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not winter

her desire, always, was to be 'a wild free thing of the air like the birds, with a song in my heart.' a spirit of too much fire in too frail a body, it was rarely that her desire was fully granted. but in italy she found what she could not find in england, and from italy her letters are radiant. 'this italy is made of gold,' she writes from florence, 'the gold of dawn and daylight, the gold of the stars, and, now dancing in weird enchanting rhythms through this magic month of may, the gold of fireflies in the perfumed darkness—"aerial gold." i long to catch the subtle music of their fairy dances and make a poem with a rhythm like the quick irregular wild flash of their sudden movements. would it not be wonderful? one black night i stood in a garden with fireflies in my hair like darting restless stars caught in a mesh of darkness. it gave me a strange sensation, as if i were not human at all, but an elfin spirit. i wonder why these little things move me so deeply? it is because i have a most "unbalanced intellect," i suppose.' then, looking out on florence, she cries, 'god! how beautiful it is, and how glad i am that i am alive to-day!' and she tells me that she is drinking in the beauty like wine, 'wine, golden and scented, and shining, fit for the gods; and the gods have drunk it, the dead gods of etruria, two thousand years ago. did i say dead? no, for the gods are immortal, and one might still find them loitering in some solitary dell on the grey hillsides of fiesole. have i seen them? yes, looking with dreaming eyes, i have found them sitting under the olives, in their grave, strong, antique beauty—etruscan gods!'

in italy she watches the faces of the monks, and at one moment longs to attain to their peace by renunciation, longs for nirvana; 'then, when one comes out again into the hot sunshine that warms one's blood, and sees the eager hurrying faces of men and women in the street, dramatic faces over which the disturbing experiences of life have passed and left their symbols, one's heart thrills up into one's throat. no, no, no, a thousand times no! how can one deliberately renounce this coloured, unquiet, fiery human life of the earth?' and, all the time, her subtle criticism is alert, and this woman of the east marvels at the women of the west, 'the beautiful worldly women of the west,' whom she sees walking in the cascine, 'taking the air so consciously attractive in their brilliant toilettes, in the brilliant coquetry of their manner!' she finds them 'a little incomprehensible,' 'profound artists in all the subtle intricacies of fascination,' and asks if these 'incalculable frivolities and vanities and coquetries and caprices' are, to us, an essential part of their charm? and she watches them with amusement as they flutter about her, petting her as if she were a nice child, a child or a toy, not dreaming that she is saying to herself sorrowfully: 'how utterly empty their lives must be of all spiritual beauty if they are nothing more than they appear to be.'

she sat in our midst, and judged us, and few knew what was passing behind that face 'like an awakening soul,' to use one of her own epithets. her eyes were like deep pools, and you seemed to fall through them into depths below depths.

***

veronique now saw before her an immense dry plateau, without any vegetation, chalky (this explained the absorption of the water) and strewn with pools of stagnant water and rocky places stripped of soil. to the right were the mountains of the correze; to left the roche-vive barred the view covered with its noble trees; on its further slope was a meadow of some two hundred acres, the verdure of which contrasted with the hideous aspect of the desolate plateau.

"my son and i cut that ditch you see down there marked by the tall grasses," said farrabesche; "it joins the one which bounds your forest. on this side the estate is bounded by a desert, for the nearest village is three miles distant."

veronique turned rapidly to the dismal plain, followed by her guide. she leaped her horse across the ditch and rode at full gallop across the drear expanse, seeming to take a savage pleasure in contemplating that vast image of desolation. farrabesche was right. no power, no will could put to any use whatever that soil which resounded under the horses' feet as though it were hollow. this effect was produced by the natural porousness of the clay; but there were fissures also through which the water flowed away, no doubt to some distant source.

"there are many souls like this," thought veronique, stopping her horse after she had ridden at full speed for fifteen or twenty minutes. she remained motionless and thoughtful in the midst of this desert, where there was neither animal nor insect life and where the birds never flew. the plain of montegnac was at least pebbly or sandy; on it were places where a few inches of soil did give a foothold for the roots of certain plains; but here the ungrateful chalk, neither stone nor earth, repelled even the eye, which was forced to turn for relief to the blue of the ether.

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