Elena, "pale and perplexed", is walking alone in the grounds of Villa Cortis, which is actually Villa Velo in Velo d'Astico. There is a subdued, fleeting atmosphere in the woods. The shadows have a physical presence, shrouding the woman's thoughts and disorienting her. Like real actors they nudge her towards the message, “the poem of life and shadow”, testament to a sublime and other-worldly love: “In winter, and in summer, from near and from far, as long as I live, and beyond that again”. The intertwined branches of the acacias and the clasped hands on the base of the column are symbols of a desire which is, as yet, unfulfilled.
She saw the wall surrounding the French garden, and above it the gleaming fountain and the dark-wooded sides of the hills. With pale and sad countenance she went up to the little grass lawn in front of the house, passed through the court-yard, and turning off by the garden railings, disappeared in the wood. She lost herself in the mystery of the shadows which cast around their silent invitation, and which in a short time became thick and dense, lying darkly over the paths that wind in and out among them. Within those woods are hills and valleys perpetually shaded; lakes, ponds, and glades girt round by overshadowing trees, and there may be heard, too, the voices of invisible springs. The branches of the lofty trees, growing around the garden gate, by their waving and murmuring in the wind, suggest a poem of shadow and of life, and give one a foretaste of its magnificence.
She descended into the valley which opened on her left immediately after this turning, a narrow valley through which a stream covered with water-lilies trickled; the grass grew thickly over the path, and overhead the branches of the acacias on either side mingled, and cast a golden green shadow. Thence she mounted to a quiet opening in the hills, and there, among the trees on a grassy plateau, stood a column of ancient marble, brought from the baths of Caracalla to this other solitude, and bearing on its base two clasped hands carved in relief, and the following words:
HYEME ET AESTATE ET PROPE ET PROCUL USQUE DUM VIVAM ET ULTRA
Elena reappeared half-an-hour later still paler. She closed the garden gate behind her, leaning her head against it for a last look at the dear flowers, and to say to them, “Shall I ever see you again?” The trees could not hear her, they were too high, but they still swayed and murmured in the wind, offering her the poem of life and shadow, the sweet day-dreams of love.
The river announces its presence through sound as Daniele returns to Villascura, in reality Velo d'Astico, in his carriage. He is weary and his thoughts race ahead like the river currents themselves.
He felt ill at ease, and disturbed; disgusted with himself, with politics, with his obstinate enemies and his stupid friends, with the anger he showed to some and the toleration he showed to the others. Italy! Yes, but if he did not succeed to-day, he would to-morrow. It was his destiny, and his determination; but what he would not give for one day of love! To forget everything for one day, to contemn the world, and to unite her the most beautiful to him the most powerful! Visions of intense happiness passed before him. From the road which, passing straight through the plane trees, on the border of an immense plateau watered by the blue streams from the Alps, the eyes of Cortis greedily sought the shadowy clouds which hung on the edge of the mountains. He could see Elena and himself hidden in a house amongst those deserted wilds. Now he felt her arms, fresh and gentle as those streams, encircling him.
In this scene, natural elements, including the mountains, bear witness with their presence, they dominate the scene, sealing a solemn promise:
Her mind is already yours; she shall be yours in the next world. Now that she is going, do you go forth also, tempered by sadness; go forth, fight, suffer, be amongst men, a noble instrument of truth and justice; the stars, the mountains, the grave old fir-trees, all bore witness to his answer, and heard him say, – 'Yes, it shall be so!'
Fogazzaro shows his passion for botany as he describes certain types of plants which are typically found where his novels are set. Fir trees are a recurring theme in Daniele Cortis, providing a backdrop as the two main characters stroll together, but also symbolising sadness and strength as they relate with the human state of mind. The firs dominate the landscape as Daniele walks with Elena in "Villa Carrè", namely Villa Valmarana Ciscato in Seghe di Velo d'Astico:
They reached in silence an open space , whence one path ran to the right, across the fields, towards Villascura and Cortis's house; another sloped away to the left towards the torrent of Rovese, opposite to the naked, overhanging boulders of Monte Barco; and a third ran straight to the three tall firs, which overlooked the valley, from the edge of a steep declivity. He went straight on towards the fir-trees.
And a little further on:
At length they reached the firs, which were groaning overhead, blown about by the wind, and which showered down large drops of rain.
However, the “old, sad fir-tree” symbolises Elena's destiny, as she is pressurised by her husband:
The porch formed a sort of telescope, and away beyond the fir-trees the sky showed a pale greenish hue, while it was turquoise over the plain. Elena went out without any umbrella, walking up to the old fir-tree with drooping branches, which has now disappeared, having yielded, after centuries, to a storm, as if to verify the sad dream of its young mistress whom it never saw again. Elena laid her hand for a moment on its huge, faithful trunk, and turned away.