Read CHAPTER VI - LOVE IN VENICE of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

The air flashed like heaven descending for Nevil alone with Renee.  They had never been alone before.  Such happiness belonged to the avenue of wishes leading to golden mists beyond imagination, and seemed, coming on him suddenly, miraculous.  He leaned toward her like one who has broken a current of speech, and waits to resume it.  She was all unsuspecting indolence, with gravely shadowed eyes.

‘I throw the book down,’ he said.

She objected.  ‘No; continue:  I like it.’

Both of them divined that the book was there to do duty for Roland.

He closed it, keeping a finger among the leaves; a kind of anchorage in case of indiscretion.

’Permit me to tell you, M. Nevil, you are inclined to play truant to-day.’

‘I am.’

’Now is the very time to read; for my poor Roland is at sea when we discuss our questions, and the book has driven him away.’

‘But we have plenty of time to read.  We miss the scenes.’

’The scenes are green shutters, wet steps, barcaroli, brown women, striped posts, a scarlet night-cap, a sick fig-tree, an old shawl, faded spots of colour, peeling walls.  They might be figured by a trodden melon.  They all resemble one another, and so do the days here.’

’That’s the charm.  I wish I could look on you and think the same.  You, as you are, for ever.’

‘Would you not let me live my life?’

‘I would not have you alter.’

‘Please to be pathetic on that subject after I am wrinkled, monsieur.’

‘You want commanding, mademoiselle.’

Renee nestled her chin, and gazed forward through her eyelashes.

’Venice is like a melancholy face of a former beauty who has ceased to rouge, or wipe away traces of her old arts,’ she said, straining for common talk, and showing the strain.

‘Wait; now we are rounding,’ said he; ’now you have three of what you call your theatre-bridges in sight.  The people mount and drop, mount and drop; I see them laugh.  They are full of fun and good-temper.  Look on living Venice!

’Provided that my papa is not crossing when we go under!

‘Would he not trust you to me?’

‘Yes.’

‘He would?  And you?’

‘I do believe they are improvizing an operetta on the second bridge.’

‘You trust yourself willingly?’

’As to my second brother.  You hear them?  How delightfully quick and spontaneous they are!  Ah, silly creatures! they have stopped.  They might have held it on for us while we were passing.’

‘Where would the naturalness have been then?’

’Perhaps, M. Nevil, I do want commanding.  I am wilful.  Half my days will be spent in fits of remorse, I begin to think.’

‘Come to me to be forgiven.’

‘Shall I?  I should be forgiven too readily.’

‘I am not so sure of that.’

’Can you be harsh?  No, not even with enemies.  Least of all with... with us.’

Oh for the black gondola! ­the little gliding dusky chamber for two; instead of this open, flaunting, gold and crimson cotton-work, which exacted discretion on his part and that of the mannerly gondoliers, and exposed him to window, balcony, bridge, and borderway.

They slipped on beneath a red balcony where a girl leaned on her folded arms, and eyed them coming and going by with Egyptian gravity.

‘How strange a power of looking these people have,’ said Renee, whose vivacity was fascinated to a steady sparkle by the girl.  ’Tell me, is she glancing round at us?’

Nevil turned and reported that she was not.  She had exhausted them while they were in transit; she had no minor curiosity.

‘Let us fancy she is looking for her lover,’ he said.

Renee added:  ‘Let us hope she will not escape being seen.’

‘I give her my benediction,’ said Nevil.

‘And I,’ said Renee; ‘and adieu to her, if you please.  Look for Roland.’

‘You remind me; I have but a few instants.’

’M.  Nevil, you are a preux of the times of my brother’s patronymic.  And there is my Roland awaiting us.  Is he not handsome?’

‘How glad you are to have him to relieve guard!’

Renee bent on Nevil one of her singular looks of raillery.  She had hitherto been fencing at a serious disadvantage.

‘Not so very glad,’ she said, ’if that deprived me of the presence of his friend.’

Roland was her tower.  But Roland was not yet on board.  She had peeped from her citadel too rashly.  Nevil had time to spring the flood of crimson in her cheeks, bright as the awning she reclined under.

‘Would you have me with you always?’

‘Assuredly,’ said she, feeling the hawk in him, and trying to baffle him by fluttering.

‘Always? forever? and ­listen-give me a title?’

Renee sang out to Roland like a bird in distress, and had some trouble not to appear too providentially rescued.  Roland on board, she resumed the attack.

’M.  Nevil vows he is a better brother to me than you, who dart away on an impulse and leave us threading all Venice till we do not know where we are, naughty brother!’

‘My little sister, the spot where you are,’ rejoined Roland, ’is precisely the spot where I left you, and I defy you to say you have gone on without me.  This is the identical riva I stepped out on to buy you a packet of Venetian ballads.’

They recognized the spot, and for a confirmation of the surprising statement, Roland unrolled several sheets of printed blotting-paper, and rapidly read part of a Canzonetta concerning Una Giovine who reproved her lover for his extreme addiction to wine: 

Ma se, ma se,
Cotanto beve,
Mi no, mi no,
No ve sposerò.’

’This astounding vagabond preferred Nostrani to his heart’s mistress.  I tasted some of their Nostrani to see if it could be possible for a Frenchman to exonerate him.’

Roland’s wry face at the mention of Nostrani brought out the chief gondolier, who delivered himself: 

’Signore, there be hereditary qualifications.  One must be born Italian to appreciate the merits of Nostrani!’

Roland laughed.  He had covered his delinquency in leaving his sister, and was full of an adventure to relate to Nevil, a story promising well for him.