The Arrow of Gold HTML version

Chapter V.2
Notwithstanding my misanthropy I had to see a few people on account of all these
Royalist affairs which I couldn't very well drop, and in truth did not wish to drop. They
were my excuse for remaining in Europe, which somehow I had not the strength of mind
to leave for the West Indies, or elsewhere. On the other hand, my adventurous pursuit
kept me in contact with the sea where I found occupation, protection, consolation, the
mental relief of grappling with concrete problems, the sanity one acquires from close
contact with simple mankind, a little self-confidence born from the dealings with the
elemental powers of nature. I couldn't give all that up. And besides all this was related to
Dona Rita. I had, as it were, received it all from her own hand, from that hand the clasp
of which was as frank as a man's and yet conveyed a unique sensation. The very memory
of it would go through me like a wave of heat. It was over that hand that we first got into
the habit of quarrelling, with the irritability of sufferers from some obscure pain and yet
half unconscious of their disease. Rita's own spirit hovered over the troubled waters of
Legitimity. But as to the sound of the four magic letters of her name I was not very likely
to hear it fall sweetly on my ear. For instance, the distinguished personality in the world
of finance with whom I had to confer several times, alluded to the irresistible seduction of
the power which reigned over my heart and my mind; which had a mysterious and
unforgettable face, the brilliance of sunshine together with the unfathomable splendour of
the night as - Madame de Lastaola. That's how that steel-grey man called the greatest
mystery of the universe. When uttering that assumed name he would make for himself a
guardedly solemn and reserved face as though he were afraid lest I should presume to
smile, lest he himself should venture to smile, and the sacred formality of our relations
should be outraged beyond mending.
He would refer in a studiously grave tone to Madame de Lastaola's wishes, plans,
activities, instructions, movements; or picking up a letter from the usual litter of paper
found on such men's desks, glance at it to refresh his memory; and, while the very sight
of the handwriting would make my lips go dry, would ask me in a bloodless voice
whether perchance I had "a direct communication from - er - Paris lately." And there
would be other maddening circumstances connected with those visits. He would treat me
as a serious person having a clear view of certain eventualities, while at the very moment
my vision could see nothing but streaming across the wall at his back, abundant and
misty, unearthly and adorable, a mass of tawny hair that seemed to have hot sparks
tangled in it. Another nuisance was the atmosphere of Royalism, of Legitimacy, that
pervaded the room, thin as air, intangible, as though no Legitimist of flesh and blood had
ever existed to the man's mind except perhaps myself. He, of course, was just simply a
banker, a very distinguished, a very influential, and a very impeccable banker. He
persisted also in deferring to my judgment and sense with an over-emphasis called out by
his perpetual surprise at my youth. Though he had seen me many times (I even knew his
wife) he could never get over my immature age. He himself was born about fifty years
old, all complete, with his iron-grey whiskers and his bilious eyes, which he had the habit
of frequently closing during a conversation. On one occasion he said to me. "By the by,