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The villa lay close to the sea.
The quiet avenues, lined with pine trees, breathed out the rich strength of salty sea air, and a slight breeze constantly played around the orange trees, now and then removing a colourful bloom from flowering shrubs as if with careful fingers. The sunlit distance,
where attractive houses built on hillsides gleamed like white pearls,
a lighthouse miles away rose steeply and straight as a candle—the whole scene shone, its contours sharp and clearly outlined, and was set in the deep azure of the sky like a bright mosaic. The waves of the sea, marked by only the few white specks that were the distant sails of isolated ships, lapped against the tiered terrace on which the villa stood; the ground then rose on and on to the green of a broad, shady garden and merged with the rest of the park, a scene drowsy and still, as if under some fairy-tale enchantment.
Outside the sleeping house on which the morning heat lay heavily,
a narrow gravel path ran like a white line to the cool viewing point.
The waves tossed wildly beneath it, and here and there shimmering spray rose, sparkling in rainbow colours as brightly as diamonds in the strong sunlight. There the shining rays of the sun broke on the small groups of Vistulian pines standing close together, as if in intimate conversation, they also fell on a Japanese parasol with amusing pictures on it in bright, glaring colours, now open wide.
A woman was leaning back in a soft basket chair in the shade of this parasol, her beautiful form comfortably lounging in the yielding weave of the wicker. One slender hand, wearing no rings, dangled down as if forgotten, petting the gleaming, silky coat of a dog with gentle, pleasing movements, while the other hand held a book on which her dark eyes, with their black lashes and the suggestion of a smile in them, were concentrating. They were large and restless eyes, their beauty enhanced by a dark, veiled glow. Altogether the strong, attractive effect of the oval, sharply outlined face did not give the natural impression of simple beauty, but expressed the refinement of certain details tended with careful, delicate coquetry.
The apparently unruly confusion of her fragrant, shining curls was the careful construction of an artist, and in the same way the slight smile that hovered around her lips as she read, revealing her white teeth, was the result of many years of practice in front of the mirror, but had already become a firmly established part of the whole design and could not be laid aside now.
There was a slight crunch on the sand.
She looks without changing her position, like a cat lying basking in the dazzling torrent of warm sunlight and merely blinking apathetically at the newcomer with phosphorescent eyes.
The steps quickly come closer, and a servant in livery stands in front of her to hand her a small visiting card, then stands back a little way to wait.
She reads the name with that expression of surprise on her features that appears when you are greeted in the street with great familiarity by someone you do not know. For a moment, small lines appear above her sharply traced black eyebrows, showing how hard she is thinking, and then a happy light plays over her whole face all of a sudden, her eyes sparkle with high spirits as she thinks of the long-ago days of her youth, almost forgotten now. The name has aroused pleasant images in her again. Figures and dreams take on distinct shape once more, and become as clear as reality.
“Ah, yes,” she said as she remembered, suddenly turning to the servant, “yes, of course show the gentleman up here.”
The servant left, with a soft and obsequious tread. For a moment there was silence except for the never-tiring wind singing softly in the treetops, now full of the heavy golden midday light.
Then vigorous, energetic footsteps were heard on the gravel path,
a long shadow fell at her feet, and a tall man stood before her. She had risen from her chair with a lively movement.
Their eyes met first. With a quick glance he took in the elegance of her figure, while a slight ironic smile came into her eyes. “It’s really good of you to have thought of me,” she began, offering him her slender and well-tended hand, which he touched respectfully with his lips.
“Dear lady, I will be honest with you, since this is our first meeting for years, and also, I fear, the last for many years to come.
It is something of a coincidence that I am here; the name of the owner of the castle about which I was enquiring because of its magnificent position recalled you to my mind. So I am really here under false pretences.”
“But nonetheless welcome for that, and in fact I myself could not remember your existence at first, although it was once of some significance to me.”
Table of ContentsForgotten Dreams
In the Snow
The Miracles of Life
The Star Above the Forest
A Summer Novella
A Story Told in Twilight
Letter from an Unknown Woman
The Invisible Collection
Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman
Downfall of the Heart
Incident on Lake Geneva
Mendel the Bibliophile
Did He Do It?
The Debt Paid Late