He crossed the Aco, and struck bravely forward, up the smooth lawns, under the bending trees, towards the castle.
The sun was setting. The irregular mass of buildings stood out in varying shades of blue, against varying, dying shades of red.
Half way there, Peter stopped, and looked back.
The level sunshine turned the black forests of the Gnisi to shining forests of bronze, and the foaming cascade that leapt down its side to a cascade of liquid gold. The lake, for the greater part, lay in shadow, violet-grey through a pearl-grey veil of mist; but along the opposite shore it caught the light, and gleamed a crescent of quicksilver, with roseate reflections. The three snow-summits of Monte Sfiorito, at the valley’s end, seemed almost insubstantial—floating forms of luminous pink vapour, above the hazy horizon, in a pure sky intensely blue.
A familiar verse came into Peter’s mind.
“Really,"’ he said to himself, “down to the very ’cataract leaping in glory,’ I believe they must have pre-arranged the scene, feature for feature, to illustrate it.” And he began to repeat the vivid, musical lines, under his breath . . .
But about midway of them he was interrupted.
“It’s not altogether a bad sort of view—is it?” a voice asked, behind him.
Peter faced about.
On a marble bench, under a feathery acacia; a few yards away, a lady was seated, looking at him, smiling.
Peter’s eyes met hers—and suddenly his heart gave a jump. Then it stood dead still for a second. Then it flew off, racing perilously. Oh, for the best reasons in the world. There was something in her eyes, there was a glow, a softness, that seemed—that seemed . . . But thereby hangs my tale.
She was dressed in white. She had some big bright-yellow chrysanthemums stuck in her belt. She wore no hat. Her hair, brown and warm in shadow, sparkled, where the sun touched it, transparent and iridescent, like crinkly threads of glass.
“You do not think it altogether bad—I hope?” she questioned, arching her eyebrows slightly, with a droll little assumption of concern.
Peter’s heart was racing—but he must answer her.
“I was just wondering,” he answered, with a tolerably successful feint of composure, “whether one might not safely call it altogether good.”
“Oh—?” she exclaimed.
She threw back her head, and examined the prospect critically. Afterwards, she returned her gaze to Peter, with an air of polite readiness to defer to his opinion.
“It is not too sensational? Not too much like a landscape on the stage?”
“We must judge it leniently,” said he; “we must remember that it is only unaided Nature. Besides,” he added, “to be meticulously truthful, there is a spaciousness, there is a vivacity in the light and colour, there is a sense of depth and atmosphere, that we should hardly find in a landscape on the stage.”