<< 1 2 3

Penelope&apos;s Postscripts
Kate Wiggin

“Salemina,” said I, “here is an opportunity of a lifetime!  We ought to address these children in their native tongue.  It will be something to talk about in educational pow-wows.  They do not know that we are distinguished visitors, but we know it.  A female member of a School Board and the Honorary President of a Froebel Society owe a duty to their constituents.  You go in and tell them who and what I am and make a speech in French.  Then I’ll tell them who and what you are and make another speech.”

Salemina assumed a modest violet attitude, declined the honour absolutely, and intimated that there were persons who would prefer talking in a language they didn’t know rather than to remain sensibly silent.

However the plan struck me as being so fascinating that I went back alone, looked all ways to see if any one were coming, mounted the platform, cleared my throat, and addressed the awe-struck youngsters in the following words.  I will spare you the French, but you will perceive by the construction of the sentences, that I uttered only those sentiments possible in an early stage of language-study.

“My dear children,” I began, “I live many thousand miles across the ocean in America.  You do not know me and I do not know you, but I do know all about your good Pestalozzi and I love him.”

“Il est mort!” interpolated one offensive little girl in the front row.

Salemina tittered audibly in the corridor, and I crossed the room and closed the door.  I think the children expected me to put the key in my pocket and then murder them and stuff them into the stove.

“I know perfectly well that he is dead, my child,” I replied winningly,—“it is his life, his memory that I love.—And once upon a time, long ago, a great man named Friedrich Froebel came here to Yverdon and studied with your great Pestalozzi.  It was he who made kindergartens for little children, jardins des enfants, you know.  Some of your grand-mothers remember Froebel, I think?”

Hereupon two of the smaller chits shouted some sort of a negation which I did not in the least comprehend, but which from large American experience I took to be, “My grandmother doesn’t!”  “My grandmother doesn’t!”

Seeing that the others regarded me favourably, I continued, “It is because I love Pestalozzi and Froebel, that I came here to day to see your beautiful new monument.  I have just bought a photograph taken on that day last year when it was first uncovered.  It shows the flags and the decorations, the flowers and garlands, and ever so many children standing in the sunshine, dressed in white and singing hymns of praise.  You are all in the picture, I am sure!”

This was a happy stroke.  The children crowded about me and showed me where they were standing in the photograph, what they wore on the august occasion, how the bright sun made them squint, how a certain malheureuse Henriette couldn’t go to the festival because she was ill.

I could understand very little of their magpie chatter, but it was a proud moment.  Alone, unaided, a stranger in a strange land, I had gained the attention of children while speaking in a foreign tongue.  Oh, if I had only left the door open that Salemina might have witnessed this triumph!  But hearing steps in the distance, I said hastily, “Asseyez-vous, mes enfants, tout-de-suite!”  My tone was so authoritative that they obeyed instantly, and when the teacher entered it was as calm as the millennium.

We rambled through the village for another hour, dined at a quaint little inn, gave a last look at the monument, and left for Geneva at seven o’clock in the pleasant September twilight.  Arriving a trifle after ten, somewhat weary in body and slightly anxious in mind, I followed Salemina into the tiny cake-shop across the street from the station.  She returned the tumbler, and the man, who seemed to consider it an unexpected courtesy, thanked us volubly.  I held out my hand and reminded him timidly of the one franc fifty centimes.

He inquired what I meant.  I explained.  He laughed scornfully.  I remonstrated.  He asked me if I thought him an imbecile.  I answered no, and wished that I knew the French for several other terms nearer the truth, but equally offensive.  Then we retired, having done our part, as good Americans, to swell the French revenues, and that was the end of our day in Pestalozzi-town; not the end, however, of the lemonade glass episode, which was always a favourite story in Salemina’s repertory.

II

PENELOPE IN VENICE

This noble citie doth in a manner chalenge this at my hands, that I should describe her also as well as the other cities I saw in my journey, partly because she gave me most louing and kinde entertainment for the sweetest time (I must needes confesse) that euer I spent in my life; and partly for that she ministered vnto me more variety of remarkable and delicious objects than mine eyes euer suruayed in any citie before, or euer shall . . . the fairest Lady, yet the richest Paragon and Queene of Christendome.

    Coryat’s Crudities: 1611

I

    Venice, May 12
    Hotel Paolo Anafesto.

I have always wished that I might have discovered Venice for myself.  In the midst of our mad acquisition and frenzied dissemination of knowledge, these latter days, we miss how many fresh and exquisite sensations!  Had I a daughter, I should like to inform her mind on every other possible point and keep her in absolute ignorance of Venice.  Well do I realize that it would be impracticable, although no more so, after all, than Rousseau’s plan of educating Émile, which certainly obtained a wide hearing and considerable support in its time.  No, tempting as it would be, it would be difficult to carry out such a theory in these days of logic and common sense, and in some moment of weakness I might possibly succumb and tell her all about it, for fear that some stranger, whom she might meet at a ball, would have the pleasure of doing it first.

The next best woman-person in the world with whom to see Venice, barring the lovely non-existent daughter, is Salemina.

It is our first visit, but, alas! we are, nevertheless, much better informed than I could wish.  Salemina’s mind is particularly well furnished, but, luckily she cannot always remember the point wished for at the precise moment of need; so that, taking her all in all, she is nearly as agreeable as if she were ignorant.  Her knowledge never bulks heavily and insistently in the foreground or middle-distance, like that of Miss Celia Van Tyck, but remains as it should, in the haze of a melting and delicious perspective.  She has plenty of enthusiasms, too, and Miss Van Tyck has none.  Imagine our plight at being accidentally linked to that encyclopædic lady in Italy!  She is an old acquaintance of Salemina’s and joined us in Florence, where she had been staying for a month, waiting for her niece Kitty Schuyler,—Kitty Copley now,—who is in Spain with her husband.

Miss Van Tyck would be endurable in Sheffield, Glasgow, Lyons, Genoa, Kansas City, Pompeii, or Pittsburg, but she should never have blighted Venice with her presence.  She insisted, however, on accompanying us, and I can only hope that the climate and associations will have a relaxing effect on her habits of thought and speech.  When she was in Florence, she was so busy in “reading up” Verona and Padua that she had no time for the Uffizi Gallery.  In Verona and Padua she was absorbed in Hare’s “Venice,” vaccinating herself, so to speak, with information, that it might not steal upon, and infect her, unawares.  If there is anything that Miss Van abhors, it is knowing a thing without knowing that she knows it; while for me, the most charming knowledge is the sort that comes by unconscious absorption, like the free grace of God.

We intended to enter Venice in orthodox fashion, by moonlight, and began to consult about trains when we were in Milan.  The porter said that there was only one train between the eight and the twelve, and gave me a pamphlet on the subject, but Salemina objects to an early start, and Miss Van refuses to arrive anywhere after dusk, so it is fortunate that the distances are not great.

They have a curious way of reckoning time in Italy, for I found that the train leaving Milan at eight-thirty was scheduled to arrive at ten minutes past eighteen.

“You could never sit up until then, Miss Van,” I said; “but, on the other hand, if we leave later, to please Salemina, say at ten in the morning, we do not arrive until eight minutes before twenty-one!  I haven’t the faintest idea what time that will really be, but it sounds too late for three defenceless women—all of them unmarried—to be prowling about in a strange city.”

It proved on investigation, however, that twenty-one o’clock is only nine in Christian language (that is, one’s mother tongue), so we united in choosing that hour as being the most romantic possible, and there was a full yellow moon as we arrived in the railway station.  My heart beat high with joy and excitement, for I succeeded in establishing Miss Van with Salemina in one gondola, while I took all the luggage in another, ridding myself thus cleverly of the disenchanting influence of Miss Van’s company.

“Do come with us, Penelope,” she said, as we issued from the portico of the station and heard, instead of the usual cab-drivers’ pandemonium, only the soft lapping of waves against the marble steps—“Do come with us, Penelope, and let us enter ‘dangerous and sweet-charmed Venice’ together.  It does, indeed, look a ‘veritable sea-bird’s nest.’”

She had informed me before, in Milan, that Cassiodorus, Theodoric’s secretary, had thus styled Venice, but somehow her slightest remark is out of key.  I can always see it printed in small type in a footnote at the bottom of the page, and I always wish to skip it, as I do other footnotes, and annotations, and marginal notes and addenda.  If Miss Van’s mother had only thought of it, Addenda would have been a delightful Christian name for her, and much more appropriate than Celia.

If I should be asked on bended knees, if I should be reminded that every intelligent and sympathetic creature brings a pair of fresh eyes to the study of the beautiful, if it should be affirmed that the new note is as likely to be struck by the ’prentice as by the master hand, if I should be assured that my diary would never be read, I should still refuse to write my first impressions of Venice.  My best successes in life have been achieved by knowing what not to do, and I consider it the finest common sense to step modestly along in beaten paths, not stirring up, even there, any more dust than is necessary.  If my friends and acquaintances ever go to Venice, let them read their Ruskin, their Goethe, their Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth, their Rogers, Gautier, Michelet, their Symonds and Howells, not forgetting old “Coryat’s Crudities,” and be thankful I spared them mine.

It was the eve of Ascension Day, and a yellow May moon was hanging in the blue.  I wished with all my heart that it were a little matter of seven or eight hundred years earlier in the world’s history, for then the people would have been keeping vigil and making ready for that nuptial ceremony of Ascension-tide when the Doge married Venice to the sea.  Why can we not make pictures nowadays, as well as paint them?  We are banishing colour as fast as we can, clothing our buildings, our ships, ourselves, in black and white and sober hues, and if it were not for dear, gaudy Mother Nature, who never puts her palette away, but goes on painting her reds and greens and blues and yellows with the same lavish hand, we should have a sad and discreet universe indeed.

But so long as we have more or less stopped making pictures, is it not fortunate that the great ones of the olden time have been eternally fixed on the pages of the world’s history, there to glow and charm and burn for ever and a day?  To be able to recall those scenes of marvellous beauty so vividly that one lives through them again in fancy, and reflect, that since we have stopped being picturesque and fascinating, we have learned, on the whole, to behave much better, is as delightful a trend of thought as I can imagine, and it was mine as I floated toward the Piazza of San Marco in my gondola.

I could see the Doge descend the Giant’s Stairs, and issue from the gate of the Ducal Palace.  I could picture the great Bucentaur as it reached the open beyond the line of the tide.  I could see the white-mitred Patriarch walking from his convent on the now deserted isle of Sant’ Elena to the shore where his barge lay waiting to join the glittering procession.

And then there floated before my entranced vision the princely figure of the Doge taking the Pope-blessed ring, and, advancing to the little gallery behind his throne on the Bucentaur, raising it high, and dropping it into the sea.  I could almost hear the faint splash as it sank in the golden waves, and hear, too, the sonorous words of the old wedding ceremony: “Desponsamus te, Mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii!”

Then when the shouts of mirth and music had died away and the Bucentaur and its train had drifted back into the lagoon, the blue sea, new-wedded, slept through the night with the May moon on her breast and the silent stars for sentinels.

II

    La Giudecca, May 15,
    Casa Rosa.

Not for a moment have we regretted leaving our crowded, conventional hotel in Venice proper, for these rooms in a house on the Giudecca.  The very vision of Miss Celia Van Tyck sitting on a balcony surrounded by a group of friends from the various Boston suburbs, the vision of Miss Celia Van Tyck melting into delicious distance with every movement of our gondola, even this was sufficient for Salemina’s happiness and mine, had it been accompanied by no more tangible joys.

This island, hardly ten minutes by gondola from the Piazza of San Marco, was the summer resort of the Doges, you will remember, and there they built their pleasure-houses, with charming gardens at the back—gardens the confines of which stretched to the Laguna Viva.  Our Casa Rosa is one of the few old palazzi left, for many of them have been turned into granaries.

We should never have found this romantic dwelling by ourselves; the Little Genius brought us here.  The Little Genius is Miss Ecks, who draws, and paints, and carves, and models in clay, preaching and practising the brotherhood of man and the sisterhood of woman in the intervals; Miss Ecks, who is the custodian of all the talents and most of the virtues, and the invincible foe of sordid common sense and financial prosperity.  Miss Ecks met us by chance in the Piazza and breathlessly explained that she was searching for paying guests to be domiciled under the roof of Numero Sessanta, Giudecca.  She thought we should enjoy living there, or at least she did very much, and she had tried it for two years; but our enjoyment was not the special point in question.  The real reason and desire for our immediate removal was that the padrona might pay off a vexatious and encumbering mortgage which gave great anxiety to everybody concerned, besides interfering seriously with her own creative work.

“You must come this very day,” exclaimed Miss Ecks.  “The Madonna knows that we do not desire boarders, but you are amiable and considerate, as well as financially sound and kind, and will do admirably.  Padrona Angela is very unhappy, and I cannot model satisfactorily until the house is on a good paying basis and she is putting money in the bank toward the payment of the mortgage.  You can order your own meals, entertain as you like, and live precisely as if you were in your own home.”

The Little Genius is small, but powerful, with a style of oratory somewhat illogical, but always convincing at the moment.  There were a good many trifling objections to our leaving Miss Van Tyck and the hotel, but we scarcely remembered them until we and our luggage were skimming across the space of water that divides Venice from our own island.

We explored the cool, wide, fragrant spaces of the old casa, with its outer walls of faded, broken stucco, all harmonized to a pinkish yellow by the suns and winds of the bygone centuries.  We admired its lofty ceilings, its lovely carvings and frescoes, its decrepit but beautiful furniture, and then we mounted to the top, where the Little Genius has a sort of eagle’s eyrie, a floor to herself under the eaves, from the windows of which she sees the sunlight glimmering on the blue water by day, and the lights of her adored Venice glittering by night.  The walls are hung with fragments of marble and wax and stucco and clay; here a beautiful foot, or hand, or dimple-cleft chin; there an exquisitely ornate façade, a miniature campanile, or a model of some ancient palazzo or chiesa.

The little bedroom off at one side is draped in coarse white cotton, and is simple enough for a nun.  Not a suggestion there of the fripperies of a fine lady’s toilet, but, in their stead, heads of cherubs, wings of angels, slender bell-towers, friezes of acanthus leaves,—beauty of line and form everywhere, and not a hint of colour save in the riotous bunches of poppies and oleanders that lie on the broad window-seats or stand upright in great blue jars.

Here the Little Genius lives, like the hermit crab that she calls herself; here she dwells apart from kith and kin, her mind and heart and miracle-working hands taken captive by the charms of the siren city of the world.

When we had explored Casa Rosa from turret to foundation stone we went into the garden at the rear of the house—a garden of flowers and grape-vines, of vegetables and fruit-trees, of birds and bee-hives, a full acre of sweet summer sounds and odours, stretching to the lagoon, which sparkled and shimmered under the blue Italian skies.  The garden completed our subjugation, and here we stay until we are removed by force, or until the padrona’s mortgage is paid unto the last penny, when I feel that the Little Genius will hang a banner on the outer ramparts, a banner bearing the relentless inscription: “No paying guests allowed on these premises until further notice.”

Our domestics are unique and interesting.  Rosalia, the cook, is a graceful person with brown eyes, wavy hair, and long lashes, and when she is coaxing her charcoal fire with a primitive fan of cock’s feathers, her cheeks as pink as oleanders, the Little Genius leads us to the kitchen door and bids us gaze at her beauty.  We are suitably enthralled at the moment, but we suffer an inevitable reaction when the meal is served, and sometimes long for a plain cook.

Peppina is the second maid, and as arrant a coquette as lives in all Italy.  Her picture has been painted on more than one fisherman’s sail, for it is rumoured that she has been six times betrothed and she is still under twenty.  The unscrupulous little flirt rids herself of her suitors, after they become a weariness to her, by any means, fair or foul, and her capricious affections are seldom good for more than three months.  Her own loves have no deep roots, but she seems to have the power of arousing in others furious jealousy and rage and a very delirium of pleasure.  She remains light, gay, joyous, unconcerned, but she shakes her lovers as the Venetian thunderstorms shake the lagoons.  Not long ago she tired of her chosen swain, Beppo the gardener, and one morning the padrona’s ducks were found dead.  Peppina, her eyes dewy with crocodile tears, told the padrona that although the suspicion almost rent her faithful heart in twain, she must needs think Beppo the culprit.  The local detective, or police officer, came and searched the unfortunate Beppo’s humble room, and found no incriminating poison, but did discover a pound or two of contraband tobacco, whereupon he was marched off to court, fined eighty francs, and jilted by his perfidious lady-love, who speedily transferred her affections.  If she had been born in the right class and the right century, Peppina would have made an admirable and brilliant Borgia.


Вы ознакомились с фрагментом книги.
Приобретайте полный текст книги у нашего партнера:
Полная версия книги
всего 10 форматов
<< 1 2 3