XVIII

FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME.

A Fellowe and his Wife

       Villa Mallerini
            Christmas Morning.

 

Noël, Noël,
       Belle Louise
C'est moi,
       Belle Louise!
Sst! sst!
Dans le parc,
Par le lac,
Sur les prés,
       Siffle la brise!
   Pfiss -pfiss!
   Fiss - -Fiss!
Au ciel
       La --- ra---la!
Aux montagnes
   Ha, Ha, Ha,
Chant la brise!

"Où sont les neiges,
           Belle Louise ?
  Voyez ma tote,
           Belle Louise,
  Ha! Ha! Ha!
  Car c'est moi,
           Belle Louise,

  Car c'est moi,
          C'est Noël!"

It was so lovely, this morning, that away I went before breakfast, and literally danced down the solemn ilex avenue that leads from the house to the terrace on the higher ground called the Buonavista. And, oh, what a view! I saw all the Campagna bathed in living blue light, delicate beyond words, and purple only where the Maremma lay leagues long against the sea. The latter was quite visible, a wavering, dilating, contracting, receding, advancing band, of the most extraordinarily vivid and brilliant pale-green. I am sure that nowhere else in the world did any one see a lovelier Christmas morning. It was so warm and bright, too. Over a mass of the beautiful pink and white Fiori di Natale a great yellow and orange tiger-moth tried to pass itself off as a butterfly. I chased it for a dozen yards or more, and then it gave a scornful tilt to its wings, and swung upward into the shadow of a great stone-pine. Then I went and looked over the terrace wall, beyond which runs one cf the many charcoal-burners' paths that inter-sect all the woodlands hereabout. A muleteer was passing, with his four-footed companion stalking along beneath what seemed to me a ridiculously impossible load of fagots, which literally let.only the head and wriggly, hairless tail be visible. I could not help calling out, "Buon' giorno, signore !" " Fa bel tempo!" The roguish fellow gave me greeting for greeting, and then suddenly burst into a wild song, which, so far as I could make out, consisted of endless Stellas and bellas, and carissimas and benissimas. But when the rascal plumped on his knees and kissed both his hands frantically, and called upon me by all the saints in heaven to have pity on him, for all the world like the melodramatic tenore in that ridiculous opera we saw together in Berlin, I could no longer restrain my laughter, but shrank behind the terrace literally convulsed. Then suddenly --- no, Odo, no hairbreadth escape, no startling episode, but simply your very earthly and commonplace Ilse became most unromantically hungry ! I tried hard to look across that glorious Campagna, with all its innumerable hollows brimming over with pale blue mist, and to think of the Fatherland far away beyond the unseen Apennines, and of distant Jaromar, and of you, and to imagine that I beard the bells ringing, and all the villagers and fisherfolk hurrying to hear good Pastor Hiller say again just the same things he said last year, and for thirty odd years before, and  --- and ---of everything, but, alas! the flesh prevailed !

So ignominiously I fled back, singing as I went my blithe French song, the words and gay tripping tune of which I picked up lately; I scarce know how. Perhaps you can guess the time if you read the nonsensical linelets quickly and lightly. I had just sung out (and, I'm ashamed to say, at the pitch of my voice)

"Ha! Ha! Ha!
  Car c'est moi,
       Belle Louise,
  Car c'est moi,
      C'est Noël!"

when I came full tilt upon two sombre-looking, scandalized priests, or rather one of them was a bare-footed, unkempt, cowled Franciscan monk. They positively scowled upon me, as though they were a couple of heaven-rewarded St. Anthonys, and I were the reprehensible siren who had almost caused them to fall into backsliding, and the consequent pit ! At the first glance I did not see that Cesare Mallerini was with them. What an ungracious fellow he is! He bowed coldly in response to my salutation, and when I laughingly added some-thing about Christmas, he gave a sidelong glance at his priestly companions, and very rudely muttered that in Italy il giorno di Natale was a day for religion, and not for keeping carnival. I like him less and less, I admit. Even when he is most polite, there is a cruel look in his eyes, a sneer on his lips.

Well, Christmas morning at any rate has gone happily. I have had my breath of fresh air, my breakfast, and my conscience is clear in having written this letter to you. We are now going for a drive over to Castel Gandolfo and Merino, and back by the low road to Cecchina, and thence home again by Genzano. It will be charming. You can think of rne singing my little De Musset song that my friends here like so much, even if you do prefer Horace!

"Le remède
  Au mélancolique
  C'est la musique
  Et la beauté!"

And Herwegh is to bring his guitar, and has promised to sing canzoni and rispetti of every province in Italy, with all the peculiar words and accents, Venetian, Tuscan, Sicilian, Calabrian, and so forth. You would smile if you saw the turn-out ; the carriage is an ancient chaise-de-luxe, and one of the two horses is a rusty black, while the other is a piebald ! Oh, dear me, is it wicked to laugh at things as I do?

But I leave this open in case the Roman post comes in before we go out for our drive.

 

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