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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Front Yard By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 14002

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The pink villa was indeed a delicious nest, to use the Englishman's phrase. It crowned one of the perpendicular cliffs of Sorrento, its rosy fa?ade overlooking what is perhaps the most beautiful expanse of water in the world-the Bay of Naples. The broad terrace stretched from the drawing room windows to the verge of the precipice; leaning against its strong stone parapet, with one's elbows comfortably supported on the flat top (which supported also several battered goddesses of marble), enjoying the shade of a lemon-tree set in a great vase of tawny terra-cotta-leaning thus, one could let one's idle gaze drop straight down into the deep blue water below, or turn it to the white line of Naples opposite, shining under castled heights, to Vesuvius with its plume of smoke, or to beautiful dark Ischia rising from the waves in the west, guarding the entrance to the sea. On each side, close at hand, the cliffs of Sorrento stretched away, tipped with their villas, with their crowded orange and lemon groves. Each villa had its private stairway leading to the beach below; strange dark passages, for the most part cut in the solid rock, winding down close to the face of the cliff, so that every now and then a little rock-window can let in a gleam of light to keep up the spirits of those who are descending. For every one does descend: to sit and read among the rocks; to bathe from the bathing-house on the fringe of beach; to embark for a row to the grottos or a sail to Capri.

SORRENTO

The afternoon which followed the first visit of Philip Dallas to the pink villa found him there a second time; again he was on the terrace with Fanny. The plunging sea-birds of the terrace's mosaic floor were partially covered by a large Persian rug, and it was upon this rich surface that the easy-chairs were assembled, and also the low tea-table, which was of a construction so solid that no one could possibly knock it over. A keen observer had once said that that table was in itself a sufficient indication that Fanny's house was furnished to attract masculine, not feminine, visitors (a remark which was perfectly true).

"You are the sun of a system of masculine planets, Fanny," said Dallas. "After long years, that is how I find you."

"Oh, Philip-we who live so quietly!"

"So is the sun quiet, I suppose; I have never heard that he howled. Mr. Gordon-Gray, Mark Ferguson, Pierre de Vernueil, Horace Bartholomew, unknown Americans. Do they come to see Eva or you?"

"They come to see the view-as you do; to sit in the shade and talk. I give very good dinners too," Fanny added, with simplicity.

"O romance! good dinners on the Bay of Naples!"

"Well, you may laugh; but nothing draws men of a certain age-of a certain kind, I mean; the most satisfactory men, in short-nothing draws them so surely as a good dinner delicately served," announced Fanny, with decision. "Please go and ring for the tea."

"I don't wonder that they all hang about you," remarked Dallas as he came back, his eyes turning from the view to his hostess in her easy-chair. "Your villa is admirable, and you yourself, as you sit there, are the personification of comfort, the personification, too, of gentle, sweet, undemonstrative affectionateness. Do you know that, Fanny?"

Fanny, with a very pink blush, busied herself in arranging the table for the coming cups.

Dallas smiled inwardly. "She thinks I am in love with her because I said that about affectionateness," he thought. "Oh, the fatuity of women!"

At this moment Eva came out, and presently appeared Mr. Gordon-Gray and Mark Ferguson. A little later came Horace Bartholomew. The tea had been brought; Eva handed the cups. Dallas, looking at her, was again struck by something in the manner and bearing of Fanny's daughter. Or rather he was not struck by it; it was an impression that made itself felt by degrees, as it had done the day before-a slow discovery that the girl was unusual.

She was tall, dressed very simply in white. Her thick smooth flaxen hair was braided in two long flat tresses behind, which were doubled and gathered up with a ribbon, so that they only reached her shoulders. This school-girl coiffure became her young face well. Yes, it was a very young face. Yet it was a serious face too. "Our American girls are often serious, and when they are brought up under the foreign system it really makes them too quiet," thought Dallas. Eva had a pair of large gray eyes under dark lashes: these eyes were thoughtful; sometimes they were dull. Her smooth complexion was rather brown. The oval of her face was perfect. Though her dress was so child-like, her figure was womanly; the poise of her head was noble, her step light and free. Nothing could be more unlike the dimpled, smiling mother than was this tall, serious daughter who followed in her train. Dallas tried to recall Edward Churchill (Edward Murray Churchill), but could not; he had only seen him once. "He must have been an obstinate sort of fellow," he said to himself. The idea had come to him suddenly from something in Eva's expression. Yet it was a sweet expression; the curve of the lips was sweet.

"She isn't such a very pretty girl, after all," he reflected, summing her up finally before he dismissed her. "Fanny is a clever woman to have made it appear that she is."

At this moment Eva, having finished her duties as cup-bearer, walked across the terrace and stood by the parapet, outlined against the light.

"By Jove she's beautiful!" thought Dallas.

Fanny's father had not liked Edward Churchill; he had therefore left his money tied up in such a way that neither Churchill nor any children whom he might have should be much benefited by it; Fanny herself, though she had a comfortable income for life, could not dispose of it. This accounted for the very small sum belonging to Eva: she had only the few hundreds that came to her from her father.

But she had been brought up as though she had many thousands; studiedly quiet as her life had been, studiedly simple as her attire always was, in every other respect her existence had been arranged as though a large fortune certainly awaited her. This had been the mother's idea; she had been sure from the beginning that a large fortune did await her daughter. It now appeared that she had been right.

"I don't know what you thought of me for bringing a fellow-countryman down upon you yesterday in that unceremonious way, Mrs. Churchill," Bartholomew was saying. "But I wanted to do something for him-I met him at the top of your lane by accident; it was an impulse."

"Oh, I'm sure-any friend of yours-" said Fanny, looking into the teapot.

Bartholomew glanced round the little circle on the rug, with an expression of dry humor in his brown eyes. "You didn't any of you like him-I see that," he said.

There was a moment's silence.

"Well, he is rather a commonplace individual, isn't he?" said Dallas, unconsciously assuming the leadership of this purely

feminine household.

"I don't know what you mean by commonplace; but yes, I do, coming from you, Dallas. Rod has never been abroad in his life until now; and he's a man with convictions."

"Oh, come, don't take that tone," said Mark Ferguson; "I've got convictions too; I'm as obstinate about them as an Englishman."

"What did your convictions tell you about Rod, then, may I ask?" pursued Bartholomew.

"I didn't have much conversation with him, you may remember; I thought he had plenty of intelligence. His clothes were-were a little peculiar, weren't they?"

"Made in Tampa, probably. And I've no doubt but that he took pains with them-wanted to have them appropriate."

"That is where he disappointed me," said Gordon-Gray-"that very appearance of having taken pains. When I learned that he came from that-that place in the States you have just named-a wild part of the country, is it not?-I thought he would be more-more interesting. But he might as well have come from Clerkenwell."

"You thought he would be more wild, you mean; trousers in his boots; long hair; knives."

All the Americans laughed.

"Yes. I dare say you cannot at all comprehend our penchant for that sort of thing," said the Englishman, composedly. "And-er-I am afraid there would be little use in attempting to explain it to you. But this Mr. Rod seemed to me painfully unconscious of his opportunities; he told me (when I asked) that there was plenty of game there-deer, and even bears and panthers-royal game; yet he never hunts."

"He never hunts, because he has something better to do," retorted Bartholomew.

"Ah, better?" murmured the Englishman, doubtfully.

Bartholomew got up and took a chair which was nearer Fanny. "No-no tea," he said, as she made a motion towards a cup; then, without further explaining his change of position, he gave her a little smile. Dallas, who caught this smile on the wing, learned from it unexpectedly that there was a closer intimacy between his hostess and Bartholomew than he had suspected. "Bartholomew!" he thought, contemptuously. "Gray-spectacles-stout." Then suddenly recollecting the increasing plumpness of his own person, he drew in his out-stretched legs, and determined, from that instant, to walk fifteen miles a day.

"Rod knows how to shoot, even though he doesn't hunt," said Bartholomew, addressing the Englishman. "I saw him once bring down a mad bull, who was charging directly upon an old man-the neatest sort of a hit."

"He himself being in a safe place meanwhile," said Dallas.

"On the contrary, he had to rush forward into an open field. If he had missed his aim by an eighth of an inch, the beast-a terrible creature-would have made an end of him."

"And the poor old man?" said Eva.

"He was saved, of course; he was a rather disreputable old darky. Another time Rod went out in a howling gale-the kind they have down there-to rescue two men whose boat had capsized in the bay. They were clinging to the bottom; no one else would stir; they said it was certain death; but Rod went out-he's a capital sailor-and got them in. I didn't see that myself, as I saw the bull episode; I was told about it."

"By Rod?" said Dallas.

"By one of the men he saved. As you've never been saved yourself, Dallas, you probably don't know how it feels."

"He seems to be a modern Chevalier Bayard, doesn't he?" said good-natured Mark Ferguson.

"He's modern, but no Bayard. He's a modern and a model pioneer-"

"Pioneers! oh, pioneers!" murmured Gordon-Gray, half chanting it.

None of the Americans recognized his quotation.

"He's the son of a Methodist minister," Bartholomew went on. "His father, a missionary, wandered down to Florida in the early days, and died there, leaving a sickly wife and seven children. You know the sort of man-a linen duster for a coat, prunella shoes, always smiling and hopeful-a great deal about 'Brethren.' Fortunately they could at least be warm in that climate, and fish were to be had for the catching; but I suspect it was a struggle for existence while the boys were small. David was the youngest; his five brothers, who had come up almost laborers, were determined to give this lad a chance if they could; together they managed to send him to school, and later to a forlorn little Methodist college somewhere in Georgia. David doesn't call it forlorn, mind you; he still thinks it an important institution. For nine years now-he is thirty-he has taken care of himself; he and a partner have cleared this large farm, and have already done well with it. Their hope is to put it all into sugar in time, and a Northern man with capital has advanced them the money for this Italian colonization scheme: it has been tried before in Florida, and has worked well. They have been very enterprising, David and his partner; they have a saw-mill running, and two school-houses already-one for whites, one for blacks. You ought to see the little darkies, with their wool twisted into twenty tails, going proudly in when the bell rings," he added, turning to Fanny.

"And the white children, do they go too?" said Eva.

"Yes, to their own school-house-lank girls, in immense sun-bonnets, stalking on long bare feet. He has got a brisk little Yankee school-mistress for them. In ten years more I declare he will have civilized that entire neighborhood."

"You are evidently the Northern man with capital," said Dallas.

"I don't care in the least for your sneers, Dallas; I'm not the Northern man, but I should like to be. If I admire Rod, with his constant driving action, his indomitable pluck, his simple but tremendous belief in the importance of what he has undertaken to do, that's my own affair. I do admire him just as he stands, clothes and all; I admire his creaking saw-mill; I admire his groaning dredge; I even admire his two hideously ugly new school-houses, set staring among the stumps."

"Tell me one thing, does he preach in the school-houses on Sundays and Friday evenings, say?" asked Ferguson. "Because if he does he will make no money, whatever else he may make. They never do if they preach."

"It's his father who was the minister, not he," said Bartholomew. "David never preached in his life; he wouldn't in the least know how. In fact, he's no talker at all; he says very little at any time; he's a doer-David is; he does things. I declare it used to make me sick of myself to see how much that fellow accomplished every day of his life down there, and thought nothing of it at all."

"And what were you doing 'down there,' besides making yourself sick, if I may ask?" said Ferguson.

"Oh, I went down for the hunting, of course. What else does one go to such a place for?"

"Tell me a little about that, if you don't mind," said the Englishman, interested for the first time.

"M. de Verneuil wants us all to go to the Deserto some day soon," said Fanny; "a lunch party. We shall be sure to enjoy it; M. de Verneuil's parties are always delightful."

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