Meanwhile, Rafa had not given peace. But the next day Lora was sick, and she didn’t go to the post office. The next day he forgot about it again. He remembered it on the third day, and there were three letters: the first interrogation, the other pleading, the third desperate. May she at least agree to see him one last time, if she didn’t want him to resolve himself to some great imprudence! … Loretta wrote him to come tomorrow, at the usual time, in the usual garden.
May was already beginning, the beautiful May of flowers, and the flower beds leapt out of the green like bright enamel; the shadow, in the bushes, was colored with the color of the sun.
They had chosen for their conferences a deserted avenue, which began in the vicinity of a small waterfall, then tortuously became thicker, to reach a rusty gabion, where four decrepit pheasants were perched. They had put them there, to consume their sad old age, for that cruel gratitude that man sometimes has towards animals; they had put them there, to hide the sad feathers, to peck some hard wheat, instead of coupling them or selling them to an embalmer, because in other times they had been the delight of children and nannies, when their plumage was shiny and the people stopped in large numbers in front of their spacious cages.
Loretta had taken a dislike to Rafa from the first day she had talked about it with Arrigo. Now then she does she found it almost ridiculous, and would gladly have told him, if a too obvious usefulness had not persuaded her to continue in her game.
She came that day, dressed like spring, in light colors; her arched lip, full of impertinence, was already smiling from a distance at her young man, who was waiting patiently for him along the avenue.
Rafa was shy; this implacable persecutor of women was, above all in the first moments, incredibly shy. He therefore found himself very embarrassed to begin the speech.
“I saw you in the theater last night,” he said hesitantly.
– Ah? really? – She exclaimed with the most candid smile of hers.
– Come on, don’t mock me! You were very well. And she tried to take her arm.
“Easy …” Loretta said, pushing back his hand. – So I was fine, you say?
– Yes, very good, too good; so much so that everyone was talking about it.
– But you, why did you pretend not to see me?
– Like this!
And she spun the pale silk umbrella, which looked a little like her, so fresh and frivolous was it in appearance.
– Don’t you want to answer me, Loretta?
– But, good God! I pretended not to see you because I couldn’t do otherwise …
– So del Ferrante is really your brother?
– Yeah, that’s my brother. Are you surprised? – She said, with a certain haughtiness.
– I am surprised in the sense that I have so far known you under another name.
– And don’t you find it natural that I had my good reasons for hiding the truth from you?
– Which, if it is permissible?
– But, Rafa, what questions are you asking me! The day you knew who I was, I had to stop our knowledge, don’t you think? So I preferred to let you believe that I was another, any girl, one of the many who meet on the street …
– Oh, Loretta, I’ve never thought of that.
“In any case, you acted as if you thought so, and as I amused it, I let you do it.”
– Don’t say that! I seem to have always respected you.
– Of course, my dear!
– Yes, of course … I’m not saying no; but in any case I respected you, and if you had trusted me enough to confess the truth, I would have been even more patient.
– No, Rafa, I am not reproaching you. You, today, have the right to believe me a light girl: the fault, in case, is all mine. I recognize it. I let myself be stopped on the street, you have always seen me alone, and up to a certain point free; I also accepted some of your memories, so that, I repeat, the fault is mine. But, but … now that you know me better, you don’t have to judge me by appearances alone. There are sometimes certain family reasons that one doesn’t like to tell strangers. Of course I live in a somewhat singular way, but this comes from many causes that you do not know.
And she made herself poised, serious, as Rafa had never seen her before. Rafa was a man of good faith; these words of her friend worried him, almost moved him.
– If I could do something to become your friend more intimately! … – he said. – You are never quite honest with me.
And they both remained silent for some time.
A child passed running behind a circle, an infantry soldier passed holding a ruddy maid by the hand. On a counter stood an old man, who wore a hazelnut overcoat, checked trousers and white spats; he had drawn in the sand, with the tip of the club, a very complicated arabesque, and now he was reading the newspaper, articulating the words with his lips.
– Well … pity! Loretta finally exclaimed with a sigh.
– What a pity?
– It would have been better if you never knew who I was; why now…
– Now? that?
– Oh, you will understand … it is no longer possible to see each other.
– My good Rafa, you should understand this for yourself without my telling you. I could joke as long as I was a stranger, or almost, to you. But now that you know which family I belong to … well no! I would be of an unforgivable lightness. Not so much for me … I, I repeat, am a bit eccentric … But for my brother, whom you know, whom you frequent almost daily … In short, you can’t!
And as he spoke he looked at him from under his lashes, with a well disguised malice. Rafa had gone through all the alternatives of pain, impatience and anger.
– So is it to say goodbye that you came today? She asked in an almost hoarse voice.
– Eh, yes … unfortunately! Said Lora, with discouragement.
He stopped short, and bending a little over her, a bad, almost violent light transfigured his face.
– Well, not that! – She broke out. – Happen what happens, but give up on you, no!
– Be good, Rafa; don’t make a scene for me now, ‘she said in a voice full of meekness.
– I don’t do scenes, but I just tell you that I can’t stay without seeing you, without talking to you sometimes. In short, listen, Loretta: I fell in love with you, foolishly in love, because all this only serves to make you laugh … However, you will understand that you do not give up in one day the thing that is dearest to us.
“I never laughed at you, Rafa,” she said softly.
– Yes, laughter, laughter, and all you want to do is laugh! … But it doesn’t matter. I only tell you this, Loretta: don’t think about taking away what little you have given me so far, because in that case I don’t know what might happen.
That shy man had found an accent so full of energy that Loretta was amazed.
“Come on, Rafa, calm down,” he said. – Don’t take things that way and don’t look at me like that, because you almost frighten me. I would like you to reason instead, to think about one thing, just one: What if my brother would find out? …
– He won’t know.
– Oh, it’s easy to say! You don’t know him; he is capable … I know what he is capable of! I mean, I’d be a ruined girl, and that’s enough for you.
Rafa calmed down a little in the face of these reasons.
– Well, we will increase the precautions; I’ll do whatever you want.
– In the world, my dear, everything is known, and when we suppose we are well hidden, a thousand eyes spy on us.
– But in short, this danger existed even before, and yet …
– Exactly, precisely; it is something that can no longer last. I have been light, very light with you, but I cannot go further.
– Loretta, – he said softly, in a persuasive voice, – think that I love you, think that you are in my mind all day, you are so strong in my soul that I cannot give up on you … Don’t be so cruel , I beg you!
He took her arm and she didn’t try to push him away.
– Silence, Rafa … – he murmured, – silence!
But he went on:
– I have all left, to enjoy only these few moments that you give me. You see, I’m not demanding, I don’t insist anymore; I am content for now to see you, to talk to you sometime … If one day you had to interrupt so abruptly the sweetness of the love I have for you, it was better not to let me ever get near you. Now it’s late.
– No, Rafa, you … you don’t understand!
– I understand very well; I am indifferent to you, I amused you a little, now you have enough; you are afraid, and you dare not risk anything for me.
– You don’t understand, I tell you. If I didn’t have a family, if I didn’t have so many appearances to safeguard, if I were free, alone … then, maybe … But instead, I repeat, woe, woe if my brother had the slightest suspicion of it!
– It will make sure that he doesn’t know anything.
– No, Rafa. And then there is another danger …
– Oh God! there is another danger, I tell you; don’t insist.
– Come on, tell me! be honest once and for all!
They walked; she stopped; she looked mischievous:
– Why do you call me tu, for example? You know well I don’t want to.
– Don’t worry, go on: what’s the danger? …
– Well you say that I laugh, that I laugh … It’s easy to say! Instead it could be that, after all, I too was afraid not to laugh anymore …
– How I love you, Loretta! He exclaimed naively, gripping her waist with his arm.
– Stay still … stay still, go! And she went on: “Of course I too am not made of wax or tow … One day or another, what do I know?” finding ourselves alone, for example, with the speeches you always make to me … or by chance, or by mistake, or for any other reason, I might lose … In short, it’s easy to commit nonsense!
He spun the umbrella again, thrust it deep into a hedge, added: – And then? …
Rafa wanted to answer, but she didn’t give him the time:
– Yes, you men hurry: good morning, good evening, and whoever has seen has seen! We girls pay for both of us. Lightness, the steam of a moment, can cost us who knows what price, and you say we laugh? Of course we laugh, we laugh … as long as we can …
– But I’m a gentleman, Loretta! He proclaimed loudly.
– Very good. And why are you a gentleman should I give myself to you? Not a good reason, do you think? But I, dearest Rafa, have my whole life to live, and there are, I repeat, certain reasons of my own which forbid me the luxury of doing what perhaps I would like too. I’m certainly not a street girl and I don’t have, like some others, a coat of arms and several millions to ensure me impunity. If I were in one of these two cases, yes, I would perhaps be the type to say to one, to you for example: «My dear Rafa, I like you; he does what you want with me. ” But in my case this would mean offering you my whole life, gambling on me the whole future, material and moral, for the recklessness of a moment … And this is a bit too much, don’t you think?
Having made this beautiful speech to him, she involuntarily thought of Arrigo, regretting that he could not hear her. She wanted to say these two words to herself, even if she mentally told her: “You’re fine!”
It took Rafa some time to get out of the way; at that interval they both passed in front of the old man who was monosyllable the newspaper, and saw, across the green, by another avenue, the foot soldier returning with his ruddy maid.
“Loretta,” he said, at the end of that silence, “I have already spoken to you once very clearly;” but you, certain speeches, you do not even want to hear.
– I know well what you are referring to! … – she said sarcastically. – Now that we have talked about it once, we can also talk about it again. And I prefer clear situations, clear words. You offered me money … a lot of money! …
“Not like that, Loretta …” he exclaimed, blushing.
– So and so! What are the periphrases worth? This is the stark truth.
She paused, which he dared not interrupt.
– Now, listen, Rafa. I don’t know what opinion you have of me, in fact I don’t care. Everything can make you believe that I am also capable of selling myself … and this does not offend me, because once more I confess that it was my fault. You see that I speak openly, as I have not done still. However, if you believe this, you are deceived. I do not need anything: from my home I receive everything I need, I could receive much more if I wanted to submit to certain family disciplines that are contrary to my character. We are not very rich, but you can see that my brother, for example, leads an enviable life. If I wanted to get married tomorrow, I could choose, and choose well, as my sister did, because I also have a sister. But I don’t like all this. I have already told you that I am a different girl from the others. Precisely because of my singular ideas, I have already put myself in collision with my family; I demanded a kind of independence, and I would have done even more, if I weren’t precisely afraid of my brother.
In all this he could feel Arrigo’s leg, but it was said well, with ease, with a certain natural warmth that increased his persuasion. He went on:
– What do you want? I don’t feel like I was born to have a mediocre husband, lots of children, and quarrel with servants like my sister does. I believe that there is better in life, and if I am mistaken, I will have the courage not to regret it. Marry me or not marry me, this is perhaps not the essential. I want to love, above all, and be loved above all. Someday I’ll go away; I will probably do for someone what you ask me now; but not for a man who politely offers me a price, very convenient afterwards, when she has fallen in love with me and … wasted me, washing his hands of it, continuing on her way. Eh, my dear, I’m twenty, but I know a little about life!
Rafa listened to her and looked at her, surprised and perplexed, like someone who for the first time finds himself in front of the true aspect of an ill-known person.
“But I,” he said, “never had the intentions you attribute to me, and what you are looking for could be me.”
The girl passed the umbrella behind her back, and holding it like a bar in the fold of her two arms, she arched her beautiful person, swaying with a kind of snare and letting a smile full of irony come to the edge of her lip:
– You? … – he said. – No! You don’t love me enough for that.
In the rusty cage the four pheasants combed their ancient feathers, letting their severed tails hang with a melancholy inertia.
It was May, the beautiful May of flowers; the flower beds leapt out of the green like bright enamel; the shadow, in the bushes, was colored with the color of the sun.