Read FLORENCE : CHAPTER VII of Olive in Italy , free online book, by Moray Dalton, on

Olive saw the padrone of the Aquila Verde that night before she went to her room and told him she was leaving.

His face fell. “Signorina! I am sorry! I told Angelo to bring hot water every time, always, when you rang. Have you not been well served?”

She reassured him on that point and went on to explain that she was going to live alone. “I have made arrangements,” she added vaguely. “A man will come with a truck to take my box away to-morrow morning.”

And the padrone was too much a man of his world to ask any more questions.

There had been no rooms vacant in the pension in Piazza Indipendenza. The manservant who answered the door had recommended an Italian lady who took paying guests, and Olive had gone to see her, but her rooms were small, dark and dingy, and they smelt overpoweringly of sandal wood and rancid oil. The shabbily-smart padrona had been voluble and even affectionate. “I am so fond of the English,” she said. “My husband is much occupied and I am often lonely, but we shall be able to go out together and amuse ourselves, you and I. I had been hoping to get an invitation to go to the Trecento ball at the Palazzo Vecchio, but Luigi cannot manage it. Never mind! We will go to all the Veglioni. I love dancing.” She looked complacently down at her stubby little feet in their down-at-heel beaded slippers.

Olive had been glad to get away when she heard the impossible terms, but the afternoon was passing, and when she got to the house in the Via dei Bardi she saw bills of sale plastered on its walls and a litter of straw and torn paper in the courtyard. The porter came out of his lodge to tell her that one of the daughters had died.

“They all went away, and the furniture was sold yesterday.”

As Olive had never really wished to live and eat with strangers she was not greatly depressed by these experiences, but she was cold and tired, and her head ached, and when on her way back to the Aquila Verde she saw a card, “Affitasi, una camera, senza mobilia,” in the doorway of one of the old houses in the Borgo San Jacopo, she went in and up the long flight of steep stone stairs without any definite idea of what she wanted beyond a roof to shelter her.

A shrivelled, snuffy old woman showed her the room. It was very large and lofty, and it had two great arched windows that looked out upon the huddled roofs of Oltr’Arno. The brick floor was worn and weather-stained, as were the white-washed walls.

“It was a loggia, but some of the arches have been filled in and the others glazed. Ten lire a month, signorina. As to water, there is a good fountain in the courtyard.”

Olive moved in next day.

Heaven helps those who help themselves, she thought, as she borrowed a broom from her landlady to sweep the floor. The morning was fine and she opened the windows wide and let the sun and air in. At noon she went down into the Borgo and bought fried polenta for five soldi and a slice of chestnut cake at the cook shop, and filled her kettle with clear cold water from the fountain in the courtyard.

Later, as she waited for the water to boil over her little spirit lamp, she made a list of absolute necessaries. She had paid a month’s rent in advance, and fifty-three lire remained to her. Fifty-three lire out of which she must buy a straw mattress, a camp-stool, two blankets, some crockery and soap.

She went out presently to do her shopping and came back at dusk. She was young enough to rather enjoy the novelty of her proceedings, and she slept well that night on the floor, pillowless, and wrapped in her coarse brown coverings; and though the moon shone in upon her through the unshuttered windows for a while she did not dream or wake until the dawn.

Olive tried very hard to get work in the days that followed, and she went twice to the registry office in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.

“Ah, you were here before.” A stout woman came bustling out from the room behind the shop to speak to her the second time. “There is nothing for you, signorina mia. The ladies who come here will not take anyone without a character, and a written reference from Milan or Rome is no good. I told you so before. Last winter Contessa Foscoli had an English maid with a written character not from us, I am glad to say and she ran away with the chauffeur after a fortnight, and took a diamond ring and the Contessa’s pearls with her. If you cannot tell me who you were with last I shall not be able to help you.”

“The Marchesa Lorenzoni,” Olive said.

The woman drew in her breath with a hissing noise, then she smiled, not pleasantly. “Why did you not say so before? I have heard of you, of course. The little English girl! Well, I can’t help you, my dear. This is a registry office.”

Olive walked out of the shop at once, but she heard the woman calling to someone in the room at the back to come and look at her, and she felt her cheeks burning as she crossed the road. “The little English girl!” What were they saying about her?

One morning she went into one of the English tea-rooms. It was kept by two elderly maiden ladies, and one of them came forward to ask her what she wanted. The Pagoda was deserted at that hour, a barren wilderness of little bamboo tables and chairs, tea-less and cake-less. The walls were distempered green and sparsely decorated with Japanese paper fans, and Olive noticed them and the pattern of the carpet and remembered them afterwards as one remembers the frieze, the engravings, the stale periodicals in a dentist’s waiting-room.

“Do do you want a waitress?”

The older woman’s face changed. Oh, that change! The girl knew it so well now that she saw it ten times a day.

“No. My sister and I manage very well, and we have an Italian maid to do the washing up.”

“Thank you,” Olive said, faltering. “You don’t know anyone who wants an English girl? I have been very well educated. At least ”

“I am afraid not.”

Poor Olive. She was an unskilled workwoman, not especially gifted in any way or fitted by her upbringing to earn her daily bread. Long years of her girlhood had been spent at a select school, and in the result she knew a part of the Book of Kings by heart, with the Mercy speech from the Merchant of Venice and the date of the Norman Conquest. Every day she bought the Fieramosca, and she tried to see the other local papers when they came out. Several people advertised who wanted to exchange lessons, but no one seemed inclined to pay. Once she saw names she knew in the social column.

“The Marchese Lorenzoni is going to Monte Carlo, and he
will join the Marchesa and Miss Whittaker in Cairo later
in the season.”

“Prince Tor di Rocca is going to Egypt for Christmas.”

It was easy to read between the lines.