Saturday, August 27, 2011 8:29:16 PM
Blues in the Night
It was a bright sunny afternoon with a fresh breeze blowing from the northeast. The small sloop was making a series of very short tacking maneuvers as it made its way gingerly up the narrow channel.
The forest marched down the steep rocky hillsides to abruptly meet the sea below on both shores. The tiny but sturdy craft was tossed precariously by the rip tides created in the close waterway. The sole occupant reset her grip on the tiller and brought the sloop around in yet another tack headed toward a little niche in the eastern shoreline. She was kneeling in the boat's compact cockpit watching carefully ahead for any telltale clues on the water that dangerous rocks lay just out of sight below the surface. She held her course on a starboard tack until she was just past a rocky spur which broke the forest cover and actually spilled over into the sea.
When she was about eighty yards from the shoreline she abruptly swung the boat head to the wind bringing it to an almost dead stop in the water. After loosing the sheets on both her jib and mainsails, she quickly scrambled to the bow and let her anchor line out till she felt the anchor touch bottom. She then expertly continued to pay out enough of the line to properly set the anchor, allowing for both safe swinging room as the wind might shift and the expected change of depth as the tides came and went.
She had been so occupied with the business of sailing her small sloop, that she had not noticed that she had an audience. A tall slim young man in blue jeans, T-shirt and black leather bomber style jacket was sitting on the rocky spur smiling with open admiration at the sailing skill of the woman skipper on the neat little sloop. As she stood from securing the anchor and started to lower and tie down her sails, he arose and quickly walked back up into the trees behind him. So she never knew that her arrival had been noted.
< 2 >
When the sloop was secured to her satisfaction, Katherine went below and put a tiny kettle on the single burner in the diminutive galley. As she waited for the water to boil, she pulled a thick dog-eared ring binder out of a shelf to the left of the companionway and opened it to the last entry. This book served a dual purpose as a ship's log and personal journal. She noted her time of arrival and location of the tiny sheltered anchorage, the weather which was close to perfection for a sailor and a personal note that this seemed a great spot in which to write and create.
Katherine was just past her thirty second birthday, short of stature with what she self deprecatingly called a well-rounded figure. She had short cropped almost boyish auburn hair and blue grey eyes. When not working at her research position at a Vancouver newspaper, she was usually to be found out on her tiny sailboat or bent over a computer keyboard creating either the poetry or short stories that her abundant imagination thrived on. Now she had the best of both pursuits as she'd recently purchased a new laptop that allowed her to enjoy both leisure's at once.
When the kettle had boiled, Katherine made a large mug of steaming hot tea and taking the laptop with her, went back on deck. She made herself a comfortable workspace on the foredeck with her back leaning against a sail bag which in turn was propped against the mast. Before starting, she relaxed with the tea and surveyed her temporary neighbourhood.
The beaches were quite narrow strands, mere ribbons of sand between the water and the forest. There were a couple of other rock spurs which jutted into the channel but the one she was to the lee of seemed to be the largest and the only one which gave sufficient shelter to provide the one-craft size anchorage in which she lay. At first glance, the hillsides looked totally devoid of settlement. But when she looked more closely, she spotted at least four widely separated structures perched on the slopes and almost hidden by the forest cover.
< 3 >
One such structure, obviously a private home, albeit a large one, was nearly directly above her. She smiled inwardly thinking how often she had purchased a lottery ticket in hopes of realizing a dream home on the sea just like this one. Tea finished, Katherine turned to her laptop and let her imagination take flight.
Matt followed a well trodden path up the hill towards the big house perched above him. He shoved his hands in the pockets of the jacket as he moved in a long lazy stride. His short black hair matched the jacket and provided a contrast to his fair complexion. The eyes were perhaps his most outstanding feature, they were expressive of his every emotion and a very striking shade of green. As he made his way up the hill, he found himself wondering about the woman sailor who had chosen to anchor right in front of his house.
What made a woman want to sail alone and why was she here? Certainly, he thought, this wasn't the middle on nowhere, in fact, they weren't too far from Vancouver by either road or sea. But what brought this young woman to this spot all alone. He shrugged off the thoughts as he climbed the stairs to the deck and let himself into the house. He'd probably never know.
He went to the kitchen first to fill a kettle and make tea. While the water was heating, he checked his voice mail and found, surprisingly, only two messages. One was from his road manager who just wanted to get together sometime soon to go over details for next month's tour dates and one from a fellow musician who congratulated him on the recent Blues Award. Neither message was urgent enough to be returned right away and besides, he thought, these few days alone are my time.
When the tea was made, he carried his mug downstairs to the studio with its big windows overlooking the water below. He sat down on a low overstuffed couch, picked up a six-string guitar and started to play.
< 4 >
At first he merely toyed with the instrument, running a slide up and down and picking out series of notes almost like scales. For Matt this was very much akin to the warm up stretches done by an athlete before a game. He found it both relaxing and therapeutic. The guitar almost seemed to cry beneath his skilled hands and slowly the toying became more serious and took real form. The words may come later but he was developing a melody that seemed to haunt him with its need to be played.
After running through the basic melody several times, he paused long enough to drink the tea which was getting quite cool then he crossed to the consul where he turned a recorder on to capture the developing work. When he stood, he glanced out the window and was able to see just the top of the mast of the anchored sloop. His earlier thoughts about the woman aboard flooded back.
"What brought you to my doorstep, hmm?" he mused aloud. He ran the fingers of one hand through his short hair causing one lock to fall across his forehead. He brushed at it ineffectually and went back to the guitar. The boat anchored below and its lone occupant were still in his thoughts and he found the only images that he could conjure were of water and sails. The music took on the fluid but powerful tones of the ocean as the melody really started to materialize.
Two hours later, he finally laid the guitar aside and padded barefoot back upstairs to start some dinner. He placed a couple of small boneless chicken breasts in a spice and white wine mix to marinate. Then he took some brown rice from a canister to cook it. He would then stir fry some vegetables; snow peas, onions, peppers and broccoli to add to the rice for a great side dish to the chicken.
While the rice was cooking, he went across to the large upstairs windows and his eyes were drawn again to the small boat below. He could see the whole boat from this vantage but no one was on deck. Katherine had also put away her laptop by now and was out of his sight below decks starting some dinner of her own. Hers consisted of a can of clam chowder and a sandwich made of thick home baked bread that she had made prior to departing on her cruise adventure. Matt found himself wondering again who she was and why she had chosen this locale for her anchorage.
< 5 >
Katherine was just finishing the few dishes from her solitary supper and was looking forward to a mug of the coffee she could now smell brewing. She intended to work into the evening and so had put a full pot into the coffee percolator. The smell of the coffee was enticing to one other soul that early summer evening.
Matt had gone for his usual after dinner stroll along the beach and his eyes were drawn to the little sloop in the sheltered alcove. The craft was laying almost broadside to the beach and he could see her sides were painted midnight black with a blue white moon and icy blue stars grouped near the bow against the black field. He was now very curious to know the name of the little boat and to know more about her owner.
As he strolled along the sand, his nostrils caught the scent of a rich and delicious smelling coffee wafting across the water. Perhaps he should go back to the house and make his own coffee, he thought, as the scent tingled his taste buds. Instead his pace became more purposeful and he made his way quickly down the sand to the very edge of the rocky spur. In the lee of the spur there was a very short wooden float which extended only about ten feet into the water and was held there quite firmly by two large chains which were fastened to two very thick and sturdy posts which had been planted securely into the earth. Tied to the float was a small wooden row boat which Matt would sometimes use to do a little fishing, a pastime that he found very relaxing.
Matt quickly climbed into the row boat and bent his back to the task of rowing out towards the anchored sloop. He glanced over his shoulders frequently as he pulled on the oars to ensure his course was true. The summer sun would not go down for another two hours nearly so he was not concerned about being on the water in the dark. He kept telling himself he'd just row around the sloop, give her a look then maybe head down the shore to the next rock spur and back. After all, he reasoned, he could use the workout. The deck of the small sloop was empty, as Katherine was still finishing up her dishes.
< 6 >
As Matt gave one last pull on his oars, he came alongside the sloop at her stern and got his first look at her name. Painted on the same black field in the icy blue paint with stars to decorate it were the words 'BLUES IN THE NIGHT' and Vancouver, Canada in smaller script beneath it. Matt chuckled out loud with pleasure. What a great name for a neat little cruiser like this, he thought.
Katherine jumped at the sudden human sound of Matt's chuckle coming from so close to her. She recovered herself and cautiously took two steps up the companionway, just enough to see around her. However, Matt's rowboat was low enough in the water that it was out of sight from this angle. Katherine moved right out on deck just as Matt shipped his oars and called out.
"Ahoy aboard Blues!" he called tentatively, then smiled when Katherine spun around towards the sound of his voice and he got a chance to see the lady sailor up close for the first time. Katherine, for her part, was a little off balance by his sudden appearance in the midst of her solitude but recovered her cool quickly.
"Hi, you startled me. I was below and didn't hear you rowing up." She was assessing the young man before her. He was very handsome and the little growth of goatee and mustache gave him an almost 'bad boy' look that she found somehow quite appealing. "Can I help you?" She asked, wondering just what he was doing here, had he come from the house on the hillside and was he who she thought he was? Even in the casual jeans and turtle necked shirt that he wore she was almost certain of his identity.
"Hi, I'm Matt. I live just there," he said, pointing up the house above them. "I don't have many visiting boats here. There's really only room for one very small boat, likes yours, so....
< 7 >
Anyway, I smelled your coffee and was looking at your paint job. That's an awesome name!"
He wasn't quite sure what to say next and so fell silent.
"Thanks," Katherine said, smiling inwardly to herself. Yes indeed, she thought, this was Matt Michaels, the blues guitarist. She had known that he lived somewhere just outside of Vancouver but never dreamed of meeting him in quite this fashion. She continued, "I like the blues and it seemed to work somehow, you know?"
Matt was boldly examining her as she spoke, and he liked what he saw. Even clad in an oversize sweatshirt and canvas cargo pants, she was still quite feminine and her blue grey eyes had a wonderfully deep and dreamy look about them like the stars on her boat. Katherine felt his scrutiny and became a little self conscious.
"So did you come to borrow some coffee?" she asked. He chuckled again, a rich sound that she thought suddenly made him seem older than she had at first guessed. She was trying to remember a recent article that the paper had run about him but all she could recall for sure was he had recently won some sort of award.
"Not really, but now that you mention it...I would sure love a cup." he smiled winningly, "We could just say this is a visit from the neighbourhood welcome wagon, what do you think? Hi!, I'm Matt, welcome to the neighbourhood." He winked at her and continued, "May I come aboard Skipper, 'cause that coffee smells too good to miss."
She smiled broadly at his boldness. His green eyes flashed with enjoyment of the little game he was concocting and she found herself trusting him despite all the usual warnings she knew so well about strangers. Besides, she reasoned, he wasn't really a stranger because she knew who he was, even if they'd never met.
< 8 >
"Well Matt, I'm Katherine." She told him. "And, conveniently enough, I just made a full pot so why don't we tie your dingy here and you can share a cup with me while you tell me all about the neighbourhood." She had leaned over the transom and taken the little rowboat's painter in hand. She tied it off securely to a cleat on the starboard corner of the transom. She then lowered the little two step ladder that would allow Matt to easily climb to the deck of the sloop.
Once Matt was aboard and on a level with her, Katherine realized he was quite a bit taller than she had first thought. He was very slim but beneath the fine features she could certainly detect a strength and solidity.
Matt extended his hand and they exchanged an almost formal handshake. Katherine was again conscious of his strength through the firm grip he took of her hand. He held the grip a little longer than necessary and caught her eyes in his sparkling green ones.
"So it's official, Katherine," he solemnly pronounced, "Welcome to the neighbourhood." He broke into a boyish grin and added, "Now how about that cup of coffee?"
Katherine went below to pour the coffee. Matt made no move to follow her but instead was examining the rigging and fittings of the sloop. He was very impressed with the tidy little boat. She was very well maintained and every last line was coiled neatly evidencing the respect and care that her owner obviously felt for the craft.
"What do you take in yours?" she called from below.
"Just cream," he replied. "Is that cinnamon I smell, too?"
"Yes it is. I like to put a little in my after dinner coffee. It really adds a nice flavour" Katherine came back on deck, handing Matt a large steaming mug. "Oh, I hope you like cinnamon."
< 9 >
"Love it." he grinned, "In fact, I kind of have a taste for spices of all sorts. Nutmeg and allspice are good in coffee too." Matt followed Katherine's lead and moved out onto the tiny foredeck of the sloop. There was a thick wool blanket spread out there which made it a comfortable spot to lounge while they talked. She put her mug in a safe but easy to reach spot by the mast and he did likewise. When she settled down, she was cross-legged Indian style. Matt sat beside her but stretched his legs out in front of him keeping his sneakers off the blanket.
"So Mr. Welcome Wagon, tell me about the neighbourhood." she asked.
"What's there to tell? I live up there. There's a couple of other houses along the way there but I've never met the neighbours." He shrugged. "I'm not really home very much and when I am I'm usually working. But the scenery here is beautiful and it's just good, you know?"
"I know what you mean, Matt." she said, staring into the mug that she cradled in both hands. "I love it out here too. Whenever I get the chance to get away for a few days, I get out on the boat and just look for a quiet spot."
"So that's what brought you here today." he said softly. "I saw you arrive this afternoon. You're a pretty good sailor, Kathie. You handle this little boat like a pro." his praise sounded quite genuine and she looked up from the coffee and gave him a grateful smile.
"Thanks, she is a very forgiving little boat to sail." Katherine told him. "I've been single-handing her for almost four years now, so we've kind of become used to one another."
"That's an interesting way to put it." he mused, "Kind of like the way I feel about my guitar. Sometimes I feel that it's simply a part of me, the music's great when its like that."
< 10 >
"Music is the most fluid and alive of all the arts." she said with conviction. "I've always surrounded myself with all kinds. But I think I'm most partial to the blues because they seem to come from closest to the soul. I listen to a lot of Stevie Ray, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and ......oh too many to mention."
"Maybe even me, now and then?" he asked, with a twinkle in those green eyes. She felt a little heat rise in her cheeks with his words. She thought that she must sound rather contrived bringing up the blues like she had with Matt being an award winning artist.
Matt reached across and patted one of her knees. "It's all right, Kathie. I know I'm not the only blues musician out there. There's a whole lot of really great ones. And I wasn't really expecting you to heap praises on me or anything. I really think it's great to meet anyone who loves the music the way you obviously do." He gave her knee one last squeeze before withdrawing his hand.
"I really must get to know your music better." she told him, though her mind was still focused on the hand which had come close to caressing her knee, instead of a casual pat of reassurance.
Matt took the last swallow of his coffee and placed the mug back against the mast. "Well in that case, I'll see that you get tickets to my next show. That coffee was superb." He stretched his arms above his head, clasping his hands together as he did so, then took a deep breath and started to rise. "I should be heading back to the house. I'm trying to be more disciplined about working. Thank you for the coffee and the talk. It's been a pleasure."
They both rose and Katherine picked up both mugs as they made their way back to the stern of the vessel. Once there, Matt took the mugs out of her hands and deposited them safely on one of the cockpit seats. He turned and took both her hands in his and she felt the electricity of his touch as his fingers played subtly on her palms.
< 11 >
"It was great meeting you, Katherine." he said, softly. His green eyes caught her blue grey ones and she felt the intensity and passion that simmered just below his surface. "Would you consider dining out tomorrow evening? I don't mean "out" exactly. But, I'd be very pleased if you'd join me for dinner up at the house."
Katherine's heart almost skipped a beat. The combination of his hands on hers and the deep endless wells of his intense eyes were having an intoxicating effect on her. She managed to regain her composure and answered him with a smile.
"Yes, I'd like that very much."
Katherine watched him as he made the short trip back to the little landing. After he'd tied the little dingy back in it's place, he looked back across the water and gave her a quick wave before disappearing into the trees.
She went below and tried, unsuccessfully, to put the final verses on a poem about the wind and sea that she had started earlier in the day. Somehow, Matt had managed in a few short minutes to totally sidetrack her.
Katherine gave up the effort and decided to call it a night. She went up on deck to retrieve the blanket from the foredeck and recheck the anchor line. She glanced up at the sky studded with the millions of tiny points of light not seen from the city and marveled, as always, at the vastness.
When she was back below decks she pulled her journal from it's shelf and sat down to sum up her day. But where to begin, she thought.
This is a great little anchorage. Just big enough for Blues and no one else! But now there is someone else!! Who would have guessed I'd anchor right in front of Matt Michaels house!!? My God but he's gorgeous. I can't believe he was even here....seems like a dream. Get a grip, girl. He's just a guy...dinner...what is that? Probably has his own cook up there in that big house. Well, maybe I'm not being fair. I hardly know him. Oooohhh but when he touched me!!!
< 12 >
Above her, in the house on the hill, Matt played on into the late evening. Running endless tunes through his head, trying to play away his tension. He kept reviewing his encounter with Katherine trying to figure out just where and when it changed from idle curiosity to ... what was it now? Infatuation? She was quite different from the kind of women he was used to meeting. Good lord though, he mused, she really was pretty, in a very appealing tom-boy kind of way. What would tomorrow bring?
He put down the acoustic guitar he had been playing. Instead he picked up the Fender Stratocaster, turned on the amp and let loose with a heart rending, gut twisting slow blues solo that left him finally drained both physically and emotionally.
Matt crossed his bedroom to the window which looked out over the water. There was no moon so the night was profoundly dark here away from the city lights. But he could see the little anchor light glowing brightly from the top of the mast of "Blues in the Night". The sight seemed to reassure him and he sprawled across the big bed and slept.
Katherine didn't bring much in the way of clothing with her when she sailed except the practical and serviceable shirts, sweat shirts and canvas pants that wore well for the kind of physical activity that sailing required. But she had come straight from the office to the marina on this trip so she had the dressy blouse that she had worn with her business suit that day. It was a very summery mint green and would look just fine with her blue jeans for a casual dinner date.
She made a quick and effortless trip to shore in her Zodiac inflatable with its small outboard motor. Matt was waiting there on the landing; this time helping her tie up the little craft. He then extended a hand and helped her out onto the float.
< 13 >
"I'm so glad you decided to join me." he said. "I don't get a chance to cook for a beautiful lady every day."
Katherine recalled her musings of the previous evening about a cook and felt the heat rise a little in her cheeks. She smiled up at him, "I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for asking me"
They moved off the little landing and she followed his lead up the pathway through the trees to the house. The path climbed quite steeply in places and several times he took her hand in his to guide her in the tricky footing. Each time he held her hand, images flooded her mind of those hands holding her much more intimately and she wondered if somehow he sensed her imaginings.
They climbed a short wide wooden staircase at the side of the house which brought them up to a spacious deck. Matt opened the double french doors and ushered her in to the house. To her left was a dining area with a small round wooden table and four comfortably cushioned captains style chairs. He had draped the table with a fine white linen cloth and added a single tall blue taper candle to the center. He really was trying to impress, she thought.
To the left was a large living area, with floor to ceiling windows at the far end of the room looking out over the water. Katherine was drawn to them immediately.
"The view is spectacular from here." she told him. He had crossed to the kitchen and now came back across the room with two wine glasses in hand.
"That's one of the reasons I bought the house." he replied, "Some wine?"
"Yes please." she said, taking the glass he offered. She took a small taste of the delicate white wine and savoured the richness. "Mmm, this is very good."
< 14 >
"Glad you like it. Hope you like seafood too." He grinned, "You're a sailor right? You do like the fruit of the ocean?"
"I do like seafood, very much, Matt." she grinned back at him. "Besides, it's not often that a handsome man like yourself cooks me a meal. I think I should be thankful"
"Oh I'm sure there are plenty of handsome men around who'd be happy to cook you dinner, Katherine." he retorted, baiting her. "They're probably lined up round the block!"
"Not my block!" she replied, with a rueful chuckle. She turned back to the window to drink in more of the view. He moved close behind her so she could actually feel his warm breath on the nape of her neck. She felt a sudden but very pleasant tingling sensation creep down her spine. He put one hand across her shoulder, pointing across the water to the south and west. Her eyes followed the direction he indicated but the rest of her senses were on the contact now between them.
"When you came up the channel did you see the rocks way down there on the other shore? There's always a big group of seals there." he asked her.
"Yes, I remember them well. They sure were noisy." Katherine laughed a little nervously. Matt had dropped the hand that was pointing but made no move to break the contact between them.
"The fishing's really great just around there. Those seals know what they're talking about!" he laughed. "Come on. Let's eat." With one arm around her shoulders, he lead her back across the room and then pulled out her chair to help her get seated. The sun had all but gone so the candle light made beautiful patterns on the wall of the room as they began to dine.
< 15 >
He had made a light salad of romaine lettuce, almond slivers and raisins in a wine vinegar dressing to start. Katherine was quite surprised and found herself reassessing her opinion of him quite drastically. For the main course, he brought out shrimp and crabmeat which were served on a bed of fettucine with a rather delicate Alfredo sauce. The meal was totally tantalizing and the wine complemented it perfectly. As they ate, he put her at ease with his uncontrived interest in who she was and what she was about. She explained her job at the paper then added that she'd much rather write than research for others.
"Do you write then?" he asked, as he poured her a little more wine.
She chuckled almost to herself. "Yes I write. But most of it will probably never leave my computer's hard drive. I'm kind of a perfectionist, so it's never good enough to show to a friend let alone a publisher."
"You have to step out there and take that risk." he urged. "It's like my music. You just reach a point where even if it isn't perfect you commit to it, record it and move on."
"That's a great philosophy, Matt" she said softly. "Maybe I'll do that ..." Her eyes were sparkling in the candle's glow and Matt was reminded of the stars on the boat.
"You have stars in your eyes, Kathie" he told her.
"I have a 'star' across the table." she quipped back, and giggled. His laughter mingled with hers and he reached across the table and gently took the wine glass from her hand.
He then took her hand in both his, caressing it softly from the inside of her wrist to her finger tips. She trembled a little as the sensations of his touch traveled with electric speed to her core.
< 16 >
"You're hands are so soft and small." he marveled, thinking of his first impression of her as she sailed the little sloop so expertly all alone. "Would you let me read some of your writing some day?" he asked. "I'm not as intimidating as a publisher might be."
"I could I suppose." Katherine said quietly. "I will think about it Matt. It's a kind offer." He released his hold on her hand and smoothly started to clear their empty plates from the table.
"I'm not a harsh critic at all" he reassured her, "I'm awestruck by anyone who can express themselves in writing."
Katherine took a deep breath and another short sip of her wine. Is it the wine that's going to my head, she thought. All she wanted was for Matt to touch her, take her hand again. Instead, he merely put his head around the corner of the kitchen doorway.
"Hope you like strawberries," he announced.
"Dessert too!" her surprise evident in her voice. "Thank you, I love strawberries. They are one of my favourites!"
He returned with the strawberries, sliced and served with ice cream and whipped cream. As he placed the bowl before her with a flourish, she became quite conscious of his closeness and fought an urge to reach out for him. Matt sat down again, stretching his long legs out beneath the table and folding his hands together across his stomach.
"You're not having strawberries?" she queried, noticing that he'd brought only the one bowl.
"I thought perhaps you might share one or two of yours." he told her, his green eyes twinkling in the candlelight. She lowered her eyes quickly from his, feeling a certain heat rise in her cheeks.
< 17 >
"Sure." she whispered. She spooned out a mouthful of the fruit and cream extending her arm towards him. Matt took the proffered spoonful, leaning forward toward her a little but not altering his comfortable stretching posture. Katherine had to slide her chair closer to his to reach his mouth safely.
"That's good." Matt murmured, and she wasn't sure if he was referring to the strawberries or not. She took a spoonful of the fruit herself and savoured the taste.
"Yes they are good." she agreed. When she again extended her arm to feed him another spoonful, he unclasped his hands and grasped her wrist very gently. He extended one finger to caress the inside of her wrist again as he took the fruit into his mouth.
"Very good indeed." he stated quietly. He rose and crossed to the big windows with his back to her. She was taken aback by his sudden departure which left her with feelings that were all mixed up.
Katherine toyed with the rest of the fruit and ice cream in the bowl, watching Matt' back as he gazed out the dark windows. After a couple of more mouthfuls, she laid the spoon aside and wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin. His voice, when it came startled her.
"Had enough?" he asked, without turning around. It took her a second to realize that the darkness outside allowed him to see her reflection without turning.
"Yes thanks, Matt. It was delicious" She crossed the room to where he stood but stopped one pace short of being right at his side. She extended one hand and touched his shoulder.
"Matt, what are you thinking?"
He turned towards her all smiles, but the green eyes had a much heavier emotion apparent in their half lidded sultry look. She found herself drawn into them like a moth to a flame.
< 18 >
"I was thinking how strange it was that you came and anchored right here." he said, he grasped both her wrists in his and pulled her towards him. She came willingly and found herself cradled against his chest. "You're so completely unlike anyone I've met before," He had not released his gentle hold on her wrists until he had guided them comfortably to hold him around his waist. When he did let go, he again gently caressed her with his fingertips.
Katherine drew in a breath and wondered would it be her last. She though she could die right here and now in his embrace, in arms that were now enfolding her and gently caressing her back and neck through her blouse.
"Matt ..." she started tentatively, but the words just escaped her.
"What love?" he murmured, his lips against her forehead, his warm breath making her head swim.
"Matt I want ..." she again choked on the words. Her arms and hands held him very tightly as though she were drowning and he was her saviour. Matt placed several tiny kisses on her forehead, then spoke again.
"You want what, my love?" There he said it again, she thought. She reeled internally, feeling the emotional power in his every gentle and subtle touch. She raised her face a little to his, her head thrown back and neck exposed. One of his hands came up to cradle the nape of her neck and the other grasped her waist to pull her more tightly against him.
"You want what ...?" he asked again, then as he continued to gently kiss her forehead, ears and cheeks he whispered softly against her skin. "You want me to kiss you some more? Like this, or this, or perhaps this?" He chuckled, but it was a soft and very kind sound. His lips nuzzled against her ear, he spoke again. "May I tell you what I want?" he asked.
< 19 >
"Yes" came her tiny voice. Her whole body now tingled with the intimacy of every contact between them. She longed to tell him how much she wanted him right now but speech was near impossible.
Again his voice softly caressed her senses, " I want to make love to you. I want to know every part of you inside and out. I want to make you feel something so strong that you'll never want for another. I want you to cry out my name and I want you to know that I will cherish you. Do you want me to do those things to you?" His lips were still brushing her cheek and ear as he spoke these words. Her senses reeling, she could barely stand. Tears stung her eyes and her cheeks burned with the heat of her desire.
"Matt, I ..." she faltered again over the words, but then his eyes caught hers and she saw herself reflected there in his desire. "I want you," she whispered simply, "Make love to me, Matt."
His mouth bent to hers then, finally. And she parted her lips and welcomed him. Below them, outside the windows was the soft glow of her anchor light beacon and across the room the candle guttered and went out.
Saturday, August 27, 2011 8:21:43 PM
We do not remember to have seen any translated specimens of the productions of M. de l'Aubepine -- a fact the less to be wondered at, as his very name is unknown to many of his own countrymen as well as to the student of foreign literature. As a writer, he seems to occupy an unfortunate position between the Transcendentalists (who, under one name or another, have their share in all the current literature of the world) and the great body of pen-and-ink men who address the intellect and sympathies of the multitude. If not too refined, at all events too remote, too shadowy, and unsubstantial in his modes of development to suit the taste of the latter class, and yet too popular to satisfy the spiritual or metaphysical requisitions of the former, he must necessarily find himself without an audience, except here and there an individual or possibly an isolated clique. His writings, to do them justice, are not altogether destitute of fancy and originality; they might have won him greater reputation but for an inveterate love of allegory, which is apt to invest his plots and characters with the aspect of scenery and people in the clouds, and to steal away the human warmth out of his conceptions. His fictions are sometimes historical, sometimes of the present day, and sometimes, so far as can be discovered, have little or no reference either to time or space. In any case, he generally contents himself with a very slight embroidery of outward manners, -- the faintest possible counterfeit of real life, -- and endeavors to create an interest by some less obvious peculiarity of the subject. Occasionally a breath of Nature, a raindrop of pathos and tenderness, or a gleam of humor, will find its way into the midst of his fantastic imagery, and make us feel as if, after all, we were yet within the limits of our native earth. We will only add to this very cursory notice that M. de l'Aubepine's productions, if the reader chance to take them in precisely the proper point of view, may amuse a leisure hour as well as those of a brighter man; if otherwise, they can hardly fail to look excessively like nonsense.
Our author is voluminous; he continues to write and publish with as much praiseworthy and indefatigable prolixity as if his efforts were crowned with the brilliant success that so justly attends those of Eugene Sue. His first appearance was by a collection of stories in a long series of volumes entitled "Contes deux fois racontees." The titles of some of his more recent works (we quote from memory) are as follows: "Le Voyage Celeste a Chemin de Fer," 3 tom., 1838; "Le nouveau Pere Adam et la nouvelle Mere Eve," 2 tom., 1839; "Roderic; ou le Serpent a l'estomac," 2 tom., 1840; "Le Culte du Feu," a folio volume of ponderous research into the religion and ritual of the old Persian Ghebers, published in 1841; "La Soiree du Chateau en Espagne," 1 tom., 8vo, 1842; and "L'Artiste du Beau; ou le Papillon Mecanique," 5 tom., 4to, 1843. Our somewhat wearisome perusal of this startling catalogue of volumes has left behind it a certain personal affection and sympathy, though by no means admiration, for M. de l'Aubepine; and we would fain do the little in our power towards introducing him favorably to the American public. The ensuing tale is a translation of his "Beatrice; ou la Belle Empoisonneuse," recently published in "La Revue Anti-Aristocratique." This journal, edited by the Comte de Bearhaven, has for some years past led the defence of liberal principles and popular rights with a faithfulness and ability worthy of all praise.
< 2 >
A young man, named Giovanni Guasconti, came, very long ago, from the more southern region of Italy, to pursue his studies at the University of Padua. Giovanni, who had but a scanty supply of gold ducats in his pocket, took lodgings in a high and gloomy chamber of an old edifice which looked not unworthy to have been the palace of a Paduan noble, and which, in fact, exhibited over its entrance the armorial bearings of a family long since extinct. The young stranger, who was not unstudied in the great poem of his country, recollected that one of the ancestors of this family, and perhaps an occupant of this very mansion, had been pictured by Dante as a partaker of the immortal agonies of his Inferno. These reminiscences and associations, together with the tendency to heartbreak natural to a young man for the first time out of his native sphere, caused Giovanni to sigh heavily as he looked around the desolate and ill-furnished apartment.
"Holy Virgin, signor!" cried old Dame Lisabetta, who, won by the youth's remarkable beauty of person, was kindly endeavoring to give the chamber a habitable air, "what a sigh was that to come out of a young man's heart! Do you find this old mansion gloomy? For the love of Heaven, then, put your head out of the window, and you will see as bright sunshine as you have left in Naples."
Guasconti mechanically did as the old woman advised, but could not quite agree with her that the Paduan sunshine was as cheerful as that of southern Italy. Such as it was, however, it fell upon a garden beneath the window and expended its fostering influences on a variety of plants, which seemed to have been cultivated with exceeding care.
"Does this garden belong to the house?" asked Giovanni.
"Heaven forbid, signor, unless it were fruitful of better pot herbs than any that grow there now," answered old Lisabetta. "No; that garden is cultivated by the own hands of Signor Giacomo Rappaccini, the famous doctor, who, I warrant him, has been heard of as far as Naples. It is said that he distils these plants into medicines that are as potent as a charm. Oftentimes you may see the signor doctor at work, and perchance the signora, his daughter, too, gathering the strange flowers that grow in the garden."
< 3 >
The old woman had now done what she could for the aspect of the chamber; and, commending the young man to the protection of the saints, took her departure
Giovanni still found no better occupation than to look down into the garden beneath his window. From its appearance, he judged it to be one of those botanic gardens which were of earlier date in Padua than elsewhere in Italy or in the world. Or, not improbably, it might once have been the pleasure-place of an opulent family; for there was the ruin of a marble fountain in the centre, sculptured with rare art, but so wofully shattered that it was impossible to trace the original design from the chaos of remaining fragments. The water, however, continued to gush and sparkle into the sunbeams as cheerfully as ever. A little gurgling sound ascended to the young man's window, and made him feel as if the fountain were an immortal spirit that sung its song unceasingly and without heeding the vicissitudes around it, while one century imbodied it in marble and another scattered the perishable garniture on the soil. All about the pool into which the water subsided grew various plants, that seemed to require a plentiful supply of moisture for the nourishment of gigantic leaves, and in some instances, flowers gorgeously magnificent. There was one shrub in particular, set in a marble vase in the midst of the pool, that bore a profusion of purple blossoms, each of which had the lustre and richness of a gem; and the whole together made a show so resplendent that it seemed enough to illuminate the garden, even had there been no sunshine. Every portion of the soil was peopled with plants and herbs, which, if less beautiful, still bore tokens of assiduous care, as if all had their individual virtues, known to the scientific mind that fostered them. Some were placed in urns, rich with old carving, and others in common garden pots; some crept serpent-like along the ground or climbed on high, using whatever means of ascent was offered them. One plant had wreathed itself round a statue of Vertumnus, which was thus quite veiled and shrouded in a drapery of hanging foliage, so happily arranged that it might have served a sculptor for a study.
< 4 >
While Giovanni stood at the window he heard a rustling behind a screen of leaves, and became aware that a person was at work in the garden. His figure soon emerged into view, and showed itself to be that of no common laborer, but a tall, emaciated, sallow, and sickly-looking man, dressed in a scholar's garb of black. He was beyond the middle term of life, with gray hair, a thin, gray beard, and a face singularly marked with intellect and cultivation, but which could never, even in his more youthful days, have expressed much warmth of heart.
Nothing could exceed the intentness with which this scientific gardener examined every shrub which grew in his path: it seemed as if he was looking into their inmost nature, making observations in regard to their creative essence, and discovering why one leaf grew in this shape and another in that, and wherefore such and such flowers differed among themselves in hue and perfume. Nevertheless, in spite of this deep intelligence on his part, there was no approach to intimacy between himself and these vegetable existences. On the contrary, he avoided their actual touch or the direct inhaling of their odors with a caution that impressed Giovanni most disagreeably; for the man's demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should he allow them one moment of license, would wreak upon him some terrible fatality. It was strangely frightful to the young man's imagination to see this air of insecurity in a person cultivating a garden, that most simple and innocent of human toils, and which had been alike the joy and labor of the unfallen parents of the race. Was this garden, then, the Eden of the present world? And this man, with such a perception of harm in what his own hands caused to grow, -- was he the Adam?
The distrustful gardener, while plucking away the dead leaves or pruning the too luxuriant growth of the shrubs, defended his hands with a pair of thick gloves. Nor were these his only armor. When, in his walk through the garden, he came to the magnificent plant that hung its purple gems beside the marble fountain, he placed a kind of mask over his mouth and nostrils, as if all this beauty did but conceal a deadlier malice; but, finding his task still too dangerous, he drew back, removed the mask, and called loudly, but in the infirm voice of a person affected with inward disease, "Beatrice! Beatrice!"
< 5 >
"Here am I, my father. What would you?" cried a rich and youthful voice from the window of the opposite house -- a voice as rich as a tropical sunset, and which made Giovanni, though he knew not why, think of deep hues of purple or crimson and of perfumes heavily delectable. "Are you in the garden?"
"Yes, Beatrice," answered the gardener, "and I need your help."
Soon there emerged from under a sculptured portal the figure of a young girl, arrayed with as much richness of taste as the most splendid of the flowers, beautiful as the day, and with a bloom so deep and vivid that one shade more would have been too much. She looked redundant with life, health, and energy; all of which attributes were bound down and compressed, as it were and girdled tensely, in their luxuriance, by her virgin zone. Yet Giovanni's fancy must have grown morbid while he looked down into the garden; for the impression which the fair stranger made upon him was as if here were another flower, the human sister of those vegetable ones, as beautiful as they, more beautiful than the richest of them, but still to be touched only with a glove, nor to be approached without a mask. As Beatrice came down the garden path, it was observable that she handled and inhaled the odor of several of the plants which her father had most sedulously avoided.
"Here, Beatrice," said the latter, "see how many needful offices require to be done to our chief treasure. Yet, shattered as I am, my life might pay the penalty of approaching it so closely as circumstances demand. Henceforth, I fear, this plant must be consigned to your sole charge."
"And gladly will I undertake it," cried again the rich tones of the young lady, as she bent towards the magnificent plant and opened her arms as if to embrace it. "Yes, my sister, my splendour, it shall be Beatrice's task to nurse and serve thee; and thou shalt reward her with thy kisses and perfumed breath, which to her is as the breath of life."
< 6 >
Then, with all the tenderness in her manner that was so strikingly expressed in her words, she busied herself with such attentions as the plant seemed to require; and Giovanni, at his lofty window, rubbed his eyes and almost doubted whether it were a girl tending her favorite flower, or one sister performing the duties of affection to another. The scene soon terminated. Whether Dr. Rappaccini had finished his labors in the garden, or that his watchful eye had caught the stranger's face, he now took his daughter's arm and retired. Night was already closing in; oppressive exhalations seemed to proceed from the plants and steal upward past the open window; and Giovanni, closing the lattice, went to his couch and dreamed of a rich flower and beautiful girl. Flower and maiden were different, and yet the same, and fraught with some strange peril in either shape.
But there is an influence in the light of morning that tends to rectify whatever errors of fancy, or even of judgment, we may have incurred during the sun's decline, or among the shadows of the night, or in the less wholesome glow of moonshine. Giovanni's first movement, on starting from sleep, was to throw open the window and gaze down into the garden which his dreams had made so fertile of mysteries. He was surprised and a little ashamed to find how real and matter-of-fact an affair it proved to be, in the first rays of the sun which gilded the dew-drops that hung upon leaf and blossom, and, while giving a brighter beauty to each rare flower, brought everything within the limits of ordinary experience. The young man rejoiced that, in the heart of the barren city, he had the privilege of overlooking this spot of lovely and luxuriant vegetation. It would serve, he said to himself, as a symbolic language to keep him in communion with Nature. Neither the sickly and thoughtworn Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini, it is true, nor his brilliant daughter, were now visible; so that Giovanni could not determine how much of the singularity which he attributed to both was due to their own qualities and how much to his wonder-working fancy; but he was inclined to take a most rational view of the whole matter.
< 7 >
In the course of the day he paid his respects to Signor Pietro Baglioni, professor of medicine in the university, a physician of eminent repute to whom Giovanni had brought a letter of introduction. The professor was an elderly personage, apparently of genial nature, and habits that might almost be called jovial. He kept the young man to dinner, and made himself very agreeable by the freedom and liveliness of his conversation, especially when warmed by a flask or two of Tuscan wine. Giovanni, conceiving that men of science, inhabitants of the same city, must needs be on familiar terms with one another, took an opportunity to mention the name of Dr. Rappaccini. But the professor did not respond with so much cordiality as he had anticipated.
"Ill would it become a teacher of the divine art of medicine," said Professor Pietro Baglioni, in answer to a question of Giovanni, "to withhold due and well-considered praise of a physician so eminently skilled as Rappaccini; but, on the other hand, I should answer it but scantily to my conscience were I to permit a worthy youth like yourself, Signor Giovanni, the son of an ancient friend, to imbibe erroneous ideas respecting a man who might hereafter chance to hold your life and death in his hands. The truth is, our worshipful Dr. Rappaccini has as much science as any member of the faculty -- with perhaps one single exception -- in Padua, or all Italy; but there are certain grave objections to his professional character."
"And what are they?" asked the young man.
"Has my friend Giovanni any disease of body or heart, that he is so inquisitive about physicians?" said the professor, with a smile. "But as for Rappaccini, it is said of him -- and I, who know the man well, can answer for its truth -- that he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind. His patients are interesting to him only as subjects for some new experiment. He would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of mustard seed to the great heap of his accumulated knowledge."
< 8 >
"Methinks he is an awful man indeed," remarked Guasconti, mentally recalling the cold and purely intellectual aspect of Rappaccini. "And yet, worshipful professor, is it not a noble spirit? Are there many men capable of so spiritual a love of science?"
"God forbid," answered the professor, somewhat testily; "at least, unless they take sounder views of the healing art than those adopted by Rappaccini. It is his theory that all medicinal virtues are comprised within those substances which we term vegetable poisons. These he cultivates with his own hands, and is said even to have produced new varieties of poison, more horribly deleterious than Nature, without the assistance of this learned person, would ever have plagued the world withal. That the signor doctor does less mischief than might be expected with such dangerous substances is undeniable. Now and then, it must be owned, he has effected, or seemed to effect, a marvellous cure; but, to tell you my private mind, Signor Giovanni, he should receive little credit for such instances of success, -- they being probably the work of chance, -- but should be held strictly accountable for his failures, which may justly be considered his own work."
The youth might have taken Baglioni's opinions with many grains of allowance had he known that there was a professional warfare of long continuance between him and Dr. Rappaccini, in which the latter was generally thought to have gained the advantage. If the reader be inclined to judge for himself, we refer him to certain black-letter tracts on both sides, preserved in the medical department of the University of Padua.
"I know not, most learned professor," returned Giovanni, after musing on what had been said of Rappaccini's exclusive zeal for science, --"I know not how dearly this physician may love his art; but surely there is one object more dear to him. He has a daughter."
"Aha!" cried the professor, with a laugh. "So now our friend Giovanni's secret is out. You have heard of this daughter, whom all the young men in Padua are wild about, though not half a dozen have ever had the good hap to see her face. I know little of the Signora Beatrice save that Rappaccini is said to have instructed her deeply in his science, and that, young and beautiful as fame reports her, she is already qualified to fill a professor's chair. Perchance her father destines her for mine! Other absurd rumors there be, not worth talking about or listening to. So now, Signor Giovanni, drink off your glass of lachryma."
< 9 >
Guasconti returned to his lodgings somewhat heated with the wine he had quaffed, and which caused his brain to swim with strange fantasies in reference to Dr. Rappaccini and the beautiful Beatrice. On his way, happening to pass by a florist's, he bought a fresh bouquet of flowers.
Ascending to his chamber, he seated himself near the window, but within the shadow thrown by the depth of the wall, so that he could look down into the garden with little risk of being discovered. All beneath his eye was a solitude. The strange plants were basking in the sunshine, and now and then nodding gently to one another, as if in acknowledgment of sympathy and kindred. In the midst, by the shattered fountain, grew the magnificent shrub, with its purple gems clustering all over it; they glowed in the air, and gleamed back again out of the depths of the pool, which thus seemed to overflow with colored radiance from the rich reflection that was steeped in it. At first, as we have said, the garden was a solitude. Soon, however, -- as Giovanni had half hoped, half feared, would be the case, -- a figure appeared beneath the antique sculptured portal, and came down between the rows of plants, inhaling their various perfumes as if she were one of those beings of old classic fable that lived upon sweet odors. On again beholding Beatrice, the young man was even startled to perceive how much her beauty exceeded his recollection of it; so brilliant, so vivid, was its character, that she glowed amid the sunlight, and, as Giovanni whispered to himself, positively illuminated the more shadowy intervals of the garden path. Her face being now more revealed than on the former occasion, he was struck by its expression of simplicity and sweetness, -- qualities that had not entered into his idea of her character, and which made him ask anew what manner of mortal she might be. Nor did he fail again to observe, or imagine, an analogy between the beautiful girl and the gorgeous shrub that hung its gemlike flowers over the fountain, -- a resemblance which Beatrice seemed to have indulged a fantastic humor in heightening, both by the arrangement of her dress and the selection of its hues.
< 10 >
Approaching the shrub, she threw open her arms, as with a passionate ardor, and drew its branches into an intimate embrace -- so intimate that her features were hidden in its leafy bosom and her glistening ringlets all intermingled with the flowers
"Give me thy breath, my sister," exclaimed Beatrice; "for I am faint with common air. And give me this flower of thine, which I separate with gentlest fingers from the stem and place it close beside my heart."
With these words the beautiful daughter of Rappaccini plucked one of the richest blossoms of the shrub, and was about to fasten it in her bosom. But now, unless Giovanni's draughts of wine had bewildered his senses, a singular incident occurred. A small orange-colored reptile, of the lizard or chameleon species, chanced to be creeping along the path, just at the feet of Beatrice. It appeared to Giovanni, -- but, at the distance from which he gazed, he could scarcely have seen anything so minute, -- it appeared to him, however, that a drop or two of moisture from the broken stem of the flower descended upon the lizard's head. For an instant the reptile contorted itself violently, and then lay motionless in the sunshine. Beatrice observed this remarkable phenomenon and crossed herself, sadly, but without surprise; nor did she therefore hesitate to arrange the fatal flower in her bosom. There it blushed, and almost glimmered with the dazzling effect of a precious stone, adding to her dress and aspect the one appropriate charm which nothing else in the world could have supplied. But Giovanni, out of the shadow of his window, bent forward and shrank back, and murmured and trembled.
"Am I awake? Have I my senses?" said he to himself. "What is this being? Beautiful shall I call her, or inexpressibly terrible?"
Beatrice now strayed carelessly through the garden, approaching closer beneath Giovanni's window, so that he was compelled to thrust his head quite out of its concealment in order to gratify the intense and painful curiosity which she excited. At this moment there came a beautiful insect over the garden wall; it had, perhaps, wandered through the city, and found no flowers or verdure among those antique haunts of men until the heavy perfumes of Dr. Rappaccini's shrubs had lured it from afar. Without alighting on the flowers, this winged brightness seemed to be attracted by Beatrice, and lingered in the air and fluttered about her head. Now, here it could not be but that Giovanni Guasconti's eyes deceived him. Be that as it might, he fancied that, while Beatrice was gazing at the insect with childish delight, it grew faint and fell at her feet; its bright wings shivered; it was dead -- from no cause that he could discern, unless it were the atmosphere of her breath. Again Beatrice crossed herself and sighed heavily as she bent over the dead insect.
< 11 >
An impulsive movement of Giovanni drew her eyes to the window. There she beheld the beautiful head of the young man -- rather a Grecian than an Italian head, with fair, regular features, and a glistening of gold among his ringlets -- gazing down upon her like a being that hovered in mid air. Scarcely knowing what he did, Giovanni threw down the bouquet which he had hitherto held in his hand.
"Signora," said he, "there are pure and healthful flowers. Wear them for the sake of Giovanni Guasconti."
"Thanks, signor," replied Beatrice, with her rich voice, that came forth as it were like a gush of music, and with a mirthful expression half childish and half woman-like. "I accept your gift, and would fain recompense it with this precious purple flower; but if I toss it into the air it will not reach you. So Signor Guasconti must even content himself with my thanks."
She lifted the bouquet from the ground, and then, as if inwardly ashamed at having stepped aside from her maidenly reserve to respond to a stranger's greeting, passed swiftly homeward through the garden. But few as the moments were, it seemed to Giovanni, when she was on the point of vanishing beneath the sculptured portal, that his beautiful bouquet was already beginning to wither in her grasp. It was an idle thought; there could be no possibility of distinguishing a faded flower from a fresh one at so great a distance.
For many days after this incident the young man avoided the window that looked into Dr. Rappaccini's garden, as if something ugly and monstrous would have blasted his eyesight had he been betrayed into a glance. He felt conscious of having put himself, to a certain extent, within the influence of an unintelligible power by the communication which he had opened with Beatrice. The wisest course would have been, if his heart were in any real danger, to quit his lodgings and Padua itself at once; the next wiser, to have accustomed himself, as far as possible, to the familiar and daylight view of Beatrice -- thus bringing her rigidly and systematically within the limits of ordinary experience. Least of all, while avoiding her sight, ought Giovanni to have remained so near this extraordinary being that the proximity and possibility even of intercourse should give a kind of substance and reality to the wild vagaries which his imagination ran riot continually in producing. Guasconti had not a deep heart -- or, at all events, its depths were not sounded now; but he had a quick fancy, and an ardent southern temperament, which rose every instant to a higher fever pitch. Whether or no Beatrice possessed those terrible attributes, that fatal breath, the affinity with those so beautiful and deadly flowers which were indicated by what Giovanni had witnessed, she had at least instilled a fierce and subtle poison into his system. It was not love, although her rich beauty was a madness to him; nor horror, even while he fancied her spirit to be imbued with the same baneful essence that seemed to pervade her physical frame; but a wild offspring of both love and horror that had each parent in it, and burned like one and shivered like the other. Giovanni knew not what to dread; still less did he know what to hope; yet hope and dread kept a continual warfare in his breast, alternately vanquishing one another and starting up afresh to renew the contest. Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions.
< 12 >
Sometimes he endeavored to assuage the fever of his spirit by a rapid walk through the streets of Padua or beyond its gates: his footsteps kept time with the throbbings of his brain, so that the walk was apt to accelerate itself to a race. One day he found himself arrested; his arm was seized by a portly personage, who had turned back on recognizing the young man and expended much breath in overtaking him.
"Signor Giovanni! Stay, my young friend!" cried he. "Have you forgotten me? That might well be the case if I were as much altered as yourself."
It was Baglioni, whom Giovanni had avoided ever since their first meeting, from a doubt that the professor's sagacity would look too deeply into his secrets. Endeavoring to recover himself, he stared forth wildly from his inner world into the outer one and spoke like a man in a dream.
"Yes; I am Giovanni Guasconti. You are Professor Pietro Baglioni. Now let me pass!"
"Not yet, not yet, Signor Giovanni Guasconti," said the professor, smiling, but at the same time scrutinizing the youth with an earnest glance. "What! did I grow up side by side with your father? and shall his son pass me like a stranger in these old streets of Padua? Stand still, Signor Giovanni; for we must have a word or two before we part."
"Speedily, then, most worshipful professor, speedily," said Giovanni, with feverish impatience. "Does not your worship see that I am in haste?"
Now, while he was speaking there came a man in black along the street, stooping and moving feebly like a person in inferior health. His face was all overspread with a most sickly and sallow hue, but yet so pervaded with an expression of piercing and active intellect that an observer might easily have overlooked the merely physical attributes and have seen only this wonderful energy. As he passed, this person exchanged a cold and distant salutation with Baglioni, but fixed his eyes upon Giovanni with an intentness that seemed to bring out whatever was within him worthy of notice. Nevertheless, there was a peculiar quietness in the look, as if taking merely a speculative, not a human interest, in the young man.
< 13 >
"It is Dr. Rappaccini!" whispered the professor when the stranger had passed. "Has he ever seen your face before?"
"Not that I know," answered Giovanni, starting at the name.
"He HAS seen you! he must have seen you!" said Baglioni, hastily. "For some purpose or other, this man of science is making a study of you. I know that look of his! It is the same that coldly illuminates his face as he bends over a bird, a mouse, or a butterfly, which, in pursuance of some experiment, he has killed by the perfume of a flower; a look as deep as Nature itself, but without Nature's warmth of love. Signor Giovanni, I will stake my life upon it, you are the subject of one of Rappaccini's experiments!"
"Will you make a fool of me?" cried Giovanni, passionately. "THAT, signor professor, were an untoward experiment."
"Patience! patience!" replied the imperturbable professor. "I tell thee, my poor Giovanni, that Rappaccini has a scientific interest in thee. Thou hast fallen into fearful hands! And the Signora Beatrice, -- what part does she act in this mystery?"
But Guasconti, finding Baglioni's pertinacity intolerable, here broke away, and was gone before the professor could again seize his arm. He looked after the young man intently and shook his head.
"This must not be," said Baglioni to himself. "The youth is the son of my old friend, and shall not come to any harm from which the arcana of medical science can preserve him. Besides, it is too insufferable an impertinence in Rappaccini, thus to snatch the lad out of my own hands, as I may say, and make use of him for his infernal experiments. This daughter of his! It shall be looked to. Perchance, most learned Rappaccini, I may foil you where you little dream of it!"
Meanwhile Giovanni had pursued a circuitous route, and at length found himself at the door of his lodgings. As he crossed the threshold he was met by old Lisabetta, who smirked and smiled, and was evidently desirous to attract his attention; vainly, however, as the ebullition of his feelings had momentarily subsided into a cold and dull vacuity. He turned his eyes full upon the withered face that was puckering itself into a smile, but seemed to behold it not. The old dame, therefore, laid her grasp upon his cloak.
< 14 >
"Signor! signor!" whispered she, still with a smile over the whole breadth of her visage, so that it looked not unlike a grotesque carving in wood, darkened by centuries. "Listen, signor! There is a private entrance into the garden!"
"What do you say?" exclaimed Giovanni, turning quickly about, as if an inanimate thing should start into feverish life. "A private entrance into Dr. Rappaccini's garden?"
"Hush! hush! not so loud!" whispered Lisabetta, putting her hand over his mouth. "Yes; into the worshipful doctor's garden, where you may see all his fine shrubbery. Many a young man in Padua would give gold to be admitted among those flowers."
Giovanni put a piece of gold into her hand.
"Show me the way," said he.
A surmise, probably excited by his conversation with Baglioni, crossed his mind, that this interposition of old Lisabetta might perchance be connected with the intrigue, whatever were its nature, in which the professor seemed to suppose that Dr. Rappaccini was involving him. But such a suspicion, though it disturbed Giovanni, was inadequate to restrain him. The instant that he was aware of the possibility of approaching Beatrice, it seemed an absolute necessity of his existence to do so. It mattered not whether she were angel or demon; he was irrevocably within her sphere, and must obey the law that whirled him onward, in ever-lessening circles, towards a result which he did not attempt to foreshadow; and yet, strange to say, there came across him a sudden doubt whether this intense interest on his part were not delusory; whether it were really of so deep and positive a nature as to justify him in now thrusting himself into an incalculable position; whether it were not merely the fantasy of a young man's brain, only slightly or not at all connected with his heart.
He paused, hesitated, turned half about, but again went on. His withered guide led him along several obscure passages, and finally undid a door, through which, as it was opened, there came the sight and sound of rustling leaves, with the broken sunshine glimmering among them. Giovanni stepped forth, and, forcing himself through the entanglement of a shrub that wreathed its tendrils over the hidden entrance, stood beneath his own window in the open area of Dr. Rappaccini's garden.
< 15 >
How often is it the case that, when impossibilities have come to pass and dreams have condensed their misty substance into tangible realities, we find ourselves calm, and even coldly self-possessed, amid circumstances which it would have been a delirium of joy or agony to anticipate! Fate delights to thwart us thus. Passion will choose his own time to rush upon the scene, and lingers sluggishly behind when an appropriate adjustment of events would seem to summon his appearance. So was it now with Giovanni. Day after day his pulses had throbbed with feverish blood at the improbable idea of an interview with Beatrice, and of standing with her, face to face, in this very garden, basking in the Oriental sunshine of her beauty, and snatching from her full gaze the mystery which he deemed the riddle of his own existence. But now there was a singular and untimely equanimity within his breast. He threw a glance around the garden to discover if Beatrice or her father were present, and, perceiving that he was alone, began a critical observation of the plants.
The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several also would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery, of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of experiment, which in one or two cases had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden. In fine, Giovanni recognized but two or three plants in the collection, and those of a kind that he well knew to be poisonous. While busy with these contemplations he heard the rustling of a silken garment, and, turning, beheld Beatrice emerging from beneath the sculptured portal.
< 16 >
Giovanni had not considered with himself what should be his deportment; whether he should apologize for his intrusion into the garden, or assume that he was there with the privity at least, if not by the desire, of Dr. Rappaccini or his daughter; but Beatrice's manner placed him at his ease, though leaving him still in doubt by what agency he had gained admittance. She came lightly along the path and met him near the broken fountain. There was surprise in her face, but brightened by a simple and kind expression of pleasure.
"You are a connoisseur in flowers, signor," said Beatrice, with a smile, alluding to the bouquet which he had flung her from the window. "It is no marvel, therefore, if the sight of my father's rare collection has tempted you to take a nearer view. If he were here, he could tell you many strange and interesting facts as to the nature and habits of these shrubs; for he has spent a lifetime in such studies, and this garden is his world."
"And yourself, lady," observed Giovanni, "if fame says true, -- you likewise are deeply skilled in the virtues indicated by these rich blossoms and these spicy perfumes. Would you deign to be my instructress, I should prove an apter scholar than if taught by Signor Rappaccini himself."
"Are there such idle rumors?" asked Beatrice, with the music of a pleasant laugh. "Do people say that I am skilled in my father's science of plants? What a jest is there! No; though I have grown up among these flowers, I know no more of them than their hues and perfume; and sometimes methinks I would fain rid myself of even that small knowledge. There are many flowers here, and those not the least brilliant, that shock and offend me when they meet my eye. But pray, signor, do not believe these stories about my science. Believe nothing of me save what you see with your own eyes."
"And must I believe all that I have seen with my own eyes?" asked Giovanni, pointedly, while the recollection of former scenes made him shrink. "No, signora; you demand too little of me. Bid me believe nothing save what comes from your own lips."
< 17 >
It would appear that Beatrice understood him. There came a deep flush to her cheek; but she looked full into Giovanni's eyes, and responded to his gaze of uneasy suspicion with a queenlike haughtiness.
"I do so bid you, signor," she replied. "Forget whatever you may have fancied in regard to me. If true to the outward senses, still it may be false in its essence; but the words of Beatrice Rappaccini's lips are true from the depths of the heart outward. Those you may believe."
A fervor glowed in her whole aspect and beamed upon Giovanni's consciousness like the light of truth itself; but while she spoke there was a fragrance in the atmosphere around her, rich and delightful, though evanescent, yet which the young man, from an indefinable reluctance, scarcely dared to draw into his lungs. It might be the odor of the flowers. Could it be Beatrice's breath which thus embalmed her words with a strange richness, as if by steeping them in her heart? A faintness passed like a shadow over Giovanni and flitted away; he seemed to gaze through the beautiful girl's eyes into her transparent soul, and felt no more doubt or fear.
The tinge of passion that had colored Beatrice's manner vanished; she became gay, and appeared to derive a pure delight from her communion with the youth not unlike what the maiden of a lonely island might have felt conversing with a voyager from the civilized world. Evidently her experience of life had been confined within the limits of that garden. She talked now about matters as simple as the daylight or summer clouds, and now asked questions in reference to the city, or Giovanni's distant home, his friends, his mother, and his sisters -- questions indicating such seclusion, and such lack of familiarity with modes and forms, that Giovanni responded as if to an infant. Her spirit gushed out before him like a fresh rill that was just catching its first glimpse of the sunlight and wondering at the reflections of earth and sky which were flung into its bosom. There came thoughts, too, from a deep source, and fantasies of a gemlike brilliancy, as if diamonds and rubies sparkled upward among the bubbles of the fountain. Ever and anon there gleamed across the young man's mind a sense of wonder that he should be walking side by side with the being who had so wrought upon his imagination, whom he had idealized in such hues of terror, in whom he had positively witnessed such manifestations of dreadful attributes, -- that he should be conversing with Beatrice like a brother, and should find her so human and so maidenlike. But such reflections were only momentary; the effect of her character was too real not to make itself familiar at once.
< 18 >
In this free intercourse they had strayed through the garden, and now, after many turns among its avenues, were come to the shattered fountain, beside which grew the magnificent shrub, with its treasury of glowing blossoms. A fragrance was diffused from it which Giovanni recognized as identical with that which he had attributed to Beatrice's breath, but incomparably more powerful. As her eyes fell upon it, Giovanni beheld her press her hand to her bosom as if her heart were throbbing suddenly and painfully.
"For the first time in my life," murmured she, addressing the shrub, "I had forgotten thee."
"I remember, signora," said Giovanni, "that you once promised to reward me with one of these living gems for the bouquet which I had the happy boldness to fling to your feet. Permit me now to pluck it as a memorial of this interview."
He made a step towards the shrub with extended hand; but Beatrice darted forward, uttering a shriek that went through his heart like a dagger. She caught his hand and drew it back with the whole force of her slender figure. Giovanni felt her touch thrilling through his fibres.
"Touch it not!" exclaimed she, in a voice of agony. "Not for thy life! It is fatal!"
Then, hiding her face, she fled from him and vanished beneath the sculptured portal. As Giovanni followed her with his eyes, he beheld the emaciated figure and pale intelligence of Dr. Rappaccini, who had been watching the scene, he knew not how long, within the shadow of the entrance.
No sooner was Guasconti alone in his chamber than the image of Beatrice came back to his passionate musings, invested with all the witchery that had been gathering around it ever since his first glimpse of her, and now likewise imbued with a tender warmth of girlish womanhood. She was human; her nature was endowed with all gentle and feminine qualities; she was worthiest to be worshipped; she was capable, surely, on her part, of the height and heroism of love. Those tokens which he had hitherto considered as proofs of a frightful peculiarity in her physical and moral system were now either forgotten, or, by the subtle sophistry of passion transmitted into a golden crown of enchantment, rendering Beatrice the more admirable by so much as she was the more unique. Whatever had looked ugly was now beautiful; or, if incapable of such a change, it stole away and hid itself among those shapeless half ideas which throng the dim region beyond the daylight of our perfect consciousness. Thus did he spend the night, nor fell asleep until the dawn had begun to awake the slumbering flowers in Dr. Rappaccini's garden, whither Giovanni's dreams doubtless led him. Up rose the sun in his due season, and, flinging his beams upon the young man's eyelids, awoke him to a sense of pain. When thoroughly aroused, he became sensible of a burning and tingling agony in his hand -- in his right hand -- the very hand which Beatrice had grasped in her own when he was on the point of plucking one of the gemlike flowers. On the back of that hand there was now a purple print like that of four small fingers, and the likeness of a slender thumb upon his wrist.
< 19 >
Oh, how stubbornly does love, -- or even that cunning semblance of love which flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of root into the heart, -- how stubbornly does it hold its faith until the moment comes when it is doomed to vanish into thin mist! Giovanni wrapped a handkerchief about his hand and wondered what evil thing had stung him, and soon forgot his pain in a reverie of Beatrice.
After the first interview, a second was in the inevitable course of what we call fate. A third; a fourth; and a meeting with Beatrice in the garden was no longer an incident in Giovanni's daily life, but the whole space in which he might be said to live; for the anticipation and memory of that ecstatic hour made up the remainder. Nor was it otherwise with the daughter of Rappaccini. She watched for the youth's appearance, and flew to his side with confidence as unreserved as if they had been playmates from early infancy -- as if they were such playmates still. If, by any unwonted chance, he failed to come at the appointed moment, she stood beneath the window and sent up the rich sweetness of her tones to float around him in his chamber and echo and reverberate throughout his heart: "Giovanni! Giovanni! Why tarriest thou? Come down!" And down he hastened into that Eden of poisonous flowers.
But, with all this intimate familiarity, there was still a reserve in Beatrice's demeanor, so rigidly and invariably sustained that the idea of infringing it scarcely occurred to his imagination. By all appreciable signs, they loved; they had looked love with eyes that conveyed the holy secret from the depths of one soul into the depths of the other, as if it were too sacred to be whispered by the way; they had even spoken love in those gushes of passion when their spirits darted forth in articulated breath like tongues of long-hidden flame; and yet there had been no seal of lips, no clasp of hands, nor any slightest caress such as love claims and hallows. He had never touched one of the gleaming ringlets of her hair; her garment -- so marked was the physical barrier between them -- had never been waved against him by a breeze. On the few occasions when Giovanni had seemed tempted to overstep the limit, Beatrice grew so sad, so stern, and withal wore such a look of desolate separation, shuddering at itself, that not a spoken word was requisite to repel him. At such times he was startled at the horrible suspicions that rose, monster-like, out of the caverns of his heart and stared him in the face; his love grew thin and faint as the morning mist, his doubts alone had substance. But, when Beatrice's face brightened again after the momentary shadow, she was transformed at once from the mysterious, questionable being whom he had watched with so much awe and horror; she was now the beautiful and unsophisticated girl whom he felt that his spirit knew with a certainty beyond all other knowledge.
< 20 >
A considerable time had now passed since Giovanni's last meeting with Baglioni. One morning, however, he was disagreeably surprised by a visit from the professor, whom he had scarcely thought of for whole weeks, and would willingly have forgotten still longer. Given up as he had long been to a pervading excitement, he could tolerate no companions except upon condition of their perfect sympathy with his present state of feeling. Such sympathy was not to be expected from Professor Baglioni.
The visitor chatted carelessly for a few moments about the gossip of the city and the university, and then took up another topic.
"I have been reading an old classic author lately," said he, "and met with a story that strangely interested me. Possibly you may remember it. It is of an Indian prince, who sent a beautiful woman as a present to Alexander the Great. She was as lovely as the dawn and gorgeous as the sunset; but what especially distinguished her was a certain rich perfume in her breath -- richer than a garden of Persian roses. Alexander, as was natural to a youthful conqueror, fell in love at first sight with this magnificent stranger; but a certain sage physician, happening to be present, discovered a terrible secret in regard to her."
"And what was that?" asked Giovanni, turning his eyes downward to avoid those of the professor
"That this lovely woman," continued Baglioni, with emphasis, "had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence. Poison was her element of life. With that rich perfume of her breath she blasted the very air. Her love would have been poison -- her embrace death. Is not this a marvellous tale?"
"A childish fable," answered Giovanni, nervously starting from his chair. "I marvel how your worship finds time to read such nonsense among your graver studies."
"By the by," said the professor, looking uneasily about him, "what singular fragrance is this in your apartment? Is it the perfume of your gloves? It is faint, but delicious; and yet, after all, by no means agreeable. Were I to breathe it long, methinks it would make me ill. It is like the breath of a flower; but I see no flowers in the chamber."
< 21 >
"Nor are there any," replied Giovanni, who had turned pale as the professor spoke; "nor, I think, is there any fragrance except in your worship's imagination. Odors, being a sort of element combined of the sensual and the spiritual, are apt to deceive us in this manner. The recollection of a perfume, the bare idea of it, may easily be mistaken for a present reality."
"Ay; but my sober imagination does not often play such tricks," said Baglioni; "and, were I to fancy any kind of odor, it would be that of some vile apothecary drug, wherewith my fingers are likely enough to be imbued. Our worshipful friend Rappaccini, as I have heard, tinctures his medicaments with odors richer than those of Araby. Doubtless, likewise, the fair and learned Signora Beatrice would minister to her patients with draughts as sweet as a maiden's breath; but woe to him that sips them!"
Giovanni's face evinced many contending emotions. The tone in which the professor alluded to the pure and lovely daughter of Rappaccini was a torture to his soul; and yet the intimation of a view of her character opposite to his own, gave instantaneous distinctness to a thousand dim suspicions, which now grinned at him like so many demons. But he strove hard to quell them and to respond to Baglioni with a true lover's perfect faith.
"Signor professor," said he, "you were my father's friend; perchance, too, it is your purpose to act a friendly part towards his son. I would fain feel nothing towards you save respect and deference; but I pray you to observe, signor, that there is one subject on which we must not speak. You know not the Signora Beatrice. You cannot, therefore, estimate the wrong -- the blasphemy, I may even say -- that is offered to her character by a light or injurious word."
"Giovanni! my poor Giovanni!" answered the professor, with a calm expression of pity, "I know this wretched girl far better than yourself. You shall hear the truth in respect to the poisoner Rappaccini and his poisonous daughter; yes, poisonous as she is beautiful. Listen; for, even should you do violence to my gray hairs, it shall not silence me. That old fable of the Indian woman has become a truth by the deep and deadly science of Rappaccini and in the person of the lovely Beatrice."
< 22 >
Giovanni groaned and hid his face
"Her father," continued Baglioni, "was not restrained by natural affection from offering up his child in this horrible manner as the victim of his insane zeal for science; for, let us do him justice, he is as true a man of science as ever distilled his own heart in an alembic. What, then, will be your fate? Beyond a doubt you are selected as the material of some new experiment. Perhaps the result is to be death; perhaps a fate more awful still. Rappaccini, with what he calls the interest of science before his eyes, will hesitate at nothing."
"It is a dream," muttered Giovanni to himself; "surely it is a dream."
"But," resumed the professor, "be of good cheer, son of my friend. It is not yet too late for the rescue. Possibly we may even succeed in bringing back this miserable child within the limits of ordinary nature, from which her father's madness has estranged her. Behold this little silver vase! It was wrought by the hands of the renowned Benvenuto Cellini, and is well worthy to be a love gift to the fairest dame in Italy. But its contents are invaluable. One little sip of this antidote would have rendered the most virulent poisons of the Borgias innocuous. Doubt not that it will be as efficacious against those of Rappaccini. Bestow the vase, and the precious liquid within it, on your Beatrice, and hopefully await the result."
Baglioni laid a small, exquisitely wrought silver vial on the table and withdrew, leaving what he had said to produce its effect upon the young man's mind.
"We will thwart Rappaccini yet," thought he, chuckling to himself, as he descended the stairs; "but, let us confess the truth of him, he is a wonderful man -- a wonderful man indeed; a vile empiric, however, in his practice, and therefore not to be tolerated by those who respect the good old rules of the medical profession."
Throughout Giovanni's whole acquaintance with Beatrice, he had occasionally, as we have said, been haunted by dark surmises as to her character; yet so thoroughly had she made herself felt by him as a simple, natural, most affectionate, and guileless creature, that the image now held up by Professor Baglioni looked as strange and incredible as if it were not in accordance with his own original conception. True, there were ugly recollections connected with his first glimpses of the beautiful girl; he could not quite forget the bouquet that withered in her grasp, and the insect that perished amid the sunny air, by no ostensible agency save the fragrance of her breath. These incidents, however, dissolving in the pure light of her character, had no longer the efficacy of facts, but were acknowledged as mistaken fantasies, by whatever testimony of the senses they might appear to be substantiated. There is something truer and more real than what we can see with the eyes and touch with the finger. On such better evidence had Giovanni founded his confidence in Beatrice, though rather by the necessary force of her high attributes than by any deep and generous faith on his part. But now his spirit was incapable of sustaining itself at the height to which the early enthusiasm of passion had exalted it; he fell down, grovelling among earthly doubts, and defiled therewith the pure whiteness of Beatrice's image. Not that he gave her up; he did but distrust. He resolved to institute some decisive test that should satisfy him, once for all, whether there were those dreadful peculiarities in her physical nature which could not be supposed to exist without some corresponding monstrosity of soul. His eyes, gazing down afar, might have deceived him as to the lizard, the insect, and the flowers; but if he could witness, at the distance of a few paces, the sudden blight of one fresh and healthful flower in Beatrice's hand, there would be room for no further question. With this idea he hastened to the florist's and purchased a bouquet that was still gemmed with the morning dew-drops.
< 23 >
It was now the customary hour of his daily interview with Beatrice. Before descending into the garden, Giovanni failed not to look at his figure in the mirror, -- a vanity to be expected in a beautiful young man, yet, as displaying itself at that troubled and feverish moment, the token of a certain shallowness of feeling and insincerity of character. He did gaze, however, and said to himself that his features had never before possessed so rich a grace, nor his eyes such vivacity, nor his cheeks so warm a hue of superabundant life.
"At least," thought he, "her poison has not yet insinuated itself into my system. I am no flower to perish in her grasp."
With that thought he turned his eyes on the bouquet, which he had never once laid aside from his hand. A thrill of indefinable horror shot through his frame on perceiving that those dewy flowers were already beginning to droop; they wore the aspect of things that had been fresh and lovely yesterday. Giovanni grew white as marble, and stood motionless before the mirror, staring at his own reflection there as at the likeness of something frightful. He remembered Baglioni's remark about the fragrance that seemed to pervade the chamber. It must have been the poison in his breath! Then he shuddered -- shuddered at himself. Recovering from his stupor, he began to watch with curious eye a spider that was busily at work hanging its web from the antique cornice of the apartment, crossing and recrossing the artful system of interwoven lines -- as vigorous and active a spider as ever dangled from an old ceiling. Giovanni bent towards the insect, and emitted a deep, long breath. The spider suddenly ceased its toil; the web vibrated with a tremor originating in the body of the small artisan. Again Giovanni sent forth a breath, deeper, longer, and imbued with a venomous feeling out of his heart: he knew not whether he were wicked, or only desperate. The spider made a convulsive gripe with his limbs and hung dead across the window.
"Accursed! accursed!" muttered Giovanni, addressing himself. "Hast thou grown so poisonous that this deadly insect perishes by thy breath?"
< 24 >
At that moment a rich, sweet voice came floating up from the garden
"Giovanni! Giovanni! It is past the hour! Why tarriest thou? Come down!"
"Yes," muttered Giovanni again. "She is the only being whom my breath may not slay! Would that it might!"
He rushed down, and in an instant was standing before the bright and loving eyes of Beatrice. A moment ago his wrath and despair had been so fierce that he could have desired nothing so much as to wither her by a glance; but with her actual presence there came influences which had too real an existence to be at once shaken off: recollections of the delicate and benign power of her feminine nature, which had so often enveloped him in a religious calm; recollections of many a holy and passionate outgush of her heart, when the pure fountain had been unsealed from its depths and made visible in its transparency to his mental eye; recollections which, had Giovanni known how to estimate them, would have assured him that all this ugly mystery was but an earthly illusion, and that, whatever mist of evil might seem to have gathered over her, the real Beatrice was a heavenly angel. Incapable as he was of such high faith, still her presence had not utterly lost its magic. Giovanni's rage was quelled into an aspect of sullen insensibility. Beatrice, with a quick spiritual sense, immediately felt that there was a gulf of blackness between them which neither he nor she could pass. They walked on together, sad and silent, and came thus to the marble fountain and to its pool of water on the ground, in the midst of which grew the shrub that bore gem-like blossoms. Giovanni was affrighted at the eager enjoyment -- the appetite, as it were -- with which he found himself inhaling the fragrance of the flowers.
"Beatrice," asked he, abruptly, "whence came this shrub?"
"My father created it," answered she, with simplicity.
"Created it! created it!" repeated Giovanni. "What mean you, Beatrice?"
< 25 >
"He is a man fearfully acquainted with the secrets of Nature," replied Beatrice; "and, at the hour when I first drew breath, this plant sprang from the soil, the offspring of his science, of his intellect, while I was but his earthly child. Approach it not!" continued she, observing with terror that Giovanni was drawing nearer to the shrub. "It has qualities that you little dream of. But I, dearest Giovanni, -- I grew up and blossomed with the plant and was nourished with its breath. It was my sister, and I loved it with a human affection; for, alas! -- hast thou not suspected it? -- there was an awful doom."
Here Giovanni frowned so darkly upon her that Beatrice paused and trembled. But her faith in his tenderness reassured her, and made her blush that she had doubted for an instant.
"There was an awful doom," she continued, "the effect of my father's fatal love of science, which estranged me from all society of my kind. Until Heaven sent thee, dearest Giovanni, oh, how lonely was thy poor Beatrice!"
"Was it a hard doom?" asked Giovanni, fixing his eyes upon her.
"Only of late have I known how hard it was," answered she, tenderly. "Oh, yes; but my heart was torpid, and therefore quiet."
Giovanni's rage broke forth from his sullen gloom like a lightning flash out of a dark cloud.
"Accursed one!" cried he, with venomous scorn and anger. "And, finding thy solitude wearisome, thou hast severed me likewise from all the warmth of life and enticed me into thy region of unspeakable horror!"
"Giovanni!" exclaimed Beatrice, turning her large bright eyes upon his face. The force of his words had not found its way into her mind; she was merely thunderstruck.
"Yes, poisonous thing!" repeated Giovanni, beside himself with passion. "Thou hast done it! Thou hast blasted me! Thou hast filled my veins with poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a creature as thyself -- a world's wonder of hideous monstrosity! Now, if our breath be happily as fatal to ourselves as to all others, let us join our lips in one kiss of unutterable hatred, and so die!"
< 26 >
"What has befallen me?" murmured Beatrice, with a low moan out of her heart. "Holy Virgin, pity me, a poor heart-broken child!"
"Thou, -- dost thou pray?" cried Giovanni, still with the same fiendish scorn. "Thy very prayers, as they come from thy lips, taint the atmosphere with death. Yes, yes; let us pray! Let us to church and dip our fingers in the holy water at the portal! They that come after us will perish as by a pestilence! Let us sign crosses in the air! It will be scattering curses abroad in the likeness of holy symbols!"
"Giovanni," said Beatrice, calmly, for her grief was beyond passion, "why dost thou join thyself with me thus in those terrible words? I, it is true, am the horrible thing thou namest me. But thou, -- what hast thou to do, save with one other shudder at my hideous misery to go forth out of the garden and mingle with thy race, and forget there ever crawled on earth such a monster as poor Beatrice?"
"Dost thou pretend ignorance?" asked Giovanni, scowling upon her. "Behold! this power have I gained from the pure daughter of Rappaccini.
There was a swarm of summer insects flitting through the air in search of the food promised by the flower odors of the fatal garden. They circled round Giovanni's head, and were evidently attracted towards him by the same influence which had drawn them for an instant within the sphere of several of the shrubs. He sent forth a breath among them, and smiled bitterly at Beatrice as at least a score of the insects fell dead upon the ground.
"I see it! I see it!" shrieked Beatrice. "It is my father's fatal science! No, no, Giovanni; it was not I! Never! never! I dreamed only to love thee and be with thee a little time, and so to let thee pass away, leaving but thine image in mine heart; for, Giovann