Read FLORENCE : CHAPTER II of Olive in Italy , free online book, by Moray Dalton, on ReadCentral.com.

In the Cascine gardens the lush green grass of the glades was strewn with leaves; soon the branches would be bare, or veiled only in winter mists, and the Arno, swollen with rain, ran yellow as Tiber. It was not a day for music, but the sun shone, and many idle Florentines drove, or rode, or walked by the Lung’Arno to the Rajah’s monument, passing and repassing the bench where Olive sat with Madame de Sariviere’s stout and elderly German Fraeulein. Mamie was not far away; flamboyant as ever in her frock of crimson serge, her black curls tied with ribbon and streaming in the wind, she was the loud centre of a group of girls who played some running game to an accompaniment of shrill cries and little screams of laughter.

“Do you like young girls?” Olive asked the question impulsively, after a long silence.

“I am fond of my pupils; they are good little things, rather foolish, but amiable. But I understand your feeling, my poor Miss Agar. Your charge is ”

Olive hesitated. “It is a difficult age; and she has the body of twenty and the sense of ten. I am putting it very badly, but but I was hateful years ago too. I think one always is, perhaps. I remember at school there were self-righteous little girls; they were narrow and intolerant, easily shocked, and rather bad-tempered. The others were absurdly vain, sentimental, sly. All that comes away afterwards if one is going to be nice.”

“They are female but not yet womanly. The newly-awakened instincts clamour at first for a hearing; later they learn to wait in silence, to efface themselves, to die, even,” answered the Fraeulein, gravely.

A victoria passed, then some youths on bicycles, shouting to each other and ringing their bells. They were riding all together, but they scattered to let Prince Tor di Rocca go by. He was driving tandem, and his horses were very fresh. Edna was with him, her small wan face rather set in its halo of ashen blonde hair and pale against the rich brown of her sables.

When they came by the second time Mamie called to her cousin. The Prince drew rein, and the groom sprang down and ran to the leader’s head.

“My, Edna, how cold you look! It’s three days since I saw you, but I guess Don Filippo has been doing the honours. Have you seen all the old galleries and things? Momma said she noticed you and uncle in a box at the Pergola last night.”

She stood by the wheel, and as she looked up, not at Edna but at the Prince, he glanced smilingly down at her and then away again.

“We are going back to the hotel now,” Edna said. “Will you come and have tea, Mamie? Is that Miss Agar over there? Ask her if you may, and if she will come too.”

“I don’t need to ask her,” the girl answered, but she went back nevertheless and spoke to Olive.

“Can the groom take the cart home, Filippo? We will walk back with them.”

“Yes, Bellina is in spirits, but she will not run away from Giovanni,” he said, trying not to seem surprised that she should curtail their drive.

They crossed the wide gravelled space outside the gardens and walked towards the town by the Lung’Arno. Already the cypresses of San Miniato showed black against the sky, and the reflected flame of sunset was dying out in the windows of the old houses at the river’s edge. All the people were going one way now, and leaving the tree-shadowed dusk for the brightly-lit streets, Via Tornabuoni, all palaces and antiquity shops, and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where the band would play presently.

The two American girls walked together with Don Filippo and Olive followed them. Edna held herself very erect, but Mamie seemed almost to lean backwards. She swayed her hips as she went and swung her short skirts, and there was affectation and a feverish self-consciousness in her every movement. Olive could not help smiling to herself, but she remembered that at school she had been afflicted with the idea that a pout the delicious moue of fiction became her, and so she was inclined to leniency. Only seventeen.

The Prince wore riding gloves, and so the green gleam of his emerald was hidden from her. If only she could be sure that she had seen him before. What then? Nothing if she could think that he would always be kind to gentle little Edna.

Just before they reached the hotel Miss Marvel joined her, leaving her cousin to go on with Don Filippo, and began to talk to her.

“The river is just perfect at this hour. Our sitting-room has a balcony and I sat there last night watching the moon rise over San Miniato. I guess it looked just that way when Dante wrote his sonnets. Beatrice must have been real mad with him sometimes, don’t you think so? She must have been longing to say, ’Come on, and don’t keep talking.’ But she was a nice high-minded girl, and so she never did. She simply died.”

“If she died for him she must have been a fool,” Olive said shortly. Her eyes were fixed on the Prince’s broad back. He was laughing at some sally of Mamie’s.

Edna was shocked. “Don’t you just worship Dante?”

“Yes, yes,” answered the elder girl. “He was a dear, but even he was not worth that. At least, I don’t know. He was a dear; but I was thinking of a girl I knew ... perhaps I may tell you about her some day.”

“Yes, do,” Edna said perfunctorily. She was trying to hear what her cousin was saying to Filippo, and wishing she could amuse him as well. They passed through the wide hall of the hotel and went up in the lift. The Marvels’ private sitting-room was on the second floor. They were much too rich to condescend to the palms and bamboo tables and wicker chairs of the common herd, and tea was served to Edna and her guests in a green and white boudoir that was, as the Marchesa might have said, more or less Louis Seize.

Mr Marvel came in presently, refusing tea, but asking leave to smoke, and the Prince, gracefully deferential to his future father-in-law, listened to the little he had to say, answering carefully in his perfect English.

“Yes, sir. There is a great deal of poverty here. On my Tuscan estates too. Alas! yes.”

Mamie sat near him, and in the flickering red light of the fire she looked almost pretty. Filippo’s eyes strayed towards her now and then. Edna came presently to where Olive rested apart on the wide cushioned window-seat. “Will you have some more tea?”

“No, thank you. I think we must be going soon. The Marchesa will not like it if we stay out too long.”

Edna hesitated. “I wanted to ask you a silly question. Had you ever seen the Prince before last week?”

There was the slightest perceptible pause before Olive answered, “No, never. Why do you ask?”

“I thought you looked as if you had somehow that night at the Lorenzoni palace. When we came in you were at the piano, and I thought you looked queer as if ”

“Oh, no,” Olive said again, but she wondered afterwards if she had done right.

On their way home Mamie drew her attention to a poster, and she saw the name of Meryon in great orange letters on a white ground.

“He will be here before Christmas. I’ll let you come with me to hear him play if you are good,” she said, and she took the elder girl’s hand in hers and pinched it. “I could race you home down this side street, but I suppose I must not.”

She was gay and good-humoured now, and altogether at her best, and Olive tried hard to like her, but she could not help seeing that the triumph that overflowed in easy, shallow kindness was an unworthy one.