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Literature Post > Forster, E. M. > A Room With A View > Chapter 6

A Room With A View by Forster, E. M. - Chapter 6

Chapter VI: The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert
Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss
Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in
Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them.

It was Phaethon who drove them to Fiesole that memorable day, a
youth all irresponsibility and fire, recklessly urging his
master's horses up the stony hill. Mr. Beebe recognized him at
once. Neither the Ages of Faith nor the Age of Doubt had
touched him; he was Phaethon in Tuscany driving a cab. And it was
Persephone whom he asked leave to pick up on the way, saying
that she was his sister--Persephone, tall and slender and pale,
returning with the Spring to her mother's cottage, and still
shading her eyes from the unaccustomed light. To her Mr. Eager
objected, saying that here was the thin edge of the wedge, and
one must guard against imposition. But the ladies interceded, and
when it had been made clear that it was a very great favour, the
goddess was allowed to mount beside the god.

Phaethon at once slipped the left rein over her head, thus
enabling himself to drive with his arm round her waist. She did
not mind. Mr. Eager, who sat with his back to the horses, saw
nothing of the indecorous proceeding, and continued his
conversation with Lucy. The other two occupants of the carriage
were old Mr. Emerson and Miss Lavish. For a dreadful thing had
happened: Mr. Beebe, without consulting Mr. Eager, had doubled
the size of the party. And though Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish
had planned all the morning how the people were to sit, at the
critical moment when the carriages came round they lost their
heads, and Miss Lavish got in with Lucy, while Miss Bartlett,
with George Emerson and Mr. Beebe, followed on behind.

It was hard on the poor chaplain to have his partie carree thus
transformed. Tea at a Renaissance villa, if he had ever meditated
it, was now impossible. Lucy and Miss Bartlett had a certain
style about them, and Mr. Beebe, though unreliable, was a man of
parts. But a shoddy lady writer and a journalist who had murdered
his wife in the sight of God--they should enter no villa at his
introduction.

Lucy, elegantly dressed in white, sat erect and nervous amid
these explosive ingredients, attentive to Mr. Eager, repressive
towards Miss Lavish, watchful of old Mr. Emerson, hitherto
fortunately asleep, thanks to a heavy lunch and the drowsy
atmosphere of Spring. She looked on the expedition as the work of
Fate. But for it she would have avoided George Emerson
successfully. In an open manner he had shown that he wished to
continue their intimacy. She had refused, not because she
disliked him, but because she did not know what had happened, and
suspected that he did know. And this frightened her.

For the real event--whatever it was--had taken place, not in the
Loggia, but by the river. To behave wildly at the sight of death
is pardonable. But to discuss it afterwards, to pass from
discussion into silence, and through silence into sympathy, that
is an error, not of a startled emotion, but of the whole fabric.
There was really something blameworthy (she thought) in their
joint contemplation of the shadowy stream, in the common impulse
which had turned them to the house without the passing of a look
or word. This sense of wickedness had been slight at first. She
had nearly joined the party to the Torre del Gallo. But each time
that she avoided George it became more imperative that she should
avoid him again. And now celestial irony, working through her
cousin and two clergymen, did not suffer her to leave Florence
till she had made this expedition with him through the hills.

Meanwhile Mr. Eager held her in civil converse; their little tiff
was over.

"So, Miss Honeychurch, you are travelling? As a student of art?"

"Oh, dear me, no--oh, no!"

"Perhaps as a student of human nature," interposed Miss Lavish,
"like myself?"

"Oh, no. I am here as a tourist."

"Oh, indeed," said Mr. Eager. "Are you indeed? If you will not
think me rude, we residents sometimes pity you poor tourists
not a little--handed about like a parcel of goods from Venice to
Florence, from Florence to Rome, living herded together in
pensions or hotels, quite unconscious of anything that is outside
Baedeker, their one anxiety to get 'done' or 'through' and go on
somewhere else. The result is, they mix up towns, rivers, palaces
in one inextricable whirl. You know the American girl in Punch
who says: 'Say, poppa, what did we see at Rome?' And the father
replies: 'Why, guess Rome was the place where we saw the yaller
dog.' There's travelling for you. Ha! ha! ha!"

"I quite agree," said Miss Lavish, who had several times tried to
interrupt his mordant wit. "The narrowness and superficiality of
the Anglo-Saxon tourist is nothing less than a menace."

"Quite so. Now, the English colony at Florence, Miss Honeychurch
--and it is of considerable size, though, of course, not all
equally--a few are here for trade, for example. But the greater
part are students. Lady Helen Laverstock is at present busy over
Fra Angelico. I mention her name because we are passing her villa
on the left. No, you can only see it if you stand--no, do not
stand; you will fall. She is very proud of that thick hedge.
Inside, perfect seclusion. One might have gone back six hundred
years. Some critics believe that her garden was the scene of The
Decameron, which lends it an additional interest, does it not?"

"It does indeed!" cried Miss Lavish. "Tell me, where do they
place the scene of that wonderful seventh day?"

But Mr. Eager proceeded to tell Miss Honeychurch that on the
right lived Mr. Someone Something, an American of the best type
--so rare!--and that the Somebody Elses were farther down the
hill. "Doubtless you know her monographs in the series of
'Mediaeval Byways'? He is working at Gemistus Pletho. Sometimes
as I take tea in their beautiful grounds I hear, over the wall,
the electric tram squealing up the new road with its loads of hot,
dusty, unintelligent tourists who are going to 'do' Fiesole in an
hour in order that they may say they have been there, and I
think--think--I think how little they think what lies so near
them."

During this speech the two figures on the box were sporting with
each other disgracefully. Lucy had a spasm of envy. Granted that
they wished to misbehave, it was pleasant for them to be able to
do so. They were probably the only people enjoying the
expedition. The carriage swept with agonizing jolts up through
the Piazza of Fiesole and into the Settignano road.

"Piano! piano!" said Mr. Eager, elegantly waving his hand over
his head.

"Va bene, signore, va bene, va bene," crooned the driver, and
whipped his horses up again.

Now Mr. Eager and Miss Lavish began to talk against each other on
the subject of Alessio Baldovinetti. Was he a cause of the
Renaissance, or was he one of its manifestations? The other
carriage was left behind. As the pace increased to a gallop the
large, slumbering form of Mr. Emerson was thrown against the
chaplain with the regularity of a machine.

"Piano! piano!" said he, with a martyred look at Lucy.

An extra lurch made him turn angrily in his seat. Phaethon, who
for some time had been endeavouring to kiss Persephone, had just
succeeded.

A little scene ensued, which, as Miss Bartlett said afterwards,
was most unpleasant. The horses were stopped, the lovers were
ordered to disentangle themselves, the boy was to lose his
pourboire, the girl was immediately to get down.

"She is my sister," said he, turning round on them with piteous
eyes.

Mr. Eager took the trouble to tell him that he was a liar.

Phaethon hung down his head, not at the matter of the accusation,
but at its manner. At this point Mr. Emerson, whom the shock of
stopping had awoke, declared that the lovers must on no account
be separated, and patted them on the back to signify his
approval. And Miss Lavish, though unwilling to ally him, felt
bound to support the cause of Bohemianism.

"Most certainly I would let them be," she cried. "But I dare say
I shall receive scant support. I have always flown in the face of
the conventions all my life. This is what I call an adventure."

"We must not submit," said Mr. Eager. "I knew he was trying it
on. He is treating us as if we were a party of Cook's tourists."

"Surely no!" said Miss Lavish, her ardour visibly decreasing.

The other carriage had drawn up behind, and sensible Mr. Beebe
called out that after this warning the couple would be sure to
behave themselves properly.

"Leave them alone," Mr. Emerson begged the chaplain, of whom he
stood in no awe. "Do we find happiness so often that we should
turn it off the box when it happens to sit there? To be driven by
lovers-- A king might envy us, and if we part them it's more
like sacrilege than anything I know."

Here the voice of Miss Bartlett was heard saying that a crowd
had begun to collect.

Mr. Eager, who suffered from an over-fluent tongue rather than a
resolute will, was determined to make himself heard. He addressed
the driver again. Italian in the mouth of Italians is a
deep-voiced stream, with unexpected cataracts and boulders to
preserve it from monotony. In Mr. Eager's mouth it resembled
nothing so much as an acid whistling fountain which played ever
higher and higher, and quicker and quicker, and more and more
shrilly, till abruptly it was turned off with a click.

"Signorina!" said the man to Lucy, when the display had ceased.
Why should he appeal to Lucy?

"Signorina!" echoed Persephone in her glorious contralto. She
pointed at the other carriage. Why?

For a moment the two girls looked at each other. Then Persephone
got down from the box.

"Victory at last!" said Mr. Eager, smiting his hands together as
the carriages started again.

"It is not victory," said Mr. Emerson. "It is defeat. You have
parted two people who were happy."

Mr. Eager shut his eyes. He was obliged to sit next to Mr.
Emerson, but he would not speak to him. The old man was refreshed
by sleep, and took up the matter warmly. He commanded Lucy to
agree with him; he shouted for support to his son.

"We have tried to buy what cannot be bought with money. He has
bargained to drive us, and he is doing it. We have no rights over
his soul."

Miss Lavish frowned. It is hard when a person you have classed as
typically British speaks out of his character.

He was not driving us well," she said. "He jolted us."

"That I deny. It was as restful as sleeping. Aha! he is jolting
us now. Can you wonder? He would like to throw us out, and most
certainly he is justified. And if I were superstitious I'd be
frightened of the girl, too. It doesn't do to injure young
people. Have you ever heard of Lorenzo de Medici?"

Miss Lavish bristled.

"Most certainly I have. Do you refer to Lorenzo il Magnifico, or
to Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, or to Lorenzo surnamed Lorenzino on
account of his diminutive stature?"

"The Lord knows. Possibly he does know, for I refer to Lorenzo
the poet. He wrote a line--so I heard yesterday--which runs like
this: 'Don't go fighting against the Spring.'"

Mr. Eager could not resist the opportunity for erudition.

"Non fate guerra al Maggio," he murmured. "'War not with the
May' would render a correct meaning."

"The point is, we have warred with it. Look." He pointed to the
Val d'Arno, which was visible far below them, through the
budding trees. "Fifty miles of Spring, and we've come up to
admire them. Do you suppose there's any difference between Spring
in nature and Spring in man? But there we go, praising the one
and condemning the other as improper, ashamed that the same
work eternally through both."

No one encouraged him to talk. Presently Mr. Eager gave a signal
for the carriages to stop and marshalled the party for their
ramble on the hill. A hollow like a great amphitheatre, full of
terraced steps and misty olives, now lay between them and the
heights of Fiesole, and the road, still following its curve, was
about to sweep on to a promontory which stood out in the plain.
It was this promontory, uncultivated, wet, covered with bushes
and occasional trees, which had caught the fancy of Alessio
Baldovinetti nearly five hundred years before. He had ascended
it, that diligent and rather obscure master, possibly with an eye
to business, possibly for the joy of ascending. Standing there,
he had seen that view of the Val d'Arno and distant Florence,
which he afterwards had introduced not very effectively into his
work. But where exactly had he stood? That was the question which
Mr. Eager hoped to solve now. And Miss Lavish, whose nature was
attracted by anything problematical, had become equally
enthusiastic.

But it is not easy to carry the pictures of Alessio Baldovinetti
in your head, even if you have remembered to look at them before
starting. And the haze in the valley increased the difficulty of
the quest.

The party sprang about from tuft to tuft of grass, their anxiety
to keep together being only equalled by their desire to go
different directions. Finally they split into groups. Lucy clung
to Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish; the Emersons returned to hold
laborious converse with the drivers; while the two clergymen, who
were expected to have topics in common, were left to each other.

The two elder ladies soon threw off the mask. In the audible
whisper that was now so familiar to Lucy they began to discuss,
not Alessio Baldovinetti, but the drive. Miss Bartlett had asked
Mr. George Emerson what his profession was, and he had answered
"the railway." She was very sorry that she had asked him. She had
no idea that it would be such a dreadful answer, or she would not
have asked him. Mr. Beebe had turned the conversation so
cleverly, and she hoped that the young man was not very much hurt
at her asking him

"The railway!" gasped Miss Lavish. "Oh, but I shall die! Of
course it was the railway!" She could not control her mirth. "He
is the image of a porter--on, on the South-Eastern."

"Eleanor, be quiet," plucking at her vivacious companion. "Hush!
They'll hear--the Emersons--"

"I can't stop. Let me go my wicked way. A porter--"

"Eleanor!"

"I'm sure it's all right," put in Lucy. "The Emersons won't hear,
and they wouldn't mind if they did."

Miss Lavish did not seem pleased at this.

"Miss Honeychurch listening!" she said rather crossly. "Pouf!
Wouf! You naughty girl! Go away!"

"Oh, Lucy, you ought to be with Mr. Eager, I'm sure."

"I can't find them now, and I don't want to either."

"Mr. Eager will be offended. It is your party."

"Please, I'd rather stop here with you."

"No, I agree," said Miss Lavish. "It's like a school feast; the
boys have got separated from the girls. Miss Lucy, you are to go.
We wish to converse on high topics unsuited for your ear."

The girl was stubborn. As her time at Florence drew to its close
she was only at ease amongst those to whom she felt indifferent.
Such a one was Miss Lavish, and such for the moment was
Charlotte. She wished she had not called attention to herself;
they were both annoyed at her remark and seemed determined to get
rid of her.

"How tired one gets," said Miss Bartlett. "Oh, I do wish Freddy
and your mother could be here."

Unselfishness with Miss Bartlett had entirely usurped the
functions of enthusiasm. Lucy did not look at the view either.
She would not enjoy anything till she was safe at Rome.

"Then sit you down," said Miss Lavish. "Observe my foresight."

With many a smile she produced two of those mackintosh squares
that protect the frame of the tourist from damp grass or cold
marble steps. She sat on one; who was to sit on the other?

"Lucy; without a moment's doubt, Lucy. The ground will do for me.
Really I have not had rheumatism for years. If I do feel it
coming on I shall stand. Imagine your mother's feelings if I let
you sit in the wet in your white linen." She sat down heavily
where the ground looked particularly moist. "Here we are, all
settled delightfully. Even if my dress is thinner it will not
show so much, being brown. Sit down, dear; you are too unselfish;
you don't assert yourself enough." She cleared her throat. "Now
don't be alarmed; this isn't a cold. It's the tiniest cough, and
I have had it three days. It's nothing to do with sitting here at
all."

There was only one way of treating the situation. At the end of
five minutes Lucy departed in search of Mr. Beebe and Mr. Eager,
vanquished by the mackintosh square.

She addressed herself to the drivers, who were sprawling in the
carriages, perfuming the cushions with cigars. The miscreant, a
bony young man scorched black by the sun, rose to greet her with
the courtesy of a host and the assurance of a relative.

"Dove?" said Lucy, after much anxious thought.

His face lit up. Of course he knew where, Not so far either. His
arm swept three-fourths of the horizon. He should just think he
did know where. He pressed his finger-tips to his forehead and
then pushed them towards her, as if oozing with visible extract
of knowledge.

More seemed necessary. What was the Italian for "clergyman"?

"Dove buoni uomini?" said she at last.

Good? Scarcely the adjective for those noble beings! He showed
her his cigar.

"Uno--piu--piccolo," was her next remark, implying "Has the
cigar been given to you by Mr. Beebe, the smaller of the two good
men?"

She was correct as usual. He tied the horse to a tree, kicked it
to make it stay quiet, dusted the carriage, arranged his hair,
remoulded his hat, encouraged his moustache, and in rather less
than a quarter of a minute was ready to conduct her. Italians are
born knowing the way. It would seem that the whole earth lay
before them, not as a map, but as a chess-board, whereon they
continually behold the changing pieces as well as the squares.
Any one can find places, but the finding of people is a gift from
God.

He only stopped once, to pick her some great blue violets. She
thanked him with real pleasure. In the company of this common man
the world was beautiful and direct. For the first time she felt
the influence of Spring. His arm swept the horizon gracefully;
violets, like other things, existed in great profusion there;
would she like to see them?"

"Ma buoni uomini."

He bowed. Certainly. Good men first, violets afterwards. They
proceeded briskly through the undergrowth, which became thicker
and thicker. They were nearing the edge of the promontory, and
the view was stealing round them, but the brown network of the
bushes shattered it into countless pieces. He was occupied in his
cigar, and in holding back the pliant boughs. She was rejoicing
in her escape from dullness. Not a step, not a twig, was
unimportant to her.

"What is that?"

There was a voice in the wood, in the distance behind them. The
voice of Mr. Eager? He shrugged his shoulders. An Italian's
ignorance is sometimes more remarkable than his knowledge. She
could not make him understand that perhaps they had missed the
clergymen. The view was forming at last; she could discern the
river, the golden plain, other hills.

"Eccolo!" he exclaimed.

At the same moment the ground gave way, and with a cry she fell
out of the wood. Light and beauty enveloped her. She had fallen
on to a little open terrace, which was covered with violets
from end to end.

"Courage!" cried her companion, now standing some six feet above.
"Courage and love."

She did not answer. From her feet the ground sloped sharply into
view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts,
irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems
collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with
spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion;
this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty
gushed out to water the earth.

Standing at its brink, like a swimmer who prepares, was the good
man. But he was not the good man that she had expected, and he
was alone.

George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he
contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw
radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her
dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped
quickly forward and kissed her.

Before she could speak, almost before she could feel, a voice
called, "Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!" The silence of life had been broken
by Miss Bartlett who stood brown against the view.