29 A sibling’s cavilling
The crowd's endeavours within the ballroom are brilliantly lighted by various candelabras and a great chandelier with wax lights which hangs over the well of the staircase, illumining a large fifteen-century Flemish tapestry - representing the Doornik hunt, a design from Tournai - that is stretched on the staircase wall. The sounds the string quartette produces increases in volume and persists as the musicians thump it out on a balustrade above the dancers. Bovine is being roasted in the kitchens beneath the festive gathering and the smell is vaguely distinguishable through the open terrace. Along with the bobbing crowd, Angela smiles and dances, wearing me upon her dress as an ordinary embellishment. As she goes she is watched by Christine, sitting upon a divan, wearing extraordinary evening clothes.
At the top of the staircase appears Daria Markos, a woman of grave Greek beauty, about twenty-seven years of age. She greets acquaintances as they come across, her affectionate manner possessing a delicate charm. I become silently convinced that Angela would love to paint this winsome appearance. The embodiment of Helen, she would call her.
It is after the banquet that these three meet, Angela being introduced to Daria by the duchess as her protégé. What I find far more interesting than the pleasantries exchanged between the three of them, is the look Charles bores them. He is standing about five paces away; half his face being lighted by a candelabra on a high foot. Whether he wishes to hide behind the furnishment or set his collar ablaze, I do not know, but he is viciously requesting for the latter to happen. In the course of the evening, I had not seen him accept even one glass, but the look he trows them is as befuddled as it is unsettling.
When the siblings clash, I am not present, for Christine wore me upon her dress for only the briefest time that night, yet it is enough for me to miss the vicious break between brother and sister. She seeks pendance in Christine's arms afterwards, although it is not long before she takes to the streets of Florence, as I embellish her figure once more.
She cries that night. And I remain at a loss.
'You are under no obligation to forgive him,' I say but am heard by none. I am still pinned on the evening dress, which lays draped over the end of the bed, and am utterly unaware of how to feel. What to think.
"I shall be ruined." She cries to the window, "dear brother, it would be my undoing."
Many sleepless nights follow. She sits at her window and regards the empty street. Or sits by the window and sketches in the light of the moon. For a long time, she goes to bed early, but whenever that happens she just lies in all quietness under the linen.
Sometimes, when she has put out her candle, her eyes would close so quickly that I perceive her to be asleep. And half an hour later she would open her eyes and sigh, rise, and sit back in front of her easel in her nightclothes. On those nights I would convince myself that I might adopt a human form; even if it were for but a moment. So that I may approach her and try to put away the brush which so often lingers in her hands and to blow out the light and tell her to sleep, to take care of herself.
I think of this so often, that while I am asleep, I would dream that I could. This impression persists for some moments after I awake; it does not disturb my mind, but it lays like sand upon my eyes and prevents them from registering the fact that the candle is no longer burning.
I ask myself what o'clock it could be; as I have become accustomed to doing while residing in Christine's chambers within the Pitti Place, but Angela's apartment holds no such devices, and I am obligated to look out of the open window and upon the sky for an answer. I can hear the cracks on the cobbled pavement whenever a passerby makes their way in the nightly street below. I can hear the barking of dogs, which, now nearer and now farther off, punctuate the distance like the call of an animal in a forest.
My memory travels to great extents during these moments, to the last words of a conversation held hundreds of years prior, to farewells exchanged beneath an unfamiliar awning which echo still in my ears amid the silence of the night.
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I recall the night during winter when I had walked in on a sleeping Conrad, by then eighth years old, whom had, on going to sleep in my bed, buried his head in a nest built up out of the most diverse materials: the corner of my pillow, the top of my blanket, a piece of my coat, the edge the bed, and a piece of indefinable raiment. It had been the same night where me and his mother, - and several attendants - in the keen frost, had gone to find his dog. The animal had been with him for long, and it had broken his heart when the dog did not survive the cold.
I had kept the fire going all night, and I sat wrapped up before it, as my son slept soundly and I rested to the sound of his peaceful breathing. Mesmerised as I always had been by the hearth; the glow of the logs which would break out again in flames: a cave of warmth dug out of the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts near the window. But it did not stir Conrad, hence I felt at peace.
Why was it that I held tantamount maternal feelings for Angela? Was it merely her name? Was it her character? I do not know; only that I greatly welcomed it.