Chapter 8

As it turned out the precaution had not been needed, for three hours later, just as I had finished my dinner, Miss Bordereau’s niece appeared, unannounced, in the open doorway of the room in which my simple repasts were served. I remember well that I felt no surprise at seeing her; which is not a proof that I did not believe in her timidity. It was immense, but in a case in which there was a particular reason for boldness it never would have prevented her from running up to my rooms. I saw that she was now quite full of a particular reason; it threw her forward—made her seize me, as I rose to meet her, by the arm.

“My aunt is very ill; I think she is dying!”

“Never in the world,” I answered bitterly. “Don’t you be afraid!”

“Do go for a doctor—do, do! Olimpia is gone for the one we always have, but she doesn’t come back; I don’t know what has happened to her. I told her that if he was not at home she was to follow him where he had gone; but apparently she is following him all over Venice. I don’t know what to do—she looks so as if she were sinking.”

“May I see her, may I judge?” I asked. “Of course I shall be delighted to bring someone; but hadn’t we better send my man instead, so that I may stay with you?”

Miss Tita assented to this and I dispatched my servant for the best doctor in the neighborhood. I hurried downstairs with her, and on the way she told me that an hour after I quitted them in the afternoon Miss Bordereau had had an attack of “oppression,” a terrible difficulty in breathing. This had subsided but had left her so exhausted that she did not come up: she seemed all gone. I repeated that she was not gone, that she would not go yet; whereupon Miss Tita gave me a sharper sidelong glance than she had ever directed at me and said, “Really, what do you mean? I suppose you don’t accuse her of making believe!” I forget what reply I made to this, but I grant that in my heart I thought the old woman capable of any weird maneuver. Miss Tita wanted to know what I had done to her; her aunt had told her that I had made her so angry. I declared I had done nothing—I had been exceedingly careful; to which my companion rejoined that Miss Bordereau had assured her she had had a scene with me—a scene that had upset her. I answered with some resentment that it was a scene of her own making—that I couldn’t think what she was angry with me for unless for not seeing my way to give a thousand pounds for the portrait of Jeffrey Aspern. “And did she show you that? Oh, gracious—oh, deary me!” groaned Miss Tita, who appeared to feel that the situation was passing out of her control and that the elements of her fate were thickening around her. I said that I would give anything to possess it, yet that I had not a thousand pounds; but I stopped when we came to the door of Miss Bordereau’s room. I had an immense curiosity to pass it, but I thought it my duty to represent to Miss Tita that if I made the invalid angry she ought perhaps to be spared the sight of me. “The sight of you? Do you think she can see?” my companion demanded almost with indignation. I did think so but forebore to say it, and I softly followed my conductress.

I remember that what I said to her as I stood for a moment beside the old woman’s bed was, “Does she never show you her eyes then? Have you never seen them?” Miss Bordereau had been divested of her green shade, but (it was not my fortune to behold Juliana in her nightcap) the upper half of her face was covered by the fall of a piece of dingy lacelike muslin, a sort of extemporized hood which, wound round her head, descended to the end of her nose, leaving nothing visible but her white withered cheeks and puckered mouth, closed tightly and, as it were consciously. Miss Tita gave me a glance of surprise, evidently not seeing a reason for my impatience. “You mean that she always wears something? She does it to preserve them.”

“Because they are so fine?”

“Oh, today, today!” And Miss Tita shook her head, speaking very low. “But they used to be magnificent!”

“Yes indeed, we have Aspern’s word for that.” And as I looked again at the old woman’s wrappings I could imagine that she had not wished to allow people a reason to say that the great poet had overdone

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