Giuliani had insisted on seeing her again, that she, fearing some temerity from her, was unable to refuse him another appointment. Arrigo no longer spoke to her about him, on the contrary she seemed to want to avoid this painful conversation at all costs. She could guess at her brother’s dark jealousy, but, out of a cruel feminine instinct, she sometimes liked to exasperate this deep irritation in him. The day of racing, which had forced Arrigo to a long and silent suffering, had instead been a subtle enjoyment for her. She now liked her to feel enveloped and contested between the desire of two men, and above all she liked this, because in the harsh jealousy of Arrigo she saw her violent love more evident than her. Of these two men, one represented the game, the other the danger: two sensations that rarely go apart. On his return from the racecourse, Arrigo had not reproached her, he had not said the slightest word about what had happened; he was just getting a little grumpy, a little harsh. And she, though amazed, did not dare to talk to him about it.
But now she was anxious to resolve her uncertain situation with Rafa in any way. Now that a poignant passion of her had pervaded her, continuing that game seemed useless, more than useless, extremely harmful. And yet, in her shrewd womanish soul, in her calculating mind, she felt it was a pity to throw away that paper without having known and evaluated its precise value, to close behind them an equivocal door without having first looked beyond.
Now he no longer thought of giving himself to Rafa, either for a little or for a lot of money. Those specious theories, those grave speeches, which precisely there, in that garden, she had given him with amiable seriousness, as if to delight in acting a comedy, had gradually infiltrated her brain, and indeed it seemed to her to contain an indisputable truth. But instead, what one day had been just a dream, one of those absurd dreams that do not even manage to entice our temptation, they seem so far from us now, that her self-confidence had grown immeasurably and life seemed easier to her, that unlikely dream was rekindled as a very remote possibility in the dark meanders of her thought. She had a turbid love in herself, but she knew that this love would not be her her life; she knew that this dishonest passion of hers would have to hide forever, live so deeply as a refuge in her spirit, that it was never permissible for anyone to guess its heartbeat. But, at the same time, there was a whole life to be lived, a whole conquest to be attempted without hesitation, even if at the cost of any fraud. And in truth he could be that that good man, that very much in love Rafa, would one day commit the greatest madness for her, nor could he otherwise have her let himself be dragged up to offer her marriage. Who knows ever? Many others, from a condition less than his own, had risen even higher. Or, even if this did not happen, it was still necessary to break that idle and harmful half bond with Rafa, to escape him, after having almost slipped into his hands, and to leave him perplexed, disappointed, in the bonds of an unsatisfied love, so that, if she ever regretted her resolution, she could at any time find him what he was: a man capable of throwing at his feet everything that can seduce a female desire, and buy it , albeit, but buy it sumptuously. In short, she wanted not to lose him forever, but nevertheless to make him understand how vain was the insistence of her attempts at her.
Moreover, marriage did not seduce her too much; she was too young, too curious about sensations, too eager for pleasures, for her family, even the richest of her, to have much charm over her. The other life, on the other hand, tempted her, the one that no severe law governs, no unchanging fidelity, the one that reaped in pleasure like a tireless scythe in the thickest meadows, the one that seduces the frivolous heart of a woman with stronger enticements.
She had a hidden dream of her own: she wanted to sing, to be an artist, free, celebrated, courted, famous … She had not confided in this to anyone, perhaps out of a shy girl’s jealousy, and indeed she wanted to keep silent, until it seemed to her. the propitious hour has come.
At first she had hoped to find in Arrigo the man who would help her in fulfilling her great dream; she was on the point of confiding in him, but she soon realized that Arrigo would not favor that plan, and every day she lost the courage to talk about it with an open heart.
The only one who would have blindly obeyed her, the only one who could have smoothed out her difficult road by any means, was therefore Rafa, her devoted and very rich Rafa; therefore she did not want to lose him completely, pushing him away from herself irremediably.
– You have been a little daring! … – she said first, when they met.
– Does it seem to you? It was the best thing we could do. I’ve been thinking about it for some time. Now that I have been introduced to you by your brother, everything becomes easier.
“I don’t see the simplification,” she replied in a mocking tone, since the man sometimes had the gift of irritating her individually. – I know instead that at times we were betrayed, and my brother, afterwards, tormented me quite a lot for that name of Rafa!
– You should have been more careful.
– Yeah, it’s easy to say! But I’m not in the habit of playing two parts in comedy. Luckily he doesn’t no suspicion remained. And yes, you have done everything possible to make him notice!
– What did I do?
– You have always been in my shoes, first of all; then, Arrigo could not turn his head away without you starting to whisper nonsense to me. Be alert, Rafa! because my brother is not a comfortable man … I have already told you.
– I’m willing to risk everything for you, Loretta!
– But I have nothing for you: that’s the difference.
– For real?
– Own; and I came to tell you.
– That is?
– That is, I must tell you that in this way it is not possible to continue. I’m scared; I feel that we are facing a very serious danger.
He tried to take her arm, lovingly.
“No, leave me,” Loretta said, breaking free from him. – I can’t do any more madness. I have committed an unforgivable levity, I repeat to you, but I hope you will be so gentleman as not to make too much of the weight and shame fall upon me.
– So, every time I see you, Loretta, do you welcome me like this? He exclaimed in a painful and humiliated voice.
– What do you want me to do, for God’s sake! I find myself in an unsustainable condition. I like you, Rafa, I would dare to say that I love you a little … I certainly don’t want to seem abrupt to you … but you write me certain things, you force me to do certain things, which I must neither listen to nor do. In short, think a little: I am a young lady, after all, a real young lady, and by now you know it … So the mere fact that I am here, with you, is already a very serious danger; don’t you think?
– In this you are right. But why do you refuse all my other proposals then? You don’t want to see me anywhere other than in this garden, perhaps out of distrust, perhaps out of fear ….
– Of course I am afraid, I do not deny it: fear.
– Well, trust me once and for all! Your fear is senseless! I am certainly not a man capable of brutal acts. Come at least to a place where we can talk; here it is not possible.
– Where then?
– Listen: I have the car outside the garden; I go ahead and wait for you; we will go to a nearby village.
– But no, but no!
– Well, please! For once, for the last time …
– What do you have to tell me?
– Many things. Come on, be good.
– Where is the car? – she puzzled.
– At the gate, behind the falls.
– Well, listen: I will go with you, but only on a pact …
– Let it be the last time, and then don’t write to me again, don’t ask to see me again.
– Loretta! … – he pleaded.
– Absolutely no!
– Well, listen. If, after speaking to you, you nevertheless remain firm in your decision, I promise you that I will do everything I can to be able to forget you. All right?
‘Go on,’ she said, ‘I will follow you.
The young man turned into an avenue that grew thick among the trees; she took a long walk. She walked slowly, thoughtfully, nervous; she with the umbrella she harassed the grass on the edge of the meadows. She was in a very perplexed state of mind. Despite her long reflections, she now no longer understood herself, nor her brother, and she no longer knew what to do with this so devoted and rich Rafa. Deep in her heart she also felt sad; her love melted her, her melancholy rose from the depths of her being, causing her a kind of slow suffocation. The day before she had been in the Arrigo house, because she could no longer remain without seeing him; she had found him absorbed and almost hostile. She hadn’t kissed her, she hadn’t let herself be kissed; he had looked for a thousand pretexts to send her away, and, close to her, he seemed to be on her thorns. He hadn’t even wanted to hear about Rafa; he told her roughly:
– Do what you want with it! I don’t care about anything anymore.
And she had become meek, she tried to caress him, she said:
– I’ll have to see him tomorrow: give me some good advice.
Then he began to laugh, at a sour, wicked laugh, of which she could not understand the meaning; then he started walking around the room, excited, frowning.
– Will you see him tomorrow?
– Then tell him he’s a fool! In its place I would have already taken you.
– Why do you speak like that, Rigo? – She had asked him with tears in her eyes. And he shrugged, without answering. Then he had begged her to go, because she ached her head and wanted to be alone. But upon her the door of her had taken her in her arms, he had held her in her arms, passionately, and she had pushed her out of her.
Later, towards the evening, under the pretext of asking his father for information, he had come to their house, perhaps to see her for a moment, to smile at her for a moment, after being so rough.
And they kissed again, secretly, with more anxiety, in the paternal house.
She couldn’t understand him well. Perhaps she was consumed by a foolish jealousy of this man who at bottom she laughed at and on whom she made a calculation so different, so far from love. But she would have renounced Rafa a thousand times if he had said a single word to her! And why didn’t he want her? Why did she make them both endure, with so much obstinacy, such excruciating suffering?
Behind the gate he saw the car stopped; she ran quickly, entered it. The orders had already been given to the mechanic: they left quickly.
In the hot afternoon the countryside sparkled like gold: the road was dominated by a steady cloud of dust: the enormous wagons, loaded with furniture or merchandise, pulled by many horses in a row, cluttered the middle and moved away slowly, with a great creak, at the signals of the trumpet. When another car passed, swiftly, with siren screams, everything, for a long distance, was clouded in a thick dust, everything: even the sun.
Rafa put his arm around her belt, she tried to push him away, but weakly; she was no longer talkative or gay.
– You see, – he said, – I can’t trust you …
He obeyed and started over.
– Shall we go far?
– Not much.
– Well, what have you to tell me?
– Not now; we’ll talk later.
– Ah, after …
– Are you sad today?
– Yes a little.
– For so many things … so many things …
– Tell me, Loretta.
– No, what’s the use? So you consider me for a very light girl … I’m here with you … you also have the right!
She was now mixing cunning with sincerity in a singular way, without realizing it. The young man bent over her, almost kissing her.
– Don’t say that, Loretta; you know well that’s not true. For you I also feel a deep respect: otherwise I would not love you.
– No, you want me; this is the right word. But as for loving me, it is quite another thing; you wouldn’t make me come here.
– Give me more tu, Loretta, like the other times.
– Not today, not today!
– So you don’t think I love you?
She shook her head, incredulous, smiling.
– Are you sure?
They arrived in just over half an hour to a small village, which spread its white houses in the great plain, crossed around by an almost arid ditch, with the two banks covered with yellow flowers, among the dusty grasses.
The car stopped in the square, and a swarm of Pinafore brats ran around hopping on the pebbles with bare feet. There was a small garden full of coolness and peace close to the church; a golden ray burned, hit in full by the sun, on the pediment of the church, and it shone so much that it seemed to rotate; the parish house, behind the greenery, had the shutters of the two windows ajar; a sheet hung from one, and a blue and white striped percale shirt on the other. A tawny dog was groping along the wall.
“Come on,” said Rafa; – there is a small hotel at the end of the village: we will drink the white wine for you.
– No; I want to go to church, – replied Loretta.
– In church?
– Well, let’s go if you want.
The mechanic went to the hotel to wait for them; they crossed the square, the small garden full of shade, and climbed the four steps of the churchyard. Many urchins were chasing the thunderous car.
It wasn’t late; all the sounds of the village could still be heard: blacksmiths hammering, carpenters planing, weavers moving looms. A little boy dressed as a cleric was reading a book sitting in the shade in the garden. He looked at them and didn’t move. Under the luminous arch of the main door swarms could be seen buzzing. They entered. The church was poor, but religious and clear like the soul of a sower; from the high windows it rained the sun broken down into blond dust. Only an old woman, confused in the shadow of the colonnades, prayed with her face in her hands; but she was so firm, so kneeling that she looked like church furnishings.
The girl dipped her hand in the stoup and crossed herself, bending her knee slightly. A drop of her remained on her forehead, clear as a pearl. Then they walked around the apse looking at the pictures of the Passion of Christ.
The fresh air smelled of evaporated incense.
– Why did you want to enter this church?
– A whim.
She went forward with an elastic step, almost to avoid make noise; her shadow stretched sideways across the polished floor. He bent his knee again as he passed the altar, then sat down on a pew in the shadow of the colonnade and gathered his forehead in his hand.
The crucified Christ sparkled with his silver crown.
– What are you doing now? Rafa asked.
– Anything. I like.
He leaned against the column near her, slightly bent.
“I love churches,” said Loretta, “and the songs and organs of churches.”
Rafa looked at her for a long time, then said:
– How strange you are!
She smiled at him and raised her face. Her blond hair, in that blond light, seemed luminous and gave her face, her gaze, a spiritual expression.
“Tell me something …” she murmured as if upset.
The young man sat down beside her.
– Do you want me to talk to you here?
– Yes I like it.
He got close to her, so close he touched her.
– Listen … – he began to say to her; but immediately he exclaimed: – It’s not possible! I can’t talk to you about these things now.
– Because? Loretta said with a perverse smile.
– I can not.
– Then shut up.
And he gathered his forehead in his hands again.
He lit up with her beauty as he looked at her. He liked everything about her: her hand, her arm, the color of her hair, her back divided by a deep hollow, her chest blooming in her folded arms. And the smell of her stunned him like the scent of irreligious incense.
– I want to have you … – he said softly, as if he couldn’t stop those words. And she repeated it to him next to her tiny ear, which appeared in her hair, like a tiny nest in a bush.
– How? Asked the girl without moving.
– All, all, in every way! …
Without moving her head, she turned her laughing eyes on his face.
– It’s difficult! … – he said with irony. And his hands joined, concave, kept the shape of her forehead as imprinted.
“I know,” he replied, “but it doesn’t matter.”
He paused, then added:
– Tell me: what is necessary for me to do to have you?
She laughed, her mouth was cruel.
– Many things … – he said. And he repeated with a chant: – Many things …
– For instance?
– You need to know.
– No, say it.
– I’m not saying anything.
And he hid his face in his joined hands.
A ray of sunlight, from the window, fell on the organ, illuminated it. In that church there was such a great peace that the soul rested there. Slowly, slothfully, in the depths, one could hear the muttering of the kneeling old woman.
– I know a story … – the girl murmured intertwining her fingers.
And he laughed.
– Oh yes?
– A nice story…
– Oh yes?
– But I’m not telling it.
– So why do you know?
She took one of her fine red lips between her tiny teeth:
– The story of a little girl, who went to the mill, to get flour, every morning … a beautiful little girl. And she chanted as if she were telling a fairy tale.
– And then?
– … on the street a sinner saw her …
– And then?
– … who offered to bring her the sack, because the road went up, up, and there was a wood halfway, all green, with a silver brook.
– And then?
– … but the sinner wanted to kiss her, and every moment he touched her hands, arms, mouth, chin, throat, without giving her peace. But the little girl said: Not this morning.
– And then?
– … also tomorrow he said: Not this morning.
– And then?
– … even after tomorrow he said: Not this morning.
– And then?
– … then, one day when they were sitting by a silver stream to get some fresh air, the little girl said to the sinner: Bring me a beautiful ring if you want me.
– The sinner came the next day with a pearl necklace, with a silver clasp, with a gold mirror. But the little girl said: Bring me a nice ring if you want me.
– The sinner came the next day, and promised her a castle, a garden, a lake, a forest, a river. He promised her many chests full of jewels, many dressing rooms full of brocades, a bed of gold, a golden harp, a stable with a hundred horses … But the little girl said to the sinner: Bring me a beautiful ring if I do you want.
– And how did it end?
– It turned out that in the month of May the miller took it out … for a flower.
She began to laugh, softly, with irony, at her improvised fairy tale, and without hiding the blush which nevertheless gave her her temerity. She then joined her palms, placed her lips in the hollow of the two poles, and seemed absorbed in a long prayer.
But he was confused and did not know with which words to answer his tale. That allusion from her had startled him a little, he was himself more ashamed of it than she was.
– So you’re the little girl who goes to the mill, to get flour, every morning … aren’t you? – She finally said her, continuing the celia.
“I pray …” she murmured without batting an eyelid.
– And then I would be the sinner, wouldn’t it?
– You’re welcome … – she repeated, pressing her mouth on the thin poles.
– But who would be the miller? – Rafa asked, louder.
She turned to him, looked at him, laughed.
– Ah? … who knows! – He said, interrupting the prayer.
The young man gave her a kiss, quickly, before she shielded herself from it, a kiss on the neck, between the nape of the neck, where the first hair was as soft as rising fodder.
In the high church the seven-pipe organ, wrapped in a beam of sunlight, sent forth a music of flames from its curved metal.