She drew weakly back, protesting feebly, with a girlish plaint:
“No, no; it would hurt me.... I feel that I’m dying.”
“You belong to me,” the youth continued with an exaltation ill-suppressed. “You belong to me forever; to gaze into your dear eyes, and to murmur in your ear, your sweet, beautiful, name, and die, if need be, here. What do we care for the world and its opinions?”
And Leonora with weakening resistance, continued to refuse:
“No, no.... I must not. It’s a feeling I can’t explain.”
And that was so. The gentle quiver of Nature under the kiss of Springtime, the intense perfume of the flower that is the emblem of virginity, had transfigured that madcap singer, that adventuress of a career so checkered, who had been violently thrust into her first experience of passion, and now for the first time felt the blush of modesty in the arms of a man. Nature, intoxicating her, shattering her will, seemed to have created a strange virginity in that body so familiar with the call of passion.
“Oh, Rafael, what is happening to me?... What’s happening to me? It must be love; a new love that I did not think I should ever know.... Rafael ... Rafael, my own boy!”
And weeping softly, she took his head in her hands, pressed her lips to his, and then fell back in her seat with eyes distended, maddened with the joy of that kiss.
“I belong to you, Rafael! Yours ... but forever. I have always loved you from the first, but now ... I adore you.... For the first time in my life I say that with all my soul.”
Hardly able to realize his good fortune, Rafael was thrilled by a deeply generous sentiment. There was nothing he would not give to that woman....
“Yes; you belong to me forever.... I will marry you.”
But in his dreamy, wild intoxication he saw the artiste’s eyes open wide in surprise, as a sad smile flitted across her lips.
“Marry me And why?... That’s well enough for other women; but me you must love, my darling child, ever so much, as much as you can.... Just love me!... I believe only in Love!”
“But my dear child, when are we getting to this island of yours?... It bores me to be here sitting on this seat, so far away from my little boy, watching his arms get tired from all that rowing. I must kiss him.. even if he says no! It will rest him, I am sure.”
And rising to her feet, Leonora took two steps forward in the white boat, though threatening to upset it, and kissed Rafael several times. He lay aside the oars and laughingly defended himself.
“Madcap! We’ll never get there at this rate. With rests like this we make very little progress, and I’ve promised to take you to my island.”
Once again he bent to the oars, heading out toward midstream over the moonlit water, as if to vouchsafe the groves on either bank an equal pleasure in the romantic escapade.