Signa, by Ouida

Chapter 22.

THE spring came in Venice.

There were flowers all the day long everywhere, and music all the night; the swallows and the doves were happy in the cloudless air; the sweet sea wind only blew softly enough to lift the hair of the women standing on the wet marble stairs to meet the boats of fish and of fruit.

It was the city of Desdemona, of Stradella, of Giorgione, of Consuelo. Signa lived in it as in a dream; this silence enfolded him like sleep — sleep filled with the stir of birds’ wings, the sound of waves, the sigh of the wind in the casements full of lilies, the murmurs of amorous whispers.

“Am I awake?” he would say to himself in this wonderful trance of slumberous delight, when all the air was full of his own melodies, and all the people’s eyes turned after him.

Signa drifted on the tide of the city’s praise and passion, like a rose dropped on a smooth flowing river. He hardly wondered. The women’s touch and words would make him colour like a girl, and he submitted to them with a soft timidity, graceful as the bending of a reed in the wind. Otherwise he was quite tranquil. No glory and no beauty could be quite so glorious or so beautiful as those of his dreams.

To him who had dreamed of a triumph like Petrarca’s and a grave like Palestrina’s, who had dreamed of gates of gold for his Lastra, and all the nations of the earth for his singers; to him nothing could appear very startling or very great. True, he was only a little contadino, who still loved best his feet shoeless and his breast bare; a little rustic from the vines and the olives, happiest to sit in the sun and eat a slice of bread and a handful of fruit; but the native grace of movement and absence of self‐consciousness made him as serene in a ducal palace as one the hillside at home, and less moved at a prince’s compliment than at the shout of a boatman or a fruit‐seller.

He came into the fame that welcomed him as a young heir into his heritage. It was nothing strange to him. He had looked for it so long.

“Only to long and dream, and give up all hope, and then to wake of a sudden and find the dream all true — that is to be happy, indeed!” he would say to himself; and happy he was with the sweet, glad, thoughtless innocence of a child. So happy that he never thought to turn his steps backward to those who watched at home on the high lonely hill in the light of the setting sun.

Every day, indeed, he thought: “To‐morrow I will go.” But when the morrow became the present day, he still said —“To‐morrow!”

He was caressed, adored, feasted, sought, done homage to all through the city in the months of spring. In any other country there might have been a coarseness in the adulation, a vulgarity of fashion in the universality of praise which might have sated or nauseated him; but here, in the city that heard the serenades of Stradella and held the women of Tiziano, it was all one simple impulse of ardour, one unstudied outburst of rapture, one sweet natural inspiration answering his own as the whole forest full of song‐birds answers the first morning singer at sunrise; and the days were one long festa, and the gondolas wafted him from palace to palace, and all women caressed him, from the bare‐limbed fish‐girl, standing in the surf of the Lido, to the jewelled lady leaning on her fringed cushions of silk.

Others beside the Moon leaned down to kiss this young Endymion.

He was so great a rarity to them; so innocent, so shy, and yet so full of grace; with all his peasant’s simplicity and ignorance, yet so far away from them by that look in his eyes and that serious beauty of his fancies; so utterly unlearned in all the usage of the world, and yet so dreamfully calm amidst it all as if he were some young marble god that had been touched to life out from his sleep of twice a thousand years in Latin soil.

For he was dreaming of another opera.

He had the story of the Lamia in his head. The Venus Lamia of Athens; the young Greek flute‐player, whose face is still seen on the carved amethyst in the library of the Louvre; she, who, in Alexandria, made captive, became the sovreign mistress of her conqueror, and by the magic of her music and her beauty, vanquished the victor of Ptolemy and changed death into love.

He knew very little of any other learning than his own sweet science, but here and there the old classic stories had beguiled him, and the “Lamia” had of all others pleased him; perhaps because the girl, who became a goddess by force of a man’s passion for her, had been a high priestess of his own art, and by that art had changed death into love.

In the glad spring days, the music for his Lamia came to him as the butterflies came in on the sea breeze over the white lilies in his window. The Actea had been solemn with the gloom of wasted love and martyred courage; the Lamia as she came to birth was radiant with all the glory of young life.

He had read the story one day sitting on a boat’s keel on the Lido sands, with his feet in the water and the white sea‐birds above his head in the sunshine. He saw his Lamia in the waves of light that ebbed and flowed from the shining sea to the shining skies; saw her though he had never seen the amethyst; saw her with her pure Greek face and her passionate eyes and her floating veil and her fillet that marked her the priestess of melody — the Lamia Aphrodite of Athens.

And the story haunted him, and the music came with it, and had all the passion in it that was in all the air around him, and yet not in his own heart; that women here breathed on his own young lips, and yet which left him so unmoved to it, as the sirocco goes over a lyre and leaves it mute.

The red sullen glow of old Nile, the white serene radiance of Athens, the brooding darkness of Egypt, the living rings of the dance chain of the Hormus, the palm‐crowned virgins in the feasts of Hyacinthus — all the faces and things gone from the earth three thousand years and more — became living and visible to him. Actea had been but a shadow to him in his music; Lamia lived for him and smiled. Women wanted him to love them. He did not. But he almost loved Lamia.

“Shall I see her likeness living one day?” he thought; and his face grew warm.

It was the first time that any thought, save that of his music, had quickened the pulse of his heart.

“You do not care for us,” said a young fisher‐girl, with her beautiful bronze limbs thrown down by him on the sand, and with her hands stroking his hair.

Signa smiled.

“Oh, no! Why should I? I see creatures so much lovelier than any of you on earth.”

“Where?” said the girl of the Lido.

“In the sun — in the sea — where the swallows go — where the shadows are — anywhere, everywhere. But most beautiful of all when I close my eyes, and play in the dark — so softly; and then they come.”

“Who come?” said the girl.

“Ah, who!” said Signa, and he smiled lying back on the sand, with his eyes on the blueness of the vault above him.

“Does no one love you at home?” said the girl.

“Only a man,” said Signa.

“And the great ladies here? The princesses? — that one with the blue and gold in her gondola, who seeks you so often?”

“She is — a princess. And I, I am only a peasant, you know. At least I was yesterday.”

“Then you do not love her; though she loves you?”

“No.”

“And you do not love me?”

“No, dear.”

“Then, what is it you love?”

 

“The things that I hear,” said Signa. “And I will love the Lamia when I find her.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 21:06