'Yes very much indeed.'
They had both dropped their bantering tone. Elena's
answer threw a sudden search-light upon much that was pro-
blematical before. Andrea understood, and with that rapid
and precise intuition so often found in minds practised in
psychological analysis, he instantly divined the moral attitude
of his visitor, and foresaw the further development of the
i 9 6 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
Moreover, he was already under the spell of
this woman's fascination as in the former days, besides
being greatly piqued by curiosity.
' Will you not sit down ? ' he asked.
'Yes for a moment.'
' Here in this arm-chair.'
' Ah my arm-chair ! ' she was on the point of exclaiming,
for she recognised an old friend, but she stopped herself in
The chair was deep and roomy, and covered with antique
leather on which pale dragons ramped in relief, after the style
of the wall decorations of one of the rooms in the Chigi
palace. The leather had taken on that warm and sumptuous
tone which recalls the background of certain Venetian por-
traits, or a fine bronze still retaining traces of former gilding,
or a piece of tortoiseshell with gleams of gold here and there.
A great cushion covered with a piece of a dalmatic of faded
colouring of that peculiar shade which the Florentine silk
merchants used to call 'rosa di gruogo,' saffron red, contributed
to its inviting easiness.
Elena seated herself in it, placing on the tea-table beside
her her right hand glove and her card-case, a fragile toy in
polished silver with a device and motto engraven on it. She
then proceeded to remove her veil, raising her arms high to
unfasten the knot, her graceful attitude throwing gleams of
changeful light on the velvet of her coat, along the sleeves
and over the contour of her bust. The heat of the fire was
very strong, and with her bare hand, which shone transparent
like rosy alabaster, she screened her face from it. The rings
on her fingers glittered in the fire-light.
' Please screen the fire,' she said, ' it is really too fierce.'
' What have you lost your fondness for the flames ? and
you used to be a perfect salamander. This hearth is full of
' Let memory sleep, do not stir the embers,' she inter-
rupted him. ' Screen the fire and let us have some light. I
will make the tea.'
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 197
' Won't you take off your coat ? '
' No, I must go directly it is late.'
' But you will be melted.'
She rose with a little gesture of impatience. 'Very well
then help me, please.'
As he helped her off with the mantle, Andrea noticed
that the scent was not the same as the familiar one of old.
However, it was so delicious that it thrilled his every
'You have a new scent,' he said with peculiar emphasis.
' Yes,' she answered simply, ' do you like it ? '
Andrea still held the mantle in his hands. He buried his
face in the fur collar which had been next her throat and her
hair ' What is it called ? ' he inquired.
' It has no name.'
She re-seated herself in the arm-chair within the circle of
the firelight. Her dress was of black lace, on which sparkled
a mass of tiny jet and steel beads.
The day was fading from the windows. Andrea lit
candles of twisted orange-coloured wax in wrought-iron
candlesticks, after which he drew a screen before the
During this pause, both felt a certain perplexing uneasi-
ness; Elena was no longer exactly conscious of the moment,
nor was she quite mistress of herself. In spite of all her
efforts she was unable to recall with precision her motives for
coming here, to follow out her intentions even to regain
her force of will. In the presence of this man to whom,
once upon a time, she had been bound by such passionate
ties, and in this spot where she lived the most ardent
moments of her life, she felt her reserve melting, her mind
wavering and growing feeble. She was at that dangerously
delicious point of sentiment at which the soul receives its
every impulse, its attitudes, its form from its external sur-
roundings as an aerial vapour from the mutations of the
atmosphere. But she checked herself before wholly giving
way to it.
198 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
1 Is that right now ? ' asked Andrea in a low, almost humble
She smiled without replying. His words had given her
inexpressibly keen delight.
She began her delicate manipulations lit the spirit-lamp
under the kettle, opened the lacquer tea-caddy and put the
necessary quantity of aromatic leaves into the tea-pot, and
finally prepared two cups. Her movements were slow and
a little hesitating, as happens when the mind is busied with
other things than the occupation of the moment; her ex-
quisite white hands hovered over the cups with the airiness
of butterflies, and from her whole lithe form there emanated
an indefinable charm which enveloped her lover like a
Seated quite close to her, gazing at her from under his half-
closed lids, Andrea drank in the subtle fascination of her
presence. Neither of them spoke. Elena, leaning back in
the cushions, waited for the water to boil, with her eyes fixed
on the blue flame while she absently slipped her rings up and
down her fingers, lost in a dream apparently. But it was no
dream ; it was rather a vague reminiscence, faint, confused
and evanescent. All the recollections of the love that was
past rose up in her mind, but dimly and uncertain, leaving an
indistinct impression, she hardly knew whether of pleasure
or of pain. It was like the indefinable perfume of a faded
bouquet, in which each separate flower has lost the vivacity
proper to its colour and its fragrance, but from which
emanates a common perfume wherein all the diverse com-
ponent elements are indistinguishably blended. She seemed
to carry in her heart the last breath of memories already
faded, the last trace of joys departed for ever, the last tremor
of a happiness that was dead something akin to a mist from
out of which images emerge fitfully without shape or name.
She knew not, was it pleasure or pain, but by degrees this
mysterious agitation, this nameless disquiet waxed greater and
filled her soul with joy and bitterness.
She was silent withdrawn within herself for though her
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 199
hs^ rt was full to overflowing, her emotion was pleasurably in-
< x ^.ised by that silence. Speech would have broken the charm.
^ Che kettle began its low song.
.. \ndrea on a low seat, with his elbow on his knee and his
c n in his hand, sat watching the fair woman so intently that
.na, without turning, felt that persistent gaze upon her with
^ sense of physical discomfort. And while he gazed upon
J he thought to himself that she seemed altogether a new
*# jnan to him one who had never been his, whom he had
. .^ver clasped to his heart.
And in truth, she was even more desirable than in the
former days, the plastic enigma of her beauty more obscure
and more enthralling. Her head with the low broad fore-
head, straight nose and arched eyebrows so pure and firm
in outline, so classically antique in the modelling might
have come from some Syracusan coin. The expression of
the eyes and that of the mouth were in singular contrast,
giving her that passionate, ambiguous, almost preternatural
look that only one or two master-hands, deeply imbued in all
the profoundest corruption of art, have been able to infuse
into such immortal types of woman as the Mona Lisa and
The steam began to escape through the hole in the lid
of the kettle, and Elena turned her attention once more to
the tea-table. She poured a little water on the leaves ; put
two lumps of sugar in one of the cups, then poured some
more water into the teapot and extinguished the lamp ; doing
it all with a certain fond care, but never once looking in
Andrea's direction. By this time her inward agitation had
resolved itself into such melting tenderness, that there was
a lump in her throat and her eyes filled involuntarily; all her
contradictory thoughts, all her trouble and agitation of heart,
concentrated themselves in those tears.
A movement of her arm knocked the little silver card-case
off the table. Andrea picked it up and examined the device :
two true lovers' knots each bearing an inscription in English
From Dreamland, and A Stranger here.
200 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
When he raised his head, Elena offered him the fragrant
beverage with a mist of tears before her eyes.
He saw that mist, and, filled with love and gratitude at s uc h
an unlooked-for sign of melting, he put down the cup, sank
on his knees before her, and seizing her hand pressed his lips
passionately to it.
' Elena ! Elena ! ' he murmured, his face close to hers as if
he would drink the breath from her lips. His emotion was
quite sincere, though some of the things he said were not
He loved her had always loved her had never, never,
never been able to forget her. On meeting her again, he
had felt his passion rekindle with such vehemence that it
had given him a kind of shock of terror as if in one light-
ning flash he had witnessed the upheaval, the convulsion of
his whole life.
' Hush hush ' said Elena with a look of pain, and
turning very pale.
But Andrea went on, still on his knees, fanning the flames
of his passion by the images he himself evoked. When she
had left him so abruptly, he had felt that the greater and
better part of him went with her. Afterwards never,
never could he tell her all the misery of those days, the
agony of regret, the ceaseless, implacable, devouring torture
of mind and body. His wretchedness grew and increased
daily till it burst all bounds and overwhelmed him utterly.
Despair lay in wait for him at every turn. The mere flight
of time became an intolerable burden. His regrets were less
for the happy days gone by than for those that were passing
all profitless for love. Those, at least, had left him a memory,
these nothing but profoundest regret nay, almost remorse.
His life was preying upon itself, consumed in secret by the
inextinguishable flame of one desire, by the unconquerable
distaste to any other form of pleasure. Of all the fiery ardour
of his youth nothing now remained to him but a handful
of ashes. Sometimes, like a dream that vanishes at dawn,
all the past, all the present would fade and fall away from
his inner consciousness like a tale that is told, a useless
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 201
garment. Then he would remember the past no more, as a
man newly risen from a long illness, a convalescent still
overcome with stupor. At last he could forget his tortured
soul was sinking gently down to death. But suddenly,
out of the depths of this lethal tranquillity his pain had
sprung up afresh, and the fallen idol was re-established higher
than ever. She and she alone held every fibre of his heart
captive beneath her spells, crushing out his intelligence,
keeping the doors of his soul against any other passion, any
sorrow, any dream to the end of all time
He was lying of course, but his words were so fervid, his
voi*ce so thrilling, the clasp of his hands so fondly caressing
that Elena was profoundly touched.
'Hush,' she said, 'I must not, dare not listen to you- I
am yours no longer, I never can be yours again never. Do
not say these things '
' No listen '
' I will not good-bye I must go now. Good-bye,
Andrea, it is late let me go.'
She drew her hands out of the young man's clasp, and,
successfully throwing off the dangerous languor that was
creeping over her, she prepared to rise.
' Then why did you come ? ' he asked almost roughly, and
preventing her from doing so.
Slight as was the force he used, she frowned. She paused
' I came,' she said in measured accents and looking her
lover full in the eyes ' I came because you asked me. For
the sake of the love that was once between us, for the manner
in which that love was broken and for the long and unex-
plained silence of my absence I had not the heart to refuse
your invitation. Besides, I wanted to say what I have
said : that I am no longer yours that I never can be
again never. That is what I wanted to tell you, honestly
and frankly, to save you and myself all painful disillu-
sionment, all danger or bitterness in the future. Do you
202 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
Andrea bowed his head almost to her knee in silence.
She stroked his hair with a familiar gesture of old.
' And then,' she went on in a voice that thrilled him to
the heart's core 'and then I wanted to tell you that I
love you love you as much as ever : that you are still the
heart of my heart and that I will be the fondest of sisters to
you, the best of friends do you understand ? '
Andrea made no reply. She took his head between her
hands and raised it, forcing him to look her in the face.
' Do you understand ? ' she repeated in a still lower, sweeter
tone. Her eyes under the shadow of the long lashes were
suffused with a pure and tender light, her lips were slightly
open and trembling.
' No ; you never loved me, and you do not love me now ! '
Andrea burst out at last, pulling Elena's hands from his
temples and drawing away from her, for he was sensible of
the fire that was kindling in his veins under the mere gaze
of those eyes, and his regret at having lost possession of this
fairest of women grew more bitter and poignant than before.
' No, you never loved me. You had the heart to strike
your love dead at a blow treacherously almost just when
it had reached its supremest height. You ran away, you
deserted me, left me alone in my bewilderment, my misery,
while I was still blinded by your promises. You never loved
me neither then nor now. And now, after such a long
absence, so full of mystery, so silent and inexorable, after I
have wasted the bloom of my life in cherishing a wound that
was dear to me because your hand had dealt it after so
much joy and so much pain, you return to this room, in
which every object is replete for us with living memories, and
you say to me calmly " I am yours no longer good-bye."
Oh no you do not love me.'
' Oh, you are ungrateful ! ' she cried, deeply wounded by the
young man's incensed tone. ' What do you know of all that
has occurred, or of what I have had to go through ? What
do you know ? '
'I know nothing, and what is more, I do not want to,'
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 203
Andrea retorted stubbornly, enveloping her in a darkling
look in which burned the fever of his desire. ' All I know is
that you were mine once wholly and without reserve, and I
know that body and soul I shall never forget it '
' Be silent ! '
' What do I care for your sisterly affection ? In spite of
yourself you offer it with your eyes full of quite another kind
of love, and you cannot touch me without your hands trem-
bling. I have seen that look in your eyes too often, you have
too often felt me tremble with passion beneath your hands
I love you ! '
Carried away by his own words he grasped her wrists
tightly and drew so close to her that she felt his hot
breath on her cheek. 'I love you, I tell you more than
ever before,' he went on, slipping an arm about her waist
to draw her to his kiss ' Have you forgotten have you
forgotten ? '
She pushed him forcibly from her and rose to her feet,
trembling in every limb.
1 1 will not do you hear ? '
But he would not hear. He came towards her with arms
outstretched, very pale and determined.
' Could you bear,' she cried turning at bay at last, indignant
at his violence, ' could you bear to share me with another?'
She flung the cruel question at him point-blank, without
reflection, and now stood looking at her lover with wide open
frightened eyes, like one who in self-defence has dealt a blow
without measuring his strength, and fears to have struck too
Andrea's frenzy dropped on the instant, and his face
expressed such overwhelming pain that Elena was stricken to
After a moment's silence ' Good-bye ! ' he said, but that
one word contained all the bitterness of the words he refrained
1 Good-bye,' she answered gently, ' forgive me.'
They both felt the necessity of putting an end, at least for
204 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
that evening, to this perilous conversation. Andrea affected
an almost over-strained courtesy. Elena became even gentler,
almost humble. A nervous tremor shook her continually.
She took her cloak from the chair and Andrea hastened to
assist her. As she did not succeed in finding the armholes,
Andrea guided her hand to it but scarcely touched her. He
then offered her her hat and veil. ' There is a looking-glass
in the next room if you would like '
'No, thank you.' She went over beside the fireplace,
where on the wall hung a quaint little old mirror in a frame
surrounded by little figures, carved in so airy and vivacious a
style that they seemed rather to be of malleable gold than of
wood. It was a charming thing, the work doubtless of some
delicate artist of the fifteenth century and designed to reflect
the charms of some Mona Amorrosisca or some Laldomine.
Many a time in the old happy days Elena had put on her
veil in front of this dim, lack lustre mirror. She remembered
it again now.
On seeing her reflection rise out of its misty depths she
was stirred by a singular emotion. A rush of profound
sadness came over her. She did not speak.
All this time Andrea was watching her intently.
Her preparations concluded, she said, 'It must be very
' Not very about six o'clock, I think.'
' I sent away my carriage. I would be very grateful if you
could send for a closed cab for me.'
'Will you excuse me then if I leave you alone for a
moment ? My servant is out.'
She assented. ' And please tell the man yourself where to
go to the Hotel Quirinal.'
He went out and shut the door behind him. She was
She cast a rapid glance around her, embracing the whole
room with an indefinable look that lingered on the vases of
flowers. The room seemed to her larger, the ceiling higher
than she remembered. She began to feel a little giddy. She
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 205
did not notice the scent of the flowers any longer, but the
atmosphere of the room was close and heavy as in a hot-
house. Andrea's image appeared to her in a sort of inter-
mittent flashes a vague echo of his voice rang in her ears.
Was she going to faint ? Oh, the delight of it if she might
close her eyes and abandon herself to this languor !
She gave herself a little shake and went over to one of the
windows, which she opened, and let the breeze blow in her
face. Somewhat revived by this she turned back into the
room. The pale flame of the candles sent flickering shadows
over the walls. The fire burned low but sufficed to light up
in part the pious figures on the screen made of stained glass
from a church window. The cup of tea stood where Andrea
had laid it down on the table, cold and untouched. The
chair cushion retained the impress of the form that had
leaned against it. All the objects surrounding her breathed
an ineffable melancholy, which condensed itself in a heavy
weight upon Elena's heart, till it sank beneath the well nigh
' Mio Dio I mio Dio ! '
She wished she could make her escape unseen. A puff of
wind inflated the curtains, made the candles flicker, raised
a general rustle through the room. She shivered, and almost
without knowing what she did, she called
Her own voice that name in the silence startled her
strangely, as if neither voice nor name had come from her
lips. Why was Andrea so long in returning ? She listened.
There was no sound but the dull deep inarticulate
murmur of the city. Not a carriage passed across the
piazza of the Trinita de' Monti. As the wind came in strong
gusts from time to time, she closed the window, catching a
glimpse as she did so of the point of the obelisk, black
against the starry sky.
Possibly Andrea had not found a conveyance at once on
the Piazza Barberini. She sat herself down to wait on the
sofa and tried to calm her foolish agitation, avoiding all heart-
206 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
searchings and endeavouring to fix her attention on external
objects. Her eyes wandered to the figures on the fire-screen,
faintly visible by the light of the dying logs. On the mantel-
piece a great white rose in one of the vases was dropping its
petals softly, languidly, one by one, giving an impression of
something subtly feminine and sensuous. The cup-Lke
petals rested delicately on the marbk-, like flakes of snow.
Ah, how sweet that fragrant snow had been then \ she
thought. Rose-leaves strewed the carpets, the divan, the
chairs, and she was laughing, happy in the midst of the
devastation, and her happy lover was at her feet
A carriage stopped down in the street. She rose and
shook her aching head to banish the dull weight that seemed
to paralyse her. The next moment, Andrea entered out of
' Forgive me,' he said, ' for keeping you so long, but I
could not find the porter, so I went down to the Piazza di
Spagna. The carriage is waiting for you.'
'Thanks,' answered Elena with a timid glance at him
through her black veil.
He was grave and pale but quite calm.
' I expect my husband to-morrow,' she went on in a low
faint voice. ' I will send you a line to let you know when I
can see you again.'
' Thank you,' answered Andrea.
' Good-bye then,' she said, holding out her hand.
'Shall I see you down to the street? There is no one
'Yes come down with me.'
She looked about her a little hesitatingly.
' Have you forgotten anything ? ' asked Andrea.
She was looking at the flowers, but she answered, ' Ah yes
Andrea sprang to fetch it from the table. 'A stranger
here ? ' he read as he handed it to her.
' 1V0, my dear, a friend '
Her answer was quick, her voice eager. Then suddenly
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 207
with a smile peculiarly her own, half imploring, half seductive,
a mixture of timidity and tenderness, she said : ' Give me a
Andrea went from vase to vase gathering all the roses into
one great bunch which he could scarcely hold in his hands
some of them shed their petals.
' They were for you all of them,' he said without looking
Elena hung her head and turned to go in silence followed
by Andrea. They descended the stairs still in silence. He
could see the nape of her neck so fair and delicate where the
little dark curls mingled with the gray-blue fur.
' Elena ! ' he cried her name in a low voice, incapable any
longer of fighting against the passion that filled his heart to
She turned round to him with a finger on her lips a
gesture of agonised entreaty but her eyes burned through
the shadow. She hastened her steps, flung herself into the
carriage and felt rather than saw him lay the roses in her
1 Good-bye ! Good-bye ! '
And when the carriage turned away she threw herself back
exhausted and burst into a passion of sobs, tearing the roses
TO pieces with her poor frenzied hands.
So she had come, she had come ! She had re-entered the
rooms in which every piece of furniture, every object must
retain some memory for her, and she had said 'I am yours
no more, can never be yours again, never ! ' and ' Could you
suffer to share me with another ? ' Yes, she had dared to fling
those words in his face, in that room, in sight of all these
A rush of pain atrocious, immeasurable, made up of a
thousand wounds, each distinct from the other and one more
piercing than the other, came over him and goaded him to
desperation. Passion enveloped him once more in a thousand
tongues of fire, re-kindling in him an inextinguishable desire
for this woman who belonged to him no more, re-awakening
in his memory every smallest detail of past caresses and all
the sweet mad doings of those days. And yet through it all,
there persisted the strange difficulty in identifying that Elena
with the Elena of to-day, who seemed to him altogether
another woman, one whom he had never known, never held
in his arms. The torture of his senses was such that he
thought he must die of it. Impurity crept through his blood
like a corroding poison.
The impurity which then the winged flame of the soul had
covered with a sacred veil, had surrounded with a mystery
that was half divine, appeared now without the veil and
without the mystery as a mere carnal lust, a piece of gross
sensuality. He knew that the ardour he had felt to-day in
her presence was not Love had nothing in common with
Love for when she had cried ' Could you suffer to share