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Chapter 3

  • "Our house is very far from the center, but the little canal is very comme i_aut."
  • "It's the sweetest corner of Venice and I can imagine nothing more charming,"
  • I hastened to reply. The old lady's voice was very thin and weak, but it ha_n agreeable, cultivated murmur, and there was wonder in the thought that tha_ndividual note had been in Jeffrey Aspern's ear.
  • "Please to sit down there. I hear very well," she said quietly, as if perhap_ had been shouting at her; and the chair she pointed to was at a certai_istance. I took possession of it, telling her that I was perfectly aware tha_ had intruded, that I had not been properly introduced and could only thro_yself upon her indulgence. Perhaps the other lady, the one I had had th_onor of seeing the day before, would have explained to her about the garden.
  • That was literally what had given me courage to take a step so unconventional.
  • I had fallen in love at sight with the whole place (she herself probably wa_o used to it that she did not know the impression it was capable of making o_ stranger), and I had felt it was really a case to risk something. Was he_wn kindness in receiving me a sign that I was not wholly out in m_alculation? It would render me extremely happy to think so. I could give he_y word of honor that I was a most respectable, inoffensive person and that a_n inmate they would be barely conscious of my existence. I would conform t_ny regulations, any restrictions if they would only let me enjoy the garden.
  • Moreover I should be delighted to give her references, guarantees; they woul_e of the very best, both in Venice and in England as well as in America.
  • She listened to me in perfect stillness and I felt that she was looking at m_ith great attention, though I could see only the lower part of her bleache_nd shriveled face. Independently of the refining process of old age it had _elicacy which once must have been great. She had been very fair, she had ha_ wonderful complexion. She was silent a little after I had ceased speaking; then she inquired, "If you are so fond of a garden why don't you go to terr_irma, where there are so many far better than this?"
  • "Oh, it's the combination!" I answered, smiling; and then, with rather _light of fancy, "It's the idea of a garden in the middle of the sea."
  • "It's not in the middle of the sea; you can't see the water."
  • I stared a moment, wondering whether she wished to convict me of fraud. "Can'_ee the water? Why, dear madam, I can come up to the very gate in my boat."
  • She appeared inconsequent, for she said vaguely in reply to this, "Yes, if yo_ave got a boat. I haven't any; it's many years since I have been in one o_he gondolas." She uttered these words as if the gondolas were a curiou_araway craft which she knew only by hearsay.
  • "Let me assure you of the pleasure with which I would put mine at you_ervice!" I exclaimed. I had scarcely said this, however, before I becam_ware that the speech was in questionable taste and might also do me th_njury of making me appear too eager, too possessed of a hidden motive. Bu_he old woman remained impenetrable and her attitude bothered me by suggestin_hat she had a fuller vision of me than I had of her. She gave me no thank_or my somewhat extravagant offer but remarked that the lady I had seen th_ay before was her niece; she would presently come in. She had asked her t_tay away a little on purpose, because she herself wished to see me at firs_lone. She relapsed into silence, and I asked myself why she had judged thi_ecessary and what was coming yet; also whether I might venture on som_udicious remark in praise of her companion. I went so far as to say that _hould be delighted to see her again: she had been so very courteous to me, considering how odd she must have thought me—a declaration which drew fro_iss Bordereau another of her whimsical speeches.
  • "She has very good manners; I bred her up myself!" I was on the point o_aying that that accounted for the easy grace of the niece, but I arreste_yself in time, and the next moment the old woman went on: "I don't care wh_ou may be—I don't want to know; it signifies very little today." This had al_he air of being a formula of dismissal, as if her next words would be that _ight take myself off now that she had had the amusement of looking on th_ace of such a monster of indiscretion. Therefore I was all the more surprise_hen she added, with her soft, venerable quaver, "You may have as many room_s you like—if you will pay a good deal of money."
  • I hesitated but for a single instant, long enough to ask myself what she mean_n particular by this condition. First it struck me that she must have reall_ large sum in her mind; then I reasoned quickly that her idea of a large su_ould probably not correspond to my own. My deliberation, I think, was not s_isible as to diminish the promptitude with which I replied, "I will pay wit_leasure and of course in advance whatever you may think is proper to ask me."
  • "Well then, a thousand francs a month," she rejoined instantly, while he_affling green shade continued to cover her attitude.
  • The figure, as they say, was startling and my logic had been at fault. The su_he had mentioned was, by the Venetian measure of such matters, exceedingl_arge; there was many an old palace in an out-of-the-way corner that I migh_n such terms have enjoyed by the year. But so far as my small means allowed _as prepared to spend money, and my decision was quickly taken. I would pa_er with a smiling face what she asked, but in that case I would give mysel_he compensation of extracting the papers from her for nothing. Moreover i_he had asked five times as much I should have risen to the occasion; s_dious would it have appeared to me to stand chaffering with Aspern's Juliana.
  • It was queer enough to have a question of money with her at all. I assured he_hat her views perfectly met my own and that on the morrow I should have th_leasure of putting three months' rent into her hand. She received thi_nnouncement with serenity and with no apparent sense that after all it woul_e becoming of her to say that I ought to see the rooms first. This did no_ccur to her and indeed her serenity was mainly what I wanted. Our littl_argain was just concluded when the door opened and the younger lady appeare_n the threshold. As soon as Miss Bordereau saw her niece she cried out almos_aily, "He will give three thousand—three thousand tomorrow!"
  • Miss Tita stood still, with her patient eyes turning from one of us to th_ther; then she inquired, scarcely above her breath, "Do you mean francs?"
  • "Did you mean francs or dollars?" the old woman asked of me at this.
  • "I think francs were what you said," I answered, smiling.
  • "That is very good," said Miss Tita, as if she had become conscious that he_wn question might have looked overreaching.
  • "What do YOU know? You are ignorant," Miss Bordereau remarked; not wit_cerbity but with a strange, soft coldness.
  • "Yes, of money—certainly of money!" Miss Tita hastened to exclaim.
  • "I am sure you have your own branches of knowledge," I took the liberty o_aying, genially. There was something painful to me, somehow, in the turn th_onversation had taken, in the discussion of the rent.
  • "She had a very good education when she was young. I looked into that myself,"
  • said Miss Bordereau. Then she added, "But she has learned nothing since."
  • "I have always been with you," Miss Tita rejoined very mildly, and evidentl_ith no intention of making an epigram.
  • "Yes, but for that!" her aunt declared with more satirical force. Sh_vidently meant that but for this her niece would never have got on at all; the point of the observation however being lost on Miss Tita, though sh_lushed at hearing her history revealed to a stranger. Miss Bordereau went on, addressing herself to me: "And what time will you come tomorrow with th_oney?"
  • "The sooner the better. If it suits you I will come at noon."
  • "I am always here but I have my hours," said the old woman, as if he_onvenience were not to be taken for granted.
  • "You mean the times when you receive?"
  • "I never receive. But I will see you at noon, when you come with the money."
  • "Very good, I shall be punctual;" and I added, "May I shake hands with you, o_ur contract?" I thought there ought to be some little form, it would make m_eally feel easier, for I foresaw that there would be no other. Besides, though Miss Bordereau could not today be called personally attractive an_here was something even in her wasted antiquity that bade one stand at one'_istance, I felt an irresistible desire to hold in my own for a moment th_and that Jeffrey Aspern had pressed.
  • For a minute she made no answer, and I saw that my proposal failed to mee_ith her approbation. She indulged in no movement of withdrawal, which I half- expected; she only said coldly, "I belong to a time when that was not th_ustom."
  • I felt rather snubbed but I exclaimed good humoredly to Miss Tita, "Oh, yo_ill do as well!" I shook hands with her while she replied, with a smal_lutter, "Yes, yes, to show it's all arranged!"
  • "Shall you bring the money in gold?" Miss Bordereau demanded, as I was turnin_o the door.
  • I looked at her for a moment. "Aren't you a little afraid, after all, o_eeping such a sum as that in the house?" It was not that I was annoyed at he_vidity but I was really struck with the disparity between such a treasure an_uch scanty means of guarding it.
  • "Whom should I be afraid of if I am not afraid of you?" she asked with he_hrunken grimness.
  • "Ah well," said I, laughing, "I shall be in point of fact a protector and _ill bring gold if you prefer."
  • "Thank you," the old woman returned with dignity and with an inclination o_er head which evidently signified that I might depart. I passed out of th_oom, reflecting that it would not be easy to circumvent her. As I stood i_he sala again I saw that Miss Tita had followed me, and I supposed that a_er aunt had neglected to suggest that I should take a look at my quarters i_as her purpose to repair the omission. But she made no such suggestion; sh_nly stood there with a dim, though not a languid smile, and with an effect o_rresponsible, incompetent youth which was almost comically at variance wit_he faded facts of her person. She was not infirm, like her aunt, but sh_truck me as still more helpless, because her inefficiency was spiritual, which was not the case with Miss Bordereau's. I waited to see if she woul_ffer to show me the rest of the house, but I did not precipitate th_uestion, inasmuch as my plan was from this moment to spend as much of my tim_s possible in her society. I only observed at the end of a minute:
  • "I have had better fortune than I hoped. It was very kind of her to see me.
  • Perhaps you said a good word for me."
  • "It was the idea of the money," said Miss Tita.
  • "And did you suggest that?"
  • "I told her that you would perhaps give a good deal."
  • "What made you think that?"
  • "I told her I thought you were rich."
  • "And what put that idea into your head?"
  • "I don't know; the way you talked."
  • "Dear me, I must talk differently now," I declared. "I'm sorry to say it's no_he case."
  • "Well," said Miss Tita, "I think that in Venice the forestieri, in general, often give a great deal for something that after all isn't much." She appeare_o make this remark with a comforting intention, to wish to remind me that i_ had been extravagant I was not really foolishly singular. We walked togethe_long the sala, and as I took its magnificent measure I said to her that I wa_fraid it would not form a part of my quartiere. Were my rooms by chance to b_mong those that opened into it? "Not if you go above, on the second floor,"
  • she answered with a little startled air, as if she had rather taken fo_ranted I would know my proper place.
  • "And I infer that that's where your aunt would like me to be."
  • "She said your apartments ought to be very distinct."
  • "That certainly would be best." And I listened with respect while she told m_hat up above I was free to take whatever I liked; that there was anothe_taircase, but only from the floor on which we stood, and that to pass from i_o the garden-story or to come up to my lodging I should have in effect t_ross the great hall. This was an immense point gained; I foresaw that i_ould constitute my whole leverage in my relations with the two ladies. When _sked Miss Tita how I was to manage at present to find my way up she replie_ith an access of that sociable shyness which constantly marked her manner.
  • "Perhaps you can't. I don't see—unless I should go with you." She evidentl_ad not thought of this before.
  • We ascended to the upper floor and visited a long succession of empty rooms.
  • The best of them looked over the garden; some of the others had a view of th_lue lagoon, above the opposite rough-tiled housetops. They were all dusty an_ven a little disfigured with long neglect, but I saw that by spending a fe_undred francs I should be able to convert three or four of them into _onvenient habitation. My experiment was turning out costly, yet now that _ad all but taken possession I ceased to allow this to trouble me. I mentione_o my companion a few of the things that I should put in, but she replie_ather more precipitately than usual that I might do exactly what I liked; sh_eemed to wish to notify me that the Misses Bordereau would take no over_nterest in my proceedings. I guessed that her aunt had instructed her t_dopt this tone, and I may as well say now that I came afterward t_istinguish perfectly (as I believed) between the speeches she made on her ow_esponsibility and those the old lady imposed upon her. She took no notice o_he unswept condition of the rooms and indulged in no explanations no_pologies. I said to myself that this was a sign that Juliana and her niece (disenchanting idea!) were untidy persons, with a low Italian standard; but _fterward recognized that a lodger who had forced an entrance had no locu_tandi as a critic. We looked out of a good many windows, for there wa_othing within the rooms to look at, and still I wanted to linger. I asked he_hat several different objects in the prospect might be, but in no case di_he appear to know. She was evidently not familiar with the view—it was as i_he had not looked at it for years—and I presently saw that she was to_reoccupied with something else to pretend to care for it. Suddenly sh_aid—the remark was not suggested:
  • "I don't know whether it will make any difference to you, but the money is fo_e."
  • "The money?"
  • "The money you are going to bring."
  • "Why, you'll make me wish to stay here two or three years." I spoke a_enevolently as possible, though it had begun to act on my nerves that wit_hese women so associated with Aspern the pecuniary question should constantl_ome back.
  • "That would be very good for me," she replied, smiling.
  • "You put me on my honor!"
  • She looked as if she failed to understand this, but went on: "She wants me t_ave more. She thinks she is going to die."
  • "Ah, not soon, I hope!" I exclaimed with genuine feeling. I had perfectl_onsidered the possibility that she would destroy her papers on the day sh_hould feel her end really approach. I believed that she would cling to the_ill then, and I think I had an idea that she read Aspern's letters over ever_ight or at least pressed them to her withered lips. I would have given a goo_eal to have a glimpse of the latter spectacle. I asked Miss Tita if the ol_ady were seriously ill, and she replied that she was only very tired—she ha_ived so very, very long. That was what she said herself—she wanted to die fo_ change. Besides, all her friends were dead long ago; either they ought t_ave remained or she ought to have gone. That was another thing her aunt ofte_aid—she was not at all content.
  • "But people don't die when they like, do they?" Miss Tita inquired. I took th_iberty of asking why, if there was actually enough money to maintain both o_hem, there would not be more than enough in case of her being left alone. Sh_onsidered this difficult problem a moment and then she said, "Oh, well, yo_now, she takes care of me. She thinks that when I'm alone I shall be a grea_ool, I shall not know how to manage."
  • "I should have supposed that you took care of her. I'm afraid she is ver_roud."
  • "Why, have you discovered that already?" Miss Tita cried with the glimmer o_n illumination in her face.
  • "I was shut up with her there for a considerable time, and she struck me, sh_nterested me extremely. It didn't take me long to make my discovery. Sh_on't have much to say to me while I'm here."
  • "No, I don't think she will," my companion averred.
  • "Do you suppose she has some suspicion of me?"
  • Miss Tita's honest eyes gave me no sign that I had touched a mark. "_houldn't think so—letting you in after all so easily."
  • "Oh, so easily! she has covered her risk. But where is it that one could tak_n advantage of her?"
  • "I oughtn't to tell you if I knew, ought I?" And Miss Tita added, before I ha_ime to reply to this, smiling dolefully, "Do you think we have any wea_oints?"
  • "That's exactly what I'm asking. You would only have to mention them for me t_espect them religiously."
  • She looked at me, at this, with that air of timid but candid and eve_ratified curiosity with which she had confronted me from the first; and the_he said, "There is nothing to tell. We are terribly quiet. I don't know ho_he days pass. We have no life."
  • "I wish I might think that I should bring you a little."
  • "Oh, we know what we want," she went on. "It's all right."
  • There were various things I desired to ask her: how in the world they di_ive; whether they had any friends or visitors, any relations in America or i_ther countries. But I judged such an inquiry would be premature; I must leav_t to a later chance. "Well, don't YOU be proud," I contented myself wit_aying. "Don't hide from me altogether."
  • "Oh, I must stay with my aunt," she returned, without looking at me. And a_he same moment, abruptly, without any ceremony of parting, she quitted me an_isappeared, leaving me to make my own way downstairs. I remained a whil_onger, wandering about the bright desert (the sun was pouring in) of the ol_ouse, thinking the situation over on the spot. Not even the pattering littl_erva came to look after me, and I reflected that after all this treatmen_howed confidence.