The Guiding Miss Gowd by Edna Ferber
It has long been the canny custom of writers on travel bent to
defray the expense of their journeyings by dashing off tales filled
with foreign flavour. Dickens did it, and Dante. It has been tried all
the way from Tasso to Twain; from Raskin to Roosevelt. A pleasing
custom it is and thrifty withal, and one that has saved many a one but
poorly prepared for the European robber in uniform the moist and
unpleasant task of swimming home.
Your writer spends seven days, say, in Paris. Result? The Latin
Quarter story. Oh, mes enfants! That Parisian student-life
story! There is the beautiful young American girl—beautiful, but as
earnest and good as she is beautiful, and as talented as she is earnest
and good. And wedded, be it understood, to her art—preferably painting
or singing. From New York! Her name must be something prim, yet
winsome. Lois will do—Lois, la belle Americaine. Then the
hero—American too. Madly in love with Lois. Tall he is and always
clean-limbed—not handsome, but with one of those strong, rugged faces.
His name, too, must be strong and plain, yet snappy. David is always
good. The villain is French, fascinating, and wears a tiny black
moustache to hide his mouth, which is cruel.
The rest is simple. A little French restaurant—Henri's. Know you
not Henri's? Tiens! But Henri's is not for the tourist. A dim
little shop and shabby, modestly tucked away in the shadows of the Rue
Brie. But the food! Ah, the—whadd'you-call'ems—in the savoury sauce,
that is Henri's secret! The tender, broiled poularde, done to a
turn! The bottle of red wine! Mais oui; there one can dine under
the watchful glare of Rosa, the plump, black-eyed wife of the
concierge. With a snowy apron about her buxom waist, and a pot of
red geraniums somewhere, and a sleek, lazy cat contentedly purring in
the sunny window!
Then Lois starving in a garret. Temptation! Sacre bleu! Zut!
Also nom d'un nom! Enter David. Bon! Oh, David, take me
away! Take me back to dear old Schenectady. Love is more than all else,
especially when no one will buy your pictures.
The Italian story recipe is even simpler. A pearl necklace; a low,
clear whistle. Was it the call of a bird or a signal? His-s-s-st!
Again! A black cape; the flash of steel in the moonlight; the sound of
a splash in the water; a sickening gurgle; a stifled cry! Silence!
There is the story made in Germany, filled with students and steins
and scars; with beer and blonde, blue-eyed Maedchen garbed—the
Maedchen, that is—in black velvet bodice, white chemisette,
scarlet skirt with two rows of black ribbon at the bottom, and one
yellow braid over the shoulder. Especially is this easily accomplished
if actually written in the Vaterland, German typewriting
machines being equipped with umlauts.
And yet not one of these formulas would seem to fit the story of
Mary Gowd. Mary Gowd, with her frumpy English hat and her dreadful
English fringe, and her brick-red English cheeks, which not even the
enervating Italian sun, the years of bad Italian food or the damp and
dim little Roman room had been able to sallow. Mary Gowd, with her
shabby blue suit and her mangy bit of fur, and the glint of humour in
her pale blue eyes. Many, many times that same glint of humour had
saved English Mary Gowd from seeking peace in the muddy old Tiber.
Her card read imposingly thus: Mary M. Gowd, Cicerone. Certificated
and Licensed Lecturer on Art and Archaeology. Via del Babbuino, Roma.
In plain language Mary Gowd was a guide. Now, Rome is swarming with
guides; but they are men guides. They besiege you in front of Cook's.
They perch at the top of the Capitoline Hill, ready to pounce on you
when you arrive panting from your climb up the shallow steps. They lie
in wait in the doorway of St. Peter's. Bland, suave, smiling, quiet,
but insistent, they dog you from the Vatican to the Catacombs.
Hundreds there are of these little men—undersized, even in this
land of small men—dapper, agile, low-voiced, crafty. In his inner coat
pocket each carries his credentials, greasy, thumb-worn documents, but
precious. He glances at your shoes—this insinuating one—or at your
hat, or at any of those myriad signs by which he marks you for his own.
Then up he steps and speaks to you in the language of your country, be
you French, German, English, Spanish or American.
And each one of this clan—each slim, feline little man in blue
serge, white-toothed, gimlet-eyed, smooth-tongued, brisk—hated Mary
Gowd. They hated her with the hate of an Italian for an outlander—with
the hate of an Italian for a woman who works with her brain—with the
hate of an Italian who sees another taking the bread out of his mouth.
All this, coupled with the fact that your Italian is a natural-born
hater, may indicate that the life of Mary Gowd had not the lyric lilt
that life is commonly reputed to have in sunny Italy.
Oh, there is no formula for Mary Gowd's story. In the first place,
the tale of how Mary Gowd came to be the one woman guide in Rome runs
like melodrama. And Mary herself, from her white cotton gloves, darned
at the fingers, to her figure, which mysteriously remained the same in
spite of fifteen years of scant Italian fare, does not fit gracefully
into the role of heroine.
Perhaps that story, scraped to bedrock, shorn of all floral
features, may gain in force what it loses in artistry.
She was twenty-two when she came to Rome—twenty-two and art-mad.
She had been pretty, with that pink-cheesecloth prettiness of the
provincial English girl, who degenerates into blowsiness at thirty.
Since seventeen she had saved and scrimped and contrived for this
modest Roman holiday. She had given painting lessons—even painted on
loathsome china—that the little hoard might grow. And when at last
there was enough she had come to this Rome against the protests of the
fussy English father and the spinster English sister.
The man she met quite casually one morning in the Sistine
Chapel—perhaps he bumped her elbow as they stood staring up at the
glorious ceiling. A thousand pardons! Ah, an artist too? In five
minutes they were chattering like mad—she in bad French and exquisite
English; he in bad English and exquisite French. He knew Rome—its
pictures, its glories, its history—as only an Italian can. And he
taught her art, and he taught her Italian, and he taught her love.
And so they were married, or ostensibly married, though Mary did not
know the truth until three months later when he left her quite as
casually as he had met her, taking with him the little hoard, and
Mary's English trinkets, and Mary's English roses, and Mary's broken
So! There was no going back to the fussy father or the spinster
sister. She came very near resting her head on Father Tiber's breast in
those days. She would sit in the great galleries for hours, staring at
the wonder-works. Then, one day, again in the Sistine Chapel, a fussy
little American woman had approached her, her eyes snapping. Mary was
sketching, or trying to.
“Do you speak English?”
“I am English,” said Mary.
The feathers in the hat of the fussy little woman quivered.
“Then tell me, is this ceiling by Raphael?”
“Ceiling!” gasped Mary Gowd. “Raphael!”
Then, very gently, she gave the master's name.
“Of course!” snapped the excited little American. “I'm one of a
party of eight. We're all school-teachers And this guide”—she waved a
hand in the direction of a rapt little group standing in the agonising
position the ceiling demands—“just informed us that the ceiling is by
Raphael. And we're paying him ten lire!”
“Won't you sit here?” Mary Gowd made a place for her. “I'll tell
And she did tell her, finding a certain relief from her pain in
unfolding to this commonplace little woman the glory of the masterpiece
“Why—why,” gasped her listener, who had long since beckoned the
other seven with frantic finger, “how beautifully you explain it! How
much you know! Oh, why can't they talk as you do?” she wailed, her eyes
full of contempt for the despised guide.
“I am happy to have helped you,” said Mary Gowd.
“Helped! Why, there are hundreds of Americans who would give
anything to have some one like you to be with them in Rome.”
Mary Gowd's whole body stiffened. She stared fixedly at the grateful
little American school-teacher.
“Some one like me—”
The little teacher blushed very red.
“I beg your pardon. I wasn't thinking. Of course you don't need to
do any such work, but I just couldn't help saying—”
“But I do need work,” interrupted Mary Gowd. She stood up, her
cheeks pink again for the moment, her eyes bright. “I thank you. Oh, I
“You thank me!” faltered the American.
But Mary Gowd had folded her sketchbook and was off, through the
vestibule, down the splendid corridor, past the giant Swiss guard, to
the noisy, sunny Piazza di San Pietro.
That had been fifteen years ago. She had taken her guide's
examinations and passed them. She knew her Rome from the crypt of St.
Peter's to the top of the Janiculum Hill; from the Campagna to Tivoli.
She read and studied and learned. She delved into the past and brought
up strange and interesting truths. She could tell you weird stories of
those white marble men who lay so peacefully beneath St. Peter's dome,
their ringed hands crossed on their breasts. She learned to juggle
dates with an ease that brought gasps from her American clients, with
their history that went back little more than one hundred years.
She learned to designate as new anything that failed to have its
origin stamped B.C.; and the Magnificent Augustus, he who boasted of
finding Rome brick and leaving it marble, was a mere nouveau riche
with his miserable A.D. 14.
She was as much at home in the Thermae of Caracalla as you in your
white-and-blue-tiled bath. She could juggle the history of emperors
with one hand and the scandals of half a dozen kings with the other. No
ruin was too unimportant for her attention—no picture too faded for
her research. She had the centuries at her tongue's end. Michelangelo
and Canova were her brothers in art, and Rome was to her as your
back-garden patch is to you.
Mary Gowd hated this Rome as only an English woman can who has spent
fifteen years in that nest of intrigue. She fought the whole race of
Roman guides day after day. She no longer turned sick and faint when
they hissed after her vile Italian epithets that her American or
English clients quite failed to understand. Quite unconcernedly she
would jam down the lever of the taximeter the wily Italian cabby had
pulled only halfway so that the meter might register double. And when
that foul-mouthed one crowned his heap of abuse by screaming “
Camorrista! Camor-r-rista!” at her, she would merely shrug her
shoulders and say “Andate presto!” to show him she was above
quarrelling with a cabman.
She ate eggs and bread, and drank the red wine, never having
conquered her disgust for Italian meat since first she saw the filthy
carcasses, fly-infested, dust-covered, loathsome, being carted through
the swarming streets.
It was six o'clock of an evening early in March when Mary Gowd went
home to the murky little room in the Via Babbuino. She was too tired to
notice the sunset. She was too tired to smile at the red-eyed baby of
the cobbler's wife, who lived in the rear. She was too tired to ask
Tina for the letters that seldom came. It had been a particularly
trying day, spent with a party of twenty Germans, who had said “
Herrlich!” when she showed them the marvels of the Vatican and “
Kolossal!” at the grandeur of the Colosseum and, for the rest, had
kept their noses buried in their Baedekers.
She groped her way cautiously down the black hall. Tina had a habit
of leaving sundry brushes, pans or babies lying about. After the warmth
of the March sun outdoors the house was cold with that clammy,
penetrating, tomblike chill of the Italian home.
“Tina!” she called.
From the rear of the house came a cackle of voices. Tina was
gossiping. There was no smell of supper in the air. Mary Gowd shrugged
patient shoulders. Then, before taking off the dowdy hat, before
removing the white cotton gloves, she went to the window that
overlooked the noisy Via Babbuino, closed the massive wooden shutters,
fastened the heavy windows and drew the thick curtains. Then she stood
a moment, eyes shut. In that little room the roar of Rome was tamed to
a dull humming. Mary Gowd, born and bred amid the green of Northern
England, had never become hardened to the maddening noises of the Via
Babbuino: The rattle and clatter of cab wheels; the clack-clack of
thousands of iron-shod hoofs; the shrill, high cry of the street
venders; the blasts of motor horns that seemed to rend the narrow
street; the roar and rumble of the electric trams; the wail of fretful
babies; the chatter of gossiping women; and above and through and below
it all the cracking of the cabman's whip—that sceptre of the Roman
cabby, that wand which is one part whip and nine parts crack. Sometimes
it seemed to Mary Gowd that her brain was seared and welted by the
pistol-shot reports of those eternal whips.
She came forward now and lighted a candle that stood on the table
and another on the dresser. Their dim light seemed to make dimmer the
dark little room. She looked about with a little shiver. Then she sank
into the chintz-covered chair that was the one bit of England in the
sombre chamber. She took off the dusty black velvet hat, passed a hand
over her hair with a gesture that was more tired than tidy, and sat
back, her eyes shut, her body inert, her head sagging on her breast.
The voices in the back of the house had ceased. From the kitchen
came the slipslop of Tina's slovenly feet. Mary Gowd opened her eyes
and sat up very straight as Tina stood in the doorway. There was
nothing picturesque about Tina. Tina was not one of those olive-tinted,
melting-eyed daughters of Italy that one meets in fiction. Looking at
her yellow skin and her wrinkles and her coarse hands, one wondered
whether she was fifty, or sixty, or one hundred, as is the way with
Italian women of Tina's class at thirty-five.
Ah, the signora was tired! She smiled pityingly. Tired! Not at all,
Mary Gowd assured her briskly. She knew that Tina despised her because
she worked like a man.
“Something fine for supper?” Mary Gowd asked mockingly. Her Italian
was like that of the Romans themselves, so soft, so liquid, so perfect.
Tina nodded vigorously, her long earrings shaking.
“Vitello”—she began, her tongue clinging lovingly to the
double l sound—“Vee-tail-loh—”
“Ugh!” shuddered Mary Gowd. That eternal veal and mutton, pinkish,
“What then?” demanded the outraged Tina.
Mary Gowd stood up, making gestures, hat in hand.
“Clotted cream, with strawberries,” she said in English, an unknown
language, which always roused Tina to fury. “And a steak—a real steak
of real beef, three inches thick and covered with onions fried in
butter. And creamed chicken, and English hothouse tomatoes, and fresh
peaches and little hot rolls, and coffee that isn't licorice and ink,
Tina's dangling earrings disappeared in her shoulders. Her outspread
palms were eloquent.
“Crazy, these English!” said the shoulders and palms. “Mad!”
Mary Gowd threw her hat on the bed, pushed aside a screen and busied
herself with a little alcohol stove.
“I shall prepare an omelet,” she said over her shoulder in Italian.
“Also, I have here bread and wine.”
“Ugh!” granted Tina.
“Ugh, veal!” grunted Mary Gowd. Then, as Tina's flapping feet turned
away: “Oh, Tina! Letters?”
Tina fumbled at the bosom of her gown, thought deeply and drew out a
crumpled envelope. It had been opened and clumsily closed again.
Fifteen years ago Mary Gowd would have raged. Now she shrugged
philosophic shoulders. Tina stole hairpins, opened letters that she
could not hope to decipher, rummaged bureau drawers, rifled cupboards
and fingered books; but then, so did most of the other Tinas in Rome.
What use to complain?
Mary Gowd opened the thumb-marked letter, bringing it close to the
candlelight. As she read, a smile appeared.
“Huh! Gregg,” she said, “Americans!” She glanced again at the hotel
letterhead on the stationery—the best hotel in Naples. “Americans—and
The pleased little smile lingered as she beat the omelet briskly for
The Henry D. Greggs arrived in Rome on the two o'clock train from
Naples. And all the Roman knights of the waving palm espied them from
afar and hailed them with whoops of joy. The season was still young and
the Henry D. Greggs looked like money—not Italian money, which is
reckoned in lire, but American money, which mounts grandly to dollars.
The postcard men in the Piazza delle Terme sped after their motor taxi.
The swarthy brigand, with his wooden box of tawdry souvenirs, marked
them as they rode past. The cripple who lurked behind a pillar in the
colonnade threw aside his coat with a practised hitch of his shoulder
to reveal the sickeningly maimed arm that was his stock in trade.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry D. Gregg had left their comfortable home in
Batavia, Illinois, with its sleeping porch, veranda and lawn, and
seven-passenger car; with its two glistening bathrooms, and its
Oriental rugs, and its laundry in the basement, and its Sunday fried
chicken and ice cream, because they felt that Miss Eleanora Gregg ought
to have the benefit of foreign travel. Miss Eleanora Gregg thought so
too: in fact, she had thought so first.
Her name was Eleanora, but her parents called her Tweetie, which
really did not sound so bad as it might if Tweetie had been one whit
less pretty. Tweetie was so amazingly, Americanly pretty that she could
have triumphed over a pet name twice as absurd.
The Greggs came to Rome, as has been stated, at two P.M. Wednesday.
By two P.M. Thursday Tweetie had bought a pair of long, dangling
earrings, a costume with a Roman striped collar and sash, and had
learned to loll back in her cab in imitation of the dashing,
black-eyed, sallow women she had seen driving on the Pincio. By
Thursday evening she was teasing Papa Gregg for a spray of white
aigrets, such as those same languorous ladies wore in feathery mists
atop their hats.
“But, Tweet,” argued Papa Gregg, “what's the use? You can't take
them back with you. Custom-house regulations forbid it.”
The rather faded but smartly dressed Mrs. Gregg asserted herself:
“They're barbarous! We had moving pictures at the club showing how
they're torn from the mother birds. No daughter of mine—”
“I don't care!” retorted Tweetie. “They're perfectly stunning; and
I'm going to have them.”
And she had them—not that the aigret incident is important; but it
may serve to place the Greggs in their respective niches.
At eleven o'clock Friday morning Mary Gowd called at the Gregg's
hotel, according to appointment. In far-away Batavia, Illinois, Mrs.
Gregg had heard of Mary Gowd. And Mary Gowd, with her knowledge of
everything Roman—from the Forum to the best place at which to buy
pearls—was to be the staff on which the Greggs were to lean.
“My husband,” said Mrs. Gregg; “my daughter Twee—er—Eleanora.
We've heard such wonderful things of you from my dear friend Mrs.
Melville Peters, of Batavia.”
“Ah, yes!” exclaimed Mary Gowd. “A most charming person, Mrs.
“After she came home from Europe she read the most wonderful paper
on Rome before the Women's West End Culture Club, of Batavia. We're
affiliated with the National Federation of Women's Clubs, as you
probably know; and—”
“Now, Mother,” interrupted Henry Gregg, “the lady can't be
interested in your club.”
“Oh, but I am!” exclaimed Mary Gowd very vivaciously. “Enormously!”
Henry Gregg eyed her through his cigar smoke with suddenly narrowed
“M-m-m! Well, let's get to the point anyway. I know Tweetie here is
dying to see St. Peter's, and all that.”
Tweetie had settled back inscrutably after one comprehensive,
disdainful look at Mary Gowd's suit, hat, gloves and shoes. Now she sat
up, her bewitching face glowing with interest.
“Tell me,” she said, “what do they call those officers with the long
pale-blue capes and the silver helmets and the swords? And the ones in
dark-blue uniform with the maroon stripe at the side of the trousers?
And do they ever mingle with the—that is, there was one of the blue
capes here at tea yesterday—”
Papa Gregg laughed a great, comfortable laugh.
“Oh, so that's where you were staring yesterday, young lady! I
thought you acted kind of absent-minded.” He got up to walk over and
pinch Tweetie's blushing cheek.
So it was that Mary Gowd began the process of pouring the bloody,
religious, wanton, pious, thrilling, dreadful history of Rome into the
pretty and unheeding ear of Tweetie Gregg.
On the fourth morning after that introductory meeting Mary Gowd
arrived at the hotel at ten, as usual, to take charge of her party for
the day. She encountered them in the hotel foyer, an animated little
group centred about a very tall, very dashing, very black-mustachioed
figure who wore a long pale blue cape thrown gracefully over one
shoulder as only an Italian officer can wear such a garment. He was
looking down into the brilliantly glowing face of the pretty Eleanora,
and the pretty Eleanora was looking up at him; and Pa and Ma Gregg were
standing by, placidly pleased.
A grim little line appeared about Miss Gowd's mouth. Blue Cape's
black eyes saw it, even as he bent low over Mary Gowd's hand at the
words of introduction.
“Oh, Miss Gowd,” pouted Tweetie, “it's too bad you haven't a
telephone. You see, we shan't need you to-day.”
“No?” said Miss Gowd, and glanced at Blue Cape.
“No; Signor Caldini says it's much too perfect a day to go poking
about among old ruins and things.”
Henry D. Gregg cleared his throat and took up the explanation.
“Seems the—er—Signor thinks it would be just the thing to take a
touring car and drive to Tivoli, and have a bite of lunch there.”
“And come back in time to see the Colosseum by moonlight!” put in
“Oh, yes!” said Mary Gowd.
Pa Gregg looked at his watch.
“Well, I'll be running along,” he said. Then, in answer to something
in Mary Gowd's eyes: “I'm not going to Tivoli, you see. I met a man
from Chicago here at the hotel. He and I are going to chin awhile this
morning. And Mrs. Gregg and his wife are going on a shopping spree.
Say, ma, if you need any more money speak up now, because I'm—”
Mary Gowd caught his coat sleeve.
Her voice was very low. “You mean—you mean Miss Eleanora will go to
Tivoli and to the Colosseum alone—with—with Signor Caldini?”
Henry Gregg smiled indulgently.
“The young folks always run round alone at home. We've got our own
car at home in Batavia, but Tweetie's beaus are always driving up for
Mary Gowd turned her head so that only Henry Gregg could hear what
“Step aside for just one moment. I must talk to you.”
“Do as I say,” whispered Mary Gowd.
Something of her earnestness seemed to convey a meaning to Henry
“Just wait a minute, folks,” he said to the group of three, and
joined Mary Gowd, who had chosen a seat a dozen paces away. “What's the
trouble?” he asked jocularly. “Hope you're not offended because Tweet
said we didn't need you to-day. You know young folks—”
“They must not go alone,” said Mary Gowd.
“This is not America. This is Italy—this Caldini is an Italian.”
“Why, look here; Signor Caldini was introduced to us last night. His
folks really belong to the nobility.”
“I know; I know,” interrupted Mary Gowd. “I tell you they cannot go
alone. Please believe me! I have been fifteen years in Rome. Noble or
not, Caldini is an Italian. I ask you”—she had clasped her hands and
was looking pleadingly up into his face—“I beg of you, let me go with
them. You need not pay me to-day. You—”
Henry Gregg looked at her very thoughtfully and a little puzzled.
Then he glanced over at the group again, with Blue Cape looking down so
eagerly into Tweetie's exquisite face and Tweetie looking up so raptly
into Blue Cape's melting eyes and Ma Gregg standing so placidly by. He
turned again to Mary Gowd's earnest face.
“Well, maybe you're right. They do seem to use chaperons in
Europe—duennas, or whatever you call 'em. Seems a nice kind of chap,
He strolled back to the waiting group. From her seat Mary Gowd heard
Mrs. Gregg's surprised exclamation, saw Tweetie's pout, understood
Caldini's shrug and sneer. There followed a little burst of
conversation. Then, with a little frown which melted into a smile for
Blue Cape, Tweetie went to her room for motor coat and trifles that the
long day's outing demanded. Mrs. Gregg, still voluble, followed.
Blue Cape, with a long look at Mary Gowd, went out to confer with
the porter about the motor. Papa Gregg, hand in pockets, cigar tilted,
eyes narrowed, stood irresolutely in the centre of the great, gaudy
foyer. Then, with a decisive little hunch of his shoulders, he came
back to where Mary Gowd sat.
“Did you say you've been fifteen years in Rome?”
“Fifteen years,” answered Mary Gowd.
Henry D. Gregg took his cigar from his mouth and regarded it
“Well, that's quite a spell. Must like it here.” Mary Gowd said
nothing. “Can't say I'm crazy about it—that is, as a place to live. I
said to Mother last night: 'Little old Batavia's good enough for Henry
D.' Of course it's a grand education, travelling, especially for
Tweetie. Funny, I always thought the fruit in Italy was regular
hothouse stuff—thought the streets would just be lined with trees all
hung with big, luscious oranges. But, Lord! Here we are at the best
hotel in Rome, and the fruit is worse than the stuff the pushcart men
at home feed to their families—little wizened bananas and oranges.
Still, it's grand here in Rome for Tweetie. I can't stay long—just ran
away from business to bring 'em over; but I'd like Tweetie to stay in
Italy until she learns the lingo. Sings, too—Tweetie does; and she and
Ma think they'll have her voice cultivated over here. They'll stay here
quite a while, I guess.”
“Then you will not be here with them?” asked Mary Gowd.
They sat silent for a moment.
“I suppose you're crazy about Rome,” said Henry Gregg again.
“There's a lot of culture here, and history, and all that; and—”
“I hate Rome!” said Mary Gowd.
Henry Gregg stared at her in bewilderment.
“Then why in Sam Hill don't you go back to England?”
“I'm thirty-seven years old. That's one reason why. And I look
older. Oh, yes, I do. Thanks just the same. There are too many women in
England already—too many half-starving shabby genteel. I earn enough
to live on here—that is, I call it living. You couldn't. In the bad
season, when there are no tourists, I live on a lire a day, including
Henry Gregg stood up.
“My land! Why don't you come to America?” He waved his arms.
Mary Gowd's brick-red cheeks grew redder.
“America!” she echoed. “When I see American tourists here throwing
pennies in the Fountain of Trevi, so that they'll come back to Rome, I
want to scream. By the time I save enough money to go to America I'll
be an old woman and it will be too late. And if I did contrive to
scrape together enough for my passage over I couldn't go to the United
States in these clothes. I've seen thousands of American women here. If
they look like that when they're just travelling about, what do they
wear at home!”
“Clothes?” inquired Henry Gregg, mystified. “What's wrong with your
“Everything! I've seen them look at my suit, which hunches in the
back and strains across the front, and is shiny at the seams. And my
gloves! And my hat! Well, even though I am English I know how frightful
my hat is.”
“You're a smart woman,” said Henry D. Gregg.
“Not smart enough,” retorted Mary Gowd, “or I shouldn't be here.”
The two stood up as Tweetie came toward them from the lift. Tweetie
pouted again at sight of Mary Gowd, but the pout cleared as Blue Cape,
his arrangements completed, stood in the doorway, splendid hat in hand.
It was ten o'clock when the three returned from Tivoli and the
Colosseum—Mary Gowd silent and shabbier than ever from the dust of the
road; Blue Cape smiling; Tweetie frankly pettish. Pa and Ma Gregg were
listening to the after-dinner concert in the foyer.
“Was it romantic—the Colosseum, I mean—by moonlight?” asked Ma
Gregg, patting Tweetie's cheek and trying not to look uncomfortable as
Blue Cape kissed her hand.
“Romantic!” snapped Tweetie. “It was as romantic as Main Street on
Circus Day. Hordes of people tramping about like buffaloes. Simply
swarming with tourists—German ones. One couldn't find a single ruin to
sit on. Romantic!” She glared at the silent Mary Gowd.
There was a strange little glint in Mary Gowd's eyes, and the grim
line was there about the mouth again, grimmer than it had been in the
“You will excuse me?” she said. “I am very tired. I will say good
“And I,” announced Caldini.
Mary Gowd turned swiftly to look at him.
“You!” said Tweetie Gregg.
“I trust that I may have the very great happiness to see you in the
morning,” went on Caldini in his careful English. “I cannot permit
Signora Gowd to return home alone through the streets of Rome.” He
bowed low and elaborately over the hands of the two women.
“Oh, well; for that matter—” began Henry Gregg gallantly.
Caldini raised a protesting, white-gloved hand.
“I cannot permit it.”
He bowed again and looked hard at Mary Gowd. Mary Gowd returned the
look. The brick-red had quite faded from her cheeks. Then, with a nod,
she turned and walked toward the door. Blue Cape, sword clanking,
In silence he handed her into the fiacre. In silence he
seated himself beside her. Then he leaned very close.
“I will talk in this damned English,” he began, “that the pig of a
fiaccheraio may not understand. This—this Gregg, he is very rich,
like all Americans. And the little Eleanora! Bellissima! You
must not stand in my way. It is not good.” Mary Dowd sat silent. “You
will help me. To-day you were not kind. There will be much money—money
for me; also for you.”
Fifteen years before—ten years before—she would have died sooner
than listen to a plan such as he proposed; but fifteen years of Rome
blunts one's English sensibilities. Fifteen years of privation dulls
one's moral sense. And money meant America. And little Tweetie Gregg
had not lowered her voice or her laugh when she spoke that afternoon of
Mary Gowd's absurd English fringe and her red wrists above her
“How much?” asked Mary Gowd. He named a figure. She laughed.
He named another figure; then another.
“You will put it down on paper,” said Mary Gowd, “and sign your
They drove the remainder of the way in silence. At her door in the
“You mean to marry her?” asked Mary Gowd.
Blue Cape shrugged eloquent shoulders:
“I think not,” he said quite simply.
* * * * *
It was to be the Appian Way the next morning, with a stop at the
Catacombs. Mary Gowd reached the hotel very early, but not so early as
“Think the five of us can pile into one carriage?” boomed Henry
“A little crowded, I think,” said Mary Gowd, “for such a long drive.
May I suggest that we three”—she smiled on Henry Gregg and his
wife—“take this larger carriage, while Miss Eleanora and Signor
Caldini follow in the single cab?”
A lightning message from Blue Cape's eyes.
“Yes; that would be nice!” cooed Tweetie.
So it was arranged. Mary Gowd rather outdid herself as a guide that
morning. She had a hundred little intimate tales at her tongue's end.
She seemed fairly to people those old ruins again with the men and
women of a thousand years ago. Even Tweetie—little frivolous,
indifferent Tweetie—was impressed and interested.
As they were returning to the carriages after inspecting the Baths
of Caracalla, Tweetie even skipped ahead and slipped her hand for a
moment into Mary Gowd's.
“You're simply wonderful!” she said almost shyly. “You make things
sound so real. And—and I'm sorry I was so nasty to you yesterday at
Mary Dowd looked down at the glowing little face. A foolish little
face it was, but very, very pretty, and exquisitely young and fresh and
sweet. Tweetie dropped her voice to a whisper:
“You should hear him pronounce my name. It is like music when he
says it—El-e-a-no-ra; like that. And aren't his kid gloves always
beautifully white? Why, the boys back home—”
Mary Gowd was still staring down at her. She lifted the slim, ringed
little hand which lay within her white-cotton paw and stared at that
Then with a jerk she dropped the girl's hand and squared her
shoulders like a soldier, so that the dowdy blue suit strained more
than ever at its seams; and the line that had settled about her mouth
the night before faded slowly, as though a muscle too tightly drawn had
In the carriages they were seated as before. The horses started up,
with the smaller cab but a dozen paces behind. Mary Gowd leaned
forward. She began to speak—her voice very low, her accent clearly
English, her brevity wonderfully American.
“Listen to me!” she said. “You must leave Rome to-night!”
“Leave Rome to-night!” echoed the Greggs as though rehearsing a
“Be quiet! You must not shout like that. I say you must go away.”
Mamma Gregg opened her lips and shut them, wordless for once. Henry
Gregg laid one big hand on his wife's shaking knees and eyed Mary Gowd
“I don't get you,” he said.
Mary Gowd looked straight at him as she said what she had to say:
“There are things in Rome you cannot understand. You could not
understand unless you lived here many years. I lived here many months
before I learned to step meekly off into the gutter to allow a man to
pass on the narrow sidewalk. You must take your pretty daughter and go
away. To-night! No—let me finish. I will tell you what happened to me
fifteen years ago, and I will tell you what this Caldini has in his
mind. You will believe me and forgive me; and promise me that you will
go quietly away.”
When she finished Mrs. Gregg was white-faced and luckily too
frightened to weep. Henry Gregg started up in the carriage, his fists
white-knuckled, his lean face turned toward the carriage crawling
“Sit down!” commanded Mary Gowd. She jerked his sleeve. “Sit down!”
Henry Gregg sat down slowly. Then he wet his lips slightly and
“Oh, bosh!” he said. “This—this is the twentieth century and we're
Americans, and it's broad daylight. Why, I'll lick the—”
“This is Rome,” interrupted Mary Gowd quietly, “and you will do
nothing of the kind, because he would make you pay for that too, and it
would be in all the papers; and your pretty daughter would hang her
head in shame forever.” She put one hand on Henry Gregg's sleeve. “You
do not know! You do not! Promise me you will go.” The tears sprang
suddenly to her English blue eyes. “Promise me! Promise me!”
“Henry!” cried Mamma Gregg, very grey-faced. “Promise, Henry!”
“I promise,” said Henry Gregg, and he turned away.
Mary Gowd sank back in her seat and shut her eyes for a moment.
“Presto!” she said to the half-sleeping driver. Then she
waved a gay hand at the carriage in the rear. “Presto!” she
called, smiling. “Presto!“
* * * * *
At six o'clock Mary Gowd entered the little room in the Via
Babbuino. She went first to the window, drew the heavy curtains. The
roar of Rome was hushed to a humming. She lighted a candle that stood
on the table. Its dim light emphasized the gloom. She took off the
battered black velvet hat and sank into the chintz-covered English
chair. Tina stood in the doorway. Mary Gowd sat up with a jerk.
Tina thought deeply, fumbled at the bosom of her gown and drew out a
sealed envelope grudgingly.
Mary Gowd broke the seal, glanced at the letter. Then, under Tina's
startled gaze, she held it to the flaming candle and watched it burn.
“What is it that you do?” demanded Tina.
Mary Gowd smiled.
“You have heard of America?”
“America! A thousand—a million time! My brother Luigi—”
“Naturally! This, then”—Mary Gowd deliberately gathered up the
ashes into a neat pile and held them in her hand, a crumpled
heap—“this then, Tina, is my trip to America.”