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Chapter IX 


I knew deep down in my heart that it couldn't last, yet how deny myself these roses, while the opportunity of gathering them was mine!--the more so, as I believed it would do no harm to Nicolete. At all events, a day or two more or less of moonshine would make no matter either way. And so all next day we walked hand in hand through Paradise.

It has been said by them of old time, and our fathers have told us, that the kiss of first love, the first kiss of the first woman we love, is beyond all kisses sweet; and true it is. But true is it also that no less sweet is the first kiss of the last woman we love.

Putting my faith in old saws, as a young man will, I had never dreamed to know again a bliss so divinely passionate and pure as came to me with every glance of Nicolete's sweet eyes, with every simple pressure of her hand; and the joy that was mine when sometimes, stopping on our way, we would press together our lips ever so gravely and tenderly, seems too holy even to speak of.

The holy angels could not have loved Nicolete with a purer love, a love freer from taint of any earthly thought, than I, a man of thirty, blase, and fed from my youth upon the honeycomb of woman.

It was curious that the first difficulty of our pilgrimage should befall us the very next day. Coming towards nightfall to a small inn in a lonely unpopulated countryside, we found that the only accommodation the inn afforded was one double-bedded room, and there was no other inn for at least ten miles. I think I was more troubled than Nicolete. When, after interviewing the landlady, I came and told her of the dilemma, where she sat in the little parlour wearied out with the day's walk, she blushed, it is true, but seemed little put about. Indeed, she laughed, and said it was rather fun, "like something out of Sterne," --of such comfort is a literary reference in all seasons and circumstances,--and then she added, with a sweet look that sent the blood rioting about my heart, "It won't matter so much, will it, love, NOW?"

There proved nothing for it but to accept the situation, and we made the arrangement that Nicolete was to slip off to bed first, and then put out the light and go to sleep. However, when I followed her, having sat up as long as the landlady's patience would endure, I found that, though she had blown out the candle, she had forgotten to put out the moon, which shone as though it were St. Agnes' Eve across half the room.

I stole in very shyly, kept my eyes sternly from Nicolete's white bed, though, as I couldn't shut my ears, the sound of her breathing came to me with indescribable sweetness. After I had lain among the sheets some five or ten minutes, I was suddenly startled by a little voice within the room saying,--

"I'm not asleep."

"Well, you should be, naughty child. Now shut your eyes and go to sleep,--and fair dreams and sweet repose," I replied.

"Won't you give me one little good-night kiss?"

"I gave you one downstairs."

"Is it very wicked to want another?"

There was not a foot between our two beds, so I bent over and took her soft white shoulders in my arms and kissed her. All the heaped-up sweetness of the whitest, freshest flowers of the spring seemed in my embrace as I kissed her, so soft, so fragrant, so pure; and as the moonlight was the white fire in our blood. Softly I released her, stroked her brown hair, and turned again to my pillow. Presently the little voice was in the room again,--

"Mayn't I hold your hand? Somehow I feel lonely and frightened."

So our hands made a bridge across which our dreams might pass through the night, and after a little while I knew that she slept.

As I lay thus holding her hand, and listening to her quiet breathing, I realised once more what my young Alastor had meant by the purity of high passion. For indeed the moonlight that fell across her bosom was not whiter than my thoughts, nor could any kiss--were it even such a kiss as Venus promised to the betrayer of Psyche--even in its fiercest delirium, be other than dross compared with the wild white peace of those silent hours when we lay thus married and maiden side by side.

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