This is Fogazzaro's last novel, set in Velo d'Astico. The main character, Massimo (based on his friend and follower Tommaso Gallarati Scotti) has traits of incoherence and restlessness, while Leila (based on his friend Agnes Blanck) although young, shows signs of pride and repressed sensuality. Leila is not only proud but also courageous, resourceful and two-sided: she sometimes appears like an impenetrable Sphinx while at other times she is a sweet defenceless creature. However she turns out to be the only character in Fogazzaro's novels who symbolises, as a future bride, the Catholic ideal of family.
From Elena's silent sacrifice, to Daniele and Piero's mission and Leila's announcement of marriage as a continuation of life, Fogazzaro never fails to engage his reader on a journey which is marked by anguish, pain and sacrifice, and yet is always striving higher towards a more noble destiny, towards a greater Good.
In Leila, when Massimo's train arrives in Velo d'Astico from Milan, he is restored by the view of the mountains:
The delicately arched brow of Torraro divided the space that yawned between Priaforà and Caviogio, whose black and might outlines swept downwards majestically, like the flowing robes of giant monarchs. His thirsting soul found comfort in the brooding peace of the scene.
The mountains heighten Massimo's heady state caused by love:
Leila had suddenly sat down at the piano and played Schumann's “Aveu”. He had followed the music with keen delight, gazing upwards through the opening in the gallery at a slender, dolomitic peak, swathed in the blue mists like the tremulous outline of a dream. And now, within the little church, he was trying to recall that indescribable moment, that sweet music, and the mountain peak, cleaving the blue ether like a shaft of passion shot skyward.
Leila is attracted by the voice of the stream near La Montanina (Fogazzaro's villa in Velo d'Astico) as, in a moment of night-time folly, the young woman sinks into the water as if to cleanse herself of her thoughts about Massimo.
She turned left, knowing of a path that led from the avenue to some acacia-trees by the rivulet, the same rivulet that splashes and sings farther on. She found the path and paused among the acacias on the bank of the stream, which she could hear but not see. Instinctively she began to undress herself, at the invitation of that soft voice, then, awaking to a sense of her actions, she dipped her hand in the water. It was cold. All the better; it would do her the more good. And she went on undressing, never heeding where she flung her garments, removing them all except the last. She put her foot into the running water and shivered. She tested the bottom – pebbles beneath a couple of feet of water. She put her other foot in and, her heart gripped by the chill, let herself sink slowly into the water with closed eyes and parted lips, uttering little sighs the while. The water covered her with icy caresses and rippled gently about her neck and heaving bosom. Other sweet voices sounded in the air. Leila opened her eyes and raised herself in amazement. She seemed clothed in light, which shone upon the trembling waters and wrapped the bank and her clothes lying beneath the swaying, whispering trees in a silver radiance. It was the rising of the moon, a mysterious awakening of all things in the dead of night. Flowers were raining from the acacias upon the stream and its banks. The girl pressed her folded arms against her breast, and, under the gathering moonlight, amidst the odours of the woods and the rain of the flowers, some indefinable emotion filled her heart with welling tears, which fell hot and silent into the quivering water. Presently she climbed the bank, dressed herself as best she could, and then, with throbbing heart, fled back along the same path, like a castaway who suddenly finds himself safe.
The trees prompt her tyrannically but then tenderly comfort Leila's troubled thoughts:
Through the open verandah she passed into the garden, trying to fix her mind on Don Aurelio's flight. But the very trees she passed seemed to be reminding her of those thoughts from which she shrank. She began walking faster to escape their silent scrutiny, but on the up-hill road, where she was obliged to go more slowly, the great, spreading chestnut-trees renewed the tyranny and hung over her in compassionate lament, murmuring: "Poor girl! You refused Massimo's love when others said yes. Now that Signor Marcello also refuses, you no longer have the strength, you would say yes but there is no one to ask you any more, poor, poor, poor girl!"
Then comes the wind: it accompanies Leila as she anxiously reads Massimo's letter to Donna Fedele and thrills to learn that the young man has spoken of her with great feeling:
Leaving the road, Leila climbed upwards on her left among the blossoming rhododendrons. She seated herself there, the only living figure in this great windy desert, and began mechanically to pick the flowers on each side of her. She heaped them in her lap and held them in her hands, and for a long time let her eyes and thoughts rest quietly upon them. Then, with as much composure as she could muster, she brought out the letter, restrained her desire to glance through it in search of her own name, and proceeded to read it slowly from beginning to end. A cloud came in front of her eyes, and she felt herself as a helpless atom in the presence of a compelling fate. Leila turned once again to Massimo's passionate words, reading and kissing them again and again. At last she put away the letter with a long sigh of contentment. As one who had finally reached the end of a long and arduous journey. A tremendous sense of physical well-being seized her; and she stood up and stretched out her arms as if to embrace a wonderful new world that had been given her. She embraced the cold wind as it blew against her face, she embraced the wild mountain scenery before her, their slopes glowing pink in the setting sun, and she embraced the swaying rhododendrons around her.
And finally the flowers: the petals and the scent of the flowers in the garden at La Montanina have tenderly beguile Leila with their words:
Leila had filled her room for the night with roses, honeysuckle and acacia. It was a weakness of hers. She had as many flowers as possible brought to her room, and she delighted in the strongest scents. That night she had a sea of flowers. She stuck several bunches of acacia between the bed-head and the wall, and a bunch of roses between the wall and a holy picture. She loved to lie in bed and feel the petals falling on her face. She put out the light, turned upon her side, indulging her consciousness of fragrance as if she were listening to some caressing language.