The Aspern Papers HTML version

Chapter IV
Perhaps it did, but all the same, six weeks later, toward the middle of June, the
moment when Mrs. Prest undertook her annual migration, I had made no
measurable advance. I was obliged to confess to her that I had no results to
speak of. My first step had been unexpectedly rapid, but there was no
appearance that it would be followed by a second. I was a thousand miles from
taking tea with my hostesses-- that privilege of which, as I reminded Mrs. Prest,
we both had had a vision. She reproached me with wanting boldness, and I
answered that even to be bold you must have an opportunity: you may push on
through a breach but you can't batter down a dead wall. She answered that the
breach I had already made was big enough to admit an army and accused me of
wasting precious hours in whimpering in her salon when I ought to have been
carrying on the struggle in the field. It is true that I went to see her very often, on
the theory that it would console me (I freely expressed my discouragement) for
my want of success on my own premises. But I began to perceive that it did not
console me to be perpetually chaffed for my scruples, especially when I was
really so vigilant; and I was rather glad when my derisive friend closed her house
for the summer. She had expected to gather amusement from the drama of my
intercourse with the Misses Bordereau, and she was disappointed that the
intercourse, and consequently the drama, had not come off. "They'll lead you on
to your ruin," she said before she left Venice. "They'll get all your money without
showing you a scrap." I think I settled down to my business with more
concentration after she had gone away.
It was a fact that up to that time I had not, save on a single brief occasion, had
even a moment's contact with my queer hostesses. The exception had occurred
when I carried them according to my promise the terrible three thousand francs.
Then I found Miss Tita waiting for me in the hall, and she took the money from
my hand so that I did not see her aunt. The old lady had promised to receive me,
but she apparently thought nothing of breaking that vow. The money was
contained in a bag of chamois leather, of respectable dimensions, which my
banker had given me, and Miss Tita had to make a big fist to receive it. This she
did with extreme solemnity, though I tried to treat the affair a little as a joke. It
was in no jocular strain, yet it was with simplicity, that she inquired, weighing the
money in her two palms: "Don't you think it's too much?" To which I replied that
that would depend upon the amount of pleasure I should get for it. Hereupon she
turned away from me quickly, as she had done the day before, murmuring in a
tone different from any she had used hitherto: "Oh, pleasure, pleasure--there's no
pleasure in this house!"
After this, for a long time, I never saw her, and I wondered that the common
chances of the day should not have helped us to meet. It could only be evident
that she was immensely on her guard against them; and in addition to this the