“…And where is my gypsy wife tonight?”
— L. Cohen
WANDERESS,WANDERESS, weave us a story of seduction and ruse. Heroic be the Wanderess, the world be her muse.
…I jot this phrase of invocation in my old leather-bound notebook on a bright, cold morning at the Café **** in Paris, and with it I’m inspired to take the reader back to the time I first met and became acquainted with the girl I call The Wanderess—as well as a famous adventurer named Saul, the Son of Solarus. It was because of these two that I would come to know one of the most beautiful and touching of all love stories I could ever invent or imagine, a tale to inspire the heroic soul. But that will all come later. Now let us go back to the beginning. It all started three years ago, in Italy…
I had left Paris in the fall to roam the countryside in Europe and the islands, as the book I was writing at the time required some literary research that obliged me to travel. There were details to be learned about several locales. A specific garden in London to visit. A provincial inn in Calais, up in northern France to investigate. As well as a property in rural Tuscany where I planned to set the scene of a lovers’ retreat, reminiscent of Boccaccio. Finally, a tragic ending to be staged in Corsica and Mallorca made it necessary that I visit these enchanting islands.
It was with considerable regret that I left Paris that month, for autumn is my favorite time to be in the capital. When in September the last of the Parisians have returned from their homes in the country, we collectively throw ourselves back into the joys of city life and the voluptuous season begins. Autumn: the season of parties, operas, ballets and festive balls; the time when the luxurious parisiennes are the most luxurious, the virgin demoiselles the most virginal, the fragrant bourgeoises the most fragrant, the courtisanes the most divine. Still, although I love elegant parties, dancing and dining and spending the night with a sweet woman in my arms, my life belongs to literature. And so I left Paris that autumn to do my research and am now glad I did, for I have the most fascinating story to tell of my experience.
Arriving in Pisa, I hired a driver to take me to the village of Petrognano where I had to check on some facts and spend a few days. There was a certain country inn where I’d planned to lunch, stay the afternoon and sleep the night. In the days to follow, I would inspect the layout of the area for literary purposes.
Riding in over the countryside, the hills were burnished gold and copper. The black forms of the peasants who worked collecting chestnuts and olives in the fields dotted the landscape. And with their bulky capes, and their large harvest sacks, they resembled those great European bison that graze in the Caucasus.
Arriving in Petrognano, we rode up a winding road and stopped in front of a quaint little inn: La Locanda Villa B***. This was the inn I had travelled from Paris to find, and it was in front of this inn that I saw a most touching scene. A scene I will relate to you now…
A man with a very handsome face, not by any means old, although no longer in his first-youth, was preparing to leave on a journey. His driver was urging him to give the authorization for the two to depart so that they would reach his destination by nightfall (I found out later that he was going to Florence). The reason he was being held-up was because on his lap there was seated a young girl. She was not a child, no, although she was not yet quite an adult. She was somewhere in her teens, perhaps sixteen, maybe seventeen. She sat on his lap shedding an abundance of tears, making it clear that his leaving her was the source of her sorrows. My vision wasn’t too great from far away, and so I approached closer. I had a better look and noticed that the girl was of extraordinary beauty. Despite her extreme youth and the fact that her hair was in complete disorder, despite too her wild show of emotions with tears spouting from her eyes, she had the air of a fine and noble lady about her, so that I didn’t doubt for a moment that she was a girl of first rank. No doubt this feminine creature would grow even more beautiful and noble as the years advanced her into womanhood. The man too, who seemed equally miserable to be saying goodbye to the girl, although it was obvious his masculinity kept him from visibly crying quite so profusely a flood of tears, was so fine in the build of his body, and the sophistication of his dress, right to the elegance of his face, that I didn’t doubt for a minute that he came from the highest class of citizen. So that the two together, this handsome, elegant gentleman with this unbelievably beautiful child, made for the most awe-inspiring couple I had ever seen in my life. I initially took the girl for his niece or his baby sister. He certainly was not old enough to be her father, though she was closer to the age of a daughter than that of a peer. I became thus very curious, yet I watched their scene of farewell from as far as I could without distancing myself to where my vision would blur and my hearing be naught.
Between tears and embraces, the handsome gentleman whose face was quite pale as though torn by a grief that had been aching him for some time, promised the girl that he would return at daybreak the following morning, swearing that only one night would ever separate them again, that after this night they would be linked for life. The girl kept asking him to give her one last kiss before he left, and kissed him so passionately, abandoning herself to him while his hand pressed against the folds of her crumpled skirt on her small thigh, that I no longer had any doubt that he was anything besides her lover. Over and over she cried that this was surely the last time they would see each other, that something could happen—perhaps something would happen to him on the road?—and spilling ever more tears, she finally allowed herself to be freed from his lap so that the man’s driver could set off on the journey.
As the gentleman started riding away, I could see him choking heavily on his own tears, now that the two were actually separated. He called back to the girl that he would waste no time and soon would return to find her at the inn and the two would never again part company for as long as they lived. Although the girl wept at this, spilling a flood of tears that seemed never to end, she was not so generous in words, and offered no response to his hopeful vows. This is something that surprised me, as if she knew something that he did not know. I would soon find out that my suspicion was right, that there was a secret between them—or dividing them, rather. And so, with my heart torn by this touching scene between two handsome people I’d chanced upon in the yard, I bid my driver take a break from his duties so I could eat a meal in the restaurant of the inn, take some notes on my surroundings for literary purposes, and relax my body that was weary and sore after such a long journey. I fancied that in sleeping at this same lodging where the girl would be sleeping while she waits for her lover to return the next morning, I might chance upon a discussion with her and find out what such an enchanting-looking creature was like in person.
It was then while I was in the dining room, sitting at a table near the hall where guests at the inn check-in and check-out, that I heard something that startled me: this young girl who had just been swearing her eternal devotion to the man who was at this time travelling to Florence, was now at the check-out counter whispering to the innkeeper that she would need to leave the inn that very moment, and not a moment longer; that she would be travelling on—“alone, and far”—and needed her bags brought down in an instant. When they asked what they would tell Signor when he returned from Florence, she made the sound of money piling on the counter and I gathered that this money would purchase some desired response. I could tell by the sounds exchanged once they had accepted the money that Signor would hear simply: that she had left, and how she had left, but nothing as to the route or destination of Signorina.
I, who had been so touched by the scene of affection shared between to these seemingly perfect lovers as the gentleman was leaving, became horribly disturbed that this little angel who had spilled so many tears then could now be heartless enough as to abandon her lover without so much as a word as to where she was going! I quickly signed for my meal and went out to find her and inquire about the situation. She had gone out into the yard. I was determined to get to the bottom of the matter, even if it meant following her wherever she was going, or else, by seeking-out her lover in Florence. It was true, I had my literary research that obliged me to stay and inspect the Villa B*** and the surrounding countryside, and even to interview some peasants, read vernacular books, study local plants and the like, but I decided that if such a tender scene of romance and affection between two lovers could be followed immediately by a scene of such deceit and betrayal, well then I didn’t need to concern myself with literary research—or literature at all, for that matter!—since this scene of deceit and betrayal was proving that the world didn’t have any meaning or purpose, and therefore literature had no meaning or purpose, and so the world didn’t even deserve literature! Deeply disturbed and unhappy due to all that I’d overheard, I left the dining hall and went out into the yard to see where the girl was going with the porter who hurried after her with her bags.
Once in the yard, the porter left the girl and placed her bags in the shade of a tree so he could go check on the status of the transportation to Rome, (it turned out she was going to Rome). When the porter came back, he told her with great regret that there had been some problem with the courier to Rome, some delay. “What kind of problem?!” the girl demanded of the porter, turning pale. She looked horrified. “What kind of delay?!”
“The driver was trampled by a horse in Certaldo, Miss, his skull is smashed. The replacement driver won’t be arriving here before very late in the evening.” To this the girl sobbed ever more despairingly as she tugged with her little hands at the lace hem of her skirt. She looked up and flashed her pair of eyes betraying extreme worry. The porter offered to give her a room where she could wait till evening and have an excellent meal prepared at the inn’s expense, but she told him through her veil of tears that she couldn’t stay another moment at the inn, and that if fate had dealt her such a miserable hand as it appeared it had, she would suffer the road alone with her shoes scuffing in the dust. Although how was she to carry her bags?! In despair, she plopped herself down on her luggage and told the porter to come find her in the yard the moment the transportation was ready to leave for Rome. With the porter gone, she began again to spill an endless flood of tears into her cupped hands.
I who was meanwhile still a discreet witness to this scene was so incredibly touched to see a girl so young and beautiful crying so magnificently that I decided to approach her in a gentle manner. When she heard the crunching of my shoes on the gravel beside her, she stopped weeping and looked up at me with great modesty. Her tender cheeks were steaming with hot tears. I introduced myself, and not waiting for her to reply, I told her that I’d overheard her request to go to Rome, as well as the response that the transport to Rome wouldn’t be leaving until late in the evening; so to save her waiting the entire day and evening in the yard, I would take her there myself, we would leave in a few minutes. After all, I had some important research I needed to do in Rome and was going there myself. This latter remark was a lie, as the only literary research I had need of in Italy concerned Tuscany, but I was anxious to find out the story of this matchless girl. Needless to say, she accepted my offer, her face beamed with relief and gleamed with hope. So within a quarter of an hour, my driver was around loading her luggage in the rear with my own, and everyone climbed in and we were off! …me, myself, and the loveliest girl in Europe. My joy knew no bounds as we wound around the burnished gold and copper hills of the Italian landscape. We dashed down roads, and my heart expanded with joy.
The poor girl cried so uncontrollably for the first part of the journey, pouring endless tears onto her shoulders, soaking her little shirt, that it was impossible to find out anything from her, or about her. We spoke for the first time when we reached Siena. I asked her where she was going in Rome, if she knew the city and had someone to meet, someplace to stay, or if she would be travelling on from Rome. She pressed a cloth to her eyes and said that she was travelling on from Rome immediately by boat. She needed to catch a boat to leave Italy, to leave Europe entirely, all as soon as possible. I laughed through my nose at this and replied that it was very fortunate to learn this now, in Siena, as this was the point to turn off for all port destinations. “There is no port in Rome,” I told her, “and to get a boat one has to go to Civitavecchia, which is on the coast, about three leagues closer to us than Rome, about seventeen leagues from Rome, should I have taken you there first.” She thanked me for being a good guide, apologizing that she only knew the north of Italy and that she would very much like my driver to take us to Civitavecchia so she could take a boat and leave the country. She then resumed her crying.
I continued to be fascinated by this weeping, and by all of womankind. How is it that a woman lets a man go to Florence as he swears his love for her, saying that he will be back at daybreak the following day so the two can never again part, and while she doesn’t exactly swear a promise to be there to meet him at daybreak, she gives him all the reason in the world to make him believe that she will be there, her love and passion for him being so strong, her tears being so numerous. Then finally the moment the hopeful gentleman leaves, the woman turns into a cold and calculating absconder who pays-off hotel staff-members with gold to make sure that they deceive the poor devil who will return at the point of day only to have his heart completely shattered. Then she finds she can’t get to Rome on her own that day, so she allows a masculine stranger to shuttle her across the wide, strange earth, on roads she doesn’t know, to places with names like ‘Civitavecchia’; and all the way she sobs, spilling liters of tears as though the one who was truly broken-hearted by this whole affair was she! — ‘Oh, womankind! You will never cease to confuse me!’
Not being able to handle it anymore, having the whole future of literature as dependant on the answer as my own well-being, I finally turned to the girl on the journey and said:
“Mademoiselle… or perhaps, Madame… Please just instruct me on one thing… This handsome gentleman you just abandoned in Tuscany… I could see by your tears you were shedding back at the inn, and continue to spill in my car just now, that he is no simple companion nor casual affection, but a great lover and friend. And no doubt from his appearance, and from his own sorrowful face and shedding of tears—which although were fewer than your own, were just as potent and showed to come from a heart just as broken, for no doubt his masculinity restricted some of the tears he would have liked to shed, for I as a man myself know that whatever didn’t pour from his eyes in the way of brine, poured in his heart in the way of blood, and so he was ever deserving of your love and pity… So why on earth should you abandon a man so deserving?! You will let him come back tomorrow at daybreak to a cold Tuscan inn filled with strangers to find his one true love is gone! The hotel keepers will keep the truth from him for the gold that you filled their pockets with. Please tell me why you left him.”
“Dear Sir,” responded the girl with a voice so clear and light and so very feminine that hearing it sent shudders of joy through the masculine chambers of my heart; she looked up at me modestly, soft as a lamb, and her tender cheeks shone with fresh stains of the tears she neglected to wipe, she spoke thus: “Please, Sir, I will tell you all that you ask, for I am deeply indebted to you for driving me down to the port where I can set sail and leave Italy alone, anonymous, and unfollowed… I will surely tell you all and I will not lie to you about whatever you ask of me, never will I lie to you! …for I always acknowledge the generosity of others; only I beg of you that you do not ask me where I am going, nor why! For if I tell you the truth, it will put you in a terribly awkward position. The story is so sad, and its participants are such undeserving victims, that you will certainly feel obliged to tell Saul—(‘Saul’ is the name of the man with whom you saw me this morning)—you will feel obliged to drive back to Tuscany to find him and tell him all that I told you and where I am sailing to, for he does not deserve the fate that awaits him, neither do I. So please, Sir, again I will tell you the truth if you ask, only please… please… do not ask!” With these words spoken, she resumed spilling tears. I kept my silence, and remarked to myself the rare nobility of this remarkable girl for the fact that she begged me not to ask her about her secret for the mere reason alone that she would refuse me no favor and tell me no lie, but that she thought it better for the outcome of her story for me to remain ignorant. She and I continued down the Italian road, as the golden evening sun made its heavenly fall.
Only once more did the girl and I speak before reaching the port at Civitavecchia. It was a moment she had stopped crying and was looking sadly out at the landscape passing by. I took the opportunity to ask her name, and she turned her big eyes to me which were still soft with tears. She fluttered her eyelashes, her eyes sparkling—a slight hesitation—then she answered: “Saskia.”
I, who am a seasoned studier of characters, took this hesitation and fluttering of eyelashes to be a sign that she was deciding whether or not to lie to me about her name, but in the end she had told me the truth. Saskia, I knew, was a name that belonged to the Saxon people. The only Saskia I’d ever heard of was the wife of the painter Rembrandt. She smiled after she told me her name, as though she were happy she had not lied to me, that she had told me the truth after all. She then asked me my name. I told her.
“Enchantée,” she replied in French, and then turned back to look out at the road and the world passing outside the window.
We arrived at Civitavecchia where all kinds of ships were present, large and miniscule, ready to take passengers and fishermen here and there over the girth of this great and pleasant earth. I asked Saskia if she did not want me to help her find the ship that was going where she wanted to go, but she again begged me to remain ignorant. She turned to me and called me with familiarity by my first name and clasped my hands and with tears in her eyes she asked that I demand my driver to stop far up from the piers so that she could wander alone to her ship. She would find the right ship alone. There were porters and guides who carried bags for two sous lining the streets. I told my driver to stop and help the girl get her bags, and as soon as a uniformed porter came to help her with her bags, she paid him some coins and he helped her disappear into the crowds of the seaport, off in the direction of the water.
I who had the whole sphere of literature on my shoulders the way Atlas bore the earth on his, needed to find out the secret of this couple named Saul and Saskia. I refused to let it end there. My curiosity was eating my insides. I told my driver to wait for me, and slinked off into the crowds towards the port.
It wasn’t difficult to find Saskia again, walking with a hired porter, as the porter had quite a lot of bags to carry and so walked slow enough to be overtaken quickly. I lurched in the throngs of passengers and laborers so as not to be seen should Saskia have the intuition to turn suddenly around and look to see if she were being followed. I soon saw her walking with the porter straight for an enormous vessel that was preparing to leave the harbor. Her little feet stepped up the ramp and the ship captain’s crew took the bags from her porter; then, in an instant, the country of Italy lost its most beautiful inhabitant as Miss Saskia stood on a surface that had no nationality but belonged to the holy blue sea.
Once Saskia’s boat was out of sight, I approached the dock where the boat had launched to enquire about its destination.
“Yes, Sir? That boat, you ask? It is bound direct for Tripoli, Sir, in Libya.”
“Yes, Sir! First and final destination!”
With that, I turned on my heels and walked back to the car with an imagination that swam wildly in my head. I had no doubt about where I was headed next.
 ENCHANTÉE: (fr) “Nice to meet you.” (Feminine form. Root of English word “enchanted”.)