Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

commonplace, every contact at the inauspicious moment, every action and phrase that might have diminished the glamour of those hours. Exulting in their triumph, they had declared: "It shall always be so. We will never descend from these heights." Lawrence averted his eyes from the well-remembered landscape, which was drenched in the sunshine of midafternoon.

habitually in an atmosphere of triumph, who was supposed to be a serene and brilliant rationalist, incapable of these nearly juvenile emotions. But all his will power had been completely dispelled by that last note of hers.

"Why should I regard this affair so extravagantly? These separations are of common occurrence. Half of my friends have been through them, yes,

"How long ago did this idea of and seem quite cheerful about the separation come to her?"

For years, as it now seemed to him, Flora had been making her inner life inscrutable.

"But even in the beginning now and then she would conceal or distort the truth in order to please me, to comfort me, maybe to lull some stirring intuition of mine to spare me who knows what?"

He revolted against that last thought. Surely his memories of their first days were safe?

"No, nothing shall rob me of those recollections. I would n't believe her even if she should tell me, in a moment of malice, that from the first- But she is n't malicious, and there will be no quarrel."

The steamboat whistle blew. His hands were turning cold. Just so, in the days before their marriage, his hands had turned cold whenever he found himself approaching her. He wondered at the recurrence of this phenomenon after the many years.

What a hold she still had on him, especially now that he was about to lose her! At his age, and with his public fame, was there not something shameful in such agitation? He tried to see himself as the world saw him-a man whose sensitiveness was regulated strictly by his will, who moved

situation."

He kept clenching and rubbing his hands to warm them, so that she might not feel their coldness.

"But she may fail to offer her hand. What 's the usual thing at such a time?"

The steamboat was drawing in toward the shore. Before him expanded a long, amber-colored terrace. Behind the terrace stood a park of handsome trees. Beyond the trees rose a large, amber-colored building gay with striped awnings. He saw people moving about: women in light dresses, men in flannels, the titled Romans and rich Milanese, the wandering Americans and English, who were trying zealously to distract themselves.

Descending to the lower deck, Lawrence joined the travelers who were waiting to disembark. The heat, the odor of the engine, gave him a touch of nausea. The delay became insufferable. Then he found himself ashore, walking through the sunny grounds of the Hotel di Tasso with fear in his heart.

"How grotesque you are!" he muttered. "This is merely the progress of life. She is only thirty now, while you are nearly forty. Of course some younger man

[ocr errors]

8 2

There she was, under a palmetto, slowly rising from a wicker chair. She had on a pale-blue dress and a widebrimmed, flowered hat. She seemed to him taller and more slender.

Flora approached with that familiar step, fastidious, splendid, unwavering, which had always suggested to him the progress of a goddess. Her large eyes, formerly so various in their manifestations, were blank to-day. Her lips, slender and scarlet, once so entrancingly graphic, were now composed. Then he smelled her perfume, the same through all these years.

She held out her small hand, which seemed as flexible as ever.

"Thank you," she said in a low voice, like the echo of old, amorous music. She glanced down at the overcoat on his arm, the walking-stick in his left hand. He explained.

"I left my valises at Como. No doubt I shall be able to catch the last boat back."

Nodding, she remarked:

"This place is impossible; there is n't a spot where we can have a quiet talk."

He repressed a painful smile at the thought that her own rooms had not seemed to her appropriate for their conversation. He inquired: "Why not the lake?"

"I was going to suggest it."

had suddenly perceived, through a sort of haze, a collie at his knee. "Is this your dog?" he had asked her in bewilderment. And, at her assent, he had laid his hand on the beast's head with a feeling of singular affection. Just now he had felt for this old man the same affection at her words, "Here's my boatman."

And

They entered the launch. "Where to, Excellency?" "Anywhere. Up the lake." to her husband, "Of course he does n't understand English."

Lawrence was thinking of another boatman, of another boat-a rowboat with a red hood faded by the sun and with cushions of damask. He was thinking of how that boat had slipped out across these same waters in the twilight, when the mountains were the color of amethysts, when the mist wrapped the villas in silvery gauze, when, far off to the north, the snowpeaks of the Alps tried to retain the escaping afterglow. He remembered the great calm of air and water and foliage amid which their two hearts had quivered. He recalled the slow dip of the oars that propelled them from one rapture to another, and her utterance as the dusk inclosed them:

“What a miracle we have made of life! But that 's because we were born for each other, for each other only."

The old boatman, one hand on the They went down to a landing where wheel, stared ahead with the sleepy there were boats for hire.

"Here's my boatman."

Flora designated an old man in a blue jersey, duck trousers, and a red sash, who was standing beside a motor-launch, his hat in his hands.

Lawrence remembered how, when calling on Flora for the first time, he

smile of one who sees unfolding before him a prospect full of familiar reassurances. He steered a middle course, so that on each side, at the bases of the mountains, the villas were dots of white or yellow among their tiny groves. The sun was already declining.

There came to Lawrence's mind a letter written by Flora just before their union. She had said:

I think these remaining days are going to be the longest that I have ever known. Maybe I 'm offending the gods by my impatience, since time is the very essence of our lives.

Was it she who had written that? Or was it another woman of her appearance?

Flora reclined against the cushions of dull-blue cloth, her head lowered, her white face shaded by her hat-brim. She had fixed her gaze on the engine, whose mechanism seemed to be feverishly consuming this last hour. The attitude of her tapering form recalled similar poses in gardens odorous with extravagant flowers, in boudoirs a-glitter with luxurious objects useless except to bring a curve of pleasure to her lips. The countless times that Lawrence, approaching her in such places, had restrained himself by an effort of will from embracing her, since he did not want his caresses to seem commonplace! Those precautions had been useless. At last he inquired:

ended yesterday. It meant merely a stop-over. How long have you been here, Flora?"

"Two weeks."

"Have you-have you seen the villa?"

She replied:

"It's occupied by old Maxime Destouches, the French sculptor. Didn't you know him in Paris? He lives there alone, and is supposed to be half childish from old age. The other day I landed and walked through the garden. I did n't go into the house, for he was away at Bellagio."

"How did the place seem to you?"

"It was all so different! The sky was dull. I heard no birds singing. On the moist ground I saw the petals of white funereal roses. A chilly wind from the Alps set the cypresses to moaning as I went down the steps, which were covered with dead leaves. How strange! It was winter there. Even the water looked icy, leaden, bitter. Nature seemed in the conspiracy to crush any impulse-"

She checked herself with a sigh. "What do they call the place now?" "It has the same name," she said.

The villa was built on a wooded point of land, on a flowering terrace above some picturesque rocks. A stone staircase, with antique statues on its balustrade, descended to the

"Why did you add that postscript to your note, asking me to come here? To me it looked like an impulse of the last moment." "It was. I had to open the envelop landing-place of masonry, in a little to write it."

"I presume it was so that we could have a personal discussion about ways and means?"

cove overhung with Virginia creeper. Here the wavelets incessantly lisped against the rocks, and it was from the sound of these waves that the villa

Lowering her inscrutable gaze, she derived its name. It was called vouchsafed:

"Perhaps." Presently she asked, "Did this trip inconvenience you?”

"Not at all. As you know, I was in Rome for that convention, which

Many Kisses.

[blocks in formation]

grouping of trees, and, behind the trees, the house half concealed by foliage. He made out the balcony and the French windows of her bed

room.

there I was full of hope. That first day, when we went to Fontainebleau, I was almost absurd from my determination to be happy. Do you remember your joking with the old

But he managed to achieve the waiter, telling him that I was your comment:

"This is only an interlude for Many Kisses. The villa is old. It must have passed through any number of vicissitudes. Surely others before us found it admirable for the same purpose. Others will undoubtedly find it so again. Now, with old Maxime Destouches in occupation, the place is merely having, as it seemed to you, one of its winters. It will see new springtimes. It will justify its name."

The boatman inquired:

"Will her Excellency drink tea at Bellagio this afternoon?"

"No. Go on up the lake."

The sun had touched the mountains.

"Lawrence, I 've really tried so hard! I feel dreadfully about my inability to go on. Every recollection that I have of you is a reproach to me. If we never quarreled, it was more because of your resolve than mine that our association should n't lose a certain dignity. I have to thank you, too, for never making me seriously jealous. Or should I thank you for that?" She murmured, "Is it possible that a monotone of confidence is one of the fatal things?"

He tried to smile while responding: "Certainly. Every one says so, now that I come to think of it. I I should have thought of it sooner. Tell me, Flora, when did you reach this decision?"

"I felt that it was all up the last time we parted in Paris. Truly, Lawrence, even when I joined you

gay little daughter? But you yourself looked so young that afternoon!" "It's happiness that makes one look young. I'd just got you back again."

The sun was gone. Along the western cliffs a mist was already trailing its long bands against a screen of purple.

"But something was missing," she continued, with an accent of resentment. "Some magic, some intense radiance in the mind, some indescribable thrill, and that wonderful thought, "This is immortality!" "

"You 're speaking for yourself, of course, my dear."

"Very well, though I think that familiarity had its effect on you, too. At the beginning, what a genius you had for creating the illusions of romance! At the end, the instinct, the habit, were still there, but not the first inspiration."

"Flora," he said, "it 's retrospection that produces the most vivid of those charms, which are only to be discovered through 'the pathos of distance.' All this while you 've been comparing the transitory moment to those first days of ours. Naturally, it was more and more difficult to match them, since, the farther they receded, the more beautiful they became."

She seemed about to reply, but with a look of shame she refrained from doing so.

Twilight had fallen. Along the shores points of fire were springing

[blocks in formation]

see the villa again even as it is now. Do you mind stopping there?" She faltered:

"Don't do that, please!"

"Wait in the launch if you prefer not to go in. I shall stay only a moment.”

She hesitated, then dismally ordered the boatman to stop at Many Kisses.

A man who had been walking in the black garden came slowly down the stone steps between the statues. Midway he paused in the lamplight. He was tall, stoop-shouldered, old, and feeble, with white beard and gaunt face. He stood like the guardian of some dark little isle beyond the border-line of the familiar world where mortals now and then come to lay away their dead joys.

[ocr errors][merged small]

They had passed Menaggio before surprise. When Lawrence stepped Lawrence spoke again:

"It would be foolish to argue such a matter. You came to me because you could n't help it. You 're leaving me for the same reason. We need n't be enemies."

"No! no!" she said plaintively, laying her hand on his arm. "Never enemies, Lawrence. Think of the past! I shall love that, and you in it." The launch, passing the lights of Cadenabbia, approached Tremezzo. Ahead, on its promontory, appeared Many Kisses. By the steps that descended to the water a lamp was gleaming.

"I should like," said Lawrence, "to

ashore alone, the old sculptor inquired:

"Madame is unable to accept my hospitality?”

She raised toward the lamplight that delicate countenance of hers, more wan than ever, at this moment resembling the face of a sick person. Destouches regarded her impassively with his haggard eyes. haggard eyes. He said quietly, but with a peculiar effect of emotionalism in restraint:

"Madame, I am a lonely old man whose house pleads for the beauty with which you might brighten it. To us octogenarians such acts of kindness may seem prodigious. Having seen

« AnkstesnisTęsti »