Lisi Cecilia Cipriani.

A Tuscan childhood online

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this jargon we said approximately:
"Fraeulein von Fetzen, with her von, is a
goose. She has shamefully begged for a
relic and now she gets it. May it do her
the good she deserves."

Then we took some of my hair, singed
it, and sealed it on with sealing-wax which
we impressed with a seal we had most in-
geniously made for the purpose out of
hardened clay.

As soon as we had finished, we brought
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the relic triumphantly to Fraeulein von
Fetzen, telling her that we had got it out
of the family archives at the risk of our
lives almost, for it had been in the family
a thousand years; we recognized that
since we were Protestants, the relic would
be best in the hands of such a true mem-
ber of the nobility as herself, and we in-
trusted it to her, if she were willing to ful-
fil the necessary conditions.

The most important of these conditions
was, that for the first three weeks she had
this relic she should recite her beads be-
fore it at least three times a day. If she
did not, the greatest calamity would fall
upon her house, for it was on these condi-
tions only that the relic could ever change
hands, even in the same family.

We also told her that the relic itself
consisted of a lock of hair of Saint Law-
rence, which had been taken from him
when he was being roasted on the grid-
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MAMA'S RAVENS

iron, just before he asked to be turned
over, because one side was done, and that
the singeing proved the authenticity of the
relic.

Fraeulein von Fetzen accepted our
present with the greatest glee. Her con-
science was not in the least disturbed by
the fact that, according to our statement,
the relic had been taken from the family
archives without my parents' knowledge
and consent.

My mother found out about all this
much later, and was very indignant. I
myself by no means relate it as a joke.
We were very young, and this constitutes
our main excuse. It would have been
better for us to have grown up with a
superstitious belief in relics than to have
mocked the faith of others, no matter what
their weakness might be. I may add here
that in time a reaction against this very
levity, shown by our foreign instructors on

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religious subjects, set in, and that it al-
most led us back to the church of our
fathers.

Fraeulein von Fetzen left us after hav-
ing stayed with us many weeks. Like a
true raven, she flew away and never was
heard from again.



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MY POPOLO



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EXCEPT in summer at the Baths,
we had very little to do with other
children. When we went out walk-
ing we were expected not to stop and con-
verse with any one. Other children occa-
sionally called upon us with their parents,
and we would accompany our father and
mother when the call was returned. These
children scarcely entered into our life.
Some of them I have met, as far back as
I can remember, about once a year. We
called one another by our first names, and
said "thou," but the intercourse between
us was a formal one and ended there.

It was not until I was thirteen that I
made the acquaintance of a family of
children who became my intimate friends.
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The friendship established between us has
never been disturbed nor diminished. My
governess knew their governess, and it
was thus that we first met. There were
five girls and one boy, the oldest girl being
of my own age.

They were charming children, and even
under ordinary circumstances I should
have enjoyed being with them, but it so
happened that they took a great fancy to
me, and it soon grew to a boundless
admiration. They invested me with un-
hmited authority. Whatever I said was
law.

I have stated that I came in the middle
of my own family, and consequently did
not count for much. To find myself
looked up to, flattered, blindly obeyed,
was a most delicious experience, and, I
may add, one which did me an infinite
amount of good. No doubt the children
of Poggiopiano (Poggiopiano was their
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MY POPOLO

country-place) exaggerated my good
qualities, but I am sure that they drew out
the best in me, and that I showed to them
sides of my nature which nobody else has
known.

Their devotion to me was a source of
amusement to all the grown-ups in both
families, and this is not surprising. After
my first visit to their house, they tied a
little white ribbon to the chair I had sat
upon, and this chair was used by the chil-
dren in turns, and under no consideration
was any one else allowed to sit upon it.
This alone would have been enough to
make grown-up people smile. My father
nicknamed them my Popolo, thus graphi-
cally summing up the relation between a
ruler and a beloved people.

To my surprise and delight their mother

finally persuaded mine to let me visit at

Poggiopiano. I had never been allowed

to visit my own relatives even. Indeed,

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that very summer an invitation to visit
some cousins had been refused, my mother
saying that she would never let us go any-
where without her. The unexpectedness
of my mother's consent made my delight
all the greater.

Poggiopiano proved to be an earthly
paradise to me. My being a few months
older than Giulia, the oldest of the chil-
dren, put me, in age at least, at the head.
Besides, to be granted absolute power, to
have every whim obeyed, was really in-
toxicating. I admit that the greatest
charm of my visit at Poggiopiano lay in
this undisputed sovereignty, which, how-
ever, did not exclude a most devoted love
for my subjects, my Popolo.

But there were other attractions — ^long
walks which we took to the different peas-
ant houses, the permission to do anything
we liked and go anywhere we liked in the
whole house. At my home we had to stay
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MY POPOLO

in our own quarters. Indeed, my mother
did not allow us even to stay in our bed-
room unless we had something definite to
do that could only be done there. But at
Poggiopiano we could go into the cellars
and watch the men fill the barrels with
wine, or we could go up to the garret,
crack nuts, and eat all we wanted.

It would be impossible to enumerate all
the attractions of Poggiopiano, but one of
these, which appealed to me particularly,
was the haunted chapel. They had a
pretty chapel that was in disuse then, and
which popular tradition said was haunted
by an old priest.

Of course, we did boast of one or two
ghosts of our own at the villa at Leghorn,
but they were all rationally explained
away, and we were not expected to believe
in them. The children of Poggiopiano,
however, were really afraid of their ghost,
and thus endowed it with a charm of real-
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ity that my own slighted home ghosts
lacked.

The chapel was built next to the villa,
so that the facades of both stood in line,
and the two buildings were connected in-
ternally by long, narrow corridors. An
old priest had owned the place many
years ago, and it was his ghost that
haunted the chapel. A long room, for-
merly the vestry, had been turned into a
nursery. A small room next to it was
used as a dressing-room, and had a door
that opened into the dark corridor which
led to the wooden choir of the chapel.

To make a slight digression here: we
have in my family a reputation for bra-
very. I think that we live up to it naturally
and without effort, but I also think that for
the sake of living up to this reputation we
have often done things in sheer bravado
that we otherwise would have left undone.
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To use an expressive American colloquial-
ism, we never took a dare.

As soon as I found out that there was a
ghost at Poggiopiano, and that the little
ones were afraid of it, it became me to
show that, as a true Cipriani, I did not
know the meaning of fear. In order to
show off my hereditary courage, I threat-
ened at once to throw open the door of the
dressing-room and walk into the chapel.
This was fun in itself, for Luisina cried.
Baby and Paola caught hold of my feet
and held me fast, and I felt very brave
over it all.

But the haunted chapel had a genuine
attraction for me. Some time passed.
We had enjoyed talking ourselves into the
belief that there was a ghost around,
separated from the nursery only by the
long dark corridor that led to the upper
choir. The children of Poggiopiano en-
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joyed talking about the ghost far better
than having any immediate personal re-
lation with it. But that was not the case
with me. I was anxious to see whether
there was a ghost, and anxious to show
my superior courage in not being afraid to
see it.

Providence helped me, for I was al-
lowed to spend Christmas and the New
Year at Poggiopiano. It was then that I
made the rash boast that on New Year's
eve at midnight I should go all alone to
the haunted chapel. The details of the
enterprise I planned with some ingenuity.
On New Year's eve they sent us children
to bed about eleven, two hours later than
usual. We did go to bed, since we were
told to do so, but we were not told not to
get up again, and so we compromised with
our consciences and managed to undress,
to lie down in bed, and to dress again be-
fore midnight. It was I who insisted upon
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the details, telling the children I should
never allow them to disobey.

Our elders were laughing and talking
down-stairs, and it was merely a dramatic
instinct that made us glide around bare-
footed and on tiptoe, and whisper cau-
tiously. The children were all a little
scared. They were not, like myself, en-
dowed with a far-known, hereditary cour-
age, nor had they been brought up with a
fine and consistent scorn of the super-
natural.

We tiptoed carefully through the nur-
sery, and closed the door of the little ones'
dressing-room. Then we lighted the can-
dles we had brought with us, and opened
the door that led into the dark corridor.
As midnight struck, I walked in all alone.

My heart was beating a little ; my candle

blinded me, though I tried to shield it with

my hand; besides, the door open at one

end caused a draft, and the unsteady,

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rambling flame conjured up curious shad-
ows all around me, weird, moving circles
that made me afraid to step on the floor.
The cobwebs caught in my hair and in my
eyelashes, and I could not brush them
away, for I was using both hands to hold
and shield the candle from the draft that
might otherwise have put it out. My bare
feet were chilled by the damp cold of the
stone pavement, and I regretted having in-
sisted that shoes and stockings were not
permissible on a midnight ghost chase.
Perfect silence fell around me, and even
the sound of my own .steps would have
seemed a comfort. I wanted to turn
around and see if the children were still in
the dressing-room, but I was ashamed to
do so. Finally I reached the choir.

"Now, I can go back," I thought, giving
a sigh of relief, but my conscience com-
pelled me to walk to the very middle of
the chapel.

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Then I knocked my foot against one of
the benches, and bending down quickVto
touch the bruised spot, I dropped my can-
dle, which left me in the dark.

Suddenly a winged monster flew
against me and almost knocked me over.
I tried to call, but my voice failed me. Un-
consciously I put out my hand for the
candle, and found it on the bench before
me. I grasped it, though it was of no use.
Then I turned and tremblingly groped my
way back.

Soon I felt the stone pavement under
my feet, and knew that I was in the cor-
ridor. I took a long breath and felt safe.
Then I heard the fluttering of the wings
again, and a weird, hooting sound echoing
through the vaulted ceiling of the chapel.

I tried to run, but my knees were so
weak that in spite of myself my retreat re-
mained dignified. Finally, to my inex-
pressible relief, I saw that the door which
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opened into the dressing-room had been
left ajar, and that in the shaft of light I
could see the children's faces. Slowly,
painfully, for my foot was badly bruised,
I reached safety.

"Quick, quick, or we shall all be
caught," said Giulia. "They are coming
up now."

"How pale you look," said Daria.

"I have hurt my foot," I said, "but it
does not amount to much."

"You are awfully brave for a girl," said
Pietro. "Why the girls here waiting for
you were more afraid than you were."

I did not answer, but quickly withdrew
to my room.

The next morning the children, who be-
longed to the happy tribe of the unscolded,
told their mother all about it before I went
down to breakfast. When I came down
my sense of honor compelled me to con-
fess that there was a ghost, and that I had
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been much frightened. My faithful Po-
polo were readier to believe in the ghost
than in my fear.

Their mother undertook to investigate
the chapel with us in broad daylight. We
all went in together, and found that I had
walked into the nest of a big white owl.

My exploits as a ghost-hunter only
served to confirm the children's belief that
nobody could be braver than I was. They
exaggerated and even attributed to me
qualities that I did not have. Yet their
confidence in me was deserved, for I took
my position as Capopopolo (Englished:
''Leader of the People") very seriously,
and tried to live up conscientiously to all
that the children believed me to be.

This conscientiousness is now most
amusing for us to look back upon. Giulia,
the oldest of my Popolo, claims that now-
adays little girls never are as serious as
she and I were. I do not know if this is
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true, but I do think that we showed ex-
ceptional earnestness and eagerness in
doing what was best, without being held
to it by their mother, who was most
lenient.

I provided reading matter for them. At
my home we had a great number of chil-
dren's books in various languages. More-
over, I made a careful choice among the
novels which I thought it advisable to let
them read. In the case of novels that I
thought entertaining, but not altogether
suitable, I would, read selections to them
aloud, but would not allow them to get
hold of the book.

One of the books which they got to
know in this fashion was Ouida's "Under
Two Flags." When the omissions I had
made were hard to explain, I would simply
improvise. Young though I was I did not
approve of Ouida for children.

The children remembered "Under Two
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Flags" for a long time, and Giulia tells me
that she only got hold of an unexpurgated
version of it after she was married. The
same I did with some of the French books
I had been allowed to read myself, as
"Le Mome au Diable" by Sue, which
contains some most exciting passages. I
may say that my methods of expurgation
consisted, to a great extent, in cutting out
anything pertaining to love-making. I had
been surfeited with love-sick literature
myself, and I thought that novels might
turn children's heads and were not good
for them.

The willingness with which the children
allowed me to keep the books from them,
and read only what I thought best, illus-
trates our relations.

The influence for good that I tried to

exert on my Popolo did not end here. I

insisted upon improving amusements, and

I insisted upon maintaining control of the

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play hours even when. I was not with
them.

One of my ideas was to spend the morn-
ings in vacation writing stories. We would
take a volume of the Tauchnitz Edition,
copy a list of titles from the back, writing
each title on a separate folded paper, and
shake them up together in a basket. Then
we would draw, each of us three titles. On
one of these titles we had to write a story.
This for English days; that is, when I al-
lowed them to write in English. My Po-
polo had once had English governesses,
though they, too, had lately been turned
over to Germans, and we usually talked,
and always wrote, to each other in Eng-
lish. If, however, a story had to be written
in Italian, then we ourselves originated the
titles. It was only later that we wrote
stories even in German and French.
French particularly was a language my
Popolo did not enjoy.

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When I was away from them I insisted
that this amusement — it was an amuse-
ment for me — ^should be kept up. We got
copy-books, and by turns wrote composi-
tions in them, first English, then Italian,
then French, then German. We each
wrote one story a month. I have one of
these copy-books before me now, and I
wish I might quote from it. If children in
America could use the languages they
study (but do not learn) with such ease,
they would derive much pleasure and
much profit from it.

Even the children of Poggiopiano pre-
ferred English to French or German.
They spoke it with ease, though not quite
as correctly as we did, because they had
not had an English governess for some
time, they did not have as many books as
we did, and their mother did not speak
English. But this very year Daria won a
prize for a composition sent to "Little
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Folks" in England, and Paola wrote a
jingle which illustrates the facility with
which the Italian people assimilate a for-
eign tongue. The jingle runs:

"With much pleasure and satisfaction^

I 'm the daughter of Mrs. Jackson.

If you love me,

Put your head above me,

For with pleasure and satisfaction,

I 'm the daughter of Mrs. Jackson.
« « « «

Call me Margaret, call me Jenny,
Still for that I care no penny.
For with pleasure and satisfaction,
Tm the daughter of Mrs. Jackson."

Little Paola, who was then not more than
nine, merely did what the Italian minor
poets of the twelfth and thirteenth cen-
turies have done before her, she made a
foreign tongue completely her own.

The days I spent at Poggiopiano are
among the calmest and happiest of my
life. I go back there often, and for me the
place has never lost its charm.
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OTHER PLAYMATES



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XIV

OTHER PLAYMATES

WE had other playmates, but,
with one exception, none as
dear and near as the chil-
dren of Poggiopiano.

The one exception was a Piedmontese
child, a little older than myself, who was
my particular friend. Her father was an
officer in the army, and our friendship be-
gan one winter at Pisa, when her father
was stationed there. My childish recol-
lections of her are closely associated with
flowers, and with white cats. Indeed, it
was she who gave us the white cat that got
Alick into trouble. Her mother was pas-
sionately fond of flowers, and Fede's
house was always full of them.
What also made a vivid impression on
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me was that Fede's mother was a very
pretty woman, an English woman with
golden hair, who was wont to wear a close-
fitting dark green riding-habit. She filled
my expectations as to what a woman on
horseback ought to look like — in and out
of books. In my mind I contrasted her
tailor-made appearance with the flowing
veils and the tumbled locks of the heroines
in the Gartenlaube. Needless to say that
I preferred the English to what I consid-
ered the German style.

We were living in a rented apartment in
town that season, not in our own villa at
the Piagge. Fede was allowed to go out
walking with me, and on our walks we
would invariably go to the villa and pick
flowers. We would come back with our
arms full of tea-roses, for which Fede's
mother always gladly found a place. But
sometimes we would wait for her to pass
the villa on horseback, and then it was our

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greatest delight to bombard her with blos-
soms as she went by. Do you wonder
that she is associated with flowers in my
mind?

We had other playmates who were in-
teresting, but of whom I never grew fond.
They belonged to the same period, that
same winter at Pisa which stands out for
me more than any other, because I was
quite an important person in the house.
Baby and Lucy had died, Matthew was at
the naval academy, Totty was at school in
Germany, and only Alick, myself and
Ritchie were left at home.

My mother invited three English chil-
dren to share our lessons.

They were naughty, very naughty chil-
dren. Now we were naughty ourselves
occasionally, but it was not premeditated
naughtiness. We did not consciously and
purposely plan to do what was wrong.

I think that I really had an unlimited

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capacity for mischief, though it generally
was not allowed to come out. On two
occasions when I was with these English
children I realized that under proper cir-
cumstances I could not only have equaled
them, but excelled them, in mischief.

We had an Italian teacher at this time
who would give us the most unheard-of
subjects for compositions. One day she
assigned us an essay with the title "Meth-
ods in Education," and whose outline,
which we were expected to elaborate, ran
as follows:

"A mother goes out walking with her
little daughter, and the child notices that
the country road is all covered with dimin-
utive frogs. *Mama,' says the child, 'did
the frogs rain from Heaven?' Elaborate
the answer of the mother, making her ex-
plain with sternness, reproving the child,
or making her explain with kindness and
condescension, that the frogs did not rain

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OTHER PLAYMATES

from Heaven, but had come out of the
ditches on account of the recent rain."

The six of us had to write this composi-
tion — ^the oldest was not yet twelve, and
the youngest was eight.

It was I who suggested elaborating the
mother's method by making her use the
strongest language we knew of in some
essay, and the most gushing, sentimental
language in the other. Now, any normal
Tuscan child, consciously or unconsci-
ously knows an absolutely appalling num-
ber of cuss words, for the Tuscan people
rank as the most voluble and elaborate
swearers in the world. You will hear your
cabman swearing at his horse, your gar-
dener swearing at a cabbage, a passer-by
swearing at the weather, the government,
or even nothing at all, and always with an
infinite variety of words. You soon learn
the system. First of all you can take a
number of saints' names, and vary your
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swearing by connecting them with the
names of different animals, principally a
pig and a dog, or you can elaborate your
list by bringing in relatives, each name of
a relative being accompanied with a curse.
Besides, there is a fleeting fashion in
swearing, which brings wondrous expres-
sions upon the Tuscans' lips. One of
these tljat raged the winter our essay was
written was: **God in Heaven with no
clothes on and his hands in his pockets."
You see that when you resort to this kind
of thing, variety becomes infinite.

Now, we were strictly forbidden to use
any words that were not correct, but they
could not prevent our hearing them.

I told Alick my plan, and he, being older,
and having more to do with the men,
knew, of course, twenty times as many
bad words as I did. We duly elaborated
the mother's speech, and after having de-
scribed the mother, the child, and the walk
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they took, having stated that they saw a
number of frogs, we let the child ask the
question: "Did the frogs rain from
Heaven?" Then the mother answered
with a full page of consecutive swear
words. This we remarked was a stern way
of bringing up children.

This style of essay was adopted only by
us older children. Ritchie, and Ethel, the
youngest of our English friends, had to
pay the price of youth, and were not al-
lowed to use one single bad word. We
compelled them to make an elaborate list
of such terms as little darling, dearest


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