Scenes from the novel XI

Clarissa enjoyed her walks. She considered herself to be a sociable creature, yet she was acutely aware that this amiable quality was, paradoxically, wholy contingent upon frequent access to opportunities to be unsociable. As she walked along, feeling the gentle breeze from the river upon her parasol, she mused to herself how delicate is the quality of tolerance amongst one’s fellows. There were many who regularly sought out her company, in fact craved it. Yet she was quite certain that, without her long walks, and the opportunities they afforded for quiet thoughts and inward reflection, she would quickly cease to project that pleasant persona which was assumed by those of her general acquaintance to accurately mirror her inner nature.

Clarissa was acutely aware that her “inner nature” was far more turbulent and dark than was generally suspected. She smiled ruefully to contemplate what might transpire were some unfortunate soul, seeking the uninterrupted pleasure of her company, to be granted his wish. That inner fire within her bosom which others could but dimly perceive, which in fact unfailingly drew the attention of ordinary mortals as the flame draws the moth, and the true nature of which she rather artfully deflected from the eyes of man, nonetheless burned with a heat that was perhaps not best suited for providing warmth and comfort to others.

The calm of the river, the coolness of the midafternoon breeze, the soft firmness of the earthen ground beneath her feet, these were her balms, the silken threads from which she would oft return to refashion her disguise. Three elements of nature, the power of air, earth and water taken together, could conquer the fourth – for a time.

Of all the mortals she had known, it was a continual source of surprise and delight to Clarissa that there was one whose company she did not feel any need to ration. For it happens that from time to time fire will find itself in the company of steel. Upon those happy occasions the former will serve, not to destroy, but merely to temper and to strengthen the latter. For the flame, weary of the danger that it might immolate all in its path, these are happy occasions indeed. To dance and burn brightly, to be a thing of beauty rather than of pain and despair, what spirit would not be heartened by such moments?

She was lost in these thoughts, her eyes cast downward toward the earthen path before her, when she saw a second shadow upon the ground, joining that of her parasol. Somewhat startled, she looked up, and found herself staring into a familiar pair of steel gray eyes. At the sight of those eyes Clarissa broke into a broad grin. For the first time in days she felt a truly untroubled gladness.

“Howdy ma’am, sorry if I startled you,” he said, tipping his wide brimmed hat. “There’s a little matter that I’ve been meanin’ to talk over.” He gazed down for a long moment, as if searching for his thoughts within the shadows on the dappled path. Then he squared his shoulders, and looked back toward Clarissa with a shy smile. “Guess I just been tryin’ to work up the courage.”

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