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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lovely Lady - PART 4 - Chapter 11
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The Lovely Lady - PART 4 - Chapter 11 Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :Mary Hunter Austin Date :May 2012 Read :1039

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The Lovely Lady - PART 4 - Chapter 11

PART FOUR. IN WHICH THE LOVELY LADY MAKES A FINAL APPEARANCE

CHAPTER XI

It was odd, then, having come to this conclusion in the middle of the night, that when he joined the ladies in the morning he should have experienced a sinking pang in not being able any longer to be sure what Miss Dassonville thought of him. There was in her manner, as she thanked him for the flowers, nothing to ruffle the surface of the bright, impersonal companionship which she had afforded him for weeks past.

The occasion which brought them together was an agreement entered into some days earlier, to go and look at palaces, and as they turned past the Saluti to the Grand Canal, he found himself wondering if there had not been a touch of fatuity in his reading of the incident of the morning before. He had gone so far in the night as to think even of leaving Venice, and saw himself now forlornly wishing for some renewal of yesterday's mood to excuse him from the caddishness that such a flight implied.

It came out a little later, perhaps, when after traversing many high and resounding marble halls, with a great many rooms opening into one another in a way that suggested rather the avoidance of privacy than its security, they found themselves in one of those gardens of shut delight of which the exteriors of Venetian houses give so little intimation.

As she went about from bough to bough of the neglected roses, turned all inward as if they took their florescence from that still lighted human passion which had found its release and centre there, her face glowed for the moment with the colour of her quick sympathies. She turned it on him with an unconscious, tender confidence, which not to meet seemed to Peter, in that gentle enclosure full of warmth and fragrance, to assume the proportions of a betrayal.

He did meet it there as she came back to him for the last look from the marble balustrade by which they had descended, covering her hand, there resting, lingeringly with his own. He was awakened only to the implication of this movement by the discovery that she had deeply and exquisitely blushed.

It was a further singularity in view of the conviction with which Peter had come through the night, that the mood of protectingness which the girl provoked in him should have multiplied itself in pointing out to him how many ways, if he had not made up his mind not to marry her at all, such a marriage could be made to serve its primal uses. She had turned up her cuff to trail her hand overside as they slid through the lucent water, and the pretty feminine curve of it had brought to mind what the Princess had told him of the shirt-waists she made herself. He decided that she made them very well. But she was too thin for their severity--and if he married her he would have insisted on her wearing them now and then as a tender way to prevent her suspecting that it was on their account he had thought of not marrying her. The revealed whiteness of her wrist, the intimacy of her relaxed posture, for though her mind had played into his as freely as a child in a meadow, she had been always, as regards her person, a little prim with him, had lent to their errand of house visiting a personal note in which it was absurdly apt for them to have run across Captain Dunham of the _Merrythought at the door of the Consulate. Mr. Weatheral had some papers which Lessing had sent him to acknowledge there, and it was a piece of the morning's performance, when he had come back from that business, to find that the meeting had taken on--from some mutual discovery of the captain's and Mrs. Merrithew's of a cousin's wife's sister who had married one of the Applegates who was a Dunham on the mother's side--quite the aspect of a family party. It came in the end to the four of them going off at Peter's invitation to have lunch together in a cafe overhanging the _calle_. He told himself afterward that he would not have done it if he had recalled in time the friendly seaman's romantic appreciation of the situation between himself and Miss Dassonville. He saw himself so intrigued by it that, by the time lunch was over, he felt himself in a position which to his own sensitiveness, demanded that he must immediately leave Venice or propose to Miss Dassonville. To see the way he was going and to go on in it, had for him the fascination of the abyss. He caught himself in the act even of trying to fix Miss Dassonville's eye to include her by complicity in the beguilement of the captain, a business which she seemed to have undertaken on her own account on quite other grounds. He perceived with a kind of pride for her that she had the ways of elderly sea-going gentlemen by heart. It was something even if she had failed to charm Peter, that she shouldn't be found quite wanting in it by other men.

When they had put him back aboard of the _Merrythought they had come to such a pitch among them all, that as the captain leaned above the rail to launch an invitation, he addressed it to Miss Dassonville, as, if not quite the giver of the feast, the mistress of the situation.

"When are you coming to lunch with me?" demanded the captain.

"Never!" declared Miss Dassonville. "It would be quite out of the question to have hot cakes for luncheon, and I absolutely refuse to come for anything less."

"There's something quite as good," asserted the captain, "that I'll bet you haven't had in as long."

"Better than hot cakes?" Miss Dassonville was skeptical.

"Pie," said the captain.

"Oh, _Pie!_" in mock ecstasy. "Well, I'd come for pie," and with that they parted.

Peter had plenty of time for considering where he found himself that afternoon, for the ladies were bent on a shopping expedition on which they had rather pointedly given him to understand he was not expected to attend. He had tried that once, and had hit upon the excellent device, in face of the outrageous prices proposed by the dealers, of having them settle upon what they would like and sending Luigi back to bargain for it. All of which would have gone very well if Mrs. Merrithew, in the delight of his amazing success, had not gone back to the shop the next day to duplicate his purchases. Peter had never heard what occurred on that occasion, but he had noticed that they never talked in his presence of buying anything again. Bloombury people, he should have remembered, had perfectly definite notions about having things done for them.

He walked, therefore, on this afternoon in the Public Gardens and tried to reconstruct in their original force the reasons for his not marrying Savilla Dassonville. They had come upon him overwhelmingly in the recrudescence of memory, reasons rooted very simply in his man's hunger for the lift, the dizzying eminence of desire. He liked the girl well enough but he did not want her as he had wanted Eunice Goodward, as he wanted expansively at this moment to want something, somebody--who was not Eunice--he was perfectly clear on this point--but should be in a measure all she stood for to him. He had renewed in the night, though in so short a time, not less acutely, all the wounded misery of what Eunice had forced upon him. He was there between the dark and dawn, and here again in the cool of the garden, to taste the full bitterness of the conviction that he was not good enough to be loved. He was not to be helped from that by the thought, which came hurrying on the heels of the other, that Savilla Dassonville loved him. He had a moment of almost hating her as she seemed to plead with him, by no motion of her own he was obliged to confess for those raptures, leaping fires, winged rushes, which should have been his portion of their situation.

He hated her for the certainty that if he went away now quietly without saying anything, it would be to visit on her undeservedly all that had come to him from Eunice. For she would know; she would not, as he had been, be blind to the point of requiring the spoken word. If he left her now it would be to the unavoidable knowledge that, as the Princess had said of him, he would be running away. He would be running from the evidences of a moneyless, self-abnegating youth, from the plain surfaces of efficiency and womanliness, not hedged about and enfolded, but pushed to the extremity of its use. He had, however, when he had taken that in from every side, the grace to be ashamed of it.

He was ashamed, too, of finding himself at their next meeting involved in a wordless appeal to be helped from his state to some larger grounds. If the girl had but appealed to him he could have done with a fine generosity what he felt was beyond him to invite. He could have married Savilla Dassonville to be kind to her; what he didn't enjoy was putting it on a basis of her being kind to him.

Miss Dassonville, however, afforded him no help beyond the negative one of not talking too much and taking perhaps a shade less interest in Venice. They had two quiet days together in which it was evident, whatever Peter settled with himself as to his relation to the girl, it had taken on for Mrs. Merrithew the pointedness known in Bloombury as "attentions." She paid in to the possibilities of the situation the tribute of her absence for long sessions in which, so far as Peter could discover, the situation rather fell to the ground. It began to appear that he had missed as he was doomed with women, the crucial instant, and was to come out of this as of other encounters, empty. And then quite suddenly the girl put out a hand to him.

It was along about the end of the afternoon they had come out of the church of Saint George the Greater, which as being most accessible had been left to the latter end of their explorations. Mrs. Merrithew had just sent Giuseppe back for a shawl which she had dropped in the cloister. They sat rocking in the gondola looking toward the fairy arcade of the ducal palace and the pillars of the saints, and suddenly Miss Dassonville spoke to excuse her quietness.

"I must look all I can," she said; "we are leaving the day after to-morrow."

If she had retired behind Mrs. Merrithew's comfortable breadth in order to deliver her shot the more effectively, she missed seeing how plumply it landed in the midst of Peter's defences and scattered them.

"Leaving Venice?" he said. "Leaving me?" It took a moment for that fact, dropping the depth of his indecision, to show him where he stood. "But I thought you understood," he protested, "that I wanted you to stay ... to stay with me...." He leaned across Mrs. Merrithew's broad lap in a great fear of not being sufficiently plain. "Make her understand," he said, "that I want her to stay always."

"I guess," said Mrs. Merrithew, a dry smile twinkling in the placidity of her countenance, "you'd better take me right home first, and then you can explain to her yourself."

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