MoboReader> Literature > My Friend the Chauffeur


My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 40981

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

What becomes of the beautiful army of days marching away from us into the past? The wonderful days, each one differing from all the others: some shining in our memory, in glory of purple and gold, that we saw only as they passed, with the setting of the sun; some smiling back at us, in their pale spring dress of green and rose; some weeping in grey; but all moving at the same pace along the same road? The strange days that have given us everything they had to give, and yet have taken from us little pieces of our souls. Where do the days go? There must be some splendid world where, when they have passed down to the end of the long road, they all live together like queens, waited upon by those black slaves, the nights that have followed them like their shadows, holding up their robes.

I've had this thought in my mind often since I have been flashing across Europe in an automobile, grudging each day that slipped from me and would not stay a moment longer because I loved it. I wish I knew the way to the land where the days that have passed live; for when those that are to come seem cold to me, I would like to go and pay the old ones a visit. How well I would know their faces, and how glad I would be to see them again in their own world!

Well, perhaps, even though I can never find the way there, I can see the days' portraits painted in rows in the picture gallery of a house I own. It isn't a very big house yet, but at least one new room is being built onto it every year, and lately it has grown faster than ever before, though the architecture has improved. Fancy my being a householder! But I am, and so is everybody. We all have the House of our Past, of which we alone have a key, and whenever we wish, we can steal softly, secretly in, by dim passages, to enter rooms sealed to the whole world except ourselves.

I have been making the picture gallery in mine, since I left America; but the pictures I care for most have been put up since I began motoring.

I suppose some very rich natures can be rich without travel, for they are born with caskets already full of jewels; but ordinary folk have empty caskets if they keep them shut up always in one safe, and I begin to see that mine were but poor things. I keep them wide open now, and every day, every hour, a beautiful new pearl or diamond drops in.

It seems strange to remember how reluctant I was to come away. I thought there could be nothing more beautiful, more satisfying to eyes and heart, than my home. The white, colonial house set back from the broad Hudson River among locust trees and tall, rustling maples; the sloping lawn, with the beds of geranium and verbena; the garden with its dear, old-fashioned flowers-holly-hocks, sweet-williams, bleeding-hearts, grass pinks, and yellow roses; the grey-green hills across the water; that picture stood to me for all that was ideal on earth. And then, the Sisters, with their soft ways and soft voices, their white robes and pale blue, floating veils; how their gracious figures blended with and accentuated the peaceful charm of the scene, shut away from the storms of this world throughout their lives!

I was partly right, for of its kind there could be nothing more beautiful than that picture, but my mistake was in the narrow-minded wish to let one suffice. I rejoice now in every new one I have hung up, and shall rejoice all the more when I am back again myself-just one of those white figures that flit across the old canvas.

Yes, I shall be one of those figures, of course. The Mother has always told me it was my true vocation; that peace and leisure for reflection and concentration of mind were the greatest earthly blessings a woman could have. Ever since, as a very small girl, I longed for the day when I should be allowed to wear one of those pretty, trailing, white cashmere dresses and long, pale blue veils, I have looked forward to joining the Sisterhood of good women who alone have ever given me love and the protection of home.

Nothing has happened to change my intentions, and they are not changed. Only, I'm not homesick any more, as I used to be in the feverish Paris days, or even on the Riviera, when we did very little but rush back and forth between Monte Carlo and Cap Martin, with Prince Dalmar-Kalm and his friends.

I shall go home and carry out the plans I've had for all these years, but-I shall live-live-live-every single minute till the time comes for my good-bye to the world


I should have liked to stay a month at Bellagio (with the wonderful garden of Serbelloni to explore from end to end), instead of the two days that we did stop; still, the moment our start was arranged, I was perfectly happy at the thought of being in the car again.

There was a discussion as to how we should begin the journey to Lecco and Desenzano, where we were to sleep one night, for our difficulty lay in the fact that there's but one road on which you can drive away from the wooded, wedge-like promontory which Bellagio pushes out into the lake; the steep, narrow road up to Civenna and down again to Canzo and Asso, by which we had come. As our car had done the climb and descent so well, Mr. Barrymore wanted to do it again, perhaps with a wicked desire to force the Prince into accompanying us or seeming timid about the capabilities of his automobile. But when Aunt Kathryn discovered how easy the alternative was (simply to put the car on a steamer as far as Varenna, then running along a good road from there southward to Lecco), she said that Mr. Barrymore's way would be tempting Providence, with whose designs, I must say she appears to have an intimate acquaintance. Heaven had spared us the first time, she argued, but now if we deliberately flew in its face, it would certainly not be considerate on a second occasion.

I was ready so much earlier on the last morning than Aunt Kathryn or Beechy, that I ordered coffee and rolls for myself alone on the terrace; and they had just appeared when Mr. Barrymore came out. He was going presently to see to the car, so naturally we had breakfast together, with an addition of some exquisite wild strawberries, gleaming like cabouchon rubies under a froth of whipped cream. It was only eight o'clock, when we finished, and he said there would be time for one last stroll through the divinest garden in Italy, if I cared for it. Of course I did care, so we walked together up the rose-bordered path from the sweet-smelling flower-zone to the pine-belt that culminates in the pirates' castle. While we stood looking down over the three arms of the lake in their glittering blue sleeves, a voice spoke behind us: "Ah, Miss Destrey, I've found you at last. Your cousin asked me to look for you and bring you back as soon as possible. You are urgently wanted for something, though what was not confided to me."

The Prince used to be troublesome when he first attached himself to our party. If ever he happened to meet me in the big hall or the garden of the hotel at Cap Martin, when neither Aunt Kathryn nor Beechy was with me, he always made some pretext to talk and pay me stupid compliments, though he would flee if my relations came in sight. After the trip began, however, his manner was suddenly different, and he showed no more desire for my society than I for his; therefore I was surprised by an equally sudden change this morning. It was hardly to be defined in words, but it was very noticeable. Even his way of looking at me was not the same. At Cap Martin it used to be rather bold, as if I were the kind of person who ought to be flattered by any attention from a Prince Dalmar-Kalm. Later, if he glanced at me at all, it was with an odd expression, as if he wished me to regret something, I really couldn't imagine what. But now there was a sort of reverence in his gaze and manner, as if I were a queen and he were one of my courtiers. As I'm not a queen, and wouldn't care to have him for a courtier if I were, I wasn't pleased when he attempted to keep at my side going down by the narrow path up which Mr. Barrymore and I had walked together. He didn't precisely thrust Mr. Barrymore out of the way, but seemed to take it for granted, as it were by right of his rank, that it was for him, not the others to walk beside me.

I resented this, for to my mind it is horribly caddish for a person to snub another not his equal in fortune; and as Mr. Barrymore never pushes himself forward when people behave as if he were their inferior, I determined to show unmistakably which man I valued more. Consequently, when the Prince persisted in keeping at my shoulder, I turned and talked over it to Mr. Barrymore following behind. But on the terrace level with the hotel he had to leave us, for the automobile was to be shipped on board a cargo-boat that sailed for Varenna some time before ours.

"Why are you always unkind to me? Have I been so unfortunate as to vex you in any way?" asked the Prince, when we were alone.

"I am neither kind nor unkind," I replied in a practical, dry sort of tone. "I am going in now to see why they want me."

"Please don't be in such a hurry," said the Prince. "Perhaps I made Miss Beechy's message too urgent, for I had seen you with the chauffeur, and I could not bear that you should be alone with him."

"It is stupid to speak of Mr. Barrymore as the chauffeur," I exclaimed in a rage. "And it's not your affair Prince, to concern yourself with my actions."

With that I darted into the long corridor that opens from the terrace, and left him furiously tugging at his moustache.

"Did you send the Prince to call me in, Beechy?" I asked, after I had tapped at her door.

"I happened to see the Prince and have a little talk with him in the garden a few minutes ago," said she, "and I told him if he saw you he might say we'd be glad if you'd come. Mamma's in such a stew finishing her packing, and it would be nice if you'd help shut the dressing-bag."

Aunt Kathryn hadn't been herself, it seemed to me, during our two days at Bellagio. This morning she had a headache, and though I'd hoped that she would walk down to the boat with the Prince, she decided to take the hotel omnibus, so I was pestered with him once more. Beechy and Sir Ralph were having an argument of some sort (in which I heard that funny nickname "the Chauffeulier" occur several times), and as Mr. Barrymore had gone ahead with the car and our luggage, the Prince kept with me all the way through the terraced garden, then down the quaint street of steps past the bright-coloured silk-shops, to the crowded little quay. I should have thought that after my last words he would have avoided me, but apparently he hadn't understood that he was being snubbed. He even put himself out to be nice to the black dog from Airole, which is my shadow now, and detests the Prince as openly as he secretly detests it.

It was scarcely half an hour's sail to Varenna, and ten minutes after landing there, we were in the car, bowling smoothly along a charming road close by the side of Lecco, the eastern arm of the triple lake of Como.

For a time we ran opposite the promontory of Bellagio, with the white crescent of the Villa Serbelloni conspicuous on the darkly wooded hillside. Near us was an electric railway which burrowed into tunnels, as did our own road now and then, to save itself from extinction in a wall of rock. As we went on, we found the scenery of Lecco more wild and rugged than that of Como with its many villas, each one of which might have been Claude Melnotte's. Villages were sparsely scattered on the sides of high, sheer mountains which reared their bared shoulders up to a sky of pure ultramarine, but Lecco itself was big and not picturesque, taking an air of up-to-date importance from the railway station which connects this magic land with the rest of Italy.

"I shouldn't care to stop in this town," said Beechy, when Mr. Barrymore slowed down before an imposing glass-fronted hotel with gorgeous ornamentations of iron and a wonderful gateway. "After what we've come from, Lecco does look unromantic and prosaic, though I daresay this hotel is nice and will give us a good lunch."

"Nevertheless it's the Promessi Sposi country," answered Mr. Barrymore.

"What's that?" asked Beechy and Aunt Kathryn together. But I knew; for in the garret at home there's an old, old copy of "The Betrothed," which is Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi in English, and I found and read it when I was a small girl. It was very long, and perhaps I should find it a little dull now though I hope not, for I loved it then, reading in delicious secrecy and stealth, because the Sisterhood doesn't allow youthful pupils to batten on love stories, no matter how old-fashioned. I hadn't thought of the book for years; but evidently its story had been lying all this time carefully put away in a parcel, gathering dust on some forgotten shelf in my brain, for down it tumbled at the mention of the name. As Mr. Barrymore explained to Aunt Kathryn that this was the country of I Promessi Sposi because the scenes of Manzoni's romance had been laid in the neighbourhood, I could see as plainly as if they lay before my eyes the quaint woodcuts representing the beautiful heroine, Lucia, her lover, Renzo, and the wicked Prince Innominato.

Nevertheless I took some credit to myself for remembering the old book so well, and fancied that there weren't many other travellers nowadays who would have it. But pride usually goes before a fall, as hard-hearted nurses tell vain little girls who have come to grief in their prettiest dresses; and at lunch it appeared that the humblest, most youthful waiter at Lecco knew more about the classic romance of the country than I did. Indeed, not a character in the book that wasn't well represented in a picture on the wall or a painted post-card, and all seemed at least as real to the people of Lecco as any of their modern fellow-citizens.

The landlord was so shocked at the idea of our going on without driving a few kilometres to Acquate, the village where Renzo and Lucia had lived, and visiting the wayside shrine where Don Roderigo accosted Lucia, that Aunt Kathryn was fired with a desire to go, though the Prince (who had come the same way we had) would have dissuaded her by saying there was nothing worth seeing. "I believe you don't approve of stories about wicked Princes like Innominato," said Beechy, "and that's why you don't want us to go. You're afraid we'll get suspicious if we know too much about them." After that speech the Prince didn't object any more, and even went with us in his car, when we had rounded off our lunch with the Robiolo cheese of the country.

It was a short drive to Lucia's village; we could have walked in less than an hour, but that wouldn't have pleased Aunt Kathryn. Appropriately, we passed a statue of Manzoni on the way-a delightful Manzoni seated comfortably on a monument (with sculptured medallions from scenes in his books) almost within sight of the road to Acquate, and quite within sight of Monte Resegno, where the castle of wicked Innominato still stands. Then no sooner had we turned into the narrow road leading up to the little mountain hamlet than our intentions became the property of every passer-by, every peasant, every worker from the wire factories.

"I Promessi Sposi," they would say to each other in a matter-of-course way, with an accompanying nod that settled our destination without a loophole of doubt.

In Acquate itself, a tiny but picturesque old village (draped with wistaria from end to end, as if it were en fête), everything was reminiscent and commemorative of the romance that had made its fame. Here was Via Cristoforo; there Via Renzo; while naturally Via Lucia led us up to the ancient grey osteria where the virtuous heroine was born and lived. We went in, of course, and Sir Ralph ordered red wine of the country, to give us an excuse to sit and stare at the coloured lithographs and statuettes of the lovers, and to peep into the really beautiful old kitchen with the ruddy gleams of copper in its dusky shadows, its bright bits of painted china, its pretty window and huge fireplace.

On a shelf close by the fire sat a cat, and I attempted to stroke it, for it looked old enough and important enough to have belonged to Lucia herself. But I might have known that it would not suffer my caresses, for it's nearly always so with foreign cats and dogs, I find. The lack of confidence in their own attractions which they show is as pathetic as that of a neglected wife; they never seem to think of themselves as pets.

Aunt Kathryn would persist in talking of Innominato as "Abominato" (which was after all more appropriate), and the generous display of Lucia's charms in the pictures caused her basely to doubt that most virtuous maiden's genuine merit. "If the girl hadn't worn such dresses, they wouldn't have painted her in them," she argued. "If she did wear them, she was a minx who got no more than she might have expected, prancing about lonely mountain roads in such shameless things. And I don't want a piece of wood from the shutter of her bedroom to take away with me. I should be mortified to tell any ladies in Denver what it was; and what's the good of carting souvenirs of your travels around with you, if you can't tell people about them?"

We got back to our lakeside hotel sooner than we had thought, and the landlord prayed us to see one more of Lecco's great sights. "It is not as if I asked you to go out of your way to look at some fine old ruin or a beautiful view," he pleaded. "You have seen many such on your journey, and you will see many more; but this thing to which I would send you is unique. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world; and to go will take you five minutes."

This excited Aunt Kathryn's curiosity, but when she heard that "it" was only a wonderful model of the cathedral at Milan, exact in every smallest detail and made by one man, she thought that she would seize the opportunity of lying down while the others went, and be fresh for our start, in an hour's time.

The idea of a model in wood of such a masterpiece as the Milan Cathedral didn't particularly recommend itself to me; but when we had arrived at a curiosity shop, and been ushered into a huge inner room, I suddenly changed my mind, for what I saw there was wonderful-as wonderful in its way as the great Cathedral itself.

It was the father of the man who showed us the model, and owned the shop, who had made the miniature duomo. His name was Giacomo Mattarelli, and he was an extraordinary genius, worthy of a tomb in the Cathedral to the worship of whose beauty he devoted twenty years of his life and sacrificed those which remained.

The story of his self-appointed task struck me as being as marvellous as the task's result, which stood there in the dim room, perfect in proportion and delicately wrought as ivory carved by Chinese experts. I don't know what the others thought, but the tale as told by the artist's son was for me full of pathos and beautiful sentiment.

The man had been a cabinet-maker by trade, but he had money and could gratify his craving for art. The glory of the Milan Cathedral, seen once, became an obsession for him, and he went again and again. At last the idea grew in his mind to express his homage in a perfect copy of the great church which, as he said, "held his heart." There was no train between Milan and Lecco in his day (1840), and he used to walk all those miles to make drawings of the Cathedral. At first he meant to do the work in iron, but iron was too heavy; then he began casting plates in copper, but they were hollow behind, and he could not get the effect he wanted, so after several wasted months he began again with olive wood. Often he would work all night; and no trouble was too much for his inexhaustible patience. Each statue, each gargoyle was copied, first in a drawing, then with the carving tools, and no hand but that of the artist ever touched the work. At the end of twenty-two years it was completed; not a detail missing inside or out; and then when all was done the modeller went blind.

Now his son had lighted up the model for us to see, and I was almost aghast at the thought of the incredible labour it had meant-literally a labour of love, for the artist had given his eyes and his best years to his adoration of the beautiful. And the who

le thing seemed the more of a marvel when I remembered how Mr. Barrymore had called Milan Cathedral the most highly ornamented building in the world. Nowhere else, he said, existed a church so smothered with carving. Every point, every niche has its statue. There, in the model, one could find each one. Through magnifying glasses the little carved faces (hardly larger, some of them, than a pin's head) looked at one with the same expression as the original, and not a mistake had been made in a fold of drapery. Each sculptured capital, each column, each decorative altar of the interior had been carved with loving fidelity. All that, in the vast Cathedral had taken centuries and many generations of men to plan and finish, this one infinitely patient man had copied in miniature in twenty-two years. It would have been worth visiting the town to see the model alone, even if we had turned miles out of our path.

To go from there to Desenzano by way of Bergamo and Brescia was to go from lake to lake-Lecco to Garda; and the road was beautiful. Castles and ancient monasteries had throned themselves on hills to look down on little villages cringing at their august feet. Along the horizon stretched a serrated line of pure white mountains, sharply chiselled in marble, while a thick carpet of wild flowers, blue and gold, had been cut apart to let our road pass through. It was a biscuit-coloured road, smooth as uncut velvet, and fringed on either side with a white spray of heavenly-fragrant acacia, like our locust-trees at home. Rustic fences and low hedges defining rich green meadows, were inter-laced with wild roses, pink and white, and plaited with pale gold honeysuckle, a magnet for armies of flitting butterflies. Every big farmhouse, every tiny cottage was curtained with wistaria and heavy-headed roses. Wagons passed us laden with new-mown hay and crimson sorrel; and we had one odd adventure, which might have been dangerous, but was only poetic.

A horse drawing some kind of vehicle, piled high with fragrant clover, took it into his head just as were side by side, that it was his duty to punish his mechanical rival for existing. Calculating his distance nicely, he gave a bound, flung the cart against our car, and upset half his load of clover on our heads. What he did afterwards we had no means of knowing, for we were temporarily extinguished.

It was the strangest sensation I ever had, being suddenly overwhelmed by a soft, yet heavy wave of something that was like a ton of perfumed feathers.

Instantly the car stopped, for Mr. Barrymore, buried as he was, didn't forget to put on the brakes. Then I felt that he was excavating me, and almost before I knew what had swallowed me up I was emerging from green and pink billows of clover, laughing, gasping, half-dazed, but wholly delighted. "You're not drowned?" he asked quickly.

"No, I can swim," I answered, and set myself promptly to help him and Sir Ralph rescue Beechy and Aunt Kathryn, which was rather like looking for needles in a haystack.

By the time we had all got our breath and wiped the clover out of our eyes, horse and cart had vanished comet-like into the horizon, leaving a green trail behind. We bailed out the car and started gaily on once more, but presently our speed slackened. Without a sigh the automobile stopped precisely in the middle of the road, and gently, though firmly, refused to go on again.

When Mr. Barrymore saw that this was more than a passing whim, he called Sir Ralph to the rescue, Beechy and I jumped out, and the car was pushed to one side. Then, with all of us standing round, he proceeded to search for the mischief. Apparently nothing was wrong. The engine was cool; the pump generously inclined, and fat yellow fireflies flew out of the sparking-plugs when they were tested. Then Mr. Barrymore remembered the cause of the Prince's first accident, and looked at the carburetter; but there was not so much as a speck of dust. For a while he continued to poke, and prod, and hammer, Sir Ralph offering humorous advice, and pretending to be sure that, if his housekeeper Félicité were on the spot, the car would start for her in an instant. The mystery only thickened, however, and to make matters worse the Prince, who had been proudly spinning on ahead, came tearing back to see what had happened. Though he pretended to be sympathetic, he was visibly overjoyed at our misfortune, which turned the tables upon us for once, and his suggestions were enough to wreck the valvular system of a motor-car; not to mention the nervous system of a distracted chauffeur.

"Perhaps the petrol's dead," said Mr. Barrymore, paying no heed to the Prince's ideas. He opened a new tin and was about to empty its contents into the reservoir, when he uttered an exclamation. "By Jove! Just look at that, Miss Destrey!" he said; and I couldn't help feeling flattered that he should appeal to me on a subject I didn't know anything about.

He was peering at the small round air-hole leading down to the reservoir, so I peered too, and in spite of my ignorance I saw what he meant. The hole was entirely stopped up with the body of a pinkish-grey caterpillar, and Mr. Barrymore explained that the poor car had simply stopped because it couldn't breathe. No air had been able to reach the petrol in the reservoir, and therefore no spirit had trickled through to the carburetter.

We had been delayed for more than half an hour by a mere worm, which had probably arrived with the clover; but when the automobile could fill her lungs again she started on at a great pace. We passed a wonderful old riverside town, that had one of the most remarkable churches we had seen yet; and by-and-by a fine city, set like a tiara on the forehead of a distant hill, seemed to spring up, peer at us from its eminence, and then dip down out of sight among other hills which made a dark foreground against white mountains.

It was Bergamo; and not once did we see it again until we were almost in the place, when it deigned to show itself once more-an old, old city on a height, a newer city extended at its feet in a plain.

"This town is packed full of interesting things," said Mr. Barrymore. "I stayed here two days once, at a nice old-fashioned hotel with domed, painted ceilings, marble walls and mahogany mantle-pieces which would have delighted you. And even then I hadn't half time for the two or three really fine churches, and the Academy, where there are some Bellinis, a Palma Vecchio, and a lot of splendid Old Masters. Bergamo claims Tasso, perhaps you remember, because his father was born here; and Harlequin, you know, was supposed to be a Bergamese."

"Oughtn't we to stop and see the pictures?" I asked.

"We ought. But one never does stop where one ought to, motoring. Besides, you'll see the best work of the same artists at Venice and as we want to reach Desenzano for dinner we had better push on."

We did push on but not far. Unless the main road runs straight into a town and out of it again it is often difficult to discover the exit from Italian cities like those through which we passed, and Mr. Barrymore seemed always reluctant to inquire. When I remarked on this once, thinking it simpler to ask a question of some one in the street rather than take a false turn, he answered that automobilists never asked the way; they found it. "I can't explain," he went on, "but I believe other men who drive cars share the same peculiarity with me; I never ask help from a passer-by if I can possibly fish out the way for myself. It isn't rational of course. Sometimes I could save a détour if I would stop and ask; but I prefer to plunge on and make a mistake rather than admit that a mere man on legs can teach me anything I don't know. It seems somehow to degrade the automobile."

The argument was too subtle for me, not being an automobilist; and on trying to get out of Bergamo, Mr. Barrymore made one of his little détours. The road twisted; and instead of finding the one towards Brescia it happened that we went down a broad way which looked like a high road, but happened to be only a cul de sac leading to the railway station. We were annoyed for a minute, but we were to rejoice in the next.

Seeing his error, Mr. Barrymore had just turned the car and was circling round, when two men stepped into the middle of the road and held up their hands. They appeared so suddenly that they made me start. They were very tall and very grave, dressed alike, in long black coats buttoned to their chins, black gloves, and high black hats. Each carried an oaken staff.

"They're mutes," said Sir Ralph as Mr. Barrymore put on the brake. "They've come to warn us that there's going to be a funeral, and we must clear out for the procession."

The pair looked so sepulchral, I thought he must be right, though I'd never seen any "funeral mutes." But Mr. Barrymore answered in a low voice, "No, they're policemen. I wonder what's up?" Then, aloud, he addressed the melancholy black beanpoles; but to my surprise, instead of using his fluent Italian to lubricate the strained situation, he spoke in English.

"Good day. Do you want something with me?"

Of course they didn't understand. How could they have been expected to? But they did not look astonished. Their black coats were too tight round their necks for them to change expression easily. One began to explain his object or intention, with gentle patience, in soft Italian-so soft that I could have burst out laughing at the thought of the contrast between him and a New York policeman.

Now almost my whole knowledge of Italian has been gained since Aunt Kathryn decided to take this trip, for then I immediately bought a phrase-book, a grammar, and "Doctor Antonio" translated into the native tongue of hero and author, all of which I've diligently studied every evening. Mr. Barrymore, on the contrary, speaks perfectly. I believe he could even think in Italian if he liked; nevertheless I could understand a great deal that the thin giant said, while he apparently was hopelessly puzzled.

Even without an accompaniment of words, the policeman's pantomime was so expressive, I fancy I should have guessed his meaning. With the grieved dignity of a father taking to task an erring child, he taxed us with having damaged a cart and injured a horse, causing it to run away. He pointed to the distance. With an arching gesture he illustrated a mound of hay (or clover?) rising from the vehicle; with a quick outward thrust of hands and widespread fingers he pictured the alarm and frantic rush of the horse; he showed us the creature running, then falling, then limping as if hurt; he touched his knees to indicate the place of the wound. What could the most elementary intelligence need more to comprehend? Certainly it was enough for the crowd collected about us; but it was not enough for Mr. Barrymore, who is an Irishman, and cleverer about everything than any man I ever met. He sat still, with an absolutely vacant though conscientious look on his face, as if he were trying hard to snatch at an idea, but hadn't succeeded. When the policeman finished, Mr. Barrymore sadly shook his head. "I wonder what you mean?" he murmured mildly in English.

The Italian retold the story, his companion throwing a word into a pause now and then. Both patient men articulated with such careful nicety that the syllables fell from their mouths like clear-cut crystals. But Mr. Barrymore shook his head again; then, suddenly, with a joyous smile he seized a pocket-book from inside his coat. From this he tore out an important-looking document stamped with a red seal, and pointed from it to a lithographed signature at the foot.

"Foreign Secretary; Lansdowne-Lord Lansdowne," he repeated. "Inglese. Inglese and Italiani sempre amici. Yes?" His smile embraced not only the long-suffering policemen but the crowd, who nodded their heads and laughed. Having made this effect, Mr. Barrymore whipped out another impressive paper, which I could see was his permis de Conduire from the Department of Mines in Nice.

He pointed to the official stamp on this document, and with the childlike pride of one who stammers a few words of a foreign tongue, he exclaimed, "Nizza. Nizza la bella." With this, he looked the giants so full and kindly in the face, and seemed to be so greatly enjoying himself, that every one laughed again, and two young men cheered, appearing to be rather ashamed of themselves afterwards. Then, as if every requirement must at last be satisfied, he made as if to go on. But the conscientious comrades, though evidently faint and discouraged, hadn't yet given up hope or played their last card, despite the yards of English red tape with which those two stamped papers had fed their appetite for officialism.

The taller of the pair laid his black glove on our mud-guard, cracked by the flapping tyre days ago, and to be mended (I'd heard Mr. Barrymore say) at the garage in Mestre. With such dramatic gestures as only the Latin races command, he attempted to prove that the mud-guard must have been broken in the collision near Bergamo, of which his mind was full


At last our Chauffeulier comprehended something. He jumped out of the throbbing car, and in his turn went through a pantomime. From a drawer under the seat he produced the rubber skin that had come off our tyre, showed how it fitted on, how it had become detached, and how it had lashed the mud-guard as we moved. Everybody, including the policemen, displayed the liveliest interest in this performance. The instant it was over, Mr. Barrymore took his place again, coiled up the rubber snake, and this time without asking leave, but with a low bow to the representatives of local law, drove the car smartly back into the town. What could the thwarted giants do after such an experience but stand looking after us and make the best of things?

"It was our salvation that we'd lost our way and were driving towards Bergamo instead of out," said the conqueror triumphantly. "You see, they thought probably they'd got hold of the wrong car, as the accused one had been coming from Lecco. What with that impression, and their despair at my idiocy, they were ready to give us the benefit of the doubt and save their faces. Otherwise, though we were innocent and the driver of the cart merely 'trying it on,' we might have been hung up here for ten days."

"Oh, could they have hung us?" gasped Aunt Kathryn. "What a dreadful thing Italian law must be."

Then we all laughed so much that she was vexed, and when Beechy called her a "stupid little Mamma," snapped back that anyhow she wasn't stupid enough to forget her Italian-if she knew any-just when it was needed.

She is too sweet-tempered to be cross for long, however, and the way towards Brescia was so charming that she forgot her annoyance. Though the surface was not so good as it had been, it was not too bad; and our noble tyres, which had borne so much, seemed to spurn the slight irregularities. With every twenty yards we had a new view, as if the landscape slowly turned, to assume different patterns like the pieces in a kaleidoscope. On our left the mountains appeared to march on with us always, white and majestic, with strange, violet shadows floating mysteriously.

Set back from the roadside, behind rich meadows rippling with gold and silver grain, were huge farmhouses, with an air of dignity born of self-respect and venerable age. We had pretty garden glimpses, too, and once in a while passed a fine mansion, good enough to call itself a chateau so long as there were no real ones in the neighbourhood. Often chestnut-trees in full glory of white blossom, as if blazing with fairy candles, lined our way for miles. There was snow of hawthorne too-"May," our two men called it-and ranks of little feathery white trees, such as I knew no name for, looking like a procession of brides, or young girls going to their first communion. Then, to brighten the white land with colour, there were clumps of lilac, clouds of rose-pink apple blossoms, blue streaks that meant beds of violets, and a yellow fire of iris rising straight and bright as flame along the edges of green, roadside streams.

Just as we came into a splendid old Italian town, thunder began to growl like a lion hiding in the mountains. A few drops of rain splashed on our motor-hoods, and a sudden chill wind gathered up the sweet country scents into one bouquet to fling at us.

"Here we are at Brescia. Shall we stop for the storm and have tea?" asked Mr. Barrymore.

Aunt Kathryn said "yes" at once, for she doesn't like getting wet, and can't bear to have the rain spray on her face, though I love it. So we drove quickly through streets, each one of which made a picture with its old brown palaces, its stone steps with pretty women chatting in groups under red umbrellas, its quaint bridge flung across the river, or its pergola of vines. Past a magnificent cathedral we went as the bells rang for vespers, and children, young girls, old black-shawled women, smart soldiers, and gallant-looking, tall officers answered their call. Thus we arrived at a quaint hotel, with a garden on the river's edge; and under a thick arbour of chestnut-trees (impervious to floods) we drank coffee and ate heart-shaped cakes, while the thunder played wild music for us on a vast cathedral organ in the sky.

"No wonder the soldiers are smart and the officers fine," said the Chauffeulier, in answer to a remark of mine which Beechy echoed. "Brescia deserves them more than most towns of Italy, for you know she has always been famous for the military genius and courage of her men, and once she was second only to Milan in importance. Venice-whose vassal she was-had a right to be proud of her. The history of the great siege, wherein Bayard got the wound which he thought would be mortal, is as interesting as a novel. 'The Escape of Tartaglia' and 'The Generosity of Bayard' are bits that make you want to shout aloud."

"And yet we'll pass on, and see nothing, except those panorama-like glimpses," I sighed. "Oh motoring, motoring, and motor maniacs!"

"How often one has that half-pleasant, half-regretful feeling about things or people one flashes by on the road," soliloquized Sir Ralph, pleasantly resigned to the pain of parting. I have it continually, especially about some of the beautiful, dark-eyed girls I see, and leave behind before I've fairly catalogued their features. I say to myself, "Lovely flower of beauty, wasted in the dust of the roadside. Alas! I leave you for ever. What is to be your fate? Will you grow old soon, under your peasant-burdens and cares? How sad it is that I shall never know your history."

"It wouldn't be a bit interesting," said Beechy. "But I suppose that theory won't comfort you any more than it did Maida the other day, when she tried too late to save a fly from dying in some honey, and I consoled her by saying it probably wasn't at all a nice fly, if one had known it."

"No, it doesn't console me," Sir Ralph complained. "Still, there's a certain thrill in the thought of bursting like a thunderbolt into the midst of other people's tragedies, comedies, or romances, just catching a fleeting glimpse of their possibilities and tearing on again. But there are some creatures we meet that I'm glad to lose sight of. Not those who glare anarchically, unconsciously betraying their outlook on life; not the poor slow old people who blunder in the way, and stare vacantly up at our fiery chariot-so strange a development of the world for them; not the dogs that yelp, and are furious if we don't realize that they're frightening us. No, but the horrid little jeering boys, who run beside the car at their best speed when we're forging up perpendicular hills on our lowest. These are the creatures I would wipe out of existence with one fierce wish, if I had it in me. To think that they-they-should have the power to humiliate us. I don't get back my self-respect till we're on a level, or my joie de vivre until we're shooting downhill, and can hold our own with a forty horse-power motor, to say nothing of a one-horse, Italian village boy."

"What a revelation of vindictiveness, where one would least expect it!" exclaimed Mr. Barrymore. "But the rain's over. Shall we go on?" And we all agreed eagerly, as we probably should in Paradise, if it were a question of motoring.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top