Having solved the case of Newark Bay Railway Disaster not as a professional responsibility but only under the influence of my passionate and inquisitive mind, I was planning for some vacation to rest my body and mind, of leaving the American continent for the eastern side of the Atlantic ---- I wanted to fly down to the European mainland. The land of Leonardo da Vinci had always attracted me since my childhood and the recent controversy surrounding the book “The da Vinci Code” and the movie based on it, has reason to fire my desire to visit Italy.
With Alexandra managing it well on my behalf, I had no problem in my firm.
With my professional responsibilities in my firm Messrs Berliner Hathaway being shouldered off for a few months, I decided not to waste this opportunity.
I swiped my access card and pressed the elevator button. No more was said on the ride up, all the while I watched the floor indicators changing, looking intently in blank, resolute silence. My thoughts drifted back to my last vacation as I leaned even further back, crossing my arms, embracing myself with a warm and comforting feeling of bliss and relief from the reality that was my life. My last real vacation was three years ago with my girlfriend. My girlfriend Oindrila and I drove down to Sandbanks and rented a room at a bed and breakfast. We did nothing constructive for that whole week, choosing to sun and swim, all the while resting not only body, but mind.
The remainder of the day was uneventful and Oindrila went home as usual in a bland, unfulfilled mood.I closed my eyes and squeezed them tight as I tried to shut out the world. It didn’t work as other phones rang . It was enough to make Oindrila want to bring up our hasty breakfast of an egg on toast with ham. ”Even my breakfasts are boring,” I thought.
I opened my eyes in time to see a picture on my laptop screensaver. It was something that I downloaded, an image that gave me some hope for summer and the end of the snow and cold and slush. It was a warm and inviting picture of several thatched huts, large and round sitting on thick bamboo posts hammered into the sandy bottom of the Pacific Ocean. We had a long walking jetty leading out to and passing each hut with a short walkway. The water was crystal clear and even on the computer screen looked warm. It was clear enough to see the two or three meters to the bottom where the sand was a creamy white and small tropical fish swam amongst outcrops of coral.
When I arrived at my desk, I tossed my lunch bag under it and plopped myself in my chair with a grand sigh. The open concept floor was empty at this time of day except for three other workers, but they were at the other end of the floor. I reached over, silently moaning, and switched on my laptop. There was that image on my screen, tranquil, clear, clean and peaceful, the tropical oasis that was my sanctuary. It didn’t take long for me to feel the breeze, and hear the gentle ocean waves. It happened so fast it caught me off guard. As I stepped back I felt something different - sand, it was sand at his feet. I couldn’t explain what happened, what was happening, but the smell of the tropics and salt air continued to entice me to explore these new feelings and senses for just a bit longer. ”I could get used to this,” I thought lightheartedly. Nothing else mattered to me now and soon the life I had at the office was just a nightmare and a lie. This was reality, a reality that was as real as the sand I was lying on. I rejoiced in the fact that I was awake now, forever rid of that life that never happened and that the ringing of the phones and complaining clients would never again intrude into my truth. I blinked several times, thinking that this was too good to be true. I was after all, in his office - how could this be my paradise? It was a question that I couldn’t answer. That morning, I was sent to Herr Wilhelm's private room.
“I don’t quite know how to explain it to you, “ he said, “but it was the very fact that your performance on the job had a spice of intelligence, it was just your exceptional sharpness. I don’t read the things in the newspapers unless they’re thrust upon me. At any rate you missed my little point.”
The little point was – when they patted me on the back as when they kicked me in the shin.
Our company boss Herr Wilhelm told, “No one who has not had personal experience of the complications that arise out of your job could believe how far these spread and how entangled they become. You know it very well that great acuteness as well as caution is called for.”
“Ya. I know it, sir,” I replied.
“During your last assignment, you shirked your responsibilities and gave everything upon a younger lady’s shoulder, am I right ?”
”Ya. You’re absolutely right. But it went off well and cent percent perfect.”
“But we can’t allow this every time. We can’t allow your attention to veer to another matter while on an assignment on behalf of the company, Mr. Olmert.”
I left the room in a huff and asked Alexandra if she is ready to fly down with me to Europe. But her reply shocked me : “I can’t endanger my life every time for your whimsical attitude, sir. My family won’t allow me this luxury.”
Without further speaking a single word, I came out of the building in an anger.
I left the U.S. of America for a long absence and full of brave intentions. It is not a perversion of the truth to pronounce that encounter the direct cause of my departure. If the oral utterance of the person had the privilege of moving me deeply it was especially on his turning it over at leisure, hours and days later, that it appeared to yield me its full meaning and exhibit its extreme importance. I spent the summer in Switzerland and, having in September begun a new task, determined not to cross the Alps till I should have made a good start. To this end I returned to a quiet corner I knew well, on the edge of the Lake of Geneva : a region and a view for which I had an affection that sprang from old associations and was capable of mysterious revivals and refreshments. Here I lingered late, till the snow was on the nearer hills, almost down to the limit to which I could climb when my stint, on the shortening afternoons, was performed. The autumn was fine, the lake was blue and my mental faculties took a new form . These felicities, for the time, embroidered my life, which I suffered to cover myself with its mantle. At the end of two months I felt I had learnt the lesson by heart, had tested and proved its doctrine. Nevertheless I did a very inconsistent thing : before crossing the Alps I wrote to Miss Alexandra….she was aware of the perversity of this act, and it was only as a luxury, an amusement, the reward of a strenuous autumn, that she justified it. She had asked of me no such favour when, shortly before I left the continent , barely five days after our official dinner party , I went to take leave of her. It was true I had had no ground – I had not named his intention of absence. I had kept his counsel for want of due assurance : it was that particular visit that was, the next thing, to settle the matter. I had paid the visit to see how much he really cared for her, and quick departure, without so much as an explicit farewell, was the sequel to this enquiry, the answer to which had created within me a deep yearning. When I took the liberty of calling her from Clarence I noted that I owed her an explanation ( more than two months later !) for not having told her what I was doing.
She replied now briefly but promptly, and gave me a striking piece of news : that of death, a week before, of Herr Gerhardt, the second partner in the firm.
This exemplary man had succumbed, in the country, to a violent attack of inflammation of the lungs ---- I would remember that for a long time he had been delicate . Miss Alexandra added that she believed the deceased’s partner in the firm Herr Wilhelm overwhelmed by the blow ; he would miss him too terribly --- he had been everything in life to him --- in both personal and professional sides, being bachelor both of them and dedicated to work and their firm which they had built brick by brick . I, on this, immediately wrote to Herr Wilhelm . I would from the day of our parting have been glad of wishing to remain in communication with him, but had hitherto lacked the right excuse for troubling so busy a man. Our long professional as well as personal discussions came back to me in every detail, but this was no bar to an expression of proper sympathy with the head of the profession, for had not that very talk made it clear that the late accomplished gentleman was the influence that ruled his life ? What catastrophe could be more cruel than the extinction of such an influence ? This was to be exactly the tone taken by Herr Wilhelm in answering me upwards of a week later. I made no allusion of course to our important discussion. He spoke of his partner as frankly and generously as if he had quite forgotten that occasion, and the feeling of deep bereavement was visible in his words : “He took everything off my hands --- off my mind. He carried on our organisation with the greatest art, the rarest devotion, and I was free, as few men can have been, to drive my pen, to shut myself up with my trade. This was a rare service ---- the highest he could have rendered me. Would I have acknowledged it more fitly !”
A certain bewilderment, for me, disengaged itself from these remarks : they struck me as a contradiction, a retraction, strange on the part of a man who had not the excuse of witlessness. I knew Herr Wilhelm having majority partnership in the company even though they had quite a great friendship at personal level. He was a little selfish. I had certainly not expected his correspondent to rejoice in the death of his partner and friend, and it was perfectly in order that the rupture of a tie of more than thirty years should have left him sore. But if Alexandra had been so clear a blessing what in the name of consistency had the dear man meant by turning him upside down that night – by dosing me to that degree, at the most sensitive hour of my life, with the doctrine of renunciation ? If Herr Gerhardt . was an irreparable loss, then his partner’s inspired advice had been a bad joke and renunciation was a mistake. I was on the point of rushing back to the U.S.A. to show that, for my part, I was perfectly willing to consider it so, and I went so far as to take the half-prepared documents out of my table-drawer, to insert these into my portmanteau. This led to my catching a glimpse of certain part of my works I had not looked at for months, and that accident, in turn, to my being struck with the high promise they revealed --- a rare result of such retrospections, which it was my habit to avoid as much as possible : they usually brought home to me that the glow of composition might be a purely subjective and misleading emotion. On this occasion a certain belief in myself disengaged itself whimsically from the serried erasures of my first draft, making me think it best after all to pursue my present trial to the end. If I could do the job as well under the rigour of privation it might be a mistake to change the conditions before that spell had spent itself. I would go back to the States , of course, but I would go back only when I should have finished my
works . This was the vow I privately made, restoring my half-done papers to the table-drawer. It may be added that it took me a long time to finish my works, for the subject was as difficult as it was fine, and I was literally embarrassed by its fullness. Something within me warned me that I must make it supremely good – otherwise I should lack, as regards my private behavoiur, a handsome excuse. I had a horror of this deficiency and found myself as firm as need be on the question of the light and the file. I crossed the Alps at last and spent the winter, the spring, the ensuing summer, in Italy, where still, at the end of a twelvemonth, my task was unachieved.
After arriving in Italy, I felt a strange queerness . It had a link with my distant past.
They told me I should find Italy greatly changed ; in five-and-ten years there is room for changes. But to me everything is so perfectly the same that I seem to be living my pre-adolescence over again ; all the forgotten impressions of that enchanting time come back to me. At the moment they were powerful enough ; but they afterwards faded away. What in the world became of them ? What ever becomes of such things, in the long intervals of consciousness ? Where do they hide themselves away ? In what unvisited cupboards and crannies of our being do they preserve themselves ? They are like the lines of a letter written in sympathetic ink ; hold the letter to the light for a while and the grateful warmth brings out the invisible words. There have been moments during the last few years when I have felt so portentously old, so finished that I should have taken as a very bad joke any intimation that this present sense of juvenility was still in store for me. At all events, I have traveled too far, I have worked too hard, I have lived in brutal climates and associated with tiresome people.
I suppose that, whatever serious step one might have taken at this age, after a struggle, and with a violent effort, and however one’s conduct might appear to be justified by events, there would always remain a certain regret.
I knew it would not last ; it is already passing away. But I have spent a delightful day ; I have been strolling all over the place. Everything reminds me of something else, and yet of itself at the same time ; my imagination makes a great circuit and comes back to the starting–point . There is that well-remembered odour of spring in the air, and the flowers, as they used to be, are gathered into great sheaves and stacks, all along the rugged base of the Strozzi Palace. I remembered all those days individually ; they seem to me as yesterday. I found the corner where she always chose to sit – the bench of sun-warmed marble, in front of the screen of ilex.
I sat there for half an hour, and it was strange how near to me she seemed. The place was perfectly empty --- that is, it was filled with ‘her’ . I closed my eyes and listened ; I could almost hear the rustle of her dress on the gravel. What is it after all but a sort of refinement of life ? I sat there in the sunny stillness, she was a palpable, audible presence.
The sitting-room looks into the garden. The staircase is of white marble, and there is a medallion by Luca della Robbia set into the wall at the place where it makes a bend. One comes into the drawing-room one stands in a moment in a great vaulted place hung round with faded tapestry, paved with bare tiles. In the drawing-room, above the fireplace, is a superb Andrea del Sarto.
“il mio inglse (My Englishman),” greeted a voice in Italian.
I found him today sitting in the church of Santa Croce, into which I wandered to escape from the heat of the sun.
Looking out on the river, gliding past in the starlight. There are the same cypresses on the opposite hills.
“No, I’m Drayton Olmert and I’m from India.”
In the nave it was cool and dim ; he was staring at the blaze of candles on the great altar, and thinking, I am sure, of his incomparable LADY. I sat down beside him, and after a while, as if to avoid the appearance of eagerness, he asked me how I had enjoyed my visit to Casa Silvia, and what I thought of the ‘pedrona’.
This gentleman was Mr. Leonardo, an Italian. He is personally and emotionally involved with Signora Silvia who is my pre-adolescence years’ friend.
But I did not disclose about my old friendship with the lady.
“An enchantress.’ I told. “An artist – an actress,” I went on rather brutally.
“No, no, there’s more.” And we sat a long time in silence.
“She’s altogether charming – full of frankness and freedom, of that inimitable ‘disinvoltura’, which in an Englishwoman would be vulgar, and which in her is simply the perfection of apparent spontaneity . But for all her spontaneity she is as subtle as a needle-point, and knows tremendously well what she is about. If she is not a consummate coquette …… What had she in her head she knows very well and told straightforward.” I told.
I went again to Casa Silvia, where I found a group of persons, men and women, probably a coterie or inner circle of friends. I had been told the ladies were at church, but this was corrected by what I saw from the top of the steps --- they descended from a great height in arms, with a circular sweep of the most charming effect --- at the threshold of the door which, from the long bright gallery, overlooked the immense lawn. Three gentlemen, on the grass sat under the trees, while the fourth figure showed a crimson dress. I did not desire to go to the room as being conscious of no disrepair from so short and easy a journey and always liking to take at once a general perceptive possession of a new scene. I stood there a little with my eyes on the group and on the admirable picture, the wide grounds of an old palace near Florence.
“But that lady, do you know who’s she ?” I asked the stranger.
“I think she’s the daughter of an art curator, senor.”
I was slightly nervous ; that went with my character as a student of fine prose, went with the artist’s general disposition to vibrate ; and there was a particular thrill in the idea that the lady’s fiance might be a member of the party . For a young aspirant like me, I had remained just a figure. I was but slenderly supplied with a social boldness – it was really a weakness in him --- so that, conscious of a want of acquaintance with the three gentlemen in the distance, I gave way to motions recommended by their not committing me to a positive approach. There was a fine Italian awkwardness in this .
I knew many of my distinguished contemporaries by their photographs, but had never, as happened, seen a portrait of the great misguided person, the fiancé of the lady. One of the gentlemen was unimaginable --- he was too young ; and the other scarcely looked clever enough, with such mild undiscriminating eyes. If those eyes were the great person’s the problem presented by the ill-matched parts of his genius would be still more difficult of solution. Besides, the deportment of their proprietor was not, as regards the lady in the pink dress, such as could be natural, toward the would-be wife of his bosom.
Suddenly the lady asked me, “I think you’re Drayton, my Drayton Olmert, oh my friend !”
“Have you recognized me after so many years. How are you?” I asked .
“Ya. It had been a long, long time since our parting. Are you staying in the States nowadays ?” asked the lady.
“Oh, ya. Near Manhattan Square. But that’s my temporary address. I’m from India, my young lady.”
The lady told, “I liked the museum when I visited the U.S.A. . I’m very fond of art and music and literature . I missed it in India and I found it in the States.”
I was discussing Micheal Angelo. It felt to her as if she were fingering the very quivering tissue, the very protoplasm of life, as she heard me. It probably gave her a deep satisfaction . there I laid in the white intensity of my search, and my voice gradually filled her with fear, as if in a trance.
This lady struck me as altogether pretty, with a surprising juvenility and a high smartness of aspect, something that served for mystification. Her dear fiance had every right to a charming wife, but he himself would never have imagined the important little woman in the aggressively Parisian dress the partner for life. But he had never before seen her look so much as if her prosperity had deeper foundations. Signora Silvia might have been the fiancée of a gentleman who “kept” books rather than wrote them. He numbered her years as some thirty . But she somehow in this case juggled away the excess and the difference – one can only see them in a rare glimpse, like the rabbit in the conjurer’s sleeve.
I felt I could have understood her better if I might have met her eye ; but she scarcely so much as glanced at me anymore.
It lasted only a second, but it drew her eyes to me again. My own met them, though not long enough to help me to understand her .
The special woman was really admirable. She greeted me, toward whom familiarity should not have engendered a want of ceremony ; she made me sit near her, and she asked me half-a-dozen questions about my occupations and my health.
“So, gentleman, how did you enjoy Florence ?”
“I like to live in the past,’ I said, “I go into the galleries, into the old places. Today I spent two hours in Michael Angelo’s chapel, at San Lorenzo.”
“Ya, that’s the true past,” said she. “It was very kind of you, so far away, to have remembered our poor dear Italy.”
“The distance makes no difference.”
Most of the time I was constantly silent. I suspect I was when I was perplexed.
Before I went away I had a few more words tête-à-tête with the Signora.
She was wonderfully nice ; irresistible – with something so soft and womanly ; such graceful gaiety, so much of the brightness, without any of the stiffness, of good breeding, and over it all something so picturesquely simple and southern. She is a perfect Italian.
But she really gave a straight and serious look at me, appealingly – with her candid brow.
But I did not know that the lady was the most suspicious and jealous of men ! Even though, I doubt, she fell into a suspicious mood, but she was, fundamentally, not in the least addicted to thinking ‘evil’.
Leonardo is very happy in spite of his doubts, and I confess that in the perception of his happiness I have lived over again my own . He at last made up his mind to ask me to tell him the wrong that Madame de Silvia had done to me. I told him that it seemed a pity, just now, to indulge in painful imagery.
I admit I am open to the charge of playing a double game. I profess an admiration for the Lady Silvia, for I accept her hospitality ; and at the same time I attempt to poison her beloved fan’s mind.
One hesitates to destroy an illusion, no matter how pernicious, that is so delightful while it lasts. These are the moments of life. To be young and ardent, in the midst of an Italian spring, and to believe in the moral perfection of a beautiful woman !
I have stayed away from Casa Silvia, but I have lingered on for her, under a mixture of impulses. I have had it on my conscience not to go near the lady again and yet from the moment she is aware of the way I feel about her, it is open war. There need be no scruples on either side. She is as free to use every possible art to entangle me more closely as I am to clip her fine-spun meshes.
“Here he comes. Now you must know him,” she told . There stood that great novelist near a gathering , not falling into the talk but taking up an old miniature from a table and regarding it. As the young man approached this celebrity, the eyes of the great man turned, left and right, to the pictures. The gallery was so long that this transit took some little time.
This young man was sorry for the great celebrity, as he was at any time for any person publicly invited to be responsive . He got up, trying to show his compassion, but at the same instant he found himself encompassed by this artist’s happy personal art --- a manner of which it was the essence to conjure away false positions.
But I knew that the lady’s strength was not equal to her aspirations.
The smoking-room was on the scale of the rest of the place ; high, light and commodious. I was a faithless smoker ; I would puff a cigarette for reasons with which tobacco had nothing to do. This was particularly the case on that occasion ; my motive was the vision of a little direct talk with that great person, who happened to be the fiancé of the lady. The “tremendous” communion of which the great man had held out hopes to me earlier in the day had not yet come off, and this saddened me considerably, for the party was to go its several ways immediately after breakfast on the morrow. I waited a little, wondering if he had only gone to put on something extraordinary ; this would account for his delay as well as contribute further to my impression of his tendency to do the approved superficial thing.
In this attitude I presently felt a hand on my shoulder and a friendly voice in my ear. “ I hoped I should find you.” That great man was there and with a fine face .
I offered him a cigarette.
“Well, you know, I don’t smoke. My wife doesn’t let me this luxury. Actually she doesn’t like the smell of its smoke.”
“Do you mean you like smoking ?”
“No, no. She won’t let me smoke, never again in my life, after our marriage.”
We took possession of a sofa at a distance from the group of smokers, and that husband went on : “Have you got one yourself ?”
“Oh no. A girlfriend ?”
“Yes. I had one, who was of Indian origin. But I won’t give up my smoking for one .”
He told me, “I know you remarkably. You’ve made a mark in the annals of criminology.”
“And how do you know it? It was just an adventure came to success.” I told.
“It’s in the air, it’s in the papers. And it was not an ordinary thing to pursue with so much earnestness, after all. ” The person spoke with the immediate familiarity of a confere – a tone that seemed to his neighbour the very rustle of the laurel. “You’re on all men’s lips and, what’s better, on all women’s.”
“Have you learnt everything about me ?”
“No. my wife knows. Because she likes to read about this type of news.”
“I like her very much,” said he .
“It’s the best thing you can do with her. She’s a rare young lady. “ He broke into a laugh to reply.
“Do you wish to pass exactly for what she represents you ?” I said.
“I’m passing away – nothing else than that. She has a better use for young imagination than in ‘representing’ in any way such a weary wasted used-up animal ! you’re surprisingly brilliant .”
“I’m going to be better,” I made bold to reply.
“It’s so much easier to be worse --- heaven knows I’ve found it so. I’m not in a great glow, you know. I see you’ll be able to keep it up. It will be a great disgrace if you don’t. that’s the devil of the whole thing.”
“You make me very miserable,” I ecstatically breathed.
“It’s a warning , I know, gentleman. The spectacle of a man meant for better things sunk at my age in such dishonour.” Count Vincent, the celebrity, in the same contemplative attitude, spoke softly but deliberately, and without perceptible emotion. His tone indeed suggested an impersonal lucidity that was cruel – cruel to himself. But he went on while his eyes seemed to follow the graces of the twentieth century ceiling : “Look at me, take my lesson to heart. Don’t become in your old age what I have in mine ----- the depressing, the deplorable illustration of the worship of false gods !”
“What do you mean by your old age ?”
“It has made me old.”
He answered nothing, nothing more.
“My wife likes great celebrities, whether incipient or predominant. She likes newsmakers like you. It’s cruel. I’ll tie my vanity to the stake for you. You must come and dine.”
“I must see you more. Your lady Signora Silvia is so hospitable .”
At the end of the moment the thing had turned into a smoke, and out of smoke – the last puff of a big cigar ----- proceeded the voice of the great celebrity. “I must leave now.”
Most of the company, after breakfast, drove back to town, entering their own vehicles.
Before two weeks had elapsed I met Signora Silvia at a ‘private view’ of the works of a young artist who had been so good as to invite her to the stuffy scene. There were certain females whose heads were surmounted with hats of strange convolution and plumage, which rose on long necks above the others. One of the heads, I perceived, was much the most beautiful of the collection, and my next discovery was that it belonged to Silvia. Its beauty was enhanced by the glad smile she sent me across surrounding obstructions.
“Oh, you’re alone ? I think your husband has not accompanied you.”
“We’ve not yet married. If you had been so kind as to propose it – why not you as well as he ?”
“Why he’s so pere de famillie ? Would you go to see places ?” I asked.
“Anything you like !” she smiled. “I know what you mean, that a girl like me should not waste her life on a wasted person like Count Vincent,” she added with a sweet distinctness that made those near her turn around.
“Let me at least repay that speech by taking you out of this squash,” her new admirer said.
“This type of private view will be held next year again. I hope we’re going to be friends always. I can’t wait till next year to see you.”
“We should wait.”
“No, no --- aren’t we to meet at dinner ?’ she panted with an eagerness.
“Like a shot, if you’ll be so good as to ask me !”
“It’s a nice day --- there’ll be great crowd. We’re going to look at the people, to look at types,” the lady went on. “Do you know presently my fiance’s manner of conducting himself towards me appeared not quite in harmony?”
An indefinite envy rose in this my heart as I took way with her. Her tone had truth and emotional beauty.
It had been a week ……….that had passed since that intimate encounter .
I drew a long breath when I heard of the matter ! I remember the place and the hour. It was at a hill-station in India, only a six months after I had left Florence. The post brought me some documents, and in one of them was a letter from Italy, with a lot of so-called ‘fashionable intelligence’ . There, among various scandals in high life, and other delectable items, I read that Signora Silvia was about to bestow her hand upon Count Vincent.
Ah, it was a tremendous escape ! I had been preparing my heart to be ready to marry the woman who was capable of that ! What would it be like to know a fresh cup of coffee in the morning but not be able to see, taste or smell it ? What would it be like to know a sunrise, but not be able to experience it ? What would it be like to know everything a experience none of it. Can one imagine not being able to experience physical love making, or having fun ?
I wanted to see how he agreed with her after she had devoured him -----(to what vulgar imagery, by the way, does curiosity reduce a man !)
Oh ! The new entrant must be an obstinate wretch ; it irritates me to think of him. I shall leave his thought at any rate to his fate ; it is so growing insupportably hot.
I remembered the moment I had kept her hand an instant, and then bent my venerable head and kissed it the last time.
Since then I had left Italy .
I fell asleep, that night, in my chair. The night was half over when I woke up. Instead of going to bed, I stood a long time at the window, looking out at the stream. It was a warm, still night, and the first faint strokes of sunrise were in the sky.
It always rang and today it seemed the ringing was constant. It hadn’t stopped all morning and I was already drained of strength and emotion. Although I didn’t admit it out loud, my personal life suffered because of the stresses at work. Going home on days like this was not much fun as I brought home a piece of the fruitless frustration he felt at work. I looked at the calendar, it was February 29 and a Tuesday morning. I then checked my watch and compared the time with that of his laptop screen. The digital clock showed seven minutes past eleven in the morning. I then stood, stretched his hands and neck, and turned around glancing over his cubical wall to see out the long rectangular window . It was still natural light. After I saw the snow falling, and the wind whipping up gusts of already settled powder off the lower roof line. Snow fell in large clumps as the wind drove it downward, almost blinding anyone outside with its force. I couldn’t even see across to the next building.
Presently I heard a slow footstep beneath my window, and looking down, made out by the aid of a street-light that an unknown person was but waving his right hand at me.
“I’m from Florence. I think I ‘m surely talking to none other than Mr. Drayton Olmert.”
I nodded my head and called to him to come up to my room, and, after an interval, he made his appearance.
“Signora Silvia has sent me to you.”
“What’s the matter ?”
“There had been a great muddle.”
“Things that involve a risk are like the Christian faith. They must be seen from the inside.” I replied.
Now it stands that if I mar her happiness, I certainly do not make my own.
What this unknown Italian man explained me in detail was that someone named Mr. Hamilton Longstraw Gomes has released some intimate and personal letters and documents to the Italian press and the media . The whereabouts of this person, who is out to destroy the newly-married life of Signora Silvia in the form of character assassination, is unknown. Signora Silvia has tried all methods to find out the present living address of this person, but everything has gone in vain.
This Italian gentleman told, “Signora Silvia has earnestly requested you to take up this case on her behalf, as she knows you are her long-time friend.”
“Ya, of course, I ‘m her friend and well-wisher. But it’s not an easy job to find out a person in this big world.”
“But this person Longstraw Gomes has found his name on many people’s lips due to his flirting with the lady. So it won’t be that difficult to find him out.”
“If you become successful in this pursuit, you must hand over those documents to Signora Silvia only. Because if any other person gets a hand on those documents, he or she may try to betray the lady.”
“What about her husband ? Doesn’t he know anything about the affair ?”
“Ya. He had heard it from the media but did not believe in these things, as he thinks that the media and some persons may be out to destroy the happy lives of their noble family.”
“Can you give me a snap of that Longstraw Gomes ?” I asked .
“No, sir. Signora Silvia does not have any.”
I knew it would be difficult for me to embark upon such an adventure, but I could not decline the request Silvia made in the letter.
It was not difficult to squeeze a little information about Mr. Gomes who was an intimate beloved of Signora Silvia, because this acquaintance has made him a little famous throughout the continent of Europe .
It was not the matter of money that Mr. Hamilton was doing this . It was a matter of emotional betrayal .
I decided to rang my friend Alexandra about this new case in hand which is in no way professional, not even passionate, but an intimate and personal one.
Alexandra, being based in Boston, was entrusted by me with the job of finding the history and present whereabouts of this man Mr. Hamilton in the U.S. of A. and also throughout the entire North America.
I gave Alexandra the little information I was able to collect about this man from my known sources --- so that she can find other links.
On Investigation, Alexandra found -----
Mr. Hamilton Longstraw Gomes was a young Californian who had turned up in New York the winter before and who traveled on his moustache, as they were understood to say in his native state. This moustache and some of its accompanying features were greatly admired ; several ladies in New York had been known to declare that they were as beautiful as dream. Taken in connection with his tall stature, his familiar good nature and his remarkable Western vocabulary that constituted his only social capital ; for of the two great divisions, the rich Californians and the poor Californians. It was well known to which he belonged. He was viewed as a slightly mitigated cowboy ------ this remarkable straight echo of the prairie.
Mr. Hamilton Longstraw Gomes, according to the legend, had been a trapper, a squatter, a miner, a pioneer – had been everything that one could be in the desperate parts of America, and had accumulated masses of experience before the age of thirty. He had shot bears in the Rockies ; and it was even believed that he had brought down animals of a still more dangerous kind among the haunts of men. There had been a story that he owned a cattle ranch in Texas ; but a later and apparently more authentic version of it, though representing him as looking after the cattle, did not depict him as their proprietor.
He used to dress in crude skins when not in New York and who, in his usual pursuits, carried his life ----- as well as that of other persons ---- in his hand.
He was a gallant genial specimen of unsophisticated young America.
Silvia had fixed on her amoroso her singular charming eyes , eyes of which it was impossible to say at any moment whether they were the shyest or the frankest in the world ; Italians have always been passionate than the Americans, and they used to do things that would never have been expected ; though they seemed steadier and less excitable there was much social evidence to prove them more wildly impulsive.
Five years after their first amorous idyll on the mountain, doomed lovers Silvia and her sweetheart Hamilton Longstraw Gomes hooked up again in this small town . Their reunion was passionate, desperate . Silvia, an aspiring rodeo rider, wanted that they should ditch their families and set up ranch together, hang society. But the stoic Hamilton knew better the penalties for defying convention .
He said,“I’m stuck with what I got …… If you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it.”
This was Marlboro country upturned, to reveal the myth of macho autonomy undercut by the brutal realities of a rural economy and small communities -------where desire’s defeat is inevitable, triumphing momentarily only on the elusive mountain land .
Her Beloved, a rancher fought a losing battle to sustain his farm, defeated not just by his own short-sightedness and the changing economy but by the land itself, which “wanted to go to sand dunes and rattle snakes, wanted to scrape off its human ticks” .
On investigation in the other side of the Atlantic, I got to learn many things about these ex-lovers :
“Of course Italian culture is the best in Europe, but I daresay I like to be bad,” Silvia used to say artlessly.
“Oh, there’s no doubt you’re awfully bad,” Mr. Gomes often broke out, with joyous eagerness. Naturally he could never know that what she had principally in mind was an exchange of opinions that had taken place between her and herself.
He used to lay his philosophy before Silvia in pursuance of a theory that if she disliked New York on a short acquaintance she could not fail to like it on a long. He believed in New York mind – not so much indeed in its literary, artistic, philosophic or political achievements, as in its general quickness . It was thoroughly bright and responsive. If she would only set up by the turn of her hand a blest snug social centre, a temple of interesting talk in which this charming organ might expand and where she might inhale its fragrance in the most convenient and luxurious way, without, as it were, getting up from her chair ; if she would only just try this graceful good-natured experiment ---- which would make everyone like her so much too --- he was sure all the wrinkles in the gilded scroll of his fate would be smoothed out.
But Signora Silvia did not rise at all to his conception and had not the least curiosity about the New York mind. She had seen great dinners and balls and meets and runs and races ; she had seen garden-parties, she had mingled with men and women at these parties, and distinguished companies collected in splendid
castles ; but all these gave her no clue to a train of conversation, to any idea of social agreement that the interest of talk, its continuity, its accumulations from season to season, should not be lost.
He apparently had the art of making her shy, more shy than usual ---- since she was always a little so ; she discouraged him, discouraged him completely and reduced him to naught. He was not a man who wanted drawing out, he was remarkably copious ; but she seemed unable to follow him in any direction. He used to try to adapt his life to her needs.
None of the innumerable victims of old-world tyranny welcomed to the land of freedom had yet offered more lavish incense to that goddess than this emancipated Florence debutante.
He knew such a character was complicated, in just the measure that he was foretold, by the difficulty of domesticating any lady at all liberally chosen. The difficulty was not dissipated by his having taken a high tone about it. His high tone had given him courage when he decided to take the great step. Drop by drop the conviction had entered his mind. He felt every time he looked at her that the beautiful woman he had adored was filled with a dumb insuperable ineradicable purpose. Her blooming antique beauty and the general loftiness of her breeding came fast to seem to him but the magnificent expression of a dense, patient, ponderous power to resist. He was on occasion so angry as to ask himself, remembering that in England ---- Lady Claras and Lady Florences were as thick as blackberries – but she would have nothing to do, if she could help it, with his country.
And ultimately Silvia altogether ignored him. The news of his sweetheart’s planned marriage to Count Vincent had, no doubt, shocked this American to the core.
Our record is concerned with the remote consequences of this affair, which made a great deal of trouble for poor Silvia. Her friends pursued the fugitive to remote rocky fastnesses and finally overtook him in California ; but they had not the boldness to propose to him to stop his crooked designs on the Silvia family.
The history of this betrayal was circulated in a thousand newspapers and promptly displayed on the broadcasting media. This question of the media had been for our troubled Silvia one of the most definite results of her closest friend-cum-beloved’s coup de tete . Her first thought had been of the public prints and her first exclamation a prayer that they should not get hold of the story. They had, however, got hold of it with a myriad wildly-waved hands. Lady Silvia never caught them in the act .
The phials of a rank vulgarity had been opened on the house of the Silvias ………………..
In the meantime, I had cabled my accomplice Mr. Clarkson about the matter and requested him to thoroughly enquire about this person Hamilton Longstraw Gomes throughout the Europe. Mr. Clarkson had some influential contacts in Europe and it was not difficult for him to search. After a few weeks, he informed me that he had found out that certain someone exactly in the name of Hamilton Longstraw Gomes was staying in Venice .
But still I had doubts. Because there could be another person with the same name. Clarkson’s optimism gave me a faint glimmer of hope. He told me that this Longstraw Gomes, who was at present staying in Venice, had a past American connection.
In the meantime, Alexandra also informed me through an email that she would not be able to fly down to Italy to join me in my pursuit as she was suddenly very busy with her job in the firm, even though she wished to some and begged for pardon on the rude answer she had given to me before I left the States. Missing the services of a brave young lady who was of immense help during my previous adventure and could be of immense help this time too, did not make me happy at all.
So, I came to Venice alone.
It was not difficult to extract the exact address of this Hamilton Longstraw Gomes. I presented myself as a person searching for a staying place for a few weeks or more.
I had taken Mr. Longstraw Gomes into my confidence ; without him in truth I should have made but little advance, for the fruitful idea in the whole business dropped from his friendly lips. It was the woman beside him who found the short cut and loosed the Gordian knot.
“Simply make them take you in on the footing of a lodger” ----- I don’t think that unaided I should have risen to that. He offered this happy suggestion that the way to become an acquaintance was first to become an intimate. His name had been mixed up years before with one of the greatest names of Italy, and he now lived obscurely in Venice, lived unvisited, in a dilapidated old palace. This scarcely respectable American were believed to have lost in his long exile all national quality, besides being as his name implied of some remoter British affiliation – who asked no favours and desired no attention. His suffering was like American suffering in particular, he should not have it on his conscience. The “little better half” had him in the great cold tarnished Venetian sala, the central hall of the house, paved with marble and roofed with dim cross-beams, and had not even asked me to sit down.
Mr. Longstraw had no chance of knowing anything about my curiosity, but he was interested in me, ---- “as always in the joys and sorrows of his ex-beloved”, I thought. As I went , in his gondola, gliding there under the sociable hood with the bright Venetian picture framed on either side of the movable window, I saw how my eagerness amused the owner and that he found my interest in my possible spoil a fine case of monomania. One does not defend one’s god : one’s god is in himself a defence. Besides, today, after his long comparative obscuration, he hangs high in the heaven of my literature for all the world to see. The strange thing had been for me to discover in the America that he was still alive.
He was ashamed of making a speech so little in the real tone of Venice . As if a man needed an excuse for having loved the great Italian lady ! He had been not only one of the most brilliant minds of his day ----- and in those years, as every one knows, many ---- but one of the most handsomest.
The wife, according to Mr. Longstraw, was of minor antiquity, and the conjecture was risked . The world had recognized, in the past year or so, but I had recognized him the most. He had nothing to fear from us because he had nothing to fear from the truth. There had been an impression that he had “treated her badly”, just as there had been an impression that he had “served”, as the Italian populace says, several other ladies in the same masterful way. Each of these cases I had been able to investigate, and I had never acquitted him conscientiously of any grossness. It appeared to me that he had not walked straighter in the given circumstances. He used to flung himself at the head of the ladies in each of the cases, and while the fury raged --- the more that it was very catching – accidents, some of them grave, had not failed to occur.
I exhausted in the course of months my wonder that I had not found him out sooner, and the substance of my explanation was that he had kept so quiet. The young man on the whole had had reason for doing so. But it was a revelation to me that self-effacement on such a scale had been possible in the latter half of the twentieth century . he had not hidden himself away in an undiscovered hole, had boldly settled down in a city of exhibition. The one apparent secret of his safety had been that Venice contained so many much greater curiosities. Mr. Longstraw had not the nerves of an editor. It was meanwhile no explanation of the young man’s having eluded me to say that he lived abroad, for my investigations had again and again taken me ------- not only by correspondence but by personal inquiry --- to America, England, to Italy, in which countries, so many of the too few years of his career had been spent. Oddly enough, even if I had had the materials ----- and I had often wondered what could have become of it ----- this would have been the most difficult episode to handle.
The gondola stopped, the old palace was there .
“How charming ! it’s white and pink !” I exclaimed.
It had an air not so much of decay as of quite discouragement, as if it had rather missed its career. But its wide front, with a balcony from end to end of the piano nobile or most important floor, was architectural enough. It overlooked a clean, melancholy, rather lonely canal, which had a narrow riva or convenient footway on either side.
I was given up to one reflection : if the young man lived in such a big and imposing house he could not be in any sort of misery and, therefore, would not be tempted by a chance to let a couple of rooms.
At first I could not decide – it was doubtless very weak of me. I wanted still to think I might get a footing, and was afraid to meet failure, for it would leave me without another arrow for my bow. I sat there hesitating and thinking it over now and before taking the trouble of becoming an inmate. I had not the resource of simply offering them a sum of money down. In that way I might get what I wanted without bad nights.
I knew that the man won’t have her relics and letters so much as spoken off ; they are personal, intimate. I can arrive at my spoils only by putting him off his guard, and I can put him off guard only by ingratiating diplomatic arts. Hypocrisy, duplicity are my only chance. I am sorry for it, but there is no baseness I would not commit for Silvia’s sake.
My accomplice Mr. Clarkson, who is in London, had already informed me what had happened to him on his respectfully writing to this man . No notice whatever had been taken of his first letter, and the second had been answered very sharply. “They had none of Lady Silvia’s ‘heartfelt remains’ --- those intimate and love letters, and if they had had wouldn’t have dreamt of showing them to any one on any account whatever. He had begged to let him alone.”
Mr. Clarkson had found out the present address from the postage stamp of the envelope.
I inferred that it proved familiarity, and familiarity implies the possession of mementoes, of tangible objects. I can not tell how that ‘Lady’ affects me ----- how it bridges over the gulf of time and brings our villain near to me. ---- nor what an edge it gives to my desire to make the married life of Lady Silvia happy. One do not say ‘Lord’ Dante .
“I must work out, I must work out, ”I said to myself ten minutes later and while I waited, upstairs, in the dusky sala, where the bare scagliola floor gleamed vaguely in a chink of the closed shutters. The place was impressive, yet looked somehow cold and cautious.
My houseowner or his wife had not contented herself with opening the door from above by the usual arrangement of a creaking pulley, though the woman had looked down at me first from an upper window, dropping the cautious challenge which in Italy precedes the act of admission. I took out my false card out of my pocket and held it up to her smiling as if it were a magic token.
I wondered why these two surely do not live ( two quite couple – I see you are quiet, at any rate) in ten rooms !
I had now struck the note that translated my purpose., and I did not reproduce the whole of the tune I played. I ended by making my entertainer believe me an undesigning person, though I did not even attempt to persuade them I was not an eccentric one. In these two fellows at any rate a grateful susceptibility to human contact had not died out, and contact of a limited order there would be after my coming to live in the house.
C’est la moindre des choses
I did count it as a triumph, but only for the commentator. There was an odd apartment inside --- it was a spacious, shabby parlour with a fine old painted ceiling under which a strange figure sat alone at one of the windows. As the door of the room suddenly closed behind me, I was really face to face with the Longstraw of some of Signora Silvia’s most exquisite, erotic and intimate passions. I grew accustomed to him afterwards, though never fully ; but as he sat there before me my heart beat as fast as if the miracle of resurrection had taken place for my benefit. He was too strange, too terribly resurgent. Then came a check from the perception that we were not really face to face, in as much as he had over his eyes a horrible grey shade which served for him almost as a mask. It created a presumption of some ghastly death’s head lurking behind it. The scheming and well-built Hamilton Longstraw as a grinning skull --- the vision hung there until it passed. He was dressed in black .
This young man and his wife remained impenetrable and their attitude worried me .
I passed out of the room, thinking how hard it would be to circumvent this man. As I stood in the sala again I saw that the wife had followed me. But she made no more overture ; she only stood there with a dim, though not a languid smile, and with an effect of irresponsible, incompetent youth almost comically at variance with the faded facts of her person. It struck me that her inefficiency was inward, which was not the case with her husband.
After a few days of analysis in my room, I decided that I must take her into my confidence and penetrate her so as to finally getting into the man’s secrets. I had perfectly considered the possibility of Hamilton’s destroying those documents on the day he should feel his end at hand. I believed that he would cling to them till then, and I was as convinced of his reading Silvia’s love letters over every night or at least pressing them to his lips.
Whenever I found any opportunity of finding his wife alone, I used to follow her and try to shut her up for a considerable time and she interested me extremely. I knew that it will not take long to make my discovery.
“Do you suppose your husband has some suspicion of me or anybody else ?”
Her honest eyes gave me no sign I had touched a mark.
“I shouldn’t think so.”
“You call it so easily ?” I said.
Do you think we’ve any weak points ?”
“That’s exactly what I’m asking. You’d only have to identify and mention them for me to respect them religiously.”
She looked at me hereupon with that air of timid but candid and even gratified curiosity with which she had confronted me from the first ; after which she said : “there’s nothing to tell. We’re aliens here and so we keep quiet. We’ve no life here.”
“I wish I might think I should bring you a little.”
“It’s all right.”
There were twenty things I desired to ask her : how in the world did they live ; whether they had any friends or visitors, any relations in America or in any other countries.
“Imagination is not always the ‘mother’ of truth. You must remember, my gentleman,” she told me in the tune of an advice.
“I must leave now,” she returned without looking at me. I stayed there awhile longer, wandering about the bright desert – the sun was pouring in --- of the old house, thinking the situation over on the spot.
Perhaps it did, but all the same, five weeks later, I had made no measurable advance. One may push on through a breach, but one can’t batter down a dead wall. She returned that the breach I had already made was big enough to admit an army and accused me of wasting precious time when I ought to have been carrying on the struggle in the field. The man had definitely expected to gather amusement from the drama of my intercourse with his wife, and was not disappointed that the drama had not come off.
There could be no Venetian business without patience, and since I adored the place I was much more in the spirit of it for having laid in a large provision. That spirit kept me perpetual company and seemed to look out at me from the revived mortal face ---- in which all his genius and treachery shone . I foresaw that I should have a summer after my own literary heart. See how it glows in the with advancing summer ; how the sky and the sea and the rosy air and the marble of the palaces all shimmer and melt together. My eccentric private errand became a part of the general romance --- I felt even a mystic companionship, a moral fraternity with all those who in the recent past had been in the service of art.
I lingered in the sala when I went to and fro ; I used to watch – as long as I thought decent --- the door that led to Mr. Hamilton’s part of the room. A person observing me might have supposed I was trying to cast a spell on it or attempting some odd experiment in hypnotism. But I was only praying it might open what treasure probably lurking behind it. After all they were under my hand. He had lived for years with Signora Silvia, had exchanged love letters and mementoes – definitely some esoteric knowledge had rubbed off on her. My critical heart used to thrill. It was as if at such a moment as that, in the stillness and after long contradiction of the day, Mr. Hamilton’s secrets were in the air. I looked up at the closed windows and they showed no sign of life. These couple passed their days in the dark. But this only emphasized their having matters to conceal. Their motionless shutters became as expressive as eyes consciously closed, and I took comfort in the probability that, though invisible themselves most of the time, they kept me in view between the lashes.
Meanwhile the real summer days arrived and began to pass, and as I look back upon them they seem to me almost the happiest of my life. I had always some business of writing in my hand – I used to carry books and portfolios, while the golden hours elapsed and the plants in the small garden drank in the light and the inscrutable old palace turned pale and then, as the day waned, began to recover and flush and my papers rustled in the wandering breeze of the Adriatic.
There was a further implication that Mr. Hamilton had had a perverse and reckless youth, albeit a generous character, and that she had braved some wonderous chances. By what passions had he been ravaged, by what adventures had he been blanched, what store of memories had he laid away for the monotonous future ?
It had happened to me to regret that he had known Europe at all . but as his fate had ruled otherwise I went with him – I tried to judge how the general old order would have struck him. The relations he had entertained with the special new had even a livelier interest. His own country after all had had most of his life, and his muse, as they said at that time, was essentially European.
I was seldom at home in the evening. I spent the late hours either on the water – the moonlights of Venice are famous --- or in the splendid square which serves as a vast forecourt to the strange old church of Saint Mark. I sat in front of Florian’s café eating ices, listening to music : I remember how the immense cluster of tables and little chairs stretches like a promontory into the smooth lake of the Piazza. The great basilica, with its low domes and bristling embroideries, the mystery of its mosaic and sculpture, looked ghostly in the tempered gloom.
I decided to send a ‘floral tribute’ to the wife of the house. This came from the idea that she had very little in common with my own.
Her sociability looked too much visible.
She perhaps would not know of the existence of the mementoes and letters, and I welcomed that presumption – it made me feel more safe with her --- till I remembered we had believed the letter of disavowal received by my accomplice in London. Moreover if, with her husband, she had always escaped invasion, there was little occasion for her having got into her head that people were “after” the letters. People had not been after them, for people had not heard of their whereabouts.
I approached the woman, the wife of Mr. Longstraw Gomes.
“Have you heard about the romance of your husband and Lady Silvia?”
“We don’t care for that anymore,” told the woman.
“Did he like her immensely ?”
“And she – didn’t she like him ?”
She said her husband is a god. She gave me this information flatly, without expression ; her tone might have made it a piece of trivial gossip. But it stirred me deeply as she dropped the words into the summer night ; their sound might have been the light rustle of an not-so-old unfolded love-letter.
“Fine !” I murmured. And then “ “tell me, please --- has he got some love-letters that Signora Silvia used to write to him ? these are distressingly rare.”
“I don’t know,” said the woman, now there was discomfiture in her face. “well, good bye.” She added ; and she turned into the house.
I said to myself, “Surely you would know, should not you, if he had some and still
“Santo Dio !” she exclaimed, without heeding my question . she was visibly alarmed. The proof of it was that she began to hide again, so that for a week I kept missing her. I found my patience ebbing.
Her extreme limpidity was almost provoking, and I felt for the moment that she would have been more satisfactory if she had if she had been less ingenious.
An older look even than usual came at this into the face of her ---- a confession, it seemed, of helplessness, an appeal to me to deal fairly, generously with him. She was of yielding nature and capable of doing almost anything to please a person markedly kind to her. It was strange enough that she had not the least air of resenting my want of consideration for her husband’s character, which would have been in the worst possible taste if anything less vital --- from my point of view ---- had been at stake.
The fear of what this side of her character might have led her to do me nervous for days afterwards. I waited for an intimation from her.
But, unable to suppress my curiosity, I approached the host.
“Have you come to tell me you’ll take the rooms for a few months more ?” he asked as I approached him, startling me by something coarse in his cupidity almost as much as if he had not already given me a specimen of it. His desire to make our acquaintance lucrative had been, a false note in my image of the man who had inspired a great Signora with immortal lines and charming personality. Like all persons who achieve the miracle of changing their point of view in critical situations, he had been intensely converted .
He made a movement, drawing himself together as if, in a spasm of dread at having lost his prize, he had been impelled to the immense effort of rising to snatch it from me. I instantly placed it in his hand, saying : “I should like to have it myself, but with your ideas it would be quite beyond my mark.”
I heard him catch his breath as after a strain or an escape. I did not understand what to do with him. He had fits of horrid imprudence. He is so easily tired --- and yet he had already begun to roam about the house. And he looked down at his yoke-fellow of long years with a vacancy of wonder, as if all their contact and custom had not made him perversities, on occasion, any more easy to follow.
The reason for this had been that he really did not want to give me a grain of succour ---- our density was a thing too perfect in its way to touch. He had formed the habit of depending on it, and if the spell was to break it must break by some force of its own. He was a man with some safe preserve for sport.
“I know what I’m about. I’m not losing my mind. I dare say you’d like to think so,” said he with a crudity of cynicism. Before I reached the door of their own apartment he bade me stop, and he took a long last look up and down the noble sala. I confess that in spite of this urgency I was guilty of the indiscretion of lingering ; it held me there to feel myself so close to the objects I coveted ---- which would be probably put away somewhere in the faded unsociable room. The place had indeed a bareness that suggested no hidden values ; there were neither dusky nooks nor curtained corners, neither massive cabinets nor chests with iron bands. Moreover it was possible, it was perhaps even likely, that the young scheming man had consigned his relics to his bedroom, to some battered box that was shoved under the bed, to the drawer of some dressing-table, where they would be in the range of vision by the dim light. None the less I turned an eye on every article of furniture, on every conceivable cover for a hoard, and noticed that there were half a dozen things with drawers, and in particular a tall old secretary with silver ornaments of the style of the Empire ---- a respectable somewhat infirm but still capable of keeping rare secrets. I stared at it so hard that the wife noticed me and changed colour.
Her doing this made me think I was right and that, wherever they might have been before, the documents at that moment languished behind the peevish little lock of the secretary. It was hard to turn my attention from the dull mahogany front when I reflected that a plain panel divided me from the goal of my hopes ; but I gathered up my slightly covered prudence and with an effort took leave of my host.
That little trick he has committed his betrayal of the lady he loved once or still love most for. Is not there for every magician or trick-star a particular thing of that sort, the thing that most makes him apply himself, the thing without the effort to achieve which the trick-star would not play at all, the very passion of his passion?
The charm of the topic of each of his deeds overflows into an emotion as lively as his own. There is an idea in his work without which he would not have given a straw for the whole job. It is the finest fullest intention of the lot, and the application of it has been a triumph of patience, of ingenuity. This little trick of the mind plays over the surface of it. The order, the form, the texture of his deeds will perhaps some day constitute for the initiated a complete representation of it. So it is naturally the thing for the amateur investigator to look for.
Probably we are little demons of subtlety . If their great affair is a secret, that is only because it is a secret in spite of itself .
“Just to hasten that difficult birth, can’t he give us a clue ?” I thought.
I know that his whole lucid effort gives me the clue .. The thing is as concrete there as a bird in a cage, a bait on a hook, a piece of cheese in a mouse-trap. ---as my foot is struck into my shoe.
“We’ve got a heart in our body” I thought, “ is that an element of form or an element of feeling ? It is the organ of life….”
some idea about life…..some sort of philosophy…..some kind of game he is up to with his style.
--- a sort of buried treasure….
It is a beauty so rare, so great….the loveliest thing in the world…
If I returned on several occasions to the little house in Venice I dare say it was as much for news of the man. The hours spent there by Mr. Longstraw were present to my fancy as those of a chessplayer bent with a silent scowl, all the lighted winter, over his board and his moves. As my imagination filled it out the picture held me fast. On the other side of the table was a ghostlier form, the faint figure of an antagonist good-humuoredly but a little wearily secure ---- an antagonist who leaned back in her chair with her hands in her pockets and a smile on her face . She would take up a chessman and hold it poised a while over one of the little squares, and then would put it back in its place with a long sigh of disappointment . I had asked them at an early stage of business if it might not contribute to their success to have some closer communication with him. He immediately replied that he had no wish to approach the altar before he had prepared the sacrifice. He quite agreed with the woman both as to the delight and as to the honor of the chase ---he would bring down the animal with his own rifle.
Ultimately his courage has dropped, his ardour had gone away just to leave us together. For some time before his going we had indulged in no allusion to the buried treasure, and from his silence, which my reserve simply emulated, he could not face the triumph. I showed magnanimity in not reproaching him with his collapse, for the sense of his having thrown up the game made me feel more than ever how much I at last depended on him. Little by little my curiosity not only had begun to ache again, but had become the familiar torment of my days and my nights. There are doubtless people to whom torments of such an order appear hardly more natural than the contortions of disease ; but I don’t after all know why I should in this connection so much as mention them. The stake on the table was of a special substance and our roulette the revolving mind, but we sat round the green board as intently as the grim gamblers at Monte Carlo. It was a desert in which he had lost himself, but in which too the woman had dug a hole in the sand --- a cavity out of which she had still more remarkably pulled him.
That only made one --- everything only made one ---- yearn the more of it ; only rounded it off with a mystery finer and subtler.
But the person got a shock.
I saw the immediate shock throb away little by little and then gather again into waves of wonder and curiosity --- waves that promised, I could perfectly judge, to break in the end with the fury of my own highest tides. I may say that today as victims of unappeased desire there isn’t a pin to choose between us. The poor man’s state is almost my consolation ; there are really moments when I feel it to be quite my revenge.
As it turned out, the precaution had not been needed, for two hours later, just as I finished my dinner, the wife appeared, unannounced, in the open doorway of the room in which my simple repasts were served. I felt no surprise at seeing her. it was immense, but in a case in which there was a particular reason for boldness it never have prevented her from running up to my floor. I saw that she was now quite full of a particular reason .
I bowed to her, going down to smoke a cigar. I was nervous ; I could not go
further ; I could not leave the place . I do not know exactly what I thought might happen, but I felt it important to be there. I wandered about the alleys ---- the warm night had come on ---- smoking cigar after cigar and studying the light in Mr. Hamilton’s windows. They were open now, I could see ; the situation was different. Sometimes the light moved, but not quickly ; it did not suggest the hurry of a crisis. I bit my cigar hard while it assailed me again that perhaps there were now no papers and letters to carry !
I strolled through the fine superfluous hall, where on the marble floor --- particularly as at first I said nothing ----- my footsteps were more audible than I had expected. When I reached the other end --- the wide window, inveterately closed suddenly, connecting with the balcony that overhung the canal ---- I submitted that we had best remain there. The air of the canal seemed heavier, hotter than that of the sala. The place was hushed and void ; the quiet neighborhood had gone to sleep. A lamp, here and there, over the narrow black water glimmered in double ; the voice of a man going homeward singing came to me from a distance. This did not prevent the scene from being very comme il faut.
The lady’s apartment was closed ; which seemed a hint that my faltering friend had gone to bed in impatience of waiting for me. I stood in the middle of the place, considering, hoping she would hear me and perhaps peep out. There was no light in the room . if I have frankly stated the importunities, the indelicacies, of which my desire to possess myself of those documents had made me capable I need not shrink, it seems to me, from confessing this last indiscretion. It may be objected that their leaving the place dark was a positive sign that they released me.
The door of the couple’s room was open and I could see beyond it the faintness of a taper. There was no sound --- my footstep caused no one to stir. I came further into the room ; I lingered there, a pencil torch in hand. I found myself at the same moment given upto something else. I had a definite purpose, but felt myself held to the spot by an acute, though absurd, sense of opportunity. Opportunity for what I could not have said, in as much as it was not in my mind that I might proceed to thievery. Even had this tempted me I was confronted with the evident fact that the young man did not leave his secretary, his cupboard, and the drawers of his table gaping. I had no keys, no tools, and no ambition to smash his furniture. None the less it came to me that I was now, perhaps alone, unmolested, at the hour of freedom and safety, nearer to the source of my hopes than I ever been. I held up my torch, let the light play on the different objects as if it could tell me something. Still there came no movement from the other room. Were they sleeping sound --- generous creatures --- on purpose to leave a stranger like me the field ?
I stopped in front of the secretary, gaping at it vainly and no doubt grotesquely ; for what had it to say to me after all ? In the first place it was locked, and in the second it almost surely contained nothing in which I was interested. The secretary was conspicuous, more exposed in a room in which he could no longer mount guard. It opened with a key, but there was a small brass handle, like a button as well ; I saw this as I played my torch over it. I did something more for the climax of my crisis. He did not left the key, but the lid would probably move if I touched the button. The possibility pressed me hard and I bent very close to judge. I did not propose to do anything, not even --- not in the least --- to let down the lid ; I only wanted to test my theory, to see if the cover would move. I touched the button with my hand --- a mere touch would tell me ; and as I did so --- it is embarrassing for me --- I looked over my shoulder . It was a chance, an instinct, for I had really heard nothing. I almost let my luminary drop and certainly I stepped back, straightening myself up at what I saw. The woman stood there in her night-dress, by the door-way of her room, watching me ; she had lifted the everlasting curtain that covered half her face, and for the first, the last, the only time I beheld her extraordinary eyes. They glared at me ; they were like the sudden drench, for a caught burglar, of a flood of gaslight ; they made me horribly ashamed.
She suddenly retreated before me in horror ; and the next thing I knew she had fallen back with a spasm, as if death had descended on her.
I left Venice the next morning, directly on learning that my hostess had not succumbed, to the shock I had given her --- the shock I may also say she had given me. I went to Castelfranco ; I took walks and drives ; I spent hours seated smoking at the doors of the cafes, where there were flies and yellow curtains, on the shady side of the sleepy little squares. But I scantily enjoyed my travels : I had had to gulp down a bitter draught and could not get rid of the taste. There was a moment when I stood convinced that the only way to purge my dishonour was to take myself straight away on the instant ; to sacrifice my hopes .
Really the soreness passed ; yet if I had scruples about going back I had others about not doing so, and I wanted to put myself on better footing. The end of it was that I did return to Venice on the tenth day ; and as my gondola gently bumped against the palace steps a fine palpitation of suspense showed me the violence my absence had done me.
I tiptoed into the palace. I wanted to let the woman see I still took an interest in them. Hers was no breast for the pride or the pretence of independence. I was cautious ; not ignobly, I think, for I felt her knowledge of life to be so small that in her unsophisticated vision . It was not that I was not on pins and needles to know, but that I thought it more decent not to show greed again so soon after the catastrophe. I hoped she herself would break the ice, but she never glanced that way, and I thought this natural at the time. Later on, that night, it occurred to me that her silence was matter for suspicion ; since if she had talked of my movements, of anything so detached as the Giorgione at Castelfranco.
It took the lady rather longer than I had expected to act on my calculation ; but when at least she came out she looked at me without surprise. I had not played even to that mild extent on her sensibility. What I did say was virtually the truth – that I was too nervous, since I expected her now to settle my fate.
“Your fate ?” said she, giving me a queer look .
“I mean about those love letters sent exchanged between your husband and Signora Silvia. You must know. Haven’t you a little interest in that ?”
“Yes, there are a great many.” I was struck with the way her voice trembled as she told me this.
“I may see them ?”
“I’ve got them but I can’t show them,” she lamentably added.
“Not even to me ?” I broke into a tone of infinite remonstrance and reproach.
“But you have to promise that you and your friend Silvia won’t publish these to tarnish my husband’s image.”
She must have been conscious that though my face showed the greatest embarrassment ever painted on a human countenance it was not set as a stone, it was also full of compassion. It was a comfort to me a long time afterwards to consider that she should not have seen in me the smallest symptom of disrespect.
“You’ll also have to promise that nobody will ever know our whereabouts .”
“Ya. That too, I promise.”
“I’d give you everything.”
But I was thinking of what I shall answer Silvia.
I looked away to the opposite and of the sala as at something very interesting. The next thing I remember is that I was downstairs and out of the house. My gondola was there and my gondolier, reclining on the cushions, sprang up as soon as he saw me . I jumped in, and to his usual “Dove commanda ?” replied, in a tone that made him stare : “Anywhere ; out into the lagoon !”
I forgot what I did, where I went after leaving the Lido, and at what hour or with what recovery of composure I made my way back to my boat. I only know that just after the afternoon, when the air was aglow with the sunset, I was standing before the church of Saints John and Paul and looking up at the small square-jawed face of Bartolommeo Colleoni, the terrible condottiere who sits so sturdily astride of his huge bronze horse on the high pedestal on which Venetian gratitude maintains him. I found myself staring at the triumphant captain as if he had an oracle on his lips. The western light shines into all his grimness at that hour and makes it wonderfully personal. And if he were thinking of battles and stratagems they were of a different quality from any I had to tell him of.
As I was preparing to leave the house with all those intimately scribbled colourful papers, which was kept so carefully on table in my room, I recognized she had bade me good-bye --- she said something about hoping I should be happy.
Probably she could not feel the interrogation.
I knew Silvia’s ex-beau could scarcely bear his loss.
I dispatched those letters with great care to Silvia and extracted a promise from her that she will, in no way and in no circumstance, not tarnish her ex-beloved’s image by disclosing any intimate documents and letters in her hand to the public.
I called my girlfriend Oindrilla and she came all the way from India …to enjoy on the Rapallo beach in Genoa by the Adriatic.
Being burdened off a responsibility, I had no end to my joy. Oindrilla and I walked slowly toward the water, it was clear and alluring. We increased our pace and as we approached, we realized dreams do come true, that there must be a god or gods to grant us this wish. Stopping at the edge of the water, we removed our socks and shoes, we didn’t want to get them wet, after all. We placed our socks neatly inside each shoe and waded into the surf. As our feet touched the water, we felt all warm and fuzzy inside, it was almost as good as sex I thought. Looking around quickly, he saw no one, he was alone. “So why not take it all off?” he asked himself aloud. Hearing no dissenting argument, he stripped down to this shorts, throwing caution to the wind as he whipped off his jacket, shirt and pants, he tossed them on the sandy beach, landing just beside his shoes. Oindrilla and I ran into the warm water, crashing against a wave coming onto the beach. We screamed in joy and delight at the feeling. We looked up and waved at the birds flying overhead, cawing out to us as if to say : “Welcome home” . I dived under the next wave tasting the salt and feeling the sand and water wash over my body. It gave me goose pimples to think that this was all for me. As I swam and dived, a feeling of dread suddenly crept into my mind, I felt that I was being watched. I stood quickly, shaking off the water from my hair and wiping around my eyes as I scanned the horizon. I didn’t see any boats in the water or people on the beach, and the thatched huts on the tree line were still empty. “Just my over active imagination.” I said to myself as the feeling of impending doom drifted away. I smiled content in my feeling of tranquility. I let myself fall backward into the next wave and might felt good. It was like being embraced by a long lost lover that only wants to hold me tight. After swimming around a bit longer, I walked back toward the shore with Oindrilla and when he reached the drier sand, he fell to his knees and rolled over onto this back. The sun, still high in the sky, felt welcoming as it baked the beach. It was ambrosia to his skin as rays of light and heat danced off the drops of water that loitered on his body from the swim.
On the very day after my walk with her I was surprised by the receipt of a note given by the service boy of the hotel where we were staying for the vacation. It was from none other than the woman, my hostess in the house during my stay in Venice – that wife of Mr. Hamilton Longstraw Gomes.
I opened it with great pleasure but after a few moments it became a surprise from me. I remembered under its influence our lively conversation by those darkened rooms of that palatial house. It was written :” The consequence of this has been that I begin to measure the temerity of my having saddled you with a knowledge that you may find something of a burden. Now that the fit’s over I can’t imagine how I came to be moved so much beyond my wont. I had never before mentioned, no matter in what state of expansion, the fact of my little secret, and I shall never speak of that mystery again. I was accidentally so much more explicit with you that it had ever entered into my game to be, that I find this game ---- I mean the pleasure of playing it --- suffers considerably. I’ve rather spoiled my sport. I really don’t want to give you what I believe you clever young man like you call the tip. That’s of course a selfish solicitude, and I name it to you for what it may be worth to you. Think me demented, but don’t tell anybody why. ”
It was the wife of Hamilton Longstraw Gomes who disclosed that it was none other than she herself who used to send those letters to the media.