And all the winter will carry more than a suspicion of summer with it, just as the longest days carry round light from northwest to northeast, because so near the horizon, but out of sight, lies their sun. So you, Beloved, so near to me now at last, though out of sight.
Beloved: Whether I have sorry or glad things to think about, they are accompanied and changed by thoughts of you. You are my diary:—all goes to you now. That you love me is the very light by which I see everything. Also I learn so much through having you in my thoughts: I cannot say how it is, for I have no more knowledge of life than I had before:—yet I am wiser, I believe, knowing much more what lives at the root of things and what men have meant and felt in all they have done:—because I love you, dearest. Also I am quicker in my apprehensions, and have more joy and more fear in me than I had before. And if this seems to be all about myself, it is all about you really, Beloved!
Last week one of my dearest old friends, our Rector, died: a character you too would have loved. He was a father to the whole village, rather stern of speech, and no respecter of persons. Yet he made a very generous allowance for those who did not go through the church door to find their salvation. I often went only because I loved him: and he knew it.
I went for that reason alone last Sunday. The whole village was full of closed blinds: and of all things over him Chopin's Funeral March was played!—a thing utterly unchristian in its meaning: wild pagan grief, desolate over lost beauty. "Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead!" it cried: and I thought of you suddenly; you, who are not Balder at all. Too many thorns have been in your life, but not the mistletoe stroke dealt by a blind god ignorantly. Yet in all great joy there is the Balder element: and I feared lest something might slay it for me, and my life become a cry like Chopin's march over mown-down unripened grass, and youth slain in its high places.
After service a sort of processional instinct drew people up to the house: they waited about till permission was given, and went in to look at their old man, lying in high state among his books. I did not go. Beloved, I have never yet seen death: you have, I know. Do you, I wonder, remember your father better than I mine:—or your brother? Are they more living because you saw them once not living? I think death might open our eyes to those we lived on ill terms with, but not to the familiar and dear. I do not need you dead, to be certain that your heart has mine for its true inmate and mine yours.
I love you, I love you: so let good-night bring you good-morning!
At long intervals, dearest, I write to you a secret all about yourself for my eyes to see: because, chiefly because, I have not you to look at. Thus I bless myself with you.
Away over the world west of this and a little bit north is the city of spires where you are now. Never having seen it I am the more free to picture it as I like: and to me it is quite full of you:—quite greedily full, Beloved, when elsewhere you are so much wanted! I send my thoughts there to pick up crumbs for me.
It is a strange blend of notions—wisdom and ignorance combined: for you I seem to know perfectly; but of your life nothing at all. And yet nobody there knows so much about you as I. What you do matters so much less than what you are. You, who are the clearest heart in all the world, do what you will, you are so still to me, Beloved.
I take a happy armful of thoughts about you into all my dreams: and when I wake they are there still, and have done nothing but remain true. What better can I ask of them?
You do love me: you have not changed? Without change I remain yours so long as I live.
And you, Beloved, what are you thinking of me all this while? Think well of me, I beg you: I deserve so much, loving you as truly as I do!
So often, dearest, I sit thinking my hands into yours again as when we were saying good-by the last time. Then it was, under our laughter and light words, that I saw suddenly how the thing too great to name had become true, that from friends we were changed into lovers. It seemed the most natural thing to be, and yet was wonderful—for it was I who loved you first: a thing I could never be ashamed of, and am now proud to own—for has it not proved me wise? My love for you is the best wisdom that I have. Good-night, dearest! Sleep as well as I love you, and nobody in the world will sleep so soundly.
A few times in my life, Beloved, I have had the Blue-moon-hunger for something which seemed too impossible and good ever to come true: prosaic people call it being "in the blues"; I comfort myself with a prettier word for it. To-day, not the Blue-moon itself, but the Man of it came down and ate plum-porridge with me! Also, I do believe that it burnt his mouth, and am quite reasonably happy thinking so, since it makes me know that you love me as much as ever.
If I have had doubts, dearest, they have been of myself, lest I might be unworthy of your friendship or love. Suspicions of you I never had.
Who wrote that suspicions among thoughts are like bats among birds, flying only by twilight?
But even my doubts have been thoughts, Beloved,—sure of you if not always of myself. And if I have looked for you only with doubtful vision, yet I have always seen you in as strong a light as my eyes could bear:— blue-moonlight. Beloved, is not twilight: and blue-moonlight has been the light I saw you by: it is you alone who can make sunlight of it.
This I read yesterday has lain on my mind since as true and altogether beautiful, with the beauty of major, not of minor poetry, though it was a minor poet who wrote it. It is of a wood where Apollo has gone in quest of his Beloved, and she is not yet to be found:
"Here each branch Sway'd with a glitter all its crowded leaves, And brushed the soft divine hair touching them In ruffled clusters....
Suddenly the moon Smoothed herself out of vapor-drift and made The deep night full of pleasure in the eye Of her sweet motion. Not alone she came Leading the starlight with her like a song: And not a bud of all that undergrowth But crisped and tingled out an ardent edge As the light steeped it: over whose massed leaves The portals of illimitable sleep Faded in heaven."
That is love in its moonrise, not its sunrise stage: yet you see. Beloved, how it takes possession of its dark world, quite as fully as the brighter sunlight could do. And if I speak of doubts, I mean no twilight and no suspicions: nor by darkness do I mean any unhappiness.
My blue-moon has come, leading the starlight with her like a song. Am I not happy enough to be patiently yours before you know it? Good things which are to be, before they happen are already true. Nothing is so true as you are, except my love for you and yours for me. Good-night, good-night.
Sleep well, Beloved, and wake.
Beloved: I heard somebody yesterday speak of you as "charming"; and I began wondering to myself was that the word which could ever have covered my thoughts of you? I do not know whether you ever charmed me, except in the sense of charming which means magic and spell-binding. That you did from the beginning, dearest. But I think I held you at first in too much awe to discover charm in you: and at last knew you too much to the depths to name you by a word so lightly used for the surface of things. Yet now a charm in you, which is not all you, but just a part of you, comes to light, when I see you wondering whether you are really loved, or whether, Beloved, I only like you rather well!
Well, if you will be so "charming," I am helpless: and can do nothing, nothing, but pray for the blue-moon to rise, and love you a little better because you have some of that divine foolishness which strikes the very wise ones of earth, and makes them kin to weaker mortals who otherwise might miss their "charm" altogether.
Truly, Beloved, if I am happy, it is because I am also your most patiently loving.
Beloved: The certainty which I have now that you love me so fills all my thoughts, I cannot understand you being in any doubt on your side. What must I do that I do not do, to show gladness when we meet and sorrow when we have to part? I am sure that I make no pretense or disguise, except that I do not stand and wring my hands before all the world, and cry "Don't go!"—which has sometimes been in my mind, to be kept not said!
Indeed, I think so much of you, my dear, that I believe some day, if you do your part, you will only have to look up from your books to find me standing. If you did, would you still be in doubt whether I loved you?
Oh, if any apparition of me ever goes to you, all my thoughts will surely look truthfully out of its eyes; and even you will read what is there at last!
Beloved, I kiss your blind eyes, and love them the better for all their unreadiness to see that I am already their slave. Not a day now but I think I may see you again: I am in a golden uncertainty from hour to hour.
I love you: you love me: a mist of blessing swims over my eyes as I write the words, till they become one and the same thing: I can no longer divide their meaning in my mind. Amen: there is no need that I should.
Beloved: I have not written to you for quite a long time: ah, I could not. I have nothing now to say! I think I could very easily die of this great happiness, so certainly do you love me! Just a breath more of it and I should be gone.
Good-by, dearest, and good-by, and good-by! If you want letters from me now, you must ask for them! That the earth contains us both, and that we love each other, is about all that I have mind enough to take in. I do not think I can love you more than I do: you are no longer my dream but my great waking thought. I am waiting for no blue-moonrise now: my heart has not a wish which you do not fulfill. I owe you my whole life, and for any good to you must pay it out to the last farthing, and still feel myself your debtor.
Oh, Beloved, I am most poor and most rich when I think of your love. Good-night; I can never let thought of you go!
* * * * *
Beloved: These are almost all of them, but not quite; a few here and there have cried to be taken out, saying they were still too shy to be looked at. I can't argue with them: they know their own minds best; and you know mine.
See what a dignified historic name I have given this letter-box, or chatterbox, or whatever you like to call it. But "Resurrection Pie" is my name for it. Don't eat too much of it, prays your loving.
Saving your presence, dearest, I would rather have Prince Otto, a very lovable character for second affections to cling to. Richard Feverel would never marry again, so I don't ask for him: as for the rest, they are all too excellent for me. They give me the impression of having worn copy-books under their coats, when they were boys, to cheat punishment: and the copy-books got beaten into their systems.
You must find me somebody who was a "gallous young hound" in the days of his youth—Crossjay, for instance:—there! I have found the very man for me!
But really and truly, are you better? It will not hurt your foot to come to me, since I am not to come to you? How I long to see you again, dearest! it is an age! As a matter of fact, it is a fortnight: but I dread lest you will find some change in me. I have kept a real white hair to show you, I drew it out of my comb the other morning: wound up into a curl it becomes quite visible, and it is ivory-white: you are not to think it flaxen, and take away its one wee sentiment! And I make you an offer:—you shall have it if, honestly, you can find in your own head a white one to exchange.
Dearest, I am not hurt, nor do I take seriously to heart your mother's present coldness. How much more I could forgive her when I put myself in her place! She may well feel a struggle and some resentment at having to give up in any degree her place with you. All my selfishness would come to the front if that were demanded of me.
Do not think, because I leave her alone, that I am repaying her coldness in the same coin. I know that for the present anything I do must offend. Have I demanded your coming too soon? Then stay away another day—or two: every day only piles up the joy it will be to have your arms round me once more. I can keep for a little longer: and the gray hair will keep, and many to-morrows will come bringing good things for us, when perhaps your mother's "share of the world" will be over.
Don't say it, but when you next kiss her, kiss her for me also: I am sorry for all old people: their love of things they are losing is so far more to be reverenced and made room for than ours of the things which will come to us in good time abundantly.
To-night I feel selfish at having too much of your love: and not a bit of it can I let go! I hope, Beloved, we shall live to see each other's gray hairs in earnest: gray hairs that we shall not laugh at, as at this one I pulled. How dark your dear eyes will look with a white setting! My heart's heart, every day you grow larger round me, and I so much stronger depending upon you!
I won't say—come for certain, to-morrow: but come if, and as soon as, you can. I seem to see a mile further when I am on the lookout for you: and I shall be long-sighted every day until you come. It is only doubtful hope deferred which maketh the heart sick. I am as happy as the day is long waiting for you: but the day is long, dearest, none the less when I don't see you.
All this space on the page below is love. I have no time left to put it into words, or words into it. You bless my thoughts constantly.—Believe me, never your thoughtless.
Dearest: How, when, and where is there any use wrangling as to which of us loves the other the best ("the better," I believe, would be the more grammatical phrase in incompetent Queen's English), and why in that of all things should we pretend to be rivals? For this at least seems certain to me, that, being created male and female, no two lovers since the world began ever loved each other quite in the same way: it is not in nature for it to be so. They cannot compare: only to the best that is in them they do love each after their kind,—as do we for certain!
Be sure, then, that I am utterly contented with what I get (and you, Beloved, and you?): nay, I wonder forever at the love you have given me: and if I will to lay mine at your feet, and feel yours crowning my life,—why, so it is, you know; you cannot alter it! And if you insist that your love is at my feet, I have only to turn Irish and reply that it is because I am heels over head in love with you:—and, mark you, that is no pretty attitude for a lady that you have driven me into in order that I may stick to my "crown"!
Go to, dearest! There is one thing in which I can beat you, and that is in the bandying of words and all verbal conjurings: take this as the last proof of it and rest quiet. I know you love me a great great deal more than I have wit or power to love you: and that is just the little reason why your love mounts till, as I tell you, it crowns me (head or heels): while mine, insufficient and groveling, lies at your feet, and will till they become amputated. And I can give you, but won't, sixty other reasons why things are as I say, and are to be left as I say. And oh, my world, my world, it is with you I go round sunwards, and you make my evenings and mornings, and will, till Time shuts his wings over us! And now it is doleful business I have to write to you....
I have dropped to sleep over all this writing of things, and my cheek down on the page has made the paper unwilling to take the ink again:—what a pretty compliment to me: and, if you prefer it, what an easy way of writing to you! I can send you such any day and be as idle as I like. And you will decide about all the above exactly as you and I think best (or should it be "better" again, being only between us two?). When you get this, blow your beloved self a kiss in the glass for me,—a great big shattering blow that shall astonish Mercury behind his window-pane. Good-night, my best—or "better," for that is what I most want you to be.
My Own Beloved: And I never thanked you yesterday for your dear words about the resurrection pie; that comes of quarreling! Well, you must prove them and come quickly that I may see this restoration of health and spirits that you assure me of. You avoid saying that they sent you to sleep; but I suppose that is what you mean.
Fate meant me only to light upon gay things this morning: listen to this and guess where it comes from:
"When March with variant winds was past, And April had with her silver showers Ta'en leif at life with an orient blast; And lusty May, that mother of flowers, Had made the birds to begin their hours, Among the odours ruddy and white, Whose harmony was the ear's delight:
"In bed at morrow I sleeping lay; Methought Aurora, with crystal een, In at the window looked by day, And gave me her visage pale and green; And on her hand sang a lark from the splene, 'Awake ye lovers from slumbering! See how the lusty morrow doth spring!'"
Ah, but you are no scholar of the things in your own tongue! That is Dunbar, a Scots poet contemporary of Henry VII., just a little bit altered by me to make him soundable to your ears. If I had not had to leave an archaic word here and there, would you ever have guessed he lay outside this century? That shows the permanent element in all good poetry, and in all good joy in things also. In the four centuries since that was written we have only succeeded in worsening the meaning of certain words, as for instance "spleen," which now means irritation and vexation, but stood then for quite the opposite—what we should call, I suppose, "a full heart." It is what I am always saying—a good digestion is the root of nearly all the good living and high thinking we are capable of: and the spleen was then the root of the happy emotions as it is now of the miserable ones. Your pre-Reformation lark sang from "a full stomach," and thanked God it had a constitution to carry it off without affectation: and your nineteenth century lark applying the same code of life, his plain-song is mere happy everyday prose, and not poetry at all as we try to make it out to be.
I have no news for you at all of anyone: all inside the house is a simmer of peace and quiet, with blinds drawn down against the heat the whole day long. No callers; and as for me, I never call elsewhere. The gossips about here eke out a precarious existence by washing each other's dirty linen in public: and the process never seems to result in any satisfactory cleansing.
I avoid saying what news I trust to-morrow's post-bag may contain for me. Every wish I send you comes "from the spleen," which means I am very healthy, and, conditionally, as happy as is good for me. Pray God bless my dear Share of the world, and make him get well for his own and my sake! Amen.
This catches the noon post, an event which always shows I am jubilant, with a lot of the opposite to a "little death" feeling running over my nerves. I feel the grass growing under me: the reverse of poor Keats' complaint. Good-by, Beloved, till I find my way into the provender of to-morrow's post-bag.
Oh, wings of the morning, here you come! I have been looking out for you ever since post came. Roberts is carrying orders into town, and will bring you this with a touch of the hat and an amused grin under it. I saw you right on the top Sallis Hill: this is to wager that my eyes have told me correctly. Look out for me from far away, I am at my corner window: wave to me! Dearest, this is to kiss you before I can.
Dearest: I have made a bad beginning of the week: I wonder how it will end? it all comes of my not seeing enough of you. Time hangs heavy on my hands, and the Devil finds me the mischief!
I prevailed upon myself to go on Sunday and listen to our new lately appointed vicar: for I thought it not fair to condemn him on the strength of Mrs. P——'s terrible reporting powers and her sensuous worship of his full-blown flowers of speech—"pulpit-pot-plants" is what I call them.
It was not worse and not otherwise than I had expected. I find there are only two kinds of clerics as generally necessary to salvation in a country parish—one leads his parishioners to the altar and the other to the pulpit: and the latter is vastly the more popular among the articulate and gad-about members of his flock. This one sways himself over the edge of his frame, making signals of distress in all directions, and with that and his windy flights of oratory suggests twenty minutes in a balloon-car, till he comes down to earth at the finish with the Doxology for a parachute. His shepherd's crook is one long note of interrogation, with which he tries to hook down the heavens to the understanding of his hearers, and his hearers up to an understanding of himself. All his arguments are put interrogatively, and few of them are worth answering. Well, well, I shall be all the freer for your visit when you come next Sunday, and any Sunday after that you will: and he shall come in to tea if you like and talk to you in quite a cultured and agreeable manner, as he can when his favorite beverage is before him.
I discover that I get "the snaps" on a Monday morning, if I get them at all. The M.-A. gets them on the Sunday itself, softly but regularly: they distress no one, and we all know the cause: her fingers are itching for the knitting which she mayn't do. Your Protestant ignores Lent as a Popish device, a fond thing vainly invented: but spreads it instead over fifty-two days in the year. Why, I want to know, cannot I change the subject?
Sunday we get no post (and no collection except in church) unless we send down to the town for it, so Monday is all the more welcome: but this I have been up and writing before it arrives—therefore the "snaps."
Our postman is a lovely sight. I watched him walking up the drive the other morning, and he seemed quite perfection, for I guessed he was bringing me the thing which would make me happy all day. I only hope the Government pays him properly.
I think this is the least pleasant letter I have ever sent you: shall I tell you why? It was not the sermon: he is quite a forgivable good man in his way. But in the afternoon that same Mrs. P—— came, got me in a corner, and wanted to unburden herself of invective against your mother, believing that I should be glad, because her coldness to me has become known! What mean things some people can think about one! I heard nothing: but I am ruffled in all my plumage and want stroking. And my love to your mother, please, if she will have it. It is only through her that I get you.—Ever your very own.
Dearest: Here comes a letter to you from me flying in the opposite direction. I won't say I am not wishing to go; but oh, to be a bird in two places at once! Give this letter, then, a special nesting-place, because I am so much on the wing elsewhere.
I shut my eyes most of the time through France, and opened them on a soup-tureen full of coffee which presented itself at the frontier: and then realized that only a little way ahead lay Berne, with baths, buns, bears, breakfast, and other nice things beginning with B, waiting to make us clean, comfortable, contented, and other nice things beginning with C.
Through France I loved you sleepy fashion, with many dreams in between not all about you. But now I am breathing thoughts of you out of a new atmosphere—a great gulp of you, all clean-living and high-thinking between these Alpine royal highnesses with snow-white crowns to their heads: and no time for a word more about anything except you: you, and double-you,—and treble-you if the alphabet only had grace to contain so beautiful a symbol! Good-by: we meet next, perhaps, out of Lucerne: if not,—Italy.
What a lot I have to go through before we meet again visibly! You will find me world-worn, my Beloved! Write often.
Beloved: You know of the method for making a cat settle down in a strange place by buttering her all over: the theory being that by the time she has polished off the butter she feels herself at home? My morning's work has been the buttering of the Mother-Aunt with such things as will Lucerne her the most. When her instincts are appeased I am the more free to indulge my own.
So after breakfast we went round the cloisters, very thick set with tablets and family vaults, and crowded graves inclosed. It proved quite "the best butter." To me the penance turned out interesting after a period of natural repulsion. A most unpleasant addition to sepulchral sentiment is here the fashion: photographs of the departed set into the stone. You see an elegant and genteel marble cross: there on the pedestal above the name is the photo:—a smug man with bourgeois whiskers,—a militiaman with waxed mustaches well turned up,—a woman well attired and conscious of it: you cannot think how indecent looked the pretension of such types to the dignity of death and immortality.
But just one or two faces stood the test, and were justified: a young man oppressed with the burden of youth; a sweet, toothless grandmother in a bonnet, wearing old age like a flower; a woman not beautiful but for her neck which carried indignation; her face had a thwarted look. "Dead and rotten" one did not say of these in disgust and involuntarily as one did of the others. And yet I don't suppose the eye picks out the faces that kindled most kindness round them when living, or that one can see well at all where one sees without sympathy. I think the Mother-Aunt's face would not look dear to most people as it does to me,—yet my sight of her is the truer: only I would not put it up on a tombstone in order that it might look nothing to those that pass by.
I wrote this much, and then, leaving the M.-A. to glory in her innumerable correspondence, Arthur and I went off to the lake, where we have been for about seven hours. On it, I found it become infinitely more beautiful, for everything was mystified by a lovely bloomy haze, out of which the white peaks floated like dreams: and the mountains change and change, and seem not all the same as going when returning. Don't ask me to write landscape to you: one breathes it in, and it is there ever after, but remains unset to words.
The T——s whittle themselves out of our company just to the right amount: come back at the right time (which is more than Arthur and I are likely to do when our legs get on the spin), and are duly welcome with a diversity of doings to talk about. Their tastes are more the M.-A.'s, and their activities about halfway between hers and ours, so we make rather a fortunate quintette. The M—— trio join us the day after to-morrow, when the majority of us will head away at once to Florence. Arthur growls and threatens he means to be left behind for a week: and it suits the funny little jealousy of the M.-A. well enough to see us parted for a time, quite apart from the fact that I shall then be more dependent on her company. She will then glory in overworking herself,—say it is me; and I shall feel a fiend. No letter at all, dearest, this; merely talky-talky.—Yours without words.
Dearest: I cannot say I have seen Pisa, for the majority had their way, and we simply skipped into it, got ourselves bumped down at the Duomo and Campo Santo for two hours, fell exhausted to bed, and skipped out again by the first train next morning. Over the walls of the Campo Santo are some divine crumbs of Benozzo Gozzoli (don't expect me ever to spell the names of dead painters correctly: it is a politeness one owes to the living, but the famous dead are exalted by being spelt phonetically as the heart dictates, and become all the better company for that greatest of unspelled and spread-about names—Shakspere, Shakspeare, Shakespeare—his mark, not himself). Such a long parenthesis requires stepping-stones to carry you over it: "crumbs" was the last (wasn't a whole loaf of bread a stepping-stone in one of Andersen's fairy-tales?): but, indeed, I hadn't time to digest them properly. Let me come back to them before I die, and bury me in that inclosure if you love me as much then as I think you do now.
The Baptistry has a roof of echoes that is wonderful,—a mirror of sound hung over the head of an official who opens his mouth for centimes to drop there. You sing notes up into it (or rather you don't, for that is his perquisite), and they fly circling, and flock, and become a single chord stretching two octaves: till you feel that you are living inside what in the days of our youth would have been called "the sound of a grand Amen."
The cathedral has fine points, or more than points—aspects: but the Italian version of Gothic, with its bands of flat marbles instead of moldings, was a shock to me at first. I only begin to understand it now that I have seen the outside of the Duomo at Florence. Curiously enough, it doesn't strike me as in the least Christian, only civic and splendid, reminding me of what Ruskin says about church architecture being really a dependant on the feudal or domestic. The Strozzi Palace is a beautiful piece of street-architecture; its effect is of an iron hand which gives you a buffet in the face when you look up and wonder—how shall I climb in? I will tell you more about insides when I write next.
I fear my last letter to you from Lucerne may either have strayed, or not even have begun straying: for in the hurry of coming away I left it, addressed, I think, but unstamped; and I am not sure that that particular hotel will be Christian enough to spare the postage out of the bill, which had a galaxy of small extras running into centimes, and suggesting a red-tape rectitude that would not show blind twenty-five-centime gratitude to the backs of departed guests. So be patient and forgiving if I seem to have written little. I found two of yours waiting for me, and cannot choose between them which I find most dear. I will say, for a fancy, the shorter, that you may ever be encouraged to write your shortest rather than none at all. One word from you gives me almost as much pleasure as twenty, for it contains all your sincerity and truth; and what more do I want? Yon bless me quite. How many perfectly happy days I owe to you, and seldom dare dream that I have made any beginning of a return! If I could take one unhappy day out of your life, dearest, the secret would be mine, and no such thing should be left in it. Be happy, beloved! oh, happy, happy,—with me for a partial reason—that is what I wish!
Dearest: The Italian paper-money paralyzes my brain: I cannot calculate in it; and were I left to myself an unscrupulous shopman could empty me of pounds without my becoming conscious of it till I beheld vacuum. But the T——s have been wonderful caretakers to me: and to-morrow Arthur rejoins us, so that I shall be able to resume my full activities under his safe-conduct.
The ways of the Italian cabbies and porters fill me with terror for the time when I may have to fall alive and unassisted into their hands: they have neither conscience nor gratitude, and regard thievish demands when satisfied merely as stepping-stones to higher things.
Many of the outsides of Florence I seemed to know by heart—the Palazzo Vecchio for instance. But close by it Cellini's two statues, the Judith and the Perseus, brought my heart up to my mouth unexpectedly. The Perseus is so out of proportion as to be ludicrous from one point of view: but another is magnificent enough to make me forgive the scamp his autobiography from now to the day of judgment (when we shall all begin forgiving each other in great haste, I suppose, for fear of the devil taking the hindmost!), and I registered a vow on the spot to that effect:—so no more of him here, henceforth, but good!
There is not so much color about as I had expected: and austerity rather than richness is the note of most of the exteriors.
I have not been allowed into the Uffizi yet, so to-day consoled myself with the Pitti. Titian's "Duke of Norfolk" is there, and I loved him, seeing a certain likeness there to somebody whom I—like. A photo of him will be coming to you. Also there is a very fine Lely-Vandyck of Charles I. and Henrietta Maria, a quite moral painting, making a triumphant assertion of that martyr's bad character. I imagine he got into heaven through having his head cut off and cast from him: otherwise all of him would have perished along with his mouth.
Somewhere too high up was hanging a ravishing Botticelli—a Madonna and Child bending over like a wind-blown tree to be kissed by St. John:—a composition that takes you up in its arms and rocks you as you look at it. Andrea del Sarto is to me only a big mediocrity: there is nothing here to touch his chortling child-Christ in our National Gallery.
At Pisa I slept in a mosquito-net, and felt like a bride at the altar under a tulle veil which was too large for her. Here, for lack of that luxury, being assured that there were no mosquitoes to be had, I have been sadly ravaged. The creatures pick out all foreigners, I think, and only when they have exhausted the supply do they pass on to the natives. Mrs. T—— left one foot unveiled when in Pisa, and only this morning did the irritation in the part bitten begin to come out.
I can now ask for a bath in Italian, and order the necessary things for myself in the hotel: also say "come in" and "thank you." But just the few days of that very German table d'hote at Lucerne, where I talked gladly to polish myself up, have given my tongue a hybrid way of talking without thinking: and I say "ja, ja," and "nein," and "der, die, das," as often as not before such Italian nouns as I have yet captured. To fall upon a chambermaid who knows French is like coming upon my native tongue suddenly.
Give me good news of your foot and all that is above it: I am so doubtful of its being really strong yet; and its willing spirits will overcome it some day and do it an injury, and hurt my feelings dreadfully at the same time.
Walk only on one leg whenever you think of me! I tell you truly I am wonderfully little lonely: and yet my thoughts are constantly away with you, wishing, wishing,—what no word on paper can ever carry to you. It shall be at our next meeting!—All yours.
My Dearest: Florence is still eating up all my time and energies: I promised you there should be austerity and self-denial in the matter of letter-writing: and I know you are unselfish enough to expect even less than I send you.
Girls in the street address compliments to Arthur's complexion:— "beautiful brown boy" they call him: and he simmers over with vanity, and wishes he could show them his boating arms, brown up to the shoulder, as well. Have you noticed that combination in some of the dearest specimens of young English manhood,—great physical vanity and great mental modesty? and each as transparently sincere as the other.
The Bargello is an ideal museum for the storage of the best things out of the Middle Ages. It opens out of splendid courtyards and staircases, and ranges through rooms which have quite a feudal gloom about them; most of these are hung with bad late tapestries (too late at least for my taste), so that the gloom is welcome and charming, making even "Gobelins" quite bearable. I find quite a new man here to admire—Pollaiolo, both painter and sculptor, one of the school of "passionate anatomists," as I call them, about the time of Botticelli, I fancy. He has one bust of a young Florentine which equals Verocchio on the same ground, and charms me even more. Some of his subjects are done twice over, in paint and bronze: but he is more really a sculptor, I think, and merely paints his piece into a picture from its best point of view.
Verocchio's idea of David is charming: he is a saucy fellow who has gone in for it for the fun of the thing—knew he could bring down a hawk with his catapult, and therefore why not a Goliath also? If he failed, he need but cut and run, and everybody would laugh and call him plucky for doing even that much. So he does it, brings down his big game by good luck, and stands posing with a sort of irresistible stateliness to suit the result. He has a laugh something like "little Dick's," only more full of bubbles, and is saying to himself, "What a hero they all think me!" He is the merriest of sly-dog hypocrites, and has thin, wiry arms and a craney neck. He is a bit like Tom Sawyer in character, more ornate and dramatic than Huckleberry Finn, but quite as much a liar, given a good cause.
Another thing that has seized me, more for its idea than actual carrying out, is an unnamed terra-cotta Madonna and Child. He is crushing himself up against her neck, open-mouthed and terrified, and she spreading long fingers all over his head and face. My notion of it is that it is the Godhead taking his first look at life from the human point of view; and he realizes himself "caught in his own trap," discovering it to be ever so much worse than it had seemed from an outside view. It is a fine modern zeit-geist piece of declamation to come out of the rather over-sweet della Robbia period of art.
There seems to have been a rage at one period for commissioning statues of David: so Donatello and others just turned to and did what they liked most in the way of budding youth, stuck a Goliath's head at its feet, and called it "David." Verocchio is the exception.
We are going to get outside Florence for a week or ten days; it is too hot to be borne at night after a day of tiring activity. So we go to the D——s' villa, which they offered us in their absence; it lies about four miles out, and is on much higher ground: address only your very immediately next letter there, or it may miss me.
There are hills out there with vineyards among them which draw me into wishing to be away from towns altogether. Much as I love what is to be found in this one, I think Heaven meant me to be "truly rural"; which all falls in, dearest, with what I mean to be! Beloved, how little I sometimes can say to you! Sometimes my heart can put only silence into the end of a letter; and with that I let this one go.—Yours, and so lovingly.
Beloved: I had your last letter on Friday: all your letters have come in their right numbers. I have lost count of mine; but I think seven and two postcards is the total, which is the same as the numbers of clean and unclean beasts proportionately represented in the ark.
Up here we are out of the deadliness of the heat, and are thankful for it. Vineyards and olives brush the eyes between the hard, upright bars of the cypresses: and Florence below is like a hot bath which we dip into and come out again. At the Riccardi chapel I found Benozzo Gozzoli, not in crumbs, but perfectly preserved: a procession of early Florentine youths, turning into angels when they get to the bay of the window where the altar once stood. The more I see of them, the greater these early men seem to me: I shall be afraid to go to Venice soon; Titian will only half satisfy me, and Tintoretto, I know, will be actively annoying: I shall stay in my gondola, as your American lady did on her donkey after riding twenty miles to visit the ruins, of—Carnac, was it not? It is well to have the courage of one's likings and dislikings, that is the only true culture (the state obtained by use of a "coulter" or cutter)—I cut many things severely which, no doubt, are good for other people.
Botticelli I was shy of, because of the craze about him among people who know nothing: he is far more wonderful than I had hoped, both at the Uffizi and the Academia: but he is quite pagan. I don't know why I say "but"; he is quite typical of the world's art-training: Christianity may get hold of the names and dictate the subjects, but the artist-breed carries a fairly level head through it all, and, like Pater's Mona Lisa, draws Christianity and Paganism into one: at least, wherever it reaches perfect expression it has done so. Some of the distinctly primitives are different; their works inclose a charm which is not artistic. Fra Angelico, after being a great disappointment to me in some of his large set pictures in the Academia and elsewhere, shows himself lovely in fresco (though I think the "crumb" element helps him). His great Crucifixion is big altogether, and has so permanent a force in its aloofness from mere drama and mere life. In San Marco, the cells of the monks are quite charming, a row of little square bandboxes under a broad raftered corridor, and in every cell is a beautiful little fresco for the monks to live up to. But they no longer live there now: all that part of San Marco has become a peep-show.
I liked being in Savonarola's room, and was more susceptible to the remains of his presence than I have been to Michel Angelo or anyone else's. Michel Angelo I feel most when he has left a thing unfinished; then one can put one's finger into the print of the chisel, and believe anything of the beauty that might have come out of the great stone chrysalis lying cased and rough, waiting to be raised up to life.
Yesterday Arthur and I walked from here to Fiesole, which we had neglected while in Florence—six miles going, and more like twelve coming back, all because of Arthur's absurd cross-country instinct, which, after hours of river-bends, bare mountain tracks, and tottering precipices, brought us out again half a mile nearer Florence than when we started.
At Fiesole is the only church about here whose interior architecture I have greatly admired, austere but at the same time gracious—like a Madonna of the best period of painting. We also went to look at the Roman baths and theater: the theater is charming enough, because it is still there: but for the baths—oblongs of stone don't interest me just because they are old. All stone is old: and these didn't even hold water to give one the real look of the thing. Too tired, and even more too lazy, to write other things, except love, most dear Beloved.
Dearest: We were to have gone down with the rest into Florence yesterday: but soft miles of Italy gleamed too invitingly away on our right, and I saw Arthur's eyes hungry with the same far-away wish. So I said "Prato," and he ran up to the fattore's and secured a wondrous shandry-dan with just space enough between its horns to toss the two of us in the direction where we would go. Its gaunt framework was painted of a bright red, and our feet had only netting to rest on: so constructed, the creature was most vital and light of limb, taking every rut on the road with flea-like agility. Oh, but it was worth it!
We had a drive of fourteen miles through hills and villages, and castellated villas with gardens shut in by formidably high walls—always, a charm: a garden should always have something of the jealous seclusion of a harem. I am getting Italian landscape into my system, and enjoy it more and more.
Prato is a little cathedral town, very like the narrow and tumble-down parts of Florence, only more so. The streets were a seething caldron of cattle-market when we entered, which made us feel like a tea-cup in a bull-ring (or is it thunderstorm?) as we drove through needle's-eye ways bristling with agitated horns.
The cathedral is little and good: damaged, of course, wherever the last three centuries have laid hands on it. At the corner of the west front is an out-door pulpit beautifully put on with a mushroom hood over its head. The main lines of the interior are finely severe, either quite round or quite flat, and proportions good always. An upholstered priest coming out to say mass is generally a sickening sight, so wicked and ugly in look and costume. The best-behaved people are the low-down beggars, who are most decoratively devotional.
We tried to model our exit on a brigand-beggar who came in to ask permission to murder one of his enemies. He got his request granted at one of the side-altars (some strictly local Madonna, I imagine), and his gratitude as he departed was quite touching. Having studiously copied his exit, we want to know whom we shall murder to pay ourselves for our trouble.
It amuses me to have my share of driving over these free and easy and very narrow highroads. But A. has to do the collision-shouting and the cries of "Via!"—the horse only smiles when he hears me do it.
Also did I tell you that on Saturday we two walked from here over to Fiesole—six miles there, and ten back: for why?—because we chose to go what Arthur calls "a bee-line across country," having thought we had sighted a route from the top of Fiesole. But in the valley we lost it, and after breaking our necks over precipices and our hearts down cul-de-sacs that led nowhere, and losing all the ways that were pointed out to us, for lack of a knowledge of the language, we came out again into view of Florence about half a mile nearer than when we started and proportionately far away from home. When he had got me thoroughly foot-sore, Arthur remarked complacently, "The right way to see a country is to lose yourself in it!" I didn't feel the truth of it then: but applied to other things I perceive its wisdom. Dear heart, where I have lost myself, what in all the world do I know so well as you?
Your most lost and loving.
Beloved: Rain swooped down on us from on high during the night, and the country is cut into islands: the river from a rocky wriggling stream has risen into a tawny, opaque torrent that roars with a voice a mile long and is become quite unfordable. The little mill-stream just below has broken its banks and poured itself away over the lower vineyards into the river; a lot of the vines look sadly upset, generally unhinged and unstrung, yet I am told the damage is really small. I hope so, for I enjoyed a real lash-out of weather, after the changelessness of the long heat.
I have been down in Florence beginning to make my farewells to the many things I have seen too little of. We start away for Venice about the end of the week. At the Uffizi I seem to have found out all my future favorites the first day, and very little new has come to me; but most of them go on growing. The Raphael lady is quite wonderful; I think she was in love with him, and her soul went into the painting though he himself did not care for her; and she looks at you and says, "See a miracle: he was able to paint this, and never knew that I loved him!" It is wonderful that; but I suppose it can be done,—a soul pass into a work and haunt it without its creator knowing anything about how it came there. Always when I come across anything like that which has something inner and rather mysterious, I tremble and want to get back to you. You are the touchstone by which I must test everything that is a little new and unfamiliar.
From now onwards, dearest, you must expect only cards for a time: it is not settled yet whether we stop at Padua on our way in or our way out. I am clamoring for Verona also; but that will be off our route, so Arthur and I may go there alone for a couple of greedy days, which I fear will only leave me dissatisfied and wishing I had had patience to depend on coming again—perhaps with you!
Uncle N. has written of your numerous visits to him, and I understand you have been very good in his direction. He does not speak of loneliness; and with Anna and her brood next week or now, he will be as happy as his temperament allows him to be when he has nothing to worry over.
I am proud to say I have gone brown without freckles. And are you really as cheerful as you write yourself to be? Dearest and best, when is your holiday to begin; and is it to be with me? Does anywhere on earth hold that happiness for us both in the near future? I kiss you well, Beloved.
Dearest: Venice is round me as I write! Well, I will not waste my Baedeker knowledge on you,—you too can get a copy; and it is not the panoramic view of things you will be wanting from me: it is my own particular Venice I am to find out and send you. So first of all from the heart of it I send you mine: when I have kissed you I will go on. My eyes have been seeing so much that is new, I shall want a fresh vocabulary for it all. But mainly I want to say, let us be here again together quickly, before we lose any more of our youth or our two-handed hold on life. I get short of breath thinking of it!
So let it be here, Beloved, that some of our soon-to-be happiness opens and shuts its eyes: for truly Venice is a sleepy place. I am wanting, and taking, nine hours' sleep after all I do!
Outside coming over the flats from Padua, she looked something like a manufacturing town at its ablutions,—a smoky chimney well to the fore: but get near to her and you find her standing on turquoise, her feet set about with jaspers, and with one of her eyes she ravishes you: and all her campanile are like the "thin flames" of "souls mounting up to God."
That is from without: within she becomes too sensuous and civic in her splendor to let me think much of souls. "Rest and be indolent" is the motto for the life she teaches. The architecture is the song of the lotos-eater built into stone—were I in a more florid mood I would have said "swan-song," for the whole stands finished with nothing more to be added: it has sung itself out: and if there is a moral to it all, no doubt it is in Ruskin, and I don't wont to read it just now.
What I want is you close at hand looking up at all this beauty, and smiling when I smile, which is your way, as if you had no opinions of your own about anything in which you are not a professor. So you will write and agree that I am to have the pleasure of this return to look forward to? If I know that, I shall be so much more reconciled to all the joy of the things I am seeing now for the first time: and shall see so much better the second, Beloved, when your eyes are here helping me.
Here is love, dearest! help yourself to just as much as you wish for; though all that I send is good for you! No letter from you since Florence, but I am neither sad nor anxious: only all the more your loving.
Beloved: The weather is as gray as England to-day, and much rainier. To feel it on my cheeks and be back north with that and warmer things, I would go out in it in the face of protests, and had to go alone—not Arthur even being in the mood just then for a patriotic quest of the uncomfortable. I had myself oared into the lagoons across a racing current and a driving head-wind which made my gondolier bend like a distressed poplar over his oar; patience on a monument smiling at backsheesh—"all comes to him who knows."
Of course, for comfort and pleasure, and everything but economy, we have picked up a gondolier to pet: we making much of him, and he much out of us. He takes Arthur to a place where he can bathe—to use his own expression—"cleanly," that is to say, unconventionally; and this appropriately enough is on the borders of a land called "the Garden of Eden" (being named so after its owners). He—"Charon," I call him—is large and of ruddy countenance, and talks English in blinkers—that is to say, gondola English—out of which he could not find words to summon me a cab even if it were not opposed to his interests. Still there are no cabs to be called in Venice, and he is teaching us that the shortest way is always by water. If Arthur is not punctually in his gondola by 7 A.M., I hear a call for the "Signore Inglese" go up to his window; and it is hungry Charon waiting to ferry him.
Yesterday your friend Mr. C—— called and took me over to Murano in a beautiful pair-oared boat that simply flew. There I saw a wonderful apse filled with mosaic of dull gold, wherein is set a blue-black figure of the Madonna, ten heads high and ten centuries old, which almost made me become a Mariolatrist on the spot. She stands leaning up the bend with two pale hands lifted in ghostly blessing. Underfoot the floor is all mosaic, mountainous with age and earthquakes; the architecture classic in the grip of Byzantine Christianity, which is like the spirit of God moving on the face of the waters, or Ezekiel prophesying to the dry bones.
The Colleoni is quite as much more beautiful in fact and seen full-size as I had hoped from all smaller reproductions. A fine equestrian figure always strikes one as enthroned, and not merely riding; if I can't get that, I consider a centaur the nobler creature with its human body set down into the socket of the brute, and all fire—a candle burning at both ends: which, in a way, is what the centaur means, I imagine?
Bellini goes on being wonderful, and for me beats Raphael's Blenheim Madonna period on its own ground. I hear now that the Raphael lady I raved over in Florence is no Raphael at all,—which accounts for it being so beautiful and interesting—to me, I hasten to add. Raphael's studied calmness, his soul of "invisible soap and imperceptible water," may charm some; me it only chills or leaves unmoved.
Is this more about art than you care to hear? I have nothing to say about myself, except that I am as happy as a cut-in-half thing can be. Is it any use sending kind messages to your mother? If so, my heart is full of them. Bless you, dearest, and good-night.
Dearest: St. Mark's inside is entirely different from anything I had imagined. I had expected a grove of pillars instead of these wonderful breadths of wall; and the marble overlay I had not understood at all till I saw it. My admiration mounts every time I enter: it has a different gloom from any I have ever been in, more joyous and satisfying, not in the least moody as our own Gothic seems sometimes to be; and saints instead of devils look at you solemn-eyed from every corner of shade.
A heavy rain turns the Piazza into a lake: this morning Arthur had to carry me across. Other foolish Englishwomen were shocked at such means, and paddled their own leaky canoes, or stood on the brink and looked miserable. The effect of rain-pool reflections on the inside of St. Mark's is noticeable, causing it to bloom unexpectedly into fresh subtleties and glories. The gold takes so sympathetically to any least tint of color that is in the air, and counts up the altar candles even unto its furthest recesses and cupolas.
I think before I leave Venice I shall find about ten Tintorettos which I really like. Best of all is that Bacchus and Ariadne in the Ducal Palace, of which you gave me the engraving. His "Marriage of St. Catherine," which is there also, has all Veronese's charm of color and what I call his "breeding"; and in the ceiling of the Council Chamber is one splendid figure of a sea-youth striding a dolphin.
Last evening we climbed the San Giorgio campanile for a sunset view of Venice; it is a much better point of view than the St. Mark's one, and we were lucky in our sunset. Venice again looked like a beautified factory town, blue and blue with smoke and evening mists. Down below in the church I met a delightful Capuchin priest who could talk French, and a poor, very young lay-brother who had the holy custody of the eyes heavily upon his conscience when I spoke to him. I was so sorry for him!
The Mother-Aunt is ill in bed; but as she is at the present moment receiving three visitors, you will understand about how ill. The fact is, she is worn to death with sight-seeing. I can't stop her; while she is on her legs it is her duty, and she will. The consequence is I get rushed through things I want to let soak into me, and have to go again. My only way of getting her to rest has been by deserting her; and then I come back and receive reproaches with a meek countenance.
Mr. C—— has been good to us and cordial, and brings his gondola often to our service. A gondola and pair has quite a different motion from a one-oared gondola; it is like riding a seahorse instead of a sea-camel— almost exciting, only it is so soft in its prancings.
He took A. and myself into the procession which welcomed the crowned heads last Wednesday; the hurly-burly of it was splendid. We tore down the Grand Canal from end to end, almost cheek by jowl with the royalties; the M.-A. was quite jubilant when she heard we had had such "good places." Hundreds of gondolas swarmed round; many of them in the old Carpaccio rig-outs, very gorgeous though a little tawdry when taken out of the canvas. Hut the rush and the collisions, and the sound of many waters walloping under the bellies of the gondolas, and the blows of fighting oars—regular underwater wrestling matches—made it as vivid and amusing as a prolonged Oxford and Cambridge boat-race in fancy costume. Our gondoliers streamed with the exertion, and looked like men fighting a real battle, and yet enjoyed it thoroughly. Violent altercations with police-boats don't ruffle them at all; at one moment it looks daggers drawn; at the next it is shrugs and smiles. Often, from not knowing enough of Italian and Italian ways, I get hot all over when an ordinary discussion is going on, thinking that blows are about to be exchanged. The Mother-Aunt had hung a wonderful satin skirt out of window for decoration; and when she leaned over it in a bodice of the same color, it looked as if she were sitting with her legs out as well! I suppose it was this peculiar effect that, when the King and Queen came by earlier in the morning, won for her a special bow and smile.
I must hurry or I shall miss the post that I wish to catch. There seems little chance now of my getting you in Venice; but elsewhere perhaps you will drop to me out of the clouds.
Your own and most loving.
My Own, Own Beloved: Say that my being away does not seem too long? I have not had a letter yet, and that makes me somehow not anxious but compunctious; only writing to you of all I do helps to keep me in good conscience. Not the other foot gone to the mender's, I hope, with the same obstructive accompaniments as went to the setting-up again of the last? If I don't hear soon, you will have me dancing on wires, which cost as much by the word as a gondola by the hour.
Yesterday we went to see Carpaccio at his best in San Giorgio di Schiavone: two are St. George pictures, three St. Jeromes, and two of some other saint unknown to me. The St. Jerome series is really a homily on the love and pathos of animals. First is St. Jerome in his study with a sort of unclipped white poodle in the pictorial place of honor, all alone on a floor beautifully swept and garnished, looking up wistfully to his master busy at writing (a Benjy saying, "Come and take me for a walk, there's a good saint!"). Scattered among the adornments of the room are small bronzes of horses and, I think, birds. So, of course, these being his tastes, when St. Jerome goes into the wilderness, a lion takes to him, and accompanies him when he pays a call on the monks in a neighboring monastery. Thereupon, holy men of little faith, the entire fraternity take to their heels and rush upstairs, the hindermost clinging to the skirts of the formermost to be hauled the quicker out of harm's way. And all the while the lion stands incorrectly offering the left paw, and Jerome with shrugs tries to explain that even the best butter wouldn't melt in his dear lion's mouth. After that comes the tragedy. St. Jerome lies dying in excessive odor of sanctity, and all the monks crowd round him with prayers and viaticums, and the ordinary stuffy pieties of a "happy death," while Jerome wonders feebly what it is he misses in all this to-do for which he cares so little. And there, elbowed far out into the cold, the lion lies and lifts his poor head and howls because he knows his master is being taken from him. Quite near to him, fastened to a tree, a queer, nondescript, crocodile-shaped dog runs out the length of its tether to comfort the disconsolate beast: but la bete humaine has got the whip-hand of the situation. In another picture is a parrot that has just mimicked a dog, or called "Carlo!" and then laughed: the dog turns his head away with a sleek, sheepish, shy look, exactly as a sensitive dog does when you make fun of him.
These are, perhaps, mere undercurrents of pictures which are quite glorious in color and design, but they help me to love Carpaccio to distraction; and when the others lose me, they hunt through all the Carpaccios in Venice till they find me!
Love me a little more if possible while I am so long absent from you! What I do and what I think go so much together now, that you will take what I write as the most of me that it is possible to cram in, coming back to you to share everything.
Under such an Italian sky as to-day how I would like to see your face! Here, dearest, among these palaces you would be in your peerage, for I think you have some southern blood in you.
Curious that, with all my fairness, somebody said to me to-day, "But you are not quite English, are you?" And I swore by the nine gods of my ancestry that I was nothing else. But the look is in us: my father had a foreign air, but made up for it by so violent a patriotism that Uncle N. used to call him "John Bull let loose."
My love to England. Is it showing much autumn yet? My eyes long for green fields again. Since I have been in Italy I had not seen one until the other day from the top of St. Giorgio Maggiore, where one lies in hiding under the monastery walls.
All that I see now quickens me to fresh thoughts of you. Yet do not expect me to come back wiser: my last effort at wisdom was to fall in love with you, and there I stopped for good and all. There I am still, everything included: what do you want more? My letter and my heart both threaten to be over-weight, so no more of them this time. Most dearly do I love you.
Beloved: If two days slip by, I don't know where I am when I come to write; things get so crowded in such a short space of time. Where I left off I know not: I will begin where I am most awake—your letter which I have just received.
That is well, dearest, that is well indeed: a truce till February! And since the struggle then must needs be a sharp one—with only one end, as we know,—do not vex her now by any overt signs of preparation as if you assumed already that her final arguments were to be as so much chaff before the wind. You do not tell me what she argues, and I do not ask. She does not say I shall not love you enough!
To answer businesslike to your questions first: with your forgiveness we stay here till the 25th, and get back to England with the last of the month. Does that seem a very cruel, far-off date? Others have the wish to stay even longer, and it would be no fairness to hurry them beyond a certain degree of reasonableness with my particular reason for impatience, seeing, moreover, that in your love I have every help for remaining patient. It is too much to hope, I suppose, that the "truce" sets you free now, and that you could meet us here after all, and prolong our stay indefinitely? I know one besides myself who would be glad, and would welcome an outside excuse dearly.
For, oh, the funniness of near and dear things! Arthur's heart is laid up with a small love affair, and it is the comicalest of internal maladies. He is screwing up courage to tell me all about it, and I write in haste before my mouth is sealed by his confidences. I fancy I know the party, an energetic little mortal whom we met at Lucerne, where Arthur lingered while we came on to Florence. She talked vaguely of being in Venice some time this autumn; and the vagueness continues. Arthur, in consequence, roams round disconsolately with no interest but in hotel books. And for fear lest we should gird up his loins and drag him away with us out of Paradisal possibilities, he is forever praising Venice as a resting-place, and saying he wants to be nowhere else. The bathing just keeps him alive; but when put to it to explain what charms him since pictures do not, and architecture only slightly, he says in exemplary brotherly fashion that he likes to see me completing my education and enthusiasms,—and does not realize with how foreign an air that explanation sits upon his shoulders.
I saw to-day a remnant of your patron saint, and for your sake transferred a kiss to it, Italian fashion, with my thumb and the sign of the cross. I hope it will do you good. Also, I have been up among the galleries of St. Mark's, and about the roof and the west front where somebody or another painted his picture of the bronze horses.
The pigeons get to recognize people personally, and grow more intimate every time we come. I even conceive they make favorites, for I had three pecking food out of my mouth to-day and refusing to take it in any other fashion, and they coo and say thank you before and after every seed they take or spill. They are quite the pleasantest of all the Italian beggars—and the cleanest.
Your friend pressed us in to tea yesterday: I think less for the sake of giving us tea than that we should see his palace, or rather his first floor, in which alone he seems to lose himself. I have no idea for measurements, but I imagine his big sala is about eighty feet long and perhaps twenty-five feet across, with a flat-beamed roof, windows at each end, and portieres along the walls of old blue Venetian linen: a place in which it seems one could only live and think nobly. His face seems to respond to its teachings. What more might not an environment like that bring out in you? Come and let me see! I have hopes springing as I think of things that you may be coming after all; and that that is what lay concealed under the gayety of your last paragraph. Then I am more blessed even than I knew. What, you are coming? So well I do love you, my Beloved!
Dearest: This letter will travel with me: we leave to-day. Our movements are to be too restless and uncomfortable for the next few days for me to have a chance of quiet seeing or quiet writing anywhere. At Riva we shall rest, I hope.
Yesterday a storm began coming over towards evening, and I thought to myself that if it passed in time there should be a splendid sunset of smolder and glitter to be seen from the Campanile, and perhaps by good chance a rainbow.
I went alone: when I got to the top the rain was pelting hard; so there I stayed happily weather-bound for an hour looking over Venice "silvered with slants of rain," and watching umbrellas scuttering below with toes beneath them. The golden smolder was very slow in coming: it lay over the mainland and came creeping along the railway track. Then came the glitter and the sun, and I turned round and found my rainbow. But it wasn't a bow, it was a circle: the Campanile stood up as it were a spoke in the middle,—the lower curve of the rainbow lay on the ground of the Piazzetta, cut off sharp by the shadow of the Campanile. It was worth waiting an hour to see. The islands shone mellow and bright in the clearance with the storm going off black behind them. Good-by, Venice!
* * * * *
Verona began by seeming dull to me; but it improves and unfolds beautiful corners of itself to be looked at: only I am given so little time. The Tombs of the Della Scalas and the Renaissance facade of the Consiglio are what chiefly delight me. I had some quiet hours in the Museo, where I fell in love with a little picture by an unknown painter, of Orpheus charming the beasts in a wandering green landscape, with a dance of fauns in the distance, and here and there Eurydice running;—and Orpheus in Hades, and the Thracian women killing him, and a crocodile fishing out his head, and mermaids and ducks sitting above their reflections reflecting.
Also there is one beautiful Tobias and the Angel there by a painter whose name I most ungratefully forget. I saw a man yesterday carrying fishes in the market, each strung through the gills on a twig of myrtle: that is how Tobias ought to carry his fish: when a native custom suggests old paintings, how charming it always is!
We have just got here from Verona. In the matter of the garden at least it is a Paradise of a place. A great sill of honeysuckle leans out from my window: beyond is a court grown round with creepers, and beyond that the garden—such a garden! The first thing one sees is an arcade of vines upon stone pillars, between which peep stacks of roses, going off a little from their glory now, and right away stretches an alley of green, that shows at the end, a furlong off, the blue glitter of water. It is a beautifully wild garden: grass and vegetables and trees and roses all grow in a jungle together. There are little groves of bamboo and chestnut and willow; and a runnel of water is somewhere—I can hear it. It suggests rest, which I want; and so, for all its difference, suggests you, whom also I want,—more, I own it now, than I have said! But that went without saying, Beloved, as it always must if it is to be the truth and nothing short of the truth.
While this has been waiting to go, your letter has been put into my hands. I am too happy to say words about it, and can afford now to let this go as it is. The little time of waiting for you will be perfect happiness now; and your coming seems to color all that is behind as well. I have had a good time indeed, and was only wearying with the plethora of my enjoyment: but the better time has been kept till now. We shall be together day after day and all day long for at least a month, I hope: a joy that has never happened to us yet.
Never mind about the lost letter now, dearest, dearest: Venice was a little empty just one week because of it. I still hope it will come; but what matter?—I know you will. All my heart waits for you.—Your most glad and most loving.
Dearest: I saw an old woman riding a horse astride: and I was convinced on the spot that this is the rightest way of riding, and that the sidesaddle was a foolish and affected invention. The horse was fine, and so was the young man leading it: the old woman was upright and stately, with a wide hat and full petticoats like a Maximilian soldier.
This was at Bozen, where we stayed for two nights, and from which I have brought a cold with me: it seems such an English thing to have, that I feel quite at home in the discomfort of it. It had been such wonderful weather that we were sitting out of doors every evening up to 9.30 P.M. without wraps, and on our heads only our "widows' caps." (The M.-A. persists in a style which suggests that Uncle N. has gone to a better world.) Mine was too flimsy a work of fiction, and a day before I had been for a climb and got wet through, so a chill laid its benediction on my head, and here I am,—not seriously incommoded by the malady, but by the remedy, which is the M.-A. full of kind quackings and fierce tyranny if I do but put my head out of window to admire the view, whose best is a little round the corner.
I had no idea Innsbruck was so high up among the mountains: snows are on the peaks all around. Behind the house-tops, so close and near, lies a quarter circle of white crests. You are told that in winter creatures come down and look in at the windows: sometimes they are called wolves, sometimes bears—any way the feeling is mediaeval.
Hereabouts the wayside shrines nearly always contain a crucifix, whereas in Italy that was rare—the Virgin and Child being the most common. I remarked on this, which I suppose gave rise to a subsequent observation of the M.-A.'s: "I think the Tyrolese are a good people: they are not given over to Mariolatry like those poor priest-ridden Italians." I think, however, that they merely have that fundamental grace, religious simplicity, worshiping—just what they can get, for yesterday I saw two dear old bodies going round and telling their beads before the bronze statues of the Maximilian tomb—King Arthur, Charles the Bold, etc. I suppose, by mere association, a statue helps them to pray.
The national costume does look so nice, though not exactly beautiful. I like the flat, black hats with long streamers behind and a gold tassel, and the spacious apron. Blue satin is a favorite style, always silk or satin for Sunday best: one I saw of pearl-white brocade.
Since we came north we have had lovely weather, except the one day of which I am still the filterings: and morning along the Brenner Pass was perfect. I think the mountains look most beautiful quite early, at sunrise, when they are all pearly and mysterious.
We go on to Zurich on Thursday, and then, Beloved, and then!—so this must be my last letter, since I shall have nowhere to write to with you rushing all across Europe and resting nowhere because of my impatience to have you. The Mother-Aunt concedes a whole month, but Arthur will have to leave earlier for the beginning of term. How little my two dearest men have yet seen of each other! Barely a week lies between us: this will scarcely catch you. Dearest of dearests, my heart waits on yours.
My Dearest: See what an effect your "gallous young hound" episode has had on me. I send it back to you roughly done into rhyme. I don't know whether it will carry; for, outside your telling of it, "Johnnie Kigarrow" is not a name of heroic sound. What touches me as so strangely complete about it is that you should have got that impression and momentary romantic delusion as a child, and now hear, years after, of his disappearing out of life thus fittingly and mysteriously, so that his name will fix its legend to the countryside for many a long day. I would like to go there some day with you, and standing on Twloch Hill imagine all the country round as the burial-place of the strong man on whose knees my beloved used to play when a child.
It must have been soon after this that your brother died: truly, dearest, from now, and strangely, this Johnnie Kigarrow will seem more to me than him; touching a more heroic strain of idea, and stiffening fibers in your nature that brotherhood, as a rule, has no bearing on.
A short letter to-day, Beloved, because what goes with it is so long. This is the first time I have come before your eyes as anything but a letter-writer, and I am doubtful whether you will care to have so much all about yourself. Yet for that very reason think how much I loved doing it! I am jealous of those days before I knew you, and want to have all their wild-honey flavor for myself. Do remember more, and tell me! Dearest heart, it was to me you were coming through all your scampers and ramblings; no wonder, with that unknown good running parallel, that my childhood was a happy one. May long life bless you, Beloved!
My brother and I were down in Wales, And listened by night to the Welshman's tales; He was eleven and I was ten. We sat on the knees of the farmer's men After the whole day's work was done: And I was friends with the farmer's son. His hands were rough as his arms were strong, His mouth was merry and loud for song; Each night when set by the ingle-wall He was the merriest man of them all. I would catch at his beard and say All the things I had done in the day— Tumbled bowlders over the force, Swum in the river and fired the gorse— "Half the side of the hill!" quoth I:— "Ah!" cried he, "and didn't you die?"
"Chut!" said he, "but the squeak was narrow! Didn't you meet with Johnnie Kigarrow?" "No!" said I, "and who will he be? And what will be Johnnie Kigarrow to me?" The farmer's son said under his breath, "Johnnie Kigarrow may be your death Listen you here, and keep you still— Johnnie Kigarrow bides under the hill; Twloch barrow stands over his head; He shallows the river to make his bed; Bowlders roll when he stirs a limb; And the gorse on the hills belongs to him! And if so be one fires his gorse, He's out of his bed, and he mounts his horse. Off he sets: with the first long stride He is halfway over the mountain side: With his second stride he has crossed the barrow, And he has you fast, has Johnnie Kigarrow!"
Half I laughed and half I feared; I clutched and tugged at the strong man's beard, And bragged as brave as a boy could be— "So? but, you see, he didn't catch me!"
Fear caught hold of me: what had I done? High as the roof rose the farmer's son: How the sight of him froze my marrow! "I," he cried, "am Johnnie Kigarrow!"
Well, you wonder, what was the end? Never forget;—he had called me "friend"! Mighty of limb, and hard, and blown; Quickly he laughed and set me down. "Heh!" said, he, "but the squeak was narrow, Not to be caught by Johnnie Kigarrow!"
Now, I hear, after years gone by, Nobody knows how he came to die. He strode out one night of storm: "Get you to bed, and keep you warm!" Out into darkness so went he: Nobody knows where his bones may be.
Only I think—if his tongue let go Truth that once,—how perhaps I know. Twloch river, and Twloch barrow, Do you cover my Johnnie Kigarrow?
Dearest: I have been doing something so wise and foolish: mentally wise, I mean, and physically foolish. Do you guess?—Disobeying your parting injunction, and sitting up to see eclipses.
It was such a luxury to do as I was not told just for once; to feel there was an independent me still capable of asserting itself. My belief is that, waking, you hold me subjugated: but, once your godhead has put on its spiritual nightcap, and begun nodding, your mesmeric influence relaxes. Up starts resolution and independence, and I breathe desolately for a time, feeling myself once more a free woman.
'Twas a tremulous experience, Beloved; but I loved it all the more for that. How we love playing at grief and death—the two things that must come—before it is their due time! I took a look at my world for three most mortal hours last night, trying to see you out of it. And oh, how close it kept bringing me! I almost heard you breathe, and was forever wondering—Can we ever be nearer, or love each other more than we do? For that we should each want a sixth sense, and a second soul: and it would still be only the same spread out over larger territory. I prefer to keep it nesting close in its present limitations, where it feels like a "growing pain"; children have it in their legs, we in our hearts.
I am growing sleepy as I write, and feel I am sending you a dull letter,—my penalty for doing as you forbade.
I sat up from half-past one to a quarter to five to see our shadow go over heaven. I didn't see much, the sky was too piebald: but I was not disappointed, as I had never watched the darkness into dawn like that before: and it was interesting to hear all the persons awaking:—cocks at half-past four, frogs immediately after, then pheasants and various others following. I was cuddled close up against my window, throned in a big arm-chair with many pillows, a spirit-lamp, cocoa, bread and butter, and buns; so I fared well. Just after the pheasants and the first querulous fidgetings of hungry blackbirds comes a soft pattering along the path below: and Benjy, secretive and important, is fussing his way to the shrubbery, when instinct or real sentiment prompts him to look up at my window; he gives a whimper and a wag, and goes on. I try to persuade myself that he didn't see me, and that he does this, other mornings, when I am not thus perversely bolstered up in rebellion, and peering through blinds at wrong hours. Isn't there something pathetic in the very idea that a dog may have a behind-your-back attachment of that sort?—that every morning he looks up at an unresponsive blank, and wags, and goes by?
I heard him very happy in the shrubs a moment after: he and a pheasant, I fancy, disputing over a question of boundaries. And he comes in for breakfast, three hours later, looking positively fresh, and wants to know why I am yawning.
Most mornings he brings your letter up to my room in his mouth. It is old Nan-nan's joke: she only sends up yours so, and pretends it is Benjy's own clever selection. I pretend that, too, to him; and he thinks he is doing something wonderful. The other morning I was—well, Benjy hears splashing: and tires of waiting—or his mouth waters. An extra can of hot water happens to stand at the door; and therein he deposits his treasure (mine, I mean), and retires saying nothing. The consequence is, when I open three minutes after his scratch, I find you all ungummed and swimming, your beautiful handwriting bleared and smeared, so that no eye but mine could have read it. Benjy's shame when I showed him what he had done was wonderful.
How it rejoices me to write quite foolish things to you!—that I can helps to explain a great deal in the up-above order of things, which I never took in when I was merely young and frivolous. One must have touched a grave side of life before one can take in that Heaven is not opposed to laughter.
My eye has just caught back at what I have written; and the "little death" runs through me, just because I wrote "grave side." It shouldn't, but loving has made me superstitious: the happiness seems too great; how can it go on? I keep thinking—this is not life: you are too much for me, my dearest!
Oh, my Beloved, come quickly to meet me to-day: this morning! Ride over; I am willing it. My own dearest, you must come. If you don't, what shall I believe? That Love cannot outdo space: that when you are away I cannot reach you by willing. But I can: come to me! You shall see my arms open to you as never before. What is it?—you must be coming. I have more love in me after all than I knew.
Ah, I know: I wrote "grave side," and all my heart is in arms against the treason. With us it is not "till death us do part": we leap it altogether, and are clasped on the other side.
My dear, my dear, I lay my head down on your heart: I love you! I post this to show how certain I am. At twelve to-day I shall see you.
Beloved: I look at this ridiculous little nib now, running like a plow along the furrows! What can the poor thing do? Bury its poor black, blunt little nose in the English language in order to tell you, in all sorts of roundabout ways, what you know already as well as I do. And yet, though that is all it can do, you complain of not having had a letter! Not had a letter? Beloved, there are half a hundred I have not had from you! Do you suppose you have ever, any one week in your life, sent me as many as I wanted?
Now, for once, I did hold off and didn't write to you: because there was something in your last I couldn't give any answer to, and I hoped you would come yourself before I need. Then I hoped silence would bring you: and now—no!—instead of your dear peace-giving face I get this complaint!
Ah, Beloved, have you in reality any complaint, or sorrow that I can set at rest? Or has that little, little silence made you anxious? I do come to think so, for you never flourish your words about as I do: so, believing that, I would like to write again differently; only it is truer to let what I have written stand, and make amends for it in all haste. I love you so infinitely well, how could even a year's silence give you any doubt or anxiety, so long as you knew I was not ill?
"Should one not make great concessions to great grief even when it is unreasonable?" I cannot answer, dearest: I am in the dark. Great grief cannot be great without reasons: it should give them, and you should judge by them:—you, not I. I imagine you have again been face to face with fierce, unexplained opposition. Dearest, if it would give you happiness, I would say, make five, ten, twenty years' "concession," as you call it. But the only time you ever spoke to me clearly about your mother's mind toward me, you said she wanted an absolute surrender from you, not covered only by her lifetime. Then though I pitied her, I had to smile. A twenty years' concession even would not give rest to her perturbed spirit. I pray truly—having so much reason for your sake to pray it—"God rest her soul! and give her a saner mind toward both of us."
Why has this come about at all? It is not February yet: and our plans have been putting forth no buds before their time. When the day comes, and you have said the inevitable word, I think more calm will follow than you expect. You, dearest, I do understand: and the instinct of tenderness you have toward a claim which yet fills you with the sense of its injustice. I know that you can laugh at her threat to make you poor; but not at hurting her affections. Did your asking for an "answer" mean that I was to write so openly? Bless you, my own dearest.
Dearest: To-day I came upon a strange spectacle: poor old Nan-nan weeping for wounded pride in me. I found her stitching at raiment of needlework that is to be mine (piles of it have been through her fingers since the word first went out; for her love asserts that I am to go all home-made from my old home to my new one—wherever that may be!). And she was weeping because, as I slowly got to understand, from one particular quarter too little attention had been paid to me:—the kow-tow of a ceremonious reception into my new status had not been deep enough to make amends to her heart for its partial loss of me.
Her deferential recognition of the change which is coming is pathetic and full of etiquette; it is at once so jealous and so unselfish. Because her sense of the proprieties will not allow her to do so much longer, she comes up to my room and makes opportunity to scold me over quite slight things:—and there I am, meeker under her than I would be to any relative. So to-day I had to bear a statement of your mother's infirmities rigorously outlined in a way I could only pretend to be deaf to until she had done. Then I said, "Nan-nan, go and say your prayers!" And as she stuck her heels down and refused to go, there I left the poor thing, not to prayer, I fear, but to desolate weeping, in which love and pride will get more firmly entangled together than ever.
I know when I go up to my room next I shall find fresh flowers put upon my table: but the grievous old dear will be carrying a sore heart that I cannot comfort by any words. I cannot convince her that I am not hiding in myself any wounds such as she feels on my behalf.
I write this, dearest, as an indirect answer to yours,—which is but Nan-nan's woe writ large. If I could persuade your two dear and very different heads how very slightly wounded I am by a thing which a little waiting will bring right, I could give it even less thought than I do. Are you keeping the truce in spirit when you disturb yourself like this? Trust me, Beloved, always to be candid: I will complain to you when I feel in need of comfort. Be comforted yourself, meanwhile, and don't shape ghosts of grief which never do a goose-step over me! Ah well, well, if there is a way to love you better than I do now, only show it me! Meantime, think of me as your most contented and happy-go-loving.
Dearest: I am haunted by a line of quotation, and cannot think where it comes from:
"Now sets the year in roaring gray."
Can you help me to what follows? If it is a true poem it ought now to be able to sing itself to me at large from an outer world which at this moment is all gray and roaring. To-day the year is bowing itself out tempestuously, as if angry at having to go. Dear golden year! I am sorry to see its face so changed and withering: it has held so much for us both. Yet I am feeling vigorous and quite like spring. All the seasons have their marches, with buffetings and border-forays: this is an autumn march-wind; before long I shall be out into it, and up the hill to look over at your territory and you being swept and garnished for the seven devils of winter.
"Roaring gray" suggests Tennyson, whom I do very much associate with this sort of weather, not so much because of passages in "Maud" and "In Memoriam" as because I once went over to Swainston, on a day such as this when rooks and leaves alike hung helpless in the wind; and heard there the story of how Tennyson, coming over for his friend's funeral, would not go into the house, but asked for one of Sir John's old hats, and with that on his head sat in the garden and wrote almost the best of his small lyrics:
"Nightingales warbled without, Within was weeping for thee."
The "old hat" was mentioned as something humorous: yet an old glove is the most accepted symbol of faithful absence: and why should head rank lower than hand? What creatures of convention we are!
There is an old notion, quite likely to be true, that a nightcap carries in it the dreams of its first owner, or that anything laid over a sleeper's head will bring away the dream. One of the stories which used to put a lump in my throat as a child was of an old backwoodsman who by that means found out that his dog stole hams from the storeroom. The dog was given away in disgrace, and came to England to die of a broken heart at the sight of a cargo of hams, which, at their unpacking, seemed like a monstrous day of judgment—the bones of his misdeeds rising again reclothed with flesh to reproach him with the thing he had never forgotten.
I wonder how long it was before I left off definitely choosing out a story for the pleasure of making myself cry! When one begins to avoid that luxury of the fledgling emotions, the first leaf of youth is flown.
To-day I look almost jovially at the decay of the best year I have ever lived through, and am your very middle-aged faithful and true.
Dearest: If anybody has been "calling me names" that are not mine, they do me a fine injury, and you did well to purge the text of their abuse. I agree with no authority, however immortal, which inquires "What's in a name?" expecting the answer to be a snap of the fingers. I answer with a snap of temper that the blood, boots, and bones of my ancestors are in mine! Do you suppose I could have been the same woman had such names as Amelia or Bella or Cinderella been clinging leechlike to my consciousness through all the years of my training? Why, there are names I can think of which would have made me break down into side-ringlets had I been forced to wear them audibly.
The effect is not so absolute when it is a second name that can be tucked away if unpresentable, but even then it is a misfortune. There is C——, now, who won't marry, I believe, chiefly because of the insane "Annie" with which she was smitten at the baptismal font by an afterthought. She regards it as a taint in her constitution which orders her to a lonely life lest worse might follow. And apply the consideration more publicly: do you imagine the Prince of Wales will be the same sort of king if, when he comes to the throne, he calls himself King Albert Edward in florid Continental fashion, instead of "Edward the Seventh," with a right hope that an Edward the Eighth may follow after him, to make a neck-and-neck race of it with the Henries? I don't know anything that would do more to knit up the English constitution: but whenever I pass the Albert Memorial I tremble lest filial piety will not allow the thing to be done.
Now of all this I had an instance in the village the day before yesterday. At the corner house by the post-office, as I went by, a bird opened his bill and sang a note, and down, down, down, down he went over a golden scale: pitched afresh, and dropped down another; and then up, up, up, over the range of both. Then he flung back his shaggy head and laughed. "In all my father's realm there are no such bells as these!" It was the laughing jackass. "Who gave you your name?" "My godfathers and my godmothers in my baptism." Well, his will have that to answer for, however safely for the rest he may have eschewed the world, the flesh, and the devil. Poor bird, to be set to sing to us under such a burden:—of which, unconscious failure, he knows nothing.
Here I have remembered for you a bit of a poem that took hold of me some while ago and touched on the same unkindness: only here the flower is conscious of the wrong done to it, and looks forward to a day of juster judgment:—