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Author of "A Minor Poet," " Reuben Sachs,'' etc.




Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010 with funding from
Duke University Libraries





A GREAT EVENT . . , . . I 7










AN ITALIAN BALL . . . . . 70










It was about a week after Christmas, and we — my
mother, my two sisters, and myself — were sitting, as
usual, in the parlour of the little house at Islington.
Tea was over, and Jenny had possession of the
table, where she was engaged in making a water-
colour sketch of still life by the light of the lamp,
whose rays fell effectively on her bent head with its
aureole of Titian-coloured hair — the delight of the
Slade school — and on her round, earnest young face
as she lifted it from time to time in contemplation
of her subject.

My mother had drawn her chair close to the fire,
for the night was very cold, and the fitful crimson
beams played about her worn, serene, and gentle face,
under its widow's cap, as she bent over the sewing in
her hands.

A hard fight with fortune had been my mother's


from the day when, a girl of eighteen, she had left
a comfortable home to marry my father for love.
Poverty and sickness — those two redoubtable dragons
—had stood ever in the path. Now, even the love
which had been by her side for so many years, and
helped to comfort them, had vanished into the un-
known. But I do not think she was unhappy. The
crown of a woman's life was hers ; her children rose
up and called her blest.

At her feet sat my eldest sister, Rosalind, entirely
absorbed in correcting a bundle of proof-sheets which
had arrived that morning from Temple Bar. Rosalind
was the genius of the family, a full-blown London B.A.,
who occasionally supplemented her earnings as coach
and lecturer by writing for the magazines. She had
been engaged, moreover, for the last year or two, to
a clever young journalist, Hubert Andrews by name,
and the lovers were beginning to look forward to a
speedy termination to their period of waiting.

I, Elsie Meredith, who was neither literary nor
artistic, neither picturesque like Jenny nor clever like
Rosalind, whose middle place in the family had
always struck me as a fit symbol of my own medio-
crity—I, alone of all these busy people, was sitting
idle. Lounging in the arm-chair which faced my


mother's, I twisted and retwisted, rolled and unrolled,
read and reread a letter which had arrived for me
that morning, and whose contents I had been engaged
in revolving in my mind throughout the day.

" Well, Elsie," said my mother at last, looking up
with a smile from her work, " have you come to any
decision, after all this hard thinking ? "

" I suppose it will be ' Yes,' " I answered rather
dolefully ; " Mrs. Gray seems to think it a quite
unusual opportunity." And I turned again to the
letter, which contained an offer of an engagement for
me as governess in the family of the Marchesa Brogi,
at Pisa.

"I should certainly say 'Go,'" put in Rosalind,
lifting her dark expressive face from her proofs ; " if it
were not for Hubert I should almost feel inclined to
go myself. You will gain all sorts of experience,
receive all sorts of new impressions. You are
shockingly ill-paid at Miss Cumberland's, and these
people offer a very fair salary. And if you don't like
it, it is always open to you to come back."

" We should all miss you very much, Elsie," added
my mother ; " but if it is for your good, why, there is
no more to be said."

" Oh, of course we should miss her horribly,"


cried Rosalind, in her impetuous fashion, gathering
together the scattered proof-sheets as she spoke;
" you mustn't think we want to get rid of you." And
the little thoughtful pucker between her straight brows
disappeared as she laid her hand with a smile on my
knee. I pressed the inky, characteristic fingers in my
own. I am neither literary nor artistic, as I said
before, but I have a little talent for being fond of

" I'm sure I don't know what I shall do without
you," put in Jenny, in her deliberate, serious way,
making round, grey eyes at me across the lamplight.
"It isn't that you are such a good critic, Elsie, but
you have a sort of feeling for art which helps one
more than you have any idea of."

I received very meekly this qualified compliment,
without revealing the humiliating fact that my feeling
for art had probably less to do with the matter than
my sympathy with the artist; then observed, "It
seems much waste, for me, of all of us, to be the
first to go to Italy."

" I would rather go to Paris," said Jenny, who
belonged, at this stage of her career, to a very
advanced school of aesthetics, and looked upon
Raphael as rather out of date. " If only some one


would buy my picture I would have a year at Julian's ;
it would be the making of me.''

" For heaven's sake, Jenny, don't take yourself so
seriously," cried Rosalind, rising and laying down her
proofs; "one day, perhaps, I shall come across an
art-student with a sense of humour — growing side by
side with a blue rose. Now, Elsie," she went on,
turning to me as Jenny, with a reproachful air cf
superior virtue, lifted up her paint-brush, and, shutting
one eye, returned in silence to her measurements —
"now, Elsie, let us have further details of this
proposed expedition of yours. How many little
Brogi shall you be required to teach ? "

" There is only one pupil, and she is eighteen," I
answered; "just three years younger than I."

" And you are to instruct her in all the 'ologies ? "

Rosalind had taken a chair at the table, and, her
head resting on her hand, was interrogating me in her
quick, eager, half-ironical fashion.

"No; Mrs. Grey only says English and music.
She says, too, that they are one of the principal
families of Pisa. And they live in a palace," I added,
with a certain satisfaction.

" It sounds quite too delightful and romantic ; if it
were not for Hubert, as I said before, I should insist


on going myself. Pisa, the Leaning Tower, Shelley —
a Marchesa in an old, ancestral palace ! " And
Rosalind's dark eyes shone as she spoke.

"Ruskin says that the Leaning Tower is the only
ugly one in Italy," said Jenny, not moving her eyes
from the Japanese pot, cleft orange, and coral neck-
lace which she was painting.

"But the cathedral is one of the most beautiful, and
the place is a mine of historical associations," an-
swered Rosalind, her ardour not in the least damped
by this piece of information.

As for me, I sat silent between these two enthu-
siasts with an abashed consciousness of the limitations
of my own subjective feminine nature. It was neither
the beauties or defects of Pisan architecture which at
present occupied my mind, nor even the historical
associations of the town. My thoughts dwelt solely,
it must be owned, on the probable character of the
human beings among whom I was to be thrown. But
then it was I who was going to Pisa, and not my sisters.

" Does Mrs. Grey know the Marchesa Brogi per-
sonally?" asked my mother, who also was disposed
to take the less abstract view of the matter.

" Oh, no, it is all arranged through the friend of a


" I don't like the idea of your going so far, alone
among strangers," sighed mother; "but, on the other
hand, a change is just what you want."

" What a pity Hubert is not here to-night — that
horrid premiere at the Lyceum ! We must lay the
plan before him to-morrow," struck in Rosalind, who,
hopeless blue-stocking as she was, consulted her
oracle with all the faith of a woman who barely knows
how to spell.

I went over to my mother and took the stool at
her feet which my sister had just vacated.

"It's going to be 'Yes,' mother; I have felt it all

" My dear, I won't be the one to keep you back.
But need you make up your mind so soon ? "

" Mrs. Grey says that the sooner I can leave the
better. They would like me to start in a week or
ten day?," I answered, suppressing as best I could all
signs of the feeling of desolation that came over me
at the sound of my own words.

" You will have to get clothes," cried Rosalind ;
" those little mouse-coloured garments of yours will
never do for ancestral palaces."

" Oh, with some new boots and an ulster — I'm
afraid I must have an ulster — I shall be quite set up."


" You would pay very well for good dressing,"
observed Jenny, contemplating me with her air of
impartial criticism. " You have a nice figure, and a
pretty head, and you know how to walk."

" ' Praise from Sir Hubert Stanley,' !' replied
Rosalind with some irony. " My dear Elsie, I have
seen it in your eyes — they are highly respectable eyes,
by the bye — I have seen it in your eyes from the first
moment the letter came, that you meant to go. It is
you quiet women who have all the courage, if you
will excuse a truism."

"Well, yes, perhaps I did feel like going from the

'■' And, now that is decided, let me tell you, Elsie,
that I perfectly hate the idea of losing you," cried
Rosalind with sudden abruptness ; then, changing
her tone, she went on — " for who knows how or when
we shall have you back again ? You will descend
upon that palazzo resplendent in the new boots and
the new ulster ; the combined radiance of those two
adornments will be too much for some Italian Mr.
Rochester who, of course, will be lurking about the
damask-hung corridors with their painted ceilings.
Jane Eyre will be retained as a fixture, and her native
land shall know her no more."


'' You forget that Jane Eyre would have some voice
in the matter. And I have always considered Mr.
Rochester the most unpleasant person that ever a
woman made herself miserable over," I answered
calmly enough, for I was accustomed to these little
excursions into the realms of fancy on the part of my

"I think there's a little stone, Elsie, where the heart
ought to be," and Rosalind, bending forward, poked
her finger, with unscientific vagueness, at the left side
of my waist.

" ' Men have died and worms have eaten them, but
not for love,' " I quoted, while there flashed across
my mind a vision of Rosalind sobbing helplessly on
the floor a month before Hubert proposed to her.

" Men ; it doesn't say anything about women,"
answered Rosalind, thoughtfully flying off, as usual,
at a tangent.

" Is it woman's mission to die of a broken heart? ''
I could not resist saying, for there had been some
very confidential passages between us, once upon a
time. " The headache is too noble for my sex ; you
think the heartache would sound pleasanter."

" Elsie talking women's rights ! " cried Jenny, look-
ing up astonished from her work.


" Yes ; the effects of a daring and adventurous
enterprise are beginning to tell upon her in advance."

" We have wandered a long way from Pisa," I
said ; " but that is the worst of engaged people. What-
ever the conversation is, they manage to turn it into
sentimental channels."

" I sentimental ! " cried Rosalind, opening wide
her eyes ; "I, who unite in my own person the charms
of Cornelia Blimber and Mrs. Jellaby, to be accused
of sentiment ! "

I lay awake that night on my little iron bed long
after Rosalind was sleeping the sleep of happy labour.
I was a coward at heart, though I had contrived to
show a brave front to my little world.

At the thought of that coming plunge into the un-
known, my spirit grew frozen within me, and I began
to wish that the fateful letter from Mrs. Grey had
never been written.



About ten days after the conversation recorded in the
last chapter, I was driving down to Victoria station
in a four-wheel cab, wearing the new ulster, the new
boots, and holding on my knee a brand-new travelling-
bag. It was a colourless London morning, neither
hot nor cold, but as I looked out with rather dim eyes
through the dirty windows, I experienced no pleasure
at the thought of exchanging for Italian skies this
dear, familiar greyness. At my side sat my mother,
silent and pale. Now that we two were alone to-
gether — my busy sisters had been at work some hours
ago — we had abandoned the rather strained and feverish
gaiety which had prevailed that morning at breakfast.
" Now, Elsie, keep warm at night ; don't forget
to eat plenty of Brand's essence of beef — it's the
brown parcel, not the white one — and write directly
you arrive."



Between us we had succeeded in taking my ticket
and registering the luggage, and now my mother stood
at the door of the carriage, exchanging with me those
last farewells which always seem so much too long
and so much too short.

It must be owned, this journey of mine bore to us
both the aspect of a great event. We had always
been poor, most of our friends were poor, and we
were not familiarized with the easy modern notions of
travel, which make nothing of a visit to the North
Pole, or a little trip to China by way of Peru. And
as the train steamed out at last from the station my
heart sank suddenly within me, and I could scarcely
see the black-clothed familiar figure on the platform,
for the tears which sprang to my eyes blinded me.

My first new experience was not a pleasant one, and
as I lay moaning with sickness in a second-class cabin,
I wondered how I or any one else could ever have
complained of anything while we stood on terra firma.
All past worries and sorrows faded momentarily into
nothingness before this present all- engulfing evil. It
seemed an age before we reached Calais, where, limp,
bewildered, and miserable, I was jostled into a crowded
second-class carriage en route for Basle. The train
jolted and shook, and I grew more and more unhappy,


mentally and physically, with every minute. My
fellow-passengers,' a sorry, battered-looking assortment
of women, produced large untempting supplies of
food from their travelling-bags, and fell to with good
appetite. I myself, after some hesitation, sought
consolation in the little tin of Brand's essence ; after
which, squeezed in between the window and a per-
fectly unclassifiable specimen of Englishwoman, I fell

When I awoke it was broad daylight, and the train
was gliding slowly into the station at Basle.

I was stiff, cramped, and dishevelled, but yesterday's
depression had given place to a new, delicious feeling
of excitement. The porters hurrying to and fro, and
shouting in their guttural Swiss-German, the people
standing on the platform, the unfamiliar advertise-
ments and announcements posted and painted about
the station, all appeared to me objects of surpassing
interest. The glamour of strangeness lay over all.
A keen exhilarating morning breeze blew from the
mountains, and as I stepped on to the platform it
seemed as if I trod on air. With a feeling of ad-
venture, which I firmly believe Columbus himself
could never have experienced more keenly, I made
my way into the crowded refreshment-room, and


ordered breakfast. I was very hungry, and thought
that I had never tasted anything better than the
coffee and rolls, the shavings of white butter, and the
adulterated honey in its litttle glass pot. As I sat there
contentedly I found it difficult to realize that less than
twenty-four hours separated me from the familiar life
at Islington. It seemed incredible that so short a
space of time had sufficed to land me on this strange
sea of new experiences, into this dream-like, dis-
organized life, where night was scarcely divided from
day, and the common incident of a morning meal
could induce, of itself, a dozen new sensations. The
rest of that day was unmixed delight. I scarcely
moved my eyes from the window as the train sped on
through the St. Gothard pass into Italy. What a
wondrous panorama unrolled itself before me !

First, the mysterious, silent world of mountains, all
black and white, like a photograph, with here and
there the still, green waters of a mighty lake ; the
gentler scenes — trees, meadows, villages ; last of all,
the wide, blue waters of the Italian lakes, with their
fringe of purple hills, and the little white villas clustered
round them, and the red, red sunset reflected on their

The train was late, and I missed the express at


Genoa, passing several desolate hours in the great
deserted station.. It was not till eleven o'clock the
next morning that a tired, dishevelled, and decidedly
dirty young woman found herself standing on the
platform at Pisa, her travelling rug trailing ignomini-
ously behind her as she held out her luggage check in
dumb entreaty to a succession of unresponsive porters.

The pleasant excitement of yesterday had faded,
and I was conscious of being exceedingly tired and
rather forlorn. Here was no exhilarating mountain
air, but a damp breeze, at once chilly and enervating,
made me shiver where I stood.

I succeeded at last, in spite of a complete absence
of Italian, in conveying myself and my luggage into
a fly, and in directing the driver to the Palazzo Brogi.
As we jolted along slowly enough, I looked out,
expecting every minute to seen the Leaning Tower ;
but I saw only tall, grey streets, narrow and often
without sidewalks, in which a sparse but picturesque
population was moving to and fro. But I was roused,
tired as I was, to considerable interest as we crossed
the bridge, and my eye took in the full sweep of the
river, with the noble curve of palaces along its bank,
the distant mountains, beautiful in the sunshine, and
the clear and delicate light which lay over all.


I had not long, however, to observe these things,
for in another minute the drosky had stopped before
a great square house in grey stone, with massive iron
scrolls guarding the lower windows, and the driver,
coming to the door, announced that this was the
Palazzo Brogi.

My heart sank as I dismounted, and going up the
steps, pulled timidly at the bell. The great door was
standing open, and I could see beyond into a gloomy
and cavernous vista of corridors.

No one answered the bell, but just as I was about
to pull for the second time a gentleman, dressed in a
grey morning suit a r anglais, strolled out inquiringly
into the passage. He was rather stout, of middle
height, with black hair parted in the middle, and a
pale, good-looking face. The fact that no one had
answered the bell seemed neither to disconcert nor
surprise him ; he called out a few words in Italian,
and, advancing towards me, bowed with charming

" You are Miss Meredith," he said, speaking in
English, slowly, with difficulty, but in the softest voice
in the world ; " my mother did not expect you by the
early train." Here his English seemed to break down
suddenly, and he looked at me a moment with his dark


and gentle eyes. There was something reassuring in his
serious, simple dignity of manner ; I forgot my fears,
forgot also the fact that I was as black as a coal, and
had lost nearly all my hair-pins, and said, composedly,
" I missed the express from Genoa. The train across
the St. Gothard was late."

At this point there emerged from the shadowy
region at the back a servant in livery, who very de-
liberately, and without explanation of his tardiness,
proceeded to help the driver in carrying my box into
the hall.

The gentleman bowed himself away, and in another
moment I was following the servant up a vast and
interminable flight of stone stairs.

The vaulted roof rose high above us, half lost to
sight in shadow; everywhere were glimpses of galleries
and corridors, and over everything hung that inde-
scribable atmosphere of chill stuffiness which I have
since learned to connect with Italian palaces.

Anything less homelike, less suggestive of a place
where ordinary human beings carried on the daily,
pleasant avocations of life, it would be impossible to
conceive. A stifling sensation rose in my throat as we
passed through a folding glass-door, across a dim
corridor, into a large room, where my guide left me


with a remark which of course I did not understand.
With a sense of unutterable relief I perceived the room
to be empty, and I sat down on a yellow damask sofa,
feeling an ignominious desire to cry. The shutters
were closed before the great windows, but through the
gloom I could see that the place was furnished very
stiffly with yellow damask furniture, while enormous
and elaborate chests and writing-tables filled up the
corners. A big chandelier shrouded in yellow muslin
hung from the ceiling, which rose to a great height,
and was painted in fresco. There was no fire, and I
looked at the empty gilt stove, which had neither bars
nor fire-irons, with a shiver.

It was not long before an inner door was thrown
open to admit two ladies, who came towards me with
greetings in French. The Marchesa Brogi was a small,
vivacious, dried-up woman of middle age, with an
evident sense of her own dignity, looking very cold
and carrying a little muff in her hands.

She curtseyed slightly as we shook hands, then
motioned me to a seat beside her on the sofa. "This
is my daughter Bianca," she said, turning to the girl
who had followed her into the room.

I looked anxiously at my pupil, whose aspect was
not altogether reassuring. She was a tall, pale, high-


shouldered young person, elaborately dressed, with a
figure so artificially bolstered up that only by a great
stretch of imagination could one realize that she was
probably built on average anatomical lines. Her hair,
dressed on the top of her head and struck through
with tortoiseshell combs, produced by its unnatural
neatness the same effect of unreality. She was de-
cidedly plain withal, and her manners struck me as
being inferior to those of her mother and brother.
She took up her seat at some little distance from the
sofa, and whenever I glanced in her direction, I saw
a pair of sharp eyes fixed on my face, with something
of the unsparing criticism of a hostile child in their

I began to be terribly conscious of my disordered
appearance — I am not one of those people who can
afford to affect the tempestuous petticoat — and grew
more and more bewildered in my efforts to follow the
little Marchesa through the mazes of her fluent but
curiously accentuated French.

It was with a feeling of relief that I saw one of the
inner doors open, and a stout, good-tempered looking
lady, in a loose morning jacket, come smiling into the
room. She shook hands with me cordially, and taking
a chair opposite the sofa, began to nod and smile in


the most reassuring fashion. She spoke no English
and very little French, but was determined that so
slight an obstacle should not stand in the way of
pressing her goodwill towards me.

I began to like this fat, silly lady, who showed her
gums so unbecomingly when she smiled, and to
wonder at her position in the household.

The door opened yet again, and in came my first
acquaintance, the gentleman in the grey suit.

I was growing more and more confused with each
fresh arrival, and dimly wondered how long it would
be before I fell off the hard yellow sofa from sheer
weariness. The strange faces surged before me, an
indistinguishable mass ; the strange voices reached me,
meaningless and incoherent, through a thick veil.

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