It came at last, the blessed, the longed-for evening. A soft breeze sprung up, cooling the burning air after the heat of the day, and bringing with it the odors of a thousand flowers. A regal glory of shifting colors blazed on the breast of heaven—the bay, motionless as a mirror, reflected all the splendid tints with a sheeny luster that redoubled their magnificence. Pricked in every vein by the stinging of my own desires, I yet restrained myself; I waited till the sun sunk below the glassy waters—till the pomp and glow attending its departure had paled into those dim, ethereal hues which are like delicate draperies fallen from the flying forms of angels—till the yellow rim of the round full moon rose languidly on the edge of the horizon—and then keeping back my eagerness no longer, I took the well-known road ascending to the Villa Romani, My heart beat high—my limbs trembled with excitement—my steps were impatient and precipitate—never had the way seemed so long. At last I reached the great gate-way—it was locked fast—its sculptured lions looked upon me frowningly. I heard the splash and tinkle of the fountains within, the scents of the roses and myrtle were wafted toward me with every breath I drew. Home at last! I smiled—my whole frame quivered with expectancy and delight. It was not my intention to seek admission by the principal entrance—I contented myself with one long, loving look, and turned to the left, where there was a small private gate leading into an avenue of ilex and pine, interspersed with orange-trees. This was a favorite walk of mine, partly on account of its pleasant shade even in the hottest noon— partly because it was seldom frequented by any member of the household save myself. Guido occasionally took a turn with me there, but I was more often alone, and I was fond of pacing up and down in the shadow of the trees, reading some favorite book, or giving myself up to the dolcefar niente of my own imaginings. The avenue led round to the back of the villa, and as I now entered it, I thought I would approach the house cautiously by this means and get private speech with Assunta, the nurse who had charge of little Stella, and who was moreover an old and tried family servant, in whose arms my mother had breathed her last.
The dark trees rustled solemnly as I stepped quickly yet softly along the familiar moss-grown path. The place was very still— sometimes the nightingales broke into a bubbling torrent of melody, and then were suddenly silent, as though overawed by the shadows of the heavy interlacing boughs, through which the moonlight flickered, casting strange and fantastic patterns on the ground. A cloud of lucciole broke from a thicket of laurel, and sparkled in the air like gems loosened from a queen’s crown. Faint odors floated about me, shaken from orange boughs and trailing branches of white jasmine. I hastened on, my spirits rising higher the nearer