The Aspern Papers
"Our house is very far from the center, but the little canal is very comme il faut."
"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 had an
agreeable, cultivated murmur, and there was wonder in the thought that that
individual note had been in Jeffrey Aspern's ear.
"Please to sit down there. I hear very well," she said quietly, as if perhaps I had
been shouting at her; and the chair she pointed to was at a certain distance. I
took possession of it, telling her that I was perfectly aware that I had intruded,
that I had not been properly introduced and could only throw myself upon her
indulgence. Perhaps the other lady, the one I had had the honor 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 was so used to it that she did not
know the impression it was capable of making on a stranger), and I had felt it
was really a case to risk something. Was her own kindness in receiving me a
sign that I was not wholly out in my calculation? It would render me extremely
happy to think so. I could give her my word of honor that I was a most
respectable, inoffensive person and that as an inmate they would be barely
conscious of my existence. I would conform to any regulations, any restrictions if
they would only let me enjoy the garden. Moreover I should be delighted to give
her references, guarantees; they would be 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 me with
great attention, though I could see only the lower part of her bleached and
shriveled face. Independently of the refining process of old age it had a delicacy
which once must have been great. She had been very fair, she had had a
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 terra firma,
where there are so many far better than this?"
"Oh, it's the combination!" I answered, smiling; and then, with rather a flight 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't
see the water? Why, dear madam, I can come up to the very gate in my boat."