This love was truly embedded in his flesh like a sackcloth of brambles and thorns.
Away from her, her suffering became more unbearable; he was afraid of loneliness, but at the same time he hated people. In the silence, he heard the roar of his own pain; in the din, the cry of his inner world overcame the overwhelm of the lives of others.
In all her guises she found that one, in every voice she could hear her voice again; every step of a woman, every feminine dress reminded him of her step, her figure. He felt lost; her inner demon had bent over that mouth of hers, the only one it was a sin to kiss; she had, by an irrevocable fate, loved the one, the only one, whom it is not lawful to love. All the ways, however distant, led him back to sin; in the whistle of every departing train he heard the siren scream for the return. Every day, a hundred times in a day, he thought: – “Tomorrow I’ll be back.”
And yet, amidst the anguish of temptation, to give heart to the longer flight, he did nothing but repeat to himself: “She let me go, she didn’t cling to my knees to restrain me, she didn’t say to me: Stay; she didn’t cry. ”
No: instead she had remained motionless, with frightened eyes, without saying anything. A word from him, a tear from him would perhaps be enough to prevent him from leaving. But she hadn’t cried. And she, on the other hand, she understood that she had done them fear. She understood this only: “I frightened her; I almost horrified her … ”
Certainly he had persuaded her with the warmest words; but all this was basically nothing but simulation, or was it, if nothing else, an involuntary shrewdness which he had used to better look into the shadow of his soul.
And he hoped to hear her reply: «Yes, it’s true, everything you say is true; but don’t go away from me, don’t leave me. Or, if you want us to escape, take me with you, take me away with you. This is precisely what I want to give you: my whole life. To be a little thing of yours, forever, at your mercy. I’m drunk, I’m crazy like you … Take me, take me away! … ”
Instead he had been silent, with steady eyes, his mouth motionless, frightened. That silence persuaded him that he was not mistaken in saying: “Your love is a whim, a gust of wind, a sentimental wave in the heat of twenty years …” And it could not be otherwise. This unshakable love, which tormented her sick spirit, could not be born in the senses and soul of a little sister. For this it was necessary to have passed over all the temptations and all the disappointments of her love, to have known its vices, to have consumed the innumerable frauds to the last. One had to be, as he was, a cold connoisseur of all lusts, to understand this one, more delicate and rarer than any other, this one, which closed in every kiss a sip of very slow poison. But instead she was going through a crisis, a small crisis of love,
That beautiful vermilion mouth of hers would have stretched with the same lust, with the same greed, towards the mouth of another lover; she would have given him those persistent kisses she knew how to give. Another would have dipped her warm hands into her swollen hair, which bore within itself some ray of sunshine like the ripe ear; that hair of her that smelled of a feathery smell and had in their reflections the restlessness of a living thing. Over her neck, up her throat, between her breasts full and already so deep that they could hide a whole face between one and the other, other lips would pass, warm, poignant, to give her those caresses she loved … Since she was made to enjoy carelessly the pain of others, and he had in himself, in his whole person, in every movement, and in his voice, and in his gaze, the visible sign of a violent sensuality.
He thought, “I don’t want to go back. Where she lives the air is corrupt. I don’t want to see her again; I have to erase this image from my mind, tear from my heart this poisonous plant that has taken root for all my veins. Perhaps I myself have created this love in myself; I myself give her the power of which she despairs me. You look at her better: maybe she is not beautiful. Win your perdition: perhaps she is not fearful. ”
He thought: «She breaks my life in the middle and I will repeat for her the whole journey. I no longer have any desire other than this mad sin; the things that most tempted me, if I look at them, seem to me today quite far from my life. I need to go back to being the man I was. ”
And thus reasoning he went from one place to another, without finding peace. He slept at night, in short sleeps, immersed in the breath of her mouth, in her hair, talking to her. He spoke words full of delirium to her, and she, in kissing him, offered him in every perverse way, with expert lasciviousness, her sinful mouth.
He was always with him everywhere, on every corner, on every street. It also happened that he no longer remembered what his face was exactly like; but what lasted in him was the impression of having been close to her, the need to come back to her, it was that particular smell that her skin transmitted, and certain sounds of her voice, of her laugh, certain almost distant memories of words who did not dare to tell each other, at a time when their timid complicity was about to arise. It was no longer even her sister that he loved, but another made like her.
And even if he kissed her every night in his troubled dreams, his father’s squalid face no longer came to threaten him silently.
He wanted to ask himself why this love was born in his soul, and he found no obvious reason in himself. He was a healthy, balanced man who had always conducted himself in life with tenacious firmness; neither his custom, nor his thoughts, nor his readings, nor any example, had ever prompted him to conceive the possibility of such loves.
And the phenomenon was born in him suddenly, as a great perverse flower blossoms in an arid field.
Then he became superstitious; he thought that all this had a supernatural origin, it was a punishment inflicted on him by God, and he thought of the church, the priest, the confession.
He had unlimited hope in this instinctive rise of religious sentiment, which perhaps slept unsuspected in his soul, like a profound and miraculous inheritance.
He entered the cold churches, with the fear of the wanderer that all reject; he marked himself with holy water, remained for long hours in the shadow of the colonnades, near the glittering altars, waiting for grace, contaminating the prayer with his unhealed mouth. Once he knelt in the confessional; but a stronger fear sealed his great sin in his soul.
Even in the church, amidst the steam of aromatic incense, under the custody of sacred symbols, his ghost haunted him. Standing on his knees between the columns, where the basilica was most deserted, even among the voice of the organ that sometimes seems to close within itself the mystical joy of a human purification, he felt the kiss of that forbidden mouth rising from the roots of being. like an intoxicating pleasure, and when the candles filled the altar with a vaporous light, even under the merciful wing that absolved him of his sin, he would lie down hopelessly, in an impure blanket, next to her …
– Not so soon, Rafa! Loretta exclaimed playfully, squeezing his arm. – Not so soon! … I’m afraid.
The road rushed forward, white and blazing, under the lash of the summer sun. The car flew; the countryside laden with golden harvests sent out a dazzling light, as far as the sky covered it at the extreme limit.
Rafa was bent over the steering wheel; Loretta next to him, wrapped her head in a blue veil, she watched the road flee, shine, burn: she smiled fearfully. The car was loaded with her trunks; he finally led her to her clear villa prepared for her.
Behind them the city, enveloped in a beam of sunlight, sent the smoke of its laborious factories into the glittering sky; the swollen spirals spread slowly in space, like strange flowers made of air and haze that the wind was breaking up little by little. The first hills appeared on the horizon, fertile with ancient woods and young prairies; farther away, almost obliterated in the red vehemence of the day, the blue Alps marked a sparkling dam at the edge of space.
The road, lined with a few dusty trees, ran straight through cultivated fields, narrowing down there in the distance like a brilliant path. All around the eye was wide: the bell towers of the churches, the windows of the farms sent a steady flash in the distance, as if a fire was consuming them inside.
A flock of geese crossed the road; the car passed through it, scattering them on each side with a furious flapping of wings, just as the wind blew a handful of feathers. The little barefoot guardian, who had huddled together, shrieked in fear.
Loretta turned to see if any goose had been flattened; but she saw nothing but a cloud of dust, swollen like a sheet full of wind, which swirled upward.
– Sure you killed some … – she said with a voice full of compassion. – You run too fast!
Rafa laughed; the mechanic inside the car leaned forward and replied:
– No, madam, none: I looked.
Loretta consoled herself. They had reached the end of the straight, a village appeared and they had to slow down.
“To tell the truth, I’ve never quite understood how cars can walk on their own,” confessed Loretta.
– Oh! … it would be too serious to explain now, – said Rafa with a smile.
She seemed to think for a moment, then asked:
– Can you once teach me to drive a car?
– If you want.
– It’s difficult?
– It’s not difficult, but you have to be very careful.
Her eyes were full of dust in spite of the veil that had fallen over her face, and she wiped them off with a handkerchief.
– Why don’t you wear glasses? Rafa asked.
“I’m afraid I’m too sick,” confessed Loretta with a smile.
– But what do you say? All the ladies take them by car; otherwise you get eye disease.
– For real?
– Of course.
She rummaged in the pocket of her duster, took out a pair of glasses and, laughing, put them on.
– All yellow! All yellow! – She exclaimed.
After the village, the car resumed its run.
– Don’t you think it looks better with glasses?
– Yes you are right.
The wind cut off her voice. Rafa had instructed her to press the siren pedal from time to time, and she abused it, enjoying her long, whining whistle. Whenever she saw a chariot in the distance, she gave a siren blast; the carters, slowly, without looking back, drove their long lines of horses along the side of the road.
From time to time Rafa leaned against her, to ask her in a low voice:
– Do you love me? … – She answered yes, bowing her head.
And now, all around, a fertile summer color clothed the countryside swollen with perfumes; some white villa, on the vertex of the hills, rested in the peace of the ancient woods; in the plain the scythes shone here and there, like lightning, and the villagers, climbing up the ladders, loaded the hay wagons. To her, who had lived in the city paved with stone and suffocated by the roofs, this spectacle of freedom and peace joyfully opened her heart.
– How happy I will be in the country! She said with a heartbeat. – I want to run in the meadows, to live among the peasants, to lie down under the trees, to throw myself on the hay!
Then he asked submissively:
– Will I be able to do these things?
“Sure,” he replied. – You can do whatever you like.
She gasped for joy.
– And you will often come to see me?
– Every day, Loretta.
– How far is your villa from mine?
– Half an hour by car.
Elijah measured that short distance with his thought, then said:
“But in the evening I will probably have to be alone, is it true?”
– Not always; I can sometimes stay with you if you want me. – And he added: – Will you? …
– Oh, yes … – she replied, with a kind of modesty.
– Besides, you must not fear at all, because you will have your maid with you and at the end of the garden is the house of the gardener, who lives there with the whole family. I have known them for many years and they are good people.
The country glued; the strong car overcame the hills without fatigue; the sun was already hanging over the top of the mountains. As they passed a hill on which the ruins of an ancient castle towered, a lake suddenly appeared in front of them, placid in the distance, like a beautiful turquoise set among the mountains. The steamships plowed through it, leaving behind a streak of smoke, appearing stationary across the distance and no bigger than children’s toys. The scattered boats marked but a black spot in the still splendor of the water.
– The lake! the lake! Loretta exclaimed, holding out her arm.
“Yes, we will now skirt it,” he replied.
It disappeared, when they went down, reappeared when they were on the heights, more and more blue, more and more vast; then they ambushed along a forest road, reached the summit of a winding steep, and saw the lake spread out brightly at their feet, the sun adorned with embroideries and histories like an immense golden tapestry.
The car rushed up the slope with a rumble of machinery, turned into the winding slope under the bite of the powerful brakes, and while its dust clouds still swirled up the top of the descent hill, it was already running along the lake shore. , under the terraces of the gardens, which let their garlands of jasmine and roses fall on the main road.
Little by little the sun withdrew from the banks, which became purple, and more violently lit up in the middle of the lake, shot down from the opposite mountain.
Then a great sadness invaded Loretta’s heart, and, running along that flowery bank, another lake rose in her memory, even more beautiful and sweeter, where the gardens they went to bathe in the pianissima wave and there were rowers singing, in the evening, sailing under the stars …
He thought that on that lake she had gone down, in a fragile boat, which rocked with every move, and she remembered the man who was with her that day, bent over the oars, with eyes full of light, his forehead sweaty. He remembered the night that had come later, with as many stars as he had never seen before, the night that had been the most terrible and sweetest in his life, when too strong a perfume of magnolias and jasmine entered. with the night air invading the room, where she, sick of love with dreams and spring, that night could not sleep …