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'Here and there a hurrying torrent '
' Shelter and Seclusion '
'A Humble Home '
'A Noble Simplicity '
'Smooth-coated, soft-eyed Oxen '
'A Stately Fountain '
'Covering Stable and concealing Shed
' Rudimentary Simplicity of Existence
'A Convent in the Apennines'









Where Apennine slopes unto Tuscan plain,

And breaks into dimples, and laughs to flowers,
To see where the terrors of Winter wane,
And out of a valley of grape and grain

There blossoms a City of domes and towers,


Teuton, Lombard, and grasping Gaul,

Prince and Pontiff, have forced their way,
Have forded the river, and scaled the wall,
And made in its palaces stye and stall,

Where spears might glisten and war -steeds


But ever since Florence was fair and young,
And the sun upon turret and belfry shone,


Were her windows bannered and joy-bells rung,
When back to his saddle the Stranger sprung,
And lances were lifted and pikemen gone.


Yes, ever and ever till you, my Oueen,

Came over the sea that is all your own,
When the tear on the tip of the vine is seen,
And the fig-tree cressets have flamed to green,
And windflower wakened, and tulip blown.

Then roses were showered before your feet,

And her lily-crowned gonfalons waved above,
And children chanted in square and street,
' All hail to the Monarch may free men greet,
Whose sceptre is Peace, and whose Throne is


And now that each snow-torrent foams and falls,

And the oreoles sing and the skylarks soar,
And the lithe swallow circles her rose-white walls,
Through the clefts of the Apennine Florence calls,
' More welcome than Spring, come back once
more !



' Come back, for the cuckoo is on its way,

And the mountains, smiling, await your smile ;
And still in my olive-groves bask and stray,
Till the warm-winged waters and winds of May
Shall waft you back to your own loved Isle.'

I. Cedri,

Pian di Ripoli, Florence,
Lady-Day, 1898.


Page 74, line 17, for "fungi" read "funghi."
» 8l > » 10, „ " Senti " read " Senta."

8l > » 1 3? » "zucchetoni " r,W " zucchoni."
„ 122, „ 14, n " ed il piu esser " read " e piii 1' esser.


'Where is Lamia ? '

The inquiry is one not infrequently made :
for, while most of us can vanish without being
missed, some favoured individuals there are whose
disappearance at once excites a sense of loss ; and
Lamia is one of these. The question, I need
scarcely say, was put by Veronica ; since the Poet
maintains a fine irresponsible attitude respecting
others as well as about himself, and, however
anxious I may be to keep sight of Lamia, I
am hardly so simple as to betray my desire.
& b


But, responding with sincere alacrity to Veronica's
question, I protested I had not the faintest notion
where she was, but would at once go in search
of her.

Veronica's solicitude was, I suspect, prompted
by that deep-seated regard for decorous behaviour,
which, far from leaving it at home, she had
carefully brought abroad as peculiarly applicable
to foreign parts and Continental manners. She is
well aware that, in the matter of social observances,
Lamia is capable of almost any enormity ; and
her absence from the morning-room of the hotel
in the southern seaport where we were making
our first halt, inspired her with natural misgiving.

The search, as it turned out, was not a long
one. Lamia I found seated under a tall white-
flowering magnolia in a leafy garden hard by,
where oleanders already well set for bloom, though
still far from their flowering season, and trees that
for some unknown reason English people call
mimosas, but which they should learn to speak of
as acacias, and various evergreen shrubs of stately
stature, concerning which I should not at present
like to be too closely cross-questioned, offered a
sufficient protection against the burning December
morning sun, while permitting occasional glimpses


of deep-blue sky. Ostensibly, she was having a
further polish put on her brown leather shoes by a
black-eyed, black-haired, tawny-skinned urchin, who
entered into her humour with true Southern adapt-
ability, and who would have gone on performing
his quite unnecessary office as long as ever the
young lady desired. For the moment, I think,
she had forgotten all about him, for she had three
oranges in her lap, — ' One for each of you,' she
said, — and was delicately dividing the other for
her own delectation. A large spray of Parma
violets, fastened to her attractive person, I need
scarcely say exactly where they should be, com-
pleted her recent purchases.

' Do you mind asking Veronica to come and
see me?' she said, 'for I never was so happy in
my life.'

I bethought me of the somewhat stern inter-
rogatory, ' Where is Lamia ? ' and merely observed
that Veronica was superintending the final opera-
tions of the maid in the matter of repacking, and
probably would wish not to be disturbed.

' How strange ! ' said Lamia, ' and how tastes
differ ! The smell of canvas covers and leather
straps is particularly disagreeable to me ; whereas
the island of Zante itself could not be more


fragrant than the scent of these violets and oranges,
to say nothing of the magnolia flowers overhead,
and that delightful son of the sunshine at my feet.
And to think that, say thirty-six hours ago, I
roused you and the Poet from your slumbers to
look upon a snow-white world ! I daresay you
will think me very capricious, but this is the
garden that I love.'

' Les a hens out toujour s tort,' said the Poet,
emerging from a shady avenue behind her. At
the sound of his voice she rose somewhat hastily,
as though a performance quite good enough for
me was scarcely consonant with the half-courtly
veneration she entertains for him ; gave the
oranges in her lap and a franc-piece to the smiling
young urchin, who thought her more fascinating
than ever, and said reproachfully, ' Then why do
you absent yourself ? '

' That was hardly what I meaned,' he replied.
' I was referring rather to the position of inferiority
you assign to the garden that we love, because it is
now far away from us. But you are quite right,
and are going to Italy in the proper spirit.
Whatever you see there, admire consumedly, and
you cannot be far wrong.'

' Are we not in Italy already ? '


'Almost. Its vestibule is Provence.'

I suppose it is because we are very simple folk,
and lead at home a rather primitive life, that we
find everything new which most other people
find familiar, and so many things attractive that
the bulk of the world treat as undeserving of
attention. Along that magical coast, where we
turned our gaze first to the sea-fringe, then to
the hill declivities, then back again to the white-
laced bays, and never being able to determine
which were the more beautiful, I observe that
persons who have travelled many hundreds of
miles in order to enjoy the sunshine and glamour
of the South, are well content to make this en-
trancing journey in a railway carriage, pulling
down the blinds if the sun be a trifle too hot,
and conning their newspaper or turning over the
leaves of some conventional novel, in any case.
That was not our way of travelling, which was a
good deal more leisurely and more old-fashioned.
We should have liked to find ourselves behind
Veronica's ponies, but our hired vehicle did well
enough ; and, while we never asked our cheerfully
communicative driver to quicken his pace, we
frequently begged him to slacken it, and over and


over again bade him halt altogether. Although,
save to Lamia, the road was no new one, we all
alike had fresh unsophisticated eyes for it, and all
of us found it a veritable wonder-world. Indeed,
I could not help reflecting that we behaved very
much as we behave at home in the garden that we
love, declaring that the last blue creek, or the last
secular olive-grove, was the most wonderful we
had yet seen, for no better reason than that it was
the last.

' And they told me,' said Lamia, ' that the
scenery is so monotonous, and that bay follows
bay, and mountain repeats mountain, with pro-
voking uniformity. Why, there are not any
two alike. I only wish human beings were as

' It all depends,' said the Poet, ' whether you
look lovingly or unlovingly, passionately or dis-
passionately. One must be intoxicated by scenery,
in order to appreciate it. Tranquil survey is not
enough, and scrutinising curiosity is fatal.'

' I am sure,' said Lamia, ' Veronica is not
intoxicated. She is tranquillity itself

'Veronica, you mean,' was his reply, 'does not
effervesce. But her silence is, perhaps, the measure
of her emotion.'


O stop ! stop ! I must have some of those

How often a kindred need of this kind arose
on the part of Lamia, it would be hard to say ; but,
by degrees, every part of the carriage that was not
occupied by ourselves was filled with tulips, wind-
flowers, roses, and long branches of early-flowering
golden acacia.

' You baby ! ' said Veronica, ' what are you
going to do with them all ? '

'You shall see, when luncheon-hour has

' Which I think it now has,' I ventured to

Thereupon we came to a standstill ; the driver
took bit and bridle ofT his willing little nags, and
replaced them with well-filled nose-bags, while we
unloaded our hampers, that were as commodiously
as they were generously stocked. The unpacking
of them went on under the skilful direction of
Veronica, who would no more have dreamed of
allowing us to lunch al fresco without spotless
table-cloth, neat napkins, and all the apparatus of
civilisation, than in her parlour at home. But she
allowed Lamia to select the spot ; and the choice,
though made from romantic rather than from


practical impulse, proved to be not wanting in
comfort. Under a carob-tree, the first Lamia
had ever seen, the cloth was spread ; and then
she scattered rather than arranged her lately
gathered flowers, with infinite taste. A short
distance away, as we looked under the olive-trees
across the ruddy clods and accidental wild-flowers,
were the innumerable dimples of the amiable sea ;
and, did we turn our heads, slopes of terraced
fertility mounted gradually toward deciduous
clusters of woodland, and peaks of more accen-
tuated pine.

' Will it be very unromantic,' asked Lamia,
' to seem hungry ? Because if it would, as I
should not like to hurt any one's feelings, I can
sate the edge of appetite with bare imagination of
a feast, or, at most, with the unsubstantial pageant
of a mandarin orange.'

Veronica's reply was to cut some solid slices of
galantine of fowl, and to tell me to do the same
to one of those long rolls of crisp crust which
contrast so favourably with the semi-barbarous
baker's bread of our own beloved island. The
Poet, as of right, withdrew the tow from the
withy-bound flask of ruby wine, saying to me, and
to me only, as he did so, ' Siccis omnia nam dura


deus proposuit' It was our first open-air meal
under the southern sky ; and even Veronica, who,
as we all know, is rather on the side of indoor
festivity at home, could not protest that, in the
shelter Lamia had chosen for us, it was a touch
too cold for the pleasant and perfectly safe satis-
faction of our appetite.

' Is it always like this ? ' asked Lamia.

' Far from it, 1 I was going to reply ; but the
Poet anticipated me.

' Yes, always, Lamia ! always, always, always !
No one deserves to travel who anticipates any-
thing less agreeable than what he is enjoying at
the moment. Should it ever be different, let us
hope we shall know how to meet it. Meanwhile,
let us think as little as possible of to-morrow.'

' We can all see,' said Lamia, ' that such was
the spirit in which you travelled in your youth.
In your rhythmical record of the journey which
you took — not with Veronica, I believe, — along
this meandering coast-line, there is never a stanza,
a line, even a word, to indicate that the myrtle
ever ceases to bloom, or that the sun ever forgets
to shine.'

'You forget there is a terrific storm,' said
Veronica, whose acquaintance with the Poet's


verse, though less frequently exhibited, is, I must
confess, a good deal more intimate than Lamia's.

' Yes,' said Lamia, quite undisconcerted, ' only
to disappear with the return of dawn, and never
to be heard of again ; and thenceforth we are told
of nothing but genial airs, temperate sunshine,
almond-trees and peach-trees ablow, and oleanders
reddening into bloom.'

' You must remember,' said the Poet, ' that the
journey was made in the very flush and heyday of
the Spring ; and, if I have in any way exaggerated
what I then beheld, was it not the proper ex-
aggeration of rapture ? It is the instinctive
function of Art to reject, to select, and rightly
to magnify what remains. Looking back, I seem
to have omitted much, but to have exaggerated
nothing. Have you not observed that the first
impression we receive of scenery, as, indeed, of
people likewise, is the one that abides with us?
Many times since, I have beheld this tract betwixt
mountain and main veiled in mist, dimmed by
dust, even powdered with snow. But I always
think of it as I saw it first.'

' Do you often think of Olympia ? ' Lamia took
courage to ask, seeing the Poet so effusive. ' Was
she very lovely ? '


' She was lovely beyond words,' he answered,
readily responding to her humour. ' In fact, my
recollection of her is that she was as perfect as the
scenery in which she moved and had her being.'

' How nice ! I wish I had been Olympia, except
that she seems to have had rather a scanty allow-
ance of luggage for a longish journey, and no
appetite to speak of, seeing that, if I remember
rightly, she was quite satisfied with a missal and
some dried figs. I fear, after all, I should have
been but ill equipped for the character.'

Veronica, to show her displeasure at Lamia's
levity with things deemed sacred, had risen from
the olive bole on which she was sitting, and moved
towards the sea. Lamia, quick to take a hint,
went on, but with an altered voice :

' Tell me, dear Poet, what took you first to

* An irrepressible longing. It was first aroused in
me, I think, by reading, in tender years, Arnold's
History of Romt\ whereby I believed as firmly in
the Palatine she-wolf, the leap into the Curtian
Gulf, the Rape of the Sabine Women, and the
nocturnal interviews of Numa and Egeria, as in
any of the immediate facts of one's schoolboy
existence ; nor did the iconoclastic criticism, with


which one perforce made acquaintance later on,
in any degree shake that cherished credulity.
What romantic prose originated, was consummated
by yet more wizard verse. To no mediasval
scholar was Virgil more of a magician than to me,
and not even Dante would say of him with more
truth —

Tu se 1 lo mio maestro e i! mio autore.

I kept repeating, long before I could translate
them into action, the words addressed by iEneas
to his immortal Mother, when she appeared to him
in the guise of a huntress in the Carthaginian forest,
I tali am quaero patriam ; for already it seemed to
be a second fatherland. And when, at length, the
moment arrived that the longing could be in-
dulged, the only words I could find to express my
joy were —

Tendimus i?i Latium, sedcs ubi fata quietas

' Stop, stop,' said Lamia, ' I wish I understood
Latin, but you know I don't.'

' Then,' he replied, 'do as I did before I first
went to Italy, being then much of the age that you
are now. I bought the best Italian grammar I


could find, and worked at it as a schoolboy is made
to work at the elementary rules of a dead language.
I studied the dictionary in like manner ; so that,
when I went to the new land, I might not long
feel quite a stranger there.'

' The very thing I have been doing, until my
brain seems a repository for the various inflections
of the subjunctive mood ; and, as Veronica corrects
my pronunciation, I hope, by the time we reach
Latium, to be more or less understanded ot the
people. But please do not let us concern ourselves
with either my shortcomings or my accomplish-
ments ; but rather tell me, while I make you some
coffee in this windless atmosphere, how you first
went to Italy, and when.'

' It is a long story and will occupy some little

' And so will the making of coffee, if it is to be
made properly,' said Veronica, who had now
returned to us, and to whose superior powers
Lamia only too willingly surrendered that delicate

' One likes to think,' he began, ' that Heaven
interests itself in one's training ; and so I used
self- flatteringly to conceive that a special care
arranged the conditions under which one first


beheld the shore of Liguria. I had taken boat
at Marseilles direct for Leghorn ; and, in ordinary
circumstances, we should have passed some thirty-
six hours on the open sea, far from sight or sur-
mise of land. It was, therefore, through no in-
telligent design of one's own, but through the
sheer bounty of the gods, that the engine broke
down a few hours after we had left Marseilles, but
not so completely but that we could continue our
journey. The result was that we had to hug the
shore nearly the whole way. It was the September
equinox, and the moon was full ; so night and day
we gazed on that bewitching coast ; bay after bay,
town after town, village after village, mountain-
range after mountain-range, unfolding themselves
to my untravelled gaze. In the course of our
present journey, we shall pass ever and again
through gloomy arcades and narrow ways whose
unseemly aspect will probably shock Veronica and
perhaps please none of us. But distance, the
enchanter, presented them to me then as consisting
mainly of granite palaces and marble belfries ; and
in every fold of every hill nestled villages that
seemed built of porphyry, and wherefrom soared,
intermediaries between earth and heaven, many-
storied campanili, whose chimes, as they pealed for


Angelus or Ave Maria, we could sometimes
faintly hear. There was no cloud in the sky,
scarce a ripple on the water, nothing but sun-
light or moonlight in the air. Sleep would have
been a desecration of so ethereal a scene ; and
I well remember watching the rounded moon wax
paler and paler as the morning sun reddened up
over the wave, and then sink, as in despair of
rivalry, behind the hills.'

' O, I say, it's boiling ! ' said Lamia.

I hope everybody knows that, in making coffee,
that is exactly what it should not be allowed to
do ; and I fear Lamia had a malicious pleasure in
finding Veronica for once at fault. I cannot but
suppose that Veronica had heard the foregoing
story many times before, but she catches fire so
readily from any one's enthusiasm for Italy, that
she had almost allowed the coffee to do the same.
But she so deftly rescued it from hurt, that, un-
heeding of Lamia's exclamation, he went on :

' I saw, what we shall not see, many a form of
half-mysterious loveliness flit by me under flowing
veil down the steps of narrow streets in the
Ligurian Capital,— for we touched for a few hours
at Genoa, — and heard, what we shall not heat-,
jovial-looking monks vociferating Vespers in the


Baptistery at Pisa ; and then, Lamia, then ! I was
borne, I scarce know how, along Val d 1 Arno
through unending vineyard-avenues that seemed
to have dyed the leaves with the colour of their
purple fruit, and amongst which sun -bronzed
youths, who appeared to disport rather than to
toil, were singing love -songs to gaily- kirtled
maidens. The fawn - coloured bovi oscillated
homeward to, the wine-vat, dragging after them
the grape-piled carri with their wooden wheels ;
children and lizards, seemingly of kindred race,
twisted in and out among the workers ; and,
stately of stature and sober of mien, dark-haired
matrons stood outside their spacious but un-
luxurious homes, plaiting straw with rhythmically-
moving fingers that never seemed to tire. Then
came hills more rounded, softer declivities, a
gradual narrowing of the plain, a forest of domes,
belfries, and towers, and I was in Florence.'

; Why was your visit so brief?'

' You ask why. Can one give a reason for
anything one does in one's youth? Only I re-
member, as I reluctantly quitted it, I vowed to
return to it ere long.'

' And you kept your vow,' said Veronica.

' 1 remember,' said Lamia.


' You remember what ? ' I asked. ' You must
have been in your cradle.'

' Then I suppose,' she replied, ' I was extra-
ordinarily precocious.

' The sickle hath performed its work,

The storm-gusts sweep the aspens bare,
Careering clouds and shadows mirk
Cow the disheartened air.

'No swallow circles round the roof,

No chirp redeems the dripping shed ;
The very gables frown reproof,
" Why not already fled ? " '

4 Lamia is very unmerciful,' said the Poet, ' and

does not allow one to forget the sins of one's

youth. But it is quite true that, before the leaves

had fallen, one was again on one's way to Italy ;

not along this sybaritic coast, but through the

austere gorges, now green, now gray, of the

Simplon. When, having left the summit behind

us, we zigzagged downward, the mountains began

to wear a gentler aspect, the vegetation seemed

more ample and more unrestrained, the air more

soft, the sky farther off and more ethereal ; and

suddenly I caught sight of a huge granite cross,

on the outstretched arms of which was deeply cut

the word Italia ! I trembled with delight ; and,



from that hour to this, the word " Italy ' : has
never lost its magic. On we deviously descended,
past slopes of intermittent chestnut groves
whose leaves, fantastically faded, had not yet
fallen, till my driver exclaimed, " Eccolo !
Signore ! ' and there basked Baveno by the edge
of the lake in the setting sun, and the Borromean
Islands seemed rather floating in the air than rest-
ing on the water. It was a true Saint Luke's
summer, where all things seemed stationary in a
season of arrested change before the winter winds
should arise and everything pass away. I have
never again seen Nature in a mood of such abso-
lute abstraction and self-contemplation ; and she
communicated to one's spirit her own autumnal
detachment from the seasons that are feverish with
growth, and the seasons that are shaken by decay.'

The description of suspended animation in the
natural world seemed to infect us with a kindred
tranquillity, and for awhile there followed it a
sympathetic silence.

' I know,' said Lamia at length, ' your aversion
to the curiosity of the interviewer. But is it
permissible to ask if it might not be worth while
to record some such reminiscences as you have just
recited ; in a word, — do not be angry with me, — •


to do what so many other people have done, and
to write an autobiography ? '

' I have written it,' he said.

' And when shall you publish it ? '

' Dear Lamia, it is published already.'

' I do not understand,' she said, ' for certainly
it is unknown to me.'

* I fancy not,' he replied. ' Indeed, I gather
that you have paid me the compliment of reading
much of it more than once.'

As Lamia still seemed puzzled, Veronica broke
in with a slight touch of impatience :

' You are scarcely as intelligent as usual, Lamia.
Surely what he means you to understand is that a
man's works are his autobiography.'

' Exactly. But enough surely — perhaps some-
what too much — of that subject ; and our little
horses are ringing a carillon with their bells, as if

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Online LibraryAlfred AustinLamia's winter-quarters → online text (page 1 of 10)