“I quite agree,” said Miss Lavish, who had several times tried to interrupt his mordant wit. “The narrowness and superficiality of the Anglo-Saxon tourist is nothing less than a menace.”
“Quite so. Now, the English colony at Florence, Miss Honeychurch—and it is of considerable size, though, of course, not all equally—a few are here for trade, for example. But the greater part are students. Lady Helen Laverstock is at present busy over Fra Angelico. I mention her name because we are passing her villa on the left. No, you can only see it if you stand—no, do not stand; you will fall. She is very proud of that thick hedge. Inside, perfect seclusion. One might have gone back six hundred years. Some critics believe that her garden was the scene of The Decameron, which lends it an additional interest, does it not?”
“It does indeed!” cried Miss Lavish. “Tell me, where do they place the scene of that wonderful seventh day?”
But Mr. Eager proceeded to tell Miss Honeychurch that on the right lived Mr. Someone Something, an American of the best type—so rare!—and that the Somebody Elses were farther down the hill. “Doubtless you know her monographs in the series of ‘Mediaeval Byways’? He is working at Gemistus Pletho. Sometimes as I take tea in their beautiful grounds I hear, over the wall, the electric tram squealing up the new road with its loads of hot, dusty, unintelligent tourists who are going to ‘do’ Fiesole in an hour in order that they may say they have been there, and I think—think—I think how little they think what lies so near them.”
During this speech the two figures on the box were sporting with each other disgracefully. Lucy had a spasm of envy. Granted that they wished to misbehave, it was pleasant for them to be able to do so. They were probably the only people enjoying the expedition. The carriage swept with agonizing jolts up through the Piazza of Fiesole and into the Settignano road.
“Piano! piano!” said Mr. Eager, elegantly waving his hand over his head.
“Va bene, signore, va bene, va bene,” crooned the driver, and whipped his horses up again.
Now Mr. Eager and Miss Lavish began to talk against each other on the subject of Alessio Baldovinetti. Was he a cause of the Renaissance, or was he one of its manifestations? The other carriage was left behind. As the pace increased to a gallop the large, slumbering form of Mr. Emerson was thrown against the chaplain with the regularity of a machine.
“Piano! piano!” said he, with a martyred look at Lucy.
An extra lurch made him turn angrily in his seat. Phaethon, who for some time had been endeavouring to kiss Persephone, had just succeeded.
A little scene ensued, which, as Miss Bartlett said afterwards, was most unpleasant. The horses were stopped, the lovers were ordered to disentangle themselves, the boy was to lose his pourboire, the girl was immediately to get down.
“She is my sister,” said he, turning round on them with piteous eyes.
Mr. Eager took the trouble to tell him that he was a liar.
Phaethon hung down his head, not at the matter of the accusation, but at its manner. At this point Mr. Emerson, whom the shock of stopping had awoke, declared that the lovers must on no account be separated, and patted them on the back to signify his approval. And Miss Lavish, though unwilling to ally him, felt bound to support the cause of Bohemianism.
“Most certainly I would let them be,” she cried. “But I dare say I shall receive scant support. I have always flown in the face of the conventions all my life. This is what I call an adventure.”
“We must not submit,” said Mr. Eager. “I knew he was trying it on. He is treating us as if we were a party of Cook’s tourists.”
“Surely no!” said Miss Lavish, her ardour visibly decreasing.
The other carriage had drawn up behind, and sensible Mr. Beebe called out that after this warning the couple would be sure to behave themselves properly.
“Leave them alone,” Mr. Emerson begged the chaplain, of whom he stood in no awe. “Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there? To be driven by lovers—A king might envy us, and if we part them it’s more like sacrilege than anything I know.”
Here the voice of Miss Bartlett was heard saying that a crowd had begun to collect.
Mr. Eager, who suffered from an over-fluent tongue rather than a resolute will, was determined to make himself heard. He addressed the driver again. Italian in the mouth of Italians is a deep-voiced stream, with unexpected cataracts and boulders to preserve it from monotony. In Mr. Eager’s mouth it resembled nothing so much as an acid whistling fountain which played ever higher and higher, and quicker and quicker, and more and more shrilly, till abruptly it was turned off with a click.
“Signorina!” said the man to Lucy, when the display had ceased. Why should he appeal to Lucy?
“Signorina!” echoed Persephone in her glorious contralto. She pointed at the other carriage. Why?
For a moment the two girls looked at each other. Then Persephone got down from the box.
“Victory at last!” said Mr. Eager, smiting his hands together as the carriages started again.
“It is not victory,” said Mr. Emerson. “It is defeat. You have parted two people who were happy.”
Mr. Eager shut his eyes. He was obliged to sit next to Mr. Emerson, but he would not speak to him. The old man was refreshed by sleep, and took up the matter warmly. He commanded Lucy to agree with him; he shouted for support to his son.
“We have tried to buy what cannot be bought with money. He has bargained to drive us, and he is doing it. We have no rights over his soul.”
Miss Lavish frowned. It is hard when a person you have classed as typically British speaks out of his character.
“He was not driving us well,” she said. “He jolted us.”
“That I deny. It was as restful as sleeping. Aha! he is jolting us now. Can you wonder? He would like to throw us out, and most certainly he is justified. And if I were superstitious I’d be frightened of the girl, too. It doesn’t do to injure young people. Have you ever heard of Lorenzo de Medici?”
Miss Lavish bristled.
“Most certainly I have. Do you refer to Lorenzo il Magnifico, or to Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, or to Lorenzo surnamed Lorenzino on account of his diminutive stature?”
“The Lord knows. Possibly he does know, for I refer to Lorenzo the poet. He wrote a line—so I heard yesterday—which runs like this: ‘Don’t go fighting against the Spring.'”
Mr. Eager could not resist the opportunity for erudition.
“Non fate guerra al Maggio,” he murmured. “‘War not with the May’ would render a correct meaning.”
“The point is, we have warred with it. Look.” He pointed to the Val d’Arno, which was visible far below them, through the budding trees. “Fifty miles of Spring, and we’ve come up to admire them. Do you suppose there’s any difference between Spring in nature and Spring in man? But there we go, praising the one and condemning the other as improper, ashamed that the same laws work eternally through both.”
No one encouraged him to talk. Presently Mr. Eager gave a signal for the carriages to stop and marshalled the party for their ramble on the hill. A hollow like a great amphitheatre, full of terraced steps and misty olives, now lay between them and the heights of Fiesole, and the road, still following its curve, was about to sweep on to a promontory which stood out in the plain. It was this promontory, uncultivated, wet, covered with bushes and occasional trees, which had caught the fancy of Alessio Baldovinetti nearly five hundred years before. He had ascended it, that diligent and rather obscure master, possibly with an eye to business, possibly for the joy of ascending. Standing there, he had seen that view of the Val d’Arno and distant Florence, which he afterwards had introduced not very effectively into his work. But where exactly had he stood? That was the question which Mr. Eager hoped to solve now. And Miss Lavish, whose nature was attracted by anything problematical, had become equally enthusiastic.
But it is not easy to carry the pictures of Alessio Baldovinetti in your head, even if you have remembered to look at them before starting. And the haze in the valley increased the difficulty of the quest.
The party sprang about from tuft to tuft of grass, their anxiety to keep together being only equalled by their desire to go different directions. Finally they split into groups. Lucy clung to Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish; the Emersons returned to hold laborious converse with the drivers; while the two clergymen, who were expected to have topics in common, were left to each other.
The two elder ladies soon threw off the mask. In the audible whisper that was now so familiar to Lucy they began to discuss, not Alessio Baldovinetti, but the drive. Miss Bartlett had asked Mr. George Emerson what his profession was, and he had answered “the railway.” She was very sorry that she had asked him. She had no idea that it would be such a dreadful answer, or she would not have asked him. Mr. Beebe had turned the conversation so cleverly, and she hoped that the young man was not very much hurt at her asking him.
“The railway!” gasped Miss Lavish. “Oh, but I shall die! Of course it was the railway!” She could not control her mirth. “He is the image of a porter—on, on the South-Eastern.”
“Eleanor, be quiet,” plucking at her vivacious companion. “Hush! They’ll hear—the Emersons—”
“I can’t stop. Let me go my wicked way. A porter—”
“I’m sure it’s all right,” put in Lucy. “The Emersons won’t hear, and they wouldn’t mind if they did.”
Miss Lavish did not seem pleased at this.
“Miss Honeychurch listening!” she said rather crossly. “Pouf! Wouf! You naughty girl! Go away!”
“Oh, Lucy, you ought to be with Mr. Eager, I’m sure.”
“I can’t find them now, and I don’t want to either.”
“Mr. Eager will be offended. It is your party.”
“Please, I’d rather stop here with you.”
“No, I agree,” said Miss Lavish. “It’s like a school feast; the boys have got separated from the girls. Miss Lucy, you are to go. We wish to converse on high topics unsuited for your ear.”
The girl was stubborn. As her time at Florence drew to its close she was only at ease amongst those to whom she felt indifferent. Such a one was Miss Lavish, and such for the moment was Charlotte. She wished she had not called attention to herself; they were both annoyed at her remark and seemed determined to get rid of her.
“How tired one gets,” said Miss Bartlett. “Oh, I do wish Freddy and your mother could be here.”
Unselfishness with Miss Bartlett had entirely usurped the functions of enthusiasm. Lucy did not look at the view either. She would not enjoy anything till she was safe at Rome.
“Then sit you down,” said Miss Lavish. “Observe my foresight.”
With many a smile she produced two of those mackintosh squares that protect the frame of the tourist from damp grass or cold marble steps. She sat on one; who was to sit on the other?
“Lucy; without a moment’s doubt, Lucy. The ground will do for me. Really I have not had rheumatism for years. If I do feel it coming on I shall stand. Imagine your mother’s feelings if I let you sit in the wet in your white linen.” She sat down heavily where the ground looked particularly moist. “Here we are, all settled delightfully. Even if my dress is thinner it will not show so much, being brown. Sit down, dear; you are too unselfish; you don’t assert yourself enough.” She cleared her throat. “Now don’t be alarmed; this isn’t a cold. It’s the tiniest cough, and I have had it three days. It’s nothing to do with sitting here at all.”
There was only one way of treating the situation. At the end of five minutes Lucy departed in search of Mr. Beebe and Mr. Eager, vanquished by the mackintosh square.
She addressed herself to the drivers, who were sprawling in the carriages, perfuming the cushions with cigars. The miscreant, a bony young man scorched black by the sun, rose to greet her with the courtesy of a host and the assurance of a relative.
“Dove?” said Lucy, after much anxious thought.
His face lit up. Of course he knew where. Not so far either. His arm swept three-fourths of the horizon. He should just think he did know where. He pressed his finger-tips to his forehead and then pushed them towards her, as if oozing with visible extract of knowledge.
More seemed necessary. What was the Italian for “clergyman”?
“Dove buoni uomini?” said she at last.
Good? Scarcely the adjective for those noble beings! He showed her his cigar.
“Uno—piu—piccolo,” was her next remark, implying “Has the cigar been given to you by Mr. Beebe, the smaller of the two good men?”
She was correct as usual. He tied the horse to a tree, kicked it to make it stay quiet, dusted the carriage, arranged his hair, remoulded his hat, encouraged his moustache, and in rather less than a quarter of a minute was ready to conduct her. Italians are born knowing the way. It would seem that the whole earth lay before them, not as a map, but as a chess-board, whereon they continually behold the changing pieces as well as the squares. Any one can find places, but the finding of people is a gift from God.
He only stopped once, to pick her some great blue violets. She thanked him with real pleasure. In the company of this common man the world was beautiful and direct. For the first time she felt the influence of Spring. His arm swept the horizon gracefully; violets, like other things, existed in great profusion there; “would she like to see them?”
“Ma buoni uomini.”
He bowed. Certainly. Good men first, violets afterwards. They proceeded briskly through the undergrowth, which became thicker and thicker. They were nearing the edge of the promontory, and the view was stealing round them, but the brown network of the bushes shattered it into countless pieces. He was occupied in his cigar, and in holding back the pliant boughs. She was rejoicing in her escape from dullness. Not a step, not a twig, was unimportant to her.