What had my poor mother done to you?
I looked at our young Englishman, who still had his back turned to us and was staring up at the picture. What eyes they have! Are you married? It was very kind of you, so far away, to have remembered our poor dear Italy. But che vuole? Che vuole? My husband died after three years of marriage. I waited for her to remark that the late Count Scarabelli was also a saint in paradise, but I waited in vain.
But I weep for him all the more. She was not offended, but she rose from her seat and stood looking at me a moment. I stayed for another hour; it is a very pleasant house. Two or three of the men who were sitting there seemed very civil and intelligent; one of them was a major of engineers, who offered me a profusion of information upon the new organisation of the Italian army. While he talked, however, I was observing our hostess, who was talking with the others; very little, I noticed, with her young Inglese. She is 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.
If she is not a consummate coquette. What had she in her head when she said that I should not have gone away? I left him there at midnight. 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 Countess. 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 Salvi, and what I thought of the padrona.
You shall hear the rest when we have left the church.
At last he proposed that we should go out; and we passed in the street, where the shadows had begun to stretch themselves. He stopped and stood looking at me with his modest, perplexed young face. I confessed that I was surprised at it myself. If a man had said to me—so many years ago—what I am saying to you, I should certainly also, at first, have thought him a great brute.
But after a little, I should have been grateful—I should have felt that he was helping me. I should like to save you all that. He looked away, without meeting my eyes.
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You are exactly in my situation. I believe you are in my shoes.
The Diary Of A Man Of Fifty
But of course if you prefer it, I will beg a thousand pardons and leave them to carry you where they will. He had been looking away, but now he slowly turned his face and met my eyes. I took his arm and we walked on again; there seemed no adequate reply to such a charge. You are enchanted with her personal charm, her grace, her wit, her everything; and yet in your private heart you are afraid of her. Stanmer was there, trying hard to talk to one of them, but making, I am sure, a very poor business of it.
The Countess—well, the Countess was admirable. She greeted me like a friend of ten years, toward whom familiarity should not have engendered a want of ceremony; she made me sit near her, and she asked me a dozen questions about my health and my occupations. She hesitated a moment, smiling. But I think you are like that. As I say, your mother did me the honour, more than once, to accompany me to the Uffizzi.
She was perfectly free. Your lamented father was dead—and she had not yet contracted her second marriage.
I looked at her a moment; she met my eyes gravely, over the top of her fan. I may surely ask such questions. But you are right; one must do your mother justice. She was certainly thinking of her second marriage.
That is a mortal sin. My stepfather was very kind to me. It seems almost monstrous, especially as I can give no reason for it—but this announcement, instead of shocking me, caused me to feel a strange exhilaration. Most assuredly, after all these years, I bear the poor man no resentment. Of course I controlled my manner, and simply remarked to the Countess that as his fault had been so was his punishment. Is it on the books that his adversary, as well, shall perish by the pistol? Which of those gentlemen is he, I wonder? Is it reserved for poor little Stanmer to put a bullet into him?
No; poor little Stanmer, I trust, will do as I did. And yet, unfortunately for him, that woman is consummately plausible. She was wonderfully nice last evening; she was really irresistible. Such frankness and freedom, and yet 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 comes honestly by it. After the talk I have just jotted down she changed her place, and the conversation for half an hour was general. Stanmer indeed said very little; partly, I suppose, because he is shy of talking a foreign tongue. Was I like that—was I so constantly silent? I suspect I was when I was perplexed, and Heaven knows that very often my perplexity was extreme.
If your beautiful mother were to come to life for an hour she would see the resemblance. I was very handsome!
The Diary of Man of Fifty by Henry James
I was ingenuous, candid, trusting, like him. I remember my mother once telling me that you were the most suspicious and jealous of men! The Countess gave me one of her serious looks. I have heard you mention it before. Remember it was you who said he was intelligent. She looked round at him, and as fortune would have it, his appearance at that moment quite confirmed my assertion. He was lounging back in his chair with an air of indolence rather too marked for a drawing-room, and staring at the ceiling with the expression of a man who has just been asked a conundrum. Madame Scarabelli seemed struck with his attitude.
I should be sorry to have him think any evil of me. If I am a puzzle to him, do me a little service. Explain me to him. I have seen a good deal also of my young friend—had a good many walks and talks with him. He 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. This is so much the case that when, the other day, he at last made up his mind to ask me to tell him the wrong that Madame de Salvi had done me, I rather checked his curiosity.
I told him that if he was bent upon knowing I would satisfy him, but that it seemed a pity, just now, to indulge in painful imagery. And then, in the second place, you seem to me, on the whole, so happy! One hesitates to destroy an illusion, no matter how pernicious, that is so delightful while it lasts.
These are the rare moments of life.