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My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 20661

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Mamma's lunch was spoiled because, in pronouncing "campanile" for the first time, she rhymed it with the river Nile, and realized what she had done when some one else soon after inadvertently said it in the right way. She didn't get over this for a long time, so the landlord profited, and must have been pleased, as all the Italians at the table d'h?te took twice of everything. Those who were not officers were middle-aged men with fat smiles which made them look like what I call "drummers," and Sir Ralph wastes time in naming commercial travellers. He and Mr. Barrymore explained that, at all these quiet provincial hotels with their domed roofs and painted ceilings, their long tables and great flasks of wine hung in metal slings, more than half the customers come every day to eat steadily through cheap monthly subscriptions.

"They can live like fighting cocks for next to nothing," said Sir Ralph. "If The Riviera Sun ever suffers an eclipse, I shall probably end my days in a place like this, Pavia for choice, because then I can make my friends at home believe that I live here to worship the Certosa."

Now to make up for her slip about the campanile, Mamma began to talk about the Certosa as if it were an intimate friend of hers; but though she hurried to get out the word while Sir Ralph's pronunciation of it still echoed under the painted dome, her first syllable was shaped so much like a "Shirt" that I had to take a drink of water quickly. It is a funny thing, if people have no ear for music, and can't tell one tune from another, they don't seem to hear foreign words rightly, and so, when they speak, their pronunciation is like "Yankee Doodle" disguised as "God Save the King." It is that way with Mamma; but luckily for me, Papa had an Ear.

We had to pass through "Pavia of the Hundred Towers" after a look at the grand old Castello, and go out into Arcadian country again to reach the Certosa. Our way lay northward now instead of east, beside a canal bright as crystal, and blue as sapphire because it was a mirror for the sky. Then, we turned abruptly down a little side road, which looked as if it led nowhere in particular, and suddenly a wonderful thing loomed up before us.

I don't know much about churches, but there are some things which one is born knowing, I suppose; such as the difference between really great things and those that don't touch greatness. One wouldn't need to be told by a guide-book that the Certosa of Pavia is great-as great as anything ever made, perhaps. Even "little Beechy Kidder" felt that at first glance; and then-there was nothing to say. It was too beautiful to chatter about. But it did seem strange that so pure and lovely a building could have owed its existence to a crime. I had heard Mr. Barrymore telling Mamma that it was originally founded in thirteen hundred and something, by the first Duke of Milan with the view of taking off the attention of Heaven from a murder he had committed-quite in his own family-which got rid of his father-in-law, and all the father-in-law's sons and daughters at the same time. No wonder it took a whole Certosa to atone for it, with statues of the founder dotted about, presenting models of the church to the Virgin; or praying with clasped hands; or having his funeral procession in great pomp. But I didn't like his face; and judging from its expression, I shouldn't be surprised if he were glad the Certosa had been taken away from the monks to be made a national monument, so that more people could glorify him. It wasn't until I had seen a great many other things, however, that I made acquaintance with his Dukeship Gian Galeazzo Visconti (it is always easy to remember wicked peoples' names), for at first sight there was only the wonderful gateway, with a glimpse of the dazzling marble church, a splendid great dome, and some bewildering towers glittering in the sun.

Mr. Barrymore hired a youth to guard the automobile and the dog while we went in, strange figures for such a place, in our motoring get-up. I didn't know before what exquisite stuff terra-cotta could be, but had despised it in America as the thing cheap statuettes are made of. Now, when I saw it mellowed by centuries, combined with marble, and moulded into arches and cornices, and a thousand marvellous ornamentations, I made up my mind that I would never have a house of my own unless it could have terra-cotta window and door-frames, and chimneys, and everything else besides that could possibly be made of terra-cotta.

But the cloisters, great and small, were better than anything else; better than the fa?ade; better than the marble church, with all the lovely little side chapels; better than anything I ever saw; and I walked about alone, pleased with myself because, in spite of my ignorance, I had enough sense of appreciation to be happy. Still, I wasn't sorry when Sir Ralph left Mamma listening with Maida, to things Mr. Barrymore was saying about moulded brick and terra-cotta architecture in North Italy, to join me.

"Terry says there's something in the world more beautiful than this," he remarked.

"I suppose he's thinking of Maida," said I.

"Not at all. Probably, if you could see into his mind you'd discover that he's wishing you hadn't wandered away from his orations. The thing which he considers more beautiful is the cloister of Monreale, at Palermo, in Sicily. But, then, this isn't the part of Italy Terry loves best. He won't begin to shine till he gets to Verona; and even Verona he calls only a charming inn where the world's great travellers have left mementoes of their passage, rather than a true Italian town stamped with the divine genius of Italy. When he's at Venice, he'll be at home. You'll like Terry in Venice."

"The question is, will he like me in Venice?" I asked, looking out of the corner of my eye at the tall Chauffeulier in his leather-coat, showing a heavenly white marble doorway to Maida, and Mamma.

"Of course he will. You mustn't be discouraged by his manner. If only he thought you were poor!"

"Shall I intimate to him that Maida is very rich?"

"No, no. I wouldn't deceive him about that. Let well alone. All will come right in time."

"Meanwhile, I suppose I must put up with you?"

"If you can. Unless I bore you. Would you rather I left you alone?"

"No-o. There's just enough of you to fill an aching void," said I, pertly. But he didn't seem to mind at all, and was very kind in telling about frescoes and things, although he calls himself ignorant. He has forgotten the boast in his advertisement perhaps, or he's trying to live up to it as well as he can when his chauffeur isn't available.

We stopped so long at the Certosa that the sun had gone far down the west as we walked through the beautiful, strange gateway to the roadside resting-place of our car.

Where crowds come from in the country is as mysterious as where pins and hairpins go to; but anyhow, there was a wide ring of people round the automobile, in which our hired caretaker sat gazing condescendingly on the throng. When we arrived on the scene, with our hands full of scents made and bottled by the banished monks, quaint pottery, and photographs of frescoes, general interest was transferred to us, but only for a moment. Even Maida's beauty failed as an attraction beside the starting-handle of the car, when the Chauffeulier turned it.

"Don't you see many motors here?" asked Sir Ralph of our deposed guard, and he shook his head. "Not one a month," he said, "though they say that some of the rich men in Milan use them. I do not know where they go."

Almost as he spoke a big one shot by, heading for Alessandria and-who knows but for Cuneo? When we came to think, it was the first we had seen since Ventimiglia, though on the French side of the Riviera the things had been a pest to everybody-who hadn't one.

As we started, the sinking sun turned a million tiny clouds floating up from behind the world into rose-pink marabout feathers, which by-and-by were silvered round their curly edges by a wonderful light kindled somewhere in the east. It grew brighter and brighter as the rose-coloured plumes first took fire down at the western horizon, and then burned to ruddy ashes. When half the sky was silver up came floating a huge pearl, glistening white, and flattened out of the perfect round on one side, like two or three of the biggest pearls on Mamma's long rope.

Even in America I never saw the sunset-glow so quickly quenched by a white torrent of moonlight. But on this night it was not white; it was soft and creamy, like mother-of-pearl. And as the opal gleam of the sky darkened to deep amethyst the stars came out clear and sparkling and curiously distinct one from the other, like great hanging lamps of silver, diamond-crusted.

All the world was bathed in this creamy light, while the sky scintillated with jewels like the flashing of a spangled fan, as we drove into the outskirts of Milan.

It had been lucky for us that there was a moon, as we had a crumpled brass waffle in the place of our big lamp; but the effect of the town lights, orange-yellow mingling with the white radiance pouring down from the sky, was wonderful and mysterious on arched gateways, on dark fa?ades of tall buildings, on statues, on columns, on fountains. Coming in out of the country stillness, the noise and rush of the big city seemed appalling. Fierce electric trams dashed clanging and flashing in all directions, making a pandemonium worse than Chicago or the streets of Paris. Horses and carts darted across the glittering tracks under our noses, bicyclists spun between our car and lumbering hotel omnibuses, and hadn't an inch to spare. In the middle of one huge street was something that looked like a Roman ruin, with every shadow sharp as a point of jet in the confused blending of light. Brazen bells boomed, mellow chimes fluted, church clocks mingled their voices, each trying to tell the hour first; and to add to the bewildering effect of our entry, drivers and people on foot waved their arms, yelling wildly something I couldn't understand.

Mr. Barrymore understood, however, and only just in time to save an accident, for it seemed that we were on the wrong side of the road. Suddenly and arbitrarily it was the rule to keep

on the left side instead of the right, and the Chauffeulier shot across before a tram, approaching at the speed of a train, could run us down.

"That's the worst of this part of Italy," I heard him shout over the din to Maida. "Any town that chooses makes a different rule for itself and its suburbs, and then expects strangers to know by instinct just where and when it changes."

It was like being shot out of a catapult from the Inferno straight to Paradise, as Sir Ralph said, when suddenly we saved ourselves from the hurly-burly, flashing into a noble square with room for a thousand street-cars and as many automobiles to browse together in peace and harmony.

A mass of glimmering white towers and pinnacles, the Cathedral rose, a miracle of beauty in the flood of moonlight that turned grey into white, old marble into snow, and gave to each of the myriad carvings the lace-like delicacy of frost-work.

"I wanted you to see the Duomo first by moonlight," said Mr. Barrymore, after we had sat still, gazing up for some moments, with even the car motionless and silent. "To-morrow morning you can come again for the detail, and spend as much time as you like inside, for I hope it won't take us many hours to run to Bellagio; but you will never forget to-night's impression."

"I shall never forget anything that has happened, or that we've seen on this trip," Maida answered, in a voice that told me how much she felt her words. But if she had anything more to say the motor impolitely drowned it, and we were whirled away again via pandemonium, to quite a grand hotel.

The first person we met in a big, square hall full of wicker chairs and tables, was Prince Dalmar-Kalm, in evening dress, looking as calm as if he had never heard of an automobile. He flung agreeable smiles at Maida and me, but his real welcome was for his "chère Comtesse," and she was delighted, poor dear, to be made much of at the expense of two girls, one a beauty.

"I arrived over an hour ago," he said, "very dusty, a little tired, a good deal hungry; but, of course, I would not have dreamed of dining without you."

"Did you get in on the car, or on the cars, this time?" I asked.

"But certainly in the car," said he, reproachfully. "Joseph met me at Alessandria early in the afternoon, and once started, we went as the wind goes-a splendid pace, without a single breakdown. I passed your automobile at Pavia, and thought of joining you at the Certosa, where you no doubt were at the time; but I decided that it would be more satisfactory to keep on and greet you here. I knew you would take my advice, as you promised, Comtesse, and come to this hotel, so I ventured to have my place laid at your table and order a few extras which I thought you would like. Have pity, I beg, on a starving man, and make yourselves ready in twenty minutes."

"But Mr. Barrymore can't join us then," Maida objected to Mamma, in a low voice. "He has the car to look after before he can dress, and after the good day he has given us wouldn't it be ungrateful to begin without him?"

"My dear girl, when all's said and done, he is the chauffeur," replied Mamma, at her worst under His Highness's influence. "It would be a pretty thing if we were to keep the Prince waiting for him. You can come down later if you like."

"Very well, I will," said Maida, very pink as to her cheeks and bright as to her eyes. I didn't think she would dare keep her word, for fear Mr. Barrymore might believe she cared too much about him; but just because he's poor and she imagines he is snubbed, she will do anything. Everybody except the Chauffeulier had been at table for a quarter of an hour, and hors d'?uvres and soup, and fish, had given place to beef, when Maida came in, dressed in white, and looking beautiful. As she appeared at one door Mr. Barrymore appeared at another, and was just in time to pull out her chair instead of letting the waiter do it.

The Chauffeulier, seeing we had ploughed through half the menu, wouldn't have bothered with soup or fish, but Maida insisted on having both, piping hot too, though she never cares what she eats; so the belated one got as good a dinner as anybody. Whether he realized that Maida had waited for him I don't know, but he was so unusually talkative and full of fun that I longed to "vipe" somebody, feeling as I did that his cheerfulness was due to Maida's kindness. Unfortunately there was no excuse for viping; but I suddenly thought how I could throw a little cold water. "Have you noticed, Mr. Barrymore," I asked, "that my cousin Maida never wears anything except black, or grey, or white?"

He looked at her. "Yes, I have noticed," he said, with an expression in his eyes which added that he'd noticed everything concerning her. "But then," he went on, "I haven't had time to see her whole wardrobe."

"If you had, it would be the same," said I. "It's a pity, I think, for blue and pink and pale green, and a lot of other things would be so becoming. But she's got an idea into her head that because, when she goes back home a few months from now, she will enter that old con-"

"Beechy, please!" broke in Maida, her face almost as pink as an American Beauty rose.

"Well you are going to, aren't you?" I flew out at her. "Or have you changed your mind-already?"

"I think you are very unkind," she said, in a low voice, turning white instead of red, and Mr. Barrymore bit his lip, looking as if he would rather shake me than eat his dinner. Then all at once I was dreadfully sorry for hurting Maida, partly because Mr. Barrymore glared, partly because she is an angel; but I would have died in agony sooner than say so, or show that I cared, though I had such a lump in my throat I could scarcely swallow. Of course everybody thought I had turned sulky, for I shrugged my shoulders and pouted, and didn't speak another word. By and by I really did begin to sulk, because if one puts on a certain expression of face, after a while one finds thoughts that match it stealing into one's mind. I grew so cross with myself and the whole party, that when Mamma said she was tired and headachy, and would go to our sitting-room if Maida didn't object, I determined that whatever happened those two shouldn't have the satisfaction of a tête-à-tête.

Every one had finished except Maida and the Chauffeulier, who had only got as far as the chicken and salad stage; and when Mamma proposed going, a look came over the Prince's face which I translated to myself as, "Rien à faire ici." Since our talk in the garden at San Dalmazzo, he has given himself no more trouble for Maida or me; all is for Mamma, at least, when she is present; so I wasn't surprised when he said that he had several telegrams to send off, and would excuse himself.

"But about to-morrow," he exclaimed, pausing when he had risen. "Shall you stop to see the Cathedral, and something of Milan by daylight, before going on to the Lake of Como?"

"Oh, yes," Maida answered. "Mr. Barrymore says we shall have plenty of time."

"He is quite right," replied the Prince so graciously that I instantly asked myself what little game he was playing now. "It is not far from here to Bellagio, where you intend to stop. You will go, of course, by way of the Brianza?" (This to the Chauffeulier.)

"I suppose we must," answered Mr. Barrymore. "I don't know anything at first-hand about the road, but at the garage they tell me motors occasionally do it. The gradients are steep according to the route-book, but unless there's something worse than meets the eye there, our car will get through all right."

"I have already driven over the whole length of that road," said the Prince. "Not en automobile, but, no doubt, what a couple of horses can do, your twelve horse-power car can do better. As for me, I have been in Milan many a time, and its sights are an old story. I will therefore go on early to-morrow morning, leaving your party to follow; for I have acquaintances who live in a charming villa near Bellagio-the Duke and Duchess of Gravellotti-and I wish to ask them as soon as possible to call on the Countess."

Mamma was delighted at the prospect of receiving a call from a real, live Duke and Duchess, so she shed rays of gratitude upon the Prince, and trotted out both her dimples.

"Come, Beechy," she said. "We'll go now, as Maida doesn't mind."

"I haven't finished my nuts and raisins, and I want some of those marrons glacés afterwards," said I. "I'll stay and eat them, and chaperon Maida. I guess she needs it more than you, Mamma, though you're both an awful responsibility for me."

That sent Mamma away with a vexed rustle of three separate layers of silk. The Prince walked after her, just far enough behind not to step on her train (he isn't the kind of man who would ever tear a woman's dress, though he might pull her reputation to pieces), and Maida, Mr. Barrymore, Sir Ralph, and I were left together.

Both men had jumped up when Mamma rose, but they sat down again when she had turned her back, the Chauffeulier (presumably) to finish his dinner, Sir Ralph to keep me in countenance. But there was no more gaiety. My douche of cold water had quenched Mr. Barrymore's Irish spirits, and Maida was depressed. I was the "spoil-sport;" but I "stuck it out," as Sir Ralph would have said, to the bitter end.

When we all streamed into the big hall there sat Mamma in a corner with the Prince, instead of having gone up-stairs to nurse her headache. What was worse, she was letting the man teach her to smoke a cigarette in imitation of some Russian ladies in another corner. They were puffing away as calmly as they breathed, because it was the same thing with them; but Mamma was far from calm. She was flirting with all her might, and feeling tremendously pretty and popular.

She didn't see me until I had stalked up behind her. "Mamma!" I said, in a tone of freezing virtue. "Four years ago, you spanked me for that. And if Papa were here now, what would he do to you?"

She started as if a mouse had sprung at her-and Mamma is dreadfully afraid of little innocent mice. Then she began to explain and apologize as if she had been thirteen, and I-well, I'll say twenty-nine.

I foresee that I am going to have trouble with Mamma.



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