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We reached Careggi just as the sun brightened the Tuscan countryside. Piero,
gout and all, was waiting for us on the grounds, seated on the rim of one of
the great stone fountains near the main house. The head of the Medici family
rose to offer us greetings and congratulations, then led us to what would now
be called a debriefing session, in the guise of a wedding breakfast at which
the men and women of course sat down separately. The questioning was very
polite and very smooth, and accompanied with intervals of real celebration;
but in the course of an hour my hosts had managed to extract from me more
information than I had been aware of carrying regarding the Boccalini and
their affairs. When I was finally milked dry and yawning, Piero made flowery
apologies for the delay, presented me with a jeweled collar and a warhorse as
my own wedding gifts, and released me to join my bride. The sun was fully up
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by now, the day already growing warm.
The women had finished their own breakfast somewhat earlier. Helen had been
bathed and perfumed under the direction of the ladies of the household, and
was already installed in a second floor room that in years past had served, so
I was told, as a bridal chamber for members of the family. I was now, amid
some merriment, conducted thence myself.
Closing the door of this room behind me with a weary sigh, I turned to the
great bed to discover my new wife fast asleep. I hardly needed a second look
to make sure that this was no coy bridal ruse, but only the natural result of
great exhaustion. I did not intend to wake her; I myself had had almost no
sleep during the past two days, and at the moment rest felt more attractive
than any other sensual delight. Yet when I had undressed and turned back the
covers, I paused to look. Nightclothes of any kind were still the rare
exception rather than the rule, and my bride s whole inventory of physical
charms was available for inspection. The wholesale removal of rags and grime
had left visible a number of bruises I had not been able to see before, along
with a few half-healed scabs. But it was a young body, basically healthy and
of a trimly attractive shape. It seemed likely that it would give me
considerable pleasure, and might bear me strong, healthy sons as well.
Pulling a cover over us both, I let my head fall back in weariness upon a
pillow. But the finely woven bed canopy above was bright with morning, my mind
was full of a hundred concerns, and sleep refused to come at once.
That there should be an unfamiliar, girlish breathing at my side in bed was in
itself no strange phenomenon. But it was strange, very strange, to reflect
that this particular sound would not only grow familiar, but it could
nevermore be lightly put away.
At least she did not snore.
It was approximately mid-day when I awoke, with my right shoulder gently going
numb under the steady pressure of a smallish head covered with brown curls. I
needed a moment to identify the head with certainty. The hair looked much
different since it had been washed, and there was also a delightful difference
in the smell; my slowly awakening senses discovered some essence of the
flowers of the Tuscan countryside.
The girl was still in a deep sleep. She was not clinging to me, exactly,
though she lay with one arm across my chest again I got the impression rather
that I was the rocky protuberance upon which she had been cast ashore by the
storms of life.
Gently I eased free my deadening arm, drew open the bed curtains, and looked
around the room. Someone had been in while we slept bedroom privacy was not
valued then as much as now, and anyway the curtained bed provided it. Fresh
clothing of fine cloth and the latest cut had been laid out for us both, upon
a pair of great wooden chests that served both to decorate the room and
provide storage.
Atop a third such chest leaned paneled Magdalen, her back propped against the
wall. I considered her presence, and understood from it that all my few
possessions must already have been brought here from the Medici house in town.
From this in turn I understood that my wife and I would be expected to avoid
the city, at least while the affair at the Boccalini house was still fresh.
Which seemed to make obvious sense.
Shortly after being dislodged from my shoulder, Helen had moved voluntarily in
her sleep, turning on her back and pulling the cover up close under her chin.
She lay with pretty pink lips parted to reveal surprisingly good teeth.
Reclining with my head propped up on one hand, I studied her. I found myself
turning my gaze from her flesh to the
Magdalen s freshly painted face, and back again. As I have mentioned, the
painting was still unfinished, but the work remaining to be done consisted of
details of the woman s dress and of the background. As far as I could see, the
modeled face was nothing short of absolute perfection. It was Helen, and yet
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was not it seemed rather that the living face beside me had somehow failed to
reach its own ideal.
That I, Vlad Drakulya, now had possession of both breathing flesh and painted
image, was a fact; and the more I
considered this fact the more momentous it grew, the more pregnant with a
significance whose nature I could not grasp at once. Like other men of the
fifteenth century, I was usually more than half ready to see omens, hidden
meanings, wonders spiritual and supernatural. Even in the warm sunlight of
midday.
Helen, this girl of hardly more than half my size or age, stirred in her sleep
beside me. Then she turned on her side away from me, and a moment later
snuggled backward till her soft flank touched me under the light cover. I
forgot the painting, and moved to accomplish the one thing still necessary to
seal our marriage completely in the eyes of
God and man. Helen, only half awake at first, resisted me mechanically but
then, as she awoke fully, she relaxed, and even gave some evidence of
enjoyment.
As soon as the first dance was over, I pulled some pillows into better
position for both of us, and we lay there side by side, regarding each other
and the world from a nest of greater physical comfort than either of us had
lately been accustomed to.
 My bride, I meditated aloud. There was a grave expression in those dark
young eyes now fixed on mine, and I
was trying to fathom what might be going on behind them.
 Yes. The one-word answer somehow conveyed, I thought, her willingness to
accept brideship as a starting point and to see where it might lead. And I was
cheered by the fact that she did not seem to be a heavy talker. Reticence by
day and lack of snoring by night would count for much.
A light warm breeze was stirring the fine gauze curtains at our open window. I
could hear gardeners at work not far outside. They were digging, snipping
branches, scraping at the earth. A good male voice rose lightly in Italian
song. We were a floor above ground level, secure against casual observation
from outside, but from where we lay much greenery was visible. The grounds at
Careggi were quite as impressive as the house. When I sat up fully in our bed
and pulled its curtains farther open I could glimpse graveled walks, distant
lawns being smoothed by grazing sheep, and beds of massed flowers. There was a
fountain, studded with statuary and rimmed by concentric rings of masterly
stonework. All shimmered in late summer s warmth.
 Ah, said Helen, in a new tone. I looked and saw that she had just discovered
the painting. Next moment, without pretense of modesty, she had slipped out of
bed and gone to inspect it at close range.
 I wish my face was truly so, she said at last.
 But I think the artist has accurately caught your beauty. I was an
experienced husband, you will recall. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]