She must have seen his face, seen that he was ebloui.
“You brought the flute?” she said, in that toneless, melancholy, unstriving voice of hers. Her voice alone was the same: direct and bare and quiet.
“Perhaps I shall sing later on, if you’ll accompany me. Will you?”
“I thought you hated accompaniments.”
“Oh, no—not just unison. I don’t mean accompaniment. I mean unison. I don’t know how it will be. But will you try?”
“Yes, I’ll try.”
“Manfredi is just bringing the cocktails. Do you think you’d prefer orange in yours?”
“Ill have mine as you have yours.”
“I don’t take orange in mine. Won’t you smoke?”
The strange, naked, remote-seeming voice! And then the beautiful firm limbs thrust out in that dress, and nakedly dusky as with gold-dust. Her beautiful woman’s legs, slightly glistening, duskily. His one abiding instinct was to touch them, to kiss them. He had never known a woman to exercise such power over him. It was a bare, occult force, something he could not cope with.
Manfredi came in with the little tray. He was still in uniform.
“Hello!” cried the little Italian. “Glad to see you—well, everything all right? Glad to hear it. How is the cocktail, Nan?”
“Yes,” she said. “All right.”
“One drop too much peach, eh?”
“No, all right.”
“Ah,” and the little officer seated himself, stretching his gaitered legs as if gaily. He had a curious smiling look on his face, that Aaron thought also diabolical—and almost handsome. Suddenly the odd, laughing, satanic beauty of the little man was visible.
“Well, and what have you been doing with yourself?” said he. “What did you do yesterday?”
“Yesterday?” said Aaron. “I went to the Uffizi.”
“To the Uffizi? Well! And what did you think of it?”
“I think it is. I think it is. What pictures did you look at?”
“I was with Dekker. We looked at most, I believe.”
“And what do you remember best?”
“I remember Botticelli’s Venus on the Shell.”
“Yes! Yes!—” said Manfredi. “I like her. But I like others better. You thought her a pretty woman, yes?”
“No—not particularly pretty. But I like her body. And I like the fresh air. I like the fresh air, the summer sea-air all through it— through her as well.”
“And her face?” asked the Marchesa, with a slow, ironic smile.
“Yes—she’s a bit baby-faced,” said Aaron.
“Trying to be more innocent than her own common-sense will let her,” said the Marchesa.
“I don’t agree with you, Nan,” said her husband. “I think it is just that wistfulness and innocence which makes her the true Venus: the true modern Venus. She chooses NOT to know too much. And that is her attraction. Don’t you agree, Aaron? Excuse me, but everybody speaks of you as Aaron. It seems to come naturally. Most people speak of me as Manfredi, too, because it is easier, perhaps, than Del Torre. So if you find it easier, use it. Do you mind that I call you Aaron?”