From “The Enchanted April*” (1922), by Elizabeth von Arnim

*inspired by a month-long holiday to the Italian Riviera; an English and American best seller in 1923. Von Arnim wrote, and set, the book in the 15th-century Castello Brown. Critic Terence de Vere White credited “The Enchanted April” with making the Italian resort of Portofino fashionable.

“…Mrs. Fisher, her hands folded on her lap, was doing nothing, merely gazing fixedly into the fire. The lamp was arranged conveniently for reading, but she was not reading. Her great dead friends did not seem worth reading that night. They always said the same things now–over and over again they said the same things, and nothing new was to be got out of them any more for ever. No doubt they were greater than any one was now, but they had this immense disadvantage, that they were dead. Nothing further was to be expected of them; while of the living, what might one not still expect? She craved for the living, the developing–the crystallized and finished wearied her. She was thinking that if only she had had a son–a son like Mr. Briggs, a dear boy like that, going on, unfolding, alive, affectionate, taking care of her and loving her. . .

The look on her face gave Mrs. Wilkins’s heart a little twist when she saw it. “Poor old dear,” she thought, all the loneliness of age flashing upon her, the loneliness of having outstayed one’s welcome in the world, of being in it only on sufferance, the complete loneliness of the old childless woman who has failed to make friends. It did seem that people could only be really happy in pairs–any sorts of pairs, not in the least necessarily lovers, but pairs of friends, pairs of mothers and children, of brothers and sisters–and where was the other half of Mrs. Fisher’s pair going to be found?

Mrs. Wilkins thought she had perhaps better kiss her again. The kissing this afternoon had been a great success; she knew it, she had instantly felt Mrs. Fisher’s reaction to it. So she crossed over and bent down and kissed her and said cheerfully, “We’ve come in–” which indeed was evident.

This time Mrs. Fisher actually put up her hand and held Mrs. Wilkins’s cheek against her own–this living thing, full of affection, of warm, racing blood; and as she did this she felt safe with the strange creature, sure that she who herself did unusual things so naturally would take the action quite as a matter of course, and not embarrass her by being surprised.

Mrs. Wilkins was not at all surprised; she was delighted. “I believe I’m the other half of her pair,” flashed into her mind. “I believe it’s me, positively me, going to be fast friends with Mrs. Fisher!”

Her face when she lifted her head was full of laughter. Too extraordinary, the developments produced by San Salvatore. She and Mrs. Fisher . . . but she saw them being fast friends…”

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