The Project Gutenberg EBook of Crucial Instances, by Edith Wharton
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Title: Crucial Instances
Author: Edith Wharton
Release Date: February, 2005 [EBook #7516] [This file was first posted on May 13, 2003]
Character set encoding: US-ASCII
*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, CRUCIAL INSTANCES ***
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE DUCHESS AT PRAYER
Have you ever questioned the long shuttered front of an old Italian house, that motionless mask, smooth, mute, equivocal as the face of a priest behind which buzz the secrets of the confessional? Other houses declare the activities they shelter; they are the clear expressive cuticle of a life flowing close to the surface; but the old palace in its narrow street, the villa on its cypress-hooded hill, are as impenetrable as death. The tall windows are like blind eyes, the great door is a shut mouth. Inside there may be sunshine, the scent of myrtles, and a pulse of life through all the arteries of the huge frame; or a mortal solitude, where bats lodge in the disjointed stones and the keys rust in unused doors….
From the loggia, with its vanishing frescoes, I looked down an avenue barred by a ladder of cypress-shadows to the ducal escutcheon and mutilated vases of the gate. Flat noon lay on the gardens, on fountains, porticoes and grottoes. Below the terrace, where a chrome-colored lichen had sheeted the balustrade as with fine
“The Duchess’s apartments are beyond,” said the old man.
He was the oldest man I had ever seen; so sucked back into the past that he seemed more like a memory than a living being. The one trait linking him with the actual was the fixity with which his small saurian eye held the pocket that, as I entered, had yielded a
“For two hundred years nothing has been changed in the apartments of the Duchess.”
“And no one lives here now?”
“No one, sir. The Duke, goes to Como for the summer season.”
I had moved to the other end of the loggia. Below me, through hanging groves, white roofs and domes flashed like a smile.
“And that’s Vicenza?”
“And does the Duke come there?”