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   Chapter 19 A CHAPTER OF PALACES AND PRINCES

My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 18212

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


What a pity clocks don't realize the interesting work they do in the making of history, as they go on ticking out moments which never before have been and never will be again! It would be such a reward for their patience; and I should like my watch to know how often I've thanked it lately for the splendid moments it has given me.

Some of those I had in Verona (no thanks to the Prince!) have really helped to develop my soul, and it used to need developing badly, poor dear; I see that now, though I didn't then. I never thought much about the development of souls, except that one must try hard to be good and do one's duty. But now I begin dimly to see many things, as if I caught glimpses of them, far away, and high up on some of the snowy mountain-tops we pass.

Must one live through several incarnations, I wonder, for true development? Are some people great-minded because they have gone through many such phases, and are the wondrous geniuses of the world-such as Shakspere-the most developed of all? Then the poor commonplace or stupid people, who never have any real thoughts of their own, are they the undeveloped souls who haven't had their chance yet? If they are, how kind those who have gone further ought to be to them, and what generous allowances they ought to make, instead of being impatient, and pleased with themselves because they are cleverer.

I think I should like to send whole colonies of those poor "beginners" to Italy to live for a while, because it might give them a step up for their next phase. As for myself, I'm going further every day, almost as fast, I hope, as the automobile goes.

"She," as the Chauffeulier affectionately calls her, went especially fast and well the morning we swept out of Verona. There was an entrancing smell of Italy in the air. There is no other way to describe it-it is that and nothing else

.

As long as Verona was still within sight, I kept looking back, just as you drink something delicious down to the last drop, when you know there can be no dregs. Only to see how the town lay at the foot of the mountains of the north, was to understand its powers of defence, and its importance to the dynasties and princes of the past. With Mr. Barrymore's help, I could trace one line of fortification after another, from the earliest Roman, through Charlemagne and the Scaligers, down to the modern Austrian.

No wonder that Verona was the first halting-place for the tribes of Germans, pouring down from their cold forests in the north to cross the Alps and rejoice in the sunshine of Italy! For Verona's nearness to the north and her striking difference to the north impressed me sharply, as a black line of shadow is cut out by the sun. Up a gap in the dark barrier of mountains I gazed where Mr. Barrymore pointed, towards the great Brenner Pass, leading straight to Innsbruck through Tyrol. How close the northern nations lay, yet in the warm Italian brightness how far away they seemed.

But soon Verona disappeared, and we were speeding along a level road with far-off purple peaks upon our left, and away in front some floating blue shapes which it thrilled me to hear were actually the Euganean Hills. The Chauffeulier set them to music by quoting from Shelley's "Lines Written in Dejection in the Euganean Hills"-a sweet old-fashioned title of other days, and words so beautiful that for a moment I was depressed in sympathy-though I couldn't help feeling that I should be happy in the Euganean Hills. They called across the plain with siren voices, asking me to come and explore their fastnesses of blue and gold, but Aunt Kathryn couldn't understand why. "They're not half so imposing as lots of mountains we've passed," she said. "And anyway, I think the beauty of mountains is overestimated. What are they to admire so much, anyhow, when you think of it, more than flat places? They are only great lumps at best."

"Well," replied Sir Ralph, "if it comes to that, what's the sea but a big wet thing?"

"And what are people but a kind of superior ant, and the grandest palaces but big anthills?" Beechy chimed in. "I've often thought, supposing there were-well, Things, between gods and men, living here somewhere, invisible to us as we are to lots of little creatures, what kind of an idea would They get of us and our ways? They'd be always spying on us, of course, and making scientific observations, as we do on insects. I used to believe in Them, and be awfully afraid, when I was younger, because I used to think all the accidents and bad things that happened might be due to Their experiments. You see They'd be wondering why we did certain things; why lots of us all run to one place-like Venice, or any show city-instead of going to another nest of anthills; or why we all crowded into one anthill (like a church or theatre) at a particular time. So a theatre-fire would be when They'd touched the anthill with one of their cigars, to make the ants run out. Or a volcano would have an eruption because They'd poked the mountain with a great pin to see what would happen. Or when we're cut or hurt in any way, it's because They've marked us to know one from the other, as we run about. I do hope They're not thinking about us now, or They'll drop something and smash the automobile."

"Oh, don't, Beechy! You make my blood run cold!" cried Aunt Kathryn. "Do let's talk of something else quickly. How gracefully the vines are trained here, draped along those rows of trees in the meadows. It's much prettier than ordinary vineyards. You might imagine fairies playing tag under these arbours."

"Or fauns chasing nymphs," said Sir Ralph. "No doubt they did a few years ago and caught them too."

"I'm glad they don't now," replied Aunt Kathryn, "or this would be no fit place for ladies to motor."

But I wasn't glad, for the whole country was one wide background for a pre-Raphaelite picture, and the mountains to which Aunt Kathryn had applied so insulting a simile were even grander in size and nobler in shape than before. We had seen many old chateaux (though never a surfeit), but the best of all had been reserved for to-day. Far away on our left, as we drove towards Padua, it rose above the little town that crawled to the foot of the castle's hill to beg protection; and it was exactly like a city painted by Mantegna or Carpaccio, Mr. Barrymore said. Up the hill ran the noblest and biggest wall that an Old Master's imagination could have conceived. Many men might walk on it abreast; and at every few yards it bristled with sturdy watch-towers, not ruined, but looking as ready to defy the enemy to-day as they were six hundred years ago. The culmination was the castle itself, so magnificently proportioned, so worthily proud of its place, that it seemed as if the spirit of the Middle Ages were there embodied, gazing down in haughty resignation upon a new world it did not even wish to understand.

The name of the castle was Soave; but when I heard that nothing startling enough to please me had happened there, I wouldn't know its history, for my fancy was equal to inventing one more thrilling. There was plentiful sensation, though, in the stories the Chauffeulier could tell of Napoleon's battles and adventures in this neighbourhood. I listened to them eagerly, especially to that which covered his falling into a marsh while fighting the Austrians, and standing there, unable to get out, while the battle of Arcole raged around him. We were at the point of the rescue and the victory of the French, when we arrived at another gateway, another octroi, another city, to enter which was like driving straight into an old, old picture

.

In a long street of palaces, all with an elusive family resemblance to one another, we paused for consultation. This was Vicenza, the birthplace and beloved town of Palladio; these palaces with fronts crusted with bas relief; these Corinthian pillars, these Arabesque balconies, these porticoes that might have been stolen from Greek temples, all had been designed by Palladio the Great. And the beautiful buildings seemed to say pensively, like lovely court ladies whose day is past, "We are not what we were. Time has changed and broken us, it is true; but even so we are worth seeing."

It was that view which our Chauffeulier urged, but Aunt Kathryn was for going on without a stop, until Sir Ralph said, "It's not patriotic of you to pass by. Palladio built your Capitol at Washington, and all the fine old colonial houses you admire so much in the East."

"Dear me, did he?" exclaimed Aunt Kathryn. "Why, I never heard of him."

"Moray doesn't mean his words to be taken undiluted," said Mr. Barrymore. "If it hadn't been for Palladio, there would have been no Inigo Jones and no Christopher Wren, therefore if you'd had a Capitol at all, it wouldn't be what it is now. And to understand the colonial architecture of America, you have to go back to Palladio."

"Well, here we are at him," sighed Aunt Kathryn. "But I hope we won't have to get out?"

Mr. Barrymore laughed. "The Middle Ages revisited, en automobil

e! However, I'll do my best as showman in the circumstances."

So he drove us into a splendid square, where Palladio was at his grandest with characteristic fa?ades, galleries, and stately colonnades. Then, slowly, through the street of palaces and out into the open country once more-a rich country of grain-fields (looking always as if an unseen hand softly stroked their silver hair) and of hills swelling into a mountainous horizon. There was a bright little flower-bordered canal too, and I've grown fond of canals since the neighbourhood of Milan, finding them as companionable as rivers, if more tame. Indeed, they seem like rivers that have gone to live in town, where they've learned to be a bit stilted and mechanical in manner.

The farmhouses, standing but a short distance back from the level of the road, were manorial in a queer way; two or three of them, exquisite old things, their great roofed balconies covered with ivy and blossoming creepers. The women we met were pretty, too-so pretty often that, as Sir Ralph said, it wouldn't have been safe for them to walk out in the feudal ages, as they would promptly have been kidnapped by the nearest seignior. We might have guessed that we were not far out from Venice by the gorgeous Titian hair of the peasant children playing by the wayside, or a copper coil twisted above a girl's dark eyes.

"How long a time shall we spend in Padua, Countess?" asked the Chauffeulier as we came within sight of a gateway, some domes and campanili.

"Oh, don't let's make up our mind till we get there," replied Aunt Kathryn comfortably.

"But we are there," said he. "In another minute the little men of the dazio will be tapping our bags as a doctor taps his patient's lungs."

Padua! Each time that we actually arrived in one of these wonderful old places, it was an electric shock for me. I had to shake myself, mentally, to make it seem true. But if it was like a dream to enter the place of Petruchio's love story, what would it be by-and-by-oh, a very quick-coming by-and-by-to see Venice? I hardly dared let my thoughts go on to that moment for fear they should get lost in it, and refuse to come back. Sufficient for the day was the Padua thereof.

Not so beautiful as Verona, still the learned and dignified old city had a curiously individual charm of its own, which I felt instantly. I loved the painted palaces, especially those where most of the paint had worn off, leaving but a lovely face, or some folds of a velvet robe, or a cardinal's hat to hint its story to the imagination. The old arcaded streets were asleep, and grass sprouted among the cobbles. Where they followed the river we had glimpses of gardens and arbours backed with roses, or an almond tree-like a rosy bride leaning on a soldier-lover's neck-peeped at us, side by side with a dark ilex, over a high brick wall.

"How long ought we to stay in Padua?" Aunt Kathryn deigned to ask, as if in delayed answer to the Chauffeulier's question, when he helped her out of the car at the Stella d'Oro, where we were to lunch.

"A week," said Mr. Barrymore, his eyes twinkling.

Her face fell, and he took pity.

"If we weren't motor maniacs," he went on. "In that case we would have come here on a solemn pilgrimage to do full justice to the adorable Giotto, to the two best churches-not to be surpassed anywhere-and the dozen and one other things worth seeing. But as we are mad we shall be able to 'do' Padua, and satisfy our consciences though not our hearts, in three hours. My one consolation in this deplorable course, lies in the thought that it will make it possible to give you your first sight of Venice between sunset and moonrise."

Beechy clapped her hands, and my heart gave a throb. Somehow, my eyes happened to meet Mr. Barrymore's. But I must not get into the habit of letting them do that, when I'm feeling anything deeply. I can't think why it seems so natural to turn to him, as if I'd known him always; but then we have all got to be great friends on this trip, and know each other better than if we'd been meeting in an ordinary way for a year. All except the Prince. I leave him out of that statement, as I would leave him out of everything concerning me nearly, if I could. I believe that none of us know him, or what is in his mind. But sometimes there's a look in his eyes if one glances up suddenly, which would almost frighten one, if it were not silly and melodramatic. That is the only way in which he has troubled me since the horrid little incident at Juliet's tomb-with these occasional, strange looks; and as he wrote me a note of apology for his bad conduct then, I ought to forgive and forget.

The hotel where we lunched was not in a quaint riverside street, but in a square so modern it was hard to realize for the moment that we were in the oldest city of Northern Italy, dating from before Roman days. However, the Stella d'Oro was old enough to satisfy us, and I should have been delighted with the nice Italian dishes Mr. Barrymore knew so well how to order, if I hadn't been longing to rush off with a bit of bread in my hand, not to waste a Paduan moment on so dull a deed as eating.

It was only twelve when we arrived, and before one we were out of the huge, cool dining-room, and in the May sunlight again. The Prince was with us; had been just ahead of us, or just behind us, all through the journey from Verona. But I thought by keeping close to Aunt Kathryn and Beechy there would be no danger that he would trouble me. Unfortunately, the pattern of our progress arranged itself a little differently from my plan.

All was simple enough in the churches, which we visited first, not to give them time to close up for their afternoon siesta. Mr. Barrymore was of the party, and we all listened to him-the Prince because he must, we others because we wished-while he ransacked his memory for bits of Paduan history, legend or romance. He showed us the Giottos (which he had done well to call adorable) at the Madonna of the Arena; he took us to pay our respects to St. Anthony of Padua (that dear, obliging Saint who gives himself so much trouble over the lost property of perfect strangers) in his extraordinary and well-deserved Basilica of bubbly domes and lovely cloisters. He guided us to Santa Giustina, where I would stop at the top of the steps, to pet two glorious old red marble beasts which had crouched there for four centuries. One of them-the redder of the two-had been all that time wrestling with an infinitesimal St. George whom he ought to have polished off in a few hours; while the other-the one with an unspeakable beard under his chin and teeth like the gearing of our automobile-had been engaged for the same period in eating a poor little curly lion.

The inside of the church-too strongly recommended by Baedeker to commend itself to me-made me feel as if I had eaten a lemon water-ice before dinner, on a freezing cold day; and it was there that the Chauffeulier departed to get ready the motor-car. There it was, too, that the pattern disarranged itself.

When we had finished looking at a splendid Paolo Veronese, we hurried out into the Prato della Valle (which has changed its name to something else not half so pretty, though more patriotic), and Sir Ralph took Beechy away, so that Aunt Kathryn and I were left to the Prince. He hardly talked to her at all, which hurt her feelings so much that she turned suddenly round, and said she must speak to Beechy.

I could have cried, for the piazza was so beautiful that I wanted some one congenial with me, to whom I could exclaim about it. It was girdled by a belt of clear water, with four stone bridges and a double wall on which stood a goodly company of noble gentlemen. There was the history of Padua's greatness perpetuated in marble-charming personages, one and all, if you could believe their statues, and it would have seemed treacherous not to. Each stood to be admired or revered in the attitude most expressive of his profession: Galileo pointing up, graceful, spiritual, enthusiastic; a famous bishop blessing his flock; some great poet dreaming over a book-his own, perhaps, just finished; and so on, all along the happy circle of writers, priests, scientists, soldiers, artists. I felt as if I wanted to know them-those faithful friends of all who love greatness, resting now in each others' excellent society, their sole reflection those in the watery mirror.

But Prince Dalmar-Kalm thought himself of importance even in this king's garden. "Did you get my letter?" he asked. "And do you forgive me?" he said. "And will you trust me, and not be unkind, now that I've promised to think of you only as a friend?" he persisted.

I didn't see why he should look upon me even as a friend; but a cat may look at a king, if it doesn't fly up and scratch; so why not a prince at an American girl? To save argument and not to be unchristian, I pledged myself to some kind of superficial compact almost before I knew. When it was done, it would have been too complicated to undo again; and so I let it go.

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