It was a balmy April afternoon, and she and Julie were floating through a scene enchanted, incomparable. When spring descends upon the shores of the Lago di Como, she brings with her all the graces, all the beauties, all the fine, delicate, and temperate delights of which earth and sky are capable, and she pours them forth upon a land of perfect loveliness. Around the shores of other lakes—Maggiore, Lugano, Garda—blue mountains rise, and the vineyards spread their green and dazzling terraces to the sun. Only Como can show in unmatched union a main composition, incomparably grand and harmonious, combined with every jewelled, or glowing, or exquisite detail. Nowhere do the mountains lean towards each other in such an ordered splendor as that which bends round the northern shores of Como. Nowhere do buttressed masses rise behind each other, to right and left of a blue water-way, in lines statelier or more noble than those kept by the mountains of the Lecco Lake, as they marshal themselves on either hand, along the approaches to Lombardy and Venetia; bearing aloft, as though on the purple pillars of some majestic gateway, the great curtain of dazzling cloud which, on a sunny day, hangs over the Brescian plain—a glorious drop-scene, interposed between the dwellers on the Como Mountains, and those marble towns, Brescia, Verona, Padua, which thread the way to Venice.
And within this divine frame-work, between the glistening snows which still, in April, crown and glorify the heights, and those reflections of them which lie encalmed in the deep bosom of the lake, there’s not a foot of pasture, not a shelf of vineyard, not a slope of forest where the spring is not at work, dyeing the turf with gentians, starring it with narcissuses, or drawing across it the first golden net-work of the chestnut leaves; where the mere emerald of the grass is not in itself a thing to refresh the very springs of being; where the peach-blossom and the wild-cherry and the olive are not perpetually weaving patterns on the blue, which ravish the very heart out of your breast. And already the roses are beginning to pour over the walls; the wistaria is climbing up the cypresses; a pomp of camellias and azaleas is in all the gardens; while in the grassy bays that run up into the hills the primrose banks still keep their sweet austerity, and the triumph of spring over the just banished winter is still sharp and new.
And in the heart and sense of Julie Le Breton, as she sat beside the Duchess, listening absently to the talk of the old boatman, who, with his oars resting idly in his hands, was chattering to the ladies, a renewing force akin to that of the spring was also at its healing and life-giving work. She had still the delicate, tremulous look of one recovering from a sore wrestle with physical ill; but in her aspect there were suggestions more intimate, more moving than this. Those who have lain down and risen up with pain; those who have been face to face with passion