The spot he had chosen, though secluded as some nook above the gorge of Donnaz, commanded a view of the Po rolling at his feet like a flood of yellowish metal, and beyond, outspread in clear spring sunshine, the great city in the bosom of the plain. The spectacle was fair enough to touch any fancy: brown domes and facades set in new-leaved gardens and surrounded by vineyards extending to the nearest acclivities; country-houses glancing through the fresh green of planes and willows; monastery-walls cresting the higher ridges; and westward the Po winding in sunlit curves toward the Alps.
Odo had lost none of his sensitiveness to such impressions; but the sway of another mood turned his eye from the outstretched beauty of the city to the vernal solitude about him. It was the season when old memories of Donnaz worked in his blood; when the banks and hedges of the fresh hill-country about Turin cheated him with a breath of budding beech-groves and the fragrance of crushed fern in the glens of the high Pennine valleys. It was a mere waft, perhaps, from some clod of loosened earth, or the touch of cool elastic moss as he flung himself face downward under the trees; but the savour, the contact filled his nostrils with mountain air and his eyes with dim-branched distances. At Donnaz the slow motions of the northern spring had endeared to him all those sweet incipiencies preceding the full choral burst of leaf and flower: the mauve mist over bare woodlands, the wet black gleams in frost-bound hollows, the thrust of fronds through withered bracken, the primrose-patches spreading like pale sunshine along wintry lanes. He had always felt a sympathy for these delicate unnoted changes; but the feeling which had formerly been like the blind stir of sap in a plant was now a conscious sensation that groped for speech and understanding.
He had grown up among people to whom such emotions were unknown. The old Marquess’s passion for his fields and woods was the love of the agriculturist and the hunter, not that of the naturalist or the poet; and the aristocracy of the cities regarded the country merely as so much soil from which to draw their maintenance. The gentlefolk never absented themselves from town but for a few weeks of autumn, when they went to their villas for the vintage, transporting thither all the diversions of city life and venturing no farther afield than the pleasure-grounds that were but so many open-air card-rooms, concert-halls and theatres. Odo’s tenderness for every sylvan function of renewal and decay, every shifting of light and colour on the flying surface of the year, would have been met with the same stare with which a certain enchanting Countess had received the handful of wind-flowers that, fresh from a sunrise on the hills, he had laid one morning among her toilet-boxes. The Countess Clarice had stared and laughed, and every one of his acquaintance, Alfieri even, would have echoed her laugh; but one man at least had felt the divine commotion of nature’s touch, had felt and interpreted it, in words as fresh as spring verdure, in the pages of a volume that Odo now drew from his pocket.