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

Olive sat alone at the end of one of the tiers of the stone amphitheatre built into the hill that rises, ilex clad, to the heights of San Giorgio. Some other women were there, mothers with young children, nurses and governesses dowdily dressed as she was in dark-coloured stuffs, but she knew none of them.

Mamie seldom cared to come to the old Boboli gardens. Its green mildewed terraces and crumbling deities of fountain and ilex grove had no charm for her, and as a rule she and her friends preferred the crowded Lung’Arno and Cascine on the days when there was music, but this Thursday she had suggested that they should come across the river.

“Daisy Vereker has promised to meet me, and as she is only here a week on her way to school in Paris I should hate to disappoint her.”

The two girls were lingering now about the grass arena, talking volubly, whispering, giggling. Miss Vereker’s maid, a yellow-haired Swiss, sat not far off with her knitting, and every now and then she called harshly to her charge to know the time.

Olive sat very still, her hands clasped, her eyes fixed on the far horizon. She loved the old-world silence that was only broken by the dripping of water in the pools. No birds sang here, no leaves fell at the waning of the year. The seasons had little power over stained marble and moss, cypress, and ilex and olive, and as spring brought no riot of green and rose and gold in flower, so autumn took nothing away. Surely there were ghosts in the shadowed avenues, flitting in and out among the trees, joining hands to dance “la ronde” about the pool of Neptune. Gay abbés, cavaliers, beautiful ladies of the late Renaissance, red-heeled, painted, powdered; frail, degenerate children of the hard-headed old Florentine citizens pictured in the frescoes of Giotto and Masaccio. No greater shades could come to Boboli.

Florence was half hidden by the great yellow bulk of the Pitti palace, but Olive could see the slender, exquisite white and rose tower of Giotto, and the mellowed red of the cathedral’s dome against the faint purple of the hills beyond Fiesole, and she looked at them in preference to the contorted river gods and exuberant nymphs of the fountain in the royal courtyard close by.

After a while she opened her book and began to read. Presently she shivered; her jacket was thin, and the air grew chilly as the afternoon waned, but her reading absorbed her and she was surprised, when at last she raised her eyes, to see that the Pitti palace was already dark against the sky. Nurses and children were making their way out, and soon those who lingered would hear stentorian shouts from the gardeners, “Ora si chiude!” and they too would leave by one or other of the gates.

Olive climbed down into the arena. Mamie was nowhere in sight, and Daisy Vereker and her maid were gone too. Olive, thinking that perhaps they might have gone up to the fountain of Neptune, began to climb the hill. She asked an old man who was coming down from there if he had seen two young ladies, one dressed in red.

“No, signorina.”

She hurried back to the arena and spoke to a woman there. “Have you seen a young lady in red with black curls?”

She answered readily: “Sicuro! She went towards the Porta Romana half an hour ago. I think the other signorina was leaving and she wished to accompany her a part of the way. There was an older person with them.”

Olive’s relief was only momentary; it sounded well, but one might walk to the Porta Romana and back twice in the time. Soon the gates would be closed, and if she had not found Mamie then, and the gardeners made her leave with the others, what should she do? She suspected a trick. The girl had a mischievous and impish humour that delighted in the infliction of small hurts, and she might have gone home, happy in the thought that her governess would get a “wigging,” or she might be hiding about somewhere to give her a fright.

Olive went up the steep path towards the Belvedere, hoping to find her there. That part of the garden was not much frequented, and the white bodies and uplifted arms of the marble gods gleamed ghostly and forlorn in the dusk of the ilex woods that lay between the amphitheatre and the gate.

She went on until she saw a glimmer of red through the close-woven branches. Mamie was there in the dark wood, and she was not alone. A man was with her, and he was holding her easily, as if he knew she would not go yet, and laughing as she stood on tiptoe to reach the fine cruel lips that touched hers presently, when he chose that they should.

Olive turned and ran up the path to the top of the hill, and there she stood for a while, trying to get her breath, trying to be calm, and sane and tolerant, to see no harm where perhaps there was none after all. And yet the treachery and the deceit were so flagrant that surely no condonation was possible. She felt sick of men and women, and of life itself, since the greatest thing in it seemed to be this hateful, miscalled love that preceded sorrow and shame and death. Was love always loathsome to look upon? Not in pictures or on the stage, where it was represented as a kind of minuet in which the man makes graceful advances to a woman who smiles as she draws away, but in real life

“Not real love,” she said to herself. “Oh, God, help me to go on believing in that.”

Raising her eyes she saw the evening star sparkling in a wide, soft, clear space of sky. It seemed infinitely pure and remote, and yet somehow good and kind, as it had to Dante when he climbed up out of hell.

Quindi uscimmo a riveder lé stelle.

Ora si chiude!” bawled a gardener from the Belvedere.

Mamie came hurrying up the path towards the hill. “Oh, are you there?” she said in some confusion. “I went some of the way to the other gate with Daisy.”

“I was beginning to be afraid you were lost, so I came along hoping to meet you,” answered Olive.

She said nothing to the girl of what she had seen. It would have been useless; nothing could alter or abash her inherent unmorality. But after dinner she wrote a note to Edna and went out herself to post it.

The answer came at noon on the following day. Miss Marvel would be at home and alone between three and four and would be pleased to see Miss Agar then; meanwhile she remained very sincerely her friend.