The Red Lily, by Anatole France

Chapter 18

“I Kiss Your Feet Because They have Come!”

Saturday, at four o’clock, Therese went, as she had promised, to the gate of the English cemetery. There she found Dechartre. He was serious and agitated; he spoke little. She was glad he did not display his joy. He led her by the deserted walls of the gardens to a narrow street which she did not know. She read on a signboard: Via Alfieri. After they had taken fifty steps, he stopped before a sombre alley:

“It is in there,” he said.

She looked at him with infinite sadness.

“You wish me to go in?”

She saw he was resolute, and followed him without saying a word, into the humid shadow of the alley. He traversed a courtyard where the grass grew among the stones. In the back was a pavilion with three windows, with columns and a front ornamented with goats and nymphs. On the moss-covered steps he turned in the lock a key that creaked and resisted. He murmured,

“It is rusty.”

She replied, without thought “All the keys are rusty in this country.”

They went up a stairway so silent that it seemed to have forgotten the sound of footsteps. He pushed open a door and made Therese enter the room. She went straight to a window opening on the cemetery. Above the wall rose the tops of pine-trees, which are not funereal in this land where mourning is mingled with joy without troubling it, where the sweetness of living extends to the city of the dead. He took her hand and led her to an armchair. He remained standing, and looked at the room which he had prepared so that she would not find herself lost in it. Panels of old print cloth, with figures of Comedy, gave to the walls the sadness of past gayeties. He had placed in a corner a dim pastel which they had seen together at an antiquary’s, and which, for its shadowy grace, she called the shade of Rosalba. There was a grandmother’s armchair; white chairs; and on the table painted cups and Venetian glasses. In all the corners were screens of colored paper, whereon were masks, grotesque figures, the light soul of Florence, of Bologna, and of Venice in the time of the Grand Dukes and of the last Doges. A mirror and a carpet completed the furnishings.

He closed the window and lighted the fire. She sat in the armchair, and as she remained in it erect, he knelt before her, took her hands, kissed them, and looked at her with a wondering expression, timorous and proud. Then he pressed his lips to the tip of her boot.

“What are you doing?”

“I kiss your feet because they have come.”

He rose, drew her to him softly, and placed a long kiss on her lips. She remained inert, her head thrown back, her eyes closed. Her toque fell, her hair dropped on her shoulders.

Two hours later, when the setting sun made immeasurably longer the shadows on the stones, Therese, who had wished to walk alone in the city, found herself in front of the two obelisks of Santa Maria Novella without knowing how she had reached there. She saw at the corner of the square the old cobbler drawing his string with his eternal gesture. He smiled, bearing his sparrow on his shoulder.

She went into the shop, and sat on a chair. She said in French:

“Quentin Matsys, my friend, what have I done, and what will become of me?”

He looked at her quietly, with laughing kindness, not understanding nor caring. Nothing astonished him. She shook her head.

“What I did, my good Quentin, I did because he was suffering, and because I loved him. I regret nothing.”

He replied, as was his habit, with the sonorous syllable of Italy:

“Si! si!”

“Is it not so, Quentin? I have not done wrong? But, my God! what will happen now?”

She prepared to go. He made her understand that he wished her to wait. He culled carefully a bit of basilick and offered it to her.

“For its fragrance, signora!”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:06