
course unaware. It no longer even held him—at least, so she had been
informed—in any particular esteem. Well, she could not give it eyes
to see and ears to hear and a heart to understand, but she could and
would give it, represented and united in the form of Lady Caroline, a
good dose of honest medicine.
"I hear you are not well," she said, standing in the narrow
entrance of the loop and looking down with the inflexible face of one
who is determined to do good at the motionless and apparently sleeping
Mrs. Fisher had a deep voice, very like a man's, for she had been
overtaken by that strange masculinity that sometimes pursues a woman
during the last laps of her life.
Scrap tried to pretend that she was asleep, but if she had been
her cigarette would not have been held in her fingers but would have
been lying on the ground.
She forgot this. Mrs. Fisher did not, and coming inside the
loop, sat down on a narrow stone seat built out of the wall. For a
little she could sit on it; for a little, till the chill began to
She contemplated the figure before her. Undoubtedly a pretty
creature, and one that would have had a success at Farringford.
Strange how easily even the greatest men were moved by exteriors. She
had seen with her own eyes Tennyson turn away from everybody—turn,
positively, his back on a crowd of eminent people assembled to do him
honour, and withdraw to the window with a young person nobody had ever
heard of, who had been brought there by accident and whose one and only
merit—if it be a merit, that which is conferred by chance—was beauty.
Beauty! All over before you can turn round. An affair, one might
almost say, of minutes. Well, while it lasted it did seem able to do
what it liked with men. Even husbands were not immune. There had been
passages in the life of Mr. Fisher . . .
"I expect the journey has upset you," she said in her deep voice.
"What you want is a good dose of some simple medicine. I shall ask
Domenico if there is such a thing in the village as castor oil."
Scrap opened her eyes and looked straight at Mrs. Fisher.
"Ah," said Mrs. Fisher, "I knew you were not asleep. If you had
been you would have let your cigarette fall to the ground."
"Waste," said Mrs. Fisher. "I don't like smoking for women, but
I still less like waste."
"What does one do with people like this?" Scrap asked herself,
her eyes fixed on Mrs. Fisher in what felt to her an indignant stare
but appeared to Mrs. Fisher as really charming docility.
"Now you'll take my advice," said Mrs. Fisher, touched, "and not
neglect what may very well turn into an illness. We are in Italy, you
know, and one has to be careful. You ought, to begin with, to go to
"I never go to bed," snapped Scrap; and it sounded as moving, as
forlorn, as that line spoken years and years ago by an actress playing
the part of Poor Jo in dramatized version of Bleak House—"I'm always
moving on," said Poor Jo in this play, urged to do so by a policeman;
and Mrs. Fisher, then a girl, had laid her head on the red velvet
parapet of the front row of the dress circle and wept aloud.
It was wonderful, Scrap's voice. It had given her, in the ten
years since she came out, all the triumphs that intelligence and wit
can have, because it made whatever she said seem memorable. She ought,
with a throat formation like that, to have been a singer, but in every
kind of music Scrap was dumb except this one music of the speaking
voice; and what a fascination, what a spell lay in that. Such was the
liveliness of her face and the beauty of her colouring that there was
not a man into whose eyes at the sight of her there did not leap a
flame of intensest interest; but, when he heard her voice, the flame in
that man's eyes was caught and fixed. It was the same with every man,
educated and uneducated, old, young, desirable themselves or
undesirable, men of her own world and bus-conductors, generals and
Tommies—during the war she had had a perplexing time—bishops equally
with vergers—round about her confirmation startling occurrences had
taken place—wholesome and unwholesome, rich and penniless, brilliant
or idiotic; and it made no difference at all what they were, or how
long and securely married: into the eyes of every one of them, when
they saw her, leapt this flame, and when they heard her it stayed
Scrap had had enough of this look. It only led to difficulties.
At first it had delighted her. She had been excited, triumphant. To
be apparently incapable of doing or saying the wrong thing, to be
applauded, listened to, petted, adored wherever she went, and when she
came home to find nothing there either but the most indulgent proud
fondness—why, how extremely pleasant. And so easy, too. No
preparation necessary for this achievement, no hard work, nothing to
learn. She need take no trouble. She had only to appear, and
presently say something.
But gradually experiences gathered round her. After all, she had
to take trouble, she had to make efforts, because, she discovered with
astonishment and rage, she had to defend herself. That look, that
leaping look, meant that she was going to be grabbed at. Some of those
who had it were more humble than others, especially if they were young,
but they all, according to their several ability, grabbed; and she who
had entered the world so jauntily, with her head in the air and the
completest confidence in anybody whose hair was grey, began to
distrust, and then to dislike, and soon to shrink away from, and
presently to be indignant. Sometimes it was just as if she didn't
belong to herself, wasn't her own at all, but was regarded as a
universal thing, a sort of beauty-of-all-work. Really men . . . And
she found herself involved in queer vague quarrels, being curiously
hated. Really women . . . And when the war came, and she flung
herself into it along with everybody else, it finished her. Really
generals . . .
The war finished Scrap. It killed the one man she felt safe
with, whom she would have married, and it finally disgusted her with
love. Since then she had been embittered. She was struggling as
angrily in the sweet stuff of life as a wasp got caught in honey. Just
as desperately did she try to unstick her wings. It gave her no
pleasure to outdo other women; she didn't want their tiresome men.
What could one do with men when one had got them? None of them would
talk to her of anything but the things of love, and how foolish and
fatiguing that became after a bit. It was as though a healthy person
with a normal hunger was given nothing whatever to eat but sugar.
Love, love . . . the very word made her want to slap somebody. "Why
should I love you? Why should I?" she would ask amazed sometimes when
somebody was trying—somebody was always trying—to propose to her.
But she never got a real answer, only further incoherence.
A deep cynicism took hold of the unhappy Scrap. Her inside grew
hoary with disillusionment, while her gracious and charming outside
continued to make the world more beautiful. What had the future in it
for her? She would not be able, after such a preparation, to take hold
of it. She was fit for nothing; she had wasted all this time being
beautiful. Presently she wouldn't be beautiful, and what then? Scrap
didn't know what then, it appalled her to wonder even. Tired as she
was of being conspicuous she was at least used to that, she had never
known anything else; and to become inconspicuous, to fade, to grow
shabby and dim, would probably be most painful. And once she began,
what years and years of it there would be! Imagine, thought Scrap,
having most of one's life at the wrong end. Imagine being old for two
or three times as long as being young. Stupid, stupid. Everything was
stupid. There wasn't a thing she wanted to do. There were thousands
of things she didn't want to do. Avoidance, silence, invisibility, if
possible unconsciousness—these negations were all she asked for a
moment; and here, even here, she was not allowed a minute's peace, and
this absurd woman must come pretending, merely because she wanted to
exercise power and make her go to bed and make her—hideous—drink
castor oil, that she thought she was ill.
"I'm sure," said Mrs. Fisher, who felt the cold of the stone
beginning to come through and knew she could not sit much longer,
"you'll do what is reasonable. Your mother would wish—have you a
A faint wonder came into Scrap's eyes. Have you a mother? If
ever anybody had a mother it was Scrap. It had not occurred to her
that there could be people who had never heard of her mother. She was
one of the major marchionesses—there being, as no one knew better than
Scrap, marchionesses and marchionesses—and had held high positions at
Court. Her father, too, in his day had been most prominent. His day
was a little over, poor dear, because in the war he had made some
important mistakes, and besides he was now grown old; still, there he
was, an excessively well-known person. How restful, how
extraordinarily restful to have found some one who had never heard of
any of her lot, or at least had not yet connected her with them.
She began to like Mrs. Fisher. Perhaps the originals didn't know
anything about her either. When she first wrote to them and signed her
name, that great name of Dester which twisted in and out of English
history like a bloody thread, for its bearers constantly killed, she
had taken it for granted that they would know who she was; and at the
interview of Shaftesbury Avenue she was sure they did know, because
they hadn't asked, as they otherwise would have, for references.
Scrap began to cheer up. If nobody at San Salvatore had ever
heard of her, if for a whole month she could shed herself, get right
away from everything connected with herself, be allowed really to
forget the clinging and the clogging and all the noise, why, perhaps
she might make something of herself after all. She might really think;
really clear up her mind; really come to some conclusion.
"What I want to do here," she said, leaning forward in her chair
and clasping her hands round her knees and looking up at Mrs. Fisher,
whose seat was higher than hers, almost with animation, so much pleased
was she that Mrs. Fisher knew nothing about her, "is to come to a
conclusion. That's all. It isn't much to want, is it? Just that."
She gazed at Mrs. Fisher, and thought that almost any conclusion
would do; the great thing was to get hold of something, catch something
tight, cease to drift.
Mrs. Fisher's little eyes surveyed her. "I should say," she
said, "that what a young woman like you wants is a husband and
"Well, that's one of the things I'm going to consider," said
Scrap amiably. "But I don't think it would be a conclusion."
"And meanwhile," said Mrs. Fisher, getting up, for the cold of
the stone was now through, "I shouldn't trouble my head if I were you
with considerings and conclusions. Women's heads weren't made for
thinking, I assure you. I should go to bed and get well."
"I am well," said Scrap.
"Then why did you send a message that you were ill?"
"Then I've had all the trouble of coming out here for nothing."
"But wouldn't you prefer coming out and finding me well than
coming out and finding me ill?" asked Scrap, smiling.
Even Mrs. Fisher was caught by the smile.
"Well, you're a pretty creature," she said forgivingly. "It's a
pity you weren't born fifty years ago. My friends would have liked
looking at you."
"I'm very glad I wasn't," said Scrap. "I dislike being looked
"Absurd," said Mrs. Fisher, growing stern again. "That's what
you are made for, young women like you. For what else, pray? And I
assure you that if my friends had looked at you, you would have been
looked at by some very great people."
"I dislike very great people," said Scrap, frowning. There had
been an incident quite recently—really potentates. . .
"What I dislike," said Mrs. Fisher, now as cold as that stone she
had got up from, "is the pose of the modern young woman. It seems to
me pitiful, positively pitiful, in its silliness."
And, her stick crunching the pebbles, she walked away.
"That's all right," Scrap said to herself, dropping back into her
comfortable position with her head in the cushion and her feet on the
parapet; if only people would go away she didn't in the least mind why
"Don't you think darling Scrap is growing a little, just a
little, peculiar?" her mother had asked her father a short time before
that latest peculiarity of the flight to San Salvatore, uncomfortably
struck by the very odd things Scrap said and the way she had taken to
slinking out of reach whenever she could and avoiding everybody except
—such a sign of age—quite young men, almost boys.
"Eh? What? Peculiar? Well, let her be peculiar if she likes. A
woman with her looks can be any damned thing she pleases," was the
"I do let her," said her mother meekly; and indeed if she did
not, what difference would it make?
Mrs. Fisher was sorry she had bothered about Lady Caroline. She
went along the hall towards her private sitting-room, and her stick as
she went struck the stone floor with a vigour in harmony with her
feelings. Sheer silliness, these poses. She had no patience with
them. Unable to be or do anything of themselves, the young of the
present generation tried to achieve a reputation for cleverness by
decrying all that was obviously great and obviously good and by
praising everything, however obviously bad, that was different. Apes,
thought Mrs. Fisher, roused. Apes. Apes. And in her sitting-room
she found more apes, or what seemed to her in her present mood more,
for there was Mrs. Arbuthnot placidly drinking coffee, while at the
writing-table, the writing-table she already looked upon as sacred,
using her pen, her own pen brought for her hand alone from Prince of
Wales Terrace, sat Mrs. Wilkins writing; at the table; in her room;
with her pen.
"Isn't this a delightful place?" said Mrs. Arbuthnot cordially.
"We have just discovered it."
"I'm writing to Mellersh," said Mrs. Wilkins, turning her head
and also cordially—as though, Mrs. Fisher thought, she cared a straw
who she was writing to and anyhow knew who the person she called
Mellersh was. "He'll want to know," said Mrs. Wilkins, optimism
induced by her surroundings, "that I've got here safely."
The sweet smells that were everywhere in San Salvatore were alone
enough to produce concord. They came into the sitting-room from the
flowers on the battlements, and met the ones from the flowers inside
the room, and almost, thought Mrs. Wilkins, could be seen greeting each
other with a holy kiss. Who could be angry in the middle of such
gentlenesses? Who could be acquisitive, selfish, in the old rasped
London way, in the presence of this bounteous beauty?
Yet Mrs. Fisher seemed to be all three of these things.
There was so much beauty, so much more than enough for every one,
that it did appear to be a vain activity to try and make a corner in
Yet Mrs. Fisher was trying to make a corner in it, and had railed
off a portion for her exclusive use.
Well, she would get over that presently; she would get over it
inevitably, Mrs. Wilkins was sure, after a day or two in the
extraordinary atmosphere of peace in that place.
Meanwhile she obviously hadn't even begun to get over it. She
stood looking at her and Rose with an expression that appeared to be
one of anger. Anger. Fancy. Silly old nerve-racked London feelings,
thought Mrs. Wilkins, whose eyes saw the room full of kisses, and
everybody in it being kissed, Mrs. Fisher as copiously as she herself
"You don't like us being in here," said Mrs. Wilkins, getting up
and at once, after her manner, fixing on the truth. "Why?"
"I should have thought," said Mrs. Fisher leaning on her stick,
"you could have seen that it is my room."
"You mean because of the photographs," said Mrs. Wilkins.
Mrs. Arbuthnot, who was a little red and surprised, got up too.
"And the notepaper," said Mrs. Fisher. "Notepaper with my London
address on it. That pen—"
She pointed. It was still in Mrs. Wilkins's hand.
"Is yours. I'm very sorry," said Mrs. Wilkins, laying it on the
table. And she added smiling, that it had just been writing some very
"But why," asked Mrs. Arbuthnot, who found herself unable to
acquiesce in Mrs. Fisher's arrangements without at least a gentle
struggle, "ought we not to be here? It's a sitting-room."
"There is another one," said Mrs. Fisher. "You and your friend
cannot sit in two rooms at once, and if I have no wish to disturb you
in yours I am unable to see why you should wish to disturb me in mine."
"But why—" began Mrs. Arbuthnot again.
"It's quite natural," Mrs. Wilkins interrupted, for Rose was
looking stubborn; and turning to Mrs. Fisher she said that although
sharing things with friends was pleasant she could understand that Mrs.
Fisher, still steeped in the Prince of Wales Terrace attitude to life,
did not yet want to, but that she would get rid of that after a bit and
feel quite different. "Soon you'll want us to share," said Mrs.
Wilkins reassuringly. "Why, you may even get so far as asking me to
use your pen if you knew I hadn't got one."
Mrs. Fisher was moved almost beyond control by this speech. To
have a ramshackle young woman from Hampstead patting her on the back as
it were, in breezy certitude that quite soon she would improve, stirred
her more deeply than anything had stirred her since her first discovery
that Mr. Fisher was not what he seemed. Mrs. Wilkins must certainly be
curbed. But how? There was a curious imperviousness about her. At
that moment, for instance, she was smiling as pleasantly and with as
unclouded a face as if she were saying nothing in the least
impertinent. Would she know she was being curbed? If she didn't know,
if she were too tough to feel it, then what? Nothing, except
avoidance; except, precisely, one's own private sitting-room.
"I'm an old woman," said Mrs. Fisher, "and I need a room to
myself. I cannot get about, because of my stick. As I cannot get
about I have to sit. Why should I not sit quietly and undisturbed, as
I told you in London I intended to? If people are to come in and out
all day long, chattering and leaving doors open, you will have broken
the agreement, which was that I was to be quiet."
"But we haven't the least wish—" began Mrs. Arbuthnot, who was
again cut short by Mrs. Wilkins.
"We're only too glad," said Mrs. Wilkins, "for you to have this
room if it makes you happy. We didn't know about it, that's all. We
wouldn't have come in if we had—not till you invited us, anyhow. I
expect," she finished looking down cheerfully at Mrs. Fisher, "you soon
will." And picking up her letter she took Mrs. Arbuthnot's hand and
drew her towards the door.
Mrs. Arbuthnot did not want to go. She, the mildest of women,
was filled with a curious and surely unchristian desire to stay and
fight. Not, of course, really, nor even with any definitely aggressive
words. No; she only wanted to reason with Mrs. Fisher, and to reason
patiently. But she did feel that something ought to be said, and that
she ought not to allow herself to be rated and turned out as if she
were a schoolgirl caught in ill behaviour by Authority.
Mrs. Wilkins, however, drew her firmly to and through the door,
and once again Rose wondered at Lotty, at her balance, her sweet and
equable temper—she who in England had been such a thing of gusts.
From the moment they got into Italy it was Lotty who seemed the elder.
She certainly was very happy; blissful, in fact. Did happiness so
completely protect one? Did it make one so untouchable, so wise? Rose
was happy herself, but not anything like so happy. Evidently not, for
not only did she want to fight Mrs. Fisher but she wanted something
else, something more than this lovely place, something to complete it;
she wanted Frederick. For the first time in her life she was
surrounded by perfect beauty, and her one thought was to show it to
him, to share it with him. She wanted Frederick. She yearned for
Frederick. Ah, if only, only Frederick . . .
"Poor old thing," said Mrs. Wilkins, shutting the door gently on
Mrs. Fisher and her triumph. "Fancy on a day like this."
"She's a very rude old thing," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"She'll get over that. I'm sorry we chose just her room to go
and sit in."
"It's much the nicest," said Mrs. Arbuthnot. "And it isn't
"Oh but there are lots of other places, and she's such a poor old
thing. Let her have the room. Whatever does it matter?"
And Mrs. Wilkins said she was going down to the village to find
out where the post-office was and post her letter to Mellersh, and
would Rose go too.
"I've been thinking about Mellersh," said Mrs. Wilkins as they
walked, one behind the other, down the narrow zigzag path up which they
had climbed in the rain the night before.
She went first. Mrs. Arbuthnot, quite naturally now, followed.
In England it had been the other way about—Lotty, timid, hesitating,
except when she burst out so awkwardly, getting behind the calm and
reasonable Rose whenever she could.
"I've been thinking about Mellersh," repeated Mrs. Wilkins over
her shoulder, as Rose seemed not to have heard.
"Have you?" said Rose, a faint distaste in her voice, for her
experiences with Mellersh had not been of a kind to make her enjoy
remembering him. She had deceived Mellersh; therefore she didn't like
him. She was unconscious that this was the reason of her dislike, and
thought it was that there didn't seem to be much, if any, of the grace
of god about him. And yet how wrong to feel that, she rebuked herself,
and how presumptuous. No doubt Lotty's husband was far, far nearer to
God than she herself was ever likely to be. Still, she didn't like
"I've been a mean dog," said Mrs. Wilkins.
"A what?" asked Mrs. Arbuthnot, incredulous of her hearing.
"All this coming away and leaving him in that dreary place while
I rollick in heaven. He had planned to take me to Italy for Easter
himself. Did I tell you?"
"No," said Mrs. Arbuthnot; and indeed she had discouraged talk
about husbands. Whenever Lotty had begun to blurt out things she had
swiftly changed the conversation. One husband led to another, in
conversation as well as in life, she felt, and she could not, she would
not, talk of Frederick. Beyond the bare fact that he was there, he had
not been mentioned. Mellersh had had to be mentioned, because of his
obstructiveness, but she had carefully kept him from overflowing
outside the limits of necessity.
"Well, he did," said Mrs. Wilkins. "He had never done such a
thing in his life before, and I was horrified. Fancy—just as I had
planned to come to it myself."
She paused on the path and looked up at Rose.
"Yes," said Rose, trying to think of something else to talk
"Now you see why I say I've been a mean dog. He had planned a
holiday in Italy with me, and I had planned a holiday in Italy leaving
him at home. I think," she went on, her eyes fixed on Rose's face,
"Mellersh has every reason to be both angry and hurt."
Mrs. Arbuthnot was astonished. The extraordinary quickness with
which, hour by hour, under her very eyes, Lotty became more selfless,
disconcerted her. She was turning into something surprisingly like a
saint. Here she was now being affectionate about Mellersh—Mellersh,
who only that morning, while they hung their feet into the sea, had
seemed a mere iridescence, Lotty had told her, a thing of gauze. That
was only that morning; and by the time they had had lunch Lotty had
developed so far as to have got him solid enough again to write to, and
to write to at length. And now, a few minutes later, she was
announcing that he had every reason to be angry with her and hurt, and
that she herself had been—the language was unusual, but it did express
real penitence—a mean dog.
Rose stared at her astonished. If she went on like this, soon a
nimbus might be expected round her head, was there already, if one
didn't know it was the sun through the tree-trunks catching her sandy
A great desire to love and be friends, to love everybody, to be
friends with everybody, seemed to be invading Lotty—a desire for sheer
goodness. Rose's own experience was that goodness, the state of being
good, was only reached with difficulty and pain. It took a long time
to get to it; in fact one never did get to it, or, if for a flashing
instant one did, it was only for a flashing instant. Desperate
perseverance was needed to struggle along its path, and all the way was
dotted with doubts. Lotty simply flew along. She had certainly,
thought Rose, not got rid of her impetuousness. It had merely taken
another direction. She was now impetuously becoming a saint. Could
one really attain goodness so violently? Wouldn't there be an equally
"I shouldn't," said Rose with caution, looking down into Lotty's
bright eyes—the path was steep, so that Lotty was well below her—"I
shouldn't be sure of that too quickly."
"But I am sure of it, and I've written and told him so."
Rose stared. "Why, but only this morning—" she began.
"It's all in this," interrupted Lotty, tapping the envelope and
"You mean about the advertisement and my savings being spent? Oh
no—not yet. But I'll tell him all that when he comes."
"When he comes?" repeated Rose.
"I've invited him to come and stay with us."
Rose could only go on staring.
"It's the least I could do. Besides—look at this." Lotty waived her
hand. "Disgusting not to share it. I was a mean dog to go off and
leave him, but no dog I've every heard of was ever as mean as I'd be
if I didn't try and persuade Mellersh to come out and enjoy this too.
It's barest decency that he should have some of the fun out of my
nest-egg. After all, he has housed me and fed me for years. One
shouldn't be churlish."
"But—do you think he'll come?
"Oh, I hope so," said Lotty with the utmost earnestness; and
added, "Poor lamb."
At that Rose felt she would like to sit down. Mellersh a poor
lamb? That same Mellersh who a few hours before was mere shimmer?
There was a seat at the bend of the path, and Rose went to it and sat
down. She wished to get her breath, gain time. If she had time she
might perhaps be able to catch up the leaping Lotty, and perhaps be
able to stop her before she committed herself to what she probably
presently would be sorry for. Mellersh at San Salvatore? Mellersh,
from whom Lotty had taken such pains so recently to escape?
"I see him here," said Lotty, as if in answer to her thoughts.
Rose looked at her with real concern: for every time Lotty said
in that convinced voice, "I see," what she saw came true. Then it was
to be supposed that Mr. Wilkins too would presently come true.
"I wish," said Rose anxiously, "I understood you."
"Don't try," said Lotty, smiling.
"But I must, because I love you."
"Dear Rose," said Lotty, swiftly bending down and kissing her.
"You're so quick," said Rose. "I can't follow your developments.
I can't keep touch. It was what happened with Freder—"
She broke off and looked frightened.
"The whole idea of our coming here," she went on again, as Lotty
didn't seem to have noticed, "was to get away, wasn't it? Well, we've
got away. And now, after only a single day of it, you want to write to
the very people—"
"The very people we were getting away from," finished Lotty.
"It's quite true. It seems idiotically illogical. But I'm so happy,
I'm so well, I feel so fearfully wholesome. This place—why, it makes
me feel flooded with love."
And she stared down at Rose in a kind of radiant surprise.
Rose was silent a moment. Then she said, "And do you think it
will have the same effect on Mr. Wilkins?"
Lotty laughed. "I don't know," she said. "But even if it
doesn't, there's enough love about to flood fifty Mr. Wilkinses, as you
call him. The great thing is to have lots of love about. I don't
see," she went on, "at least I don't see here, though I did at home,
that it matters who loves as long as somebody does. I was a stingy
beast at home, and used to measure and count. I had a queer obsession
about justice. As though justice mattered. As though justice can
really be distinguished from vengeance. It's only love that's any
good. At home I wouldn't love Mellersh unless he loved me back,
exactly as much, absolute fairness. Did you ever. And as he didn't,
neither did I, and the aridity of that house! The aridity . . ."
Rose said nothing. She was bewildered by Lotty. One odd effect
of San Salvatore on her rapidly developing friend was her sudden free
use of robust words. She had not used them in Hampstead. Beast and
dog were more robust than Hampstead cared about. In words, too, Lotty
had come unchained.
But how she wished, oh how Rose wished, that she too could write
to her husband and say "Come." The Wilkins ménage, however pompous
Mellersh might be, and he had seemed to Rose pompous, was on a
healthier, more natural footing than hers. Lotty could write to
Mellersh and would get an answer. She couldn't write to Frederick, for
only too well did she know he wouldn't answer. At least, he might
answer—a hurried scribble, showing how much bored he was at doing it,
with perfunctory thanks for her letter. But that would be worse than
no answer at all; for his handwriting, her name on an envelope
addressed by him, stabbed her heart. Too acutely did it bring back the
letters of their beginnings together, the letters from him so desolate
with separation, so aching with love and longing. To see apparently
one of these very same letters arrive, and open it to find:
Dear Rose—Thanks for letter. Glad you're having a good time.
Don't hurry back. Say if you want any money. Everything going
—no, it couldn't be borne.
"I don't think I'll come down to the village with you to-day,"
she said, looking up at Lotty with eyes suddenly gone dim. "I think I
want to think."
"All right," said Lotty, at once starting off briskly down the
path. "But don't think too long," she called back over her shoulder.
"Write and invite him at once."
"Invite whom?" asked Rose, startled.
At the evening meal, which was the first time the whole four sat
round the dining-room table together, Scrap appeared.
She appeared quite punctually, and in one of those wrappers or
tea-gowns which are sometimes described as ravishing. This one really
was ravishing. It certainly ravished Mrs. Wilkins, who could not take
her eyes off the enchanting figure opposite. It was a shell-pink
garment, and clung to the adorable Scrap as though it, too, loved her.
"What a beautiful dress!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilkins eagerly.
"What—this old rag?" said Scrap, glancing down at it as if to
see which one she had got on. "I've had it a hundred years." And she
concentrated on her soup.
"You must be very cold in it," said Mrs. Fisher, thin-lipped; for
it showed a great deal of Scrap—the whole of her arms, for instance,
and even where it covered her up it was so thin that you still saw her.
"Who—me?" said Scrap, looking up a moment. "Oh, no."
And she continued her soup.
"You mustn't catch a chill, you know," said Mrs. Arbuthnot,
feeling that such loveliness must at all costs be preserved unharmed.
"There's a great difference here when the sun goes down."
"I'm quite warm," said Scrap, industriously eating her soup.
"You look as if you had nothing at all on underneath," said Mrs.
"I haven't. At least, hardly anything," said Scrap, finishing her
"How every imprudent," said Mrs. Fisher, "and how highly
Whereupon Scrap stared at her.
Mrs. Fisher had arrived at dinner feeling friendly towards Lady
Caroline. She at least had not intruded into her room and sat at her
table and written with her pen. She did, Mrs. Fisher had supposed,
know how to behave. Now it appeared that she did not know, for was
this behaving, to come dressed—no, undressed—like that to a meal?
Such behaviour was not only exceedingly improper but also most
inconsiderate, for the indelicate creature would certainly catch a
chill, and then infect the entire party. Mrs. Fisher had a great
objection to other people's chills. They were always the fruit of
folly; and then they were handed on to her, who had done nothing at all
to deserve them.
"Bird-brained," though Mrs. Fisher, sternly contemplating Lady
Caroline. "Not an idea in her head except vanity."
"But there are no men here," said Mrs. Wilkins, "so how can it be
improper? Have you noticed," she inquired of Mrs. Fisher, who
endeavoured to pretend she did not hear, "How difficult it is to be
improper without men?"
Mrs. Fisher neither answered her not looked at her; but Scrap
looked at her, and did that with her mouth which in any other mouth
would have been a fain grin. Seen from without, across the bowl of
nasturtiums, it was the most beautiful of brief and dimpled smiles.
She had a very alive sort of face, that one, thought Scrap,
observing Mrs. Wilkins with a dawn of interest. It was rather like a
field of corn swept by lights and shadows. Both she and the dark one,
Scrap noticed, had changed their clothes, but only in order to put on
silk jumpers. The same amount of trouble would have been enough to
dress them properly, reflected Scrap. Naturally they looked like
nothing on earth in the jumpers. It didn't matter what Mrs. Fisher
wore; indeed, the only thing for her, short of plumes and ermine, was
what she did wear. But these others were quite young still, and quite
attractive. They really definitely had faces. How different life
would be for them if they made the most of themselves instead of the
least. And yet—Scrap was suddenly bored, and turned away her thoughts
and absently ate toast. What did it matter? If you did make the most
of yourself, you only collected people round you who ended by wanting
"I've had the most wonderful day," began Mrs. Wilkins, her eyes
Scrap lowered hers. "Oh," she thought, "she's going to gush."
"As though anybody were interested in her day," thought Mrs.
Fisher, lowering hers also.
In fact, whenever Mrs. Wilkins spoke Mrs. Fisher deliberately
cast down her eyes. Thus would she mark her disapproval. Besides, it
seemed the only safe thing to do with her eyes, for no one could tell
what the uncurbed creature would say next. That which she had just
said, for instance, about men—addressed too, to her—what could she
mean? Better not conjecture, thought Mrs. Fisher; and her eyes, though
cast down, yet saw Lady Caroline stretch out her hand to the Chianti
flask and fill her glass again.
Again. She had done it once already, and the fish was only just
going out of the room. Mrs. Fisher could see that the other respectable
member of the party, Mrs. Arbuthnot, was noticing it too. Mrs.
Arbuthnot was, she hoped and believed, respectable and well-meaning.
It is true she also had invaded her sitting-room, but no doubt she
had been dragged there by the other one, and Mrs. Fisher had little if
anything against Mrs. Arbuthnot, and observed with approval that she
only drank water. That was as it should be. So, indeed, to give her
her dues, did the freckled one; and very right at their age. She
herself drank wine, but with what moderation: one meal, one glass.
And she was sixty-five, and might properly, and even beneficially, have
had at least two.
"That," she said to Lady Caroline, cutting right across what Mrs.
Wilkins was telling them about her wonderful day and indicating the
wine-glass, "is very bad for you."
Lady Caroline, however, could not have heard, for she continued
to sip, her elbow on the table, and listen to what Mrs. Wilkins was
And what was it she was saying? She had invited somebody to come
and stay? A man?
Mrs. Fisher could not credit her ears. Yet it evidently was a
man, for she spoke of the person as he.
Suddenly and for the first time—but then this was most
important—Mrs. Fisher addressed Mrs. Wilkins directly. She was
sixty-five, and cared very little what sorts of women she happened to
be with for a month, but if the women were to be mixed with men it was
a different proposition altogether. She was not going to be made a
cat's-paw of. She had not come out there to sanction by her presence
what used in her day to be called fast behaviour. Nothing had been
said at the interview in London about men; if there had been she would
have declined, of course to come.
"What is his name?" asked Mrs. Fisher, abruptly interposing.
Mrs. Wilkins turned to her with a slight surprise. "Wilkins,"
Mrs. Fisher once more cast down her eyes. She could not talk to
Mrs. Wilkins. There was something about the things she said. . . "A
husband." Suggesting one of many. Always that unseemly twist to
everything. Why could she not say "My husband"? Besides, Mrs. Fisher
had, she herself knew not for what reason, taken both the Hampstead
young women for widows. War ones. There had been an absence of
mention of husbands at the interview which would not, she considered,
be natural if such persons did after all exist. And if a husband was
not a relation, who was? "Not blood." What a way to talk. Why, a
husband was the first of all relations. How well she remembered
Ruskin—no, it was not Ruskin, it was the Bible that said a man should
leave his father and mother and cleave only to his wife; showing that
she became by marriage an even more than blood relation. And if the
husband's father and mother were to be nothing to him compared to his
wife, how much less than nothing ought the wife's father and mother be
to her compared to her husband. She herself had been unable to leave
her father and mother in order to cleave to Mr. Fisher because they
were no longer, when she married, alive, but she certainly would have
left them if they had been there to leave. Not blood, indeed. Silly
The dinner was very good. Succulence succeeded succulence.
Costanza had determined to do as she chose in the matter of cream and
eggs the first week, and see what happened at the end of it when the
bills had to be paid. Her experience of the English was that they were
quiet about bills. They were shy of words. They believed readily.
Besides, who was the mistress here? In the absence of a definite one,
it occurred to Costanza that she might as well be the mistress herself.
So she did as she chose about the dinner, and it was very good.
The four, however, were so much preoccupied by their own
conversation that they ate it without noticing how good it was. Even
Mrs. Fisher, she who in such matters was manly, did not notice. The
entire excellent cooking was to her as though it were not; which shows
how much she must have been stirred.
She was stirred. It was that Mrs. Wilkins. She was enough to
stir anybody. And she was undoubtedly encouraged by Lady Caroline,
who, in her turn, was no doubt influenced by the Chianti.
Mrs. Fisher was very glad there were no men present, for they
certainly would have been foolish about Lady Caroline. She was
precisely the sort of young woman to unbalance them; especially, Mrs.
Fisher recognized, at that moment. Perhaps it was the Chianti
momentarily intensifying her personality, but she was undeniably most
attractive; and there were few things Mrs. Fisher disliked more than
having to look on while sensible, intelligent men, who the moment
before were talking seriously and interestingly about real matters,
became merely foolish and simpering—she had seen them actually
simpering—just because in walked a bit of bird-brained beauty. Even
Mr. Gladstone, that great wise statesman, whose hand had once rested
for an unforgettable moment solemnly on her head, would have, she felt,
on perceiving Lady Caroline left off talking sense and horribly
embarked on badinage.
"You see," Mrs. Wilkins said—a silly trick that, with which she
mostly began her sentences; Mrs. Fisher each time wished to say,
"Pardon me—I do not see, I hear"—but why trouble?—"You see," said
Mrs. Wilkins, leaning across towards Lady Caroline, "we arranged,
didn't we, in London that if any of us wanted to we could each invite
one guest. So now I'm doing it."
"I don't remember that," said Mrs. Fisher, her eyes on her plate.
"Oh yes, we did—didn't we, Rose?"
"Yes—I remember," said Lady Caroline. "Only it seemed so
incredible that one could ever want to. One's whole idea was to get
away from one's friends."
"And one's husbands."
Again that unseemly plural. But how altogether unseemly, thought
Mrs. Fisher. Such implications. Mrs. Arbuthnot clearly thought so
too, for she had turned red.
"And family affection," said Lady Caroline—or was it the Chianti
speaking? Surely it was the Chianti.
"And the want of family affection," said Mrs. Wilkins—what a
light she was throwing on her home life and real character.
"That wouldn't be so bad," said Lady Caroline. "I'd stay with
that. It would give one room."
"Oh no, no—it's dreadful," cried Mrs. Wilkins. "It's as if one
had no clothes on."
"But I like that," said Lady Caroline.
"Really—" said Mrs. Fisher.
"It's a divine feeling, getting rid of things," said Lady
Caroline, who was talking altogether to Mrs. Wilkins and paid no
attention to the other two.
"Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never
will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last
you die of it—that's what it was like, living with somebody who didn't
These confidences, thought Mrs. Fisher . . . and no excuse
whatever for Mrs. Wilkins, who was making them entirely on plain water.
Mrs. Arbuthnot, judging from her face, quite shared Mrs. Fisher's
disapproval; she was fidgeting.
"But didn't he?" asked Lady Caroline—every bit as shamelessly
unreticent as Mrs. Wilkins.
"Mellersh? He showed no signs of it."
"Delicious," murmured Lady Caroline.
"Really—" said Mrs. Fisher.
"I didn't think it was at all delicious. I was miserable. And
now, since I've been here, I simply stare at myself being miserable.
As miserable as that. And about Mellersh."
"You mean he wasn't worth it."
"Really—" said Mrs. Fisher.
"No, I don't. I mean I've suddenly got well."
Lady Caroline, slowly twisting the stem of her glass in her
fingers, scrutinized the lit-up face opposite.
"And now I'm well I find I can't sit here and gloat all to
myself. I can't be happy, shutting him out. I must share. I
understand exactly what the Blessed Damozel felt like."
"What was the Blessed Damozel?" asked Scrap.
"Really—" said Mrs. Fisher; and with such emphasis this time
that Lady Caroline turned to her.
"Ought I to know?" she asked. "I don't know any natural history.
It sounds like a bird."
"It is a poem," said Mrs. Fisher with extraordinary frost.
"Oh," said Scrap.
"I'll lend it to you," said Mrs. Wilkins, over whose face
"No," said Scrap.
"And its author," said Mrs. Fisher icily, "though not perhaps
quite what one would have wished him to be, was frequently at my
"What a bore for you," said Scrap. "That's what mother's always
doing—inviting authors. I hate authors. I wouldn't mind them so much
if they didn't write books. Go on about Mellersh," she said, turning
to Mrs. Wilkins.
"Really—" said Mrs. Fisher.
"All those empty beds," said Mrs. Wilkins.
"What empty beds?" asked Scrap.
"The ones in this house. Why, of course they each ought to have
somebody happy inside them. Eight beds, and only four people. It's
dreadful, dreadful to be so greedy and keep everything just for
oneself. I want Rose to ask her husband out too. You and Mrs. Fisher
haven't got husbands, but why not give some friend a glorious time?"
Rose bit her lip. She turned red, she turned pale. If only
Lotty would keep quiet, she thought. It was all very well to have
suddenly become a saint and want to love everybody, but need she be so
tactless? Rose felt that all her poor sore places were being danced
on. If only Lotty would keep quiet . . .
And Mrs. Fisher, with even greater frostiness than that with
which she had received Lady Caroline's ignorance of the Blessed
Damozel, said, "There is only one unoccupied bedroom in this house."
"Only one?" echoed Mrs. Wilkins, astonished. "Then who are in
all the others?"
"We are," said Mrs. Fisher.
"But we're not in all the bedrooms. There must be at least six.
That leaves two over, and the owner told us there were eight beds—
didn't he Rose?"
"There are six bedrooms," said Mrs. Fisher; for both she and Lady
Caroline had thoroughly searched the house on arriving, in order to see
which part of it they would be most comfortable in, and they both knew
that there were six bedrooms, two of which were very small, and in one
of these small ones Francesca slept in the company of a chair and a
chest of drawers, and the other, similarly furnished, was empty.
Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot had hardly looked at the house,
having spent most of their time out-of-doors gaping at the scenery, and
had, in the agitated inattentiveness of their minds when first they
began negotiating for San Salvatore, got into their heads that the
eight beds of which the owner spoke were the same as eight bedrooms;
which they were not. There were indeed eight beds, but four of them
were in Mrs. Wilkins's and Mrs. Arbuthnot's rooms.
"There are six bedrooms," repeated Mrs. Fisher. "We have four,
Francesca has the fifth, and the sixth is empty."
"So that," said Scrap, "However kind we feel we would be if we
could, we can't. Isn't it fortunate?"
"But then there's only room for one?" said Mrs. Wilkins, looking
round at the three faces.
"Yes—and you've got him," said Scrap.
Mrs. Wilkins was taken aback. This question of the beds was unexpected.
In inviting Mellersh she had intended to put him in one of the four
spare-rooms that she imagined were there. When there were plenty of
rooms and enough servants there was no reason why they should, as they
did in their small, two-servanted house at home, share the same one.
Love, even universal love, the kind of love with which she felt herself
flooded, should not be tried. Much patience and self-effacement were
needed for successful married sleep. Placidity; a steady faith; these
too were needed. She was sure she would be much fonder of Mellersh,
and he not mind her nearly so much, if they were not shut up together
at night, if in the morning they could meet with the cheery affection
of friends between whom lies no shadow of differences about the window
or the washing arrangements, or of absurd little choked-down resentments
at something that had seemed to one of them unfair. Her happiness, she
felt, and her ability to be friends with everybody, was the result of
her sudden new freedom and its peace. Would there be that sense of
freedom, that peace, after a night shut up with Mellersh? Would she be
able in the morning to be full towards him, as she was at that moment
full, of nothing at all but loving-kindness? After all, she hadn't been
very long in heaven. Suppose she hadn't been in it long enough for
her to have become fixed in blandness? And only that morning what an
extraordinary joy it had been to find herself alone when she woke, and
able to pull the bed-clothes any way she liked!
Francesca had to nudge her. She was so much absorbed that she
did not notice the pudding.
"If," thought Mrs. Wilkins, distractedly helping herself, "I
share my room with Mellersh I risk losing all I now feel about him. If
on the other hand I put him in the one spare-room, I prevent Mrs.
Fisher and Lady Caroline from giving somebody a treat. True they don't
seem to want to at present, but at any moment in this place one or the
other of them may be seized with a desire to make somebody happy, and
then they wouldn't be able to because of Mellersh."
"What a problem," she said aloud, her eyebrows puckered.
"What is?" asked Scrap.
"Where to put Mellersh."
Scrap stared. "Why, isn't one room enough for him?" she asked.
"Oh yes, quite. But then there won't be any room left at all—
any room for somebody you may want to invite."
"I shan't want to," said Scrap.
"Or you," said Mrs. Wilkins to Mrs. Fisher. "Rose, of course,
doesn't count. I'm sure she would like sharing her room with her
husband. It's written all over her."
"Really—" said Mrs. Fisher.
"Really what?" asked Mrs. Wilkins, turning hopefully to her, for
she thought the word this time was the preliminary to a helpful
It was not. It stood by itself. It was, as before, mere frost.
Challenged, however, Mrs. Fisher did fasten it on to a sentence.
"Really am I to understand," she asked, "that you propose to reserve
the one spare-room for the exclusive use of your own family?"
"He isn't my own family," said Mrs. Wilkins. "He's my husband.
"I see nothing," Mrs. Fisher could not this time refrain from
interrupting—for what an intolerable trick. "At the most I hear, and
But Mrs. Wilkins, as impervious to rebuke as Mrs. Fisher had
feared, immediately repeated the tiresome formula and launched out into
a long and excessively indelicate speech about the best place for the
person she called Mellersh to sleep in.
Mellersh—Mrs. Fisher, remembering the Thomases and Johns and
Alfreds and Roberts of her day, plain names that yet had all become
glorious, thought it sheer affection to be christened Mellersh—was, it
seemed, Mrs. Wilkins's husband, and therefore his place was clearly
indicated. Why this talk? She herself, as if foreseeing his arrival,
had had a second bed put in Mrs. Wilkins's room. There were certain
things in life which were never talked about but only done. Most
things connected with husbands were not talked about; and to have a
whole dinner-table taken up with a discussion as to where one of them
should sleep was an affront to the decencies. How and where husbands
slept should be known only to their wives. Sometimes it was not known
to them, and then the marriage had less happy moments; but these
moments were not talked about either; the decencies continued to be
preserved. At least, it was so in her day. To have to hear whether
Mr. Wilkins should or should not sleep with Mrs. Wilkins, and the
reasons why he should and the reasons why he shouldn't, was both
uninteresting and indelicate.
She might have succeeded in imposing propriety and changing the
conversation if it had not been for Lady Caroline. Lady Caroline
encouraged Mrs. Wilkins, and threw herself into the discussion with
every bit as much unreserve as Mrs. Wilkins herself. No doubt she was
impelled on this occasion by Chianti, but whatever the reason there it
was. And, characteristically, Lady Caroline was all for Mr. Wilkins
being given the solitary spare-room. She took that for granted. Any
other arrangement would be impossible, she said; her expression was,
Barbarous. Had she never read her Bible, Mrs. Fisher was tempted to
inquire—And they two shall be one flesh? Clearly also, then, one
room. But Mrs. Fisher did not inquire. She did not care even to
allude to such texts to some one unmarried.
However, there was one way she could force Mr. Wilkins into his
proper place and save the situation: she could say she herself
intended to invite a friend. It was her right. They had all said so.
Apart from propriety, it was monstrous that Mrs. Wilkins should want to
monopolise the one spare-room, when in her own room was everything
necessary for her husband. Perhaps she really would invite somebody—
not invite, but suggest coming. There was Kate Lumley, for instance.
Kate could perfectly afford to come and pay her share; and she was of
her own period and knew, and had known, most of the people she herself
knew and had known. Kate, of course, had only been on the fringe; she
used to be asked only to the big parties, not to the small ones, and
she still was only on the fringe. There were some people who never got
off the fringe, and Kate was one. Often, however, such people were
more permanently agreeable to be with than the others, in that they
Yes; she might really consider Kate. The poor soul had never
married, but then everybody could not expect to marry, and she was
quite comfortably off—not too comfortably, but just comfortably enough
to pay her own expenses if she came and yet be grateful. Yes; Kate was
the solution. If she came, at one stroke, Mrs. Fisher saw, would the
Wilkinses be regularized and Mrs. Wilkins be prevented from having more
than her share of the rooms. Also, Mrs. Fisher would save herself from
isolation; spiritual isolation. She desired physical isolation between
meals, but she disliked that isolation which is of the spirit. Such
isolation would, she feared, certainly be hers with these three
alien-minded young women. Even Mrs. Arbuthnot was, owing to her
friendship with Mrs. Wilkins, necessarily alien-minded. In Kate she
would have a support. Kate, without intruding on her sitting-room, for
Kate was tractable, would be there at meals to support her.
Mrs. Fisher said nothing at the moment; but presently in the
drawing-room, when they were gathered round the wood fire—she had
discovered there was no fireplace in her own sitting-room, and
therefore she would after all be forced, so long as the evenings
remained cool, to spend them in the other room—presently, while
Francesca was handing coffee round and Lady Caroline was poisoning the
air with smoke, Mrs. Wilkins, looking relieved and pleased, said:
"Well, if nobody really wants that room, and wouldn't use it anyhow, I
shall be very glad if Mellersh may have it."
"Of course he must have it," said Lady Caroline.
Then Mrs. Fisher spoke.
"I have a friend," she said in her deep voice; and sudden silence
fell upon the others.
"Kate Lumley," said Mrs. Fisher.
"Perhaps," continued Mrs. Fisher, addressing Lady Caroline, "you
No, Lady Caroline did not know Kate Lumley; and Mrs. Fisher,
without asking the others if they did, for she was sure they knew no
one, proceeded. "I wish to invite her to join me," said Mrs. Fisher.
Then Scrap said, turning to Mrs. Wilkins, "That settles Mellersh,
"It settles the question of Mr. Wilkins," said Mrs. Fisher,
"although I am unable to understand that there should ever have been a
question, in the only way that is right."
"I'm afraid you're in for it, then," said Lady Caroline, again to
Mrs. Wilkins. "Unless," she added, "he can't come."
But Mrs. Wilkins, her brow perturbed—for suppose after all she
were not yet quite stable in heaven?—could only say, a little
uneasily, "I see him here."
The uneventful days—only outwardly uneventful—slipped by in
floods of sunshine, and the servants, watching the four ladies, came to
the conclusion there was very little life in them.
To the servants San Salvatore seemed asleep. No one came to tea,
nor did the ladies go anywhere to tea. Other tenants in other springs
had been far more active. There had been stir and enterprise; the boat
had been used; excursions had been made; Beppo's fly was ordered;
people from Mezzago came over and spent the day; the house rang with
voices; even sometimes champagne had been drunk. Life was varied, life
was interesting. But this? What was this? The servants were not even
scolded. They were left completely to themselves. They yawned.
Perplexing, too, was the entire absence of gentlemen. How could
gentlemen keep away from so much beauty? For, added up, and even after
the subtraction of the old one, the three younger ladies produced a
formidable total of that which gentlemen usually sought.
Also the evident desire of each lady to spend long hours
separated from the other ladies puzzled the servants. The result was a
deathly stillness in the house, except at meal-times. It might have
been as empty as it had been all the winter, for any sounds of life
there were. The old lady sat in her room, alone; the dark-eyed lady
wandered off alone, loitering, so Domenico told them, who sometimes
came across her in the course of his duties, incomprehensibly among the
rocks; the very beautiful fair lady lay in her low chair in the top
garden, alone; the less, but still beautiful fair lady went up the
hills and stayed up them for hours, alone; and every day the sun blazed
slowly round the house, and disappeared at evening into the sea, and
nothing at all had happened.
The servants yawned.
Yet the four visitors, while their bodies sat—that was Mrs.
Fisher's—or lay—that was Lady Caroline's—or loitered—that was Mrs.
Arbuthnot's—or went in solitude up into the hills—that was Mrs.
Wilkins's—were anything but torpid really. Their minds were unusually
busy. Even at night their minds were busy, and the dreams they had
were clear, thin, quick things, entirely different from the heavy
dreams of home. There was that in the atmosphere of San Salvatore
which produced active-mindedness in all except the natives. They, as
before, whatever the beauty around them, whatever the prodigal seasons
did, remained immune from thoughts other than those they were
accustomed to. All their lives they had seen, year by year, the
amazing recurrent spectacle of April in the gardens, and custom had
made it invisible to them. They were as blind to it, as unconscious of
it, as Domenico's dog asleep in the sun.
The visitors could not be blind to it—it was too arresting after
London in a particularly wet and gloomy March. Suddenly to be
transported to that place where the air was so still that it held its
breath, where the light was so golden that the most ordinary things
were transfigured—to be transported into that delicate warmth, that
caressing fragrance, and to have the old grey castle as the setting,
and, in the distance, the serene clear hills of Perugini's backgrounds,
was an astonishing contrast. Even Lady Caroline, used all her life to
beauty, who had been everywhere and seen everything, felt the surprise
of it. It was, that year, a particularly wonderful spring, and of all
the months at San Salvatore April, if the weather was fine, was best.
May scorched and withered; March was restless, and could be hard and
cold in its brightness; but April came along softly like a blessing,
and if it were a fine April it was so beautiful that it was impossible
not to feel different, not to feel stirred and touched.
Mrs. Wilkins, we have seen, responded to it instantly. She, so
to speak, at once flung off all her garments and dived straight into
glory, unhesitatingly, with a cry of rapture.
Mrs. Arbuthnot was stirred and touched, but differently. She had
odd sensations—presently to be described.
Mrs. Fisher, being old, was of a closer, more impermeable
texture, and offered more resistance; but she too had odd sensations,
also in their place to be described.
Lady Caroline, already amply acquainted with beautiful houses and
climates, to whom they could not come quite with the same surprise, yet
was very nearly as quick to react as Mrs. Wilkins. The place had an
almost instantaneous influence on her as well, and of one part of this
influence she was aware: it had made her, beginning on the very first
evening, want to think, and acted on her curiously like a conscience.
What this conscience seemed to press upon her notice with an insistence
that startled her—Lady Caroline hesitated to accept the word, but it
would keep on coming into her head—was that she was tawdry.
She must think that out.
The morning after the first dinner together, she woke up in a
condition of regret that she should have been so talkative to Mrs.
Wilkins the night before. What had made her be, she wondered. Now, of
course, Mrs. Wilkins would want to grab, she would want to be
inseparable; and the thought of a grabbing and an inseparableness that
should last four weeks made Scrap's spirit swoon within her. No doubt
the encouraged Mrs. Wilkins would be lurking in the top garden waiting
to waylay her when she went out, and would hail her with morning
cheerfulness. How much she hated being hailed with morning
cheerfulness—or indeed, hailed at all. She oughtn't to have
encouraged Mrs. Wilkins the night before. Fatal to encourage. It was
bad enough not to encourage, for just sitting there and saying nothing
seemed usually to involve her, but actively to encourage was suicidal.
What on earth had made her? Now she would have to waste all the
precious time, the precious, lovely time for thinking in, for getting
square with herself, in shaking Mrs. Wilkins off.
With great caution and on the tips of her toes, balancing herself
carefully lest the pebbles should scrunch, she stole out when she was
dressed to her corner; but the garden was empty. No shaking off was
necessary. Neither Mrs. Wilkins nor anybody else was to be seen. She
had it entirely to herself. Except for Domenico, who presently came
and hovered, watering his plants, again especially all the plants that
were nearest her, no one came out at all; and when, after a long while
of following up thoughts which seemed to escape her just as she had got
them, and dropping off exhausted to sleep in the intervals of this
chase, she felt hungry and looked at her watch and saw that it was past
three, she realized that nobody had even bothered to call her in to
lunch. So that, Scrap could not but remark, if any one was shaken off
it was she herself.
Well, but how delightful, and how very new. Now she would really
be able to think, uninterruptedly. Delicious to be forgotten.
Still, she was hungry; and Mrs. Wilkins, after that excessive
friendliness the night before, might at least have told her lunch was
ready. And she had really been excessively friendly—so nice about
Mellersh's sleeping arrangements, wanting him to have the spare-room
and all. She wasn't usually interested in arrangements, in fact she
wasn't ever interested in them; so that Scrap considered she might be
said almost to have gone out of her way to be agreeable to Mrs.
Wilkins. And, in return, Mrs. Wilkins didn't even bother whether or
not she had any lunch.
Fortunately, though she was hungry, she didn't mind missing a
meal. Life was full of meals. They took up an enormous proportion of
one's time; and Mrs. Fisher was, she was afraid, one of those persons
who at meals linger. Twice now had she dined with Mrs. Fisher, and
each time she had been difficult at the end to dislodge, lingering on
slowly cracking innumerable nuts and slowly drinking a glass of wine
that seemed as if it would never be finished. Probably it would be a
good thing to make a habit of missing lunch, and as it was quite easy
to have tea brought out to her, and as she breakfasted in her room,
only once a day would she have to sit at the dining-room table and
endure the nuts.
Scrap burrowed her head comfortably in the cushions, and with her
feet crossed on the low parapet gave herself up to more thought. She
said to herself, as she had said at intervals throughout the morning:
Now I'm going to think. But, never having thought out anything in her
life, it was difficult. Extraordinary how one's attention wouldn't
stay fixed; extraordinary how one's mind slipped sideways. Settling
herself down to a review of her past as a preliminary to the
consideration of her future, and hunting in it to begin with for any
justification of that distressing word tawdry, the next thing she knew
was that she wasn't thinking about this at all, but had somehow
switched on to Mr. Wilkins.
Well, Mr. Wilkins was quite easy to think about, though not
pleasant. She viewed his approach with misgivings. For not only was
it a profound and unexpected bore to have a man added to the party, and
a man, too, of the kind she was sure Mr. Wilkins must be, but she was
afraid—and her fear was the result of a drearily unvarying experience
—that he might wish to hang about her.
This possibility had evidently not yet occurred to Mrs. Wilkins,
and it was not one to which she could very well draw her attention;
not, that is, without being too fatuous to live. She tried to hope
that Mr. Wilkins would be a wonderful exception to the dreadful rule.
If only he were, she would be so much obliged to him that she believed
she might really quite like him.
But—she had misgivings. Suppose he hung about her so that she
was driven from her lovely top garden; suppose the light in Mrs.
Wilkins's funny, flickering face was blown out. Scrap felt she would
particularly dislike this to happen to Mrs. Wilkins's face, yet she had
never in her life met any wives, not any at all, who had been able to
understand that she didn't in the least want their husbands. Often she
had met wives who didn't want their husbands either, but that made them
none the less indignant if they thought somebody else did, and none the
less sure, when they saw them hanging round Scrap, that she was trying
to get them. Trying to get them! The bare thought, the bare
recollection of these situations, filled her with a boredom so extreme
that it instantly sent her to sleep again.
When she woke up she went on with Mr. Wilkins.
Now if, thought Scrap, Mr. Wilkins were not an exception and
behaved in the usual way, would Mrs. Wilkins understand, or would it
just simply spoil her holiday? She seemed quick, but would she be
quick about just this? She seemed to understand and see inside one,
but would she understand and see inside one when it came to Mr.
The experienced Scrap was full of doubts. She shifted her feet
on the parapet; she jerked a cushion straight. Perhaps she had better
try and explain to Mrs. Wilkins, during the days still remaining before
the arrival—explain in a general way, rather vague and talking at
large—her attitude towards such things. She might also expound to her
her peculiar dislike of people's husbands, and her profound craving to
be, at least for this one month, let alone.
But Scrap had her doubts about this too. Such talk meant a
certain familiarity, meant embarking on a friendship with Mrs. Wilkins;
and if, after having embarked on it and faced the peril it contained of
too much Mrs. Wilkins, Mr. Wilkins should turn out to be artful—and
people did get very artful when they were set on anything—and manage
after all to slip through into the top garden, Mrs. Wilkins might
easily believe she had been taken in, and that she, Scrap, was
deceitful. Deceitful! And about Mr. Wilkins. Wives were really
At half-past four she heard sounds of saucers on the other side
of the daphne bushes. Was tea being sent out to her?
No; the sounds came no closer, they stopped near the house. Tea
was to be in the garden, in her garden. Scrap considered she might at
least have been asked if she minded being disturbed. They all knew she
Perhaps some one would bring hers to her in her corner.
No; nobody brought anything.
Well, she was too hungry not to go and have it with the others
to-day, but she would give Francesca strict orders for the future.
She got up, and walked with that slow grace which was another of
her outrageous number of attractions towards the sounds of tea. She
was conscious not only of being very hungry but of wanting to talk to
Mrs. Wilkins again. Mrs. Wilkins had not grabbed, she had left her
quite free all day in spite of the rapprochement the night before. Of
course she was an original, and put on a silk jumper for dinner, but
she hadn't grabbed. This was a great thing. Scrap went towards the
tea-table quite looking forward to Mrs. Wilkins; and when she came in
sight of it she saw only Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Arbuthnot.
Mrs. Fisher was pouring out the tea, and Mrs. Arbuthnot was
offering Mrs. Fisher macaroons. Every time Mrs. Fisher offered Mrs.
Arbuthnot anything—her cup, or milk, or sugar—Mrs. Arbuthnot offered
her macaroons—pressed them on her with an odd assiduousness, almost
with obstinacy. Was it a game? Scrap wondered, sitting down and
seizing a macaroon.
"Where is Mrs. Wilkins?" asked Scrap.
They did not know. At least, Mrs. Arbuthnot, on Scrap's inquiry,
did not know; Mrs. Fisher's face, at the name, became elaborately
It appeared that Mrs. Wilkins had not been seen since breakfast.
Mrs. Arbuthnot thought she had probably gone for a picnic. Scrap
missed her. She ate the enormous macaroons, the best and biggest she
had ever come across, in silence. Tea without Mrs. Wilkins was dull;
and Mrs. Arbuthnot had that fatal flavour of motherliness about her, of
wanting to pet one, to make one very comfortable, coaxing one to eat—
coaxing her, who was already so frankly, so even excessively, eating—
that seemed to have dogged Scrap's steps through life. Couldn't people
leave one alone? She was perfectly able to eat what she wanted
unincited. She tried to quench Mrs. Arbuthnot's zeal by being short
with her. Useless. The shortness was not apparent. It remained, as
all Scrap's evil feelings remained, covered up by the impenetrable veil
of her loveliness.
Mrs. Fisher sat monumentally, and took no notice of either of
them. She had had a curious day, and was a little worried. She had
been quite alone, for none of the three had come to lunch, and none of
them had taken the trouble to let her know they were not coming; and
Mrs. Arbuthnot, drifting casually into tea, had behaved oddly till Lady
Caroline joined them and distracted her attention.
Mrs. Fisher was prepared not to dislike Mrs. Arbuthnot, whose
parted hair and mild expression seemed very decent and womanly, but she
certainly had habits that were difficult to like. Her habit of
instantly echoing any offer made her of food and drink, of throwing the
offer back on one, as it were, was not somehow what one expected of
her. "Will you have some more tea?" was surely a question to which the
answer was simply yes or no; but Mrs. Arbuthnot persisted in the trick
she had exhibited the day before at breakfast, of adding to her yes or
no the words, "Will you?" She had done it again that morning at
breakfast and here she was doing it at tea—the two meals at which Mrs.
Fisher presided and poured out. Why did she do it? Mrs. Fisher failed
But this was not what was worrying her; this was merely by the
way. What was worrying her was that she had been quite unable that day
to settle to anything, and had done nothing but wander restlessly from
her sitting-room to her battlements and back again. It had been a
wasted day, and how much she disliked waste. She had tried to read,
and she had tried to write to Kate Lumley; but no—a few words read, a
few lines written, and up she got again and went out on to the
battlements and stared at the sea.
It did not matter that the letter to Kate Lumley should not be
written. There was time enough for that. Let the others suppose her
coming was definitely fixed. All the better. So would Mr. Wilkins be
kept out of the spare-room and put where he belonged. Kate would keep.
She could be held in reserve. Kate in reserve was just as potent as
Kate in actuality, and there were points about Kate in reserve which
might be missing from Kate in actuality. For instance, if Mrs. Fisher
were going to be restless, she would rather Kate were not there to see.
There was a want of dignity about restlessness, about trotting
backwards and forwards. But it did matter that she could not read a
sentence of any of her great dead friends' writings; no, not even of
Browning's, who had been so much in Italy, nor of Ruskin's, whose
Stones of Venice she had brought with her to re-read so nearly on the
very spot; nor even a sentence of a really interesting book like the
one she had found in her sitting-room about the home life of the German
Emperor, poor man—written in the nineties, when he had not yet begun
to be more sinned against than sinning, which was, she was firmly
convinced, what was the matter with him now, and full of exciting
things about his birth and his right arm and accoucheurs—without
having to put it down and go and stare at the sea.
Reading was very important; the proper exercise and development
of one's mind was a paramount duty. How could one read if one were
constantly trotting in and out? Curious, this restlessness. Was she
going to be ill? No, she felt well; indeed, unusually well, and she
went in and out quite quickly—trotted, in fact—and without her stick.
Very odd that she shouldn't be able to sit still, she thought, frowning
across the tops of some purple hyacinths at the Gulf of Spezia
glittering beyond a headland; very odd that she, who walked so slowly,
with such dependence on her stick, should suddenly trot.
It would be interesting to talk to some one about it, she felt.
Not to Kate—to a stranger. Kate would only look at her and suggest a
cup of tea. Kate always suggested cups of tea. Besides, Kate had a
flat face. That Mrs. Wilkins, now—annoying as she was, loose-tongued
as she was, impertinent, objectionable, would probably understand, and
perhaps know what was making her be like this. But she could say
nothing to Mrs. Wilkins. She was the last person to whom one would
admit sensations. Dignity alone forbade it. Confide in Mrs. Wilkins?
And Mrs. Arbuthnot, while she wistfully mothered the obstructive
Scrap at tea, felt too that she had had a curious day. Like Mrs.
Fisher's, it had been active, but, unlike Mrs. Fisher's, only active in
mind. Her body had been quite still; her mind had not been still at
all, it had been excessively active. For years she had taken care to
have no time to think. Her scheduled life in the parish had prevented
memories and desires from intruding on her. That day they had crowded.
She went back to tea feeling dejected, and that she should feel
dejected in such a place with everything about her to make her rejoice,
only dejected her the more. But how could she rejoice alone? How
could anybody rejoice and enjoy and appreciate, really appreciate,
alone? Except Lotty. Lotty seemed able to. She had gone off down the
hill directly after breakfast, alone yet obviously rejoicing, for she
had not suggested that Rose should go too, and she was singing as she
Rose had spent the day by herself, sitting with her hands
clasping her knees, staring straight in front of her. What she was
staring at were the grey swords of the agaves, and, on their tall
stalks, the pale irises that grew in the remote place she had found,
while beyond them, between the grey leaves and the blue flowers, she
saw the sea. The place she had found was a hidden corner where the
sun-baked stones were padded with thyme, and nobody was likely to come.
It was out of sight and sound of the house; it was off any path; it was
near the end of the promontory. She sat so quiet that presently
lizards darted over her feet, and some tiny birds like finches,
frightened away at first, came back again and flitted among the bushes
round her just as if she hadn't been there. How beautiful it was. And
what was the good of it with no one there, no one who loved being with
one, who belonged to one, to whom one could say, "Look." And wouldn't
one say, "Look—dearest?" Yes, one would say dearest; and the sweet
word, just to say it to somebody who loved one, would make one happy.
She sat quite still, staring straight in front of her. Strange
that in this place she did not want to pray. She who had prayed so
constantly at home didn't seem able to do it here at all. The first
morning she had merely thrown up a brief thank you to heaven on getting
out of bed, and had gone straight to the window to see what everything
looked like—thrown up the thank you as carelessly as a ball, and
thought no more about it. That morning, remembering this and ashamed,
she had knelt down with determination; but perhaps determination was
bad for prayers, for she had been unable to think of a thing to say.
And as for her bedtime prayers, on neither of the nights had she said a
single one. She had forgotten them. She had been so much absorbed in
other thoughts that she had forgotten them; and, once in bed, she was
asleep and whirling along among bright, thin swift dreams before she
had so much time as to stretch herself out.
What had come over her? Why had she let go the anchor of prayer?
And she had difficulty, too, in remembering her poor, in remembering
even that there were such things as poor. Holidays, of course, were
good, and were recognized by everybody as good, but ought they so
completely to blot out, to make such havoc of, the realities? Perhaps
it was healthy to forget her poor; with all the greater gusto would she
go back to them. But it couldn't be healthy to forget her prayers, and
still less could it be healthy not to mind.
Rose did not mind. She knew she did not mind. And, even worse,
she knew she did not mind not minding. In this place she was
indifferent to both the things that had filled her life and made it
seem as if it were happy for years. Well, if only she could rejoice in
her wonderful new surroundings, have that much at least to set against
the indifference, the letting go—but she could not. She had no work;
she did not pray; she was left empty.
Lotty had spoilt her day that day, as she had spoilt her day the
day before—Lotty, with her invitation to her husband, with her
suggestion that she too should invite hers. Having flung Frederick
into her mind again the day before, Lotty had left her; for the whole
afternoon she had left her alone with her thoughts. Since then they
had been all of Frederick. Where at Hampstead he came to her only in
her dreams, here he left her dreams free and was with her during the
day instead. And again that morning, as she was struggling not to
think of him, Lotty had asked her, just before disappearing singing
down the path, if she had written yet and invited him, and again he was
flung into her mind and she wasn't able to get him out.
How could she invite him? It had gone on so long, their
estrangement, such years; she would hardly know what words to use; and
besides, he would not come. Why should he come? He didn't care about
being with her. What could they talk about? Between them was the
barrier of his work and her religion. She could not—how could she,
believing as she did in purity, in responsibility for the effect of
one's actions on others—bear his work, bear living by it; and he she
knew, had at first resented and then been merely bored by her religion.
He had let her slip away; he had given her up; he no longer minded; he
accepted her religion indifferently, as a settled fact. Both it and
she—Rose's mind, becoming more luminous in the clear light of April at
San Salvatore, suddenly saw the truth—bored him.
Naturally when she saw this, when that morning it flashed upon
her for the first time, she did not like it; she liked it so little
that for a space the whole beauty of Italy was blotted out. What was
to be done about it? She could not give up believing in good and not
liking evil, and it must be evil to live entirely on the proceeds of
adulteries, however dead and distinguished they were. Besides, if she
did, if she sacrificed her whole past, her bringing up, her work for
the last ten years, would she bore him less? Rose felt right down at
her very roots that if you have once thoroughly bored somebody it is
next to impossible to unbore him. Once a bore always a bore—
certainly, she thought, to the person originally bored.
Then, thought she, looking out to sea through eyes grown misty,
better cling to her religion. It was better—she hardly noticed the
reprehensibleness of her thought—than nothing. But oh, she wanted to
cling to something tangible, to love something living, something that
one could hold against one's heart, that one could see and touch and do
things for. If her poor baby hadn't died . . . babies didn't get bored
with one, it took them a long while to grow up and find one out. And
perhaps one's baby never did find one out; perhaps one would always be
to it, however old and bearded it grew, somebody special, somebody
different from every one else, and if for no other reason, precious in
that one could never be repeated.
Sitting with dim eyes looking out to sea she felt an
extraordinary yearning to hold something of her very own tight to her
bosom. Rose was slender, and as reserved in figure as in character,
yet she felt a queer sensation of—how could she describe it?—bosom.
There was something about San Salvatore that made her feel all bosom.
She wanted to gather to her bosom, to comfort and protect, soothing the
dear head that should lie on it with softest strokings and murmurs of
love. Frederick, Frederick's child—come to her, pillowed on her,
because they were unhappy, because they had been hurt. . . They would
need her then, if they had been hurt; they would let themselves be
loved then, if they were unhappy.
Well, the child was gone, would never come now; but perhaps
Frederick—some day—when he was old and tired . . .
Such were Mrs. Arbuthnot's reflections and emotions that first
day at San Salvatore by herself. She went back to tea dejected as she
had not been for years. San Salvatore had taken her carefully built-up
semblance of happiness away from her, and given her nothing in
exchange. Yes—it had given her yearnings in exchange, this ache and
longing, this queer feeling of bosom; but that was worse than nothing.
And she who had learned balance, who never at home was irritated but
always able to be kind, could not, even in her dejection, that
afternoon endure Mrs. Fisher's assumption of the position as hostess at
One would have supposed that such a little thing would not have
touched her, but it did. Was her nature changing? Was she to be not
only thrown back on long-stifled yearnings after Frederick, but also
turned into somebody who wanted to fight over little things? After
tea, when both Mrs. Fisher and Lady Caroline had disappeared again—it
was quite evident that nobody wanted her—she was more dejected than
ever, overwhelmed by the discrepancy between the splendour outside her,
the warm, teeming beauty and self-sufficiency of nature, and the blank
emptiness of her heart.
Then came Lotty, back to dinner, incredibly more freckled,
exuding the sunshine she had been collecting all day, talking,
laughing, being tactless, being unwise, being without reticence; and
Lady Caroline, so quiet at tea, woke up to animation, and Mrs. Fisher
was not so noticeable, and Rose was beginning to revive a little, for
Lotty's spirits were contagious as she described the delights of her
day, a day which might easily to any one else have had nothing in it but
a very long and very hot walk and sandwiches, when she suddenly said
catching Rose's eye, "Letter gone?"
Rose flushed. This tactlessness . . .
"What letter?" asked Scrap, interested. Both her elbows were on
the table and her chin was supported in her hands, for the nut-stage
had been reached, and there was nothing for it but to wait in as
comfortable as position as possible till Mrs. Fisher had finished
"Asking her husband here," said Lotty.
Mrs. Fisher looked up. Another husband? Was there to be no end
to them? Nor was this one, then, a widow either; but her husband was
no doubt a decent, respectable man, following a decent, respectable
calling. She had little hope of Mr. Wilkins; so little, that she had
refrained from inquiring what he did.
"Has it?" persisted Lotty, as Rose said nothing.
"No," said Rose.
"Oh, well—to-morrow then," said Lotty.
Rose wanted to say No again to this. Lotty would have in her
place, and would, besides, have expounded all her reasons. But she
could not turn herself inside out like that and invite any and
everybody to come and look. How was it that Lotty, who saw so many
things, didn't see stuck on her heart, and seeing keep quiet about it,
the sore place that was Frederick?
"Who is your husband?" asked Mrs. Fisher, carefully adjusting
another nut between the crackers.
"Who should he be," said Rose quickly, roused at once by Mrs.
Fisher to irritation, "except Mr. Arbuthnot?"
"I mean, of course, what is Mr. Arbuthnot?"
And Rose, gone painfully red at this, said after a tiny pause,
Naturally, Mrs. Fisher was incensed. She couldn't have believed
it of this one, with her decent hair and gentle voice, that she too
should be impertinent.
That first week the wistaria began to fade, and the flowers of
the Judas-tree and peach-trees fell off and carpeted the ground with
rose-colour. Then all the freesias disappeared, and the irises grew
scarce. And then, while these were clearing themselves away, the
double banksia roses came out, and the big summer roses suddenly
flaunted gorgeously on the walls and trellises. Fortune's Yellow was
one of them; a very beautiful rose. Presently the tamarisk and the
daphnes were at their best, and the lilies at their tallest. By the
end of the week the fig-trees were giving shade, the plum-blossom was
out among the olives, the modest weigelias appeared in their fresh pink
clothes, and on the rocks sprawled masses of thick-leaved, star-shaped
flowers, some vivid purple and some a clear, pale lemon.
By the end of the week, too, Mr. Wilkins arrived; even as his
wife had foreseen he would, so he did. And there were signs almost of
eagerness about his acceptance of her suggestion, for he had not waited
to write a letter in answer to hers, but had telegraphed.
That, surely, was eager. It showed, Scrap thought, a definite
wish for reunion; and watching his wife's happy face, and aware of her
desire that Mellersh should enjoy his holiday, she told herself that he
would be a very unusual fool should he waste his time bothering about
anybody else. "If he isn't nice to her," Scrap thought, "he shall be
taken to the battlements and tipped over." For, by the end of the
week, she and Mrs. Wilkins had become Caroline and Lotty to each other,
and were friends.
Mrs. Wilkins had always been friends, but Scrap had struggled not
to be. She had tried hard to be cautious, but how difficult was
caution with Mrs. Wilkins! Free herself from every vestige of it, she
was so entirely unreserved, so completely expansive, that soon Scrap,
almost before she knew what she was doing, was being unreserved too.
And nobody could be more unreserved than Scrap, once she let herself
The only difficulty about Lotty was that she was nearly always
somewhere else. You couldn't catch her; you couldn't pin her down to
come and talk. Scrap's fears that she would grab seemed grotesque in
retrospect. Why, there was no grab in her. At dinner and after dinner
were the only times one really saw her. All day long she was
invisible, and would come back in the late afternoon looking a perfect
sight, her hair full of bits of moss, and her freckles worse than ever.
Perhaps she was making the most of her time before Mellersh arrived to
do all the things she wanted to do, and meant to devote herself
afterwards to going about with him, tidy and in her best clothes.
Scrap watched her, interested in spite of herself, because it
seemed so extraordinary to be as happy as all that on so little. San
Salvatore was beautiful, and the weather was divine; but scenery and
weather had never been enough for Scrap, and how could they be enough
for somebody who would have to leave them quite soon and go back to
life in Hampstead? Also, there was the imminence of Mellersh, of that
Mellersh from whom Lotty had so lately run. It was all very well to
feel one ought to share, and to make a beau geste and do it, but the
beaux gestes Scrap had known hadn't made anybody happy. Nobody really
liked being the object of one, and it always meant an effort on the
part of the maker. Still, she had to admit there was no effort about
Lotty; it was quite plain that everything she did and said was
effortless, and that she was just simply, completely happy.
And so Mrs. Wilkins was; for her doubts as to whether she had had
time to become steady enough in serenity to go on being serene in
Mellersh's company when she had it uninterruptedly right round the
clock, had gone by the middle of the week, and she felt that nothing
now could shake her. She was ready for anything. She was firmly
grafted, rooted, built into heaven. Whatever Mellersh said or did, she
would not budge an inch out of heaven, would not rouse herself a single
instant to come outside it and be cross. On the contrary, she was
going to pull him up into it beside her, and they would sit comfortably
together, suffused in light, and laugh at how much afraid of him she
used to be in Hampstead, and at how deceitful her afraidness had made
her. But he wouldn't need much pulling. He would come in quite
naturally after a day or two, irresistibly wafted on the scented
breezes of that divine air; and there he would sit arrayed in stars,
thought Mrs. Wilkins, in whose mind, among much other débris, floated
occasional bright shreds of poetry. She laughed to herself a little at
the picture of Mellersh, that top-hatted, black-coated, respectable
family solicitor, arrayed in stars, but she laughed affectionately,
almost with a maternal pride in how splendid he would look in such fine
clothes. "Poor lamb," she murmured to herself affectionately. And
added, "What he wants is a thorough airing."
This was during the first half of the week. By the beginning of
the last half, at the end of which Mr. Wilkins arrived, she left off
even assuring herself that she was unshakeable, that she was permeated
beyond altering by the atmosphere, she no longer thought of it or
noticed it; she took it for granted. If one may say so, and she
certainly said so, not only to herself but also to Lady Caroline, she
had found her celestial legs.
Contrary to Mrs. Fisher's idea of the seemly—but of course
contrary; what else would one expect of Mrs. Wilkins?—she did not go
to meet her husband at Messago, but merely walked down to the point
where Beppo's fly would leave him and his luggage in the street of
Castagneto. Mrs. Fisher disliked the arrival of Mr. Wilkins, and was
sure that anybody who could have married Mrs. Wilkins must be at least
of an injudicious disposition, but a husband, whatever his disposition,
should be properly met. Mr. Fisher had always been properly met.
Never once in his married life had he gone unmet at a station, nor had
he ever not been seen off. These observances, these courtesies,
strengthened the bonds of marriage, and made the husband feel he could
rely on his wife's being always there. Always being there was the
essential secret for a wife. What would have become of Mr. Fisher if
she had neglected to act on this principle she preferred not to think.
Enough things became of him as it was; for whatever one's care in
stopping up, married life yet seemed to contain chinks.
But Mrs. Wilkins took no pains. She just walked down the hill
singing—Mrs. Fisher could hear her—and picked up her husband in the
street as casually as if he were a pin. The three others, still in
bed, for it was not nearly time to get up, heard her as she passed
beneath their windows down the zigzag path to meet Mr. Wilkins, who was
coming by the morning train, and Scrap smiled, and Rose sighed, and
Mrs. Fisher rang her bell and desired Francesca to bring her her
breakfast in her room. All three had breakfast that day in their
rooms, moved by a common instinct to take cover.
Scrap always breakfasted in bed, but she had the same instinct
for cover, and during breakfast she made plans for spending the whole
day where she was. Perhaps, though, it wouldn't be as necessary that
day as the next. That day, Scrap calculated, Mellersh would be
provided for. He would want to have a bath, and having a bath at San
Salvatore was an elaborate business, a real adventure if one had a hot
one in the bathroom, and it took a lot of time. It involved the
attendance of the entire staff—Domenico and the boy Giuseppe coaxing
the patent stove to burn, restraining it when it burnt too fiercely,
using the bellows to it when it threatened to go out, relighting it
when it did go out; Francesca anxiously hovering over the tap
regulating its trickle, because if it were turned on too full the water
instantly ran cold, and if not full enough the stove blew up inside and
mysteriously flooded the house; and Costanza and Angela running up and
down bringing pails of hot water from the kitchen to eke out what the
This bath had been put in lately, and was at once the pride and
the terror of the servants. It was very patent. Nobody quite
understood it. There were long printed instructions as to its right
treatment hanging on the wall, in which the word pericoloso recurred.
When Mrs. Fisher, proceeding on her arrival to the bathroom, saw this
word, she went back to her room again and ordered a sponge-bath
instead; and when the others found what using the bathroom meant, and
how reluctant the servants were to leave them alone with the stove, and
how Francesca positively refused to, and stayed with her back turned
watching the tap, and how the remaining servants waited anxiously
outside the door till the bather came safely out again, they too had
sponge-baths brought into their rooms instead.
Mr. Wilkins, however, was a man, and would be sure to want a big
bath. Having it, Scrap calculated, would keep him busy for a long
while. Then he would unpack, and then, after his night in the train,
he would probably sleep till the evening. So would he be provided for
the whole of that day, and not be let loose on them till dinner.
Therefore Scrap came to the conclusion she would be quite safe in
the garden that day, and got up as usual after breakfast, and dawdled
as usual through her dressing, listening with a slight cocked ear to
the sounds of Mr. Wilkins's arrival, of his luggage being carried into
Lotty's room on the other side of the landing, of his educated voice as
he inquired of Lotty, first, "Do I give this fellow anything?" and
immediately afterwards, "Can I have a hot bath?"—of Lotty's voice
cheerfully assuring him that he needn't give the fellow anything
because he was the gardener, and that yes, he could have a hot bath;
and soon after this the landing was filled with the familiar noises of
wood being brought, of water being brought, of feet running, of tongues
vociferating—-in fact, with the preparation of the bath.
Scrap finished dressing, and then loitered at her window, waiting
till she should hear Mr. Wilkins go into the bathroom. When he was
safely there she would slip out and settle herself in her garden and
resume her inquiries into the probable meaning of her life. She was
getting on with her inquiries. She dozed much less frequently, and was
beginning to be inclined to agree that tawdry was the word to apply to
her past. Also she was afraid that her future looked black.
There—she could hear Mr. Wilkins's educated voice again.
Lotty's door had opened, and he was coming out of it asking his way to
"It's where you see the crowd," Lotty's voice answered—still a
cheerful voice, Scrap was glad to notice.
His steps went along the landing, and Lotty's steps seemed to go
downstairs, and then there seemed to be a brief altercation at the
bathroom door—hardly so much an altercation as a chorus of
vociferations on one side and wordless determination, Scrap judged, to
have a bath by oneself on the other.
Mr. Wilkins knew no Italian, and the expression pericoloso left
him precisely as it found him—or would have if he had seen it, but
naturally he took no notice of the printed matter on the wall. He
firmly closed the door on the servants, resisting Domenico, who tried
to the last to press through, and locked himself in as a man should for
his bath, judicially considering, as he made his simple preparations
for getting in, the singular standard of behaviour of these foreigners
who, both male and female, apparently wished to stay with him while he
bathed. In Finland, he had heard, the female natives not only were
present on such occasions but actually washed the bath-taking traveler.
He had not heard, however, that this was true too of Italy, which
somehow seemed much nearer civilization—perhaps because one went
there, and did not go to Finland.
Impartially examining this reflection, and carefully balancing
the claims to civilization of Italy and Finland, Mr. Wilkins got into
the bath and turned off the tap. Naturally he turned off the tap. It
was what one did. But on the instructions, printed in red letters, was
a paragraph saying that the tap should not be turned off as long as
there was still fire in the stove. It should be left on—not much on,
but on—until the fire was quite out; otherwise, and here again was the
word pericoloso, the stove would blow up.
Mr. Wilkins got into the bath, turned off the tap, and the stove
blew up, exactly as the printed instructions said it would. It blew
up, fortunately, only in its inside, but it blew up with a terrific
noise, and Mr. Wilkins leapt out of the bath and rushed to the door,
and only the instinct born of years of training made him snatch up a
towel as he rushed.
Scrap, half-way across the landing on her way out of doors, heard
"Good heavens," she thought, remembering the instruction, "there
goes Mr. Wilkins!"
And she ran toward the head of the stairs to call the servants,
and as she ran, out ran Mr. Wilkins clutching his towel, and they ran
into each other.
"That damned bath!" cried Mr. Wilkins, imperfectly concealed in
his towel, his shoulders exposed at one end and his legs at the other,
and Lady Caroline Dester, to meet whom he had swallowed all his anger
with his wife and come out to Italy.
For Lotty in her letter had told him who was at San Salvatore
besides herself and Mrs. Arbuthnot, and Mr. Wilkins at once had
perceived that this was an opportunity which might never recur. Lotty
had merely said, "There are two other women here, Mrs. Fisher and Lady
Caroline Dester," but that was enough. He knew all about the
Droitwiches, their wealth, their connections, their place in history,
and the power they had, should they choose to exert it, of making yet
another solicitor happy by adding him to those they already employed.
Some people employed one solicitor for one branch of their affairs, and
another for another. The affairs of the Droitwiches must have many
branches. He had also heard—for it was, he considered, part of his
business to hear, and having heard to remember—of the beauty of their
only daughter. Even if the Droitwiches themselves did not need his
services, their daughter might. Beauty led one into strange
situations; advice could never come amiss. And should none of them,
neither parents nor daughter nor any of their brilliant sons, need him
in his professional capacity, it yet was obviously a most valuable
acquaintance to make. It opened up vistas. It swelled with
possibilities. He might go on living in Hampstead for years, and not
again come across such another chance.
Directly his wife's letter reached him he telegraphed and packed.
This was business. He was not a man to lose time when it came to
business; nor was he a man to jeopardize a chance by neglecting to be
amiable. He met his wife perfectly amiably, aware that amiability
under such circumstances was wisdom. Besides, he actually felt
amiable—very. For once, Lotty was really helping him. He kissed her
affectionately on getting out of Beppo's fly, and was afraid she must
have got up extremely early; he made no complaints of the steepness of
the walk up; he told her pleasantly of his journey, and when called
upon, obediently admired the views. It was all neatly mapped out in
his mind, what he was going to do that first day—have a shave, have a
bath, put on clean clothes, sleep a while, and then would come lunch
and the introduction to Lady Caroline.
In the train he had selected the words of his greeting, going
over them with care—some slight expression of his gratification in
meeting one of whom he, in common with the whole world, had heard—but
of course put delicately, very delicately; some slight reference to her
distinguished parents and the part her family had played in the history
of England—made, of course, with proper tact; a sentence or two about
her eldest brother Lord Winchcombe, who had won his V.C. in the late
war under circumstances which could only cause—he might or might not
add this—every Englishman's heart to beat higher than ever with pride,
and the first steps towards what might well be the turning-point in his
career would have been taken.
And here he was . . . no, it was too terrible, what could be more
terrible? Only a towel on, water running off his legs, and that
exclamation. He knew at once the lady was Lady Caroline—the minute
the exclamation was out he knew it. Rarely did Mr. Wilkins use that
word, and never, never in the presence of a lady or a client. While as
for the towel—why had he come? Why had he not stayed in Hampstead?
It would be impossible to live this down.
But Mr. Wilkins was reckoning without Scrap. She, indeed,
screwed up her face at the first flash of him on her astonished sight
in an enormous effort not to laugh, and having choked the laughter down
and got her face serious again, she said as composedly as if he had had
all his clothes on, "How do you do."
What perfect tact. Mr. Wilkins could have worshipped her. This
exquisite ignoring. Blue blood, of course, coming out.
Overwhelmed with gratitude he took her offered hand and said "How
do you do," in his turn, and merely to repeat the ordinary words seemed
magically to restore the situation to the normal. Indeed, he was so
much relieved, and it was so natural to be shaking hands, to be
conventionally greeting, that he forgot he had only a towel on and his
professional manner came back to him. He forgot what he was looking
like, but he did not forget that this was Lady Caroline Dester, the
lady he had come all the way to Italy to see, and he did not forget
that it was in her face, her lovely and important face, that he had
flung his terrible exclamation. He must at once entreat her
forgiveness. To say such a word to a lady—to any lady, but of all
ladies to just this one . . .
"I'm afraid I used unpardonable language," began Mr. Wilkins very
earnestly, as earnestly and ceremoniously as if he had had his clothes
"I thought it most appropriate," said Scrap, who was used to
Mr. Wilkins was incredibly relieved and soothed by this answer.
No offence, then, taken. Blue blood again. Only blue blood could
afford such a liberal, such an understanding attitude.
"It is Lady Caroline Dester, is it not, to whom I am speaking?"
he asked, his voice sounding even more carefully cultivated than usual,
for he had to restrain too much pleasure, too much relief, too much of
the joy of the pardoned and the shriven from getting into it.
"Yes," said Scrap; and for the life of her she couldn't help
smiling. She couldn't help it. She hadn't meant to smile at Mr.
Wilkins, not ever; but really he looked—and then his voice was the top
of the rest of him, oblivious of the towel and his legs, and talking
just like a church.
"Allow me to introduce myself," said Mr. Wilkins, with the
ceremony of the drawing-room. "My name is Mellersh-Wilkins."
And he instinctively held out his hand a second time at the
"I thought perhaps it was," said Scrap, a second time having hers
shaken and a second time unable not to smile.
He was about to proceed to the first of the graceful tributes he
had prepared in the train, oblivious, as he could not see himself, that
he was without his clothes, when the servants came running up the
stairs and, simultaneously, Mrs. Fisher appeared in the doorway of her
sitting-room. For all this had happened very quickly, and the servants
away in the kitchen, and Mrs. Fisher pacing her battlements, had not
had time on hearing the noise to appear before the second handshake.
The servants when they heard the dreaded noise knew at once what
had happened, and rushed straight into the bathroom to try and staunch
the flood, taking no notice of the figure on the landing in the towel,
but Mrs. Fisher did not know what the noise could be, and coming out of
her room to inquire stood rooted on the door-sill.
It was enough to root anybody. Lady Caroline shaking hands with
what evidently, if he had had clothes on, would have been Mrs.
Wilkins's husband, and both of them conversing just as if—
Then Scrap became aware of Mrs. Fisher. She turned to her at once. "Do
let me," she said gracefully, "introduce Mr. Mellersh-Wilkins. He has
just come. This," she added, turning to Mr. Wilkins, "is Mrs. Fisher."
And Mr. Wilkins, nothing if not courteous, reacted at once to the
conventional formula. First he bowed to the elderly lady in the
doorway, then he crossed over to her, his wet feet leaving footprints
as he went, and having got to her he politely held out his hand.
"It is a pleasure," said Mr. Wilkins in his carefully modulated
voice, "to meet a friend of my wife's."
Scrap melted away down into the garden.
The strange effect of this incident was that when they met that
evening at dinner both Mrs. Fisher and Lady Caroline had a singular
feeling of secret understanding with Mr. Wilkins. He could not be to
them as other men. He could not be to them as he would have been if
they had met him in his clothes. There was a sense of broken ice; they
felt at once intimate and indulgent; almost they felt to him as nurses
do—as those feel who have assisted either patients or young children
at their baths. They were acquainted with Mr. Wilkins's legs.
What Mrs. Fisher said to him that morning in her first shock will
never be known, but what Mr. Wilkins said to her in reply, when
reminded by what she was saying of his condition, was so handsome in
its apology, so proper in its confusion, that she had ended by being
quite sorry for him and completely placated. After all, it was an
accident, and nobody could help accidents. And when she saw him next
at dinner, dressed, polished, spotless as to linen and sleek as to
hair, she felt this singular sensation of a secret understanding with
him and, added to it, of a kind of almost personal pride in his
appearance, now that he was dressed, which presently extended in some
subtle way to an almost personal pride in everything he said.
There was no doubt whatever in Mrs. Fisher's mind that a man was
infinitely preferable as a companion to a woman. Mr. Wilkins's
presence and conversation at once raised the standard of the
dinner-table from that of a bear garden—yes, a bear garden—to
that of a civilized social gathering. He talked as men talk, about
interesting subjects, and, though most courteous to Lady Caroline,
showed no traces of dissolving into simpers and idiocy whenever he
addressed her. He was, indeed, precisely as courteous to Mrs. Fisher
herself; and when for the first time at that table politics were
introduced, he listened to her with the proper seriousness on her
exhibiting a desire to speak, and treated her opinions with the
attention they deserved. He appeared to think much as she did about
Lloyd George, and in regard to literature he was equally sound. In
fact there was real conversation, and he liked nuts. How he could
have married Mrs. Wilkins was a mystery.
Lotty, for her part, looked on with round eyes. She had expected
Mellersh to take at least two days before he got to this stage, but the
San Salvatore spell had worked instantly. It was not only that he was
pleasant at dinner, for she had always seen him pleasant at dinners
with other people, but he had been pleasant all day privately—so
pleasant that he had complimented her on her looks while she was
brushing out her hair, and kissed her. Kissed her! And it was neither
good-morning nor good-night.
Well, this being so, she would put off telling him the truth
about her nest-egg, and about Rose not being his hostess after all,
till next day. Pity to spoil things. She had been going to blurt it
out as soon as he had had a rest, but it did seem a pity to disturb
such a very beautiful frame of mind as that of Mellersh this first day.
Let him too get more firmly fixed in heaven. Once fixed he wouldn't
Her face sparkled with delight at the instantaneous effect of San
Salvatore. Even the catastrophe of the bath, of which she had been
told when she came in from the garden, had not shaken him. Of course
all that he had needed was a holiday. What a brute she had been to him
when he wanted to take her himself to Italy. But this arrangement, as
it happened, was ever so much better, though not through any merit of
hers. She talked and laughed gaily, not a shred of fear of him left in
her, and even when she said, struck by his spotlessness, that he looked
so clean that one could eat one's dinner off him, and Scrap laughed,
Mellersh laughed too. He would have minded that at home, supposing
that at home she had had the spirit to say it.
It was a successful evening. Scrap, whenever she looked at Mr.
Wilkins, saw him in his towel, dripping water, and felt indulgent.
Mrs. Fisher was delighted with him. Rose was a dignified hostess in
Mr. Wilkins's eyes, quiet and dignified, and he admired the way she
waived her right to preside at the head of the table—as a graceful
compliment, of course, to Mrs. Fisher's age. Mrs. Arbuthnot was,
opined Mr. Wilkins, naturally retiring. She was the most retiring of
the three ladies. He had met her before dinner alone for a moment in
the drawing-room, and had expressed in appropriate language his sense
of her kindness in wishing him to join her party, and she had been
retiring. Was she shy? Probably. She had blushed, and murmured as if
in deprecation, and then the others had come in. At dinner she talked
least. He would, of course, become better acquainted with her during
the next few days, and it would be a pleasure, he was sure.
Meanwhile Lady Caroline was all and more than all Mr. Wilkins had
imagined, and had received his speeches, worked in skillfully between
the courses, graciously; Mrs. Fisher was the exact old lady he had been
hoping to come across all his professional life; and Lotty had not only
immensely improved, but was obviously au mieux—Mr. Wilkins knew what
was necessary in French—with Lady Caroline. He had been much
tormented during the day by the thought of how he had stood conversing
with Lady Caroline forgetful of his not being dressed, and had at last
written her a note most deeply apologizing, and beseeching her to
overlook his amazing, his incomprehensible obliviousness, to which she
had replied in pencil on the back of the envelop, "Don't worry." And
he had obeyed her commands, and had put it from him. The result was he
was now in great contentment. Before going to sleep that night he
pinched his wife's ear. She was amazed. These endearments . . .
What is more, the morning brought no relapse in Mr. Wilkins, and
he kept up to his high level through out the day, in spite of its being
the first day of the second week, and therefore pay day.
It being pay day precipitated Lotty's confession, which she had,
when it came to the point, been inclined to put off a little longer.
She was not afraid, she dared anything, but Mellersh was in such an
admirable humour—why risk clouding it just yet? When, however, soon
after breakfast Costanza appeared with a pile of very dirty little bits
of paper covered with sums in pencil, and having knocked at Mrs.
Fisher's door and been sent away, and at Lady Caroline's door and been
sent away, and at Rose's door and had no answer because Rose had gone
out, she waylaid Lotty, who was showing Mellersh over the house, and
pointed to the bits of paper and talked very rapidly and loud, and
shrugged her shoulders a great deal, and kept on pointing at the bits
of paper, Lotty remembered that a week had passed without anybody
paying anything to anyone, and that the moment had come to settle up.
"Does this good lady want something?" inquired Mr. Wilkins
"Money," said Lotty.
"It's the housekeeping bills."
"Well, you have nothing to do with those," said Mr. Wilkins
"Oh yes, I have—"
And the confession was precipitated.
It was wonderful how Mellersh took it. One would have imagined
that his sole idea about the nest-egg had always been that it should be
lavished on just this. He did not, as he would have done at home,
cross-examine her; he accepted everything as it came pouring out, about
her fibs and all, and when she had finished and said, "You have every
right to be angry, I think, but I hope you won't be and will forgive me
instead," he merely asked, "What can be more beneficial than such a
Whereupon she put her arm through his and held it tight and said,
"Oh, Mellersh, you really are too sweet!"—her face red with pride in
That he should so quickly assimilate the atmosphere, that he
should at once become nothing but kindness, showed surely what a real
affinity he had with good and beautiful things. He belonged quite
naturally in this place of heavenly calm. He was—extraordinary how
she had misjudged him—by nature a child of light. Fancy not minding
the dreadful fibs she had gone in for before leaving home; fancy
passing even those over without comment. Wonderful. Yet not
wonderful, for wasn't he in heaven? In heaven nobody minded any of
those done-with things, one didn't even trouble to forgive and forget,
one was much too happy. She pressed his arm tight in her gratitude and
appreciation; and though he did not withdraw his, neither did he
respond to her pressure. Mr. Wilkins was of a cool habit, and rarely
had any real wish to press.
Meanwhile, Costanza, perceiving that she had lost the Wilkinses'
ear had gone back to Mrs. Fisher, who at least understood Italian,
besides being clearly in the servants' eyes the one of the party marked
down by age and appearance to pay the bills; and to her, while Mrs.
Fisher put the final touches to her toilette, for she was preparing, by
means of putting on a hat and veil and feather boa and gloves, to go
for her first stroll in the lower garden—positively her first since
her arrival—she explained that unless she was given money to pay the
last week's bills the shops of Castagneto would refuse credit for the
current week's food. Not even credit would they give, affirmed
Costanza, who had been spending a great deal and was anxious to pay all
her relations what was owed them and also to find out how her
mistresses took it, for that day's meals. Soon it would be the hour of
colazione, and how could there be colazione without meat, without fish,
without eggs, without—
Mrs. Fisher took the bills out of her hand and looked at the
total; and she was so much astonished by its size, so much horrified by
the extravagance to which it testified, that she sat down at her
writing-table to go into the thing thoroughly.
Costanza had a very bad half-hour. She had not supposed it was
in the English to be so mercenary. And then la Vecchia, as she was
called in the kitchen, knew so much Italian, and with a doggedness that
filled Costanza with shame on her behalf, for such conduct was the last
one expected from the noble English, she went through item after item,
requiring and persisting till she got them, explanations.
There were no explanations, except that Costanza had had one
glorious week of doing exactly as she chose, of splendid unbridled
licence, and that this was the result.
Costanza, having no explanations, wept. It was miserable to
think she would have to cook from now on under watchfulness, under
suspicion; and what would her relations say when they found the orders
they received were whittled down? They would say she had no influence;
they would despise her.
Costanza wept, but Mrs. Fisher was unmoved. In slow and splendid
Italian, with the roll of the cantos of the Inferno, she informed her
that she would pay no bills till the following week, and that meanwhile
the food was to be precisely as good as ever, and at a quarter the
Costanza threw up her hands.
Next week, proceeded Mrs. Fisher unmoved, if she found this had
been so she would pay the whole. Otherwise—she paused; for what she
would do otherwise she did not know herself. But she paused and looked
impenetrable, majestic and menacing, and Costanza was cowed.
Then Mrs. Fisher, having dismissed her with a gesture, went in
search of Lady Caroline to complain. She had been under the impression
that Lady Caroline ordered the meals and therefore was responsible for
the prices, but now it appeared that the cook had been left to do
exactly as she pleased ever since they got there, which of course was
Scrap was not in her bedroom, but the room, on Mrs. Fisher's
opening the door, for she suspected her of being in it and only
pretending not to hear the knock, was still flowerlike from her
"Scent," sniffed Mrs. Fisher, shutting it again; and she wished
Carlyle could have had five minutes' straight talk with this young
woman. And yet—perhaps even he—
She went downstairs to go into the garden in search of her, and
in the hall encountered Mr. Wilkins. He had his hat on, and was
lighting a cigar.
Indulgent as Mrs. Fisher felt towards Mr. Wilkins, and peculiarly
and even mystically related after the previous morning's encounter, she
yet could not like a cigar in the house. Out of doors she endured it,
but it was not necessary, when out of doors was such a big place, to
indulge the habit indoors. Even Mr. Fisher, who had been, she should
say, a man originally tenacious of habits, had quite soon after
marriage got out of this one.
However, Mr. Wilkins, snatching off his hat on seeing her,
instantly threw the cigar away. He threw it into the water a great jar
of arum lilies presumably contain, and Mrs. Fisher, aware of the value
men attach to their newly-lit cigars, could not but be impressed by
this immediate and magnificent amende honorable.
But the cigar did not reach the water. It got caught in the lilies,
and smoked on by itself among them, a strange and depraved-looking
"Where are you going to, my prett—" began Mr. Wilkins, advancing
towards Mrs. Fisher; but he broke off just in time.
Was it morning spirits impelling him to address Mrs. Fisher in
the terms of a nursery rhyme? He wasn't even aware that he knew the
thing. Most strange. What could have put it, at such a moment, into
his self-possessed head? He felt great respect for Mrs. Fisher, and
would not for the world have insulted her by addressing her as a maid,
pretty or otherwise. He wished to stand well with her. She was a
woman of parts, and also, he suspected, of property. At breakfast they
had been most pleasant together, and he had been struck by her apparent
intimacy with well-known persons. Victorians, of course; but it was
restful to talk about them after the strain of his brother-in-law's
Georgian parties on Hampstead Heath. He and she were getting on
famously, he felt. She already showed all the symptoms of presently
wishing to become a client. Not for the world would he offend her.
He turned a little cold at the narrowness of his escape.
She had not, however, noticed.
"You are going out," he said very politely, all readiness should
she confirm his assumption to accompany her.
"I want to find Lady Caroline," said Mrs. Fisher, going towards
the glass door leading into the top garden.
"An agreeable quest," remarked Mr. Wilkins, "May I assist in the
search? Allow me—" he added, opening the door for her.
"She usually sits over in that corner behind the bushes," said
Mrs. Fisher. "And I don't know about it being an agreeable quest. She
has been letting the bills run up in the most terrible fashion, and
needs a good scolding."
"Lady Caroline?" said Mr. Wilkins, unable to follow such an
attitude. "What has Lady Caroline, if I may inquire, to do with the
"The housekeeping was left to her, and as we all share alike it
ought to have been a matter of honour with her—"
"But—Lady Caroline housekeeping for the party here? A party
which includes my wife? My dear lady, you render me speechless. Do
you not know she is the daughter of the Droitwiches?"
"Oh, is that who she is," said Mrs. Fisher, scrunching heavily
over the pebbles towards the hidden corner. "Well, that accounts for
it. The muddle that man Droitwich made in his department in the war
was a national scandal. It amounted to misappropriation of the public
"But it is impossible, I assure you, to expect the daughter of
the Droitwiches—" began Mr. Wilkins earnestly.
"The Droitwiches," interrupted Mrs. Fisher, "are neither here nor
there. Duties undertaken should be performed. I don't intend my money
to be squandered for the sake of any Droitwiches."
A headstrong old lady. Perhaps not so easy to deal with as he
had hoped. But how wealthy. Only the consciousness of great wealth
would make her snap her fingers in this manner at the Droitwiches.
Lotty, on being questioned, had been vague about her circumstances, and
had described her house as a mausoleum with gold-fish swimming about in
it; but now he was sure she was more than very well off. Still, he
wished he had not joined her at this moment, for he had no sort of
desire to be present at such a spectacle as the scolding of Lady
Again, however, he was reckoning without Scrap. Whatever she
felt when she looked up and beheld Mr. Wilkins discovering her corner
on the very first morning, nothing but angelicness appeared on her
face. She took her feet off the parapet on Mrs. Fisher's sitting down
on it, and listening gravely to her opening remarks as to her not
having any money to fling about in reckless and uncontrolled household
expenditure, interrupted her flow by pulling one of the cushions from
behind her head and offering it to her.
"Sit on this," said Scrap, holding it out. "You'll be more
Mr. Wilkins leapt to relieve her of it.
"Oh, thanks," said Mrs. Fisher, interrupted.
It was difficult to get into the swing again. Mr. Wilkins
inserted the cushion solicitously between the slightly raised Mrs.
Fisher and the stone of the parapet, and again she had to say "Thanks."
It was interrupted. Besides, Lady Caroline said nothing in her
defence; she only looked at her, and listened with the face of an
It seemed to Mr. Wilkins that it must be difficult to scold a
Dester who looked like that and so exquisitely said nothing. Mrs.
Fisher, he was glad to see, gradually found it difficult herself, for
her severity slackened, and she ended by saying lamely, "You ought to
have told me you were not doing it."
"I didn't know you thought I was," said the lovely voice.
"I would now like to know," said Mrs. Fisher, "what you propose
to do for the rest of the time here."
"Nothing," said Scrap, smiling.
"Nothing? Do you mean to say—"
"If I may be allowed, ladies," interposed Mr. Wilkins in his
suavest professional manner, "to make a suggestion"—they both looked
at him, and remembering him as they first saw him felt indulgent— "I
would advise you not to spoil a delightful holiday with worries over
"Exactly," said Mrs. Fisher. "It is what I intend to avoid."
"Most sensible," said Mr. Wilkins. "Why not, then," he
continued, "allow the cook—an excellent cook, by the way—so much a
head per diem"—Mr. Wilkins knew what was necessary in Latin—"and
tell her that for this sum she must cater for you, and not only cater
but cater as well as ever? One could easily reckon it out. The
charges of a moderate hotel, for instance, would do as a basis, halved,
or perhaps even quartered."
"And this week that has just passed?" asked Mrs. Fisher. "The
terrible bills of this first week? What about them?"
"They shall be my present to San Salvatore," said Scrap, who
didn't like the idea of Lotty's nest-egg being reduced so much beyond
what she was prepared for.
There was a silence. The ground was cut from under Mrs. Fisher's
"Of course if you choose to throw your money about—" she said at last,
disapproving but immensely relieved, while Mr. Wilkins was rapt in the
contemplation of the precious qualities of blue blood. This readiness,
for instance, not to trouble about money, this free-handedness—it
was not only what one admired in others, admired in others perhaps
more than anything else, but it was extraordinarily useful to the
professional classes. When met with it should be encouraged by warmth
of reception. Mrs. Fisher was not warm. She accepted—from which
he deduced that with her wealth went closeness—but she accepted
grudgingly. Presents were presents, and one did not look them in this
manner in the mouth, he felt; and if Lady Caroline found her pleasure
in presenting his wife and Mrs. Fisher with their entire food for
a week, it was their part to accept gracefully. One should not
On behalf of his wife, then, Mr. Wilkins expressed what she would
wish to express, and remarking to Lady Caroline—with a touch of
lightness, for so should gifts be accepted in order to avoid
embarrassing the donor—that she had in that case been his wife's
hostess since her arrival, he turned almost gaily to Mrs. Fisher and
pointed out that she and his wife must now jointly write Lady Caroline
the customary latter of thanks for hospitality. "A Collins," said Mr.
Wilkins, who knew what was necessary in literature. "I prefer the name
Collins for such a letter to either that of Board and Lodging or Bread
and Butter. Let us call it a Collins."
Scrap smiled, and held out her cigarette case. Mrs. Fisher could
not help being mollified. A way out of waste was going to be found,
thanks to Mr. Wilkins, and she hated waste quite as much as having to
pay for it; also a way was found out of housekeeping. For a moment she
had thought that if everybody tried to force her into housekeeping on
her brief holiday by their own indifference (Lady Caroline), or
inability to speak Italian (the other two), she would have to send for
Kate Lumley after all. Kate could do it. Kate and she had learnt
Italian together. Kate would only be allowed to come on condition that
she did do it.
But this was much better, this way of Mr. Wilkins's. Really a
most superior man. There was nothing like an intelligent, not too
young man for profitable and pleasurable companionship. And when she
got up, the business for which she had come being settled, and said she
now intended to take a little stroll before lunch, Mr. Wilkins did not
stay with Lady Caroline, as most of the men she had known would, she
was afraid, have wanted to—he asked to be permitted to go and stroll
with her; so that he evidently definitely preferred conversation to
faces. A sensible, companionable man. A clever, well-read man. A man
of the world. A man. She was very glad indeed she had not written to
Kate the other day. What did she want with Kate? She had found a
But Mr. Wilkins did not go with Mrs. Fisher because of her
conversation, but because, when she got up and he got up because she
got up, intending merely to bow her out of the recess, Lady Caroline
had put her feet up on the parapet again, and arranging her head
sideways in the cushions had shut her eyes.
The daughter of the Droitwiches desired to go to sleep.
It was not for him, by remaining, to prevent her.
And so the second week began, and all was harmony. The arrival
of Mr. Wilkins, instead of, as three of the party had feared and the
fourth had only been protected from fearing by her burning faith in the
effect on him of San Salvatore, disturbing such harmony as there was,
increased it. He fitted in. He was determined to please, and he did
please. He was most amiable to his wife—not only in public, which she
was used to, but in private, when he certainly wouldn't have been if he
hadn't wanted to. He did want to. He was so much obliged to her, so
much pleased with her, for making him acquainted with Lady Caroline,
that he felt really fond of her. Also proud; for there must be, he
reflected, a good deal more in her than he had supposed, for Lady
Caroline to have become so intimate with her and so affectionate. And
the more he treated her as though she were really very nice, the more
Lotty expanded and became really very nice, and the more he, affected
in his turn, became really very nice himself; so that they went round
and round, not in a vicious but in a highly virtuous circle.
Positively, for him, Mellersh petted her. There was at no time
much pet in Mellersh, because he was by nature a cool man; yet such was
the influence on him of, as Lotty supposed, San Salvatore, that in this
second week he sometimes pinched both her ears, one after the other,
instead of only one; and Lotty, marveling at such rapidly developing
affectionateness, wondered what he would do, should he continue at this
rate, in the third week, when her supply of ears would have come to an
He was particularly nice about the washstand, and genuinely
desirous of not taking up too much of the space in the small bedroom.
Quick to respond, Lotty was even more desirous not to be in his way;
and the room became the scene of many an affectionate combat de
générosité, each of which left them more pleased with each other than
ever. He did not again have a bath in the bathroom, though it was
mended and ready for him, but got up and went down every morning to the
sea, and in spite of the cool nights making the water cold early had
his dip as a man should, and came up to breakfast rubbing his hands and
feeling, as he told Mrs. Fisher, prepared for anything.
Lotty's belief in the irresistible influence of the heavenly
atmosphere of San Salvatore being thus obviously justified, and Mr.
Wilkins, whom Rose knew as alarming and Scrap had pictured as icily
unkind, being so evidently a changed man, both Rose and Scrap began to
think there might after all be something in what Lotty insisted on, and
that San Salvatore did work purgingly on the character.
They were the more inclined to think so in that they too felt a
working going on inside themselves: they felt more cleared, both of
them, that second week—Scrap in her thoughts, many of which were now
quite nice thoughts, real amiable ones about her parents and relations,
with a glimmer in them of recognition of the extraordinary benefits she
had received at the hands of—what? Fate? Providence?—anyhow of
something, and of how, having received them, she had misused them by
failing to be happy; and Rose in her bosom, which though it still
yearned, yearned to some purpose, for she was reaching the conclusion
that merely inactively to yearn was no use at all, and that she must
either by some means stop her yearning or give it at least a chance—
remote, but still a chance—of being quieted by writing to Frederick
and asking him to come out.
If Mr. Wilkins could be changed, thought Rose, why not Frederick?
How wonderful it would be, how too wonderful, if the place worked on
him too and were able to make them even a little understand each other,
even a little be friends. Rose, so far had loosening and
disintegration gone on in her character, now was beginning to think her
obstinate strait-lacedness about his books and her austere absorption
in good works had been foolish and perhaps even wrong. He was her
husband, and she had frightened him away. She had frightened love
away, precious love, and that couldn't be good. Was not Lotty right
when she said the other day that nothing at all except love mattered?
Nothing certainly seemed much use unless it was built up on love. But
once frightened away, could it ever come back? Yes, it might in that
beauty, it might in the atmosphere of happiness Lotty and San Salvatore
seemed between them to spread round like some divine infection.
She had, however, to get him there first, and he certainly
couldn't be got there if she didn't write and tell him where she was.
She would write. She must write; for if she did there was at
least a chance of his coming, and if she didn't there was manifestly
none. And then, once here in this loveliness, with everything so soft
and kind and sweet all round, it would be easier to tell him, to try
and explain, to ask for something different, for at least an attempt at
something different in their lives in the future, instead of the
blankness of separation, the cold—oh, the cold—of nothing at all but
the great windiness of faith, the great bleakness of works. Why, one
person in the world, one single person belonging to one, of one's very
own, to talk to, to take care of, to love, to be interested in, was
worth more than all the speeches on platforms and the compliments of
chairmen in the world. It was also worth more—Rose couldn't help it,
the thought would come—than all the prayers.
These thoughts were not head thoughts, like Scrap's, who was
altogether free from yearnings, but bosom thoughts. They lodged in the
bosom; it was in the bosom that Rose ached, and felt so dreadfully
lonely. And when her courage failed her, as it did on most days, and
it seemed impossible to write to Frederick, she would look at Mr.
Wilkins and revive.
There he was, a changed man. There he was, going into that small,
uncomfortable room every night, that room whose proximities had
been Lotty's only misgiving, and coming out of it in the morning, and
Lotty coming out of it too, both of them as unclouded and as nice to
each other as when they went in. And hadn't he, so critical at home,
Lotty had told her, of the least thing going wrong, emerged from the
bath catastrophe as untouched in spirit as Shadrach, Meshach and
Abednego were untouched in body when they emerged from the fire?
Miracles were happening in this place. If they could happen to Mr.
Wilkins, why not to Frederick?
She got up quickly. Yes, she would write. She would go and
write to him at once.
She paused. Suppose he didn't answer. Suppose he didn't even
And she sat down again to think a little longer.
In these hesitations did Rose spend most of the second week.
Then there was Mrs. Fisher. Her restlessness increased that
second week. It increased to such an extent that she might just as
well not have had her private sitting-room at all, for she could no
longer sit. Not for ten minutes together could Mrs. Fisher sit. And
added to the restlessness, as the days of the second week proceeded on
their way, she had a curious sensation, which worried her, of rising
sap. She knew the feeling, because she had sometimes had it in
childhood in specially swift springs, when the lilacs and the syringes
seemed to rush out into blossom in a single night, but it was strange
to have it again after over fifty years. She would have liked to
remark on the sensation to some one, but she was ashamed. It was such
an absurd sensation at her age. Yet oftener and oftener, and every day
more and more, did Mrs. Fisher have a ridiculous feeling as if she were
presently going to burgeon.
Sternly she tried to frown the unseemly sensation down. Burgeon,
indeed. She had heard of dried staffs, pieces of mere dead wood,
suddenly putting forth fresh leaves, but only in legend. She was not
in legend. She knew perfectly what was due to herself. Dignity
demanded that she should have nothing to do with fresh leaves at her
age; and yet there it was—the feeling that presently, that at any
moment now, she might crop out all green.
Mrs. Fisher was upset. There were many things she disliked more
than anything else, and one was when the elderly imagined they felt
young and behaved accordingly. Of course they only imagined it, they
were only deceiving themselves; but how deplorable were the results.
She herself had grown old as people should grow old—steadily and
firmly. No interruptions, no belated after-glows and spasmodic
returns. If, after all these years, she were now going to be deluded
into some sort of unsuitable breaking-out, how humiliating.
Indeed she was thankful, that second week, that Kate Lumley was
not there. It would be most unpleasant, should anything different
occur in her behaviour, to have Kate looking on. Kate had known her
all her life. She felt she could let herself go—here Mrs. Fisher
frowned at the book she was vainly trying to concentrate on, for where
did that expression come from?—much less painfully before strangers
than before an old friend. Old friends, reflected Mrs. Fisher, who
hoped she was reading, compare one constantly with what one used to be.
They are always doing it if one develops. They are surprised at
development. They hark back; they expect motionlessness after, say,
fifty, to the end of one's days.
That, thought Mrs. Fisher, her eyes going steadily line by line
down the page and not a word of it getting through into her
consciousness, is foolish of friends. It is condemning one to a
premature death. One should continue (of course with dignity) to
develop, however old one may be. She had nothing against developing,
against further ripeness, because as long as one was alive one was not
dead—obviously, decided Mrs. Fisher, and development, change,
ripening, were life. What she would dislike would be unripening, going
back to something green. She would dislike it intensely; and this is
what she felt she was on the brink of doing.
Naturally it made her very uneasy, and only in constant movement
could she find distraction. Increasingly restless and no longer able
to confine herself to her battlements, she wandered more and more
frequently, and also aimlessly, in and out of the top garden, to the
growing surprise of Scrap, especially when she found that all Mrs.
Fisher did was to stare for a few minutes at the view, pick a few dead
leaves off the rose-bushes, and go away again.
In Mr. Wilkins's conversation she found temporary relief, but
though he joined her whenever he could he was not always there, for he
spread his attentions judiciously among the three ladies, and when he
was somewhere else she had to face and manage her thoughts as best she
could by herself. Perhaps it was the excess of light and colour at San
Salvatore which made every other place seem dark and black; and Prince
of Wales Terrace did seem a very dark black spot to have to go back to
—a dark, narrow street, and her house dark and narrow as the street,
with nothing really living or young in it. The goldfish could hardly
be called living, or at most not more than half living, and were
certainly not young, and except for them there were only the maids, and
they were dusty old things.
Dusty old things. Mrs. Fisher paused in her thoughts, arrested
by the strange expression. Where had it come from? How was it
possible for it to come at all? It might have been one of Mrs.
Wilkins's, in its levity, its almost slang. Perhaps it was one of
hers, and she had heard her say it and unconsciously caught it from
If so, this was both serious and disgusting. That the foolish
creature should penetrate into Mrs. Fisher's very mind and establish
her personality there, the personality which was still, in spite of the
harmony apparently existing between her and her intelligent husband, so
alien to Mrs. Fisher's own, so far removed from what she understood and
liked, and infect her with her undesirable phrases, was most
disturbing. Never in her life before had such a sentence come into
Mrs. Fisher's head. Never in her life before had she thought of her
maids, or of anybody else, as dusty old things. Her maids were not
dusty old things; they were most respectable, neat women, who were
allowed the use of the bathroom every Saturday night. Elderly,
certainly, but then so was she, so was her house, so was her furniture,
so were her goldfish. They were all elderly, as they should be,
together. But there was a great difference between being elderly and
being a dusty old thing.
How true it was what Ruskin said, that evil communications
corrupt good manners. But did Ruskin say it? On second thoughts she
was not sure, but it was just the sort of thing he would have said if
he had said it, and in any case it was true. Merely hearing Mrs.
Wilkins's evil communications at meals—she did not listen, she avoided
listening, yet it was evident she had heard—those communications which,
in that they so often were at once vulgar, indelicate and profane, and
always, she was sorry to say, laughed at by Lady Caroline, must be
classed as evil, was spoiling her own mental manners. Soon she might
not only think but say. How terrible that would be. If that were the
form her breaking-out was going to take, the form of unseemly speech,
Mrs. Fisher was afraid she would hardly with any degree of composure be
able to bear it.
At this stage Mrs. Fisher wished more than ever that she were
able to talk over her strange feelings with some one who would
understand. There was, however, no one who would understand except
Mrs. Wilkins herself. She would. She would know at once, Mrs. Fisher
was sure, what she felt like. But this was impossible. It would be as
abject as begging the very microbe that was infecting one for
protection against its disease.
She continued, accordingly, to bear her sensations in silence,
and was driven by them into that frequent aimless appearing in the top
garden which presently roused even Scrap's attention.
Scrap had noticed it, and vaguely wondered at it, for some time
before Mr. Wilkins inquired of her one morning as he arranged her
cushions for her—he had established the daily assisting of Lady
Caroline into her chair as his special privilege—whether there was
anything the matter with Mrs. Fisher.
At that moment Mrs. Fisher was standing by the eastern parapet,
shading her eyes and carefully scrutinizing the distant white houses of
Mezzago. They could see her through the branches of the daphnes.
"I don't know," said Scrap.
"She is a lady, I take it," said Mr. Wilkins, "who would be
unlikely to have anything on her mind?"
"I should imagine so," said Scrap, smiling.
"If she has, and her restlessness appears to suggest it, I should
be more than glad to assist her with advice."
"I am sure you would be most kind."
"Of course she has her own legal adviser, but he is not on the
spot. I am. And a lawyer on the spot," said Mr. Wilkins, who
endeavoured to make his conversation when he talked to Lady Caroline
light, aware that one must be light with young ladies, "is worth two
in—we won't be ordinary and complete the proverb, but say London."
"You should ask her."
"Ask her if she needs assistance? Would you advise it? Would it
not be a little—a little delicate to touch on such a question, the
question whether or no a lady has something on her mind?"
"Perhaps she will tell you if you go and talk to her. I think it
must be lonely to be Mrs. Fisher."
"You are all thoughtfulness and consideration," declared Mr.
Wilkins, wishing, for the first time in his life, that he were a
foreigner so that he might respectfully kiss her hand on withdrawing to
go obediently and relieve Mrs. Fisher's loneliness.
It was wonderful what a variety of exits from her corner Scrap
contrived for Mr. Wilkins. Each morning she found a different one,
which sent him off pleased after he had arranged her cushions for her.
She allowed him to arrange the cushions because she instantly had
discovered, the very first five minutes of the very first evening, that
her fears lest he should cling to her and stare in dreadful admiration
were baseless. Mr. Wilkins did not admire like that. It was not only,
she instinctively felt, not in him, but if it had been he would not
have dared to in her case. He was all respectfulness. She could
direct his movements in regard to herself with the raising of an
eyelash. His one concern was to obey. She had been prepared to like
him if he would only be so obliging as not to admire her, and she did
like him. She did not forget his moving defencelessness the first
morning in his towel, and he amused her, and he was kind to Lotty. It
is true she liked him most when he wasn't there, but then she usually
liked everybody most when they weren't there. Certainly he did seem to
be one of those men, rare in her experience, who never looked at a
woman from the predatory angle. The comfort of this, the
simplification it brought into the relations of the party, was immense.
From this point of view Mr. Wilkins was simply ideal; he was unique and
precious. Whenever she thought of him, and was perhaps inclined to
dwell on the aspects of him that were a little boring, she remembered
this and murmured, "But what a treasure."
Indeed it was Mr. Wilkins's one aim during his stay at San
Salvatore to be a treasure. At all costs the three ladies who were not
his wife must like him and trust him. Then presently when trouble
arose in their lives—and in what lives did not trouble sooner or later
arise?—they would recollect how reliable he was and how sympathetic,
and turn to him for advice. Ladies with something on their minds were
exactly what he wanted. Lady Caroline, he judged, had nothing on hers
at the moment, but so much beauty—for he could not but see what was
evident—must have had its difficulties in the past and would have more
of them before it had done. In the past he had not been at hand; in
the future he hoped to be. And meanwhile the behaviour of Mrs. Fisher,
the next in importance of the ladies from the professional point of
view, showed definite promise. It was almost certain that Mrs. Fisher
had something on her mind. He had been observing her attentively, and
it was almost certain.
With the third, with Mrs. Arbuthnot, he had up to this made least
headway, for she was so very retiring and quiet. But might not this
very retiringness, this tendency to avoid the others and spend her time
alone, indicate that she too was troubled? If so, he was her man. He
would cultivate her. He would follow her and sit with her, and
encourage her to tell him about herself. Arbuthnot, he understood from
Lotty, was a British Museum official—nothing specially important at
present, but Mr. Wilkins regarded it as his business to know all sorts
and kinds. Besides, there was promotion. Arbuthnot, promoted, might
become very much worth while.
As for Lotty, she was charming. She really had all the qualities
he had credited her with during his courtship, and they had been, it
appeared, merely in abeyance since. His early impressions of her were
now being endorsed by the affection and even admiration Lady Caroline
showed for her. Lady Caroline Dester was the last person, he was sure,
to be mistaken on such a subject. Her knowledge of the world, her
constant association with only the best, must make her quite unerring.
Lotty was evidently, then, that which before marriage he had believed
her to be—she was valuable. She certainly had been most valuable in
introducing him to Lady Caroline and Mrs. Fisher. A man in his
profession could be immensely helped by a clever and attractive wife.
Why had she not been attractive sooner? Why this sudden flowering?
Mr. Wilkins began too to believe there was something peculiar, as
Lotty had almost at once informed him, in the atmosphere of San
Salvatore. It promoted expansion. It brought out dormant qualities.
And feeling more and more pleased, and even charmed, by his wife, and
very content with the progress he was making with the two others, and
hopeful of progress to be made with the retiring third, Mr. Wilkins
could not remember ever having had such an agreeable holiday. The only
thing that might perhaps be bettered was the way they would call him
Mr. Wilkins. Nobody said Mr. Mellersh-Wilkins. Yet he had introduced
himself to Lady Caroline—he flinched a little on remembering the
Still, this was a small matter, not enough to worry about. He
would be foolish if in such a place and such society he worried about
anything. He was not even worrying about what the holiday was costing,
and had made up his mind to pay not only his own expenses but his
wife's as well, and surprise her at the end by presenting her with her
nest-egg as intact as when she started; and just the knowledge that he
was preparing a happy surprise for her made him feel warmer than ever
In fact Mr. Wilkins, who had begun by being consciously and
according to plan on his best behaviour, remained on it unconsciously,
and with no effort at all.
And meanwhile the beautiful golden days were dropping gently from
the second week one by one, equal in beauty with those of the first,
and the scent of beanfields in flower on the hillside behind the
village came across to San Salvatore whenever the air moved. In the
garden that second week the poet's eyed narcissus disappeared out the
long grass at the edge of the zigzag path, and wild gladiolus, slender
and rose-coloured, came in their stead, white pinks bloomed in the
borders, filing the whole place with their smoky-sweet smell, and a
bush nobody had noticed burst into glory and fragrance, and it was a
purple lilac bush. Such a jumble of spring and summer was not to be
believed in, except by those who dwelt in those gardens. Everything
seemed to be out together—all the things crowded into one month which
in England are spread penuriously over six. Even primroses were found
one day by Mrs. Wilkins in a cold corner up in the hills; and when she
brought them down to the geraniums and heliotrope of San Salvatore they
looked quite shy.
On the first day of the third week Rose wrote to Frederick.
In case she should again hesitate and not post the letter, she
gave it to Domenico to post; for if she did not write now there would
be no time left at all. Half the month at San Salvatore was over.
Even if Frederick started directly he got the letter, which of course
he wouldn't be able to do, what with packing and passport, besides not
being in a hurry to come, he couldn't arrive for five days.
Having done it, Rose wished she hadn't. He wouldn't come. He
wouldn't bother to answer. And if he did answer, it would just be
giving some reason which was not true, and about being too busy to get
away; and all that had been got by writing to him would be that she
would be more unhappy than before.
What things one did when one was idle. This resurrection of
Frederick, or rather this attempt to resurrect him, what was it but the
result of having nothing whatever to do? She wished she had never come
away on a holiday. What did she want with holidays? Work was her
salvation; work was the only thing that protected one, that kept one
steady and one's values true. At home in Hampstead, absorbed and busy,
she had managed to get over Frederick, thinking of him latterly only
with the gentle melancholy with which one thinks of some one once loved
but long since dead; and now this place, idleness in this soft place,
had thrown her back to the wretched state she had climbed so carefully
out of years ago. Why, if Frederick did come she would only bore him.
Hadn't she seen in a flash quite soon after getting to San Salvatore
that that was really what kept him away from her? And why should she
suppose that now, after such a long estrangement, she would be able not
to bore him, be able to do anything but stand before him like a
tongue-tied idiot, with all the fingers of her spirit turned into
thumbs? Besides, what a hopeless position, to have as it were to
beseech: Please wait a little—please don't be impatient—I think
perhaps I shan't be a bore presently.
A thousand times a day Rose wished she had let Frederick alone.
Lotty, who asked her every evening whether she had sent her letter yet,
exclaimed with delight when the answer at last was yes, and threw her
arms round her. "Now we shall be completely happy!" cried the
But nothing seemed less certain to Rose, and her expression
became more and more the expression of one who has something on her
Mr. Wilkins, wanting to find out what it was, strolled in the sun
in his Panama hat, and began to meet her accidentally.
"I did not know," said Mr. Wilkins the first time, courteously
raising his hat, "that you too liked this particular spot." And he sat
down beside her.
In the afternoon she chose another spot; and she had not been in
it half an hour before Mr. Wilkins, lightly swinging his cane, came
round the corner.
"We are destined to meet in our rambles," said Mr. Wilkins
pleasantly. And he sat down beside her.
Mr. Wilkins was very kind, and she had, she saw, misjudged him in
Hampstead, and this was the real man, ripened like fruit by the
beneficent sun of San Salvatore, but Rose did want to be alone. Still,
she was grateful to him for proving to her that though she might bore
Frederick she did not bore everybody; if she had, he would not have sat
talking to her on each occasion till it was time to go in. True he
bored her, but that wasn't anything like so dreadful as if she bored
him. Then indeed her vanity would have been sadly ruffled. For now
that Rose was not able to say her prayers she was being assailed by
every sort of weakness: vanity, sensitiveness, irritability, pugnacity
—strange, unfamiliar devils to have coming crowding on one and taking
possession of one's swept and empty heart. She had never been vain or
irritable or pugnacious in her life before. Could it be that San
Salvatore was capable of opposite effects, and the same sun that
ripened Mr. Wilkins made her go acid?
The next morning, so as to be sure of being alone, she went down,
while Mr. Wilkins was still lingering pleasantly with Mrs. Fisher over
breakfast, to the rocks by the water's edge where she and Lotty had sat
the first day. Frederick by now had got her letter. To-day, if he
were like Mr. Wilkins, she might get a telegram from him.
She tried to silence the absurd hope by jeering at it. Yet—if
Mr. Wilkins had telegraphed, why not Frederick? The spell of San
Salvatore lurked even, it seemed, in notepaper. Lotty had not dreamed
of getting a telegram, and when she came in at lunch-time there it was.
It would be too wonderful if when she went back at lunch-time she found
one there for her too. . .
Rose clasped her hands tight round her knees. How passionately
she longed to be important to somebody again—not important on
platforms, not important as an asset in an organization, but privately
important, just to one other person, quite privately, nobody else to
know or notice. It didn't seem much to ask in a world so crowded with
people, just to have one of them, only one out of all the millions, to
oneself. Somebody who needed one, who thought of one, who was eager to
come to one—oh, oh how dreadfully one wanted to be precious!
All the morning she sat beneath the pine-tree by the sea. Nobody
came near her. The great hours passed slowly; they seemed enormous.
But she wouldn't go up before lunch, she would give the telegram time
to arrive. . .
That day Scrap, egged on by Lotty's persuasions and also thinking
that perhaps she had sat long enough, had arisen from her chair and
cushions and gone off with Lotty and sandwiches up into the hills till
evening. Mr. Wilkins, who wished to go with them, stayed on Lady
Caroline's advice with Mrs. Fisher in order to cheer her solitude, and
though he left off cheering her about eleven to go and look for Mrs.
Arbuthnot, so as for a space to cheer her too, thus dividing himself
impartially between these solitary ladies, he came back again
presently mopping his forehead and continued with Mrs. Fisher where he
had left off, for this time Mrs. Arbuthnot had hidden successfully.
There was a telegram, too, for her he noticed when he came in. Pity he
did not know where she was.
"Ought we to open it?" he said to Mrs. Fisher.
"No," said Mrs. Fisher.
"It may require an answer."
"I don't approve of tampering with other people's
"Tampering! My dear lady—"
Mr. Wilkins was shocked. Such a word. Tampering. He had the
greatest possible esteem for Mrs. Fisher, but he did at times find her
a little difficult. She liked him, he was sure, and she was in a fair
way, he felt, to become a client, but he feared she would be a
headstrong and secretive client. She was certainly secretive, for
though he had been skilful and sympathetic for a whole week, she had as
yet given him no inkling of what was so evidently worrying her.
"Poor old thing," said Lotty, on his asking her if she perhaps
could throw light on Mrs. Fisher's troubles. "She hasn't got love."
"Love?" Mr. Wilkins could only echo, genuinely scandalized. "But
surely, my dear—at her age—"
"Any love," said Lotty.
That very morning he had asked his wife, for he now sought and
respected her opinion, if she could tell him what was the matter with
Mrs. Arbuthnot, for she too, though he had done his best to thaw her
into confidence, had remained persistently retiring.
"She wants her husband," said Lotty.
"Ah," said Mr. Wilkins, a new light shed on Mrs. Arbuthnot's shy
and modest melancholy. And he added, "Very proper."
And Lotty said, smiling at him, "One does."
And Mr. Wilkins said, smiling at her, "Does one?"
And Lotty said, smiling at him, "Of course."
And Mr. Wilkins, much pleased with her, though it was still quite
early in the day, a time when caresses are sluggish, pinched her ear.
Just before half-past twelve Rose came slowly up through the
pergola and between the camellias ranged on either side of the old
stone steps. The rivulets of periwinkles that flowed down them when
first she arrived were gone, and now there were these bushes,
incredibly rosetted. Pink, white, red, striped—she fingered and smelt
them one after the other, so as not to get to her disappointment too
quickly. As long as she hadn't seen for herself, seen the table in the
hall quite empty except for its bowl of flowers, she still could hope,
she still could have the joy of imagining the telegram lying on it
waiting for her. But there is no smell in a camellia, as Mr. Wilkins,
who was standing in the doorway on the look-out for her and knew what
was necessary in horticulture, reminded her.
She started at his voice and looked up.
"A telegram has come for you," said Mr. Wilkins.
She stared at him, her mouth open.
"I searched for you everywhere, but failed—"
Of course. She knew it. She had been sure of it all the time.
Bright and burning, Youth in that instant flashed down again on Rose.
She flew up the steps, red as the camellia she had just been fingering,
and was in the hall and tearing open the telegram before Mr. Wilkins
had finished his sentence. Why, but if things could happen like this—
why, but there was no end to—why, she and Frederick—they were going
to be—again—at last—
"No bad news, I trust?" said Mr. Wilkins who had followed her,
for when she had read the telegram she stood staring at it and her face
went slowly white. Curious to watch how her face went slowly white.
She turned and looked at Mr. Wilkins as if trying to remember
"Oh no. On the contrary—"
She managed to smile. "I'm going to have a visitor," she said,
holding out the telegram; and when he had taken it she walked away
towards the dining-room, murmuring something about lunch being ready.
Mr. Wilkins read the telegram. It had been sent that morning
from Mezzago, and was:
Am passing through on way to Rome. May I pay my respects this
Why should such a telegram make the interesting lady turn pale?
For her pallor on reading it had been so striking as to convince Mr.
Wilkins she was receiving a blow.
"Who is Thomas Briggs?" he asked, following her into the dining-room.
She looked at him vaguely. "Who is—?" she repeated, getting her
thoughts together again.
"Oh. Yes. He is the owner. This is his house. He is very nice.
He is coming this afternoon."
Thomas Briggs was at that very moment coming. He was jogging
along the road between Mezzago and Castagneto in a fly, sincerely
hoping that the dark-eyed lady would grasp that all he wanted was to
see her, and not at all to see if his house were still there. He felt
that an owner of delicacy did not intrude on a tenant. But—he had
been thinking so much of her since that day. Rose Arbuthnot. Such a
pretty name. And such a pretty creature—mild, milky, mothery in the
best sense; the best sense being that she wasn't his mother and
couldn't have been if she had tried, for parents were the only things
impossible to have younger than oneself. Also, he was passing so near.
It seemed absurd not just to look in and see if she were comfortable.
He longed to see her in his house. He longed to see it as her
background, to see her sitting in his chairs, drinking out of his cups,
using all his things. Did she put the big crimson brocade cushion in
the drawing-room behind her little dark head? Her hair and the
whiteness of her skin would look lovely against it. Had she seen the
portrait of herself on the stairs? He wondered if she liked it. He
would explain it to her. If she didn't paint, and she had said nothing
to suggest it, she wouldn't perhaps notice how exactly the moulding of
the eyebrows and the slight hollow of the cheek—
He told the fly to wait in Castagneto, and crossed the piazza,
hailed by children and dogs, who all knew him and sprang up suddenly
from nowhere, and walking quickly up the zigzag path, for he was an
active young man not much more than thirty, he pulled the ancient chain
that rang the bell, and waited decorously on the proper side of the
open door to be allowed to come in.
At the sight of him Francesca flung up every bit of her that
would fling up—eyebrows, eyelids, and hands, and volubly assured him
that all was in perfect order and that she was doing her duty.
"Of course, of course," said Briggs, cutting her short. "No one
And he asked her to take in his card to her mistress.
"Which mistress?" asked Francesca.
"There are four," said Francesca, scenting an irregularity on the
part of the tenants, for her master looked surprised; and she felt
pleased, for life was dull and irregularities helped it along at least
"Four?" he repeated surprised. "Well, take it to the lot then,"
he said, recovering himself, for he noticed her expression.
Coffee was being drunk in the top garden in the shade of the
umbrella pine. Only Mrs. Fisher and Mr. Wilkins were drinking it, for
Mrs. Arbuthnot, after eating nothing and being completely silent during
lunch, had disappeared immediately afterwards.
While Francesca went away into the garden with his card, her
master stood examining the picture on the staircase of that Madonna by
an early Italian painter, name unknown, picked up by him at Orvieto,
who was so much like his tenant. It really was remarkable, the
likeness. Of course his tenant that day in London had had her hat on,
but he was pretty sure her hair grew just like that off her forehead.
The expression of the eyes, grave and sweet, was exactly the same. He
rejoiced to think that he would always have her portrait.
He looked up at the sound of footsteps, and there she was, coming
down the stairs just as he had imagined her in that place, dressed in
She was astonished to see him so soon. She had supposed he would
come about tea-time, and till then she had meant to sit somewhere out
of doors where she could be by herself.
He watched her coming down the stairs with the utmost eager
interest. In a moment she would be level with her portrait.
"It really is extraordinary," said Briggs.
"How do you do," said Rose, intent only on a decent show of
She did not welcome him. He was here, she felt, the telegram
bitter in her heart, instead of Frederick, doing what she had longed
Frederick would do, taking his place.
"Just stand still a moment—"
She obeyed automatically.
"Yes—quite astonishing. Do you mind taking off your hat?"
Rose, surprised, took it off obediently.
"Yes—I thought so—I just wanted to make sure. And look—have
He began to make odd swift passes with his hand over the face in
the picture, measuring it, looking from it to her.
Rose's surprise became amusement, and she could not help smiling.
"Have you come to compare me with my original?" she asked.
"You do see how extraordinarily alike—"
"I didn't know I looked so solemn."
"You don't. Not now. You did a minute ago, quite as solemn. Oh
yes—how do you do," he finished suddenly, noticing her outstretched
hand. And he laughed and shook it, flushing—a trick of his—to the
roots of his hair.
Francesca came back. "The Signora Fisher," she said, "will be
pleased to see Him."
"Who is the Signora Fisher?" he asked Rose.
"One of the four who are sharing your house."
"Then there are four of you?"
"Yes. My friend and I found we couldn't afford it by ourselves."
"Oh, I say—" began Briggs in confusion, for he would best have
liked Rose Arbuthnot—pretty name—not to have to afford anything, but
to stay at San Salvatore as long as she liked as his guest.
"Mrs. Fisher is having coffee in the top garden," said Rose.
"I'll take you to her and introduce you."
"I don't want to go. You've got your hat on, so you were going
for a walk. Mayn't I come too? I'd immensely like being shown round
"But Mrs. Fisher is waiting for you."
"Won't she keep?"
"Yes," said Rose, with the smile that had so much attracted him
the first day. "I think she will keep quite well till tea."
"Do you speak Italian?"
"No," said Rose. "Why?"
On that he turned to Francesca, and told her at a great rate, for
in Italian he was glib, to go back to the Signora in the top garden and
tell her he had encountered his old friend the Signora Arbuthnot, and
was going for a walk with her and would present himself to her later.
"Do you invite me to tea?" he asked Rose, when Francesca had
"Of course. It's your house."
"It isn't. It's yours."
"Till Monday week," she smiled.
"Come and show me all the views," he said eagerly; and it was
plain, even to the self-depreciatory Rose, that she did not bore Mr.
They had a very pleasant walk, with a great deal of sitting down
in warm, thyme-fragrant corners, and if anything could have helped Rose
to recover from the bitter disappointment of the morning it would have
been the company and conversation of Mr. Briggs. He did help her to
recover, and the same process took place as that which Lotty had
undergone with her husband, and the more Mr. Briggs thought Rose
charming the more charming she became.
Briggs was a man incapable of concealments, who never lost time
if he could help it. They had not got to the end of the headland where
the lighthouse is—Briggs asked her to show him the lighthouse, because
the path to it, he knew, was wide enough for two to walk abreast and
fairly level—before he had told her of the impression she made on him
Since even the most religious, sober women like to know they have
made an impression, particularly the kind that has nothing to do with
character or merits, Rose was pleased. Being pleased, she smiled.
Smiling, she was more attractive than ever. Colour came into her
cheeks, and brightness into her eyes. She heard herself saying things
that really sounded quite interesting and even amusing. If Frederick
were listening now, she thought, perhaps he would see that she couldn't
after all be such a hopeless bore; for here was a man, nice-looking,
young, and surely clever—he seemed clever, and she hoped he was, for
then the compliment would be still greater—who was evidently quite
happy to spend the afternoon just talking to her.
And indeed Mr. Briggs seemed very much interested. He wanted to
hear all about everything she had been doing from the moment she got
there. He asked her if she had seen this, that, and the other in the
house, what she liked best, which room she had, if she were
comfortable, if Francesca was behaving, if Domenico took care of her,
and whether she didn't enjoy using the yellow sitting-room—the one
that got all the sun and looked out towards Genoa.
Rose was ashamed how little she had noticed in the house, and how
few of the things he spoke of as curious or beautiful in it she had
even seen. Swamped in thought of Frederick, she appeared to have lived
in San Salvatore blindly, and more than half the time had gone, and
what had been the good of it? She might just as well have been sitting
hankering on Hampstead Heath. No, she mightn't; through all her
hankerings she had been conscious that she was at least in the very
heart of beauty; and indeed it was this beauty, this longing to share
it, that had first started her off hankering.
Mr. Briggs, however, was too much alive for her to be able to spare any
attention at this moment for Frederick, and she praised the servants in
answer to his questions, and praised the yellow sitting-room without
telling him she had only been in it once and then was ignominiously
ejected, and she told him she knew hardly anything about art and
curiosities, but thought perhaps if somebody would tell her about them
she would know more, and she said she had spent every day since her
arrival out-of-doors, because out-of-doors there was so very wonderful
and different from anything she had ever seen.
Briggs walked by her side along his paths that were yet so
happily for the moment her paths, and felt all the innocent glows of
family life. He was an orphan and an only child, and had a warm,
domestic disposition. He would have adored a sister and spoilt a
mother, and was beginning at this time to think of marrying; for though
he had been very happy with his various loves, each of whom, contrary
to the usual experience, turned ultimately into his devoted friend, he
was fond of children and thought he had perhaps now got to the age of
settling if he did not wish to be too old by the time his eldest son
was twenty. San Salvatore had latterly seemed a little forlorn. He
fancied it echoed when he walked about it. He had felt lonely there;
so lonely that he had preferred this year to miss out a spring and let
it. It wanted a wife in it. It wanted that final touch of warmth and
beauty, for he never thought of his wife except in terms of warmth and
beauty—she would of course be beautiful and kind. It amused him how
much in love with this vague wife he was already.
At such a rate was he making friends with the lady with the sweet
name as he walked along the path towards the lighthouse, that he was
sure presently he would be telling her everything about himself and his
past doings and his future hopes; and the thought of such a swiftly
developing confidence made him laugh.
"Why are you laughing?" she asked, looking at him and smiling.
"It's so like coming home," he said.
"But it is coming home for you to come here."
"I mean really like coming home. To one's—one's family. I
never had a family. I'm an orphan."
"Oh, are you?" said Rose with the proper sympathy. "I hope
you've not been one very long. No—I don't mean I hope you have been
one very long. No—I don't know what I mean, except that I'm sorry."
He laughed again. "Oh I'm used to it. I haven't anybody. No
sisters or brothers."
"Then you're an only child," she observed intelligently.
"Yes. And there's something about you that's exactly my idea of
a—of a family."
She was amused.
"So—cosy," he said, looking at her and searching for a word.
"You wouldn't think so if you saw my house in Hampstead," she
said, a vision of that austere and hard-seated dwelling presenting
itself to her mind, with nothing soft in it except the shunned and
neglected Du Barri sofa. No wonder, she thought, for a moment
clear-brained, that Frederick avoided it. There was nothing cosy
about his family.
"I don't believe any place you lived in could be anything but
exactly like you," he said.
"You're not going to pretend San Salvatore is like me?"
"Indeed I do pretend it. Surely you admit that it is beautiful?"
He said several things like that. She enjoyed her walk. She
could not recollect any walk so pleasant since her courting days.
She came back to tea, bringing Mr. Briggs, and looking quite
different, Mr. Wilkins noticed, from what she had looked till then.
Trouble here, trouble here, thought Mr. Wilkins, mentally rubbing his
professional hands. He could see himself being called in presently to
advise. On the one hand there was Arbuthnot, on the other hand here
was Briggs. Trouble brewing, trouble sooner or later. But why had
Briggs's telegram acted on the lady like a blow? If she had turned
pale from excess of joy, then trouble was nearer than he had supposed.
She was not pale now; she was more like her name than he had yet seen
her. Well, he was the man for trouble. He regretted, of course, that
people should get into it, but being in he was their man.
And Mr. Wilkins, invigorated by these thoughts, his career being
very precious to him, proceeded to assist in doing the honours to Mr.
Briggs, both in his quality of sharer in the temporary ownership of San
Salvatore and of probable helper out of difficulties, with great
hospitality, and pointed out the various features of the place to him,
and led him to the parapet and showed him Mezzago across the bay.
Mrs. Fisher too was gracious. This was this young man's house.
He was a man of property. She liked property, and she liked men of
property. Also there seemed a peculiar merit in being a man of
property so young. Inheritance, of course; and inheritance was more
respectable than acquisition. It did indicate fathers; and in an age
where most people appeared neither to have them nor to want them she
liked this too.
Accordingly it was a pleasant meal, with everybody amiable and
pleased. Briggs thought Mrs. Fisher a dear old lady, and showed he
thought so; and again the magic worked, and she became a dear old lady.
She developed benignity with him, and a kind of benignity which was
almost playful—actually before tea was over including in some
observation she made him the words "My dear boy."
Strange words in Mrs. Fisher's mouth. It is doubtful whether in
her life she had used them before. Rose was astonished. Now nice
people really were. When would she leave off making mistakes about
them? She hadn't suspected this side of Mrs. Fisher, and she began to
wonder whether those other sides of her with which alone she was
acquainted had not perhaps after all been the effect of her own
militant and irritating behaviour. Probably they were. How horrid,
then, she must have been. She felt very penitent when she saw Mrs.
Fisher beneath her eyes blossoming out into real amiability the moment
some one came along who was charming to her, and she could have sunk
into the ground with shame when Mrs. Fisher presently laughed, and she
realized by the shock it gave her that the sound was entirely new. Not
once before had she or any one else there heard Mrs. Fisher laugh.
What an indictment of the lot of them! For they had all laughed, the
others, some more and some less, at one time or another since their
arrival, and only Mrs. Fisher had not. Clearly, since she could enjoy
herself as she was now enjoying herself, she had not enjoyed herself
before. Nobody had cared whether she did or not, except perhaps Lotty.
Yes; Lotty had cared, and had wanted her to be happy; but Lotty seemed
to produce a bad effect on Mrs. Fisher, while as for Rose herself she
had never been with her for five minutes without wanting, really
wanting, to provoke and oppose her.
How very horrid she had been. She had behaved unpardonably. Her
penitence showed itself in a shy and deferential solicitude towards
Mrs. Fisher which made the observant Briggs think her still more
angelic, and wish for a moment that he were an old lady himself in
order to be behaved to by Rose Arbuthnot just like that. There was
evidently no end, he thought, to the things she could do sweetly. He
would even not mind taking medicine, really nasty medicine, if it were
Rose Arbuthnot bending over him with the dose.
She felt his bright blue eyes, the brighter because he was so
sunburnt, fixed on her with a twinkle in them, and smiling asked him
what he was thinking about.
But he couldn't very well tell her that, he said; and added,
"Trouble, trouble," thought Mr. Wilkins at this, again mentally
rubbing his hands. "Well, I'm their man."
"I'm sure," said Mrs. Fisher benignly, "you have no thoughts we
may not hear."
"I'm sure," said Briggs, "I would be telling you every one of my
secrets in a week."
"You would be telling somebody very safe, then," said Mrs. Fisher
benevolently—just such a son would she have liked to have had. "And
in return," she went on, "I daresay I would tell you mine."
"Ah no," said Mr. Wilkins, adapting himself to this tone of easy
badinage, "I must protest. I really must. I have a prior claim, I am
the older friend. I have known Mrs. Fisher ten days, and you, Briggs,
have not yet known her one. I assert my right to be told her secrets
first. That is," he added, bowing gallantly, "if she has any—which I
beg leave to doubt."
"Oh, haven't I!" exclaimed Mrs. Fisher, thinking of those green
leaves. That she should exclaim at all was surprising, but that she
should do it with gaiety was miraculous. Rose could only watch her in
"Then I shall worm them out," said Briggs with equal gaiety.
"They won't need much worming out," said Mrs. Fisher. "My
difficulty is to keep them from bursting out."
It might have been Lotty talking. Mr. Wilkins adjusted the
single eyeglass he carried with him for occasions like this, and
examined Mrs. Fisher carefully. Rose looked on, unable not to smile
too since Mrs. Fisher seemed so much amused, though Rose did not quite
know why, and her smile was a little uncertain, for Mrs. Fisher amused
was a new sight, not without its awe-inspiring aspects, and had to be
got accustomed to.
What Mrs. Fisher was thinking was how much surprised they would
be if she told them of her very odd and exciting sensation of going to
come out all over buds. They would think she was an extremely silly
old woman, and so would she have thought as lately as two days ago; but
the bud idea was becoming familiar to her, she was more apprivoisée
now, as dear Matthew Arnold used to say, and though it would
undoubtedly be best if one's appearance and sensations matched, yet
supposing they did not—and one couldn't have everything—was it not
better to feel young somewhere rather than old everywhere? Time enough
to be old everywhere again, inside as well as out, when she got back to
her sarcophagus in Prince of Wales Terrace.
Yet it is probable that without the arrival of Briggs Mrs. Fisher
would have gone on secretly fermenting in her shell. The others only
knew her as severe. It would have been more than her dignity could
bear suddenly to relax—especially towards the three young women. But
now came the stranger Briggs, a stranger who at once took to her as no
young man had taken to her in her life, and it was the coming of Briggs
and his real and manifest appreciation—for just such a grandmother,
thought Briggs, hungry for home life and its concomitants, would he
have liked to have—that released Mrs. Fisher from her shell; and here
she was at last, as Lotty had predicted, pleased, good-humoured and
Lotty, coming back half an hour later from her picnic, and
following the sound of voices into the top garden in the hope of still
finding tea, saw at once what had happened, for Mrs. Fisher at that
very moment was laughing.
"She's burst her cocoon," thought Lotty; and swift as she was in
all her movements, and impulsive, and also without any sense of
propriety to worry and delay her, she bent over the back of Mrs.
Fisher's chair and kissed her.
"Good gracious!" cried Mrs. Fisher, starting violently, for such
a thing had not happened to her since Mr. Fisher's earlier days, and
then only gingerly. This kiss was a real kiss, and rested on Mrs.
Fisher's cheek a moment with a strange, soft sweetness.
When she saw whose it was, a deep flush spread over her face.
Mrs. Wilkins kissing her and the kiss feeling so affectionate. . .
Even if she had wanted to she could not in the presence of the
appreciative Mr. Briggs resume her cast-off severity and begin rebuking
again; but she did not want to. Was it possible Mrs. Wilkins liked her—
had liked her all this time, while she had been so much disliking her
herself? A queer little trickle of warmth filtered through the frozen
defences of Mrs. Fisher's heart. Somebody young kissing her—somebody
young wanting to kiss her. . . Very much flushed, she watched the
strange creature, apparently quite unconscious she had done anything
extraordinary, shaking hands with Mr. Briggs, on her husband's
introducing him, and immediately embarking on the friendliest
conversation with him, exactly as if she had known him all her life.
What a strange creature; what a very strange creature. It was natural,
she being so strange, that one should have, perhaps, misjudged her. . .
"I'm sure you want some tea," said Briggs with eager hospitality
to Lotty. He thought her delightful,—freckles, picnic-untidiness and
all. Just such a sister would he—
"This is cold," he said, feeling the teapot. "I'll tell
Francesca to make you some fresh—"
He broke off and blushed. "Aren't I forgetting myself," he said,
laughing and looking round at them.
"Very natural, very natural," Mr. Wilkins reassured him.
"I'll go and tell Francesca," said Rose, getting up.
"No, no," said Briggs. "Don't go away." And he put his hands to
his mouth and shouted.
"Francesca!" shouted Briggs.
She came running. No summons in their experience had been
answered by her with such celerity.
"'Her Master's voice,'" remarked Mr. Wilkins; aptly, he
"Make fresh tea," ordered Briggs in Italian. "Quick—quick—"
And then remembering himself he blushed again, and begged everybody's
"Very natural, very natural," Mr. Wilkins reassured him.
Briggs then explained to Lotty what he had explained twice
already, once to Rose and once to the other two, that he was on his way
to Rome and thought he would get out at Mezzago and just look in to see
if they were comfortable and continue his journey the next day, staying
the night in an hotel at Mezzago.
"But how ridiculous," said Lotty. "Of course you must stay here.
It's your house. There's Kate Lumley's room," she added, turning to
Mrs. Fisher. "You wouldn't mind Mr. Briggs having it for one night?
Kate Lumley isn't in it, you know," she said turning to Briggs again
And Mrs. Fisher to her immense surprise laughed too. She knew
that any other time this remark would have struck her as excessively
unseemly, and yet now she only thought it funny.
No indeed, she assured Briggs, Kate Lumley was not in that room.
Very fortunately, for she was an excessively wide person and the room
was excessively narrow. Kate Lumley might get into it, but that was
about all. Once in, she would fit it so tightly that probably she
would never be able to get out again. It was entirely at Mr. Briggs's
disposal, and she hoped he would do nothing so absurd as go to an
hotel—he, the owner of the whole place.
Rose listened to this speech wide-eyed with amazement. Mrs.
Fisher laughed very much as she made it. Lotty laughed very much too,
and at the end of it bent down and kissed her again—kissed her several
"So you see, my dear boy," said Mrs. Fisher, "you must stay here
and give us all a great deal of pleasure."
"A great deal indeed," corroborated Mr. Wilkins heartily.
"A very great deal," repeated Mrs. Fisher, looking exactly like a
"Do," said Rose, on Briggs's turning inquiringly to her.
"How kind of you all," he said, his face broad with smiles. "I'd
love to be a guest here. What a new sensation. And with three such—"
He broke off and looked round. "I say," he asked, "oughtn't I to
have a fourth hostess? Francesca said she had four mistresses."
"Yes. There's Lady Caroline," said Lotty.
"Then hadn't we better find out first if she invites me too?"
"Oh, but she's sure—" began Lotty.
"The daughter of the Droitwiches, Briggs," said Mr. Wilkins, "is
not likely to be wanting in the proper hospitable impulses."
"The daughter of the—" repeated Briggs; but he stopped dead, for
there in the doorway was the daughter of the Droitwiches herself; or
rather, coming towards him out of the dark doorway into the brightness
of the sunset, was that which he had not in his life yet seen but only
dreamed of, his ideal of absolute loveliness.
And then when she spoke . . . what chance was there for poor
Briggs? He was undone. All Scrap said was, "How do you do," on Mr.
Wilkins presenting him, but it was enough; it undid Briggs.
From a cheerful, chatty, happy young man, overflowing with life
and friendliness, he became silent, solemn, and with little beads on
his temples. Also he became clumsy, dropping the teaspoon as he handed
her her cup, mismanaging the macaroons, so that one rolled on the
ground. His eyes could not keep off the enchanting face for a moment;
and when Mr. Wilkins, elucidating him, for he failed to elucidate
himself, informed Lady Caroline that in Mr. Briggs she beheld the owner
of San Salvatore, who was on his way to Rome, but had got out at
Mezzago, etc. etc., and that the other three ladies had invited him to
spend the night in what was to all intents and purposes his own house
rather than an hotel, and Mr. Briggs was only waiting for the seal of
her approval to this invitation, she being the fourth hostess—when Mr.
Wilkins, balancing his sentences and being admirably clear and enjoying
the sound of his own cultured voice, explained the position in this
manner to Lady Caroline, Briggs sat and said never a word.
A deep melancholy invaded Scrap. The symptoms of the incipient
grabber were all there and only too familiar, and she knew that if
Briggs stayed her rest-cure might be regarded as over.
Then Kate Lumley occurred to her. She caught at Kate as at a
"It would have been delightful," she said, faintly smiling at
Briggs—she could not in decency not smile, at least a little, but even
a little betrayed the dimple, and Briggs's eyes became more fixed than
ever—"I'm only wondering if there is room."
"Yes, there is," said Lotty. "There's Kate Lumley's room."
"I thought," said Scrap to Mrs. Fisher, and it seemed to Briggs
that he had never heard music till now, "your friend was expected
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Fisher—with an odd placidness, Scrap
"Miss Lumley," said Mr. Wilkins, "—or should I," he inquired of
Mrs. Fisher, "say Mrs.?"
"Nobody has ever married Kate," said Mrs. Fisher complacently.
"Quite so. Miss Lumley does not arrive to-day in any case, Lady
Caroline, and Mr. Briggs has—unfortunately, if I may say so—to
continue his journey to-morrow, so that his staying would in no way
interfere with Miss Lumley's possible movements."
"Then of course I join in the invitation," said Scrap, with what
was to Briggs the most divine cordiality.
He stammered something, flushing scarlet, and Scrap thought,
"Oh," and turned her head away; but that merely made Briggs acquainted
with her profile, and if there existed anything more lovely than
Scrap's full face it was her profile.
Well, it was only for this one afternoon and evening. He would
leave, no doubt, the first thing in the morning. It took hours to get
to Rome. Awful if he hung on till the night train. She had a feeling
that the principal express to Rome passed through at night. Why hadn't
that woman Kate Lumley arrived yet? She had forgotten all about her,
but now she remembered she was to have been invited a fortnight ago.
What had become of her? This man, once let in, would come and see her
in London, would haunt the places she was likely to go to. He had the
makings, her experienced eye could see, of a passionately persistent
"If," thought Mr. Wilkins, observing Briggs's face and sudden
silence, "any understanding existed between this young fellow and Mrs.
Arbuthnot, there is now going to be trouble. Trouble of a different
nature from the kind I feared, in which Arbuthnot would have played a
leading part, in fact the part of petitioner, but trouble that may need
help and advice none the less for its not being publicly scandalous.
Briggs, impelled by his passions and her beauty, will aspire to the
daughter of the Droitwiches. She, naturally and properly, will repel
him. Mrs. Arbuthnot, left in the cold, will be upset and show it.
Arbuthnot, on his arrival will find his wife in enigmatic tears.
Inquiring into their cause, he will be met with an icy reserve. More
trouble may then be expected, and in me they will seek and find their
adviser. When Lotty said Mrs. Arbuthnot wanted her husband, she was
wrong. What Mrs. Arbuthnot wants is Briggs, and it looks uncommonly as
if she were not going to get him. Well, I'm their man."
"Where are your things, Mr. Briggs?" asked Mrs. Fisher, her voice
round with motherliness. "Oughtn't they to be fetched?" For the sun
was nearly in the sea now, and the sweet-smelling April dampness that
followed immediately on its disappearance was beginning to steal into
Briggs started. "My things?" he repeated. "Oh yes—I must
fetch them. They're in Mezzago. I'll send Domenico. My fly is
waiting in the village. He can go back in it. I'll go and tell him."
He got up. To whom was he talking? To Mrs. Fisher, ostensibly,
yet his eyes were fixed on Scrap, who said nothing and looked at no
Then, recollecting himself, he stammered, "I'm awfully sorry—I
keep on forgetting—I'll go down and fetch them myself."
"We can easily send Domenico," said Rose; and at her gentle voice
he turned his head.
Why, there was his friend, the sweet-named lady—but how had she
not in this short interval changed! Was it the failing light making
her so colourless, so vague-featured, so dim, so much like a ghost? A
nice good ghost, of course, and still with a pretty name, but only a
He turned from her to Scrap again, and forgot Rose Arbuthnot's
existence. How was it possible for him to bother about anybody or
anything else in this first moment of being face to face with his dream
Briggs had not supposed or hoped that any one as beautiful as his
dream of beauty existed. He had never till now met even an
approximation. Pretty women, charming women by the score he had met
and properly appreciated, but never the real, the godlike thing itself.
He used to think "If ever I saw a perfectly beautiful woman I should
die"; and though, having now met what to his ideas was a perfectly
beautiful woman, he did not die, he became very nearly as incapable of
managing his own affairs as if he had.
The others were obliged to arrange everything for him. By
questions they extracted from him that his luggage was in the station
cloakroom at Mezzago, and they sent for Domenico, and, urged and
prompted by everybody except Scrap, who sat in silence and looked at no
one, Briggs was induced to give him the necessary instructions for
going back in the fly and bringing out his things.
It was a sad sight to see the collapse of Briggs. Everybody
noticed it, even Rose.
"Upon my word," thought Mrs. Fisher, "the way one pretty face can
turn a delightful man into an idiot is past all patience."
And feeling the air getting chilly, and the sight of the
enthralled Briggs painful, she went in to order his room to be got
ready, regretting now that she had pressed the poor boy to stay. She
had forgotten Lady Caroline's kill-joy face for the moment, and the
more completely owing to the absence of any ill effects produced by it
on Mr. Wilkins. Poor boy. Such a charming boy too, left to himself.
It was true she could not accuse Lady Caroline of not leaving him to
himself, for she was taking no notice of him at all, but that did not
help. Exactly like foolish moths did men, in other respects
intelligent, flutter round the impassive lighted candle of a pretty
face. She had seen them doing it. She had looked on only too often.
Almost she laid a mother hand on Briggs's fair head as she passed him.
Then Scrap, having finished her cigarette, got up and went
indoors too. She saw no reason why she should sit there in order to
gratify Mr. Briggs's desire to stare. She would have liked to stay out
longer, to go to her corner behind the daphne bushes and look at the
sunset sky and watch the lights coming out one by one in the village
below and smell the sweet moistness of the evening, but if she did Mr.
Briggs would certainly follow her.
The old familiar tyranny had begun again. Her holiday of peace
and liberation was interrupted—perhaps over, for who knew if he would
go away, after all, to-morrow? He might leave the house, driven out of
it by Kate Lumley, but that was nothing to prevent his taking rooms in
the village and coming up every day. This tyranny of one person over
another! And she was so miserably constructed that she wouldn't even
be able to frown him down without being misunderstood.
Scrap, who loved this time of the evening in her corner, felt
indignant with Mr. Briggs who was doing her out of it, and she turned
her back on the garden and him and went towards the house without a
look or a word. But Briggs, when he realized her intention, leapt to
his feet, snatched chairs which were not in her way out of it, kicked a
footstool which was not in her path on one side, hurried to the door,
which stood wide open, in order to hold it open, and followed her
through it, walking by her side along the hall.
What was to be done with Mr. Briggs? Well, it was his hall; she
couldn't prevent his walking along it.
"I hope," he said, not able while walking to take his eyes off
her, so that he knocked against several things he would otherwise have
avoided—the corner of a bookcase, an ancient carved cupboard, the
table with the flowers on it, shaking the water over—"that you are
quite comfortable here? If you're not I'll—I'll flay them alive."
His voice vibrated. What was to be done with Mr. Briggs? She
could of course stay in her room the whole time, say she was ill, not
appear at dinner; but again, the tyranny of this . . .
"I'm very comfortable indeed," said Scrap.
"If I had dreamed you were coming—" he began.
"It's a wonderful old place," said Scrap, doing her utmost to
sound detached and forbidding, but with little hope of success.
The kitchen was on this floor, and passing its door, which was
open a crack, they were observed by the servants, whose thoughts,
communicated to each other by looks, may be roughly reproduced by such
rude symbols as Aha and Oho—symbols which represented and included
their appreciation of the inevitable, their foreknowledge of the
inevitable, and their complete understanding and approval.
"Are you going upstairs?" asked Briggs, as she paused at the foot
"Which room do you sit in? The drawing-room, or the small yellow
"In my own room."
So then he couldn't go up with her; so then all he could do was
to wait till she came out again.
He longed to ask her which was her own room—it thrilled him to
hear her call any room in his house her own room—that he might picture
her in it. He longed to know if by any happy chance it was his room,
for ever after to be filled with her wonder; but he didn't dare. He
would find that out later from some one else—Francesca, anybody.
"Then I shan't see you again till dinner?"
"Dinner is at eight," was Scrap's evasive answer as she went
He watched her go.
She passed the Madonna, the portrait of Rose Arbuthnot, and the
dark-eyed figure he had thought so sweet seemed to turn pale, to
shrivel into insignificance as she passed.
She turned the bend of the stairs, and the setting sun, shining
through the west window a moment on her face, turned her to glory.
She disappeared, and the sun went out too, and the stairs were
dark and empty.
He listened till her footsteps were silent, trying to tell from
the sound of the shutting door which room she had gone into, then
wandered aimlessly away through the hall again, and found himself back
in the top garden.
Scrap from her window saw him there. She saw Lotty and Rose
sitting on the end parapet, where she would have liked to have been,
and she saw Mr. Wilkins buttonholing Briggs and evidently telling him
the story of the oleander tree in the middle of the garden.
Briggs was listening with a patience she thought rather nice,
seeing that it was his oleander and his own father's story. She knew
Mr. Wilkins was telling him the story by his gestures. Domenico had
told it her soon after her arrival, and he had also told Mrs. Fisher,
who had told Mr. Wilkins. Mrs. Fisher thought highly of this story,
and often spoke of it. It was about a cherrywood walking-stick.
Briggs's father had thrust this stick into the ground at that spot, and
said to Domenico's father, who was then the gardener, "Here we will
have an oleander." And Briggs's father left the stick in the ground as
a reminder to Domenico's father, and presently—how long afterwards
nobody remembered—the stick began to sprout, and it was an oleander.
There stood poor Mr. Briggs being told all about it, and
listening to the story he must have known from infancy with patience.
Probably he was thinking of something else. She was afraid he
was. How unfortunate, how extremely unfortunate, the determination
that seized people to get hold of and engulf other people. If only
they could be induced to stand more on their own feet. Why couldn't
Mr. Briggs be more like Lotty, who never wanted anything of anybody,
but was complete in herself and respected other people's completeness?
One loved being with Lotty. With her one was free, and yet befriended.
Mr. Briggs looked so really nice, too. She thought she might like him
if only he wouldn't so excessively like her.
Scrap felt melancholy. Here she was shut up in her bedroom,
which was stuffy from the afternoon sun that had been pouring into it,
instead of out in the cool garden, and all because of Mr. Briggs.
Intolerably tyranny, she thought, flaring up. She wouldn't
endure it; she would go out all the same; she would run downstairs
while Mr. Wilkins—really that man was a treasure—held Mr. Briggs down
telling him about the oleander, and get out of the house by the front
door, and take cover in the shadows of the zigzag path. Nobody could
see her there; nobody would think of looking for her there.
She snatched up a wrap, for she did not mean to come back for a
long while, perhaps not even to dinner—it would be all Mr. Briggs's
fault if she went dinnerless and hungry—and with another glance out of
the window to see if she were still safe, she stole out and got away to
the sheltering trees of the zigzag path, and there sat down on one of
the seats placed at each bend to assist the upward journey of those who
Ah, this was lovely, thought Scrap with a sigh of relief. How
cool. How good it smelt. She could see the quiet water of the little
harbour through the pine trunks, and the lights coming out in the
houses on the other side, and all round her the green dusk was splashed
by the rose-pink of the gladioluses in the grass and the white of the
Ah, this was lovely. So still. Nothing moving—not a leaf, not
a stalk. The only sound was a dog barking, far away somewhere up on
the hills, or when the door of the little restaurant in the piazza
below was opened and there was a burst of voices, silenced again
immediately by the swinging to of the door.
She drew in a deep breath of pleasure. Ah, this was—
Her deep breath was arrested in the middle. What was that?
She leaned forward listening, her body tense.
Footsteps. On the zigzag path. Briggs. Finding her out.
Should she run?
No—the footsteps were coming up, not down. Some one from the
village. Perhaps Angelo, with provisions.
She relaxed again. But the steps were not the steps of Angelo,
that swift and springy youth; they were slow and considered, and they
kept on pausing.
"Some one who isn't used to hills," thought Scrap.
The idea of going back to the house did not occur to her. She
was afraid of nothing in life except love. Brigands or murderers as
such held no terrors for the daughter of the Droitwiches; she only
would have been afraid of them if they left off being brigands and
murderers and began instead to try and make love.
The next moment the footsteps turned the corner of her bit of
path, and stood still.
"Getting his wind," thought Scrap, not looking round.
Then as he—from the sounds of the steps she took them to belong
to a man—did not move, she turned her head, and beheld with
astonishment a person she had seen a good deal of lately in London, the
well-known writer of amusing memoirs, Mr. Ferdinand Arundel.
She stared. Nothing in the way of being followed surprised her
any more, but that he should have discovered where she was surprised
her. Her mother had promised faithfully to tell no one.
"You?" she said, feeling betrayed. "Here?"
He came up to her and took off his hat. His forehead beneath the
hat was wet with the beads of unaccustomed climbing. He looked ashamed
and entreating, like a guilty but devoted dog.
"You must forgive me," he said. "Lady Droitwich told me where
you were, and as I happened to be passing through on my way to Rome I
thought I would get out at Mezzago and just look in and see how you
"But—didn't my mother tell you I was doing a rest-cure?"
"Yes. She did. And that's why I haven't intruded on you earlier
in the day. I thought you would probably sleep all day, and wake up
about now so as to be fed."
"I know. I've got nothing to say in excuse. I couldn't help
"This," thought Scrap, "comes of mother insisting on having
authors to lunch, and me being so much more amiable in appearance than
I really am."
She had been amiable to Ferdinand Arundel; she liked him—or
rather she did not dislike him. He seemed a jovial, simple man, and
had the eyes of a nice dog. Also, though it was evident that he
admired her, he had not in London grabbed. There he had merely been a
good-natured, harmless person of entertaining conversation, who helped
to make luncheons agreeable. Now it appeared that he too was a
grabber. Fancy following her out there—daring to. Nobody else had.
Perhaps her mother had given him the address because she considered him
so absolutely harmless, and thought he might be useful and see her
Well, whatever he was he couldn't possibly give her the trouble
an active young man like Mr. Briggs might give her. Mr. Briggs,
infatuated, would be reckless, she felt, would stick at nothing, would
lose his head publicly. She could imagine Mr. Briggs doing things with
rope-ladders, and singing all night under her window—being really
difficult and uncomfortable. Mr. Arundel hadn't the figure for any
kind of recklessness. He had lived too long and too well. She was
sure he couldn't sing, and wouldn't want to. He must be at least
forty. How many good dinners could not a man have eaten by the time he
was forty? And if during that time instead of taking exercise he had
sat writing books, he would quite naturally acquire the figure Mr.
Arundel had in fact acquired—the figure rather for conversation than
Scrap, who had become melancholy at the sight of Briggs, became
philosophical at the sight of Arundel. Here he was. She couldn't send
him away till after dinner. He must be nourished.
This being so, she had better make the best of it, and do that
with a good grace which anyhow wasn't to be avoided. Besides, he would
be a temporary shelter from Mr. Briggs. She was at least acquainted
with Ferdinand Arundel, and could hear news from him of her mother and
her friends, and such talk would put up a defensive barrier at dinner
between herself and the approaches of the other one. And it was only
for one dinner, and he couldn't eat her.
She therefore prepared herself for friendliness. "I'm to be
fed," she said, ignoring his last remark, "at eight, and you must come
up and be fed too. Sit down and get cool and tell me how everybody
"May I really dine with you? In these travelling things?" he
said, wiping his forehead before sitting down beside her.
She was too lovely to be true, he thought. Just to look at her
for an hour, just to hear her voice, was enough reward for his journey
and his fears.
"Of course. I suppose you've left your fly in the village, and
will be going on from Mezzago by the night train."
"Or stay in Mezzago in an hotel and go on to-morrow. But tell
me," he said, gazing at the adorable profile, "about yourself. London
has been extraordinarily dull and empty. Lady Droitwich said you were
with people here she didn't know. I hope they've been kind to you?
You look—well, as if your cure had done everything a cure should."
"They've been very kind," said Scrap. "I got them out of an
"It's a good way, I find, to get friends. I'm fonder of one of
these than I've been of anybody in years."
"Really? Who is it?"
"You shall guess which of them it is when you see them. Tell me
about mother. When did you see her last? We arranged not to write to
each other unless there was something special. I wanted to have a
month that was perfectly blank."
"And now I've come and interrupted. I can't tell you how ashamed
I am—both of having done it and of not having been able to help it."
"Oh, but," said Scrap quickly, for he could not have come on a
better day, when up there waiting and watching for her was, she knew,
the enamoured Briggs, "I'm really very glad indeed to see you. Tell me
Scrap wanted to know so much about her mother that Arundel had
presently to invent. He would talk about anything she wished if only
he might be with her for a while and see her and hear her, but he knew
very little of the Droitwiches and their friends really—beyond meeting
them at those bigger functions where literature is also represented,
and amusing them at luncheons and dinners, he knew very little of them
really. To them he had always remained Mr. Arundel; no one called him
Ferdinand; and he only knew the gossip also available to the evening
papers and the frequenters of clubs. But he was, however, good at
inventing; and as soon as he had come to an end of first-hand
knowledge, in order to answer her inquires and keep her there to
himself he proceeded to invent. It was quite easy to fasten some of
the entertaining things he was constantly thinking on to other people
and pretend they were theirs. Scrap, who had that affection for her
parents which warms in absence, was athirst for news, and became more
and more interested by the news he gradually imparted.
At first it was ordinary news. He had met her mother here, and
seen her there. She looked very well; she said so and so. But
presently the things Lady Droitwich had said took on an unusual
quality: they became amusing.
"Mother said that?" Scrap interrupted, surprised.
And presently Lady Droitwich began to do amusing things as well
as say them.
"Mother did that?" Scrap inquired, wide-eyed.
Arundel warmed to his work. He fathered some of the most
entertaining ideas he had lately had on to Lady Droitwich, and also any
charming funny things that had been done—or might have been done, for he
could imagine almost anything.
Scrap's eyes grew round with wonder and affectionate pride in her
mother. Why, but how funny—-fancy mother. What an old darling. Did
she really do that? How perfectly adorable of her. And did she really
say—but how wonderful of her to think of it. What sort of a face did
Lloyd George make?
She laughed and laughed, and had a great longing to hug her
mother, and the time flew, and it grew quite dusk, and it grew nearly
dark, and Mr. Arundel still went on amusing her, and it was a quarter
to eight before she suddenly remembered dinner.
"Oh, good heavens!" she exclaimed, jumping up.
"Yes. It's late," said Arundel.
"I'll go on quickly and send the maid to you. I must run, or
I'll never be ready in time—"
And she was gone up the path with the swiftness of a young,
Arundel followed. He did not wish to arrive too hot, so had to
go slowly. Fortunately he was near the top, and Francesca came down
the pergola to pilot him indoors, and having shown him where he could
wash she put him in the empty drawing-room to cool himself by the
crackling wood fire.
He got as far away from the fire as he could, and stood in one of
the deep window-recesses looking out at the distant lights of Mezzago.
The drawing-room door was open, and the house was quiet with the hush
that precedes dinner, when the inhabitants are all shut up in their
rooms dressing. Briggs in his room was throwing away spoilt tie after
spoilt tie; Scrap in hers was hurrying into a black frock with a vague
notion that Mr. Briggs wouldn't be able to see her so clearly in black;
Mrs. Fisher was fastening the lace shawl, which nightly transformed her
day dress into her evening dress, with the brooch Ruskin had given her
on her marriage, formed of two pearl lilies tied together by a blue
enamel ribbon on which was written in gold letters Esto perpetua; Mr.
Wilkins was sitting on the edge of his bed brushing his wife's hair—
thus far in this third week had he progressed in demonstrativeness—
while she, for her part, sitting on a chair in front of him, put his
studs in a clean shirt; and Rose, ready dressed, sat at her window
considering her day.
Rose was quite aware of what had happened to Mr. Briggs. If she
had had any difficulty about it, Lotty would have removed it by the
frank comments she made while she and Rose sat together after tea on
the wall. Lotty was delighted at more love being introduced into San
Salvatore, even if it were only one-sided, and said that when once
Rose's husband was there she didn't suppose, now that Mrs. Fisher too
had at last come unglued—Rose protested at the expression, and Lotty
retorted that it was in Keats—there would be another place in the
world more swarming with happiness than San Salvatore.
"Your husband," said Lotty, swinging her feet, "might be here
quite soon, perhaps to-morrow evening if he starts at once, and
there'll be a glorious final few days before we all go home refreshed
for life. I don't believe any of us will ever be the same again—and I
wouldn't be a bit surprised if Caroline doesn't end by getting fond of
the young man Briggs. It's in the air. You have to get fond of people
Rose sat at her window thinking of these things. Lotty's
optimism . . . yet it had been justified by Mr. Wilkins; and look, too,
at Mrs. Fisher. If only it would come true as well about Frederick!
For Rose, who between lunch and tea had left off thinking about
Frederick, was now, between tea and dinner, thinking of him harder than
It has been funny and delightful, that little interlude of
admiration, but of course it couldn't go on once Caroline appeared.
Rose knew her place. She could see as well as any one the unusually,
the unique loveliness of Lady Caroline. How warm, though, things like
admiration and appreciation made one feel, how capable of really
deserving them, how different, how glowing. They seemed to quicken
unsuspected faculties into life. She was sure she had been a
thoroughly amusing woman between lunch and tea, and a pretty one too.
She was quite certain she had been pretty; she saw it in Mr. Briggs's
eyes as clearly as in a looking-glass. For a brief space, she thought,
she had been like a torpid fly brought back to gay buzzing by the
lighting of a fire in a wintry room. She still buzzed, she still
tingled, just at the remembrance. What fun it had been, having an
admirer even for that little while. No wonder people liked admirers.
They seemed, in some strange way, to make one come alive.
Although it was all over she still glowed with it and felt more
exhilarated, more optimistic, more as Lotty probably constantly felt,
than she had done since she was a girl. She dressed with care, though
she knew Mr. Briggs would no longer see her, but it gave her pleasure
to see how pretty, while she was about it, she could make herself look;
and very nearly she stuck a crimson camellia in her hair down by her
ear. She did hold it there for a minute, and it looked almost sinfully
attractive and was exactly the colour of her mouth, but she took it out
again with a smile and a sigh and put it in the proper place for
flowers, which is water. She mustn't be silly, she thought. Think of
the poor. Soon she would be back with them again, and what would a
camellia behind her ear seem like then? Simply fantastic.
But on one thing she was determined: the first thing she would do
when she got home would be to have it out with Frederick. If he didn't
come to San Salvatore that is what she would do—the very first thing.
Long ago she ought to have done this, but always she had been
handicapped, when she tried to, by being so dreadfully fond of him and
so much afraid that fresh wounds were going to be given her wretched,
soft heart. But now let him wound her as much as he chose, as much as
he possibly could, she would still have it out with him. Not that he
ever intentionally wounded her; she knew he never meant to, she knew he
often had no idea of having done it. For a person who wrote books,
thought Rose, Frederick didn't seem to have much imagination. Anyhow,
she said to herself, getting up from the dressing-table, things
couldn't go on like this. She would have it out with him. This
separate life, this freezing loneliness, she had had enough of it. Why
shouldn't she too be happy? Why on earth—the energetic expression
matched her mood of rebelliousness—shouldn't she too be loved and
allowed to love?
She looked at her little clock. Still ten minutes before dinner.
Tired of staying in her bedroom she thought she would go on to Mrs.
Fisher's battlements, which would be empty at this hour, and watch the
moon rise out of the sea.
She went into the deserted upper hall with this intention, but
was attracted on her way along it by the firelight shining through the
open door of the drawing-room.
How gay it looked. The fire transformed the room. A dark, ugly
room in the daytime, it was transformed just as she had been
transformed by the warmth of—no, she wouldn't be silly; she would
think of the poor; the thought of them always brought her down to
sobriety at once.
She peeped in. Firelight and flowers; and outside the deep slits
of windows hung the blue curtain of the night. How pretty. What a
sweet place San Salvatore was. And that gorgeous lilac on the table—
she must go and put her face in it . . .
But she never got to the lilac. She went one step towards it,
and then stood still, for she had seen the figure looking out of the
window in the farthest corner, and it was Frederick.
All the blood in Rose's body rushed to her heart and seemed to
stop its beating.
She stood quite still. He had not heard her. He did not turn
round. She stood looking at him. The miracle had happened, and he had
She stood holding her breath. So he needed her, for he had come
instantly. So he too must have been thinking, longing . . .
Her heart, which had seemed to stop beating, was suffocating her
now, the way it raced along. Frederick did love her then—he must love
her, or why had he come? Something, perhaps her absence, had made him
turn to her, want her . . . and now the understanding she had made up
her mind to have with him would be quite—would be quite—easy—
Her thoughts wouldn't go on. Her mind stammered. She couldn't
think. She could only see and feel. She didn't know how it had
happened. It was a miracle. God could do miracles. God had done this
one. God could—God could—could—
Her mind stammered again, and broke off.
"Frederick—" she tried to say; but no sound came, or if it did
the crackling of the fire covered it up.
She must go nearer. She began to creep towards him—softly,
He did not move. He had not heard.
She stole nearer and nearer, and the fire crackled and he heard
She stopped a moment, unable to breathe. She was afraid.
Suppose he—suppose he—oh, but he had come, he had come.
She went on again, close up to him, and her heart beat so loud
that she thought he must hear it. And couldn't he feel—didn't he
"Frederick," she whispered, hardly able even to whisper, choked
by the beating of her heart.
He spun round on his heels.
"Rose!" he exclaimed, staring blankly.
But she did not see his stare, for her arms were round his neck,
and her cheek was against his, and she was murmuring, her lips on his
ear, "I knew you would come—in my very heart I always, always knew you
Now Frederick was not the man to hurt anything if he could help
it; besides, he was completely bewildered. Not only was his wife here
—here, of all places in the world—but she was clinging to him as she
had not clung for years, and murmuring love, and welcoming him. If she
welcomed him she must have been expecting him. Strange as this was, it
was the only thing in the situation which was evident—that, and the
softness of her cheek against his, and the long-forgotten sweet smell
Frederick was bewildered. But not being the man to hurt anything
if he could help it he too put his arms round her, and having put them
round her he also kissed her; and presently he was kissing her almost
as tenderly as she was kissing him; and presently he was kissing her
quite as tenderly; and again presently he was kissing her more
tenderly, and just as if he had never left off.
He was bewildered, but he still could kiss. It seemed curiously
natural to be doing it. It made him feel as if he were thirty again
instead of forty, and Rose were his Rose of twenty, the Rose he had so
much adored before she began to weigh what he did with her idea of
right, and the balance went against him, and she had turned strange,
and stony, and more and more shocked, and oh, so lamentable. He
couldn't get at her in those days at all; she wouldn't, she couldn't
understand. She kept on referring everything to what she called God's
eyes—in God's eyes it couldn't be right, it wasn't right. Her
miserable face—whatever her principles did for her they didn't make
her happy—her little miserable face, twisted with effort to be
patient, had been at last more than he could bear to see, and he had
kept away as much as he could. She never ought to have been the
daughter of a low-church rector—narrow devil; she was quite unfitted
to stand up against such an upbringing.
What had happened, why she was here, why she was his Rose again,
passed his comprehension; and meanwhile, and until such time as he
understood, he still could kiss. In fact he could not stop kissing;
and it was he now who began to murmur, to say love things in her ear
under the hair that smelt so sweet and tickled him just as he
remembered it used to tickle him.
And as he held her close to his heart and her arms were soft
round his neck, he felt stealing over him a delicious sense of—at
first he didn't know what it was, this delicate, pervading warmth, and
then he recognized it as security. Yes; security. No need now to be
ashamed of his figure, and to make jokes about it so as to forestall
other people's and show he didn't mind it; no need now to be ashamed of
getting hot going up hills, or to torment himself with pictures of how
he probably appeared to beautiful young women—how middle-aged, how
absurd in his inability to keep away from them. Rose cared nothing for
such things. With her he was safe. To her he was her lover, as he
used to be; and she would never notice or mind any of the ignoble
changes that getting older had made in him and would go on making more
Frederick continued, therefore, with greater and greater warmth
and growing delight to kiss his wife, and the mere holding of her in
his arms caused him to forget everything else. How could he, for
instance, remember or think of Lady Caroline, to mention only one of
the complications with which his situation bristled, when here was his
sweet wife, miraculously restored to him, whispering with her cheek
against his in the dearest, most romantic words how much she loved him,
how terribly she had missed him? He did for one brief instant, for
even in moments of love there were brief instants of lucid thought,
recognize the immense power of the woman present and being actually
held compared to that of the woman, however beautiful, who is somewhere
else, but that is as far as he got towards remembering Scrap; no
farther. She was like a dream, fleeing before the morning light.
"When did you start?" murmured Rose, her mouth on his ear. She
couldn't let him go; not even to talk she couldn't let him go.
"Yesterday morning," murmured Frederick, holding her close. He
couldn't let her go either.
"Oh—the very instant then," murmured Rose.
This was cryptic, but Frederick said, "Yes, the very instant,"
and kissed her neck.
"How quickly my letter got to you," murmured Rose, whose eyes
were shut in the excess of her happiness.
"Didn't it," said Frederick, who felt like shutting his eyes
So there had been a letter. Soon, no doubt, light would be
vouchsafed him, and meanwhile this was so strangely, touchingly sweet,
this holding his Rose to his heart again after all the years, that he
couldn't bother to try to guess anything. Oh, he had been happy during
these years, because it was not in him to be unhappy; besides, how many
interests life had had to offer him, how many friends, how much
success, how many women only too willing to help him to blot out the
thought of the altered, petrified, pitiful little wife at home who
wouldn't spend his money, who was appalled by his books, who drifted
away and away from him, and always if he tried to have it out with her
asked him with patient obstinacy what he thought the things he wrote
and lived by looked in the eyes of God. "No one," she said once,
"should ever write a book God wouldn't like to read. That is the test,
Frederick." And he had laughed hysterically, burst into a great shriek
of laughter, and rushed out of the house, away from her solemn little
face—away from her pathetic, solemn little face. . .
But this Rose was his youth again, the best part of his life, the
part of it that had had all the visions in it and all the hopes. How
they had dreamed together, he and she, before he struck that vein of
memoirs; how they had planned, and laughed and loved. They had lived
for a while in the very heart of poetry. After the happy days came the
happy nights, the happy, happy nights, with her asleep close against
his heart, with her when he woke in the morning still close against his
heart, for they hardly moved in their deep, happy sleep. It was
wonderful to have it all come back to him at the touch of her, at the
feel of her face against his—wonderful that she should be able to give
him back his youth.
"Sweetheart—sweetheart," he murmured, overcome by remembrance,
clinging to her now in his turn.
"Beloved husband," she breathed—the bliss of it—the sheer bliss
. . .
Briggs, coming in a few minutes before the gong went on the
chance that Lady Caroline might be there, was much astonished. He had
supposed Rose Arbuthnot was a widow, and he still supposed it; so that
he was much astonished.
"Well I'm damned," thought Briggs, quite clearly and distinctly,
for the shock of what he saw in the window startled him so much that
for a moment he was shaken free of his own confused absorption.
Aloud he said, very red, "Oh I say—I beg your pardon"—and then
stood hesitating, and wondering whether he oughtn't to go back to his
If he had said nothing they would not have noticed he was there,
but when he begged their pardon Rose turned and looked at him as one
looks who is trying to remember, and Frederick looked at him too
without at first quite seeing him.
They didn't seem, thought Briggs, to mind or to be at all
embarrassed. He couldn't be her brother; no brother ever brought that
look into a woman's face. It was very awkward. If they didn't mind,
he did. It upset him to come across his Madonna forgetting herself.
"Is this one of your friends?" Frederick was able after an
instant to ask Rose, who made no attempt to introduce the young man
standing awkwardly in front of them but continued to gaze at him with a
kind of abstracted, radiant goodwill.
"It's Mr. Briggs," said Rose, recognizing him. "This is my
husband," she added.
And Briggs, shaking hands, just had time to think how surprising
it was to have a husband when you were a widow before the gong sounded,
and Lady Caroline would be there in a minute, and he ceased to be able
to think at all, and merely became a thing with its eyes fixed on the
Through the door immediately entered, in what seemed to him an
endless procession, first Mrs. Fisher, very stately in her evening lace
shawl and brooch, who when she saw him at once relaxed into smiles and
benignity, only to stiffen, however, when she caught sight of the
stranger; then Mr. Wilkins, cleaner and neater and more carefully
dressed and brushed than any man on earth; and then, tying something
hurriedly as she came, Mrs. Wilkins; and then nobody.
Lady Caroline was late. Where was she? Had she heard the gong?
Oughtn't it to be beaten again? Suppose she didn't come to dinner
after all. . .
Briggs went cold.
"Introduce me," said Frederick on Mrs. Fisher's entrance,
touching Rose's elbow.
"My husband," said Rose, holding him by the hand, her face
"This," thought Mrs. Fisher, "must now be the last of the
husbands, unless Lady Caroline produces one from up her sleeve."
But she received him graciously, for he certainly looked exactly
like a husband, not at all like one of those people who go about abroad
pretending they are husbands when they are not, and said she supposed
he had come to accompany his wife home at the end of the month, and
remarked that now the house would be completely full. "So that," she
added, smiling at Briggs, "we shall at last really be getting our
Briggs grinned automatically, because he was just able to realize
that somebody was being playful with him, but he had not heard her and
he did not look at her. Not only were his eyes fixed on the door but
his whole body was concentrated on it.
Introduced in his turn, Mr. Wilkins was most hospitable and
called Frederick "sir."
"Well, sir," said Mr. Wilkins heartily, "here we are, here we
are"—and having gripped his hand with an understanding that only
wasn't mutual because Arbuthnot did not yet know what he was in for in
the way of trouble, he looked at him as a man should, squarely in the
eyes, and allowed his look to convey as plainly as a look can that in
him would be found staunchness, integrity, reliability—in fact a
friend in need. Mrs. Arbuthnot was very much flushed, Mr. Wilkins
noticed. He had not seen her flushed like that before. "Well, I'm
their man," he thought.
Lotty's greeting was effusive. It was done with both hands.
"Didn't I tell you?" she laughed to Rose over her shoulder while
Frederick was shaking her hands in both his.
"What did you tell her?" asked Frederick, in order to say
something. The way they were all welcoming him was confusing. They
had evidently all expected him, not only Rose.
The sandy but agreeable young woman didn't answer his question,
but looked extraordinarily pleased to see him. Why should she be
extraordinarily pleased to see him?
"What a delightful place this is," said Frederick, confused, and
making the first remark that occurred to him.
"It's a tub of love," said the sandy young woman earnestly; which
confused him more than ever.
And his confusion became excessive at the next words he heard—
spoken, these, by the old lady, who said: "We won't wait. Lady
Caroline is always late"—for he only then, on hearing her name, really
and properly remembered Lady Caroline, and the thought of her confused
him to excess.
He went into the dining-room like a man in a dream. He had come
out to this place to see Lady Caroline, and had told her so. He had
even told her in his fatuousness—it was true, but how fatuous—that he
hadn't been able to help coming. She didn't know he was married. She
thought his name was Arundel. Everybody in London thought his name was
Arundel. He had used it and written under it so long that he almost
thought it was himself. In the short time since she had left him on
the seat in the garden, where he told her he had come because he
couldn't help it, he had found Rose again, had passionately embraced
and been embraced, and had forgotten Lady Caroline. It would be an
extraordinary piece of good fortune if Lady Caroline's being late meant
she was tired or bored and would not come to dinner at all. Then he
could—no, he couldn't. He turned a deeper red even than usual, he
being a man of full habit and red anyhow, at the thought of such
cowardice. No, he couldn't go away after dinner and catch his train
and disappear to Rome; not unless, that is, Rose came with him. But
even so, what a running away. No, he couldn't.
When they got to the dining-room Mrs. Fisher went to the head of
the table—was this Mrs. Fisher's house? He asked himself. He didn't
know; he didn't know anything—and Rose, who in her earlier day of
defying Mrs. Fisher had taken the other end as her place, for after all
no one could say by looking at a table which was its top and which its
bottom, led Frederick to the seat next to her. If only, he thought, he
could have been alone with Rose; just five minutes more alone with
Rose, so that he could have asked her—
But probably he wouldn't have asked her anything, and only gone
on kissing her.
He looked round. The sandy young woman was telling the man they
called Briggs to go and sit beside Mrs. Fisher—was the house, then,
the sandy young woman's and not Mrs. Fisher's? He didn't know; he
didn't know anything—and she herself sat down on Rose's other side, so
that she was opposite him, Frederick, and next to the genial man who
had said "Here we are," when it was only too evident that there they
Next to Frederick, and between him and Briggs, was an empty
chair: Lady Caroline's. No more than Lady Caroline knew of the
presence in Frederick's life of Rose was Rose aware of the presence in
Frederick's life of Lady Caroline. What would each think? He didn't
know; he didn't know anything. Yes, he did know something, and that
was that his wife had made it up with him—suddenly, miraculously,
unaccountably, and divinely. Beyond that he knew nothing. The
situation was one with which he felt he could not cope. It must lead
him whither it would. He could only drift.
In silence Frederick ate his soup, and the eyes, the large
expressive eyes of the young woman opposite, were on him, he could
feel, with a growing look in them of inquiry. They were, he could see,
very intelligent and attractive eyes, and full, apart from the inquiry
of goodwill. Probably she thought he ought to talk—but if she knew
everything she wouldn't think so. Briggs didn't talk either. Briggs
seemed uneasy. What was the matter with Briggs? And Rose too didn't
talk, but then that was natural. She never had been a talker. She had
the loveliest expression on her face. How long would it be on it after
Lady Caroline's entrance? He didn't know; he didn't know anything.
But the genial man on Mrs. Fisher's left was talking enough for
everybody. That fellow ought to have been a parson. Pulpits were the
place for a voice like his; it would get him a bishopric in six months.
He was explaining to Briggs, who shuffled about in his seat—why did
Briggs shuffle about in his seat?—that he must have come out by the
same train as Arbuthnot, and when Briggs, who said nothing, wriggled in
apparent dissent, he undertook to prove it to him, and did prove it to
him in long clear sentences.
"Who's the man with the voice?" Frederick asked Rose in a whisper;
and the young woman opposite, whose ears appeared to have the quickness
of hearing of wild creatures, answered, "He's my husband."
"Then by all the rules," said Frederick pleasantly, pulling
himself together, "you oughtn't to be sitting next to him."
"But I want to. I like sitting next to him. I didn't before I
Frederick could think of nothing to say to this, so he only
"It's this place," she said, nodding at him. "It makes one
understand. You've no idea what a lot you'll understand before you've
"I'm sure I hope so," said Frederick with real fervour.
The soup was taken away, and the fish was brought. Briggs, on
the other side of the empty chair, seemed more uneasy than ever. What
was the matter with Briggs? Didn't he like fish?
Frederick wondered what Briggs would do in the way of fidgets if
he were in his own situation. Frederick kept on wiping his moustache,
and was not able to look up from his plate, but that was as much as he
showed of what he was feeling.
Though he didn't look up he felt the eyes of the young woman
opposite raking him like searchlights, and Rose's eyes were on him too,
he knew, but they rested on him unquestioningly, beautifully, like a
benediction. How long would they go on doing that once Lady Caroline
was there? He didn't know; he didn't know anything.
He wiped his moustache for the twentieth unnecessary time, and
could not quite keep his hand steady, and the young woman opposite saw
his hand not being quite steady, and her eyes raked him persistently.
Why did her eyes rake him persistently? He didn't know; he didn't know
Then Briggs leapt to his feet. What was the matter with Briggs?
Oh—yes—quite: she had come.
Frederick wiped his moustache and got up too. He was in for it
now. Absurd, fantastic situation. Well, whatever happened he could
only drift—drift, and look like an ass to Lady Caroline, the most
absolute as well as deceitful ass—an ass who was also a reptile, for
she might well think he had been mocking her out in the garden when he
said, no doubt in a shaking voice—fool and ass—that he had come
because he couldn't help it; while as for what he would look like to
his Rose—when Lady Caroline introduced him to her—when Lady Caroline
introduced him as her friend whom she had invited in to dinner—well,
God alone knew that.
He, therefore, as he got up wiped his moustache for the last time
before the catastrophe.
But he was reckoning without Scrap.
That accomplished and experienced young woman slipped into the
chair Briggs was holding for her, and on Lotty's leaning across
eagerly, and saying before any one else could get a word in, "Just
fancy, Caroline, how quickly Rose's husband has got here!" turned to
him without so much as the faintest shadow of surprise on her face, and
held out her hand, and smiled like a young angel, and said, "and me
late your very first evening."
The daughter of the Droitwiches. . .
That evening was the evening of the full moon. The garden was an
enchanted place where all the flowers seemed white. The lilies, the
daphnes, the orange-blossom, the white stocks, the white pinks, the
white roses—you could see these as plainly as in the day-time; but the
coloured flowers existed only as fragrance.
The three younger women sat on the low wall at the end of the top
garden after dinner, Rose a little apart from the others, and watched
the enormous moon moving slowly over the place where Shelley had lived
his last months just on a hundred years before. The sea quivered along
the path of the moon. The stars winked and trembled. The mountains
were misty blue outlines, with little clusters of lights shining
through from little clusters of homes. In the garden the plants stood
quite still, straight and unstirred by the smallest ruffle of air.
Through the glass doors the dining-room, with its candle-lit table and
brilliant flowers—nasturtiums and marigolds that night—glowed like
some magic cave of colour, and the three men smoking round it looked
strangely animated figures seen from the silence, the huge cool calm of
Mrs. Fisher had gone to the drawing-room and the fire. Scrap and
Lotty, their faces upturned to the sky, said very little and in
whispers. Rose said nothing. Her face too was upturned. She was
looking at the umbrella pine, which had been smitten into something
glorious, silhouetted against stars. Every now and then Scrap's eyes
lingered on Rose; so did Lotty's. For Rose was lovely. Anywhere at
that moment, among all the well-known beauties, she would have been
lovely. Nobody could have put her in the shade, blown out her light
that evening; she was too evidently shining.
Lotty bent close to Scrap's ear, and whispered. "Love," she
Scrap nodded. "Yes," she said, under her breath.
She was obliged to admit it. You only had to look at Rose to
know that here was Love.
"There's nothing like it," whispered Lotty.
Scrap was silent.
"It's a great thing," whispered Lotty after a pause, during which
they both watched Rose's upturned face, "to get on with one's loving.
Perhaps you can tell me of anything else in the world that works such
But Scrap couldn't tell her; and if she could have, what a night
to begin arguing in. This was a night for—
She pulled herself up. Love again. It was everywhere. There
was no getting away from it. She had come to this place to get away
from it, and here was everybody in its different stages. Even Mrs.
Fisher seemed to have been brushed by one of the many feathers of
Love's wing, and at dinner was different—full of concern because Mr.
Briggs wouldn't eat, and her face when she turned to him all soft with
Scrap looked up at the pine-tree motionless among stars. Beauty
made you love, and love made you beautiful. . .
She pulled her wrap closer round her with a gesture of defence,
of keeping out and off. She didn't want to grow sentimental.
Difficult not to, here; the marvelous night stole in through all one's
chinks, and brought in with it, whether one wanted them or not,
enormous feelings—feelings one couldn't manage, great things about
death and time and waste; glorious and devastating things, magnificent
and bleak, at once rapture and terror and immense, heart-cleaving
longing. She felt small and dreadfully alone. She felt uncovered and
defenceless. Instinctively she pulled her wrap closer. With this
thing of chiffon she tired to protect herself from the eternities.
"I suppose," whispered Lotty, "Rose's husband seems to you just
an ordinary, good-natured, middle-aged man."
Scrap brought her gaze down from the stars and looked at Lotty a
moment while she focused her mind again.
"Just a rather red, rather round man," whispered Lotty.
Scrap bowed her head.
"He isn't," whispered Lotty. "Rose sees through all that.
That's mere trimmings. She sees what we can't see, because she loves
Scrap got up, and winding herself very tightly in her wrap moved
away to her day corner, and sat down there alone on the wall and looked
out across the other sea, the sea where the sun had gone down, the sea
with the far-away dim shadow stretching into it which was France.
Yes, love worked wonders, and Mr. Arundel—she couldn't at once
get used to his other name—was to Rose Love itself; but it also worked
inverted wonders, it didn't invariably, as she well knew, transfigure
people into saints and angels. Grievously indeed did it sometimes do
the opposite. She had had it in her life applied to her to excess. If
it had let her alone, if it had at least been moderate and infrequent,
she might, she thought, have turned out a quite decent, generous-minded,
kindly, human being. And what was she, thanks to this love Lotty talked
so much about? Scrap searched for a just description. She was a
spoilt, a sour, a suspicious, and a selfish spinster.
The glass doors of the dining-room opened, and the three men came
out into the garden, Mr. Wilkins's voice flowing along in front of
them. He appeared to be doing all the talking; the other two were
Perhaps she had better go back to Lotty and Rose; it would be
tiresome to be discovered and hemmed into the cul-de-sac by Mr. Briggs.
She got up reluctantly, for she considered it unpardonable of Mr.
Briggs to force her to move about like this, to force her out of any
place she wished to sit in; and she emerged from the daphne bushes
feeling like some gaunt, stern figure of just resentment and wishing
that she looked as gaunt and stern as she felt; so would she have
struck repugnance into the soul of Mr. Briggs, and been free of him.
But she knew she didn't look like that, however hard she might try. At
dinner his hand shook when he drank, and he couldn't speak to her
without flushing scarlet and then going pale, and Mrs. Fisher's eyes
had sought hers with the entreaty of one who asks that her only son may
not be hurt.
How could a human being, thought Scrap, frowning as she issued
forth from her corner, how could a man made in God's image behave so;
and be fitted for better things she was sure, with his youth, his
attractiveness, and his brains. He had brains. She had examined him
cautiously whenever at dinner Mrs. Fisher forced him to turn away to
answer her, and she was sure he had brains. Also he had character;
there was something noble about his head, about the shape of his
forehead—noble and kind. All the more deplorable that he should allow
himself to be infatuated by a mere outside, and waste any of his
strength, any of his peace of mind, hanging round just a woman-thing.
If only he could see right through her, see through all her skin and
stuff, he would be cured, and she might go on sitting undisturbed on
this wonderful night by herself.
Just beyond the daphne bushes she met Fredrick, hurrying.
"I was determined to find you first," he said, "before I go to
Rose." And he added quickly, "I want to kiss your shoes."
"Do you?" said Scrap, smiling. "Then I must go and put on my new
ones. These aren't nearly good enough."
She felt immensely well-disposed towards Frederick. He, at
least, would grab no more. His grabbing days, so sudden and so brief,
were done. Nice man; agreeable man. She now definitely liked him.
Clearly he had been getting into some sort of a tangle, and she was
grateful to Lotty for stopping her in time at dinner from saying
something hopelessly complicating. But whatever he had been getting
into he was out of it now; his face and Rose's face had the same light
"I shall adore you for ever now," said Frederick.
Scrap smiled. "Shall you?" she said.
"I adored you before because of your beauty. Now I adore you
because you're not only as beautiful as a dream but as decent as a
"When the impetuous young woman," Frederick went on, "the
blessedly impetuous young woman, blurted out in the nick of time that I
am Rose's husband, you behaved exactly as a man would have behaved to
"Did I?" said Scrap, her enchanting dimple very evident.
"It's the rarest, most precious of combinations," said Frederick,
"to be a woman and have the loyalty of a man."
"Is it?" smiled Scrap, a little wistfully. These were indeed
handsome compliments. If only she were really like that . . .
"And I want to kiss your shoes."
"Won't this save trouble?" she asked, holding out her hand.
He took it and swiftly kissed it, and was hurrying away again.
"Bless you," he said as he went.
"Where is your luggage?" Scrap called after him.
"Oh, Lord, yes—" said Frederick, pausing. "It's at the
"I'll send for it."
He disappeared through the bushes. She went indoors to give the
order; and this is how it happened that Domenico, for the second time
that evening, found himself journeying into Mezzago and wondering as he
Then, having made the necessary arrangements for the perfect
happiness of these two people, she came slowly out into the garden
again, very much absorbed in thought. Love seemed to bring happiness
to everybody but herself. It had certainly got hold of everybody
there, in its different varieties, except herself. Poor Mr. Briggs had
been got hold of by its least dignified variety. Poor Mr. Briggs. He
was a disturbing problem, and his going away next day wouldn't she was
afraid solve him.
When she reached the others Mr. Arundel—she kept on forgetting
that he wasn't Mr. Arundel—was already, his arm through Rose's, going
off with her, probably to the greater seclusion of the lower garden.
No doubt they had a great deal to say to each other; something had gone
wrong between them, and had suddenly been put right. San Salvatore,
Lotty would say, San Salvatore working its spell of happiness. She
could quite believe in its spell. Even she was happier there than she
had been for ages and ages. The only person who would go empty away
would be Mr. Briggs.
Poor Mr. Briggs. When she came in sight of the group he looked
much too nice and boyish not to be happy. It seemed out of the picture
that the owner of the place, the person to whom they owed all this,
should be the only one to go away from it unblessed.
Compunction seized Scrap. What very pleasant days she had spent
in his house, lying in his garden, enjoying his flowers, loving his
views, using his things, being comfortable, being rested—recovering,
in fact. She had had the most leisured, peaceful, and thoughtful time
of her life; and all really thanks to him. Oh, she knew she paid him
some ridiculous small sum a week, out of all proportion to the benefits
she got in exchange, but what was that in the balance? And wasn't it
entirely thanks to him that she had come across Lotty? Never else
would she and Lotty have met; never else would she have known her.
Compunction laid its quick, warm hand on Scrap. Impulsive
gratitude flooded her. She went straight up to Briggs.
"I owe you so much," she said, overcome by the sudden realization
of all she did owe him, and ashamed of her churlishness in the
afternoon and at dinner. Of course he hadn't known she was being
churlish. Of course her disagreeable inside was camouflaged as usual
by the chance arrangement of her outside; but she knew it. She was
churlish. She had been churlish to everybody for years. Any
penetrating eye, thought Scrap, any really penetrating eye, would see
her for what she was—a spoilt, a sour, a suspicious and a selfish
"I owe you so much," therefore said Scrap earnestly, walking
straight up to Briggs, humbled by these thoughts.
He looked at her in wonder. "You owe me?" he said. "But it's I
who—I who—" he stammered. To see her there in his garden . . .
nothing in it, no white flower, was whiter, more exquisite.
"Please," said Scrap, still more earnestly, "won't you clear your
mind of everything except just truth? You don't owe me anything. How
"I don't owe you anything?" echoed Briggs. "Why, I owe you my
first sight of—of—"
"Oh, for goodness sake—for goodness sake," said Scrap
entreatingly, "do, please, be ordinary. Don't be humble. Why should
you be humble? It's ridiculous of you to be humble. You're worth
fifty of me."
"Unwise," thought Mr. Wilkins, who was standing there too, while
Lotty sat on the wall. He was surprised, he was concerned, he was
shocked that Lady Caroline should thus encourage Briggs. "Unwise—
very," thought Mr. Wilkins, shaking his head.
Briggs's condition was so bad already that the only course to
take with him was to repel him utterly, Mr. Wilkins considered. No
half measures were the least use with Briggs, and kindliness and
familiar talk would only be misunderstood by the unhappy youth. The
daughter of the Droitwiches could not really, it was impossible to
suppose it, desire to encourage him. Briggs was all very well, but
Briggs was Briggs; his name alone proved that. Probably Lady Caroline
did not quite appreciate the effect of her voice and face, and how
between them they made otherwise ordinary words seem—well,
encouraging. But these words were not quite ordinary; she had not, he
feared, sufficiently pondered them. Indeed and indeed she needed an
adviser—some sagacious, objective counselor like himself. There she
was, standing before Briggs almost holding out her hand to him. Briggs
of course ought to be thanked, for they were having a most delightful
holiday in his house, but not thanked to excess and not by Lady
Caroline alone. That very evening he had been considering the
presentation to him next day of a round robin of collective gratitude
on his departure; but he should not be thanked like this, in the
moonlight, in the garden, by the lady he was so manifestly infatuated
Mr. Wilkins therefore, desiring to assist Lady Caroline out of
this situation by swiftly applied tact, said with much heartiness: "It
is most proper, Briggs, that you should be thanked. You will please
allow me to add my expressions of indebtedness, and those of my wife,
to Lady Caroline's. We ought to have proposed a vote of thanks to you
at dinner. You should have been toasted. There certainly ought to have
But Briggs took no notice of him whatever; he simply continued to
look at Lady Caroline as though she were the first woman he had ever
seen. Neither, Mr. Wilkins observed, did Lady Caroline take any notice
of him; she too continued to look at Briggs, and with that odd air of
almost appeal. Most unwise. Most.
Lotty, on the other hand, took too much notice of him, choosing
this moment when Lady Caroline needed special support and protection to
get up off the wall and put her arm through his and draw him away.
"I want to tell you something, Mellersh," said Lotty at this
juncture, getting up.
"Presently," said Mr. Wilkins, waving her aside.
"No—now," said Lotty; and she drew him away.
He went with extreme reluctance. Briggs should be given no rope
at all—not an inch.
"Well—what is it?" he asked impatiently, as she led him towards
the house. Lady Caroline ought not to be left like that, exposed to
"Oh, but she isn't," Lotty assured him, just as if he had said
this aloud, which he certainly had not. "Caroline is perfectly all
"Not at all all right. That young Briggs is—"
"Of course he is. What did you expect? Let's go indoors to the
fire and Mrs. Fisher. She's all by herself."
"I cannot," said Mr. Wilkins, trying to draw back, "leave Lady
Caroline alone in the garden."
"Don't be silly, Mellersh—she isn't alone. Besides, I want to
tell you something."
"Well tell me, then."
With reluctance that increased at every step Mr. Wilkins was
taken farther and farther away from Lady Caroline. He believed in his
wife now and trusted her, but on this occasion he thought she was
making a terrible mistake. In the drawing-room sat Mrs. Fisher by the
fire, and it certainly was to Mr. Wilkins, who preferred rooms and
fires after dark to gardens and moonlight, more agreeable to be in
there than out-of-doors if he could have brought Lady Caroline safely
in with him. As it was, he went in with extreme reluctance.
Mrs. Fisher, her hands folded on her lap, was doing nothing,
merely gazing fixedly into the fire. The lamp was arranged
conveniently for reading, but she was not reading. Her great dead
friends did not seem worth reading that night. They always said the
same things now—over and over again they said the same things, and
nothing new was to be got out of them any more for ever. No doubt they
were greater than any one was now, but they had this immense
disadvantage, that they were dead. Nothing further was to be expected
of them; while of the living, what might one not still expect? She
craved for the living, the developing—the crystallized and finished
wearied her. She was thinking that if only she had had a son—a son
like Mr. Briggs, a dear boy like that, going on, unfolding, alive,
affectionate, taking care of her and loving her. . .
The look on her face gave Mrs. Wilkins's heart a little twist
when she saw it. "Poor old dear," she thought, all the loneliness of
age flashing upon her, the loneliness of having outstayed one's welcome
in the world, of being in it only on sufferance, the complete
loneliness of the old childless woman who has failed to make friends.
It did seem that people could only be really happy in pairs—any sorts
of pairs, not in the least necessarily lovers, but pairs of friends,
pairs of mothers and children, of brothers and sisters—and where was
the other half of Mrs. Fisher's pair going to be found?
Mrs. Wilkins thought she had perhaps better kiss her again. The
kissing this afternoon had been a great success; she knew it, she had
instantly felt Mrs. Fisher's reaction to it. So she crossed over and
bent down and kissed her and said cheerfully, "We've come in—" which
indeed was evident.
This time Mrs. Fisher actually put up her hand and held Mrs.
Wilkins's cheek against her own—this living thing, full of affection,
of warm, racing blood; and as she did this she felt safe with the
strange creature, sure that she who herself did unusual things so
naturally would take the action quite as a matter of course, and not
embarrass her by being surprised.
Mrs. Wilkins was not at all surprised; she was delighted. "I
believe I'm the other half of her pair," flashed into her mind. "I
believe it's me, positively me, going to be fast friends with Mrs.
Her face when she lifted her head was full of laughter. Too
extraordinary, the developments produced by San Salvatore. She and
Mrs. Fisher . . . but she saw them being fast friends.
"Where are the others?" asked Mrs. Fisher. "Thank you—dear,"
she added, as Mrs. Wilkins put a footstool under her feet, a footstool
obviously needed, Mrs. Fisher's legs being short.
"I see myself throughout the years," thought Mrs. Wilkins, her
eyes dancing, "bringing footstools to Mrs. Fisher. . ."
"The Roses," she said, straightening herself, "have gone into the
lower garden—I think love-making."
"The Fredericks, then, if you like. They're completely merged
"Why not say the Arbuthnots, my dear?" said Mr. Wilkins.
"Very well, Mellersh—the Arbuthnots. And the Carolines—"
Both Mr. Wilkins and Mrs. Fisher started. Mr. Wilkins, usually
in such complete control of himself, started even more than Mrs.
Fisher, and for the first time since his arrival felt angry with his
"Really—" he began indignantly.
"Very well, Mellersh—the Briggses, then."
"The Briggses!" cried Mr. Wilkins, now very angry indeed; for the
implication was to him a most outrageous insult to the entire race of
Desters—dead Desters, living Desters, and Desters still harmless
because they were yet unborn. "Really—"
"I'm sorry, Mellersh," said Mrs. Wilkins, pretending meekness,
"if you don't like it."
"Like it! You've taken leave of your senses. Why they've never
set eyes on each other before to-day."
"That's true. But that's why they're able now to go ahead."
"Go ahead!" Mr. Wilkins could only echo the outrageous words.
"I'm sorry, Mellersh," said Mrs. Wilkins again, "if you don't
like it, but—"
Her grey eyes shone, and her face rippled with the light and
conviction that had so much surprised Rose the first time they met.
"It's useless minding," she said. "I shouldn't struggle if I
were you. Because—"
She stopped, and looked first at one alarmed solemn face and then
at the other, and laughter as well as light flickered and danced over
"I see them being the Briggses," finished Mrs. Wilkins.
That last week the syringa came out at San Salvatore, and all the
acacias flowered. No one had noticed how many acacias there were till
one day the garden was full of a new scent, and there were the delicate
trees, the lovely successors to the wistaria, hung all over among their
trembling leaves with blossom. To lie under an acacia tree that last
week and look up through the branches at its frail leaves and white
flowers quivering against the blue of the sky, while the least movement
of the air shook down their scent, was a great happiness. Indeed, the
whole garden dressed itself gradually towards the end in white pinks
and white banksai roses, and the syringe and the Jessamine, and at last
the crowning fragrance of the acacias. When, on the first of May,
everybody went away, even after they had got to the bottom of the hill
and passed through the iron gates out into the village they still could
smell the acacias.